'Till We Have Faces, part 3

From the Story Arc: Rebirth

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

Next Story in the Arc: The Thrill of the Chase - part 1 by Krasnaya Zvezda (Sunday, December 17, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, July 26, 2006)

Blasts from the discharging Quantum weapons filled the air around her. She wove between them, gaining height as she did so, drawing their fire away from the cowering human on the ground. Higher she climbed, until a flash of lightning illuminated the skies of Kings Row. Suddenly dropping like a stone, she fell, twisting around a blast as it impacted into the wall beside her. Caught off guard by her sudden change in direction, as well as partly blinded by the lightning, the Skulls tried in vain to lower their aim and hit the descending creature, but she was too fast. Stopping just before she hit the floor of the alley, Star fired once, then twice. These twin blasts of energy, dark counterpoints to the lightning, were devastating to the Skulls, slamming into them with as much fury as if it was the lightning strike of a moment ago and sending them back down to the garbage strewn floor of the alley.

Red Star hovered in the air for a few seconds waiting for any sign of movement. When she was satisfied there was none; she flew down to the ground and released her Hulmanim form, simultaneously bringing up her shadow cloak. With a final gaze of contempt at the unconscious Skulls, she approached the human, "Are you alright?" she asked. He had pulled himself across to the side of the alley and, in shock, could only stare at her and nod.

Satisfied with his condition, and not having enough prison tags for all the Skulls, Red Star decided to summon some of the patrolling Longbow to collect them. She reached down for her PDA as, behind her, one of the Skulls stirred.


(3 weeks earlier)


Feeling her PDA vibrate, Red Star unclipped it from her belt as a voice called out "Hey, Kyria!" Striding towards them was a male hero, dressed in a baggy white garb, which was draped in pouches, and wearing a highly polished silver helmet.

"Hello Ward!" Said Kyria warmly, holding out her hand, which Ward took and kissed. Kyria smiled. "It is always a joy to see you."

Looking at Red Star for the first time, Ward smiled. "Sorry, pal, name’s Ward Dexter. Good to meet you!" He extended his hand.

Red Star reached for his hand as Kyria said "Ward, this is a gent--- lady from the CCCP."

"Privyet, War--" Red Star began, shaking Wards hand. Shooting Kyria a quick look "Lady?" she queried. Then, turning back to Ward said, "Call me Kras, Ward, will be easier for you to pronounce."

"Krasnaya Zvezda is definitely female even if the shell she wears is not. Even your name says as much." Kyria said.

Embarrassed and unable to meet Ward’s gaze, Red Star stared down at her PDA, looking at but not seeing the message. She knew his reasons for choosing that name; Natasha weighed heavily upon him then but she could still throttle Alexander at that moment. He would have known what to say; how to explain the decision, the choice he made, instead of just standing here feeling self conscious.

"Well, Kras it is!" said Ward. "Probably would've anyway, ma'm, I suppose?"

"Just Kras is fine, comrade." said Red Star, continuing to stare down at the PDA.

"You have an urgent assignment, my dear?" inquired Kyria. "May we help in a more material way, Ward and I?"

Focussing on the PDA for the first time, Red Star quickly read the message, "Ah, well it's more of a favour. A comrade of mine has some trouble with the Vahzilok."

"Ah, Vahz," said Kyria

"Heh, I've had the same, they don't like to sleep." Ward chuckled

"Would you be interested in helping me check some chemical containers out?" Red Star asked. Despite feeling unsettled, she still felt a need to be with Kyria that she couldn't explain.

"Of course!" exclaimed Kyria.

"Sure, why not?" said Ward.

“Spasibo.” said Red Star and she gave them the location of the warehouse.

When they arrived outside, they could see nothing untoward. Upon entering, however, this perception soon changed. It was obvious that the Vahzilok had something in this warehouse, if only due to the number of patrols that the heroes saw. Resolving to clear the warehouse of them all and avoid any unpleasant surprises behind them later, it all seemed relatively easy at first. Ward was able to stop in their tracks the small groups that they ran into, this gave the two Warshades, both in their Hulmanim form, targets that they could easily handle. Everything seemed fine, but Red Star could feel she was having problems. She could see Kyria and Ward gelling and working as a team, whereas she felt that she was half a step behind them. Alexander is better than this. she berated herself, I will not shame him, it will not happen again. she thought.

But it was, Kyria just seemed so much more comfortable, weaving in and out of the darts that were fired her way, she was able to pick off a Reaper without Star even having fired a single blast. Determined to make amends, Red Star flew down to tackle the two Abominations that were left. Hovering in front of one, she slammed blast after blast into it. It was almost down when the other managed to get close enough to slam a fist into her, knocking her down. Falling, she managed to revert back to human form but ended up lying prone on the floor, with the shadow of an Abomination looming over her.

"BLERUUGHHH!"

Quickly, Red Star rolled to the side and the vomit splashed against the wall where she had been a moment ago.

"Vah--zi--lok--" The Abomination moaned and it stretched out an arm, preparing to pull her head from her shoulders.

Star swung her arm forward, and knocked the Abomination backwards with a blast of energy, giving Kyria enough time to swoop down in Hulmanim form and render it inoperable. She looked around for the damaged one, only to see Ward finish it off with ease.

"You ok there, Ma'am?" asked Ward

"I am fine," said Red Star, starting to lever herself back to her feet. "These things are just, oh great!" she finished. Not paying attention when she was getting up, she'd managed to put her hand in some, unpleasantly warm, zombie vomit. This is just what I need!

"Um, I think I've a handkerchief somewhere." Ward started to rummage through his various pouches as he walked towards her.

"No, I'm fine, honestly." repeated Red Star. The thought of what this must look like, If Tourniquet could see me now… Embarrassed, she flicked off most the vomit before it could eat through her costume and then encased herself in her shadow cloak.

"Let’s secure these containers." She said and started moving, waving away the handkerchief that Ward had just found.

"There's one nearby," said Kyria, "Ward, would you like to examine it whilst Star and I keep watch?"

"Sure." Said Ward, as he tucked away the handkerchief and walked towards the container.

Red Star transformed into a Hulmanim and went to hover overhead. As she made her way to a position where she could cover Ward, Star noticed something moving, further down the corridor. Floated up higher, she started to make her way down the corridor, ducking around the ceiling supports as she went. Up ahead, there were some sounds of activity and some voices. From where she was hiding in the shadows of the ceiling, Red Star could see some Reapers manoeuvring what looked like one of their chemical container across the floor. She could see several other containers, now empty, stacked near a drain in the floor. They'd have to move quickly; she turned tail and headed back towards Ward and Kyria.

Placing the cover on the floor, Ward stepped back over to the now open container. Ward didn't even need to use the chem sniffer, all it took a quick glance, "Nope, just rainwater in this one." he said. "You know, for a warehouse crawling with Vahz, we've found a whole lot'a nothing. I wonder where their hiding the all the bad stuff…"

"Well, there's a group of Reapers up ahead," Red Star reported, flying down from the ceiling, "about five in all, with some Abominations nearby. The Reapers seem to be doing something to a container; looks like this could be what we are after."

The size of the group gave them some pause but, "Let's concentrate on luring them one at a time." said Kyria. "Kras? Single shot only. Let's see if we can separate them a bit."

"Not a problem," said Star with a confidence she didn't feel. Right, how would Alexander handle this? Fly up, blast the first and then fall back --

They started to move up the corridor, ahead they could see the Reapers, one of whom was slightly apart from the rest of the group. Star and Kyria exchanged glances, this would be the one. Kyria crept forward until the Reaper was just in range of her energy blasts. She fired off a shot, which just missed him, then moved back down towards Ward and Star. Unfortunately the Reaper didn't follow; he turned back to his companions and shouted, "Fresh Meat!" The other Reapers looked up, and then redoubled their efforts in moving the container over to the drain.

They couldn't be allowed to dispose of those chemicals and, with a cry of "Let’s get ‘em!" from Ward, they moved towards the Reapers. Kyria and Ward started the attack, working well together, with Red Star half a second behind them. She finally was able to get an attack off, just in time to notice some reinforcements coming towards them, two of whom were carrying quantum rifles! As the quantum armed Reapers started to take aim, Star flew towards them in an attempt to distract them from Kyria, who was holding their attention. Firing as she approached, Star was only partially successful as one Reaper shot wild but the other was more composed and his shot slammed into Kyria, knocking her into the wall. Star came to a halt, hovering before the Reapers, and started to attack. She managed to get one shot off before they both turned their weapons upon her and fired. Twisting, she managed to avoid a direct hit, but the blasts still did enough to incapacitate her and she dropped to the floor, momentarily stunned by the pain.

Injured, but still able to move, Kyria noticed that Ward had now become the centre of attention and was being surrounded by the original group of Reapers. Focussing her energies and ignoring the remaining pain, Kyria summoned her strength and moved to help him.

Lying on the floor, dazed; Star was able to see Kyria attempt to link up with Ward, moving towards him and firing off a blast which knocked the Reapers off their feet. However by doing so she had, once again, attracted the attentions of the two quantum gunners.

No! Star started to struggle to her feet, but it was too late. Two shots slammed into Kyria in quick succession and she was knocked out of the air. Dropping like a stone, she was collected by the emergency teleporter just before she hit the floor.

Ward began to move towards the quantum gunners but before he could take two steps, he was also shot. It didn't have the same devastating effect on him as it did on Kyria and Red Star, but it did enough by knocking him back into the group of Reapers that were now gaining their feet. As one, they piled onto him; Star could only hope that the teleporter got him away from the flashing machetes in time.

"Well, what do we have here?" The words drew Star’s attention away from the pile of Vahzilok, who lacking Ward looked to be focusing their attentions on dismembering one of their more injured colleagues, and back to the quantum armed Reapers who were moving towards her.

"And where do you think you are going, Meat?" Not wanting to waste the energy speaking with them, Red Star glared at them with hatred in her eyes. She pushed herself away from the crate she'd been leaning against and staggered towards the Reapers.

"No, not this way. I think you are going to the same place as what's left of your friends." They pointed their weapons at her as, grimacing, she used the last of her strength to return to Hulmanim form and started to move into a firing position. Laughing, they fired first and pain enveloped her, her muscles locked and she felt herself falling.

"Next time, calamari." was the last thing she heard.


***


The Warshade crashed back down onto the floor, this was not going well.

"Again! You move like a sluggish duck!" the instructor bawled. "Maybe I should use real ammunition then I would not have to waste so much of my time on the likes of you!"

Krasnaya untangled his tentacles and raised himself back into the air. This was definitely not going well.

It was another practice session, of the type he was coming to dread. He would be in his Hulmanim form, and that sadist they called an instructor would fire beanbags at him while he attempted to a) not get hit and b) shoot the targets with his energy beams. Hitting targets wasn't the problem, neither was the flying. However, flying, avoiding and shooting all at the same time was. He knew he was better than this but, "Oufff!"

"Get a move on!" yelled the instructor, reloading his rifle.

…One of these days… Krasnaya thought darkly.

After another bruising 30 minutes the instructor left in disgust and Krasnaya was left sitting in human form, inspecting his bruises with only his guards for company. It looked so easy in his memories, it just happened. Attempting to do all those things at once, though was nigh on impossible.

Frustrated but determined to get this right, he transformed back into a Hulmanim, One last try.

He soared around the old hanger, twisting and turning in apparent ease, changing directions he dived down towards the targets took aim and,

Splash! Was hit by a water balloon!?

He looked down, and there was Nikolai grinning broadly. "Alex, you move like a beached whale! You're telegraphing everything. I would have hoped that maybe Red Star would have given you some grace!"

As he flew down towards the ground, another balloon skimmed just past him, "No landing yet! I'm taking over your training for a short time!" said Nikolai.

"What? What are you talking about?"

"Consider it unofficial training then." He grinned, "Besides I promised the guys that they could take photographs of my victory."

Krasnaya looked towards the makeshift observation lounge. Sure enough there were the lab assistants and his alleged 'friends', some of them with cameras! all of them with drinks!

"Nikolai, what are you doing? I will not be-- hey!" Krasnaya just managed to move out of the way of a balloon.

"You look like a flying mop! Come on, Alex, you know the drill. Try and hit a target. We all get a bottle of Armadale if I hit you five times!"

"Why would you want that Scottish--" Splash!

"That's two!" A cheer came from the gallery.

"Right, I always knew you'd cheat." said Krasnaya, water dripping of him. "You really want to do this? You are as athletic as a science nerd who’s spent the last 6 years underground, oh wait, that’s right...”

“This from the flying octopus! If I’m as bad as you say then it shouldn’t take that long, what do you have to lose?” Nikolai grinned, “Or are you part chicken as well now?”

Goaded into taking part, Krasnaya spent the next ten frustrating minutes feeling like an idiot. Nikolai, even if he did throw like a girl, managed to hit him twice more with a balloon. Even worse, the gallery was thoroughly enjoying the impromptu entertainment; ooh-ing and ahh-ing, together with some raucous cheering, greeted every throw of the balloons.

Eventually Krasnaya had had enough; hovering just out of range he said, "Enough Nikolai, the fun is over."

Nikolai shrugged. "Fine by me. You forfeit, so we get the vodka anyway. WE WIN!" he shouted to the gallery, more cheering erupted.

Krasnaya started to fly down to the ground. "I'm glad you've come to your senses, I just need--"

"You're paying for the vodka, by the way. We're pulling it direct from your pay."

This brought Krasnaya up short, "What! I'm paying!? Now hold on one minute--"

"Catch." Nikolai threw a balloon at Alexander.

"Oh-no you don't." Krasnaya casually flew out of the flight path and shot the balloon with an energy beam. "You don't distract me that easily; I am not paying for you to drink that Scottish swill!"

Nikolai just smiled at him, the gallery celebrated even harder.

"What?"

"Alex, what did you just do?"

"What are you talking about, I just…" he stopped and turned to look at the remains of the balloon. "I hit it. I moved out of the way and I hit it!" he turned back around, "Nikolai! You are a--" Splash!

"Git." finished a dripping Krasnaya.

"And that's five! I told 'they who must be obeyed' we could do it. So, we now all get a case of Armadale!" Nikolai grinned, "You know your problem, Alex? You think too much, sometimes you just have to react."

"Yeah? Well, let's see how you react to this" said Krasnaya, as a very wet Warshade wrapped his tentacles around a protesting scientist and gave him a big kiss.

The gallery knew just how to react; they took some pictures and drank some more vodka.


***


Red Star felt the pull of the teleporter and stepped out of the transporter, fully healed. The pain was a lingering memory, one she ignored. Pushing past the approaching Nurse, she drew her Shadow cloak around her and stalked out of the Hospital, not hearing the greetings from her companions as she faded from view.

She stood in the rafters of the warehouse and stared down at the Reapers who were clustered around the last container. The group was slightly smaller than it had been, a couple of prison tags had taken care of an incapacitated Reaper earlier and the bloody smear on the floor attested to what happened to the injured Reaper. They seemed to be laughing; at her she had no doubt. Laughing at what they had done, revelling in their victory and the means by which it was achieved. Her eyes narrowed and, focusing on the Reapers, she stepped off the beam and began her transformation into a Hulmanim.

She tore into them like vengeance itself; they would dare use those weapons on her and her comrades? She sent blast after blast into them, scattering them left and right until they broke and ran. But they could not run fast or far enough; loosing pin-point blasts of energy, she rendered them unconscious except for the last Reaper, him she chased down and--careful not to damage him too much--knocked him off his feet. This is the one who had taken great delight in using his quantum weapon, using that weapon on those under her protection. She transformed out of her Hulmanim, landing in front of the Reaper as he rose to his feet. Striding towards him, the Reaper attempted to raise his weapon --He had hurt her-- She blew it out of his hand with a blast of energy and continued to close with him. He pulled out his machete, fear now rising in his eyes, and raising it --He had hurt her companions-- was engulfed with a gravity well. His arms were drawn close to his side and the machete dropped from his hands, he started to struggle, but something was crushing him, compressing him, making it hard to breath. Star stopped before the Reaper and watched for a second as his struggles intensified, --He had hurt Alexander and, for that if nothing else, he would pay-- her eyes narrowed; she reached out an arm towards him, energy started to coalesce around her hand, and she--

{Star?}

The thought intruded and Red Star slowly turned her head. There, off to the side, stood Ward and Kyria; they looked worried, concerned. {Kyria, what's wrong? are you ok?} thought Star.

{Star... what are you doing?} asked Kyria, talking a cautious step forward.

What am I doing? thought Star, puzzled. She's the one looking worried. Red Star looked around, saw the Reaper struggling in front of her, then memories came flashing back.

She staggered backward, the gravity well around the Reaper vanished and he collapsed on the floor. Kyria and Ward came towards her but she was only vaguely aware of them. The memories consumed her, the rage and anger she could understand, but the desire to hurt that Reaper... She felt ill. What was going on? What did she almost do?

Ward checked the Reaper and then looked at Kyria, “He’ll live; what was that all about? Who’s that Alexander she was shouting about?”

Kyria was looking at Red Star who was leaning against a wall, looking shaken. “Alexander-- he’s a friend of hers who died recently. Kras is taking it hard.”

“Still though, that looked rough. If we hadn’t been here…”

“I will have a talk with her, Ward. Would you be able to assign tags to the prisoners?”

“Sure.” said Ward and, with a glace at Red Star, he started to make his way around the unconscious Vahzilok.

Kyria walked up to Red Star, {My dear, are you alright?}

{Kyria, what did I do? I almost-- Alex would never have-- we would never have done--}

{Star, you are not Alexander, you cannot be Alexander.} Kyria smiled sadly {He has gone, Red Star, him and Krasnaya Zvezda. You cannot be that being anymore. You must accept that, else you are lost.} Laying a hand upon Red Star’s shoulder, Kyria said “Give yourself a minute, my dear. Ward and I will examine this next room.”

Red Star shook her head, “No, I will help you, it is my responsibility. But first I must explain myself.” She looked over at Ward.

Nodding in understanding, Kyria said “I will give you a minute, then.” And she walked towards the pile of containers the Reapers had been empting.

Red Star pushed herself away from the wall and, sighing, made her way over to Ward, who was knelt down, attaching a tag to the last Reaper.

“Forgive me, Ward.” She said, formally, “I am sorry if that seemed inappropriate. It shall not happen again.”

“Well, ok.” said Ward, standing up “It’s just we don’t usually do things like that, I know you’ve been under some pressure but you need to be careful, you know? Some people can take behaviour like that to an extreme. An’ that ain’t something you want to happen, Kras, trust me.” Concern was evident in his tone. “I am sorry about this friend of yours though.” He finished.

“Thank you, Ward” said Red Star. I am sorry too.

“No problems then,” he said “Let’s find these containers of yours, shall we?”

They went over to Kyria, who had found traces of some chemicals, not enough to determine which unfortunately, so they moved further into the warehouse.

The rest of the mission passed without incident. They made their way through the rest of the warehouse and, in addition to the traces that Kyria found, they found several other full containers, together with a safe. Red Star and Ward left Kyria to open the safe while they arranged the transport of the prisoners they had just incapacitated.

As the last prisoner was teleported to the Zigursky Penitentiary, Red Star heard a triumphant noise from Kyria and, turning, saw her walking towards them with something, a book maybe, in her hand.

"Here you are, Star. I believe that this is what your friend was asked to find." said Kyria, handing Star a journal.

Flicking through it quickly, Star saw it detailed the shipments of the various chemicals they'd found in the warehouse. "Spasibo, I will deliver it back to them."

"Well, I've got to be headin' out now. Was a real pleasure, ladies." said Ward.

"It was lovely to see you again, Ward." said Kyria "I will say goodbye as well now, Star, I'm sure that we'll meet again." she smiled.

"Da Svedanya, Ward, Kyria. Thanks for your help." said Red Star.

"It was nothin', Kras. You just take care." Ward then turned to face Kyria "Would you be needin’ an escort to the tram? I'm heading that way."

{…kyria}

Kyria glanced at Star, who was seemingly engrossed in the journal. "Thank you, Ward. Can we meet up later? I have an errand to run."

"No problems," said Ward, also with a slight glace at Red Star, "I'll be seeing you ladies around then. Until later."

After Ward left, Kyria turned to face Red Star, {You needed something, dear?}

Still staring at the journal, Red Star thought, {I-- before, when you talked about acceptance, how do you accept what you cannot face?}

{You know the truth, Star. Acceptance will come with time. Be true to yourself, it is all you can be.} said Kyria with a sad smile.

Red Star bowed her head and was silent, then {But if you no longer know who you are? What then?}

{You know yourself. Come, let’s deliver that notebook, then I have something to show you} At Red Star's wary look, Kyria continued, {No 'lectures' or 'speeches' this time. Trust me, it will help.}

After dropping off the journal in Steel Canyon, Kyria led Red Star towards Talos Island. From there they flew out over the ocean, far from the lights of the city, where they both floated, suspended in their Hulmanim form.

{Now what?} asked Red Star warily.

Kyria's thoughts were tinged with amusement, {Just listen to yourself, Star. Look above you, can you not feel the heavens calling to you? Go and pay them a visit. I will be around, should you feel the need to talk later.}

With that, she turned and headed back towards the city. Red Star watched her until she’d disappeared into its faint glow.

Star looked around; she was completely alone with no living thing to be seen for miles. She could hear the gentle murmur of the waves below and see the moonlight reflecting from water. Slowly, almost hesitantly she looked upwards. The sky was covered in stars, shining high in the night sky. They called to her, filling her heart with their song, and she answered. Drawn by their pull; she flew upwards and upwards, until the ocean lay far below. She floated in the night sky and, ever so slowly, turned her thoughts inward.

{Be true to yourself.}
Sorrow: Alexander is gone.

{Alexander is dead.}
Pain: Yes.

{Alexander was killed by you.}
Guilt: Yes.

{It isn't your fault.}
Denial: It is.

{Alexander wouldn't blame you.}
Pain: He should.

{It isn't your fault.}
Denial: It was.

{Alexander is gone and not coming back.}
Loss: And I’m left all alone.

{You are not alone.}
Acknowledgment: …comrades do exist. Krasnaya has them.

{You cannot be Alexander, you cannot be Krasnaya}
Loss: But what does that leave?

{You are Red Star.}
Fear: With all that entails.

{It isn't your fault}
Guilt: It was, I had to survive.

{Alexander would have done the same. It isn't your fault.}
Reluctance:

{Be true to yourself. You are Red Star; it’s all you can be now.}
Pain: I was just Red Star before him.
Acceptance: I will be Red Star again.

Slowly, Red Star took all the hurt and pain, all the sadness and loss she felt about Alexander and compressed it, sealed it away inside her, walled off where it could no longer hurt.

Suspended in space, she slowly came back to herself as the lightening horizon in the East indicated the dawn of a new day. With one last look and thought towards the heavens, I’ll always remember you and wish things were different, but I can’t pretend to be you anymore. Goodbye Alexander, she descended to head back towards Talos Island and home.


(Present day)


Lowering her PDA, having just made her request to Longbow, Red Star noticed the human before her shuffle backwards in fear. Turning around, Star saw one of the Skulls struggling to rise up from under the bodies of his comrades. Smiling slightly, she made her way through the rain to him.

The Deaths Head fought his way out from under an unconscious gravedigger. It wasn’t the first time he’d fought his way free from under a body, and it had previously been a dead one at that, but that thing would pay for making him do this in front of a mark. He could tell something was approaching from down the alley; the rain pouring into his face made it difficult to see what it was, but he had a good guess. Reaching out, his hand closed around his quantum weapon and he started to rise to his feet. No second chances, freak. You should’a finished me when you had the chance.

His eyes remained fixed on the shape approaching him as he stepped away from the bodies of the gravediggers; he could swear that the freak seemed bigger than before but, no matter, it would go down this time. Snarling, he raised his weapon as more lightning flashed through the sky, illuminating the curtain of rain before him as a monster tore through it. Frantically, he adjusted his aim and fired but the shot was wild and hit the fire escape of the building opposite. With a roar, the monster swung its arm and connected with the quantum weapon, tearing from his grasp and shattering it against the wall. He tried to move but the only direction he was going was up as, with its other- paw?, it grabbed his jacket and hoisted him into the air. His feet dangling three feet off the ground, he found himself staring eye to eye with the thing.

{You had your warning, Kings Row is under my protection, you are not welcome here. Next time I will not be so lenient.}

The words thundered into his head. Scared, the Deaths Head could only think of getting out, getting away from this thing holding him. Dragging a knife out of his pocket, he plunged it, as hard as he could, into the monsters chest.

Their gazes locked, both he and the monster looked down to the knife in his fist. The knife was the one with which he had got his first kill, he had claimed his skull with this knife and now, this knife which had served him well these past years would serve him no more. All he held was the intricately carved handle, with the remains of the blade lying on the floor of the alley beneath him. The knife, which he had so loving sharpened and cared for, had shattered, without even leaving a scratch on the monster.

Slowly they both raised their heads, there was a gleam in the monster’s eyes that wasn’t there before and, his eyes widening, the Deaths Head dropped the remains of his forgotten knife. An eerie light began to form about the Ruktur’s huge fist and, giving a whimper of fear, the Deaths Head was suddenly very glad it was raining.


***


“Control to Flight 169. Flight 169, we have a report of an assault near your location. Please move to the transmitted coordinates, secure the scene and await the arrival of a prisoner transport team.” crackled the radio.

“Roger, Control, Flight 169 en-route.” Checking his new assignment, the Longbow officer set his course and headed towards the assigned location. Hopefully it would involve a little excitement, preferably in the dry though. It had been a quiet day, most likely because of the weather forecast and he could do with something to do but he hated it when it rained. It wasn’t too bad if you were in a Skiff but flying about in the rain with a jetpack was not something that could be described as fun. Whoever designed these uniforms had made them look good but, in weather like this, all the collar did was to funnel water down the wearers neck. His thoughts kept turning to the hot shower and fresh clothes that awaited him at the base, where he would be able to step out of this, now rain soaked, uniform.

With a bleep, his HUD focused his attention on alley 50 yards away. This was the location where the assault had, allegedly, occurred but there was no sign of life outside the alley and it was too dark to see in there, or was it? What was that? A glow just flared to life within the alley and he thought he could see something but then the glow disappeared. A second later something flew out of the alley straight at him!

He took evasive action and the object, was that a Skull?, shot past him and landed in a heap on the other side of the road. Nonplussed over his near miss, he landed and warily approached a shadowy figure that was exiting the alley.

“Privyet, comrade. I am sorry, I did not see you there.” Said the figure.

One of those Russian guys then, he thought, accessing the hero database and calling up this cape’s information. Great, and with an unpronounceable name too. “Right, you made the request then…” he looked at the name again, Zz-- zuv-- z-- screw this “You called us, buddy?”

“Da, I have a civilian in need of medical assistance, not badly hurt I think, and these prisoners in need of transport.” said Red Star.

“We’ve got a cart coming for these, should be here soon” said the officer.

“Good. You can help me carry their victim out to here?”

“Sure.” And they escorted the poor unfortunate out of the alley then, taking shelter under the awning of the building, waited until the medics and Longbow prisoner transport arrived.

After they had arrived and she had ensured the Skulls were safe for transit to the Zig. Star checked her PDA, it was time. Bidding the Longbow goodbye, she transformed into a Hulmanim, rose up into the sky and set off towards the CCCP headquarters.


***


The evening briefing was drawing to a close, the assembled members of the evening detail had just heard from Strela and Siberius, noting a recent rise in activity amongst the Warriors, and this brought the progress reports to a close.

“And that's that.” said Belladonna Aura, giving one last glace over the minutes for the briefing, “Is there any other business?” she said, looking out over the crowd.

“Da, Commissar, I have an announcement.” Standing up, Krasnaya Zvezda made his way across the room.

Seraphic Flame greeted this with a raised eyebrow; this behaviour seemed out of character for the quiet, almost withdraw, Warshade whom she had seen around. She knew that the Council assault had left its scars on him; he had been injured and Bella had mentioned that the trauma had caused him to undergo a fusion. Ever since then, he’d seemed ill at ease and unsure of himself. In fact, the commissars had gotten close to withdrawing him from active duty for his own safety after feedback they had received from some mutual contacts, but thankfully things had improved dramatically these past weeks.

Now, she allowed herself a little smile, with the calm and confident demeanour he currently showed, it looked like his healing process was complete.

Ascending the steps next to the podium, Krasnaya Zvezda started to speak. “Comrades,” he began, “There is something that some of you may not be aware of, but it is past time for me to tell you. Alexander, my human half, was seriously injured in the assault by the Council and perished. As such, I am no longer the person I was, or could ever be again. Krasnaya Zvezda is no more, please, call me Red Star. I say this not for sympathy but for understanding; we are all comrades after all and I hope that will continue. You are my Clan and I am still yours, if you should wish it. Spasibo.” then with that, Red Star walked back to his seat and sat down.

Seraphic Flame blinked. And blinked again. She said nothing but...

But this was wrong.

She had not felt Alexander die. All of them, all of the others that had fallen, she had felt. She had known they were gone, if not at the time, then shortly after, as an absence in the fabric of life around her.

But not Alexander...

She held her tongue, but reaching to her "sister-self," Bella, she felt that Bella felt the same thing.

She also got another sense from Bella. Not now.

They locked eyes for a moment and nodded, while everyone else around them was still in shock. Whatever was going on with Star... this was no time to push things.