Holding On

From the Story Arc: There's No Place Like Home

Previous Story in the Arc: Three Suspicions by Red Saviour (Wednesday, May 11, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Report on Althea Nagy by Untermensch (Monday, May 16, 2005)

(posted Monday, May 16, 2005)

Dear Mama and Papa; today I went to Hell.

Althea Nagy considered that phrase carefully, and just as carefully erased it. Not the kind of thing calculated to reassure anyone, least of all herself.

Just when she thought she was getting somewhat more accustomed to this place, something always happened to break the fragile hold she had on self-control.

Dear Mama and Papa; I have found a way to continue my university studies.

That was better.

I discovered that the offices of the departments that take charge of the different kinds of heroes have computer terminals in them, and woman in charge of my kind never uses hers. I am not even certain she knows how to operate it. But she gave me permission to use it and I have enrolled in three classes which are the same ones I was taking at home. I would take more, but my studying and training and patrolling takes up a great deal of my time.

Go here, go there, do that. . ,at least now she had learned the spell to teleport herself short distances. At least now when they sent her to some place across a large distance she didn't have to spend half her time trudging there and back afoot. Some of her missions had been better than others; for instance, now she had teamed with others of the CCCP and Young Champions---

I have undertaken some work with other members of the CCCP and the Young Champions who are about my security level. Unlike the foolish Amerikanskis, they are disciplined and properly trained and know how to work for the common good rather than one person rushing in for all the glory. Mostly though I am still working on my own.

Well, at least she was not as afraid, except of the horrible things they were fighting. But they were things she actually had a chance to succeed against. Not like being sent on a mission in a place she at had no business being, when the only way she could travel was on foot, and ending up being dropped to the ground before she had gotten anywhere near the place. She was getting very weary of the taste of those "awaken" packs. . . .

There is a very sweet-natured little boy from China who has just joined us. I feel very sad for him; he is very young to be far from home, younger than anyone else and he also feels as if the entire burden of the honor of his country rests on very slender shoulders. I know what you would say, Mama and Papa, because I can hear you saying it in my mind now---"Then you must help take care of him." And I shall. But he makes friends quickly and easily, this boy Shen, and he charms everyone who meets him.

Unlike her, who was tongue-tied with most strangers and after several blunders, more afraid than ever of saying the wrong thing. Afraid of doing the wrong thing. And absolutely hating being put in "training situations" where she was bound to fail. Hating it so much that she had actually lost her temper and gotten sharp-tongued with the Commissar after one such mission---when an amazing creature called Shyft had given them all brief bursts of super-speed as part of it, and Thea had not been able to control her own movements very well as a consequence, nor keep up with the others. Red Saviour had asked her what she had learned, and in a burst of bitterness, she had replied "I have learned that it is very easy for me to run into walls, and very easy to get hopelessly lost." Well, she paid for that burst of temper later.

There is also the strangest creature I have ever seen, also the sweetest-natured, and that is Chug. I don;t know what to make of him. He is certainly simple, but I think he understands far more than anyone gives him credit for, although he cannot express what he understands.

And in some way she did not understand, Chug was evidently the reason that some of the CCCP, most of the Commissars in fact, had gone to Hell, and Thea had been dragged with them.

First they had gone to that astonishing place that looked like a spaceport on Peregrine Island, the Portal Corporation. Then they had gone through a Portal, which had been nearly enough to turn her knees to jelly all by itself. But they landed in a sort of medieval library and when she had gone to look at the books---well, after studying the family grimoire as well as the books in Azuria's office, she recognized the titles of them, and it had been enough to stand her hair on end.

Then she saw what they were supposed to be fighting.

Mercifully she had just blanked out at that point, perhaps because she was so frightened she had gone beyond fear into a trance-state. Regardless, she had somehow concentrated on placing the few spells that she knew and trying to follow the instructions she was given. There could be no mistaking the place, however. They had gone to Hell. And it had been the old story all over again. Time after time she had been dropped, and finally at one point she had gone off by herself for a little and wept---not only from fear and grief, but from humiliation, frustration and impotent anger. Maybe it had been more than once. Even the other Commissar Bestial Boy had expressed surprise that she was along on such a mission, and had taken a certain charge over her. Which had helped, but not enough. She didn't recall the words, exactly, but Commissar Red Saviour had said something harshly about how she, Thea, would perform as she was supposed to.

Supposed to! That certainly could not mean what she really knew, which was only good as far as the creatures in Steel Canyon and not in Hell! No, the Commissar surely meant she was "supposed to" live up to that impossible dossier. Well, of course she didn't live up to what she was "supposed to." If she had been able to do so, she would have done more than throw the occasional heal-stealing spell that actually worked, and then be dropped like a shot bird. She would have been able to help Chug against that thing with the axe. She would have been like Alexander Nagy, and the demons would have shrunk back from her.

The Commissar Red Saviour knew, oh, she certainly knew now that Thea was a fraud. Or else, she suspected that Thea was holding back. In either case, the outcome was bad for Thea. The Commissar had a fiendish temper, it was said. She was known for using "Russian police tactics" to get what she needed, and what she needed was the safety and strength of all of the CCCP, not just one weak little devushka that had been dumped on her. She would break as many eggs as she needed to in order to make the omelet, and too bad for the eggs that got broken.

She realized, as she stared at the half-finished letter in a kind of numb trance that she was crying again, silently as always, this time from hopelessness. This was a nightmare that would never end....

Why me? I never asked for this, I never wanted this, and what terrible things did I ever do to deserve all this?

Perhaps it was true, that there was such a thing as reincarnation. If so, she must have been some sort of evil facist torturer of children in a previous life.

With a wrenching effort of will, she swallowed her tears, squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then wiped her face and continued the letter. Weeping only served as a release, and a temporary one at that. She would wait until she was in bed, because at least then it would exhaust her, and she could finally sleep without the movie of her failures playing in her head.

The landlady has been very kind; she is almost seventy and black, and was in the civil rights movement. When I have time I like to go down to her kitchen and she tells me about the struggles she went through with her people. She once shook Martin Luther King Jr.'s hand.

That anchored her, and humbled her, listening to those stories. Now those were heroes, men and women with no powers, no super abilities, just will, and hands, and hearts. And courage, courage of the sort no one who was invulnerable or could shoot beams from his eyes would ever understand.

When she found out I knew how to cook, she and I have been trading recipes and eating together. It is much cheaper to buy things to cook than to eat from a restaurant, of course. She loves my potato pancakes with sour cream, not as good as yours, Mama, but good. And my honey-cake and baked fish. She makes the most wonderful chicken! And something called a "sweet-potato-pie." Since Ivanova gave me magic, something strange has been happening to me, I eat and eat and still am getting thinner. I told her this, to apologize for eating so much. She just laughed and said "Lawsy, you capes, you're all the same! You got hollow legs! Honey, it does my heart good to see you eat healthy." Which means, I suppose, that this is something all heroes are like.

That anchored her too, those little commonplaces in the kitchen with an ordinary woman who didn't care if she could kill upyr so long as her pie crust was flaky.

So if you can send me more recipes, Mama, I can share them with her. I do not think she would like borscht, but perhaps cheboureki, golubtsy, and kaurma; those I can find ingrediants here for. I send you her chicken recipe, so good! Better a hundred times than the Amerikanski fast-food bucket chicken.

I will hold to these things, she told herself firmly,
as she sealed the letter. In the nightmare there are good things and I will hold to them. I will hold to Missus Dales in the kitchen making biscuits. I will hold to young Shen running to hug me. I will hold to Chug eating greedily my honey cake and saying, so sweetly, "Thank youze." I will hold to them, until something happens and I can finally go home and the nightmare will be over.