Secret Admirer

From the Story Arc: The Youngest Champion

Previous Story in the Arc: Lost and Found: Part 2 by Shen Fai-Long (Monday, May 16, 2005)

(posted Wednesday, June 08, 2005)

Steel Canyon. Once again, I silently thank my parents for my ability to fly. Thanks to the grueling training regimen Shuai recommended, I’d finally learned how to glide through the air quickly enough to traverse Paragon City without a CCCP escort. Unfortunately, flying and training were probably the only things I had been doing that Shuai would approve of.

A stray bolt of electricity diffused harmlessly against my clothing, the only merciful warning shot before the flock of Perfected Oscillators swarmed me. There was something about their electric blasts that always puzzled me: they never, ever, ever miss.

“Not again!” I gasped, releasing a flurry of blue light down at the mechanical nuisances. Most of them had already taken off, and the few that had not were nowhere near my energy blasts. The muscles in my arms and legs jerked uncontrollably as four or five lethal jets of electricity burned through my nervous system.

Yes, the Clockwork never miss, which is more than I could say for myself, even with the pleasant hum of my Targeting Drone hovering around my head. I swore under my breath as three more bolts of artificial lightning singed my uniform and formed a painful cage of electricity around my body. Six-hundred feet in the air, and I was about to fall.

Even in a city of heroes, I did not believe in miracles. In fact, I was always taught that many of those who did were a danger to the state. When blobs of darkness clouded my vision, I thought for certain I was dying, but a wonderful sensation of relief came over me, and the cage of electricity dissipated. The darkness cleared just in time for me to activate flight before I hit the ground.

“Privyet, little brother. Are you all right?” a soothing female voice whispered as I set my feet safely on the ground. I turned to see an unusually pale young woman with her hands twisted in a magical sealing gesture. Althea… Althea Nagy.

“N—ni hao, da jie*. Thank you for the rescue,” My cheeks grew hot as I turned to the Oscillators, which were descending fast upon us. Althea was still fairly new to the CCCP, but still a very capable member of the team. She was worth far more than she would admit to herself, and she meant more to me than she probably realized.

We had teamed up before, Althea and I. Many times, actually… Each time, she and I had grown closer, and both of us had grown stronger. To be honest, I had been attracted to her from the moment I first met her, although I’d kept my mouth shut for quite some time.

“Look out!” Althea shouted, projecting a stream of darkness from her fingertips. A wiry Cog I hadn’t even noticed crumpled behind me, lifeless. My thanks were drowned out by the roar of energy impacting steel as I unleashed wave after wave of energy upon the flying Clockwork swarming above our heads. The muscles of my abdomen tightened and twisted painfully with the next electric beam that struck me, fouling my aim for the next volley of energy blasts. Althea’s magic was there for me again, sending blobs of darkness to drain the Clockwork of their power and transform it into a soothing force that repaired bodily wounds.

A few weeks ago, I finally summed up the courage to ask Althea out on a date. She was very kind in rejecting me, although it did little to soothe my broken heart. After all, she said, when we are fifty and fifty-five, our age difference would mean little. But when we are fourteen and nineteen, it is a lifetime apart. It was hard to accept that at first… I’d given her my heart, and she felt it was better to give it back. Never mind that she gave it to me gently, it still cut me deeply.

We’d determined that it was better for us to remain “brother and sister of the heart”, but I still couldn’t escape the way I really felt about Althea. When she and Comrade October Star II began dating, it hurt me more than I am still prepared to admit. I am ashamed to say I was unduly rude to Comrade Star the day they more of less “officially” began dating. I remember the aftermath of that mission well…

“Shen! Please be careful, little brother!” Althea saved my life for the third time that day, sniping a Tesla Prince from a nearby fire escape. The monstrous construct recoiled back and dropped over the railing to the concrete below. A concentrated energy bolt from my right hand sheared through its chest cavity, giving rise to a tiny legion of small Clockwork known as Gears. The Gears resembled murderous action figures, only as tall as my shin, but they contained enough electric power to kill a full-grown man. The tiny robots concentrated their assault on my feet and legs, dropping me to the ground.

“Stoppit!” I screamed, burying the tiny Gears under an avalanche of pulsating light. Two of the creatures stood up after the attack, mindlessly projecting jets of electricity into my left knee. Althea’s dark energy tore them apart moments later, finally ending the Clockworks’ ambush.

“Brother, I am thinkink you are distracted today,” Althea smiled at me. I turned away and blushed, saying nothing. She had the most heavenly smile… You know; that smile of hers that made you feel like you were the most important thing in the world to her. I was almost ready to fall in love with her all over again, but then the thought of Althea sharing that smile with October Star crept into my mind, and the impulse was gone. These thoughts were supposed to stop! I should be a loyal brother, not a scorned lover! What kind of comrade am I to be having these thoughts about her still?

I wanted to tell her everything. I wanted to tell her that no matter what, she still meant the world and more to me. I wanted to tell her that I did not care that she is so much older than me, that we could make it work and she did not have to go with that lout, October Star instead of me! …October Star.

None of this was fair to Comrade October Star. I knew it was not my place to say any of it… I knew it would only make Althea angry with me. Perhaps she would not even want to be my sister of the heart anymore. She would certainly want nothing more to do with such a stubborn, selfish little boy. Why should she? She said we were to be comrades, or even family, but never anything romantic. Yet I stupidly, clumsily kept a flame alive for her as though it would change her mind—how STUPID!

I do not deserve her. I deserve to be alone for such selfish thoughts… Althea should be happy with Comrade Star. Comrade Star seems to genuinely care for her… But is he good enough? Of course he is! Althea has chosen him! He is reckless! He charges into combat without thinking! He nearly got himself killed the last time you saw him! Would you really trust someone like October Star with Althea’s heart?

No… Then stop him before he breaks her heart! You know that he will! But—but I was reckless, too! Da jie had to save my life four times today! But does she have to save you every day? Didn’t you make it your secret pledge to keep her safe all this time, since you found out about the plot against her? You have known Althea for far longer than this “October Star”. You know her better! You know she is better off with you than with him!

No! That is such stupid, selfish thinking! I am becoming like the Americans, only thinking about myself! It is just as Althea said; I must not let their habits contaminate me! I—I am a soldier of the People’s Republic of China! I have an entire nation’s expectations riding on my shoulders! I cannot allow something as foolish as an infatuation jeopardize that!

Happiness is foolish, is it? Your happiness? Althea’s happiness? Aren’t you thinking only of her? Why do you oppose October Star? Isn’t it because you know he will only hurt Althea? No! Stop it… You’re right… You only oppose him because you are a selfish little twit! You want Althea all for yourself, but you are too weak to take her! Listen to me… Pledge your loyalty to me, and I can make Althea Nagy love you. Not just as a sister, not just as a comrade… She will take you as her lover, Shen Fai-Long. You both will be happy for the rest of your lives if only you would do as I say…

No… Pledge yourself to me, Shen Fai-Long! Do as I say, or my court will obliterate you! You will never sleep, never rest, we will never relent—

“NO!” I screamed, clutching my head in my shaking hands. I awoke to realize that Althea was at my side, holding me in her arms. I looked up into her eyes, as beautiful as her cream-white skin, and wept.

* “da jie” means “sister”, and contains many affectionate connotations.