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June 1, 2020 

 

There had been much negotiation about how Vanguard would arrive in Rurland. Air travel to the new nation was heavily restricted, particularly in the wake of the single Russian military intelligence drone flight over the region (which had resulted in the addition of nearly a hundred pounds of machine parts for the new nation.) But the big teleporters built into Poliske's old administrative building, the ones that the intrepid journalists had used for their visit to what Americans in the know mockingly called "the Reservation", those had their downsides too - nobody was particularly interested in having their molecules broken down and reconstituted by machines built and controlled by Talos. 

 

So instead a compromise arrangement had been reached, and Vanguard (plus their guest member) had flown in from London on a surplus passenger plane loaded with human refugees taking shelter in the arms of Talos - mostly Venezuelans who were on the second leg of a flight from Bogota, needed technical specialists with families and children. They'd been flying over Belarus for an hour now and were approaching the former exclusion zone, and the heavily jet-lagged refugees aboard were waking up and nervous. They were a mixed bunch, mostly in surplus clothes, wary of the foreign heroes, and from the sound of things ready for where they were going - at least emotionally. 

 

Eira had not socialized, at least once it was clear no one on board required her immediate assistance. Up front in the pilot's compartment, she'd connected directly to the plane's computer network by means of a curling dataspike from the bottom of her sleeve and remained largely quiet during the flight from London. Dressed in a bulky brown sweater and worn-down jeans, she was a bit overdressed for a Ukranian summer - but with her hair dyed black, could have blended in almost perfectly with the refugee crowd. 

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Zhenshchina-voin

It was a little bitter sweet for Klara to return to Ukraine as well having last been in the area in 1943 liberating the Ukrainians from the Germans, only to fall to the Soviet Union. Though she remembered some pleasant night in that Hero City. Only around five thousand kilometres from home, still there was another people that needed a fair hearing on if they were free home could wait for another time.

 

It’s been a long time and I’m not sure the little Ukrainian I know will help us here, so it’s lucky that many here speak Russian.”

 

She was us to getting stares, towering above most people, and she wandered what the locals thought of her having a greater connection to Russia media, even if the Russians weren’t the favour the month here.

 

Are we going to get a local guide / baby sitters for this one, or are they going to let us wander the countryside alone?”

 

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Muirne was easy to miss among the much taller people around her. She was wrapped in a dark green cloak, below which was a white woollen tunic, drawn in at the middle by a belt, which reached her mid-thigh. She wore a pair of charcoal grey tights, and some nice leather walking boots. Her hair was pulled into a braid, and hidden by the cloak. She had her mother's pendant around her neck, since she hadn't wanted to leave both of her treasures from her family in her apartment, and had decided against bringing a knife to a diplomatic meeting. She sat in her seat, trying to quell the nervousness she felt as they flew to a nation controlled by what she had been told was one of the most dangerous supervillains in the world, who had proclaimed his intentions for peace. What was she supposed to think of this?

 

She huddled in her seat and watched people, quietly humming a lullaby her mother had sung her when she was younger. She especially watched Eira, who had entered into a meditative trance or something for most of the flight. She didn't know what to think about the girl after her interaction with her at Claremont, especially her final parting comment in her mother tongue. She hoped that this trip might help her get a bit closer to her future schoolmate, but wasn't sure how to go about that.

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There were a number of things irritating Dee Farrington, also known as Synapse. The extended period of time that it had taken to finally arrange for this official visit to Rurland had been one. And then there had been the added complexity of arranging for transportation. Talos was not really making it easy for any of the world’s governments to put much trust into his proclaimed peaceful intentions.

 

Dee was more than ready to arrive at their destination, the flight having not been the most comfortable to begin with, it was perhaps even a bit more so for her. The Englishwoman was wearing the medium grey and purple full bodysuit that served as her costume as Synapse, which had just enough give that despite her pregnancy starting to show she could still wear it. But she expected within a fortnight or so she would likely not be able to wear it any longer. And of course then there was the domino mask she wore as well, she had never had it on for such a long period of time and it was really starting to try her patience.

 

When Klara spoke up Dee focused her attention on the tall woman. "I do not expect it to be a problem." She replied at the other woman’s comment about some at their destination speaking Russian. "I expect a large number of the humans we encounter will be like our fellow passengers, transplants from other places speaking a wide range of languages. As for any of the synthetic residents, I expect many will be able to communicate just fine with us in English or Russian."

 

The Englishwoman glanced briefly back toward the back of the plane where the mostly Venezuelan refugees bound for Rurland were seated. At the start of the flight Dee had spent a bit of time interacting with them, but had mostly left them alone given their unease at the presence of the members of Vanguard. She then looked back toward Klara and around at the other members of Vanguard. In addition to the familiar faces there was a recent new addition to the group, a Danish heroine.

 

At Klara question, Dee focused back on her. "Oh, I doubt they are going to let us roam around unaccompanied. I expect we will have a number of minders, both obvious and less so."

 

The trick will be to see if any of us can slip away to see what they might not want us to. The Englishwoman added over the mental network she had used to allow the members of Vanguard to communicate privately. Unfortunately, she was not able to include the other member of the visiting delegation, given Eria’' synthetic brain.

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Yeah, this whole thing smells like an inspection day they saw commin' a mile away

 

dreadnought threw out onto synapses mental network as he poured over his printout about what was planned to happen after they landed, all fairly standard fair he assumed, a greeting, a tour, a private meeting and then an inspection thingie mabobie where they trapsed around looking for things that were askew or out of place, he'd be pacing if he didn't cause the plane to jostle with every motion he made and upsetting people so it was probably for the best he just stayed as still and quiet as possible till they landed.

 

that said, It could just be paranoia, lets not go givin' talos an excuse to retaliate against hostile foreign powers, yeh?

 

his eyes settled on Eira and her somewhat obvious troubled mind, he couldn't resist calling out to her.

 

"hey kid, you holding up ok?"

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Eira opened her eyes and looked at Dreadnaught -  a flat, unfocused gaze that for a moment seemed to be looking right through him. "I am fine," she whispered throatily, disengaging herself from the cockpit's rear control panel with a faint hiss. She looked the part-time Freedom Leaguer over, up and down, before she walked back to Synapse's position. "The welcoming party is ready for us at the airfield. Kay is with them. The pilot estimates a landing in 20 minutes." Her speech was clearly articulated as she spoke to Lady Farrington, her slight Swedish accent thicker than ever. She folded her hands behind her back and walked back down the plane's central corridor, not looking up as the bad Spanish of the pilot came on the speakers to tell the passengers much of what she had just told Synapse. The only sign of any inner emotion was the way she cracked her knuckles, chuck-chuck-chuck, as she walked without actually looking at the families of refugees now eagerly peering out the windows.

 

The weather was warm and sunny, the sky blue, Rurland a half-built silvery network approaching fast, for those who peered out the sides, a strange imposition amid fields and forests.  Those with superhuman senses might hear a fascinating radio bubble as they approached, a storm of rapid transmissions like the patter of rain, a volume that was vigorous but not necessarily unpleasant. When she found Mette, she looked the older woman over and said softly, "We just need a Norwegian now, hmm?"  Her Swedish was posh, there was no other word for it - if she was dressed like someone at a free outdoor concert, her Lidingö accent sounded like someone who owned the venue and half the town besides.  

 

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This is so weird. I've never talked to anyone in my mind before.

 

Mette remained in her seat, leaning back into it, doing her best not to look out the window. She was in her costume, white pants, green top and mask, some red details here and there, her long brown hair and mouth free. She really wasn't meant to fly. She wasn't scared of flying or anything like that, but she was really supposed to either have her feet on the ground or be in the water. And teaming up with a bunch of people like the Vanguard on top of it all? These people were big time, and she was just a Danish hero. Not like she'd ever mattered on a grander scale, and now here she was, being asked to investigate Rurland on behalf of Denmark, a contact managing to score her a spot on the same plane as Vanguard and being asked to join up with them for the investigation.

 

Alright. She was gonna show them all how awesome she could be.

 

Not it, by the way. I'm really not the stealthy type. More about making a splash.

 

She looked up to see a girl, a bit younger than her. She was the one that they'd sent along, the Swedish robot, right? That was probably oversimplifying things, but Mette would be the first admit that she really didn't know a lot about those things. <"I don't know about that... I mean, having someone show up and spill all their oil money might not be the best way to impress a guy like Talos?"> Alright, that was a bad joke, but at least she could admit it. <"I don't think we've really met, have we? I'm the Little Mermaid.">

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Don't worry, you'll get used to it. Muirne thought in response to Mette's admisson, chuckling quietly, before returning to the more serious subject matter. I could probably manage in my shadowbeast form... Muirne offered. It had been a long time since she had willingly transformed, and she didn't look forward to doing so, but if it was for Vanguard she would do it. But I wouldn't really know what to look for technology-wise so I'd probably need either help or to stay in range. She settled back into her seat, closing her eyes and focusing on the familiarity of the song she was now singing under her breath as she prepared mentally for the landing.

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"<There are not so many of us>," Eira murmured softly, staring out the window with her head cocked slightly. "<We have to stick together.>" She shook Mette's hand, her grip bony and a little cold. "<In costume, I am Angelic. I was born Eira Katastroff Natt och Dag, but it is just Eira.>" The long name had the air of words long-memorized, and were said with some seeming disquiet. She wound up strapping herself in next to Mette as the plane actually touched down, muttering something about being more for human protection than anything else - and then Vanguard had arrived! 

 

With their refugee fellow passengers, they had to work to find each other through the crowd. The airfield was small but sparkling new as they looked out the plane's doors, the asphalt they'd landed on almost mirror-bright. The refugees had people waiting for them, humans in serious, professional-looking garb who (with the help of mechanical translators) called out greetings to "The newest residents of the newest nation on Earth - Rurland!" 

 

The team had gotten the briefing on what the refugees could expect and so far it seemed as though Talos was keeping his word - there were cars waiting to take them away, counselors who spoke fluent Spanish (again with mechanical aid), and a few tearful reunions out there on the tarmac. As for their welcoming party, there was a big black van waiting for them a little away from the refugees, where an obviously-repurposed Foundry bot was holding a sign that read VANGUARD - with a cap perched jauntily on its brassy head.  

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Well, I am the one most qualified to investigate anything they might be doing here that is not above board, which also means they will probably be keeping the closest eye on me. But, as long as any of you do not get too far away, you can be my eyes. Dee had responded over her mental network. The Englishwoman let the conversation die off for a moment as the plane finally touched down inside Ruland, keeping the mental communication open.

 

After debarking, Dee kept close to her teammates, but casually glanced about at those waiting to greet both the members of Vanguard and the refugees, but carefully taking in any details she could. <"Best of luck in your new home."> The Englishwoman offered the refugees in perfect Spanish before leading the other members of Vanguard off to the side toward the waiting van and what appeared to be their driver.

 

"Cheers, we are Vanguard." She said in greeting as she came over towards the repurposed Foundry bot.

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<"Sure, there's only a few of us in Denmark, as far as I know at least.> This was pretty good, right? Even if Eira wasn't a member of the Vanguard, it was good to have someone that was, well, a bit closer to home? Even if Eira did sound a bit posh, and that was a long name. <"Sorry, gotta keep some secret identity. Not that anyone would know who I am, anyway."> She smiled at the last bit. 

 

As they descended, Mette's eyes stayed firmly on the seat in front of her. No reason to think about it, just focus away on the whole thing while they landed.

 

Leaving the plane with the others, Mette couldn't help but notice that, well, everything seemed good. The refugees were helped, they even spoke Spanish, helped everyone, tearful reunions and everything...

 

Does all this look just a little too good to be true to everyone else here? she at least tried to share with the others. They probably noticed already, but couldn't hurt to share her thoughts, right?

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Muirne turned ashen white, stumbling slightly as she felt the constant pressure of the Schattenwelt cease. It had become part of her life and now it had just... gone. Her stomach turned and she grabbed onto the nearest team member for support. She tried to collect her bearings enough to warn everyone but all that was running through her mind was panic. Hit sy geleoren1She was trembling now, repeating the thought out loud "Hit sy geleoren..." it came out as barely a whisper, her voice shaking.

After what felt like an eternity she managed to collect herself managing to send out a coherent thought in English I can't feel the Schattenwelt, my link to it is gone.

 

1 It is gone

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Oh, there is certainly a fair bit that is not on the up-and-up Dee responded to Mette's question about things seeming too good to be true. At the very least the sky is some sort of holographic projection on a massive scale. At the very least likely to interfere with aerial surveillance. But perhaps it serves a secondary purpose as well

 

Also interesting that all the refugees who have been here awhile have at least some cybernetic implants. The Englishwoman added. Not completely artificial however, I am still detecting mental activity from all of them, unlike our Swedish friend who is fully artificial.

 

When Murine reported being cut off from the shadow plane that provided her her powers, Dee quickly responded. Easy Murine, calm down. I am not exactly sure why there is something here interfering with that, but I doubt it is just because of you. I do not expect they have much information on you at all. More likely it is a more general deterrent for some other villain organizations with powered operatives that tap into the Schattenwelt.

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Eira kept her own council, though she did look fascinated as she studied the cyborg helpers assisting the refugees, studying them with unfocused eyes. When everyone had taken their fill of the scenery, they boarded the van, their robot driver hopping into the front at their approach. It was a big passenger van, almost but not quite a bus, with tinted windows and a wet bar. Though their driver didn't say much, some of the windows came alive with displays, obscuring the outside with what looked like a local news broadcast by a smiling human newscaster, speaking in Russian and English as she discussed the local weather, the new arrivals from Venezuela, and the visiting team from Vanguard - then the upcoming weather, the latest food served in the cafeterias, the building of the Great Work, and other details that seemed to pass by as if they were everyday occasions. 

 

As they headed out, Eira eyed the van's interior control panels for a moment before extending a hand - from underneath her wrist there lashed out a silvery cord like a snake, her dataspike burying itself in one of the panels near her seat. Her face tensed - then she smirked and spoke in a throaty whisper. "Only access to the local intranet - the one the refugees use. Clever.

 

"Next stop - The Studio!" declared their driver in a tinned voice. "Where do you hail from, strangers?" 

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Zhenshchina-voin

Lots of different places!” Klara grinned at the other before realising most of them weren’t born when that movie came out.

 

Everything seems on the level, at least so far. She though to those that could hear I assume the sky is hiding a dome or forcefield of some kind, we used something similar to hide our own city. Maybe with some kind of power dampener with no powers I can’t tell myself.

 

Stay strong little sestra, nothing bad will happen whilst we are all here. She smiled over at there newest member of Vanguard.

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Cyborgs? 

 

Mette hadn't even noticed. She should pay more attention, shouldn't she?

 

So, like mandatory cybernetics or something like that? You gotta become robot if you want to stay here? Something like that?

 

She didn't really know anything about Muirne, but Mette couldn't help but worry. Something about the entire thing just soudned so worried. What was that Schattenwelt? She kind of wished she had taken German classes instead of French, but couldn't really be helped now. 

 

What is the Schattenwelt?

 

She at least tried to make her thoughts sound worried.

 

I'm guessing its not something that's usually cut off easy, right? Could a normal force field do that?

 

Oh, right, the driver had asked something, right? "I'm from Copenhagen. Nice place."

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For the most part dreadnought had kept to himself once he got off the plane mostly because he was already so easily distracted (he was here to Investigate after all.)

 

He of course gave murine a comforting pat on the shoulder as she clung to klara and trembled.

 

Whilst he couldn't claim to know how exactly she felt he was no stranger to panic and trauma himself.

 

Mumbling quietly to her "take deep breaths kid, ground yaself by focusing your senses on stuff; seeing hearing and so on yeah?"

 

It'd be a lie to say he'd not been amused by the choice of colour for their cabbie and his jaunty little cap but he did his best to remain professional "Liverpool mate." He stated in a friendly if unfamiliar tone "work as a shipwright when I'm not doing this stuff." He added with a short knock on the side of his helmet to indicate.

 

"How bout yaself? You from Rurland or did ya emigrate from elsewhere in the world?"

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Muirne tried to regulate her breathing as the other Vanguard members offered their expressions of support, trying to keep calm. She sat across from Eira, watching as a silver tendril extended from her wrist and trying to parse through her thoughts. The Shattenwelt is another dimension where I draw my powers from. Without my link to it I have no powers. I can't say what would cut it off since it's never happened to me before. She looked away from the silver tendril realising it might be rude, the fact that the girl across from her was an artificial being. That was why she wasn't talking across the mental link. She thought about how to bring up the subject without possibly offending her future schoolmate, before giving up on subtlety and quietly asking. "So you're a robot?"

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Eira focused her eyes on Muirne and hissed quietly "No, they brought me for my charming personality and my taste in music." She tensed the muscles in her arm and the flexible spike she'd driven into the van's side retracted back into her forearm. 

 

"Oh, I'm from these parts," said the robot driver cheerfully, sounding distinctly like a London cabbie. "Born 'n made here in Rurland, the finest nation in the world. Just a few weeks old m'self but there's none who love this nation more." 

 

"It is non-sentient," said Eira cooly, studying her painted fingernails as they went. "A chatbot, yes?" The cabbie responded by hissing at Eira in a sound like a modem backfiring, prompting a seemingly-instinctive response in the same tone from the girl. She glared at the cabbie as they reached their destination. 

 

"Pip-pip! Here we are, honored guests!" The Studio, Kay's new personal stronghold, was built into a part of the Zone that had not yet been reclaimed by the machines. It was an abandoned Soviet building, the concrete cracked and the sidewalk overgrown, but the building itself looked recently refurbished - its thick walls and faintly glowing windows blocking any sort of visual inspection of the interior, with only golden doors on the front emblazoned with the letter K. 

 

 

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Well, if there was a general power dampener on, we would not be having these private little thoughts amongst ourselves. Dee replied to with a small smile at Klara. When Eira mentioned having limited access to the web, the Englishwoman looked over at the Swedish teenage robot. "I hope you are not overly shocked by that. Perhaps Kay will have a more open network you can access."

 

As Eira and the robot driver got into a literal hissing match Dee had to force herself not to frown. Well, if little miss sunshine here keeps on like this maybe they will be so busy focusing on her we might have a bit more freedom to poke around. She replied to the members of Vanguard over the mental network. I have the impression that all of this strikes a little close to home for Eira.

 

"Well thank you for the efficient transport." Dee said to the driver as they reached their destination. Climbing out, she looked up at the building Kay had claimed as her own.

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Is she always like this?

 

Mette tried to focus her thoughts on Muirne. Could she even do that? The rest could probably hear it too, but did it really matter? She tried to make her mental tone joking, but was that even really a thing? This whole psychic thing was so confusing...

 

Look out for Swedes, you never know what'll set them off. Best bring a beer and some heavy metal if you want her to calm down.

 

Mette stepped out of the car along with the others, nodding to the driver. Non-sentient or not, he was still the driver. This was still so weird. And not really anything like what she had imagined her first team up with someone outside Denmark would be like. 

 

"So, uh... who exactly is this Kay? And why are they here in the first place?"

 

Ah, the joys of not knowing anyone.

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Zhenshchina-voin

Klara gave a little mental laugh, trying not to physically laugh as well.

 

She’s a teenager it’s just that awkward stage they go through, I should know I’ve raised three of them even the best of them give you a trying day or two! It can’t help that she stuck in a body that’s not hers, for now frozen in time like Peter Pan, and this place must remind her of such things.

 

She gave a mental equivalent of an embarrassed mental shrugged.

 

Sorry I read a lot of those books on childhood psychology when I was raising my first daughter, I guess some of them must have rubbed off on me.

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I don't know if she's usually like that, I've only met her once... She frowned worriedly as Eira stormed out and the others offered their interpretations of her attitude. Were they right and it was being in Rutland that upset her, or had it been her question? She decided to apologise regardless.

With a quick wave she exited the vehicle, quickly catching up to Eira. "Hey, I'm sorry if I upset you. I thought you were here because you were good with computers, like Ben." She looked up at Eira earnestly as she said this, hoping she wasn't somehow digging herself deeper.

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"I am not upset," hissed Eira, venom in her voice as she glared at the smaller girl. Turning from Miurne and crossing her arms over her chest, she frowned at Mette before saying, "Kay is like me. A human mind, uploaded into a synthetic body before biological maturity had been reached." With that, she strode up to the door - and blinked in surprise as the seeming old-fashioned door opened for her smoothly and silently. Without another word, she headed inside. 

 

The interior of the Studio - wasn't an interior at all. The heroes had walked into what appeared to be an outdoor scene; a white, sandy beach surrounded by dramatic, rugged cliffs and beautiful little coves, the ocean crashing behind them in vigorous but not actually threatening waves. Frowning, Eira looked around before a voice called "Hello! Welcome to Rurland!

 

Kay Tregennis was tall now, and distinctly deeply tanned, with long brown hair behind her back, her body wrapped in a one-piece brown bathing suit with a towel tied around he rwaist. "Eira! Dee! So nice to see you!" Kay was full of warm embraces, and handshakes for those who preferred otherwise, her Cornish accent a faint lilt as she said, "And this must be the new Vanguard!" She smiled thinly at Miurne. "Welcome to the team, eh? I am so glad you made it here. How was your trip?" Eira was silent, cocking her head and staring at the changed Kay, who looked more like a teen model than the young woman who'd left months ago in secret. 

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She is a teenager and fully in a rebellious awkward phase, but I am not sure being in her robotic body is a source of significant angst for her, given the alternative she was facing. Dee replied to Klara's comments about their young Swedish friend.

 

The Englishwoman gave a small smile as Eira responded to Mette's questions about Kay. "Well, that is a rather succinct explanation, if short a few details." She stated as she followed closely after Eira into the entrance to the Studio and taking in the apparently holographic image inside.

 

There is a fair bit more to say about Kay, but suffice to say that her robotic body was funded by the British government and the development project overseen by one of the founding members of Vanguard, a man named Headcase. Which raises a host of other problems, which might be a bit too much to go into at the moment.

 

"Cheers Kay, good to see you once more." Dee responded with a genuine smile as she gave Kay a hug in return. "I should have brought my bikini, although, not quite a beach ready as I was a month or so ago." She added, gesturing down to her abdomen which was starting to show her pregnancy.

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