Part Three: Facing the Past

From the Story Arc: The Body Electric

Previous Story in the Arc: Part Two: Home and Hearth by Krasniy Oktyabr (Wednesday, August 02, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Part Four: You Always Hurt the One You Love by Krasniy Oktyabr (Monday, August 07, 2006)

(posted Friday, August 04, 2006)

The streets of Volgograd had changed very little in the time that Aleksandr had been away. This was to be expected of a city of any size, but no less comforting. A few new shops had started up in the districts that he had frequented while growing up, but that was about the extent of it. Of course, this was to be expected. The course of events that took place in one person's life bore no resemblance to that of the larger population. Aleksandr got more than a few stares because of his eye and jaw implants, but this too was to be expected. If the weather had been warmer, his cybernetic arm hidden under his thick wool overcoat would have caused even more of a stir.

As it was, Aleksandr put aside all of his concerns and enjoyed the day. Since his grandfather wasn't ill or dying, he would return to Paragon City first thing the next morning. There was really no need to stay. His comrades needed him there, to help in the fight for the people. But for now, it felt good to be home. Everything was familiar here. There was no rush, no hustle, and no world-shattering crises to deal with. It was a time for peace.

Aleksandr strolled down the street, listening to the conversations around him and absorbing the atmosphere. He was home. Yes, in America he was a hero, fighting for the people alongside his countrymen and other comrades from around the world. But most of the time Aleksandr felt like an alien, truly apart from the others. This was largely due to the torments of body and mind that he had been through in that Amerikanskii city. There was none of that sort of thing here. In Volgograd, there was kin, there were countrymen and there was peace.

Aleksandr paused in his walk, finding himself in front of a clockmaker's shop. The front window was filled with timepieces of all shapes and sizes, all made with loving care and precision. There was something mesmerizing about the swaying of the pendulums and the rhythmic ticking in near-perfect unison. Aleksandr's mind wandered back, startled to find himself thinking about Mind. The Clockwork collective conscience. Driven by the sole mind of a madman, it had almost destroyed his own. He stared at the pale reflection in the shop window, bringing his hand halfway up to the Clockwork implant jutting from his eye socket. It was the only part left from his mutilation at the hands of the Clockwork King. The device had been gutted of any working component, but it was imbedded too far to be removed without doing serious damage to his brain. Aleksandr didn't mind. It was a fitting reminder of the unlikely comrade he had won and lost in the battle for his freedom from the Clockwork King: Unit K, created from his own fractured psyche to serve the King, would live on in his mind.

So lost in thought, Aleksandr continued to stare at his reflection as the world went on behind him until something drew his attention. There was a constant flow of people behind him, most not even giving him a sideways glance. But across the street a lone figure in a black overcoat watched intently. He squinted at the image in the window, trying to make out any kind of detail. Blonde and female, was about all he could make out. There was no doubt, however, that she was watching him. Aleksandr furrowed his brow, stuck his hands in his jacket pockets and turned to continue on his way. He shot a glance out of the corner of his eye in the woman's direction and got a clear look at the face. Aleksandr stopped dead in his tracks, whipping his head around and gaping. No, it can't be!

Realizing she had been spotted, the woman spun around and quickly turned a corner. Aleksandr shoved his way through the busy sidewalk and out into the street in pursuit, disregarding the screeching and blaring of horns that followed. "SARAH!" he shouted, making a mad dash to the opposite curb. The woman was several dozen meters away and showing no signs of slowing. "Sarah! Please, stop!" he yelled in English. She didn't slow her pace, but she reflexively looked back at the sound of Aleksandr's voice calling her name. getting a clear look, there was no mistaking it. It was Sarah, the woman he'd loved and lost when first coming to America. But what was she doing here?

The throngs of people made running up to her impossible. Aleksandr did his best to push through, calling out her name. Sarah kept up her pace, leaving him no choice but to continue the chase. Aleksandr wanted some answers. He pressed on as she did, through the people, past cars and trucks going about their business, further and further away from where they had been standing. The shops and businesses gave way to warehouses, and still Sarah showed no signs of slowing. Aleksandr called out again and again, but she would not stop. With one more backward glance, Sarah put on a burst of speed and turned a corner.

Aleksandr followed suit, and rounded the building to find nothing, just an empty street. He shook his head to clear it, placing his hand on his knees to catch his breath and looking around for any signs of movement. This particular area was devoid of activity, being mostly for storage for larger companies. As such, there wasn't another soul to be seen. Part of him wanted to dismiss the whole thing as a trick of the mind. There was no proof that Sarah had even been here, or that he had given chase to her. But Aleksandr knew it to be real. He had known and loved Sarah long enough so that there was no mistaking it. Her face, her movements, every part of her was burned into his memory. No, it had been her.

He straightened up and looked around one last time. With a weary sigh, Aleksandr continued forward, keeping his eyes peeled. But he knew it was futile. If Sarah really didn't want to be found, she wouldn't be. There were just too many places to hide. But he would make the effort, anyway. It was yet another burning question surrounding his whole reason for being here.

The letter he had though had come from his mother, begging him to come home before Grandfather died. And now, from out of nowhere, there was Sarah. It just didn’t make any sense. Aleksandr wasn’t the smartest man in the world, and never deluded himself into thinking otherwise. Still, he prided himself in having at least a sensible head on his shoulders. But he couldn’t see any connection. Maybe there wasn’t one. The mere sight of Sarah was enough to shock Aleksandr to his core. He really didn’t want to think about it anyway. His only desire at that point was to go back home, polish off the last of the Stolichnaya and head back to Paragon City.

Aleksandr had only taken a few strides forward when he felt something heavy connect to the back of his head. He cried out in surprise and pain, staggering forward. Another blow followed, dropping Aleksandr to his knees. Darkness closed in around his sight, and he collapsed to the ground without so much as another grunt. As consciousness faded, Aleksandr heard the sound of electrical discharge that he had become all too familiar with.

[hr]

Consciousness slowly returned. Aleksandr blinked several times, shaking his head to clear it and regretting it instantly. The back of his head ached fiercely. Groggily, he tried to stand up, only to find that something was holding him down. After the fog in his head lifted a little more, Aleksandr discovered that his immobility was due to the fact that his hands were tied to the pole at his back. And done quite well, too. No amount of struggling loosened his bonds.

He ceased struggling and slumped back down. Resigned to the fact that he wasn't going anywhere for the time being, Aleksandr struggled through the murkiness of his mind to come up with some logical explanation for all of this. He tried to think of any enemies he might have made in the past few months. Nothing came to him. At least, nothing or no one that wasn't already an enemy to any right-thinking person or upstanding hero. Crey, Council, Nemesis, none of them really stood out amongst the other for such an act of retaliation. Regardless, why bring him home for such a thing? Paragon City was huge, and far too often did heroes wind up missing. He'd had it done once already.

As Aleksandr muddled these thoughts over in his mind, a shadow fell over him.

"So, Stanislav. You're awake." said a deep, hate-filled voice.

Aleksandr blinked in wonder and looked up to the source of the voice. Standing slightly taller than he, the man glowered down in return. He had a brutish look about him, made even more fiendish by the dark armor he wore. The armor itself was something to behold, harkening back to the time when knights patrolled and defended King and Country. But the similarity was sparse. Metal tubes and wiring could be seen throughout the armor, winding around inside and out and gathering around a circular copper plate on the chest piece. While the suit itself might have been silver once, time and exposure had rendered it almost black.

All in all, it made for an imposing figure. But there was something about the whole that felt wrong, somehow. Something incongruous, picking away at the back of Aleksandr's mind that made the man less threatening than he would have been otherwise.

"I've been waiting a long time to meet you, Stanislav," he said, closing the gap between them. Aleksandr furrowed his brow. Each step sounded with the metallic clanking one would expect from steel boots, but there was a barely audible crackling underneath it.

Aleksandr looked up at the man with willed indifference. "And you are?"

The armored man stared for a moment, then chuckled. "My name isn't important. What is important..." he crouched down and grabbed the collar of Aleksandr's jacket and brought their faces closer. "You have something that belongs to me."

"Please to be forgivink me," answered Aleksandr with a weak smirk, hamming up the Pidgin English, "But wodka recipe is nyet mine to be givink..."

The man snarled and raised his blackened gauntlet, savagely backhanding Aleksandr across the face. The Russian's head swam, half of his face going numb. The darkness threatened to take over again. Aleksandr felt something wet run down his chin onto the metal brace, guessing it to be blood from the way his lip felt.

"Don't mock me, Stanislav," the armored man said, grabbing Aleksandr's face. "You have something that belongs to me. And you're going to give it back." The savage grin returned. "I think you know what I'm talking about."

Aleksandr stared back evenly. He wasn't about to let this bastard think that he'd won so easily. He spat out the blood that had run into his mouth and said, "Mne nasrat', chto ty dumaesh'.

The grin slipped from the man's face, replaced by a look of disbelief. He stood up, never taking his eyes from his captive. "You have no idea who I am, do you?"

"Should I?"

The man scowled. "Oh, yes. You should. Here, let me give you a hint."

Aleksandr heard the crackling sound again, the one that had been underneath the sound of metal, and the one, he realized now, that he had heard just before losing consciousness after being attacked. The sound continued to build, and Aleksandr's eye widened as arcs of electricity grew in intensity, covering the blackened armor.

The man drew himself back for another backhand swing, balling his fist and bringing it down with all of his might. Aleksandr reflexively flinched away, even though he knew it would do nothing to ease the pain of the blow to come. but the fist crashed into the pole just above his head with a ringing sound that reverberated throughout the empty warehouse. The built-up electrical charge coursed down the man's arm and directly into the pole.

Aleksandr's world exploded in pain. His body jerked hard, every muscle spasming. His back arched and he threw his head back, screaming in agony and unable to escape the constraints holding him in place. The screaming stopped shortly, the darkness coming again.