THE END OF PORNOGRAPHY
1. "What's that one?"
"That used to be Rizal's grave. Now it's a sinkhole."
Neo-Unionists bombed the Quiapo Abortion Center a week before Jessie Mae's thirteenth birthday. Her mother, a doctor, was one of the 37 killed. Her father, a doctor, took Jessie Mae and moved to his native Aklan. On her sixteenth birthday, she moved back to Manila. She visited Quiapo right after she got off the Elevator. Three years and it hadn't recovered.
After the Revolution Quiapo was a model of prosperity and peace, with abortionists and Catholics working side by side. Now:
"And that one?"
"That used to be the Quiapo Church. Now it's a swamp."
Now Jessie Mae was twenty seven years old. Her father had just died, and the Neo-Unionists added hundreds to their numbers every day. So far, the Feminist Party remained in power. But the Elevator Act was abolished, restricting the use of elevators to travel around the Philippines, and a referendum had been called, calling for the abolition of the Pornography Act.
Jessie Mae was a pornographer. She had wanted to be a pornographer ever since she was ten, when she first read Anais Nin's Delta of Venus. Neo-Unionist lobbyists claim the pornography encourages prostitution.
Jessie Mae worked for Speck, a weekly videomag. Her job was to root out slavers, child pornographers and prostitution companies, in order to keep pornography as art disassociated from the garbage that keep popping up in Filipino inboxes.
"How about that one?"
"That used to be the headquarters of the Office of Piracy and Information Dissemination."
"What's it now?"
That's why she was in Quiapo again. Quiapo, the blight, the only place in the Philippines were videophones didn't work. Quiapo, where no one could access the Internetional. The only place inaccessible by bullet train. Ilocos was the only place where drugs, alcohol and cigarettes were legal, Quiapo was the black market’s portal.
Jessie Mae had come to Quiapo to meet her contact, who had information regarding the headquarters of the Romancers, a band of pimps that worked for different prostitution companies. They were reportedly under the pay of the Neo-Unionists.
Vicky was a Justicar of the Office of Execution. They had worked only once before. Jessie Mae had found the younger woman quite irritating.
"How about that one?"
"That is Pascual's. It's a restaurant. That is the place we are going."
"You don't like me, yes?"
"You're nineteen. You're a Justicar. You kill people for a living." Jessie Mae re-activated manual controls and prepared to land. "I have no choice but to like you."
Vicky pouted. "Well, you don't like liking me, yes?"
They got off Jessie Mae's car at the same time. Vicky had wanted to bring her mobile, fool of a woman. Jessie Mae looked around. Everything was bright at Pascual's parking lot. There were only a few cars about, and absolutely no other human being. Vicky dealt with the robot attendant. Jessie Mae felt her laser under her coat. The Laser Act had made it legal to carry digital firearms once more, and she was glad. She hated it that Vicky insisted on bringing only a pistol. She was going to get murdered in Quiapo, just like her mother, because of an airhead Justicar.
It was all lights in the restaurant too. Pascual's was semi-private, but all the booth tubes had their blinds drawn.
"Welcome to Pascual's!" The maitre de was a robot as well.
"Llanes, party of three."
"Feminist Party?" The robot's eyes shone brighter.
Vicky laughed out loud. "That's hilarious! You're a Y2K model, yes?"
"Indeed ma'am, programmed with over 2,000 jokes!" The robot turned to Jessie Mae. "Is there something wrong? You're not a Neo-Unionist, are you?"
Vicky laughed once more. Jessie Mae smiled. "Just hungry, a thousand pardons. Feminist Party. Our third, a man, will be coming soon."
The maitre de gestured, and a robot waiter floated towards them. This one led her and Vicky to a corner booth tube. Vicky pulled up a chair for Jessie Mae.
"Here are your menus," the robot said. "Would that be blinds or no blinds?"
"Blinds please, thank you."
The robot gestured and the rest of Pascual's disappeared from sight. "Just push the red button when you're ready to order. My name is Angelo and I am delighted to be of service to you tonight."
"Thank you, Angelo," Vicky said, reading the menu. The robot floated away. Vicky, eyes still on the menu, said, "Why are you so nervous?"
"Only the paranoid survive."
"The Union isn't that powerful, JM."
"So you say. But the people are voting for their Acts." She scanned the menu. "Sometimes I think we should dismantle the Internetional. The people are getting too much information, they can't assimilate it properly."
"You sound like a Unionist."
"Yeah well, maybe. You ready to order?"
Vicky nodded. She got a salad. Jessie Mae had apple pie. Their dinner was quick and efficient.
"He's thirty minutes late."
Vicky put her flossing machine on the table. "He'll be here. Trust me."
"Trust you? He's my contact."
"You're too tense. He'll get here, eat, give us the information, leave. Then we'll eat again and leave. That's the plan. You planned it. Nothing's going to go wrong."
The blinds came off and Jessie Mae saw the other booth tubes, all unblinded as well. About twenty men, all in fatigue, were searching through the tables. They were all carrying high powered lasers. Except for one, who was wearing a red gown, and was being dragged around by what looked like a robot gardener. Jessie Mae was seated twenty meters from the man, but she saw that his nose was broken and some of his teeth were knocked out.
He was her contact.
Jessie Mae took out her laser. "How good are you with that pistol?"
Vicky shot the robot gardener's head off. All around Pascual's costumers brought their videophones out.
Jessie Mae jumped off her chair and ran towards her contact.
2. The lights were still bright at the place she came to. But whereas Pascual's air smelled of wine, the hospital smelled like alcohol. Ethyl alcohol.
A robot nurse was standing beside her bed. "Welcome back, Jessie Mae Llanes. Please wait a moment, your human companion just went to the comfort room. She has all the information you need to know. Or do you want to request a doctor? Human or robot?"
"Thank you, my companion will serve the purpose." She added in a whisper, "Isis, make her be Vicky."
It was Vicky. She had a cut above her left eyebrow and carried a book under her armpits. "A moment of privacy, please."
"Very well. If you have any requests, feel free to push the red--"
"The red button, yes, I know." The robot left and Vicky sat at Jessie Mae's feet. "How you feeling?"
"Burned to the ground."
"Was it the Romancers?"
"Them and several other bands of pimps. The Neo-Unionists have declared the government illegitimate. It's Civil War. The flag of the Constabulary has been raised."
"Isis have mercy!" Jessie Mae looked straight at Vicky. "What a minute!" Vicky's hair--it was gray.
"How long have I been out?"
Vicky looked straight at her. "Twenty six years."
"No! Isis no!" Jessie Mae tried to sit up and found that she couldn't. Twenty six years on a bed! She brought her arms to her face. Old, sagging. "I had a will! Why wasn't I given euthanasia?"
"Euthanasia Act's been abolished. We need all the warriors we can get."
"You were a gardener for Speck for nine years. You can pilot assault bikes, and you know Quiapo." Vicky took the book out of her armpits and put her hand of Jessie Mae's. "We've been waiting for you. We shall wait no more. You have two days to recover, after which I will take you to the retraining center."
"Isis have mercy!"
"Isis is dead, JM. We have to destroy the Constabulary if you want her resurrected."
3. When she was released from the hospital three days later, Jessie Mae found the rest of Manila mirroring the Quiapo in her head. The once proud spires and towers were broken shards pointing at heaven. The mess of metal and glass that once glittered with the sunlight were now bent and shattered on the streets. Vicky was the one who had suggested the walk to the tenement. Jessie Mae had expected giant robots and aliens. Instead there were quagmire and swamps.
Jessie Mae's new room too was a swamp. She remembered her grandmother telling her that the Philippines used to have slums. At a corner of the room rats were feeding on a cat's carcass. Jessie Mae found herself wanting to cry. She was going to live in her grandmother's memories. "This is good," she said. "This is good." She sat on the folding bed and began counting the rats.
Vicky sat on a monoblock. "This is only temporary. Once you get reassigned, you'll be living with me at the barracks. You're probably thinking about food--"
"That book you have under your armpit, who wrote it?"
"What? This? Oh... Let me see... Do you remember Chuckberry Manansala?"
"Of course you do. He was a bestseller," Vicky scratched her chin, "back then."
"Was he the one who was a sculptor too?"
"Of course, Manansala... What's that he said, about Jesus?" Jessie Mae pinched her lower lips. "I remember! You remember? How did Jesus walk on water?"
"He turned the water into ice." Vicky took off the book's jacket. "Of course I remember. Look at his picture. See? Not bad, yes?"
Jessie Mae leaned to look. "Not bad at all. Whatever happened to him?"
"The Constabulary captured him and tortured him to death."
Jessie Mae wanted to invoke the name of Isis, but out of fear that Vicky might get mad again decided not to. "And that book?"
"His last. A novel. The Leviticus of Princess Stephanie."
"What's it about? The Old Testament this time?"
"It's about four friends. One of them got raped in her childhood, and she told the other three. But later on, the three got mad at her, and started spreading rumors... Princess Stephanie, the girl who was raped, the three said she lied about that to them, and everybody else. About getting raped. They said Princess Stephanie only wanted attention."
"Is it a good read?"
"Its politics is solid." Vicky stood up. "Listen, about the food--"
"I'll just catch some rats." Jessie Mae stood up. "Listen, you said you couldn't tell me at the hospital, but we're at a cemetery now. What happened to Speck?"
Vicky walked over to the room's only window. "Do you really want to know?"
"They closed it down after the Anti-Pornography Act criminalized pornography again."
"What? How could they have done that? The referendum? You! You're a Justicar! The Office of Execution--"
"The Office Act abolished all the Offices."
"Preposterous! Next you'll say the Jessie Mae Giambattista Act abolished me."
"Like I said, we needed warriors. "
"Curious, that. What use would you have of me? I’m untrained, uninformed. Infirm, weak. Invalid. Tell me the truth, why am I still alive?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"This is ugly. All of this is ugly."
"We're at war. Twenty two years we've been at war. What do you expect?"
"I expected the Philippines to be as beautiful as I left her. I expected the Party to stay in power." Jessie Mae picked up the folding bed and threw it at the rats at the corner. They continued eating the corpse. "I expected to wake up in my own reality! I'm more than fifty years old, I should be a decade retired!"
Vicky went to her and hugged her. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I watched them all die and I couldn't do anything." Vicky started sniffing.
Jessie Mae pushed her away. "Don't you dare cry." She went over to the corner, kicked at the rats and picked up the folding bed. She set it up in front of Vicky. Jessie Mae began to undress.
"What is this?"
"Twenty six years asleep. Twenty six years they took everything away from me. I'm going to start taking my life back."
4. When she woke up she found herself alone. She found her neck wounded. She found a note from Vicky as well: "A rat bit you. Don't worry, I injected you with drugs. Be back with lunch."
Jessie Mae got off the folding bed. Her eyes found the rats still at their corner. The cat's carcass was gone. They were feeding on dog now. Her stomach grumbled.
"Isis damn you all." She folded up her bed, carried it to the corner and smashed the biggest rat's head. "Lunch, Vicky," she smashed another rat's head. "I have lunch covered."
May 12, 2008