"And so you just place this number into this part of the equation, and you have the answer." Tellion said as she helped to guide her student along in figuring out how to solve the math problem that had been plaguing her for the last half hour.
The younger girl marveled at how Tellion had broken down the answer to her mathematical problem that had been giving her a great deal of difficulty.
"No way! This is so simple now!" she exclaimed.
Tellion smiled at her young ward. So much had happened in her life in the last few short months. She had settled into her new life as Mark's official wife. Although a part of her felt wrong for doing so, Tellion had chosen to keep her official name as Susan. Mark hadn't requested that she do so, but Tellion didn't feel right trying to take another name. It felt like trying to abandon the life she had taken over, and simply forget that she was ultimately lying to all around her. And while she was happy in this new life, the guilt never left her. Whenever she was with Ellaine, or Linda, or Arthur, Tellion couldn't ever stop thinking of who she really was, no matter how much of a convincing façade she was able to put up. The remorse of never being able to reunite Susan with those that had loved her placed a heavy weight on Tellion's conscious.
But nothing tore into her more than knowing of the immense deception she was doing to Mark. She always felt conflicted with him. On one hand, she had grown to understand that she loved him, the first time in her entire life that she had ever been in love with another being, and wanted to always be with him and make him feel joy, the same way he did for her. But on the other, she also couldn't shake the sorrow of knowing that she had taken over Susan's life and was just pretending to be the person that he thought she was. Would he, ever really love her if he knew the truth of what she really was? Tellion didn't know if it was possible, some part of her wanted to believe that he could look past her hideous physical form and see the spirit that lay within, but she couldn't dare to bring herself to see if he could really love her for who she 'really' was.
This new life as Susan was both a blessing to Tellion, and her personal curse. And Tellion was going to have to accept that, even if she could never fully forgive herself for what she had done.
Through her desire to reclaim as much of Susan's life as possible, Tellion had looked deeply into Susan's past, of what she had done before the accident that had set them both on the course that had led to their individual fates crossing. Tellion had learned that Susan had been an educator for younger humans, a position called a 'teacher'. Wanting to honor her host's memory, Tellion had tried to retake and pass all of the needed requirements that were necessary to regain the position of a 'junior high teacher', but her lack of understanding of human culture and the concern from everyone in the allocated authority positions she interacted with about her host's prior injuries had made it very difficult for Tellion to achieve that goal. Many said that they just couldn't risk exposing someone that had been injured like she had to the chaotic environment of a classroom. They wanted to wait at least a year before even giving her the option to try and get back into the possibility of becoming a teacher. So many hurdles that had been placed before Tellion to prevent her from obtaining Susan's former position that it was unlikely that she would regain the allotted task any time soon.
After months of being unable to gain that coveted teacher job, Mark had suggested that Tellion offer her services as a 'private tutor'. There had been some hesitation in him at her desire to regain some of her host's former life, but upon seeing how quickly she was able to 'relearn' the basic understandings of the math and science studies, he had readily accepted Tellion's desire to offer her knowledge to younger humans. It had been very slow and spotty at first, just a few friends of Ellaine and children of family friends that Tellion had allowed to lecture to in the evening hours after school. And Tellion herself had gone through some of her own struggles to learn how to best pass on her vast knowledge to the children. After she had understood to apply her studies to each student individually based on what parts of the studies they were struggling with, Tellion shifted naturally into being able to impart her knowledge readily to all that needed the help.
Once reports of vastly increased testing outcomes from her pupils had spread throughout the area, Tellion had no trouble in finding willing clients. And she was all too happy to teach those that were willing to learn, even if they were having difficulty. In fact, the greater the challenge, the greater reward came to her from seeing her pupils succeed.
The young girl sitting before her was one such ward, no one she truly knew, but that did nothing to diminish her desire to help. Seeing her bright smile at the successful completion of figuring out the mathematical problem before her caused Tellion to smile herself. It brought her an inner peace that she so desperately craved.
"Thank you so much." She said, unable to hide the smile in her voice. "This stuff has really been a challenge for me."
"You're welcome, Melissa." Tellion told her. "It's really all about mastering the formulas first, then simply being able to identify which problem needs to be placed into which part of the formula."
Melissa Chapman's smile only grew brighter at Tellion's acknowledgement of her thanks. But it only lasted for a short time before she looked back down at her educational book. There was a bit of sadness in her face as she stared at the sheets full of problems and equations that she had finally been able to solve.
"It's just…I wish my parents would help me more with this kind of stuff. I mean, my dad's the vice-principle of the junior high school. You would think he would at least make the time to help me with my studies. And my mom…she's always busy now with all these after work projects that I barely see her anymore. I just sometimes feel…forgotten by them. I mean, someone left a note in my locker one time telling me that they both really loved me more than they could ever show, but sometimes I just wish that they would, you know?"
Tellion hated to see her young ward in such a saddened state. It reminded her of her own loneness. "I'm sure it must be hard. Being both a parent and an important person in the local community. But I'm sure that your parents still care very deeply for you Melissa, they just may not be very good at showing it right now. I certainly know that I have that problem of being able to show others how much I care for them. Life can be…very complicated sometimes, especially for adults. Don't you have friends to talk to about this?"
Melissa looked off at the far corner of the room. "Not really that many, I did have one, Rachel. But she quit our gymnastic team a few months ago. I barely ever see her now, and even when I do, it's like she tries to avoid talking to me. I even tried to offer to have her come with me to the Barry and Cindy Sue show that Jeremy McCole was going to be on, my mom had gotten me a pair of tickets for it, not even sure how she managed that. But she kept avoiding me so much that I had to take one of the girls on my gymnastics team instead. Rachel really missed a crazy show."
Tellion thought about what Melissa was speaking of, then she remembered the incident. "Oh, you're talking about that morning show that the lizard and other animals got loose on set."
Melissa's eyes widened with surprise. "It was a freaking crocodile! I won't call that a lizard! And there was a bear too! I don't really remember much, I just saw them dart on stage, and then we were out of there!"
"Well, I'm glad you're ok."
Melissa gave a weak smile. "Thanks, I tried to talk to Rachel about it the next day, but she just made some kind of excuse and ran off. So I don't know if we're even still friends."
Tellion cautiously patted Melissa's shoulder.
"I know how you feel. I don't have many friends myself, and my one real friend, my best friend really, we haven't spoken in a very long time."
Melissa looked at Tellion. "Why is that?"
"Our lives just…drifted apart at one point. I wasn't happy where I was in the life I was living and I dared to take a risk to change that. She wasn't happy where she was either, but I don't think she was ready to take that kind of risk herself. And it pulled us apart. I hope that one day she'll find the courage…"
Tellion realized that she was drifting off. And starting to speak of things that she really shouldn't. Tellion looked back at Melissa.
"Melissa, I know it may not seem like it right now, but I promise you one thing that I know for sure, true friends never forget each other, no matter how far their lives pull them apart. If Rachel still considers you her friend, even if she doesn't really show it very much right now, then I'm sure she has good reasons to be behaving the way she is."
Melissa looked at her with a faint glint of hope in her eyes. "Do you really think so?"
Tellion really didn't. Yet she still forced a smile to the girl. "I'm sure of it."
"Are you some kind of psychologist too?" Melissa asked. "I came over here to get help with my math homework. I wasn't expecting to get advice on life and friendship."
Tellion just shook her head. "I just want to help you become the best that you can be Melissa, no matter how I do that."
Melissa smiled at her. "Thanks again Mrs. Susan."
"Susan's just fine." Tellion told her.
"Ok then, Susan." Melissa said.
They went back to the required studies, with Tellion helping Melissa along in all of the areas that she was finding difficulty in grasping. Strange as it may have seemed, Tellion found far more enjoyment in conducting the tasks of being a 'teacher' than she ever felt in any of the assignments in her prior life. And, she almost seemed to have an instinctual talent for helping others to learn. Tellion found that understanding greatly pleasurable.
After another hour of helping Melissa to master certain puzzling parts of her mathematics, the time of their session came to an end. The younger girl beamed with a sense of accomplishment at her now clear understanding of the material due to Tellion's teachings. With many thanks, she parted Tellion's residence with a quick hug and a small can of carbonated sugar drink that younger humans seemed to like so much. Tellion watched Melissa head down to the street and get into the car with her mom. Tellion waved goodbye when Melissa's mom honked the car horn twice in approval before driving away. She waited until the car was out of sight before cautiously going back into her home.
Tellion's smile vanished, and she immediately locked the door and closed the blinds, no point in letting some stranger passing by peer into her private affairs. Tellion checked the time on the watch she kept on her wrist. It would still be several hours before Mark returned home from work, she had plenty of time allotted for what she needed.
With little fear of being caught, Tellion descended into the basement, making sure to also lock the door behind her. She could never be too careful these days. One little mistake at the wrong time, and whatever fraction of a life she had managed to build would be over. Going down into what had quickly transformed into her private space, Tellion set about assembling her tools and various parts of the Kandrona Ray generator that she kept hidden all throughout the room.
Once it was all laid out before her, Tellion reassembled the generator parts into a semi completed form. After she was finished putting the last of the components together, she placed protective goggles over her eyes and prepared herself for the real work. Taking a set of human power cables she had 'misplaced' from the garage, Tellion cautiously placed the appropriate positive and negative ends on the electrical conduits that led from the generator's power core and into the radiation wave projector. It had taken her quite a bit of skill, along with a great deal of time and luck, to successfully bypass the generator's electrical conduits from power core and into radiation wave projector. Reaching for a hidden compartment under the work bench, Tellion pulled out an assembled bank of eight human made batteries. They had all originally been designed to provide power for human vehicles, their energy yields were archaic in comparison to what her Yeerk brethren used for even the simplest energy needs, but these were all she had available. It had taken her a considerable amount of time to collect each of the batteries, mostly by sneaking into a local wreckage area on nights when Mark worked late and taking them from the destroyed engines of other vehicles. Yes, Tellion knew that it was in a sense stealing, but she didn't have the luxury of living her life in a purely innocent way anymore, not if she wanted to survive.
Inspecting the individual batteries, and the electrical cords she had used to carefully link them all to each other, Tellion was moderately hopeful that her plan would work. She had studied their chemical composition and ways that they worked to generate electrical charges, and with the addition of her advanced Yeerk knowledge of engineering and elementals, Tellion calculated that she had been able to increase each of their individual energy outputs fivefold. But even then, Tellion wasn't sure if it would be enough to charge the generator, or if they could handle the power levels they were about to be subjected to.
Tellion ran a few more algorithms on her computation device, hoping that she had made the calculations right, before daring to take the opposing connector ends and attaching them to her makeshift power plant. The instant the ends touched the open lines, sparks danced through the thin air around her. The hair on her arms rose from the increased electrical charges in the surrounding air, but she did her best to ignore it. And just like the flicking of a light switch, the generator began to hum to life.
Her human heart beating hard in her chest, Tellion began rapidly running through the preliminary tests. Each reading was coming back promising, there were very few fluctuations in the power outputs and the energy levels were running at successful capacity for use. Taking a very hopeful breath in, Tellion activated the Kandrona Ray generator, minus turning on its actual power core.
The low hum of the radiation wave projector coming to life began as well as the room begging to fill with the artificial Kandrona light brought Tellion's weary sprit to life as well. She dared to smile faintly as the much needed Kandrona radiation began to filter out into the atmosphere around her. She had done it! She had bypassed the power core with her own power source.
No sooner than that thought went through her mind, the generator's output fluctuated, and the readings on her device instantly all went into the red zones. The air filled with intense static, and an electrical surge raced from the generator and into the modified batteries. A loud bang exploded throughout the small confines of the basement, sending Tellion diving to the floor. Humming from the generator faded, and its reddish glow with it, plunging the room back into its natural yellow light from the bulbs above.
Swallowing hard, Tellion looked up cautiously from her spot on the floor, and felt a great dishearten feeling overcome her when she saw that one of the batteries in her bank had its two metal connectors explode. It was destroyed beyond any hope of being salvageable. Despite all of her careful calculations, the earth based power sources she had worked so hard on and placed so much hope in were clearly not able to handle the kind of power needed to successfully operate the Kandrona Ray generator.
With the air filling with a heavy acidic smell, Tellion weakly got to her feet and went over to the battery bank. Taking great care, she disconnected the conductor ends and stared at her broken hopes. Taking her goggles off, Tellion stared down at the destroyed battery in silence for a little while. Growling under her breath, Tellion slammed the googles against the work bench and wearily sat down. Grasping her flowing hair in her shaking hands, Tellion looked up at the Kandrona Ray generator. Specifically its power core.
She hadn't noticed it she had first stolen it from the hospital. It hadn't been something easy to detect. The casing for the micro fusion reactor that gave life to the generator, was cracked. It must have happened when the Andalites had smashed it during their attack on the mini-pool. The damage was very subtle, nothing serious enough to be noticeable at first. It was a minor repair task in the right facilities and given the right tools. None of which Tellion had at her disposal.
It had taken well over a month of her using the generator before Tellion had noticed anything had been wrong. There had been a slight spike in radiation levels in the basement after one of her feedings. It wasn't concerning by itself, but it had been enough to make her monitor radiation output more closely upon her next feeding. When Tellion had seen another slight increase in radiation levels immediately after using the Yeerk Pool, she knew something was wrong. It had taken her almost an hour to identify the microscopic fracture, and know that she was again in serious trouble.
She didn't know how long it would last, but having detailed knowledge of the generators and what they were capable of doing, Tellion knew that continued use of the generator without repairing the damage to the power core would end in only one possible outcome.
Either the radiation levels would continue to increase as the rift of the fracture widened, ultimately reaching a point where they would become toxic to both her and Susan's body and she would perish from radiation poisoning. Or, the fracture would simply shatter the casing during one of her uses and cause a miniature meltdown. By Tellion's best calculations with would be a relatively minor nuclear explosion, limited locally to her residence and possibly the buildings adjacent to her dwelling. But even then, that would mean instant death for her.
With no way to repair the damaged core, she had originally only one real viable option left, that was to make her own power source that could substitute for the generator's core. And that plan had quite literally just blown up in her face. Once again, Tellion found herself living on borrowed time.
Even by her most optimistic expectations, she had about another two, maybe three months, of being able to use the Kandrona generator before it would go into the meltdown range of use.
She needed to get another core. But there was only one place that she knew one could be found. The Yeerk Pool. Tellion shuddered at the thought of having to go back down into that nightmare she had barely been able to escape.
Yet, she didn't have any more choices left to her. She needed to find a way back into the Yeerk Pool. And just finding a way down there was going to prove to be an immense challenge all on its own, to say nothing of having to steal at least one Kandrona Ray power core and smuggle it back out while evading detection.
Tellion had already made a few feeble attempts to find suspected locations for entrances to the Yeerk Pool. She had, in the little free time she had been gifted with, observed several meetings of the local Sharing group from afar, and tried to follow what she had believed were controllers as they left the meetings to go somewhere else. Her pitiful efforts at espionage were disasters to say the least. She had lost almost all of the targets she had been following after just a few blocks. On a few other occasions the target had easily noticed her efforts at tracking them and she had to break off pursuit. Once she had even been confronted by the one she had been trying to spy on. It had only been a quick presumption of ignorance at being lost and asking for directions that had allowed Tellion to get away.
Such a pathetic display of herself. She was a great engineer, but beyond that it didn't seem like much else. Kind of sad to think about, considering who and what she was supposed to be to her kind. But even now, Tellion didn't feel any more special upon learning of her origins than she ever had. She was just a feeble fugitive struggling, and mostly failing, to stay alive.
As she was contemplating her rapidly depleting series of options to save herself, a small chime echoed through a small speaker she had set up in the back corner of the room furthest from the light. It merely copied the chime of the home's front door bell, but she could hear it very clearly down in the basement. It was yet another one of her personal 'modifications' to the home. Thankfully, a good deal of the electrical conduits in the home had been run through the basement. It had only taken her a week to isolate the wire that ran to the door bell and rewire an additional branch line to her personal alarm system.
Now alerted, Tellion quickly hid all traces of her work and checked herself in a small mirror nearby. A little bit of dirt and grim, nothing that would be considered unacceptable. Tellion paused at the bottom of the steps to check the back of her pants just over her butt. The tip of the Fugue baton was barely visible, but still within easy reach should she need it. She had sown loops into the inside of all the pants that she wore, even the ones around the house, where she could place the weapon securely and clandestinely on her. It was annoying when she was sitting, as its frame dug into her soft flesh, but it was a discomfort that Tellion accepted with the assurance that she would always have a means of defending herself.
Granted, the weapon had been designed specifically for her kind, but she had zapped her hand once with its charged end in an experiment of its potency. The shock had jolted up her entire arm, and had left her hand numb for nearly ten minutes, so she knew that it would be useful against any target. Not that she was any sort of expert in its use, but she had allotted a few hours of practice swinging and stabbing at imaginary targets with it. Still a poor substitute for actual combat training, but at least now she knew its weight and balance to effectively weld the weapon.
Assured that she wasn't completely helpless, Tellion ascended the stairs and cautiously approached the front door. Peeking through the blinds, she saw a sole individual standing calmly at her front door, staring out at the street. He didn't appear imposing in any way, just slightly strange that he was remaining perfectly still as he waited for someone to answer the door. Tellion kept her guard up. She knew better than anyone that her kind could infest and pass themselves off as any living being. Anyone could be a controller, no matter how innocent they appeared to be.
She opened the door slightly, keeping her free hand hovering near the grip of the baton.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
The stranger abruptly turned around to face her. "Oh, hello. I was afraid that no one was home right now."
"Can I help you?" Tellion asked again, her caution rising.
The man promptly cleared his throat. "You are Susan, the after school tutor?"
"How do you know my name?" she demanded, grasping the handle of the Fugue baton.
"I'm sorry for just showing up unexpectedly at your doorstep like this." he apologized. "But you see, I would like to possibly enlist your services."
He paused for a moment, then made an inviting human gesture.
"May I…come in? It just feels a bit awkward standing here talking to an almost closed door."
Tellion was conflicted. She didn't know this stranger, and bringing someone she didn't know into her home felt like a risk. Yet he knew 'her' name, so if he had intended harm on her, he likely wouldn't have made his presence known. She weighed her options, finally deciding to take a gamble. She slowly opened the door and allowed him to enter, but made sure that she did not place her back to him.
The stranger casually entered her home, appearing completely at ease as he moved farther inside.
"My my," he said, sounding more like he was addressing himself than her as he looked about, "this is such a quaint and pleasant little home. It must be a lot of work to keep up."
"I manage just fine." Tellion told him in a gentle and non-combative voice, keeping a close eye on him.
She immediately began to notice something was off about this man that she had just invited in. It was very faint, very subtle. Tellion was sure that humans, naturally having lived with their many range of senses, took those abilities for granted and wouldn't have detected the oddities. But having lived most of her life with only the sense of touch, Tellion didn't take sight, smell, or sound for granted. That was why she instantly noticed the difference as he walked about her home. The noises his footfalls made were not the same as those of other people walking across the carpeted floor. There wasn't a slight squishing sound of shoes being pressed into the carpet. No, this sounded more like the light thumping of a slightly heavy object hitting the surface.
"I do hope that you'll forgive me for this unexpected intrusion, but I didn't have any idea of when I could expect to find you during normal working hours." The stranger said, moving about her living room. "You see, I tend a lot of the local PTA meetings and have heard some of the other parents speaking about you tutoring their children after school. They talk very highly of you. Apparently all of your after school study sessions have helped their children's math and science scores rise between ten and fifteen points, no small feat there."
Tellion didn't respond. She just kept watching him as she finally shut the door. Then she saw it, something even stranger than the man's odd sounding footsteps. He passed under the slowly swirling fan in the middle of the living room…and the shadow from the spinning blades didn't pass over his body. This confused Tellion, who thought for a second that she was imagining things. Then she remembered to trust her instincts and observed him closer. Yes, the constant rotating shadow of the spinning fan danced across the interior of the living room, but every time that shadow should have gone across his body, it simply vanished. It was as if his body was somehow absorbing the various light spectrums. It was very disturbing to her.
Then he stopped right at a certain point in her living and lowered his head slightly. It didn't seem like much, but it was a bizarre action. Tellion couldn't tell exactly what he was doing, and she could only speculate. The only thing that she could think of was that he was looking at something, but if her calculations of the direction of his eyes was going, then he was staring at a blank space of floor. There was nothing there to see. The only thing that was in that general direction was the basement under the floor. But to think he was somehow looking at that was.
"So do you mind telling me what exactly you're doing here, and what you want from me?" Tellion questioned, carefully approaching the stranger.
He quickly turned to face her and made an embarrassed face. "Oh I am so sorry for that. I really have a thing for home interiors, I tend to get carried away sometimes. I really need to mind my manners when I'm in a stranger's house."
"You said that you wanted my 'services'?" Tellion asked him.
"Well, yes. More specifically, I've been looking around for a skilled tutor." he told her.
Tellion observed his facial expressions. There didn't appear to be any deception or hidden agenda in his actions, at least that's what she hoped so. Deciding to take a risk, Tellion moved to within arm's length of this odd man.
"How about we introduce ourselves before we go any further on this." Tellion told him, holding out her hand in friendly gesture, yet keeping her other behind her back and close to the Fugue baton. "I am Susan, and I am the after school tutor that you're looking for."
The man stared down at her outstretched hand and just as strangely backed away from her a step or two.
"Oh, sorry. I don't like physical contact with strangers. I'm a bit of a germ a phoebe. I hope you understand."
She didn't understand what that meant. And she didn't really believe his excuse for not wanting to touch her hand. Tellion needed to find out more about this strange man, so she decided to play along.
"Ok then. What can I do for you today Mr…."
"King." he told her. "You can just call me Mr. King. And I'm very interested in employing your services to be an after school tutor for my son. His math and science grades have been slipping a bit lately, and I want to make sure that he passes this year's finals with excellent scores. Of course I will gladly pay whatever price you're willing to offer. Nothing is too good for me to see my son succeed. His name is Erek. Erek King."