Voices, so many voices, shouting and babbling in her mind, a never-ending cacophony of talking and yelling; random thoughts, angry, scared or upset; and above those, louder voices - urgent, insistent, compelling her to listen, to trust them, to let them help. But Katherine knew that you shouldn't listen to voices in your head, so she ignored them, tried to block them out, but it didn't work, it never worked! They came and went with her splitting headaches, always talking so loudly and all muddled over each other, trying to be heard.
[Listen! Please, just listen!]
[It's okay, don't panic. We're here to help.]
[Can you hear me? Listen, please, I'm trying to help you!]
Who were they? Why her, why were they talking to her? What did she need help with, other than the terrible pain their voices caused?
[Please, listen to me! My name is Elena. I'm not going to hurt you. You need to calm down and listen.]
This voice was louder, clearer than the others, but not painful. Opening her eyes to a squint, Kath saw a young woman with curly, dark-reddish hair and a kind face, maybe in her early twenties.
[It's going to be alright.] The voice was coming from her, but she wasn't moving her lips. [Link your mind to mine. You have to break out.]
Meeting her eyes, Kath shook her head in confusion, not knowing what she meant and too frightened to try to speak. It's too loud. It hurts! Help me!
[Trust me,] the woman said soothingly inside her mind. [Everything will be fine. I want you to visualise a flower blooming in the morning sunlight. Imagine a tightly-clenched fist opening right out. Imagine all the noise and pain pushing against a wall and the wall breaking apart easily, letting it all spill out and wash away.]
With some difficulty, the images began to form in Kath's mind. A sense of relief and happiness that was not her own washed through her as the flower bloomed, the hand opened up, the wall crumbled, and with a sudden rush, the noise subsided. The pain vanished, and she opened her eyes properly. Her own relief at not being in pain left her breathless for a moment.
"Are you okay?" Elena asked out loud. The question seemed odd to Kath, given that this woman seemed to know exactly what was going on, and that the girl she had just rescued was indeed perfectly okay now. Glancing up at the brightness above her - when had she fallen down? - Kath noticed gathered onlookers.
[Just a bad migraine,] she was told. [It'll get them to go away.]
She repeated Elena's words and, as promised, the crowd dispersed. The pavement suddenly became very uncomfortable, and Kath struggled to her feet, Elena helping and steadying her once she was upright.
[So,] Kath thought, trying it out to see if Elena could hear her, [who are you?]
[I'm Elena. I'm one of the Tomorrow People, and now so are you.] Smiling at Kath's nonplussed reaction, Elena placed a hand on the younger girl's shoulder and guided her away from the people coursing along London's streets. [What's your name?]
[Katherine Hughes.] She brushed her dark-blonde hair out of her face self-consciously. [My friends call me Kath.]
[It's Kath, then.] Another warm smile, as Elena led her into an empty alleyway. [TIM, I've found her. Can you jaunt me a belt, please?]
[You'll see,] said Elena, as a wide, large-buckled belt materialised in her hand. Kath stared in surprise, but when Elena handed it to her and told her to put it on, she barely hesitated. After all, she was speaking telepathically, somehow. What was a little bit of matter transportation? She was probably dreaming anyway; might as well enjoy it before she woke up. [Okay TIM, jaunt us in.]
The world became swirling colours for a brief moment and she felt slightly dizzy as she felt a sort of dissociation and coalescence of her body, but suddenly she was indoors, in an odd, slightly-futuristic place dappled with lights. Stepping from the platform without even thinking about it, she stared around at the room in wonder.
"How did I get here?" she asked, turning back to Elena.
"Well, TIM jaunted you in using the belt, but you'll soon be able to do it on your own. The belt just deals with navigation and provides a boost."
"And Tim is...?"
"Our computer." The sound of a throat being cleared echoed around the room, and Kath turned to look for the source, but found none. "Sorry, TIM - biotronic artificial intelligence," Elena corrected herself with a grin. "He's up there," she added in a stage whisper, pointing upwards. Four hemispherical globes hung from the ceiling, glowing and pulsing with soft light, bubbles of colour drifting across their surface and along the large tubes surrounding them. "TIM, this is Kath."
"Welcome, Kath," said the voice, deep and warm.
The introduction of an AI set into the ceiling was just a little too much for Kath; she was usually perfectly willing to suspend her disbelief for the purposes of science-fiction books and television, but now she was required to really start believing. The dizziness returned, and was then suddenly amplified as she felt her body lose cohesion again and then quickly reform. When her knees weakened past being able to stay standing a moment longer, she landed on the couch she had seen in the middle of the room, under the glowing AI. As she looked around in confusion, seeing Elena standing further away than before, she frowned deeply.
"I jaunted you over to the couch," TIM told her patiently. "You were very pale."
"Good thinking, TIM," said Elena, hurrying over. "You should have a cup of tea," she said to Kath. "Extra sweet, please, TIM." A few moments later, a steaming mug appeared on the central table, accompanied by a strange sound that could've come straight out of a dated sci-fi show.
"You can make drinks appear." Kath looked at the mug with some suspicion as she stated the obvious. It was a habit; sometimes things were easier to understand and take in if she told herself the facts aloud.
"And food," TIM replied, as she picked up the mug and blew across the top. "I can produce anything you need."
"Where are the guys?" Elena asked.
"They are on their way now."
The platform Kath had stepped from a few minutes ago lit up, and two men appeared with soft musical tones. There were no flashy special effects, she noted, wondering how different it would be if done on an American budget. Realising that she was again believing all this strangeness, because there was little denying it was real, she took a large gulp of the hot, sweet tea. It was at perfect drinking temperature, and just sweet enough to soothe her nerves without being cloying.
She looked up at the two men as they crossed the room towards her, smiling. One was middle-aged, with a serious brow, stress lines, and thick black hair going slightly grey here and there. The other was much younger, maybe almost twenty - only a few years older than she was - and also dark-haired but with a shorter style. He had a mischievous face, and was grinning at her in welcome.
"You found the latest recruit then," he said cheerily, dropping down onto the seat opposite her. "I'm not the new boy anymore."
"Well, Kath's the new girl, so technically..."
"Oh shut up," he said, reaching out and giving Elena a playful shove. "Kath, is it? I'm Paul."
"And I'm John," said the older man, standing behind the couch, arms loosely folded. "It sounded like everything went more-or-less okay?" He directed this almost-question to Elena, who nodded. "Have you explained everything?"
"Well give me a minute, I'm not Wonder Woman!" she laughed. "I'd barely got past explaining TIM."
"Wait a minute," said Kath, and she was suddenly aware that she hadn't said a word since before the two men had arrived. She ducked her head and took another fortifying sip of tea before continuing. "How much more is there to explain? This is quite a lot of stuff. I can speak telepathically, teleport - no, jaunt? And there's an artificial intelligence who makes tea." She laughed breathlessly, nervously. "It's all a little bit..." She waved her free hand expressively, trying to convey the level to which she was overwhelmed and bemused.
"Sorry, Kath," said John, leaning on the back of Paul's seat. "There is rather a lot to take in, I'm afraid."
"Well, tell me - what other ... 'powers' do you have?"
"We," Paul began, stressing that Kath was now one of them, "can move things with our minds."
"She knows her lingo, this one," he joked, nodding. By way of demonstration, he took a set of keys from his pocket, put them on the table, and then lifted them several feet into the air without touching them.
"Try it!" The keys returned to the table, and Kath looked at them doubtfully. Drawing on her science-fiction books for inspiration, she closed her eyes and attempted to reach out with her mind. She 'felt' the jagged and smooth edges of the bunch of keys, tested their weight, and then carefully lifted them up. Opening one eye experimentally, she saw the keys hovering a few inches above the table, and she made a small noise of excitement before dropping them again. The others were all smiling at her, whether for her achievement or for her easily excitable nature, she wasn't sure.
"What else?" she asked eagerly.
"That's about it," Elena said. "Just the telepathy, jaunting and telekinesis. It's enough to be getting on with, I think," she added with a grin,
"Some of us have been able to do other things, over the years," John said, a far-off look in his eyes, as though just thinking about the past took him back there. "One boy was very good at picking locks. Another could give people hallucinations, project images. Kept his father's hotel 'haunted' for years." He smiled at the memory.
"So who are 'us'?" Kath asked. "Why can we do these things?"
"You didn't even get to that part?" Paul said to Elena in surprise, and she scowled at him.
"It takes a bit of explaining," she replied huffily. "You see," she said to Kath, "we're the next stage of human evolution. We call ourselves the Tomorrow People."
"So I'm not human?" Kath squeaked incredulously.
John chuckled. "You're human, just not Homo sapiens. I originally coined the term Homo superior, although the preferred term is Homo novus now."
"New man," Kath murmured thoughtfully.
"That's right. Our kind is evolving to make the world a better place - which it will be when we eventually take over from the Saps."
"It's our word for the Homo sapiens," said Paul. "We're Tomorrow People, they're Saps."
"It doesn't sound particularly pleasant when you think about it, but someone came up with it years ago and it sort of stuck." With a teasing grin, Elena directed this towards John, who returned her look with one of familiar wry patience.
"Yes, anyway. Unlike the Saps, we're a pacifist species; we can't fight, can't kill - not even to defend ourselves."
"Oh. How does that work?" Kath asked curiously.
"I'm not altogether sure," John replied thoughtfully. "Something in our minds stops us from being able to harm others, and there's a shift in the balance of instinct between fight and flight. Other species like ours in the Galactic Federation call it the Prime Barrier. We're not left completely helpless, obviously; we can jaunt to safety quite easily, sometimes instinctively."
Kath blinked a few times, trying to be sure if she'd heard correctly. "Go back - Galactic Federation, other species? So, aliens?"
Paul was on the verge of sniggering, and Elena smacked his arm reprovingly. "Like you accepted it easily," she scolded. "You thought you were going crazy!" She looked kindly to Kath. "Yes, aliens. We represent the Earth to the Galactic Federation, which is comprised of all the peaceful telepathic species in the galaxy. It's something of a ruling body," she added, glancing at John, who nodded approvingly.
"They're a bit too bureaucratic a lot of the time, but there'd be chaos without them. At least there's a semblance of order with them in charge."
"I see." Kath sipped at her tea thoughtfully.
"And occasionally we visit other planets," Paul added, grinning when Kath choked a little on her tea.
"Really?!" she gasped, putting the cup down and forgetting even to be embarrassed as she wiped tea off her chin.
"Really," John chuckled.
"This is all a bit... I mean... It's like science-fiction!" she said, to no-one in particular. "Except it's not fiction."
"The whole breaking-out process does tend to throw you in at the deep end," said John sympathetically. "But you've got us to help you through it. Even so, I think we'd better give you some time to come to terms with it. Where were you headed to before Elena found you?"
Kath started as though she'd been jabbed in the side with something sharp, and she grabbed at her bag reflexively. "Damn it! What's the time?"
Elena checked her watch. "Twenty past one."
"Damn it," she said again, sinking back into the couch and frowning to herself. "I was getting lunch in town. I've got to be back at school by quarter to two. How far is it back to town?"
"You can jaunt now, remember? It'll only take a few fractions of a second," Elena said, smiling. "I'll go with you the first time to make sure you get there."
"But, my lunch..." She trailed off as she remembered that the AI computer could make food. She looked up timidly. "Um, TIM?"
"Could I please have a, um... chicken sandwich?"
"Ooh, I'll go in on that, TIM," Paul added.
"Certainly." Two rounds of cooked-chicken sandwiches on a plate appeared on the table with the same sound as before, and with a smile and a thanks, Kath tucked in.
After some discussion of school and the necessary secrecy about her new powers, Kath had finished her share of the sandwiches and was once again worrying about the time.
"You've got five minutes yet, don't worry," Elena reassured her. "Do you want to try a quick jaunt across the room, to practice? You don't want to miss and land in - oh, I don't know - a rubbish bin or something."
Elena smiled sweetly at Paul as he glared at her, and John laughed. Kath giggled along with him, surprised at how easy she found it to laugh with these people. She wasn't usually very confident around strangers, but the other Tomorrow People already felt like her friends. She could feel the link between them all, the telepathic bond that meant they were all alike. She'd never really felt like she belonged anywhere, so the new feeling was one she wanted to enjoy for a while.
She still wasn't quite sure that she wasn't dreaming, however.
Kath lay on her bed, staring moodily at the ceiling, one hand idly stroking the dense, silky fur of the cat that was purring contentedly on her stomach. She spoke to her occasionally, but there was never much of a response. Vera was a rather lazy cat, and had every right to be; five mischievous kittens could be quite tiring, for both their mother and the family that took care of them all. Kath had been allowed to name them all, and had taken great delight in devising ones that would be completely meaningless to her parents. Starbuck and Q were currently playing on the rug, pawing and clawing and gnawing on each others' ears with enthusiasm, Planck was sleeping by her foot, Buckminsterfullerene was prowling around her computer desk and occasionally chewing the corner of the keyboard, and Schrödinger was nowhere to be seen.
As Kath rubbed her knuckles between Vera's ears and smiled half-heartedly at the increase in purring, Buckminsterfullerene took his chances with the gap between desk and bed, and leapt across as though he thought he could fly, using the computer chair as a stepping stone. Planck woke with a tiny yowl, angry at being landed on, and Kath had to sit up and dislodge Vera in order to sort out the mini-scrap that was about to develop at her feet.
"Honestly, I think your father was a flying fox sometimes," she muttered, picking the kitten up and moving him away from the sleepy, cranky Planck. Vera stalked to the edge of the bed and jumped to the floor, seeking out the large fluffy jumper piled on the chair in the corner. "No offence," Kath said to her as an afterthought. "Really, Bucky - your mum, eh?" She laid back, placing the kitten on her chest and gently stroking his fur as he settled there.
It wasn't so bad, being grounded, if she had her cats to keep her company. She may have had the fuses removed from the plugs of her television, stereo and computer (in lieu of her father having to put in the effort of removing them completely), but she had her cats. She frowned at the ceiling as the circumstances of her grounding came back to the forefront of her mind. She half-hoped now that she really was dreaming. Some 'special powers' they were, if all they did was get her in trouble. She'd never been in trouble at school before, not properly. Not until now. And if she had still been normal, just plain old Kath, it would never have happened. She sighed heavily, wondering if this was the sort of thing she was supposed to report to the others. Or if she even wanted to see the others again, if their involvement in her life had caused this much embarrassment, worry and hurt.
No, that's stupid, she quickly scolded herself. You have these powers now, and they're not going to go away. You can't even control them properly yet. And besides, they're your friends now. Proper friends. She laughed scornfully at herself. Yeah, like they'd be your friends if they knew. The familiar tightness in her chest manifested suddenly, and her throat felt swollen and sore. She screwed up her eyes against the tears, hugged the kitten to her, and bit her lip against the yell of anger and pain and fear trying to escape her.
She sat up suddenly, setting Bucky down beside her.
[Are you okay?]
[I'm fine,] she replied quickly, wiping her eyes. [Why?]
[I heard you screaming. What's the matter?]
[I didn't scream.] Oh god, could she hear that?
[Not even in your mind? Your shields are practically nonexistent until you've had a bit of training. We can hear anything much stronger than loud thoughts.]
[...We?] Oh god... Kath drew her knees up to her chest, feeling almost sick with embarrassment.
[Yes, John and Paul heard it too. What's wrong?] Elena sounded worried, too worried for Kath to feel good about lying to her, but what choice did she have? She could still explain the situation without going into any incriminating detail.
[I got grounded. Because I was suspended from school.]
[You, suspended?] She sounded so surprised that Kath wondered exactly how strong her first impression must be if Elena already had her pegged as the 'quiet studious girl who never gets in trouble'.
[I was ... I was being bullied, and they were shoving me, and then they all got shoved away. I pushed them with my mind - but I didn't mean to. One of them hit a pillar in the corridor. He split his head on the corner, had to go and get stitches,] she finished quietly.
[Oh dear,] said Elena, just as quietly. Kath felt a wave of sympathy through their mental link. [It's okay, I know it wasn't your fault. You're not properly trained yet; in a stressful situation, your mind is bound to lash out in any way it can.]
[I thought you said I couldn't hurt people?]
[Not on purpose. What happened was an accident; your mind couldn't have predicted what would happen after you pushed.] There was a long pause, and Kath wondered if Elena was relating the story or if the two men had been listening. Maybe she had just run out of reassurances.
[I didn't tell anyone what really happened,] Kath said, when Elena still said nothing.
[I know, I know,] she replied soothingly. [Look, I'm jaunting over - there's no-one about, is there?]
Kath considered the wisdom of having a girl in her room while she was grounded, but decided the prospect of company was more attractive than the fear of getting caught. [Just my cats.]
With the rippling, musical sound that was fast becoming familiar, Elena appeared next to Kath's bed, hands still on her jaunting belt. She perched on the edge, automatically smoothing the duvet a little as she did so, and smiled carefully at her.
Kath smiled back half-heartedly, holding her kitten protectively and not meeting Elena's eyes. She looked up quickly, though, when the older woman placed a hand on her foot.
"It's okay, you know. We've all had to learn to control our powers, and we've all lost control at one point or another. It does get easier." Planck had woken up at some point during the last few minutes, and had meandered up the bed to bat at Elena's hand. She lifted it from Kath's foot and petted the kitten gently, smiling when he rolled over like a puppy. "How many of these do you have?" she asked, taking in the one curled up on Kath's chest and the two still playfully scrapping on the floor.
"Six. That's Planck," she said, nodding at the one Elena was petting. "This is Bucky - short for Buckminsterfullerene." Elena smiled a little at that. "That's Q and Starbuck on the floor, and Vera on the chair. She's the mum. And I can't see Schrödinger right now; I think she's under the bed."
"Have you checked?" Elena asked with a smile, and Kath found herself grinning. It had been a while since anyone had shared a science joke with her. "Very cool names."
"Yeah, my parents let me name them. They haven't a clue about science stuff, so it's my little joke."
"John's quite a one for science and maths. We all have an affinity for physics and complex calculations, somehow - I think it's something the Tomorrow People share. We have to do calculations for navigation, and take into account the rotation and orbit of the Earth, so if we have to programme coordinates into the jaunting belts ourselves, we can." Elena smiled at the look of fascination Kath realised must be on her face. "There's also a bit of quantum mechanics in there too, if you want to understand how we actually jaunt. Ask TIM, he knows everything there is to know about it," she added.
"So, Tomorrow People are naturally more intelligent?"
"Broadly speaking," Elena replied with a grin. "Some of us more than others."
"That'll help with my exams, I suppose," said Kath, smiling. They both watched Planck bite gently at Elena's finger for a few moments.
"I'm sorry you got suspended," she said eventually. "I'll train you over the next few weeks, build up your shields and help you control the telekinesis. You should've said something if you were being bullied. We're always here, you know. You're never alone. Next time something happens, just call, and one of us can jaunt in somewhere close by and come to your rescue." Elena smiled gently, reassuringly, and Kath nodded slowly.
"Do you know why they were picking on you?"
"Um..." Kath searched her mind frantically for something to tell her, but came up blank. "No, no idea. I'm just quiet, and too clever, maybe."
"Hmm." Elena did look a little suspicious, but Kath just shrugged and she let it go.
Voices reverberated suddenly through the floor, and a door shut loudly. The stairs creaked, and Kath panicked. "That's my dad! Go, quick!"
Elena vanished a few seconds before Kath's father opened the door to her room without knocking. Kath stretched her feet out along the bed to fix the wrinkles left in her duvet cover, and tried not to look like she was trying to act casual.
Her father looked around the room suspiciously for a moment. "Have you still got your mobile?"
"No. Mum took it," Kath replied sullenly.
"We heard you speaking to someone."
"I was talking to the cats."
She got another suspicious look before he gave up and left. Kath sighed heavily and slumped down on her bed, frowning at the wall. There was a tugging on the side of her duvet, and she looked down to see Schrödinger clawing her way up the fabric. She scooped up the elusive kitten and scratched her head fondly.
"You know," she said quietly, "I reckon I could work out the quantum physics behind jaunting. I bet John and TIM would be impressed if I could." With a small smile, she got up and started searching for a pad and pen.
During the week she was grounded, Kath jaunted to the Lab in her lunch break and during one or two morning intervals, and Elena took breaks from her job at the travel agents at the same time to train her developing powers and eat lunch with her. Paul often dropped in from college to see how she was doing, TIM chipped in with advice and encouragement occasionally, and John ate with them and made conversation. She had been right; John and TIM were very impressed with her calculations, but she felt shy and embarrassed showing them, as though she were showing off. Some of the bullying she endured at school was due to her being too smart for her own good, and she had quickly learnt not to volunteer answers or show pride in her high marks, as it tended to engender bitterness in her classmates. She didn't hold herself back in her personal study, however, and she kept her self-esteem by knowing that she was more intelligent than they were, and they were simply envious.
In this new company, however, she felt easier letting her ability show. Maybe she'd be safe being herself here... But no, that wasn't safe anywhere. Her parents considered it a vile and perverse aspect of her nature, and she had given up fighting with them and accepted that the world was an ignorant, unforgiving place. It had to be; if her own parents couldn't accept her for who she was, how was anyone else supposed to?
It wasn't until a week after her grounding had been lifted that everything went wrong. A nightmare gripped her mind one night; cruel faces taunting and shouting, high walls confining her, sharp words wounding, and she awoke with a desperate cry for help that brought a sleepy Elena to her bedside within moments.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
Confused, scared, and not quite fully awake, Kath could only clutch at the sleeve of Elena's dressing gown and sob. It wasn't the first nightmare that had had such an effect on her, and she was too tired to feel shame for her reaction. Elena sat next to her on the bed and wrapped an arm around her shaking form, whispering soothing words and stroking her hair.
Eventually, Kath became calm enough to realise the situation, and she pushed awkwardly at the woman on her bed. "No, go back - go home. I'm okay."
"You're not okay," Elena argued, keeping her voice low and calm. "Nightmares are important, especially if they're this bad. It could help if you told me about it."
"No," Kath replied, almost sobbing again. If one of her parents came through, found Elena here... It didn't bear thinking about. "Go home, you have to go!" she whispered urgently.
"Listen," said Elena, firm hands on Kath's shoulders. "You're awake now. Nightmare's over. Talk to me."
Taking a deep breath, Kath blinked up at the older woman, afterimages of the nightmare flashing across her memory. "If my parents come in, I'll be in a lot of trouble," she said, low but clear, making sure Elena knew she was now awake and aware.
"Why? You're not grounded anymore."
"I can't explain. I'm not allowed to have anyone stay over, and they'll think you sneaked in and I lied to them."
"I see." Elena looked pensive in the half-light from the gap in the curtains. [I'll be quiet then,] she said, smiling reassuringly.
[Better,] Kath said, smiling back, still feeling rather shaky and paranoid. She darted glances at the door and kept her senses tuned to detect any signal of either of her parents leaving their bed.
[Now, talk to me. Dreams are a manifestation of your subconscious trying to speak to your conscious mind, and nightmares even more so. It's important to understand your fears.]
Kath gave a short telepathic laugh. [I know what my fears are.] She was surprised at her unintentional openness while talking telepathically. She hadn't meant to project that thought, yet she had. It would undoubtedly lead to questions, she knew.
[Do you?] Elena sounded sceptical. [Why don't you tell me?]
Kath deliberately took the question literally, in order to avoid answering it properly. [Because I can't.] The faces were still there, still flickering behind her eyes, their words still echoing in her ears.
Elena looked into her eyes for a long moment, appearing to study her intensely. The scrutiny almost made Kath shy away, but a blanket of comforting thoughts wrapped around her, and she stared back. After a short while, there was a look on Elena's face that she couldn't identify, and a slight smile as well. [It's okay.] A slightly blurred image, as if taken by a shaky camera, faded into perception in her mind. A girl, red hair, and a smile. Holding someone's hand, laughing. [She was my girlfriend in college. I've dated girls as well as boys, and quite a few people know.]
Kath couldn't help but draw a sharp breath. She was surprised that Elena could be so open about it, could just share that information without fear of consequence.
[What's to be scared of?] Elena asked, and Kath wondered if she was broadcasting deeper thoughts than she meant to. [It's not something terrible. It's fine. It's just a matter of who I'm attracted to, who I fall in love with. It doesn't matter what gender they are.] She took Kath's hand and squeezed it reassuringly. [So, will you tell me about your nightmare?]
With a slow, deep breath, Kath let the faces and words from her dream project outside her own mind. She almost flinched from them as she re-experienced them, more structured and only slightly less frightening while she was awake.
Filthy dyke! Is that your girlfriend?
Pain, as the floor rushes to meet her. A loud, deliberate thud, a crack - sharp, heavy pain, something breaks.
What's wrong with you? Freak. Even the girls don't want you!
Looming figures, dark and foreboding. A feeling of shame and terror, panic making everything red.
It's unnatural, and it's wrong. Do you understand? It's not acceptable.
The wall curves, encircling and trapping, and everything is shame and fear and wrong, just wrong.
Kath didn't know when she'd closed her eyes, or when her face had become wet. Elena was already holding her tightly, stroking her hair, even shaking a little herself. The contact was welcome, and Kath sobbed quietly into her shoulder, trying to banish the faces and the words.
[I'm so sorry,] Elena said eventually, letting her go and looking into her face. [It's not supposed to be like that. Were those your parents, at the end?] Kath nodded silently. [I'm sorry,] she said again. She took hold of Kath's hands and held them tightly, filling her words with conviction. [It's not wrong. You're not unnatural or wrong, or a freak. I promise you that.]
A smile broke across Kath's face as she let out a choked sob before freeing her hands from Elena's and wiping at her face. [Thank you.] Her mental voice was half-giddy with emotion. It was such a relief to know that even though she was now different in two ways, she was not the only gay Tomorrow Person in the world.
With a sharp click, the door opened, and Kath froze. The weight that had lifted from her shoulders was replaced with nauseous dread in her stomach. Elena turned, one hand going to her belt, but not quick enough to allow her to jaunt away without being seen. Kath's mother entered the room like a small storm cloud, glaring in shocked anger at the interloper sitting on her daughter's bed. There was little that was protective about her expression, however. She snapped on the light.
"Who is this? You know you're not allowed to have anybody over! How did you sneak her in?" Kath was unable to speak, and her mother just continued glaring and shouting. "What do you think you're doing here?" she directed at Elena, who sat up straighter and faced the woman calmly. "You're - ... Stand up!" Elena did so, still calmly meeting her eyes. "How old are you? My daughter's only seventeen! Is that the only way you can get someone, by preying on younger girls?"
Some of the calmness evaporated then, Kath could feel it as irritation and quiet outrage began to bleed through.
"Mrs Hughes," Elena began, trying her best to be diplomatic. "I am not your daughter's girlfriend. I'm just a friend of hers."
"You expect me to believe that? Why are you in her room so late? And not even dressed!"
"She was having a nightmare and she called to me for help."
Kath's mother scoffed, and glanced at the window. It wasn't one that could easily be reached from outside, and she could tell her mother was trying to work out how Elena could have gained entry to the house.
"I don't believe you. How did you sneak her in?" She turned to Kath, whose throat was hurting from the effort of holding back tears.
"I didn't -" she croaked, but her mother cut her off.
"How?! And why did you think you could get away with this? This is completely unacceptable, young lady. Your father and I were willing to ignore the issue as long as you didn't act on your unnatural urges, but -"
"Mrs Hughes, if I could -"
"You can shut up." She barely spared Elena a glance, but it held enough venom for the older TP to lose her temper.
"Look!" she shouted, and Kath's mother started, one hand going to the door handle. "Mrs Hughes. I am not your daughter's girlfriend. I am too old for her, to start with. I am a friend, one who cares about her and doesn't want to see her hurt. I came over because she needed my help."
"But how did you get in?" Kath's mother snapped impatiently.
Elena put her hands to her belt and jaunted across the room, reappearing with a darkly challenging look in her eyes. "Like that."
A stunned silence hung across the room for several seconds, during which Kath closed her eyes tightly and seriously considered jaunting away from the inevitable explosion. The sound of the door slamming made her open her eyes again, to find that her mother had gone.
"Oh no," Kath groaned, head in her hands. "She'll have gone to tell my dad." She could already hear the hysterics through the wall, and her father's bemused voice as he tried to calm her down.
"It's okay," Elena said softly, crossing the room to take Kath's hand and hold it firmly. "Listen," she said, and Kath looked up at her. "You have to face them with this. Prove to them that you are your own person, and that you don't want to live by their standards."
"But, I can't -"
"You can." Calm and determined, that was what Kath had to be. Just like Elena was being at that moment. But, in the face of her mother's disbelief and anger, was it possible? "You're a Tomorrow Person. You're stronger than you think."
When her father entered the room, looking extremely confused and a bit wary, Kath was in her dressing gown and standing next to Elena, her stomach in knots.
"Your mother seems to think your ... friend can vanish into thin air," he said slowly.
"That's right," said Kath, trying to inject confidence into her voice that she did not feel. "So can I."
He sighed impatiently, and gave her the look that said he thought she was being ridiculous and childish. "Katherine... Aren't you a bit old for this?"
[He thinks I'm pretending,] Kath realised.
[Prove you're not,] Elena prompted her.
"It's true," Kath told her father, picking up her jaunting belt from her bedside table and fastening it around her waist. She jaunted quickly to stand at Elena's other side, and then wanted to hide behind her as her mother came back in and saw her materialise. "I'm part of the evolution of the human race," she continued shakily, before her mother could start shouting. "I'm a Tomorrow Person. So's Elena. We're, um..."
As she faltered, forgetting how to phrase all the things John, Elena and Paul had told her only two weeks ago, Elena took over.
"The human race is evolving, Mr and Mrs Hughes," she said calmly. "Many children and teenagers around the world are potential Tomorrow People, and one day their abilities will develop like Kath's have. You've nothing to worry about - your daughter has only the best to learn from."
The thunderous look on her mother's face indicated that she wasn't appeased by Elena's words.
"You expect us to just sit back and let you start vanishing all over the place?" she demanded. "It's not possible! I don't want a daughter who does impossible things!"
At that, Kath felt a sudden shift in her attitude. Where before she had been afraid and ashamed, she now found a strong sense of indignation and hurt, and a little of that longed-for confidence.
"You don't want a daughter like me, do you?" she said loudly. "You don't want a girl with weird powers as your daughter, and you don't want a lesbian as your daughter either!" She put emphasis on the forbidden word, watching her mother flinch and her father frown. "All you want is some quiet little girl who'll study hard, get good marks and do as she's told. And I've done that for years!" She glared angrily at her parents, the fear she had previously felt now gone completely. "Far too long, I think."
With that last quiet statement, Kath crossed the room, pulled her coat on over her dressing-gown and knelt next to the cat bed. She scooped each sleeping kitten into a pocket, thankful that she owned a coat with so many of them, and lifted Vera into her arms.
"I'm leaving," she told her parents, who both seemed unable to protest against this sudden show of strength.
[The Lab?] Elena put her hands to her jaunting belt with a slight, proud smile.
Feeling quite shaky, Kath shifted Vera to her left shoulder, placed her right hand on her own belt, and nodded vehemently.
"They think I'm a freak. Twice the freak, now." Kath sighed, but a shaky smile graced her lips. "At least I don't have to put up with them anymore."
"That was very brave, you know," said Elena. Kath nodded.
"I suppose. I've never spoken to them like that before... Never just told them. And now I have." She couldn't shake the left-over feelings of dread, even though she knew that things were going to be better now. "Do you think I'll ever be able to go back? Not to move back in, just to see them. Maybe. At some point. Do you think?"
John looked thoughtful as he cradled a mug of tea. He also looked tired, Kath noticed, and she felt suddenly guilty for waking everyone up in the middle of the night. Well, almost everyone; Paul was obviously a heavy sleeper.
"It could be difficult," John said eventually. "From what you've told me, they obviously don't want to understand your situation, and the likelihood of any of us being able to bring them round is slim. Some people are just ... difficult, when it comes to things like this. Their attitude to your sexuality didn't change over time, so I don't see this being easily overcome either."
Kath felt an all-too-familiar jolt in her chest at hearing John speak so openly about the issue that had been a closely-guarded secret since that awful day her parents had found out, but she quickly squashed it. The leader of the TPs might be middle-aged, but he wasn't narrow-minded.
"What worries me more," John said, still frowning a little at his tea, "is the possibility that they'll raise the alarm." He looked up, meeting Kath's eyes. "Their daughter vanished into thin air with an adult they don't know, in the middle of the night. The police might not believe that you literally vanished, but they'll take the 'missing person' part seriously."
"What should be we do, then?" Elena asked. "How do we stop them bringing the police into it?"
"I'll pay them a visit," John replied. "I'll convince them that you left home the conventional way, Kath."
"How will you do that?"
"It's not a talent we like to exercise a lot, but it's possible to alter a Sap's memory slightly; erase an event from their mind, or fabricate new memories. I could make your parents believe that you moved out yesterday, because of a row about a girl, perhaps. Would that be okay with you?"
Kath thought about it carefully. On one hand, something within her was repulsed by the thought of messing with a person's memories, but on the other, there were tricky consequences if her parents informed the police of her disappearance. After a few moments' quiet thought, she nodded slowly.
"I suppose it's the only way to keep things under control."
John nodded and set down his mug. "Don't worry, it's not dangerous," he said as he stood up. "You'll still be on bad terms with them, I'm afraid, but that would be too difficult to alter."
She shrugged, feeling melancholy. "That's alright. It's been ages since they approved of anything except my grades." Elena's hand settled over hers and gave it a comforting squeeze.
John stood for a moment, clearly unsure of what to say in reply, before deciding to say nothing, and moving towards the jaunting pad.
"What if they've already called the police?" Kath asked Elena, moments after John had disappeared.
"He'll think of something. He'll probably get your parents to think one of them made a call while confused from a dream, and they'll tell the police that. It'll all be fine, don't worry. And you can go back and get your things in the next few days. It won't be pleasant, or easy, but Paul and I can come and help, if you like."
"Thanks." Kath smiled at her, feeling more gratitude to her friends than she had ever thought possible. She cast an eye to the cat basket TIM had summoned up, where Vera and her kittens had settled with no small level of disgruntlement at being disturbed in the middle of the night. "Are you sure it's okay for me to keep my cats here?" she asked again. "No-one's allergic, are they?"
"Not as far as I know. And John said it's okay, so it's fine. Don't worry," Elena told her, smiling encouragingly. "The difficult part's over, you've got us, and for the last time, you're not imposing. We've got beds here for a reason. There have been a few kids over the years whose parents haven't wanted anything to do with on account of their TP abilities, and a couple more who didn't even have parents, and preferred living here to living in a children's home."
Kath nodded, but she knew from experience that when she was worried about something, it took a while to release herself from it.
"And TIM doesn't mind the cats living here, do you, TIM?"
"Of course not, Elena." A little of the anxiety dissipated at the sound of TIM's calm, unruffled voice. "As long as they are house-trained. And I am capable of protecting my circuitry from being chewed on, do not worry." He sounded faintly amused, and Kath smiled.
"You are most welcome."
There was a moment's pause as they both drank their tea, before Kath asked hesitantly, "So, John knows you're ..."
"Bisexual, yes. I told him a few years ago. He may be a lot older than us, but he's fairly liberal when it comes to these things."
"Does Paul know?"
Elena let out a short laugh. "No, he doesn't. I haven't exactly kept it a secret, but it's just never come up." She smirked over the rim of her mug. "I suspect he'd be less than mature about it." Kath frowned slightly, and Elena clarified. "He's the type to tease - not unkindly, but it'd get annoying after a while. He's not homophobic, not from what I've seen, but he is still a guy. Most men's attitudes to lesbians are a bit, well ... Neanderthal in nature."
Kath nodded, grinning. "So I shouldn't say anything?"
"Not just now," Elena agreed. "Let him figure it out on his own." She yawned widely, and set down her empty mug. "I think I need to go home and get some more sleep. John will be back in a little while to let you know how it went with your parents. Will you be okay until then?"
Kath looked down into her own mug of tea, then over at her cats, and smiled. "I'll be fine," she said softly.