2007, Edwards Air Force Base
"Congratulations again, Lieutenant"
"Thank you very much, Commandant Luallen." The massive young man, clad from head to toe in the dress uniform of the United States Air Force, tenses his shoulders back, head snapping straight. Cut off by a pat on the shoulder, the Colonel beside him smiles.
"At ease, at ease. You worked hard for today, Lance. You can take a breath."
A breath like the release of a pressure valve escapes the young Lieutenant's body, relaxing his tall frame. His mouth has a smile plastered on it, even as his eyes look almost tired.
"I know, sir. But I just can't believe I'm here already. It feels like just yesterday when I got the acceptance letter."
Behind them, the sounds of men and their families congratulating one another make the two raise their voice a bit more, even as they begin to walk to a quieter corner of the hall.
"To be honest, sir, I'm still shocked I even got accepted. I've heard of people spending years on the waiting list in order to get into Test Pilot Academy, if ever. I hadn't even been out of the Academy for very long before getting called up. I was reeling wh-" With a firm pat on the shoulder, the young pilot gets cut off.
"Now, now, just take a breath." Slowly, bit by bit, the Commandant begins to inhale through his nose, straightening himself up. Following his lead, the Lieutenant does the same, filling his lungs up. In turn, they both exhale, before speaking once again. "There you go. Much better, right?"
The graduate finishes the last bit of air, a smile properly on his face. "Yes, sir. I guess I just had a bout of shock about the whole situation."
"Your humility is appreciated, Lieutenant. You wouldn't be here if you didn't have the ability. Just because you're young, doesn't mean you don't have it in you. Now, then..." Cut off by the group back in the room calling over, Commandant Luallen gives the newly-graduated test pilot an encouraging slap on the back, pointing him back towards the other graduates. "Go on. And get a glass of champagne. You told me earlier you haven't even had a drop to drink this whole year. You earned it."
Saluting in thanks, Lieutenant Factor goes off to join his fellows, each and every one of them looking forward to a career of pushing the newest technology to their limits.
November 2017, Skies Above Freedom City
A streak of silver flies across the hangar bay, before crashing into the far wall. A huge divot embeds itself right where the object aims. A couple mechanics, having taken a duck and cover nearby, carefully approach the embedded object and begin to pry it out.
The hangar door howls with the wind from outside, as the winged figure walks in. His left hand tugs momentarily at his matted hair, a grimace of frustration on his face. The sealing door cuts off the rushing air, leaving only the sounds of heavy metal footsteps clanging upon the floor of the bay.
Hitting the middle of the room, Victory stops, shutting his eyes and taking deep breath after breath, trying to calm himself. Along his body, a myriad of vents open all at once, exhaling clouds of steam as the staff wait along the edges of the room. When it clears out, the mechanics rush in, attending to their duties.
While the workers around Victory work on dismantling piece by piece of outer armor, shuffling them off to cleaning and maintenance, leaving the inner skeleton of the cyborg supporting the remaining flesh inside, an AEGIS official approaches.
"You did good out th-"
"He's still out there. AGAIN, he managed to slip away."
"But those people are safe. That's the most important thing. And nobody else could've gotten there in time except you."
Hanging his head still, the hero finally steps out of the designated spot, having the much lighter day-to-day plating put back over the robotic skeleton, looking as close in shape to the rest of what remains of his human body as possible.
"But he'll be back again. What happens if I'm busy on a rescue halfway across the world?"
A smile crosses the higher official's face, as he stops their walk. Patting Victory on the shoulder, he hands over the tablet carried on his side.
"Well....remember the program we had discussed?" Victory begins to read, with his eyes going wide within a few lines. "Well...I finally managed to convince higher-ups to provide funding. We'll be starting up the first round within the next year and a half. And you..."
November 2027, Classified Location
"...and don't forget, you're here because we know we have what it takes. You've already sacrificed more than anyone could ask. You're extremely bright, and it's clear from how you got here that you've got the guts and character to make it through this program. But..."
A flesh-and-blood hand lands on a silver upper arm, belonging to a fresh-faced young soldier. The brown-haired corporal looks down at his own artificial arm, then up to the smiling face of the Colonel. The same face that had been seen all over AEGIS recruitment material for the last decade, with or without a helmet.
"...if you really do want to go back to civilian life, you have my word. We'll get you back there."
A warm smile, then the Colonel straightens back up. "Now, get back to the rest of the team. You've all got a new drill coming tomorrow."
Trading a salute, the office door shuts, with the younger man disappearing in a flash of movement. Shutting the door once he's all alone, Colonel Factor lets out a long breath, walking back to his desk. Dressed in his daily uniform, endowed with a unique patch on the right shoulder showing a pair of metal wings, the massive man steps up to the wall behind the central desk. Nearly a dozen helmets, blue and silver all, adorn places of honor. With one exception: A black helmet, shaped similarly to the others, but with a more menacing edge to its wing-like protrusions, sits out of formation, near the corner.
The now middle-aged hero puts a metal hand upon it. It moves and shifts like an arm of flesh, muscles and fibers made of a shimmering metal, one far beyond the sort that make up the walls of room he finds himself in.
Removing the helmet from its mounting, Colonel Factor turns it over in his hands, a smirk on his lips as he looks at the faint orange glow that still remains swirling, trapped inside.
"Who would've guessed? All it took was seeing things from a teacher's point of view. Guess you were a success after all, V1."
As if to cut him off, the alarm throughout the base blares, as the PA system kicks in.
"ATTENTION: DIMENSION RIFT OPENING ABOVE FREEDOM CITY. ALL AVAILABLE STEEL SQUADRON MEMBERS REPORT TO THE SITUATION ROOM AND AWAIT FOR INSTRUCTIONS FROM VICTORY! REPEAT..."
Placing the black helmet back in its spot, the Colonel turns back towards his door. With a loud clang, the entire room shifts. Going downward like an elevator, he stands firm in the very center. The suit covering his body goes from a deep, dark blue to a shining silver, before it seems to melt and spread all over his body. When the only thing left open is his mouth, the vet stands in a broad, winged shape. The Victory that's been patrolling the skies of not just Freedom City, but the world for nearly 2 decades.
The room stops, with the door-holding wall retracting entirely. Before him are a cadre of men and women, all with various arrangements of cybernetic parts and bodies. Each of them stands at attention, and all bear the same silver-wing logo upon their shoulders.
Victory steps forward, his voice booming out over the PA system within the wide hangar bay.
"Alright, everyone! We've got a hole coming in. Here's our plan of approach..."