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VANCOUVER, CANADA
9th June 2009


If it wasn't for the return of the Visitors, Xenia's arrival in Vancouver would have been in 2010 for the Winter Olympics vying for her second gold medal. As it was the games had been suspended indefinitely and it was unlikely that they would resume while the Visitor were holding half the planet hostage. Xenia wondered what other athletes were doing with their lives now their sport had been placed in limbo. She walked around the Richmond Olympic Oval, overcome by a wave of sadness that her career should have ended this way. All those years of competition, filled with sacrifice and training was now worth nothing.

London had been obliterated so anything of value she possessed had been vaporized with the city along of with its several million citizens. The banking system was somewhat intact so she at least had her money but in the tatters of the financial world, the fortune she had cultivated from endorsements, personal appearances and competition money had been whittled into less than half of what it was. She consoled herself with the fact that she had enough to get to Daniel in San Francisco but it was anyone's guess what she would do once she arrived in that city, what with a baby on the way.

Jace and Jerry had kept their promise to give her a lift from Quebec to Vancouver in the Hercules C130 they were piloting to take supplies across the country. Fortunately, the journey was nowhere as nerve racking as her arrival in Canada and Xenia spend five days in Quebec, delivering the attaché case she had ferried from Europe to World Liberation Headquarters now situated in Château Frontenac. The Château was now the main intelligence centre for the organization on this side of the Atlantic and Xenia was invited to join them. Apparently going down in a B25 had impressed them enough to offer a position as a courier on an ongoing basis. She might have considered it if it did not distract from her reaching Daniel and that she had a baby on the way.

When she expressed her intention to go to San Francisco, their first inclination had been to talk her out of it. However, upon seeing that she would not be deterred, gave her the names of contacts and safe houses in Occupied Territory along the route if she needed it. Not to proud to accept help and certainly smart enough to know that this undertaking she was planning might be well over her head, Xenia accepted their assistance, keeping the information tucked away safely before leaving Quebec less than a week later.

Arriving in Vancouver, Xenia took a few days to catch her breath, mindful of the baby she was carrying. Sometimes, she questioned what she was doing, making this arduous journey to find a brother who had willing chosen to enter Occupied Territory to fight the Visitors. She wondered if Daniel had done this because he thought he was alone, that he no longer had any family left in the world and had nothing to lose by risking his life. Xenia needed to show Daniel that he wasn't the only one of their family left that she was here and soon, her child would be as well. If she couldn't convince him to come back to the Safe Zone with her then she would fight at his side because she could not sit back and let the world fight its most important battle without being apart of it.

The future of her son depended on the world she was prepared to fight for.

*****

Xenia walked through the marble floors of the Vancouver Art Gallery, feeling as if she had woken up from a nightmare where aliens had taken over the world and she had lost near everyone that meant anything to her in the world. Spending some money on a wardrobe when she arrived in the city, she had browsed through Vancouver's South Granville shopping district, finding it almost surreal that trendy shops still kept their doors opened even if prices had been slashed to accommodate the new fiscal climate. She bought herself some brand named clothes, mostly sweaters and leggings, a good pair of boots and allowed herself the indulgence of fashionable black coat, which tied around her waist.

She stared at the Emily Carr paintings, soaking in their beauty, enjoying the modernist landscapes that depicted the painter's world in vibrant, verdant colors. Xenia absorbed the beauty of human culture while she could, knowing in a matter of days she would be on the road again, travelling through a war torn landscape, avoiding Visitors and other dangers she had yet to conceive. Studying the Carr piece called 'Cedar', she enjoyed the cool colors, moving further along the wall as she became more and more engaged in the artist's work.

"Miss Ivanov?" A voice suddenly broke into her appreciation of the pieces, the voice making her jump with surprise.

Xenia turned around and found herself staring at a man in his forties, with graying hair, wearing a heavy tweed coat and looked like he was prepared for the cold weather long before it arrived.

"Yes," she turned to him, trying to place where she knew him from. Certainly, it was conceivable that some knew who she was as she had already encountered a number of people who had recognized her as an Olympic ice skater of note. "Do I know you?"

"My name is Philip Carson," he smiled introducing himself. "I don't mean to bother you but when I realized who I was looking at, I just had to come say hello."

"I am glad you did Mr. Carson," Xenia replied, marveling at how quickly old habits returned to her. Fans were something she had learned to handle with an almost practiced air. "I am pleased to meet you." She said graciously.

"When I saw you, I could not believe it, Xenia Ivanov, the Swan." The man gushed.

Xenia flinched involuntarily, still finding it painful being called that because it almost always made her think of Lukas. However, she had been struggling to cope with it because the Swan had been part of her life and she could no more excise it than she could, her own identity. It was something she was going to have to learn to live with.

"I thought you had been killed with the other athletes in Zurich," he continued, his expression darkening, growing heavy at the losses that almost every person on the planet now shared.

"I was fortunate," she answered, an internal debate always surfacing at just how lucky she had been, "to have been in Italy at the time. I was not at the Olympic Village on March 1st."

"Very fortunate indeed," Philip sighed. "It is bad enough that the world is under siege but to lose so many of our best in one day," he shook his head. "It has been very hard."

"I know," she agreed. "Many of the athletes who died were my friends." Not to mention Lukas and Tolya, she thought silently.

"I wonder if I could beg your indulgence?" The man asked, lifting his eyes to hers almost reluctantly, "I know that its a terrible imposition but I teach at a local school and I hold skating classes three times a week. With the usual forms of entertainment no longer available, we've tried to occupy our children the best way we can. Many of them have lost their families and I've tried to keep their minds off their troubles the best way I can. We have practice tomorrow afternoon and it would mean the world to them if you come down and say a few words..."

Xenia should have seen that coming but once the offer was made, she saw no way to refuse without hurting his feelings and his intentions were noble. She thought of the child in her belly, what she hoped for her son. She wanted him to have the life that Lukas did not. The best one she could make in the world they know lived in. She would make that happen for him, by any means at her disposal. For her baby, she would die a thousand times over.

So perhaps for these other children, she could endure something less painful.

Like being the Swan for a few hours.

*****

Xenia arrived at the Kerrisdale Figure Skating Centre early that morning, feeling butterflies in her stomach. She had no idea why she should be so anxious when this was the one aspect of her life that she always had total confidence in. Since Lukas' death however and the part the sport had played in his love for her, stepping on the ice was a constant reminder of his death. Stepping inside the Kerrisdale Ice Skating Rink, she took in the sight of the place and was struck by how familiar it all seem, even though it had been almost two months since she'd been in one.

As she approached, she was immediately swamped by eager skaters young and old who followed the sport and knew who she was, who were undoubtedly given a heads up by Mr. Carson of her appearance today. Xenia endured it, answering the obligatory fan questions and signing autographs. Once upon a time, she relished this fan adulation, it gave her confidence to know that she was doing well, that their love was a gauge to indicate how well she performed on the ice. Their delight was confirmation of her excellence in the sport. The more they loved her, the better she knew she was and tried harder.

All that had changed after Tuscany.

There were greater things of importance in her life. Her child. Her loss. The determination to survive in a world controlled by Visitors. Figure skating had been the love of the Swan. She told herself that it was not the love of Xenia Ivanov.

In a world controlled by Visitors which she herself had barely escaped alive, Xenia found the glory of Olympic competition to be some fanciful bit of nonsense that had little value now. Ice skaters weren't what the world needed to survive. The world needed people who knew how to fight, how to be strong and these characteristics she did not think she had, though she was working hard to cultivate them as much as she could.

For the moment however, Xenia played the part they needed, even though she could see in their eyes what they had really come here to see today. As much as she dreaded it, she knew she would have to do it in order to give them the strength to go on. If all things of beauty in their world were completely obliterated, what else was there left to fight for? Furthermore, Mr. Carson's class had been so thrilled to see her, plying Xenia with questions about her past, her training and even her experiences at the Olympics and other tournaments.

She spent the afternoon giving them pointers, helping a few to find their techniques, showing them a few of her own, to help them. For a short time, she forgot the injuries of the recent months. Perhaps she could teach children like this, help them find their own talent, if this war ever ended. In the end however, what ability she had to forget her sorrows returned when Tchaikovsky began playing and the skaters cleared the ice for her.

Xenia skated to the middle of the ice and drew in her breath, letting out and seeing the heat of it clashing against the cold, creating a brief fog. When the music began, her body moved almost by reflex, skating to the tune of the Dying Swan. Her hands mimicked Pavlova's delicate movements as her legs performed the skating equivalent of ballet movements. She glided across the ice, the routine so natural to her now that she barely had to concentrate to perform the appropriate turns, spins and spirals.

She picked up speed, going so fast, it felt like she was the north wind. A scourge across the icy plain instead of a wintry breeze. Tears stained her face, frozen into her skin like was lashes against the flesh. They came harder once it began to seep into her being how hard this would be. Pain she thought she would feel but the brittle agony was such that Xenia didn't even realize it when she had picked up speed, going so fast she could not even breathe, she realized she had positioned herself to make a triple axle spin.

She performed the spin superbly and her as her audience applauded, Xenia found none of the joy in her dance. The tears she wept were unseen but were there nonetheless. Grief in every turn, in every spin, it resonated through her being as her eyes searched futilely for the one face who would again watch her skate. What used to fill her soul with joy now felt like a burden, a weight she was force to carry because it all came back to Lukas loving her because of what he saw on the ice.

What was she if he was not here to see it?

*****

A day later, Xenia was on the road. She bought herself an old VW combie and loaded it with as much supplies as she could manage. Thanks to Jace and Jerry's contacts with the WLF, she was able to buy some weapons, though she was advised that she'd have a better selection once she crossed into the United States. The land of the free had more access to weapons than any other nation alive. The Occupation had not changed this.

She knew she was running. Running away from the ice, wanting to leave that part of her as far behind as she could because the pain of it was simply too much. She thought she would be able to skate, even once but the memory of Lukas was too strong. The need to see him in the audience was too much and she knew with a sense of finality that until she stopped wanting that, she would never be able to step on the ice again.

Driving on the Vancouver-Blaine Highway, or Highway 99, Xenia left Vancouver under the cover of darkness, having been given the advice that it was best to travel through occupied territory at night to avoid detection by Skyfighters. She would drive until she reached Seattle. Once out of Washington State, she would plan her next move.

The old life was behind her, the new one with Daniel and her son waited.


To be continued....

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