Part Two: Home and Hearth

From the Story Arc: The Body Electric

Previous Story in the Arc: Part One: Family Matters by Krasniy Oktyabr (Monday, July 31, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Part Three: Facing the Past by Krasniy Oktyabr (Friday, August 04, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, August 02, 2006)

"...And the local time is 3:34 PM. Current temperature is 26 degrees Celsius, clear skies with winds from the west at 25 kilometers an hour. Looks to be a beautiful day."

The voice over the intercom slowly roused him from his slumber. Rubbing his eye and sitting up, he looked out the tiny window and gazed at the landscape. At several thousand feet, it was difficult to tell one place from another. But one familiar landmark crept into view, piquing his interest as the speaker continued.

"We will be landing in approximately 15 minutes. Watch for the seatbelt light and return to your seat then. The ride down should be smooth. On behalf of all of us at Llwellco, we hope you enjoyed the flight.”

As promised, the landing went off without a hitch. The plane taxied to a stop on the tarmac and a few minutes later the hatch cracked open and the steps descended. The lone passenger emerged shortly after and stood up straight, breathing deep the crisp morning air. His gaze wandered across the horizon and to the city not far distant. Gripping the handle of the thick briefcase that had not left his side the whole trip, he went down the steps, once again pausing when his feet touched the ground. A smile crept onto his face, one of so few in the past few days.

Volgograd. For the first time in almost two years, Aleksandr Stanislav was home.

"Piotr! What did I tell you about running through the house?"

The child let out a defeated whine but did what he was told, plopping down on the floor and picking up the picture book he had abandoned several minutes previous in a fit of boredom. Dina sighed and shook her head, a small smile resting on her lips She loved all of her children, and their children in turn. Dina leaned against the doorframe and dried her hands on her apron, watching her grandchild and reminiscing. Four generations lived under this roof, and just as many before that. She had been through so much, witnessed great and tragic things. From Stalin to Putin, Purges to Perestroika. But the one constant through it all had been her family. Dina had led a full life, and regretted none of it.

A knocking on the door interrupted her reverie. Dina stood straight and made for the door, already running through her mind the ways to accommodate this unexpected but no less welcome guest.

"Piotr, tell your sister to check on the bread, and have your mother get the bottles from the top shelf," she said in that tone of voice that only a grandmother can pull off to full effect. The boy grinned and nodded, dashing past her towards the kitchen.

"And no running!" she shouted back. Another sigh and chuckle escaped from Dina as she opened the door. She beamed her welcoming smile and opened her mouth to greet their guest.

And froze. Her hands went over her mouth as she visibly paled. There was no mistaking that it was her son, but the changes... Metal had replaced flesh in so many places, but no doubt it was he. It was her little Aleksandr.

"Hello, mother," he said, staying where he was to give Dina time to recover from her shock.

It was the sound of his voice that broke the spell. With that final piece in place, all doubts vanished. Dina let out a cry of joy and embraced her son. Aleksandr gently wrapped his arms around her, barely containing the overwhelming feelings of acceptance and homecoming.

Dina broke away and wiped at her eyes. "Oh, Sasha, my darling Sasha. You've changed so much!" Without hesitation she took his metal arm and ushered him into the house. "Come, sit! We will break bread and listen to your adventures!"

Aleksandr grinned and let himself be lead inside. Some things never change, and for that he was grateful.

His sister Lubov came in from the kitchen with a large bottle of Stolichnaya, beaming. "Well, as I live and breathe! I though I recognized your voice, Sasha. What brings you ho--"

The question was cut off as Aleksandr turned to greet Lubov, giving her a full view of his changes. She let out a yelp and the vodka slipped from her hand. Aleksandr reacted instantly, lunging forward and grabbing the bottle well before it hit the ground. He straightened up, nonchalantly flipped the bottle around and presented it to his sister.

"Careful now, wouldn't want to waste it," he said with a smirk.

Lubov took the vodka with a shaky hand as Piotr came up from behind his mother. His reaction was completely the opposite of the two women, laughing and in obvious, unfrightened awe of the cybernetics. "Cool!" the boy proclaimed, coming in for a closer look, "You're like the robot man I saw on that American cartoon! Are you super strong like him, too?"

Aleksandr chuckled and scooped Piotr up with the metallic arm, placing his nephew on his shoulder and 'flexing' the high-tech prosthetic. "Does that answer your, question?" he asked, throwing a grin and wink to Lubov. His sister began to visibly relax, just as Dina had, and gave him a weak smile as the trepidation faded.

"Well, enough gawking," said Dina, "Come, sit. We want to hear all about what brings you back to us. Is that your only luggage?" She indicated the large briefcase that Aleksandr had left by the door while being pulled in.

Aleksandr shook his head, putting Piotr back on the ground despite the protests and retrieving the case. "No no, I have more coming in from the airport. I just wanted to get here as soon as I could." He joined the others in the sitting area around the fire, placing it at his side. "And actually, mother, this case is part of the reason I'm home. I promise to tell you everything, I do. But..."

He paused to take the now well-worn letter from his pocket, and gazed over at his mother. "The main reason, of course, is your letter. I came as soon as I could once I received it. Am I too late? Can I still talk to Grandfather?"

A look of utter confusion crossed Dina's face. "Letter? What letter? I haven't written you at all. The Ministry of Paranormal Services didn't give us so much as an address to contact you."

Aleksandr returned the puzzled look, holding out the envelope for his mother. Dina took it and removed the letter, examining it with growing concern. "I don't understand, Sasha. This looks like my handwriting, or very close to it. But I didn't send this. Everything is fine. And Grandfather is--"

"What is all this racket?" asked another voice from the hallway. The patriarch of the Stanislav family, the eldest and first Piotr, looked on from his wheelchair for a moment before parking himself into the living room. He rested his hands on the blanket covering his legs and stared at his grandson for a long moment before speaking. "You certainly know how to mangle yourself, don't you boy?" Although to others it might have sounded like a reprimand, Aleksandr knew his grandfather better than that. He heard the undertone to the stern proclamation, that told of what Piotr was really saying: You have been through trials that would have broken a lesser man. You are a survivor, a hero. And I am proud of you.

Aleksandr beamed at his grandfather. "It is such a relief to see that you are well, sir."

"Of course I am! I've been through two world wars and the Revolution. If Fate has decided to see me through that, then it can damn well wait until I am ready to go." Piotr thumped the arm of his wheelchair for emphasis.

Aleksandr grinned. This was the man he remembered, with that indomitable spirit that he worked so hard to instill in all of his family. Sure enough, despite his age, Grandfather seemed hale and hardy, nothing like the waning specter he had been lead to believe was at Death's door. "Well then, I will take this as a sign that I was meant to come home, even for a little bit."

Dina held up the envelope, still concerned. "But what about this? Someone went through a lot of trouble to copy my handwriting and pretending Grandfather was dying just to get you to come home."

Aleksandr waved a dismissive hand. "I have plenty of friends and comrades that can look into such a thing, back in Paragon City. For now, I'm going to spend some sorely missed time with my family. Lubov, pour us all a round, if you would."

He hauled the briefcase onto his lap and looked over to his nephew with a twinkle in his eye. Flipping open the latches he asked, "Now Piotr, how would you like Uncle Sasha to tell you his stories of being a hero, like that robot man on television?"