Excoriation!

From the Story Arc: Red And Blue

Previous Story in the Arc: Bop-A-Mole by Belladonna Aura (Thursday, June 16, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: A Walk in the Park by Red Saviour (Sunday, June 19, 2005)

(posted Thursday, June 16, 2005)

“We’re both going to have to do some compromises with what we think we in order to get this mess sorted. I’m willing. Are you? Cause it’s gonna take both of us.”

Natalya rewound to Bella’s last statement three times. Every listen increased her rage. The cigarette shook in her hand.

“Both of us?” she grated. Incredulous, she hit reverse again, to the start of Bella’s voiceover. Perhaps in the beginning of the girl’s monologue hid a clue that she had some grasp of authority.

And there are some things you need to hear and try to understand too.

Her eyes nearly crossed with rage. This girl, this Amerikantski woman who Natalya had embraced as a friend – who was her bridesmaid! – was now openly flouting her authority. Did she think CCCP was high school? A copy of this DVD was on in the lounge at this moment, being watched by a handful of new recruits. How was Red Saviour to command them if one of their own could question her orders… and with video?

Natalya rubbed the abused menthol out on a report, burning off half a paragraph about Soviet Winter’s encounters with Nemesis squads in Brickstown. The scenes of herself in combat annoyed her the most. Bella had selected clips where the everpresent Paragon City video cameras captured her being defeated by foes. It was like foolish Amerikantski comedy “Spinal Tap” that Malinki had forced her to watch one night, then again with audio commentary, where an addled decadent rock band complained that the film maker didn’t show every night they actually found the stage, just the one incident where they could not. Malinki nudged Natalya in the side and laughed, but Natalya agreed with the stupid musicians: news media only shows the worst possible face of their victim.

Malinki… she hadn’t thought of her sister in weeks, aside from an all too brief phone call to announce the wedding. The teenager had scolded her terribly, then gushed with enthusiasm over her new brother-in-law. Malinki would not have tolerated Bella’s insubordination. She would have confronted her in private, perhaps bruised her up a bit. Natalya missed her fierce little sister terribly.

Insubordination. This DVD was both the source and the evidence. She opened a file drawer and pulled out a form. It authorized excoriation. She’d made extra copies for Communard’s sake.

She began to fill it out with Bella’s name, rank, number, security clearance.

“Perhaps she will learn lesson this time,” Natalya said under her breath.

Excoriation severity, the form indicated, with checkboxes for Mild, Moderate, Severe. Her pen hovered over Moderate, then Mild. Then she put the pen down. An image of Mojiotok berating a weeping Bella came to mind, making Natalya’s stomach clench.

You aren’t in Russia; you’re in America.

Bella would never understand that excoriation was for her own good. A coldness, arctic and final, would descend between them. Natalya would become Commissar Red Saviour, for once and for all. No longer “sestra.”

She stepped out of her office, pausing only to light another menthol. Her bouts of nausea came and went, timed largely by the relentless nattering of the medical officers, Soviette and Social Medicine. Thahn Ha actually had the temerity to threaten to sideline her! She’d been infuriated at the time, but now she chuckled at the nerve that required.

In the lounge, the couch still held watchers and the DVD still played. Calignous Storm, Evie Cove, and Captain Freeman hunched over to watch the montage of security camera shots. They had reached the part where Bella began her treacherous nagging. Red Saviour winced.

The monologue never came.

“Govno,” she said out loud. The new recruits turned around at the sound of her voice, then lurched to their feet to salute her retreating back as she ran to her office. She moved the slider on the DVD software to match the part on the lounge tv screen.

Bella’s lecture was a message for her alone. Her shoulders relaxed at the revelation.

She tore up the excoriation form. I can let this pass, she told herself. It is a matter between two sisters. A family matter. Bella does respect my authority after all, in her own way. I can explain to her the mistake she’s made, without officially punishing her. Bella’s record will remain clean.

Bella’s locator said she was in Steel Canyon, planted at one spot again. A familiar location: she’d been there often lately. Natalya pulled on her gloves. She’d leave by the window for convenience.

But first…she wanted to hear Bella’s voice again. She hit “play” on the software and lit another cigarette.