Natacha had gone to bed early. She lay in her hammock lulled by the very slight rocking caused by the movement of the tree branches that supported the dormitory. Theo said the dorm was really just a glorified tent, and Natacha freely admitted that it was: open to the air, frail partitions of silk and tendril ballooning and rippling in the wind. But she liked it that way. It helped solidify her deepening connection to this planet. Why separate oneself from the environment with walls, when the climate here was so mild? And where else should she live? In a little hut of her own, like some of the married Elders? She preferred the camaraderie of the dormitory, the young voices and faces.
She drowsed. Night had come and the rain had been falling for some time when she heard the voice.
“Natacha?” The voice sounded peculiarly pure and clear and very nearby, almost like a whisper in her ear, but without a whisper’s sibilance. Natacha opened her eyes and sat up in her hammock. Felix was standing in the doorway a few feet away, not as near as he had sounded. He was holding a lantern, a trap filled with the bioluminescent native invertebrates that people were calling "moon moths," much to the irritation of the entomologist, Thérèse. He had pulled aside the door curtain, letting in a gust of fresh, wet wind, and was looking at her with a strange, smug little smile on his face.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I knew you could pense me if I just tried sending at the right moment,” he said.
“I can’t pense.”
“Yes you can. You pensed me just now.”
“What do you mean? I heard you say my name, but I didn’t pense anything.”
“I didn’t say your name aloud,” he said.
By now Natacha was feeling annoyed. She had been studying psionics for her entire adult life. She had seen convincing evidence of psionic abilities back on Earth and overwhelming, irrefutable evidence of such abilities during the ten years since they had come to Green Sky. Without grunspreking and kiniporting the colony would have failed during its first year! But she had never felt the slightest hint of any psionic gifts herself, and Felix knew it.
“Don’t tease me, Felix…”
His smile faded. “I’m not teasing.”
“Then do it again.”
“But you’re blocking now. A moment ago you were half asleep, drifting. Your mind was open. Now it’s closed again.”
He was looking at her so earnestly. Felix had been one of her first students at the school back on Earth. They had known each other for nearly 25 years, and as he grew up the student-teacher relationship had gradually developed into a close friendship. He knew how much she wished to be able to pense and kiniport and all the rest of it. It was hard to believe that he would tease her about it. Probably it was just that he wanted it to be true. But then…that clear, pure voice…
“Please, Felix, I’m tired and I need some rest,” she said, and closed her eyes.
She heard him sigh. “I’ll try again another time,” he said.
For a few weeks after that Natacha had trouble sleeping. Often as she began to drop off she would startle awake and tense, listening. But there was nothing. After a while she tried to forget about it. If anything had happened, it must have been a fluke. Besides, there was little time to think of things like spirit gifts when there was so much work to do.
One day a couple of months after Felix told her she had pensed him, Natacha spent the morning helping Thérèse and her students to harvest honey. The bees were producing well, having found they liked the nectar and pollen of some of the native plants, and there was a lot to do. She spent the afternoon organizing and recording data from one of Theo’s microbial surveys. Then she met with the rest of the Elders to discuss the future of the colony. The same old debates, and no resolution. By the time it finally ended, Natacha was exhausted.
She got back to the dormitory just as the evening rain began to fall. She had skipped dinner earlier, but in the kitchen Nadine gave her a plate of breadfruit, greens, and tree mushrooms that she bolted down without really tasting. Then, yawning and rubbing her eyes, she collapsed into her hammock. She grumbled to herself sleepily, her thoughts loose and disorganized, drifting from idea to idea....The meeting....Alex was becoming impossible. It was like arguing with a brick wall…but those didn’t even exist on this planet. Well then it was like arguing with a tree. Alex could talk to plants. Maybe that was why he seemed so much like a tree sometimes: impressive, even beautiful, superficially flexible but ultimately immovable. If that was what grunspreking did to you, maybe it was a good thing she hadn’t learned how to do it. But still, it would be interesting. Alex said that plants didn't think, but they were physically aware of everything, constantly reaching, searching, in the air, under the earth. Natacha thought she would like to experience that….
“Natacha,” said a voice, clear and pure, like before. She felt a brief impulse to call her mind to heel, to shore up the walls of her ego, to resist this intrusion into her mind; but instead she waved that impulse away and let her mind go soft, yielding.
“I think you receive me,” said the voice. Who was it? Felix again? Or was it Nadine?
I just want to sleep now, she thought. No, she didn’t just think it: she focused, pushed without tightening, and sent.
“All right,” said the voice, and was quiet, leaving a sudden void in its wake. But at the same time the tension and frustration of the day receded, flowed away from her. She felt calmer, warmer. She would talk to Felix or to one of the other youths tomorrow. They would explain it to her. The students would teach the teacher. Maybe she could learn to talk to a tree. Or even to Alex.