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Log of the Month for November, 2001

Pea Soup
Posted on November 12th, 2001 by Tempest Rainbird and A.C. Zuriyev

“Did you get the lentils?” Kathryn queried, her foot curled prehensiley around the metal underpinnings of her purple plastic dining chair. She was staring pointedly at Alexi, her fork poised aggressively over her dinner; Tempest could imagine her eyes lolling skyward if Alexi did ask her to pass the plate.

Smiling, Tempest took the situation into her own hands and scooped up the dish of lentils. The diamond on her finger flashed momentarily green. “You should try them, Alexi. Kathryn, these are very good.” They were, in fact; Tempest’s tongue was thankful for blander fare after a solid week dining at Alexi’s table. Still, it was difficult to miss the deliberate insult – Tempest had told Kathryn anything she chose to prepare would be fine- as long as it contained meat.

Alexi spooned a few lentils onto his plate and smiled through a pained expression. “Very Good,” he grunted.

“Did you ask Mona for her recipe?” Tempest chimed.

“Replicator,” was the dry reply.

Impasse again as the conversation flickered out. If the visit was a starship, the engineer would have been staring at his welder and shrugging his shoulders.

Alexi reluctantly swallowed the lentils, wondering if there was a way to avoid tasting his food. He gulped a medicinal dose of red wine from his yellow plastic cup. It was the only flavor on the table he appreciated. Lentils, potato pancakes, white rice and feta cheese. Either Kathryn was making an effort to create an ethnic feel or she was one of the NeoVegetarians. Neither answer made his dinner taste any better. Under the cover of a vehement coughing fit, he scraped his remaining lentils into his napkin.

“What’s the rent on this place?” Tempest wondered aloud, gazing in awe at her surroundings.

“Not bad,” Kathryn said, heaping rice and lentils onto her plate. “Fraulein Schneider lets us stay here practically for free as long as we keep the gardens tended and her cats in kibble.”

“I thought you were staying at the dorms,” Tempest said. “Weren’t you sharing a room with Johanna?”

“Johanna and I broke up two months ago.” Each word was delineated.

“Oh-”

“Yeah,” Kathryn agreed, draining her wine. “More fish in the sea. Never forget how to ride a bicycle. Or lick a clit.” She clanked her cup down on the table and stood up, turning her back to Tempest as she piled the dishes in the sink. “Plastic ware sucks. Costs more than paper and you’ve still got to wash it.”

Tempest glanced over at Alexi, relieved that his reaction was confined to a surprised but amused expression. “You could just put them in the waste disposal unit and replicate new ones,” she suggested to her daughter.

“You’ve been on a starship too long.”

Tempest failed to see the connection, but answered with silence, rapping her fingers percussively on the edge of the table. “Thank you for serving dinner, Kathryn,” she replied instead. “Maybe now we could take a walk through London, through the square, maybe? Watch the sun set behind the skyscrapers?”

Kathryn shrugged. “Tourist stuff. But what the hell; it’ll be more interesting than the term paper in my room.” The soap bubbled happily around her hands as she scrubbed.

“What’s it on?”

“Emergency medical delivery systems. Starting with Florence Nightingale; ending with Nightwing Medical Center. It’s 35 pages so far. Need 30 more.” Kathryn idly dried her single porcelain plate with a gingham dishtowel; she held it up, examining the surface for stray grains, and Tempest glimpsed the reflection of her daughter’s apathetic expression in its polished center.

She mustered some enthusiasm. “It sounds interesting!”

Kathryn shrugged, turning away from the sink and walking into the crowded entranceway where their coats were hung on pegs beside the door. “Not really,” she shouted back. “Only redeeming factor is I can use Brooke as a source.”

Tempest urged Alexi to his feet, refusing to be disconcerted by her daughter’s deliberately provocative behavior. “Brooke?”

“Because of the Mirah Fay. Come on.” She settled her collar flat against her shoulder blades. “It’s clear outside. Better go now before the fog sees us coming.”

Apparently someone had tipped off the fog about their arrival because it had rolled in determinedly since they began walking and now blanketed the landscape, as thick as proverbial pea soup and smelling of poignancy and dampened electricity. A drop condensed on Tempest’s nose and she stared at it cross-eyed until it drooped and splashed silently onto her boots. Her dark, downy coat was thick and warm, and she burrowed her hands into the pockets.

London’s winding avenues and the thick cloud cover made it impossible for Tempest to find her way. The yellowed lights that blurred into eye-watering halos in the fog might have cast their illumination on any city street; the three might have wended their way down this twisty passage a dozen times, Tempest’s confused senses would not have given her a hint. Kathryn was leading them, streaking ahead, her hands folded at the waist of her trench coat as though she were a ship with its prow slicing the water. Beside Tempest, Alexi walked with steady, purposeful strides and an unreachable expression. She was beginning to feel that she alone of the three of them was aware of the presence of the other two.

Eventually, their meandering steps found the bank of the Thames where it was possible to peer down from the iron latticed guardrails and see the darkened depths of the water shining gold where the streetlights bisected the waves. The sight of the water triggered Tempest’s lingering spirit of excitement and she corralled her companions, forcing them to pause and take in the sight before pressing further into the fog-veiled distance. Alexi peered over the edge, his thoughts inscrutable on his wise face, but his biceps twitching as they might if he were dreaming. Tempest was struck by his manly silhouette outlined in black against the water, the faint gold light emanating from the lighthouse casting an ephemeral glow on his profile as if he were shimmering with inner radiance. The image sent a shiver down her spine to rest solidly at her hips, and she felt her own fingers twitch, dream-ready, wanting to caress his cheek.

Kathryn was a few paces off, already blurred by the pressing fog. Transformed into a curly mass by the humidity, her unrestrained brown hair was wind-tossed in a corona around her face. She seemed impossibly pale in her black trench coat by the black water, and impossibly unreachable. Tempest, staring at her, sighed.

“Wish we were out there,” Alexi murmured in Tempest’s ear, his warm breath whispering against her chilled neck. “I could do with the feel of the Soyuz beneath my feet.”

Tempest smiled and nodded her agreement; she too would prefer the placid waters to her daughter’s tempestuous temperament, and she couldn’t suppress the twinge of guilt that reminded her that if she had not suggested Alexi accompany her on this ill-fated visit at least one of them would be enjoying their shore leave.

“Not so romantic-” Tempest apologized, taking Alexi’s hand.

He shrugged. “We will be here again.” He twitched his upper lip so that Tempest could see each individual charcoal hair ripple over the muscle. “Your daughter does not like me.”

“I’m not so sure it’s you.” Tempest’s gaze was drawn to Kathryn’s ethereal form; a few feet of distance had become as impassable as a chasm. “I should talk to her.” A faint smile passed fleetingly over her lips. “She’s had a tough life. At least it’s crass remarks now instead of-” The folds of Tempest’s coat rustled as she withdrew her hand and worked her fingers into the fabric, rubbing life back into her frosty veins. She leaned over and kissed Alexi lightly on the cheek. “This might take a while. If you want to go back to the Atlantis, I understand.”

Tempest watched indecision flicker in his eyes then resolve in a heavy-shouldered shrug. “I want to spend time with you.” Without his touching her, Tempest could still feel his reassuring arm on her back. “But, take the moment to be a mother. I can sense how unwelcome I am. We will have time together on the ship when you get back.” He enfolded Tempest in his arms, compressing the fluff of her jacket to a thin layer around her waist. He dropped a quick kiss on her forehead, a lingering one on her lips, and a third pressed deeply against the shadow of her neck where it receded into the collar of her coat. A slight gesture of his chin urged her onward to her daughter.

As Tempest stepped anxiously across the chasm separating her and Kathryn, she heard rather than saw Alexi disappearing into the transporter beam. She and Kathryn were alone.

Tempest lingered a few inches behind her daughter, watching her watch the water. She knew Kathryn was aware of her presence by the almost imperceptible way she’d shifted as Tempest approached, turning her face away, angling herself so that the back of her shoulder concealed Tempest’s view of her torso. For a while Tempest was willing to allow this tense truce, but as the spidery hands of the church clock on the other bank ticked off the uneasy minutes, she resolved that one of them had to fire the first shot. She aimed it as a warning across Kathryn’s bow. “Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?”

Kathryn’s reply was muffled, but still carried back on the wind. “I’m not on a leather couch. I don’t have to answer that.”

Silence as Tempest considered using heavier artillery.

Kathryn spoke first, deigning to turn so that Tempest could see the full force of her disdainful gaze and condescendingly pursed lips. “Did it ever occur to you I might want to spend some time alone with you?”

“You didn’t want me to bring Alexi.”

“Did I invite him?”

Tempest’s thumb fretted at the facets of the diamond, already familiar to her fingertip. “I thought you might like to meet the man I’m sharing my life with.” Kathryn’s expression remained unchanged; a change of tactics, an olive branch. “You never introduced me to Johanna.”

It was the wrong choice, Kathryn’s face tightened until her lips were almost white. “We broke up. I told you that.”

Placation – a sign of good will to compensate for the lack of a white handkerchief. “I know. But I’ve never met any of your girlfriends. I thought perhaps you thought I was uncomfortable with -”

“And seeing who you were fucking would make me feel better?” Kathryn’s tongue slashed like a bayonet. “No. I know you don’t entertain any weird sexual ethics.” She rolled her eyes and laughed sharply, a sound devoid of humor. “God, sexual ethics. That’s almost funny. I’ve met Daralice, remember?”

“I’m sorry I brought Alexi.” Tempest followed Kathryn to the railing and set her hand gently on the girl’s shoulder, smoothing the wrinkle where her tension had mussed the fabric of her coat. She noticed Kathryn’s eyes were directed toward the finger of her ungloved hand. “I should have warned you,” she murmured softly.

“Yeah.” Kathryn’s hand was on the railing; embarrassed, she lowered her eyes to the water. “It’s OK.”

A fog horn lowed, announcing the arrival of an old, dark ship that passed otherwise silently, like a floating leaf or a peaking wave, part of the river itself. Its yellowed lights made the silhouetted forms of the sailors visible as they scurried about the deck, and momentarily revealed the striking architecture of the marble church on the opposite bank. Darkness consumed it again as the ship passed, swelling upward from the shadows on the shore. Kathryn’s taut expression softened, her lower lip twitching as she stifled a comment or a laugh.

“What’s over there by the church steps? Why do you keep staring over there?” Tempest asked. Kathryn was silent, but her mood had altered, and her lack of response no longer carried the diamond edge it had a few moments earlier. Tempest moved closer to the railing to share the moment with her daughter in quietude; her foot scraped against a small stone. She knelt, measured its weight in her palm, then held it out to Kathryn. “Do you think I could skip this to the other bank?”

She blinked away her reverie and shrugged. “How could you tell in the fog?”

“I’ll aim for the lighthouse.” Tempest pointed toward the spot of brightness. “From this angle, it’s got to be at least as far away as the other bank.”

“You’ll never make it.”

Kathryn snorted, but watched nevertheless as Tempest counted quietly to herself and made a show of checking the air, rechecking the weight, beginning to throw and then going through the process again. She was waiting for Kathryn to tell her to “just throw already,” but the girl watched expectantly, ignoring her antics. Readjusting her grip on the stone, Tempest reached back and tossed it into the water. The splash as it dove feet away from the lighthouse was just visible in the fringes of the circle of light: a clean miss.

“I told you,” Kathryn said, shaking her head. She chewed her bottom lip, entertaining a secret half-smile, then laughed herself into her usual slack posture. “You want to know why I keep staring over there? Johanna and I used to go there when we couldn’t get any privacy in the dorms. Those walls are paper thin. I swear they do it to discourage the students from screwing. We’re not supposed to fuck, you know; it drains your medical vibes or something. I guess you’re not supposed to be attracted to the Human body after cutting it up. So we got tired of the guys down the hall leering at us, came down here instead. We’d kiss in the shadows with the curling ivy. It was great if you don’t mind rats and fish bearing witness to your intimate moments.”

Tempest stared at her. “You made out in the churchyard?”

“Why not? Felt good and ironic. Not like I care, and she thought it was funny. She was Protestant.”

“No- that’s not it.” Tempest said slowly. Her grey eyes asked the water whether or not she should continue, but the Thames remained characteristically silent. “I lost my virginity in a churchyard.”

“Oh, God.”

“Almost literally. It was a deserted chapel in the banlieu. There was an abandoned lot to one side, and some kind of used bookstore on the other. No one ever went in there. The masonry was old. It must have been from the nineteenth century.” Tempest savored the old memory, ignoring the weight on her finger. “Gustav and I would hide in the old confessional. He had me pushed against the door.” To Kathryn’s stare of impressed awe, she added, “We couldn’t have rented a room if we had the money anyway; we were too young.”

“How old were you?”

“Fourteen.”

“You lost your virginity when you were fourteen? I was still pretending to have crushes on guys-” She tossed her head so that her hair rioted, a furious mob of snake-like chestnut tendrils. As the strands settled, so did she. “Did you really think I thought you had a problem with my orientation?”

“It’s kind of hard to know what to think sometimes, Kathryn. Your mood changes every time I see you. Are you still taking your medication?”

“Yeah, yeah, I am. It’s just my sense of humor.”

Tempest inclined her chin, regarding Kathryn through very skeptical upturned eyes. “Telling Alexi you ‘never forgot how to lick a clit’ wasn’t your sense of humor; you were trying to shock him. It didn’t work. He’s never forgotten either. Women aren’t the only ones who know how to have good sex.” Taking hold of Kathryn’s frenetic fingers, Tempest turned her daughter so that the two women were regarding each other eye to eye, Kathryn’s hands enfolded in Tempest’s. “What is wrong, Kathryn?”

Kathryn looked down at their hands, surprised by the gesture, but pleased. “It’s hard for me to know how to act with you, too. Are you my mother or my pal? You haven’t mothered me since I was sixteen, and then I get off to med school and you never communicate – oh, and when you do, it’s these cryptic little censored notes about your life, and I’m like- how the hell am I supposed to react to this?”

“Uh- honestly? Kat- I- I just don’t write much. To anyone.”

Tempest felt Kathryn’s fingers go slack in her palm. “I thought I might rate above anyone.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me?”

“I thought we’d resolve it while you were here. An actual visit from a real live will make up for a lot of missed letters.”

“And then I brought Alexi.” Tempest sighed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Yeah, well. Like I said, it’s OK.” This time Kathryn’s dismissive shrug was matched by her face, still, as always, carefully calculated to appear disaffected, but now with the small cues those who knew her well came to associate with her return to good spirits. The tension, once as thick as the pea soup fog, had dissipated.

“Let’s ditch the river and go back to your flat,” Tempest suggested. “Unless you’d rather dally on the steps-?”

“No. Not unless you get Alexi back down here and find me a date.” Kathryn snorted at the idea. She idly kicked at the iron railing. “But screw Plasticville, let’s go back to Atlantis. I can rustle up some old haunts.”

“That’s what they are now, Kathryn. It’s ghostly being on that ship.”

Kathryn puffed up her chest, Wonder Woman in a trench coat. “I’m Kathryn Renaud. I kick ghosts in the balls. Tap your badge and get us out of here.”

“Rainbird to Atlantis; two to beam up.”


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