When he heard that the movie icon Fernando Poe Jr. had died, Vinci del Rosario sat by his desk for an hour doing nothing. Coming after the debacle of Poe’s lost presidential bid in 2004, Vinci thought it was too much to bear.
Posters of FPJ’s past movies adorned the walls of the small room Vinci was renting from his aunt. These ranged from the first movie he watched, Isang Bala Ka Lang, to Maging Sino Ka Man where he saw his idol actually sing.
To shake himself from his grief, he decided to lose himself working on his latest komiks. The feeling that his deadlines were always looming over his shoulder helped a lot in distracting him from the real world.
(Part 23, first panel: A man dressed in porter’s clothes is standing beside a giant shipping container. The scene around him shows a busy port despite the lateness of the hour. The man is smoking.)
When the authorities come for him, Jack Boniface is thinking of how to break someone out from prison.
He has been at the Manila port area since night fall, watching the star ship Last Stand at Bataan turn out off-worlder tourists. Dressed in porter’s overalls and an old leather jacket, he looks like a bystander but acts like he has every right to be there.
He is distracted by the constant whining of the fly-bots advocating hologram advertisements when he notices the rows and rows of geo-sync parasols—which had been communicating with the orbital habitats on the horizon—suddenly adjust one after another. As if something had blocked their panels.
He looks up, sees three cyborgs landing lightly down. A hover brig is floating above them, its flashing lights bathing everything in red and yellow. Two of the cyborgs surround Jack, the third approaches him with a quad core rifle pointed at him.
The ‘borg says, “Bonifacio Joaó Berroya! You are under arrest!”
Jack flicks away his cigarette, frustration etched on his face.
He mutters, “Anak ng puta naman. I swear, sometimes I get tired of being named after a national hero.”
“Vinci! Come on down for lunch!” Tita Mely shouted from downstairs.
“Sorry tita, I can’t!” he shouted back, drawing the last lines in a rush.
He stood up from the large architect’s table and rubbed his aching neck. Then with careful reverence, he rolled up the sheet and placed it inside a carton tube he used just for this purpose.
He had finished the next installment of his komiks series for RetroPulp, a local magazine, and all he needed to do now was to deliver the panel. Normally, he’d just scan and email his work to his editor. But he needed to pick up his pay as he was already past this month’s deadline for the rent.
“Are you going out today?”
“Just to the office, tita. Going to get my check from Mr. Verona,” he yelled as he put on last week’s jeans and a newly-washed t-shirt. Grabbing the tube, he jogged downstairs and found Tita Mely serving adobo and pinakbet.
“O, you’re finished working already?” his aunt asked who had already started eating ahead, her fat fingers sticky with rice as she ate bare-handed.
“Opo,” he replied, wariness automatically kicking in as he edged around the table. Uh-oh. Here we go again.
“What are you working on now?”
“Still the same, tita,” he said as he took one step farther towards the door.
Vinci sighed. He always did this once a week. He said by rote, “I’m drawing komiks, tita. It’s about our national heroes Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo and Jose Rizal working during the revolution to kick out invaders.”
“But that’s not true! They never did!”
“I know, tita. But it’s a what-if story, something that might have happened.” Almost to the door, he thought with desperation.
“So it’s a fantaserye. It never happened,” she crowed in relief, her reading glasses slipping off to precariously hang on her stubby nose.
“Yes, tita. It never happened,” he agreed, smiling as he reached the door. Waving goodbye, he exited the house and closed the gate door with a bang in his rush to get away.
As he was waiting for a taxi in front of the house, he could not help but notice a black Mercedes-Benz parked at the corner with its tinted windows so opaque he wondered if anyone could actually look out of them. The Benz was sorely out of place: not too many rich cars spent time in their neighborhood since the streets were too narrow to accommodate them.
Nearby, the tambays drinking at the nearby sari-sari store were talking about it.
“Ganda ng kotse, a,” Vinci said by way of greeting.
“Kanina pa ‘yan eh,” said one of the neighborhood toughs.
“Talaga?” he said, glancing over his shoulder to peer at the car. It looked menacing and he remembered a song by The Breed about an evil black Benz that roved the city to prey on the poor.
He shrugged and put the idea away. He managed to snag the attention of the driver of a passing cab and jumped in before the man could hesitate. He gave the driver directions and sat back to relax.
The drive to Mandaluyong was uneventful except for the usual traffic, and it took him an hour to get through Ortigas avenue. To kill time, he thought about how he was going to pull off Bonifacio’s rescue of Rizal from the Tagaytay maximum penitentiary at the crater of the raging Taal volcano.
The ‘borg says, “I am Sergeant Bravo of the MMDA Robotics Guard. You are charged with violation of the Anti-Subversion Law. This is punishable by death.”
“Huh. I thought you only went after extremist squatters. ‘Di ko akalain na nag-aabang rin kayo ng tulad ko.”
“We are still authorized to make arrests of suspects. You have twenty-four outstanding warrants. These include exhortations of violence against government and military personnel and the general use of the outlawed Filipino language.”
“Ganun kakonti lang? Syet. I guess nobody told you I was also behind the bank robberies last year.”
The ‘borg continues, “A Leviathan Heavy Cannon is locked on your bio-signature. This is your last warning.”
Jack thinks about it while he lights another cigarette stick with his antique Zippo. When done, he peers at the ‘borg through the smoke and says:
“Eh kung ayoko?”
Bravo turns his head and addresses his men, “Units Delta and Echo, proceed with the arrest.”
The two ‘borgs stride forward, Echo taking out an electric-baton while Delta holds a tie-cord from his utility belt . Delta reaches for his arm.
Jack says, “Ang kulit ninyo, ha?”
When Vinci reached the Alarcon Publishing office, he didn’t even have to haggle with the cab driver over his change. He wondered if it was going to be his lucky day.
Just as he stepped out, he heard the buzz of a heavy motor piercing the air and turned around to see someone zoom past the street in a black Ducati motorcycle. Asshole, he thought. He hated those braggarts who zipped around in expensive bikes.
He managed to slip past the distracted security guard manning the door who was trying to talk in broken English to a Japanese businessman. Dressed in a somber-looking business suit, the Japanese didn’t seem to understand a word.
Inside, the young receptionist signaled for him to enter and he went straight to the editor’s office. Knocking at the door, he opened it slightly and called out, “Mr. Verona?”
“Vinci! Come on in!” said a disembodied cheerful voice.
As usual, his editor Nick Verona was seated by his desk behind a number of tall piles of magazine and digest copies that threatened to topple over. However, Vinci’s jaw dropped in surprise when he saw the visitor.
“Hello, Vinci,” Verona said, peering over his spectacles as he shook a sheaf of papers in his general direction. “Take a seat. Have you met G.D. here?”
“Hey man,” said Gerry Drilon or G.D. as he signed his comics. G.D. was one of the local industry’s top comic book artists. Despite the bristling moustache that gave him a fierce look, his voice was easy-going as he rose from his seat and clapped a hand on Vinci’s shoulder.
“Finally good to meet you,” G.D. said, “I’ve seen your stuff and they’re fantastic. They remind me of the works of old-timers like Alex Niño or Nestor Redondo.”
Gulping, Vinci found his voice and said, “Th—thanks, Mr. Drilon. Wow…I can’t believe it…I’m a real fan of yours!”
“’Sus,” G.D. said, waving away the compliment.
Verona said, “We weren’t expecting you today, iho. What can I do for you?”
“Huh? Oh, yes, I was just hoping to pick up my check today, sir. And to drop this off.”
With that, he handed over the tube. Verona took the tube, pulled out the panel and unrolled it on top of his cluttered table. G.D. whistled appreciatively.
“Incredible stuff, Vinci,” said G.D. “My favorite is that robot satellite, MABINI. And don’t you think Bonifacio looks like FPJ?”
“Vinci’s a die-hard fan of FPJ,” Verona said. Vinci winced. He used to hear that tone a lot from people who laughed over the idea of the action star running for president.
G.D. said, “Where did you come up with the idea of getting those national hero guys together? It reminds me of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentleman—and not the crappy LXG movie.”
Vinci shrugged and said, “I thought that if they had cooperated then, we wouldn’t have made such a mess of our country today.”
Verona said, “Just for your information, G.D., Vinci’s series is one of the best-selling komiks we have nowadays. The kids love it so much, the issues just fly off the shelves.”
G.D. grinned and said, “I’m not surprised. It’s good, and you can quote me on that.”
“Thanks sir,” Vinci said.
A bolt of lightning hits Delta and sends him sliding flat on his back. Another throws Echo against the far wall of a dock container.
“Warning! We are under attack! Terminate–!” says Bravo.
Before Bravo can say anything else, the ‘borg’s head explodes in a crackle of fire and flash. The two remaining ‘borgs on the craft hesitate, not knowing where the attack is coming from. An electromagnetic pulse knocks them down.
Jack watches as the figure of the assassin Zauma Aginaldo steps out behind the steel containers. Behind him he could see the small floating silver sphere that represents the renegade artificial intelligence that is MABINI, the electronic eyes of a Fourth World War-era hunter-killer satellite in space.
“What took you so long? Buong araw na ko naghinintay!” Jack says.
“Allahu Akhbar! Do I always have to save your godless ass, Jack?” says Zauma, the twin laser cannons coiled around his neck swing about as if they have minds of their own.
“And who said I needed rescuing, kalbo? I had the whole situation well in hand,” replies Jack, showing an antique six-shooter and a bolo under his jacket.
The metallic voice of MABINI intones, “Calculated odds determine a tactical withdrawal when faced with numerical and firepower superiority.”
Zauma laughs and says, “The soulless one is right. You were going to use that against them? You’re a fool, Jack. Who brings a knife to a gunfight?”
“Oh shut up,” Jack says. “So where’s everyone else?”
Thirty minutes later, Vinci was almost floating on air when he exited the office gate with his check in hand. Not only did he have money again but Gerry Drilon had complimented his work. Gerry by-God Drilon!
That was when he bumped into the Japanese businessman standing before him, dark shades glinting in the afternoon sun.
“Whoops! Sorry. ”
Whatever the Japanese was going to say, Vinci never heard it over the vroom of a motorcycle engine. Turning to look, he saw the same Ducati motorcycle on the sidewalk behind him and its rider, whose face was covered with a midnight black helmet, pointing a gun at him.
He barely had time to realize that he recognized the gun—a Desert Eagle, having used it a lot when he played Counter-Strike—before the rider fired.
Vinci screamed and ducked. He felt the bullet whiz past his face as he did, his arms covering his head as he hit the pavement. After the fourth shot, he realized he was still alive.
“Come with me if you want to live.”
Vinci looked up and saw the rider extending one hand, the other holstering a smoking gun. He almost laughed hysterically at that particular line but didn’t when he saw the bullet-riddled body of the Japanese lying on the ground behind him.
When the Japanese twitched and sat up, Vinci revised the movie in his mind and jumped for the motorcycle’s backseat.
“Go! Go! Go!” he shouted as he wrapped his arms around the rider’s waist.
The rider gunned the engine, almost making Vinci slip from the motorcycle. They swept past the shocked security guard and the usyoseros but almost ran over an American in the same kind of dark business suit as the should-be-dead Japanese running towards them.
Unfortunately, a careening tricycle was not so fortunate and slammed into the American as if he were a brick wall; the crash threw the driver several meters away. The American shrugged off the wreckage of the tricycle.
As their motorcycle sped away, Vinci recognized the black Mercedes-Benz that screeched to a halt to pick up the Japanese and the American.
“Hold on tight,” the rider said, the voice coming from the helmet.
“Where are we going?” he shouted.
The rider answered, “Someplace safe.”
And then the Benz was there, charging out of the next street corner. The rider leaned hard to the right and they swerved to avoid being hit. The rider gunned the motorcycle’s engine again and they left their pursuer behind.
“Sino mga ‘yun?” Vinci cried as he looked over his shoulder. The rider ignored him.
They eventually managed to lose the Benz in the traffic on Shaw Boulevard and slipped onto the EDSA highway heading north to Quezon City.
Fuckshitfuckshit, he thought as he held on tight to the rider. He could still remember the feel of the bullet zipping past his face. That Japanese was dead. I know he was dead. He got shot so many times. And that American…He shivered.
After twenty minutes and too-many turns to count, Vinci didn’t know where they were. He knew they were in Quezon City, but having lived most of his life near EDSA, he had no idea where they were exactly. Then they stopped.
“We’re here,” the rider said, pointing at a house.
Vinci looked around and saw they had stopped in a quiet neighborhood, with trees lining the sidewalk. It was a small non-descript two-storey house, its small green rusted gate open to the world. It had an air of being abandoned, the closed jalousies covered with dust, brown curled leaves covering the garden, and the door solidly shut.
“You can let go now.”
“Oh,” he said. “Sorry.”
He let go and with trembling legs, slid off the motorcycle. “Where are we?”
“Home for the time being,” the rider said and took off the helmet, leaving Vinci gaping for the second time that day.
“I hate wearing this helmet. Makes my scalp itch,” she said. She couldn’t be called pretty in the traditional sense, with her sun-darkened face, snub-nose and lined face. He thought she spent most of her life under the sun. But her looks were striking.
“Come on. Let’s go inside. You can meet my sisters.”
“You’re a girl!”
“Oh, so you finally noticed? I could barely breathe, the way you were mashing my breasts,” she said as she turned to go. At first glance, she seemed to be older but then Vinci realized she was probably as old as he was. It was the eyes, he thought, her eyes seemed to be an old woman’s eyes.
“Wa—wait!” he called out as he followed hurriedly.
Joseph F. Nacino is an internet editor of a shadowy mega corporation that runs the world wide web. He’s currently on hiatus from the Philippine Speculative Fiction scene but he’s hoping he can be back starting 2012. He’s had several stories published in Kenneth Yu’s The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, the Philippine Speculative Fiction series edited by Dean Francis Alfar, Vincent Michael Simbulan’s A Time of Dragons anthology, the online Fantasy Magazine, Playboy Philippines Magazine, and FHM’s Erotica Special. He also won first place in Neil Gaiman’s Philippine Graphic Fiction Awards in 2007. He can rarely be found at his blog http://estranghero.blogspot.com/ but when he is, he’s usually muttering Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, “Ozymandias.”
The above image is from here.