Without and Within

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

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

(posted Tuesday, March 14, 2006)

Nova Requiem blinked groggily and moved her head around, trying to get her bearings. It wasn't easy, saying as how it felt as if someone had filled her head with sand and had been using her chest as a stepladder. There were, however, two things that registered through the haze: The walls around her, white and sterile in the bright light, that seemed distantly familiar, and the soft angular face of Social Medicine looking at the girl approvingly.

"< How are you feeling, Nova ban? >" asked Thanh Ha, looking between the young mutant and a handheld medical scanner.

Nova rested her head on the pillow beneath her and tried to swallow, but there was no moisture to do it with. "Little thirsty," she managed to croak.

Thanh Ha nodded and poured some water into a plastic cup from the waiting pitcher, holding it out for the girl. Nova lifted her arm to take the cup, but even that simple action proved to be too strenuous and her hand dropped to her side. The Vietnamese medic didn't hesitate in bringing the cup to Nova's lips and tilting it for her to drink. Nova managed to get a few sips of the ice-cold water down, just enough to wash away the dusty feeling in her throat.

"Spasibo, comrade," whispered Nova, closing here eyes sinking back down again. She snapped them open again as realization crept in and stared at Social Medicine incredulously.

Thanh Ha's cheeks raised behind her translator, giving the girl a small smile. "< Is side-effect of inhibitor drug used with the sedative for operation, >" she explained. "< As you metabolizing, your skill will return. >"

Nova blinked in wonder. She had never heard of such a thing as an inhibitor drug. So there actually was something out there that could suppress her gift, maybe even making it possible to...

Social Medicine recognized the look on the young mutant's face and shook her head. "< It would nyet work in such manner, Nova ban, >" explained the medic. "< The amount of the drug needed to suppress power in order to operate would leave nguoi ban bedridden. If had just been sedative, you would have been awake same afternoon and been on way next day. As was, you were out for three. >"

The young mutant tried to think back past the blackness, only to get images and flashes of the events. Staving off the sabotage of the city's reactor. Stumbling back to headquarters with Gaia's Soldier to see a medic. Going back out into the city to gather parts for some strange device, and once again, the feelings of satisfaction that her friends and comrades came to her aid to do so.

"So, the device I brought back... is inside me now?" asked Nova.

Thanh Ha nodded and replied, "< Nguoi ban are not first to be getting Smythe 032 implanted. Yet yours is pulling twice duty right now, thanks to certain modifications by comrades. >" The Vietnamese medic tapped Nova's gown-covered chest. "< Not only is regulating mutant power, is also filtering massive dose of radiation from reactor. >"

Nova swallowed hard again, prompting Social Medicine to help her with another drink. The Russian girl had grown up instilled with a healthy fear of radiation, and rightly so. Being at the core of a massive reactor for so long, even with protective shielding in place, it was inevitable. But that's why Nova had really gone in the first place. Now only time would tell what the results would be.

She took a longer drink this time, and asked, "The radiation... what has it done?"

"< Patience, Nova ban, > said the medic, gently pushing the young mutant back down onto the bed. "< Tests have only just being run. Time needed to tell what true results are, nguoi ban. Give chance for Smythe's machine to work. >"

Nova let out a tired sigh, blinking in surprise as the examination bed vibrated. It seemed to catch Social Medicine off guard as well, but both women knew that it meant that the inhibiting medication was beginning to wear off. "< Well, nguoi ban, is seeming metabolism is be returning to normal heightened state. >" commented Thanh Ha. "< Combined with implant, ban should be back on feet in little time. For now, please, rest. Are you wanting more of sedative? >"

Nova shook her head. Despite the fact that her gift was returning, she still felt drained and ready to return to sleep. Social Medicine accepted this and pulled the white cover over the girl and tucked it under her arms. Nova smiled gratefully and sank back into the pillow. She quickly drifted into sleep, dreaming of a hopeful future.

Nataliya ran the treadmill at an even, normal pace, even though the XR-71 "Thunderbird" had been specifically designed for dealing with supersonic speeds. It had been two weeks since her surgery, but Tasha wasn't going to take any chances. The road to a full recovery was a long one and best taken at a comfortable pace.

Kris Hoyt watched on, having been asked by Tasha specifically to be her personal trainer. The stone-skinned woman watched on approvingly, keeping an eye on both the machine and the girl on it. Tasha's breathing was rhythmic and steady, a good sign that everything was as it should be. Still, there were questions.

"You're doing great, Nataliya," said Kris, "A nice pace you've got there. Any urges to pump it up?"

Tasha jogged along, taking in a deep lungful of air so as to maintain her rhythm before answering, "Nyet, not once. How long have I been running?"

Glancing at the chronometer, Kris answered, "Little over twelve minutes. Almost done, kid. You want to try going into the home stretch? Give it your all, but slow down the moment you feel any strain."

The young mutant nodded, and put on just a little more speed. It felt good, for once. There was no need for release of building energy, anymore. Nataliya could still sense her gift, but it lay dormant once again with everything her body had been through. The uncontrollable drain of all that surrounded her was gone, as was the painful need to shunt that energy to others.

Despite all of that, there was still one more thing she needed to know. "Kris, was wondering... Am needing to know if gift is truly under control."

The trainer lifted her brow skeptically and replied, "That all depends, Nataliya. You gonna leave me feeling weak as a newborn and running through molasses like you did last time?"

"Will not be touching you at all, Kris," answered Tasha, quickly shaking her head, "Just want to see about proximity."

Kris stared at the Russian girl for a moment, her arms crossed. "What do you want me to do?"

"Just step... little closer..." said Tasha, her breath becoming a little more ragged with exertion. The increased speed was starting to take a small toll, and the young mutant hadn't actually siphoned any energy since that day now weeks past in the reactor. There was precious little in her 'reserves' to enhance her momentum.

The trainer apprehensively took a step forward, keeping her eyes on the girl. Tasha continued her run and held out the palm of her hand mere inches away from the stony giantess' bare arm. At first, there was nothing. Then a slight tingling built up in her fingertips and spread to the rest of her hand. Chyort, thought Tasha, It's still there. How am I ever going to--

The thought was cut short by a sudden flare-up of energy and a metallic thumping in Tasha's chest. The young mutant staggered on the treadmill, but kept her feet. Kris jumped back with a yelp, justifiably cautious against whatever might happen next. The trainer's arm felt slightly numb from where Tasha's hand had been hovering over it, like she had lay on her side for a little too long. Disconcerting, but the feeling was fading fast and she felt no worse for it.

For Nataliya Novakovski, it was like a match to a gas burner. After the initial thump from the Smythe device there came a sudden rush that she had become so very familiar with. The energy flared from within, and Tasha put on a burst of speed that sent the numbers on the LCD speedometer flying upward. The two women let out a simultaneous laugh of triumph. The inner flame of Nova Requiem's power had been lit anew.

Tasha ran for a full three minutes after the timer went off, for once overjoyed by the feeling of her gift. As the rush faded and a healthy fatigue set in, the Russian girl stepped off the XR-71 feeling like a new person.

"Well I'll be," said Kris with a smirk, "You're positively glowing, Nataliya."

Nataliya grinned underneath her mouth guard and began toweling off. "Spasibo, Kris. Am feeling better than ever. Was just what I needed," she responded.

The trainer chortled and gestured towards the wall of mirrors. "I'm serious, kid. I mean you're glowing."

The young mutant shot Kris a curious look. Her gaze turned to the mirrors and Tasha dropped the towel in shock. There was indeed a blue-violet radiance about her, luminously coming from her skin itself. Tasha looked down at her arms, her mind racing. This is incredible! The device really does work. This must be some side effect of the filtering and control system. But how?

Tasha looked back to Kris, but from the expression on the ex-hero's face, she didn't have any answers either. With a smile dancing on her lips, she bade Kris farewell and headed off to the locker room.

Once again in her everyday clothes and protective gear in place, Nataliya hitched her duffel onto her shoulder and walked out into the bright early spring day, and just as radiant.

The glow has faded a bit, but seemed to be just as persistent as her mutant gift. As she thought about it, Tasha realized it wasn't really that bad a thing. Rather, a boost to her self-esteem. One more thing on the growing list of hurdles overcome.

The Russian girl took her time walking through her old haunt, a park tucked away in the corner of Atlas almost forgotten by the rest of the city. A cool breeze broke the heat of the direct sunlight quite nicely, and Nataliya felt at peace. Taking of one of her kinetic stabilization gloves, the young mutant ran her hand along the rough bark of oak tree. The familiar tingling sensation coursed through her arm and to the rest of her body.

Nataliya Novakovski smiled quietly. A balance had been found. She no longer feared her gift, or thought it a curse. The events of the last few weeks--indeed, the last few months--had shown her that these mutant powers could be controlled without diminishing that which made her a person. Her touch might still be dangerous, but she no longer had to fear proximity. And perhaps in time, even that could be brought under control. Her comrades and friends had shown her time and time again the wonders that this city of heroes contained, and that she was one of those.

With the thought firmly in her mind and heart, Nataliya went out to seek their company, confidant in mind and content in heart.