Prayer in the Night

From the Story Arc: Creature Comforts

Previous Story in the Arc: Skin Deep by Nova Requiem (Saturday, January 21, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: River is Wide by Nova Requiem (Saturday, January 21, 2006)

(posted Saturday, January 21, 2006)

Seraphic Flame soared through the night sky high above the skyscrapers of Steel Canyon, eyes closed, navigating by pure instinct. Somewhere below her, a mind cried out in sorrow, in confusion, in pain. There were undoubtedly thousands in the city zone below with similar emotions, but only one to whom Sera was close. Only one to whom she had opened her mind and heart, showing a lost lamb the love of the Infinite so that it may find a way home. And it was because of that sharing that the mind she sought stood out like a beacon in the night.

Sera stopped and floated down gently as a feather in front of the young Russian girl--no, not a girl anymore, but not a woman yet. What could she be called then?

How 'bout 'friend', suggested a gruff yet loving voice in Sera's head.

Yes, love, that will do nicely, replied Sera with an inward smile. It's all right, John. I've got her well taken care of. Shoo.

'Course ya do, love. And you know I'll be here for back-up if ya need it.

Seraphic Flame nodded and smiled. She looked down at Nataliya Novakovski, the bright star known to the city as Nova Requiem, and noticed she hadn't moved. The young mutant stared out into the dark concrete canyons that gave the zone its name, in a near-catatonic state, perched on the corner of a rooftop and hugging her knees to her chest. She hadn't changed out of her combat uniform, and Sera could only rightly guess that Nataliya had been there since that afternoon.

Seraphic Flame hovered lower, closer to eye level but still above her friend, and said, "Tasha dear...Your reaction in the Protector lab today...I think there is something you would do well to talk about."

There was something unspoken left inside Nataliya, something that needed to come out. Sera had been there, of course, along with John, Red Saviour and the enigmatic Kensei, in the hidden Crey lab. Nova Requiem fought bravely beside them the whole time...until they had reached the cloning chamber. Sera could see, could feel, Nova fighting every impulse to flee from that horrid place, but the young mutant held in and finished the job at hand. When Nova had begged to leave, the others thought nothing wrong of it. Such things were an abomination to behold, especially for the younger minds.

Nova had, of course, apologized for her cowardice, huddled there on top of an empty dumpster much like she was sitting now. John and the Commissar assured her there was no cowardice in her actions, that she had fought bravely beside them and should be proud of that. But Sera sensed there was something else that Nova wasn't saying, and promised the young mutant that she would talk to her.

And now, Sera was with her friend, as promised. Nataliya held her silence and her gaze. Sera wouldn't pry, not without words, anyway. Gentle encouragement would coax the girl out, nothing more or less.

The moon broke free from the clouds, spreading its pale light over the city. And in the illumination, Sera caught a metallic glint that was Nataliya's real focus. The young mutant held a chain in her hand, a silver crucifix pendant hanging between her knees. Nataliya was staring at the swaying pendant blankly.

And in that moment before the moonlight slipped away, Sera understood Nataliya better than she had before. On top of her loneliness, her isolation, there was a secret. A secret that she dare not share with some of her more 'hard-line' comrades. The Russian Orthodox faith was something that one kept close to the heart, lest it too be taken away.

"Ah..." sighed Sera, going once more to comfort her friend without harsh words, "And what sort of God would permit these things, hmm?"

Sera was sure this would invoke a response, calling the Infinite in a name that Nataliya would hold dear, and it did. Softly, Nataliya spoke from her daze, "I used to live here...the apartment just below. I would sit here, looking out over city. It was rare moment of peace..."

Seraphic Flame nodded and replied, "When I was at my most alone and most troubled, it was to these roofs that I, too came. And Bella, perhaps not so oddly." Sera pointed off to the right, at one of the rooftops in the distance.

"And as now, something Mother taught me would go through my head," continued Nataliya. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, reciting from memory in an almost sing-song voice, "Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy."

The Prayer of Saint Francis, thought Sera, recognizing the words instantly. Many times did these humble words reach up to the Infinite, and Seraphic Flame knew them by heart as well.

Sera lifted her voice in harmony to Nataliya's, filling the air with heartfelt words.

"O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned..."

Nataliya faltered, hesitating away from the final line. Sera felt it best to finish, and give validity to the message contained within.

"And it is in dying that we are born into eternal life," said Sera, "So..."

Nataliya dropped her head onto her arms and mumbled, "Why did it happen, Sera?"

"Because we are not children, Tasha," answered Sera calmly and evenly, crossing her arms, "Nor are we toys to be played with, nor game pieces to be moved about in some inscrutable game. The greatest gift that any being can be given was given to us. Freedom. We are free to do as we choose. We are free to suffer the consequences. Sadly, this means we often suffer at the hands of those who care nothing for consequences. But the Power at the heart of it all does not interfere, because we are not children."

Nataliya sniffed back her tears and asked, "So they would make us into monsters?"

Sera shook her head and said, "Consider: what is a monster?"

"Am not in mood for riddles, Sera," replied Nataliya, voice raw with emotion.

Unphased, Sera continued her point. "Any of those poor creatures in those breeding chambers could become anything. And...I think there must be a certain number of them that turn on their masters. For they too have that freedom."

Nataliya raised her head, gazing at her beloved angel with a single tear running down her cheek. "I only wanted to help her, Sera..."

"Perhaps you did," consoled Sera, "They can choose to die as well, you know. Rather than be used." Sera looked into the distance, and continued, "I...sensed that in many of them. That is why I did not object when Kensei and Saviour set those bombs."

Nataliya wiped her eye and sniffed again, whispering, "Perhaps she did not mean to hurt me. I can only forgive. That is what we are taught, nyet?"

"Forgiveness is not only for the one who is forgiven, Tasha," said Sera, "It is for the one who grants it. Forgiveness releases you from the shackles of hate. That is a lesson I must keep teaching myself over and over again. When I encounter the Nictus, when I encounter the CoT."

Nataliya shook her head and replied, "Nyet, I do not hate her. Confused, da...hurt, da... but is no hatred."

Sera nodded and asked, "Have you ever heard the term, 'suicide by cop'?"

Nataliya shook her head again.

"Sometimes someone in great pain wishes to die, but lacks the will to take his own life," explained Sera, "He then performs some act that forces a police officer to shoot him. It is possible that you were the chosen instrument by which she hoped to take her own life. It would be a measure of her own warped growth that she had no thought to how that might affect you."

Sera sighed, shaking her head, and continued, "I can't know. What I do know is this: you would not willingly harm anyone or anything that was innocent. You take great pains to avoid injury when you can. And you are responsible only for your own heart and your own efforts."

"Nyet, I did not...sense that," whispered Nataliya. "Was more...instinctual." The young mutant looked up at her friend and said, "Sera, Bella has told me...certain things between two of you. So please..." Nataliya clutched the crucifix in her fist, closing her eyes. "Please, I permit you to look..."

Seraphic Flame nodded. Since it was given willingly, she would do it, if for nothing more that the frightened girl's peace of mind. She had a fairly good idea what this 'her' that Nataliya kept mentioning was, but only in this way could she get the full picture, and get an answer to what was truly troubling Nataliya.

Slowly Sera lowered her mental shields. They were many, layered over one another like a series of veils. Finally most of them were gone. Nataliya could feel this happening within her and around her. Nataliya's minute psi-sensitivity could sense there were veils still in place, not so much hiding "her" as protecting "her", rather like the final petals at the heart of a flower protect the center.

And from that center, Sera gazed into Nataliya's mind, seeking that which was offered. She didn't have to look long, for the memory still burned fresh; the cold, the fear, the determination to do what was right, the shock of discovery and the pain as the life left her.

Seraphic Flame let out a mournful sigh. Like the perfume from a flower, a deep peace emanated from her center. A peace to replace the sorrow, not only for the fearful girl, but also for her unfortunate blood sister, the abhorrent minds of Crey twisting an innocence into a blind rage. The peace flowed out from Sera, and she began to speak to Nataliya in her mind, leaving the shields down.

<It is the choice of those who created these creatures to have brought them to life. It is the choice they made to twist them, filling their minds with "programming" to turn them against us. Ultimately they will face the consequences for those choices. You tried to help. That you could not, is no fault of yours. You, and that poor, sad creature, are the victims here. But it is also your choice to decide to be a victim no longer.>

A tear escaped from Nataliya and ran down her face, But with it went the pain and anguish. A slight shiver passed through her slender frame, then calm began to fill her once more.

Sera looked on, a portrait of infinite concern. <I did not know of these things until I saw them myself, today in the lab. Perhaps I knew them once....I have lost a great deal of knowledge when I came to this form. But I can tell you this much: we, too, have choices. We can choose to stop this wherever and whenever we can--oddly, my dear, as Kid Crisis is doing. We can reach out to the poor creations and try to bring them back to humanity.>

Nataliya choked back a sob and asked, "But where do I start, Sera? Was hard enough finding uncle Sasha and he was registered with city. I...I wish to make no big deal of this. I have read files, I know this has happened before. I do not want to burden my comrades with more of same."

There was a flash inside Nataliya's mind, an image of Sera in the Zig, attempting to reach some of the captured Protectors. Many were twisted beyond redemption by Crey's dark designs, but every once in a while, a light shone in that darkness and the misbegotten children of Science found their way back.

<Bella has her work in the hospital emergency rooms. I have this. Not all can be saved. But some can. And if only one can be saved...It is still worth the effort. They are in a hell not of their making. I would go into Hell for one of the Fallen. This is such a little, little hell.>

Nataliya opened her eyes, projecting her thoughts. <Where do I begin, Sera? How do I find one who was meant to be me?

<If it were me, I would indeed begin with her. As for how to find your tragic sister, ask for the DNA match. And as for what you is as simple as reaching out to any abused child. That is what they are. Treat them as such. As you would a feral animal that needs to be tamed. The Zig is so full of these creatures, and so few care to help them, they welcome the effort from anyone that shows an interest.>

Nataliya closed her eyes again and nodded. The young mutant spoke out once more, and said, "Spasibo, Sera. For everything. I would still be lost devushka without you."

Sera shook her head, eyes brimming with compassion. "My dear, you give yourself too little credit. You would have found your way. I do no more than provide a slightly better map."

Nataliya reached up and removed her headgear, gazing at Sera with a smile no one outside family had seen in years. She mouthed the words in Russian, projected and translated into Sera's mind before the mental shields withdrew, "I love you, Sera. Never change."

Seraphic Flame returned in kind with the smile usually only her beloved John ever saw, brilliant enough to grace the night sky overhead.