Bloom Where You're Planted

From the Story Arc: One Bottle of Stoli

Previous Story in the Arc: Rum And Empathy by Belladonna Aura (Thursday, December 28, 2006)

(posted Saturday, December 30, 2006)

“Chao anh, Bella chinh uy.”

Bella looked up, to see Social Medicine coming into the medbay with her hands full of paperwork. It would be an exaggeration to say that she had been lying in wait for Thanh Ha, but…the little Vietnamese doctor was someone on the very short list of people she wanted desperately to talk to. “Thanh Ha....just who I was looking for,” she said.

“Oh? “ Thanh Ha set the pile of papers on the corner of the desk. “What can I be doing for you?”

“Split this with me,” she said, holding up a bottle of Stoli. “And talk some.”

Thanh Ha looked thoughtful, and a little surprised. Small wonder. Everyone seemed to love her, and yet everyone seemed to overlook her. Except maybe Sera and Drake. “Easy done.” She opened up a drawer and pulled out two coffee mugs. “These okay?”

Bella looked at them dubiously. “Are they plastic? I'm....kind of having some issues with breakables.”

Thanh Ha blinked, then pursed her lips. “ ...Ah, I am seeing. I will go get unbreakable sample beakers then.” She grabbed two clean beakers. “These are being great. It takes Chug ban a minute to chew.”

“Let’s find somewhere out of the way to settle,” Bella suggested, leading the way to the computer room. It was rather peaceful in there, the computers kept the air warm and made nice little humming and chirping noises. Nothing too loud, but not uncomfortable silence either. “No one comes in here but Waitron,” she offered, and took a seat on one of the odd armchairs that found their way in there. “Have a seat.”

Social Medicine set her beakers down on a box of printout paper between the chairs. Bella poured two slugs of vodka and nudged one over to her. ”Chuc suc khoe.” Thanh Ha said, raising the beaker.

Bella looked down into the clear liquid, and felt her hand tighten around it. Words came out of her that she had not intended. “If that means ‘Life's a bitch and you die if you're lucky,’ I'll drink to that,” she said, the too-familiar sensation of her throat closing up coming over her.

Social Medicine blinked. ”Nyet, Bella chinh uy. Is just general toast. I am nyet liking that comment, however, and am thus being concerned.” She tilted her head to the side, slightly. “What is on mind?”

For all that she had been working with Thanh Ha for what seemed like forever, Bella found it hard to approach her. And yet Social had weathered so much with CCCP, so many losses even before Bella had joined. She seemed unshakeable. “...I'm trying to find....something other than responsibility...as a reason for...” she shrugged. “How do you do it? You're either here or in the hospital, I'm not sure you ever sleep. What keeps you going?”

Thanh Ha elected to take her literally. “I do sleep, Bella chinh uy. Not a lot, but in catnaps. Also, liquid fertilizer. It taste horrible, I do nyet recommend it.”

“That wasn't what I meant,” she corrected, and sipped her vodka. Might as well be blunt, since she’d already said more than she had originally intended to. “Ever since I've been with CCCP I've seen how people take you for granted, overlook you.”

Social Medicine sighed lightly and nodded, then took a sip of her vodka.

I’ve tried not to….but I’ve been guilty of that too. Like not promoting her as soon as Saviour made us Commissars. But…I thought she didn’t want it. But I should have asked….at least…. “You're so quiet, it's like they think you don't have any feelings.”

Social Medicine started shaking her head slightly, almost nervously. “My feelings are beside point in my duty, Bella chinh uy. I am tien si, I must forego what I feel for greater good.” She took a longer sip of her vodka.

Bull. Thanh Ha’s reaction alone told her how little the tiny physician actually believed that statement. Instead she pretended to take it at face value. “Thanh Ha....is that all you have to keep you going? Duty? Is that enough?”

Social Medicine looked lost for a moment. “It... it.... It is all I have, Bella ban.”

The look, the tone, cut her to the heart. What had they all been doing to this poor woman that she would actually believe that? “...oh christ......no, no, that's not all you have.” She groped for something that Thanh Ha would have noticed, surely. “Don't you know Sera adores you?”

Social Medicine looked down at her drink. “Da, I do. She and CCCP is my family, and it is my duty to ensure that they are always in good health. It is a pleasure to then see them thrive as they have.”

Duty again…”...dammit, I should have done this ages ago.... We've been working together for how long? And I know next to nothing about you. Will you remedy that?”

Social Medicine nodded slightly. “What would you like to be knowing?”

Good god, she didn’t even know how old Thanh Ha was, only that her abilities had something to do with the war and the DE. “Start at the beginning. Home. Thanh Ha before the Americans came and screwed things over.”

“That would be hard to do, Bella ban. But I will start.” She took a deep breath. “I was born in a small, unnamed village near Qui Nhon but a few months before Americans left Vietnam official. I am nyet remembering much of time there, as I was young girl. October of 1978, American force dropped chemical on my village. My father, the tien si of the village, attempted to save me by giving me large dose of medicinal herbs and gathered medicine. Somehow, combination of chemicals and medicine reacted to my DNA and mutated. There was also genetic material from Devouring Earth in the defoliant... This is what Vietnamese scientist believe is cause.”

“That’s what changed you?” A picture flashed across Bella’s mind from her histories; a child, perhaps not much more than six or seven, with the clothing burned from her body by napalm, running naked, crying, towards the cameraman. Not Thanh Ha….but not far from her in tragedy either.

Thanh Ha nodded. “The catalyst. I was three. Area had long been suspected of being home to Vietnamese hero, which is reason for attack...”

Right. Drop bombs on villages full of civilians because you think someone is hiding there. Not that the Soviets had been any better about that…but…

“Then what happened?”

“Ah, yes. Well, I began to radiate out healing properties, keeping other villagers alive. When military forces came in to check on supposed superhero in area, they found mutated trees and myself. I was immediately taken from village and put into care of Special Metahuman Unit.”

Bella nodded sadly. Like Zach, except that Thanh Ha had been wanted by her family.

And more than just “wanted” by her government, it seemed. “My family was forcibly deported to United States. Entire village. I learn last year it was because they were becoming Devoured, and Vietnam wanted both control of me, yes, and to keep problem on US soil.”

Bella took that in, feeling as if she had been hit in the head. She had fought Devoured, without ever thinking twice about it. Had any of them been Social’s family? Friends? “...oh hell. Devoured? All of them?”

Social Medicine looked down at her vodka and, after a momentary pause, slammed the rest back. Bella quickly refilled the beaker and did the same.

“Is what I have been informed, Bella ban,” Thanh Ha said quietly. “That none are to have been saved.”

“....hell...” she managed after a while. “ ...’I'm sorry’ just doesn't cover something like that....like slapping a band-aid on a sucking chest wound...”

Social Medicine shook her head. “It is being something I have come to live with, Bella ban. I did nyet have deep connection with family, as I was unable to see them before deportation. In fact, did not know about deportation until just before I was to join CCCP. In October of 2004, that being. No matter how many times I asked, it was nyet in my clearance level for information. Life in SMU was difficult. Instructors cycled through every few month, and I was being in class of one.”

Right. You didn’t have a deep connection with your family, and yet you kept asking about them. Uh huh. “So if the Vietnamese government wanted to control you so much, why'd they send you here?” she asked.

“I am unsure, Bella ban,” Thanh Ha replied, “Perhaps it was to discredit either CCCP or myself. My General did put transmitter in my translator.”

That had been after Bella’s arrival…on or around the time they all discovered a number of bugs and control items planted on—sometimes in—comrades. “I remember that. Shorted that bastard out, we did.” That had been one of the few times she was proud of…noticing and doing something about Thanh Ha’s predicament. Even though it was coming in the middle of the crisis with Johnny Murdock. “That was when I intercepted that crap from the General.” Orders to Social under coded cover that this General was going to yank her back, orders that Saviour was not privy to, that had scared Social white. And Bella made sure Fei Li saw it. Fei Li, People’s Blade, home to the spirit of an ancient Chinese warlord, who would not tolerate anyone trying to take away one of her people….

“And made me put myself on fast-track to learning English. Was being hard learning, from Russians.” She snickered slightly before sipping at her vodka again and smiled to herself. “My instructors at SMU varied. Harsh to condescend, fright to delight. General often made comment about my ability and his lack of trust in it.”

“Your General was a sadistic piece of misogynistic crap,” Bella said, growling the words a little.

Thanh Ha smiled a little again. “Da, he was.”

“One of these days, he's going to come over here again, and he's gonna find you waiting with a pair of handcuffs and a cattle prod,” Bella continued, feeling something, finally, besides grief. Anger, maybe. Something more. “And behind you is gonna be me, Sera, JM and their brood, Vic and Red,....all of us cheering you on.”

Social Medicine looked down at her glass, and smiled even more. “I remember sound in his voice when Fei Li threaten him.”

Bella nodded. “Fei Li had his number, for sure.”

Social Medicine sighed softly as her face slowly became more somber. “Da, she did,” the little doctor whispered, and took another swig of her vodka.

Suddenly a number of disparate puzzle pieces dropped into place, and the picture…

Oh lord. How could I not have seen this. Except that I wasn’t looking. Thanh Ha…and Fei Li. Oh bloody hell. “....Thanh Ha....” she said, slowly, as Social Medicine looked up, tilting her head to the side, “Whatever reason took her away....it wasn't that she didn't think a great deal of you. I....I think we lost her to her General.”

Thanh Ha looked back down at her vodka. “Given her behavior as I was last seeing, I am being inclined to agree.”

Bella groped for words. “...I mean....it's kinda hard to compete with a god for someone's attention.”

“Da. Or wife.” She finished her vodka again.

Oh bloody hell. I was right. Qi….oh, Thanh Ha… She poured more into Social’s beaker. “ ....not a lot of things sadder than 'I love you and you don't love me’....”

Social Medicine cupped the beaker again and looked down the hall. “Is just typical of me. Slow on proverbial draw.”

“Whoever it was that said ‘It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ was blowing it out his ass,” she said harshly. She downed her beaker full and poured herself another. Thanh Ha looked sadly at her, and looked as if she was trying to think of a response. But Bella was already trying to come up with some sort of comfort. “Thanh Ha ban.....” she held out her hand “...we're not all blind around here. Maybe....it isn't the kind of love you hoped for....but you are loved, adored, and cherished.”

Social Medicine looked back down the hallway, but took Bella’s hand and squeezed gently.

“And respected,” Bella added, projecting an aura of all that; love, respect, desire to protect.

Social Medicine nodded thoughtfully, then pauses for a long moment. “But for you to make a comment like that about my minor issue when you are deal with your loss... “ she shook her head “...it is nyet seem right...”

“...remember I said I need reasons besides duty?” She felt her desire to protect flare into ferocity. “I have at least one now.”

Social Medicine breathed deeply.

But protecting wasn’t enough of an answer. Whatever was done…this had to make Thanh Ha something…not stronger but…more able to protect herself. To enable her. The kind of isolation she had been feeling…that was the wrong kind. She should come to understand, not that she had to stand alone, but that she could. “ ...there is a great deal of protection in being visible,” Bella said slowly, an idea forming. “How visible would you like to be?”

Social Medicine cupped her cheek in her palm. “How are you meaning?”

The very thing that Johnny Murdock hated, Thanh Ha might do very well…and you can’t arbitrarily come kidnap someone whose business card is in your rolodex, and whose face appears as the grave little spokesperson for metahuman rights. There, her apparent vulnerability would be an asset, not a liability. Fragile, tiny, sweet-faced…who could fear metahumans who looked like that? “Well....what if I coached you in dealing, very visibly, with politicians, the way Zach coached me? Shared out some of that job with you. Showed you the schmooze side of the Force.”

“I have experience in dealing with military and politic official. Nyet much, but some. Usually as attraction,” Thanh Ha replied slowly.

She nodded her mind exploring the possibilities. “That's one of the several cards you can play. There's the ‘guilt’ card too....we let it be known that it was an American attack that is responsible for your situation....and then turn around and downplay that. The result will be some people falling all over themselves to do things for you.”

Social Medicine nodded, and not at all reluctantly. “I am willing to do whatever is needed to further our work, Bella ban.”

“I think it's more than time that you got some spotlight, Thanh Ha ban,” Bella replied, feeling, finally, something…besides grief. Something good could come of this…”After all, flowers flourish in the light. And big, green leaves can hide some wicked thorns.”

Social Medicine smiled softly, nodding. “Da.” She took another sip of her vodka. “...We should close Fei Li's file.”

“Would you rather I did?” Bella asked, quietly.

“I can do it. I am just going to label her MIA and put file in proper section.”

“Johnny closed Zach's for me.....” she offered, feeling the grief again. “….all but his email. That's....not a mistake.” She added, very quietly, “I write to him every night.”

Social Medicine moved closer and reached out her hand, Bella took her hand, and held it.
Social Medicine smiled and squeezed it. “Good,” she said.

Bella blinked eyes gone blind with unshed tears. “Help me stay here, my sister,” she whispered. “It is very hard to, you know.”

“I know, Bella ban... “ came the gentle reply. “I can see how hard you're trying. Beyond duty, just as you have try to show me, is love and friendship and family, all of which are greatly and happily given to you.”

Bella squeezed her hand. Sofia, Johnny, Sera, Mori….now Social. All of them saying the same thing. It had to be true. For all the mistakes she had made….that this was given her… “More reasons. Better ones than duty.” She managed a shaky sigh and blinked her eyes clear. “Shall we go tune your spotlight? There are some media interviews and interviewers I think would be very interested in your words right now.” Someone besides the grieving ‘widow’…that would be good. She could only say the same things so many times right now.

“I suppose we can do that....” Thanh Ha hesitated. “Bella ban, if you ever doubt, there are but three things you need do... Remember the outpouring of support you received not just recently, but when you were sick as well. See the respect and love you get from nguoi ban. Finally... “ she sought out Bella's eyes “...remember that any of us would shave Infurno ban if you were to just ask.” She slowly smirked.

From somewhere Bella found the ghost of a shadow of a smile.

“Okay, so I am bad at humor. When isolated for twenty five years, humor is a lost art.”

“Only if I can videotape it,” Bella said. “We could buy another whole ship with the sales from the videotapes.” She squeezed Social’s hand. “I think you do just fine.”

Social Medicine smiled back up at her. “You are too kind.”

There was work ahead. Work was good. Zach would have approved of this. Oh, how he had loved “secret weapons.” Once, she had been his….now Social would be hers. “All right. Let me go do some prep work. Tomorrow you can expect to start getting media contacts.”

Thanh Ha nodded. “I will be prepared.”

“I know you will.” Bella said firmly. “You never give less than your best. That's why you're a Commissar. It's time the rest of the world found that out.”