Free Radicals

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

Previous Story in the Arc: Within and Without by Nova Requiem (Thursday, January 05, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Without and Within by Nova Requiem (Tuesday, March 14, 2006)

(posted Friday, February 17, 2006)

Nova Requiem stood on the embankment on the southern end of Valor Bridge, hands on her knees and catching her breath. Independence Port was a great place to get out and run when she couldn't get to the gym. There were several places that were long stretches that ran the whole length of the zone, plus the added bonus of being able to help her comrades by patrolling the area.

For now, Nova's persistent build-up of energy had eased off. It was still a matter of time before it returned in full force. The young mutant took this opportunity to enjoy the moment of peace. She looked out across the bay, watching the cargo ships and sailing vessels moving slowly through the water. Off in the distance she could just make out a pinkish blob flailing around in the water. The giant devilfish Lusca never could get the hint that it wasn't welcome in the bay. The heroes of the city were getting bored with its near-constant presence anyway, and it was one step shy of becoming a tourist attraction and official mascot of the Port.

Nova also realized she was very near the spot where she and Ratt Murdock had gazed out across the bay together after taking care of a Council laboratory raid. The thought of him still brought warmth to her cheeks that had nothing to do with her unstable mutant gift. She felt awkward in his presence, but never enough to want him to leave. Quite the opposite, in fact. Nova enjoyed Ratt's company, what little of it they had together. Class assignments and hero duty on both their parts kept them apart much of the time, and that made their rare moments together all the more enjoyable.

The sun was setting over the War Walls and casting a unique purple tint over the water. Nova pondered returning to headquarters and signing out for the evening. The only problem was that she was merely exhausted in her mind. The way that her kinetisynthesis was raging out of control, being physically tired was near impossible. Sure enough the tingling in her extremities began again, signaling another imminent build-up. Nova balled up her fists and shook in anger. Enough of this! she screamed to herself, This can't go on!

There was one thing that Nova hadn't tried yet, and for good reason. Bella had gone through a similar destabilization, as had another of her comrades, Caliginous Storm. The prospect of near-lethal radiation exposure wasn't exactly the most comforting. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Nova sat down on the embankment and got out her comm unit. She thumbed through the index of stored frequencies, looking for just the right people. Nova knew that her comrades would more than likely come to her aid if she had asked, they had proved this time and time again. But this was one of those rare times when Nova didn't want comrades. She needed friends. The young mutant broke into a smile when two particular names came up. Nova sent out a signal for a conference call, and soon Tutelary and Electric Keet were standing before her, pleased to be in the company of the blonde teenager.

"Hey, what's the buzz, my sister." The low woman's voice responded. The words were the same strange greeting Gaia's Soldier was known for, but with little of the life behind it. "Birdie tells me you need a hand."

Nova stared at the comm for a moment, realizing she had left a general call open on the CCCP channel. It took her another moment to put a face with the name. She could remember seeing the black woman around the base, but they had never been formally introduced.

"Privyet, comrade," responded Nova, "Da, am in need of few helping hands. Have learned that Sky Raider are planning another attack on nuclear plant." She made no mention of what her real reason for the task was, not on an open channel, anyway. "Are you able to aid us?"

A low laugh was the response. "Yeah, them silly looking white boys in the Wizard of Oz Winkie get-ups are a pain in... well, a pain." There was a pause. "Okay, finished here. On my way, little sister."

Nova smiled from beneath her faceguard, looking up at Keet and Tutelary. They were standing close by, exchanging idle banter, and bubbling with enthusiasm. And the fact that one of her comrades had answered her call after all made the prospect of facing the odds that much less intimidating.

Nova approached the two, taking a deep breath to calm her frazzled nerves. "Privyet, comrades."

"Privyet!" replied Tutelary excitedly, "What's up?" But even though the girl put on a brave face, Tutelary could tell that there was more to it. Nova seemed angry, and more than a little tired.

There was no point in beating around the bush anymore. As much as she had enjoyed the company of these women in times past, Nova's vestigial empathic senses could tell that they really did care. "Am more frustrated than anything, really" she explained with a sigh.

The tallest of the group, Electric Keet, tilted her head in the way an animal might when confused. "Frustrated?"

"I get frustrated sometimes." commented Tutelary with a nod. "What's the problem?"

Having joined the two women in combat on more than one occasion, they both knew what it was that made her 'super', and dispensed with the lengthy explanation. "My gift, it... well, am not able to keep energy from building inside me.

"Sounds like that could be dangerous." Keet took on a bit of a distant, pensive expression, speaking as though to herself. "Must be scary to have inherent powers like that...." she trailed off, tugging at her vest a bit.

Nova nodded sadly. "When one has no control, da, it is." It was something she had dealt with for years now, often wishing that it had never happened, that God would have gifted someone else instead.

"What do you do to get rid of it?" Tutelary asked.

"Running, mostly," replied Nova, "And is helping to give others energy. But is all temporary."

"Oh man!" Tutelary exclaimed. "Can't you keep giving it out, though?"

Nova merely shrugged and said, "Have tried, builds too quickly."

"The goddess gives our gifts as she feels we are ready for them. Even if we can't see it." The deep voice spoke from the hill beneath then and was soon followed by the appearance of a woman in black and red camo pants, and a black CCCP T-shirt. "Wishing differently don't make the truth any less real. So, what can be done to make the control a reality as well?"

The appearance of her comrade was a welcome thing. Much like it had been when she was first reunited with the CCCP, and the Congress as a whole, it still seemed to Nova to be a wonderful thing that there were those willing to lay aside their tasks to help another, no matter how big or small the task.

Nova thought for a moment as how to best to get the three up to speed. The Congress was many, each with their histories and tales. It was all too easy to forget or just plain not know who did what and for what reason. "These gloves I wear, they allow my mutant gift to be used at distance, da?"

Gaia nodded, her eyes narrowed in focus. "Yes?"

"Am not really knowing how it is done," explained Nova, "but is beside point. But lately, when gloves are off, drain happens from short distance. Only few inches, but still it is bother. My fear is that it will continue to grow. That I will be unable to be near anyone."

"That is scary!" Tutelary said. She clamped her mouth shut when she realized she wasn't helping things.

"Have you seen a doctor?" Tutelary asked.

Nova nodded and answered, "Bella knows."

"What does she say?"

"That she was in similar situation once," replied the Russian girl, "Said doses of radiation stabilized her, but it needs more than she provides."

"Really?" asked Tutelary. She'd been with Bella before, and knew what kind of serious rads the blue-skinned woman could throw around. "Are you sure? She provides a ton!"

Nova couldn't help but chuckle. She, too, had spent enough time with Bella to know what hergift was. "Da, that she does."

"So what can you do? Find a more radioactive hero?" she asked. "I'm sorry! I'm really trying to figure out a solution."

Nova was rather taken aback by the suggestion at first, but she knew it was asked in good nature. "Is bad enough that I am unable to touch others, but to irradiate them? Nyet." She shook her head with a short sigh. "Is grave matter, comrade, but is good to have those who would aid me, out of kindness."

"Well, I'll help you out!" Tutelary said.

Nova hugged herself and gazed off past Valor Bridge to the war walls surrounding Terra Volta. "There solution. Is dangerous, but is no other option that I can see."

"What is it?"

"Our comrade, Caliginous Storm, was also like me, unable to live without containment," said the young mutant. She couldn't help but let out a quick shudder over what she was about to say. "Was suggested that I try...going into city's reactor."

Gaia closed her eyes for a moment, silently counting the number of times she had gone to that reactor. Good thing she had basically given up on the idea of kids, or they'd glow like Christmas lights by the time they were born. "Well then, that's what we need to do. What's the trouble there this time then, my sister?"

Nova gestured to a woman standing a short ways away, occasionally glancing over but respecting the privacy of the heroes. "Comrade Hallaway here has told me of Sky Raider plans to destroy reactor," she explained, "Would be like killing two birds with one stone."

"OK. I used to fight those all the time," Tutelary replied. "Let's do it!"

Gaia nodded resolutely. "We'll do whatever ya'll need us to do, sister girl, to help. We are there, and we'll find a way to help ya. Lots of smart and stubborn friends ya got, little sister. We got you back. Ya dig?"

"Spasibo, sestry," answered Nova with genuine feeling. After weeks of dealing with her growing instability, the young mutant was beginning to see the possibility of an answer. And these three would be the ones to help her find it. Side-by-side, together against the odds--sestry in arms.

Buffeted by sonic waves and blasts of Kheldian energy, the hapless Wing Raider lost control of his jetpack and careened around the reactor core, straight into the shrouded fists of Gaia's Soldier. The Raider crashed into the ground in a mangled heap of limbs and electronics.

A lull seemed to fall in the pace of the seemingly endless horde of Raiders. It was only a temporary reprieve, but one they took happily. Nova crouched down, breathing heavily. Even though the radiation shielding belts kept the four from harm, the air was still thick and stifling. The heat of battle didn't help the situation, either. The Sky Raiders were no match for the seasoned heroes, even after wave upon wave.

Keet took a moment to hunch over, hands on her knees. "I think I now know how a microwave burrito feels," she muttered with a glance toward the reactor core.

"We're doing great, guys!" cheered Tutelary "How are you feeling, Nova? Any different?"

Tired, was the first thought that came to the Russian girl, followed closely by ready to go home. But other than the heat generated by the core and the exhaustion of battle, she felt no different than when she had first come in. "N-not really," she stammered between gasps for air.

"Oh man..." Tutelary said, trailing off as she started to head toward the control room. Her shield had failed, so she'd shifted into Dwarf form. "Maybe you should try doing it without the shield?" she asked. "I mean, if you want to get irradiated, that's probably the best way."

"I..." Nova blinked at the warshade. That kind of thought had never occurred to her. Being a child of the Motherland, the invisible specter of radiation was something that had worked its way into the cultural conscience and her fears. But as she thought before, desperate times called for desperate measures. "I could try."

"It might be dangerous! I don't want you to get hurt," Tutelary was quick to add.

Nova wiped her brow, glancing down that the belts she wore and checking the power gauge. So far they had all taken the 'better safe than sorry' thinking and rushed to get a new shield after every wave. It didn't always work out, sometimes there were just too many Raiders to deal with when the power failed. "Have already had some exposure," said Nova quietly. But to risk more? She wasn't sure she was quite ready for that.

"Me too," Tutelary said.

Gaia smiled at Nova warmly, the brash warrior laying a surprisingly gentle touch on the girl's arm. "Have faith, little sestra. We'll get it done."

The young mutant looked down at the woman's hand, and then to her face. She managed a weak smile behind her mask and nodded to Gaia. The fact that the four had been so diligent in this task gave Nova hope that they would see this through.

Keet stood back up with an impish grin. "You'll either get control of your powers, or forty-six different kinds of cancer. I can just see the phone convo now...." She stuck out her pinky and thumb in pantomime of a receiver and put her fist to her ear. "Hey, Mom... a few days ago I saved the world, and then today I stood inside the core of a nuke plant.... No, of course I'm feeling all right." Nova giggled.

"She might freak out!" Tutelary said.

"Nah, Mom's hard to freak out. She's half of where I get all my weirdness from," Keet shrugged, wiping her brow.

The distinct sound of shouts and clanking metal rang through the corridors, signaling that the Sky raiders had renewed their assault. Their only mistake was that this had given time for the heroes to recover as well, and the four were ready to meet the saboteurs head on.

More Raiders appeared than in any of the waves previous, bound and determined to destroy the reactor at any cost. The four women were as equally determined to protect it. The battle raged there in the heart of the city, man and machine pitched against sisters and their unity. Such was their determination in those final moments that they failed to notice that their shielding belts had depleted their batteries. As bullets, fists and energies collided, the radiation seeped into all.

And then, just as soon as it had begun, it was all but over. The combined power of the heroes was more than the Raiders could handle. The last of the invaders fell, the city's power once more safe for the time being. The plant personnel thanked them profusely, but their praises meant little to Nova. Partly because it was her duty, and partly because she was feeling Nothing she could pinpoint, though.

As the heroes walked out of the plant, it didn't go unnoticed. Nova shuffled along quietly, fatigued to her core.

Tutelary couldn't help but be more than a little concerned about the girl. "Nova? Are you OK?"

"Got...little there..." replied Nova. Each breath seemed a burden, as if a heavy plate rested on her chest. She still felt the heat from the reactor, even though she wasn't sweating.

"Tell me about it." Gaia rubbed a sore arm, feeling some of the milder burns already beginning to fade as her body mended itself. When she had done a task like this nearly a year earlier, she had barely needed the shields at all, but now...

"Warm like wearing a coat?" asked Tutelary, trying to get a grasp of the situation.

Nova shook her head. "Nyet, more like sitting on beach for several hours."

"That was a bad warm." Gaia smirked, leaning heavily against a stone wall. "Not really the same thing."

Tutelary looked over the Russian girl, noting her distress. "Are you feeling OK? They say that the radiation changes folks, but maybe it takes some time to set in."

Keet reached back to return her bright orange sonic-generation console to its holster, and looked to Nova with concern. "You're sounding a bit off. Perhaps you should go see Bella directly after this."

"Yeah, you should go see her," agreed Tutelary with a nod.

Nova took a few deep breaths to steady herself. She had every intention of paying a visit to Thanh ha, Bella or Soviette, whomever happened to be in the med bay at the time. "Da, is best idea... all day," the young mutant said, "Will see...Hallaway first. Tell her... reactor is safe."

She looked around at the women before her, each strong in their own way. She was proud to share their company, good times or bad, in the thick of battle or the idle banter. They might not be countrymen, but they were more than comrades.

With the best salute she could manage, Nova Requiem proudly said, "Do svedanya... friends."

Electric Keet and Tutelary went their separate way, leaving Nova and Gaia to deliver the message to Hallaway. The two took their time, each feeling the effects of the potent dosage of radiation surging through their bodies. They walked close to each other down the length of Valor Bridge, ready to give their support as needed, sestry to their cause and more.

Nova remained quiet for awhile, faintly picking up the unspoken pain from the dark woman. She had to say something. The suffering of another was something she couldn't let slide. "Sestra?"

Gaia looked up, an eyebrow raised. She was still breathing heavily, but Gaia always tried not to show any signs of the loss of power she had suffered months earlier. It was a matter of pride. "Yeah?"

"Are you alright?" asked the young mutant.

"Yeah," answered Gaia. She moved her shirt away from a patch of skin along her side, There were several spots that didn't seem to be healing as quickly as the rest Gaia made an involuntary hissing noise and added, "No problems."

Nova's expression was one of genuine concern. Even without her vestigial empathic sense, Gaia's discomfort was too obvious to ignore. "Are you sure?"

Gaia grit her teeth. "I'll be fine."

"Is just that..." Nova looked away, out into the water. There were few who knew what had taken place with her mind, the sensitivity she had gained. A person's thoughts were a private thing, and many rightly objected to others poking around in their most secret place. "Never mind."

Gaia sighed softly. "What? You can talk to me, hun."

Nova glanced over at the dark woman before setting her eyes on the road before her again. "I felt... pain," she said quietly, "In your mind. Is something I cannot explain."

"I just hate seeing doctors," explained Gaia, "Bad experiences lately with them. Nothing personal, Nova. I'm a bit pig headed when it come to this stuff. Hate to admit I'm not the warrior I used to be."

Nova nodded and responded, "Da, I can understand." Being poked and prodded by plenty of doctors and other scientists had left the young mutant with her own distaste for such treatment. But it was her experience that the medics among her comrades had an infinitely gentler touch, and a respect for their patients that she admired.

"I guess I should have Bella give me a once over, if she has time," continued Nova, noting the silence between them as slightly uncomfortable. Such was the risks of a touchy subject. Again, the Russian girl felt compelled to say something in an attempt to help. "Is just so you know...your concern is both ways. You are comrade. And a sestra. So...we should see medics. We can be there, for each other."

Gaia chuckled, placing a hand on the heavy shoulder pads of the girl's uniform. "C'mon little sister. Let's go find that doc of ours." Her hand patted gently. "You know you can count on me anytime, Nova."

"Will remember that, Gaia," answered the young mutant, "Same is for me. Shall we go together? Strength in Unity?"

Gaia laughed. "Call me Aura. And I can dig that just fine, little sestra."