I've Been Blue

From the Story Arc: The Death of CCCP

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Next Story in the Arc: Don't Think Twice, It's All Right by Red Saviour (Sunday, April 03, 2005)

(posted Sunday, March 27, 2005)

The worst thing about possessing the capacity to heal others was the grim choices it required. A battlefield called for split second decisions. Belladonna Aura was always reminded of the triage scenes in M*A*S*H as she did her duty. These were civilians, though, not superheroes or soldiers. A young couple, the girl sporting a gaudy engagement ring, had fallen together; his jaw was broken, she had been kicked in the ribcage. Most had bruises, abrasions, a few concussions. The two perpetrators had no lethal weapons, and for that Belladonna Aura thanked her lucky stars.

She moved between the eight injured tourists, applying a bare minimum of radioactive reknitting to their bodies. As she did so, she pieced the story together from their semi-conscious murmurs. A man and a woman, Spanish and Russian, had targeted a red-haired woman for murder. When she called for help, everyone came running. Subduing the murderous pair had proven harder than they expected, and the brawl blossomed into a riot.

Growing up in Las Vegas, Bella had heard stranger tales.

Out in the hallway, the sounds of fighting faded and ended with the hiss of elevator doors closing. The inarticulate howls of fury that followed froze her blood. Somehow, these two had whipped up the residents of this hotel into a frenzy on par with a lynch mob. She’d never seen anything like it.

She stepped into the hallway and saw a red-haired woman in a nightgown accepting a light from a tall, gaunt man. Bella guessed this was the intended target of the assassins, yet the woman had a nonchalant air about her as she puffed her cigarette. She directed the tall man to the elevators with an imperious gesture. Clearly, she was used to giving orders, and having them obeyed at once, with no regard for politeness. The tall man jogged past Bella without a glance, unholstering a pistol.

“Hey,” Bella said to his retreating back. “What’s going on?”

“Police business,” the man said with a thick Russian accent. “Situation is under control.”

“I’m Belladonna Aura,” she said, following him. “Can I see your badge?”

He waited by the elevator doors. A quick flip of his jacket revealed an LVPD badge. “Lieutenant Romanov, special assignment from Moscow.”

“Huh. Are you hurt?” She noticed blood crusted around his nose, and bruises on his face, as if he’d been in a car accident.

“Nyet. You are not needed here, Miss Aura. Situation is under control.”

“So you say.” A ding, and the elevator doors opened. “I’ll tag along just the same. I can heal people.”

“You are not needed here,” he said again, ducking into the elevator. She hopped in behind him, causing his mouth to droop in a practiced frown.

“Going down?” She hit the lobby button. “I’m guessing they are trying to escape, right? Looks like the assassination attempt failed.”

Romanov grunted and reloaded his pistol.

The elevator doors opened on a tableaux of chaos. The crowd that had rushed out the hotel room, Texan taking up the rear, now surrounded a tall couple, awash with blood. Groaning bodies already littered the floor. The mob was a cross section of Las Vegas’ population: maids and bellhops, pale tourists and weathered gambling crones. They rushed the two singly or in pairs, yelling wordless battlecries as they swung fists or clubs, or pool cues. The woman, wearing a tight costume and mini-skirt, crouched in a trained fighting pose; she shattered the pool cue with a stiff hand. A punch to her assailant’s throat dropped him. Her comrade twisted the arm of his attacker behind his back, and shoved him into the crowd.

A quick count told Bella the odds were forty screaming rioters to two exhausted assassins.

Romanov swore in Russian and aimed his pistol at the Spanish man. Bella shoved his arm aside; the shots went wild, slamming into the ceiling and releasing plaster dust.

“What are you doing?” Romanov’s faced contorted in anger. “I could have ended this.”

“Since when do the police shoot on sight?” Bella stared him down. “I’ll end it right now.”

Romanov’s eyes widened. Bella felt a rush of air at the nape of her neck. A strong arm wrapped around her neck, wrenching her around. The Russian woman had leapt over the crowd, used Bella as a support, and smashed Romanov in the face with a booted foot. The gangly cop crumpled like a rag doll.

The woman stood nearly a foot taller than Bella, with muscles like steel wires. She manipulated Bella as she would a child, kicking her legs out from under her and pitching her into the row of slot machines. The impact rattled Bella’s teeth and blurred her vision. She thought she saw small forms with forks rush past.

“Darlink! We have superhuman interference. Hold off others while I deal with her.”

“I am trying,” the man called back, as the crowd closed in on him.

The woman pivoted her hips, hand in a fist whose knuckles were ripped and bleeding. Bella saw her move in slow motion, the fist diving in at her with the grace of a predatory bird. It would hit her in the face. She had no doubt it would break bones.

Bella forced her shaky body to the side at the very last moment. The Russian woman’s fist broke plexiglass and metal, the façade of the slot machine. A plastic cup of quarters spilled onto Bella’s head.

Undaunted, the woman turned on a foot and rammed her knee into Bella’s abdomen, knocking her against the next slot machine. The air whooshed out of her lungs, and she fell flat on her face. She tasted blood. Another cup of quarters bounced on the plush carpet and spilled out, the shiny coins reflecting the tasteful lighting scheme of the hotel lobby.

“Izvinit, blue girl. You leave me no choice.” The Russian woman raised a foot to bring it down on Bella’s throat.

Beyond her, Bella saw the Spanish man covered with children. They stabbed at him with forks and laughed in high pitched voices. A fat old woman jabbed him with the legs of a slot machine stool. He struggled in vain to hold the children back, but made no effort to attack them.

“Run, Natya!” he shouted.

“Shto?” The tall woman paused, still perfectly balanced over Bella. Looking up, she saw pure anguish on her face. The Texan hooted as if he were overseeing a hanging.

Quarters left unguarded by slot machines. Homicidal cops. Kids with forks…it was all too surreal, too wrong. Bella wanted to simplify it all; she had to pick it apart and put the pieces back together. She needed time to understand why the laws of human behavior had utterly ceased functioning in the Five Fronds.

Fortunately, she had a way to buy time.

Summoning up the radiation inside her, she tailored the frequencies to disrupt the vestibular system in the inner ear. It was a trick she taught herself to subdue large crowds without harming them. She released the energies all at once, in a wide burst.

At once, every single person in the lobby gripped their heads and fell over gracelessly. Their sense of balance had just been removed. The Russian woman fell directly on top of her. The crushing weight hammering her small frame almost knocked her out, but she kept focused. As the woman writhed over her, Bella squirmed out from the tangle of limbs.

She surveyed the scene. Forty plus bodies laid on the floor, unable to stand. Some, like the Texan, tried to crawl towards the Spanish man. The children, on hands and knees, waved their forks at him. It was unbelievable: even without a sense of balance, their bloodlust didn’t abate.

Bella stepped over the prone tourists to reach the other assassin. The children’s forks had inflicted dozens of small stab wounds. He had the same bruise pattern as Romanov, as if he’d been hit by a bus. It was a miracle he was still conscious. She dragged him by the shoulder away from the crowd, over to the Russian woman. He slumped against his comrade and took her hand. He murmured to her in the low tones lovers use with each other. The simple act stabbed at Bella’s heart, and brought Josh to mind, unbidden.

The elevator door opened again, and the red-haired woman stepped into the lobby. She had a cigarette and a pistol.

“Hello, my friend,” she said. Forty people writhing on the floor didn’t appear to surprise her. “I appreciate your help with these two. I was quite frightened for my life, nyet?” Another Russian, Bella thought. This means something.

The woman tilted her head and smiled. “Oh, but you are injured. Come here, let me have look at you.” She waved Bella over with the cigarette.

“Don’t…her eyes…” the Russian assassin on the floor hissed.

“I’m fine,” Bella said, her second lie of the day. Her entire body ached from the beating she’d received. “Other folks are hurt more. What is going on here?”

“I am with Moscow PD. Detective Irina… Portislavia. These two traitors were dispatched by the Russian mob to stop my investigations, using any means necessary. Luckily,” she said, stepping over an old man whose glasses had broken, “Americans are very brave.” A smirk crossed her thin lips. “You are most interesting. Let me look at you.”

The woman on the ground hissed.

“Oh, shut up, woman! I have had quite enough of you.” In a moment, she stood over the Russian assassin. She put the barrel of the pistol against her head. “I could tell my superiors you died in escape attempt. They would know I am lying, but what can they do? You’d be dead.”

“Hey!” Bella started forward, but the red-haired woman put a hand out and gave her a look that could only be described as commanding. Bella froze, stock still. Her muscles stopped obeying her.

“Whatever you did to incapacitate Red Saviour is very much appreciated. I will wipe memory of her death from your mind, little blue girl. You will be of use to me in future.”

Tears rolled down the woman called Red Saviour’s cheeks. She still couldn’t move, thanks to Bella’s vestibular disruption. Bella realized at that moment why the name sounded familiar. Red Saviour was the leader of a Russian superhero team.

Hero. Not assassin.

Bella cursed herself for a fool. She’d been so eager to prove her worth as a healer, someone worth loving, that she’d failed to notice the clues. This Irina had some mesmeric power, but she hadn’t even needed it for Bella. Bella just flounced in like an idiot and handed the good guys over to be killed.

And now she was immobilized. She couldn’t hurl radiation at the woman to attack her balance, or even blast the gun out of her hands. Thanks to her incompetence, she was about to become an accessory to murder.

“Natalya, spasibo for very stirring lectures on Marx.” Irina chuckled. “Is good to know you have World Communist Order’s best intentions at heart even in final moments. Have no fear: despite your interference, we will prevail. Governments will fall in step with pure Communism or die. It is only matter of time.”

The woman was determined to humiliate her enemy before killing her, Bella realized. That gives me time to act…or rather, it gives him time to act.

Bella couldn’t project any more radiation. She was locked in place. But she could cut off the flow out from her, like releasing a held breath. She let her entire body and mind relax.

The Spanish man shot a hand out and grabbed Irina’s wrist. He slammed her hand into the carpet; the gun went off, sending carpet and wood chips exploding out from the floor. Released from Bella’s radiation power, Red Saviour swung a fist out that connected with the side of Irina’s head. It spun the woman around and onto the floor.

Irina’s hold on Bella vanished. She summoned up her radiation again, this time with more careful shaping of the paths it took, and spewed it out at everyone in the room except Red Saviour and her companion.

Irina, struggling to rise, splayed unceremoniously on the ground and whimpered.

“She’s helpless now,” Bella said. “Now, everything really is under control.”

The man helped Red Saviour to her feet. “Mi corazon, you are bleeding.”

“You are nyet so clean yourself, dumdum.” The two held on to each other in silence. Both had moist eyes, yet smiled with relief. It made Bella mist up herself.

“I hate to interrupt, but I’d really like to know what just happened…and what to do with all these people.”

Red Saviour cleared her throat. “They are hypnotized, comrade. Unconsciousness seems to end trance…or Irina herself can end it.”

“I’m a healer. I can render them unconscious and fix their wounds that you…um, from when you were defending yourself. They’ll wake up normal again?”

“Da. I tested theory out on darlink. Worked fine.”

The man winced. “Except for the pain and bruises, my tiger.”

“Okay. I’ll start with the kids.” Bella knelt in the middle of the children and projected radiation to slow their brains’ alpha waves, essentially putting them to sleep. They relinquished their bloody forks and curled up into balls, as if at kindergarten naptime. Bella stroked their hair and whispered soothing words to them as she healed their bruises. The man had taken great pains – literally – to avoid hurting them. Bella extended the field to encompass the rest of the victims in the lobby.

“Now you talk to me, Irina,” she heard Red Saviour say. “I want answers from you, and no lyings.” Bella kept an ear on the conversation; she too wanted to understand what she’d walked into.

Irina responded with Russian, and it didn’t sound friendly. She concluded by spitting. Red Saviour seized her hair and pushed her face into the floor.

“In English, svinya. I want darlink to hear, too. Your powers can’t work if you can’t see us, da?”

Irina cried out in pain. Bella turned to see Red Saviour grinding Irina’s face into the carpet. She half rose, wanting to object but frightened of the strong Russian heroine.

“Boo hoo. You kept me awake for days, and now I am grumpy. Why didn’t you kill me?” Irina said nothing. Red Saviour released her hair and stood. Irina tried to turn her head, her cold blue eyes casting for a victim. “Face down!” Red Saviour ordered, emphasizing it with a snap kick to the ribs. Irina coughed and groaned.

“I ran out of patience with you when you made darlink put gun to his head. Why didn’t you kill me?” She smashed a foot into Irina’s side. Bella heard the ugly sound of bones cracking.

“Hey now!” Bella stood and stormed over to the woman. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Getting revenge, little devushka.” She put a foot down on Irina’s ankle and shifted her weight. The ankle popped; Irina screamed. “Getting answers.”

“I won’t stand here and watch you torture her. That’s sick.” Bella’s hands clenched into fists. “Back off.”

“You dare tell me –“ Red Saviour advanced on Bella. Exhaustion, pain and rage combined to make her want to lash out at anyone. Her companion stepped between them.

“Natya, shhhh. This girl, she is meaning no harm. Let it go.” He held Red Saviour by her shoulders. “It is over. Let it go.”

Red Saviour bit her lip. She shuddered once and relaxed in his arms. “Govno. I am sorry.” He stroked her hair as she slowed her breathing. “I’m sorry, sestra. It has been hard for us.”

“It’s okay,” Bella said. “I think I’m starting to get it.” Still nervous, she put out a hand. “My name is Bella… Belladonna Aura.”

Red Saviour shook her hand, her grip still vice-hard. “Natalya Shostakovich. Red Saviour, Commissar of CCCP. This is Mosca.” She managed a smile. “Spasibo for coming to our rescue, da? You are handy girl to have around.”

A grin brightened Bella’s visage. “Oh, gee, it’s no problem. I go where I’m needed. Speaking of which, you both need medical attention. I can heal you now if you’ll sit down.”

Mosca shook his head. “Please help these people first. They did not deserve to be turned into slaves. I fear we were not gentle with them.”

Bella surveyed the collection of four-holed stab marks on his face and arms. “I’d say you did pretty well.”

The Spaniard winked at her and, pointing with both hands, gave her the “TCB” that was the universal sign of Elvis. Bella rolled her eyes.