1. Her legs hurt. They hurt real bad.
Abigail Jorge smashed into a wall and broke her right pinky, but she just shook her head and kept on running. She didn't know what was after her, but she knew it had wings, and guns for hands, and that it killed the six Chinese soldiers escorting her to the Philippine Embassy, so she knew she had to run. And keep on running.
It was dark, and the alleyways were deserted. When she first came to Beijing, almost a decade ago, dogs and cats and bums roamed these alleyways. Now there was no one, no animal to be seen. True, she had been in prison for the past six and a half years, but no society changed that fast in that short a time.
No, if she learned anything from the Party, it was logic. And logic told her that whatever was after her, came after the Chinese first.
She slipped on a can and landed on a puddle. A mix of blood and burak entered her mouth. Her nose was broken.
She stood up and resumed running.
She heard something whirring behind her. The thing's wings. She jumped over a pile of bricks and ran.
Today was the day the Union was going to get her back. That's why they were transporting her to the Embassy. Extradition. She wondered what would be less painful, torture in the Philippines or extermination in China? Running. Running was less painful.
The alleyway finally ended. The light at the end of the tunnel was a two-storey brick wall she couldn't possibly scale. She looked to her left and saw a locked wooden door. She looked to her right and saw a locked metal door. She hurled herself to the left.
The door gave way on her second assault. Her eyes adjusted quickly, they kept her in a bartolina in Chiang Kai Shek Prison at least once every month as a joke. She saw stairs and not much else, just white sheets covering what seemed to be boxes. She looked up, and saw light. There were windows on the second floor. She could climb out of the them, drop down to another alley, or head for the roof, to jump from building to building. The day the Union retook Malacañang, and declared the Party, her Party, once more, a terrorist group, Abigail jumped onto a helicopter that took her to a sailboat that was heading to Macao. The rest of the Central Committee was executed three days later at Plaza Miranda. She climbed up the stairs.
When she reached the windows she stopped to catch her breath. She examined her extremities. She had so many wounds. If she didn't get her leproxy shots, she was going to die. And since she seemed to be the only person left alive in Beijing, she knew she was going to die. Her only real options were dying by the guns of her winged predator or letting her flesh eat itself. She looked out the window. There was a fire escape. Above her were six more flights to climb. Below her was the thing, its wings whirring, floating a feet or two in the air. On top of its head was a searchlight. Or maybe its head was a searchlight. Abigail climbed onto the fire escape and began her ascent.
"Don't look down, don't look down," she whispered. With every other step she looked down. The thing remained where it was. Was it inspecting something? Guarding? Waiting for someone? Resting? Abigail banged her head on a window, and screamed. She slammed her mouth shut and knelt in pain. Her forehead was bleeding, she had cracked a tooth, and when she looked down to check on the thing, she didn't see it. "Just a few more steps now," she whispered, "come on at least die on high ground." In prison, one time, they experimented on her mind. They made her believe she was a 20th century convict, about to face death by lethal injection. It was cruel, and traumatic, and evil, and right now Abigail wished she could go back to that one time.
When she reached the roof, the thing was there.
Abigail fought to keep herself upright. The thing's head was a searchlight, and it hurt her eyes, but she didn't look away. She wanted to face her executioner, see what it truly was.
It was organic. Yes, it had a gigantic florescent bulb for a head, and guns for hands, but its wings were feathered, and its torso and arms were made of flesh. So were its thighs and legs. Its feet were metallic boxes. They were blue.
The thing pointed a hand at her. Abigail prayed to Isis, prayed to be swiftly welcomed to the next plane of existence. She was never much for religion, but she always prayed. Before and after members of the Union tortured her, during the first time they had her, during the Revolution. She prayed on the sailboat that brought her to Macao, she prayed when a storm tossed it to and fro. She prayed when she first arrived at Beijing. She prayed when Chinese agents finally caught her, sleeping in an alleyway. She prayed in prison, especially during her weekly shots and monthly trips to solitary confinement. And she prayed the night she learned of the extradition. Isis, she thought, was a stupid name for a God.
The forced of the explosion lifted her to the air and slammed her on the roof. The thing was a ball of fire now, she saw, and its flames licked at her feet. She dragged herself away.
Someone brought her to her feet. A human. A woman. Chinese. Her clothes were black spandex, and she had a grenade launcher slung on her left shoulder. "Can you run?" the woman asked in Mandarin.
Abigail struggled to form words. "Yes. But. Shots. Shots." She fell into her savior's arms. Just as she lost consciousness, she realized she had spoken in English.
2. When Abigail opened her eyes the first thing she saw was the woman's face. Her hair was in a ponytail, her lips were pouting and she had a scar that ran across her forehead. The woman smiled and said, "Which honorific do you prefer?"
"Ano?" Abigail asked. She closed her eyes for a few seconds. "I mean," she searched for the Mandarin word, "what?" She saw now that she was in a bed. Machines blinked and beeped around her, and an iv was attached to her left arm. They were in a room painted white. The air smelled like alcohol.
The woman stood beside the bed. "You may speak in English, if you want, but I cannot understand that, that other language." She put a folder on Abigail's stomach. "Which honorific do you prefer? Commander, or Doctor?"
"I don't understand." Abigail understood.
The woman opened the folder and angled it so Abigail could read its contents. "Are you not this woman?"
Abigail closed her eyes. It was profile of her. Most probably the Union's. "Yes, yes that's me."
"Doctor," Abigail said, "I'm no Commander. Not anymore."
"Doctor Jorge," the woman said, "My name is Athena Tavoittelija. Please do not ask me about my last name, I am uncomfortable talking about it. More importantly, the Chinese people need your help." Athena flipped through the profile's pages. She stopped on a page with a picture of a bomb site. Abigail blinked. It was Manansala Crater. "This, this is, is this your work?" Athena asked.
Abigail groaned. "I'm sorry, the Chinese people need my help?"
"Doctor, Doctor," Athena shook the folder, "we do not have time for this."
"Time for what? You want me to blow up a city, we don't have time for that?"
Athena sighed. "Doctor, do you not remember the creature chasing you?"
It had wings! "I remember."
"Those creatures have overthrown the Chinese government. They have exterminated almost three fourths of our population. We need your help."
"What the hell for? You have nuclear bombs, don't you?" Abigail tried to lie on her side, to face away from Athena. She didn't succeed. "I don't want anything to do with this."
"Doctor, these creatures, we do not know what they are. Some believe they are aliens. Some, fairies. Madness? Madness or not, what we do know is that they have China trapped in some kind of bubble. We cannot communicate with the outside world. They destroyed our planes, our boats, our submarines. We believe that they are responsible for the disappearance of the Americas. Those we have captured often speak of a Vanishing. But they will not just vanish China. They will destroy it. They will destroy the whole world, you must understand. Even the Philippines is not safe."
"Fuck the Philippines, Ms. Tavoittelija. Fuck China, and fuck those things. I thank you for saving me, but really, how can you expect me to help a government that kept me locked up for five years? And as for my country's safety. I would rather it be destroyed rather than run by the Union."
"The Union, Doctor?"
"The Union. The people to whom I am being extradited." Abigail repeated her speech in her head. She wasn't so sure of her Mandarin.
"We were extraditing you, Doctor, to Party territory."
"Ano?" Abigail tried to sit up. "What?"
"You have been incarcerated for eight years, Doctor, the Party rules almost one eight of your country now. If it hadn't been for the Invasion, you would be in Laguna, now."
Abigail drooled. "No. No. You're lying."
Athena brought out another folder. She put it on Abigail's stomach. "For your reading pleasure. I will return in an hour. Please, decide to help us by then. I am ordered to kill you if you do not comply."
3. Abigail built the bomb. She rested and healed herself for a month, and then with Athena's help transformed the hospital room into a laboratory. The leproxy ate her legs, and there weren't any wheelchairs around, so she was stuck inside the lab. But she got her weekly shots so she didn't lose anymore limbs. Unlike the soldiers she heard about in school and encountered during the Revolution, she didn’t feel like they were still there. She had no fantasies, no phantom legs.
Athena was the only other person she spoke to, though different men brought the machines and equipment she requested for to the room. They were not all Chinese. Of course, Mudanjiang, so close to Vladivostok, had attracted immigrants from around the world before the Invasion.
The thing about the things, she refused to call them creatures, was that they had a superior defense technology. Their force field protected their armored cavalry, their aircraft and their bases. This same force field was used to bubble China away from the rest of the world. That's why the nuclear bombs were useless. It would just exterminate the humans, not the enemies.
The bubble disrupted China's virtual communications, so they didn't have access to the Internetional. Athena brought Abigail books, real books, salvaged from ruins by scavenging parties. They were mostly Mandarin translations of Filipino works. Many were decades old, their pages torn and tattered by time and word eaters. One was called Unopened Letter to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, advocating a kudeta to "overthrow the Philippine aristocracy" and "modernize the Philippines." Another was called Dictionary of the Manansala Language, Volume Two. Its first page went, "I did not want to write an entertaining book. I did not want to write an edifying book. I wanted to write a long book. And as you, my dear reader, can clearly see, this is one long book. It is longer than In Search of Lost Time. It is longer than The Man Without Qualities. At last, we Filipinos have something be proud of." Between the first page and the table of contents were praises from now long-dead magazines. One described as "A surrealist stunt, a cross between Wikipedia and a free association test, a blog before the coming of the Internet."
"Wasn’t Wikipedia a ship?" she had asked Athena.
"It was an opera, I think."
She finished it in three days.
One time, Abigail no longer knew the difference between night and day, they came across a design flaw they couldn't overcome. After arguing for an hour, Athena said they should take a break. She lifted Abigail off her chair and, as had become their practice, brought her to her bed. "I will get us dinner," Athena said.
"Dinner? Evening? Is it evening?"
Athena looked around the lab. "Dinner, food. Whatever. What kind of a language is this English, anyway, so obsessed with gluttony."
"Mandarin is worse, you have to admit."
Athena raised her eyebrows. She stared at Abigail for a few moments. "Yes, yes," she said in Mandarin. "I see you are right. I will get us, um, hapunan. Hapunan, right?"
"So it is evening?"
"Forget I said anything." Athena left the lab, leaving the door open. She always did that.
Abigail reached under her pillow and brought up the door remote. She pushed close.
Over the past few weeks, Abigail had noticed subtle changes in Athena's attitude towards her. She had transformed, in the woman's eyes, from a person to be threatened to a tool to be used to a companion to be indulged. Athena was always bringing in food, and changing Abigail's pillows. Sure, they had arguments, but on the whole Athena seemed to be more concerned that Abigail remained healthy and well-rested. Or, sometimes she joked, "Fat and narcoleptic." Athena had gone from savior to blackmailer to partner.
Abigail stared at the ceiling. It was a high ceiling, so strange for a hospital, but also so unlike a bartolina's. Of course, in the room and in the bartolina, she both couldn't see the sky. But here, here she wasn't a prisoner. She thought she had lost everything. Her country, her freedom. Herself. How ironic that it was in the building of a weapon of mass destruction that she would find her bearings once more. This... Mudanjiang Project, had given her structure, direction, purpose, meaning. It wasn't something she would recommend to everyone. But it wasn't a bad way to live.
After a few minutes, Athena returned with two bowls of lo mein. She put hers on the computer table, got out thick towel from the lab's closet, put the towel on Abigail's stomach and put Abigail's bowl on the towel. "Eat."
"Thanks." Abigail chuckled. "Lo mein, a Chinese woman serves me lo mein."
"You are... amused?"
"It's just, you know, tokeny."
"Like a Mexican saying 'Hola' or a Canadian adding 'eh' to everything she says."
"There are no longer any Mexicans or Canadians in existence, because of the creatures."
Abigail frowned. "Of course, it's not something to joke about." She stared at her bowl.
"It is like... an Arab riding a camel?" Athena smiled at her.
Abigail smiled back. She began eating. "Yes, yes, it's exactly like that."
They ate, and talked about the translations that Athena brought and Abigail read. She had been teaching her a few Filipino words and expressions. Athena mastered the curses first, of course. Abigail thoroughly enjoyed the meal.
"Hey," she said, "you have something." She pointed.
Athena raised an eyebrow, then brushed her mouth with the back of her hand. "Does it remain?"
"Yes, still there. Come closer." Abigail sat up straight. "Come on, come closer."
Athena put down her bowl and leaned towards Abigail.
"There," Abigail said, dropping the noodle to the ground. "You can go back now."
Athena's face hovered an inch away from hers. "Or I could stay."
"Or you could stay."
"Or I could come closer."
"Or I could." She put Athena's face in her hands and caressed her cheeks. She pulled her closer, meeting her lips with her lips. The kiss sent lightning bolts to her eyeballs. She felt she had legs again, a shiver ran from her toes to her vagina to her brain. When they let go of each other, she noticed the bowl of lo mein wasn't on her stomach anymore.
Athena slid a finger under her jaw and kissed her on the forehead. "I'll get the mop." She paused at the door and added, "Darling."
4. Sixteen months passed. An explosion in the lab singed Athena's eyebrows off, and an attack on one of China's few remaining secret pharmaceutical plants delayed Abigail's leproxy shots for two weeks, costing her her right pinky and middle finger. But they finished the bomb. Chinese forces immediately put a plan into action, and seventeen months, three weeks and four days after Athena rescued Abigail from a thing on a rooftop in Beijing, an attack on one of the Invaders' key facilities was put into motion.
They made love before Athena left for battle. Abigail fail asleep afterwards. When she awoke she found a note on her stomach. "I will return."
Two days later a Russian came into the lab carrying a floater.
"Wow. There's an argument for weapons of mass destruction for you," she said, "No bomb, I don't even have a wheelchair. Bomb, I get a floater. Isn't rebellion wonderful?" On the floater, she felt complete.
The Russian shrugged, lifted her off the bed and plunked her on the floater. "The Chancellor awaits you," he said in broken Mandarin.
Abigail willed the floater to about two feet above the floor. She followed the Russian outside. The corridors, like her room, were painted white. "Painted blank is more like it," she whispered. She thought she saw the Russian's ears move. In silence they took a left, then a right, then a right and then went straight ahead. They came across no other human being, on a stacks of what seemed to be boxes, covered by white sheets. "So, is," she said, "Athena with this Chancellor?" They stopped at what looked to Abigail like an elevator.
"Enter," the Russian said.
"Enter the Dragon," Abigail said, laughing at her own joke. "God I need to get out more. I wonder who the hell this Chancellor is."
Before the doors opened the Russian left. Abigail willed the floater to turn right. "Hey," she said, "thanks," then willed the floater to turn left.
"Up, up," Athena's voice called to her.
Abigail saw stairs. She floated up. The sight of the moon, with the stars behind it, greeted her. She was floating inside a giant dome. "Athena?"
"That's Chancellor Tavoittelija to you." Athena was flanked by two of the things. Their box-feet were on the floor, and their wings were steady. "Just joking! Come, come," Athena said, "look, it's the Earth."
Abigail looked, and saw the Earth. "Where? Where are we?"
"China, China's on Earth."
"It used to be on Earth."
"Just a minute, Darling. They're coming."
"Coming? The Invaders?"
"Oh, sweet Abigail, I can never tell when you are joking. Hush now." Addressing what seemed to be the air, Athena said, "Viewscreen."
Abigail saw them. They were spaceships. But if Athena was with the things then... Whose spaceships were they? "They're human," she whispered.
"Philippine, actually. The one on the left is Kalayaan, the one on the right is also Kalayaan and the one in the middle is, um," she looked to the thing on her left, which leaned closer, "yes, the one in the middle is Kalayaan too. Or rather, Kalayaan Two."
"You, Two. Kalayaan One, Two and Three. I honestly do not understand why you Filipinos are silly about names. The Chinese, they have more names than things to name. Wait, wait," she waved her hands, "they've come too far." She motioned to the thing on her right. It flapped its wings, creating the whirring sound, floated five feet off the ground and its left box-foot opened.
"Here we go," Athena said, retrieving what looked like a remote control from inside. It had one big red button in the middle.
"My bomb," Abigail said, floating towards Athena.
Athena pushed the button and Kalayaan One, Two and Three exploded. "I have to tell you, that shield of theirs, yours, was just good. But our bomb, or rather your bomb, was just better. That roleplaying, simulation technique, I did not believe it at first, but you were right. Only by seeing yourself as like them were you able to defeat them." Athena grabbed her own breasts. "I have to confess, though, I did not like carrying these around."
"They were, they were, they weren't Chinese, but they were human. Where is your conscience?"
"I'm not human." Wings burst out of Athena’s back. "And neither, Darling, are you."
"You used me. No, no," Abigail floated away from Athena, floated away from the viewscreen, floated away from the things. "No."
"Yes. You are not human. You are death, the destroyer of worlds." She turned to the things. "Get off that floater, will you? Come, stand over here."
"I don’t have legs."
"Yes, you do."
Abigail looked down and saw that it was true. And they hurt real bad.
Philippines Free Press
March 13, 2010