by Kathryn Andersen
The jungle was like a sauna. Her jeans felt like heavy sackcloth on her legs, but better that than the scratches she'd get from wearing shorts. Her T-shirt was damp, as damp as the air around her. She sat more firmly on her branch, one arm wrapped around the trunk of the tree, and closed her eyes, the better to listen. Birds called around her, and insects clicked, trees creaked, and leaves rustled.
She imagined, in her mind's ear, what her favourite piece would sound like if sung by this chorus of birds. This one for the flute, and that one for the piccolo, and that breathy one for a pan flute... The music wove in and out, melody and counterpoint, until she could almost imagine she heard it aloud.
It was surprising that she didn't blame her love of music for what had happened. Or perhaps not, for music was her solace in what followed. It wasn't the music's fault that her mother had entered her in the talent show, or that she had vanished, or that Colonel Masters was corrupt, or that her mother had been kidnapped, or that they had to leave everything they'd known and live somewhere else. It wasn't the music's fault that her name was now Lisa Montgomery instead of Lisa Davis.
She still loved singing. She just loathed doing it in public. So she joined a student orchestra, finding an unexpected talent for almost any instrument she laid her hands on. It was somewhere she could still swim in the music, but be out of the spotlight while she did so; just one of the group. Her mother, of course, didn't know what to make of it.
But then her mother had never really known what to make of any of it. She had flatly forbidden any use of her special powers, and Lisa could see the wisdom of it, but it itched in her, the need to do something. So occasionally she sneaked away, just trying to get away from it all, going to places where she wouldn't be bothered by people.
Which was why she was sitting on the branch of a tree in the middle of the jungle, playing with music.
She felt him before she saw him -- a mind full of awe and wonder, still and clear and listening. A human mind, not psi-gifted like hers, but it had an undefinable something that would have made him stand out in a crowd; a sense of unclutteredness, of tranquillity. Her music stopped in her surprise, and when it stopped, she realised that she'd been hearing it with her ears, not just her mind. She opened her eyes and looked down. There was a man standing amongst the trees, bare-chested, gazing up at her. He had a shell pendant hanging from a thong around his neck and feathers in his black hair. His dark skin was weathered with years and with sun.
"Do not stop, Wind-Woman," he said. Of course, he didn't say it in English, but one of the advantages of being a Tomorrow Person was being able to understand any spoken language, and make oneself understood. It didn't enable one to read signs or understand recorded announcements, because they didn't have a living mind behind them -- but it was still enough to be able to get along anywhere in the world. Communicating across the barrier of time was another thing altogether; Megabyte had spouted some theory with phrases like "temporal phase shift" that she'd never understood, but it wasn't as if something like that happened every day. In the here and now, one could be understood.
The word that the man had used didn't just mean "wind-woman" though. It also had overtones of the supernatural -- a spirit, a ghost, or a messenger of the divine. An angel.
"I'm not an angel," she protested.
"You make the wind sing," he said. "You sit in the tops of the trees like a bird. You speak and make yourself understood. Of course you are a wind-woman."
Lisa sighed. What could she do? If she teleported down to the base of the tree (the reverse of how she'd gotten up there in the first place) then that would hardly convince him she wasn't a supernatural visitor. But it wasn't going to be easy to get down any other way. She'd just have to try.
At first she thought she would succeed without any trouble. After all, it was a broad branch she'd seated herself on, and it wasn't that hard to find places for her feet and hands. But just as she'd let out a silent sigh of relief, her foot slipped. She skidded down the trunk, flailing and trying to catch herself, to no avail. She landed with a bump on the floor of the rainforest in a shower of leaves and twigs, with a nasty gash on her arm.
"See," she said, standing up and pointing to her arm. "I am flesh, I bleed, I am not a spirit."
"That is so," he said, "but you are still a Wind-Woman." He smiled, flashing white teeth, and went on, "I am Speaks-To-Trees. And I know what the trees are saying. I listen to the ground, and the ground says 'No one has passed this way but wild boar and ground-birds and scurrying creatures.' I believe the ground. So though you fall down from the tree to show me you are not, I know you are a Wind-Woman, because you did not get here by walking."
He had her there. "I'm not a bird-woman," she said. "I can't fly."
"But you go where you will," he said, "like the wind."
He really had her there. She sighed.
"Why are you here, Wind-Woman?"
"Don't call me that. My name is Lisa."
He bowed his head at her. "I thank you for your name, Leesah. Why have you come to our lands?"
"I wanted some peace and quiet."
"It is not quiet here," he grinned. "And you will not get peace when your heart is full of unpeace, no matter where you go."
"It's not my fault! Why did you have to come along and spoil it all? I was enjoying the birds and the music and--and everything."
"As was I," he said mildly. "And then I heard the wind singing. I had to see what made this wonder. And now I have. It is a Wind-Woman called Leesah." He smiled at her, with a twinkle in his eyes.
She couldn't help but smile back. "I'm sorry for snapping at you."
He made a gesture like he was wiping something away. "You have troubles. That makes the tongue like a knife, because of the knives inside. But when you run away, you carry your troubles with you. When you run towards something, you may actually get there."
"And my troubles will magically vanish, will they?" she said sarcastically.
"No, but they will not cast a long shadow on your mind."
"That's what the music is for."
"Please, do not stop the music, Wind-Woman. Make the wind sing again."
"But I can't," she said. Not with an audience. She wasn't sure she could do it again even without an audience.
She could sense his disappointment, but he gave no sign of it in his next words.
"I have intruded," he said. "I will go."
But she knew that wasn't fair. It was his jungle, after all. She was the intruder, not him. She was always the intruder, the outsider. "No," she said, "I'll go." Maybe there was some other tree, somewhere else. Or a beach. Or something.
"Or it might be," he said, "that we will both stay? The birds are still singing."
She couldn't help a small smile at his hopeful expression. "It might be," she said.
And it might be that she had found a friend.
This was my entry in the 2004 Tomorrow People story competition, one of the conditions of which was that the story couldn't be more than 2000 words.
But this is also a prequel of sorts to my Tomorrow People/Sentinel crossover story "Falling", in that it is a bit of backstory about Lisa in that universe.