Paragon City Stories: Meanwhile at the Superbase

Hosted by UNINVENTIVEHEART

Chapter I, Scene 5

Truffles and Prosthetics

NARRATOR: Linuial

  Place: Inner Space

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NARRATOR

  You find yourself drifting, alone with your thoughts. Because you have seen this before, you rapidly begin to sense tastes, textures, smells, sounds, emotions, and snatches of vision that move past you in a swirling kaleidoscopic dance. “I’m so glad you came,” a familiar voice tells you.
  Your favored appearance begins to form itself around you, the plain opens beneath your feet and extends outward, furnishing itself with lush carpeting, Louis XIV furniture, a gigantic gilded fireplace. Portions of walls and hanging tapestries visually cut off much of the perspective-warping infinite, as does a gilded chamfered ceiling, high above, lending both a sense of grandeur and a comforting sense of enclosure.
  Everything is lit to a comfortable level, although there is no lighting to be seen, other than the huge fire that is roaring in the fireplace, giving off no heat.

Nyghtshade

  Nyght looks down at herself, not surprised to see she’s wearing the same slate-blue slacks and soft lilac sweater she’d spell-changed into after her recent visit to the Starfire base with “the girls”.
  Having accepted Linuial’s invitation for a ‘private chat’ after the general visit ended, Nyght settles into a plush wingbacked chair in Linuial’s mindscape and awaits the more “visually tangible” arrival of her hostess.

Linuial

  Glittering jewel-like “fireflies” of many colors begin to gather before the fireplace, gradually coalescing into the form of a woman. Eight feet tall, slender, with straight blonde hair that hangs loose below her waist, she is wearing a pastel blue sleeveless diaphanous gown that drapes to her feet, which are bare on the luxurious carpet.
  She smiles widely at Nyghtshade, delight plain in her eyes. “How is this?” she asks, immediately the dedicated hostess.

Nyghtshade

  “Lovely, as always, Linuial,” Nyght smiles agreeably. “Thanks foah giving us a chance to chat privately. Ah feel like Ah own you an apology…”

Linuial

  Her eyes fly open in surprise. “Why, whatever for?” she exclaims. “I owe you a debt that can never be repaid,” she continues, more soberly. “You, Dev, Paige…you returned me to my family.” She stops, and a sly grin starts to creep across her lips.
  “It’s the truffles, isn’t it?” She laughs, merrily. “You’re not going to try the truffles?”

Nyghtshade

  Monique thinks rather wistfully of the possibility of truffles, but regards Linuial seriously.
  “This is about what happened in the Crey lab, afteh Ah got shot, and you weah tryin’ to heal me. Do you remember now, remember evehthin’ that happened then?”

Linuial

  She frowns. “Yes, I believe so. Of course, if I didn’t remember something, then I might not realize that…I didn’t remember it.”
  The grin is cheeky.

Nyghtshade

  With a sigh, Monique continues. “You couldn’t close the wounds, it doesn’t work like that foah me. So you offered…. you offered to let me feed on you.”
  “You weah, in fact, quite persistent, despite me tellin’ you neveh to offeh that, despite me tryin’ to move away from you. You chased afteh me, convinced you had to make me do it. Make me feed on you.”
  A muscle jumps in Nyght’s jaw at the memory. “Ah know you meant well, Ah know you didn’t undehstand, but you weah so darned certain… And… well, anyway, Ah shouted at you, threw you back into Bubastis… Ah was rough with you, and Ah should not have been.”
  “Ah’m sorry, truly Ah am. But you have to undehstand, you can neveh offeh that to me. None of you. Not eveh.”

Linuial

  “No, I’m the one who should be apologizing, Monique.”
  She walks over to sit on the carpet near Nyghtshade’s chosen seat. “…but you understand, do you not, that often people will attempt to push away the very thing they need most.
  “Sometimes, that is what a true healer must do…press the ‘patient’, until they are certain that they have a true, honest answer.
  “It’s like in an emergency room, if you are familiar with their procedures. A patient is complaining of ankle pain, the doctor presses his fingers on the painful spot, the patient screams, and on the basis of that, the doctor decides to take an X-Ray. It’s not a pleasant part of the job…but a necessary one.”
  She turns to meet Nyghtshade’s eyes directly. “You don’t have to worry about me offering, ever again. I satisfied myself that your concerns were valid and honest. Nor will I ever suggest that anyone other than those you chose should be…fed upon.”
  She suddenly laughs. “You have no idea how often that emergency room doctor gets kicked across the room…or a right cross to the kisser.”

Nyghtshade

  Nyght’s gaze drops, but she nods. “Thank you.” She draws a slow breath, and settles back into the chair. “So… are you up foah one moah question? or.. well, OK, maybe two moah questions, dependin’ on the answeh to the first one.”

Linuial

  Putting both hands behind her, flat on the floor, she leans back, stretches her legs out in front. “Go right ahead, Monique. Ask me anything you like. If I don’t want to answer…I won’t.”
  She chuckles. “Understand this, however…be certain you actually want to hear the answer, whatever it is, because I am likely to answer…with the truth.”

Nyghtshade

  Monique nods. “Ah’ve seen yoah ears, but heah in Paragon lots of different kinds of people have pointy ears. But I’ve also seen yoah memories of yoah people.”
  “What Ah’m wonderin’ about,” she continues cautiously, “is whetheh you are an Elf. And not the Keebleh kind, or the ones at the North Pole.”

Linuial

  Linuial sighs.
  She curls up, bringing her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them, staring off into the distance still visible between the tapestries.
  It is a long time before she speaks, her eyes still on something unseen, unseeable.
  “An elf. How am I to answer that?
  “It’s an English word…if we were speaking any other language, it would be something else.
  “…and what, exactly, is an ‘elf’? You’ve already removed two possible definitions.
  “First, then, you must answer my question: what does the word ‘elf’ mean to you, that I must answer if I am one, yeay, or nay?”

Nyghtshade

  Monique sighs in turn. “Ah’m not one to define them, so maybe it’s not a fair question. It’s just, you say yoah people are all gone, but Ah’ve met elves heah in Paragon City. The leadeh of our SG is one. Ah just don’t know if she’s like you, or if conversely yo’ah like her.”
  “OK, let me try this anotheh way. Do you know anythin’ about a… well, an Elven deity?… called Sehanine Moonbow?” More cautiously, she adds, “Are you by any chance a followeh of Sehanine?”

Linuial

  Linuial looks back at the undead woman, gives her a gentle smile.
  “Ah! Well, allow me to put your mind at ease, Monique…unless you want me to be that.” She laughs. “I have never heard of any Sehanine, Moonbow or any other kind of bow.
  “My people have their own gods, but the one we love most above all is the Queen of the Stars, she who placed the lights in the night sky. Our word for ‘star’ is ‘el’, and we are both ‘el’ ourselves, in the singular, or the ‘eldrim’ when all of our kind are being spoken of, ‘the people of the stars’.”
  “Does that answer your question?”

Nyghtshade

  Monique relaxes visibly. “Thank you, that’s very good to know. I’ve had some… issues with an Elven follower of Sehanine, so just wanted to be shoah theah’d be no misundehstandin’s down the road between you and me.”
  Her mood lightens considerably. “So, do you have any questions foah me?”

Linuial

  She jumps to her feet in one fluid motion.
  “Yes!” she grins. “Will you have tea with your truffles, or something more…substantial?”
  She throws her head back and laughs, as tables begin to sprout from the carpet, unfolding themselves like giant flowers, draping themselves with damask and china, blossoming tidbits and nibbles.
  A tiny blonde girl, apparent age of three in human terms, runs up to Nyghtshade, then stares at her over the arm of her chair.
  “I remember you!” she squeaks. “You were here before. Did you come to see the dance again?”

Nyghtshade

  Nyght starts to ask for a cup of mint tea, and then realizes there are not limits here. “Oh, Ah would deahly love a tall frosty Hurricane,” she exclaims, referring to a rum and fruit flavors drink.
  She turns to smile at the young version of Linuial. “Hello theah, Shugah. Yes, Ah was heah befoah. It’s lovely to see you again. Ah came to visit a bit, and enjoy a little snack.”
  Monique rises to her feet, asking, “Ah didn’t get yoah name, Shugah. What should Ah call you?”

Evensong

  The little girl in the baby-blue-and-white pinafore performs a perfect Edwardian curtsy, and says: “How do you do? It is very nice to meet you. My name is Linuial…what is your name?” She grins up at Nyghtshade.

Linuial

  “You can call her Evensong, if you like…it’s the English version of my name,” the elder Linuial calls over her shoulder.
  “Would you like that virgin, or do you want the real experience?” She turns her head enough to show off the sly grin.

Nyghtshade

  “If Ah go foah the real rum version, will it affect me once Ah’m out in the real world again?” Nyght asks curiously.
  To the little girl, she replies, “Evensong, that’s a beautiful name. Did you know that in mah Faith, it’s also the name foah an Evenin’ worship service, in honor of the settin’ sun? That’s become mah favorite church service these days. As foah mah name, all mah friends call me…”
  She hesitates for the barest fraction of a second, before continuing as smoothly as possible, “… call me Monique. So if you like, you can call me that.”

Evensong

  “Thank you…” The little girl looks puzzled. “What’s a faith? And why do you have one?” She plops herself down on the carpet near Nyghtshade’s chosen chair.

Linuial

  Linuial hands Nyghtshade a tall footed glass, condensation already forming on the outside, with a cloth napkin to catch the drips.
  “I can only manipulate the body you wear here, Monique…when you leave, you will find everything just as you remember leaving it…except you might be a bit hungrier, I’m afraid the experiences here are just temporary. Except for the memories you take with you, of course.”

Nyghtshade

  Monique smiles down at the child. “Faith is what a person believes about theah God. It helps them figure out how to behave, so they can show theah God how much they love Him. Or Her. Ah show mah God Ah love Him by lovin’ othehs. Because that’s what makes Him happy.”
  She nods in understanding of Linuial’s explanation, and accepts the drink. “Well, Ah’ll take what Ah can get, and mah thanks foah that.”

Evensong

  “Well, that’s silly,” the little girl responds. “Why do you have to ‘believe’ something? Can’t you just ask your god?” She leans over and begins to pick at an imaginary defect in the carpet.

Linuial

  Carrying a steaming tea cup and saucer, and a small plate of comestibles, Linuial seats herself on a sofa, places the plate on a side table, watching the undead woman with a sly smile on her face.

Nyghtshade

  “You all might be able to do that,” Monique replies, unruffled, as she sips her drink. That requires a pause as she nearly rolls her eyes in pleasure at the taste, and the feel of the rum warming it’s way down her throat.
  Glancing again toward Evensong, she continues, “but foah humans, people like me… well, like Ah used to be, it doesn’t work that way. We study ouh God through his writings, and learn what he’s like that way. And we pray to him, but he doesn’t usually answeh directly. Sometimes he answehs by affectin’ the way things turn out foah us. Sometimes he answehs by givin’ us strength when we need it to face a problem, or healin’ or comfort when we’ah hurt or sick or very sad.”
  Nyght reflexively touches her hand to a chain of beads hanging around her throat and down beneath the neckline of her sweater.

Evensong

  The little girl gets up, walks over to Nyghtshade, puts a chubby hand on her arm. “I’m very sorry…” she pipes. “It must be very hard to be a human.” She turns and looks at the elder Linuial. “I like our gods better…”
  She suddenly brightens, turns her attention full on the undead woman. “I know! Why don’t you use our gods? Then you could know what to do!”

Nyghtshade

  “That’s a really sweet offeh,” Monique replies, unruffled, and adds, smiling gently, “But Ah really love mah own God, so Ah’ll stick with him.”

Evensong

  “…but…how can you love him if you don’t know him, and he won’t talk to you?” The girl cocks her head to one side, a miniature version of the expression Linuial uses.

Linuial

  Linuial waves her tea cup in Nyghtshade’s direction. “She’s…I have…got a point, there, you know.”
  She is thoroughly enjoying the exchange.

Evensong

  “I’ve got a point!” the child announces, proudly.
  “See, you could come and dance with us, and you’d never have to dance under the sun, either!”

Nyghtshade

  “Oh, Faith means bein’ able to believe in somethin’ even if you can’t prove it to someone else,” Monique explains, her own Faith apparently unshakable. “And you don’t have to worry, Ah know mah God, Ah’ve known him all mah life. And Ah know He knows and loves me, same way mah Mama and Daddy do, just moah.”
  “And you all dance so much betteh than me, Ah’d be a little embarrassed.” She grins at Linuial, and sips her drink.

Evensong

  The child walks over to Nyghtshade’s chair, struggles to climb over the arm, finally manages to wedge herself into the seat alongside the woman. She looks at the elder Linuial, then at Nyghtshade, then lowers her voice to a conspiratorial tone.
  “I can tell you a secret…” she says, then glances back at her elder self, who nods, still smiling.

Nyghtshade

  Nyght shifts position a bit to make room for the child, and ducks her head, smiling. “Ah can keep secrets,” she assures Evensong.

Evensong

  The little girl snuggles closer, cups a chubby hand around Nyghtshade’s ear, and whispers: “My mother is special.”

Nyghtshade

  “Is she, Shugah? Why is that?” Monique whispers back.

Evensong

  “She saw the Star Queen,” the child whispers, then leans back, looking very proud.

Linuial

  From her position on the sofa, Linuial raises her tea cup in a salute, still looking highly amused.

Nyghtshade

  “Wow,” Nyght whispers back, “that is special. Ah’ll bet you loved her tellin’ you all about it.”
  “Was that yoah Motheh we saw dancin’ at the top of the hill?”

Evensong

  “Yeah.” The girl dimples. “She even has a special name, she’s the Light Lady. Cause she saw the Queen. Father didn’t, but that’s okay, ‘cause he’s Father.”

Nyghtshade

  “Ah think he looked very special, too,” Monique nods solemnly. “Daddy’s always do, don’t they?”

Evensong

  “Yeah…” the child agrees.

Linuial

  “…and, now…” the elder Linuial says, standing up and crossing to the buffet tables, “…it is time for the main attraction.”
  She glances over at Nyghtshade, that same sly smile dominating her face. “Truffles with, or truffles without?” She laughs.

Nyghtshade

  Nyght sobers a bit, realizing all Linuial has left are her memories of her parents. “Ah’m glad you showed me yoah Mama and Daddy, Evensong. Ah’m honored.”
  Nyght gives Linuial a questioning look. “With or without what?”

Linuial

  “Whatever you want. You name it, you get it.” She pauses for a second, thoughtfully.
  “Ah, I know…” She selects from a tray a single chocolate truffle, places it in the center of a tiny silver tray, walks over to Nyghtshade’s chair, and presents the sweet with a flourish.
  “Your truffle with a strawberry in the center,” she announces.

Nyghtshade

  Monique accepts the small tray and nibbles on the truffle, then the strawberry center. Her eyes do roll up a bit, as she relishes the powerful tastes.
  “This is so fine,” she sighs appreciatively. “Ah haven’t experienced strawberries and chocolate this way since… well, not in yeahs. Thank you, Linuial. This is very kind.”

Linuial

  Linuial sobers, her eyes still smiling, but her voice is far more serious in tone. “Just remember, Monique…any time you want, you are welcome to visit me here…and sample the truffles. Or anything else you desire…” She laughs. “…as long as I have tasted it, of course!”

Nyghtshade

  Monique nods slowly. “Ah thank you.”

PulseFire

  “Oooh… this is so weird!” Lisa said, looking at her self. “I’ve never been in someone else’s head before… and my arm! It’s back! I didn’t th– Oh, this isn’t real, is it?”
  She almost walks past the two ladies, “Oh, wait, is one of you the owner? I don’t believe we’ve met.”

Paige Pirillo

  Paige runs up in a second, “Lisa, wait! Sorry, ladies, I didn’t know she’d just wander in. I was still looking around outside. Linuial, Nyghtshade, this is PulseFire. Lisa Perrineau in real life.”
  Now it is clear how the amazed neophyte got into this place.

Linuial

  Linuial raises an eyebrow, looking both bemused and amused.
  “Didn’t anyone ever teach you to knock?” she queries.

Evensong

  The tiny child wriggles her way free of the wingbacked chair, and marches up to the unknown intruder.
  “Hey! Hey!” she squeaks. “Who are you? I’ve never seen you before.” She stamps her foot for emphasis.

PulseFire

  “Well, yeah, in real life. I didn’t know how mind homes work. I’m Lisa… forgive me, I’m giddy on how neat this place is!” she says, eyes on the ceiling as she twirls around very gracefully.
  “And you! You’re adorable! What’s your name? Wait! Let me guess: Robin! No, Megan! …Lilly?” Lisa asks of the young child.

Linuial

  Linuial turns to Paige. “I take it this is your doing,” she says. “Are you also raffling tickets for entry?” Her voice is solemn, but her eyes are laughing.

Evensong

  The tiny child stamps her foot again, and then points a finger at the newcomer. PulseFire evaporates into a swirling cloud of glitter and smoke.
  “There!” she squeaks.

Linuial

  “Now, Evensong…” the elder Linuial admonishes. “That isn’t being a good hostess. You know better than that.” She can’t suppress the giggle.

Paige Pirillo

  “I’m sorry, Lin. Lisa is actually an accomplished ballet dancer. She heard about your ‘ability’ and well… I mentioned that you could come up with a Grand Ballroom where she could try to finish conceptualizing a dance she wanted to work out before doing it in real life. She begged me to come along, I didn’t think she’d take off like a rocket.”
  “Did she make her wake up?” Paige asked Linuial.

Linuial

  “No, Paige, she’s still here…” Linuial points at the swirling cloud.

Evensong

  “Awwwww…do I hafta bring her back?” The child stares at the carpet and scuffs the toe of one shoe into it.

Nyghtshade

  Nyght nibbles on her truffle, amused despite herself at seeing someone else bearing the brunt of the precocious Little Linuial.

Linuial

  “That would be what a proper hostess would do, yes.” Linuial winks at Nyghtshade.

PulseFire

  “This is so WEIRD! I’m a ghost? Can you guys hear me?” PulseFire’s disembodied voice asks, possibly aware that she may be still there.
  “Where’s my body? Guys! Where–” She unfortunately is starting to panic, which sounds worse on the ears than her enthusiasm.

Nyghtshade

  Lisa’s panic is far less amusing. Concerned, Monique suggests, “Um, Evensong, Shugah, maybe you could restore Lisa to her normal form?”

Paige Pirillo

  “Alright, she’s panicking. It’s going to be hard for me to keep her in here if she’s struggling…” Paige warns.

Evensong

  Evensong makes a face at Paige, crosses her stubby arms, turns her back, and sits down, ka-plop, on the carpet.
  The cloud of glitter and smoke coalesces…into a white unicorn with rainbow mane and tail.

Paige Pirillo

  “Okay, that isn’t going to help.” Paige says. She looks at Nyghtshade, “How do you explain to a child about Residual Self-Image? She’s still freaking out.”

Linuial

  “Evensong, she’s a dancer. Don’t you want to see her dance?” the blonde woman, suggests, still giggling under her breath.

Evensong

  “….oh…huh. Well, she shouldn’t be a rude dancer, then.” The child remains seated on the carpet, her back turned, her arms crossed, but the unicorn does indeed de-form and re-form into Lisa.

Linuial

  Linuial addresses her mental image of Nyghtshade. “I wonder if that will teach either Paige or Lisa that it is unwise to bring friends into someone’s mind without asking?“ Her mental voice is still chuckling.

Linuial

  She then addresses her mental image of Paige. “Have you so quickly forgotten Xavier saying that he doesn’t do ‘mind-diving’ ‘for shits and giggles’?“

Nyghtshade

“Well, perhaps they’ll think twice about not knocking first,” Nyght agrees. “Lisa was starting to get pretty scared - might be a good idea to explain some ground rules foah her. Just so they don’t assume yoah mind is a Dew Drop Inn.”

Paige Pirillo

  “I’m sorry! I’d offer up my mind, but my imagination for buildings and architecture is nowhere as detailed as yours…” Paige said.
  “Lisa, can you explain?” She asked the Praetorian who is breathing much slower now.

Linuial

“It’s not like they can enter without me knowing about it…but if I was distracted, they might have missed the plain entirely, and been lost in my memories. They certainly wouldn’t have had bodies, and if Lisa is going to freak out so easily because of that, there could have been a tragedy.“

Nyghtshade

“Like Ah said, some ground rules could be helpful. Lisa literally has no idea how things work heah.”

Linuial

“Apparently, neither does Paige,“ Linuial replies, sardonically.

PulseFire

  “I’ve spent the first 15 years of my life in training. My first Christmas memory was getting new slippers. My first recital in Primary was Swan Lake. And my first semi-professional job was a touring company who played at the Magisterium… our best venue.”
  “Then when I joined the resistance, a PPD Officer stunned me and ripped my arm off in a firefight as a show of strength on Television. That was when I was 16. I haven’t danced for two years, until Tahquitz challenged me to get back into it. My clockwork arm is close enough to precise for combat, but in dancing… it’s too… too… rigid. I need to be fluid, I need to be graceful. And I can’t find the right movement for a part of my routine.”
  “Could I try it here? I’m not looking for weekly rehearsal space, I just wanted to try it without encumbrances like muscle memory and breath getting in the way. If I’m not welcome, I… I understand.” She looks down, calmed from her initial enthusiasm… but not enormously as she can’t help but wiggle her right hand’s fingers to confirm they work like she remembered. It brings a smile to her face.

Paige Pirillo

  “I tried it in my mind first, but well… I’m not as coordinated physically as her. I couldn’t keep up with her movements. And I’m not interior-oriented, most of my mindscapes are natural. It’s hard to dance ballet with tidepools and mud interfering with your steps.” Paige adds in. “I should have asked first, but I saw her eyes lower… I caved like an iceburg collapsing.”

Linuial

  Linuial cocks her head to one side. At the beginning of Lisa’s speech, her lips had been pressed tightly together. But when the girl reached the part about losing her arm, her expression changed from irritation to concern.
  Without a word, the blonde woman stands, all eight feet of her, and walks slowly to the Praetorian girl. She mutely reaches out a hand in the direction of the girl’s prosthesis, and waits for her to place it in her hand.
  Pursing her lips, she examines the arm, gently manipulating it, bending the joints, examining the connection to the girl’s body. After some minutes, she bends in a bow over the artificial limb, and lets go of it, straightening, her brows knitted.
  Finally, she sighs, looks down at the carpet, before walking to the buffet, and mixes a drink, using one of the bottles from the liquor selection. She walks to the sofa and seats herself, then waves the two girls to join her.

Paige Pirillo

  Paige sits on the sofa next to Linuial.

PulseFire

  Lisa is walking slowly to the couch as demurely as possible. She sits carefully, knees together, back straight, at full attention.

Nyghtshade

  Nyght remains curled in the wingback chair, sipping her drink and watching.

Linuial

  Linuial takes a sip of her drink, then leans forward in Lisa’s direction, her expression mild, if a bit sad.
  “Lisa,” she says softly, “…I can help you, but not in the way you are asking me to.”
  Seeing the puzzled expression she expected, she continues without leaving time for interruption.
  “This…” she waves a hand in a circle over her read, “…is not real. It has a physics of its own, but it is not Euclidean, nor Newtonian, nor relativistic.
  “With conscious effort, I can create something to fool the mind into thinking that it is in familiar surroundings, but that is only a trick.”
  She holds out the glass in front of herself, and lets go. As Lisa gasps and makes a dive to catch it on the way down, she misses completely as the glass rises slowly instead.
  “You see?” Linuial tells her. She reaches up and draws the glass back down, takes another sip. She blinks, and they all find themselves floating, their stomachs screaming that they are falling from a great height, even though nothing is moving…until Paige kicks out in a panic, contacts a table, and goes shooting like a rocket toward the ceiling.
  Linuial’s eyes follow her trajectory, as the girl slows to a stop before she hits the obstacle, then turns and drifts downward to a gentle landing on the carpet.
  The blonde woman turns to Lisa. “I can manufacture something that looks and feels like your body, complete with your prosthesis, but it isn’t real. It’s just my impression of it. I’m not a Xerox machine, I’m not a machine at all. I can give you something that is realistic enough to feel comfortable, but accurate enough for you to test both its limits and your own? Impossible.”
  She sits back and takes another sip.

Nyghtshade

  Nyght had clutched at the sides of the wingback chair during Linuial’s mindscape physics demonstration and settled back, relieved when it was over, while the blonde elfin woman explained why she could not help Lisa in the way she wanted.

PulseFire

  “I understand.” Lisa says. She concentrates on her right arm, and knowing it is fake, wills it away. The arm disappears, showing a exposed servo socket exposed where her right shoulder would give way normally to a bicep, sitting empty waiting for a ball joint to clamp in. She bends her left arm over her head to pull back her hair, exposing a scar from her temple to her neck from the same PPD officer’s metal gauntlets grating against her head in his commission of literal mayhem.
  “Paige told me about her time when she tried to help you after you were shot, and I thought it was worth a try. This, what you see now, is the real me. This is what’s left.”

Linuial

  Linuial reaches to set her glass on the side table, stands, walks to Lisa, and re-examines the socket, now that the arm is removed. After a minute, she begins nodding to herself.
  Returning to her seat on the sofa, she picks up the drink, holds it between two hands in her lap.
  “Lisa,” she finally says, “…I told you that I could not help you in the way that you want. I also told you that I can help you, and I can.”
  She smiles, finally. “How would you like a brand-new arm, one that would be fine-tuned to your nervous system, so that it would feel as natural to you as your organic one? One that would respond in every way like your original, even to possessing muscle memory that can be trained through practice?”

Paige Pirillo

  “Really? Like in real life?” Paige asks Lin to confirm her offer.

Linuial

  She shrugs. “It won’t look like a real, live arm, no, but it will function like one, and you can always put more or less realistic sleeves on it, if you like. I would assume that your teachers wouldn’t actually care if it looked like a prosthesis, it’s the dance that is important, not the limb.” She smiles.

PulseFire

  “Wow. That would be amazing. Thanks, Lin. I’m… I’m in your debt. Truly.” Lisa said smiling. She rolls her head to return her hair to it’s natural state, covering her right side of her scarred but otherwise pretty face. Her right eye is mostly obscured with it.

Linuial

  “Then you could just practice with it in the real world. In fact, you’d want to, as each run-through would improve the accuracy of the programmable muscle memory, just as you do with organic limbs.
  “So…does that mean you like the idea?”

PulseFire

  “Yes, yes I do.” Lisa is smiling again. “Why haven’t you introduced me to them earlier, Paige?” She stifles a giggle.

Paige Pirillo

  “Because you’re kind of intense. I don’t think Lin’s into the emo rollercoaster you bring to the party.” Paige said. “And like Tahq, you get into trouble a lot, so I think she’d find you hard to help if we teamed up with you.”
  Paige sees everyone stare at her, including Lisa “…what? You asked. Want me to lie?”

Linuial

  “It will be expensive…very much so.” Linuial turns to face the other teenager. “Paige, that would be a great project for you, with your studies…you might even be able to make a class project out of it.” At Paige’s puzzled expression, she explains: “Charity fundraising. Organizing and running events of all kinds to raise the money for the parts for Lisa’s arm.”
  She smiles. “If you do a good enough job of raising money, we might be able to find some Paragon City big shots who will offer matching funds. Maybe even a cash-flush Praetorian, or two…” She winks at Paige, then laughs.
  “And if you do get the money for the parts, and demonstrate your dedication by doing it quickly enough, I might…might, I emphasize…be able to swing a deal for free labor to assemble, test, and fine-tune it for you.” She looks between the two girls, smiling broadly.
  “Are you up for it?”

Nyghtshade

  Nyght nods, as well, regarding the two girls thoughtfully.

PulseFire

  “You’re not thinking about that guy from the Syndicate, are you?” Lisa asked, “Most of those guys were absolute jerks. They wouldn’t save their Mom from a heart attack if there was money in letting them die.”

Linuial

  “There are lots of guys ‘from the Syndicate’, Lisa,” Linuial chides her. “Are you telling me you wouldn’t accept cash money from one or more of them if they offered it, for your new dancing arm?”
  She raises an eyebrow at the girl.

PulseFire

  “One, I’d be impressed if they offered it in the first place. Two, it depends on who is offering.” Lisa offers up. She leans back gently to cross her legs, then leans back forward.

Paige Pirillo

  “The name Xavier Devereaux doesn’t ring a bell?” Paige asked Lisa.

Linuial

  Linuial frowns. “Lisa, if you care that much about who donates to your cause, you are never going to get enough money for the arm.” She shakes her head. “Too bad.” She turns her back, and begins to walk away, smiling at Nyghtshade as she passes and giving her a wink.

Nyghtshade

  Nyght smiles in return, and finishes off her Hurricane.

PulseFire

  “Nope. But like Paragon City here, in Praetoria, the city was large enough that if you frequented the same blocks daily, two people in the city could be neighbors and never see each other face to face. I haven’t met him. I’ve only heard of him from you guys.” Lisa said.
  “I’ve got some money saved up. The Praetorian Immigration Relief Fund gave me $3,200 for room and board when I came here, but I got into a Supergroup right off the bat. I just saved the money. How much is needed?”

Linuial

  Linuial stops, looks up at the chamfered ceiling, shakes her head, before turning around.
  “Lisa…” she begins. “You can’t just walk in a retail store and buy one off the shelf. I don’t know how much the parts will cost, and neither does any one else. We’d need to have a continuing series of charity events, to pay for parts as we can find and acquire them.
  “I just offered you a one-of-a-kind arm that you can dance with like an organic one, and you’re not even excited about the idea. No one else in the world would have one like it.
  “Apparently, that’s not what you want, so, you’re on your own. I’ve done my best for you.”
  She turns and shrugs at Nyghtshade, returns to the sofa, and retrieves her nearly empty glass.

PulseFire

  “I’ve spent years having things taken from me. What’s one more? Forgive me for imposing on you girls. I’ll figure out my own problems.”
  “Paige, take me home.” Lisa said, looking sad again. “I’ve wasted everyone’s time.”

Paige Pirillo

  “Uh… okay. It’s like dreaming. Just wake yourself up.” Paige says out loud, confused as to what just happened.

Linuial

  “Too many conditions, Paige,” Linuial says softly.

PulseFire

  She turns to Evensong, “It was nice to meet you sweetheart! You’re very cute. Hopefully we’ll play again one day.”
  Lisa then fades as she wakes herself up.

Paige Pirillo

  “She’s not the most patient girl out there, I know.” Paige said. “Who would have made the arm for her, if you don’t mind me asking? Not that I’ll get involved, that’s wholly between you two.”

Nyghtshade

  “Paige, if you don’t mind mah askin’, why wouldn’t you get involved? She’s a friend of yoah’s, yes?”

Linuial

  Linuial chuckles. It’s a bit sad, though. “Paige, I’m ashamed of you. Are you trying to tell me that you both walked through the Starfire base and never even noticed Jon?” She bursts into laughter at Paige’s expression, then turns sober.
  “That poor child…” the blonde woman muses out loud. She sighs. “Well, it’s not like she’s going to die from not having a new arm.”
  She turns to the remaining teenager. “Paige, she may change her mind. But until she is absolutely dedicated to the project, and can show it publicly, nobody, and I mean ‘nobody’ is going to donate a single dollar. No one would believe that she would follow through to the end, if she gives up that easily.”

Paige Pirillo

  “Yeah. But one week, she’s a sweetheart, the next she’s a pushy, irritable woman.” Paige said to Nyghtshade.
  “Normally, I’d help her out, but when she’s like that… Lin is also my friend, too. If she thinks Lisa doesn’t deserve her help, I have to respect that.”

Linuial

  “Paige, I absolutely think she deserves my help, but you saw her…she just rejected it. I didn’t walk out of here, nor did I throw her out, she left of her own volition. Until she is ready to accept help, it cannot be forced on her, and any attempts to do so will be wasted, and probably make her more bitter as well.
  “It’s said time heals all wounds…maybe with time, she’ll be ready to accept the help of others.”

Nyghtshade

  “Maybe she needs somethin’ moah than just time,” Monique ventures. “Maybe she needs to meet someone who’s been through what she has, who’s dealt with loss, and built a life with an artificial prothesis.”
  “And maybe she needs to find a way to hope. And trust.”

Paige Pirillo

  “I dunno. I hope she finds some peace eventually. But I don’t understand what she’s been through in Praetoria completely, so I have no real insight on what she’s been through other than what she told me.”
  Paige sits back into the couch. “In any case, I was hoping to come here to unwind. I chose the wrong day to bring her.”

Nyghtshade

  Surprised by Paige’s apparent coldness, Monique sighs again. “Mah mistake. Ah thought you all weah friends.”

Evensong

  Immediately, Evensong jumps up, runs to the couch, clambers up onto the seat, and reaches around Paige’s neck in a 3-year-old bear hug.

Paige Pirillo

  She hugs Evensong back and tickles her feet in a teasing manner to hear her giggle. “And that’s precisely why I have to leave. Because I’m her friend… and she needs to vent to someone right now.”
  “I’m sorry about all of this, Linuial and Monique. I hope you guys have a good night.” She shakes her head as Paige fades from the couch as well.

Linuial

  Linuial sighs, turns to Nyghtshade.
  “Refresher?” she asks.

Nyghtshade

  “Well… Paige is a complicated young woman,” Nyght replies thoughtfully, as she hands Linuial the empty glass.
  “If it turns out that Lisa is ready at some point to be helped, let me know. Ah could put up some matchin’ funds foah her.”

Paige Pirillo

     Back in the world of the waking…
  “I don’t get it. Lin offers to help you, and you turn her away. What’s up?” Paige asks.
  “You wouldn’t understand, Paige.” Lisa replies.
  “Try me. I’ve been lied to, taken from those I love, and made to feel worthless. Just under different circumstances, and my loved ones died.” She offers back.
  “But you don’t. You’ve been captive all of your life by your own government. I’ve fought authority. And I don’t like people holding things over my head saying I’m not worthy of getting them. Not from entitlement… I don’t expect someone to solve my problems for free. But to tell others to suffer for what they want without a clear path to getting them? I’ve faced enough tyranny. And life is hard enough to fight through to get what you want. If someone’s ‘help’ is making me go through an effort to get something, and I’d go through the same effort to do it myself, I’d rather cut out the middle-woman.”
  “Linuial isn’t like that, though. She’s cautious because she’s had thousands of years of broken promises and lies to wade through to come to where she is now. She’s still in love with humanity, but she’s just really cautious.”
  “That may be, but her idea of charity and mine are completely different.”
  Paige sighs… She heard Monique describe Lin’s teahouse and wanted to give it a shot. She was looking forward to it all week. “So, now what do you want to do?”
  Lisa doesn’t skip a beat, and knows precisely what she wants: “Want to come with me to open studio in Platinum Lake? I could use someone to help me stretch, play music and count.”
  “Sure, why not?” Paige said.
  “Great! Help me with these bags.” Lisa said, grabbing her purse and a tie-duffle on her back, leaving two large and full gym bags for Paige to carry alone, one for each arm. She’s having trouble lifting one.
“So much for unwinding…” Paige thinks to herself.
  “Let’s get a move on it… the studio closes in 90 minutes!” Lisa chirps, marching towards the door.

NARRATOR

  Much has been experienced, much has been said, in this universe outside of time. With a promise that you can always return, you realize that it is time to return to the outside world and your existence there. As the sheltered room around you dissolves, and even your own body returns to starlight, you wonder what new adventures await you…

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