Stories : Flight of the Ivory Swan
“Hallo? Is this my Ivory Swan? Or should I say, Doctor Senescu?”
A smile. “Papa, I still have another year of school before that. I’m almost at my flat – the Atlas Park stop is next. They had a little party for me at the hospital, and I have to drop off some things.”
“We have reservations at the In-Front Steakhouse in Grenadier Village for 6:30. I want to celebrate on your last night of internship in Paragon City. I thought we could walk from my hotel – it will be a nice walk through Baumton. We can get you all packed up to-morrow. Bucharest misses its long-lost daughter.”
“Very well. I’ll change at home and go straight to your hotel. I won’t be late.” I’m just glad it was a short day at the hospital.
Regrettably, dinner was interrupted by an alien invasion.
As the Rikti poured out of their portals, sirens wailed and emergency response teams took action. Explosions of every magnitude thundered and echoed through the streets, and it felt as if Baumton was being ripped from its very foundations. Most people hid inside, but the sound of buildings being destroyed spoke of a new terror – even the structures were unsafe. Citizens wandered into the streets and did their best to avoid struggle between the Rikti and Paragon City’s defence forces. Within an hour, the smoke-filled streets were littered with rubble, debris, and bodies.
Late evening, and the streets had emptied out some, as much of the attack had moved on from Baumton. Luckily, though not easily, Izabella and her father, Lukas, had managed to make their way south toward Steel Canyon. The smoke and rubble provided some cover and they had been cautious, but steady. They stopped within sight of the gate to Steel Canyon.
Two small Rikti emerged through the smoke. The conscripts were ambling along, looking for anything that moved. Less than 30 feet away, two women, visibly terrified, were hiding behind a short wall. Izabella held her breath. After a brief hesitation, Lukas leapt into the street to face the Rikti.
“I’ll keep their attention! You ladies get away! Come you monsters! I’ll give you fight!”
The two women looked at each other and cautiously scurried along the wall toward Steel Canyon as the two Rikti considered their new target.
He’s mad. I have to help him. “I’m coming, Papa!” Izabella vaulted the debris into the street.
As his blows began landing on the first Rikti, Izabella could see that her father was holding nothing back. His martial arts hobby had kept him in fairly good shape for his age, and she had learned much from him. The skill of their new adversary clearly caught the Rikti by surprise. As one backed up to fire its rifle, Izabella sailed into it with a storm kick.
Seeing her in the fight, Lukas began calling his shots out as he made them, “Punch! Thunder! Punch! Storm! Thunder always before the storm, Bella!”
Just like training. I’m so rusty. Just like training. Clear your head. Just like training.
With a final crane kick, her target fell backward over some rubble, and she turned to see her father, now finished with his target, give her a thumbs-up. Suddenly, a bolt of light flared across Lukas’ shoulder. A dying Rikti had gotten one final shot, and Lukas fell spinning to the ground.
She rushed to his crumpled form, ripped his shirt back, and checked the wound. The shot had torn through his shoulder and neck and the bleeding was serious. Heartbeat becoming irregular. Chest wound and possible head injury – elevate. He smiled weakly as she propped him up. "You were kicking too hard again. I told you, you'll wear yourself out that way. And don’t forget your fists. They’re the fastest weapons you have."
"No talking - you're too hurt.” Direct pressure. “Those women were out of sight from those things. You didn't have to risk yourself."
"I send you to medical school and I’m still trying to teach you to care for others."
"Papa, please - just relax."
He took a deep breath. "I never told you how you mother really died."
Why do you bring her up right now? Please don’t tell me. Not right now. “Not now. You need to just rest and let me – “
"No. You have to know. It wasn’t an auto accident. You know we were in Italy on business. I ran up to the hotel room because I forgot my wallet. While she was waiting downstairs, a street gang tried to steal her purse. She wouldn't give it to them, so they stabbed her. If only I had been there...” His eyes welled up. "Her last wish was that I not raise her child as the daughter of a murdered woman. She didn't want you to be angry all of your life." The voice began to crack. "You're a grown woman now, Izabella. And I wanted you to know before it was too late."
Too late? No, I’m not losing him. "Don't talk like that. Papa, I'm not going home without you."
Gripping her hand sternly, his eyes narrowed. The voice had become a gravelly whisper and his breathing became shallow. "Bella, listen to me. You go where you're needed and home will find you. My time has come."
“No! You can’t give up now!”
Raising his hand to cradle her cheek, he mustered one last fatherly smile. “My…Ivory…Swan…”
Through the smoke, the lights of a speeding ambulance brightened and swerved to avoid the pair in the street. A window quickly rolled down. “Senescu? Is that you? You okay?”
A tear-stained face. “Yes! Here! It’s my father! Get him to the hospital!” We’ll bring him back. He can’t be gone.
The door opened. “Good thing we found you. Dr. Bernofsky’s calling in everyone who can come in to help with the casualties. We need you right now.”
He had practically begged her. "Please, Izzy. I can't reopen the gym without an aerobics instructor. We lost both Tiffany and Ashley in the attack. No one could keep up like you did - you were in far better shape than the instructors. And you can act as the in-house nutritionist, too. You're finished with the hospital next week, right? I'll cover your rent. I'll see to the visa. I'll do anything. Please - we need you at the gym." Then that pathetic smile. She was such a sucker for her patients.
“Very well. They’ll be letting me go next week, unless we have another emergency. I’ll stop by before then. But you have to stay off that leg in the meantime. And don’t forget your prescription.”
She definitely needed a break from the hospital. The invasion, the loss of her father, and the marathon month of tears, blood, tissue, gauze, and coffee was simply too much. From hospital intern to aerobics instructor/dietary counselor. It was an unexpected career shift, but the hospital could no longer keep her as emergency personnel and she wasn't ready to go back to Bucharest. Exercise had always kept her spirits up, so a brief career exercising only made sense at this point.
The gym reopening went well, and Izabella was looking forward to teaching her first evening aerobics class. Most of her students were people trying to get back to their normal lives, looking for an alternative to jogging, as the city streets had not yet returned to the safety level they had known prior to the attack. It was a small class, mainly women coming in after work. Most made it through the class all right, though Izabella, having neglected her well-being following the attack, realised she needed to improve her workout if she was going to lead classes on a regular basis.
The only disaster of the evening was the fact that the lockers weren't working properly and she was stuck without a change of clothes. The locksmith wouldn't be able to come out until the following morning. Fortunately, keys and wallets were kept at the front desk for security, so at least she could still get into her apartment. Unfortunately, she had decided to walk to work that day, and was now faced with the problem of walking home in the late evening in her aerobics outfit. With a borrowed sweat jacket, she set out for home, thankful that it was a warm summer evening.
She eventually fell in step with an older woman several yards ahead of her who was returning from a video rental store. The woman was dressed simply, but the hat she wore reminded Izabella of a hat her mother had always worn when on vacation. As Izabella began thinking back to the days with her mother, two figures quickly stepped out of the shadows and stopped the woman in her tracks. Izabella ducked behind a planter, as they had not seen her.
The masks they wore indicated that they were Hellions, a local group of thugs who were gaining strength and numbers in the absence of the police protection. One was casually flipping a baseball bat, while the other walked up to the woman and pointed to her purse, saying, "Give it."
"Please, no." She was truly scared.
Slowly, deliberately, one of the Hellions pulled out a knife. In the streetlight, it glowed like a sliver of the moon itself. A toothy grin broke out across his face as the woman cringed. "I don't want to die!" she cried with a voice too desperate for sound.
Die. No, you won't die. Not like Mother.
For Izabella, the world suddenly went red. She burst from behind the planter and following a flurry of kicks and punches, the Hellion with the knife lay on the cement, a quivering mass of bruises. His partner hesitated but came toward her swinging the bat. It connected with her arm, and she staggered back. He stepped over his fallen friend and further advanced toward her. "We own these streets," he muttered and pulled the bat back for another swing at her.
Crane Kick. This has to work. Her foot shot into his chest, and a thick cracking sound could be heard. Dropping the bat, he doubled over and fell to the ground, silent.
One kick. So that's what Papa meant by 'hitting the critical zone'.
The woman approached Izabella, clutched her hand, and thanked her. "Thank you, oh thank you! I've never met a hero before!"
A hero? "Oh, no. I'm just a-"
"What is your name so I'll always know who saved me?"
But I'm not a hero. I'm not even heroic. "I'm...just..."
A tear slowly rolled down the woman's cheek. "Please?"
I have just saved a life. I *am* heroic. "I am...the Ivory Swan."