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Geez3r

Confronting the Past (IC)

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There were no two ways about it; I felt weird about this whole deal. You know that sensation you get when you miss a step? Yeah that's been going about my head for weeks now. And I really didn't want to do this, but I had to; heroes are entitled to as many choices as other people are. I hadn't stepped on Russian soil in nearly 20 years, but there were still some issues I had to work out with the motherland; anything that could throw me off my game had to be taken care of. I had seen what happened to heroes that couldn't handle the pressure; the lucky ones ended up as villains, trying to kill the very heroes they fought side by side with.

That's not going to be me, not again.

After the Invasion, I felt unstable, and truth be told, I acted it. The heroes said I had started fighting more pragmatically, they were just being nice. The truth of the matter is that I had been fighting dirty and savagely.

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Have you ever wondered why all those shining paragons seem like such nice guys? It's because they can't afford to be mean. When you see the guy that can bench a truck pull off a CQC maneuver, people get scared and rightfully so. People only want to know that you're strong enough to protect them; you don't want to show them you're strong enough to kill them as well.

Anyways, getting off topic. Long story short, I wasn't acting too heroic after the Invasion. The heroes likely chalked it up to the trauma induced by the Hive Mind, but the truth was that it had stirred up some old wounds as well. Crap I thought I had forgotten decades ago kept coming back to the forefront. One minute, I'm paying for my groceries, and the next I flash back to Siberia digging a trench. It's so real, I can practically see my hands turning blue.

I had run away from my past for years, now it was finally time to confront all of those issues and lay them to rest. The Grue did something to my mind, some last little gift. All those mental blocks I had are starting to crumble. And until I know I can trust myself, I won't let anyone else trust me. I got to get away for a while and try to sort all this mess out.

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"Ticket sir?"

"Hrmm? What?"

"Your ticket sir."

"Oh right, sorry." replied Sam coming out of his stupor and handing his ticket over to the employee.

I was in a bit of a funk; I had been travelling all day, and would still being travelling for quite a few more hours to come. For reasons that now completely allude me, I wanted to do this trip the old fashioned way, as Sam rather than as Atlas. Maybe so it felt like I was the one taking care of the problem and not shifting the load onto someone else? Whatever the reason, I hoped they served booze on the next plane. I didn't care what the cost was, there was no way I could go through security again without snapping someone's neck. Though I have to admit, it really would break up the monotony.

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After too long of a flight, I disembarked off the plane in the Ukraine. There was a real bad blizzard hitting the airport in Russia and all flights in were cancelled. Snowstorms in Russia, who woulda thunk it amiright?

Rather than sit around in an airport waiting for the storm to clear up, I decided it was just a better idea to get on a train. The faster I could get this over with, the better. Besides if I stopped moving there was a pretty good chance I would just chicken out of the whole thing.

After hitting the embassy for a currency exchange, with a rather fetching young girl, I made my way down to the train station. I was going by foot, I didn't exactly trust any of the cabbies around here. Besides, I needed to start taking in all the changes that had happened in the area. Granted, this ain't where I grew up, but I did spend some time here before I originally came to America.

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But my little walk through the little hamlet taught me that some things just don't change. The train station was still a derelict piece of crap. Now don't get me wrong, it looked like that had upgraded it a little bit in the past 20 years, but it was still woefully out of date. The smell of blood, vomit and god knows what else was practically a tangible thing hanging in the air. A real tourist hot spot.

Half of the light didn't work, which was actually fine for me, I needed some sleep and if my ticket was right, I wouldn't be arriving until tomorrow, which was actually 2 days after I had left. Jet Lag sucked big time.

Now, as one might guess, trying to get some sleep on a derelict train in the Ukraine in the middle of the night isn't exactly the safest course of action an American on vacation can undertake. But mildly intoxicated, jet lagged super heroes are known for doing stupid things from time to time.

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Now, for whatever reason, I've found that I don't dream all that much. Back in the day, it was just because I was so damn tired, my body didn't have enough energy to dream. When I got older I was tired and drunk. And now that I'm a super hero, I'm thankful for any days I don't get blasted through a wall by a jet-pack ape, have to catch a bus full of nuns or get my gender swapped during the course of the day; don't ask about the last one. Just really, don't ask.

So you might be wondering while I told you all that. Well the point of the story is that anytime I feel or think something while I'm asleep, I don't it's not part of the dream. So if for example, I feel someone's hand in my jacket, it tends to wake me right the hell up.

So my eyes snap open and I'm starting down this little pissant that's got my wallet in his grubby mitts. Now either he thought he was hot shit or I was dead asleep, because he's got this classic "Oh ****" look plastered all over his face. He turns to run, and actually drops the wallet in his haste. He must be new at this. Good, that means scaring him into never doing something this stupid again should be easy.

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Now don't get me wrong, when I first started out, I was all about the street level stuff. You know clearing out my turf and all that. Some heroes make a career out of that, and god bless them; the world would fall apart if not for them. But some of us need to use our talents elsewhere. It didn't take me long to figure out that I was immensely strong, even by super standards. So I got delegated to monster of the week duty.

Know it's an important job, and it's pretty rewarding, but helping out with the small stuff, you know getting back to basics, will always have a special place in my heart.

So leap off the seat to start tearing after this guy, but he's got a pretty good lead on me. Now I'm the first to admit that I'm not exactly fast on my feet, but the amount of dust I'm eating from this guy is just insane.

"Get back here!" I shout at the guy. Like that would actually work.

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Unsurprising, the guy continues to book it. He dashes to the end of the car and then in a move that likely wasn't thought out all too well, the guy jumps through a cracked pane of glass and clear out of the train.

Let me repeat that for emphasis: this guy just jumped out of a moving train somewhere in the boonies of the Ukraine.

So I do the rational thing and go back to my seat. A guy like that won't willingly be found by anyone. He'd have to be dead for anyone to find him after pulling a stunt like that. And to be perfectly honest, I'm not going to spend my night looking for someone that doesn't want to be found.

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So the rest of the train right went fine. I winded up in some small little town about 3 hours inside the Russian border. I got a bit of a lay over so I figure I got time to get something to eat. One of the guys on the train suggested some bar about 2 blocks away from the station. So hey, to the bar I go.

It's not the worst bar I've been in, it's not the best. There's a group of rough looking guys playing pool, and the air's pretty thick with cigar smoke, but the food smells good and the glasses look like they've actually been cleaned.

I order up the house special, some beef Pirozhki and some vodka & 7. It's been too long since I had some good Russian vodka. The old guy behind the bar gets to work as I hang up my jacket, and take a seat at the bar. If I had been paying attention, I would have noticed that those rough guys had suddenly stopped playing pool.

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So I'm sitting there at the bar waiting for my order, watching some TV they got playing in the background, realizing just how bad my Russian's gotten. A guy a few seats down from me gets up from his spot, but I don't pay him any attention; I think he's just going for a leak.

Turns out he was really just stepping to the side of the fan. Something I should really look into one of these days.

"You're in my seat." I hear from a gruff voice behind me. Surprise, surprise, it's one of the guys that were playing pool.

Not wanting to cause a seen over something stupid (again), I get up and slide over to the next empty stool.

"That's my seat too." Funny guy. So I slide over one more seat. The guy clears his throat.

"Let me guess: this is your seat too."

"Course not; it's his." says the guy as he points to one of his buddies back over by the pool table. They think this is all pretty funny.

"There any open spots?"

"No, they're all taken comrade." I really hate it when they say comrade, it makes you sound like an asshole.

"Then it looks like I'll have to make some room, comrade." Then again, sounding like an asshole has its advantages.

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Remember how I said it’s been a long while since I’ve gone back to my basics? Turns out getting into bar fights is just like riding a bike. Only with more punching. Now before everyone gets all uppity about a super-hero getting into a bar room brawl with a bunch of drunkards, I got two things to point out to you. Firstly, some of a super hero’s best work is done in horribly seedy bars with a great number of unsavory types. Secondly, they started it.

But I’m nothing if not sporting, so I be the nice guy and tone my strength way down, and I don’t even hulk out or nothing. Now don’t get me wrong, this is the equivalent of getting into a bare knuckled brawl with a professional boxer. It’s still a pretty fair fight because they’re bringing out the brass knuckles. Yeah it’s old school, but this is Russia. You piss somebody off here, they’ll break your nose.

There are few things I miss about this place, but that is a mentality I wish the Americans had. They’re too PC. Too worried about offending them to give them a nice solid thump.

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So about a half hour later I’m sitting in the back of a police car sporting a nice shiner, a welt on my left arm, a few good bruises on my back, and some Pirozhki in my stomach. So not really the greatest start to this trip all things considered. But hey I made some friends.

So I’m being brought down to the station for processing (aka getting punched in the face a whole lot). Officer Yuri is up in the front seat driving obviously. A pretty sizeable guy, but it looks like he’s gone to seed a little, probably getting ready to retire soon. He’s been real quiet the whole time. The only thing he’s said to me is “watch your head†as he put me in the car. Remember that there are no Miranda rights in Russia.

But about 10 minutes into our drive, I notice that Yuri keeps looking back at me in the rear view mirror. He’s been doing it the whole time; it’d be pretty irresponsible of him if he didn’t, but now he’s really just looking at me. Like he’s trying to get a measure on me, and not just making sure I’m not bleeding too much all over his back seat. But when he finally stops at a red light a few minutes later, he turns full around in his seat, looks right at me saying “Off the record, I would have loved to see you kick the **** out of those guys, they’ve been asking for it for years.â€

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So Yuri moves up a few notches in my book, but he’s still got a job to do and it doesn’t look like he’s gonna let me off the hook all too soon. Now, at this point, nobody knows I got powers, and I want to keep it that way. It’d cause quite an international incident if an American super hero breaks out of a Russian jail after getting into a bar room brawl. But at the same time, I don’t exactly want to rot in a Russian jail for a couple of months.

So I’m not too sure how I should go about ding this. And I know there isn’t going to be any cavalry coming for me either. While a lot of the supers distanced themselves from me recently (not that I blame them of course), I still got a few close friends. I just let them know before I left that they wouldn’t be able to contact me for a while. But in a brilliant move of mine, I didn’t let anyone know where I was going. Now quite a few of them could find out if they really wanted to, but they’re also the type to give me space if I asked for it.

Meanwhile, I sit a holding cell for a few days. I don’t have enough to make bail and Yuri is doing me a favor and trying to see if he can wiggle me out of any charges. A point of note is that they don’t have to charge you right away in Russia, but once they do, the legal process steps into high gear, and I’ll be shipped off to a prison in short order. Right now I’m pinning my hopes on Yuri because if I go to trial, I’m going to jail.

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It’s on the 3rd day that I catch a lucky break. See Yuri’s been trying to contact one of the higher ups in the government, the equivalent of a DA and a judge rolled into one. Naturally, they’re swamped with work so they don’t get back right away. As Yuri’s explaining all this to me, I hear a door open and a voice calls out “Sam-sam, I thought I told you to keep your head down.â€

Framed in the doorway stands the Advisor to the Minister of Justice. She’s a relatively broad shouldered woman, with ample curves. Her blond hair is tied back in a tight braided bun. Her bright blue eyes are framed with frameless glasses, which shows of even more of her immaculate features. The way she stands lets you know right away she’s used to being in a position of authority and having people doing what she asks without question.

Her name is Ivanna Demidov, and even though it’s been over 20 years since I last saw her, I still recognize her as the first girl I ever kissed. The fact that she was also the only one to ever call me Sam-Sam was a pretty big tip off as well.

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Now running into your ex-girlfriend while in jail is a situation pretty much everyone everywhere can agree is a terrible state of affairs. But add into that vortex of awkwardness the way I broke up with Ivanna. You see, Ivanna was a military brat. Her dad was a mid-range officer in the military and they moved around a lot due to his career. But Ivanna really loved her father, and truth be told he was a great man. But because he was in the military, leaving the country was pretty much out of the country, and I really wanted to move to America. So I had to make a choice: the girl I loved, or a chance to make a better life for myself in America. I chose the latter… and I told her this in a note I had left her. Yeah… dick move I know.

Which makes this hug I’m getting quite confusing.

“Ivanna, is that really you?†I say thoroughly confused as I return her hug.

“Yeah, it really is.â€

"Listen about back-" I try to start to explain

“Hey Sam…†she cuts me off

*CRUNCH* *THUD*

That was the sound of Ivanna using 20 years’ worth of anger to knee me in the crotch, followed by the sound of me being dropped like a bag of bricks. Now my recollection of the new couple of minutes is real hazy, but I was apparently being released into Ivanna’s custody. The only thing I remember with any clarity was when Ivanna stooped down and very nearly picked me up by my ear and spoke these words directly into it “When you can stand up again, come outside and we’re going to have a talk.â€

For just a moment there, I consider crawling back into the cell.

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So about 20 minutes later, I hobble out of the jail there. Ordinarily, “checking out†of a prison would take much longer than that, but Yuri’s been doing some of the paperwork in the hopes that I would get out, and once Vera got involved, things went much faster. I could have left after 15 minutes, but I don’t think I could have kept my feet under feet at the time. Apparently, Vera’s been keeping up with her military training, she’s a lot stronger than she looks.

So anyways, now I’m the car with my pissed off ex-girlfriend, who basically just bailed me out of jail, and it’s really awkward. And I mean reeeeeally awkward. Now I’m not too good at this sort of thing myself, so I default into dumb guy mode where I just look straight ahead and hope the fire storm doesn’t come. This is called dumb guy mode because all you’re doing at this point is giving her time to stew, so she can take the time to really plan out her insults. Regardless of the fact that she’s probably been thinking about what to say to me in the back of her head for 20 years now, it’s nothing compared to what she can come up with when she puts her whole mind to it.

So I’m just sitting there waiting for it, and then she pulls up to a red light. And she just slowly turns her head towards me, and I give in, I have to look back. And then, she just lets me have it.

“So Sam was it worth it?â€

And sitting there in that car, it hits me; I don’t think it really was.

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Now don’t get me wrong, America is fantastic. We’ve got rights beyond anyone else in the world, and our standard of living is much higher. And I’ve even met plenty of fantastic people, who I count as really great friends. Heck, I even got to be a super hero, I helped raise money for orphans, and I had countless opportunities I never would have had otherwise.

But I’m about 40 years old now, and I’m not getting any younger. I’ve had a grand total of 3 dates in the past 10 years. And I’m not exactly beating them off with a stick either. Despite all of the hardships I had when I was growing up, I was happy with Vera. She could always make me laugh, she comforted me when I was sad and I really did love her.

No matter what America had, the one thing it never had was Vera. Now maybe I’m not thinking clearly. Maybe I’m just thinking the grass is greener, or just wanting what I can’t have. But no matter the reason, when I think of what my life is missing, it’s always Vera. Seeing her again, smelling her hair, hearing her voice, it just makes me realize it all that much more.

“No, I don’t think it was.†A moment of honest I’ll come to regret.

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After that the flood gates sort of open up. We’re not yelling at each other or even really talking to each other. We’re just venting, and not even angrily. We’ve just got so much stuff stored up within in, and now we finally have a reason to just let it all go. I honestly don’t remember the rest of the ride. I actually don’t remember much about the next couple of hours to be honest. I remember us talking, and bits and pieces about the life Vera’s lead while I’ve been gone.

After the government desegregated the military, she joined up almost immediately. She was practically part of the military since she could walk, all she was really missing was the uniform. She acceled in basic training, and by the end of it had broken every record there was, not just for women, but for all enlisted personnel in general. She got on the short list for officer training, and she absolutely soared through the ranks. She showed an aptitude for the legal process and was transferred to that division. She basically became a pencil pusher, and she got pretty depressed. But a couple of years ago, she got recruited by General Stormbringer, his real name being General Kirak Nazulkav. They call him Stormbringer, because nothing’s ever calm when he’s around. He's got a real reputation for stirring up the hornet's nest, but he gets results. And this is what I figured out as a kid, Lord knows what gets said behind closed doors between the brass.

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From there she did a few under the table sort of deals, and got to know all the skeletons in some very important people's closets. She did some quite frankly nasty work, some Black Ops stuff, I don't know any specifics obviously or else she'd have to kill me, and I'm pretty convinced that she could if she really wanted too. But time marched on and Vera was reassigned. She works with the Justice Department, so basically she gets to put the bad guys away in the daylight now.

And I've pretty much related my story. Which was far more boring than hers up until about a year ago, give or take. But I'm real hesitant to tell her about it. I can't honestly say why. It's probably pretty common knowledge at this point, and she just bared her soul to me.

So we both stop talking for a moment, and we just kind of sit down in her living room, she's kind of realized that we've got to the whole point I'm here, and I just sort of need a minute to collect my thoughts. And Vera's whole body language has changed by this point. She's still horribly mad at me, but she's gone into like I don't know, officer mode. She's seen some nasty stuff in her life, but it came a little bit at a time, and she's had people to see her through it. She's a soldier. I'm a civilian.

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It was July 25th, a Tuesday. It was just hot enough that people would complain endlessly about the heat, but cool enough for people to still go on about their day. It was a work day so I had just gone about my day as normal, though I had the door thrown open to try and tempt a non existent breeze into coming through.

So it's about 8 o'clock at night, and the shop closes at nine. It's a slow night, but its thankfully gotten a lot cooler out. I'm sitting down, playing with some cards on the counter, when I hear a bunch of shouting coming from somewhere close by. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but it was definitely an argument and it was getting pretty heated.

Backing up for a minute, by this time I had made myself a thorn in the side of a bunch of the local gangs. I had hospitalized a half dozen bangers and dealers, trying to send the message that they should all be clearing out. I hadn't been arrested for the same reason there were so many of them on the street; cops just look the other way in this side of town. But I had been fooling myself thinking that there wouldn't be any repercussions.

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So, like I had done quite a few times before, I go to intervene, grabbing a baseball bat I leave by the door for just such an occasion. I start creeping down the alley way towards the source of the voices. Now, had I really bothered to pay attention to what they were saying, I might have figured out that something was off about this particular night. Their argument seemed a little forced, and they were deliberately making themselves loud.

But I didn't pick up on that. All I heard was people shouting, so I went to intervene. Here comes my second mistake. See most of these "street level" heroes always scope out the enemy before engaging. In my infinite wisdom, I decide to just blindly turn the corner, walking in on who knows how many goons and without knowing if they're armed or not.

I count 9 guys, 4 crowbars, 3 knives, 2 baseball bats and 9 smiles. It was about that time that I realized I was set up.

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Now, I guess whoever is the ring leader steps up and starts taunting me about how he's wanted to meet me for a long time now, so he could teach me some manners or something like that. To be honest, I don't make out too much because it sounds like my heart is beating in my ears.

I realize just how screwed I am. Yeah sure, I can take out two or three guys by myself, four on a good day, but 9 armed guys, who are expecting me? I don't think so. Now I don't think the ring leader is a master strategist or nothing, but when you're this outnumbered, "Get him!" is a viable strategy.

Add in the fact that I'm not exactly the fastest on foot, I know I can't rum away from these guys, well actually kids by the look of it. If any of them were over 23 I'd be amazed.

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The sound of weapons being readied snaps me back to my senses. The ring leader is finishing up his little speech. "Now don't get us wrong. We respect the guts you got to try and take us on. But your in over your head. So we're gonna make a little deal here. If you just go back inside, and keep your nose out of our business, we're gonna leave you alone. But if you step foot outside again, we're gonna have us a problem." A few of the other guys snicker at this line here.

"So what'll it be, we gonna have a problem gramps?" More snickering.

I swallow hard. My sense of self preservation wants me to just crawl back into my store where it's safe. My sense of duty and community wants to kick the crap out of these guys and get them off my street. But the winning vote goes to my pride; it did not like the gramps crack.

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Without saying a word, I just heedlesly charge right into the fray. If I had said anything then I would lose my one shot at a surprise attack. The "oh crap" look that spread across the thug's face made it all worth while. The bat catches the thug full in the chest, lifting the thug clear off his feet and slamming him into a dumpster some 10 feet away. Good news: he ain't getting up. Bad news: I broke my bat on him, so now I've got another 8 guys to deal with and now I'm unarmed.

The rest of the gang members suddenly all get brave and charge me, swinging their weapons wildly. The first guy to reach me swings overhand. A dangerous blow, but an easy one to avoid. The second one is a bit more dangerous and swings at chest level, and I barely get my hands out in front of me to cushion the blow a bit before it slaps me across the chest. It hurts, but I can still keep my wits about me. The others don't fare much better, only one of them is able to score a glacing blow on my shoulder, but now I'm surrounded.

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So this is a fine situation I got myself into. I really wish I still had my bat. I backup a little bit so I don't get completely surrounded. I try to keep my arms in so I can intercept any incoming attacks, and I stay pretty light on my feet. When one of the guys pulls back to take a swing at me, I pop him one right in the nose. I break the darn thing judging by the amount of blood leaking out of the guy's face. His swing goes wide as he's distracted by the pain, which would ordinarily be a good thing, but I was really hoping I could knock the guy out in one shot. Now all I did was make him angry, though pretty inaccurate.

Keeping my arms in was a good idea. I managed to avoid the next couple of wild swings. I'm looking for an opening so I can counter attack. I'm just about to make my move to elbow one of the guys with a crowbar when one of his buddies catches me square across the shoulders with a solid his with his 2 x 4. Pain explodes across my back, and my vision goes blurry for a second, but I'm still up, for now.

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