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Ep. V Intermission: Kat

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Wednesday 28th August

She was dying.  Dying.  The ruthless monster was going to kill her and leave her on the side of the trail - a crushed, lifeless rag-doll bereft of life and hope.

"Keep your breathing even."  Papa said, hardly seeming to feel the sweltering Montana sun baking the vitality out of-

"Kat.  Unclench your hands.  Breathe easier."

"'m tryin'!" she gasped through lungs that rattled in her chest.  Was that blood she tasted in her mouth?  That was blood she tasted, right?

"Okay, rest."  Josh Williams, Capt., U.S. Army ordered as he slowed to a halt then watched as his daughter staggered in a circle, then leaned against a tree.  In a grey t-shirt and shorts, only a faint sheen of sweat in the dawn air showing he had even been exercising, he seemed to Kat to be an unfairly powerful figure cast from bronze and granite.

"How... far...?"  Kat asked hopefully.  She was reasonably athletic, right?  Not a total couch potato - just because she didn't run track or do sports like that big guy in the Fellowship - Cade, that was it - didn't mean she was useless.  She watched as her father glanced at the Fitbit on his wrist.

"Under one and a half miles."  He didn't look disappointed, there was that at least - he smiled at her encouragingly.  "But you did it in decent time.  We keep this up daily and you'll cover two miles in the same time inside a week."

"Every day? Shit."  She slid down the trunk of the tree to sit on the ground.

"Hey, hey.  Don't sit.  Stand up now."  He gently hiked her up again, smiling a little.  Coral-red hair pasted by sweat to her scalp, she peered at him reproachfully.

"I thought you were going to teach me to look after myself."  she said in a tone containing betrayal and accusation in equal measures.  "How to fight?  Y'know?  That thing we talked about?"

"Catherine."  Uh-oh, he was using her full name - that meant Real Talktm.  He laid a hand on her shoulder, helping prop her upright as much as a gesture of connection.  "Part of looking after yourself is working with what you've got, and making the best out of it.  You're never going to be the biggest and strongest in the fight-"

"Unless I fight Jawas."  Kat grinned as she got her breath back.  Her dad smiled a little, but continued.

"-so you're going to have to be tough.  If you can last longer than the other guy, and move further and faster, you can decide how and when to fight on your own terms."

"Got it.  Like in Zombieland - Cardio."  Kat smirked as Papa ruffled her sweaty hair.

"There's a reason soldiers run, princess.  And it's not because we like barfing up our breakfast."  Josh Williams grinned at her.  "I told you to eat afterwards."

"I didn't know why.  I just assumed you were a sadist."  Kat grumped, trying unsuccessfully to delete the memory of that embarrassing upchuck from her hard drives.

"C'mon."  Her father looped an arm around her shoulders in a hug.  "Brisk walk back, and then a sprint for the final twenty metres.  Winner gets to pick what's for breakfast."

= = = = = = = = = = = =

As luck would have it, Tess had already decided that toast, scrambled eggs and bacon were for breakfast, along with orange juice.  Kat approved - grudgingly, because she still wasn't sure she liked her dad's young, pretty girlfriend.  And she suspected the feeling was mutual.  She could sense Tess's disapproval at this intrusion into her perfect arrangement of bed, board and booty that she had going on with her handsome Army Captain boyfriend, a reminder that Josh might be single, but still had commitments other than the Army and her.  And for Kat, it was similar - this woman felt like an interloper in her mother's place, a pretender to the throne.

"I was wondering if perhaps Kat would like to come shopping with me after school."  Tess mentioned over breakfast.  "It'd be a chance to get to know each other, and I could help her pick out some outifts for school?  What do you think, Kat?"

Aha!  So the bitch doesn't like my clothes. Of course!  You shall never make me over into a miniature you, poodle-woman!

"I dunno..."  Kat said, looking at her eggs for a moment.  "I was thinking about going over to Sean's, maybe go with him to check on Jason."

"Sean?  Jason?"  Tess looked nonplussed, and Josh glanced up from his own breakfast.

"Some boys Kat met at school and clicked with - one of them got attacked in the hallway and had to go to the hospital, which is how Kat ended up there during that lockdown yesterday." he explained casually, his eyes warning Kat not to share too much.

"Oh!  Boys already, and you just got here."  Tess smiled mischievously at Kat.  "Fast work."

I don't want to like her I don't want to like her I don't-  Kat repressed the urge to grin back, and the urge to blush, and instead took a big drink of her OJ.

"I'm sure Jason's resting today, princess."  her dad said, a pensive expression on his face.  "You should take Tess up on her offer - she knows all the best spots in Great Falls."  He smiled hopefully, and Kat realised with a sinking feeling that her papa wanted the two girls in his house to get along.  Of course he did.  It was reasonable for him to.  Damn it.

And so it was that as Kat got out of school she found herself climbing into Tess's neat little Nissan hatchback with a sensation not unlike an aristocrat climbing into a carriage bound for the guillotine.  It was just shopping, though!  Surely it wouldn't be too bad?

Right?

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Nissan Hatchback Versa Note, the model from 2016. SV.                                                                                                                                                                                             Blue car. I knew it. She would totally have a blue car.

Decent fuel uptake. Lots of inner space. Comfortable.                                                                                                                                                                                                  The aesthetics aren't that great, but I've seen uglier cars.

Hmmm. Around fourteen to sixteen kay.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Deep blue. What do they call it ? Y- Yale blue.

Not so exciting to drive though.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         #0E4D92 aaaaaand... rgb(14,77,146). Metallic.

Big car, small format.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           No stickers, no nothing, no sign of personal customization.

Decent electronics.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Wait, I missed that stuffed husky hanging from the rearview mirror.

What was it ? 109 horse power right ?                                                                                                                                                                                                                             What kind of music does she listen to when she's driving ?

Engine torque about 107 lb-pi.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           That's one cute husky.

Why SV though ? What's the point of a manual on a boring car to drive ?                                                                                                                                                                  Oh, wow, these boots. Tsk, I wish I had those legs.

She could've chosen an automatic one. Oooh that's right.                                                                                                                                                                                            When was the last time I went shopping ?

Less pricey.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Bullshit.

I don't want to like her.

 

"I like the car."

Kat had taken a brief moment, glancing at the car for no apparent reason. Then she closed the door. Tessa flashed her a short grin. "Seatbelts !" Kat casually fastened the seatbelt, and before she knew it, they were gone. On the road.

"How far is Great Falls from here ? I was sleeping the whole way from the airport to Shelly." She rubbed the back of her head and grumbled, "It's not like I'm familiar with Montana or anything..."

"About an hour." Tess smiled as she glanced at the petite red-haired girl. "I like your hair colour, by the way. Is it natural?"

"Yeah... my mom's genes splattered all over my skull. At least you won't lose me in the crowd when we get to the shops." She replied in a sarcastic tone, more to herself.

Tess gave a snort of laughter. "Yeah, your dad wouldn't be happy if that happened." She glanced over at Kat, obviously looking for a commonality. "So... Two guy friends already. They cute?"

Kat's mouth opened for a momment, but no sound came out and her cheeks turned a soft hue of pink as she repressed an awkward memory from the day before. She rubbed the back of her head once again. "They're... peculiar." Roll with it. "You ever heard of the De La Chappelle Syndrome ?"

"Is that a new comedy show?" Tess grinned briefly, then shook her head. "In other words, no."

After a short giggle, Kat replied, "Didn't think of that one. To make it brief, Sean has it. His genes tell he should've grown to be a girl from his first breath." Tess quickly glanced at the teen on the passenger seat, curious. "What's the catch ?" "In order te be perfectly sure, I looked it up yesterday evening. You know how procreation is a huge bingo, right ? Well, while Sean's parents' gametes were forming and their chromosomes having their crossover moment, the SRY gene from the Y chromosome of his father ended up on the X chromosome of the pair. In other words, a sexual cell designed to make a girl got messed up. And bingo, that spermatozoid won the marathon." She took a deep breath. "Easier to explain than I thought it would be. So, Sean is a boy with bigger breasts than I could ever hope to get."

"Oh, wow." Tess blinked, almost failing to pay attention to the road as she stared at Kat. "Poor guy! That's got to be rough." She re-focused on the road, a cute little frown furrowing her brow as she considered what Kat had told her.

"Tell me about it... Teenagers are cruel," she said, with a gravity uncommon for a girl her age.

"So the other guy... He 'peculiar' too?" Tess mimed air-quotes as she said 'peculiar'. She cast a wry glance at Kat. "Are you attracting all the oddballs?"

Kat had a brief thought about the little ball of energy that was Alice, quickly followed by a rather disturbing memory of Erwann, then she shook her head. "I guess everyone is an oddball once you get to know them. I just get the more... interesting ones." Her eyes squinted for a moment. "From afar, he just looks like he's from the wrong side of town. From closer, I'd say he can be... scary. Ever stared at a snake straight in the eyes ?"

Tessa's eyes widened a little, and she shook her head. "Uh, no. Never been that close to one." She looked a little concerned now. "Seriously? He's all creepy-like?"

"If a face empty of any emotion and eyes so cold they could freeze the sun fits creepy, then yeah... kind of. But that's only scratching the surface. I can feel there is so much more to him than just creepiness. He's interesting. Both Jason and Sean have them brains working. Working good. It's strange. I like big brains. I feel like I know I'd have some deep conversations with them if I only took the time to... hang out with them."

"Jesus. Shelly's got some strange kids going to school here." Tess's brown eyes widened at Kat's description. "Not sure I'd want to hang out with that second guy. He sounds like Dahmer crossed with the Unabomber. Sean, though - he's okay, right? Other than his Syndrome thing you mentioned?"

Snorting, Kat replied, "Savage. Yeah, Sean's fine. He's sweet. The school counselor knighted him my guide so I could get a grasp of where I'm living now and how the school works. He's been awesome so far."

"Hey." Tess smiled a little apologetically. "Sorry if I'm out of line, it's just... well, guys who seem creepy usually are, in my experience." She focused on the road for a few moments, then "Sean sounds cool, though. Made any girl friends?"

Kat's eyes widened unconsciously as the freckeled face of a smiling Autumn flashed in her mind, and she smacked her forehead, a loud slap accompanying the move. "I wanted to talk to her and I completely forgot. Fricking Stirling formula."

"Hey!" Tess looked alarmed at the sudden forceful facepalm. "Care to add some diagrams for us slowpokes in the back?"

After a couple blinks, Kat realized she had lost her train of thoughts. "Uh...thermodynamic physics, we had a physics class today, I lost track of the actual course and tried to remember something related to thermodynamics, and after that I completely forgot about Autumn. I wanted to have a chat with her after yesterday. We only talked a little when things got crazy at the hospital."

"Ooh, yeah. That whole bio-leak lockdown." Tess nodded sympathetically. "Bet that was a freak-out end to your first day, huh?"

"So Autumn's another friend?"

Kat rested her elbow on the armrest, her fist on her cheek. "I don't know. I guess I want to be her friend. To be their friend. All these guys were at the hospital too." She stopped for a moment, unsure of how not to reveal too much. "There is that... bond. I don't know. I can feel it. They all seem to get along, but they're massively different."

"Sounds like a pretty intense situation, to make you feel close to them." Tess nodded understandingly. After a moment of silence : "What about we listen to some music ?"
Kat nodded in agreement. "What kind of music do you like ?"

The rest of the ride was filled with casual exchanges of music tastes, punctuated by the car speakers crying notes and lyrics till they finally reached Great Falls.

Shopping. It couldn't be bad.

Right ?

Spoiler

 

 

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Posted (edited)

"Oh, this would look cute on you!"  Tess held out a dark green baby-doll tee-shirt with a picture of a velociraptor on the front wearing a toothy grin, holding a Rubix cube and the slogan 'Clever Girl' emblazoned underneath.  Kat pondered it, grinning a little like the dinosaur as she got the joke, then held it against herself.

"It's a bit, uh, tight?"  she commented self-consciously. Tess glanced at the shirt quizzically, then took in Kat's habitual attire - baggy tops, shapeless jeans - and slowly nodded in understanding as she pursed her lips.

"Sometimes it's good to have a tight top."  she smiled mischievously.  "It's the only way to get some guys' attention."  The petite redhead considered the tee-shirt for a moment, then a small grin stretched her lips.

"I like the picture. But I don't know... green ?" She pointed at her hair. "I'm gonna look like Santa's elves with this color."

"They have a grey one." Tess grinned, bringing up her other hand and holding the aforementioned article with an air of slight triumph.

After a short snort of laughter, Kat shook her head. "Fine, I'll take it."

Her father's girlfriend chuckled triumphantly, hanging the other one on the hook and tucking the grey tee-shirt under her arm.  The two of them had done some more serious shopping - regular underthings, socks, various necessities - and were now in, as Tess put it, 'the fun part'.  Which, Kat had to admit, wasn't as bad as she might have feared.  Sure, Tessa wasn't a 'big brain', but she was sharp, had a sense of humor and had a good eye for clothes.  So far she'd persuaded Kat to try on several pairs of jeans that were a bit more 'American high school girl' - low-cut to accentuate rather than shroud the waist and hips.  She'd even guided Kat through sampling some more sophisticated makeup than her usual bare-bones approach.  It wasn't Marissa Jauntsen levels of glamor, but as Kat stood in front of the mirror in the changing rooms she couldn't help putting her hands on her hips and cocking them to one side, attempting a coquettish look with no-one but her to see it, and wondering if it would change how people saw her.  She definitely didn't look twelve years old wearing those jeans and better-fitted tee-shirts, short and pixie-like or not.  Nor did she look like a boy.

She imagined Alice nodding approvingly, her mother teasing her.  Grinning, she imagined her papa's look of concern that his gamine seventeen year old daughter was suddenly looking like a young woman - a paternal terror worse than monsters and psychic powers.  She wondered how Erwann would react, seeing her dolled up and looking like a real girl.  And her new circle of... friends, for want of a better word.  How would they react?  It was hard to say with some, but she mused that Devin would flirt incorrigibly, trying to make her laugh and blush, and Sean... Did he go for girls?  If he did, he'd probably be polite, friendly and sort of sweet.  Then flashed in her mind an image of cold serpentlike jade eyes fixing on her with some kind of formless, nameless hunger in their depths - like a leopard watching a succulent young antelope from a tree, and Kat felt her face grow hot before she turned away from the mirror to get changed once more.

"You okay?"  Tessa asked as they walked down the street, bags in each hand as they returned the parking deck.  They'd stopped at a Starbucks, and were sipping on caffeinated slushies as they walked.  Kat looked at the woman she'd tried very hard to dislike, and smiled.  It wasn't a complete surrender, but it was definitely a willingness to try.

"Yeah."  the young French woman nodded, giving her dad's girlfriend a wider smile.  "Was just thinking this has been a lot of fun.  Thanks."

Tess beamed, her warm brown eyes growing warmer.  "Hey, don't mention it."  she shrugged, though she was obviously happy her bonding gambit seemed to have worked.  "It's a great excuse to spend your dad's money."  She paused, looking at Kat with a raised brow when there was no reaction.  "That was a joke."

She didn't hear Tessa.  She was too busy hearing everything.  Everyone.  Minds, all around her, each of them a small caged universe of thoughts, dreams, fears, loves, joys, terrors, desires.  It was the feelings that she was hearing more than the thoughts, though she could sense the shape of all those minds. But the feelings came strongest, and her mind latched onto the strange sensation, chasing the rabbit down the hole to gods knew where.  Tessa's concern growing / a feeling of irritated disturbance from a man who looked at her askance as she stared at him while he passed by / a woman filled with sorrow in the apartment they were outside / children with their simple joyous abandon as they played.  It was beautiful.  It was terrifying.  It was exhilarating.

If Kat had been neurotypical, then she'd have been able to exert some focus to pull her mind back from getting lost in the sensory emotional impressions that washed over her.  But her brain was easily fascinated by strange new phenomena, and now it lived in an emotional landscape in which floated stars that were minds, each pulsing and shifting colours gently as they broadcast their feelings.

Spoiler

Posted with plenty of help from Drid

 

Edited by GDP_ST

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Kat's face was nothing but surprise. A couple seconds before, they were walking towards Tessa's car, facing the sun - slowly setting its course towards the horizon - and Kat was avidly enjoying the end of her slushie.

Funny.

People kinda looked like suns with that psionic stuff, back in the hospital. How did I do it ?

Before she knew it, her brains were already trying to reproduce the experience of the day before.

Wow.

Her plastic cup made a soft noise when it fell to the floor. The bags' handles slipped from her hand. Her lungs couldn't bear the speed at which she was breathing. They were going to burst. She softly squealed as she reflexively dodged a bright sphere - which turned red of irritation. A wave of anger hit her from behind as she stumbled on something - someone - and she instinctively fled from its source, stumbling - again - as she left the sidewalk. She took a moment to calm her breath, only to be interrupted by a loud honk. She could feel the air draw as a fearful star swiftly passed by.

Kat didn't know where she was going. Her world was but stars. They were plenty, of various colors and shapes, buzzing, moving, changing. Their beauty was striking. This one felt soothing, it had this sort of creamy visual texture, sending peaceful vibes. That one felt lonely, a grey sadness eaten by the larger crowd of colors, hued in every fashion. Surrounded, but lonesome. Far, far away, like a distant call, something felt familiar. Filled with concern.

Her cheeks were humid. She had run away, hiding in a side street. But she could still see the stars. The street was empty, but her world still was stars. This, was too much to take. She was split between her utter terror for reality as she saw it, and a strong impulse to chase after the wisps populating it.

How do I turn it off ? I don't want to turn it off ! But it's so scary ! It's wonderful ! I'm going to die !

She burst in tears, terrorized, cowering on the floor.

Why is it warm, suddenly ? Why is my shoulder wet ?

A bright luminary, blue with concern, obstructed her field of view as she opened her eyes. Someone was hugging her, fiercely. "Tess ?" Her voice was quavering, hoarse. She clamped to the person holding her as the light faded, sending its last vibes. Peace, alleviation. "Yes, it's me, honey. Are you alright ?" Kat's tears increased as she tightened her grip on her dad's girlfriend. "I don't know where I am. I- I- I was so scared !" Her voice, muffled in Tessa's lap, spoke of sheer terror and solace.

Tessa ran a hand in the teen's pixieish hair, rubbing her back with the other. "You were right, you know. Your hair, that's how I found you. You're holding up ?"

The smaller girl sniffed loudly, and stuttered : "It's- it's over," on a somewhat relieved tone.

"Want to tell me what?" Tessa asked, then thought better of it. "Y'know what? Not here. Let's get back to our stuff and get you home, k? Or do you need a doctor, honey?"

Kat loosened her grip on the dark-haired woman, pulling a kleenex from the pocket of her jeans and clearing her nose. "I just wanna go home now."

"Right. Home it is. And Dominos for dinner." She smiled reassuringly at the petite red-haired girl. "Sound good?"

Kat nodded silently, slowly rising to her feet. Then something occurred to her, concern drawing over her features. "My bags !" Tessa put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry, I got your things. Come on, let's get to the car."

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The car was silent on the way back home. Tessa frequently glanced with worry at the fragile shape on the passenger seat, dozing in and out, head rested against the closed window. She was reviewing what had happened earlier. Her poor heart had skipped a beat when that car grazed the little teen. Poor thing. Whatever Kat had endured - was it a panic attack ? - it had left her exhausted. After all, nothing heals better than a good nap.

Another thing that troubled Tessa was what she would have to tell Josh. She hoped he wouldn't freak out. Oh, his daughter was still alive and well, and if she knew one thing about Josh, it was his ability to move on.

Still, they had a great afternoon, and Tessa only hoped this incident wouldn't taint her attempt at befriending the pixieish teen. She looked adorable when sleeping, Tessa thought.

Pizza and a good night of sleep would hopefully be the only medicine needed.

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Intermission wrapped.  XP award:  3  (Good characterisation, excellent writing. Entertaining story style and strong collaboration with and assistance to ST.)

 

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