(posted Monday, November 28, 2005)

Mosca returned from the grocery store with a fresh supply of pickles and ice cream. The beets in the produce section failed to meet Red Saviour's exacting standards, and he knew from experience that a compromised borscht was the catalyst for days of grumpiness. Better to try the farmer's market in the morning than buy canned beets.

He found Red Saviour in a tattered terrycloth robe, hunched over a piece of paper at their tiny kitchen table. She scribbled furiously at a list of names.

"Baby shower, mi corazon?"

"Nyet, is hardly!" She wrote another name on the list. "Is list of undesirables destined for most severe excoriation."

Mosca secured the treats in the refrigerator, where they would await her hunger for no more than three hours. "Si, si. You are referring to Requiem, archon of the Council, and the fascista Countess Crey?"

She waved away the names. "They are on other list. This is list of so-called comrades."

Mosca didn't like the tone in her voice. He chose his words with care. "Comrades, such as in CCCP?"

"And elsewhere." Natalya covered the list with her hands. "Is minor thing, you need not be concerning."

"Natya. My beautiful angel." He circled the table to stand behind her, putting his arms around her. Under the robe she wore a pair of his boxers and an undershirt. His hands rubbed her belly, beginning to distend with pregancy.

He also peeked at the list.

"Belladonna Aura? Natya, surely, this is joking."

She snatched at the list, but his position gave him a better reach, and he plucked it from her hands.

"Blin! Give it back. Is official document."

Stepping back, he began to read off the list of "undesirables." "Bella, Social Medicine... Soviette? She only returned three days ago."

"They are nyet respectful of expectant mothers' needs."

"Hmm. Shyft. Hegemon? He is nyet of CCCP?"

Red Saviour's eyes went wide. "Darlink! He dared lecture me about baby. Is nerve!"

"Lecture? What did he say, that I might take him to the task."

"Ahhh... Was something about smoking. That is not important! Was tone of voice."

"Si." Mosca said dubiously. "Hmm, Agent Boom Boom. She is pregnant as well. What did she do?"

"Was nasty to me. Also with judging on how Russian mother treats unborn baby."

"Imagine." He read further down the list. "Infurno?"

Natalya studied the floor. "Da."

"Another lecture?"

"Nyet. Just weird. Is cat? Is girl? No one knows. I can cross her off list."

Mosca took up the pen and scratched Infurno's name out... and Tigerbright, Runabout, Snoqiti, and a nearly illegible entry for "Kitty of Heroes." "I am thinking, this list may require editing."

"Bah." Red Saviour stood and crossed the room to the cabinets. "You are Commissar now, I see."

"I am your husband, oh center of my being." He read down the list. "Natya, my morning dove. Is there anyone who is not on this list?"

She rooted through a cabinet, pushing mismatched coffeemugs out of her way. "You, darlink. And Chug."

"Hmm, that is enough for an army." Mosca crossed the names of the Knights, the Alliance of Champions, the Joint Training Force... every organization CCCP dealt with. Even Statesman's name he crossed off. "Paragon appears to be packed to the gills with undesirable elements."

"I haven't sorted list yet," she said, head thrust into cabinet. Mosca smelled a familiar odor: menthol.

"Natya! You are smoking still?"

She glanced out of the cabinet. "Is just cigarette butt. Easier to smoke it than discard, da?"

Mosca cast the list down on the table. With a flick of a finger, a kernel of fire flew across the room and disintegrated the butt in Red Saviour's fingers. She cried out.

"I will not have my child born with addiction to cheap American menthol cigarettes." He pushed a chair out of the way to confront her at the counter. "I will not have my beautiful wife alienate everyone around us because she is soaking in crazy woman hormones. Si?"

She tried to push past him, but he caught her wrist. "Natya. Is far enough. Yourself, you must check, before you wreck." Twice as strong as he, she could have broke his hold, but he redirected her movement to an embrace. She stiffened, then sank against him.

"Am acting crazy?"

"More than normal, si."

"Those Congress svinyas really did say nasty things to me."

He stroked her hair. "You are used to conflict. Why should it change now? When woman is gravid, mood changes. You have not read the Dr. Spock book I bought you at the flea market?"

"Nyet." Natalya buried her face in his shoulder. "I never asked for child, you know."

Mosca could think of no reply.

"Am not ready for mind control from little creature in womb. I'd rather be smashing nogoodniks through cheap American drywall. Is hard, darlink."

"Si, si." Mosca felt more hopelessly male than ever before, with this sudden insight into the female world. "You handle loss of control badly."

"Da. Perhaps list was nyet so good idea. No excoriation for them."

"Natya... may I make gentle suggestion?" She nodded into his shoulder. "Let us take a vacation. You can bear our child without having to concentrate on CCCP."

"Nyet!" She upturned her face to meet his eye. "CCCP will crumble without me."

"It will do no such thing. You have built a strong organization, Commissarina, and it will sustain without your iron fist for a few months." He stroked her hair. "The revolution cannot continue without new children born into it."

"Blin." She released him and gazed at her crumpled list. "Everyone is driving me crazy."

"They are no different. You're changing, querida."

Her hand strayed to her stomach. "Is nyet going away... I still thought of it as stomach flu."

Mosca winced. "Is time to find Russian mother in you. Are they not the strongest, most devoted of all?"

"Da." She nodded, and a light came on in her eyes. "Da, we are best of all mothers. No one can compete with Russian mothering."

"Prove it, Natya. You have reached the time to show these burros who is boss mother."

She took the crumpled list and flipped it over (scratching out her list of potential enemies, including Little Yoshimi and Ratt Murdock), and began to write her leave of absence declaration. Mosca grinned and mentally patted himself on the back. One thing he had learned about his wife: she liked to win.