The Mind's Eye

From the Story Arc: Pictures at an Exhibition

Previous Story in the Arc: Greek Tragedy V by Strela (Monday, July 17, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: The Strike by Strela (Monday, July 17, 2006)

(posted Monday, July 17, 2006)

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved. -Helen Keller

< Edvard Grieg: "Ingrid's Lament" Peer Gynt Suite #1 >

Strela sat alone on the bed in her quarters. She had just returned from the defeat of a group of Freakshow that had planned to stage a jailbreak for their leader from the Zig. Now the threat to the city from Clamor's sonic bombs was over and the rest of the CCCP and allies celebrated downstairs in the cafeteria. She had pleaded out of the celebration to shower and change into a t-shirt and shorts. There was a bitter taste in the young superheroine's mouth as she sat alone in the darkness of her room and replayed the events of two hours prior in her own mind.

Pictures at an Exhibition: The Mind's Eye

Strela raised a fist to signal her team to stop. The sound of metal grating on metal and the dull hum of electrical implants was close...perhaps only a room away, the blind superheroine considered. After her blinding by Clytemnestra, it seemed that her hearing had improved...but at a terrible price as her ruined eye sockets gave another familiar stab of pain. Crimson droplets leaked underneath the bandages as Strela inched along the wall until the tips of her fingers touched the roughness of a doorframe. The Freaks were inside, she considered-perhaps a dozen-and the low hum of a sonic bomb designed to collapse this office building.

Strela nocked her first flash arrow to the bow with the ease of years of practice in archery and intense rededication in the past month to learn the fletching patterns all over again. A deep breath to center herself then she moved across the door in a diving tumble, the arrow loosed to explode within, blinding and dazing the Freakshow. The pass of air on her skin signaled the rest of the team's entry, and soon the familiar sounds of battle washed over her as she used the doorframe as cover to support them with her specialty arrows.

The sound of metal on bone and a cry of pain from Mikhail as the Freak Tank's hammer arm caught him in the chest chilled Anna to the bone as the fight escalated. Frantically she fired arrow after arrow into the fight...trying something, anything to slow the Tank down as he rumbled forward to smash and kill her dazed comrade. One of the oil laden arrows found its mark...as friendly fire on the flaming skin of the team's tank. With a dull whoosh the room caught fire sending thick clouds of black smoke from the furniture and carpet as the office caught fire...

Anna sighed as she changed the bandages on her face. While everyone had said that it was not her fault and Mandragora had used a spell to put the flames out before the entire building burned to the ground, she knew better. Friendly fire was never acceptable and the fact was that Anna had panicked. She had lost control, had lost her awareness of the fight...had failed. The frustrating thing was there were moments in their struggle that she had almost managed to see what was going on, had almost risen to the level of accuracy and teamwork that she had been accustomed to...before that night.

Remembering the hole in her memories from that night brought another sigh of frustration. She remembered leaving her apartment...the last time she would /see/ her apartment ever, and the rest of the night was flashes of images and scraps of memory. The combination of the alcohol she had drunk at the charity auction's banquet, the head injury as she was attacked by Clytemnestra, and the brutal torture endured at the hands of the crazed Warrior had placed a lock on that part of Anna's life. All that she knew was that she had failed yet again.

Anna cried again as she cradled her head in her hands. Tears-not of salt and water but blood-from the holes in her face where her eyes were leaked to stain the sheets of her bed with yet another pattern of crimson and scarlet. Finally with a groan of pain and determination she felt her way to the door and locked it. She had been putting off this duty for too long and Comrade Murdock was right. She needed to move forward. Her shaking fingers found the Braille marking the play button on the recorder and she drew a deep breath as she punched it. For a long moment there was silence as she concentrated in mingled fear and determination to listen to the only source that could tell her how bad it was.

The warm and sympathetic voice of Belladonna Aura filled the room as Anna's friend and physician began to speak the recorded message. "Anna, this will not make easy hearing. I'm going to be as clinical as I can, but it doesn't make for easy reading either. These are not just words to me, they are outrages written in the spirit, flesh, and bone of my friend, comrade, my patient, and one whose safety I am personally responsible for. You /will/ overcome. We will help you as much as you personally desire..."

Meanwhile, half a world away, an old man was sorting through his mail. The full moon shone upon the rippling waters of the Volga River below the austere apartment of one of Russia's greatest living heroes from the Great Patriotic War. The springs in his wheelchair creaked as he reviewed the mail, tossing several in the trash unopened with a snort of disgust. Piercing blue eyes narrowed as he finally reached the official letter from the Commissariat of Defense. He slit the envelope with a letter opener made from the metal of an arrowhead. Next to it was a framed picture of him standing with a cane at the graveside of his only son. Holding his hand was the impish beauty of his only granddaughter, Anna Alexandrovna as she placed a single white lily upon the lead coffin of the second Strela, her father. Among the dignitaries in attendance was the entire Politburo, paying their respects to two Heroes of the Soviet Union, the one by the grave and the one in the coffin.

"Clytemnestra broke both your arms, but you should recover fully from that...."

Nikolai snorted as he began to read the letter. Those young pups, troubling him with news of his daughter getting injured. She was a soldier, as was he! Injury was part of doing your duty!

"..the damage from the rape has rendered you incapable of ever having children naturally, I'm so terribly sorry Anna..."

Nikolai snorted again. From the sounds of this letter, Anna was using it as an excuse to slack off. Certainly she was capable of dealing with this, especially since she was getting medical care in a /hospital/. Back in his day, you felt /lucky/ if the medical orderly had bandages, and wasn't blind drunk to boot!

"...Clytemnestra used some form of a curse on your eyes, Anna. We are exploring all possible avenues for you to regain your sight, but for right now you are blind. I am making arrangements for you to get the therapy you need to learn how to function without your sight, many people have lived long and successful lives while blind..."

Nikolai turned his wheelchair and rolled toward the phone. Clearly he needed to remind his granddaughter of where her duties lay. She had sworn to him that she would carry on the tradition, and he had done his best to train her to carry on the mantle. If that silly girl thought that she could laze around and draw pictures for her friends while there was work to be done she had another thing coming!

The ringing of her phone drowned Anna's numb reverie out. Belladonna's voice still spoke sadly and softly, but Anna didn't register the sounds of English in her ears. Her fumbling hands brushed aside her communicator, medicomm harness and other debris from her desk until it reached the smooth plastic of the telephone.

'Anna?'

"Grandfather, it is good to hear your voice! How are you doing?" Anna responded joyfully.

'Silly girl, why are you slacking off! You know your duty, now /do it/ girl! The Rodina Has invested much time and effort in your training. The eyes of the Party and People of the USSR are upon you Lieutenant Alexandrovna! Worse yet, you are shaming us in front of the /Americans/! I am wondering if it was a mistake to push for you to take up the mantle of Strela if some minor injuries cause you to laze about!'

Anna froze in shock. Her Grandfather had been hard but fair in pushing her in her training. He /knew/ how determined she was to carry on the mantle...and he must have been informed of the extent of her injuries. Her fingers tightened on the plastic of the phone, causing a spiderweb of cracks to appear as Nikolai continued in his booming voice.

'Your father would be ashamed of that weak little girl he brought into the world! What would he say if he knew that a /chipped nail/ caused you to slack off on defending the Rodina?!?'

The line went dead.

In Stalingrad, Nikolai lowered the phone. The mention of her father had always been his trump card in his motivation of her, not that Anna really needed it. He smiled with pride as he remembered her boarding the plane to go to America to show those weak decadent capitalists the pride of Mother Russia. Now to let her stew for a day or so then call again and listen to her as she told him how she was redoubling her efforts. She was truly a good granddaughter, just needed a push when she backslid, not that she ever truly really did that. His eyes softened as he saw the pencil sketch that she had drawn of 'Grandpa' in his Strela costume standing on the banks of the Volga, the city laid below him. She would make a great Strela, he just knew it...not that he would ever tell her because of the problems it would create

The only sound in Anna's room was the sound of plastic cracking and shattering. Then there were footsteps in a wild desperate flight, a fumbling at the latch and the clank of metal on metal as instinctive reflex grabbed her bow from the ready rack by the door. The owner of the bow never even noticed its' familiar weight as she fled through the darkness in her vision, through the darkness of her mind....

< Wagner: "Funeral March" Gotterdammerung >

To Be Continued...