Within and Without

From the Story Arc: The Light that Burns Twice as Bright...

Next Story in the Arc: Free Radicals by Nova Requiem (Friday, February 17, 2006)

(posted Thursday, January 05, 2006)

Another dawn was blooming over Paragon City. Countless thousands were rising to face the new day, while just as many were making their way home after a hard night's work.

Nova Requiem was falling into the latter category. Quietly she slipped into her uncle's apartment after having spent the night patrolling Perez Park and Skyway City for the Lost preaching their doctrine of 'The Change". It wasn't out of zeal or even hatred that she did this anymore. Nataliya had all but forgotten about Jerod--the homeless boy who had been her first true friend in the city, fallen sway to the Lost--and her determination to bring the Lost to justice. A different fire burned within her these days.

Sleep was once again becoming a precious commodity for the young mutant, but not out of choice this time. The gift that Nataliya had once abused on a path of self-destruction was growing out of control. She wasn't even sure when it had started, exactly. The past few weeks had been practically a blur of activity as Nova Requiem was swept along in mission after mission with her reunited comrades of the CCCP and the newfound comrades of the Rebuild Paragon Congress. As the timid girl was coming to terms with the fact that she was no longer alone in the world, she had all but failed to notice her mutant powers had been growing along with her.

As silently as she could, Nataliya prepared some tea in the kitchen. She didn't want to wake her uncle, as he was unusually grumpy in the mornings as of late. While the water was heating of the stove, Nataliya crept over to the twin-sized bed tucked into the corner of the living room and stripped out of her uniform. Slipping into her bathrobe, she walked back into the kitchen and felt a sickening tingle spreading over her skin.

Chyort, thought Nataliya, bunching up her fists, Not again. It just went away!

Nataliya gritted her teeth and slowly, deliberately went about making herself a cup of tea. The tingling wasn't painful but it was very annoying, like an itch while inside a body cast. She poured the boiling water into the teapot, and then the tea into her mug.

Nataliya stared at the steaming mug. She took deep breaths and tried willing the power building within her to stop. Nataliya wasn’t sure if it was working or not. The tingling remained, but wasn’t growing any stronger. Tentatively, the girl reached for the tea. Her hand was inches away from the mug, and the steam vanished. Nataliya's lip curled in a snarl. She could feel her mutant power leeching the warmth away and being absorbed greedily by her body. Nataliya snatched up the mug, now ice-cold to the touch. Cursing softly, she gulped down the bitter tea.

The young mutant gazed up at the ceiling and squeezed her eyes shut. When had it gotten this bad? It had always been her touch alone that stole the potential energy. It was her gloves that allowed siphoning from a distance. And now it was happening without them. How far would this grow? Would it get completely out of control, until she could no longer be near anyone for fear of killing them? By God, when will this nasrat' stop?? In her head, Nataliya screamed with all her anger.

There was nothing for it but to try and dissipate the energy again. Nataliya grumbled and walked over to her bed, changing into a fresh change of clothes. She'd slip in a shower over at headquarters, so as not to wake Sasha. It would be a quick trip from here, especially now that she didn't have to drain some unsuspecting street thug for a boost of speed.

Nataliya stopped and blinked, an idea suddenly forming in her head. She pulled her battered, trustworthy duffel from under the bed and packed quickly.

Nataliya entered the gym and walked up to the front counter. The man behind the counter looked up from his fitness magazine and gave the Russian girl a huge grin.

"Welcome to Atlas Gym," said the man, "Catering to the fitness needs of all of Paragon City's citizens since 1948. I can tell by your get-up that you probably aren't interested in our 'normal' section."

While she was wearing her everyday "street clothes", Nataliya's specialized headgear and gloves remained on out of necessity. The young mutant nodded and said, "Da, you would be guessing right. Was hoping you might have something that could help me."

The man grinned again and replied, "We're proud to offer the latest fitness technology to the fine heroes of the city, miss. Follow me and we'll get you hooked up with a personal trainer, to best figure out how we can help you."

Nataliya hitched her duffel higher on her shoulder and followed the man into the gym itself. The pair walked through the main floor packed with people sweating their way to a better body, using a large array of exercise equipment.

They walked on until they arrived at a freight elevator flanked by wide staircases leading down. The elevator bore a sign stating "Please reserve use for patrons over 1/2 tonne", so the pair took the stairs to the lower level. Nataliya immediately noticed a change in the environment. The advertisement and sponsor banners changed from the usual sports drinks and athletic gear to places like Cooke's Electronics, Subgenetics, Image Inc. and Orion Labs. Even the equipment itself was radically different; Nataliya's guide explained the vacuum-assisted weight systems, carbon-titanium alloy frameworks and super-reinforced flooring.

"..All designed by the very supers we want to help reach their peak performance," explained the man, "So how about we get you started?"

Nataliya nodded dumbly and the guide shouted across the room, "Kris! Got a fresh one for you!"

Momentarily distracted by the spectacular view of the city afforded by the glass wall, Nataliya didn't notice the large woman looming over her. Turning around, she couldn't help letting out a yelp--and thankful for the need to have her headgear in place. The giantess had the look of a statue come to life, and upon closer inspection it seemed this was the case. The woman's skin was literally polished granite, and was only wearing the shorts and athletic bra as a uniform for the gym.

"Name's Kris, Kris Hoyt. Good to meet you, miss..." said the woman, holding out her hand.

Nataliya looked up and answered, "Nataliya Novakovski. Please be forgiving me for not taking hand. Is best for both if I don't."

"No worries, Nataliya," said the giantess, "Get a lot in here stranger'n you. Novakovski...you go by Nova Requiem, don't you?"

Nataliya nodded.

Kris grinned and said, "Thought so. Saw your name in the Paragon Times recently, among recipients of the Atlas Medallion. Congratulations."

"Spasibo," answered Nataliya, blushing slightly. "Was no big deal."

Kris laughed and said, "Modesty becomes you, girl. I could never achieve that medal, myself. Tried out the hero thing for a while, I was "The Flying Buttress". But I had to bow out. Motion sickness."

"Motion sickness?" asked Nataliya, raising an eyebrow, "in a flying hero?"

Kris glowered and grumbled, "Don't rub it in, kid."

"Forgive me," said Nataliya, "Did not mean to offend."

Kris snorted and replied, "S'alright. So, what can Atlas Gym do for you? You look pretty fit as it is, maybe you want to put some meat on that little frame?"

Nataliya shook her head and answered, "Nyet, am just looking for...safe place to run."

"Well! We've got just the thing for you then," the trainer said with a grin, "Go get changed and we'll get started.

Nataliya emerged from the locker room wearing the unitard from her old outfit, still wearing her control equipment. Kris said nothing about this, simply leading the young mutant to a steel door set deep into a thick concrete wall.

Kris opened the door and ushered Nataliya inside. Half a dozen bulky treadmills occupied the room, a couple already in use. A man with cyborg legs and a woman with feline features were both running along, their legs a blur of motion.

"Behold the latest in treadmill design," said Kris with a wave of her hand, "The XR-71 "Thunderbird". This puppy is capable of speeds up to Mach 2, hence the thick concrete walls, perfect for you speedster types. Want to give her a spin?"

Nataliya nodded and said, "Da, is perhaps just what I am needing."

The girl began stretching while Kris fiddled with the buttons on the treadmill.

"Okay, I've got the computer set up for you," said Kris, "We'll start with a three-minute run. This gizmo's smart enough to adjust to your speed, so feel free to let it rip.

Nataliya nodded and mounted the treadmill. Starting at a modest jog, she fell into rhythm and began releasing her pent-up kinetic energy. In a sudden burst, Nataliya ramped up her speed and the numbers on the digital readout flew upward. The young mutant grinned beneath her mouthpiece, feeling that familiar rush of chemicals talking over.

But Nataliya had learned the hard way how addicting these body chemicals could be, especially when augmented with her "gift" of kinetisynthesis. She wasn't about to let the sensation take over. Concentrating on her breathing, Nataliya once again found her pace and felt the overwhelming collection of energy dispersing. A feeling of elation and relief washed over her and she grinned even wider. It was working.

"Looking good Nataliya," said Kris, watching the monitor, "Two minutes left."

Nataliya's hidden grin fell away. Just as it seemed the last of the energy had dissipated and she was returning to "normal", the tingling in her hands began anew.

Chyort, not again! thought Nataliya. Nyet, nyet, nyet...

Nataliya tried to increase her already super powered speed, but it was no use. The power was building again, drawing energy from all around and growing inside her.
Nataliya look imploringly at the trainer and said between pants, "You might...want to...back away..."

"What are you talking abou--" started Kris, then grunted and doubled over. Her arms dropped to her side and she struggle to lift her head.

"Thisss...isssn't...fffunnnyy...kiiiid," hissed Kris through gritted teeth.

She started to back away, moving in an almost comical slow motion. The other two speedsters looked on in wonder from their treadmills.

Nataliya said, "Forgive me, comrade. I can't...help it..."

Clenching her fists, the young mutant willed the building energy into her gloves. The three others looked on in awe as the dispersion gauntlets began glowing with a bright, sparkling light. Still running as fast as she could, Nataliya cried out and flung kinetic energy toward the others.

With a startled "MRROWWR!" the cat-woman almost fell off the treadmill, but recovered and glanced at the readout with an astonished look. The cyborg was likewise shocked at his display and laughed in delight. Kris stood there perplexed, and then moved her arm around in various strike poses. Not only was she no longer robbed of her own momentum, she was moving even faster.

Kris laughed and exclaimed, "Wow! This is great, Nataliya. Apology accepted!"

Hopping onto a treadmill, the granite giantess grinned and said, "Keep it coming, kid, as long as you need to!"

The other two speedsters called out in agreement, and Nataliya let loose with the boosting energies. She could feel the power inside her dispersing with each burst, the tingling sensation dying away once more. The light from her gauntlets faded away just as the timer on the treadmill sounded. Nataliya slowed to a stop and got off the treadmill, weak in the legs and panting, drained once more of the kinetic buildup. Nataliya felt great.

"Now that's what I call a workout!" said the cyborg, toweling himself off, "Feel free to do that to me any time you need to."

"Mmme too," said the feline hybrid, purring and twitching her tail happily.

Kris looked down at the young mutant and asked, "You gonna be all right, Nataliya?"

Nataliya shook her head and replied, "Don't know, but it seems to have worked for now. Spasibo, Kris. I will be trying this again sometime."

With practiced grace, Nataliya landed on the roof of her uncle's Kings Row apartment building. She was feeling good.

The uncontrollable energy buildup that had been a bother had a constructive outlet, after all. Nataliya unzipped the side pocket of her duffel, pulled out a plastic card and looked it over once more. The Atlas Gym had gained itself another lifetime member. The girl grinned, stuffed the card back into her bag and reached for the stairwell door's knob.

The tingling sensation returned, and Nataliya once again felt the energy being gathered from all around her.

"Drachevo... muttered Nataliya with a sigh. While the exercise had helped, it was just one more temporary fix. As it was almost time for her daily patrol, Nataliya stepped inside and changed into her combat uniform there on the stairwell. She would have to disperse of the building energy in the manner in which she was becoming all too accustomed.