From the Story Arc: One of Two

Previous Story in the Arc: Countdown by Belladonna Aura (Friday, January 12, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Promise by Belladonna Aura (Monday, January 22, 2007)

(posted Wednesday, January 17, 2007)

She wouldn’t cry. She would not cry.

Belladonna Aura took refuge in the one place where no one in CCCP would ever go: Communard’s office, that overcrowded, former broom closet. It was empty; Comm, like so many others, had gone…somewhere. BioHazard Boy, Professor Tempest, Soviet Swordsman…so many. So many. Gone, without explanation, without communication. Their links dead, their lockers untouched, their quarters, barren.

Was that worse than the ones that did go with a formal farewell? Like Tasha? Or Shyft? Cece…she’d been nearly frantic when she’d realized Shyft had dropped off the roster, then when Thea has come flying back with a report of finding wreckage in Cece’s lab…

She saved my life. Not once, but twice… Set a scientist to find a scientist, she’d had Johnny ask Sasha and Sofia to find Shyft but before they could do more than get some weird tracking information from Vickie, Cece was back. Turned up at the meeting. Looked, sounded, kind of scarily like Fei Li had, said she was a goddess, said she had figured out how to control her singularity with her mind alone…

Said she was happy.

Tasha had said she was happy too.

Common denominator; it couldn’t be denied. They were happy because they were leaving, or had left, CCCP. So who was the poison at the heart of the group, the one everyone wanted to avoid, who brought tragedy with her and killed everything she loved?

That couldn’t be denied either. If something was wrong, it began and ended with her. If people were happy, they wouldn’t leave. If she was doing her job, they wouldn’t leave.

She curled her hands into fists until the nails cut into her palms, courting the physical pain to counter the emotional pain. They were leaving, leaving, pulling away from her, and who could blame them? Certainly not her.

She had felt Nova’s words like a knife; she had tried to explain to Kifa, to Max, even to Garent…they didn’t understand. They seemed to think she needed a vacation, a leave. To get away. Get away? She almost laughed. What would she do? Where would she go? No one wanted her, wanted her around. Go take that vacation she and Zach never had managed? And do what? Sit alone on a beach somewhere and watch the waves and drink and try and feel that tiny spark of presence and think more and more of walking into the waves until….

At least work gave her something to think of besides her grief, her aching loneliness, a loneliness that was only increasing with every person that withdrew from her, or vanished without a word, without a trace. She leaned her head back against the bookshelves and squeezed her hands, her eyes tight, fighting for control, fighting against the tears.

She could not leave. She could not take a leave, or step down. Dual chains bound her, duty and her own need for something to do.

All right. There was something she could do. If the cancer that she was could not be removed, it could be isolated. She could withdraw from contact with people on a day-to-day basis. Build those shields until they were not walls, but steel. There was so much she could do that didn’t require seeing the comrades…and when she did, it could be from behind that Berkut armor, the visor and helmet, that made her look like a robot. Let people come to think of her as a healbot when they needed the field medic. Let Sera become the counselor, the consoler, the one people came to for soothing of the soul and heart. Let Thanh Ha be what she really was, the CCCP doctor.

Bella would become The Face. She had practice in that. She had already decided she would take over what Zach had been doing, all the Public Affairs, all the interface with the government. She would redouble her efforts there. She would take over Propaganda, information, and yes, Intel. Waitron could do the data-mining overtly, Vickie covertly. Vickie, at least, seemed unaffected by Bella’s grief, and offered nothing more than the steady hand of friendship and an understanding look now and again. Waitron was affected only in that her emotion chipset and software made her as angry as Bella at the cruel and evil people that had allowed the programs that had created Zach and Johnny in the first place. She could hold her shields against strangers much more easily than those who were…had been…friends.

She could recruit Sasha and Sofia. Their very lack of emotion would insulate them from her poison. Together, they could handle the civilian side of CCCP. Yes. That was another problem, perhaps. CCCP had begun as a paramilitary group, and so many of the comrades craved that. Well. Let Johnny, Thanh Ha, and now Petro handle that. Let her take the rest. Stop trying to integrate it, and let it become what it should be, an extension, an extra arm. Out of sight. No longer a reminder of something that made so many of them uncomfortable.

She looked around at Commundard’s office. Out of sight. This would be a good place to start.

She commed Waitron, who recruited Felix and Propaganda Machine. The three bots cleared the office in short order, boxed and stored the contents, scrubbed and built and organized and moved and…

Soon her few things from her officer were neatly and cleanly fitted into what had been the broom closet. She had so little, after all, that she cared to keep. She didn’t need papers, they were all in the computer. The half-sized desk that had been in the medicbay looked as if it had been made for this tiny room, with only the computer and her little vase holding her daily half-bouquet of violets on it. Without all of Communard’s clutter, the room actually looked…normal. Like a miniature of a real office. Her life, pared down to absolute essentials.

All right. Time to start the work. She made some calls, following up on the flood of requests for interviews, starting at the top. Time to become The Face again; not the Face of GammaBars, but a new Face. The beautiful, poised, calm Face of the CCCP, just tragic enough, just vulnerable enough, to invoke an automatic positive response instead of negative. When outside people thought of CCCP, let them think, not of guns and raids and the scary ranks of comrades in their flak jackets, but of her…soft, lovely, fragile, speaking careful, reasoned words with eyes faintly shadowed with loss. That was Propaganda and Disinformation at it’s finest. That was work she, and only she, could do. That was something she could do while cocooning her poison where it would not harm anyone else.

And maybe Johnny, Thanh Ha, and Petro could heal what she had so gravely harmed.