Friday, March 4, 2022

My Toons, Let Me Show You Them: Cherenkova

I'm going to level with you: Sometimes I feel like the universe is sending me messages, and when I don't get them first time it increases the frequency and amplitude of that message until I finally get it. 

For example, I took this screenshot on October 16th, 2021:

Cherenkova in front of the Terra Volta reactor after successfully defending it against attack. 

By itself, that means nothing other than Erin is a slack-ass who is four months late in writing about this, but that's because you don't yet know who this character is. I do, and this character is not just relevant to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also events that are happening there right now, what with battles being fought around Chernobyl and another nuclear power plant under attack. I don't know if this is coarse or tone-deaf or something; I hope it's not. I just feel like there are so many coincidences piling up that I my writer brain needs to do something about it or I'll go crazy. Regardless of how this turns out, I want everyone to know that my heart is with the Ukrainian people. Slava Ukraini, y'all. 

I originally created Cherenkova in 2005, giving her the following character biography (brief because the text space in game is limited):
Dr. Nataliya Cherenkova is a world-renowned nuclear physicist and the great-granddaughter of Pavel Cherenkov, the man who discovered Cherenkov radiation*. Her power to safely absorb radiation manifested while still in the womb, saving the life of her mother who was living in what is now known as the Chernobyl "Dead Zone".   
She has multiple doctorates in physics, electrical engineering, biology, and medicine, and has recently written a thesis regarding radiation and its effects upon parahumans. Her current mission is to prevent nuclear accidents and terrorism, and to this end has designed a suit which enables her to project and control the radiation her body absorbs and stores.
*Electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle gives off energy as it moves through oxygen faster than the speed of light. Radiation occurs mainly in the visible and near UV (especially blue) region of the spectrum. That Cherenkova's powers manifest as green, not blue, indicates she is phase-shifting the radiation to reduce its lethality.
So, a few things:
  • Pavel Alekseyevich Cherenkov absolutely existed, and so does Cherenkov radiation, which is the glow you think of when you think "highly radioactive."
  • Cherenkov radiation is blue. Very, very blue. I don't know why people think it's green, but it's been that way in pop culture (mostly comic books) for longer than I've been alive.

  • Pavel Cherenkov had a son (Alexey) and a daughter (Yelena) with his wife Maria Putintseva. I don't know about any children they had, but this is for a superhero MMO based on comic book logic and I've already shown more due diligence than a lot of comic book writers in doing my research, so I think I've earned plausible deniability... especially in a game clearly set in an alternate universe. 
  • Cherenkov married his wife in 1930 at the age of 26. I don't know when his children were born, but let's spitball using minimums: assuming Alexey was born within 9 months of that marriage, he'd be 25 years old in 1955, and his son would be 25 years old in 1980. That's well within the range needed for great-granddaughter Nataliya to be born within 1986, the year of the Chernobyl disaster
  • Why were they at Chernobyl? In true comic book fashion, I assume that Pavel Cherenkov's grandson continued the family tradition of nuclear physics and was one of the people who worked there. Because this is a comic book and also featuring Russians (more on that in a moment, I promise), it seems apropos that her father died while trying to SCRAM the runaway reactor. 
  • OK, Russians. Keep in mind that in 1986, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and therefore under the control of Moscow. The reason why Kiev is now Kyiv is because the former name is the Russian pronunciation and the latter is Ukrainian. Until the fall of the USSR in the 1990s, Russian was the national language of Ukraine, and many Russian people lived and worked there. In fact, a Ukrainian-born friend of mine who was there at the time says that she was culturally Russian. Schools were all Russian, with Ukrainian language and literature taught as separate subjects. I'm not making any claims regarding sovereignty, I'm merely stating that's how it was then. 
  • In honor of my friend, I'm declaring that Nataliya's mother is ethnically Jewish and emigrated to America in 1987, the same year my friend did. This puts Nataliya right where she needs to be for City of Heroes, and she can attend the very advanced Paragon City University. 
  • I created Cherenkova in 2005. 2005 - 1986 = 19. Yes, this means she was a child prodigy. So was Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic. 
  • The Rikti War happened in 2002; she'd be 15 or 16 at the time. She wasn't old enough to fight in it, but old enough to be affected by it. It's a good reason to become a hero. 
  • City of Heroes shut down in 2012. I guess that means she's perpetually 26, which is a fine age for superheroing. She'd be 36 today, which is practically old age for heroes, but RDJ taught us that Iron Man can be smart and tough and cool well into middle age, so I'm fine with that. She's only going to get smarter as she ages by collecting more PhDs. 

Her Powers
Nataliya Cherenkova is basically a living control rod: she can safely absorb large amounts of ionizing radiation, aka "radioactivity". In much the same way that heat always flows into cold areas first due to thermodynamics, ionizing radiation always flows into her. If you're at ground zero of a nuclear accident, the best place to be is within 10 feet of her (preferably with her between you and the radiation). 

What's more, she metabolizes that radiation. It nourishes her and kicks her metabolism into high gear. She's a bit like a lizard in that the "hotter" she gets, the stronger and faster and smarter she is. This is why she was a child prodigy; the radiation she absorbed from Chernobyl kickstarted her development. 

As a result of this odd metabolism, Cherenkova emits a rare, specific wavelength of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation that invigorates the cells of living things. Skin heals and bones knit at an accelerated pace, and damaged genes repair themselves via an interaction with DNA polymerase that even Nataliya doesn't fully understand. 

This would be amazing just by itself, but Nataliya went one step further by designing a suit that would feed her radiation at a constant rate. This not only keeps her "charged up" but also allows her, through electromagnetic lensing, to emit and focus that energy in various ways. In addition to flight via graviton emission, she can also sap the strength of her opponents by giving them temporary radiation poisoning. As mentioned above, she is very conscientious about the potential lethality of her powers, and takes great pains not to permanent injure, let alone kill, anyone with them. She absolutely, positively, does not want to be known as "that hero giving cancer to people", and so she is quite free with her healing radiation when the battle is done. 

However, she is quite formidable. If necessary, Cherenkova can emit concentrated beams of energy that pierce even the toughest armor, and she can create small-scale electro-magnetic pulses which will fry even hardened electronics. 

Her Suit
When I first made Cherenkova, I wanted the aesthetic of "charming yet chunky Soviet design", reminiscent of the old Rocket Red Brigade (interestingly enough, also created in 1987).

In that regard, I think I succeeded marvelously:

However, there's a problem, and you might see it: despite being Ukrainian by birth, she's not wearing the colors of Ukraine. I wanted to fix that, and at the same time I felt she needed an armor upgrade. After all, that suit design is 17 years old. 

First, let me tell you that it is damn hard to make a costume using just canary yellow and bright blue. I'm sure it can be done, but I couldn't make this one work. So I decided that I'd go with red, white and blue (the flag colors of Cherenkova's adopted country, the USA) and blue and yellow (the flag colors of Ukraine). It's not perfect, but I like it, and that's what is important. 

Speaking of importance, I'm pleased I was able to keep some chunky aesthetic in the design. Since most of her powers emit out of her hands I just assume that the focusing apparatuses are in her gauntlets. 

Her Life
Nataliya is always defending the city, even when she's not out fighting crime. She can charitably be described as an overachieving, type-A workaholic, and so thanks to her powers she maintains a work schedule that would kill a normal woman:
  • She has admitting privileges at all hospitals within Paragon City. While she doesn't specifically work at any of them (although most would cheerfully kill to have her on staff), she regularly drops by to lend a hand. She starts with the emergency room, ICU and NICU, then goes up to the children's ward and oncology. If she has time, she visits the newborns in the maternity ward to relax. 
  • She is credentialed to teach at Paragon City U. She typically only teaches one class a semester, and that class is extremely advanced and competition for a slot is bordering on cutthroat. The topic varies, but it's always so lofty that you'll need an oxygen mask to reach its levels, and passing it looks amazing on any resume. To be fair, her long-suffering TAs do most of the work (she's there to teach, not grade papers) but just being her assistant is worth credits towards your PhD. 
  • When she's not doing all that, she's working at the Terra Volta reactor: monitoring its systems, upgrading its hardware, and (of course) defending it against attacks by Sky Raiders, Freakshow and Rikti. If she can be said to have a home, it's here: they keep a small bedroom for her, and she's on-call for them 24/7. In return, they let her use their machine and electronics shops for free so she can repair and upgrade her suit. 
Slava Ukraini, and slava Cherenkova. 

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