A Trip to Cloud Nueve

From the Story Arc: A Snake In The Grass

Previous Story in the Arc: Un rezo a mi madre, part 1 by Mosca (Monday, August 16, 2004)

Next Story in the Arc: Un rezo a mi madre, part 2 by Mosca (Monday, August 16, 2004)

(posted Monday, August 16, 2004)

In the shadow of the Tram, Natalya Shostakovich, known to the world as Red Saviour, drew many stares. Not simply because she was a statuesque beauty in a skintight suit and miniskirt, nor because of the azure glow around her hands. Nor even her media celebrity hood.


People stared at Red Saviour because she was both weeping and cursing in a loud voice.


“Those idiots! Pompous bastards! SVINYAS!”


“Natalya, por favor.” Mosca, Spanish Fly, held out his hands imploringly, nearly touching her. “Your anger, it is understandable. They do not give you respect as they should. But you are a leader, you must rise above such things.”


“Bah! What do you know, jungle fighter? Is no machete sharp enough to cut through red tapings of Russian bureaucracy to cut throats of petty apparatchik!” She pushed him away. “No one has solutions, but they are knowing who to point fingers at.” Wiping tears from her eyes, she collapsed on a bench.


Mosca sat and put his arm around her, she did not resist. “It is a maze, si? If not the paperworks, it is the minds of your followers.”


“Da, da…” she sniffled.


“Many times I see good Communist fighters arguing with leaders. It is very hard to be in a collective and behave so, my sweet. You must be patient with them.” Mosca looked up and noticed a crowd gathering. “Ay! These perros think we are giving them a show. Let us find some privacy.”


He took her hands and brought her to her feet. “I know of a cantina in Galaxy City with very charming tapas.”


Natalya shook her head. “Nyet, my horosho kollega. I am wanting to be alone.”


“Ah, I see. Then I will leave you.” But Natalya did not release his hands.


“Alone with you, Santiago. Please do not go.”


He grinned so broadly and openly that Natalya couldn’t prevent a smile from pushing through the tears. “Oh, Commissar, I am honored to fulfill such an order. My hands and heart are yours to command.”


She giggled. “This is good news, comrade. I will count on your loyalty in days to come.” She wiped her nose and then slid close to him. “We will skip the train, da?”


“If you wish, but how—“ Mosca’s words were cut off as Red Saviour grabbed him firmly under the arms and shot into the air. Within seconds they were soaring high over rooftops.


“Caramba! Never did I imagine flying would be like this!”


“You will find out about falling if you keep with squirming,” she laughed. She gripped him tighter. He placed his hands over hers. Beneath them the tiny citizens of Paragon City moved through their own dramas and comedies in the fading light. The less she could see them, the lesser her burden of responsibility felt on her shoulders.


“Are you wanting to fly in cloud?” she murmured in his ear.


“Si, if it is Cloud Nueve!” He was forced to shout over the roar of the wind.


“Is no numbers for clouds.”


“Never mind, querida,” he shouted. They ascended into the sky, angled towards a cloudbank. The air chilled as they climbed. Mosca suppressed a shiver, but Natalya noticed and held him closer. The mystical force that propelled them tickled his feet.


Mosca’s proximity continued to draw her attention away from the nearing clouds and the setting sun. The surge of excitement his presence seemed to create in her was a stark contrast to the day of tension that was drawing to a close.


***
Her patrol had started without incident. A few Skulls apprehended, a Hellion drug dealer on the street corner left smoking, a signal fire for the police cruisers. Then a call sounded on her comm unit: Bestla, requesting the presence of all available CCCP and Red Brigade comrades. This, Natalya knew as she flew to the train station, was not good news.


Bestla appeared to them dressed in a gaudy, loose-fitting outfit with a wrap around her face. It was her Pack uniform. She announced that Red Saviour’s protective wall of red tape shamed her before her rightful master, Worker’s Champion. If she could not convince him to free her, she would adhere to the code of Bushido – where did that come from? – and commit ritual suicide.


Natalya had reeled from Bestla’s condemnation, and no argument could convince the girl otherwise. How dare she, Natalya had fumed. Did she think that I took pleasure in hours – days – of poring over policy manuals looking for loopholes? That I enjoyed the angry letters arriving on my doorstep nightly? After such a bureaucratic quagmire, it was almost a pleasure being kicked in the head by a Tsoo sorcerer. It surely felt more honest to a born and bred warrior like Red Saviour. In her heart she felt sullied by the wielding of policy as a weapon, but it was a sacrifice only she could make. And yet, Bestla, then Mojiotok, of all people, berated her for it.


They both wanted to confront Worker’s Champion in person, make him answer to them. It was Red Saviour’s fondest wish as well… but she knew the man who could stare down an entire armored column would not balk at two, three, or three hundred fledgling heroes. They marched to their deaths, and she could not stop them. Moreover, the only solution she had was thrown back in her face as worse than useless.


So she agreed to their plan. The rest of the group was outraged. Kostyak accused her of betraying Bestla…it was the last straw. She stormed off into the sky, eyes stinging with tears, chest bursting with remorse so profound it was a physical presence. She would have traded anything to wipe the last years clean and start again. Somehow she found herself dialing Mosca’s comm ID. To patrol, she told herself, to lose myself in work and battle.


But the battles did not last long. An unwise choice in foes left them on the ground, and then dematerialized by Paragon’s hospital teleporter – jury-rigged from captured Rikti technology. She could barely leave the hospital room, her grief was so great. Sobbing on a gurney, head still sore from being slammed into the concrete and blurry from the vodka in Mosca’s flask, she blurted out to Mosca all the pain she was feeling. The confession made her feel foolish, as if she were fourteen again, but Mosca sat silently and listened. Listened to her, as no one had done in months, without judgment. Then he suggested they go swimming.


Swimming?


He was right: she needed a true break to collect her thoughts. They rode the tram to Talos Island and walked down to the beach across from a small sandy island in the bay. Talos Island had never seemed so friendly to her before; in fact, she had never visited it except on patrol. They swam all the way to the island, racing to see who could swim faster. She won, and was rewarded with the sight of Mosca’s wet shirt clinging to his muscular form, and a stirring within her.


A stand of rocks provided a backrest where they sat to talk more of her concerns. But what painful regrets the swim had pushed away came back in a crashing wave, and she made him turn away and sing a Communist anthem to her. As he sang in a strong tenor voice, she held her head in her hands and wept freely. Mosca had to invent verses until she finished.


Natalya requisitioned a backup flask of vodka from Mosca – Santiago, he insisted – and set to work on it. The crying jag and the liquor wrapped her head in a pillow of uncaring. The glares of her comrades receded into the distance. She leaned against Santiago as he read the Communist Manifesto to her in Spanish. She asked to hear the Preface to the 1862 Russian edition, her favorite. In Spanish it sounded melodious, sweet with the bright-eyed hope of the Spanish people. Natalya wished she were from this happy land, with a Communism grown by sunlight, with dancing included. She dozed in his arms for a time, empty flask restored to his utility belt.


When he woke her she realized how much vodka she’d really consumed. The rocks of the island danced in her vision. Santiago offered to teach her a wresting move, the scissor jump, and insisted she practice on him. Despite her drunkenness, she got it right on first leap, and even managed not to snap his neck between her thighs. It made her miss fighting with her fists, and he solicitously offered to let her practice that move on him anytime.


He’s a good friend, she thought as she climbed off him. Like a boyfriend in high school. The secret thought thrilled her.


They swam back to the mainland, but she could not contain her exuberance, or this new strange feeling of freedom. She leapt into the air, soaring over him as his powerful butterfly stroke propelled him to shore. Laughing, she circled him and swooped like a hawk. Panting heavily on the shore (it was a mile-long swim, after all), she rested her arms on his shoulders. Her new friend, this handsome man, from whose mouth came nothing but honey and flowers, joyful words, a refuge from the venom that awaited her with the CCCP.


He grinned at her, and she could not resist. She pushed forward and kissed him, hard and fast.


Gasping and laughing, she let him go. “Now, Mosca, let us hunt!” With a shout he followed her, and Hellions and Tsoo quaked in their path.


Then the call came from Red Menace.


Viktor never sounded so angry, as if his heart had been torn from him. His fury was so great that it hollowed out her stomach to think of it. She couldn’t remember what they had said to each other, only the volume of the words as she shouted herself hoarse at him. He didn’t understand why she could let them go. He didn’t understand the great efforts she made to shield the feral girl from her cruel master. Betrayal is what his shadowed eyes screamed at her, and guilt.


It reached a crescendo that she couldn’t stand. She had to make it stop; the world was ending around her in a blitzkrieg of accusations. She ripped the comm unit from her belt and threw it at his chest.


“I quit!” she shouted into the abyss.


 


***


As if throwing a salute to their perfect ideology, the sunset painted the sky and clouds a bold red. Natalya exclaimed in delight.


Mosca turned his head into her cheek. “It is the most beautiful sunset I have ever beheld, querida. And in the finest of company.”


“Spasibo, Santiago. Now, which is Cloud Devyatka?”


He pointed at a billowy one nearby. “It is that one. Can you reach it?”


“Oh, da! Just to be watching!” Acceleration jolted them both as she raced to the cloud. Within moments they were covered in moisture. Vapor obscured their feet. Then they burst free into the red light. Before them was the field of clouds, a polar snowfield hidden from the world.


“Ah, magnifico!” breathed Mosca. Natalya gave him a squeeze. “Mi corazon, do you…ah…come here often?”


“Nyet. I never have time.” Their frosted breaths mingled. “Is bolshoi prevoshodnyj…very beautiful.”


They floated in silence, watching the movement of the sun and the play of the light on the mountainous clouds.


“Gracias for showing me this.” Even though the wind was quiet, he turned his cheek against hers again. She nuzzled him back, feeling smile twitch the corners of her mouth.


“Do you grow tired of carrying me?”


“Da, I must be careful. We should descend and find home.”


He surveyed the darkening plain of clouds. “And which way is home?”


“Ah…” She hesitated. “I do not know! We will have to get under clouds.”


“But we will come back for next sunset, si?” He squeezed her hands.


“Si.” Every sunset from now on, she thought.


 


As they flew over the rooftops, Santiago pressed his cheek against hers.


“Corazon, what will you do now?”


“Now? Niez nayu, I don’t know. Get job, I am supposing.”


“Oh, non, Natalya, you are violating rules.”
Her brow furrowed. “What rules?”


Santiago chuckled, a sound she quite liked. “Rules of Unemployment. You cannot simply seek work the next day. You must go through the Five Day Plan.”


“Is like Five Year Plan?”


“Da, but not in yellow and red tights.” They both laughed. Birds passed underneath. “Five Day plan is being as follows.” He let go of one hand and raised a finger.


“Day One: Do not leave your bed.”


Natalya giggled. “Is very appealing.”


“Oh, it is merely the start.” Another finger up. “Day Two: Eat nothing but the finest foods from the finest restaurants.”


“I know of none, tovarisch.”


He waggled his fingers. “I will write you a list.” Three fingers. “Day Three: Manicure, pedicure, haircut, waxing…you will pamper yourself. Not that you need anything to be beautiful, Commissar.”


“Flatterer. What is Day Four?” Beneath them appeared the King’s Row tram station. They were near her apartment, in a shabby tenement that somehow suggested a Moscow tenement block in the middle of America.


“It is a day of hedonism, featuring the grandest of entertainments. Theater, movies, liquors, and, of course, Latin dancing.” She laughed. “Do not mock me, corazon, until I have dipped you in a passionate Tango.”


“Da, da, is horosho. And Day Five?”


He caressed her cheek with his spread fingers. “I do not know what happens on Day Five.”