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When I Turn Jet-Black and You Show Off Your Light

Posted on Wed Jul 24th, 2019 @ 8:53am by COL-Civilian Jacran & COL-Lieutenant Katarina O'Hara
Edited on on Thu Aug 29th, 2019 @ 10:40pm

Mission: BACKPOSTS
Location: MIT, Earth
Timeline: September 2370
Tags: Backpost

Kat was new. It didn't take a rocket scientist (although they were everywhere around here) to figure that out, which probably explained why, in her third week, despite having not chosen an FSILG, they paired her up with a surly second-year in the warp theory program to help acclimate under the guise of tutoring. She'd attended Toreel's lecture on Lorentzian manifolds and at least he knew his shit, but his reputation for cantankerousness long-preceded him and let's just say she was not looking forward to it. Not out of nervousness so much as she quite frankly had better things to be doing. Yeah, well, so did he. C'est la vie. "O'Hara, yeah?" The voice bit off above her where she'd been perched on a couch at the library, belonging to tall Tandaran with sharp yellow eyes, chin-length hair and a mild alien lilt.

She turned to look at him and closed the book she was reading. "That's my name." She shoved her book in her bag and lifted the strap around her shoulder as she stood to face him. "Least it was las' time I checked." She held out her hand to shake. "Toreel, right?" She was pretty in a tomboy, nerdy sort of way. It was obvious she deliberately downplayed her femininity.

If he noticed she was pretty, he hid it well, glancing down at her like she was a specimen instead of a person. His arms crossed and he gave her a single nod, forgoing the handshake. "You're with me."

She awkwardly took her hand back and tucked her hair behind her ear as she stepped in line beside him. "I sat in on your lecture of Lorentzian Manifolds." The more she spoke, the more her own Southern accent became noticeable. "You're a warp theory major right?"

"Yeah," he grunted. His mind was rustling papers and grid-lines. Pencil-strokes, soft-lead, splintering wood and elegant spirals. Numbers scrawled neatly down blackboards and graffiti on brick-buildings and splashes! of color where you least expect it out of endless, numbing grey concrete. Fish and chips and alleyways and smoke from grates and heavy, heavy stones.

Kat was no expert at shielding. Barely a novice. Everything she knew she had learned through books and online tutorials about meditating and chi and stuff. So while she could muffle others feelings a little, it was far more difficult when they were in close proximity and had such a large mental presence like Jack seemed to have. Unlike most of her other peers though who had out of control raging hormones, Jack's mind seemed to be very poignant and focused and was probably one of the first times she'd ever felt another's "emotions" without it bothering her or making her want to run away. "You know, I--don't really need a tutor." She was very well aware there was probably a countless number of other things the upperclassman would rather be doing than babysitting the teenage mutant ninja freshman.

He kept walking, thumbing the pockets of his jeans. A pencil stuck out from behind his ear, but other than that he had no bag or jacket. "Sure."

She sighed and had to fight the urge to roll her eyes. Stupid boys. "Where're we goin' anyway?"

"Cafeteria."

Kat didn't do cafeteria food. She had way too many allergies. "Why?" It was so loud there. And so many people. She had been perfectly content in the library with her thermos of peach iced tea thank you very much.

"I'm hungry."

"Ok. Well. I can--meet you in the quad or something when you're done?"

"It'll take two seconds. Relax." He walked in; at this time the food court was rather empty except a couple of people occupying tables near the back, and he popped his credit chip into a vending machine to grab a bag of chips. "Want anything?"

She sighed and stiffly followed him inside. It wasn't that crowded but it still made her uncomfortable. She started counting to five and breathing to relax. She stood to the side gripping her notebook to her chest. When he asked if she wanted anything shook her head. "I can't eat anything without reading the packaging first." She could have just said she wasn't hungry but then he might have gotten her something anyway, because sometimes people did that. She still didn't get why. "Allergies." She practically lived on Lara bars and beef jerky.

"Mm." Jack ripped open the packet on his chips and munched them as he headed back out, clearly expecting her to follow him. He pushed open the doors leading outside into a small courtyard with a sprinkling water fountain and benches spread in a circle around it, surrounded by well-maintained foliage.

She'd found this place on her own a couple days in during a self guided tour. If they stopped here she wouldn't mind. She was getting tired of being herded like a sheep, expected to follow.

Reaching into his jacket pocket, he tugged out a small spiral notebook and yanked the pencil from behind his ear, sitting on a bench cross-legged and furrowing his brow to polish up a half-drawn sketch of the fountain before them. "What's your major?"

She sat on the other side of the bench. "Biochemistry and biophysics." She was double majoring. She was a 16 year old girl who had no interest in boys, or parties. What else was she gonna do but study?

"Mm." Jack was not the talkative sort.

Kat didn't mind. Since he was sketching, she pulled out her textbook and opened it to where she'd left off in the library. She was already into the 2nd quarter's study material and was working on an extra credit personal time project she had already gotten approved through her prof. She was also vaguely aware that there was some sort of betting pool going around amongst her department behind her back about when she was going to burn up and drop out.

"Variable's wrong." He tapped her sheet. "It's not always true that every smooth manifold holds a pseudo-Riemannian signature. If it's a submanifold the metric tensor becomes zero in a causal structure curve. Go back to Minkowski."

She looked up and listened to what he said then went back to read over her notes and equations. She had a slightly furrowed brow as she tapped her pencil on her chin and then she reworked the variable, and suddenly all of the problems she had been stuck on were suddenly clear and her smile grew as she finished her equation. Her pencil scratched over the page in a dizzying, exciting pace. She'd been working on it for almost two days and hadn't been able to solve it til then. She looked at him with a smile. "Thank you!" She then made some notes in the textbook itself that she had drawn the variable from, to make sure she or anyone else using the book, did not make the same mistake. She did that a lot, corrected textbooks.

"Exactly," he nodded to her correction. "So, if you're describing a compact Lorentzian manifold that isn't geodesically complete, there's your Clifton-Pohl torus." Jack leaned over and drew an example beside her work. "Maybe you don't need a tutor but two heads are better than one. Especially if you're using those books."

She was here on a scholarship. Old second hand textbooks were pretty much all she could afford. But she nodded at his statement, regardless. "I suppose that is a valid point. I'm just--sorry you got pinned with me is all."

"Why? You're the same as everybody else around here."

She gave him a look... But after a moment she ended up just shaking her head and waving it off. She knew she was weird and unusual. Even by MIT standards. She just had the luxury of not caring about anybody else's opinion of her but her own. She returned her focus back to her work a moment later. "You're probably one of the only people other than my pa, and my gran who've ever said that to me without sounding patronizing or condescending." She was saying thank you.

He shrugged. "You're a nerdy teenaged hybrid. Not the first and won't be the last."

She snorted a little laugh "Thanks."

"Mm. Show me the next one." He tipped his chin up at her textbook.

She flipped to the next chapter with a solvable variable and flipped her notebook open to where she had begun to work on that problem as well.

Toreel gestured for her to keep going, and watched her tediously trace out an equation. "Stop," he told her before she was halfway finished. "You're one of those kids who memorized their times tables at five."

Her brow furrowed a little. "Maybe. I don't remember how old I was when I started practicing multiplications. What's wrong?"

"4x1=4, 4x2=8, 4x3=12," Toreel recited monotonously. "Math isn't about memory, O'Hara. It's intuition. That's just nonsense. What is it describing?" he plucked her pencil up and gently traced out four transparent boxes, shading them slightly to differentiate.

She watched intently as he drew the images on her paper, her head tilting slightly this way and that as the equation came to life in 3D. She nodded, thinking she understood, and she read the equation again and instead of numbers she started drawing it out in pictures like he'd done. Smiling at her finished work before she showed it to him to check her answer.

Toreel examined it and gave a nod. "You got it."

She set down her pencil and reached into her bag to take out a Lara bar. She tore open the wrapper and took a bite. "Another?" she requested and stuck the snack bar between her teeth. She slipped her pencil behind her ear and flipped through a couple chapters to one part in particular that she had been stuck on. She then flipped her notebook to her notes on that subject as well where she only had a half equation written and a bunch of incorrect attempts to work it out beneath it.

"You're doing it again," he huffed.

"I know." She went back and reread the problem and the equation and started a new page trying to rework it without going on robot autopilot with the math.

He held up a hand to halt her and took her notebook, balancing it on his crossed knee. "Basic efficiency equation. Take it down. What's 2/4? 0.5. You're dividing a smaller number by a larger number. 8.0 J/20 J=0.40 Jx100% because 100% is the maximum efficiency. Same deal here, only you're working with bigger quantities."

She listened to him intently. "Ok..." She wanted to take notes so badly but he had her notebook and her pencil. "I think I understand."

He held it out to her, numbers neatly drawn beside her prior work.

"Thanks." She took it back and studied what he'd written compared to what she'd begun to work out on her own. "So... If I just view the problem as a trivial logistic system whose element is a Lebesgue measurable 7-chain..." Her pencil and eraser alternatively moved across the page as she tried to work it out on her own.

"A countable union of countable sets is countable, ergo you're looking at a basic expression of the Cantor theorem," a brief smile flickered over his features before smoothing out into his typical resting-scowl.

She listened, getting really dorkily excited as she went. "...and then biject it to a compact module..." Scribble. Scribble. Scribble. Eraaaaaase. Brush, brush, brush. Scribble. Scribble. She sat back grinning at the page, then offered it to him to inspect her work.

"You got it."

If possible her grin widened even more and she clapped her hands excitedly before taking it back. "This is fun."

"You're going to do that whole sheet, aren't you."

Pfft. The whole sheet that's cute. She was gonna do the whole book at this point. "Maybe. You don't have to stay."

"I don't have to do anything."

She nodded. "Ok."

He motioned for her to keep going. They stayed out by the courtyard for a couple more hours. Despite his surliness, he was a patient tutor, and combined with her enthusiasm she did in fact manage to work through several chapters of her textbook.

In other words she was probably weeks ahead the rest of her classmates. That hadn't been the goal, but it was a nice byproduct. Hopefully, she could get some extra credit work or projects from her professor as a reward. She didn't realize how much time had passed until her stomach started rumbling. She had already eaten both of her Lara bars she'd brought. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, and looked at the time on her PADD. "Holy Jeeze. Have we really been out here that long?" It hadn't felt like hours. Time flies when you're having fun.

Toreel glanced down at his phone. "Yeah, looks like."

She started gathering up her supplies and putting them in her bag. "Now, I'm hungry."

"What do you eat?"

"A lot of protein," she said with a crooked smile. "I'm allergic to soy, dairy, corn, canola oil, gluten, and nitrates."

Jenkins wolf-whistled when they walked by and Toreel flipped him the bird. "Wrong occupation."

Kat scowled at the boy until they passed. "I really dislike that boy."

Jack hummed. "It'll work itself out."

She kind of hugged her notebook to herself. "I know this pizza place right off campus that has dairy free cheese and gluten free dough. They have regular pizza too." It was an invitation.

"Alright."

"It's only one bus stop away." That's apparently where she was heading, towards the bus stop.

He fell into step beside her, hands tucked in his pockets!

She might only be 16, but she was confident and self assured, definitely more than most 16 year olds might be in her shoes. She knew exactly where she was going and she did so with sure footing and the slightest limp in her step. "Can I ask where you're from?"

Conversely, Jack was far more reserved. He walked like he was in his own world, just out-of-reach. "TÄ«may."

They arrived at the bus stop and she brushed some hair out of her face, even though the wind just kept blowing it back in her face. "Where's that?"

"Shevar-sector." It was non-Federation territory. "Earth?" He pointed at her, brows raised.

She nodded. "Georgia born and raised. Savannah ta be precise."

"Miss it?"

She worried on the inside of her lip for a moment as she thought about that. "Yeah, I s'pose. I think I miss my horse more'n anything though. And maybe my gran's cooking. And my best friend." And now she was homesick, missing Link, and Charlie.

"I'm sorry."

She shrugged. "It's fine. No need to apologize. I knew what I was signing on for."

He tugged her back away from the road a little as the bus pulled up.

She didn't think anything of it and when it stopped, she climbed on. She gave the driver a polite smile as she swiped her pass and headed back to find an open seat for them.

He sat down beside her, posture formal and straight.

"Why warp theory?" She asked demurely.

"I like warp theory."

"Simple enough," she said with a smile. "How long've you lived on earth?"

His head tilted curiously. "Two years."

"Do you ever feel homesick?" She asked a bit wistfully. Her homesickness made her feel childish.

"It's common."

She took that to mean it was common for him to feel homesick, which made her feel a little better. She nodded solemnly. "Does it get--easier?"

"Depends on how you define easy."

"I guess--I dunno I worry sometimes if I made the right choice coming here. Do you ever--feel that way?"

Toreel glanced up, sharp yellow eyes meeting her black. "No."

"Right." She wished she had his confidence in that regard. They were coming up on their stop and Kat reached up to pull the cord, signaling the driver they wanted to get off.

"What's the other choice?"

She shrugged. "I dunno. I could have gone to state, or I could've joined Starfleet like my dad, or I could've stayed on the ranch with my gran."

"You want to do that stuff?"

She shook her head. The bus stopped and she got up after him to get off.

"Then you made the right choice." He followed her off the bus.

Jack made everything so simple. Just the way he explained things, she didn't know why it just was easy to understand. He did not speak a lot but the things he said were meaningful. She kind of envied that about him. He seemed to know his place in this world where she was still struggling to find hers. She knew he was older, but still. She walked off the bus and passed a few shops until they came to the little pizza place. It was called "Za Pizza" and was really kitschy but it smelled amazing. They had a regular menu of pizza options or a build your own, and they also had a full vegan menu as well. Kat stepped up to the cashier and ordered a personal pan pizza with gluten free dough, vegan pasta sauce, dairy-free cheese, bacon, tomatoes, prosciutto, and grilled chicken. She also listed off her allergies to make sure nothing with those was used to make her food. She took a moment reading the label on their peach iced tea and didn't find anything she was allergic to so she got one of those and handed over her credit chip to the cashier. She took her number and receipt. "I'm gonna go find a table," she told Jack before he ordered his own food.

Jack pointed at the first option on the menu, which happened to be regular a old pepperoni and cheese slice.

"Just the first. Thanks." .

The cashier smiled. "You want anything to drink?"

"Water."

"3.75."

He awkwardly fumbled in his pockets for his chip.

Kat already had her chip out and offered it to the cashier. "My treat!" she said with a soft, uncertain smile. "As thanks for helping me today."

He didn't seem to have time to do anything other than nod, blinking a couple times.

She took her chip back and put it away then went to go sit down at a booth by the window.

He followed suit and sat down, posture straight.

They talked a little over lunch, not extensively, but it was an opportunity to get to know each other a little better. By the time they got back to campus, Kat could happily, hopefully say she had a new friend. At the very least, she had someone she felt she could trust, and that meant something.

 

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