Skin Deep

From the Story Arc: Creature Comforts

Previous Story in the Arc: Perchance to Dream by Nova Requiem (Saturday, January 21, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Prayer in the Night by Nova Requiem (Saturday, January 21, 2006)

(posted Saturday, January 21, 2006)

Belladonna Nova entered the CCCP medbay to find Nataliya waiting patiently on the examination bed. The Russian girl idly swung her legs back and forth, a habit from childhood whenever she was bored or nervous.

Nova Requiem looked up and said, "Spasibo for coming on such short notice, Bella."

"I always have time for medical matters, Tasha, " answered Bella, "What can I do for you, comrade?"

Nova pulled down the neck of her unitard, revealing the dark purple, perfectly hand-shaped bruise. The pain was subsiding, but it still throbbed. "How bad is it, Bella?" asked the girl.

Bella's expression went from shock to lioness-protecting-cub in a matter of moments. "Nova, who did this to you?" she asked sternly. "Your uncle?"

Nova's eyes widened and she shook her head vehemently. "Nyet! He would never hurt me! I would hurt him much more before he could do this much to me."

Bella nodded, relieved on that count but still very much concerned. "Good. I'm glad that you are well aware that no one is created to be a punching bag for anyone else.

Nova nodded mutely. Although her own father had never raised a hand against her, there were many times when he almost had.

"All right, this is something my rads can fix pretty quickly," said Bella, "But you need to tell me who did this."

Bella released the radiation stored within her, flooding the area with an aura of healing. The rads quickly did their job, the swelling and discoloration diminishing almost instantly.

Nova Requiem experimentally cleared her throat and said, "Spasibo, feels much better." But there was still the unanswered question that Bella was waiting for, and Nataliya knew better than to avoid it. "I did...I think."

Belladonna Aura tilted her head and asked, "Hmm... You touched yourself barehanded then?"

Nova looked away awkwardly. She trusted Bella, but in reality she wasn't sure how much she trusted herself. After blacking out, it all seemed detached, somehow. Indistinct.

"Tasha..." said, Bella, reestablishing eye contact with the girl. "Nova, there is nothing to be embarrassed about."

Nova Requiem blinked and decided to just come out with it. "You are familiar with...Crey clones?"

Bella crossed her arms and said grimly, "Since there's one of me running around, yes. Sera told me that the two of you did some work in Crey labs."

Nova Requiem nodded. The two women shared a lot of information between them, and it was almost always for the better. "I am guessing that is where sample may have come from."

"Could be," replied Bella, "They have all manner of ways of getting hero DNA. So...they have a clone of you?"

Nataliya took a deep breath and closed her eyes, recounting the events after her separation from Albtraum and the others. As the young mutant described in detail about the cloning chambers, Bella's mouth became a hard, thin line.

"Yeah, that would be a clone-growth room all right," she said, shaking her head, "Seen them myself, alone and with Commissar Bestial Boy."

Nataliya looked down at her feet and said quietly, "I admit, curiosity got better of me. I did not know about such things. I had to help innocent citizen..."

Bella understood completely. This little Russian girl, given a potentially lethal mutant gift, wanted nothing more out of life than to help others in return for all the help she had received. And understanding was the key to this whole problem.

"Well, in a lot of ways those poor clones are the most innocent," explained Bella. "God knows they never asked to be made. When she grabbed you, it might have been simple defensive reaction, might have been training. They get training and conditioning pumped into their brains while they grow."

Nova Requiem thought back to that event, clarifying it in her mind to give it validity. "My mutant...gift, it did not harm her. Her touch was cold...nyet, beyond cold. That was all I remember before blacking out."

"How did you get out of there?" asked Bella.

Nova shrugged and replied, "I woke up some time later, found my way out. Comrades Bejouled and Soviet Shocker, they waited for me, unable to get back into building."

Bella nodded and said, "Hmm. You think she got you out?"

"Both said they saw this girl run out, but did not stop her," answered Nova, "They are now watching for her, and helping to gather more information. But I did not tell them about her being clone. Bejouled said something about not wanting "another incident".

No, that they certainly do not, thought Bella. Crey had already cause enough problems throughout the city--probably the world--with their abominable experiments, and more than once had this very issue threatened to rip the Rebuild Paragon Congress apart at its seemingly-fragile seams. Tasha knows how to exercise caution. Good. This too shall serve her well.

"One of the things they do is train the clones using stolen and modified memories," explained Bella. "That was what was done with my clone. She was supposed to take my place. But...well, sometimes Crey isn't as good at removing the sort of memories that make people more...ethical."

Nova thought she understood, anyway. Not only did this girl look like her, she would most likely think and act like her as well, only without the restraint that Nataliya was forced to deal with. "You think is best I should bunk here in headquarters for time being?"

Belladonna Aura though for a moment and replied, "If it were me, yeah, I'd bunk here. At least until you know more of what makes this clone tick. But...oh, Saviour would call me soft..."

Nova Requiem nodded, eyes smiling, and said, "Is good thing, having such wonderful comrades."

Bella smiled. At least Tasha was beginning to accept that fact. Progress, one step at a time. Which reminded Bella of one more crucial point about Nova's clone. "But keep in mind, this clone may be more like you in ethics and morals than you might think. The closer her memories are to yours, the more like you she'll be."

This gave Nataliya something to think about. How much did she know about herself? She spent so much time wishing for an escape from what she didn't want, that she never really stopped to consider the whole picture of herself. Add one more item to the list of never-ending questions.

Nova looked up at Bella and said, "Spasibo, again, for your help tonight Bella. I am feeling much better now."

"Let me throw a couple more auras, just to be safe," Said Bella, once more sending out waves of radiation. "For a deep bruise like that, should clear it up well enough it won't show as much."

Despite the lack of formality within the American members of the CCCP, Nataliya hopped off the examination bed and saluted the doctor anyway. Bella smiled and shook her head, but returned it all the same. Which was yet another reminder...

"Tasha dear," said Bella, calling up data files on the medical computer. "Before you go, I have the results you asked for..."