Back Up To Speed

From the Story Arc: The Essence of Life

Previous Story in the Arc: Turn Your Head and Cough by Krasnaya Zvezda (Sunday, March 28, 2010)

(posted Saturday, April 03, 2010)

"I wasn't kidding about that, Lexie. Au--I mean, Commissar Bella touched you and she's a touch-telepath. So she really was listening in on that. You know. When Kyne was teasing you about porn films and doctor's exams." Astra blushed a little but she still giggled.

Colour drained out of Alex's face and he swallowed. "You-- She-- Please be telling me you are making joke."

Astra shook her head. "I'm stronger than she is, but she kinda shoved you too fast for me to block her. She was in your head for at least a couple seconds."

A series of images suddenly appeared in Astra's mind, pictures of Bella in the Infirmary about to perform the examination on Alex. Bella was wearing a somewhat tighter uniform than she normally did, with the uniform jacket unbuttoned to her navel and was holding a large syringe. Staring into her eyes - Alex's eyes, Astra suddenly realised - Bella leaned forward, "You've been a naughty boy, Lexie, and now it's time for your check-up."

< Um, you may want to rein that thought back in a touch, comrade > said Kyne

"LEXIE!" Astra giggled, so pink and warm now she would probably have been able to heat water for tea.

Eyes widening, Alex put some makeshift sheilds in place. "Nasrat! I am not-- It was just--" he sighed. < Sorry, I am not used to this method of communication. >

< Oh yeah. You're just a normal hormonal guy. We get it. > Kyne chuckled, and Astra giggled again.

"Da, that is being me." Alex said, grinning ruefully at Astra. He sighed again, "So Commissar Bella saw all of that - or maybe she just didn't see anything at all?" he asked hopefully.

"I think what she got was that you think she's hot. Maybe some specifics about what parts of her you think are the hottest. And Kyne's comment about porn films. And me saying you should kiss her."

An image of "Nurse Bella" flashed once more through the air for a split second then disappeared and Alex sighed. "She is very lovely but, am thinking, it is not being the best way to introduce myself to her. Do you think she was upset?"

< Nah, > Kyne replied. < She's a big girl. She grew up in Vegas, Lexie, that's the horndog capital of the US of A. I doubt she's going to be bothered about thoughts. Inappropriate actions now, that'd be something else. >

"Of course," Alex frowned slightly, "but I would never--"

"Kyne means if you acted like you expected that porn film in your head to come to life, that'd be inappropriate."

"Ah, am getting you. So then, should I be going and apologise to her? Bring flowers?"

Both of them were silent for a moment. "Mom says she thinks right now just let it go. The Commissar knows you didn't mean any harm, and like Kyne says, it isn't as if she hasn't had guys thinking about her that way before and known about it. Mom says...Mom says right now she's kinda confused a little because she hasn't thought of herself as sexy in a while."

"Really? But she is just--" there was a sudden image of Bella in a flowing dress and with her hair streaming around her, running through a wheatfield, "...lovely." Alex finished, unaware of pictures he was projecting.

Again, both of them were silent for a moment. "Mom says you really, really need to watch that disk. Then you'll understand."

Alex looked at them both for a second, as if he could discern what they were trying to tell him. Then he shrugged, absently patting the pocket where the disk was currently kept, "I will be sure to be doing that. Are you sure there is nothing you could tell me? I would hate to be putting my mouth into it."

"You mean your foot in your mouth," Astra said absently. Then sighed. "Come on. I need to show you something." She led the way to the Teleporter Room, and the "Monument to the Fallen Heroes of the CCCP." "This is what you need to see." She ran her fingers across one plaque, the one with the little vase with a bunch of violets in it. It read "Commissar Zachary Marlowe, callsign Bestial Boy" and his birth and death dates. The latter was about two years ago. In fact, as he added things up in his head--dates were still a little confusing since he'd lost so many years--in December it would be exactly three years ago.

< He was about to propose, > Kyne said, when Astra seemed at a loss for words.

< Govno. > Alex closed his eyes as a wave of sadness washed over him, as unbidden, the memory of an auburn haired girl appeared before him, smiling and laughing, and, for a moment, his thoughts shifted. And a flower truck pulled away from a block of flats and then he was standing before the apartment door, which swung open unhindered, walking through the ruin of a once fine dinner that lay scattered on the floor, and passing through the flames starting to consume the room. As his memories - his memories this time - began to move towards the darkened bedroom, with the door partly open and a shape barely visible in the flickering light of the fire, he wrenched them away.

"I'm sorry, Lexie," Astra said, softly, tears in her eyes.

Alex smiled, sadly, "Spaisbo, zaichenok. NataIya was lost to me a good while ago but still... I would not be wishing that on anyone" he said.

< You just might be good for each other, > Kyne said unexpectedly. < Even if you're just good friends. Get her out of thinking of herself as if she's a marble statue. Anyway, watch the disk. >

Alex nodded his head, "I will do - and thanking you for showing me, if I can only be offering friendship to the Commissar--"

< Nuh-uh. It's not the Commissar you need to assist. It's Bella. She's locked herself up into the Commissar-shell for three years. It's about time Bella cracked out of it. >

Astra nodded vigorously.

"Well I will be seeing what I can do, and if being friends is all that Comm-- Bella needs then, well, there are worse things than being of friends with a beautiful woman." he finished with a hint of mischief.

< Commie horndog, > said Kyne as Astra giggled.

"Come, let us see what the ice-cream shop is selling today and you can fill me in on some of the things on this disk and tell me about my Red Star - did she manage to behave herself?" draping his arm over Astra's shoulders, Alex walked towards the door.

#

The images had been spliced together from the few working security cameras still inside the CCCP HQ. "We weren't in on this part," Astra explained, spooning up honeycomb ice-cream nonchallantly, while images of a terrible firefight in the narrow corridors played out on the screen of Astra's laptop. "Me and Aedan and JJ were kind of in the hospital. We'd all gotten Quant hits from Voids. Look! That's you--" She pointed with her spoon. "I think you're about to be a hero. Dad told me about this part, I've never seen it before."

The image on the screen showed quite clearly a team consisting of himself, John Murdock, and someone he actually remembered. Commissar Mojiotok. And against them...what looked like a wall of Mechmen, which suddenly parted to show far, far too many Void-Hunters, Black Dwarves, and Dark Novas.

"This is where Dad gets hit," Astra said. Her voice was steady--but her trembling hand betrayed her.

John went down under a spray of Quantum energy. Alex watched himself leap over John to fumble at his belt and administer a stim-spray--just in time to get hit with what must have been twice the barrage that John had taken.

Alex winced and shifted uncomfortably, "I am not forgetting that bit." he said, his attention fixed on the screen, watching as Moji interposed himself between the fallen Khelidians and the Hunters. There was a spray of static, and the camera-view changed to Bella and Bestial Boy at the head of another team, with Sera leading them all.

Astra paused the video. "That was when you disappeared and there was only Star. She was....she was just shattered. She was sure you were gone for good. Mom and Bella though, they figured you were in there, but really deep. I mean, it had to be a big shock. Mom said she thought that you kind of took the hit to shield Star."

"Hmm, am not being sure." he thought about it for a second, in that period just after the blast hit as the darkness overtook him... "It may be she was protecting me."

"Well, Dad's only telepathic on the Family Channel, and Mom and I weren't there, so you're the best judge of that. I know Star would do that. And maybe driving you deep was how she tried to protect you without knowing she was doing it."

"Well, we will being sure to ask her when she gets back." he said with a wink.

< That's a good sign, > Kyne said to Astra, privately. < He said that without even thinking twice. So she's probably still in there, but as deep as he was. I think if she was gone, he'd know. >

< Me too, > Astra replied the same way. < Wow, though, this could get really complicated when they're both awake. > She almost felt her eyes crossing, just thinking about it.

< Cross that chicken after it counts, > said Kyne. Astra started the video again. At this point most of the cameras in the HQ that had survived the Council were pretty well trashed by the CCCP, so the next scene was the funeral for the CCCPers that had gone down in the fight. Grandmaster Te, Free Radical, Heavy Brother, Moji, and Iron Curtain.

The video moved almost immediately to chronicle Red Star's achievments after that point, with asides for important events along the way. Through those was woven, as a minor, but very bright pair of threads, Bella and Zach. It was obvious that they adored each other. It was equally obvious that they adored each other in a curiously selfless manner--that they both understood the costs of what they were doing, and yet neither would ever hold the other back from taking on something dangerous and possibly fatal.

Those parts he watched silently, reflecting on both the joy that shone from Bella when she was around Zach and the fact that the partnership they held, both at work and home, was such that he almost considered himself lucky that Natalya was seperate from his "working life" and that he had something to throw himself into once she'd gone - Though, he reflected, if she had been aware of the dangers, would she have been able to protect herself more?

That was a question he had thought about long and hard and without an answer, so he turned his attention back towards the video, watching the footage of Bestial Boy as he fought over Washington, before disappearing in a blaze so bright it burned out the camera. Watching the footage of Bella afterwards, seeing the change from such a joyous woman who had everything she would want, into someone who looked like as if she would shatter if you touched her, his heart went out and he wished-- well, a great many things. That it would never have happened, that he could have been there to help her, offer some words of comfort - even though he knew, from bitter experience, nothing that was said would have helped. He shook his head, in some ways maybe he was lucky, after all, Star and he were both just as broken and they found each other...

Astra's voice broke his reverie. "Believe it or not, Star was a big help. She lost so many of her clan...she understood better than anyone but me and Mom and Dad, I think. She didn't have to say anything, she was just there, and Bella is an empath, so she felt the support. And Mom of course, and me, and Dad, and Uncle Petro. Uncle Petro got her the cat. And funnily, Sun Kai, though he'd never admit it. And Thanh Ha. And Kid Crisis. And Mori. And Aunt Thea finally got her to eat. And Aunt Vickie and Uncle Djinni. And Uncle Gairdner. Well everyone more or less, but probably those were the most important ones."

"Yes, friends are important - if only for being there." he said, still absently staring at the screen, which was now showing more of Star's exploits. And blunders...

"Star kinda had a hard time getting it, that you can't just go barging out and nuke everything that's making some of the clan unhappy. Um...yeah, me and Kyne are clan, by the way, she kinda adopted us, and Aedan and K'takai, and the rest of the whole fam-damnily." Astra spoke lightly, as the story progressed through the torment that Circus Master and Doctor Garvey had put the Murdocks through.

"She was, how you say, direct in her approach." Alex said, chuckling, "I'm surprised you convinced her not to be doing anything stupid."

Astra rolled her eyes. "Wasn't me, it was Bella. Clan Leader and all that jazz, Star had to obey even though she didn't want to. And when we went missing and Dad went after Garvey....well I wasn't there so I don't know but...I'm kinda shocked the Commissars didn't have to sedate her. Or maybe they did."

Alex raised his eyebrows, "Bella convinced her? Hmm, interesting. She must have really liked the Commissar - the last commanding officer I had was being dropped into sewage treatment plant when he was told her not to be doing something. He only was doing that once. Still, I am not seeing her taking this laying down. Did she and Bella have a fight?" he asked with interest.

At Astra's shocked expression, Alex smiled, "That was being her way of taking over if she was not liking something. If there was no fighting, it was meaning that she was happy to be following Bella."

"I dunno the details, I mean I wasn't there. She handed Dad his own ass, or tried to, but he was kinda....zombified at that point. I guess whatever Bella and Sun Kai told her must've made sense to her." Astra stirred the melted remains of her ice cream. "I'm just glad she didn't go charging over to the Isles until Sun Kai rescued Dad. And I'm glad we got back when we did, though I wish we hadn't got stranded in the first place except--except if we hadn't, things would have gone really badly for the other John Murdock and the other Zach and the other Vickie and Djinni...so...in a way...I guess if I was to wish things different, I would wish Dad could have been with us. We're always a hundred times better together. Or I wish at least he'd known we were alive."

"And I'm sure he would have been wishing the same thing - uncertainty is a terrible foe, one that has destroyed many great men." Alex said, finishing his ice-cream. "I mean, you be taking a look at-- What is that!" Alex froze, ice-cream forgotten as he stared at the screen.

Astra looked at the screen and giggled, "um, that's Star's Halloween costume." she said, adding helpfully, "She was dressed up as a pirate."

"In neon pink?!" Alex could only stare as the multi-coloured pirate, complete with massive shoulder pads - "Bird protectors" Astra supplied helpfully - walked around a nightclub.

"I think she had help from the Carnies. Designing it that is."

"Never mind the designing of it, that is looking like me after being hit by lightning! I am never wearing neon pink and green - and yellow!"

"It could be worse...." Astra paused the video, reduced the window, and brought up...a picture of herself, in a truly appalling pink outfit--with wings--that looked as if a streetwalker, a demented angel, and a Barbie doll had had a wardrobe collision. "I was undercover. And if you ever tell anyone that was me I will scalp you." She erased the picture and brought up the vid feed again.

Alex stared at the image, seemly burned into his retina. "You are right, that could have been a lot worse, suddenly I am not feeling so bad. Just not be helping her pick out clothes again - and I am not ever needing to know why you were wearing that!"

Astra paused the feed again, and brought up a local television station website, then selected the webpage of a program. A fortuneteller. Who was wearing the same outfit. She raised one eyebrow at him. "It wasn't what you were thinking. You are a horndog."

< I keep saying that. >

"Hey! I am not being the one walking around in-- well, whatever that was-- and I was not thinking what you were thinking I was thinking!" Alex said grinning, "And you are saying that men are having one track minds..."

She threw a wadded-up napkin at him. "We're almost done, I think."

"Oh yes? What is coming next?" Alex said, smiling and using the napkin to dab at the corners of his mouth in an exaggerated manner.

"Oh nothing much. Just Reichsmann coming back and bringing all the Fifthzis with him."

"Are we surviving the battle?" he asked flippantly

"Generally. 'Course, the Council and the Fifthzis are slugging it out themselves, which prolly helps. Oh, and there's a time-portal to ancient Rome in the Midnight Club."

Alex smiled at her then the smile froze slightly, "You are to be kidding, right?"

She shook her head. "Well, it isn't exactly ancient Rome. It's a part of the Roman Empire that got cut off when the Fifthzis ended up back there. Mom says she thinks that they're actually a self-contained time pocket and nothing that goes on there really affects here and now. Oh, and there's a jerk that calls himself Mender Silos that has a time-meddling club called Ouroborus. I don't think he suckered Star into playing, but he might have."

Alex shook his head in wonder, "Things are definately having changed..."

"Oh, and the Rikti started another War." She sobered. "Yeah, look, that's one of the Invasion attempts. Talos, I think. Look, there's Star."

"Ha! Well I am telling you this," he said shaking his head and pointing at her with his spoon, "it is seeming like a good job I am being back!"

"Oh look, there's some footage from the Zombie outbreaks--" It was another shot of Star, who went down briefly under a pile of truly, monumentally ugly creatures. Astra winced. "Oh, that had to hurt."

"It was not looking pleasant," Alex agreed and they settled down to watch the remaing exploits, cheering as they saw various members of the CCCP protecting people from the Zombie horde, the Rikti, and all the other hazards that were part of daily life in Paragon City.

"I'm glad you're back, Lexie," Astra said when the disk came to an end.

"Me too, zaichenok. Me too."