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Not Quite An Angel
By Bobby Hutchinson
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One2500 A.D.
As she climbed the stairs to the Central Awareness building, Sameh's stomach gurgled under the new silver tunic she'd put on especially for this meeting. Her stomach was empty because she'd been too nervous this morning to join the other students for breakfast; she hadn't wanted to see any of them before she met with the tutors.
All her blockmates knew about it, of course; it had been posted on the audio computer yesterday. They'd all been able to read her aura and see the anxiety she was feeling last evening. If she'd seen them this morning, they'd all have commiserated with her - telepathically, of course - and in spite of the love and encouragement each one of them would freely extend, Sameh knew she'd end up feeling even more like an alien and a failure than she already did, as well as good and annoyed with the whole lot of them. Sometimes it seemed that their concern bordered on the sanctimonious.
Sameh Smith, cancel that thought. It's not worthy of you, and you know what power thoughts have.
The echo of Great-Grandmother Kendra's admonishing voice reverberated in Sameh's head, the way it always did when she let her petulant temper get the best of her.
"Cancel, cancel," she reiterated, but some stubborn demon in her mind went right on being negative in spite of the reprogramming. Well, she had a right to be annoyed, she told herself, pressing her lips together and frowning. After all, she was the only one who'd been summoned to the tutors' joint session this morning, and she was pretty sure it wasn't because they wanted to tell her she was doing well. She snorted at the thought.
Emphatic negative. Quite the opposite of doing well. She was the class failure, no competition. Not that her fellow students ever compared themselves to anyone else - such behavior was unthinkable among awareness devotees, but she knew that every one of them had mastered Wisdom 101 and Early Psychokinesis long before they had the three decades she did. Not that three decades were much; Great-Grandmother Kendra had twelve decades, and she didn't seem to be planning to leave her body for a good long time yet, thank the stars. Still, Sameh was despondent with her own slow progress in the disciplines.
She brushed at a spot on the thigh-high skirt of the shimmering tunic, wondering distractedly how she'd managed to get dirty between Omega Compound and Tutors' Pavilion. She should have taken the moving sidewalk instead of the path through the park. But the morning was pretty, so she'd wandered over along the path by the inner lake where an Aggie robot was planting lilies. She adored lilies. Maybe she should have enrolled in Agriculture instead of Awareness. She had to smile at the thought, imagining the horrified expression on Great-Grandmother's face if she had.
Great-Grandmother had always made it very plain she wanted Sameh to follow in her footsteps, in spite of the fact that ever since Sameh was a child, it was history that fascinated her, not awareness. Fine as a hobby, Great-Grandmother had insisted. But for a life's work ... History was better left to men. Women needed to prepare themselves for managing the planet.
Sameh reached the top step of the Tutors' Pavilion and paused a moment, drawing in a deep, calming breath to dispel the butterflies in her stomach. Like most of her other attempts at reality creation, it didn't seem to work. She presented her ident fingerprint to the robot at the door, and walked slowly inside.
"Come in, Sameh." The voice was deep and infinitely soothing, and its very timbre dispelled at least some of her nervousness, just as it was designed to do. All the tutors had perfected voice-cell interaction, using sound to influence emotion. It was one of the few subjects Sameh was good at, although of course she hadn't reached anywhere near the level of the tutors. And it wasn't something she'd learned, anyway; she'd simply inherited Great-Grandmother's compelling, husky voice, and an intuitive understanding of phenomonics, the individual soul notes to which each person responded.
Of course the tutors knew telepathically the exact instant she arrived in the anteroom, and the wall slid open before she could touch the control with her mind. Not that her attempt at telekinesis would work, anyhow; she succeeded only about once in every ten tries at opening doors or windows with her mind, and even then, the strangest things tended to go wrong. Sometimes the doors slammed shut too soon as if a gale was passing through, and last week there'd been that window she'd opened in the classroom that insisted on going up and down like some demented perpetual-motion device.
Well, her problems at the disciplines were undoubtedly why she was here this morning. The tutors wanted to help, she knew that; they were also totally nonjudgmental, but still, just being called in to see them meant they were concerned about her progress, didn't it?
Well, she was concerned herself about her progress, damn it to Pluto. She hadn't mastered precognition or telekinesis.
She was only moderately, sporadically good at teleportation - sporadically being the operative word. And as far as healing went - well, her efforts had been nothing short of catastrophic. And it was healing that really appealed to her, which was also probably why trying to master it scared her almost catatonic. Healing made so much more practical sense than some of the other disciplines.
Like retrocognition, for instance. So far, she'd only been able to recall two of her past lives, and both of them were nothing to boast about. What good calling up all that old garbage did her was beyond her perceptions, Sameh concluded. As far as she could figure, she'd spent an inordinate amount of both past incarnations pursuing bodily pleasures in the most embarrassing fashion, not learning the lessons she needed in order to progress.
That was exactly why Great-Grandmother had pulled rank to get Sameh enrolled in Higher Awareness this lifetime. In the eternal scheme of things, Great-Grandmother Kendra proclaimed, chances for advancement were limitless, but Sameh seemed to have already wasted a deplorable amount of opportunity. This incarnation, didn't she want to progress?
Sometimes Sameh wondered about that. So far, progression hadn't been a heck of a lot of fun.
"Sameh, dear child, come in." The three tutors, two female, one token male, all greeted her with hands outstretched, and she felt loving reassurance flow through their fingers into hers - positive energy projection, another subject that was pretty much hit-and-miss with her.
She knew they were scanning her aura, and there wasn't a damn thing she could do to hide her apprehension and her sense of inadequacy; her innermost feelings were right there, in her colors, plain as day for them to read. She could sense jagged edges and flashes of scarlet with touches of gray surrounding her, and she also sensed the tutors smoothing her aura with their minds, calming her down, replacing the shocking evidence of her recent thoughts with clean, glowing pink.
She suppressed a sigh, and Alpha smiled at her, radiating sympathy and support. Beta waved her to a chair, and Gamma teleported a soothing cup of herbal tea toward her, not spilling a single drop. Sameh remembered her own most recent clumsy attempts at teleportation and shuddered as she retrieved the brimming cup out of the air and took a long, reviving drink.
She'd tried to teleport a plate of vegetable analog, marinated in a rather oily sauce, to the communal dinner table a few nights ago. Jenko, her good-looking male tablemate, had made her giggle. She'd lost concentration, and the plate had tipped halfway across the room, and before she managed to right it, four of her tablemates were liberally oiled down - and not particularly amused, although of course they weren't angry with her.
Anger was residual fear that students of awareness worked at eradicating, but sometimes Sameh guiltily longed for a good honest dose of rage in her fellow students. Turning her own bouts of anger to understanding was just one more thing she hadn't yet mastered.
"Sameh, the tea ..." Gamma's gently amused voice roused her. Once again, her attention had wandered, and a stream of tea had slopped on her tunic. She hiked the hem up enough to cover the stain, at least while she was sitting down. Gamma couldn't possibly be looking at her legs, could he?
Excerpted from Not Quite An Angel by Bobby Hutchinson Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.