The doorknob gibbered at her.
It sprayed a scattershot of images into her brain-men and women of widely varied ages and complexions, swirls of color from Terran uniforms and Darkovan native costume, a babble of voices in several different accents.
I must be more tired than I realized, Fiona thought. Ordinarily she could shut out the silent messages from the inanimate objects she touched, or at least mute the communication to background noise. She clamped down her barrier as she hesitantly stepped into the front office of Alien Anthropology. It looked like the interior of any Terran base on any planet. Her eyes absorbed the familiar yellow-sun spectrum, though outside--as she'd noted in a fleeting glimpse upon disembarking from the ship--a ruddy glow suffused the sky.
A brown-skinned young man at the desk glanced at her ID, then buzzed the intercom. Seconds later, a solidly-built, dark-haired man emerged from one of the inner offices. "I'm Jason Allison. Welcome to Project Telepath, Dr. McGraw." He briefly pressed her hand in greeting.
That contact imposed no intrusive visions upon her. Her aberration didn't extend to living creatures. "I appreciate your taking the time for me, Dr. Allison."
His courteous smile widened to a genuine grin as he ushered her into the adjoining office. "Jason. We tend to use first names here, especially with the high density of advanced degrees per square meter. I'm not sure how much we can help you, though. Our staff doesn't specialize in folklore."
Shifting her harp case from her left arm to her lap, Fiona settled into the contoured chair he offered. "I was told your department was the best place to meet native Darkovans without spending a lot of time in Thendara proper--and my fellowship grant doesn't allow me that much time on any one planet."
"Bureaucrats and budgets," Jason chuckled. "We're all too familiar with those." After speaking into the intercom for a moment, he drew her into conversation about her trip and other polite banalities.
Minutes later, a slim young man with golden-red hair walked in. Jason introduced the two of them. "Fiona, Rafe will give you the basic tour and show you to your quarters. Looks like you're ready to plunge right into your work."
"Oh, you mean this?" She glanced down at the harp case she'd tucked back under her arm when she stood up. "I just feel uncomfortable about anyone else carrying it."
"I understand," said Rafe in passable Terran Standard. "My friends who are musicians feel the same way." He didn't offer to shake hands.
Facing him, Fiona saw her first Darkovan, a man about her own age with curly hair and an aquiline nose. He wore the embroidered leather jerkin, wool trousers, and soft indoor boots she'd seen in holograms illustrating Darkovan men's clothing. He saw a petite woman with deep auburn hair sleeked back into a tight bun. Close-reined excitement hummed within her; among all the cultures she'd studied, she felt a special affinity for this one since the planet had been settled largely by people of her own ethnic background.
"What is your laran?" her guide off-handedly asked as he escorted her along the corridor.
"My what?" She knew the word, of course; she was just shocked to hear it apply to herself.
He paused to give her a sidelong smile, his eyebrows quizzically arched. "Your donas--I believe your commonest Terran phrase is 'wild talent.'"
She waited until two men walking down the hall in the opposite direction passed out of earshot. "I don't have one."