Crimsonstar/Homecoming: Part III

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They were all gathered together in the research lab, the drone they had sent to Andromeda 3 sat in the middle of the floor. Robby stood up from inspecting it, a small scanning device of some sort in his hand. The device was obviously reversed engineered from another alien source of technology, but as far as Marsius was concerned, he didn’t care to discover from where they had obtained it. Jessica examined the data from the scanner as it fed to a computer terminal, nodding and occasionally jotting down notes.

“Well, it worked. There’s no sign of any structural breakdown. It’s as good as it was when we sent it.” She said. Remembering what Reynolds had told him earlier that day, Marsius found himself studying Jessica as she spoke. She looked tired, but her hair and makeup he noticed still looked fresh. Could there be some truth to what Reynolds had told him?

“How long was it gone?” Marsius asked.

“Eight hours.” She said, turning to face them.

“Why eight hours?” Asked Agent Reynolds.

“The portal has been set to automatically retract anything we send over after eight hours.

Despite the recalibration and the increase in power, we still haven’t solved the molecular breakdown problem. We were able to determine that ten hours was the threshold before the decay begins, we went with eight to be safe.”

“In your estimation, is the portal safe for human transport?” Agent Reynolds asked, he and Marsius both very interested. She gave a slight shrug of her shoulders. “We’d have to test to make sure, but yes, I think so.” She answered.

“How soon can you make the test?”

“We have a lab animal coming now from one of the other facilities. I’ll try it in the morning, then we’ll know.” She said.

One Week Later...

Darwin had been through the portal twice now; both times for eight hours and automatically returned by the portals retrieval system. They were awaiting the results of the medical work on him, but outwardly the chimpanzee showed no visible signs of distress. After the second test the chimp ran across the lab floor playfully, jumping up in Marsius’ arms.

“He likes you.” Robby smiled, as he came over and started to detach the small transmitters on Darwin’s skin. They recorded his vital signs during transport and while he was on Andromeda 3. Marsius rubbed Darwin's head as the chimp wrapped his arms around Marsius’ neck. “Animals seem to naturally like me. I’ve been told I have animal magnetism, whatever that means.” He replied.

“Animals have a natural inclination to find pure and good hearted people and avoid, well, avoid those that are less desirable. In many ways they’re more perceptive than humans.” Jessica had said as she came up behind him. “It means Marsius, that Darwin knows you’re a good man.”

He thought back on her words as he glided over the streets of King’s Row. Agent Reynolds remarks of Jessica’s feelings for him meant he now paid closer attention to her words, her actions, looking for any trace that what Reynolds had told him could be true.

A scream pierced the night bringing him out of his thoughts of Dr. Sheppard and her possible feelings toward him. Several members of the street gang the Outcasts were in the alley below him, seemingly engaged in a battle with another person. He dropped into the dark alley quickly sizing up the situation. Four of the gang members were closing in on a woman they had backed up against the brick wall of the adjoining building. She wore an outfit of dark blue and red, her face covered by a mask, long flowing red hair cascading out of the back.

“Now you’re gotten yourselves some real trouble.” She hissed as she saw Marsius silently drop in behind them. “It’s not just Crimson Justice you face, but Crimsonstar himself has found you.” and she assumed a defensive, yet clumsy, stance before them. Their reply was the small click and Marsius noticed the gleam of moonlight off the metal blades of the knives they had just pulled.

“Nice try baby, but it looks like it just you and us in the alley, and we’re looking for a little fun, how about you?” the closest one to her sneered. Marsius quickly grabbed the one in the immediate back rank and tossed him across the alley. His screams of surprise along with the loud clash he made when he hit the trash barrels made the other three turn from the woman.

“Get him!” the first one yelled and they started to charge Marsius. He watched as the woman leapt from her safe stance against the wall into the one in front of her as he the final two moved in on him. Out of the corner of his eye he watched her as she made an attempt to subdue the one gang member. Her attacks were forced, unsure. She swung in wide arcs, wasting whatever force her punch might have had even if the Outcast member hadn’t easily stepped aside. What few feeble blows she did manage to get in did nothing but cause the gang member to laugh hysterically at her weakness. “That the best you can do honey? I’ve beaten up thirteen year old gang pledges that had more spunk in them.”

“Excuse me.” Marsius said stepping up to the Outcast thug and tapped his shoulder. “Mind if I try?” and without waiting for the startled punk to respond he slammed one fist into his chest, forcing all his air of out him and knocking him unconscious. He gathered up the thugs, placing them in a pile and securing them for the Paragon police. The woman stepped up to him, adjusting her mask and costume; both appeared to be just a little too big for her frame.

“Nice work, Crimsonstar. We showed those punks?” she said.

“I’m sorry, we?” he inquired.

“Sure, you and me, Crimson Justice and Crimsonstar.” She stood in front of her, hands clasped in front of her like a school girl who had just met a movie star. He noticed her hair looked, crooked and realized she was wearing a wig.

“Look, miss…” He started but she cut him off.

“I know I’m new, but I’m willing to learn. I was thinking you could train me, that we could be partners. That’s why I took the name Crimson Justice, so we’d fit. I’m sure once you show me the ropes I can be just as good as any other hero you’ve worked with if you just let me.” He let out a heavy sigh.

“This is not a game, there are real dangers out here.” He motioned with his hand to the gathered Outcasts. “You couldn’t take out one simple gang member, I know, I was watching. What if you’d been going up against the Council, or the Circle of Thorns? For that matter, what if I hadn’t been just overhead when you screamed?”

“But you were and…”

“I’m sorry no. Maybe if you had powers of some sort, but it’s obvious you don’t and besides I….”

“There are tons of other heroes and heroines in the city that have no powers, and they’re doing fine.”

“They also have taken months, sometimes years, to hone their bodies and their fighting skills. No offense, miss, but from what I observed you don’t have even the most rudimentary understanding of hand to hand combat.” He stepped forward to her, but she moved back from him. “I understand that you want to do your part to help and it’s admirable. Only don’t go this route. There are plenty of other ways you can help the citizens of Paragon. In fact, here in King’s Row alone is the Courbier Foundation and I’m sure it’s founder, Grace Courbier…”

“I know all about Grace Courbier.” She said, and he couldn’t tell, but she almost sounded angry. He dropped the subject and looked around the corner of the building to wave in the approaching squad cars of the police he heard down the street. He turned back to her for just a moment. “I’m glad you’re alright, but please listen to me when I tell you this, don’t try to become a hero, get off the streets before something worse happens to you.” and he flew off.

The mask was hot and the rest of her costume itched. Plus it was too loose fitting on her. Add to that the fact that she not only performed poorly her first time out, but that he was not interested in working with her, or even seeing her again in the city streets demolished her. She felt herself want to cry, but she swallowed hard, fighting back tears. Powers huh? I have to have powers before you’ll notice me. Fine. I’ll get powers, if that’s what it’s going to take.

They were ready to open the portal directly to Nova Strangham’s office on Andromeda 3. After having determined that Darwin was fine from his portal jumps, they decided that the time was right for Marsius to take his first trip home in five years. Marsius had stayed up late the night before, both preparing his formal Star Bridge dress and wondering about the woman he encountered hours earlier. He hoped she would heed his words, that she would see how foolhardy she had been and not pursue a life as a costumed heroine in Paragon. He watched Robby make the final checks of the portals power couplings and confirm the settings on the computer. Agent Reynolds came up to him, extending his hand.

“Marsius, I know you and I didn’t get off on the right foot, and I don’t blame you if you still have reservations about me, after all the lies I had to tell you. Only I do want to let you know I wish you the best of luck.” He said. Marsius could tell that Reynolds was sincere and meant his words of well wishes.

“Thank you, Agent Reynolds and don’t worry. I plan to address the concerns of the United States government and it’s wishes to form an alliance with the Star Brigade, and I’m sure Nova Strangham will be open to the idea of an union between us.” He smiled, shaking his hand. Reynolds looked at the portal; its rings starting to crackle and hum its energy matrix came on. “I have to tell you, I’d love to go with you. The chance to see another world, another civilization, well, let’s just say it helps make my role in the government a bit easier to swallow if I can see real good come out of it.”

“I’m sure you understand the need for me to go alone on this trip, but once we start the preparations of an Earth-Andromeda alliance, then I’m sure there will be no problem with a Terran liaison making a trip with me.” Reynolds smiled and left to make some phone calls before Marsius’ trip was to start. Jessica approached him, handing him some small med scanners for him to attach to his person. She looked tired.

“Your uniform is very nice, Marsius. Very handsome.” She said. She had dark circles under her eyes and he noticed she more than once put a hand over her mouth to cover her yawning.

“Dr. Sheppard, Jessica, are you okay? You look tired.”

“I haven’t slept well the last few nights.” Was all she said and she left to go back to her computer station. Marsius turned and looked at the portal, it was now fully powered and light blue electrical energy flowed through the ring. “We’re ready.” Jessica called out and with a simple turn of a dial at her station, the energy coalesced into a clear view of Nova Strangham’s office. He waved and smiled to Marsius on the other side. He turned to them all, turned back and entered the portal.

The world around him went white, and the noise was almost deafening. His whole body itched and his mouth became parched. Just as he thought he would lose consciousness, his foot landed on the carpeted floor of Nova Strangham’s office, the Star Brigade crest looming back up at him. A firm hand grabbed his right arm and pulled him through. “Crimsonstar Denthar, Marsius. Welcome home.” Nova Strangham smiled.

Two hours had gone by since Marsius arrived in Nova Strangham’s office and in that time he had discussed with him all the details of his last five years. He had given him a quick summary of his events before when the portal was first opened, but now he provided him with a full report of how his ship was lost, the situation of the remaining Rikti on Earth after their retreat, and of his affiliation with Dawn Patrol.

“So their main invasion force was pushed back?” he asked.

“Yes, although there is still a great many of them on Earth. They were abandoned when the main portal device in the Rikti home dimension was shut down. They’re primarily concentrated in the area where the Portal ship crashed.” Marsius told him.

“But Earth has developed more than adequate means to find and eliminate them?”

“Earth technology has advanced to the point that they can now fend off any further plans for them to advance, and in the last few years a great many new men and woman have stepped up to not only fight off the remaining Rikti, but all the other villainous factions that have grown in power.”

Nova Strangham smiled, stood up. “Good work Crimsonstar Denthar. It seems our mission there is complete. I’ve also been informed that work on the new Starslider ship has progressed well ahead of schedule. I predict we’ll be able to send the ship to Earth and bring you home sooner than we expected.”

“Nova Strangham, sir, there is something I have been asked to discuss, but I think we’ll need to bring it to the Kairin Council as well.” He said. “The predominant government of Earth would like to open negotiations for an alliance with them and the Kairin Empire.” Nova Strangham nodded his head. “I have already contacted the council on this. We too, also see a union with Earth as the next logical step.” A chime sounded as his office door opened and his aide entered. “Nova Strangham, she is here, sir.”

“Good, let her in.” Nova Strangham said and he turned to Marsius. “I called her just before you crossed over. She’s been staying here on Andromeda 3 waiting for when we next had contact with you.” Marsius turned to face the door as Tanna entered the office. She was lovelier than he remembered and he felt oddly apprehensive when he saw her.

“Marsius.” Tanna said with a soft voice, her eyes practically shining as she looked at him. Marsius started across the floor slowly, then ran and threw his arms around her, pulling her tight to him. “Tanna, my beloved Tanna…” he whispered in her ear. Nova Strangham came up to the two of them, placed a hand on each of their shoulders. “I have to make my customary visit to the new recruits training facility. I suspect you two would like some time alone. Please, feel free to use my office.” He said and quietly shut the door behind him as he left.

They held each for long moments, neither one believing that this day, when they would see one another again, had come. Marsius pulled back, holding her hands in his. She was wearing a light yellow gown, reminiscent of the one she had worn when he first met her. She had her hair down as usual, but had taken the time to arrange it so it framed the sides of her face, giving her an almost angelic beauty. “You look as lovely as the day I left.” He said. She smiled at him squeezing his hands. “As do you.” she said and leaned up on her toes to softly kiss his cheek. Only it was a kiss one shared with a sibling or relative, not the kiss one reserved for lovers. She motioned for him to join her on the couch.

“I’m so very glad to see you. When Nova Strangham contacted me and told me you were alive, that you had survived….I….I cried for hours.” She leaned over hugging him again. “Oh Marsius, it was so hard. I held out hope far longer than anyone else. For the first two years you were gone, we all felt you were simply detained in coming back. Only…by the time it had gone three years, I was the only one who believed…..” she said, her voice choking back her sobs. “…and even I had to finally face that you were not coming back, or dead.” Marsius stroked her hair as she rested her chin on his shoulder. “I know, it’s okay.” He whispered to her.

“The Star Brigade and the Kairin Empire command performed a wonderful remembrance service for you after the first year, here at Brigade command. I came here late in the evening two years ago, to finally say goodbye, to let you go, and I found one other here waiting for me.” Marsius nodded as she leaned back from him. “Yes, Nova Strangham told me that you…..had found someone.” She pulled a tissue from a small dispenser on the table. “It was Janus, Marsius.” She said. Marsius’ body felt as if a ton of crushing weight had come down on him. He stood up from the couch, looking at her, his gaze stern now. “Janus? Tanna, Janus has been labeled a Black Hole in the Brigade and discharged, his name wiped from the registries. He’s responsible for the….”

“Marisus, please, I know.” She said, jumping from the couch to stop him. “He’s told me all about it, how he disobeyed a direct order, YOUR orders. He still came to your remembrance site to honor you. Marsius, his career in the Star Brigade ended but he doesn’t blame you.” She reached out touched his cheek. “He was there to help me come to terms with losing you when I finally admitted that I had to let you go, and in all that time he had nothing but the highest praise for you.”

“Small wonder, I was considered dead, after all.” He said crossing his arms. Tanna lowered her head. “Don’t make this harder for me than it is. It’s not easy for me to come here and tell you that I’m in love with the man you once trained.” She looked back up at him. “Janus never once asked anything of me, he simply was there when I needed someone, and one day I looked at him, and the way I saw him had changed. I didn’t care about what he had done, about his disgrace. All I saw was a man that regretted his mistakes, who had come to me when everyone else had given up on me, a man I had come to love. Besides, I know you’ve moved on with your life also. Nova Strangham told me that you’ve chosen a Binary, a woman.”

Marsius sighed, his demeanor returning to the soft and comforting tones he had when she first entered. “Tanna, I found myself facing my own turning point. I started to find that I thought of you less as time went by, that it was hard for me to recall your face, your touch. I realized that it wasn’t practical of me to expect you to continure holding out hope for my return. I knew with all my heart that the chances of that happening were minimal if not nonexistent. I had to move on with the new life I had, and I had to let you go and pray that you would forget me and live your life as well.” He said, reaching out to stroke her chin. “But this is different, she is my Binary. Tanna, you know Binary pairings are always about permanent teaming of Brigade members that perform exemplary together and rarely are about intimate relationships. Granted she is not a member of the Star Brigade, or even from our galaxy, but she fights and carries herself as well as any member of the Brigade I’ve worked with.”

She took his hand, kissed it gently. “I also know there is a history of binaries becoming lovers as well. Look at Devayne and Shawna on Andromeda 6.” She said, her eyes starting to tear up. “Marsius, we both know that we couldn’t hold onto one another, the distance was too great, the uncertainty of ever being together again. Please, let’s just have this moment to share what we loved about one another, and offer each other our blessings for a full life beyond what we were.”

Marsius nodded and pulled her close to him one last time. “Tanna, I may not ever accept Janus as your mate, but I will respect your decision to have him as yours.” He said. She pulled him to her and this time, she kissed him on his lips, a final embrace of two former lovers parting company. She led him back to the couch. “Now tell me, what is Earth like?”

Tanna sat silently looking out the window at Arisa, the capital city on Andromeda 3. She was due to fly back to Andromeda 9 in the next hour, and she fought with herself as to what she was feeling, and what she was going to tell Janus. When she left to come to Andromeda 3 she had only told him that she had to attend to family matters, not that Nova Strangham had contacted her, or why, that Marsius was alive. She had also lied to Marsius about Janus. Although he never voiced it, Janus did in some small way hold Marsius accountable for his being disgraced and labeled as a ‘Black Hole’, an officer discharged without honor from the Star Brigade. It was Marsius, after all, who had not only had to bring Janus before the Star Brigade command for his actions, but had to also relate in full detail the story of his disobedience, and the heavy costs that had come with it.

The last two years with Janus had been wonderful, with her teaching at the Brasdi Academy and his space flight instructor position for a private Andromedan freighter company. Now she was afraid of losing it all. She had no doubt that she loved Janus, or had none until she saw Marsius alive again, held him in her arms. That brief hour in his company raised doubts in her mind and her heart. She didn’t allow herself to hope that she and Marsius could rekindle their love. He spoke of Earth and its people, his Binary, with such affection. She also knew of the new plan that Earth’s government hoped to implement of a union with them and the Kairin Empire. His original mission to Earth may have been over, but he had found a new one to fuel his passion. No, Marsius hadn’t come out and said it but she knew he’d stay on Earth. She allowed herself to smile. Marsius was always the most driven of the Star Brigade, the youngest officer to make Crimsonstar rank, and Earth was very fortunate to have him there. Only now, she had to admit that while she didn’t love Marsius the same as she once did those five years ago, she wasn’t sure if she could continue with Janus, marry him, when all her memories of Marsius had been forced back to the surface. She was happy for Marsius, more than she had expected to be, but why did she feel so sad?

The portal shimmered and the air crackled with energy as the failsafe automatically opened the portal and Marsius was pulled back through to the Portal Corps lab on Earth. Agent Reynolds, Jessica and her assistant Robby were waiting at the threshold.

“Do you feel okay? Are you noticing any side affects from the transport?” asked Jessica as her and Robby both quickly approached him, scanners in hand. He held up his hand motioning them to stop. “I’m fine, really.” He said, moving into the center of the room.

“Just the same, I want a full medical examination done.” Jessica said and she immediately started calling the med lab. Marsius let out a small sigh “Fine, just let me have a few minutes.” He turned to Agent Reynolds. “Agent Reynolds, I have informed Nova Strangham of your government’s desire, and he has taken it before the Kairin Empire council. Our ruling body is in agreement and feel that a formal union of our two systems is the next logical step in our relationship. The Kairin Empire has granted you an audience in four days time. Please be prepared to go with me to Andromeda 3 at that time.” He said and turned to Robby and Jessica. “Okay, I’ll go to the med lab with you now.”

Crimsonstar and the heroine Northern Might were standing outside of an abandoned office building, watching as the Paragon Police loaded several Nemesis soldiers into a secure armored vehicle. The two of them had been following separate leads on cases they were individually working that resulted in them both arriving at the same location. They had decided to work together, clearing out the Nemesis troops as a team. A white van with the red logo of the newspaper, Paragon Tattler, pulled up and three people piled out.

“Well that didn’t take long.” Northern Might said as the reporters ran up to them. They assaulted them with questions which they both commented that they couldn’t answer. “Can we at least have a picture?” the photographer asked them, to which they did consent. The photographer readied his camera, stood back a couple of feet.

“Okay, how about, Crimsonstar, cross your arms, great. Now Northern Might, miss, can you put your left hand on your hip, and place your right forearm on his shoulder, stand a little closer to him.” he said, motioning with his hands and pulling the camera up to his eye level.

“You understand that we’ve just met, and that I don’t think…” Marsius started but the one reporter interrupted. “Oh it’s okay. The public likes to think that all the heroes of the city know each other and travel in the same social circles. It’s simply to let readers think that you and Ms. Might here are pals.” Marsius nodded and figured given that explanation, that there was probably no harm in the photo.

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Crimsonstar.” Northern Might said after the reporters and police had all left the scene.

“Please, call me Marsius. Crimsonstar is the hero name I use for the city.” He said. She smiled and gave him a slight nod. “Alexandra, you can call me Alex.” She said. “Maybe I’ll see you around Paragon and we can work together again sometime.”

“I’d like that, here, let me give you my number.” He said and pulled out his PDA phone and they exchanged numbers. They took off in separate directions and Marsius thought to himself, ‘Nice girl, handles herself well in tight situations.’

She stopped at the newsstand that was around the corner from her apartment building. She only intended to get a soda and maybe the new issue of Fantastic Figures magazine when she saw the newest edition of the Tattler. Normally she didn’t even look at that periodical. It was the best selling hero magazine in the city and tons of people bought it, but she was more discriminating a fan, and knew it to be nothing but a gossip rag. This one caught her attention as Crimsonstar was on the cover. She picked it up and looked at it. He was there with some other heroine. Her eyes scanned the cover headline; ‘CRIMSONSTAR AND NORTHERN MIGHT! ARE THEY PARAGON’S NEWEST HOT COUPLE?’

‘Who is this? What, is every available heroine in the city throwing themselves at him?’ She thought to herself, her brow knitting as she let out a sharp disgusted grunt and threw the tabloid back down on the pile.

The air was heavy and humid, each breath feeling as if she were taking it while lead weights sat on her chest, and yet she felt cold. The robed priests and mages had found her skulking around the caves and woods in Perez Park. Perez Park was a dangerous place for a woman to be wandering around alone in the daytime, to say nothing of at night. Yet, she came seeking them out, to find one who would give her what she desired. Her defiance amused them and she didn’t know just how lucky she was that they brought her deep into the bowels of the Earth to one of their lairs, instead of just taking her for one of their ritual sacrifices.

She couldn’t fully make out the creature on the throne before her, just enough to see it was winged, horned and possessed glowing red eyes. When it spoke its voice was low and booming, echoing off the walls of the caves. “Are you aware, mortal, of what you’re asking of me, of the Circle?” She swallowed hard, an emotional lump of lead forcing its way down her throat. She was scared; this was becoming much more intense than she had anticipated. It stood up and she saw the entire area in front of her go black as its mass filled the end of the room. There were heavy, solid thumps on the makeshift wooden floor as cloven hooves carried the thing toward her.

“So the little bird desires power? Power to join the masses of those pitiful enough to believe they can stem the spread of our power among man, these heroes.” It entered the small area lit by the torches and she could see it fully now. She clenched her jaw tight, biting back the scream her mind begged her to release, but her eyes betrayed her. It was a demon. No other word could describe it, and to call it a monster could not begin to do it justice. “You don’t speak, but I see the fear in you. Fear makes your flesh succulent, your blood intoxicating. I would sooner dine on your body then grant you what you ask.” She tried to flinch back, but the robed mages behind her held her firmly in place. It grinned, horrible yellow fangs filling its mouth, the red tinge of dried blood from its previous feasts caked on them. “Another time, perhaps. I find that your mere willingness to seek us out, amusing. I will grant your boon, if for no reason other than the price I’ll demand of you for my favors.” It bowed to one of the mages and he produced a golden necklace that held a single glowing green gem. The demon spoke as one mage yanked her head back by her hair and the other placed the necklace around her neck. “And there will be a price to pay. A price in blood, in spirit.”

It turned its horrid face away from her, disappearing back into the darkness, its hooves again striking the wood in slow, echoing booms. “Go now, enjoy what I have given you, in the time that you have. You will be mine when I wish it, and my desires are never sated.”

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