A cold cloud of trepidation settled over southern China.
The tears of the heavens rained down, pounding against the windows of Meihua's bedroom. The neon city stretched on and on under the cloudy skies, blurred through the raindrops on her window. She adjusted the camera drone floating over her desk where several sketchbooks of pencil sketches sat. She twirled a black marker pen in between her fingers and got to work.
Two days ago, an army of basosattacked the port of Shenzhen. Two days ago, the entirety of Hong Kong secured itself in preparation for the appearance of another army or even worse, a Kaiju. Two days ago, Hong Kong became the city the entire world watched.
Two days ago, the entirety of Eastern Asia banded together and stood behind China to fight back. They had no heroes like America did before the disbandment of EXALT, but perhaps, it was better.
Shenzhen remained tall and proud despite the threat. They evacuated buildings upon buildings and moved them to create a barricade from the monsters while coordinating with other countries on putting up borders from the oceans. Millions of people moved inland while others stayed to fight and help protect the cities surrounding it. The army secured the city and provided a temporary forcefield made from kinetic energy and electricity. They were not America; war-worn and world-weary. This was only the first attack out of many and they still had noble hearts ready to hold arms for their people and country.
If they wanted to survive, there was no giving up.
She adjusted the microphone attached to her shirt and kept her eyes on her computer set up, watching the hundreds of thousands of fans commenting on her stream. Her inky marker ran over the pencil sketch with quick strokes and she was careful to not block the view with her hand.
Hundreds of thousands of people wanted to know what Hong Kong was going to do.
Meihua didn't know anything.
China expected an attack on Hong Kong would happen within three months but she didn't know anything beyond that. Everyone wanted something more and in their eyes, she wasn't almost a thirteen-year-old girl. She was Elixia. A nameless, faceless beacon of hope to the people of the world. As Elixia, she gave them hope through her streams, posts, and art. She could show that there was still beauty in the world, still something to live for. Her millions of followers seemed to agree.
It didn't change the fact useless platitudes wouldn't soothe their worries.
"I'm fine," she said in Mandarin. Her Mandarin was smooth and flawless but not quite her Cantonese which was like a soft sweetness on her tongue, cotton candy melting on each word. "Hong Kong's safe and we're taking preventative measures. They're training up new recruits and I've taken martial arts classes for five years. I'm safe, for now. You should worry about Shenzhen."
Her international viewers didn't understand, however.
"I am fine." She winced as the English words dropped like marbles from her mouth but she tried to pitch her voice higher. "Hong Kong is safe. We are making sure to protect our people. I have hope. I worry for Shenzhen and it's people. I hope they find peace in the aftermath. If you have the ability, please donate to the charities helping relocate people and creating shelters for them. I will create a blog post for it."
She glanced at the flying chat running under her stream.
None of them know that she was twelve, barely old enough to understand what they meant, but she tried.
A knock interrupted her midsentence as she kept trying to reassure her audience.
"I'm sorry to cut this stream short," she said in English as cheerfully as possible, "I am needed elsewhere. I apologize but I promise to stream again soon!"
She turned off her camera drone and cleaned up her workstation before padding towards the door. The scanner at the door recognized her immediately and she flicked it open to find one of her family maids, Ms. Liang, on the other side.
Ms. Liang bowed her head. "Your parents wish to see you, young miss."
"Of course," Meihua said, "no problem! You should take the rest of the day off since you started early today."
Ms. Liang hesitated in stepping aside and she grabbed Meihua's arm. "I'm sorry, Mei," she whispered before letting go and backing away.
"What's going on?" Meihua asked, brow furrowing. Her maid never broke protocol until her parents fell asleep or left for work. "Is everything alright? Why are you saying sorry?"
The maid gave her a watery smile and shook her head. "Please, go meet your parents in the common room on the main floor."
Meihua furrowed her brow before nodding and making her way towards the stairs. She walked down the winding staircase, her feet echoing in the house too big for a family of three. Meihua peeked around for any hints of what would've made Ms. Liang so emotional and ready to break protocol. The house sounded empty, but her parents were like ghosts—never there, a whisper their presence left behind. The only reason why they were home at all was because of the attacks.
The stairs lead down to sleek dark wood floors and Meihua froze at the bottom of the steps.
Her mother and father sat on a pristine white couch across from two men in crisp military uniforms, medals gleaming on the left side of their army green jackets. They didn't look like regular foot soldiers. She didn't even know why there were soldiers in her home.
"Hello," she greeted them with a bow of her head, standing at the side of the coffee table in the center of the room. She glanced at her parent's neutral expression. "May I please ask what is happening?"
"Hello," one of the men said in a charmingly soft voice. "I'm Zhongxiao Chang of the People's Liberation Army Ground Force and this is Zhongxiao Wu. We were speaking to your mother and father about something very important."
Her parents remained silent, eyes turned away from her. Meihua opened her mouth to speak but her mouth dropped shut, a clink of teeth only she could hear. What was happening? Why were these men in her house?
Why did it feel as if everyone, even the secrets eyes in her home, was looking at her?
"You've heard of the draft on television, correct?" Zhongxiao Wu asked, all soft-eyed and words but he was a military man. It was an act, for her or her parents, maybe both.
Meihua shook her head. The wild beating of her heart in her ears and blood rushing away from her heart. She felt weak and hollow—these men weren't supposed to be in her home.
"We are recruiting people with the capabilities to kill the monsters through new technology." He continued. The other Zhongxiao watched her carefully as his partner's words washed over her like water. "People with incredible intelligence, hand-eye coordination, and physical capabilities."
"What does that have to do with me?" she asked shakily.
"You scored with an IQ over one hundred sixty and created rough blueprints for a weaponized suit for a science competition," Zhongxiao Chang cut in. "Along with your art capabilities displaying hand-eye coordination and martial arts, you are a perfect candidate for our new sub-division in the army."
This wasn't what she wanted. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. "What?"
"We're drafting you into the army, daughter," her dad said, cutting right to the heart of the matter.
The words sliced her, a hot knife tearing through the sinew of her ribcage. Meihua looked at her mother but she wouldn't meet her eyes, staring straight ahead and between the Zhongxiao. Her father's cold eyes bore into her before he, too, turned away as a quick as a snap of a bow.
"Your mom and dad are being offered incentives," Zhongxiao Wu coaxed in his accented Cantonese. The soft words sounded so wrong coming out of his mouth. "A safe place in Beijing or Shanghai away from the monsters. Their business will follow them with our help. Don't you want the best for them?"
Shouldn't they want the best for me? She wanted to scream.
"Mom, Dad," she pleaded, "please don't do this."
I don't want to go, I don't want to go, she wanted to say but the words clung to the sides of her throat. She knelt by their feet and held her mother's hands, but even then, she didn't look down at her own daughter. Why are you doing this, if you love me?
"We all have our place in the world, Meihua," her father said. He pried her hands away from her mother's and placed a hand on her head. "It's time you learn yours. You waste your talents away when you have the potential to be great. You can protect our country."
I'm only twelve, she wanted to cry out, but the words wouldn't come. Her eyes burned and her arms couldn't move and she didn't know what to do. Could she even fight this? Why had her parents even agreed? She could die.
"Why are you doing this? Please don't do this," she begged.
Her father pulled his hand back and shook his head. "When you're older, you'll understand," he said.
The trite words did nothing but deepen the wound and the sting accompanying it. Meihua clutched the sleeve of her shirt and her father brushed her away.
"Go," he said. "You must."
She stood up and didn't bother trying to catch her mother's eyes or looking at the maids and butlers attending the house. The zhongxiao walked with sure steps but she stumbled behind them, already drained of her energy. She stopped at the front door behind the zhongxiao lieutenants and their soldiers. The rain poured down, heaven's tears flooding the city anew.
It was a little poetic that she was crying with them too.
Zhongxiao Wu turned around and spoke to one of his soldiers who unraveled a package from his bag. The zhongxiao handed her a jacket with a hesitant smile. "Wouldn't want you to get sick before you even get there."
She nodded and took the jacket. The olive green looked wrong in her hands but she wrapped it around herself anyway. It was almost a perfect fit, but military clothes didn't come in sizes like hers by chance. The warmth couldn't ever change the coldness settling in her.
"Come." Zhongxiao Chang gestured to the trucks waiting at the front of her home. "there's no time to waste."
She followed the military wordlessly, just a flood of tears falling out her eyes as she stumbled behind them, never looking back.
They directed her to the last truck and she grasped the military jacket closer to her, huddling away from everyone else as the doors shut on them. The truck started and Meihua curled up in her seat by the doors.
A man of some important rank sat beside her, towering and muscular but lean due to his frame. He blocked most of her view from everyone else but she could see the gleaming medals on his jacket even in the dark. His handsome and gentle face looked down at her, dark eyes and brows furrowed slightly.
"What's your name?" he asked. "I'm Shangwei Liu, but call me Shangwei Ken. I'm heading this operation so you'll be seeing me a lot from now on."
She shook her head and buried her face in her arms.
"Toughen up before you get there," Shangwei Ken advised and unfolded her arms to pat at her face with a clean handkerchief before handing it to her. "Crying won't get you anywhere from here."
She rubbed her eyes with the cloth he gave her and stared at her feet. He kept quiet but his eyes were on her instead of the other recruits. She snuck a glance at the others—it was probably because she was the youngest by a few years from what she could tell.
The lull of the truck did nothing to soothe her thoughts running rampant. Had her parents always known this would happen? Did they let her learn martial arts and participate in other activities knowing it would lead to this? Why did they do this to her? Did they even love her? Why did anyone ever want to do this?
"Hey," she said, voice barely heard over the harsh sounds of the truck. She looked up at Shangwei Ken and he focused on her, again. "Why did you choose to do this?"
Maybe if she could understand, then it wouldn't feel so much like betrayal. The knife wound her father inflicted had cut through sinew right over her heart and it ached and ached. She doubted it would ever heal, but she could pretend it had.
"Me?" Ken pointed at himself and he put down his gun. "Because it is right and I must. Anyways, if I don't, who will? There isn't a guarantee someone else would've joined instead of me and our country needs all the help it can get until those monsters die out."
Because it is right and I must, she pondered.
She didn't want to abandon her hopes and dreams, but if she did...maybe another person wouldn't have to. Meihua loved Hong Kong and all of its people. She loved her city and the world despite all of its flaws. Maybe, she could be one of the heroes like the stories she read and wrote about.
"Thank you for the handkerchief," she said quietly. Thank you for giving me a bit of courage.
"You're a good kid." He patted her knee. "I'm sorry this happened to you."
She stared through the darkness of the truck at the others sitting with them and really looked instead of the dismissive glance over earlier. She was the youngest by far—but she didn't choose to come. Their grim faces, their tense postures, but lack of fight or tears, she couldn't tell if they had a choice.
"I'm sorry that this happens to anyone," she mumbled.
If she did fight in the war, maybe it wouldn't happen again.
She would get through this. She didn't have any other choice.
Zhongxiao (中校) - Lieutenant Colonel
Shangwei (上尉) - Captain