Epilogue: The Ties the Bind, Rebound

From the Story Arc: The Hunt For Krasniy Oktyabr

Previous Story in the Arc: Part 7: Brown December (The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by Krasniy Oktyabr (Sunday, December 18, 2005)

(posted Sunday, December 18, 2005)

Aleksandr Stanislav's eye fluttered open, emerging from a dreamless sleep. But when one's mind had been filled with the sound of whirring gears and an endless number of identical voices for close to a year, the silence was a welcome change.


Aleksandr looked around him as best he could. He was lying on a hospital bed and covered by a blanket. A large mask attached to a respirator covered his face and an IV drip was attached to his left arm. In his weariness, Aleksandr felt an irritating itch in his right arm and slowly reached over to scratch it.


There was no arm there to scratch. Not even the Clockwork appendage he had grown accustomed to. With a soft groan, Aleksandr dropped his arm back to his side and drifted back into unconsciousness.



Clockwork surrounded him. The chattering of Mind was everywhere, whispering in the darkness. Krasniy Oktyabr spun around and around, looking for a way out of the void. There was no escape. The whispers drew closer. The machines were going to overwhelm him again. He tried to scream, but nothing came out. He had no mouth to scream with. Krasniy Oktyabr curled into a ball, waiting for the metallic claws to grab him and drag him further into the darkness.


They never came. In the distance there was music, a soft melody that was unfamiliar but comforting. Aleksandr reached out for it. The song increased in volume and Mind began to retreat. The darkness was lifting
.


Aleksandr awoke with a start. He was still lying in bed, but the surroundings were more familiar. Sometime during his unconsciousness, he had been moved to CCCP headquarters. No doubt his comrades would want to oversee his recovery personally. The cumbersome mask was gone, replaced by a thick wrapping of bandages, although the respirator was still in place.


The music was here outside the nightmare, coming from a portable stereo plugged in nearby.


Larger than life is your fiction,

In a Universe made up of One.

You have been drifting for so long,

I know you don't want to come down.

But somewhere below you there's people who love you,

And they're ready for you to come home.

Please come home...
*


Fumbling around with his numbed arm, Aleksandr found the elevation controls for his bed and raised himself up. And there at his side was one more surprise; sitting on a chair next to the bed was his niece Nataliya. It had been years since the last time Aleksandr had seen her, but he would recognize the girl anywhere. Nataliya must have been keeping vigil for some time, for she had drifted off to sleep herself. Her head lay in the crook of her left arm, and her right hand clutched at the blanket. Nataliya looked so peaceful in her sleep that Aleksandr didn't want to disturb her. He slowly reached over, placed his hand on top of his niece's gloved hand and held it affectionately.


Nataliya stirred. She lifted her head with a deep breath, and squinted over at her uncle. Seeing him awake causes a wave of relief to wash over the girl, and she smiled warmly.


Aleksandr Stanislav had come home.



The next morning, Aleksandr awoke to find Nataliya changing his IV bag. The Auto-Doc was a wonder of modern medical science, but there were still some basics that it couldn't take care of.


"Dobre utra, Tasha," said Aleksandr in a croaking voice.


Frankly, he was surprised he could speak at all. His entire jaw was bandaged like a mummy and hurt like hell.
Nataliya turned to Aleksandr and beamed with pride. She scribbled something down on a pad of paper, tore off the sheet and held it out to her uncle.


GOOD MORNING TO YOU, UNCLE SASHA, the note read. I CAN'T BEGIN TO TELL YOU HOW HAPPY I AM THAT YOU ARE SAFE.


Aleksandr looked up at his niece and said, "I was hoping you could, Tasha. I would love to hear your beautiful voice."


Nataliya bit her lip and wrote another note.


NOW IS NOT A GOOD TIME, TRUST ME.


Aleksandr was puzzled, but didn't press the issue. He did his best to sit up and said, "I'm not even sure what happened. I was talking with...comrades..and then..."


Nataliya shook her head and gently pushed her uncle back down. She jotted down another message.


GIVE IT TIME, YOU MUST REST. BUT I WILL HAVE YOU KNOW YOU CAUSED QUITE A SCENE. BRIGIT MORRIGAN WAS NEAR HYSTERICS WHEN YOU COLLAPSED, AND GOLDEN EAGLE HAD TO ACTIVATE HIS HOSPITAL BEACON.


"I will apologize to them in person," said Aleksandr with a sigh, "Right now, it's good enough to be near family again."


Nataliya nodded and held out a note that read, THERE IS SOMEONE ELSE WHO WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOU.


"I don't know if I'm up to seeing anyone yet," said Aleksandr, lying back into his pillow.


"Not even your own brother, Sasha?" asked a new voice.


Aleksandr stared in wonder as Levka Stanislav drew back the privacy curtain and stepped up to the bed.


"My word, Sasha," exclaimed Levka, "You really are a right mess, aren't you? But that's my brother, all right, tough as nails. I would hate to see the loser. Maybe Grandfather really did see something exceptional in you."


"Wh-what are you doing here, Lev?" asked Aleksandr, shocked.


Levka scoffed and replied, "Is that any way to greet family, Sasha? Especially family bearing gifts?"


Aleksandr looked over at Nataliya as his brother dragged in a large aluminum case. The girl raised her palms and shrugged. Levka placed the case on the workstation with a grunt and worked the combination locks.


"I meant, how did you know to find me?" asked Aleksandr.


"Ah, you can thank our lovely niece for that," answered Levka, releasing the latches. "Honestly, I don't know what Elizaveta sees in that drachevo she married. But at least the world got our magnificent Nataliya out of the deal."


The girl blushed and turned away.


Levka continued, "Anyway, Tasha got a hold of me at home and told me that the situation was dire: My brother was hospitalized in Paragon City, badly mutilated, and needed my expertise. I packed as fast as I could, met Tasha and Miss Caitlin Murray at D.A.T.A., and devised a plan to save you.


"The doctors had you stabilized and had removed most of your...additions, and the necrotic flesh surrounding them. When they had done all they could, we received permission from both the doctors and your lovely official, Belladonna Aura, to move you here and begin the major reconstructive surgery."


Aleksandr was having trouble taking all of this in.


"Most parts?" asked Aleksandr, "Reconstruction?"


Levka nodded and replied, "Da, da. The ocular implant is imbedded most deeply into your skull. Removing it would have caused more damage than leaving it in. Your comrades worried that the inner workings might cause problems if this "Clockwork King" fellow were to ever regain his full power, so they were removed."


Aleksandr reached up and felt the cool metal around his eye socket. It was a fine thing to keep it there, as a fitting reminder of the comrade he has won and lost in the struggle for its freedom.


"Your jaw was the easy part," continued Levka, "Simple prosthetics and skin grafts. There's a metal brace secured over it to aid in the healing process. In time, that can be removed. Your arm, though..."


Aleksandr felt the bandaged shoulder and closed his eye. Nataliya looked on, deep concern etched onto her face.


Levka opened the case and said, "Oh cheer up, Sasha! Do you honestly think we'd leave you a cripple?"


Aleksandr looked up at his brother and saw the scientist holding up a metallic mock-up of an arm, and boggled. The unpolished steel plates and protruding cables gave it a primitive look.


Levka grinned and shouted, "Behold! The latest and best advances in Soviet cybernetics! Made by yours truly, of course. A relatively simple procedure to install, and the old Krasniy Oktyabr will once again rise up and join the fight!"


"You seem to be forgetting one thing, brother," said Aleksandr, "Everything I have is property of the State. Ministerstvo Paranormalbnukh Obsluzhivanii is sure to want an accounting of it all."


Nataliya glanced between her two uncles nervously.


Levka lowered the arm and sighed, "Ah, well. About that... Whether Nataliya realized it or not, she made it quite clear what the current situation really was."


Nataliya arched a brow.


"The truth of the matter is, MPO is no longer aware of your existence. It took calling in quite a lot of favors, but your records have been purged. The only place Krasniy Oktyabr exists is in the database of the CCCP, and highly classified at that. Suffice it to say, once the operation is complete, I won't be returning to Moscow."


Aleksandr paled and asked, "You...you defected?"


"Psh! Defection is such a harsh, ugly word," replied Levka with a dismissive wave, "But...yes. It is in my best interest to remain here in Paragon City, to make sure nothing goes wrong with your cybernetics. Oh, and Tasha's equipment as well."


Levka straightening his tie and quietly added, "I an wondering if Miss Murray likes Russian men..."


Aleksandr gave a puzzled look at his niece and asked, "Equipment?"


"What, she didn't tell you?" asked Levka, "Of course she didn't. She can't right now. But I have just the thing to fix that. A gift for you as well, devushka."


Nataliya peered at the case, her interest piqued. Levka brought forth a strange device and held it out to his niece. Nataliya paled and backed away, visibly trembling and shaking her head. It was an almost exact replica of the special gag created for her "questioning" in Moscow.


Levka said, "There's no need to be afraid, Tasha. I designed it to function just like your helmet. You can take it off whenever you wish, like a pair of headphones. You no longer have to hide your pretty face behind that ugly helmet."


Nataliya nervously took the device and placed it over her jaw. The inner padding was quite comfortable and fit snugly in place thanks to the earpieces. The young mutant switched it on, and let out a quick whistle. The fact that Levka was still standing there grinning and Sasha was still looking on perplexed was proof enough that the apparatus worked.


"This is wonderful, Uncle Levka," said Nataliya, "You never cease to amaze me."


Levka grinned and replied, "Spasibo, Tasha. I also have a new pair of gloves for you, less bulky but just as functional."


"Will someone please tell me what this is all about?" implored Aleksandr.


"You are not the only superhero in the family, uncle Sasha," answered Nataliya, "I will explain later, once you have recovered. I have much to tell you about. All that has happened in your absence, plans for future--Oh! I almost forgot! I can't stand to keep it secret. I've been accepted into the University! I start the winter semester in a few weeks."


Levka grinned and said, "Wonderful, Tasha! This calls for celebration. After Sasha has recovered of course. He still needs much rest for the upcoming operation."


"Of course, how selfish of me," replied Nataliya.


The young mutant pulled down her new headgear, leaned over the bed and gave Aleksandr a quick peck on his forehead. Aleksandr felt a brief tingling where the kiss was placed, followed by an immense drowsiness to top his fatigue. Aleksandr smiled and drifted back into a peaceful slumber.


Nataliya put the headgear back into place and whispered, "Welcome home, uncle Sasha."



* - from Drifting, by Sarah McLachlan