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February 2016 

Late evening


It was not too late for a pregnant woman to be outside with an ice monster. Or so Dimitri was sure. "<That's his apartment!>" Dimitri was declaring from inside the frosted-over windows of his Freedom League Ford Escort, pointing up at the third floor window of the small apartment block. "<He just walks around in there with Henry Griffin's face! It's awful! Goddamned Americans.>" He parked the car, carefully, mindful of America's bizarre mirror-image streets. "<I told him we're coming. I think you can get more out of him about his origins than I can - he's a trusting sort, but you know how I can be...>" 




Klara had gotten the message by telephone, or rather on her cell's voice mail, - Dimitri Peshkov wanted to meet her in Kingston to discuss old times at a certain third floor apartment. 

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"<Mitya,>" Talya said, her voice soothing as she reached up to defrost at least enough of the window to peer through it. She leaned forward to let the warmth of her breath help clear the ice, only to watch it refreeze in short order. "<I feel as if I really ought to protest on behalf of my children, who are at least some fraction American. Half? A third? One-sixth?>" Talya pursed her lips and gave a wave of her fingertips to dismiss trying to do the math of the Espadas lineage at this point. "<But I while I am happy to utilize my feminine wiles to get the answers you want, if he's anything actually like Hank, one of us will have to dangle him out the window... and we'll still get nowhere.>"


Talya reached for the doorhandle, "<And I am certain holding anyone by their ankles is probably above what I am supposed to be lifting.>" She didn't actually know, though as Talya had avoided anything like a doctor's office thus far. "<Lift his wallet, though... Maybe run a few background checks.>"


Now Talya sounded downright cheerful. They were perhaps a ten minute conversation away from her suggesting breaking into some governmental office to lift records. Maybe five if it was all reruns tonight on the television. 

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Once again Her Majesty's Government had seen fit to send Klara to Freedom City, this time to advise the embassy on certain threats deemed worthy of keeping an eye on. It was pretty clear that even after all these years no one had quite worked out what to do with her, and for now she was happy to oblige them whilst finding her feet again. Still bad timing had meant she’d had a morning meeting so she’d have to stay overnight and return in later the next day. She’d missed Dimitri's call initially as she was talking to her daughter Alexis to convince her that she’d make it back in time for her to see her in the new play she’d been cast in, not the lead yet but she was quickly making a name for herself. Klara didn’t bother to question how Dimitri had gotten her number but she did question his motives as their last meeting had far from solved all the issued that they had between them. It didn’t take long for curiosity to get the better of her, plus she had the rest of the evening free, and for her to leave for find out what he had contacted her for.

After a rather enlightening taxi ride, one thing she did like about Freedom was taxi’s would give a 7 ft tall woman a lift without batting an eyelid, she made her way to the address that Dimitri had given her to meet up. If anything, it would make for an interesting night’s entertainment.

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Henry lounged about on the couch of his apartment, taking a moment to rest before the cantankerous General Winter decided it was time to make an appearance. Ever since he had discovered Henry's likeness to the Human Tank, it was always Griffin this and Griffin that. It made Henry's head hurt just thinking about the whole sordid affair, not to mention the pain of having the visions. At least Fleur de Joie's aid had stopped them, for the most part, but it was...unwise, in Henry's opinion, to say that they were gone for good. If anything, it was probably better to say that he was only in a long dry-spell, and when they did come back, they'd come back with one hell of a vengeance.


It didn't take long for Henry to get impatient, waiting for Dimitri to arrive. Dimitri had, after all, announced himself at the most auspicious of occasions, groaning as he rose from his seat. Henry peeled back the curtain by his window, his eyes shooting out into the street for a brief moment, before going back to his seat, pulling out his phone, re-dialing the number that Dimitri had called from, waiting for him to pick up. Henry was already in his pajamas for Christ's sake! This one had better be important.

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Before Henry could get too impatient, he felt the familiar slight chill that meant Dimitri was about - a moment before he heard a hard knock on his door. Standing outside, both of them in civilian clothing, were two people his other self knew very well - even if Henry had only seen the one with his own eyes before. "Hey, man, brought a lady-friend," said Dimitri, patting Henry on the arm as he stepped into the man's apartment. In his hand, still unfrozen but by now quite cold, was a twelve-pack of beer. "Thanks for letting us in. You remember Bombshell, yeah?" he inquired as he headed for the kitchen with the comfortable ease of a man acting like he knew the place. 


Klara got there just in time to see Dimitri and Talya disappear through the apartment's front door. 

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With a grace and speed few would expect from someone of her size Klara managed to make it to the door just before it closed completely. After all she figured Dimitri had invited her to meet so she was expected inside in at this time. As she stepped into the room she had a sharp quip all ready for Dimitri, the wounds hadn’t completely healed, but it was all forgotten as she saw who else was in the room.


“Is that you Hank?”


They’d worked together a few times during the Second World War and he wasn’t someone you forgot in a hurry. But even slightly outside the loop she knew that Hank hadn’t survived the war.


“No... no you not are you. You’ve not seen the things that Hank did, I can tell by you eyes. Definitely related though, a grandson maybe?”

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The resemblance was startling, to say the least. Seeing a long dead friend, even braced for it, was painful but it didn't flicker across Talya's very elegant features. "Ah, Klara," she said, instead, her tone almost hesitant before Talya resolved herself to the situation as it was beginning to unravel and continued to take off her bulky overcoat to hang by the door. "So nice of you have us over," Talya said, all smooth grace to Dimitri's blunt force personality. She made no mention of it but there was no hiding her pregnancy in the black dress she wore. 


Still, she offered her hand delicately, "We're not exactly sure, Klara, but still thought it was past time to come and say a proper hello. Hello," she added to Henry with a red lipped siren's smile. "Natalya Browning. How do you do?"

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Henry grumbled as the whole crew of civilian clothed heroes walked in to his apartment, a slight twinge creeping across his mind as he looked to both Klara and Natalya, “I...vaguely remember them, yeah.” Henry's mind filled with the phantoms of the Human Tank's old life as Dimitri decided that it was time to make himself at home in Henry's apartment.


The other Brit and the female Russian.


Henry took on a bit of a scowl as he sat down is his chair across from the couch, motioning to Klara and Natalya to take a seat, if they hadn't already. The visions and memories always put him in a bad mood, mostly because of the pain. At least Fleur had dialed it back from 'scream' to 'grimace'. That much was something that he could thank God for encountering Dimitri. Henry laid his head back for a moment, letting his mind wander for a moment while his thoughts collected, and he took one long, slow, deep breath.


The Brit was the infiltrator and the occasional face. The Russian was...


Henry winced a little, and then the pain went away. Apparently, Hank was done giving up everyone's dirty little secrets for the time being. “You know, Dimitri, you could have called and let me know that you were bringing ladies...” he looked to Natalya and then Klara, nodding in kind, “Over. But...thanks for the beer. I'm definitely going to need it...” He stood back up and walked into the kitchen, looking to nab a drink from Dimitri's 12 pack, taking a mental not of Klara.


Definitely need to get her number later.


“So.” He looked to Dimitri, “Why are you all in my house?”

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"Well you know, if a man is to have company, he should have some-say! <In Satan's name, what are you doing here, woman?>" demanded Dimitri of Klara, staring up at his former ally with suspicion turning to anger, his back up like an angry Arctic fox as he looked up at Klara. He looked up at Klara, then over at Henry. "You don't know who she is...or you do, but you know it the way you know Talya, because of what they took from Henry Griffin's brain." He stared suspiciously at the former Warrior Woman before he realized that he didn't really believe that Klara could be behind something sinister because he knew Klara would never be so treacherous. He said something in Russian that was a very bad word - then another in English. "Damn! How did you get here?" 

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"Excuse you," Talya said primly as she went to settle herself in a chair that had the added benefit of being out of the direct line of fire. She settled herself with an easy sort of grace despite the fact that bending at the waist was starting to become a little more tricky these days. She flicked her gaze from Dimitri to Klara but didn't seem overly concerned at the tension as she focused on what really mattered. "Some of us are still famous in the modern era. I've had three full on careers now - four if you count the time as a spy but I don't get half the credit I deserve for the 1950's. Feh."


The ease might have been somewhat feigned as it was disconcerting to look at Hank's - Henry's - face, "He's just jealous, you know. Never could pull off a pair of go-go boots like I could. Don't mind them. No one's thrown anything yet and the liquid in the room is all still liquid. Plenty of time to have a nice chat before they finish arguing in Russian. Dimitri says you sort of remember us. Science or magic?"

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“The soul is a complex and mysterious thing, sometimes thing pass between lives. Or so I believe I was never much of a scholar. In the circumstances introductions seem unnecessary but I am Klara Matthews, though you may remember me as Klara Svoboda.”


It was strange how they’d only met up only a few times since Klara had un-retired but they all seemed to naturally into the same patter of conversation.


“You look as radiant as normal Talya maybe even more so than normal, something obviously agrees with you. Alas they never made go-go boots in my size, though I definitely have the legs to pull them off.” she stuck out one of her naturally long legs to demonstrate the point “And do not worry about the house if we have a disagreement we will take it outside.”


Klara manner was light and friendly but something was off about all this, and talking of something off...

<”Please show a little decorum in someone else's home.”> her Russian was as flawless as her English <”And I have no desire to provoke you into violence, you views were made clear the last time we met. I came here under the impression that you wished for my help, it seems that someone is trying to fool us for some reason. Do you think the American is less clueless as he lets on?”>

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Henry nabbed the twelve pack, quietly shuffling beside Dimitri and Klara, trying to shield himself from the tensions that were surfacing between the two of them. Henry swore to himself in Spanish under his breath, sitting down in his chair near Talya, and away from the angry Russians. Whatever the two of them were up to, Henry thought, there was a lot of history there...and that would take more than a twelve pack to sort out.


“Well...” Henry shrugged a little, “I really have no idea. If I had to wager, I'd say science, but I wouldn't put something like magic past it.” Henry cracked open his beer, taking a drink, “Sometimes it hurts, other times it doesn't. When it came to him, though.” Henry pointed at Dimitri, still looking at Talya, “It felt like my brain had been hit by a freight train. I don't really know what it means, but if I had to guess, well...” Henry sighed heavily, “It probably has to do with how...close Hank was with the people involved.”


Henry took another sip of his beer, occasionally looking over to the two Russians with a growing amount of concern, “Should uh...Should we be worried about them?”

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"<I'll show you a lack of decorum, I'll->" Dimitri put his hands to his temples and massaged them, deliberately turning away from Klara as he tried to calm himself amid the increasingly dangerous situation. "This is no time for old grudges, woman," he said aloud in English. "Someone brought you here for a purpose and you can be sure it was not me." With DImitri distracted, the temperature in the room was slowly but distinctly dropping, as if Henry had turned on the air conditioner and left it on. "Someone who knew I was coming here tonight - someone who could have heard things spoken only in the Freedom League's own headquarters." He was pacing now, eyes hard and back up. "Henry, your employers in that agency of yours - what have they said lately? They know that we have met, yes? Both your immediate superior that you report to, and _her_ superior?" 

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Talya had kept a half an ear on the conversation even if the bulk of her attention was on Henry. She glanced up with some interest at the news, "Is it a trap?" Talya wanted to know with more enthusiasm than a pregnant lady probably ought to have about potential impending trouble. She never had dealt with boredom very well and there was only so much shopping even she could do to spend her time. She turned back to Henry to catch him up as the only one not in the loop of the Russian half of the conversation, "Klara was invited by Dimitri but he didn't actually invite her - Sorry, Klara," Talya added with a look of apology to the Amazon, "I really do owe you and you lovely wife a coffee date. Perhaps after our impending ambush."


She frowned then, and although she didn't move and her lovely face remained relaxed there was a slight shift in her personality. "Mitya - Dimitri - did I happen to mention with the excitement and all," she made a vague gesture to her midsection, "About the clones of Kantor that I ended up tangling with, oh, I don't know - December I think?" Talya rose to her heels with elegant grace as she went to cross towards the window, "SHADOW has been busier than I've seen them for a good few years now. Do you think...?"

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“It seems we have bought trouble upon you house, both without and within, and for that I offer you a heartfelt apology. For why we still fight is a tale that is best told in a friendly space with access to large amounts of alcohol if you wish I know this little pub tucked away in Freedom City where we can share tales of each other's woes. And you Talya must come and visit my home and taste my cooking meet all of my family, my youngest has a boyfriend! The poor lad seems scared each time he visits that I shall suddenly decide to break him in two for daring to be male!” She gave a little laugh before looking over at Dimitri “I wouldn’t mid doing either with you Dimitri, but I guess the wounds we caused each other are still fresh even after all these years.”


A look of genuine sadness passed over her face before she was all business looking ready and willing to face whatever was going to happen.

“But all this is academic for the time being. What are we going to do now we’ve got them exactly where they want us?”

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“I work for the Army, not for AEGIS.” Henry let the slip as he settled a little uncomfortably in his chair. An ambush? Attacks? SHADOW? This was definitely not something that he wanted to be happening in his apartment, he would lose his apartment!


“But yes, they erm...They know.” Henry sipped his beer a little, looking over to Klara, “You seriously think SHADOW would go to all the trouble to...create me? I mean, come on! I have parents, and I have a life, there's no serious way that I'm just some...” Henry looked down a little, growing quiet, “...science project.” Henry kinda looked down to his beer, his face drooping a little as he thought about the prospect. He really hoped that he wasn't just some mad scientists' dream project, while Henry just played at living a life.


“I mean...wouldn't there...wouldn't there be more people like...like me? If I really were created by SHADOW? Why wouldn't they just be rolling out clones of the Human Tank like an army out at that point. And...why clone the Human Tank, anyhow?”

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"To mock the memory of those who died in battle against him - there is nothing Kantor would not do," said Dimitri blackly. "And it is in their name that we speak now," he added to his former ally. He turned and walked to the window, the temperature in the room dropping distinctly as he looked outside. "You need not be a SHADOW clone, Henry, not when there are so many other possibilities. Enough DNA survived of the original to make clone in any laboratory even in this country - and brain could have been reconstituted, gathered from old studies, porheps resummoned with necromantic magics..." He fell silent, then looked up, his eyes hard, as someone knocked firmly on the outside door of the apartment. 

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"I do so appreciate an ambusher who knocks. So considerate," Talya commented dryly from her position at the window. Folding her arms up over her breasts, she raised one imperious brow. "I am thus far unimpressed with their efforts of cloak and dagger. I am keeping a list of pointers to share when the night its through."


Her quip was easy, dry but as she took a step around the chair, the ex-spy vanished into the shadows even as she reached under her jacket for a small black cylinder. On silent feet, Talya ghosted around the room's edge to position herself in a more advantageous position behind the door. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Henry furrowed his brow, looking over to his door, a scowl forming along his face as he rose from his chair, trying to move as quietly as possible over to his kitchen, grabbing another beer can as quietly as he could, slipping past the Russians despite his size. It didn't take long for Henry to start past the Russians, ice cold beer can gripped in his hand as tight as he could manage it, leaning over to look through the peephole.


“Who is it?”

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The door exploded inwards, blasting Henry off his feet and hurling him backwards against the rear wall of the corridor with a sickening crunch. Without his powers active, he was all-too-human - just like the original Human Tank. The figures who strode into the door and then on into the apartment looked all too familiar to the heroes inside, the giant warrior woman, the slinky acrobat (who was, shockingly, visibly pregnant), the icy genius in the parka, even the giant musclebound man of iron, but the green glow to their eyes and the lockstep way they moved showed that these duplicates were of an inferior vintage to the originals. "The Allies of Freedom have returned," said the other Bombshell, batons snapping open in her hands. "And it's time to destroy you bloody imposters once and for all.

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Without any fanfare, their Talya stepped out from the shadows where she'd vanished to, right behind her own doppelgänger. When Talya appeared, she was already mid twist - those lethal batons snapping out to crack the spokesman right in the back of the skull. 


"I hope one of you is taking notes. I never give the speeches, for one," Talya's voice was crisp and amused, "My job was to hit from behind. Also, I never say 'bloody'. It doesn't fit with the upper class image I projected. Now, do try to keep up." Despite her banter, Talya watched the way that her doppelgänger reacted - how she moved - and shot a meaningful look to the other veterans. Tactics, aside, the faux-Bombshell replicated the original's training uncannily in her responses. 

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"Don't be such a sodding wanker, you posh tart," replied the other Bombshell, her voice eerily like Talya but her words decidedly not as she snapped her hand around and struck Bombshell across the face with suddenly-produced batons of her own, the blow breaking skin inside and outside Talya's mouth. "I'm better than you'll ever be - or you ever were. And when all this is done, I'll take everything that's yours.

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If Klara was surprised by the appearance of her double she didn’t seem to show it, or she recovered quickly.


“Pft I’ve have heard much worst language from my children, and my Tracy can swear like the docker when the mode takes her. As for you...” She looked over at her duplicate before saying something absolutely filthy in her native tongue.


“Suggest that we switch partners, and I can think of only one target that interests me right now.”


Turning round she punched the fake Dimitri square on the nose, with a looked of extreme satisfaction..

“You really picked the wrong face to wear wear I’m afraid, though I admit it’s quite a catharsis to do this.”

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Klara's blow knocked the other Comrade Frost back through the wall with a thunderous boom, the ice controller silently smashing through the door of the apartment across the hall and against the far wall inside. Luckily Henry had had no neighbors across the hall at that precise moment - but cleaning that up was still going to be a mess. The other Klara laughed and tried to copy her counterpart, charging for the real Dimitri Peshkov with murderous intent in her glowing green eyes - but the regular Comrade Frost was too fast for her, dropping to the ground as a roundhouse punch wooshed by that would have taken off the top off his head if it had connected. "Deviant filth," she hissed at Frost. "I'm going to enjoy showing you how a real woman treats a man like you.

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Henry blasted straight into the wall, the crunch as he hit the wall barely registered as he felt his head slam against the wall. For just a moment, Titan knew felt like he wanted to die, and he really hoped that someone would help him, but the lock-stepped drones that started tearing apart his apartment alongside his friends really had him non-plussed. That and his Super was going to have a field day charging him to high heaven for the damage not only to his apartment, but also his neighbor's apartment.


Titan looked up just in time to see the fake snowman get blasted back into Janet's apartment, and he groaned, powering through pain just enough to shift into his new form, his flesh and blood body changing to steel, his hair turning an oily black, and his eyes going white as his eye twitched, fighting through the pain of the definite concussion. Titan growled, watching the doorway smash to pieces, and with as much strength as he could muster threw the still-cold beer can in his hand at the fake Klara's head, over Dimitri's head.


“Now I owe Janet banana bread...God damn it!


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