* * * *"C'mon, Yvonne, cooperate with me."
"Don't call me that. Blessing or Glory will do."
The doctor looked her over through the visor of his NBC suit. She was naked save for a hospital smock. A look of annoyance crossed his face. "You're my patient and I've been taking very good care of you. We should be on a less formal basis, don't you think?"
"Right. I call you Doctor and you call me Yvonne. Bullshit. I call you...see, I don't even know your first name."
"Well, I've earned the title of 'doctor'. It's a term of respect."
Glory stood rapidly. "Doc, I'm telling you for the last time. Only my father called my Yvonne, and he said it lovingly. You say it with this condescending tone in your voice that pisses me off to no end. It's Blessing or Glory--take your pick."
The doctor looked around the barren containment chamber for signs of support, or escape. He knew the room was being taped, but didn't know whether anyone was observing through the one-way window.
"And another thing. Why does that window have to be one-way? Huh? I feel like a goddamn lab rat!"
"It's for your protection...so you won't be distracted by--"
"All the people staring at me night and day. Yeah, yeah, I can guess that much. Doc, when do I get out of here? I'm going to go flippin' crazy!"
The doctor continued to observe her as she loomed over him and scribbled notes. "Mmm hmm."
The doctor jumped backward, dropping his clipboard and pressed himself against the door. "You...you leave me alone. Don't come any closer."
Glory rolled her eyes. "Gimme a break, doc. I'm not going to do anything to you. Don't you understand? No one's telling me anything and I don't understand what's happened to me." Glory lifted her massive arms to prove her point. "Doc, I used to be a size four. I don't even know what size I'd be any more. My arms...my legs...I look like a god damn body builder now! Look at my arms! I don't even have to flex and they're hard as this stupid bed post. What happened to me?! Is someone going to tell me what happened to me?!" Glory was screaming now. She marched toward the doctor who had hastily turned and swiped his access card.
Once Glory saw the doctor was bolting in fear, she stopped and turned toward the one-way window. She knew someone was watching her. Maybe more than someone.
She pointed to the window. "You're going to tell me what's happened to me, or I'll break that window and make you tell me. You hear me?!"
The loudspeaker in the ceiling cracked to life. "Glory. Calm down. No one's withholding information from you. We've told you everything we know about your condition. We've been studying you to try and help you. You know that. You know what happens when your--well, we've started to call it your 'aura'--your aura isn't contained. Can I come in and talk with you? Will you try and be calm?"
Glory nodded. She knew they knew she was frustrated. She had to try to restrain herself. The violence and aggression just came so easily. It was like it constantly lurked just below the surface and desired nothing more than to be set free. Great, she thought. Now I'm putting a face on my anger. She sighed. God, I'm losing it.
The door hissed open and several suited men walked in. Two technicians entered after carrying what looked like a stylized suit of armor.
"This suit will contain your aura. Once we verify that it's working properly, you'll be free to leave. We--"
"I can leave any time I want!" Glory just about yelled.
The man pursed his lips. "Glory. Please. Your body has undergone incredible changes. You might need some time to get used to how your physique has been modified."
"What are you saying? This is permanent?"
"Yes, we believe it is. Some two hundred pounds of muscle and bone mass has been added to your frame. It appears that you absorbed a tremendous amount of radiation and for some reason instead of it damaging your cellular structure, it's, well, it's been...well, we don't have a name for it. Beefed up, I guess, is as good a term as we have. Will you try the suit on?"
"And then I can leave?"
"We would like you to undergo some further tests. But we can understand if you need a break. We'd hope that once you see we're really on your side, you'll want to help us understand your body better."
"Good, you still have your sense of humor." The technicians brought the suit over to her. "We'll even turn our backs."
Glory looked over at the window, then back to the men in the room. "I guess you've seen me through the worst of all this without any clothes. Ah, who cares."
Glory tossed the hospital robe on to her bed and stood before the suit of armor. She looked it over, not quite sure where to begin. One of the technicians handed her a white body stocking. She slipped it on and then was helped into the suit. She was shown how to secure it and for several minutes practiced getting in and out of it.
"Do you feel claustrophobic in it?"
"A little," she said.
"Good. Let's run some quick tests to see if it's functioning properly." The techs brought out several instruments and began to go over the armor from head to foot. A half an hour later they were done.
"Your armor is better than we even thought, Glory."
"Why do you keep calling it armor?"
"It is. It will protect you and most importantly contain your aura, which will also protect everyone else. You're probably pretty impervious from harm."
"I'm going to have to wear this for the rest of my life?"
"I can only be honest: I don't know. We won't stop working on your condition. There's still a lot we don't know."
"Will they put me back on active duty?"
"I'm not your commanding officer, but I don't see why not."
Glory looked longingly at the door.
"I told you that you can leave the chamber, and I meant it. But don't open your armor unless you're in here."
"Yeah, I guess so, huh? Wow, it's like I'm in one of those old torture things. You know...what were they called?"
"An iron maiden."
"Yeah, but instead of dying in one, I'll die out of mine."
The doctor nodded.
Glory laughed as she started walking toward the door. "Tell 'em I have a new code name then. Everyone may as well start calling me: Iron Maiden!"
* * * *The door to the hospital room hissed open and two men entered in the by-now familiar protective suits. Glory (or the Iron Maiden, if you like) had been sitting at the table when the door opened, and jumped to her feet, "Don't you guys every knock?" she asked pugnaciously.
"No," said the first man, "I don't Agent Blessing."
"Wilkins," queried Glory.
"Correct, and this is Dr. Barry Saint Vernon."
"How do you do," mumbled the other man.
Wilkins kept speaking, cutting Saint Vernon off and drowning out any reply Glory might have made. "I hear you have been behaving very badly, Glory. Unprofessionally. I had thought better things of you. No, don't say anything. I've seen most of it, live or on tape. Get yourself under control soldier! Is that clear?"
"You try going through what I have!" she yelled back. She wanted to get into a full-on brawl, but he was right. She did have to get herself under control, even if she seemingly no longer could think before she acted. It was maddening, but she had always prided herself on her discipline prior to her exposure. She just had to call on that now. She had to get through this.
She dropped her head in resignation. "You're right. I'm trying you know. I really am...."
Wilkins voice became softer, "I know you are, soldier. I think the worst is over. Dr. St. Vernon, here, has some information for you."
St. Vernon cleared his throat, "What do you know about sigma rays?" He chuckled, "That's a little joke of mine, nobody knows much about sigma rays and I know as much as anyone.
"Sigma rays are an extremely high energy form of radiation, exhibiting all the normal wave-particle duality. But that's where the normal rules end. Their behavior is erratic and varies depending on variables that we have been unable to quantify. They are also extremely difficult to produce."
St. Vernon examined Blessing carefully, "Although you seem to be producing them without too much difficulty."
"It is fortunate that the scientists here had a passing interest in esoteric physics. It is even more fortunate that one of them had a sample of my sigma ray insulating gel, otherwise you would most likely be dead right now."
"Simply put, you are a sigma ray emitter. You are constantly throwing off sigma rays at a high rate. The power for those has to come from somewhere, and in this case it's coming from you. That's why, if you aren't insulated, you find yourself growing colder, you are simply emitting your life force as sigma rays. In fact, even in this room, you're probably feeling chilly most of the time. It's been insulated as well as we know how against sigma ray leakage, and you've filled it with sigma rays, but there is inevitably some loss."
"Which leads us to your armour ... this armour was already in the possession of the PNDF, it belonged to, what was his name, Mr. Wilkins?"
"Bruce Jackson, aka BlockBuster," replied Wilkins.
"Yes. Very interesting construction on its own, actually, but more importantly, ideally suited to our purposes. The padding inside is actually sigma ray insulating gel. When you are in the armour, something better than 80% of your sigma ray emissions are reflected back. You probably felt more comfortable, or maybe more healthy, inside the armour than you have felt in quite a while," Saint Vernon continued. "If you left this room without the armour, though, you would very shortly begin to feel cold, then faint, and then ... well, then we don't know. You might simply die, or you might begin a total sigma conversion. You might become a sigma ray bomb, Ms. Blessing."
"There are some positive side-effects of your condition, though," Saint Vernon continued, "You've added some mass, which isn't exactly muscle mass, although it is similar. The new muscle gets its energy from the sigma ray mechanism, and so it is much more efficient that conventional muscle." He looked at her over his glasses, "In short, you are an extremely strong young lady. There may be some other side-effects as well, but that's the primary one.
"And I think that's about all I have to say," he concluded.
Blessing sighed, looking down at the floor. "I guess everyone's in suits of their own to protect themselves from all this radiation I'm emitting? That means...that means...that...I won't be able to...ohmygod...I really am trapped in that armor, and I was making jokes! God, what was I thinking?!"
After a long bout of silence from which she wouldn't respond, she asked anyone who was still around, "What's the story on the platform? Why was there such radiation there in the first place? There's so many questions that I want answered...I want to know who's looking into this!!"
"I'm interrogating the prisoners," replied Wilkins. "But we don't know a lot. Fervor has been by nearly every day to look in on you. Do you feel up to visitors? I can send him in the next time he comes by."
"That's great. I'd love to see someone other than doctors. When can I get back to active duty?"
Blessing suddenly focussed on Wilkins. "_Can_ I get back to active duty?"
Wilkins looked back at her, "Do you want the comforting answer or th real answer? I can guess." He sighed, "I think you can go back on active duty, when it is up to you. It depends on how soon you're healthy, and how well the armor works and how well you work with the armor." He smiled, "We've invested too much time and money in you to just write you off."
Blessing returned Wilkins' smile. "Yeah, I thought you might say something like that."
Silent for a moment, she then added, "Well, I guess I feel okay, and definitely better with the armor on."
The image of her forever trapped in the armor sprang into her might again, or maybe it never quite left. It seemed all she dreamed about.
"I guess the medicos want to run tests and see what I can do. I'm game. Maybe I can work off some of my frustrations." That sounded good. "Yeah, let's do that."
"Allright, as soon as the Doc here gives the armor a clean bill of health and the techs finish installing the bio-monitors in it, we'll get you down to the gym, at least," Wilkins replied. "If Fervor shows up, I'll send him in. Come on, Doctor." The two men departed.