Nerves of Steel (Part 1)
A Whateley Academy Story
Nerves of Steel
Sacramento California, Wed Aug 8th, 2007
The TV was on the History Channel, and was currently playing a program about World War 2. It was an interesting show, or at least, it had been the first time I’d watched it. However, I’d seen the same show four times this week, including twice today, and could practically recite the entire thing from memory. I wanted to watch something else. Anything else. Unfortunately, the remote was on the coffee table, about five feet away, and was taunting me with its presence.
Since the remote was only a few feet away, it should have been easy to just get up and change the channel. However, it wasn’t that simple. Not for me. It wasn’t laziness that kept me from doing this, but something far worse. I would give anything…literally…to be able to get up and change the channel. To be able to turn the TV off and go outside to do some chores. ANYTHING. But for me, being able to pick up that remote, was about as likely as beating Champion in an arm wrestling contest.
My name is Nina Martinez, and I am a mutant. Some mutants have awesome and amazing powers, but I wasn’t one of them. Not anymore.
About three years ago, right after I’d turned thirteen, I manifested as a mutant. One day, I suddenly had powers, and could do things that I’d never imagined. I’d been so excited about that, and by the idea that I could become a superhero. Mom and Dad had even started talking about sending me to some school for mutants, where I could learn to use my new powers. Unfortunately, those dreams only lasted for two weeks before I went through a burnout, and my life turned into a living hell.
A burnout was a serious medical condition that some mutants had to deal with, where their bodies simply couldn’t handle the stress of their powers. It was serious enough, that a lot of people who went through a burnout, died as a result. They were the lucky ones.
My burnout had been a bad one, and I’d come extremely close to dying in the emergency room. I often wished that I had. Instead, I survived…if you could call it that. I might have survived, but my body had been severely damaged in the process, which burned out my awesome new powers, almost entirely. But even worse than that, was the fact that the burnout had also fried my nervous system, leaving me completely paralyzed.
For the last three years, I’ve been a prisoner of my own body, unable to do anything more than blink my eyes. I had oxygen tubes stuck up my nose, a feeding tube in my stomach, and I was even wearing a pair of diapers. I was a useless lump, who couldn’t even do something as simple as push a button on a TV remote. I was a horrific burden on my family.
I closed my eyes, since that was the only thing I could do to shut off that TV show, and silently screamed in frustration. Not a sound escaped my lips, but it would have been a huge improvement if one had. Any sound, even a moan or groan, would have been a miracle.
With my eyes closed, I carefully paid attention to the sounds of the house. Since I couldn’t turn my head to look around, and couldn’t even feel my own body, I’d learned to pay more attention to what I did have. I listened for anything that would tell me what was going on around me.
I heard a door being closed from upstairs, then the sound of someone coming down the stairs at a quick pace. That had to be my little sister Julia, who was ten old, and could barely remember when I hadn’t been like this. She was the only one who ran up and down the stairs like that. Unfortunately, she didn’t come over to talk to me…or change the channel. Sometimes, she’d sit beside me and read aloud, but it didn’t look like this was going to be one of those times.
Then, I suddenly caught a strong scent. It wasn’t one of the delicious smells that came from the kitchen, teasing and torturing me with ideas of food I could no longer eat. This was the smell of cologne, which had been applied a little too heavily. My brother Miguel was obviously trying to sneak up on me again. He seemed to think of it as a big joke.
“BOO,” Miguel suddenly exclaimed from behind me.
I rolled my eyes at that, then focused my thoughts and announced, “You got me again.”
Of course, I didn’t say anything aloud, since I wasn’t able to do that anymore. However, what I could do was project my thoughts. I was a low level, projective telepath, able to make other people hear my thoughts, as long as they were within five feet of me. This was the only thing left of my once amazing powers. My telepathy wasn’t very impressive at all, but it let me communicate with other people, and that was the important thing.
“Can you change the channel for me?” I asked Miguel. “Or better yet, turn the radio on instead…”
“Sure thing, sis,” Miguel responded with an evil grin. He turned off the TV, then turned on the radio…to a country station. “There you go.”
I would have turned to glare at Miguel, if I could. He knew good and well that I didn’t like old school country. I liked a lot of pop, and especially jazz, but definitely not country. The only thing worse, would have been polka.
“You’re an asshole,” I projected to Miguel, which only made him laugh. “Pendejo.”
Fortunately, Mom chose that moment to come into the room. She paused to look at us, then to the radio. She raised an eyebrow, knowing good and well that I wouldn’t have chosen this station.
“You,” Mom announced, fixing Miguel with a flat look. “Don’t you have studying to do?”
Miguel, who was big, strong, and not afraid of anything…immediately deflated. “I’m already done…”
Mom continued giving him the flat look. “Not if you want to get into a good college, you’ aren’t… Now shoo…” As soon as my brother was gone, Mom muttered, “That boy…” Then, she turned to me, and gave me a look of concern. “How are you feeling?” Mom was out of range, so even if I projected my answer to her, she wouldn’t have heard it. “Now, let’s put something educational on for you…”
With that, Mom turned off the radio, turned the TV back on to the History Channel, and left the room. I remained where I was, silently reciting every swear word and profanity I knew, and even making up a few new ones.
It was about an hour after this when the doorbell began to ring. I listened intently, because that was about the only thing I could do. Mom went to answer the door, and I could hear a little talking, but not enough to really make out what was going on. However, a couple minutes later, Mom came into the living where I was sitting, and she wasn’t alone.
The newcomer was a dark-haired man, in his late thirties or early forties. He had a short and scruffy looking beard, which looked like it might have grown, simply because he’d forgotten to shave for the last week or two. His clothes were a little rumpled, and didn’t quite seem to fit right, which added to the general impression of sloppiness.
“Hello,” the man exclaimed, giving me a nervous yet excited look. “You must be Nina…”
I glanced to Mom, not sure if I should tip my hand by talking to this stranger. I might have been completely and totally helpless, but some people disliked mutants enough that they’d even attack one like me.
“Mister Falkner wanted to talk to you, Nina,” Mom said, giving me a worried look. “He said… He said that he might be able to help you…”
I was a little startled at that, and more than a little skeptical. After my burnout, when we’d first learned that I was now paralyzed, Mom and Dad had taken me to a lot of doctors and so-called specialists. None had been able to do a thing for me. Over the last three years, I’d gotten my hopes up a number of times, only to have them smashed time and time again. I didn’t think that this would be any different.
Still, to be polite, I projected a cautious, “Hello.”
“I’m Gerald Falkner,” the man introduced himself politely, giving me a nervous smile. “I’m a mutant too. A devisor…”
“You’re a mutant?” Julia demanded from the doorway, giving Falkner a curious look.
Falkner smiled at that. “Yes I am. My power is to…invent things.”
“Oh,” Julia responded, sounding less than impressed. I couldn’t see her from where I was positioned, but I could imagine the disappointed look on her face. And even though I couldn’t read minds anymore, I knew my sister well enough to know that she was thinking, “Lame.”
Falkner didn’t seem bothered by Julia’s lack of enthusiasm, and continued his explanation. “I’ve developed a process, using cybernetic implants, to repair damage to a person’s nerves and spine.”
“And you want to use me as a guinea pig?” I asked, projecting my suspicion and skepticism.
Mom immediately asked, “Is this dangerous?” And though she didn’t say so aloud, I was pretty sure she was also questioning how expensive that kind of treatment would be. Our insurance didn’t exactly cover a lot of experimental treatments, and my family had already gone deep in debt while trying to fix me. All for nothing.
Falkner gave me a gentle smile, one that seemed both sympathetic and reassuring. “My implants have already been tested on a human subject,” he carefully said, looking my mom in the eyes. “And the results were a complete success.”
“How many test subjects?” Mom asked.
“Just one,” Falkner admitted, looking a little chagrinned at first. Then he grinned and added, “And you’re looking at him.”
“You used it on yourself?” Mom asked, giving Falkner a surprised look.
“Yes,” Falkner agreed, looking both proud and self-conscious at the same time. “About twelve years ago, I was in an accident that damaged my spine and left me paralyzed from the waist down. Obviously, I began researching ways to repair spine and nerve damage, for purely personal reasons. But regardless of my original motivations, I have succeeded…” He moved his feet around, even doing a brief but awkward dance, to prove that he could move.
“That’s…impressive,” Mom said, now staring at Falkner with greater interest.
I stared at him as well, as much as I could from my position. Could he really do it? Could he really fix me? I felt a stirring of hope, which was something I hadn’t let myself feel for a long time. Not since the sixth ‘expert’ had been unable to do anything for me.
“After repairing my own damaged spine,” Falkner said, gesturing down at his legs, “I continued to refine and expand on my technology, and then, I began looking for someone I could test it on.” He looked Mom in the eyes and stated, “Nina’s name came up during my research, and I believe that she’d be the perfect subject.”
“Why Nina?” Mom asked, putting a gentle hand on my shoulder, though I couldn’t feel it. “Surely there are other people, who’d be easier to fix…”
“Yes, there are,” Falkner admitted. “Nina’s situation is much more severe than my own had been. From what I’ve heard about her condition, the damage to her spine and nervous system is quite extensive, far worse than what I suffered. That is why I believe Nina is the perfect person for this treatment. If I can repair her damage, then I’ll prove just how effective my technology is. If I can repair Nina…then I can fix anyone with this kind of injury.”
Mom stared at Falkner, then asked, “How dangerous…”
“Please,” I projected out in desperation. “I have to try…”
I didn’t care how dangerous it was…or how much it would cost. The only thing that I cared about, was that I finally had a chance to get fixed. I finally had a chance to escape this prison…this hell my life had become. If there was even a chance that this would work, then I had to take it.
Mom stared at me for several long seconds, the pity and concern clearly visible in her eyes. She finally took a deep breath, and asked, “How is this going to work?”
Madison Wisconsin, Thurs Aug 30th, 2007
My eyes were closed as I focused all my attention on the music that was playing a short distance away. Shirley Horn was really belting out that song, sounding absolutely amazing. If I’d been able to, I probably would have danced along with the music, but since I couldn’t, I simply gave it my silent appreciation.
I’ve always wished that I could sing like that, but it wasn’t going to happen, and not just because I was paralyzed. Even before my burnout, my singing voice hadn’t exactly been anything to brag about. In fact, I’d once kept a tally of how many times people told me to shut up and stop singing, though admittedly, almost all of those tallies had come from Miguel.
Just then, a woman’s voice called out my name. “Nina…” I opened my eyes in surprise, realizing that my name had been called several times and I’d been too distracted to really notice. “Are you awake?”
There was a glass wall, less than two feet in front of my face, which was no surprise since I was inside a giant fish tank. My body floated in a slimy goo, that went all the way up to my chin. It was only a harness which held me in place, which kept me from sinking down into it and drowning. As it was, whenever I did go down, it was intentional, and I had a breather mask on.
When I’d first come to Falkner’s lab, three weeks ago, I’d spent my first two days going through a lot of testing. That meant, a lot of blood had been taken, and I’d spent hours inside several MRI machines. That had all been extremely boring, but I was used to that. However, it was when Falkner had finished with the testing, that the scary part happened.
Falkner brought out a bunch of giant needles, which would have made me run away at the very sight of them, if I’d been able. Fortunately, I couldn’t feel pain anymore, because he stuck those monster needles, all the way into my bones, especially into some of my vertebrae…and left them there. Every one of those needles was connected to a tube or cable, which made me feel like I was some kind of puppet or marionette. And then, I’d been dumped into the fish tank, with all those needles and tubes, still plugged into me.
While this was going on, Falkner explained what he was doing, though it was almost entirely in technobabble, so I couldn’t really understand most of what he said. He used words like nanotech, techno-organic implants, and a few others, which I was sure he’d made up himself.
From what I understood, Falkner planted ‘techno-organic seeds’ in my body, which were supposed to grow into the implants. Falkner told me that growing the implants in place, made each of them a perfect fit, and specifically matched them to my system. Of course, he also said a bunch of other things that went over my head, but he seemed confident that this would fix me, and that was the important thing.
After a moment of gathering my thoughts, I turned my attention to the woman on the other side of the glass. Mary Albright was a slender woman with dark blonde hair, who was in her late twenties. She was also a nurse, who was here to look after me. My parents never would have let me go off alone with Falkner, even if it was to get a cure, if he hadn’t promised a private nurse, who would look after me around the clock.
“How do you feel, Nina?” Mary asked with a cheerful smile.
“I feel like one of those heads in a jar on Futurama,” I answered telepathically.
Mary nodded at that. “Hopefully, you won’t feel like that for much longer. Doctor Falkner will have you fixed up in no time.”
“I’m not technically a doctor,” Falkner announced as he came over. “A brilliant devisor, yes, but I never earned a medical degree.”
“You probably shouldn’t have told her that,” Mary said, giving Falkner a flat look. “You’ll make her nervous.”
“Nonsense,” Falkner responded with a grin. “Doctors are limited by accepted medical knowledge and practices, where I am not. I am able to think outside the box, and therefore, am able to find a solution where traditional medical science has failed.”
Mary gave Falkner an amused look and said, “Now you’re sounding like a mad scientist.”
“Nonsense,” Falkner said again, looking quite amused. “I’m generally a rather cheerful scientist.” Then, he looked through the glass at me and added, “And I think that you’re going to be quite happy with this next step.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
Falkner held up a finger. “Phase one was to implant the seeds, which grew into the cybernetic nodes. Phase two was to direct the techno-organic…infection…to spread from the nodes, into the rest of your nervous system. For the last week, this has been replacing most of your spine and nerves, and now, you’re ready for phase three.” He held up three fingers.
“Phase three?” I asked, curious, nervous, and excited, all at the same time.
“Phase three,” Falkner told me with an eager smile, “is to flip the switch and turn on your new nervous system.”
If I’d been capable of letting out a gasp of surprise, or jumping up in delight, I would have done so in an instant. Instead, I made do with giving a silent cheer, and then trying to watch Falkner, though he moved out of my range of vision.
I couldn’t see what Falkner was doing, but suddenly, I felt a strange tingling that quickly spread. I could feel it running down my spine, through my arms, and then all the way down my toes. At first, I was completely overwhelmed by these new sensations, but then, I realized what they meant, and began to cry tears of joy. For the first time in three years, I could feel my body.
Madison Wisconsin, Fri Aug 31st, 2007
Yesterday, Falkner had turned on my new nervous system, so for the first time in three years, I could FEEL things. I could feel my body. I could feel the slimy liquid that I was still floating in.
After Falkner had started phase three, he’d left me in the tank overnight, so he could continue to monitor my progress and make sure that nothing had gone wrong. But now, he was about to take me out of the tank, and I was excited.
“Will I be able to play the piano?” I asked telepathically, feeling giddy from what was happening.
“I don’t see why not,” Falkner responded with a smile. “You should regain full mobility.”
“All right,” I responded, with a mental grin, since I still didn’t have the control to give a real one. Still, my mouth twitched a bit, which was a LOT more than I was able to do twenty-four hours ago. “I couldn’t play before, so that will be new.”
A minute later, Falkner began the process of lifting me out of the tank. I had a harness wrapped around my body, which was really uncomfortable as the machine it was connected to, pulled me up out of the goo. I savored that sensation, since even physical discomfort, was something I hadn’t felt in so long.
While I was held up in the air, suspended above the tank, Falkner used a ladder to get up and pull all the tubes from my body. Once that was done, he used the machine and harness, to slowly lower me into a wheelchair that was waiting below. Mary was immediately there, removing the harness and wrapping me up in a blanket.
“Now, to get you into the shower to get this cleaned off,” Mary announced.
“That sounds great,” I projected to her, already thinking of the hot water. I was SO looking forward to having a hot shower, or soaking in a hot bath. Hell, I’d be thrilled to even experience a cold shower.
I began bouncing with excitement, at least, as much as I was able. That meant twitching my fingers and toes, which was a novelty for me. I couldn’t wait until I could do even more.
“This afternoon,” Mary told me with a reassuring smile, “we’ll begin your rehabilitation, so you can learn how to control your body again…”
“That will be necessary,” Falkner said as he came over and looked me over with a proud smile. “I had to go through it myself.” He tapped the side of his leg, to remind me that he’d been through a less extreme version of the same process I had. “And your muscles have atrophied from lack of use, so those will need to be built back up too.”
“Come on,” Mary told me as she began pushing the chair. “Let’s get to that shower…”
Just then, Falkner’s cell phone began to ring. He picked it up, and a moment later, his cheerful expression turned to one of worry.
“Are you okay?” I asked, though Falkner was out of my telepathic range. But to my surprise, he seemed to have heard me anyway.
“It’s…the bank,” Falkner explained with a forced smile. “I’m a little late on one of my payments, so we just need to work out a few details…”
With that, Falkner turned back to his call, while Mary pushed me out of the lab. My thoughts were already turning to the hot shower, which I was really looking forward to, and this time, even managed a faint smile.
Madison Wisconsin, Sunday Sept 2nd, 2007
I stared at the table in front of me, feeling like I was a little girl again. Of course, that was because the table was covered with toys for toddlers, such old school wooden blocks, and a contraption where you could try putting a square peg into a round hole.
“Great job,” Mary announced, after I’d successfully stacked five blocks, one on top of another. “You’re making amazing progress.”
“Thanks,” I projected to her, trying to push aside my impatience, since I didn’t want to play with little kid toys. I wanted to get up and walk around, but Mary, who was my physical therapist as well as my nurse, insisted that I focus on this.
“Use your words,” Mary told me.
With a roll of my eyes, I repeated, “Thank you,” this time doing so aloud.
It felt a little strange to talk again, not to mention a little awkward. Because of that, I had to go slow, and speak carefully, until I could get used to this. As it was, it was easier to simply project my thoughts into her head, though I really wanted to get back to talking normally again, so I tried to keep practicing.
“Your control and hand-eye coordination are improving at an amazing rate,” Mary encouraged me with a smile. “From total paralysis to this, in just a couple days…”
“Falkner is amazing,” I said excitedly. “Nobody else could do anything at all…”
Of course, I knew that there were other devisors out there, and magic users who probably could have fixed me too. However, none of them had done the job. Falkner was the only one who had both the ability and the willingness to help me, and I would never forget that. I owed him so much.
“I can’t wait to smack Miguel upside the head,” I announced with a grin.
“Why would you want to do that?” Mary asked me in surprise.
“I have lots of reasons,” I answered her with a smirk. A real, honest to God smirk. “A whole list of them.”
Mary chuckled at that, then asked, “So, you’re Mexican…?”
This kind of question could have been offensive, depending on how it was asked, but I knew that Mary didn’t mean anything by it. She just wanted to keep me talking, to give me practice at actually speaking aloud again, and she thought that asking me about my family might encourage me to talk more.
“My grandpa was Mexican,” I answered cheerfully. “Dad was born in NEW Mexico, which makes him American.” I paused for a moment before adding, “And I was born in Sacramento.”
“Really?” Mary asked, pretending a little more interest than she actually felt. “And what does that make you?”
“Totally awesome,” I responded with a broad grin.
Mary chuckled at that, giving me an amused look. “And what about your mother’s family?”
“Her dad was Scottish,” I answered cheerfully, “and her mom was Brazilian.”
“Scottish and Brazilian?” Mary repeated with a look of amusement. “That sounds like a rather passionate mix.”
I grinned at that. “Yep. Dad says that with her temper, she should be a red-head.”
After another minute of talking, Mary announced, “Okay, Nina. Let’s do a few exercises to help with your muscle tone…”
“Sounds good to me,” I responded, gesturing to the wheelchair I was sitting in. “You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to getting out of this thing.”
“At the rate you’re improving,” Mary told me, “I suspect that it won’t be long…”
“Not at all,” Falkner agreed as he walked into the room. He looked me over and gave me a broad smile. “How are you ladies doing?”
“I’m doing great,” I answered, matching that with a grin. I LOVED grinning…or at least…being able to grin.
“She’s making amazing progress,” Mary told him.
Falkner nodded, not looking the least bit surprised. “I was walking again, less than a week after my procedure. Admittedly, my situation wasn’t nearly as extreme, but I doubt it will take Nina much longer.”
“That’s…impressive,” Mary admitted.
“There are…side benefits of the process,” Falkner explained, looking rather smug. “The techno-organic infection not only replaces the damaged nervous system, but also integrates with the body’s immune system.”
“What?” Mary asked in surprise. “Why?”
“Primarily,” Falkner told her, “to keep the immune system from fighting the implants and attempting to reject them. This way, the immune system sees the implants and techno-organic infection, as belonging.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Mary responded thoughtfully.
Falkner looked quite pleased with himself as he continued. “One of the benefits of this, is that Nina’s immune system and healing should be much more efficient than normal. In fact, I estimate that she would probably qualify as a regenerator one now…perhaps even a regenerator two. Either way, her muscle tone and general health should improve quite rapidly.”
“Awesome,” I exclaimed, staring at Falkner for a moment, then down at myself. “Does this mean I’ll get other powers too? I mean, like super strength, or super speed? I mean, stuff like what the Bionic Woman can do…”
Falkner laughed at that. “I’m afraid not,” he told me, still chuckling. “While you are a cyborg now, a fusion of cybernetics and organics, your implants were designed to replace your damaged nervous system, not give you other powers. The only power they were meant to give you, is the power to tie your own shoes.”
I nodded enthusiastically at that. “You don’t know how amazing that power is, until you don’t have it.”
“I can imagine,” Falkner said, his expression turning serious as he absently felt one of his legs.
Of course, Falkner might not have mentioned it, but we both knew that his implants had given me powers. Or more accurately, my old powers, which I thought had been lost for good, were slowly returning.
My telepathic range had tripled, so that I could now reach fifteen feet, which was about what my range had been before the burnout. And along with being able to project my thoughts, I was now starting to hear them again. The rest of my powers were starting to come back too, though I wasn’t nearly as excited by all that, as I was by simply being able to move.
Though I was trying not to listen to Falkner and Mary’s thoughts, some of them still slipped through. I suddenly got one from Falkner, where he was thinking about the money he’d borrowed for his lab and research, and how he was worried about being able to pay it back.
“Why did I have to borrow the money from HER?” Falkner thought to himself. “I should have known better than to borrow money from a supervillain…”
That thought suddenly caught my attention, and wanted to ask him what he meant, but I was embarrassed about eavesdropping on his thoughts, even if I hadn’t meant to. Was there a good way to bring up the subject? Or, should I keep it to myself and pretend that I hadn’t heard anything? After all, it wasn’t really any of my business. However, I liked Falkner, and I owed him more than I could ever repay. If he was in trouble, then I wanted to help him.
Before I could think of what to do or say, Mary grabbed my chair and began pushing me away. “Come on, Nina,” she told me cheerfully. “Let’s get you a good workout, and see what we can do to get you on your own two feet as soon as possible.”
“All right,” I exclaimed, lifting my legs and shaking them about in excitement. “The sooner I can get out of this chair, the better…”
Madison Wisconsin, Tues Sept 4th, 2007
“Just three more steps,” Mary told me.
I nodded at that, and bit my lip, but didn’t answer aloud. Instead, I focused on what I was doing, keeping my hands on the support bars on both sides of me, and moving my feet. I took one shaky step, then a second, and finally, I reached the end of the bars and was able drop down into the chair that was waiting for me.
For the last couple hours, I’d been learning to walk all over again. I felt like a toddler, who kept falling flat on her face if she didn’t have something to grab onto, but I was walking. I was tired from all the practice, but I grinned with excitement anyway.
“How soon before I can run a marathon?” I asked.
Before my burnout, I’d never been interested in running, but not being able to move at all, changes your perspective. Now that I was able to get up and move again, I couldn’t stand the idea of just sitting on a couch and watching TV all day. I’d done that kind of thing for three years straight, and was more than through with it. I wanted to get out and do something. I wanted to walk. I wanted to run. I wanted to savor the freedom of simply being able to move. That was something that I would never take for granted again.
“I don’t know about marathons,” Mary answered with an amused smile. “But you should be walking completely on your own again, in no time at all. You just need to build up a little more strength, and balance.”
“Practice, practice, practice,” I said, repeating something that Mary had told me on several occasions. Apparently, that was what I needed to not only build up my strength again, but also my balance and control. “There is something else I could practice too…”
With that, I took a deep breath and focused my attention. A moment later, I floated up right out of my chair, and simply hovered in mid-air. Then, I grinned at Mary.
“Very impressive,” Mary told me with a smile. “But you still need to work on your physical rehabilitation.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, sticking my tongue out at her. “But it’s cool being able to do this again…”
Though I’d only had my powers for a couple weeks before my burnout, I’d still missed them once they were gone. Of course, I missed simply being able to move and talk even more, but it still bothered me to have been given these awesome powers…and then to lose them before I could even do anything with them. But now, they were back. All my powers seemed to have returned.
Along with my telepathy, I also had what they called short range telekinesis, with a PK shell. Since I’d never gone through any power testing, I wasn’t really sure what I was truly capable of, but the specialists who’d come to check me out after my burnout, had some ideas. They’d all said that because I couldn’t use my telepathy and telekinesis at the same time, that I was probably some kind of package deal psychic. But because I’d never shown any kind of clairvoyant power too, that my powers might be incomplete, broken, or just not fully manifested yet.
“I can’t wait to get some real power testing,” I told Mary. “I mean, I can do this really cool stuff, but I don’t really know how it all works.”
“Then you can get an MID too,” Mary pointed out. “Have you thought about what codename you’ll use?”
“Not really,” I said. I hadn’t thought about it, at least not recently. Before my burnout, though, I’d come up with a whole list of codenames to consider. Now that I think back on them, some of them were actually pretty lame.
“How about Psyber?” Falkner asked as he stepped into the room. “You have psychic powers…and cybernetics.”
I gave Falkner a look of surprise since I hadn’t even realized that he was there. “I guess that makes sense,” I said, slowly lowering myself back into my chair and then turning off my PK shell. “And it sounds kind of cool…”
However, Mary just gave Falkner a wry look. “Do you just stand around near doorways, listening in until you hear an opening for a dramatic entrance?”
Falkner gave a look of mock surprise. “How on Earth did you guess?” Then he gave me a wink and a grin, adding, “I just love a good dramatic entrance.”
I laughed at that. “Well, you are good at them…”
“Thank you,” Falkner responded, holding out a tablet and announcing, “Just a moment while I status your implants…” He stood there for a minute, staring at his tablet and making a few ‘thinking’ noises, like ‘hmmmmm’ and ‘ahhhh’, before announcing, “Everything looks great.”
“Why don’t you go take a break,” Mary told me. “We’ll get back to work in about two hours.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said, using the little electric control on my wheelchair to back up and roll towards the door. This was a LOT more freedom than I ever thought I’d have again, and soon, I wouldn’t even need this. Soon, I’d be able to walk entirely under my own power. I couldn’t wait.
A minute later, I arrived at my room, and not the one with the fish tank. This was a small, but otherwise normal room, which could have fit right in at a cheap motel. This was where I’d stayed during my first two days, before I got put into the tank, and where I’d been staying again once I got out. I had intended to get on the bed and take a nap, but instead, I found myself going to the attached bathroom. I didn’t actually have to go to the bathroom, since I’d relieved myself right before Mary and I had begun our last session, but there was something else I needed to do.
I wanted to check my appearance and neaten up, to make sure I looked my best for Falkner. Sure, that might be a little vain, especially considering my situation, but a girl still wants to look her best. Okay, so I was developing a little bit of a crush on him. Who could blame me? He was totally amazing.
With a little effort, and some help from my powers, I was able to get out of the chair and stand in front of the sink. My legs were still weak and wobbly, so I had to use the sink itself for support. Still, I managed to do it, and wondered if Mary would count this towards my therapy. Only after I’d done this, did I actually look into the mirror.
“Ugh,” I said, not exactly thrilled with my reflection.
I was a super cute Latina girl, with naturally tanned skin. That was a good thing, because I’d been in the sunlight so little in the last couple years, that I might as well have been a vampire. Some mutants had odd-colored or unique eyes, but not me. My eyes were the same dark brown that they’d been before I manifested. Admittedly, they were a little boring that way.
And then, there was my hair. My hair was dark, and used to be so long, that it almost went down to my butt. I’d been really proud of it too. But after my burnout, Mom had cut my hair short, keeping it as a pixie cut since it was easy for her to take care of…and since I didn’t really have anyone to show off for. It had been about two months now since the last time my hair had been cut, so it had grown out a bit, and in the back, it nearly touched my shoulders again.
All in all, I supposed that I didn’t look so bad, at least not considering my situation. I was still cute, though I could definitely use a new haircut and some makeup. Maybe even some earrings to accessorize.
Strange, though it shouldn’t have been, was the fact that my body was taller than what I was used to. I’d grown a few inches during the last three years, and I’d filled out. However, I hadn’t been in any position to really appreciate this fact until now. Even if I’d been able to suddenly move as well as I had before my burnout, I probably would have been clumsy and awkward anyway, just because I wasn’t familiar with my new proportions, which admitted, were pretty nice looking. I wasn’t some totally stacked chica, but I wasn’t about to be mistaken for a boy either.
Then, my eyes went down to my hands, which held the sides of the sink for support. Specifically, my eyes went to my lower arms, on the spot right before my wrists. On each arm, there was a round and rounded metal disk, about the size of a quarter, which grew right out of the skin. Each one was dark-gray, smooth, and glossy. These were the spots where Falkner and shoved those huge needles into the bones, and where he’d planted the techno-organic seeds. After he’d pulled the tubes out, the metal had grown right over the holes, sealing them up completely so that you’d never know they used to be there. These metal disks, were the only visible signs of those cybernetic nodes.
Of course, my lower arms weren’t the only place that Falkner had stuck me with those needles. I had cybernetic nodes, and those silver metal disks, in a number of places around my body, such as my shoulders, my hips, and my lower legs, near where my feet were. However, these were barely noticeable compared to my spine. My entire spine, from the base of my neck, all the way to my tail bone, seemed to be made from the same glossy dark-gray metal. Mary had shown me the implants in a mirror, and it almost looked like I had metal vertebrae, running down my entire back.
These pieces of metal, growing right out of my body, made me look a little bit like a freak, but I didn’t care. These metal pieces were the visible parts of my cybernetic nodes, the things that let me get up and move around. I wasn’t ashamed of them. I was proud. I was thankful. And there was no way that I’d ever give them up.
After a minute of looking myself over, I settled back into my chair and let out a sigh of relief. I might be eager to stand up and walk around on my own, but obviously, I wasn’t quite ready. At least not yet.
“I wonder if I can talk Mary into getting me some makeup,” I mused with a faint smirk. I wondered what Falkner would say, if he came in and saw me all dressed up and looking nice. Maybe once I was able to walk around on my own again. “Now that is some motivation to improve…as if I didn’t already have enough.”
For several long seconds, I let myself indulge in a little daydream about Gerald Falkner falling in love with me, but then I shook it off. Intellectually, I knew it was silly, since he was a lot older than me and would probably never see me like that. Still, a girl could dream, so I did.
With a sigh and a vague sense of guilt, I turned my attention back to reality. There was something that I should have done a couple days ago, but I’d been procrastinating out of nervousness. However, I couldn’t really put it off for any longer, and this was the perfect time.
I picked up the phone that Falkner had given me, and carefully entered the phone number. A few seconds later, a familiar voice answered, “Hello, this is the Martinez residence. Sophie speaking.”
“Hello, mama,” I said in a shaky voice that showed how nervous I was. “It’s me…Nina.”
There was a long pause before Mom carefully asked, “Nina? Is that really you?” Her voice was just as shaky as my own, and filled with emotion. This was the first time I’d spoken to her aloud since my burnout, and the first time she’d heard my voice in three years.
“Yeah, it’s really me,” I said, while tears began running down my cheeks. “Mister Falkner fixed me…”
Madison Wisconsin, Tues Sept 11th, 2007
I was short of breath as I ran on the treadmill, but I was also grinning enthusiastically. I hated running. Or at least, I had before my burnout. But a month ago, I’d been certain that I’d never be able to walk again, much less run, and that kind of thing could change a person’s perspective. Now, I actually loved being able to run.
“Okay, Nina,” Mary told me from a short distance away. “You can stop now…”
With that, I came to a stop, then leaned against the bar to catch both my breath and my balance. I might be able to run around now, but it was obvious that my speed and stamina still sucked. But what could you expect, after three years of atrophy. As it was, it was a miracle that I was able to do as well as I was.
“You’re really doing great,” Mary encouraged me. “I can’t believe how fast you’re recovering…”
“Yeah,” I responded with a grin. “This is awesome…”
I carefully got off the treadmill, which had already come to a complete stop, and simply jumped up and down for a few seconds. I laughed in delight of this simple action, then rubbed my legs, which were a little sore from the running.
Mary nodded agreement. “This afternoon, we’ll do a little light weight training, to help build your muscles back up.”
“But not too much,” I warned her. “I don’t want to get all big and muscly like a guy…”
“I don’t think that’s likely to happen,” Mary assured me with an amused smile. “At least, not without a serious regime, and a lot of supplements…”
Going to the gym and lifting weights was another thing that had never interested me before, but which I now kind of enjoyed, not that I’d admit it. I didn’t want to become a bodybuilder or anything like that, but I liked being able to exercise my muscles and actually DO something with them. It all made me feel so alive.
We’d been doing the light weight training, in one form or another, since I’d first begun to move again. A lot of it was minor resistance training, as I simply lifted my arms or legs, but over the last couple days, Mary had shifted over to actually having me lift weights…even if they were really small ones. I could actually see myself improving a little bit each day, and it was amazing. Before long, probably in just a couple more days, I’d be in just as good a shape as I’d been in before my burnout. Admittedly, I’d been a bit of a couch potato back then, so it wasn’t a high bar, but it was one I was looking forward to reaching…and exceeding. After what I’d been through, I was never going to be a couch potato again.
“Let’s take a little break for now,” Mary told me.
“All right,” I responded with a grin.
A moment later, I reached out with my telekinetic powers and grabbed my bottle of water from where I’d set it, and brought it over to me. My telekinesis seemed to be back at full strength, which still excited me. My range wasn’t really very impressive, but it hadn’t been before my burnout. I could only reach my telekinesis out about fifteen feet at the most, and at that range, I couldn’t lift anything very heavy. It was strongest close to my body, especially when I pulled my power in as far as I could, and formed a PK shell. Then, I could do some really cool things.
“I used to be super strong,” I bragged, though that wasn’t quite accurate.
“You’ve told me that before,” Mary pointed out, giving me an amused look as I floated up into the air. “Every time we work with the weights.”
“Being super strong was cool,” I responded defensively.
Before my burnout, when I used my PK shell, it made me really strong, though it didn’t seem to work quite the same way anymore. I could make my PK shell again, and use it to levitate around the room, but it didn’t let me pick up heavy stuff anymore, at least not easily. However, it seemed to make me even tougher than it used to, and harder to hurt. Falkner said that this was probably psychosomatic, and that I was subconsciously adjusting my PK shell to give me even more protection, but at the cost of my strength. I did kind of miss the strength, even though I only had it for a couple weeks, but that was okay. Just having my powers back at all was awesome.
Mary watched me float around the room, as though I was swimming through the air. She had a faint smile on her face, though she still called out, “Don’t stay up there too long. Your body won’t get any stronger if you spend all your time moving around like that.”
“I won’t,” I promised her, before gently settling myself back down to the floor.
There was some clapping from the far side of the room, where Falkner had been watching me. He held up his computer tablet, to remind me that it was time for another ‘system check’ as he put it.
“It looks like you’re coming along great,” Falkner told me with a proud smile. Then he became more serious as he asked, “So, have you noticed any pain, twitches, or latency in your movements?” These were the same questions he asked me several times a day.
“Nope,” I cheerfully responded. “Everything feels great… I’m totally bueno.”
“Good to hear,” Falkner told me, staring at his tablet, which somehow read my cybernetics. He nodded after a moment, looking satisfied. “You’re looking good. Your implants appear to be completely stable, and are working smoothly with the rest of your body. No signs of conflict or rejection at all.”
“That’s good to know,” I responded wryly.
The truth was, I was actually terrified that something would go wrong with my implants, and I’d end up paralyzed again. Fortunately, Falkner was keeping a close eye on them, and there hadn’t been any problems at all yet. This just proved how great he was.
Falkner stared at me for a few seconds with a thoughtful expression. “You know, the return of your powers wasn’t something that I intended…or expected. My guess is, now that your nervous system is able to handle the stress that your powers put on it, your powers are able to reemerge. Of course, I may be a mutant myself, but I’m no expert in mutant powers or how they work, so don’t take this as gospel.”
“So, it’s a good surprise,” I pointed out with a grin. “At least, good for me.”
With a chuckle, Falkner said, “I’m happy for you. “
“From what I know though,” Falkner mused aloud, continuing with a lot of technical terms I couldn’t really follow.
I switched over to my telepathy, hoping to pick up a better idea of what he was saying. However, I wasn’t really surprised when I couldn’t get much from him. Ever since he realized that I could read minds now, he’d been doing some kind of mental trick that made it hard for me to read his. I might have been able to push through it and read his anyway, but that would have been really rude, and I didn’t want to risk accidentally hurting him. After all, it wasn’t like I’d had any real training with my powers, just some trial and error.
Mary nodded along at first, then took advantage of the opportunity to slip away. However, I knew that she intended me to meet up with her again after lunch for the weight training, so I wasn’t worried, only annoyed that she wasn’t there to translate some of what Falkner was saying.
When Falkner finished talking, I did manage to catch a flickering surface thought, though I didn’t really need that to tell me he was worried. He was putting on a friendly smile, but it was obviously forced. I remembered his money problems, and the thought I’d overheard last week, about owing money to a supervillain.
“Are you all right?” I asked in concern.
“I’m fine,” Falkner assured me with another forced smile. “I’ve just got a few things on my mind.” Then, I heard his thought, “She’ll kill me.”
I nearly jumped at that. “You know, I can read minds,” I reminded him.
“Nina,” Falkner started, obviously not happy about that.
“I’m not trying to,” I quickly told him. “But I sometimes hear bits and pieces. Like something about you owing money…”
“Maybe she can help,” Falkner thought, before he quickly cut me off, using his mental trick again.
Pretending that I hadn’t heard that thought, I asked, “Can I do anything to help?”
“I’m afraid not,” he started, though the look that crossed his face told me he was lying. “I don’t want to get you involved in my troubles…”
“I’m already involved,” I pointed out, standing there with my hands on my hips, in the same way my mom did when she was facing down Miguel or my dad. It worked really well for her, because both of them always did what she wanted, whenever she gave them that look. I just hoped that it work half as well for me. “You used all this to fix me… I’m part of this now, and I want to help you the way you helped me…”
“I’m afraid that there’s nothing you can really do,” Falkner sad with a sigh. He gave me a sad smile. “Several years ago, I borrowed a large amount of money in order to build my lab and fund my research. I found out afterwards, that the person who loaned me the money is actually a supervillain…”
“Really?” I asked, pretending to be surprised by that bit.
Falkner nodded. “She left me alone for the most part, until a few weeks ago. Now, she’s calling in her loan, and wants all her money back…with interest.”
“How much?” I asked. When Falkner told me, my eyes went wide and I whistled. “Wow. That’s a lot…”
“Unfortunately,” Falkner admitted, “I’m unable to pay it back. At least not yet…”
He stared at me for a moment, and though he was hiding his thoughts, he wasn’t nearly as good about hiding his expression or body language. Falkner had something in mind, maybe a way to deal with his problem, and he didn’t want to tell me about it. Why?
I adjusted my position, making sure my hands were on my hips as I looked Falkner in the eyes. “And what aren’t you telling me?”
Instead of being intimidated by my power stance, Falkner seemed amused. “There is something you could do…in theory,” he admitted. His expression quickly turned serious though, and even a little worried. “I’d never even consider this if I wasn’t so desperate, but…” Then he paused to shake his head. “It’s too dangerous… I can’t do that to you…”
That immediately caught my attention. “What is it?” I demanded. “Please, I want to help you… You saved me from something a lot worse than death. If I can do anything to help you…ANYTHING…I will.”
Falkner winced, and I could see he still didn’t want to tell me, but I could also see how desperate he was. He’d been hiding it really well until now. Then, he collapsed into a nearby chair and let out a long sigh. Then, he stared out with a fearful look in his eyes.
“I don’t have the money to pay her back,” Falkner said with a sad shake of his head. “But maybe, I can give her something else she wants.”
“And what would a supervillain want?” I asked, before giving a weak smile and adding, “Unless she’s in a wheelchair or something…”
Falkner forced a faint chuckle at that. “Unfortunately, it won’t be that easy.” He scratched at his chin for a few seconds, then explained, “I’d also considered selling my services to several wealthy people with damaged spines. Your success proves that my process will work on others beside myself, however, there are other considerations. I’d have to find someone with the correct type of injury, one that I’d be capable of repairing. I’d have to convince them that my implants could solve their problems, and I’d have to get the payment. And while I can do all of this, it will take time. Time that I don’t have.”
“So…you just need to buy some time,” I said. “Can’t you just ask this villain to wait a couple more months?”
“She’s made it very clear that she won’t wait,” Falkner said. “I might get a couple weeks, but nothing more. Not unless I can convince her…”
I frowned at that. “And how do you do that?”
“Not easily,” Falkner admitted. “I think that since she’s a supervillain, the only thing I might possibly be able to offer her, that she’d want…besides the money…is information. Specifically, information on the superheroes who might come after her. If I can give her information on them…on their strengths, weaknesses, and so on, then she might take that as a down payment, and give me enough time to get the rest.”
For a moment, I just scratched my head, wondering where I came in on this. Then, it came to me. “You think I can read their minds and find out this stuff…”
“That is what I was thinking,” Falkner admitted, looking ashamed.
“I’ll do it,” I blurted out, which made Falkner stare at me in surprise. “You fixed me,” I said, trying to make him understand just how much that meant to me. “You gave me back my life, and I’ll do anything to pay you back. If you need me to spy on some superheroes, so that this loanshark supervillain doesn’t come after you, then I’m your girl.” Then before he could protest or argue, I insisted, “Now, who am I going to spy on?”
Milwaukee Wisconsin, Wed Sept 19th, 2007
I’d never been to Milwaukee before, and was a little nervous to be walking around a strange and unfamiliar city, all by myself. Falkner had given me directions for where to go, and I even had a map folded up in my purse, so I didn’t really have to worry about getting lost, so that helped a little.
While I looked around, gaping at the scenery like some kind of tourist, I reminded myself that I didn’t have anything to be worried about. After all, I had some totally awesome superpowers, that I could use to protect myself if anything went wrong. Of course, I’d never really been trained in using them, but I was trying hard not to think about that fact.
“I’m only going to spy on some superheroes,” I muttered with a roll of my eyes. “What could possibly go wrong?”
Then, it suddenly dawned on me that, not only was I getting mixed up with some supervillain loan shark, and a group of superheroes, but that this was also the first time I’d been on my own in three years. For the last three years, there had always been someone else looking after me, even if they were just a couple rooms away. This was the first time I’d had to rely on myself, in a very long time, and that scared me almost as much as what I was about to do.
However, I couldn’t allow myself to get cold feet now. Falkner was counting on me. And after everything he’d done for me, there was no way I was gonna let him down.
“I’m not some cobarde,” I announced, getting some odd looks in the process from a woman nearby. With that, I took a deep breath, mentally put my big girl panties on, and continued on my way.
A minute later, I reached my destination, right on time. I might not know the area very well, but there was no doubt that I was in the right place, because there was a small group of people standing out in the open, wearing brightly colored costumes. This was the Liberty League, the group of heroes I was going to spy on.
According to Falkner, the Liberty League was the local hero group, and the people who were most likely to cause trouble for the villain he’d borrowed money from. I wasn’t sure why he didn’t just ask them for help in dealing with this villain, other than that he didn’t seem to think they’d be able to protect him.
The Liberty League had been scheduled for some kind of publicity event here today, which was why I’d waited until now to try making contact with them. That, and the fact that I needed to finish up my physical therapy, before I was in any kind of condition to actually help Falkner.
I stood back and watched the heroes, remembering what Falkner had told me. Every once in awhile, they did this kind of event, where they showed up and signed autographs, just to stay on the good side of the local people…and governments. This is the kind of thing I would have expected of actors, rather than superheroes, but Falkner said that they had to keep everyone happy, just so they could do their real jobs more easily.
The heroes were too far away for me to read their minds, if I even could have done so with so many people present. So, I just continued to watch them, trying to remember what Falkner had told me.
Force Majeure was a black man, with a black and gray costume with some silver metallic trim. Falkner said that he was supposed to be some kind of avatar, which meant that he was possessed by some kind of spirit or something. And apparently, he was also the leader of the Liberty League, though he didn’t seem especially thrilled about being here since he had a serious and somewhat impatient expression, probably because he’d rather be doing something more important.
The Gentleman didn’t look much like a superhero, unless it was one from over a hundred years ago. He was wearing an extremely old–fashioned green suit, which included a long coat and a wide brimmed hat. And to top it off, he was using a gold metal cane. Falkner said he was some kind of magic user, so I briefly wondered if I could talk him into doing a trick for me. That would be really cool.
The woman who stood next to the Gentleman, didn’t look much like a superhero either. The Bronze Lady had a really old-fashioned dress, but she also had some leather belts and a lot of bronze bits all over her outfit. One look at her, and the odd weapons hung from her belt, was enough to guess that she was some kind of inventor with a steampunk obsession.
One of the heroes was definitely enjoying this whole PR thing more than the others. Adonis was a huge guy, six and a half feet tall and bulging with muscles. He was also really handsome, which was probably a requirement for that codename, and he was surrounded by women who’d obviously noticed that fact.
“Wow,” I gasped, wondering if this was how I could get in with those heroes. If I went over and started to hang out with Adonis… Then with a sigh, I had to remind myself, “If he wasn’t like, way too old for me.”
The last of the superheroes present was an Asian woman with a black and gold costume. Falkner told me that this would be Twist, the newest member of the Liberty League, and the one he knew the least about. In fact, he’d told me to learn as much about her as I could, since that information would probably be the most valuable to the villain.
I knew that I had to find a way to get close to these heroes so I could spy on them, but I wasn’t sure how. I felt guilty for what I was planning, and was tempted to turn around and walk away. However, I kept reminding myself why I was going to do this.
“I just have to get close and start reading their minds,” I told myself. “You can do this. You have to do this.”
After taking a deep breath, I finally moved closer. I went towards Twist, who looked a little uncomfortable with the attention. She was surrounded by people who were curious about her, so I didn’t get much attention as I approached.
When I was close to Twist, I was surprised and a little confused, to realize that I wasn’t really hearing her thoughts. I could hear the thoughts of everyone else around me, even if it was all too loud, and too much of a mess to make much sense of, but all I got from the hero was static.
Since I couldn’t get anything from Twist, I went towards Adonis, hoping that I could get something from him…and maybe get a better look at his muscles while I was at it. I wasn’t normally a girl who was that into big muscles, but wow, Adonis really lived up to his name. Unfortunately, like Twist, all I got from him was static.
I frowned, feeling even more worried than I’d been before, though for a different reason. The entire reason I was here, was to learn as much as I could about these heroes, so Falkner could buy himself more time from that villain. If I couldn’t find anything useful, than Falkner would be in real trouble.
“I’m not gonna let that happen,” I promised myself.
For several seconds, I remained near Adonis, wondering why I couldn’t hear either his thoughts or Twist’s, when everyone else nearby was so loud and confusing, that they were giving me a headache. Maybe it was because they have powers, and none of these other people did. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t give up now. I moved closer to Force Majeure, getting close enough that I should be able to read his thoughts. But as with Twist and Adonis, all I got was static.
By this point, I was starting to get really frustrated by all the mental noise and the headache it was giving me. For once, I was actually thankful that my telepathic range was so limited, or I probably would have been picking up so much noise, that it would have completely overwhelmed me. As it was, I was about to switch over to my PK power, just so I could shut off the telepathy and get a break from all the mental noise. However, before I could do this, I heard a thought, a really loud and clear thought, that immediately caught my attention.
‘I’m gonna kill Adonis! Just one shot, and that bastard will finally be dead…’
I jumped in surprise and immediately looked around for the source. It only took me a moment to identify the man who’d been thinking this. He was middle-aged, stocky, and balding, with normal looking clothes. This guy definitely didn’t look like someone who’d go after a superhero, or at least, not the kind of person who had any chance of succeeding. However, he was staring at Adonis with the same kind of expression that my sister Julie reserved for broccoli. The one that always said she wanted to throw it on the floor and then jump up and down on it. And while I was pretty sure that this guy couldn’t do that to Adonis, he was still thinking about killing him.
A couple seconds later, old, fat, and balding reached into his jacket and began pulling something out. I didn’t even need to hear his thoughts to know that he was going for a weapon, though they certainly confirmed it enough for me.
“Look out,” I yelled, pointing to the man. “He’s got a gun…”
That caused Force Majeure to look at me, and then the man I was pointing too. It also caught the attention of the people around me, who began looking around frantically. And, unfortunately, it also caught the attention the guy with the gun, who suddenly yanked it the rest of the way out of his jacket, revealing that it was some kind of fancy looking ray gun. I might have thought that it was some kind of toy or prop from a sci-fi movie, except that he was pretty sure it would work.
“THIS IS FOR MY DAUGHTER!” the man yelled as he pointed the strange looking gun at Adonis. “DIE YOU BASTARD!”
A beam of green energy shot out from the gun, and Adonis dove to the side, knocking several of his fans out of the way so that they weren’t hit from the attack. There was a flash of light, and Twist was suddenly beside the man, grabbing the gun out of his hand, or at least trying to. He sprayed her in the face with something from a small canister, which looked like pepper spray. She yelped in pain and jumped back, grabbing hold of her face and gagging.
For a moment, I wondered how a group of heroes could be having such a hard time dealing with some ordinary guy with a gun. However, I immediately realized that there were a lot of innocent people in the way, and if the heroes tried anything, they’d get caught in the crossfire. At the same time, the Gentleman was doing some kind of magic spell, or at least, that was what I assumed it was, since he was creating some kind of glowing wall between the gunman and a group of the fans.
“Drop the weapon,” Force Majeure commanded, as a ghostly bear appeared around him.
The armed man completely ignored Force Majeure and focused his attention on Adonis. He raised the gun for another shot, and was about to take another shot at the hero. He didn’t even seem to care that there were a lot of other people nearby, and that if he missed Adonis again, he’d probably hit some of them. Since I was close enough, I desperately reacted, doing the only thing that I could think of. I used my telekinesis to grab the gun and yank it out of his hands, where I sent it flying up into the air.
“Attacking me in public wasn’t very nice of you,” Adonis said, giving a smile, which seemed more than a little smug.
While Adonis calmly want to the man, who now seemed to be armed with only the canister of pepper spray, a lot of the people took advantage of the opportunity to run. One woman, who clearly wasn’t paying attention where she was going, ran right into me. This distracted me enough that I lost control of my telekinesis, and the floating ray gun dropped right back down into the man’s hands. He gave a look of surprise, then triumph.
“Oh no you don’t,” Adonis said, but it was too late.
The man fired his gun and a blast of green energy hit Adonis in the side, though only enough to graze him. Still, it was enough to burn his uniform, and obviously do some damage to the hero himself, since he yelped in pain and grabbed at his injury.
At the same time, the Bronze Lady had pulled out some kind of weird looking gun, that looked high tech, yet really old-fashioned at the same time, like something Jules Verne might come up with. But before she could do anything with it, Force Majeure charged right at the armed man. The gunman panicked and began shooting in Force Majeure’s general direction, nearly hitting one man. Then I saw the gun pointing in my direction, and I barely got my PK shell up before a flash of green hit me and sent me flying back.
“Damn,” I gasped, feeling weak and sore. I staggered a little, afraid and exhilarated at the same time. I knew that I shouldn’t feel any excitement for something like this, but at that moment, I just felt so ALIVE. “Cabron. That hurt…”
Just then, I suddenly realized that a lot of people were now staring at me with looks of surprise, including most of the heroes. Twist had vanished, probably to try getting her eyes washed out, and Adonis was distracted by his injury, though he was still watching as well.
“YOU,” the armed man exclaimed, staring at me as well. “You’re the one who interfered…”
With that, he looked to Adonis, obviously trying to see if he had a clear shot at the hero. However, Force Majeure was now between them, blocking the shot. Because of that, he apparently decided that I’d make a good target too, because he fired another shot at me. Like the last one, this blast hit me and sent me flying back until I slammed into a wall, then slumped down to the ground, feeling sore and dizzy.
I was vaguely aware of Force Majeure leaping at the armed man, while Twist suddenly appeared beside him again, this time successfully managing to snatch the gun from his hands. After I saw the heroes slam him into the ground, I closed my eyes, just to rest my eyelids for a moment.
Milwaukee Wisconsin, Wed late afternoon, Sept 19th, 2007
I was sitting up in a hospital bed, feeling more than a little annoyed, not only by the circumstances, but also by the location. I’d spent way more time in places like this than I wanted to think about, but here I was, in a hospital, getting poked and prodded by doctors and nurses…again.
“I’m fine,” I told the nurse, who wanted to take another look at my implants. I pulled my hand away from her and gave a flat look, which seemed to get the point across.
After that guy shot me with his ray gun, and knocked me for a loop, the Liberty League rushed me to the hospital so I could get checked out. I was perfectly fine, other than a little bruising, but once the doctors got a look at my implants, they all started to act like I was on my death bed or something, and they wanted to keep me here for ‘observation’. They kept asking me about my implants, but I didn’t say anything, since I didn’t want to get Falkner in trouble. For all I knew, they’d try to get him arrested for practicing medicine without a license or something.
Once the nurse finally left my hospital room, I looked around for my clothes, and was relieved to see that they were folded up on the other side of the room. But before I even get out of the bed, much less grab my clothes and make a run for it, the door opened up again.
Four people stepped into the room, and I was relieved to see that they weren’t more doctors or nurses. Unfortunately, three of them were members of the Liberty League. Force Majeure, Adonis, and the Bronze Lady came in, along with a girl about my own age, who actually had glowing blue hair and eyes.
“Cool hair,” I said.
“Thank you,” the girl said, self-consciously running a hand through her glowing hair.
“I’m glad to see that you’re all right,” Force Majeure said, giving me a curious look. “Without your warning, Adonis might have been killed…”
“I could have handled him on my own,” Adonis said, looking rather cocky. “He was just a baseline with a devisor weapon. No real threat.”
The Bronze Lady gave him a look of annoyance, pointing out with a posh British accent, “But it was a devisor weapon, that managed to injure you, even with a glancing hit.”
Adonis shrugged that off and complained, “The one time Super Star missed out on a public appearance, just happens to be the one time she actually might have been useful.”
“You know quite well that she was tracking Torment in Green Bay,” the Bronze Lady responded crisply. “And it seems that she had her own bit of excitement while she was at it.”
Adonis looked like he was about to say something else, but Force Majeure gave him a flat look and he want silent. Then, Force Majeure turned his attention back to me.
“You helped us deal with that attacker, earlier,” Force Majeure said in a calm tone. “I assume that you were the one who briefly disarmed him…” I hesitated a moment, then nodded, because there was no point in denying it. “But I am curious as to why you were there today. You clearly aren’t a normal baseline…”
The Bronze Lady stepped forward, saying, “I hope you weren’t there to try auditioning for our team…”
“No,” I responded in surprise. I’d never even considered something like that. Of course, the real reason I was there, was probably even worse. At least as far as they’d be concerned. “I just wanted to see more people with powers…”
“That would make sense,” the Bronze Lady told Force Majeure. “A young mutant, who may not have met many others, would probably be curious about others like herself…”
“Aren’t you kind of assuming that she’s a mutant?” the girl with the glowing hair pointed out. She pointed to the back of my hand and the implant that was clearly visible. “I mean, she might be a cyborg or something…”
“Can’t I be both?” I asked a little self-consciously.
“How did you know he was going to attack me?” Adonis asked, looking more than a little suspicious. Maybe he wondered if I’d been working with that guy for some reason.
I gulped, hoping they didn’t realize that I was there to spy on them. That would be bad. Really bad. I mean, not as bad as being paralyzed for the rest of my life, but still a lot worse than getting caught jaywalking.
Suddenly, I realized just how wonderful Adonis was. He was so big, strong, and handsome, that I just wanted to melt into a puddle of goo. At that moment, I knew that I’d do absolutely anything, just to earn a smile or a look of approval. Anything.
“He was thinking about killing you,” I said, answering Adonis’ question. “I can read minds…”
“Enough,” the Bronze Lady exclaimed, giving Adonis an angry look. “She’s a child…”
“Adonis,” Force Majeure warned him.
A moment later, my head was suddenly clear again, and Adonis was still huge and really handsome, but he was no longer…perfect. I didn’t feel like groveling at his feet, just for the hope of getting his attention, and I felt disgusted by the realization that had felt like that just a couple seconds ago. I glared at him with the realization that he’d just used some kind of mind control on me.
I glared at Adonis, opening up with my telepathy. If he wanted to use psychic power, I could play that game too, even if I had absolutely no idea how to mind control anyone. Again, all I got from the three heroes was static, though I could hear some thoughts from the girl. She was thinking that Adonis was a jerk, so I liked her already.
“Hey,” the girl with the glowing hair exclaimed. “Why don’t you guys go and let me do what you brought me here for.”
“Glow has a point,” the Bronze Lady told Force Majeure, before giving Adonis another look of displeasure.
Force Majeure nodded, gave me another curious look, then turned and left the room. Adonis and the Bronze Lady left right behind him, though the girl with the glowing hair…Glow remained.
Once the others were gone, Glow closed the door to give us a little privacy, and turned to give me a wry smile. “I’m Glow,” she said, coming over towards my bed.
“Nina,” I responded. “Or Psyber, I guess. I mean, I was thinking of using that as my codename when I get my MID.”
“Cool,” Glow said. Then, she added, “In case you haven’t figured it out, they brought me along, because they figured that since we’re about the same age, that you might relate to me a little more.”
Since all the guys were out of the room, I climbed out of the bed and took off the stupid paper hospital gown they’d made me wear, and went to where my clothes were folded. While I began getting dressed, I considered what to say to Glow.
“I guess that makes sense,” I finally said.
While I was getting changed, Glow cautiously said, “Your back…”
I paused to glance at her, finding it hard to read her expression at the moment since she was keeping it so controlled. Obviously, she was a bit surprised by the implants that ran all down my spine. I just grinned at that, feeling rather proud of them, even if they did make me look a bit like a freak. After all, without all that metal, I’d still be paralyzed.
“I was going to get a piercing, and I got a little carried away,” I announce with a broad grin. When Glow gives me a look like she doesn’t believe me, I shrug. “My powers really screwed up my body, when I manifested, and all the metal is just to fix it.”
“Really?” Glow asked in surprise.
With a nod, I finished getting dressed, putting my shirt on and covering up most of my implants. The only ones that were really visible now, were the ones on the backs of my hands.
“So,” I asked, giving Glow a curious look. “Are you with the Liberty League?” She looked a little young to be a hero, wasn’t wearing a costume, and I’d never heard of her before, but I never knew.
“My mom used to be,” Glow answered with a shrug. “But I’m not. I am home schooled though, and some of them tutor me…” Then she paused to stare at me for a couple seconds. “Like I said, they figured that I might not be as intimidating, and that you’d probably be more likely to talk with me.”
I gave her a wry look. “So, you’re here to interrogate me…”
With that, I looked Glow over again, trying to decide if she was a threat or not. I didn’t really know what her powers were, but from her glowing hair and eyes, it was pretty obvious that she had some. I just hoped that I didn’t have to fight her, because I had absolutely no idea what would work out.
“More like, just asking some friendly questions,” Glow told me. “I mean, you came out of nowhere and helped them against that guy, so they’re pretty curious about you.”
“And you’re not afraid that I’m going to read your mind?” I teased, really wishing that I hadn’t spilled the beans about my telepathy. I mentally stuck my tongue out at Adonis.
“A little,” Glow admitted, though her expression went dark. “But you wouldn’t want to read my mind anyway. It’s kind of messed up in there.”
“That’s okay,” I assured her. “I’m kind of messed up too…” I held up my hands to show the implants on the back of them, and to remind her what my back looked like. “And I only just got my powers back, so it’s not like I’m really good at using them… I mean, I couldn’t read anything at all from your friends, even when I was standing right next to them.” Then, realizing what I’d just said, I quickly added, “Not that I was really trying.”
Glow just chuckled at that, which relieved me since I was afraid that she’d get mad or something. “Gentleman made these magic charms for the Liberty Legion, to protect them from telepaths and mind control.” She paused and glanced at the door, and in an almost conspiratorial voice, added, “Personally, I think the real reason he did that, is to protect his wife from Adonis. As my friend Mel would say, he’s a total creeper.”
“Really?” I ask, not at all surprised, after the way he’d used that mind control stuff on me a little bit ago.
“Yeah,” Glow said with a sigh. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he became a hero, just because he thought it would impress the girls.”
That made me burst out laughing. “He’s really cute, but he does come off as a bit of a perv…”
Glow nodded agreement. “You know, that guy who tried to kill him earlier…?”
“How could I forget?” I asked wryly.
“Well,” Glow started to explain. “Apparently, he was after Adonis, because Adonis slept with his daughter or something. The Gentleman told me, that this guy spent his entire life savings, buying that gun from a devisor, just so he could shoot the guy who ‘deflowered his sweet and innocent daughter’.”
The two of us shared a look, then burst out laughing. “So all that, was because Adonis couldn’t keep it in his pants?”
“Pretty much,” Glow responded.
I shook my head, wondering how many problems had been caused by guys who only think with their little head, and how many more people Adonis might have coming after him in the future. Well, that wasn’t really my problem, though I still took mental note of it. This might be the kind of thing that Falkner’s villain might be able to use.
“Anyway,” Glow said, giving me a wry look. “I’m not here to gossip about Adonis, but to find out more about you.”
“What about me?” I ask innocently.
Glow doesn’t buy it. “Eliza…the Bronze Lady told me that you used some kind of telekinesis…and you said that you can read minds too. Are you a package deal psychic?”
I hesitated a moment before nodding. “The doctors think I am, but I’ve never been tested… I just got my powers back, and haven’t had a chance to do that yet…”
“Just got them back?” Glow asked, looking a little confused.
With a roll of my eyes, I explained, “After I manifested a couple years ago, I went through a burnout, and it totally fried my nervous system. I only just got these…” I held up my hand and tapped the implant on the back of it, “They fixed my nervous system, and gave me back my powers.”
Glow stared at me for a moment, commenting, “Wow.” Then she hesitated a moment, before asking, “And the reason you were there this morning?”
Since I wasn’t about to tell her that I was there to spy on her friends, I just shrugged. “The doctor finally released me from the clinic today, with the all clear, so I started wandering around. When I heard a bunch of heroes were gonna be out signing autographs, I decided to go check them out. I haven’t really seen many other people with powers.”
“You just got out this morning?” Glow asked with a look of surprise. Then she looked around the room, adding, “No wonder you’re so eager to get out of here.”
“You have no idea,” I responded with a sigh. Then, I asked, “And what about you? I told you about me, so turnabout is only fair…”
Glow hesitated, suddenly looking extremely self-conscious. She obviously wasn’t comfortable discussing herself, but since I’d already told her a bit about myself, it was only fair that she give a little something back.
“Well,” she started, “I’m a teleporter, and I can do a few things with energy.”
Suddenly, there was a flash of blue light, and Glow was on the opposite side of the room. Another flash of blue light, and she was standing near where she’d been to start with. However, she held up her hand, and had a ball of glowing blue light in it. After a few seconds, it sort of dissipated and faded away.
“Cool,” I said excitedly. This was way better than watching TV all day.
“And like I said earlier,” Glow continued with a wry smile, “my mom used to be a member of the Liberty League, so I get to hang out with them a little.”
“Used to be?” I asked. “Is she…?”
The other girl blinked, realizing what I meant. “Oh,” she responded with a chuckle. “She’s fine. She just took a leave of absence for personal reasons.”
I wasn’t sure what to say next, though I imagined it must have been really cool, growing up with a mom who was a superhero. I bet Glow grew up, spending a lot of time around superheroes. Heck, she probably never had to be afraid of anything in her life, because she had her very own superheroes looking out for her.
“You don’t seem to be a supervillain or anything,” Glow abruptly told me with a look of amusement.
“That’s good to hear,” I responded wryly.
Glow smiled back at me. “Well, I’m getting kind of hungry. Do you want to come have dinner with me and my sister?”
I blinked in surprise, because that wasn’t what I’d been expecting, at all. “Sure,” I told her with a grin since I was getting pretty hungry myself. “But if you don’t mind, can we eat somewhere other than this place? Hospital food sucks.”
Milwaukee Wisconsin, Wed early evening, Sept 19th, 2007
The Flying Stagg brewery and restaurant was designed to look like some kind of old-fashioned pub. Most of the walls were wood panels, and some of them included carved murals. The same kind of theme extended to the bar itself, not that I could get close enough for a really good look. Since I was sitting at a table in the restaurant part, rather than in the bar area, it didn’t matter that I was underage.
“My mom introduced me to this place a couple weeks ago,” Glow told me. “It’s mutant friendly, and strictly neutral, so I don’t have to hide my hair or anything…”
“I guess that would make this more convenient for you then,” I responded.
My eyes went to Glow’s hair and eyes, and I smiled wryly. On the way here, she’d worn a hoodie, with the hood up to hide her hair, along with a pair of sunglasses to conceal her eyes. I imagined that kind of thing would really old, really fast. After all, who wants to hide their hair and eyes everywhere they went? Then again, since I had all these implants sticking out of my skin now, so I might have to start covering them up, just so people didn’t stare at me. However, that would be a small price to pay for being able to walk again.
Glow nodded. “It’s a…fairly recent problem.”
I grinned at that. “It sounds like there’s a story there…”
“A bit,” Glow admitted, though it quickly became clear that she wasn’t about to tell me what that story was.
Just a minute after this, two more people came into the restaurant, and headed straight towards our table. One of them was a girl, of about fourteen, who had a strong resemblance to Glow. She didn’t have glowing hair or eyes, and looked pretty normal, but the resemblance was still there.
The other newcomer was a young Asian woman, who looked like she was about twenty. Though she wasn’t wearing a costume, it was pretty easy to recognize Twist.
Twist looked at me, though her expression was difficult to read. I could have tried reading her mind to find out what she was thinking, but even if she wasn’t magically protected, I didn’t want to do that. Poking around on other people’s thoughts was pretty tempting, because it was too easy to do, and that kind of scared me. I figured, it was like snooping through their underwear drawer, times a hundred.
The girl who was with Twist, was a lot easier to read, and that was without using my power. She gave me a look that was half curiosity and half suspicion.
Glow stood up and gestured to the younger girl, saying, “This is my sister, Dinah.” Then she looked to me and said, “This is Nina.”
“Hey,” Dinah greeted me, giving me another look.
“We met earlier,” Twist commented. “Sort of.”
I nodded at that, then glanced to Glow. “Is Adonis gonna show up next?”
“I hope not,” Twist muttered, which made me grin. Apparently, his own teammates weren’t exactly thrilled about having him around, or at least, the women weren’t. Kind of funny for a guy named Adonis.
Twist and Dinah sat down, and I found myself right next to Dinah. She kept giving me odd looks, as if trying to decide whether to like or hate me.
“So,” Dinah finally asked. “Who are you?”
I blinked at that. “I’m Nina. Nina Martinez.”
“Rachael told me she was bringing another mutant to dinner,” Dinah said, obviously referring to the brief phone call that Glow had made before we left the hospital.
“Rachael?” I asked, looking to Glow.
Glow smirked. “You don’t think my parents named me Glow, did you?”
“They didn’t name you Rachael either,” Dinah teased her, before she abruptly paused to glance nervously at me. Glow just glared at her for some reason.
Now, I was really tempted to do some mind reading, though I restrained myself. Intellectually, I knew that I shouldn’t, since this would be a great opportunity to learn some stuff, but it just seemed super rude to do that right now.
Dinah scowled, looking momentarily guilty, probably because she just spilled her sister’s real name. Then again, Glow told me Dinah’s name, assuming that wasn’t just a made-up name.
“So, do you have a codename?” Dinah nearly demanded me of me.
I squirmed a little uncomfortably and glanced at Twist. “I was thinking of using Psyber, when I get my MID.”
“Why Psyber?” Dinah asked.
Before I could answer, Twist said, “I was told that you have cybernetic implants…”
“And psychic powers,” Glow added with a look of amusement. “It looks like she’s a package deal psychic.”
Twist gave me a thoughtful look, which made me uncomfortable. “An uncommon power, but pretty versatile.”
“I guess,” I admitted with a self-conscious shrug. “I mean, I only just got my powers back, so I’m still trying to figure them out.”
“Got them back?” Twist asked, looking curious.
With a sigh, I explained, “I had a bad burnout, after I manifested, and it burned out my powers and nervous system.” I held my hand up to show the implant in the back of it. “These things fixed me, and gave me back my powers.”
“She says she just got released from the doctor this morning,” Glow offered for me.
I nodded agreement, while realizing how ironic the situation was. I’d come to Milwaukee to try spying on the Liberty League, but they were probably learning more about me than I was about them.
After this, we ordered dinner and chatted while eating. Dinah relaxed a little and became a little friendlier towards me, probably because she saw that I wasn’t some supervillain spy. I actually was, sort of, but she didn’t know that.
While eating, I got the impression that Twist had come, not to escort Dinah, but to keep an eye on me. It made sense, that if the Liberty League wanted to watch me a little more, that they’d pick her to do so. After all, she was the closest to my age and the one I would probably relate to the best.
By the time we moved on to dessert, everyone was really relaxed and having a good time. But that wasn’t a surprise. I mean, who can be unhappy when you’ve got a big slice of chocolate cake in front of you, or some really tasty ice cream.
“Wow,” Dinah exclaimed. “You’re realy scarfing down that cake…”
Twist just laughed. “It seems Nina goes after the cake, the same way Rachael goes after snickerdoodles.”
“Hey,” Glow protested. “Snickerdoodles are awesome…” Then, she stuck her tongue out at Twist.
I giggled at that, before saying, “This is the best cake I’ve had in like…forever.” Then I paused, adding “Actually, this is the first cake I’ve had in three years…”
“Three years?” Dinah asked in surprise. “Were you on a diet or something.”
“Something,” I answered wryly, before taking another bite of my cake. When I was done swallowing, I explained, “I was totally paralyzed, and had to be fed through a tube in my stomach…”
As I took another bite of cake, I realized that everyone at the table was staring at me in surprise. There was even a bit of pity, which was kind of annoying. I’d had more than enough pity to last me a lifetime.
“This cake is totally awesome,” I said, looking to Twist, who’d ordered apple crisp instead. “Nice and rich chocolate… Yum…”
“You were paralyzed?” Glow asked, still staring at me.
I nodded self-consciously, then held up my hand to show the implant again. “I told you, my nervous system was fried. Without these things, I’d be just a lump in a chair again.”
Dinah just stared at me. “That’s gotta suck…”
“You have NO idea,” I responded.
I let out a sigh, not wanting to think about how miserable I’d been, so helpless that I couldn’t even wipe myself after going to the bathroom…or even control myself. Gross, disgusting, and something I REALLY didn’t want to think about, especially when I was trying to enjoy my dessert.
“But Falkner fixed me,” I bragged, only realizing that I shouldn’t talk about Falkner, after the fact. Well, it was too late now. “He’s totally awesome…”
“I wonder what Mel would think of Nina,” Dinah commented.
Glow smiled at that, and her eyes seemed to glow just a little more brightly. “Maybe we can find out the next time Mel comes to visit.” She looked at me. “Do you live nearby?”
“Sacramento,” I answered with a sigh. Glow was kind of cool, and it would probably be fun to be friends with her. However, that would be pretty hard since I normally lived in California. “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be here. Falkner, my doctor, wants to keep an eye on me for a bit longer, to make sure there aren’t any problems with my implants.”
Glow nodded at that. “I hope you’re around long enough to meet our friend Mel. I think she’d get a kick out of meeting you, especially if you show her your powers.”
Dinah laughed at that. “Yeah, Mel loves seeing people use their powers. At least, when they’re not being used on her…” Dinah and Glow shared a look, that suggested another story.
“Nina,” Twist said to get my attention. “I just wanted to tell you, that we appreciate your help earlier today. In the future, you shouldn’t get involved in that kind of thing until you’re trained, but your warning may very well have saved Adonis’ life.”
“Um…you’re welcome,” I responded awkwardly.
Twist gave me a look of amusement, before asking, “Would you be interested in a tour of Liberty Island…our headquarters, tomorrow?”
“What?” I asked, staring at her in surprise.
“If you’re interested,” she continued, “we could also do some basic power testing, enough to give you a better idea of what you have.”
“Sure,” I responded with a grin. “That would be awesome.”
“The place is different,” Glow told me with a wry look. “And your first time on the island should be a lot better than mine was.”
I gave Glow a curious look, but it was Dinah who cheerfully answered, “They thought she was a supervillain and locked her a prison cell.”
My eyes went wide at that, and Twist laughed. “That was before I joined, but I’m pretty sure you don’t have to worry about that.”
A short time after this, we finished up and left the restaurant. I practically had to waddle out the door, and if there weren’t other people watching, I might even have cheated and levitated myself out. Then, we agreed on a time and place to meet up tomorrow, before going our separate ways.
Once I was far enough away from the Flying Stagg and the others, and I was sure nobody was watching, I pulled out the cell phone that Falkner had given me. For a moment, I just stared at it, feeling guilty for what I was doing. However, I reminded myself of WHY I was doing this, and made the call.
“It’s me,” I told Falkner, trying to keep the nervousness and guilt out of my voice. “It didn’t work out like we’d planned, but I’m in.”
To Be Continued