– 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 been good with names and faces, it was almost a pre-requisite of his celebrity status. Of course, it never hurt when that name was also linked to a pretty face and an intriguing accent. Regardless, Sarah grinned at him and blushed. He knew that she had expected him to forget her, 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, cleared her throat and answered.
“Security clearance exams,” she said sheepishly. “Level twenty-four.”
“Gratz!” Michael grinned. “It’s a ball-ache, though, isn’t it? So many rules and regs to remember. 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’ve got you training up anyhow? I thought 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.”
“That’s right… Like James Bond…” Michael thought for a moment, “Was he MI5 or MI6?”
“I think Bond was MI6…” Sarah chuckled.
“So, you’re the female Bond. I have to admit…that’s very sexy!” As Sarah blushed again, he gestured to the café over the road, “Would you like to grab a coffee or something with me? Intrigue 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. Pyra wouldn’t have told her anything untoward, he trusted her to represent him honestly. 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 just 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 with me later. But, honestly, that can wait.”
“Lenny?” Sarah asked with a look of bewilderment on her face.
“Leonard Johnson. The mayor,” Michael laughed. “Honestly, Sarah, if you’re going to live in Paragon City, you should learn the name of the mayor.”
Why? Why say it like that? Michael thought to himself. Fortunately, she laughed lightly and waved her hand.
“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 that probably made him seem like such a dick.
“He’s a basketball fan,” he said, trying to dig himself out of trouble. “Had court side seats to all the Paragon Panthers home games, so we kind of know each other from when I played. He likes to play too, and he and I have a friendly game of HORSE on occasion. Hey! Here’s a thought. If you’d like, I can 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.
“Good grief, no!” Sarah protested. “Honestly, I’m fine. I’ll earn it the hard was, just like everyone else.”
“So, coffee then?” Rogue inquired hopefully.
To his abject relief, Sarah smiled and nodded. The two of them 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, toward a row of shops and restaurants just across from City Hall, he tried to make polite, yet interesting small talk. 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 quite like it…” her explanation tailed off as she ran out of words.
Michael glanced around and realized what it was she was seeing for the first time. While the novelty had worn off for him years ago, Atlas Park was still a place of wonder for her.
It was like Grand Central for superheroes. Alive with the sights and sounds of superpowers, and not just human heroes either. Aliens, animals, robots…you name it, it was here. The place was a kaleidoscope of colors and sounds. Heroes flying, jumping, bouncing, running, teleporting and more. He suddenly realized just how much he took the astonishing for granted these days.
“I mean, look at this place,” she said breathlessly. “In the last few days I’ve seen Back Alley Brawler, Positron, and today…”
She gestured and nodded her head in the direction of the blonde woman in the red and blue mini-dress, 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 walking past and smiled congenially, taking a moment away from the people she was dealing with.
“Hey, Starstorm, how are the exams going?” she said warmly before pointing toward Michael. “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 all the boring study and tests. All work and no play, as they say. If you come join Kara and me in Pocket D tonight 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 wide-eyed.
“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 socialized a few times…the Press even linked us romantically at one point, though that wasn’t true in the slightest. 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.”
“She makes it her business to know all the heroes in Paragon. Villains, too. Starburst?” Michael said slowly. “That’s your codename?”
“No, not, Starburst. Starstorm,” Sarah corrected him. “And yes, it’s my codename.”
They took seats at a table 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 hesitantly.
“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…”
“…and taken,” Rogue chuckled. “I like Starstorm, though. That’s a name I can work with. So, Starry, what was ‘Project Starstorm’?”
Sarah’s eyes dropped to stare at her plastic cup for a second. Her face flickered, changing from the look of delight she had worn a moment earlier to one of anxiety. He found himself really liking her, and was keen to make a good impression. Her new expression made him wonder if he’d inadvertently said something out of place to upset her. He was debating what to say to take it back, when she spoke slowly and quietly.
“I was…injured. Severely injured. MI6 offered me a opportunity to be a part of Project Starstorm. It was a chance to get my life back. I thought about it carefully for a while, and eventually…I 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 a difficult subject for her.
“Basically,” she continued, “Project Starstorm was an experiment to inject a subject with nanites. Tiny microscopic robots that, even now, are crawling around my bloodstream. They are the means by which I can manipulate electricity.”
“I have a friend in the Plastic Army, who’s classified as an electricity blaster. He goes by the codename Urbane. He can naturally create some electricity, but if he’s in the City he can pull from the power grid and redirect it. Is that how you work, too?”
“No, not quite.” Sarah shook her head. “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 couldn’t help but 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. As if to prove it’s nature beyond reproach, 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 truly was.
“The accident…” she continued with a tremor in her voice, “took my right arm and most of my shoulder. Shrapnel took one of my eyes. I was in a bad way, but I was alive… I was okay. Scarred, without a right arm and blind in one eye…but okay. Then 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! Anything!
No words came out of his mouth, and as he floundered, she composed herself and continued
“There’s a miniature fusion reactor in my new 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 heal like they’ve never been there.
“And I remember everything in crystal clarity, I 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…perhaps 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 James Bond, Robocop and the Terminator…”
The very moment the words passed his lips, 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, Rogue, thanks for the smoothie, but I… I really have to go.”
“But…I… Look, I’m sor…” Michael 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, shaking his head.
“Teleporter,” he muttered to himself. “Good to know.”
Behind him he heard a slow clap begin.
“Well, that was truly 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.