In the Ghetto

From the Story Arc: The Death of CCCP

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

Next Story in the Arc: Ch-ch-ch-changes by Dr. Bella Dawn Parker (Monday, April 11, 2005)

(posted Sunday, April 10, 2005)

Saguaro cacti whizzed past the windows of Bella’s father’s SUV as they sped down Highway 93. The new car smell met their nostrils even with the window open. Bella suspected her father used a spray on the upholstery.

Red Saviour hung her head out of the window like a dog; the hot desert air hammered at her face and hair. She had spent little time in deserts, and the relentless heat fascinated her. It was Siberia for impatient Americans, she mused. No need to put on coat and scarf, yet still an unwelcoming landscape to settlers.

The emptiness of the Nevada desert reminds me of Siberia. Perhaps it’s a good thing, this wasteland. It humbles a person. One cannot fail to acknowledge the ultimate superiority of nature.

Yet the arrogant green lawns of Las Vegas came to mind, and Red Saviour laughed. Again, the Amerikantskii learn nothing.

“It is fascinating place you come from,” she shouted to Bella over the wind. “Stark like Siberia. Where are Indians?”

“The Native Americans, you mean. They mostly keep to the reservations.”

“Who can blame them?” Every time she spoke, hot desert air filled her mouth, like an insulting American idiom she’d heard before, when lecturing ignorant heroes on socio-economic realities. She laughed again.

Mosca, in the back seat, leaned forward to be heard over the roar of the open windows. “Your home, it truly is most fascinating. Beautiful and troubled, like a woman of the night.”

“I’ve heard it called worse. And better.” She shrugged. “It’s nice to visit again, but I’ll be glad to be back in Paragon City.”

“Home away from home,” he agreed. “Si, I admit I have taken a shine to Paragon. It is a far cry from the jungles of the south. Safer, if you can believe that!”

Bella chuckled with him. “So why did you come to Paragon? All of you seem so idealistic compared to Americans. I’d think you’d go crazy.” Her gaze followed a passing sign as she spoke: Hoover Dam, 22 miles.

“My story, it is best for another time,” Mosca said. “Natya’s is better, since it is the story of CCCP itself.” He patted Natalya’s back. “Center of my heart? Will you tell our blue friend of CCCP’s arrival in America?”

“Shto?” She pulled her head out of the window reluctantly. Her hair had been spun in all directions, making her look like a crazed madwoman. Mosca suppressed a laugh, opting to stroke her hair. She smiled at the affectionate gesture, not realizing that she was being groomed at the same time.

“Close the window so that we need not shout,” he said. “Tell us about the early days of our team.”

“Da, I can do that.” The roar of the wind retreated as Bella powered the windows closed. “I am sure you had same feeling of strangeness, comrade Bella, in Paragon at first time. We felt like missionaries going into jungle. Home had gotten bad; many political maneuverings to keep us out of public eye, thanks to stupid Perestroika. Our ideology, while superior, was nyet welcome at home or here, and neither were we…”

“I will nyet miss this part of being superhero,” Mojiotok grumbled when the stewardess and co-pilot returned to the cockpit with their autographs.

“You think Amerikantskii will be less fascinated with heroes and celebrities? Nyet, is more to come. Much more, I am thinking.” Red Saviour turned her pen back to her postcards: one for little sister Malinki, one for Papa.

“You sound pleased.”

She chuckled. “Devushkas like a little attention now and then.” Mojiotok harrumphed and stared out the window at the clouds over the Pacific Ocean.

He considers this a demotion, she thought, watching his hands clench and unclench. Loyal son of the Motherland, being kicked out of the house. To her, forming a branch of the Coalition of Communist Crusaders for the Proletariat in America was a haven from the politics that surrounded them in Moscow. One day in favor, the next day out of favor. Mojiotok and his square Russian jaw had posters and fan scrapbooks, yet there were times he seemed bound for the Gulag for nothing more than shaking the wrong official’s hand first. America would judge them solely on performance, something they excelled in.

And Natalya Shostakovich, the new Red Saviour -- Papa being the first – had become the biggest celebrity of the CCCP. Whether it was her statuesque physique or perfect Slavic features, the public fell in love with the acrobatic martial artist and never let go. It was always Red Saviour who was asked to attend this official function or that public appearance on some up-and-coming official’s arm, as if she were the greatest trophy a Russian man could win. “Represent the CCCP,” they would say, yet inevitably the men in power took advantage of the situation to compete for her affection. Simply being seen in public with Red Saviour could boost a man in the apparat to a career-worthy position.

Yet Perestroika’s influence began to sour her reception, as the Communist Party fell out of favor. CCCP had formed to fight for the Worker’s Paradise, and superheroes do not cast off ideologies like raincoats on a sunny day. Papa, and also Uncle Mojiotok, her comrade’s father, both cautioned them that Russia was changing too much to accept the strident politics of CCCP. They were walking Constructivist posters, in a time when Russia looked to the West for inspiration.

And so here they were, on an Aeroflot jet to New York City, then on to Paragon City, America’s largest metropolis still recovering from the Rikti Invasion. She and Mojiotok sat together. Red Menace glowered in the seat behind them, with an uncomfortable Reaktsiya. Across the aisle, gruff Untermensch dozed next to the robot Faberge Gulag, whose tiny, precise gears whirred quietly in sleep mode. Supernaut, a hulking man even without his armor, had folded himself up in the supposedly spacious emergency aisle, and looked even more dour than usual.

Next to him, tiny Xiao Fei Li, known as China’s People’s Blade, sat with her hands in her lap, palms up, in what Natalya knew to be a meditation position. Something with a flowery name…When she had studied under Fei Li, adding ancient Chinese martial strikes to her arsenal of Soviet hand-to-hand fighting techniques, she had failed to master meditation of any kind, though she continued to try. Fei Li’s smile was so sweet and innocent that the stewardess had honored her request to keep Jade Emperor’s Whisper, the sword that could slice through metal, at her side. It was propped up against the hull, like an umbrella. Natalya had seen that blade in action and it still made her uncomfortable.

Others awaited them in Paragon City, heroes whose dossiers she and Mojiotok, as newly crowed Commissars, had passed back and forth. Ununtriarch, the metallic American scientist who had pledged loyalty to Russia; Carpathia, a giant Czech woman who controlled fire; Svarog, an armored warrior named for – and claiming to be -- an ancient Russian god; Bering Strait, who looked like a huge bald dockworker but exhibited power over ice and weather.

And somewhere, paralleling their course, Petrograd soared. He was a living Mig fighter, practically, and for him to ride a plane would be foolish.

Ununtriarch, as acting Commissar until the Russians arrived, had finished negotiations for a headquarters. It was a shabby building in King’s Row, the slum. Given the paltry budget, the three Commissars agreed that décor was secondary to functionality, and thus Ununtriarch had ordered state-of-the-art computer equipment for the facility. It would be spartan but effective, and a fine way to show the efficiency of the Soviet way over Capitalist decadence.

There was only one thing that bothered her. The Central Committee of CCCP had direct control over her American branch, and thus she had to work with Boryets himself: Worker’s Champion. She’d managed to avoid the stern old man since assuming the mantle of Red Saviour from her father, but she remembered the fear in her stomach when he came to visit their home during her childhood. He was Russia’s greatest hero, but he terrified her. His cool gaze looked her over in a predatory way. At first she thought he was a pervert, but she later understood that he wanted to use her in a totally different way: as a weapon. To fight crime, perhaps; or for his other, darker schemes, which she knew lurked under his formal posturing.

There was no avoiding Worker’s Champion now, and she hoped she could pass off much of that contact to Mojiotok, or even the American Ununtriarch. Anything to avoid that stare, especially now that she had indeed become a weapon. Worker’s Champion could break a tank in two, but his deadliest weapons were his words.

“You look disturbed, sestra,” Mojiotok said.
“Just thinking. I am wondering how it will be in this Paragon City. Will we be welcomed?”

“Nyet. Americans still fear Communism. Too much propaganda during Cold War, clouding judgment. But we can provide role model for what good worker’s struggle can achieve, even in country ruled by exploitative capitalists. This is sturdy goal, I am thinking.”

She tapped her fingers on the dossiers. “It will be very different from Motherland. I fear we will be swallowed up.”

Mojiotok shook his head and smiled his wolfish smile. “We will be ones doing burying.”

A rare display of Mojiotok’s good humor; Natalya couldn’t help but return the smile. “Da, comrade Mojiotok, you will wield your Hammer with the strength of the collective.”

“For the workers, I will strike!” They both chuckled at the sloganeering.

Ununtriarch was a tiny man, a foot shorter than Red Saviour. Yet he carried with him a weight of authority that was undeniable. Actually, he carried a weight, for sure: he was composed entirely of Ununtrium, a heavy metal that had fused with his cellular structure during a capitalist experiment gone awry. His hatred for capitalism caused him to seek sanctuary in Russia, and it was with great reluctance that he returned to the land that had changed him forever with its greedy ways.

He also possessed control over local gravity waves, and he used these both to keep himself from falling through the floor of the rickety old building that was now their headquarters, and to influence the former owners to drop their price to a suitable level for a Soviet buyer. He had subtly increased the pull of gravity on them during negotiations, until their aches and exhaustion manifested in a hasty agreement to a profitless sale. Red Saviour and Mojiotok chuckled as he related the story.

“It serves them right,” Mojiotok said.

“These slumlords are scum,” Ununtriarch agreed. “We’re karma, coming back to haunt them.”

“It is specter of Communism that will haunt them,” said Natalya. She pointed out the window. “Look at this neighborhood. So much money in this land, and there are perfectly good workers sleeping in cardboard boxes. I am thinking is big difference to be made here.”

Ununtriarch frowned, the expression almost lost on his shiny face. “America likes its TV and malls, Commissar. I am a rare exception to that. I’m rare, period.” His laugh rang with metallic overtones, like a ventilation shaft. “You may find it hard to succeed in your Operation Hearts and Minds. The complacency is overwhelming.”

She shook the curtains, causing a dust cloud to settle to the floor. This headquarters is little more than a decrepit office building with a world-class computer network, she realized.

Mojiotok divvied up the hastily converted quarters. For himself and Red Saviour, however, he insisted that they take the smallest rooms. “As team grows, we will be first to have apartments of our own, as befits rank. Until then, we give benefit to our comrades.”

“Correct thinking,” Red Saviour agreed, wincing at the tiny bed, whose thin mattress grazed two walls. “I will keep my clothes in boxes in my office.”

Mojiotok nodded and carried his suitcases into his room. Red Saviour watched him go, back stiff. He loves this, she thought. The spartan arrangements, the military overtones. He was raised as a soldier, and this bare-bones, utilitarian headquarters gives him a great sense of purpose. I, too, but I miss Malinki and Papa. Moji and I have our parents’ legacies to live up to, but they had the Great Patriotic War to rise to glory. All we have is a decadent capitalist city and a ramshackle building.

Still, she assured herself as she unpacked her suitcase on the bed, Marx wrote his Manifesto one word at a time, with but pen and ink. Modest tools that moved a world! So shall we.

“And rest, as you say, is being history. Actually,” she mused, tilting her head, “nyet much has changed. We found apartments, we formed Red Brigade and put Fei Li in charge…and then Red Brigade building was blown up by Tsoo. Now they sleep in basement.”

“We have made an impression, mi corazon. These Americans, they like bright lights and rich colors wrapped around their politics. We give them that, and have made friends.”

“Da!” Red Saviour patted his hand. “Is progress. So, comrade Bella, is your turn. There is much to fix here your Losing Wages city, yet you travel to Paragon.”

Bella nodded. They had ten miles to go. “That’s true, but I have different reasons. I guess I should start from the very beginning…”