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Have you read Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Green Sky Trilogy (Below the Root, And All Between, Until the Celebration)? In a lushly drawn world, three teenagers are inducted into the ruling order of their society... and discover that their revered ancestors' great social experiment was not quite as nobly executed as they have always been taught to believe. If you like coming-of-age dystopia novels like The Hunger Games and The Giver, I can highly recommend it.

Title: Apprentice (the Wrapped Around Your Finger remix)
Fandom: Green Sky (Zilpha Keatley Snyder)
Rating: PG
Word Count: 1455
Characters: Natacha Orme (D'ol Nesh-om), OMC
Summary: She had taught him so much in the early years of the expedition. Now it was his turn.
Author’s Notes: This is a remix of Pensing by Transposable_Element for Remix Madness 2015.


“It’s getting worse,” Felix reported.

His bond-partner, Anand, looked up through his long eyelashes, troubled by the vehemence in his voice. He stood and held out his hands, slender brown fingers that gripped his own with surprising strength. “Show me.”

Felix took a deep breath, willing his roiling emotions to settle, his mind to clear. Into the lucid pool slipped images and fragments of conversation, the day’s debate deteriorating into a shouting match between his long-standing mentor, Natacha Orme, and the charismatic and ambitious Alex Wissen. Natacha and the majority of their senior colleagues believed that the Kindar, as the young members of their colony were called, had to be made aware of the rationale behind the great experiment in order to avoid repeating the horrific crimes committed by their ancestors on Earth. But Alex led an increasingly vocal faction that insisted that total preservation of the Kindar’s innocence was the only way to ensure that violence remained not only unchosen, but unthinkable.

Felix himself was not entirely sure of his position; he supported Natacha in public but had been accused of excessive loyalty towards his old mentor, which he could not deny held a grain of truth. Not that he didn’t challenge or contradict her at times – indeed, she would have considered it a shameful flaw in his training if he hadn’t – but he recognized that his perspective was biased by his enormous respect for her and for her ideas. He had once hoped that Anand, a step removed from that relationship, would be able to help him resolve the dilemma, at least for himself, but his bond-partner generally just shrugged, saying that he was a geneticist, not a philosopher.

Anand stood there serenely, receiving all that Felix had to offer, head tilted to one side. Then he squeezed Felix’s fingers in sympathy and reassurance. “What are you afraid of?” he asked aloud.

“I think…” Felix hesitated. Articulating his fears made them feel more serious, perhaps even prescient. “Their positions can’t be reconciled by these debates. Until they truly understand each other’s points of view, there will be no way forward.” No nonviolent way, he did not say, but both of them understood the implications.

“And Natacha still can’t pense at all?”

“Won’t,” Felix corrected him, more than conscious of the irony of it. Even after decades of groundbreaking discoveries in psionics, Natacha denied possessing even a vestige of such gifts. “She could if she allowed herself. I’m sure of it.”

Anand smiled at him fondly. “Not everyone shares your gifts. Especially among the Elders.”

Felix flushed. It was true, he had been selected for the expedition as much for his psionic potential as for his scientific achievements. But many of the original leaders had secured their places on the basis of their academic expertise alone. Alex, now a gifted Grunspreker, was an exception.

“I think that she could learn. If she allowed herself to believe that it was possible.”

“Perhaps.” Anand was quiet for a moment, thinking. “If you were to surprise her in a state of greater vulnerability…”

Felix broke into a grin, pulled Anand forward, and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re brilliant!”

“All this and brains, too,” Anand deadpanned. “Wait, now?”

For Felix was already refastening the cuffs of his shuba. “I know where she sleeps!” he called over his shoulder as he pulled aside the curtain of vines at the doorway of their hut.

***

Natacha Orme had never married, but rather than claim a private hut appropriate to an Elder of her status, she chose to live in a dormitory with a dozen young adults, saying that being around them helped to keep her young. Having visited her there many times over the years, Felix glided without hesitation to her grund even in the near-darkness illuminated only by a few dimming lanterns. He alighted gracefully on a broad branch just as the night rains began to fall and walked towards the trunk where the dormitory, an airy structure of silk and tendrils, billowed and quivered.

Reaching out, Felix found Natacha’s powerful mind immediately, picking it out from the quick but less formed ones of her companions, but deemed that she was still too alert for him to make the attempt. He took shelter under the canopy – returning home would be a long, arduous journey in a wet shuba – and settled down to wait.

At last he sensed her drowsing and quickly stood, brushing stray drops off the silk of his shuba and picking up his lantern. He paused just outside the doorway, pulled open the curtain, peered into the gloom, and picked out her shape among the sleepers. Then he focused his sending, pushing at her particular thought patterns ever so delicately. Natacha?

To his delight, she sat up at once, graying hair in disarray, setting her hammock to swaying. “What is it?” she asked aloud, alarmed.

Felix felt a second’s forgivable smugness, found himself smiling at her. “I knew you could pense me if I tried sending at the right moment,” he explained.

Natacha frowned. “I can’t pense,” she replied automatically.

Felix struggled not to laugh at her familiar stubbornness. “Yes you can. You pensed me just now.”

“What do you mean? I heard you say my name, but I didn’t pense anything,” she insisted.

“I didn’t say your name aloud,” he retorted, triumphant. Surely now she would see that it was possible, that if she only opened herself to the idea…

“Don’t tease me, Felix,” she said tiredly.

His smile faded. “I’m not teasing.”

“Then do it again.” Repeat the experiment, he recalled her saying with an impatient wave of her hand every time he produced an interesting result as her postdoctoral student.

He knew it was unlikely to work, but made the effort anyway, to no avail. “But you’re blocking now,” he pointed out. “A moment ago you were half asleep, drifting. Your mind was open. Now it’s closed again.”

He felt her psychic resistance as a physical rigidity, almost painful to the touch. “Please, Felix, I’m tired and I need some rest.”

He allowed himself a sigh. “I’ll try again another time,” he promised, and withdrew, allowing the strands of the curtain to swing back down over the doorway.

***

When Felix slipped back into his own hut, he found Anand already lying in the hammock they shared, but awake, waiting for him. This time there was no need for words; Felix shed his shuba and climbed in beside his bond-partner, fitted himself against his slim body with comfortable familiarity, and shared the entirety of the evening’s encounter with his former teacher. Anand held him, quiet and thoughtful, then softly stroked his side. What began as a gesture of comfort kindled desire, and only much later, sated, they slept.

***

Given his initial, if limited, success, Felix wanted to try again as soon as possible, but Anand counseled him to wait. When Natacha was ready to accept his help, it would be easy. Until then, insisting would only create tension and division between them, and she needed his support and friendship now more than ever. Patience had never been Felix’s strong suit, any more than pliancy had been hers, but he knew that his bond-partner was right.

More than two months passed, mainly in hard work and difficult discussions, but not without moments of joy, before a stray thought Felix caught from Natacha during a particularly acrimonious debate decided him to act. That evening, as before, he sought out her dormitory after supper, arriving soon after the night rains began. She was already home, and tired – so tired that it would be hard for her to resist his advances. He hovered outside the dormitory, waiting for her to eat hastily and collapse into her hammock. And then, once she was drifting into sleep, her defenses down, he gently penetrated her thoughts. Natacha?

He sensed her hesitation, the initial impulse to clench her mind against his intrusion, but instead she relaxed, allowing herself to yield to him. Mastering his own emotions, forcing himself to remain calm, he sent another thought of encouragement: I think you receive me.

And then, the amazing thing: her answer, soft but clear. I just want to sleep now. Hearing her, he felt his heart rate soar, found that his hands had begun trembling in his excitement.

All right, he agreed at once, and withdrew.

One small step by Kindar standards, but a giant one for her. Enough for now. He was completely confident that, now that her curiosity was aroused, she would seek out more knowledge on her own, if not the next day, then the next. Perhaps from him, perhaps from another. (He tried to tell himself that it didn’t matter which.)

 
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