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  Cadet Katelyn McCaffrey & Lieutenant Commander Lucia Rinaldi, SD
"An Uncommon Ground" -- JDL Rinaldi/McCaffrey

An Uncommon Ground
JDL: Counselor Rinaldi and Cadet Katelyn McCaffrey

Two weeks ago...

            “That’s wonderful!” Lucia exclaimed to her unseen caller. “I’m so happy that you’re taking some personal time to visit Earth soon. No, no, don’t you even think about staying anywhere else! My mother and father would be delighted to see you and they have plenty of room in a the house now that all of their daughters have grown up.” Lucia assured the person on the other end of her comm line. “And the water is still warm enough to take a dip.”

            She laughed and added “Yes, I’m sure that the dean would give me a couple of days leave so that we could spend some time catching up in person.” She stopped and listened, a curious look on her face. “Your niece? Really, I had no idea!”    

            She used her finger to scroll on a PADD. “I still need to see her, uh huh, she has been back for a while...but she has been...dodging my attempts to schedule her appointment.” She chuckled. “I know, the story of any counselor’s life.” She nodded. “Please, I’d love to see your records from her early years, the information could be important. Thank you.

             Lucia was interrupted by her door chime sounding.

            “Yikes, I have to go, my next appointment is here a bit early.”

            “Enter.” She called out toward the door. Then with a sad look, Lucia addressed the person on her screen to sign off.

         “A si bìri, Taylor.” She closed her comm and welcomed Cadet Bnnz to have a seat.

A few days later....

The beginning of the new semester And the new year at the Academy had made Lucia’s schedule packed with new Cadet evaluations. She hadn’t had a chance to send yet another request to schedule to Katelyn McCaffrey. Which made it an even more pleasant surprise when she saw that the reluctant cadet had actually scheduled her own appointment. Lucia suspected that her friend Taylor Johnson had applied some friendly-persuasion to convince her to do so, but was happy to have the appointment on the books any way.

Present day….
             Kate was perched silently on a high branch of one of the trees on campus. Her black and brown tail curved around her, as her emerald cat eyes gazed out; observing anything that passed her way. Her ears twitched as she listened to the millions of sounds of the day ranging from the pattering of feet as cadets rushed to their destinations or the chatting of random individuals as they walked, to the soft rustling in the leaves due to the light breeze, to the light hum or buzz of the various electric equipment on campus.
Kate’s cat form was one of her favored forms, and it was always soothing to lay in one of Boothby’s gardens basking in the sun, or sit perched in a tree and observe the world as a cat. Kitty Kate didn’t have to worry about anything because she was a cat--and cats do whatever they want, whenever they want. And cats didn’t have meetings to attend, or classes to go to, or people constantly nagging them….like her uncle who won’t stop telling her that she has to stop putting off seeing the campus counselor.
Kitty Kate sighed at that thought as she had unfortunately run out of excuses to put off her counseling session and was due to go see her in just a few minutes. Her stomach turned. I better just get it over with. She thought. If I don’t show up I’ll never hear the end of it from Uncle Taylor. She had no idea why it was so imperative to see a counselor anyway, she was perfectly fine on her own. But she knew Taylor only nagged out of love, so she’d humor him.
Her feline body stood and balanced on the branch for a moment before she stretched her forelegs, and then her hindlegs. Next, the tortoise shell colored cat hopped elegantly off the branch onto the grass below and in a flash took off down the campus paths. It was fun to feel the wind in her fur, her kitty face couldn’t help but smile as she speedily made her way to the counselor’s office.    
Stopping just outside the building, she morphed into her human form: a teenage humanoid female with long, straight dark brown hair, pale skin, and lavender eyes; complete with her “uniform” (as her clothes were just an extension of her shape-shifting self). A slight smile still remained on her face as she made her way through the building to the counselor’s office. The thrill of her cat-form racing down the sidewalks of campus left a residual euphoria in Kate which kept her calm and ready for the dreaded counseling session. She waited outside the office for her queue to enter.

Lucia stood when the chime sounded and instead of calling out “Enter” she went to her door and slid it open. The young woman outside was definitely Katelyn McCaffrey. Her distinctive lavender eyes were a dead giveaway.    She couldn’t sense a thing empathically coming from the girl but she felt a slight feline aura about her all the same.

“Come in Cadet.” Lucia said cheerfully, gesturing for her to enter. “I took the liberty of putting out some tea and pastries.” Her dress swooshed as she made her way to a table and chairs.

The table was laden with an array of unfamiliar sweets in a half-dozen shapes, sizes and colors. An ornate porcelain teapot with matching cups and accessories sat on a tray at the center.
Kate’s shoulders dropped slightly; she had a fleeting thought to run—just morph back into a cat and take off. But the counselor was at the door, inviting her in and if she left now her uncle would definitely not be pleased. She entered the office and looked around. Kate could tell that the counselor put effort into making the office look inviting. Comfortable chairs, various plants, and the tea and pastries on the table. It was like the place was supposed to be more like a living room where two friends might gather and discuss life. “Nice plants.” She stated, and took a seat in front of the table. The smell of the sweets were strong, but not unbearable. “What kind of tea is it?”. Her body language was stiff and guarded, though she was trying not to seem too uncomfortable.

Lucia chuckled, “It’s an herbal blend that my friend Taz shared with me. A combination of chamomile and catnip.” She had a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “I’ve found it tastes especially good with a bit of milk.”    She sat in one of the chairs at the table. There was no sign of a PADD or other note-taking device nearby. “Would you like to try some?” She offered the nervous young woman.

Kate did a double take of the counselor. “Catnip?” She frowned and crossed her arms, leaning back on the chair. “I suppose someone told you about when I accidently got into some catnip in Boothby’s gardens in my cat form, then infectected one of the feline cadets. The results were…..less than desirable for me and the other cadet. But I suppose amusing to some.”        

Lucia’s eyes widened and she quickly grabbed the teapot. She rushed over to the replicator and poured the contents into the receptacle. “No, no of course I didn’t hear about that.” Still grasping the now empty teapot she sat back down. “I would never be so insensitive! The tea blend really did come from my friend. Both catnip and chamomile have been used for centuries on Earth for their calming effects.” She frowned. “I had thought you might like a drink with the benefits of putting you a bit at ease and I was only amused because you seemed to have a lingering aura of felinity around you. But I didn’t know, of course I didn’t.” The counselor finally released her grip on the vessel and placed the teapot back on the table.

She winced. “Uh, now, what would you like to drink? I’m going to have a cappuccino.”

Kate observed the counselor silently for a moment, then couldn’t help but smile--slightly. It was obvious the counselor hadn’t intended on offending her. And it was somewhat comforting to see the counselor as nervous as she was. “Hot chocolate, please.” She nodded in thought as she waited for her hot chocolate. “I usually transform into my cat form when I need to be comforted. I suppose a lot of humanoids like to drink tea for calming them. I tend to need to transform into something….and run…..or fly. It helps me expend any kind of pent up negative energy that I might have.”    

The counselor replicated their drinks. “Being able to change form sounds incredible. I’d love to turn into all sorts of things….that might sound a bit childlike but doing that sounds like a fantasy come true” She placed the steaming mug in front of Kate. “If you have any food preferences, let me know. These are sweets from my home in Sardinia. This is my favorite.” She picked up a pastry. “It’s called a seada. Fried dough stuffed with a lemon-scented cheese and covered in honey. A bit sweet and a bit savory.” She bit into one and laid the rest on a small plate.

“I’m not allergic to anything, that I know of.” She looked at the different pastries and picked up one that looked like it was filled with chocolate, and had chopped almonds and powdered sugar on top. She took a bite of it and instantly smiled, placing the rest on her small plate. “This is really good, thank you.” She stated after swallowing her bite.    

“That’s sospiri. My dad’s favorite. I’ll be sure to tell my mamma that you like her recipe.” She sipped her coffee and nibbled at another pastry seemingly savoring it immensely.

Kate smiled at the counselor’s enjoyment of her treats. This certainly was an interesting way to have a counseling session. “Shape-shifting can be very fun….but it can have its downsides too. Especially when everyone around you can’t do what you do. It can be easy to feel….weird.”

Lucia noticed Kate’s body language slightly relax and become less guarded. “I’ve found that sometimes weird can be just another word for unfamiliar. You should be free to be who...or what you want to be. Give people the chance to accomodate you, rather than the other way around. Now, there are some limits of course. It would hardly be fair to become a Gorn to arm wrestle a human. Funny perhaps, but not fair.”

Kate chuckled. “Yeah...at first I was not too comfortable shifting here. I mean I still did it, but more in private, and didn’t necessarily want to tell people what I could do. I ran into some...trouble...back home when people learned what I could do. Kids mostly...being stupid. But….I didn’t want any repeat of that here. I wanted to make a good impression. But, I’ve been training with Professor Giles in the tactical/security department. And he’s taught me to use my ability as a strength in my combat. I like the idea that I can use it in my job to better serve Starfleet.” She paused and took a sip of her drink. “I’ve also made some friends who seem to accept me for who I am. So, I’m less timid with using my abilities now…..but…as I don’t entirely know exactly who I am, or where I’m from…..unforeseen things end up happening.” She frowned as she thought of Kobor and his kitty-klingon predicament. “I mean when interacting with other people….I ….. I don’t want to harm anyone.” She sighed in exasperation. “I’m not making any sense, am I?”    

This time it was Lucia’s turn to chuckle. “You’re making perfect sense actually. Just like those kids who were reacting to what they didn’t know or understand, the unpredictability and unknown extent of your abilities can certainly seem intimidating to you. Have you tried testing the limits of what you’re capable of doing? For example, could you transform into creatures which are mythological or fictional, such as a dragon or a mermaid? Or can you only shift into an actual living creature?”

Kate nodded. “I have done different kinds of testing and training. Back home I worked with Uncle Taylor or explored on my own. Here I have professor Giles to help me explore my abilities. I know there’s a telepathic component...though I haven’t really explored the extent of my telepathy. It’s mostly just instinct, I will get an image in my head that happens to be from someone’s mind and I can shift into it. So if one can imagine it, I can shift into it--including dragons or mermaids.
But there are varying degrees of shifting. If it’s an actual creature, and I have had physical contact with it--then I can shift into an exact copy of that creature even down to the cellular level. I will also take on the abilities of that creature--like as a cat I have cat senses and agility...and even a cat’s reaction to catnip. If it’s a mythical creature--I can change into the image of it….but the abilities and cellular makeup of what I shift into is more left up to imagination and not necessarily based on true biology. For example, a mythical creature like a mermaid would be possible because I can synthesize a tail of a fish, and a human torso fairly easily as I have shifted into either being before, but I wouldn’t have any magical powers like a true mermaid would--if one existed that is….unless I touched one I suppose.”    
Kate took a another bite of her pastry, and a sip of her hot cocoa. She didn’t mind talking about her abilities and what she’s learned about herself. “I prefer shifting into animals; they feel more natural to me….but I really haven’t found anything I couldn’t do yet….even if it takes me more effort to do it, I eventually shift to whatever I want…..” She drifted off and nervously picked at her pastry as her thoughts returned to Kobor and their whole transformation fiasco. “...but that’s if I actually intended to shift in the first place.”

Lucia did her best to maintain a welcoming mein. “You’re thinking about Kobor aren’t you?” She inquired. “No, I’m not reading your mind...it’s just pretty clear that the incident remains a sore spot for you. Your abilities are fantastic Katelyn, but the most lovely of roses still has thorns.”

Kate looked alarmed; she hadn’t realized she had been that transparent. But the Kobor incident had bothered her, especially now that he’s stuck as a feline Klingon. “I...guess so. I just...it wasn’t a pleasant transformation for either of us. I was stuck as Kobor for a while and couldn’t transform. Imagine not being able to ever change your clothes ever again...it’s not exactly the same thing, but that’s the closest I can come to explaining being trapped in one shape. But no matter how uncomfortable it made me--I was more worried about what it did to Kobor. He’s a very good friend, and I don’t want to be the cause of his distress. Then, when the doctors fixed us, I thought everything was going to be okay. But now….I hate that I changed Kobor somehow and we can’t fix it.”

“I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m sure your analogy doesn’t come close to how it must feel to you. What happened was accidental, which by nature means it was unintended and unpredictable. As the Vulcans would probably say ‘It is illogical to continue to berate oneself for that over which you had no control.’ However, because you’re not Vulcan, but a unique being all your own, that’s probably not something you are easily able to do. What do you think it might be possible for you to do? I mean to make the situation less distressing?”

Kate thought for a moment. “I don’t know. Like I said I like to change into one of my animal forms when I’m stressed….but that doesn’t really solve the issue; it just allows me to step outside it for a while.” She fiddled with her hands as she thought. “I can’t change what happened to Kobor. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about him. I wish I could know if he was okay...I mean even if he says he’s okay….it doesn’t necessarily mean he is. He’s been spending a lot of time with that feline cadet--which is fine; she’s apparently teaching him how to deal with his new feline body. And, I haven’t had a lot of time to spend with him to make sure he’s okay. But how do I make myself feel better about the situation? Should I even feel better?” She shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“Well first of all, yes of course you deserve to feel better. Getting past your feelings otherwise isn’t going to happen over night. I can’t offer you Cadet Kobor’s point of view for the obvious reasons but I can offer to get the two of you together for a chat, if you feel that might help. If you do, and he agrees, I can be there or not, it will be your choice. In the meantime, I do have a couple of suggestions. You mentioned that you shift to another form when you are stressed. Does doing so also help you clear your head and think?”

“Uhh….well...I’m sure I can talk to Kobor on my own. I just...we’ve just been busy. And he’s dealing with a lot.” She sighed. “Yes it does help me clear my mind.”

There was a soft chuckle from the counselor. “That works.” She said with a knowing smile. “Here’s my first suggestion. Use your ability to find your answer. Change into the form you think can offer you the best insight. Listen to the instincts that your form possess and absorb their wisdom. Then shift again and again and again. Shift as many times as it takes for you to find at least some measure of peace. Then return to your main form, compile all that wonderful, helpful knowledge and when you do, you might just learn more about the situation, and yourself, than any counselor can ever show you.”

Kate gave the counselor a surprised look, then grinned. She didn’t expect the counselor to tell her to shift to find an answer to her problems. “I’ve never thought of doing that. I’ll give it a try.”

“And my second suggestion, as a Starfleet Security Officer, I think you’ll find that studying the behavioral nuances of various species to be extremely useful. THAT is something I could tell you a lot more about!” She lifted her mug and drained the last of her drink. “You my dear, are good to go.” Lucia winked. “For another year at least.”

Kate looked at the chronometer in the room. “Wow….that went fast.” She looked to the counselor. “Thank you for your suggestions, Counselor. I’ll keep them in mind.” She smiled, then got up to leave. “At least now Uncle Taylor will stop nagging me….about this anyway. Thanks again for the pastry, it was quite delicious.”
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