KATIPO I: Restart: Part One
You had one hand curled around a sweating glass that was half-full of some fizzy drink that was making your nose itch. Your hair fell and curled over your shoulders in perfect spirals, gold like a ghostly honey dripping from the seams of your lapel. That night had been going well up until that point, but your appointed mod was extremely late, and your patience was beginning to wane at an exponential rate.
Alex was sitting beside you, drumming her fingers on the table agitatedly, making the menus and silverware and plates all vibrate. It was a little too aggressive for your tastes — the way she took her frustration out on the fine china — but you felt protected, so you ignored your irritation and relaxed into the velvet embrace of your booth. Alex, like you, was staring down the mutant Grundos that were sitting at the bar; and, by the looks in the monsters' eyes, you were pretty sure they were more intimidated by Alex than you were of them. Their crimson sclera flickered in the dim light, their nearly unnoticeable nostrils flaring whenever Alex’s lips twitched into a mocking smile.
The Grundos, slowly, one by one, turned their attention back to the chef before them. Alex snickered into her drink and said, “If that big guy over there drools any more, that chef's gonna slip and throw his Grobleen salad all over the bar,” and you couldn’t help but snort a bit in laughter. You told Alex that that’s probably what they wanted to happen, so they could stuff themselves without paying, and Alex’s response of mirroring your dorky snickering made you feel a bit proud. You were always proud when you managed to make Alex laugh. You looked up to her so much. She was your commanding officer, after all.
Alex turned to you and made a face mimicking the hungry Grundos, and you laughed a little louder — tried to stifle it with your hand. You hated it when Alex made you look stupid in public, but it was also part of her officer's charm, you suppose.
Alex was drinking a half-melted agueena smoothie, and you could smell it when she exhaled. You hated it when she downed heavy drinks before even being served appetizers, since fruit always ruined her appetite, but you never told her. She was your commanding officer, after all. You always figured she knew what she was doing. That old cliché of she-knows-what's-best is what you lived by. She really couldn’t complain. Or, at least, she didn’t back then. She really didn’t say much of anything back then. Now you wish she had.
When the mod finally got to the table, Alex was shooting off questions even before the man could sit down — like some kind of over-energised sniper. “When is this mission to be started? We can’t do anything before eleven.”
Alex tended to be like that when she’d been waiting for something for too long: a sniper with a Virtublaster full of sarcasm, half-playful insults, and more-than-half-demanding questions, fuelled by the power in her rich alto voice and the respect her fearlessness and reputation got her.
“Where will this meeting be?”
“How long will that flight take?”
But not to the same degree as sarcasm.
“This sounds ridiculously stupid. Is this really necessary? Right. This all sound good to you, Cam? Yeah, and who are the other agents? Sam’s going, right?”
And, after a while, she always started to get cocky.
It honestly really irked you whenever she behaved like that, but it never crossed your mind to say anything about it. Whenever you got the thought, you would simply — immediately — let it go. You never would have told Alex that some of the things she did bothered you. She was your commanding officer, after all. She-knows-what's-best.
“As long as Sam is on the same mission I’m not going to worry too much.”
As much as you hated the fact that she was so protective over you — Like she thinks I'm not a skilled enough agent to fend for myself... — you really couldn’t complain. Or, at least, you didn’t back then. You really didn’t say much of anything back then. Now you wish you had.
“How long will it take?”
She was really, honestly, just doing her job.
“What time will Cam be back?”
She was just making sure you were safe.
“Will he be returning with Sam?”
She was your commanding officer, after all.
“I’ll pick him up then. No, I want to. Okay.”
To be honest, it didn't really bother you. Much.
The mod that night didn’t seem to care, either way. The well-dressed eventide Lutari had no doubt dealt with equally protective and demanding KATIPO officers plenty of times in the past, considering most everyone working in the academy had a certain level of pride, and also tended to coddle their pupils. The mod answered Alex’s every question quietly, “Yes, of course, he will be meeting Something Something at two tomorrow, by ship, yes, about two hours, yes, Roo Island, Sam and Tony both, yes, of course, yes, don’t worry, of course you can,” then gave you both the details of the upcoming mission. You all bantered, you all came up with a suitable compromise on time, then when everything was settled, Alex took you back to HQ.
That night, the two of you stayed up until dawn playing card games and talking about how much you hated new mods. You laughed, and you sighed, and you groaned about how annoying Alex could be when she was winning a game. That's why you loved your job at the Kreludian Academy of Trusted Intergalactic Protectors and Overseers so much, though — your coworkers, who had truly grown to be your family. Alex was just above and beyond. She trained you since day one. She taught your trembling hands how to hold a Virtublaster straight. She saved you when you almost got shot off into deep space by a furious baby fungus. She applauded the loudest when you were promoted to the Interrogation/Investigation unit. She swore that she would never let anything happen to either of you, and you trusted her. Worst of all, a part of you still does.
You’re reliving the memories — the living, the laughing, the breathing — but then, a loud howl shatters the dream as one of the Grundos at the bar starts demanding the next course.
You’ve got one hand curled around a sweating cocktail glass that’s half-full of some fizzy drink that's making your nose itch. Your hair falls and curls over your shoulders in perfect spirals, gold like a ghostly honey dripping from the seams of your lapel. This night has been going well so far, but now, the mutant Grundos at the bar are starting to get on your nerves, and you know that your fragile Xweetok body isn’t nearly strong enough to take blows from their oversized fists.
The Grundos honestly aren’t doing much of anything — just sitting on their collective bum around the bar and foaming at the mouth over whatever the chef before them is chopping and basting — but it still looks disgusting. You think, if Alex was here, she’d be making snide remarks about the Grundos and the chef. She’d be mimicking the Grundos’ flaring nostrils. She’d be making you laugh. She’d be wearing her gold, Tiki-Tack-patterned shirt, and she’d laugh at all her own jokes, and when the mod came to brief you, Alex would refuse to leave and then interrogate the mod like she thought she was above the law, just to make sure you’d be safe on your upcoming mission. She’d protect you — you, her number one pupil. You don’t want to think about it.
You’re dressed in a shimmery, vinyl-looking dress that makes your extremely fluffy body look skinnier than it actually is, and your jacket is taller than you are. You’re also wearing an expression stoic enough to pass for manic, and that seems to be making the Grundos nervous. Despite your delicate face and soft features, you're trying to fill the void of sternness that Alex's presence would have occupied... if she hadn't disappeared. Still, it's an exhausting task. You lower your gaze and begin to draw imaginary swirls on a cocktail napkin with your fingertip.
There’s a blue Grarrl to your left that’s a genius with the lounge piano, although he looks more like the type to be a bouncer at this dingy little joint than a maestro. You’re actually not at all interested in him or his music, though. You’re just trying to distract yourself from your reveries.
You’re not actually on a mission tonight. You’re just supposed to wait here so you can be briefed by a mod named Zinux about something that you need to do in eleven hours. The details were in the novel-length application papers that the KATIPO had mailed you, but you were far too lazy to read through every word. You’re hoping this Zinux mod will give you the most important details and you can just wing the rest of the mission. But... he’s extremely late, and your patience is beginning to wane at an exponential rate.
There’s some AAA-looking kid in a spacesuit at the table to your right who’s clacking away at his miniature computer's keyboard as if it’s started a self-destruct sequence. It’s not helping to calm your nerves. You find that you’re tapping your toes against the floor at about the same pace as the kid’s typing. Why is he even here? It’s one in the morning at an obnoxiously upscale five-star-restaurant-slash-seedy-tavern somewhere out on the edge of the galaxy, and this twelve-year-old-looking, big-nosed kid decides it’s the perfect time to type an essay. You want to strangle him. You put your glass down so it doesn’t shatter in your grip.
The Zinux guy shows up just in time to keep you from tearing all your fur out. He takes hold of the chair across the table from you and pulls it back, removing his coat and letting it drop to the floor in a crumpled pile of tweed. He didn’t ask if the seat was taken first. Rude. How does he even know you’re the person he’s supposed to meet with? You’re still not used to doing these things alone...
The minute he sits down, he’s spitting words at you, but quietly. “Your job is to interrogate one of our former agents, tomorrow morning, you know the time already.”
He’s wearing a papery gown that looks more fit for a student training for the Imperial Guard than a mod of the KATIPO. Not like you’ve seen too many mods before in your life, but they’re usually more kempt. You expected some sort of armour-wearing warrior with a regal gaze strong enough to terrify any villain, or a nameless, faceless, suit-and-tie-wearing sod with far too much pride in their eyes and far too little experience under their belt. But this man — a faerie Grundo — he’s got this ebony gaze and Crokabek black hair that curves with and frames his jaw, making his face look like a perfect circle. He doesn’t look at you. He’s wearing red eyeliner. “You’re incredibly rude,” you say as he readjusts his seat.
He ignores you completely. “Her name is Tatum Xaine. You have already received her address.”
Again, he ignores you, but you weren’t really expecting him to respond anyway. He wordlessly slides something towards you. It makes a horrible sound as it scrapes across the table — like claws on glass — but you don’t cringe. You’re too busy trying to stare down one of the Grundos at the bar across the room from you. Its nostrils flare, and it’s then that you realize this hulking mutant could easily pluck all your fur without breaking a sweat, and before you could pull out any weapon for defence. You shift your focus back to the task at hand — back to Zinux — and look down to see what he’s slid your way. It’s a key. “This is the key to her summer home,” he says. “Tatum has given us full permission to allow one agent to let him or herself into her home for the questioning. Again, you already know the address of her villa.”
“What exactly am I interrogating her about, now?” you ask as you tap one finger against your nearly empty cocktail glass.
“Everything was detailed in your application, Mister Jacks.”
“It’s Miss Jacks for the time being,” you correct him, sitting back in your chair — as if he couldn’t tell you’re obviously female at the moment — “and I didn’t read the whole application. They only gave it to me about three hours ago. Aren’t you supposed to brief me?”
“I did just brief you, Mister Jacks.”
You scowl at him.
He continues. “It is not my job to talk agents through the details of missions they are too lazy to read through themselves.”
Your golden eyes narrow slightly.
He lifts a black bottle of Neocola to his lips and takes a long, slow sip. You didn’t see him bring anything to drink with him. You try to not look confused. “Although,” he says, his tone turning snide, “your type has a tendency to behave... boorishly—”
“—towards our respectable academy.” He smiles at your obvious frustration, then leans back in his seat, crossing his legs, swirling the contents of the bottle. It’s here that you realise that you’re gnawing your lower lip into submission, and that just frustrates you even more.
He continues to smirk as he takes another long sip of his drink. You stare him dead in the left pupil and wait for him to continue. When he doesn't, you turn away and blink your dry eyes, ignoring Zinux’s proud smile completely. The mutant Grundos have left. Your ankles both itch.
“Her name is Tatum Xaine,” Zinux repeats himself, smug that his silence forced you to look away.
The AAA-looking kid to your right has started typing again. You shoot him an annoyed glance, but he’s facing the opposite direction and is far too distracted to feel your gaze’s presence on the back of his head. Zinux continues. “You will find her address in your papers. We fear she may have something to do with the lab ray malfunctions. She was removed from the academy for stealing important information on the ray around the time the bugs began to become more frequent, as well as she has the peculiar ability to replicate the effects naturally. You are to interrogate her about this ability.”
“And then what?”
His gaze narrows slightly. He takes another sip of his drink before continuing. “Several years ago, she launched a member of the KATIPO into deep space because she was bored.”
“She then took all of his files on the lab ray malfunctions.”
“I got that part.”
“Now we are worried she may have done so for malicious reasons surrounding her own ability.”
“Yeah, I got that. I want to know what you want me to do.”
“I got that part. I need the details.”
He doesn’t respond. He just swirls his drink.
“What am I supposed to ask her?” you prompt.
“Well, Mister Jacks, that is completely up to you.”
You roll your eyes.
He smiles again. “Interrogate her,” he says calmly.
“Is she from this galaxy?” you ask as the AAA-looking kid stands up to leave.
“We don’t know.”
Then the conversation dies.
Sam’s already dressed for bed by the time you get home.
She can never seem to find clothes that fit her awkwardly effeminate Werelupe frame correctly, so the dents of her hipbones stick out like shards of broken glass from beneath her comfy, Zomutt-patterned pyjama pants. She’s got on a black and bleach-stained t-shirt that’s too stretched out to properly fit her slim frame and a fraying grey flannel that’s three sizes too big. She greets you by handing you a plate of microwave-reheated franks and cheesy pasta (that you know has been in the fridge for two days) and saying, “You look like you just got the bad end of a good deal.”
Samantha Knight is 6’2”, skinnier than a Skritch, but is somehow still muscular enough to bend steel beams when she's got nothing better to do. She’s got curly white hair that she keeps cut short and tied back so people can see the scars on the back of her neck from when she was allegedly bitten by the Werelupe Sage, greyish-brown fur that's short most everywhere except her calves and forearms, and hazel-green eyes that are cold enough to make the Lost Desert freeze over. The two of you have been roommates and operatives in the KATIPO for several years now, somehow putting up with each other’s sass enough to live under the same roof. The first time you met Sam, you couldn’t stop laughing at the fact that she was a Werelupe with “Knight” as a last name. You kept joking that you would tell Sir Tor on her every time she filed a paper wrong. The two of you have had a love-hate friendship since then.
You throw your jacket onto the counter and take the plate of food from her hands, your expression about as gracious as a Kyrii who was just handed spiced apple pie. She asks you how your night was. You shake your head and mumble something through a mouthful of gooey cheese as a response. She accepts this as a valid answer.
You melodramatically throw yourself onto the couch and lie on your stomach while you eat. It's actually incredibly uncomfortable, and makes swallowing the old franks nearly impossible, but you're too lazy to roll over. “When do you leave?” Sam asks after you’ve inhaled half the plate of food.
“I gotta meet this alien at noon, then tell Riff whatever she tells me,” you say, still chewing.
“Ooh, aliens,” Sam says, “that's out of this world.”
You get the joke, but, “Not really.”
She snorts. "Come on, have a little fun."
"Who, me?” You feign a gasp. “Never."
Sam giggles brightly, then clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth, probably trying to think of a response, but nothing seems to come to her. You hear her sigh from behind you. “Well, I’m not leaving for another three weeks,” she says, walking into the bathroom, her bushy tail knocking something small and porcelain onto the carpet.
You hear her turn the faucet on. “Goodie,” you mumble sarcastically.
“I’m not waking you up in the morning.”
“It is the morning, Sam.” And it is. It’s three o’clock AM. You shove more pasta into your mouth.
“Well, have fun getting abducted,” Sam says, singsong, then you hear the familiar sound of her toothbrush warring with her ivory fangs.
You don’t respond.
When you wake up, you can already tell that this morning is gonna be worse than usual.
You're curled onto your side, your knees pulled up to your chest, tightly hugging the beat-up Tormund plushie Sam gave you after a year of working together. You’re cold and your throat hurts. You can feel in your jaw that you’ve been grinding your teeth again.
You’re not amazed by your surroundings when you finally open your eyes. Everything is the same, dull, off-white colour it always has been — the same chipping paint and Spyderwebs in the corners, the same framed poems that you stole off of Iansaari's desk that you refuse to give back, the same shelves lined with paperback Booktastic Books you’ve never really liked but have read at least twice anyway...
Your head feels like it’s about to explode, and you don’t know why at first.
But then you’re suddenly aware of the awkward lack of joints in your legs and you think, Oh.
You’ve woken up autozapped enough times for it to not shock you anymore, but you were honestly hoping to retain your relatively normal female yellow Xweetok shape for this coming interrogation of a supposedly alien woman. Now you have to get used to a new body and re-accustom yourself to being... whatever you are... Stupid lab ray malfunctions...
By the time you find the strength to roll out of bed, you’re already ten minutes behind the schedule you spent all night planning out. You clench your eyes shut and feel your way to the bathroom, blinded by the light of morning.
When you open your eyes and look into the bathroom mirror, and all you can say is, “Oh Fyora, my face...”
What happened to the fluffy cutie you were last night? You’ve woken up tall and lanky with a mess of yellow hair tangled and clinging to a mutant Buzz's face, and you can’t tell where your upper lip is — it's hidden too far beneath your underbite. You’ve got the beginnings of a beard and your eyes seem bigger than your actual head. Not to mention you hate dealing with wings... But, well, whatever. You'll get over it. Probably. You grab a comb and start trying to detangle your hair.
By the time you're done, you’ve wasted another good ten or twenty minutes, only to find that your hair is so greasy that your hands are now slick and shiny, and that it’s wavy and long enough to reach past your shoulder blades. This day is getting worse. You want to cancel the meeting, but you can’t. You need to interrogate the alien. At least she probably won’t want to abduct you in this grotesque form.
You leave the bathroom without brushing your teeth (do you even have teeth?) and head straight for the closet. Sam’s found her way into your room — she always seems to know exactly when you wake up — and is sitting on the edge of your bed with a plate in her hands that’s covered in some sort of breakfast. Her ankles are crossed and she’s dragging her claws across the carpet. She smells like chocolate perfume.
The first thing Sam says when she sees you is, “Ha.” It sounds more like a word than a sound of laughter. She then smiles. “Your face looks horrible. Can I call you Gnarfas?”
You flick her in the forehead as you walk by, and she giggles smugly. “Really not in the mood, Sam,” you say as you walk to the closet. You flip the light on and start searching for something to wear that will hopefully fit your awkward frame.
“Oh, you’re never in the mood,” Sam says, resting the plate of food in her lap so she can pout and cross her arms theatrically. “You’re just a boring old pooh who hasn't had an ounce of fun since the lab ray messed up your DNA."
Your closet is the only thing in your room that you keep organized, honestly. The left side is women’s clothing, and the right side is men’s. Tops, then bottoms, organized from small sizes to large sizes, left to right. It makes times like these easier to deal with. You shove the women’s half of your clothes aside. The hangers make an awkward sound against the wooden pole that supports them. “I'm just tired," you mumble.
"Cammy, you're always tired."
Sam doesn’t respond with more than another giggle, then just walks over to you with your breakfast and tries to feed you fried keno eggs and cubed bronto bites.
You don’t really mind that she’s trying to feed you like a baby.
You’re too busy imagining all of the other ways this day could go wrong.
To be continued…