Demotion

From the Story Arc: Red Saviour: The Revolution Within

Next Story in the Arc: Red Saviour's Christmas To-Do List by Red Saviour (Saturday, December 25, 2004)

(posted Thursday, December 02, 2004)

Natalya Shostakovich, Commissar of CCCP, faced a difficult choice, one she would have to live with for possibly the rest of her life. In her hands were the two options, and she weighed them with all the careful, woeful consideration of a character in a grim Russian novel.

Pink or yellow? She wondered.

The highlighters each had their own appeal. Pink was as close to red as she could get without losing legibility; yellow was a brighter version of the proud gold of the Russian flag.

On the shelf, the decadent lime green highlighter went unnoticed.

Cursing herself (vicious, Russian cop curses) for her indecision, she dropped both pens in the plastic basket. She’d let Fei Li choose one and she’d use the other, trying not to care about such petty matters.

Govno, she swore. This is what my life is reduced to. Pens, notepads, typing paper. Trying to remember part number of stupid inkjet cartridge. Is nyet fit for Commissar.

The shopping trip had darkened her already dim mood. Trapped behind a desk, she fidgeted like a caged tiger. A trip to Office Depot – depot sounded so military at first – was all she had to look forward to.

She stalked the aisles for the remaining supplies on her shopping list, compiled from the other Commissars’ lists very stealthily left on her desk. After one bad incident when Mojiotok handed her a list in person, they had quickly learned the location of her “in” box. He had accepted her apology gracefully, as forgiving as a brother. She was relieved that his skin was invulnerable to harm.

As she reread the signs above the aisles, looking for anything that indicated manilla envelopes, a longing for even the brutal torture and brainwashing at the hands of the 5th Column surfaced. At least torture is not boring, she thought. Painful, humiliating, terrifying, but I was never so bored as I am now. And I did get to kill a lot of Nazis in revenge, with very powerful new magic blastings. Not so bad, after all.

The clerk rang up her purchases with disinterested haste. These workers, she thought, they are nyet passionate about duties. Is must be because they lack control of means of production. Poor things.

He bagged her goods and handed them to her, staring at her chest. “Have a nice day,” he said.

“Spasibo, comrade worker,” she said, taking the bag. Dostoyevsky missed his calling, she thought, leaving the store. Is much more existential dilemmas in American service industry.
The Office Depot stood as the anchor for a strip mall, which was inexplicably busy for a Tuesday afternoon. She began the long walk home, not even deigning to fly. What was the point to hurry? The desk would still be there an hour from now. At least she would see some heroes sailing past on very important missions. Even stupid, running dog heroes were a welcome sight to her. On her left, she passed the other stores in the mall: Everything’s A Dollar, full of cheap goods made by exploited third-world labor; Bed, Bath and Beyond, full of expensive goods made by exploited third-world labor; Borders Books, full of books made by…well, she wasn’t sure. But someone was surely exploited at some point in the process.

A store caught her eye: Icon Outlet. There, in the window, was a Red Saviour costume.

Grind the knife in further, she groaned inwardly. They even had the star too small.

Moscow must be laughing and toasting each other. For years, her fiery personality and tremendous charisma had made her beloved of the Soviet people, and resented by the gray-faced bureaucrats who ran the government. She was a useful tool to them, as long as she minded her place. Perhaps if she had married some high ranked official, she would have been tolerated as a superhero trophy wife; why, she could have been a First Lady, even, had she chosen the right up-and-comer.

That life appalled her. Her duty to her motherland was clear: fight for workers’ paradise. Fight the crooks, the thugs, the oppressors. Realize the dream of Marx and Engels with an iron will and two fists. It was unfortunate that this purity of purpose made the backroom dealers jealous and hateful. And, ultimately, vengeful.

So over the years, they chipped away at her political clout until all that was left was CCCP America. A chance to start again, they told her without irony. A chance to work in a new environment, the frontier land of America. Go, spread the revolution. And as she did, they eroded the rest of her support.

Then it was only a matter of time. Worker’s Champion, intent on his own agenda, had been a strange ally. So domineering was he that the bureaucrats backed off for a time, to give him first taste of blood. Yet with all the bitter infighting they engaged in, Worker’s Champion had protected her right to lead CCCP. No doubt in his great ego he wished to face another hero, not some petty apparatchik.

Their final masterstroke was brilliant and evil, she had to admit. Bring her to Moscow for endless meetings, and dictate to her new, unenforceable policies under the premise of “tightening ship.” The uniforms seemed minor at the time, a cosmetic alteration, almost lost in a sea of bureaucratic jargon. They even allowed her to design it. How they must have laughed, throwing me that bone, she recalled with gritted teeth. And like svinya idiot I jumped at chance to do something, anything constructive.

Reality snapped her back into place when she returned. America was a land of individuality, and the American heroes, and even some of the Russian ones, resisted the new official uniform. Kostyak in particular objected to it, citing his need for keeping a low profile to maintain underworld contacts. She was furious, mostly because he was right about the effect the military style costume would have on his effectiveness. Why must I enforce this silly policy, she thought at the time. It’s like trying to dress teenagers. What possible purpose does this serve, but to put window dressing on us?

Kostyak’s refusal sparked dissent amongst other team members. Carpathia, who was clearly infatuated with him, eagerly jumped in on his side, blaming Red Saviour for the draconian rules. Red Saviour lost her temper, as usual, again trapped between a rock and a hard place. If they had just given in, for a month or two, they could have quietly slipped back into their old uniforms without anyone batting an eye. But no, Americans liked to argue about the principle of the thing, and it was exactly what Moscow had counted on.

Within two days, the order came through to remove Red Saviour from active duty, and put her behind a desk. Any street activity would be met with severe excoriation. The gulag.

Natalya had been stunned by the speed and finality of the order. She had quit jobs before, but never been fired. And CCCP was not just a job: it was her life. How could they take this away? The terse Russian of the order carried a distinct undercurrent of smug satisfaction. Years of dealing with Soviet bureaucracy gave her a sense of these things, and everything clicked into place.

They had set her up for a fall.

The furniture suffered terribly from her wrath. Even without her powers, she was strong enough to trash a room faster than a rock band. Her rage was so intense she thought her eyes would explode from the pressure. It lasted for hours. Mosca, the Spanish hero who was her lover, waited until she had exhausted herself and then calmed her down with a gentle voice. She gave in, weeping in his arms.

And now, two weeks into her newfound occupation as glorified, titled secretary, Icon Outlet had a closeout sale on Red Saviour costumes.

So stultifying was the life of an office worker that she didn’t even smash the window in a fury. The best she could muster was morbid curiosity. She entered the store.

A clerk dressed in a red cape greeted her. “Welcome to Icon Outlet, where everyone’s a hero.” She rattled off the greeting with practiced speed. “Can I help you?”

“Da…I am interested in Red Saviour costume. Is nyet selling well?”

“Not lately. Are you going to a party? You totally have the look and accent down. Awesome!” The girl looked Natalya over. “What size are you?”

“Am only knowing Russian sizes. You tell me.”

“Hmmmm….” The girl browsed through the sale rack, prominent at the front of the store. Natalya was gratified to see Statesman’s uniform was marked even further down than hers.

“The large, I’m thinking, since you’re so tall.” The costume was made of a flimsy spandex. One bullet and it would shred. “Want to try it on?”

“Nyet,” Natalya said. “I am already having one. I browse some, da?”

“Okay,” the girl said, confused. She replaced the costume and wandered off to the Tanker section.

Red Saviour flipped through the rack of costumes. The sale items were by and large decadent recreations of running dog entertainment heroes, owned by exploitative major corporations. Other, real heroes were represented, such as the Freedom Phalanx. Must be glut of new faces. Old standards lose glamour, she thought.

One costume stuck out to her. It would stick out anywhere, actually: violet and fuchsia, with a white wig. It was also the only other costume in her size, besides the classic mini-skirted Red Saviour outfit that she had made famous.

“What is being this?” she asked the clerk, who came back over.

“It’s just a generic one. Um…” The girl checked the tag. “It’s called ‘Magic Girl.’ Not a real hero, in case you’re wondering. Cool wig, though.”

Natalya put the wig on. It barely fit.

“Um, I’m sorry, we can’t let customers try the wigs on…it’s for sanitary reasons.” The girl looked embarrassed, and a little intimidated.

Natalya gave her a reassuring smile. “Is okay, little one. I take this costume off your hands.”

“Oh, great then! I’ll ring you up. Anything else? Glitter for your face? Glow sticks? We have swords, too.”

“Nyet. What are being powers of Magic Girl?”

The girl scanned the bar code of the multi-salesstickered tag. The register rang up $9.99. “Oh, I don’t know. Flying, I guess. And magic.”

“Horosho. Good enough. Spasibo, comrade worker…” she peeked at the girl’s tag. “Amy.”

“Sure. Have a nice day!” Comrade worker Amy gave her a curious look, as if she’d just come to realize something.

Red Saviour left the strip mall and started the long walk back to King’s Row, where the decrepit CCCP headquarters was located. Boredom filled her. By now, she would have been in twelve fights, smashing zombies, hi-tech hitmen, robots…her muscles would be taut with power, her body flooded with adrenaline. Every blow struck would be a hammer of righteousness. Then she’d exchange jokes with her comrades, issue a few orders, go home to Mosca and drag him into bed to work out her tensions.

It was a life many dreamed of, and Moscow had taken it away from her.

She stared at the sky. It was too bright to see them, but Moscow surely monitored Paragon City with spy satellites. When Mojiotok went rogue, suffering from his metamorphosis, she placed a call to her contacts at the Kremlin to help locate him. The satellite pictures they delivered provided enough detail to identify faces. It would take but a single memo to have them run facial and clothing identification programs on the images to spot her violating Moscow’s orders. One picture would be enough to convict her of insubordination.

“Help me!”

The faint cry came from an alleyway. She peered down it, unsure of what to do. Six Hellions had dragged a young woman back there. Their leers told Natalya everything she needed to know.

“Ain’t no heroes around, lady. Why don’t you play nice?”

Natalya took two steps into the alleyway, and stopped. The detailed satellite photos came to her mind: close-ups of homeless people, sleeping in alleyways, all potential Mojiotoks in hiding. This alley was no different, and offered no more concealment.

Her plastic shopping bag from Icon Outlet rattled at her.

With a glance behind her, she ducked into the alley and hid behind a dumpster. The Hellions were in plain view now, shoving the girl back and forth. Natalya dumped the bags, extracted the Magic Girl costume, and began to strip off her jeans and blouse.

The gang members stopped harassing the girl and stared. One started chuckling.

“When it rains, it pours,” he said. “Hey baby. You like to play too?”

“Da, am liking to play,” Natalya said. “Let me get into play outfit.” She tugged the Magic Girl suit on over her underwear. The thin violet fabric stretched tight over her muscular limbs. Fortunately for her, the pink cape was already attached to the costume.

“Whoa, kinky,” a short Hellion observed. “She’s dressing like a superhero.”
Natalya adjusted the silver haired wig over her own hair. It would require pinning, she decided. “I am superhero, and I am now ready, svinyas.” She strode towards them, an evil grin alighting her face.

“Who are you?” the girl said. Even she was confused.

“I am…Magic Girl. Watch.” The Hellions sensed something was wrong. Knives were drawn. Natalya grabbed the first Hellion, turned his wrist inwards until it popped, and pushed his knife into his thigh. He fell over, screaming. “See? Magic.”

“Get her!” The leader, a man in a demonic mask, raised his hands. Fire flared out, exploding where Red Saviour had been a moment before. She had leapt into the air, enhancing her flip with a little levitation. She spun her hips and lashed out with her feet, hitting two Hellions square in the jaw. Exultant in the physical thrill of it, she had not bothered to hold back her strength. Jawbones shattered.

“Magic Girl,” she asserted. “Remember name!”

Landing near a trash can, she grabbed the lid just in time to use it as a shield from the Damned leader’s fiery blast. As he summoned up more energy, she whipped the metal lid as a discus, catching him in the throat. He staggered back.

“Two can play game such as so,” she said. She gestured with her hand, and magical force blasted out at the Damned. It threw him twenty feet across the pavement. It also shredded the glove of the Magic Girl costume.

“Govno,” Red Saviour said under her breath. She approached the girl who cowered against the wall. “You are being okay?”

“There’s two left,” the girl said. “What are you doing?”

“Waiting for attack,” Natalya said. “Is boring, they are very slow.” A rush of air behind her tipped her off. She stepped aside and seized the man’s arm, knife in his fist. With a brutal crack his bones broke. She pivoted on her heel and slammed him into his compatriot. They crumbled to the ground.

Natalya comforted the crying girl. She counseled her to take a self-defense class and buy some mace. “Do nyet be afraid to use it. You can always apologize later.” Using her comm., she patched into the cell phone network and called a cab.

“Thanks, Magic Girl.” The girl sniffled a bit. “I promise I’ll take your advice.”

“Horosho…er, I mean, that is good.”

“Can I give you a little advice?” The girl tried to hide her smile. “Um, you might want to take the tag off your costume.”

“Govno,” Magic Girl swore.