'Till We Have Faces

From the Story Arc: Rebirth

Previous Story in the Arc: Finding the truth by Krasnaya Zvezda (Thursday, May 04, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: 'Till We Have Faces, part 2 by Krasnaya Zvezda (Friday, June 30, 2006)

(posted Monday, June 26, 2006)

The rainstorm swept through Kings Row in the late afternoon. It had been forecast for a few days but the weather had somehow held out until now. As the clouds blew in overhead, anyone watching may have noticed a small shape fall from the sky and land gracefully on the roof of an apartment building. If the watcher had a good enough vantage point, they may have noticed the shape turn into a red and yellow costumed hero before they faded from view. A really sharp eyed watcher may also have noticed that where the hero once stood, there now appeared to be a shape hidden in a pool of shadows.

Red Star stood on the roof of a building, surrounded by her cloak of shadows, and stared out over Kings Row. The clouds in the distance grew thicker, promising thunder and lightning, and the wind and rain grew heavier, sending the few people that were out, scurrying for cover.

The rain didn’t bother her, when you can survive the rigors of space travel it takes more than a few drops of water to send you running for cover. In fact given all the planets she’d visited, as far as climates go, Earth was varied and rather pleasant. Not too hot, not too cold and the storms could be rather satisfying, which hopefully this one was shaping up to be.

Having another glace around at the streets, Red Star was waiting for the evening briefing which wasn’t due to start for while. The CCCP had daily briefings, both a morning and evening one, to update each new shift on the various goings on in Paragon City. It was important for her to be there this evening, but there was plenty of time before she had to even think about making a move. And so she stood, watching the approaching storm and waited.


(3 weeks earlier)


It had been a strange couple of weeks, Red Star reflected.

After learning what had happened to Alexander, she had thrown herself into her work. But even helping other heroes was different; she just wasn’t the same without him, wasn’t as competent.

Mid-way through one mission; she’d dropped out of Hulmanim form to administer the coup de grace to an Outcast, only to catch sight of herself, of Alexander in the mirrored glass of a store front. Momentarily frozen into place, she was then fully frozen in place by the Outcast, who hit her with a freeze ray and would have made a clean escape if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of her team-mates.

She shrugged it of as a momentary lapse but these lapses just kept occurring. All in all, she must have visited the hospital more times in the past few days than a hypochondriac with a nasty rash. Still, at least the medical staff seemed pleased to see her, unlike everyone else. Word of her performances seemed to be getting out and, where her usual contacts just seemed uneager to give her work, Shadowstar was more blunt,

“There are things you could help me with but you need to get yourself together first. Come back and see me when you are more ready.”

So Red Star was pretty much left to her own devices, wandering around with no direction, working alone so as not to show her weaknesses in front of other heroes.

She still hadn’t told the CCCP about recent events, it just seemed easier to leave them to their misconceptions. She told herself that they do know that Alexander isn’t around and it would only distress them to learn the full truth. She’d thought that enough now that she nearly believed it herself but, every time she saw a Commissar, she felt a twinge of guilt about leaving them with their false pretences.

Eventually she found herself, late in the evening, at the tram station in Galaxy City. She’d just called in to see Shadowstar, only to receive another pep talk on how she wasn’t ready yet, If only she’d tell me how I get ready maybe it wouldn’t be so bad but… She boarded the tram and walked towards the back, through the near deserted carriages, when there was a slight loss of power and the lights dimmed, before coming back to their normal levels. Despite the late hour, there were a few people onboard and some grumbling about the Clockwork started up.

As the lights dimmed again, Star sat down and attempted to rest.

***

The lights flickered, off then on again, then going off completely, plunging the stone cell into blackness. She could see, through the decontamination chamber, the lights retreating, only to flow back towards her as the power returned moments later. The lights stopped just short of her cell but appeared to be bringing her, unless she was very much mistaken, what looked like a visitor.

It was time. She was suddenly afraid; years had been spent in the preparation and planning, all for this moment and now it was here. A moment of truth, perhaps the moment of truth approached. Still, no matter the result, she had spent too much time locked away down here. She needed some taste of freedom, even if that was death. She calmed her twitching tentacles and waited.

The human entered the decontamination chamber; manually cycling the door closed behind him, and then entered the cell.

“Star? Are you here?” She could hear the anticipation in his voice.

< I am here, Alexander, where else would I be? > She thought, amused. < You are ready? >

“If you are. We have waited a long time for this moment.”

< It has been too long .> Star agreed. < I feared that I would perish in this hole, so far from the stars. It has not been an easy wait for this day, Alex. > Her thoughts lightened, < But I am truly glad you are here. >

“As am I, Star. As am I.”

The radio at Alexanders side crackled, “Comrade Nevsky, our monitors are still not back up yet. Everything is well?”

The voice was that of Nikolai, a friend of Alexander’s, who worked as one of the monitoring scientists. Star had never met him, but was used to his voice, either coming from the speakers that were in her cell or from Alexander’s radio.

“I am well, Nikolai. We are just exchanging pleasantries.” Alexander said. He had to report both sides of the conversation as Star only directed her telepathic responses at Alexander and not towards the observing Generals. Although her language skills were improving the more contact she had with Alexander, they were still far from perfect and, whilst she could talk normally, she did so infrequently in this form.

“Alex, we are getting some background noise, there must be a short somewhere. Prepare to change frequency to channel 1.”

“Yes comrade, changing frequency to channel 1. Is that better?”

“Much clearer, Alex. Please continue, what words did you exchange?”

As Alexander recounted their conversation, Red Star reflected on the journey which was about to end today.

It was almost 1 cycle, or 10 years, ago that they came here, having lost the Hunters a few systems back. Exhausted, they came down in the middle of a storm but they were fortunate to find shelter to protect them as well as some nearby sustenance, horses she later found they were called.

They’d found out about this planet from a survey they ‘recovered’ from a small staging post. The information was incredibly detailed, suggesting that it had been as least considered for use as a future staging area, if not actual conquest. They were unsure about whether or not to journey here, but she’d decided that they needed somewhere to settle down at least for another few cycles. Given all that they had gone through, it was for the best.

Unusually, she’d let the Clan decide on whereabouts in this world to make their home. In the end however, it was not a hard decision. After the abomination that had happened, all for the sake of a privileged few, they had no desire to endure any such ‘disappointment’ again. They all felt that they should work for the greater good of all, and these records indicated that this Russia held to similar ideals. So they stocked up as much as they could, and began their journey.

A humming sound heralded the return of the lights, illuminating Alexander, dressed in casuals for once, and hovering before him, Red Star in her Hulmanim form, her tentacles making small circular motions as they hung down by her side.

Alexander was used to her now, in both this form and her others, but even the first time they had met he had hidden his fear very well. Now he just smiled in greeting.

“Star, they are ready, are we?” ask Alex.

< Remember; this is not something I have done before, Alex. I would hate for you to be hurt. >

Smiling, Alexander’s reply was to raise the radio, “We are both ready to proceed, comrades.”

“Acknowledged, you may begin when ready.” crackled the radio.

“Well, here goes.” said Alexander, and they moved into each other’s embrace.

***

A voice over the loudspeakers, announcing their arrival into Kings Row, interrupted her thoughts. Feeling slightly claustrophobic, the memory of the cell still with her, she decided to leave the tram here.

She was still caught up her memories and distracted when leaving the tram station and almost walked into a young woman who was leant back against the railings, singing softy to herself.

“Privyet devushka, sorry to interrupt you.” Red Star said, noticing the woman for the first time. Clad in an off the shoulder top with a short shirt and thigh high boots, she was a vision in white, even having white hair. However, the most striking thing about her was a gold laurel wreath. It was strange but, even at this time of the night, it glowed as if illuminated by the sun, Either that or the lighting in this tram station has improved.

“Ah, hello dear.” said the stranger, “It is a lovely night, even given the condition of Kings Row.”

Red Star was getting a strange feeling about her, almost as if something was drawing her to the woman. A quick glance at her PDA confirmed she was a hero, a Warshade, by the name of Kyria Shadowdancer. Suddenly longing for company, and not feeling threatened by her, Red Star stopped and looked out over the railings, at the lights of Kings Row.

“Yes, I do enjoy the night-time. The solitude it offers is most appealing.” Said Red Star, almost wistfully With no-one around it there is less chance of anyone finding out what happened. Especially the CCCP… Her gaze was drawn to the ruins around the CCCP headquarters, some devastation was still evident but some signs of renewal were there as well, the most notable being a crane that was finishing the reconstruction of the all but destroyed headquarters.

Following Red Star’s gaze, Kyria said “You find your comrades’ company disturbing?”

Red Star shot a quick, quizzical, look at the woman.

“There is no shame in that you know. It is a stressful time for all of you.”

“Well, it’s just, after the Siege there is, everyone is busy and there has been a lot to do.”

“Everyone has been working harder so they do not have to think too much.” came the gentle reply.

“Peace and quiet can be something to savour at the moment,” Red Star agreed, leaning on the railings and gazing at the headquarters. She remembered; there was a flash, and then crippling pain. Alex was struggling and then she reached out and... Shaking her head, she stood up.

“Peace comes from within you know” said Kyria, looking at her intently.

“… So I have heard.”

“And you cannot find it within yourself?”

“I,” Red Star sighed, “It is a trying time for us all at the moment. There have been lots of… changes.”

“Yes it is,” Kyria agreed, “and yes there have been. Many losses, and as yet… no gains.”

“Gains come from hard work.“

“Not… always”

“Without struggle nothing worthwhile is achieved.” Red Star disagreed, “Surely that is something you learnt during your transition from Nictus to Warshade?”

“My transition was… interesting.” Kyria gave a fond smile “It was not so much hard work as… becoming open to possibilities.”

“How so?” This just didn’t make sense to Red Star, “Surely there are no possibilities, you either are a Nictus or not?”

“K’rya’s path as a Warshade was narrow and confined, it was becoming open to the possibilities of other ways that was the beginning of the transition.” Kyria explained.

“There can be no other possibilities,” sniffed Red Star, “We need to change, so change we must.”

“Ah, my friend, perhaps your eyes need to be opened. Perhaps one day they will be, but whatever the Wheel brings around for you, my dear, is what you will be. It is not what you become, it is the way in which you accept it that is important. You can accept it with joy, or in pain.”

“Acceptance is made with a decision. It is the decision that is important, not how you accept it.” Red Star said firmly.

“But how you accept it colours all that you do and are!” Kyria said with a soft laugh, “So how can it not be important?”

“The acceptance comes from the decision. Deciding is the important part. That need to change determines the acceptance.” Red Star argued, shaking her head.

Glancing at Red Star intently, as if for the first time, Kyria said “You face is full of sadness and loss, Star.”

Jolted by the sudden change in conversation, Red Star looked at her for a moment. ”… We have all suffered lately.”

“Some have suffered more, and more intimately, than others.” Kyria said.

“What do you mean?” Red Star asked, guardedly. What was she getting at?

“Is it not harder to lose a dear friend than a mere comrade? Is it not harder to lose part of one’s own self?”


***


They were only aware of each other. She hung back slightly, cast in shadows; he stood before her, shining like a star.

Uncertainty: I, I do not wish to hurt you, this is very different from the way I, this is very different.

Reassurance: I am ready, but there is no hurry, this is different for us both.

Fear: There are many things you do not know about me, Alex. I want you to know that some of them are, you have to understand I was different then, I have changed.

Understanding: We all have, do not fear. We are what we are, not who we were then.

She moved closer to him and, slowly, reached towards him.

They touched and she could see him as he was but, more than that, it was like being him, experiencing what he knew and felt. She saw him as a youngster, growing up alongside the Neva. At school, despising his name for the attention it gave brought, then that hatred turn into pride at his heritage and leading to his entry into the military. She heard the pride of his parents as he told them of his first commission; saw their fear as he went on his first assignment. She could see his love for Natasha, feel his hatred and anger when she was taken from him. She was with him as the despair engulfed him when, lost and alone, he struggled to find a new purpose in life. She saw the first time he laid eyes on her, the fear but also the spark of recognition, and something else, together with a curiosity, a desire to know about her. She saw this curiosity turn into respect and, from there, then grow into friendship.

She saw him, understood him, was him, for that, oh-so brief moment until she realized that if she saw this about him… she pulled away from him slightly and the connection was broken.

They stared at each other, understanding and empathy in both their gazes.

Compassion: Alex… I am sorry about Natasha.

Sadness: Thank you, and I am sorry about Mourn, along with all the others.

Shame: Alex… Mourn and I… It is who I was.
Defiance: I cannot say I would do anything differently.

Understanding: Nor would I have you, you are who you are. We all have a past, without it we would not be here today. There is no shame in that.

Fear: Knowing that… are you sure you want to continue?

Love: It feels like you have been a part of me since I first saw you, all that time ago. I would not wish that to stop now.

Relief: Neither would I.

Again they moved towards each other. But just as they came together, something intruded; some sound, some thought, pulled her back ever so slightly, but it was just enough.