River is Wide

From the Story Arc: Creature Comforts

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

(posted Saturday, January 21, 2006)

Nataliya cradled her head in her hands and stared at the stack of library books overtaking the table in front of which she sat, letting out a silent, exasperated sigh. She looked up the clock on the wall and blinked. 6:30... how had it gotten to be 6:30? And was it PM or AM?

Nataliya stretched and stood up, seeking out the nearest window. A new sun was shining down upon the Paragon University campus, its warming rays making steam of the collected dew as flocks of birds pecked and scratched around the quad in search of errant insects and crumbs dropped by rushing students. It was a peaceful scene, and Nataliya cracked a smile, a small scoff escaping.

Well there you are, Tasha, she thought, Your first all-nighter as a college freshman.

Nataliya returned to the table and gazed down at the books. She couldn't help but chuckle at herself. It was a literary mountain of her own making. It had started simply, as most projects do. A few sources mentioned in her textbooks where more in-depth answers could be answered, which in turn led to more questions and more sources. But the bulk of the texts on the table were centered on one subject, something that had been burning in her mind. Books by and about John Watson, Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, and William James... even as far back as Descartes and Hippocrates. Anything that might give Nataliya some glimpse into her own mind, and therefore the mind of...

Her.

Nataliya was too tired to think about it anymore, but too exhausted to sleep. She needed to get out of the library and away from these musty books. She located a returns cart and piled all the books onto it, grabbed her jacket and headed out into the morning.

Nataliya slowly walked across the quad, hands shoved deep into her jacket pockets and tried to clear her mind. She rarely indulged anymore, but a coffee sounded heavenly. Nataliya breathed in the crisp air deeply and made up her mind. Next stop, the Young Champions' coffee shop.

Humming quietly to herself, Nataliya picked up the pace towards the Yellow Line. But as she got to the edge of the campus grounds, she stopped. Sitting on the steps was a person she hadn't seen for a couple of weeks now, not since that hectic day in the bowels of a dormant volcano on Striga Isle. Someone she hadn't thought about much, and in seeing her again, regretted it instantly.

Marrita Red Bear.

The slender Navajo girl waved happily and motioned Nova over. "Nova! Heya." Mari stood grinning, a Styrofoam cup in her hand. "Wow, you look ragged. You okay?"

Nataliya smiled, walked over to the steps and sat down. She opened her mouth to explain her night's literary adventure, but stopped just in time. In her fatigue, she almost forgot that her headgear had been left at headquarters. It was only going to be a brief stop at the library, and she didn't think she had need for it.

Nataliya looked at Mari and shook her head apologetically, pointing at her mouth. Then an idea came to her. she looked at Mari, pointing back and forth between their heads, tilting her own in inquiry. The younger girl laughed and Nova felt a gentle and playful tickle in her mind. This better, Nova? I am so happy to see you. I've missed you.

Nataliya grinned and bobbed her head. It's perfect, Mari, she thought, her Russian words instantly translated into the Navajo girl's mind, I don't really feel a thing. Then again, my brain is still a little fuzzy. I spent all night in the library. And please, call me Tasha.

You're getting better at this too I think. It gets easier the more a pair does it. Mind linking I mean. Mari sat back down on the steps near to Nova, but giving her space. So learn anything interesting there?

Nataliya hesitated for a moment, but then realized she didn't have to say anything more than the truth. Mostly study for classes. I just started this winter semester, and it feels like I've got lots to catch up on, even though there's no additional workload. They adjust schedules accordingly.

Marrita nodded. She was always careful to stay as close to the surface when she linked with Nova as she could. Normally it was easy, the older girl's own shields helped create a strong boundary. Mari frowned as some stray echoes touched her own mind. Nothing clear, but it was enough to tell the girl something was off. You sure it's just overwork? I donno I just felt something. Like a deep sadness and uncertainty. I didn't mean to... It just seems like your defenses are kinda... not weak... dimmer today.

Sadness and uncertainty. Nataliya could count on one hand the number of times she hadn't felt that since hitting puberty. But Mari was right, this whole matter with the missing clone was weighing rather heavily on her mind. Nataliya looked down, rolling a pebble with her foot. She liked the Native American girl well enough, and ever since the Council base on Striga... Something had changed. In her mind, and in herself. When the self-destruct sequence activated deep inside the volcano, Marrita Red Bear and her comrade October Star hadn't made it out in time. The rest of the team was in a panic, desperate to know just what the hell was going on, and where their friends were. In desperation, Nova Requiem had reached out to Mari, and in the luck of the inexperienced, managed to take a passive mind link and turn it into actual communication. As for her mind, it felt like stretching a piece of fabric---no rips, no tears, but definitely not the same shape.

But to trust the girl with a secret about a very touchy subject? No, not yet. Nataliya shook her head. I'm sorry, it has been a rather long night. And morning too, for that matter. I just... she quietly sighed. A lot had been on my mind.

Mari held out the Styrofoam cup. I didn't drink from it yet. Was just waiting for it to cool. Looks like you could use it more than me anyways.

Nataliya carefully took the offered drink, and flashed Mari a grateful smile. She took a cautious sip, and found it to be at the perfect temperature. She took a larger swallow and set the cup down between them. Yes, that hits the spot. Thank you.


You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to, Tasha. It's okay. We can talk about anything else if you think that would cheer you up. The girl's dark eyes blinked, a soft and concerned expression filling them. I'm your friend. I'm here for whatever you need, k?

Nataliya shook in silent laughter, even though it rang out in her head. You have no idea what that means to me, Mari. Not many try. Sure, some will try and comfort, but not many go beyond that. She looked over at the girl and looked her in the eye. You know, I've never had a friend close to my own age before. There are some younger comrades, sure, but it's not the same thing. Tell you what, my dorm room is just over there. Let us get out of the cold and we can talk in more comfortable surroundings.

Mari stood and stuffed her hands in her pockets. Sound like a plan.

Nataliya led the Navajo girl across campus, keeping the mental conversation light and casual' She pointed out buildings and what field of study they focused on, and the general buzz around the Union. The dorms weren't a far walk, and it appeared to the casual observer that a freshman was sharing a quiet moment with a younger friend.

They arrived at Nataliya's dorm room, and she fished the key out of her pocket. They were thoughtful enough to give me a single room, even if it was more out of necessity. Better safe than sorry, plus it gives me something of a sanctuary I can call my own.

Mari nodded. Everyone needs a private place, and the fact that Tasha was willing to share hers spoke volumes.

Nataliya opened the door and went rigid. The room was in utter disarray. Dresser drawers had been pulled out and dumped on the floor, papers and personal effects scattered around. Nataliya was a tidy person, everything in its place. In a panic, she began to rush around the room and take an inventory of her possessions.

"Tasha?" Mari's voice was shaky as she looked around the room. "What happened here?"

Nataliya stopped and stared at Mari, her face a mask of panic. Mari's concern was likewise plain to see, and it served to calm the Russian girl down, at least enough to think about this. She sat down on the bed, still clutching a t-shirt, and began twisting it in her hands. As far as she could tell, nothing was missing, except for a change of clothes. That could only mean one thing. She had been here.

Marrita kneeled on the floor at Nova's feet. She could feel her friend's mind go suddenly turbulent and was doing her best not to pry further. Nova trusted her enough to link with her, and she wanted to respect that bond. How can I help you, Tasha? You have trouble. If you don't want to tell me everything, it is okay. At least let me help you.

Nataliya shook her head fiercely. No. No. No. You don't want to get involved in this, Mari. If anyone finds out about this, there's going to be anger. Much, much anger. I don't want you near that. I have to do this alone.

I am your friend. Who else should be involved if not me? Mari placed a hand on Nova's arm, careful to touch the cloth. And I will tell no one. I swear it. I swear it in view of the ancestors. I will say nothing to anyone you do not wish me to, Tasha.

The young mutant flinched at the touch, but didn't withdraw from it. Mari had used caution, and was safe for the time being. And the girl's touch was reassuring, a very physical reminder that she didn't have to share this burden alone. Nataliya looked down at Mari and realized her hesitation lay in the fact that she was simply acting her age. To go to an adult was to admit defeat, to say that you couldn't handle your problems. But to turn to a friend was to ask for help, that the problem might be solved together. She couldn't see that before, because she had never considered anyone around her age as a friend. If there was a chance to find a solution, the answer might very well be with this Navajo girl.

Mari, dear, maybe there is something you can do. And I'm going to trust you with this secret. And I can only do this with those closest to me, and mean me no harm. I have to ask you, is it possible for you to...sense me, from a distance?

Marrita thought about this. We have had only mostly passive contact, Tasha. It would take a far deeper mental contact for me to do that... but yes. It can be done. Mental tracking is something I have only dabbled with. Tracking animals and such. No one has ever let em deep enough to be able to do it in a person... She giggled quietly. Well, I do use it with the twins recently, I'd forgotten. Have to have someway to track the little beasts...why? You planning to get lost?

Nataliya shook her head, looking at Mari solemnly. No, it's much more complicated than that. It's... Nataliya quietly sighed. There is another in the city, and she...she has my mind.

Your mind? How is that possible? Mari's eyes were wide.

Nataliya glanced out the window. She had trusted Mari this far, might as well go all the way. Because she is me. Or like me. Or enough like me... I don't know. It's a clone, Mari. And that's why we can't tell anyone.

The younger girl gasped and her hand flew to cover her mouth. Is she dangerous to you. I mean do you think she might try and hurt you or try to take your place? Mari looked around the room again realizing that this person had been able to get in Nova's room, through the locked door. Oh, Tasha. Do you think its safe for you to stay here now?

Slow down, slow down! thought Tasha, holding out her hand. I'm still not certain of everything myself. I have had some help from my comrades, but most of them don't even know yet. And yes, I am safe for time being. I'm staying at headquarters, and am surrounded by their security. I only use this room while I'm on campus, between classes.

Mari bit her lip. "Sorry. I just was startled." But yes, to answer your question, if I went deep enough in your mind and knew it well enough... I believe I could track her. If I do this it would open your entire mind to me. You have to be aware nothing could stay hidden. That is a lot of trust to ask of yourself.

Nataliya placed a glove-covered hand on Mari's shoulder. No dear, it is a lot of trust that I ask of you. There is much in my life...I would not have wished upon anyone, even at my young age. If you must go in, you will see it. I tell you this now, since I don't want to hurt you.

The young Navajo girl placed a slender hand on the one on her shoulder and nodded. I know the risks. You are my friend. This is a way my gifts can help protect you so yes, I want to. Besides... shared pain is lessened right?

Nataliya smiled. Such strength in such a small frame. Through Mari, the Russian girl could begin to see how her comrades could claim the same about her. Nataliya nodded once and removed her hand, placing it in her lap and folding her legs underneath her. She wasn't really sure how to proceed about such things, so she did the best she could. Nataliya closed here eyes and cleared the thoughts from her mind--not an easy task, to say the least. When she had done all she could, Nataliya nodded and thought, I am ready.

Mari look at her friend thoughtfully. She usually did this with some sort of skin-to-skin contact but in Nova's case that was not preferable. Still, the fact they were already linked would make things easier. Just relax and let your mind flow freely. Breathe in and out of your thoughts. Try to imagine they are like a flowing river. I am simply a visitor to your banks to go for a swim. It will be slow, like sticking a single toe in your waters and then gently going deeper. Can you try that?

This was easy enough. Nataliya had spent many summers on the Volga River with her grandfather, learning to respect the water, to swim its currents without being swept away, and wresting its bounty. The visual was strong, and filled Nataliya's mind. There was a twinge of homesickness there, but it was soon swept away by the currents with the rest of her thoughts and tension.

The young Navajo girl felt her essence slip into the water, the thoughts flowing over her. The pressure was light at first but soon there was a heavier pressure, as if the speed they came to her increased, the weight heavier. She felt as if she was going to panic for a second as the 'waters' went over her head, but soon her own calmness flowed with the same rhythm as the memories of her friend that swum around in her. Her physical form waved, like an old TV reception, but there was no one there to see it. Mari opened her eyes. She was under the dark waters as images moved in front and through her. Images of a carefree little girl lifting her voice to God, full of life and joy. Images of the same girl weeping over her little brother's comatose body in the snow as her mutant 'gift' came to be. Images of a father turned cruel and spiteful, and a mother powerless to stop the verbal abuse. Images of a hopeful teenager given a new lease on life and then abandoned to her fate in Paragon City.

Loss and tragedy was the theme, but with one underlying current in the river: The girl was a survivor. Out of all that life had done to her, Nataliya Novakovski came through it. And in the fullness of time, the scars would serve as a strong shell, and the hurting would stop.

Mari felt the feelings run through her, filling her slowly. She reached and held them tight, so she knew each part of them. As before the psi's form on the outside shifted, like a wavering candle, but only for a moment, then it was fine.

The image was almost complete. Mari had a good sense of her friend, and began to float towards the 'surface'. Then the undercurrent came. Darker and swifter than the waters around it. The memory took hold of Mari and sent her tumbling. Before she could recover, the images overcame her, of that day in the Crey lab, the clone growth chamber, and the disfigured clone within reacting out of instinctual hate to end Nova Requiem’s life. Mari fought against the memory, struggling to right herself and swim to the surface. With all of her remaining strength, the psi girl broke free, gasping for air.

Nataliya gave a start, hearing the gasp echo through her head. She snapped out of her reverie and stared at Mari. The Navaho girl's form wavered again before steadying and coming out of her trance.

Mari? called out Tasha with her mind.

The younger girl blinked several times. Her small frame trembled and she laid her palms on each side of her to steady it. I'm...I'm okay, Tasha. Just... last part was very fresh and intense. Mari breathed heavily, but smiled at her friend weakly.

So you saw her then? asked Nataliya, eyes pleading and comforting at the same time. At least I tried to give you fair warning.

Mari nodded. I saw and felt everything you did. I had to immerse myself completely to do this, but I think I have what I need to be able to track the girl now. She reached up and rubbed her throat. I need you to stay at the base, safe. I'll have my comm on and send you a signal when I find her.

Nataliya nodded and thought, I will. Best of luck, Mari. You'll need it.

Thanks Mari chuckled and stood. Get some rest, okay? I'll let you know when I hit paydirt, but no sense in stressing over it until then. C'mon, I'll walk you to the CCCP headquarters before I head out.

Nataliya nodded and locked the dorm room behind them as they left. Side by side, the girls left campus and headed towards Kings Row.

[hr]

Mari was exhausted by the time she reached the far end of Skyway. She had been though seven zones since the search began and not even a blip. She wanted so badly to help Nova and find this other girl, but she'd have to rest soon. One more run, maybe the Park would be more fruitful.

The girl landed in front of the guard and flashed her hero card. They nodded, barely looking at it, and she went in. As soon as she crossed the hum of the wall she felt it. The familiar echo of the mind she had just that day been so close to. She had to be certain. Again Mari took to the air, to follow the mental scent to its source.

The Navajo girl landed near the edge of a river and began to scan the area. She was certain the girl was close, but saw nothing. Mari reached out further, trying to get a sense of nearby emotions. last thing she wanted was to get ambushed by some nasty while trying to find this person.

There was a rustling in the bushes behind Mari, and she turned around and scanned the foliage. Someone--or something was close. Mari's senses told her that the prey had spotted the hunter first. She reached out with her psionic senses, feeling for any minds nearby, animal or otherwise. The girl was close. Very close. Mari looked around quickly, but didn't see anything.

A snapping twig made the Navajo girl spin around, and was suddenly shoved up against a nearby tree. Mari felt a cold hand clutch at her neck while being held bodily against the tree trunk.

A chilling voice hissed in Mari's ear, "Skazhite mne pochemu Ia ne dolzhen ubit' vas pravye zdes' i teper'..."

Mari closed her eyes and reached gently for the girls mind. I am sorry, my Russian is very poor. I did not mean to scare you, miss. Mari caught the gist of what the girl had meant enough, but kept her own fear down, and hoped to calm her. You are lost and alone. I only want to help you.

"Get out of my head, witch," the girl growled, dark energy growing in her hands.

The Navajo girl nodded, releasing the touch softly. "I just want to help. I am just learning Russian myself, and thought if you did not know English the mind touch would be easier for you. I meant no offense."

The pale girl growled, "Am speaking it well enough. Was asking for reason why not to kill you here and now."

"I have done nothing to harm you and do not intend to. My friend is looking for you. She is worried that you are all alone with no one to help you and sent me to find you." mari did her best to keep her voice calm and soothing, but inside she knew she had no idea how to handle this situation. Ancestors give me strength she prayed silently.

"Am not wanting to be found," said the girl. "Is not good enough. I kill you now, da? Enjoy the feeling of your life in my hands."

The dark energies gathered further, the cold beyond cold sending a shiver through Mari's spine. But nothing more happened. The clone stared in shock and spun Mari around, and held her by the arms against the tree.

"What is meaning of this??" she screamed, buffeting the psi girl with sonic waves. "Why is not affecting you??"

Mari flinched sharply as the wave hit her, turning her face away protectively. "Perhaps the ancestors know what I say is true. That I only wish to help you. That your sister only wishes to help you."

The pale girl threw back her head and laughed, shaking the branches and showering them both with bark and leaves. "Sestra? I have no sestra."

"Nova and you were made of the same blood. What else would she be but your sister?" Mari turned again to meet the girl's eyes, her own gaze firm.

"Do not speak such things," the Nova-clone said with a feral snarl. "What could you possibly now about sestra that I do not?"

Tears touched Mari's eyes. "Our minds have touched. Deeply. I have lived all that she has. Felt all that she has. Our bond was deep. That is how I found you. I even felt your hands around my throat after Tasha freed you from your prison."

Angry tears started to form in the clone's eyes, and she tightened her grip around Mari's throat. "You know NOTHING!"

"Nyet, she is knowing more than you ever will," said a familiar voice from behind the pale girl. The clone whipped her head around, catching a sonic bullet full in the face. The clone cried out and spun to the ground, releasing Mari to slide down the trunk.

Nova Requiem stood there in her full combat uniform, control gear firmly in place.

"Tasha! She is afraid. Don't hurt her." Mari struggled to her feet, rubbing her throat with her hand. "She reacts from that place of fear."

The clone leapt to her feet and charged at Nova, screaming with fury. Nova Requiem held her ground until the last minute, sidestepping the clone easily. Nova took a deep breath and loosed another shout, hitting the clone square on the back and sending her tumbling to the riverbank.

The clone groaned and lifted her head, gazing at her 'sister' with pleading eyes. "Sestra..." she croaked, "Posle vsekh my delili..."

The clone's eyes rolled back and she fell down unconscious.

Nova rushed over to Mari and hugged her close, not fearing the touch with her protection in place.

"Came as soon as I could, Mari," explained Nova. "Is seeming your link is working both ways."

Mari returned the hug warmly. "I'm fine, really. She didn't hurt me." She glanced at the unconscious clone. "Will she be alright?"

Nova Requiem looked over as well and nodded. "Da, she will be all right. My--our sonics are not lethal. But she will be waking up in Zig."

"I think her other powers are meant to be, but the ancestors protected me from them I think. It was colder then I have ever been before, but I live." Mari smiled. "Well it worked. We found her. Now what?"

Nova Requiem walked over to her fallen sister and removed a plastic disc from her belt. Affixing it firmly to the stolen shirt the clone wore, the young mutant pressed the button and the clone faded from view.

Nova stood up and turned to face Mari. "Now she is going to Zig, where she will get help she needs. And we are going home. Together." She held out her hand to the Navajo girl.

Mari gave her friend a warm grin and took the outstretched hand. "Sounds like a perfectly sensible plan to me."