First Story :
This is a reprint of X-Men (1st series) #123.
(Russia, early morning)
Storm has brought her teammate, Colossus, home. She flew over the pole, following the Jetstream south and east across the continental heart of the Soviet Union. Their presence was too small to alert the north guard radar stations, standing ever vigilant against a nuclear strike from the Americans, as the DEW line and NORAD watch for a similar attack from the Russians. At the moment of touch down, the intricacies of geopolitics are the last thing on Piotr’s mind. He is almost home; the last leg on a journey that is as long-anticipated as it is long-overdue.
Piotr asks Ororo how she managed such a long journey with someone of his weight. She tells him that she had the winds do all the work, but asks why he wished to land so far from his farm when she could have landed closer. Piotr appreciates the offer, but he has been away from the motherland for so long, he wants to regain his feel for it, before reaching home. Ororo understands. She gives him a peck on the cheek and tells him that, when he wants to rejoin the X-Men, he should transmit the signal as arranged. She takes to the skies and Piotr waves her away. He knows that she truly understands that the signal may never come.
It is light by the time Piotr reaches his village. Small buildings scatter across the fields and a church takes center stage, watching over the livestock. Piotr loves his friends in the X-Men and marvels at all he has seen and done, but he was never really happy in their world. Here, in the Ust-Ordynski collective; here is where he belongs.
The first person he comes across is picking flowers. “Who have we here?” he asks. “Could this possibly be…Illyana Nikolovna Rasputina, the loveliest snowflake of them all?” Illyana turns and leaps on her brother. He grabs her and tells her she’s sprouting like a weed. Before long, she’ll be taller than him and a young pioneer as well. He’s impressed. Illyana tells him not to tease. It’s been so long and he hardly ever wrote. She wrote lots of letters and she asks if he got them. She calls for their mother and father, and their mother rushes from the house with open arms. Their mother asks her to take a moment for a breath and give her brother a chance to answer. Piotr tells her that they both look well.
Later, the family is having dinner, and Alexandra has put on a spread for her son. They catch up on things, such as how the crop is doing. Alexandra says he is all skin and bones, asking if there isn’t enough for a growing boy to eat in America. Piotr replies that there is plenty and he is the same to look at as when he left.
Illyana sifts through a collection of pictures that her brother has drawn, asking if he drew them. Yes, he replies, informing her that they are of his comrades in the X-Men. He confesses that nothing he’s tasted anywhere comes close to equalling the food on her table. He also admits he has never been comfortable with words and, instead, prefers to make sketches of his travels and adventures. It’s no excuse, he knows that, and he should have written more. That’s past, says his mother. There’s no need to worry about it now. He’s back, safe and sound.
His father, Nicolai, looks at the drawings, including one depiction of the Savage Land. He tells his son that, although he says he is the same, these pictures would prove he is not. They are fantastic beyond belief. This life he leads is like something out of the stories he used to tell him and his brother, Mikhail, when they were Illyana’s age. Piotr eats his food. His father just thinks his life is one big story. Perhaps it was a mistake to show them, and yet, Illyana can’t seem to get enough. “No matter how fantastic my life, papa, my thoughts were never far from you, or home, or the Rodina.”
Nicolai is glad of that. Professor Xavier was a mighty persuasive man when he made the case for letting Piotr go with him. He can’t help but confess that, ever since, he has had his doubts about the rightness of it. Piotr hugs his mother and tells them that he’s going for a stroll about the collective look up his old friends, especially Sasha. Nicolai lowers his head. Alexandra tells Illyana that it is probably best that she take Piotr to him. Piotr wonders what he said that was wrong. Why won’t they come right out and tell him?
Illyana leads him to a field, where stands a wooden cross beside a Russian flag. Piotr kneels in front of the grave and lowers his own head. Illyana hugs him. He reads the epitaph. Stefan Dimitrovich Goroviev - Age 19 - Killed in action in Afghanistan. “So many crosses, by the Rodina. So many friends,” cries Piotr. Illyana asks him not to cry. He doesn’t ever have to be afraid, because she’ll always be there to protect him and to make him laugh. Piotr asks when did his little snowflake turn herself into a Siberian Tigress. Piotr wonders for a moment about Illyana coming from the same genetic stock as he. Could she also be a mutant? What form will her powers take if she is? Will she be like him?
Piotr’s thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a crashing noise. A tanker driver runs for the village, his truck filled with propane in flames. Colossus knows that, if the flames ignite the gas, the explosion will devastate the entire collective. He changes to his armored form and runs towards it. He must get it away from here. Illyana follows behind him. Some of the locals use a hosepipe to try and douse the flames, and recognize the Rasputin boy. Piotr carefully maneuvers the truck, knowing that even the smallest crack in its tank will be devastating. He carries the burning truck far enough away from the village so that, if it does blow, it will do no real damage. It’s a pity Storm isn’t here, he thinks. Her rains could drown the flames in an instant.
A little later, Piotr returns to the village a hero. The locals cheer him, but he warns them to keep their distance until he has cooled. His metal skin is red hot from the flames. His father throws a bucket of water over him, which makes him hiss like a tea kettle. Once he has cooled sufficiently, Illyana hugs him again and says she can’t wait until she is big and shiny like he is. Piotr thinks that she actually sounds eager to manifest a mutant power. Somehow, he must find a way to help her, but how? Especially since Professor Xavier has seemingly abandoned the X-Men.
His train of thought is broken by a voice behind him. “So, Piotr Nikolievitch, you figure a few cheap heroics for the homefolks can atone for your crimes?” He turns and sees Aloysha approaching him, his right leg and an arm missing. “No such luck, traitor,” he adds. The villagers try to calm Aloysha down, telling him that this isn’t the place for such talk. Aloysha swings his crutch to keep them at bay, but is acting irrationally. He says that now the truth comes out. They hold men like him, of the Afganyi in such contempt, but they’ll welcome back this running dog coward with open arms, as though he’d never deserted the Rodina.
With no support, he falls to the ground. Piotr reaches to him to help him up, but he warns Piotr to take his hand away. He can manage on his own, and especially without help from the likes of him. Illyana tells Aloysha that isn’t fair. What Piotr just did with the truck wasn’t the act of a coward! Aloysha says it’s her duty as his sister to defend him, just as it is his to demand to know where he was when the Rodina needed him. All of those who were called to serve did their duty; they fought, and many of them died. But, their comrade Colossus was nowhere to be found. Piotr remains silent, as Aloysha continues to say that they could have used his strength; taken shelter behind his armored form. With Piotr behind them, they might have come home - alive and whole!
A fellow soldier places handcuffs on Piotr’s wrists, branding him a deserter and denouncing him as a traitor to the state and people of the U.S.S.R. He could easily snap the cuffs, but he decides against it. Aloysha orders the militia to do their duty and take him away. Illyana and her father can only watch, as Piotr is taken to an army camp.
There, Piotr is back in human form and sitting behind bars. Aloysha informs Piotr that a KGB officer is coming to deal with him. Piotr enquires to why Aloysha hates him so much. “Are you surprised?” he replies, “You should have been there by our sides, when we, your friends, needed you!” Piotr says he didn’t know. What convenient ignorance, says Aloysha, asking whether there are no reports on Afghanistan in the West. He thought it was all President Reagan cared about; along with his pet Contras. He then mentions his visit to Sasha’s grave. Aloysha is angry that the accursed Mujaheddin didn’t leave enough of Sasha to have anything to bury. Remember how he loved to laugh? he asks; “I’ll go to my grave remembering how they made him scream before he died.”
A calming hand from a fellow soldier does nothing to slow Aloysha’s rant. He tells Piotr that, if he’d been there, they might have had a decent chance. He could have made a difference. The Gulag is too good for him; no punishment can fit this crime, but Aloysha hopes the KGB tries its very best to find one. Piotr doesn’t wish to antagonize him further and remains silent.
Later, Piotr is brought before Colonel Vazhin and one of the guards asking if he needs an escort. Vazhin replies that it’s not necessary. He’s sure the young man will prove no trouble at all. Before long, Vazhin is driving Colossus, alone, through the countryside. He pulls the car over in a quiet area of farmland, telling Piotr that he stirred up some righteous passions back there. Piotr wishes him not to mock their feelings, but Colonel Vazhin reminds him that he is an enemy of the state, so it is he that has no rights.
They exit his car and Vazhin removes Piotr’s cuffs. He knows Piotr could easily break the handcuffs, but then he’d really become when he is accused of. Piotr asks what is to become of him. “Sixty-four ruble question,” says Vazhin, “Answer’s up to you.” If he stays, they’ll have to take official action. He can’t go into the army of course, as the use of enhanced power beings in the armed forces is strictly forbidden by treaty with the Americans. Piotr didn’t know this. Vazhin tells him that they don’t exactly broadcast the fact to the whole world.
He lights a cigarette and leans against his car. He adds that, surprisingly, it is one of those rarest of international treaties in that it is scrupulously adhered to by all parties concerned. This means that Piotr would have to work for covert operations; for him or someone like him - or, he can go back to the X-Men. Piotr is surprised he is aware of them. Vazhin informs Piotr that he commands the 13th Directorate at Moscow Center. His brief is people like him, groups like his; who they are, what they are capable of and to ultimately determine whether or not they’re a threat to the Rodina.
“I am a Russian,” replies Colossus. “If my country needs me…” Vazhin says they all do; but occasionally, a man can best serve his motherland by serving the whole world. Colossus is a human being and, in that context, the whole Earth is his Rodina. Piotr doesn’t know what’s right. Vazhin doesn’t deal with what’s right; that’s God’s prerogative (and, of course, the chairman’s). He admits he hasn’t the competence. He confines himself to what is necessary. Vazhin motions towards the collective, and says that the world is evolving, and quickly. He admires Piotr’s love for his country, but asks if his home truly the collection of buildings in the distance? Home is where the heart is, he continues. It is the memories, the feeling we have for our country, as it is, and as we dream of it becoming, carried forever in our soul.
He climbs back into his car, leaving Piotr standing, shirtless, by the side of the road. He is sorry, but he will see that his letters reach his family; but he himself cannot. Officially, he tells Piotr that he must remain as his friends denounced him. Piotr says that his parents will think him a traitor. Most likely, Vazhin admits. By all means, he can tell them the truth and, perhaps, someday they will even come to believe him, but so long as he remains Colossus, Piotr Nikolievitch Rasputin can never return to this place. “Bid farewell to the farmboy, sonny,” is Vazhin’s as his parting sentiment. “You’re a hero now, the hardest life of all. You’d best get used to it. Go back to the X-Men, Colossus, that’s where you’re needed, where you can best serve your true Rodina. Lad, that’s where you belong.”