– Michael Reynolds – ‘Rogue’ –
– Monday – 12:16 Eastern Time –
“You remembered,” Sarah smiled back.
In truth, remembering her name hadn’t been difficult. Michael had always had a memory for names and faces. Of course, it never hurt when that name was linked to a pretty face and an interesting accent. Regardless Sarah grinned at him and blushed. He knew that she had expected him to forget, he had a reputation in the city which was hard to shake.
Millionaire, ex-athlete, playboy.
“I never forget a pretty face,” he smiled back at her. “So what brings you to City Hall?”
She brandished her certificate at him. Then seemingly struck by the foolishness of the gesture, she cleared her throat and answered.
“Security Clearance exams,” she said sheepishly. “Level twenty-four.”
“Gratz!” Michael grinned. “Ball-ache though isn’t it? I remember doing mine. I flunked my level thirty-three, my thirty-five and my level thirty-eight I failed twice. I thought I’d never reach level forty. How come they got you training up anyhow? Pyra mentioned you were trained by the CIA or something?”
“We don’t have the CIA in England.” Another bashful smile, “I was British Intelligence. MI6.”
“Wow! Like James Bond…” Michael thought for a moment, “Was he MI5 or MI6?”
“I think Bond was MI6…” Sarah chuckled.
“So, you are the female Bond…that’s very sexy!” He gestured to the café over the road, “Would you like to grab a coffee or something with me? Tell me your spy stories?”
Sarah hesitated. It wasn’t an unusual reaction. That reputation again. He had hoped that she was new enough to the city to have not heard the nasty gossip about him on the grapevine, he knew Pyra wouldn’t have told her anything untoward. Yet here she was, obviously debating the pros and cons of being seen in public with him. He suppressed a sigh of disappointment.
“Well where were you heading?” she stammered nervously. “I was leaving as you were coming in remember? I don’t want to interrupt your plans…”
Michael waved his hand with a nonchalance he didn’t truly feel.
“I was just popping in to see if Lenny was available.” he explained, “See if he wanted to shoot some hoops later. It can wait.”
“Lenny?” Sarah asked with a look of bewilderment on her face.
“The Mayor. Leonard Johnson,” Michael laughed. “Honestly if you’re going to live in Paragon City you should know the name of the Mayor.”
Why? Why say it like that? Michael thought to himself.
“Well I haven’t had much time to get up to speed on the local politics as yet,” she replied. “It’s on my to-do list.”
Though he could hear the good humor in her response, Michael cursed himself inwardly for the casual name-dropping. Probably made him seem like such a dick.
“He’s a hoops fan,” he said, trying to dig himself out of trouble. “Used to come to all the Panthers games when I played. Now he and I shoot hoops on occasion. Hey! You want me to ask him to smooth away your certification? I’m sure we can get you that level fifty grade in no time!”
As he finished the sentence, he realized that he was probably just making it worse.
“God No!” Sarah protested. “I’ll earn it just like everyone else.”
“So coffee then?” Rogue enquired hopefully.
He was relieved when Sarah smiled and nodded. The two of them left and walked out into Atlas Park and the warm sunshine that was beating down. As Michael led them down past the statue of Atlas in the main square and towards a row of shops and restaurants just across from City Hall he tried to make polite, yet interesting small talk as they walked. Sarah seemed to be only half listening.
A fact she suddenly became aware of.
“I’m so sorry,” she exclaimed suddenly. “I didn’t mean to ignore you. It’s just…”
She beckoned to the main square beneath the statue and shook her head.
“This place…I’ve never seen anything like it…” her explanation tailed off as she ran out of words.
Michael looked around and realized what it was she was seeing for the first time. Atlas Park was still a place of wonder for her, it’s just he took it for granted these days.
It was like Grand Central for superheroes. Alive with the sights and sounds of superpowers, and not just human heroes either. There were what looked like aliens, animals, robots…you name it and it was here. The place was a kaleidoscope of colors and sounds. Heroes flying, jumping, bouncing, running, teleporting and more.
“I mean look at this place,” she said breathlessly. “In the last few days I’ve seen Back Alley Brawler here. I saw Positron. And today…”
As they walked, she pointed nodded her head in the direction of the blonde lady in the red and blue minidress, complemented with white gloves and boots. The bell-shaped belt-buckle gave away her identity to any avid hero-spotter. Miss Liberty. The woman noticed them walk past and smiled, taking a moment away from the people she was dealing with.
“Hey Starstorm, how’s the exams going?” she laughed lightly. “Don’t let Rogue distract you!”
Sarah didn’t get a chance to respond before Michael piped in.
“I’m doing her a favor and making sure she has some downtime between the boring tests. All work and no play blah blah blah. Come join Kara and me in Pocket D tonight and I’ll show you how to get in touch with your fun side too?”
“In your dreams Rogue,” Miss Liberty laughed. “Keep walkin!”
“Just a matter of time Alexis…just a matter of time,” Rogue laughed back and continued walking.
After a moment he became aware of Sarah staring at him in amazement.
“What?” he said.
“You know Miss Liberty?”
“Alexis? Of Course,” he shrugged.
“You know Miss Liberty.”
“She sometimes goes clubbing in Pocket D,” he laughed. “She’s just Alexis Cole when the mask is off. We’ve done the bump’n’grind on the dance floor a few times. Why?”
“Because she’s famous…one of the most famous heroes in the world.” Suddenly realization dawned on Sarah, “Miss Liberty knows me. She called me by name.”
“Starburst?” Michael said slowly. “Is that your codename?”
“No, not Starburst. Starstorm,” Sarah corrected him. “And yes, it’s my codename.”
They sat outside at Café Nova, a franchise popular throughout the city. There was a Paragon City Burger next door which was doing a roaring trade in cold drinks, and ice-creams, due to the baking heat. He deferred to her for ordering first when the waiter arrived and she ordered a smoothie rather than a coffee. Rogue did likewise and a couple of minutes later they were sat sipping the ice-cold strawberry drink through long brightly colored straws.
“So Starstorm…where’d that name come from?” Michael asked after a few minutes of silent sipping.
“It was the project I was involved in when I was with MI6,” she said simply.
“Are you allowed to use that?” he asked. “They haven’t copyrighted it or something?”
“I wasn’t sure what else to go with,” she said with a giggle. “and Electrogirl sounded stupid.
“I like it,” Rogue nodded his approval. “Starstorm, Starry. I can work with that. So Starry what was Project Starstorm?”
Sarah looked down at her plastic cup for a second, her face changing from the look of delight she had worn a moment earlier to one of melancholy. He found himself really liking her and was keen to make a good impression. Wondering if he’d said something out of place, Michael was just debating what to say to take it back, when she spoke slowly and quietly.
“I was injured on a mission. Badly injured. MI6 offered me a chance to be a part of Project Starstorm. It was a way to get my life back. I thought about it for a while, and eventually decided to go for it. The jury is out on whether that was a good idea or not.”
She forced a smile and looked at him. He could tell this was difficult for her to talk about.
“Basically,” she continued, “Project Starstorm was an experiment where they injected me with nanites, little tiny microscopic robots that are now crawling around my bloodstream. They are the means by which I can control electricity and manipulate it.”
“I got a friend in the Plastic Army, Tommi. Goes by Urbane. He’s a ‘leccy blaster. He can naturally create some electricity, but if he’s in the City he can pull from the power grid and redirects it. That how you work too?”
Sarah shook her head.
“No, not quite. I can’t control electricity that’s manufactured elsewhere, only that which I create myself.”
She went quiet for a moment, there was a debate raging in her head. He was about to interrupt and push the conversation in a different direction when she took a deep breath and slipped her jacket off her shoulders.
Michael let out an involuntary gasp.
Sarah was wearing a pretty sleeveless top, white with subtle pink flowers on it. Her left arm was perfect unblemished flesh, tanned and toned. Her right arm was very much not. Artificial from the shoulder down, sculpted to look like an arm, the prosthetic had a shiny metal skin which seemed to flex, expand and contract just like that on her natural arm. It was definitely metal. As if to prove the point, it suddenly changed color, shifting from the pale flesh color that was mimicking skintones to a harder silver and black that showed the arm for what it really was.
“The accident…” she continued, there was a tremor in her voice as she spoke, “took my right arm and some of my shoulder. Shrapnel took one of my eyes. So many cuts… I was ok, I would have been ok, but I was going to be scarred and without a right arm. Blind in one eye… Project Starstorm gave me a chance to be at least close to being whole again.”
He could see tears welling in her eyes.
Say something! He thought to himself. Anything!
No words came out of his mouth, and as he floundered, she composed herself and continued
“There’s a tiny fusion reactor in my shoulder that powers the arm and lets me generate the electricity I blast. My right eye is a bionic. The Nanites they injected me with flooded my bloodstream and microscopically repaired all my damage. Cuts healed like they had never been there.
I remember everything in crystal clarity and can recite it back to you word for word. I can manipulate my vocal range, my visual range and acuity and my hearing. I can regulate my body temperature, my breathing, my heartbeat… Project Starstorm made me the perfect spy, but somewhat less than human…”
Rogue stared at her in astonishment. He had the straw from the smoothie between his lips but hadn’t taken a sip in all the time Sarah had been talking, bearing her soul to him. She looked into his eyes, waiting for a response from him.
“So…” he said slowly. “You’re like a cross between Robocop and the Terminator…”
The very moment the words passed his lps he knew he had completely screwed the moment up.
Sarah put down her half-finished smoothie and stood quickly grabbing at her jacket.
“Yeah, something like that,” she snapped abruptly. “Look thanks for the smoothie, but I really have to go.”
“But…I…Look I’m sor…” Rogue stammered, but that was all he got out before Starstorm teleported away in a flash of light.
Rogue sat back in his chair for a moment and contemplated just how badly he had screwed that situation. He replayed his last comment in his mind and shook his head at his own blunt stupidity. How could he be so insensitive. He closed his eyes and sighed.
“Teleporter. Good to know,” he muttered.
Behind him he heard a slow clap begin.
“Well that was really something to behold.” Came the last voice he wanted to hear.
Taking a deep breathe he forced a smile and turned around.
“Hi Ecs,” he said with a sigh.
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