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You Can't Go Home Again (IC)

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Saturday, September 1st, 2012

2:43 PM

Freedom Hall

The most well-known landmark in Freedom City (well, second-most well-known after the Sentry Statue) stood proud and clean in the middle of the city. Freedom Hall was a beacon to the world, and a place most superheroes dreamed of calling home one day. Of course, it also served other functions from time to time, which is why the superheroes Comrade Frost, Lady Winter, and Wisp had been summoned there. Inside they were greeted by the programmed cheerfulness of Cynthia, the League's robot receptionist. They were each directed warmly but firmly to a conference room towards the back of the building; at the moment it was empty, the long table in the middle unoccupied and the sideboard bare of all but a carafe of coffee and a pitcher of water.

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Wisp sat in a chair at the middle of the table, a steaming cup of coffee in front of her while she fiddled with her tablet computer while she waited for everyone else to arrive. When the script she had spent the last week writing in the word processor app stopped responding she let out a curse in Russian, and slapped the side of the machine. Sighing she shut it off and slipped it back into her bag. She ended up sitting quietly until everyone arrived a few minutes later.

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Dimitri had put his cigarette out as he stepped inside the building, having learned that it wasn't worth the arguments with his colleagues during his two months as Russian liason to the Freedom League, however much the small flame comforted him. Americans, so obsessed over the little things, he thought, pulling his parka up around his face as he headed into the building. It was going to get much colder, he knew, but he was old enough that he no longer worried about looking odd in front of young people: when the cooling Freedom City air chilled his bones, he would warm himself and what was it to anyone else? He was looking forward to the meeting today, which promised to be a reunion with an old friend and a chance to meet a new curiosity, and was smiling when he opened the door to see a familiar (albeit much-grown) face inside.

"" he boomed ebuillently at the sight of WIsp, and walked right up to embrace the young woman with an avuncular smile. "" he said with a nod. " " he added with a wink.

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Vicky smiled as Dimitri stepped into the room. She returned his embrace before answering, "". His comments brought a bit of color to her cheeks, ""

Returning to her seat she leaned back and grinned, ""

"

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"" said Dimitri with a wave, glad that Vicky didn't seem particularly concerned with the physical changes that had come with her maturity. He'd known plenty of young people with powers who had let a warped body lead to a warped mind, and it was good to see that the daughter of his old colleague hadn't gone that way. ""

As he spoke, he poured himself a steaming cup of hot coffee and held it between his hands, visibly relaxing as the heat from it soaked into his fingers. "" he added, using the old term for Russia's super-soldiers that had been out of fashion for a great many years now. Figuring there was no harm in asking, he added speculatively, ""

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""

Vicky held her tongue on 'the old days', some of the stories her parents shared of the USSR would have turned her hair white. Well, if her hair wasn't already white. ""

She sipped her coffee, seeming to contemplate Dimitri's comment about needing a teleporter, ""

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"" suggested Dimitri jovially, half-serious as he probed the young Russian teleporter. "" he said, pronouncing the second-to-last word in his accented English. "" He sighed, and added with a wry chuckle, "" he said with a wave of his hand at the beauty of Freedom Hall all around them. "" He set his drink down with a sigh, and Wisp could see the little flakes of ice floating in it. ""

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""

With a bit of a mirthful smirk the teleporter replied, "" Her voice became much more serious as she continued, ""

His last comment about enjoying America left her on edge. Years of warnings from her parents about people from their old lives coming back in a rush, magnified by what she could only interpret as a vague threat. Still, she managed to keep the thoughts off her face, helped in no small part by her mask.

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As they spoke, a slight chill began to grow in the air. Footsteps could be heard just outside the door before they opened wide. Lady Winter rubbed her eyes as she stepped into the room, her white fur coat wrapped around her as if to contain whatever cold radiated from her. She looked around the room for a moment, seeing who was there. She couldn't recall ever seeing the young woman and the man seemed vaguely familiar somehow, though how she could not explain. They were Russian, that much she was told.

"" Lady Winter said to those gathered in the room. A foolish man who would think twice about fighting a woman who could freeze him solid. She nodded to them as she continued to make her way over to them. "" She said with a smile. She looked between the two for a moment then frowned slightly. "

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"" Comrade Frost pulled up his parka and peered at the new arrival. "" He extended a gloved hand and shook hers, his touch cold even through the glove against Dasha's icy skin. "" He grinned, showing the crooked teeth that were a legacy of the dentistry of decades earlier, and went on, "

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"" Lady Winter replied as she shook his hand, not really noticing the cold. She was use to it by this point. "" She continued, her teeth straight and white. She nodded as he continued on. "" She looked over at Wisp, curious as to what she thought.

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As the superheroes chatted, the inevitable question floated up: Why were they here? There was no one from the Freedom League coming to talk to them. For what purpose had they been gathered?

All of a sudden, the room was bathed in a cool, pale green, Lady Winter's skin turning the color of a clear tropical ocean and Wisp's hair looking like the dead skin on a horror movie monster. At first the light didn't seem to be coming from any particular source, but slowly it gathered and grew darker as it did so, from pastel to the color of a lawn to that of a mint plant, and finally collecting into three shimmering emerald columns. The color faded and three human-looking life-forms were standing in the room, dressed in the unmistakable uniform of the Lor space military!

One figure, male and older than the other two, glanced around and smiled as he saw the Freedonians. "Well, looks like that teleporter gate is just bully!" He stepped forward and nodded to the group. "I am Commander Brey, of the Imperial Scout Ship Horizon. On behalf of the Lor military, I'd like your help with a little problem we've found."

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Wisp's attention snapped across the room as the columns of green light began to solidify into the silhouettes and then tangible forms of Lor military personnel. She rose from her chair, "Impressive entrance," she said with memories of the myriad transport accidents from Star Trek and one specific scene from Galazy Quest flashing behind her eyes.

"What kind of problem?" she asked, "Did something on Mir get loose and find its way to Lor space before being deorbited?" While she exuded calm, her mind was racing. Holy crap, do they want us to go into space with them? Oh man that would be so cool! Oh Vicky, calm down, ice water in your veins girl.

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Brey blinked. "Near? I don't think we could call what's happening very 'near' to anything, except in the cosmological sense."

One of the other officers stepped forward. She was female, with black hair done up in a bun. "Mir, commander. Em-Eye-Are. It's a Terran space station that executed a planned deorbit eleven planetary cycles ago. Doctor Caranas," she added, addressing the heroes. "Ship's doctor and ethnologue."

"Ah, of course." The commander sniffed sharply. "No no, the situation we've come to you for help with is at least twice that old." He took out a small plastic sphere from his pocket, the size and shape of a hockey puck but white and nonreflective. He stepped up to the conference table in the middle of the room and placed it on the surface, then tapped at the ovid. A holographic display flickered to life in the air, showing a solar system that certainly wasn't Earth. There were two planets close to the sun in a binary formation, a wide spacing, then another planet, and several gas giants further out. "This is system... Well, it has an official designation, but it doesn't matter. Suffice to say it is something like twenty-seven light-years away from Earth." The commander tapped the second planet in and the grew bigger until the planet was the size of the commander's upper body. Windows opened around it, scrolling various columns of data and graphs, all in the Lor language. "The Horizon was involved in the survey of this planet some two and a half of your weeks ago. What we found there was -- well, perhaps I'll just show you."

The commander pulled out a small, thin, rectangular device not unlike a smartphone and tapped at the surface. The image of the planet shrank again and was replaced by a window which showed a black-and-white viewpoint racing above arid, barren ground, presumably of the planet in question. "This is a recording taken by a survey drone," Brey informed them. "It took several hundred hours of footage, so we're just showing you the part that piqued our interest." The commander tapped the handheld device again and the view unfroze, showing the drone rushing forward at what appeared to be great speed. Mostly the terrain was rocks and sand, but before long rectilinear shapes appeared in the distance. Brey dragged his finger across the surface of the device and the playback sped up until the heroes could see on-screen houses, small but definitely recognizable houses. They appeared to be metal or stone, with concrete roofs and only a single door in or out. They were laid out in a circular pattern surrounding a low dome-like structure. Rising from the middle of the structure was a flagpole, and flying from the top were the unmistakable sickle and hammer of the Soviet Union.

Brey let the recording run until the drone left the settlement, then ran it back and froze it on the view of the flag. "We understand that this is the territorial emblem of a now-defunct nation-state native to this planet. One that all of you have ties to," he added.

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Wisp watched dumbfounded as the footage from an alien world played and nearly collapsed back into her chair when she saw the Red Banner flying in the wind light years away. "Congratulations," Wisp started, "You've just shown me the least likely thing I'd have ever expect. And I've had to beat up radioactive Nazi einherjar let loose by Loki."

"So, what can you tell us about this planet? Climate? Gravitational levels? Any signs of life or contact from the cosmonauts who it seem set up this little cluster of buildings?"

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Comrade Frost started briefly at the sight of the Lor, but his face went cold and impenetrable as Siberian ice as they showed the Soviet colony on the forgotten homeworld. Dimitri steepled his fingers and closed his eyes, thinking back to briefings he'd barely paid attention to decades ago. After all, Lady Winter was a child of Russia and Wisp a legacy of the old Soviet Union; he was the only one in the room who had actually held a post in the forces of that gone-away nation. "Mir meant world peace," he said out loud in the English he assumed the Lor had been trained in. So easily they'd learned the language of the Americans, as if it was the world tongue instead of all the others. "Something Americans forgot. And Soviets." He hmmed and studied the planet over his steepled fingers. "What is date of colony?" he inquired of the Lor. "Even with eff-tee-el drive, you should know how long has sat on alien planet," he said with a gesture, trusting in the technical competence of the aliens. "At what star system are we looking?"

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Lady Winter herself was both surprised and confused by the sudden appearance of the Lor and the Soviet space station, even if she did her best not to show it. She herself didn't know much about the soviet space program beyond the bare basics she picked up here and there. She was pretty sure they never got far beyond the solar system, but with the amount of old secrets being sold on the black market she did have at least an inkling of all the things the people were never told. Dasha stayed silent as Comrad Frost and Wisp took to asking the questions. She just kept her attention on the recordings, seeing if there was something that was missed by the aliens.

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"So, what can you tell us about this planet? Climate? Gravitational levels? Any signs of life or contact from the cosmonauts who it seem set up this little cluster of buildings?"

"The planet is within habital bounds for both baseline Lor and Terrans," the commander said. "A bit hot and dry, but nothing a few water-bearing meteors wouldn't fix. It actually ranks fairly high for terraforming potential. As for signs of life," he added, "we have detected very little. A radio broadcast on constant loop coming off the dome and a radioactive signal suggesting it's powered by a nuclear battery. No errant neutrino or thermal emissions that might suggest intelligent, industrialized life. Though I hasten to point out that there's regular dust storms that the sensors had trouble punching through."

"What is date of colony?" he inquired of the Lor. "Even with eff-tee-el drive, you should know how long has sat on alien planet," he said with a gesture, trusting in the technical competence of the aliens. "At what star system are we looking?"

"The coordinates in the Lor stellar archive are," Brey paused and glanced at his device. "69-6E-0D. I really couldn't tell you what the name is in local terms, but as for where..." The holographic image returned to the overview of the system and then zoomed out even further, until it was showing a good portion of a spiral arm of the Milky Way. "Earth is here, and 69-6E-0D is here," he said, pointing at two dots separated by less than an inch. "In stellar terms they're really quite close. As for the age..."

The last member of the away team spoke up. He was shorter than the rest, and thicker around the waist. He'd spent almost the entire time fiddling with an array of devices hanging off his belt and all leading back to his own smartphone. "Radio-carbon dating says the organic building materials are almost sixty years old," he said, not looking up. "Fading on the flag concurs with that." He glanced up and smiled at the heroes. "Chief Engineer O'Rouly. If you folks could just... refrain from moving around very much." He started side-stepping around the room, always facing the heroes and watching the display of his device intently.

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"So, in nineteen fifty-two, the Soviet space program managed send not just a probe but apparently a full crew outside of our solar system. If I didn't know better I'd feel like I was in the setup for one of the terrible movies on the 'SyFy' channel."

She tried to remain still as O'Rouly moved around, her voice quizzical as she spoke again. "So then, should I assume you've asked us here because you'd like people with ties to the Soviet government, however loose they might be, to come with you to do a more thorough investigation that your drone can provide you with?"

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"Difficult years," said Dimitri grimly. "Stalin had arrested tens of thousands, and killed as many. He saw enemies everywhere, even among those who had once been closest allies. Even I was briefly relieved of post and held under, what do you say, house arrest?, in Moscow." Comrade Frost smiled thinly, and for just a moment his teeth looked very sharp. "When finally he had stroke, his guards feared to awaken him and he died alone in bed. A fitting fate." It was a cold-blooded way to describe a man who had been his master for many years, but no less true for that. "As for space mission, there were many in those years. It was covered by another agency. Beyond my purview. Strange it was forgotten by Korolev and successors. But," he went on, "if mission was assembled and launched, and planners killed in purges of '53-'54, it could have fallen from records. Much good was lost in those years." He nodded. "I will go on mission. But what exactly would you have us do? Space is big. Do you need planet so badly?"

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"While there is no evidence that any of the Terran settlers have survived," Brey said, "if they are then this is technically a Terran colony world. Since your home planet is a protectorate, the Lor military should strive only to intervene in times to emergency." He shrugged briefly. "I notified my superiors about the find and, as I understand it, they liaised with the local Star Knight and the Freedom League, selecting you three." He clasped his hands behind his back and clicked his heels. "Primarily, we'd like you to go down to the planet and see if there are any survivors. Of course, if you can also discover how the colony came to be so far out there, that would be an interesting bit of the puzzle, eh what?"

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"Is there any way for your probe to get inside any of the buildings? Not that I'm not looking forward going into space but if we can see inside the buildings, it might give us something of a clue as to what went on down there. If we're looking at a 'Yautja sporting weekend', 'Andromeda Strain outbreak', mechanical malfunction or just straight starvation," the youngest member of the assembled heroes said.

Drumming her fingers against her leg she let out a breath, "So, I assume since we have no idea what went wrong we're heading there, landing with full enviro-suit I hope. How long will the trip take?"

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"Scans showed the buildings to be empty," the commander said, "but there's some mountains nearby and visual scans suggest an extensive cave network. There might be survivors in there."

"Travel time will be about, ah, twenty-nine Terran hours," Engineer O'Rouly said, still circling the group. "We can fabricate containment suits to your physical specifications, but I can't promise that they'll survive lifting a boulder or shooting fire or growing wings, or whatever it is you all have to do once you're down there."

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Lady Winter nodded as she continued to listen. She would have asked a few questions herself, but she honestly never had to deal with distant planets before. What was needed beyond spacesuits or what one should do was way beyond her. "Hm, sounds like we should be making our way there now if it will take that long to get to planet." Dasha said.

"And I think suit should do fine if it can handle cold extreme enough to freeze things solid." She added.

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"I have been to space before. Unpleasant, but I can do this for such important task," said Frost, straightening his parka unconsciously. "I will require a substantial thermal insulation, both inside and out, and extensive armoring. I can give you specifications from previous space voyages." The truth was that Dimitri did not like going into space; the awful depths of its yawning cold abyss reminded him far too much of his time in the embrace of Hel. Though it did have its charms..."Prefer the lighted parts of space. Is more comfortable there." He folded his hands behind his back and nodded to his alien guests. "If you will pardon, I must make report to Russian government so that they know where I go. Excuse." And with that, he turned and left the room, the temperature perceptibly rising on his departure.

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