(posted Saturday, January 28, 2006)
Shaking himself a bit, he opened the glass door to the apartments quietly, not certain if Micah had found his rest yet. As silently as he was able, he clicked the door back into place and headed into the changeroom, unbuckling straps and disconnecting plates as he went. As always, he was mildly reluctant to remove the armor. It was an honor to bear it, and he often felt somehow diminished when he was without it. Micah always found this amusing, but never taunted him over it. They shared an almost manic sense of patriotism for the respective countries they had chosen to champion, and Vela Prime was no different. Yuri chuckled inwardly at the time Micah had seen his neighbor hanging a flag outside for the Fourth of July weekend. The poor fellow had allowed the flag to rest on the earth while he attached the rod to the house, and Micah had badgered him mercilessly for it, reminding him of all the good men and women that gave their lives for it, and the ground they stood on. No, Micah had no room to talk, in that regard.
Speaking of which...
Yuri finished stripping off the armor and padded into the master bath to wash.
As he did so, he considered what he had learned that day, during the last mission. This Carnival of Shadows was rapidly graduating from mild irritant to outright public threat, and Yuri still had yet to understand what their connection to the Rikti was. Clearly, they were not collaborators, so...why the constant interest? It would have to wait until tomorrow. For now, the trail had gone cold at the last rave house he had raided. Although one of them did say something interesting...Bah, without more information, it could mean anything. Tomorrow he would patrol a while and see what he could dig up about them. For now, he was just happy to be home.
Toweling off, Yuri listened intently for the sounds of the house. The cats, Titan and Muffins, were downstairs chasing one another through the living room, the garbage men were getting a head start this morning on the daily pickup, Mr. and Mrs Henderson were just waking up, and already arguing in the small house next door, the Baxter's infant son had his mother up already...
Where was Micah?
Curious, and a little wary, Yuri padded out to their bedroom, eyes and ears alert for any threat. He didn't really expect one, as it would take a great deal of force to bring down Micah, also called Vela Prime, the American Superman. He found what he had expected to. Micah's jacket was gone from the hook, the bed was unmade, he had probably gotten up during the night to walk. Micah had a few interesting habits, some that had always enchanted Yuri. Though the man could fly faster than Yuri, he often chose to walk wherever he went, stating that it made him feel more connected to the people around him. Reminded him that he was, if not human, then still a man. In his estimation it would be disasterous for him, or Yuri, or any of the class 5 metahumans to forget that. Yuri agreed completely. Unfortunately, the many criminal elements of Paragon City had given him little time of late to do that particular duty.
Yuri dressed himself as he pondered what Micah was thinking about. As he pulled a convinient T-shirt over his head and settled it into place, he noticed a book on Micah's pillow, the pen still marking a page about halfway through sticking out of the top. Curious, Yuri picked up the book and looked at the cover.
It was bound leather, all of a piece, with thick, extravagent pages, simple, but beautiful, really. There was no title. Yuri turned to the inside cover and took in a breath.
This is for you, son. For all the things that we can't understand, but that must be said, and for all the secrets that none can know. Use this as a place to unburden yourself, and know that even if we cannot understand, we love and are with you always.
-Ma and Pa
Yuri stared. Laura and Thomas Westfield had passed nearly thirty years ago, within weeks of each other. Thomas from a fatal heart attack, and Laura from "natural causes" just under a month later. His eyes moved to the bottom of the cover, and he read the date.
May 17th, 1968.
Micah had this book for nearly fourty years.
It was a journal. Micah's journal.
Yuri closed the cover and placed his hand over it, taking in the monument to his mate's life he held now. There were so many of these in both their lives. Yuri's scrap books and sketches, the trophies of decades of service to his Motherland, and Micah with his pennants, collected at sporting events all over the country for over sixty years. And this.
Yuri had never seen it before. He opened the book guiltlessly. If Micah had not wanted him to see it, he would not have left it on the bed. Though the reasoning would sound faulty to anyone that did not know them, it was the truth of how they lived. They shared everything. Well, nearly everything. Life had been a strange and sometimes painful journey for them both, and there were scars that neither would ever bare to the other, probably. But on the whole, their relationship was built on a mutual respect and trust.
Yuri read the first entry quietly, Micah's voice filling his head.
December 2nd, 1975
They're gone. I never thought this would happen. It seems somehow ridiculous to me that I never imagined they could die. They taught me everything about everything, and while I was off being America's Superman, they did. God damn it.
I buried them behind the old house in Nebraska, out by Grand Island like they wanted. I know Mom will love that stupid peach tree till Kingdom Come, and Dad will just put up with it. God.
I miss you both so much...
Yuri felt a sharp pain in his heart, and a silent compassion for Micah. He himself had never met the Westfields, but from all the long hours Micah had spoken of them, he felt he had known them his whole life. The pain of their passing had left a mark on Micah, as it does all loving children that lose their parents.
Yuri opened a page further along the journal at random, noting that entries had been made usually with monthly or bi-monthly intervals.
August 12, 1988
I turned them down. The League of Champions is going to have to learn to get along without me for a while. I know it's selfish, but I'm so goddam tired anymore. Germany is a mess, Russia is falling apart, the Lockdown teams are apparently at war with one another, and all I can do is retire. I'm so sorry. But I can't do this right now. I just need to rest.
There were no more entries for several years, Yuri noted. As though Micah had just shut down for a whie. He could sympathize. Yuri had done something very similar a few years later. He rememberd those dark days with a kind of tightness in his chest, the terror of it, being the target of his countrymen for failing to prevent the collapse of the USSR, for not being able to put it right, for so many damned things.
Yuri forced the thoughts out of his mind, the result and reward of long practice.
He turned to the final entry.
January 16th, 2006
I had the dream again tonight. I think I finally have it figured out. This isn't my own thoughts, or memories, or a vision of the future, it's the past I'm seeing. I don't think that's ever happened before. If what I think is true, it would explain so much about him.
It always starts the same, I'm talking to a beautiful woman in a red uniform, drinking champaign, the good stuff. It's the woman from Yuri's scrapbook, only it's not him she's leaning on, it's me. We're standing opposite of a man in a black uniform underneath a white lab coat. I can't see his rank insignia, but I'm pretty sure he outranks me and just about everyone else in this room. He really needs to trim that beard. I remember thinking how out of regulations it is, and how strange it looks with that bald head, but when dealing with a man of such rank, allowances are made. Besides, this is no time for conflict. It's a celebration. Something wonderful has been achieved! Look at all the smiling faces, the eyes filled with hope and wonder. These discoveries will put the State back on the political map in a way it hadn't been since the Great Patriotic War.
I'm turning to look at the woman with brown hair when the man in the lab coat takes my hand and shakes it, pumping it up and down with a kind of strange glee. I'm looking into his eyes, and they frighten me. I have seen eyes like that before, in the heads of the sorcerers that created Gotterdommerung before we brought them to justice. The eyes of a zealot.
He addresses the hall, getting everyone's attention on me, saying that I was the key that unlocked the mystery of Metahuman Genetics, and that I was just as much the father of Hybrid Star as he. I feel my stomach tremble with the pride of it, the optimism of it. To be the one that brought this great miracle to life, to be the one responsible for making the Motherland a force to be reckoned with anew, regardless of her nuclear arsenal. That is a thing, like no other, to be proud of. I can feel my heart swell with it. This will be my most glorious moment!
Then, slowly, the vision sort of greys out. Like an old movie would dissolve between scenes. The voices slowy muting, the sounds of all the cheering growing steadily quiet, the colors bleeding out of everything until there is nothing.
And then, there is darkness.
I'm underground. Far underground. I can feel my pulse in my throat, and I'm both angry and afraid. I'm not sure why. Something I'm looking for. The halls are all some kind of alloy steel, with the wiring and ventilation run outside of them. They must be solid. I can faintly hear voices closeby, talking about the climbing white cell count of one of the "subjects" and what that means in relation to the new structure they just introduced to it. I think briefly "Is it one of mine?" although I don't really know what I mean by it.
I'm moving down the hallway, looking in the windows of rooms filled with examination tables, strange machines, alien sounds. I can hear the noise of the dozens of people living and working in the same place. But I'm not looking for them, I'm looking for the women. Vector Red's voice in my head, telling me the Project was not what it seemed, her trembling mouth as she described the fate of the poor, patriotic girls that were "volounteered" for the project...
I must be close, I think, as I pass through a kind of airlock. The door hisses shut behind me, and I move on without looking back. Indignant and furious now, I stride down the corridor with purpose, stopping in front of the cell the girl's tiny voice is rising from. I'm looking in the window, moving the cloth aside and shitfing my vision, as there don't seem to be any lights.
There she is. Her eyes are closed, and she seems to have some kind of apparatus attached to her head, wires and electrodes recording the workings of her brain. Her eyes are rolling under their lids, she must be weeping in her sleep. But that isn't what steals my breath, or makes my heart stop inside me. It's what else is attached to her. To her..
To her womb...
A machine, some kind of obscene, monstrous machine. Her legs in stirrups, the thing is inside her, stretching up into her swollen belly. Strange liquids pumping in and out of it, the device seems to be feeding into her body, a kind of second womb. Briefly, I prepare to rip the door off and storm into the cell, tearing the machines off of her, before I realize that I have no idea how to do it without damaging or killing her. Barely able to restrain myself, I let the small cloth fall back across the window.
Resolved, I begin moving down the corridor once more, towards what I know to be the center of the Project, Control.
I keep the memory of that girl in my mind, keep the anger and indignity of what they have done with my seed in this place. The lies they told me, the sheer injustice of it moving me to my destination, hardly noticing that there seems to be no one down here. I'm turning on the last right to take me to Control when I see a sign that stops me in my tracks.
"Test Subjects 6-12"
I take the left instead, following the arrow on the sign. Some part of me needs to see them. Needs to see these children, created from me and their unwilling mothers. Created by Vagno and his unholy science. I pass through another airlock, and into a corridor with tactical lighting, the red on black of a combat bridge or a submarine springing into my thoughts.
The corridor is seperated into opposing cells, each spaced about forty feet down from one another. I stop at the door marked Subject 3 : Ganovich/Moira Hybrid.
I lift the tiny curtain to look in, and for a moment, I see nothing. Then, I see a gleaming silvery chain and a post in the floor, the light reflecting red and deep. Unable to see further into the chamber, I open the door, stepping quietly into the cell.
Something shifts, and by the heavy sound of it, it is immense. There is an odor in here, chemical and foul, and a trace of something else, something familiar.
"Fwa...Fff...Fawth..uhhh?" The voice is low and deep, and somehow..pitiful. I step into the chamber to take in the scale of what I am seeing. All impressions now. A titanic form, all shot through with tubes and wires, a massive, misshapen head, one enourmous eye almost atop the other, green like mine, but watery, and covered by a film of...something.
I'm struck dumb, immobile as the horror of it washes over me. Stunted legs, one nearly twice the size of it's twin, twisted and useless, too many ribs, strange projections from it's chest, my God, are those arms??!!
I choke. I cannot help it.
I look up into that one eye that seems able focus, and I am sorry. I am dying, drowning in it. This abomination before me that recognizes me. That has been forced into a twisted, perverse parody of life. This thing that calls me Father. And I am so, very, very sorry. Instinct brings me my voice. Ease his pain.
"I'm here, son." Even to my own ears, the words are strangled.
The thing is easily four times my size. It attempts to reach out to me with it's nest of arms, managing to straighten one of them enough to unfold the warped hand at it's end. I let it enfold my own hand. It's grip is tremulous and shaking, but terrifyingly strong.
"Faw...thuhh. Huurts.." it manages.
"I know, son. Not for much longer." I say, and mean it. My head is spinning, and it feels like I'm loosing my mind. Images flashing inside me, the celebration, that thing outside of Minsc, the weeping girl, Vagno's triumphant voice, extolling our New Supremacy, and above it all, this poor, damned, tortured thing in front of me.
I'm out the door and searching the other cells with all the speed I can muster. In every one, I seem to go a little more mad. Along the walls of the corridor, I see other names. Liberator/Chenko, Skigursky/Miller, and others. I see them all, forcing myself to touch them, to tell them it's all right. To see what I have been used to create. To witness.
And then I am gone.
There is a sharp pain in my head, a kind of fractured splitting ache. Is it possible to have a thousand migraines at once? Yes, yes it is. I cannot see where I am flying. I don't care.
And then, it all greys out again. Slowly, but mercifully, this time. I do not fight it. I let it go. My God, is all I can think. My merciful God, please, please, don't let me fail them.
And then I am outside, on a telephone. I am saying words, reciting what I have seen. Not to one, but to many. To every name I saw on the walls of that corridor. I talk to no one in the Minsitry, notify no one in the government, I tell the men instead. The Fathers of Hybrid Star. I tell them all. All that I can reach.
There is another spell of greyness, swift this time. And I am in the air, watching for interference as Arsenal and Syzmansky lay waste to the Project below. Liberator and People's Comet destroy the Subjects. Mercifully, quickly. Not one of them attempted to save itself.
I am unable to weep, though it feels as if a wall of grief has gone up inside me. A tide so total it washes away everything else. There are no tears as the buildings burn, as if they would be somehow blasphemous here. Would rob them of what little dignity they were alotted in life. I don't turn away from the holes in the earth where I can see the blood and broken bodies of all my children. I watch. I make myself watch. If they could endure it, I must also, and it is the hardest thing I have ever done. I feel no relief when it is finished, and none of us speak. We light off in our own seperate directions. We do not see one another again for many years. I pray that if there is peace in the world to come, that they have it. We, the arrogant Fathers of the Hybrid Star, deserve none.
The light bleeds away from the world.
I can feel him out there, tonight, somwhere. I always know if he's okay. Some part of him is still there, though. At that Project Center, watching them tear the place apart. Some part of him is always there.
I hear him whimper in his sleep sometimes, and I used to think he was dreaming about Gotterdommerung. I know better now.
Even still, after the years we have spent together, I am amazed at his fortitude. What kind of strength must a man have to walk every day with this inside him? I knew the Project had gone wrong and was closed down. I knew that. We got a briefing on it the day after it happened. But Yuri has never told me he was there, that he was the one that shut it down.
I understand now why he always gets so skittish when Alitsa comes by. How he tries no to see her predecessors in her when she dances, or sings, or writes that awful poetry for him. He's trying so hard. Does she know, I wonder? Do any of these new ones know what happened to the old Project? God help her if she does. She must have her father's strength.
I need to see the streets tonight, the snow, the sounds of the good people sleeping. I need to feel...human.
Yuri closed the cover. He had no idea he was crying. Tears, locked away for decades, poured down his face, and something terrible loosened inside him.
He wept for hours, for them.
For his children.