Her name was Karina.
Jon Smith had gotten a cell phone call to join a group of Heroes. They were accompanying a Hero who had been assigned the task of picking up the oft-released FrostFire.
They entered the building to murmurs of satisfaction from the Heroes. It looked to be an easy mission, and in all likelihood, a profitable one, as well. He could already see the eyes calculating their next promotions.
For himself, that last trip to the hospital when his knee joint had broken had been a bad one. His injuries had been extensive, and he had gone deeply into debt to Hero Corps because of it.
The chorus of "Ready!" began almost at once, and other Heroes ran eagerly forward to engage the waiting mob. Taken off guard, Jon ran forward to join the battle.
And found himself striking out at a lieutenant with his claws.....just as he saw silver flashing from beside himself at the same target.
The opening skirmish was quick, leaving him time to drop his eyes, discover that he was standing next to a small woman in black pants and top, with long red hair....and silvery claws extending from her pink hands.
His heart skipped a beat.
As the Heroes rested, briefly, the sounds of heavy breathing predominating, he dared to speak up.
"Hey, Karina," he said, using the name he had heard another Hero address her by, speaking softly, hoping that she would hear and notice him.
"Yes?" she responded. "What is it?"
He paused, floundered, unable to think of anything else to say. The images he carried in his mind of that face that he had seen in his broken mirror flashed into his mind unbidden, and he suddenly regretted having spoken to her.
".....a pair of claws scrappers....." was all he could think up.
"Yes," she responded. "I noticed."
He couldn't have written a script for the mission any more accurately had he been clairvoyant. Old practice led to old habit, and the Heroes thrashed their way from one end of FrostFire's installation to the other with something approaching a cavalier attitude. Even F.F.'s lieutenant Keystone hardly afforded them a decent fight.
Again and again, he found himself fighting shoulder to shoulder with the red-haired woman.
He saw her being slashed, watched as her blood began to fly, and lept across heads to strike at fiery Imps that were cutting her to ribbons. "Don't bother with the Imps" the Team Leader E.V. shouted. "They just disappear when their manager dies."
"I was trying to take agro off other fighters," Jon shouted back, irritated. He didn't add that Karina was the "other fighter".
When the fighting stopped, temporarily, it was someone else she spoke to. "Those Imps nearly got me."
Keystone went down, and then FrostFire himself. Even then, his well-trained minions continued to fight. Despite being fully recovered from his earlier wounds, Jon found himself being "held" over and over again. He looked around for the source of the hold power, but never saw it. Despite that, he found himself falling, the room dimming. He could hear the computer that teleported nearly-dead Heroes to the hospital talking to him.
Had he not had that soft aqua "awaken" pill in a pouch on his belt, he wouldn't have made it out of the door under his own power, its almost magical restorative powers replacing lost and badly needed health and strength, pushing the medical transporter's cybernetic voice back into obscurity. Then his own natural healing power took over.
It was a near miss.
Outside FrostFire's installation, the triumphant group of Heroes stood, comparing notes, congratulating each other on their accomplishments.
Jon stared down at the woman with the red hair, and tried desparately to think of something to say, something that wouldn't sound like a bad pickup line, that didn't sound pushy or over-the-top.
Nothing he could think of sounded right. Especially with the way that he looked.
He waited for her to turn to him, to acknowledge him, to acknowledge that he had gone against the leader's orders to protect her. He waited to make eye contact with her.
But she only looked at, and talked to, the other team members. She wouldn't look at him.....at his ruined wreck of a body, his mask of a face.
He couldn't think of anything clever to say, as badly as he wanted to.
And so finally, sadly, he turned to the Team Leader, explained that he had an errand to run, and quit the team.
And took his last longing look at the red-haired woman.....before he walked away.
Her name was Karina.
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012