– Sarah Ardent – ‘Starstorm’ –
– Wednesday – 13:47 Eastern Time –
Sarah was perched on the edge of one of the Medical Center beds staring at one of the beautiful art prints that adorned the walls. Despite being dressed only in a medical gown, she felt exceedingly comfortable here, swinging her bare legs with ankles crossed, back and forth beneath the bed.
The Medical Center at the Femme Fatales Atlas Park headquarters was unlike any other medical facility Sarah had ever spent time in. Due to her injuries in the past, that had been a lot. From the hospitals of National Health Service – old and new- to the austere medical laboratories of MI6, she had seen nothing like the room she was currently sat in. Decorated in warm tones and wood, it was a rather pleasant place to be. The influence of the Doctor here no doubt.
Far too much of her relatively young life had been spent being examined in hospitals and laboratories, to the point it had soured her on these places for life. She wasn’t phobic about it, but she had actively tried to avoid her medical for as long as she could get possibly away with. Alas even she couldn’t duck the inevitable forever. As Gale Knightley walked in, clipboard in hand, she sighed and forced a smile at the young Empath.
Gale tucked her long pink hair behind her eye and anchored it with the stylus for her pad, smiling reassuringly at Sarah as she did so. She idly wondered if the color was dyed or natural?
“Side effect of my mutation.” Gale said as if reading her mind, “I was a brunette before my powers manifested.”
“Did I say that out loud?” Sarah’s hand flew to her mouth.
Gale laughed and shook her head.
“No,” She said and pointed at her temple, “Telepathy.”
“Ah…” Was all Sarah could muster as a response.
Suddenly she felt very self-conscious, far more naked and exposed that she did in the hospital gown. Gale too suddenly looked very sheepish.
“I…errr…” She stumbled, “I can’t turn it off, or block it. Not really. I know it makes people feel… awkward around me. I try not to eavesdrop, but it’s quiet in here and you were thinking kind of loud.”
Sarah looked at the Gale and saw the pain behind her eyes. The insecurity that came with having that kind of power and knowing that people felt uncomfortable around her. She could relate to that feeling, knowing how self-conscious she was about her prosthetics. Sometimes she felt as if she would never be truly accepted for who she was, simply because an accident had changed her in ways that some people felt uncomfortable about.
Oh, this girl is good. Sarah though as she had the sudden epiphany.
From the moment she walked into the room, Gale had used her empathy to gauge Sarah’s mood and had very deliberately exposed a personal flaw of her own, knowing that Sarah would immediately find common ground and empathize with her. Very devious. Within minutes of starting the session the two had bonded on common ground and suddenly the medical didn’t seem so daunting.
Gale smiled knowingly.
“I know that this isn’t the most pleasant of experiences for you Sarah,” She said softly, “But I’m afraid it is necessary. If you’re going into the field, then I need to establish a baseline health status for you. If you could lie back on the bed for me, the scanner won’t take a moment.”
Sarah nodded and lay back on the bed. True to her word, the bed whirred into life with a deft swipe of Gales finger on her tablet. IT took a few seconds as a beam of light played over her body and then Gale invited her to sit up again.
“See.” Gale said with a grin, “Painless.”
Sarah smiled back at Gale, who hopped up onto the bed to sit alongside her. She turned the tablet over to show Sarah the results of the tests.
“So what did you find?” She asked, “Did I pass?”
“With flying colors, but… your results certainly make for interesting reading.” Gale began as she flicked through some screens on the tablet with a brush of her elegant digits on the touch sensitive screen. “How much do you know about Project: Starstorm and what they did to you?”
Sarah sighed. To be honest she understood what had been done from a conceptual point of view, but she had never been privy to the files to know the science behind it.
“I know the basics, but never really delved into the how and why of it all. I was never good at the science stuff.”
“Okay, let me see if I can shed any light on it with my findings…” Gale leaned towards Sarah so that she could see what was on the tablet.
At MI6 she had been treated like a laboratory rat. Never a sense of something personal. She was the next project in line, a person becoming a weapon. Gale treated her differently. Sitting next to her and letting them look through the results together was putting her immediately at ease. She glanced at the young woman, wondering if possibly they could be friends outside of this Medical Center. She thought she would like that.
“Let’s start with your bloodstream…” Gale said slowly, “A normal healthy human adult has white blood-cells, on average about 7000 of them for every microliter of blood. In your bloodstream… you have an average of around 200.”
“OK that sounds really bad…” Sarah queried.
“It would be… normally,” Gale laughed, “But, in your bloodstream the nanites are doing the job the white blood cells would. They are taking the place of the Neutrophils, the Eosinophils, the Basophils…”
She tailed off as she realized that she had lost Sarah during that last part. The young woman was looking blankly at her.
“Sorry…” She said sheepishly, “Okay, think of white blood cells as being the hunter killers of the bloodstream, they seek out the things that make you ill and fix them. There are different types for different jobs. The Neutrophils for example make up around 58% of your white blood cell count and then are your main defense against bacteria. Eosinophils make up about 2% and kill parasites and combat allergies, and so on.”
“Ok, so is it because of the Nanites that I have such a low white blood count? Or are the Nanites compensating for something wrong with me?” Sarah asked.
“I’m not sure without testing your bone marrow. I can’t tell if you’re incapable of creating your own white blood cells or if the nanites are somehow suppressing them.”
“Why am I not reassured by any of what you just said…” Sarah muttered.
“I wouldn’t be too concerned just yet. The trade-off here is that the nanites are giving you some astonishing abilities. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Your healing rate is off the charts for a normal human. Don’t get me wrong you’re not going to challenge a Regen scrapper anytime soon, but you can heal cuts and bruises in a matter of hours. Broken bones in a matter of days. You’re also pretty much immune to disease and poison as the nanites will immediately attack any contamination and filter out any contagion.”
“Good to know.” Sarah nodded, “MI6 did tell me that I’d be better than normal in as far as my fitness, stamina etcetera.”
“And you are.” Gale agreed, “Again, you’re not going to challenge anybody Regen class, but you’re very much enhanced over normal baselines. Which brings me to the arm… and the reactor…”
“I’m not sure I like the hesitation…” Sarah said with some trepidation.
“Well I’m not a physicist…” She shrugged, “So I don’t know much about the reactor, that’s probably more Kyle Jordan’s area of expertise. But I’m more concerned with how your body and it interact, and to that end I have no idea what’s going on. I’d expect something like that, and your arm for that matter, to have been rejected by the body. But both are just… seamlessly part of you now. For instance where the artificial arm grafts to your shoulder, it’s almost impossible to see exactly where the biology ends and the metal begins. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, they appear grafted at the molecular level.”
Sarah looked at her artificial arm and flexed the hand. She watched as the banded metal rippled just like skin, flexing where tendons and muscle fibers would ordinarily be. Until now she hadn’t really thought about exactly how the arm felt.
“It’s odd but now that you mention it, the arm does feel totally natural. I’ve always looked upon it as being false, but it does actually feel like my arm. I have sensory feedback from it and everything, I can touch and feel just as well as I could with my natural arm. Better in fact.”
“What do you mean by better?” Gale enquired.
“Well…” Sarah considered for a moment, “For instance I can tell you exactly what the air temperature is right now. I can sense changes in air pressure, water pressure… you name it. It’s also stronger than my biological arm, a lot stronger. I have to be careful with it as it is still anchored to my very not so impressive human frame. I remember during my testing after the graft I was hitting a punching bag harder and harder. Eventually I hit so hard I split the punching bag, but also succeeded in breaking my collarbone. It took three days to heal.”
“I can imagine. Maybe we’ll do some tests on that another time. What I’m more interested in is that compartment just above your bicep. I can see it on the scans but you’ve never mentioned it… and its not in your medical records.”
“Ah that.” Starstorm smiled and closed her eyes for a second.
She reached her left hand up to her right shoulder and pulled the sleeve of the hospital gown up. On her upper arm near the shoulder the bands of metal parted from an invisible join and peeled back to reveal a hidden compartment. From within the compartment a light blinked and a box shaped drone floated out and drifted around the two women. The drone was about the size of a Rubiks cube and its lights blinked in time to the chirps and beeps it made as it hovered closer to Gale.
“Knightingale meet Twitch. Twitch meet Knightingale.”
“Twitch?” Gale enquired.
“He hasn’t been out for a while so excuse his curiosity.”
Twitch bleeped softly.
“He likes you.” Sarah chuckled.
“I’m flattered.” Gale nodded towards the tiny drone, “I like you too Twitch.”
Another soft bleep from the drone as it spun happily.
“When I first got Twitch it was just as a simple drone to extend my abilities for the purposes of being a spy. Like an external sensor pod that feeds back data. He can monitor all kinds of radio frequencies, handy for intercepting transmissions etc. The sensor pod can track smells, pheromones, radiation… you name it. Really handy for when you’re hunting someone.”
“I can imagine…” Gale watched the little box levitate and roam around her head, “still doesn’t explain why you call him Twitch?”
“Well,” Sarah chuckled, “The more I used him the more he seemed to develop a personality. He’s much more stable in the air now, when I first got him he used to twitch back and forth, hence the name. Now he drifts around quite easily.”
Gale could read the emotions playing through Sarah’s mind as she talked about her arm and the drone hovering around them. An element of sadness was creeping in to her thoughts. Not just sadness but embarrassment too. Something was bothering her.
“Are you ok Sarah?” she asked.
“I’m fine. All good.” Sarah lied and forced a smile.
“You know that I’m not just a Doctor,” Gale said warmly, “I’m a highly trained Empath and we’ve already covered my telepathy. I know when something is bother someone. Talk to me.”
Sarah didn’t respond. There was a war being raged in her mind and it didn’t take Gale’s telepathy to see it. Gale softened her tone and addressed her again.
“For a long time now,” She said, “I’ve been the only Brit in a broadly American SuperGroup. My background is… complicated and for the longest time I didn’t have any friends or anyone to talk to, until I met Fordith and the Femmes. Even now, because of my telepathy, I struggle to really fit in. I know I’m not as gregarious and outgoing as Pyra and the others, but I do love this group and I did find a level of comfort here. It is the closest thing I have ever had to a family. We look out for each other here, so if you want to talk… I’ll listen.”
Sarah looked at Gale and decided that yes, she did need to talk. Something had been bothering her for a while now, and her disastrous lunch date the other day had only made things worse.
Gale’s face turned to one of confusion.
“Michael? What did he do?” She enquired carefully.
“Nothing…” Sarah backtracked, “Nothing really. It’s not him… It’s just…I feel so stupid…”
“Whatever it is, it’s not stupid.” Gale said firmly.
“Since the accident and my… enhancement… I haven’t dated. I just… it’s hard to see myself as… complete. I feel like I’m less of a person, less of a woman for having all this inside me. I know I’m technically more, we’ve just talked about the amazing things I can do now that I couldn’t do before. But, at the same time am I slightly less human? Twenty percent or so of me is metal and nano-robotics. Can someone fall in love with someone who if only eighty percent human?”
“Why should it make a difference?” Gale asked. “There are millions of people in the world that have something artificial in them, from pacemakers and hip-replacements to full on prosthetics. Trust me I have some experience in these matters. My younger sister has a cybernetic arm so… But all of them are still human though, as are you.”
“Yes, I know that intellectually, but… it’s a feeling.” Sarah tried to explain, “When Rogue asked me out for coffee…”
“He asked you out?” Gale interrupted a little taken aback.
“He bumped into me at the City Hall, and we popped to a Café to grab a smoothie. I caught myself thinking what if he could really like me? But then he knows people like Miss Liberty, and Pyra and the others. I mean have you seen Pyra? She’s gorgeous. And Miss Liberty? Gorgeous and famous. And how about you? Tall, slender, stunning, you look more like a supermodel that a Doctor… He is literally surrounded by amazing incredible women…”
“I can categorically state for the record, that despite your incredibly kind words, Michael has no interest in me.” Gale stammered back.
Sarah carried on with her explanation, now she was talking it felt good to get it off her chest.
“As we sat there, we were talking and it felt good. I actually showed him my arm… He… His reaction…” she paused trying to find words for her disappointment, “His reaction was not what I dreamt it would be.”
“What did he say?” Gale asked.
“He compared me to Robocop… or the Terminator.”
She watched Gale’s face drop, her empathy leading her to understand immediately the depths of Sarah’s pain. She had finally opened up to a man and that man had, whether intentionally or not, reinforced all the insecurities that she had had about herself and her attractiveness due to the artificial arm.
“Oh Sarah,” Gale said quietly, “I’m positive Michael didn’t mean it like that…”
“It doesn’t matter Gale, it’s just me being silly.” And with that Sarah put the barriers back up. She had shared enough for one day. “Anyway, I really need to be getting on. Are we done here?”
She hopped off the bed and looked at Gale for approval to go and get changed. Gale nodded reluctantly and gestured with her head towards the changing room.
“Of course,” She said, then added. “Just one word of advice… Don’t write Michael off just yet.
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