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Mutants & Masterminds: Future Imperfect - [Fic] Hell Of A Retirement Plan


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Some people say that just before you die, your entire life flashes before your eyes.

He distantly reflected that this was true. The process was called 'living'.

What happens after you die?

Blackness. Nothingness. A blessed numb void without fear or pain or hope or joy. No Heaven, no Hell. Not that he believed in them.

Not that he believed in anything.

Life is a series of moments, snapshots strung together by a common thread, running together and blurring so that only the exceptional ones stood out when you looked back at the whole.

But what if the shutter of existence were to slow from a whirr to a steady *click...click...click*, a slow cadence of images that, put together, resembled a jigsaw puzzle rather than a movie.



The heat was the first thing he noticed.

He didn't feel pain yet. A part of him knew that would come, as more of his nerve-endings grew back. But he felt heat all around him, yet concentrated above. The heat triggered a memory: a jet of searing fire shot from a weapon in the hands of someone wearing the flag of his country. He remembered the feeling of his flesh burning.


The smell was the first thing he noticed.

He smelled diesel fuel. He smelled burned flesh and blood. He smelled dead friends and partners. Leisl was here. And Sergei. He'd know them anywhere. They were here with him. He remembered seeing Leisl attacking the soldiers, screaming at him to fight as she and the man she was grappling were both shot down like dogs. The commandant's calm voice telling him to stay where he was, his muscles trembling with the urge to act as he rested on his knees with his hands behind his head. He smelled his own flesh as it continued to knit. He smelled the staff and doctors of the compound, their own bodies roasting in the same diesel fuel.


The sound was the first thing he noticed.

It was muffled, quiet now. There were soft, limp weights above him deadening the sound from beyond where they all lay. He remembered the chatter of the guns, the sounds the bullets made as they ripped him apart, the soldiers still shooting as the flamethrower stepped up and took aim. He tried to ask 'why', but he had no vocal chords and just blew bright red froth into the air in place of words. He remembered the screams and pleas of the other dead, and the calm voice of the officer as he explained that they were all surplus, that the Rodina needed them no longer. Doctor Gorkov shouting angrily that this was foolishness, that it was a waste. They had shot him first.


The sight was the first thing he noticed.

Burned, mangled faces and bodies all around. That one there was Yncka, the nurse who had broken rules and come to his cell one night three months ago. He remembered how she'd looked with her eyes half-closed, biting down on his pillow to keep from crying out as they'd-


The pain was everything now. Raw, scraping pain with every breath, every beat of his heart...


He was lying at the bottom. Sometime over the last few hours the fire had burned out. He could still feel residual heat, could still smell smoke and smoldering flesh of everyone he'd ever known more than passingly. His nerves still tingled, most of his skin was still missing. But it was growing back: the pain was an indicator of that. He could hear the howling wind above: a snowstorm in Siberian winter. If there were any of the soldiers around, they would be in shelters. Not the compound, though. They'd set thermite and plastique charges all through the compound. He knew by now that all that would be left was rubble.

He started to wriggle, to try and force his way through the bodies massed on top of him. His arms still ended just below the elbow in bloody stumps, though the fresh white bone protruding from the left one was a little longer than it had been a few minutes ago. It all hurt. Healing was always painful. He tried not to think past the next wriggle, the next squirming movement towards the surface. He tried not to think of all his... acquaintances (Friends, Vanya. These were your friends.) around him. There would be time to remember this later. Time to consider what had been done... later.

Gritting his incompletely-grown back teeth and shouldering past the corpse of Sergei, his partner and friend, the mutant once known as 'Vanya' worked his way upwards through the organic wreckage that had been KGB Section M.

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The snow squeaked under her feet as the Russian peasant woman trudged over the white landscape. The bent old woman looked out of place as she trudged from the village to the column of smoke. To the watching guards, she was just a crazy old woman risking the ruins to find something worthwhile – some food left behind or perhaps some clothing. There might be something of true value there.

The soldiers ignored her. They'd already taken what they wanted yesterday. They were camping just under a klick away; two wandered over to chat at her. After seeing that she really was a crazy old woman, they left her alone. There wasn't anything of any real value anymore but it was too cold to put forward the effort to drive her away.

That was exactly what May wanted. Humming to herself, she picked over the remains, sure that the soldiers had already taken everything they thought was important. What she was looking for was something unimportant. Something that had been overlooked. That was her hope and all she had to do until the soldier cleared out of their winter tents and she could search more thoroughly.

The pile of charred bodies made her sad. All these people had done was their jobs, and their reward for good service was a bullet to the skull and a mass grave. Of course, May was aware that a similar fate awaited her; an unmarked grave after an ignoble death. Her family would probably never know.

Sighing, she started to pick through the bodies. A woman in a nurse's uniform; hard to say if she'd been pretty after being so thoroughly cooked. May collected some melted bits of metal – buttons or maybe a stethoscope. She tossed them aside as if she found them interesting enough to keep. Moving along, ignoring the stink of burned flesh, she moved through the bodies, keeping what she thought a crazy old Russian peasant would keep.

She worked well into the night, fading from the sight of the guards. As darkness provided her cover, her work became more focuses. The young mutant really wanted to find something to justify being out here. One of the bodies shifted, but May ignored it. The bodies would settle and shift as they putrefied and rotted.

May paused, rubbing the back of her hand across her forehead. She was working hard, but it was too cold to sweat. In fact, the heat of her exertions was all that was keeping her warm enough to continue. She was tired, mostly from the work; she'd found that she needed less sleep as she got better at shifting her form. The back of her neck ached fiercely but the front of her hands were black with ash and other, worse crap. “'Join our agency, see the world, be a spy! It'll be fun!'” She shook her head and rotated her neck. “This is so much fun.” She tilted her head up and looked at the sky. Why the hell had she landed this shit-ass assignment?

The bodies shifted again and May glanced at them again. She was tired of digging through bodies. She should go examine the ruins for somethin-

A noise from the bodies drew her up short, her old, wrinkled skin creasing in surprise. That sound had been a choking noise, not a gasp of releasing air or bodies settling. The dead didn't make noises like that. May crawled over the bodies, pausing to listen. “Were you following my voice?” she whispered. “Here I am. Come this way.”

Was there really someone under there? Could someone have lived? There was only one way to know. May heard another sound and followed it. The bodies were moving, being lifted from below. May paused and watched, then stuck her hand in, grabbing for the movement she'd seen. “This is me, reaching for you... please don't bite or anything, alright?”

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A hand. Reaching towards him. A guard...? No. Guards would be firing already. There would be shouts of alarm. Not a quiet female voice, speaking English, the voice old-sounding. Not this wrinkled, liver-spotted hand, the nails cracked and yellowed. What was she doing here among the smoldering dead?

Baba Yaga, come to claim me. But she speaks English. Must be a sign of the times. Vanya thought deliriously, and started to laugh as he reached for the hand.

May heard a glottal, choking sound, rhythmic and whistling. The person under the pile must be sobbing. Then warm, slick fingers gripped her hand and she took a firm grasp and pulled. With a distant sense of revulsion, she realised that it was raw, skinless flesh covering the hand in hers. She bit back the instinct to shy away - this was a person, a survivor, and she wasn't a pre-teen idiot to make 'ick' noises. Not here, not like this. The fingers were stubby for the hand's size, and she wondered if the blood concealed further mutilation. With another start, she realised that there was skin creeping rapidly up the forearm towards the raw meat of the wrist and hand. A mutant. She redoubled her efforts.

Vanya clung to the anchoring hand with his own, conscious only of the need to get out of this pit, to breath clean air. His hands were almost grown back now, just waiting for the last segments of his fingers and the skin to cover them. He heaved himself up and rose from the charnel pit, covered in blood and ashes, his skin not yet fully grown to cover his naked body. Fibers from the clothes he had been wearing were still stuck onto his body where the heat had fused them, and the pain of the knife-cold wind on his exposed flesh added a new dimension to his agonies.

Taking a ragged breath he screamed, a whistling rasping sound that was carried away by the night wind at first, but grew stronger every moment as his seared lungs repaired themselves. The first shallow breath spent, he took another, and wavered on unsteady legs before the old woman who'd rescued him. He would have fallen, if she hadn't steadied him with a surprisingly strong hand.

Under the mat of blood-and-soot darkened hair, a pair of gleaming blue-green eyes shone in the dim light as they regarded May. Lips that were becoming whole even as she watched twitched, then parted in speech.

"Spasiba, babushka." he croaked hoarsely, his throat lacking moisture. "My thanks."

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May shook her head. “We’re not there yet,” she said in Russian, her accent apparent as she made no effort to hide it. “The soldiers are too close for comfort, and while they may not care about a little old woman picking through for garbage, they will object to her taking one of their cancelled experiments home.”


“I can’t leave you in the wind and the cold,” she said, nodding. Shivering, she shrugged off her coat and wrapped it around both of them. She didn’t really like being pressed to this man; he smelled pretty bad. That wasn’t his fault, but she still didn’t like it. “Hurry, before someone shines a light over here.”

Together, they trudged through the shin-deep snow, pausing only so that May could grab the things she’d scrounged. She was coming back tomorrow and didn’t want the soldiers to ask why the old woman had abandoned her hard work. He leaned heavily on her as they walked, too weary to even ask where they were going. The darkness was pierced only by the starlight; they were almost on top of the small hut before Vanya saw it.

It was just as cold inside as out; May slipped from under the coat and tucked it around him. Shivering and cursing the Siberian winters, she tossed some tinder in the fireplace and stirred the ashes. The flammable material caught easily and May began to add smaller sticks and then logs. “No central heating,” she said, her teeth chattering, “but it’ll warm up in here soon.”

She paused only a moment, fighting off the awkward feeling of being around a stranger. “I don’t have much food. Here, have your choice of… biscuits and gravy or turkey dinner.” Grinning, she offered him both of the MREs. “I guarantee they will almost certainly not taste like either.”

After Vanya had selected one, she set the other aside and sat down on one of the two rough wooden chairs. “So, what do I call you?”

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Sitting with the turkey meal on his lap, he was almost completely healed now, though his skin itched where the burned-in fibers of the clothing he'd been wearing were warring with his regenerative powers. He must look like something from an American horror movie, Vanya thought, and his supposition wasn't far off. He was covered in greasy ash and blackened blood which covered him from head to toe. From under the matted tangle of hair, the startling eyes were even more vivid as they caught and shimmered in the firelight, gazing at May calmly.

She wasn't Russian. And she knew about the experiments, the Section. That made her a spy. And that meant she wasn't just an old woman. His nostrils barely twitched, but he could smell gun oil and explosives under the bulky clothes she wore. She also didn't smell old. Old people had toxins and carcinogens that built up in their bodies over time. They had liver and kidney complaints, glandular differences, different levels of hormones.

The babushka... wasn't.

She had given him her coat. He didn't need it, he didn't feel the cold like most did. But it felt good regardless. She hadn't treated him like a dangerous animal: she had clothed him. It was a warm thing, a comforting gesture from one human being to...

You are not human. That is why they fear you. He remembered the Red Army officer standing over him, tall and strong and limned with sunlight, his medals gleaming new and proud on his chest. How this strong, virile man among men had smelled afraid under the courage to even be close to an eight year old boy with wolf-blue eyes. "This is the boy who killed the Germans? Yob tvoyu mat! He is a little hero of the Union! Come with us now, little hero. Enemies of the people killed your mother. We shall show you how to kill more of them, eh?" The officer had never come within two feet of him, even when walking him to the staff car. And he had sit on the other side of the rear seat, unknowing that his fear and distaste were readily apparent to the silent boy with the tousled hair...

The eyes flickered, looking down at the foil-wrapped MRE, then up at May.

"I am called Vanya." he told her simply, tearing open the package and beginning to eat ravenously, quickly, licking his fingers heedless of the grime on them.

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“Vanya? Huh, funny name, though I guess that’s only because I’m not Russian. I’m May,” she told him, drawing her legs up under her so that her feet could warm up faster. After she’d done it, she realized that old women couldn’t move their bodies with so much limberness, or at least not the heavy old woman she looked like. Like unclenching one muscles and tensing another, the features of the old woman faded until they became that of a young woman, dark-haired and blue-eyed. She was gorgeous, all porcelain skin and ice-blue eyes against black hair, but it was a little less impressive knowing that she could look any way she wished.

They ate in silence, Vanya because he was too busy eating and May because she wanted to let him eat. She stood and pulled a clean tin cup out of the rack by the sink. She poured some water from a plastic jug and served it to her guest. It took her a few minutes to locate her spare and then she sat back down with her own drink.

“So now,” she said, as Vanya swallowed and began to pick the crumbs out of the wrapper, “what are we going to do?” Blue-green eyes settled on her with wariness and resignation, as if he’d been expecting her to say something like this all along. She could see that he expected her to ask for a favor since she’d done such a large one for him, or even to turn it into a demand. May looked sad, her constructed face built for such a sorrowful expression. “Whatever it is, we need to be careful. I won’t risk my mission here. But I’m not just going to cast you out.” She paused before asking. “What would you like to do now, Vanya?”

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"I... do not know." His eyes shone in his dirt-crusted face like jewels as they flickered down, then back up again at her, uncertainty in his voice and manner as he spoke, his words almost mechanical, stumbling over one another. "All my life, I- I serve the Rodina. From the time when I was a boy, I served. I have won medals that cannot be worn. I have been faithful. We were all faithful." The sensation of dying, the deprivation in the pit, the memories of his own countrymen, and Spetsnaz at that, gunning him down. They had laughed to cover their fear. He had smelled it as they fired. He looked down at his grimy hands where they rested on the table.

"I do not know what to do, May." he said in a low, resigned voice. "Seek answers? Ah, but I already know the answers. They did it because they were afraid, because the Rodina was crumbling and they didn't want us to fall into wrong hands." He turned his hands over, looking at the palms, the fingers. "Or do I seek justice? On who? The soldiers who follow orders? The officers who give them? The bureaucrats who issue them?" He looked up at her now, his gaze level, his voice almost conversational.

"But there is no justice for such crimes. Because they are not crimes if the state orders it done, eh?. That is always the way, isn't it? The state has signed the orders, and the soldiers carry it out, and it is not treason or murder because the state says so. And so." He clenched his hands, then relaxed them. "So all that is open to me is vengeance."

"You could just walk away. Let them believe you dead." May suggested, more to see what he'd say than out of any real belief he'd do it. The matted head shook slightly.

"No. This is something that will not be walked away from. All my life I have done as I have been trained to do: the expedient thing. Your suggestion is expedient. But I do not want to vanish completely, May." He looked towards the door, listening to the howl of the wind outside for a long moment. "I thought I was their faithful hound. I was happy to be that. But no matter how hard I tried, they saw a wolf; and it was as a wolf they shot me down." He looked back at her and shrugged broad shoulders under her coat.

"So be it."

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May was quiet for a moment. She had listened to him, but disagreed on a few points. The soldier’s deserved to get killed a lot for their part in this. They were moral creatures, capable of making their own choices, and they’d chosen to kill and burn. “Alright, I’m in,” she said, tilting her head and grinning. She seemed a cowboy, the Rodina’s derogatory term for crazy Americans. Mavericks, running around shooting off their pistols. “I’ll help you out. We should make a plan.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No, you have done too much for me already.”

“Too much? How’d you figure that? Got a calculator in there?” At his blank look, she added, “You said too much. That seems to mean that you’ve assigned some kind of numeric value…. You know what? Nevermind. It was funnier in my head. I want to help you.”


May shifted on her seat. “Honestly?”

“Yes. Honesty.”

“I like being the hero. I like being the strong one. I like helping people.” She rattled off the reasons without hesitation; she wasn’t making them up. “All of this is completely true. But most of all: I love fucking with people, of dishing out their just desserts. And helping you will allow me to do all of these things at once. Because boy-howdy” – which she said in English – “do these fucks deserve some retribution.”

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"Very well." Just like that, he accepted her rationale. And why shouldn't he? She smelled sincere. Vanya picked up the water and drank deeply, then pondered over his cup for a long moment.

"A plan, then. We start with the Spetznaz." He looked up at May with a fierce gleam in his eyes. "A company of Interior troops: a hundred strong. They will be waiting out the storm in the garrison camp not far from the base, assuming that they have not already left."

"They haven't." May put in. "They seem to be guarding the site still, but not too closely."

"Spasiba. Then we know that they will be there, and grounded. Only desperate or foolish men fly helicopters in Siberian storms." Vanya listened to the wind roaring outside and smiled under the nightmare mask of black grime on his face. "And with the Rodina in chaos, they will be expecting a long wait here before anyone gets around to thinking of them. These men, they are not Alfas. They are Chekist stooges. Well-trained, yes, but not so formidable as your American Green Berets. Perhaps like Marines."

"I thought you didn't want vengeance on the soldiers?" May asked curiously.

"I do not wish to judge them for following orders. I, too, have followed orders and executed enemies of the State. I am no hypocrite, May." He looked at her calmly. "But they are my enemies, and I hate them for what they did, because I know I was no traitor, and they knew it too. They were our guard detail, they knew us. Their leader, Colonel Brosazk, he knows the secret of where the orders came from. And so the winter will swallow them, and a hundred men will die to avenge Section M." His eyes flared as his fists clenched hard, a sudden flame of angry passion running through him for a long, dangerous moment before he relaxed, taking a deep breath and looking at her once more. The rippling movements under the skin of his hands stilled. "It will not be enough. But it will be a start."

They got down to planning, as the wind howled and gusted outside the little island of warmth and light. They used utensils and cups on the table to represent the objective. Vanya's basic plan was to use the cover of the night and the storm to get close to the camp, then take out the perimeter sentries. From them the two mutants would take weapons and clothing, then swiftly penetrate the camp before anyone realised the perimeter was unguarded. The communications hut would be the first to be neutralised. As soon afterwards as possible, the airstrip with it's four troop carriers and two Hind gunships would need to be overwhelmed. In addition, the control tower at the small airstrip contained a communications link to PVO Strany, the Russian air defence command network.

"There are pilots and mechanics here too, as well as other support personnel. My intention is to leave none alive." Vanya said cold-bloodedly, his eyes on the makeshift model of the camp. "This is vengeance, May, but more than that it is practicality. No survivors means no warning can reach our next target ahead of us. Even if we destroy all radios, all transports... Something may go wrong. Better to leave none alive who can tell that Vanya still breathes." He looked at May again, his eyes coldly feral. "It could be said that this deed will not be very heroic, tovarisch. Many will fight, or die unknowing. But at the end of our work, there will be the remnants: frightened men trying to run or hide. They will cry and beg and scream, because they want to live." Vanya's voice had dropped to a low tone, scarcely above a whisper. "I trust you to do as you say you will do, May, but again I ask you if you are sure you wish to be a part of this."

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“This is not my first rodeo, Van,” May said, once again throwing weird English words into her Russian. “I’ve killed people before, for expediency. There are doctors and scientists in that pit, people who just did a job. People die all the time.” She folded her hands together and added, “I don’t like doing it. But sometimes, it has to be done.”

He could smell her unease at her statement; her stress levels were rising just thinking about it. But her expression was resolute. “So let’s go, let’s do this. It’ll make my mission easier, too.”

“Your mission?”

“Intel gathering,” May told him flatly. “We’d heard that they were closing shop here. I was sent to find out anything I could.” A small smile graced her lips. “I don’t think they meant personnel. But this is good anyway.”

She stood up and dug into a bag, producing a couple of heavy sweaters. She pulled them on, preparing to go back into the cold without her coat. “I have an extra pair of pants here.” May tossed them to him; as she turned, her face was reshaping itself into a man’s. She was Slavic in appearance now, with crooked teeth and hollow eyes. “Will these fit?” Her voice was rougher and masculine.

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"Yes." he answered as he stood. He shucked the coat before pulling on the pants, then straightened and offered the heavy coat back. "Thank you for this. I do not feel the cold so much, but there are many types of chill. It was comforting."

"You don't need it?" May asked, taking the coat from him. Vanya shook his head. "Alright then." she shrugged, and pulled it on, checking that her weapons were in place. "Let's go do this thing." They opened the door and plunged out into the wind and snow.

Before they'd gone twenty paces May was regretting her decision to tag along and help out... almost. The wind moaned like the damned, driving the heavy snow into whirls and eddies around them, and the temperature was dropping rapidly. She recalled her briefing materials: night-time in Siberia at this time of year could easily drop to -50 fahrenheit. She concentrated on following the man ahead of her and thinking warm thoughts. Hopefully, the upcoming action would warm her up more.

Vanya led the way without hesitation, though slowly enough that May could keep pace. Instinct and knowledge combined, steering him through the woods and snowdrifts towards the garrison camp, taking the less-watched paths. A thousand exercises had been played out in this terrain, a thousand training hunts both as the quarry and the hunter. Many times he'd been assigned to hunt traitors: during Stalin's reign both men and women labeled enemies of the State had been sent here, to Section M, to help train the Soviet supersoldiers in the taking of life. They would be given guns and ammunition, and told that if they could reach the nearest village... But they never did.

Vanya hated those games. Hated the implied hope that was nothing but a lie. A human armed with a gun could never hope to outrun him or outfight him... or any of the Section's mutants for that matter. Some of the supersoldiers had been cruel, harrying the prey this way and that, relishing their power over the fragile lives before snuffing them out. Vanya simply got the deed over with as soon as possible, regarding it as ignoble, nekulturny. He was a hunter and a soldier, not a damned executioner for tethered sheep. Orders were orders, and traitors deserved death, but to make a game of it was barbaric.

Now he drifted silently across the snow on bare feet, not feeling the biting cold of the wind in the least. The wind was not strong enough to drown out scents and sounds, though was strong enough to require intense concentration lest details be missed. Now and then he looked back over his shoulder at the burly 'man' following him, keeping May in sight. He wondered at the shapeshifter's motives. She hadn't lied when she'd spoken of wanting to do the right thing, but he wondered if she expected him to go back to her paymasters afterwards. Vanya thought that unlikely, but if she did she'd be disappointed.

No more. I will never trust in governments or their agencies again. The humans are afraid of us, and what they fear they seek to control, and what they cannot control they destroy. I will not be part of such a system as that any more. Decades I have served, and this is my reward: the only kindness shown to me comes from a Western agent. His thoughts were bitter and darkly amused as he knelt down behind a drift and motioned May to do the same. Together they peered over the mound of snow at the lit camp in the valley below. Circles of light dotted the cleared ground illuminating the insulated buildings, built mostly into the soil so entry would require descending stairs, making them more effectively insulated. Two fences, one inside the other and both topped with razorwire, ringed the camp, punctuated with guard towers every fifty feet. May counted eight towers in total. The gatehouse was a poured concrete bunker dug into the ground: outside it a man wearing a heavy coat and fur hat could be seen smoking, rifle slung as he stamped his feet to keep warm.

A short airstrip was at the northern end of the camp in the lee of a small hill, obviously used for small aircraft and helicopters. A control tower and a couple of hangars at one end of it were lit, the distinctive shape of a Hind gunship visible through the open doors of the left-most hangar. It appeared to be undergoing servicing: technicians fussing around it like nurses around an old lady.

"No outer sentries. We can thank the storm for that." Vanya told May as they continued to examine the camp. "There is the command building. The colonel's office and the communications center are both there. Four buildings over- there, see? That is the motor pool. Snowcats, snowmobiles and APC's. Colonel's car will be there too." Pale eyes scanned the camp for any anomalies. "Most of them are safe inside shelters. We will go to HQ, cut off the head before the body knows it is gone. Then to control tower to do the same. If we are quick, and quiet, and lucky, we will do both of these things with no alarm being raised. Then we go to the armory and, as you say, saddle up for real. Grenades, rockets, flamethrowers. These things are there, and will make short work of the barracks." He looked at her again, his eyes questioning. "That is my plan. Thoughts?"

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  • 1 month later...

May huddled under her coat, her masculine body so weird to her. She had pretended to be male from time to time and she never got over the differences – how strange it felt to her. What was even stranger was that in a few hours it’d feel as normal as being a woman to her. She just needed some time to adapt.

“I agree with the plan,” she said simply. “We’ll have to be fast and quiet. Are you ready?”

He gave her a curt nod and eased away to the right. She followed, doubled over behind a snowdrift the curled higher than her waist. May tried not to stare, but all she could see was darkness and the shape of Vanya’s ass bouncing in front her, almost hidden in the ebon night. And the snow – the endless white that gathered any light and refracted it back at them. Even that couldn’t lend the world any visibility; there was so little light to reflect.

They snaked around the edge of camp until they were as close as they could get to the HQ before entering. The two mutants were cautious as they crept along the side of the building, two more shadows in the darkness. At the corner, they waited five minutes while two guards finished sharing a cigarette and obfuscated sips from a concealed flask.

The moment of truth came; one guard turned and resumed his patrol, carrying him away from them. The other fellow was the first to die; as he walked past them, Vanya slipped out and grabbed him. There was a wet sound; then May heard the familiar rattle of a last breath. May slipped out next to the dying guard, gazing down at him. As the light faded from his eyes, the soldier looked at her, sacred and confused. The last thing he saw was her male face, twisting until it looked like his.

May stripped off his coat and removed his belt, hooking it around her strange waist. She slung the rifle over a meaty shoulder and grabbed an arm. Together, they dragged his body into a shadow and shoved snow over the body. That done, she nodded to Vanya and whispered, “I’ll take the frontal route now. Back me up.” He nodded back and May took off across the center of the compound, walking briskly toward the HQ. At the door, she paused, counted to twenty to let Vanya position himself and then knocked on the door.

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The door opened, a man wearing the insignia of a Major peered out at May, his expression somewhere between sleepiness and irritation. Pulling the night-duty while his commanding officer slept in the back of the HQ hut wasn't any aide's idea of a good time, but to have his nap disturbed by a guard...

"Da?" he demanded in a menacing tone. May stepped to one side and pointed towards the gate. Frowning, still irritated and sleepy, the major took a pace out of the doorway and looked in that direction-

And died. In the pool of light around the door, May saw a flash of green-blue heralding Vanya's approach from the officer's other side. The hand that clamped over the man's mouth wasn't human in appearance, covered in thin golden-brown hair and with fingers that were longer and contained an extra joint. Wicked-looking talons gleamed like an array of dark metal steak knives on the end of each finger as the Russian mutant tightened his grasp, at the same time plunging the claws on his other hand up and under the major's ribcage. He needn't have bothered covering the mouth: the only sound the dying man made was a wheezing whispery moan before he slumped and was dragged inside, his diaphragm, lungs and heart shredded by four-inch talons. A drop of blood on the snow outside was all that remained: May kicked snow over it and followed Vanya in.

Inside the office space was quiet and mostly dark, a single electric lamp illuminating the major's desk whilst a paraffin heater whirred softly, staving off the cold outside. May noted the paperwork on the desks and began to leaf through for anything valuable as Vanya closed the door and bolted it. Blood dripping from his claws, he made his way to the door at the far side of the office and knocked.

"Colonel, we have Moscow on the line." he called out in Russian, knocking again. There was a sleepy-sounding grumble from beyond the door. "They ask to speak with you."

"All right, all right!" the voice came more clearly now, but was still muddled with sleep, which was probably why he didn't notice the strangeness of the voice. There was a click and the door swung open, revealing a man fumbling with the belt of his uniform trousers, face rumpled with sleep and wearing a nightshirt tucked into his waistline. He looked up at whoever was barring his way and the sleepy irritation gave way to terrified shock a split second before one clawed hand closed over his throat, Vanya being careful not to cut him as he raised his other claws to hang before the officer's face.

"Do not shout, Colonel." he warned. "If you do I will put out your eyes and snip out your tongue. Then I will cut off your cock and balls and make you eat them, you son of a pig-fucking Ukrainian whore's shit." Vanya's hand tightened, the man being lifted to his toes as his eyes bulged.

"You... are... dead...!" he wheezed. "I saw... you die. You... were a... corpse, a... piece of charred meat- aahh!" The pained gasp came as Vanya flicked a talon over the Colonel's face, cutting the skin just deep enough to bleed.

"I know. I was there, shit eater. I did the dying, remember?" Vanya's voice rose, his fury evident. May coughed, and the Russian mutant sighed and nodded back at her before turning to the Colonel. "Your last orders, Colonel. Where are they?"

"Safe..." the man choked out. "In my... room. The... safe!"

"The code?" Vanya half-carried, half-dragged the man into his bedroom, May following behind.

"3-6-12-4-2-7" The Colonel gabbled. Vanya looked over at May.

"Would you open the safe, tovarisch? There may be other things of interest to you in there also, and I do not wish to get blood on them."

May nodded and moved over to the safe in the corner. Behind her as she knelt the agent heard a wet, organic noise and a strangled gasp, then more soft, wet sounds of flesh being cut and more muffled cries.

"Die. Die in pain you fucking dogs cock." Vanya chanted under his breath as he worked. "This is for Yncka, and Leisl, and Sergei, and Gorkov, and..." every name was punctuated with another wet sound and strangled gasp of pain, and there seemed to be a lot of names. May did her best to tune it out, grabbing the files and rifling through them. There was something else there also, a box containing 5 sealed vials of clear liquid. Written on the side in Cyrillic were the words "Subject: Vanya. TS-0134, Batch 3."

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What were you fuckers up to? May wondered, flipping through the files. The question was as much for her curiosity as it was to distract her from the sounds behind her. Vanya had earned this; May just didn’t have the stomach for it. Locking her tongue against the roof of her mouth to keep herself from retching at the sounds, she scanned as quickly as she could, but the science was beyond her.

She tucked the files under her coat and secured the vials in a pocket, wrapped in a handkerchief so that they wouldn’t break. The only exceptions were the file and vial that were Vanya’s; she felt he deserved to have them. Crouched, holding her knees, she waited until Vanya had finished his long litany of names and cuts, until enough pain had been spilled to banish Vanya’s ghosts. Finally, she heard the death rattle that signaled the end; the shifter gave the animalist mutant a few more moments. Namely, she wanted to wait until his breathing settled, because it sounded disturbingly like he was recovering from an orgasm.

When the blonde Russian cleared his throat, May hazarded a peek. The gooey mess in the middle of the floor didn’t look very human; it was more like something had hit a side of beef with a car. Only random parts that were all-too human stood out in the mess – a finger here, an ear there. May swallowed and looked away, her eyes coming to rest on Vanya.

His glowing blue-green orbs were watching her and she flushed with the certainty that he’d caught her unease. She probably wasn’t giving a very good showing for the good ole U.S. of A. right now. She’d killed; she’d even killed people who were just in the way of what she needed to do. She’d never tortured someone to death, though, or seen it being done. Clearing her throat, she said, “If you’re done, I have something for you.” She extended her arm, holding out the slim finger of glass and the papers. “These are yours.”

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The sated bloodlust filled him with a warm sense of comfort. It felt good, like killing Germans as a boy, filling their ranks with discord in Stalingrad and smelling their terror on the night air at the Bulge. Of all the people he'd killed, some had been good men doing their duty according to their beliefs. Some had been venal, or ambitious, or two-faced. Some had been sick, or evil, like the camp commandant he'd hunted through the snowy woods near Dachau.

But there'd never been an instance where he'd not enjoyed the kill. Never. It satisfied him on a deep, primordial level, as intense and passionate as sex. He was a hunter. To flush the prey out, to hunt them to their lair, and to end their life was the first true joy he'd ever experienced as a child when, at the age of 5, he'd chased down a rabbit in the woods and brought it home triumphantly.

The look in May's eyes was not so different to the look in his mother's eyes, or the eyes of the doctors at the Section M base when they asked him how killing made him feel and he simply answered "Complete." It made him feel uncomfortable, as though there were some gap between them and himself, a crevasse filled with something dark and unknowable.

He reached out with one bloody claw-hand, the talons shrinking and reshaping into a normal human hand, clotted with blood and worse, which closed on the bundle May offered and gently took it from her. Vanya looked down at the vials, recognising them, then at the file. This, then, was his life. All of it, the numerous pages in the thick binder, the story of a long life. And what had it been for, really? The Rodina? She didn't care for him anymore. The powers that be wanted him dead. No parades, no honors, no hero's welcome in Moscow.

"I should be dead." he mumbled, eyes fixed on the cover of the binder. "Fifty years of hunting and killing enemies, friend May. Fifty years. A hero of the shadows, they called me. Vanya: little Ivan." he walked slowly, head down, over to the wood stove that the camp commander had in his room, tracking bloody footprints across the rug. "Little Ivan, go and fight the Germans, boy. Little Ivan, go and fight the Chinese. Go and kill Americans, British, French for us, little Ivan." He opened the stove's little door, heedless of the sizzling of his own flesh on the hot metal as he dropped to his knees in the fire's revealed glow.

"And little Ivan went, friend May. He went and he hunted and he killed. For his country, for the safety of his beloved Rodina, for the glorious future that the Party predicted. And then the dream died, and little Ivan was called on to kill other Russians. And little Ivan likes the killing, May. He likes it very much. So he doesn't care that the dream of the Socialist Utopia is rotting like a dead goat in summer." Vanya thrust the box of vials into the fire then, after a moment's hesitation, thrust the bulky binder in after it. His back to May, the blond mutant just knelt and watched it burn. "And then, one day, the Party realise that little Ivan and his friends have power, power that might fall into the wrong hands or worse yet, power that they might use for themselves. And so they hack, and they shoot, and they burn little Ivan and his friends away. All dead now, friend May." The Russian sat on his haunches and watched the fire burn his life away, his voice eerily similar as the hollow howl of the wind outside as he crooned. "Bye bye, Vanya."

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Okkkaaaayyy… I’m not sure what was creepier, Vanya’s Torture Time or Storyhour with Vanya. Still, her heart ached for the young man. Hesitantly, her male features melted away into her ‘normal’ form, one that she’d had for so long it was now the face she kept. Her face was now beautiful, delicately featured. Her eyes were a lovely green, bordering on unnatural. Her black hair was hanging loose as she stepped behind Vanya. Her borrowed clothing hung loosely, accentuating her feminine frame unintentionally.

Her hand lifted, reaching for him. He’s having a really bad day, she reminded herself. It started when he died, so some… mental slippage is to be expected.

He’s more or less confessed to being a sociopath all his life.

She touched him; he didn’t jump, probably because he knew where she was. May told her nerves to stop screaming as she gently squeezed his shoulder. “That’s over, Vanya.”

“Once we finish killing the soldiers.”

“Yeeees, once we’re done with that.” May’s agreement was stated in a soft voice. “Then you can go and do whatever you want from here. Vanya will be dead. You’ll be able to be whoever you want to be.” A smile tugged at her lips; she knew the value of that statement. Being whomever she wanted to be was her stock in trade. “Get to rebuild yourself from the ground up. It’s very freeing.”

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  • 1 month later...

"Maybe I will come to America. Have a ranch. I would like that, I think, to have land of my own to live on." Vanya said softly as he watched the fire. "Perhaps I will travel to other places, like Africa. I have never been south of Cairo. Isn't that funny, May? I think it is. I have never had a vacation." he gave a short, bitter bark of a laugh. "I shall lay on beaches, work on my tan. Once I have killed all these soldiers, and then killed the daughter-fucker in Moscow who ordered my death." He straightened up and took a deep breath before turning to face her... and paused for a moment as he took in her 'true' appearance. His head tilted slightly as he studied her, interest flickering a fin in the blue-green shimmer of his eyes. So he was normal enough in that way, at least. Or so May hoped - for all she knew, he might be imagining how she tasted. She forced herself not to flinch back and met his eyes. "So. Let us proceed." he said finally, his voice soft.


The central room of the control tower was a ruin now, the four men who'd been in the room dead and slumped in a variety of poses. Blood dripped and pooled on the floor as Vanya put the finishing touches on his impromptu maintainance of the communications gear with a fire axe. May kept watch, filing away the ease with which Vanya had moved through the four armed men and killed them before a shot or shout could bring help. He dropped the axe and nodded to her before leading the way out of the building and into the fierce snowstorm.

The armory was guarded, but the two mutants made short work of the soldiers there. Vanya helped himself to thermite and plastic charges, shoving them into satchels as May armed herself. They went to the motor pool next, setting up charges on all the vehicles and rigging the fuel containment tanks. A trip back to the armory for more charges, and the small contingent of troop choppers was likewise rigged to blow. The storm had most of the soldiers huddled inside, and the few patrols were swiftly and ruthlessly dealt with.

Once more back to the armory, and the two mutants tooled up for the final phase of the mission at hand: extermination. Vanya, coldly in control of himself now after the baring of his soul at the commandant's cabin, loaded and checked the RPG launch tube, carrying a satchel-full of reloads over one shoulder. The other satchel carried grenades. Any soldiers that escaped the hellstorm that their barracks became would be easily cut down. Satisfied that he was ready to go, he looked over at May to see if she was likewise prepared.

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This would have all been easier if May wasn’t trying to deal with her newest sociopath. He both scared her and tugged at her heart; she saw equal parts loneliness and pain and sociopathy in him. And there was no way in hell she knew how to deal with that.

At least this part was easy; shoot the shit out of the place and blow it up. Anticipation of the coming battle hummed in her nerves as she taped clips end-to-end for her chosen weapon. Grimly, she tried to estimate how much ammo she’d need to kill a hundred men. She was trying really hard not to focus on the size of that number. A hundred was so many people, so many souls that would be ended because Vanya needed secrecy.

She felt his eyes on her at that moment, and she looked up so see him watching her. “I think I’m ready,” she said, testing the final clip to make sure that its taped companion wouldn’t interfere with loading the clip. Even she heard the nervousness and grimaced a little. It was a cute grimace as she tucked her hair behind her ears and said, “I mean… I don’t do this much, so I am feeling a little nervous.”

“You do not have to do this,” Vanya told her.

“Van… I said I’d help,” May said softly. “I meant it when I said I like to see people get what they deserve. These guys mowed you and your friends down. They did it because it was easier than actually treating you guys like people. I just… I don’t normally do stuff like this and it’s a little freaky.”

Vanya seemed to be at a loss for what to say. “You do not have to do this,” he repeated after a moment.

“I appreciate that, buddy,” she said with a smirk but she was shaking her head. “I meant it. All I ask is you understand that this isn’t normal for me. Usually I ferret information, not shoot people. But I’ll help. So let’s get it done, Van.”

“Very well.” He turned to the door outside, and after checking that all her body parts were secured behind something warm, May followed him.

The night was drawing into the darkest part, and the wind cut right through her layers. “Fuck,” she hissed into her scarf, gripping her gun more tightly and staggering after Fenris. She wished she had his tolerance for the cold as she shuffled through the knee-deep, wind-driven snow. He led the way, pausing before the building that was the barracks. May was already setting the stock of her rifle against her shoulder, popping one into the chamber and thumbing the safety off. Looking to Fenris, she gave him a nod to show she was ready.

Without preamble, he settled the launcher against his shoulder, aimed and fired. Praying her aim wouldn't be thrown off by her shivering body, she aimed for the front door and waited.

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  • 4 weeks later...

The RPG round was a steel-cased fragmentation warhead. It sailed neatly in through the rearmost window of the barracks building, hit something, and detonated, filling a twenty-foot area with whirring slivers of white-hot metal. In a crowded bunkroom, the result was slaughter. Cries of alarm came from inside in the aftermath of the explosion, but Vanya calmly reloaded the launch tube and took aim at another window a little further along, sending a white-phosphorus round into the dark portal of the storm-shuttered window. The cries and shouts mingled with screams of pain and fear now, voices calling out in Russian that they were under attack. Vanya ignored their urgency, was untouched by it as he slotted another grenade round into the tube and took aim at the reinforced guard tower over the gate, whose occupants were just awakening to the fact that not only was the camp under attack, but that it was from inside.

This round was a shaped-charge, a tank-buster. It hit the reinforced construction of the bunkerlike tower and blew a hole roughly the size of a soccer ball in the side. Chunks of blast-driven stone and the contained vibrations of the explosion reduced the four men inside to shredded pulp. Moving a little faster, Vanya reloaded and shouldered the tube just as machine-gun fire from the other tower started to track towards him, tracers directing the gunner's to the solitary figure taking aim. A bullet went through his shoulder, causing the mutant to hiss in pain and drop to one knee, re-aiming even as he felt he sting of the wound healing. A squeeze of the trigger and it was done.

May saw armed men start to rush out of the barracks now and opened fire from her covered position, keeping the bursts short and controlling the muzzle of the gun. One man down... two... four.. And now they realised that there was an enemy across from them and began to drop prone, spraying her cover with bullets. Van did say they were maybe as good as Marines the shapechanger thought, huddling down and tossing a grenade their way before belly-crawling to her next position. This is fucking nuts. I'm a spook, not a Delta. Firefights are supposed to be with pistols in dark alleys or hotel rooms, not in the damn Siberian winter with a company of goddamn Spetznaz.

Vanya heard the crackle of small-arms fire and dropped the tube by his small stash of 'tools'. The explosions and fire had done their job, and May was keeping the soldiers inside the barracks, mostly. With her sniping at them, they couldn't just charge out to engage - they had to move carefully, cautiously.

Too slowly.

Vanya took half a step and leapt, sailing thirty feet to land on the roof of the smoking barracks. He ran light-footedly along towards the side of the roof overlooking entrance, the bones and flesh of his hands re-shifting and settling into the long-fingered monstrous claws. He heard barked commands, smelled fear and blood nearby. The setup was perfect. He was silent as he dropped. May saw him launch himself from the low roof onto the men who were firing in her direction, but there was no battle cry, no challenge or pronouncement that Death was upon them. Vanya simply attacked... and men simply died. Two men were down before the others who'd managed to force their way outside realised that there was another attacker, and now they were caught off-balance and worse, prone or kneeling so as to better protect themselves from rifle fire. They weren't expecting someone to engage them in close quarters. And they certainly weren't expecting Vanya.

He was a fox in a henhouse, a wolf among sheep. Red lines of blood trailed behind his talons as he ducked, spun, slashed and leapt through the melee, blood sprayed into the snow-filled air, painting the snow red before it even finished falling. Five bodies lay strewn behind Vanya as he stabbed one man through the ribcage, claws shredding the man's heart even as he swung the man into place as a shield, absorbing the panicked spray of his next victim before tossing the dead man into the fear-stricken men peering through the doorway and leaping on the man who'd just emptied his gun to no avail. He went down in a shower of gore, the killer crouching atop of him with glimmering eyes already seeking their next victim, and settling on the men still in the barracks. They recognised him as he paused in his whirlwind of carnage, and white faces became paler.

"Vanya! Vanya!" The cries went up, and some started to raise weapons as others sought escape, bolting out into the snowy yard and making it all of ten paces before a series of short bursts from May brought them down. Vanya uncoiled in a smooth spring that carried him through the doorway, and weapons fire mingled with screaming, carrying out into the otherwise silent night.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It was beautiful, watching Vanya fight. It was also terrifying. It wasn’t just the blood arcing into the air, the smell of burning flesh or the sight of the Russian mutant tearing through former comrades. It was their cries rising into the night that touched her the most. They cried his name like a prayer for mercy, and his cold eyes looked back and denied them clemency.

May was startled to discover that her vision blurred with tears. She wasn’t sobbing; just a steady leak of tears from her eyes. She blinked them away, and a soldier made it another five feet before he died. May wasn’t crying for them, exactly; more of her sorrow was for Vanya. From what little she knew about him, he’d lost his innocence long ago, assuming he ever had it. But it still hurt to hear them crying for mercy as Vanya struck at them without hesitation or remorse.

A soft sound when she stopped a burst of fire short was her only warning. May twisted, trying to bring the rifle to bear, but the soldier was already landing on her, shoving her down into the snow. A massive fist to her jaw stunned her for a moment, long enough for the man to wrest the rifle from her. His eyes widened as he saw her face. “Pizda! Trakhat zhopa!” Cunt. I’ll fuck your ass.

Even as May’s mind was providing a translation, she was lashing out, her metacarpals elongating into claws. But she really wasn’t a fighter, and being on the ground while a trained Marine stood over her and stomped her into a red smear wasn’t good odds. Worse still was when he caught her left hand. He wrapped his other hand around her forearm and twisted savagely. May screamed as the bones in her wrist snapped, the ligaments loosening and pulling apart. She choked back further screams; she didn’t want to distract Vanya. She was a mutant; even with a broken wrist, she could take this guy.

She hoped.

A hard boot came down on her right hand, trapping it against the frozen ground. With one hand, he grabbed her hair and jerked her head up. There was a knife in his hand and he went for her throat. Bones shot up from her clavicles, forming a shield that stopped the blade. At the same time, her hair wrapped itself around his wrist, trapping him to her. The man gaped at her for a moment; then May brought her broken arm around, the snapped bones shooting out of her wrist like a spear. It was his turn to scream as she gutted him. He tried to get back, but May’s hair snaked up his arm and over his body, pulling him closer. “Maybe,” she grunted as her exertions pulled him close, “I should fuck your ass, eh?” The metacarpals of her right hand stabbed into his throat, opening his jugular.

Before he was fully dead, she wiggled over to her gun and pulled it out of the snow. She quickly humped herself to a new position, looking for anyone who might have gotten away while she was fighting. She saw fleeing forms and quickly positioned her rifle, aiming as best she could with a blood-slick gun and a useless left hand.

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