Part 3: Such a Pretty Face

From the Story Arc: Prekasnia in Pink

Previous Story in the Arc: Part 2: Lost in Younkers by Nova Requiem (Saturday, November 26, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Part 4: Rising Stars Must Also Fall by Nova Requiem (Saturday, November 26, 2005)

(posted Saturday, November 26, 2005)

"Please! Just leave me alone!"


Jacki's cries were futile. The pair of Hellions just cackled as they backed her up against underpass wall. There was nowhere to run. Jacki nervously looked back and forth between her two assailants, fearing the worst. The closest brandished a hunting knife at her, while the other held a pistol and looked over his shoulder constantly.


"Don't make this harder than it has to be," the knife wielder demanded, "Just give us what we want!"


Shaking uncontrollably, Jacki stared at the Hellion. She didn't know what they wanted, but she wasn't going to let them have anything from her. Summoning all of her remaining courage, she spat in the ganger's face. The gunman laughed maniacally.


"Shut up!" the Hellion snarled at his companion, wiping away the spittle. He grabbed Jacki by the throat and raised the knife to the woman's face. Jacki's eyes bulged as she struggled in vain to break free.


"Your last mistake, chica," he growled. Choked as she was, Jacki couldn't even scream one last time. She closed her eyes, and made one last silent prayer. The Hellion drew back his arm to strike.


The Hellion suddenly grunted, and spasmed. The world around him exploded in a momentary riot of color, blood rushing in his ears. He suddenly felt like he'd been working out all day, and could barely move. He released his hold on Jacki and she collapsed to the pavement, coughing and fighting for breath.


"The hell was that?!" the gunman yelled, firing off a snap shot at the pink and black blur rushing past. The pair of Hellions forgot completely about their prey and ran off after their assailant. The knife-wielder tried to run, anyway. It was like a dream about running, where no matter how hard you try, you can't move faster than a snail.
Jacki unsteadily got to her feet and stumbled away. She also had no clue what just happened. All she knew was that her prayer had been answered.



Nova Requiem grinned maniacally as she sprinted down the street. The rush of energies that her mutant powers robbed from her victims was a thrill, but the burst of superhuman speed granted her was intoxicating. Dashing around from zone to zone, weaving in out of traffic, she felt like there was mercury in her veins. She had been running like this for days, only pausing to siphon more speed from whatever unsuspecting street thug happened to be in reach. Whenever fatigue threatened to overtake her, Nova drained their strength as well. As for hunger, well, she was now used to going hungry for days.


There was no purpose to this. Nova Requiem had lost her sense of purpose. All the girl had left was her mutant gift. Once she feared the gift would consume her, leaving her forever a pariah. A hollow dirge instead of a new song. Now it was the only thing left in her life that wasn't going to leave, betray or shun her. So Nova Requiem embraced it and reveled in it.


In the end, Nature demands balance. Deprived of the rest and nourishment it truly needed, Nova Requiem's body fought hard against her mutant power. Like any drug, it was taking more usage for the same level of effect. She could feel her body reaching its limit, screaming for respite. She didn't care. More speed, more power. Don't stop now. There's nothing to stop for.


And then, it all came crashing down around her. Going full tilt through Steel Canyon's Copper District, the stolen energies vanished without warning. She was suddenly and utterly exhausted and delirious. Newton knew nothing about mutants in his time, but even they weren't exempt from physics. Although Nova Requiem no longer had her enhanced speed, she was still going faster than she had any right to and not shedding the excess momentum.


The curb ahead of her saw to that problem. Nova Requiem was in no condition to correct herself and tripped over it. The girl was airborne. Nova Requiem was only dimly aware of what had happened, but she was most aware that the ground was rushing towards her at incredible speed. She was mere seconds from hitting the sidewalk, but one thought flashed through her addled mind: Chyort voz'mi! This is going to hurt...


Nova Requiem's fatigue was forgotten as pain took its place in her mind. Civilians screamed and jumped out of the way as the girl tumbled down the sidewalk and slid to a stop. Bruised and bloodied, Nova Requiem moaned feebly and curled into a fetal position. Consciousness was fading fast, and she didn't have the strength to fight it. Just before the blackness took her, the young mutant felt a hand upon her shoulder. She managed to open her eyes and move her head enough to look up. One of the citizens had crouched down and was looking her over. The girl closed her eyes again and put her head down. Ischezni. You don't really care about me, she thought, fading again.
"Hey! Don't go out on me, kid," a voice above her implored. "You're going to be fine."


The woman grabbed hold of Nova Requiem in an effort to get the girl vertical, and in doing so placed a hand on a bare patch of skin. Near unconsciousness as she was, the girl's mutant power barely reacted. There was only enough of a transfer to keep Nova Requiem from going under, and the woman didn't even notice. On her hands and knees now, but still in great pain, Nova Requiem labored to breathe. The woman took a good look at the girl.
"I thought I recognized you," she said, "You rescued us at the rave that the Hellions had stormed. My name is Stacey Williams. You're Nova Requiem, right?"


Nova Requiem nodded feebly. The siphoned energy was fading quickly, and the girl's head slumped forward.
"Stay with me, kid," Stacey demanded, taking the young mutant's helmet in her hands. There was a barely audible click and one of her hands pressed in on the release button of the helmet's retaining collar. Stacey removed the collar and set it aside, then lifted the helmet off. The girl was in no shape to protest. Stacey sucked in her breath at the sight revealed; the girl's once vibrant blonde hair was filthy and matted, the dark purple bags under her eyes large and near black as if punched hard and repeatedly.


"My God," Stacey hissed, "Who did this to you?"


Tears formed in the girl's eyes and her lips began to quiver. Stacey took hold of her shoulders to comfort her, and Nova Requiem burst into uncontrollable sobbing. There, in the middle of the city, Stacey held the crying girl to her chest and made comforting sounds. Neither one cared about the spectacle they were making. And neither did the city.



Nataliya drifted out of her dreamless slumber. She found herself in a large comfortable bed, sunlight streaming in from the open blinds of a window overlooking the city. Nataliya sat up and stretched, looking around the room. She couldn't remember anything past collapsing in someone's arms. That felt like a lifetime ago. So did waking up in a real bed, for that matter. Nova Requiem's outfit lay folded on top of a dresser next to the helmet and gloves, washed and pressed. Nataliya sniffed. She could do with a wash herself.


Nataliya quietly slipped out from under the covers and into the adjoining bathroom. Rationalizing that whomever took care of her immediate needs wouldn't mind, Nataliya turned on the shower and stepped under the luxuriously hot water. Nataliya stood there, sighing in pleasure as the warmth and steam worked out the lingering aches in her body. The girl washed out her hair twice to get rid of the built-up grime, worked in a good amount of conditioner and let it set while attending to the rest of her. Nataliya winced every time a new bruise or scrape was discovered, but in the end stepped out of the shower feeling like a new person.


Nataliya looked herself over in the mirror, and wished she hadn't. She looked like she had been in a boxing match. Toiletries had been laid out on the counter, of which she availed herself to make herself as presentable as possible. A terrycloth robe also awaited her, which she slipped into. Taking a deep breath, she walked back into the bedroom and opened the door out.


It was certainly the largest living room Nataliya had ever been in, larger even than the hotel room she had her first night in Paragon City, well-furnished and tastefully decorated. In the kitchen area, a woman was talking quietly into a cordless telephone. Her name is Stacey, Nataliya remembered. Stacey sensed the girl's presence and looked up with a warm smile.


"I'll call you back, my guest is up and about," Stacey said into the phone and returned it to the cradle.


"Well I must say, this is a huge improvement, young lady," Stacey complimented. "I was starting to wonder if you'd wake up."


Nataliya tilted her head and gave her benefactor an inquiring look.


Stacey chuckled, "You were out for three days, honey. But the shape you were in, I thought it best just to let Nature take its course and let your body do what it needed to do."


Nataliya was still timid, even after all this blatant kindness. Loneliness and paranoia take a bit longer to heal than abrasions. Thank you, very much, she signed.


The smile dropped form Stacey's face, and she covered her mouth with her hand.


"Oh God, she's deaf," she muttered to herself, "I had no idea."


Nataliya heard Stacey's comment and shook her head. Looking around quickly, Nataliya spotted a newspaper on the dining table, folded over to the crossword, and the pen next to it. Taking up the pen, the girl wrote slowly and carefully on the margin and held it out for Stacey to see.


NOT DEAF. CANNOT TALK. Stacey read and nodded once.


"Well, that's a bit of a relief," she said. "I've got a pad of paper you can have. That'll make communicating a easier for both of us."


Nataliya gave Stacey another quizzical expression.


"What, did you think I was just going to let you walk out of here in your condition? Sit, young lady," Stacey demanded, pointing a stern finger at the nearest dining chair. Nataliya meekly complied, noticing she was rather lightheaded from standing for even a brief time.


"When was the last time you ate something?" Stacey asked. Nataliya looked down and shook her head with a slight shrug.


"Thought so," Stacey said. She opened a cupboard and removed a large ceramic mug, filling it from a steaming pan on the stove. Stacey walked over to the table and placed the mug in front of the girl.


"It's going to be chicken broth for you in the next few days," Stacey explained, moving over to a desk across the room. "I've added some vitamins to it, so it may taste a little funny. But you're not going anywhere until I can get safely get some solids into you."


Nataliya gingerly picked up the mug and cradled it in her hands. Just the warmth of it was soothing, and the smell was enough to water her mouth. She took a sip. It indeed had a medicinal taste to it, but she was in no position to complain. Stacey returned to the table with a pad of paper, placing it down as she sat. Nataliya ran her hand gently over the creamy, high-quality paper and feeling only the barest of tingling. It seemed her mutant abilities would take time to recover as well.


"There's no rush, honey," Stacey said, "Drink up. We have all the time in the world."


Nataliya smiled to herself as she sipped at the broth. Escaping from this relative luxury was the last thing on her mind.


"It feels a bit awkward," Stacey said after a while, "I only know you as Nova Requiem. Can't go about calling you that all the time."


Nataliya picked up the pen and wrote her name in large, deliberate letters.


"Nataliya, how pretty. Russian, isn't it?"


YES. COME FROM VOLGOGRAD. Nataliya wrote.


Stacey blinked in surprise. "Rather a long way from home, aren't you?"


VERY


Stacey snorted quietly. "Not exactly how I imagined meeting a superhero, I must admit. Or one living in such a manner, honestly."


The girl shook her head. NOT HERO, NOT SUPER. she wrote. A FREAK.


All warmth left Stacey's face, her tone turned cold and matronly. "Young lady, that is a horrible thing to say. You've been through some hard times, anyone can see that. But I will not sit here and believe you truly mean that. Even if your only act of heroism was at that rave, which I doubt entirely, in the eyes of all the people you rescued it was more than enough."


Nataliya sniffled, tears forming. She might not have meant it, but she definitely felt like it.


AM SORRY, she wrote, TIRED, AND HURT.


"I know, honey," Stacey sighed. "I have no right to lecture you, but I just want you to know I do care."
Nataliya nodded and rubbed her eyes, a large yawn was not far behind. The table faintly vibrated as a result, but if Stacey noticed she didn't mention it.


Stacey stood up and took the now empty mug. "Back to bed with you, Nataliya. You still have much mending to do. I'm going to go out and get some clothes for you."


Nataliya smiled and wrote down her measurements as she last remembered them.


Stacey glanced at the numbers and chuckled. "Maybe when you had some meat on your bones, honey. Or hadn't you noticed that your spandex was a little loose? Don't worry, I'm a fashion designer. I've got a good eye for figures, and I'll get something that'll fit right and give you room to bulk back up."


Nataliya nodded, and wrote one last note.


PLEASE, BUY LONG GLOVES?


Stacey read and raised an eyebrow.


"Sure, I can manage that," she replied. "Any particular reason?"


TRUST ME.



Nataliya lounged on the couch, flipping through a magazine featuring girls around her age in the latest fashions. Such frivolities never concerned her back home. Such crass materialism had no place in the ideology. It was with pride one wore a Party uniform. But it had been a long time since she had done so, and was literally a world away from the nearest one. The magazines were in abundance around the apartment, and Nataliya began to picture herself wearing the clothes she saw. It passed the time as she mended. Days had gone by, and the scratches and bruises from her fall were mostly faded now. Her weight was steadily returning as well, as were her powers. Nataliya decided it was time to explain everything to Stacey, and had donned the helmet of Nova Requiem. Now she waited for her benefactor to return to the apartment.


When she walked in, Stacey laughed at the sight.


"Oh honey, that thing doesn't go with that outfit at all," she proclaimed with a grin, dropping the mail on the table by the door. "Has none of my fashion sense rubbed off on you?"


Nataliya stood up and folded her hands behind her back, looking intently at Stacey.


"Is better this way," Nataliya said in a quiet yet firm voice.


Stacey whipped her head around and stared in shock.


"I...I thought you said you were mute!" she exclaimed."


"Nyet, said I could not talk," Nataliya replied. "And for good reason. Am not like you or most people. Am mutirovat'...how you say? I know not word."


Stacey was nonplussed, but ventured her best guess. "You're a mutant?"


Nataliya nodded. "Da, mutant. My voice, is deadly outside of helmet. Is deadly inside, too, but helmet gives control. Same with touch of skin. Is why the gloves."


"But the day I found you..." Stacey whispered.


Nataliya waved a dismissive hand. "Was tired, and in pain. My powers were all but gone."


Stacey stood there and absorbed all this new information. "Nataliya," she said after thinking for a bit, "This is a lot to confide in me. And it means a great deal. I care about you very much, and I just want you to know this doesn't change that. You can't be Nova Requiem all the time. You tried, and it almost killed you. Here, with me, you can be Nataliya. The secret of your other life stays here, I want you to trust me on that."


"I trust, Stacey," Nataliya replied, unable to hide the slight emotional waver in her voice. "Is horosho, good, to trust someone again."


Stacey cleared her throat and threw on the biggest smile she could. "Well take that silly thing off and get your coat. There's a car waiting outside for us. I've someone for you to meet."



The "car" turned out to be a small limousine, which seemed extravagant for a short ride across Steel Canyon. Nataliya brought her equipment with her anyway. If there was one thing the young mutant had learned from Paragon City, it was to expect trouble at any moment. The limo came to a stop in the parking lot of a nondescript warehouse, and Stacey led Nataliya inside. Although plain in appearance on the outside, a large man in a dark suit stood by the elevator. Even with her limited contact with the KGB, it was quite obvious that the man was "packing heat", as the Amerikanskii were fond of saying.


The women went up two floors and into another world. Sheets of white cloth were hanging everywhere and a wide array of lighting fixtures were strewn about. Nataliya glanced at Stacey, looking confused.


A short, rakish man stepped from behind a curtain wall, and regarded the newcomers silently while taking a drag of his cigarette. He wore a red turtleneck shirt and dark-tinted square glasses, giving him an aloof presence.


"I'm afraid, my dear devushka, I'm going to have to shoot you," he said in a drawling East German accent.


Nataliya's eyes went wide in fear. Was this really a KGB operation, sent to punish her for failing in... well, whatever they had sent her here to do? The girl stepped back from Stacey, ready to shout and run.


Stacey scowled. "Dmitri!" she shouted, "Your tired old joke is in really poor taste this time! What did I tell you about that?"


Dmitri smirked uncomfortably. "Ah, this must be your little foundling you've been glowing about. Very well, let's she what she's got." He finished his cigarette and stubbed it out in an ashtray sitting on a stool. Pulling back the curtain from which he emerged revealed a tripod-mounted camera.


Stacey turned around and gently grasped Nataliya's arms.


"Tasha, darling, it's alright," she explained. "Dmitri is a doll, but he has a short supply of manners. I wanted this to be a surprise. But if you don't want to do this, just say the word and we'll go back home right now."


The girl nervously glanced over at Dmitri, who was busy fiddling with camera lenses, and back at Stacey.


"I want to share my beautiful girl with the world," Stacey said. "If that's alright with you..."


Nataliya was touched. She had been told she was pretty by many people, but after all she had been through it really meant something this time. The girl gave Stacey's arms an affectionate squeeze, nodding with a smile. She shrugged out of her coat, handed it to Stacey and sat down on another stool in front of the camera. She looked up shyly at Dmitri, unsure of how to proceed.


Dmitri regarded the girl with a critical eye. "Nervous, devushka?" he asked, changing lenses. "Of course you are. They all are the first time. Vsyo tip-top! Let's work with that."


The camera clicked away.



Nataliya snapped on her helmet as soon as she got in her car. She had so much she wanted to say. Stacey was finishing up her conversation with Dmitri, sharing a cigarette. With a quick embrace and a peck on each cheek, Stacey said goodbye and got into the car.


"Ia poliubil ego!" Nataliya exclaimed. "I had no idea was such fun!"


Stacey smirked. "Well I'm glad you enjoyed yourself, dear. Dmitri was impressed with you, as well. He might not have shown it, but he did. The negatives are being developed as we speak, but Dmitri feels that it was a very productive shoot. Oh, and this is for you. An advance."


Stacey removed an envelope from her coat pocket and handed it over to the girl. Nataliya looked at it curiously, and opened it carefully. It contained a single piece of paper, a check. Nataliya took it out and numbly stared at the number in the box.


"Blin, is all for me?" Nataliya whispered. Stacey nodded.


"Ten thousand! Is lot of kapusta," Nataliya continued. "All this in advance for year's work?"


Stacey chortled. "Tasha, dear, that's for one session."


"TVOYU MAT'! Nataliya cried out, dropping the check and falling back into her seat in shock.


Stacey didn't have to speak Russian to get the gist of the girl's reaction. She laughed and replied, "Honey, this is only the beginning."