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Chavenlink, Quorta III
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"Leaving the Tower"
Part Two

By Lyla Toomney

The classroom was deathly quiet when Jessi slipped in, trying desperately to move silently. "How nice of you to join us today, Miss Theiveson," the astro-navigation professor sneered and Jessi stifled an irritated cuss. "There are some lovely seats here in the front of the auditorium." Jessi slunk down the aisle and sat where Professor Lukas pointed. The astro-navigation professor was a withered, balding little human with occationally archaic views of females. He reminded Jessi disturbingly of her father at times. "Good luck to you on your test, Miss Theiveson," he sneered as he handed her a test holopad. She opened it and gagged at the size of the test file, but bit her lip and started marking answers with her electrostylus.

The minutes seemed to crawl by, but so did the questions. In the end, Jessi found herself wishing for another twenty minutes just to finish. With a soft sigh and an even softer curse, she shut the holopad down and pressed the 'send' button on top when the class-end buzzer sounded. She and the rest of the class began gathering their things for their next classes. "Hold on, Miss Theiveson," Professor Lukas coughed softly as Jessi turned in her holopad.

"Yes, sir?" she asked nervously.

"Why were you late for class?"

Jessi sighed and fumbled for an answer that would let her get to her next class on time. "I got...a disturbing letter from home," she finally replied quietly. "I'm sorry for being late, sir. It won't happen again."

Professor Lukas's eyes softened slightly. "I expect it won't. Well, Miss Theiveson. Good luck to you. I'll see you on Thursday."

"Yes, sir." Jessi fairly dashed away, heading for her Alpha Sector history class. Her mind buzzed with astro-navigation mistakes and memories of her father's voice: If you go out that door, don't you dare come back... Frustrated tears sprang to her eyes, but she fought them back as she found a seat in the back fo the A.S. history auditorium.

She had to struggle every step of the way just to keep her attention on the lecture and taking notes in her personal holopad was a wasted effort. In desperation, she checked her inter-pad email. It was empty, but knowing that much seemed to help her focus.

After class, she had a lunch break, for which she was immensely greatful. "Hey, Jess!" a familiar voice shouted and she skidded to a halt to wait for her friend. The gangly female Kickran grinned as she caught up and asked, "How'd your astro-nav test go?"

"Ugh," Jessi grunted in disgust. "Lukas razzed me for being late and the test was a bitch. How about your Culture?"

Suka^vi, the Kickran, snorted in answering disgust and scratched at the long fur of her ruff absently. "It sucks, of course. At least the prof's nice."

"True."

They ordered their lunches and took them to a window-side table. "Why were you late?" Suka asked around a mouthful of sandwhich.

Jessi flinched. "Dad sent my letter back. Again."

"Yeouch," the grey-blue Kickran made a sadly sympathetic face. "You think your mom even saw it?"

"Doubt it." Jessi took a long drink of her milk. "You realize tomorrow is my brother's fourth birthday? I wonder if he even remembers me."

"I'm sure he does." Suka didn't sound sure, but Jessi appreciated the thought behind the statement. "What's your next class?" Suka asked in a painfully obvious change of subject.

"Military protocol," Jessi gagged and made a face. "But I've got Art Appreciation after that." She grinned cheerfully at the thought. "I love Prof. Klicoff."

Suka returned the grin gladly. "Who doesn't? She's a sweetheart. You know, I heard she went through Marine training? You wouldn't think it, looking at her."

Jessi shrugged. "Would explain why most of the civvie-trained profs are afraid of her." Ti-naya Klicoff was the resident favorite professor on the PeaceKeeper Naval Academy campus. Jessi loved her, idolized her, even adored her at times. She was gentle, artistic, but tough enough to keep trouble-makers in line. Not to mention, fundamental rules ceased to exist in her classroom on certain obscure holidays. Professor Klicoff would do just about anything for a party, sometimes. One of her Art App classes had experienced the odd pleasure of celebrating "Galactic Cheese Day" when she hadn't felt like giving them a test that day. Needless to say, the Acadamy Administration wasn't always too pleased with their youngest Rramackrof professor.

Just thinking about Professor Klicoff made Jessi want to giggle. Making her want to giggle wasn't the only effect thinking of the professor had on Jessi...

An idea popped into her head and she sprang up from the table. "I'll see you later, Suka," she said and took off for Professor Klicoff's office before the young Kickran could protest. "If anyone has an idea about how to get through to Dad, it's the Prof," she murmured to herself as the lift quickly swished her away.

Once on the seventeenth floor, Jessi timidly tapped on Ti-naya Klicoff's office door. "Come in," the arts professor called and Jessi slipped inside. The young professor was sitting at her computer, dark blue eyes peering at the screen over archaic, wire-rimmed bifocals. She didn't need them, but wore them because she thought they made her look more dignified and more worthy of respect. Her long brown hair was twisted firmly into a bun at the back of her neck and she looked back as Jessi came in. "Jessi!" she smiled, her face lighting up the room. "Nice to see you. What's up?" She motioned to a chair and Jessi sat with a sigh. "Oh, that doesn't sound good..."

"Professor Klicoff, I need some advice," Jessi said softly.

"Advisor-to-advisee, teacher-to-student or female-to-female?" Ti-naya asks as she takes off her bifocals and turns off the computer monitor.

"Advisor-to-advisee," Jessi paused long enough to gather her wits. "I left home under...unfavorable circumstances," she began slowly. "My father told me if I left, I wasn't welcome back." Ti-naya made a sympathetic sound but said nothing. "My mother was heartbroken and my baby brother was two. I've been trying to write to them on and off for two years, but all my letters come back, unopened with 'return to sender' written on them in my father's handwriting. I'm sure my mother never saw them." Jessi paused for breath and to study the professor. Her audience maintained a sympathetically interested expression. "I want...need to let my mom know I'm okay, but letters just don't work."

"Hmm..." Ti-naya leaned back in her chair to think. "Have you tried audio messages, e-mail? Anything like that?"

Jessi shook her head. "I'm from Krion. My family is extremely anit-tech."

Ti-naya's brow furrowed. "Do you have any excuse to send a care package? Letters are easy to pocket, but packages take more effort."

An idea sprang into Jessi's mind. "My brother's fourth birthday is tomorrow. I could send him something!"

"Wonderful idea!" Ti-naya grinned. "May I advise simple, non-techincal toys? The gift shop has scads of little stuffed animals."

"I'll have to check it out," Jessi beamed. "Thanks so much, ma'am. I'll make sure to tell you how it turns out."

"Thank you for asking, Jessi," Ti-naya smiled back. "And good luck."


Br^ek grinned evilly over Jessi's shoulder. She glanced back and glared at him. "What are you grinning about, fuzz face?" Without answering, the Kickran picked up two of the stuffed animals Jessi had waiting to be mailed.

"This one me?" he asked, an overwhelming chuckle in his voice. His green-grey eyes sparkled as he held up an all black plush dog. Jessi grinned and nodded. "Who's this?" He held the other dog up, a grey wold with a black mask.

"Suka, one of my Beta Bio classmates," Jessi replied. "Do you know her?"

Br^ek's eyes lit up. "Know her?" he grinned diabolically and put the black plushie on top of the grey with a pointed, suggestive wink. "Who doesn't know Suka^vi?"

"Brek!" Jessi yelped and tried to reclaim the toys. "Come on! Keep your hormones to yourself!" She lunged and the black Kickran jumped back, laughing. "You nitwit, those are for my 4-year-old brother. Give 'em back!"

"Catch!" Br^ek grinned and tossed the Suka plush back. "I think I'm going to hang onto myself for a while."

The door to the common room hissed shut and Ryn's ears were laid back against her skull as she walked in. "That just sounded wrong, Brek."

The Kickran's ears swiveled in embarrassment. "No, this, me!" he wailed, holding out the black plushie. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Ryn!"

Jessi snorted, "Look who's talking." Br^ek's ears swiveled in the Kickran equivalent of an embarrassed blush and Ryn laughed. "Where've you been, Goldenrod?"

"Astrophysics lab," Ryn grinned eagerly. "Got stuck talking to Prof Michener."

"You mean an arguement, of course," Jessi grinned back, tucking the Suka plush into a waiting cardboard box while Br^ek flew 'himself' around the common room. Ryn Goldtooth was notorious for her physics arguements with anyone and everyone who would let her get started. Of course, Professor Kale Michener was only too happy to encourage the Gold Stonecat's ruminations. The human astrophysics professor was considered by many to be a genius in his field, so Ryn couldn't have had a better opponent to bounce her ideas off of.

"Not exactly," Ryn chuckled. "We didn't really argue. We never do. It's just an...exchange of ideas where...we're both sure we're right."

Jessi snickered and shook her head. "Sounds like arguing to me," she muttered as she clipped the tag off the last plushie, a white dragon with eyes that resembled Harli's so much that she was willing to overlook the little toy's other flaws: bat wings instead of feathered, little pointed spikes running down its back and not a strand of mane on the little thing's head. "Tell me, Ryn," she murmured. "Do you think this looks at all like Harli?"

Ryn looked at the plush and chuckled. "The eyes and the coloring, but that's about it. Of course, the gift shop isn't about to carry carbon copies--ooo, alliteration--of all the Academy's students."

"I know. This is the closest I could get," Jessi sighed and stuck the little dragon into the box beside 'Suka'.

Ryn poked her head over Jessi's shoulder to peer at the box. Br^ek dashed past them, making weird, buzzing sounds with his lips and still 'flying' the black plush around. "What did you find for me?" the Gold Stonecat wondered with a brief backwards glance at the hyper Kickran. When she looked back, she found herself nose-to-nose with a small, golden-furred cat. "Jess," she said, trying to keep from laughing. "It looks like it stuck it's finger in an electrical socket."

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