Leaving the comic world for the sake of Hardcore Sci-Fi! (Chapter order is intentional)

Krasnaya Zarya

Group: CCCP

Server: Protector

Rank: Commissar

Security Level: 30

Online Name: @Genia

Country of Origin: USSR

Origin of Powers: Natural

Archetype: Blaster

Powers: Fire Control / Fire Manipulation

Battle Cry:

Movement: Blue Ford Fiesta, 1980.

Favored Attack: Occam's Razor

Favored Defense: Master-list of Logical Fallacies

Hated Nemesis: Rikti

'You must be the best, Sofia, because if you are not, people will make you the worst.' This, her mother told her. And repeated to her. And repeated to her yet again. 'If you are not the best of the best, you will be the last, and nothing in this world can help you, because we are what we are – and so are you.' And she had tried, oh, so hard!

Her childhood contained in it the small, crowded apartments and tiny balconies of old houses, loaded with foods to freeze in winter, and with glass jars in summer. The wide windowsills were always a place for something – resting pots of young tomatoes, long garlands of drying mushrooms and strings of peppers. It was filled with the glass and iron structures and the hum of construction and, as she had watched, with long lines for milk and meat – the quiet, ordinary life.

She remembered – her hair in a tight braid, bound with ribbon, the gladiola flowers, bound in a ribbon too, clutched firmly to her chest and the white sown-on sleeve-cuffs of her dress so stiff she could hardly bend her wrists – the first day of school, and her mother’s first admonishment to her. So she struggled, the gladiolas pressed against her face, between the many rows of children’s eyes. She remembered, when she got to class for the first time in her life the flowers were crushed and unrecognizable.

In that time, the Apollo warily docked in space with the Soviet ‘Soyuz’, and had not only survived the encounter with the dreadful Russians, but could also tell that they had no horns, to speak of. America had invaded Vietnam, and Sofia had set the precedent of graduating from class to class with impeccable grades. The precedent had not changed as the years passed. That was also the time that Sofia’s parents began preparing her for the inevitable encounter with the west – she was to study languages. In this she could be, and would be, first.

When school was over, Sofia was sixteen. Ready to go on with her life in its preset course. Sophia was ready to face her university exams, and the quota – the inevitable, though by now unofficial, barrier which she would have to surmount. Better and faster than anyone else.

When she met Sasha Rabinovich, she knew that life has been, indeed, going its due course. Romanticism was not natural to her, and in the young man, only half a year older than herself, she had seem a brilliant physicist with opportunities in this day and age. In a time when every candidate for marriage was carefully weighed and measured, Sofia found herself considering Sasha in a more romantic light, as time passed. Besides, there was the other small matter of the mar on her family’s history and standing with the party, and the reason why they had been living this sedentary life at the edge of nowhere. The Fifth Passport Column – nationality.

When it was time for their assignments and placing, the marriage became suddenly a pressing affair. Their professions being so different, there was no true reason why the People should expect them to work in the same place. Sasha would go one way and Sofia the other, to quite possibly never meet again. And so a marriage took place, sealing them to a joint life.

The irony of their marriage, Sofia was later to discover, was to shift their lives – his and hers both – from the ordinary course of events. Directly after graduating university, the young, brilliant scientist who now was Sofia’s husband had been assigned to the newly built nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine.

April 25th, 1986 – the day when their lives changed.

It began as usual – just a small day in their small quiet lives. Sofia had no forebodings, no anticipations and no fears as she made her way to the town library. Sasha, working evening shifts as support crew and assistant, was blithely asleep in their small apartment. Sofia could remember clearly the low, cloudy sky of the day and the throng of people in front of the meat store. The street was adorned with red flags – preparations for the First of May – and with great red cloths with slogans painted on them. The last day of normality, of sanity, of anything that was just ordinary.

That evening Sasha departed, and she had remained home, wishing fervently that his shift assignment would change. It was inconvenient, to say the least, to be alone like that, every evening for the past several months. She boiled some tea, and set to review assignments in front of the open window. There were tomato plants on her own windowsill now, evidence of good housekeeping, and glass jars, the remainder of winter’s storages. They had spent all late autumn gathering and canning vegetables from their own dacha – the small piece of land given to them outside of the city. Sasha grumbled, annoyed with the physical effort, and the dirt and the tedium – but she had enjoyed the ripe smells, and the sensation of wealth when the foods were prepared and stacked…

Then the power plant siren went off and the world had shattered. She can remember even today how, as she ran, screaming, towards the plant she could feel the strange heat of the air, touching her. She gave it no more mind than she did the danger she was, at the time facing. The power plant seemed to her like some monstrous, red flower that bloomed where the blood of men was spilled.

When her husband was pulled out of the power plant his hands were black and his face was white and bloodless. His condition was severe. Although not in the control room, or in direct proximity to the reactor, his body had been exposed to tremendous amounts of radiation. When the maelstrom of fire and sheer force that had once been the fourth reactor had spewed forth, the waves of it had swept him under. He had absorbed over 7 sievert of radiation. There was no way, the experts told her then, distant compassion in their eyes, that he could live. Survival rate over 7 sievert has always been zero. They were merely trying to prolong his life, at the moment, and perhaps she should consider… well, a more compassionate course of action. She would not hear of it.

To everyone’s surprise, her own included, he had survived and even recovered, albeit slowly and never fully. The doctors had called it a medical miracle and shook their heads. Others had told her, in secret, that his condition may now resemble a ticking time bomb just waiting to happen. The tall, gangly doctor who had spoken to her in his stark office without taking off his protective mask looked at her bent shoulders and red-brimmed eyes with apprehension. His fingers clenched and unclenched on the table and she could see, from under the mask and the cap as the color had rushed to his face and surrounded his eyes. She must be careful, too, he said. Her husband was now a source of radioactivity himself. The longer she stayed with him in this condition, the greater her own risk of overexposure.

The next several years, hospitals became familiar environments, almost more so than the numerous stark, empty apartments she had occupied – mostly alone. Kiev, Leningrad, Moscow… all these she had viewed through the windows of her kitchens, the only decoration on the windowsill of which were packets of medications and sterilized syringes, drying out on layers of cheesecloth.

Alexander was in and out of radiation wards, emergency rooms and intensive care units. Something is his body was forever broken by the impact of radiation and no matter what the doctors tried – and they tried many an experimental treatment – all was in vain. Russia with its limited expertise in radiation sickness could not truly offer even a respite. And so, after the collapse of the Soviet Union the two packed their bags in their last khruschevka – the small block-made apartment, standard to most inhabitants of the Soviet Bloc – said their last goodbyes to the hospitals and took plane to America, reluctant, but driven by necessity.

At first America stunned her. The noise! The opulence! The packed with nonsense stores! Everybody running around, bustling; buying something, selling something, going into colorful, gaily painted places, coming out of these places… Life’s sedentary pace here was turned frantic. At first she was swept in – the ability to purchase any needless item she wanted had appealed to her vanity, but as time passed, her eyes more and more often found the colors empty, and the shapes merely a momentary diversion to the eye.

She hated the noise, the clutter of it all. Hated when commercials would lie to get their gain, and companies would attempt to poison their own customers for their money. She hated the grey highways – stretching forever with only the big advertisement boards decorating their edges – and the artificial marble of the malls.

Once the doctors had managed to get Sasha’s body stabilized, and his metabolism somewhat more in tow with the normal human average, he had returned to regular research, although interrupted often by visits to medical researchers and hospitalizations. They had a small house with a tiny back yard on a side street on which she knew no one. But it was not bad there, and she had even begun to think of planting a small vegetable garden in her back yard. Perhaps life, from now on, would be a little more tolerable. It was then that Sasha’s powers began to manifest themselves, and, life being what it is – half tragedy and fully comedy – they did so in their own time and fashion. It was in one of his better days that Sophia came home to find a gaping hole in one of the walls, and an embarrassed husband, absentmindedly towing bricks.

When she, horrified, asked him what in the world happened to the house, he blushed. It was he, frustrated with his inability to straighten a picture which was hanging lopsided who stared at the wall with enmity, shook his fist at it and cried “blast it!” He did not expect for the wall to truly get blasted, however. Sofia slowly sat down, with her mouth gaping wide. Only a half an hour later, when she has managed to calm herself down, she picked up the phone and called the hospital. Her husband’s super-career had thus begun.

For herself, she was only too happy not to manifest any such disturbing superness. She was content living her life, or what was left of it, as best she could. As the years went by, she closed herself off from the outside world, burrowing deeper and deeper into her research and the coping with her husband’s shredded life. He, on his end, had been blowing random objects up in his better times, and lapsing into unconsciousness, convulsions and pain attacks on his worse ones. More years went by. The kitchen in their small, American house acquired strings of dried mushrooms and peppers.

In 2002 the Rikti had hit their area, badly. Being an unknown menace, the only powers that could meet the Rikti were super ones. Sasha and Sofia, however, stood aside from the beginning of the war. There were arguments in their house, loud and demanding, debating whether to go or stay, contribute, or refrain. But she had won in the end, and withheld her husband from participation. Or so she had thought, until the Rikti showed up almost literally on the threshold of her very house.

The carnage was indescribable. Death was in the air, she could feel it. It had the same warn, electric feeling as it did so many years ago, back in Chernobyl. Human bodies were littering the streets and in between them, contorted into pitiful shapes in their own right, were alien ones. The threat was now imminent, and it was theirs.

So they had to fight. Here, as in everything she had followed her husband, this time as a field medic. She had her own battles, just as he did. The battle with wounds and dirt and depression. The battle with lousy combat conditions that always seemed to leave everyone around her wanting. The battle with her own fear.

One night, a Rikti spaceship landed by their unit’s hiding place. They were surprised and, as case had it, quite helpless. Ordinary soldiers struggled to assume their defensive positions, but were all a little too late. The Supers were no better off. The Rikti overwhelmed them and she saw as one after the other each of the extraordinary, special men and women she had fought and lived with for the last few months went down. The huge alien swords that cut them down… cut them open. Sasha, at the time, was having a bad day. She found him and dragged him off. The effort was almost too much for her – she was not a strong woman – and on the outskirts of what had just a few minutes ago been their camp she collapsed, unable to continue further. Then she saw it

The Rikti was standing directly above her. It was so much taller than any human, its body reminded her of a skeleton, almost ludicrous… but the blaster-gun in its hand was lethal and the huge ceremonial blade was sharp. It was just a soldier. She had learned to recognize their ranks, as did all mankind. For a few seconds time froze – the alien simply stood there, and so did she. Neither one of them moved. For a time afterwards, she was not even certain if she had been breathing, if time itself had been moving. Then it raised the blaster and shot her husband.

The wound could not have been lethal under ordinary circumstances. The blaster had hit a shoulder – at the last second her own instincts threw them both back – but in her befuddled mind, he was dying. For nearly twenty years she had lived almost entirely so that he could live. Dying… that was simply impossible, simply not an option. And then her mind blew apart with needles of pain. All this time, when she had watched him set things on fire without his volition and with, blast them apart and open by his own force of will, her brain had been carefully categorizing information. Perhaps this skill was learned by observing, pieces of knowledge stored in her mind and combined together or perhaps it has been there always, and the despair had let her bring it forth, but there it was. The alien creature in front of her emitted a strangled cry and a cloud of smoke and fire surrounded it completely. With a sort of odd, unemotional detachment, she had watched it twist and wriggle, roll on the ground, and shriek as it burned. When she looked down at her husband, the shoulder wound was gone.

After the war was over they were both tired and felt almost old. They were drained. The energy that fueled Sasha’s powers was gone and he sank again into the old vortex of sickness. Sofia needed training, and Sasha needed treatment. The societies created to aid some of the victims of the war had quietly offered to them to move to paragon city, claiming that the top notch research concerning physical conditions of superpowered humans was done there, and only there. It there was a chance for survival for them, it lay there. And so, late in life, they were facing a new start, a new place, and a new system they did not know.

But Russians are everywhere, especially now, after the collapse, and in one of the small, back-alley Russian stores – selling books and familiar food to patriots in exile – Sophia had learned that even among the supoerpowered they were not entirely alone.