Epilogue

From the Story Arc: The Death of CCCP

Previous Story in the Arc: There's No Place Like Home by Red Saviour (Thursday, May 26, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Space Time for Singers by Gato Rojo (Monday, November 07, 2005)

(posted Tuesday, June 07, 2005)

Bent over the toilet, Natalya would have cursed the greasy, oversweet American diet if she wasn’t so occupied with vomiting it up. The soreness in her abdomen was somehow worse than if she had taken a blow from a fist.

“Govno,” she managed at last. It didn’t help.

She washed her hands and swished water in her mouth to banish the sour taste of bile. Her wedding ring glinted under the flickering bathroom bulb. She paused in drying off to look at it, then polished it with the cloth.

Three days of marriage, she thought. Do I feel different?

All her life, she envisioned her future husband to be the classic Russian man: stoic, gruff yet warm, as strong as she. She had never met this man in real life. Mosca stepped in and stole her heart with his sly smile, kind words and genuine love. She was a Spaniard’s wife now, in America. Somehow, this joyful union emphasized the distance from her home more than the vitriolic memos from Moscow.

She hadn’t even taken Santiago’s last name.

Natalya returned to her desk, frowning at her unsettled stomach, and at the pile of paperwork to review. Dossiers aplenty! Who authorized a recruiting drive? She almost wished Marxist ideology wasn’t so perfect. Soon they’d have to turn comrades away; they barely stretched the budget to accommodate the current membership.

Lighting up one of the cheap menthol cigarettes that she found indispensable lately, she puffed smoke onto the papers, and plucked the first off the top.

“Astra Borealis?” Strange name. Whatever happened to Soviet Hammer, Super Fist, Comrade Hammer… names like that? All used, she realized, and impossible to keep straight. This woman Astra looked more cartoon than human, yet spoke perfect accentless Russian. Odd, but Natalya had seen far stranger in her time as a hero.

She read off the list: “Arch Angel X, Seraphic Flame…what are we, the Vatican? Bah.” Adherence to Judeo-Christian beliefs was a possible sign of ideological impurity. She labeled a post-it “Re-education” and stuck it to the desktop above the angelic recruits. She considering tossing Astra on there too, but decided to set her aside for now.

On second thought, she pulled Seraphic Flame from the pile as well, recalling a meeting where the red-skinned woman had informed Natalya in a grave tone that “Belief is nothing, actions are everything.” Hope for her yet…nyet. Why take chances? Both Astra and Seraphic Flame could prove their adherence to ideology in the classroom.

“Sister Shuma… Shen Fai-Long… Shto? They are babies!” Teenagers, the Chinese were now sending her. Was China not the most populous nation in the world? Surely they had one hero over the age of 13. Shen belonged with the angels; his temperament was so respectful and sweet that everyone wanted to hug him. Shuma struck her as a little girl who had missed childhood… much like Fei Li. The second post-it she labeled “Underaged,” and stuck it on the Chinese children’s pile.

Next, a woman in a red cowboy hat. “Commie Cowgirl?” Absurd. The third post-it bore the words “Deranged,” and she put Commie Cowgirl, Detkapena (who thought she was a mute turnip fairy), and Ursa Major (who not only would face the wrath of Ursa Minor, but looked like a psychiatric patient). Jadwiga could run them through the battery of tests for mental instability.

Surely Bestial Boy was making these poor decisions. He had a soft spot for anyone different. Commendable, but unreliable.

Deeper in the pile hid some hope. Agent Dva seemed sturdy, and a good Russian girl. So did Comrade Ivanova, Sister Soyuz, Soviet Bear, Russian Nuke, Evie Cove. These she labeled “Provisionally Acceptable” and neatened the stack.

John Murdock. Amerikantskii, and clearly troubled under a confident exterior. Natalya had led enough comrades into battle to recognize the signs. For now, though, she added him to “Provisionally Acceptable.” He was a walking firebomb, and Red Saviour always found those to be useful.

Waitron 9000, Sputnik 1984…more robots. Waitron carried ice cold vodka in her chassis – an excellent feature. She was crafted to resemble a human woman, but the effect came off as a toy doll. Fei Li would have a field day. She imagined she’d have them for a tea party and force them to wear dainty hats. For a woman bonded with an ancient warrior, Fei Li became uncomfortably childlike around robots.

Belladonna Aura…ah, her new druzoi. A fine girl; Natalya smiled just thinking of her, and the generous hospitality... and her determination to improve the computer systems of CCCP. Bella gave her hope that an American revolution of the workers could indeed happen. She deserves a better post-it, Natalya decided. “Outstanding” fit the bill.

Lastly, the vampire hunter. Natalya hated vampires – upyri in Russian – with a passion, after being their prisoner in the dankest hidden labs of the Fifth Column. This woman, Althea Nagy, would be a welcome addition. Natalya stopped scanning her dossier and read carefully.

Horosho! She sounded like a firebrand, a fierce warrior-wizard to help stunt the Council’s upsurge. Nagy had been trained from birth to slay the vile undead blood-drinkers. The girl had lost her parents to upyri, and swore vengeance.

“Horosho,” Red Saviour said, putting Althea Nagy’s dossier on top of Bella’s under “Outstanding.” Her stomach rumbled again.

#
Ordinarily, Red Saviour would never consider tackling a building infested with Devouring Earth plants without substantial backup. The malevolent flora had a knack for rendering a victim insensate while they tore the flesh with thorny hands. More than once, she’d been on the receiving end of a fist that felt like a log, while colors swam before her eyes.

However, this infestation seemed minor. These plant creatures were smaller than the Devouring Earth foes she was accustomed to facing. Throwing caution to the wind, she pushed the quaking building supervisor aside and entered the office building. Once inside, a NO SMOKING sign reminded her of her nausea, and the ameliorating effect of cheap American menthol cigarettes.

“Smooth,” she mumbled, tapping one out of the pack as she studied the plant traces in the outer lobby. Houseplants growing out of their pots, but not yet to the ceiling: the Devourers had only been here for a few hours. She lit up with a pack of matches from her and Mosca’s favorite Spanish restaurant, El Delfin.

For a moment, she considered calling Mosca for help. His firebombs took a terrible toll on the leafy, wooden creatures. But the look on his face would be kind, eager to help…and she couldn’t stand for that. She was Commissar, and she could not show weakness to an underling, even her husband. Not on the battlefield.

Besides, she’d been sick before, and never let it prevent her from patrolling. Whether it required decongestants, vile pink bismuth-laden stomach medicine, or painkillers, duty forbid bed rest. This latest stomach virus proved to be persistent, but no worse than anything else she’d suffered.

Natalya cracked her neck, squared her shoulders, and walked into the lobby. Her stomach lurched as she reached the threshold, so she stopped for another puff. The minty smoke loosened her up for a moment. She made a smoke ring and blew it…

… right into the horrific caricature of a human face on a six foot tall mushroom.

The Fungoid uttered what she would have sworn was a tiny, child-like cough. Beady black eyes studied her, narrowing in hatred. She wondered if they recognized her. She’d certainly dispatched enough of them back to mother Earth.

It opened a jagged slit under its eyes and emitted a shrill scream. The other dozen or so giant plant monsters, and a rock beast, jerked up at the alert. They echoed the Fungoid before lumbering forward.

Red Saviour stepped back, avoiding a potent swipe from the fungus creature’s claws. She took another drag on the cigarette.

“Let us have party, comrade plants,” she said. “Come to Natalya. I bring shovel.”

The creatures pressed together, trying to fit into the corridor at once. Red Saviour danced out of the way of flung thorns, clouds of vile spores, and pieces of the floor. The Devouring Earth packed themselves into the corridor tighter and tighter.

She ground out the cigarette on an outstretched stony paw. “Horosho. I am ready now.”

She summoned the magic energies that coursed through her, but envisioned a plug, damning them up. The energies strained for release. The pressure brought pain and pleasure at once, almost (though she would never admit it to anyone) like a sexual climax.

“Boom!” she yelled at them, and opened the channels for the magic energies all at once. The explosion shredded the creatures before her like a lawnmower. The walls buckled and collapsed. Furniture bounced across the room as if a tornado had touched down. Behind her, the glass doors to the building shattered. Frightened office workers peeked in at the destruction.

“Who’s going to pay for that?” the building supervisor called to her.

“Shto? You don’t have giant plant monster insurance? Is nyet my problem. I can leave if you wish.” She lit another cigarette and checked for survivors. A walking tree, shorn of limbs, attempted to rise. She kicked the head off.

“No! It’s fine. Please, ma’am, go ahead and do what you have to.” The Amerikantski cringed out of view.

Natalya wiped her nose, irritated by the spores in the air. The explosion had cleared the lobby of plant monsters, rock monsters… couches… tables… desks, paintings, lamps. The piles of rubble and plant matter resembled an overgrown landfill.

“One floor clear, five to go. Then lunch.”

Her communicator buzzed. It was Belladonna Aura.

“Hi Nat!” She already allowed her new friend to call her Nat. “The new recruit is here. Althea Nagy. I just picked her up from the Russian Consul.”

“Russian Consul? She had escort?” Red Saviour pursed her lips at this. A sign pointed to the elevators, down a dark hallway.

“She did, some old guy. Weird, huh? Anyway, I am going to get her settled in.”

“The great upyr hunter, eh? Nyet, Bella. Show her how to use locator on comm. Unit and send her to me. I will introduce her to gardening techniques.”

The communicator turned Bella’s breathy chuckle into bursts of white noise. “Devouring Earth again?”

“Da, da. They seem to favor law offices. I question whether I should intervene, but I am already here.”

She heard voices in English, distant, as Bella delivered the orders. “Okay, she’s on her way, chief.”

“Horosho. I sit and wait.” She upended a couch and settled in. The spores irritated her nose, and now made her stomach hurt. She cursed her weakness.

#

The upyr hunter took fifteen minutes to arrive. When she did, she panted heavily. Sweat ran down her face. She didn’t meet Red Saviour’s eye, but rather snapped into a sorry imitation of a salute.

“Izvinit, Commissar. I got here as quickly as I could.” The upyr hunter – a mere girl of nineteen – stood at attention so poorly a drill sergeant would have knocked her legs out from under her.

Natalya regarded her coolly from the couch. She finished her cigarette before speaking, a pause of nearly a minute.

“Comrade Nagy. I expect punctuality from my troops. Do you understand?”

“D-da, Commissar!” The girl was terrified.

“You may be used to upyri who wait in holes to be dug out, but here in Paragon City criminals move quickly. You must move faster. Do you nyet have spells for locomotion? Flying, or jumpings around?”

“I…I…I am striving to learn them, C-Commissar.” Her arm shook from maintaining the salute. Red Saviour waved her into an at ease position. The girl’s breath whooshed out all at once.

“Continue striving.” She ground the cigarette on the carpet. “Watch me carefully. Wait for my signal to strike, da?”

Thea bit her lip, surveying the massive, fallen forms of the Devouring Earth. “Da, Commissar.”

The Russian women wound through the aftermath of Red Saviour’s explosion to the elevators. Red Saviour led the way. When she reached the elevators, Thea nearly bumped into her.
“These are called Devouring Earth,” Red Saviour told her while they waited for the elevator. “Mutated plants. They can be formidable in large numbers. You have brought smelling salts, or purple mind-clear pills?”

“Nyet, Commissar. Do I need them?” Thea fidgeted for a moment, then stopped with effort. “I came right from airport.”

“These, they do nyet sell at airport.” She shook out a few pills from her belt cartridge. “Keep these in easy to reach pocket. Use if spores make head spin.”

The elevator rang. The doors opened to reveal the body of an office worker. Red Saviour checked the woman’s pulse while Thea kept the doors open. “She’s alive. Is reaction to spores.” She lifted the heavy-set woman with ease. “I’ll be right back.”

The air sparkled under Red Saviour’s feet. She levitated two feet before zooming into the lobby and out to the street. The office workers cried out in fear at the still form of the woman, until Red Saviour reassured them. “Call for ambulance,” she ordered, then returned to the elevator, using her powers to make the trip nearly instantaneous.

“Now we go up. Choose next floor, please.”

The elevator rumbled up to the next floor. “Slow elevator,” Red Saviour said. “So… you are coming from Moscow?”

“Da, Commissar.”

“And…how is weather in Moscow?” Red Saviour smirked at the girl.

“It is… wet, Commissar. Full week of r-rain.” The girl hid her face behind her white hair. “Paragon City is werry beautiful in spring.”

“Pfft. I prefer Moscow.” This made the girl study the elevator floor tiles intently.

They stepped out into the elevator lobby. Thea screamed.

“Shto?” Red Saviour whirled around, fists glowing.

Thea covered her mouth and pointed at an overgrown houseplant. Its vines licked at the ceiling. “Izvinit! I thought it was m-monster plant. Izvinit.”

“Ha!” Natalya barked and jabbed a thumb over her shoulder. “Look over there for your monsters.”

“Bozemoi,” Thea breathed.

The Devouring Earth filled the hallway and climbed up vines to a walkway above. Mushroom-headed Fungoids, treelike Razorvines, stony Sentries. A low susurrus of inhuman sub-vocalizing reached their ears and rattled their stomachs. Red Saviour grimaced and lit another cigarette.

“They look nasty, but are nothing more than angry shrubbery. You are having spell for blasting?”

Thea looked as though she were about to cry. She clenched her fists. “Nyet, Commissar. I have sticky floor spell. My magic blast, it is…is…inadequate for such beasts.”

Red Saviour frowned. This was the great upyr hunter? Perhaps the size of the plants intimidated her. “Thea,” she said, softly, “it is all right to be frightened of Devouring Earth creatures. They are meant to be horrific, just like upyri, nyet? So pretend they are upyri after, say, full day of yardwork, covered in leaves and dirt, and conduct yourself as you do when slaying vampires.”

This didn’t appear to help. “D-da,” the girl said with a tremble.

Natalya sighed. Best to get this over with. She chose the smallest Deathspore and blew it apart with a bolt of energy. “Davay! Come on, girl!” Without waiting, she charged into the midst of the creatures, where she could do the most damage. Perhaps this time she’d avoid damaging the furniture.

The Devouring Earth swarmed over the two women as if sharing a single mind. Not one got within five feet of Red Saviour without losing arms, legs, or head. She unleashed all her power, without restraint, against these inhuman foes. She gloried in the destruction.

“Ahhhh!” Thea cried out.

Natalya backed up to where Thea had been. A baby Razorvine, only three meters tall, stepped through the girl’s magical tar patch and smacked her back into the elevator lobby. Blood dripped from her nose. She held her ribs and gasped raggedly.

“Help, Commissar…”

Annoyed, Red Saviour used her magic energies to rip the Razorvine in two like a paper bag. A few choice blasts at the oncoming horde bought her time to check the girl’s injuries. Bruised ribs, she guessed. Nothing serious.

Again, the thought crossed her mind: this is the great upyr hunter?


End of Death of CCCP, Part One!


Note: These events took place before the induction of Belladonna Aura and Althea Nagy. Now that the first part of this story arc is over, we’re all caught up to present day. You can read more about Althea in “No Place Like Home.”