[Warning: much reference to Who characters, but no actual appearance]
It was after school at H. G. Wells Memorial High, and things were quiet (the Music Club wasn't meeting today, while the Military Club was using the computer network to run holographic simulations of the Battle of Stalingrad).
Most students who stuck around after school at H. G. Wells were either in detention, or members of one of the school's numerous clubs.
Some few, however, could be found in the school library, reading, studying, and doing their homework.
Among their number on this occasion was one Natalie Kellman.
In a school where aliens, time-travellers and divinities made up a large part of the student body, it was the little things that tended to make a student stand out.
Natalie was a case in point.
She was human-normal, with long blonde hair that she braided and twisted into a wide variety of shapes (currently, she was wearing it in twin ponytails that fell down the front of her shoulders). She had a high forehead, wide, protuding eyes, and a slightly nasal voice. A yin-yang pendant hung around her neck, and a pair of homemade earrings dangled from her earlobes (Mr Maxil had grumbled about this, but had unfortunately been unable to find anything that prevented students from wearing jewellery to school).
Anyone looking for the image of 'hippie chic' need look no further than Natalie Kellman.
It might have been somewhat more acceptable if Natalie actually _had_ been a child of the 1960s. However, she was actually one of the 'present-day' students - those students who hadn't had to time-travel to reach class.
And in the modern era, anyone who looked like Natalie - particularly with her typically vague, somewhat distant expression - soon got slapped with the label 'flakey'.
Not that Natalie seemed particularly worried when they did so - in fact, she accepted it with her usual equanimity, and carried on with whatever it was she was doing. What other people thought of her rarely seemed a concern.
She finished scribbling on the pad, looked the sheet over, nodded, put the pad in her bag, and stuck the pen behind her ear, before sitting up straight and leaning forward, as if preparing to talk to someone.
Which, in a way, she was.
"Hello, Katie." Natalie said, apparently to thin air. "It's okay, I'm not talking to myself. I'm talking to you." She thought about that. "Unless you're _not_ here, in which case I _am_ talking to myself - but since I wouldn't know one way or the other, I might as well get on with it." She paused. "Let me know if I'm disturbing you."
Taking the silence as assent, she continued. "That's really why I'm here. No-one talks to you - they talk about you, but not to you, at least that I know - so I thought I'd give it a try.
"Okay. Assuming you don't know me already, my name is Natalie Kellman, I'm fourteen years old, and I'm a student at this school.
"I live with my Dad. He runs a handicraft shop in town - most of it's his own work. It doesn't make much, but it makes enough.
"My best friend is Megan Long - you might have seen her around, maybe? She's from the City of Dreams, the same as Nyssaias." Natalie said this last as if everyone knew who Nyssaias was (which actually happened to be the case, much to Nyssaias's embarrassment). "I think maybe the two of you'd get on."
"No..." she murmured. "No, that's not how I want to do this. It's just going to end up being about me, and that's not fair. It should be about you, as well. And I can't speak for you. I don't know what you're like. I could speak for _someone_, but it wouldn't be you.
She pushed the chair back.
Natalie looked around, but couldn't see who'd spoken (most of those in earshot of Natalie's monologue had looked up, seen who was speaking, and shrugged it off as more weirdness from another of the school weirdoes).
"Don't go." the voice repeated. It was a girl's voice, nervous and trembling.
"Katie?" Natalie said softly.
"Please." the voice said. "Don't go."
Natalie pulled the chair forward again, and rested her hands on the desk.
"Katie?" she said again. "Katie Hunter?"
"...Yes." Katie said.
"Good to meet you." Natalie said.
"Um..." Katie said. "How did you know I was here?"
"I heard it from Michael Valeyard." Natalie said absently.
"...And you _believed_ him?" Katie said incredulously.
Natalie blinked. "Why not?"
"Why- why not?!" Katie spluttered. "He's _Michael Valeyard_. He'll say _anything!_"
"He was right." Natalie pointed out.
"Only by accident." Katie sniffed.
"Why do you say that?" Natalie said.
"Because the only people who know I'm here are Mr Maxil, Mr Merlin, and Mr Magnus." Katie said firmly.
"Wouldn't they have told him?"
"Mr Maxil, Mr Merlin, and Mr Magnus." Katie emphasised. "Why would they tell him _this?_"
"I wouldn't put anything past Mr Maxil." Natalie said. "Or Mr Magnus."
"..._Why?_" Katie said.
"Well, Mr Maxil works for the CIA." Natalie explained. "Black ops. That's why he hired Mr Magnus and Miss Varne - they used to be intergalactic mercenaries."
"Mr Maxil... works for the CIA." Katie repeated. "_Why?_"
"Well, at first I thought it was because he was using the school as a recruiting ground." Natalie said. "But I suspect it's actually because he's using it as a staging ground for the CIA's operations Outside."
"...Okay..." Katie said, beginning to get the distinct feeling that, given the chance, Natalie would happily explain how Elvis, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster had engineered the assassination of JFK.
"He probably told Michael as part of a disinformation campaign." Natalie went on. "A way to leak it so that if anyone _does_ find out, they won't believe it."
"...But _you_ believed it." Katie pointed out.
Natalie shrugged. "Mr Maxil had to take the risk. Maybe it's a double-play, so someone _would_ find out."
"...Right." Katie said. "But now you've found out, what are you going to do?"
"Why would I do anything?" Natalie said. "I just wanted to talk."
"What? About Mr Maxil's plans?" Katie said, with a heavy dollop of sarcasm.
"Oh no." Natalie said, oblivious to Katie's tone. "He's probably got those protected by Mr Magnus. I just wanted to talk to _you_."
"...Why?" Katie said.
"Because I thought you might be lonely." Natalie said.
"...Right." Katie said. She was starting to get a phantom headache.
"Can you leave the library?" Natalie said.
"Um, yes." Katie said, now thoroughly confused. "I just can't leave the school."
"That's all right." Natalie said, pushing back her chair, picking up her bag, and slinging it over her shoulder. "Come on."
There were any number of more intelligent things Katie thought she could be doing, beginning with asking Mr Magnus to perform an exorcism.
Nevertheless, she followed Natalie.
They finally stopped outside the girls' toilet, where Natalie opened the door and went in.
Katie hung outside, waiting.
"Come on in." Natalie's voice called.
Katie began to say something, but realised that, short of manifesting, she could only talk to Natalie when she spoke in her ear, so, with a great deal of reluctance, she passed through the toilet door.
Natalie stood between the sinks and the cubicles, facing the door.
"I'm in." Katie said.
"I thought we'd need somewhere private." Natalie explained. "Talking in the library was fine, but I didn't think you'd want to manifest there."
"...You want me to manifest?" Katie repeated.
"...All right." Katie said finally. "Stand back."
The sudden chill set Natalie's teeth on edge, a cloud of mist forming in front of her.
From the mist, a translucent image began to form - a plump figure in the girls' uniform of H. G. Wells, with lank black hair that fell down her back, adorned only by a hairband, and weak blue eyes behind thick glasses, set in a pimply, chubby face.
"Happy?" Katie said, not without some bitterness. "This is what I look like. _This_ is the way I have to look for the rest of time. A spotty, pimply, overweight girl."
"I thought so ..." Natalie murmured.
"I _beg_ your pardon?" Katie demanded.
"Your photograph in the 'Register'." Natalie explained. "I looked in the archive to see who'd died in the library. You were the only one."
"Yeah." Katie muttered. "Squashed by a bookcase."
"I'm sorry." Natalie said quietly.
"No you aren't." Katie said.
"Because." Katie snapped, with no small amount of venom, "I'm the stupid fat cow who got squashed under the bookcase! _No-one_ was sorry about that!"
"I am." Natalie said softly. "It couldn't be an easy way to die."
Katie's mouth twisted. "Oh, sure. Like what _you_ say means something."
"It means something to me." Natalie said. "Everyone has something like that."
"Except _yours_ are-" The next part of the sentence choked in Katie's throat, unable to finish the jibe.
"...Are you okay?" Natalie asked, the concern evident in her face.
"_Yes._" Katie snarled. "I'm fine! I'm fat, stupid, and dead, but apart from that I'm just _peachy!_"
"Getting squashed under a bookcase isn't stupid." Natalie pointed out. "Horrible, yes, but not stupid."
"_You_ weren't there." Katie retorted.
"No," Natalie acknowledged. "No, I wasn't. What _is_ stupid about getting crushed by a bookcase?"
"It-" Katie opened her mouth, trying to come up with the words.
Finally, she said "It- It's a stupid way to die."
"But what's stupid about it?" Natalie pressed.
Katie looked away from Natalie, down at the floor. "People laughed."
"They found it funny." Natalie said solemnly. "That doesn't make it stupid."
"It _looked_ stupid!" Katie shot back.
"Death does, usually." Natalie said.
"What would you know about it?"
"I saw my mother die." Natalie said.
Her frankness rendered Katie momentarily speechless.
"I've seen death." Natalie continued. "I know it can be stupid. That doesn't make _you_ stupid."
"Why not?" Katie demanded. "I'm fat and stupid, why _shouldn't_ I die stupidly?"
"You deserved to die like that?" Natalie said.
Katie shook her head 'no'.
"It could have happened any time." Natalie said. "It wouldn't have mattered how smart you were.
"But it happened there and then, the way it did."
"I could've got out of the way." Katie said.
"I don't think I could." Natalie said. "But I wasn't there."
"I didn't want to die." she said finally.
"I know." Natalie said.
"I didn't want... I didn't want it like that." Katie said. "I didn't _want_ it.
"I wanted to be smart and pretty and thin, not this... this stupid lump of ectoplasm." She pulled at her cheek, letting the ectoplasm snap back into place. "I didn't want to hear all that crap about having a good personality. I wanted people to _like_ me. I wanted to _be_ liked.
"Instead, I'm stuck like _this_" She gestured angrily at the school around her. "Stuck _here_, for the rest of time."
"You don't have to be." Natalie said.
Katie shook her head again. "Shapeshifting doesn't work - believe me, I've tried. It only works as long as you think about it. Once you start thinking about something else, you snap back."
"I didn't mean that." Natalie said.
"What _do_ you mean, then?"
"I think you and Megan would get on great." Natalie said. "Especially since I've met you."
Katie peered at her. "You want me to meet your friends?"
"Friend." Natalie corrected absently. "And yes. I want you to meet. Maybe not today, but soon."
"Why?" Katie asked.
Natalie blinked, surprised. "I said. I think you and Megan would get on great."
"_You_ want _me_ to meet your friend." Katie said, emphasising the words.
"Yes." Natalie said.
"All right." Katie said, crossing her arms. "And just _how_ do you intend to do that? Because I, for one, am _not_ meeting in the toilet again."
"This is not going to work." Katie complained, as Natalie scrabbled for a pebble on the playing fields.
"These are some nice pebbles." Natalie said. "I'll have to come back here... " She selected a nice grey pebble and took it in her hand. "There we go."
"Do you _seriously_ think this will work?"
"It's worth a try." Natalie said.
"Hmph." Katie muttered.
Together, the two of them walked back through the field, into the schoolyard, and to the gate.
Katie hesitated. "...This won't work, Natalie. I'm bound to the _school_, not every little pebble in it."
"You've never tried it." Natalie pointed out.
"Because it _won't work._" Katie said.
"Yes it will."
"No it won't."
"Yes it will."
"No it won't."
"Yes it will." Natalie said. "Try it."
"All right." Katie said, and walked up to the gate, fully expecting to stop short-
-only to realise she'd walked _through_ it, and now stood next to Natalie.
"..." she said.
"Good." Natalie said. "It _does_ work."
"...What would you have done if it didn't?" Katie said.
"Found something else." Natalie said.
Somehow, Katie had no trouble believing that.
Natalie tossed the pebble up into the air, and caught it.
"All right." she said. "What do you want to do now?"
Katie looked back at the school which had been her home and prison for the last decade, then out at the town that surrounded it.
She didn't know any more. She didn't know _anything_ any more. Natalie had come into her life unasked, proceeded to shake up what she thought she'd known, and then finished off by shattering one of the most fundamental tenets of her existence.
She wanted to go back.
She wanted to stay with Natalie.
She wanted to go back.
She wanted to meet Natalie's friend.
She didn't know _what_ she wanted, only that the outside world was big and terrifying and lonely and dear God she wanted to go back in where she knew how everything worked.
She looked back at Natalie.
But it would be far, far lonelier. Now, moreso than ever.
And even Natalie's blithe insanity was preferable to that.
"I'm coming with you."
For the first time that evening, Natalie smiled. "Thanks."
And together, the two of them walked off into the world.
Summary: Some people find leaving high school rather harder than others.
AN: I leave it up to the reader to decide whether Natalie means the American CIA or the Gallifreyan CIA.
Disclaimer: The Valeyard and Maxil are the BBC's.
H. G. Wells' is Paul Gadzikowski's.
Nyssaias is B. K. Willis's.
Magnus and Varne are Ken Young's.
Mr Merlin originally showed on CBS.
Everyone else is mine.
Copyright 2004 Imran Inayat