The girl knocked on the door, which quickly swung open. He noticed a rusted lock hanging from the doorway. She walked inside and he followed, his eyes taking a moment to adjust.
Inside, he saw the house was almost bare except for a lone plastic chair in the middle of the dining room and a rusty gas stove in the kitchen. The sunlight from the front windows barely reached the other end of the house and a set of rickety stairs ran to the second floor.
But the place wasn’t uninhabited: a number of women carrying heavy firearms lounged around the place, barely looking up when the two entered the house.
The one slumped beside the door said, “Where’ve you been, Maia? And who’s your boyfriend?”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” said Maia, bussing the speaker’s cheek and throwing a wave at the others.
“I think you people owe me an explanation, whoever you are!” he said.
The first speaker, who looked like a smaller version of Maia but dressed in a long black robe and shawl, looked at him up and down. She said with a smile, “I think we’d better introduce ourselves first.”
Maria rolled her eyes and turned to Vinci. “Fine. These are my sisters. The pipsqueak here is Delia.”
The shawled girl gave him a grin and a thumbs-up, unmindful of the AK-47 on her lap.
Maria continued despite the cat-calls from the various women across the room. “The one trying to cook is Enya, the one who looks like a school-girl with the M60 is Charisse, Teresa is guarding the backdoor, and Akuma is the one wiring all those explosives.”
She turned around and asked Delia, “Where’s June and the rest?”
Delia pointed upstairs. “They’ve got the second-floor covered. Felicity has sniper duty. If you weren’t who we thought you were, we’d be hearing the .60 caliber opening up even before you got to the door.”
Enya, who was tasting something from a pot on the gas stove, said in a pained voice, “And Sharon is out buying groceries. I swear, Charisse keeps finishing all the food we stock up.”
“I do not!” said Charisse, flattening out her skirt self-consciously
Delia looked at Vinci and shrugged, “Enya hates it when it’s her turn to cook.”
“That’s because no one else here can cook a decent meal!”
Maria sighed, sat down on the single chair and unholstered the Desert Eagle. She shucked the empty clip, put a full one in and chambered a round. “So Vinci– do you believe in the Matrix?”
Vinci goggled at her as the room erupted in laughter. Delia tsk-tsked, said, “Sorry, Vinci, but Maia loves watching 20th century movies.”
“And don’t you just love how cheap DVDs are nowadays?” Akuma said, her too-large eyeglasses slipping from her nose.
“How did you know my name?” he said suspiciously.
“We know,” Delia said. “You’re a pretty important person, Vinci.”
“Let me ask you instead: What do you know of Greek mythology?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Everything,” Teresa replied mournfully, “We’re in a middle of a war, Vinci. And you’re the ball.”
An exasperated Maia shook her head, said, “Don’t mix your metaphors, Teresa. Let’s start at the beginning. To put it bluntly, Vinci, we are the Nine Muses of Mount Olympus.”
“But—but you’re all Filipinos! How can you be Greek goddesses?” he blurted out.
“Technically, we’re not deities,” Akuma said, adjusting her eyeglasses. “We’re Muses. But you think we’re Filipinos because of some form of collective consciousness recognition. For example, June is more known as the guardian of Makiling Mountain.”
“Well, some mountains are universal,” she shrugged. “But it also explains why June is always getting tangled up with your menfolk, since she’s the Muse of Tragedy.
Vinci sat down heavily against the wall beside Delia and said, “I think my head is starting to hurt.”
Maia made a face at Akuma, who pouted and fell silent. Maia said, “As I was saying, we’re Muses and we’ve taken an interest in you because of your comic strip.”
Delia, concern on her face, kneeled before Vinci. “Poor boy. Let me put it this way. In the Middle Ages, a man named Dante Alighieri created a work that would resonate through both time and space. That work was the Divine Comedy and it shaped your human view of Heaven and Hell.”
“Trust humans to come up with a systematic way to torture other people,” quipped Enya.
“Shut up, Enya!” said Teresa, Maia and Charisse.
Delia continued as she hadn’t been interrupted: “Did you ever wonder why people always think they’ll burn in Hell, or that Heaven is a cloudy place? It was never like that. That was Dante’s fault. Anyway, your work seems to be creating the same effect for the Filipino race.”
“How is that?” Vinci asked, desperately feeling like the ground beneath him was tilting.
“It creates a possibility for Filipinos that their three national heroes could have worked together during the Philippine Revolution of 1898,” said Teresa, sighing.
“Which is bad,” put in Maia, “because it’s drawn the attention of others.”
Delia looked at the others fretfully and said, “Well, the Moriae—the Fates—don’t like anyone else messing around with History and Time. Which is why they’re after you.”
“What, the two guys who were chasing us? The Japanese and the American? I thought the Fates were female. And a trio.”
“Sometimes they’re women, sometimes they’re men. It depends on the situation,” Teresa put in. “Serendipity just made it happen that they look Japanese and American.”
“And they may look human—but don’t make the mistake that they are,” warned Maia. “Yes, there are three of them but they’re Powers that not even the gods would go up against.”
“But you people are,” he said desperately.
“Us? Nothing can, and I definitely won’t bet on us if we do,” said a beautiful yet grim-faced woman who had come down the stairs.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, June,” said Enya wryly.
June shrugged, said, “Watch out, Sharon’s coming in and she’s running like Cerberus is after her.”
“If ever there’s a red pill and blue pill being given out now,” Vinci said, “I’d take the blue pill, if you please.”
Maia snorted. “You know, you’re making it very hard for me to think you’re worth the effort, even if the Fates are messing with our job.”
“Hey, I never thought drawing komiks would actually get me into trouble.”
“But that’s always the lot of the artist,” Delia said.
June looked up and said, “Do you hear that?”
There were sounds of sirens approaching. They rushed to the windows to look but they only saw a quiet suburban street outside.
“Felicity!” Maia shouted.
Vinci heard a voice from above shout back: “Nothing out here yet. But they’re coming.”
A beat later, they saw police vehicles swerve to a halt outside, followed by a flood of armed police and SWAT. At the forefront of the vehicles was a recognizable black Mercedes Benz.
“Oh shit. I think I just pissed myself,” Vinci moaned.
“I’m not cleaning that up,” Maia said.
There were hurried shouts outside and then the sound of pistol fire. A thunderous blast echoed from the second-floor, silenced by a crash that sent dust drifting down from the ceiling.
“We’ve got raiders on the roof, people!” shouted June before rushing back upstairs. Her shotgun soon rang out.
Teresa fired her Aug Steyr through the jalousies, breaking a couple of panes, “As if we hadn’t noticed!”
“Great. Shoot first, ask questions later. They probably think you’re terrorists and this is an Abu Sayyaf hideout,” Vinci said, seeing the police outside run for cover.
“Probably,” said Maia. “Incoming!”
Delia quickly unlocked the door and a blur rolled past them, clutching a .357 and a shopping bag. Delia said, “You alright, Sharon?”
Sharon, red-faced with exertion, swore in very eloquent kanto-boy phrases.
“In English, Sharon,” Maia muttered.
Sharon grimaced and said, “I got two on the roof before the rest blew in. I don’t think Felicity saw them coming.”
“Yes, I did,” said Felicity, who was being helped down by June. Blood had drenched Felicity’s shoulder but she was smiling triumphantly. “I was busy at the time taking out the SWAT team trying to tackle you.”
“Count later, girls,” scolded Delia. “We have to protect Vinci. Maia, it’s your job to get him out of here.”
“Why am I the bodyguard? I never even liked that movie.”
The police finally seemed to have had enough, their answering fire shattering the rest of the jalousies and forcing those inside the house to drop to the floor. That didn’t stop the girls from firing back blindly.
At that moment, Charisse said sweetly, “Excuse me” then she broke the rest of the jalousies with her M60 as she propped it against the front window pane and started firing. A full belt later and in the sudden silent aftermath, the rest could hear cries of the police: “Hindot! Retreat! Bilis!”
“Just laying some suppressing fire,” Charisse said giggling and daintily reloaded another belt of ammunition into the M60. There was no wasted movement, her hands flowing from ammo box to the chamber in one fluid motion.
“Let me guess,” Vinci said, “She’s the Muse of…. Erm, the Dance?”
“You do know your Greek mythology,” Delia said, clapping her hands.
Maia rolled her eyes and muttered, “Great, now we can call it a day and go home.” She took out another Desert Eagle from her side and fired both, the blasts of the handguns almost as loud as the M60 in the enclosed space.
Vinci saw a member of the SWAT team drop to his face on the road, a small canister spewing white smoke rolling to the gutter. Maia said, “I really don’t like tear gas. Making people cry is our job.”
It was then it felt like reality screamed in pain, the piercing sound like a thousand nails running against a thousand blackboards. Vinci cried out in pain at the noise and clamped his hands on his ears. Maia and the rest withstood the attack grimly.
Before Vinci’s eyes, he saw the front wall start to disintegrate: first the windows, then the door, then pieces of the wall. It was like some god-child had used an eraser to wipe out the wall out of existence.
“Show-offs,” he heard Teresa shout. “They’re fast-forwarding time so the wall would turn into dust.”
“Teresa isn’t happy because they’re her relatives,” Enya shouted back. “Maybe you can go talk to them, Tess!”
Once the wall had disappeared, Vinci was impressed upon seeing the havoc the girls had caused outside. As the tear gas smoke cleared, he saw uniformed bodies littered everywhere while police cars and jeeps were pock-marked with bullets.
He also saw three figures standing outside the street beside the Benz. All of them were dressed the same, dapper in their black suits. All of them radiated power and menace despite being empty-handed.
“Who’s the third guy?” Vinci asked.
“Knowing serendipity, that’s probably a Spaniard,” Delia said as she aimed her AK47. “In a way, the Parcae are predictable.”
“Jesus H. Christ,” he said, “They look like Agent Smith copycats. Where’s Neo when you need him?”
“Stories are universal,” Akuma explained absentmindedly. “You could say that the Matrix movie tapped into something primeval.”
“Just don’t expect me to be anybody’s Trinity and do any of that kung-fu shit,” scoffed Maia.
“Damn it, I thought you lost them before coming here, Maia,” June said.
“They lost them coming here,” Akuma said, “But not coming here now. When History is their plaything, following footprints in Time is easy.”
Give us the boy, said the American. And live your life in ignorance.
“I don’t think so,” Maia said, bringing up both the Desert Eagles and firing again. “Go Vinci!”
Vinci got up to run but slipped on the bullet casings. Cursing, he covered his head as all the girls started firing at the three. He saw the American go down. He saw Felicity raise a humongous rifle (the .60 caliber, he thought inanely) and watched the Japanese’s chest explode.
To his astonishment, he saw the Spaniard turn somehow insubstantial so that none of the bullets hit him. He heard the Spaniard say, My turn.
Vinci heard something rattling above and when he looked up, he saw the ceiling was pockmarked with holes. He started when something sparked near his left hand, leaving only raised dust.
“Crap,” June said as she reloaded her shotgun. “They’re calling in a meteorite air strike!”
“Ha? Where? How?” Vinci said, looking around.
“Serendipity is a killer when the Fates are involved,” Maia said, cocking both Desert Eagles and targeting the Spaniard again. “Vinci, I told you to run!”
He bolted then, heading towards the backdoor so fast that he didn’t even stop to open it. With a crash, he shouldered the door aside and ran into the backyard. He looked around and saw the yard was surrounded by a low metal fence. He took a running start and hurled the fence with one jump.
Breathing heavily, he turned around after he put some distance between himself and the house. He could hear what seemed to be like rain but knew that what was falling was hard stone. He heard female screams of pain.
He thought about his life, about what his hero FPJ would have done. He started running back.
When he got back inside the house, he couldn’t take in what he saw. Half of the girls were down and the Spaniard was kicking Enya halfway across the room even as he punched Delia in the gut. He moved so fast, he managed to evade June’s pointblank fire and break her shotgun in half.
By this time, the Japanese and the American had both recovered and were steadily walking towards the fight as if they had all the time in the world. He knew June was right, that the girls were no match for the three. He didn’t know if Muses could die but in the little time that he had gotten to know them, he didn’t want them getting killed for his sake.
But what could he do?
He thought about his komiks, about the characters—the heroes—he created: Jack Boniface, Zauma Aginaldo, and MABINI. Or the others like the cashiered ex-Special Forces cyborg Dario Pilar and the infamous killing machines, the Luna Twins. He imagined them in his head: Jack standing tall and steady despite his enemies’ scorn, the giant Zauma who was a monster only in appearance, the cold intellect of MABINI constantly curious about humans, and the rest.
And he imagined them moving through the shadows of the house, stepping out into the light where he could see them.
“Ang tagal mo naman tawagin kami,” Jack said with a grin.
With his trademark sideburns, Jack held a six-shooter in his right hand while a bolo handle peeked from behind his head. Vinci gazed in wonder: Jack looked exactly like FPJ. More importantly, Jack looked as solid as Vinci could imagine him, as if the action hero had stepped out of a movie screen and into real life.
“After this, maybe we can finally pull Rizal’s ass out from prison,” Pilar said, his electronic eye-scope glowing.
Zauma grunted, the lasers on his neck whirring to life. “These bastards need to be taught a lesson to face real men, not children.”
As usual, Anton and Johnny Boy Luna were grinning maniacally while the renegade A.I. floated serenely beside them. But it was enough.
Jack’s pistol barked to hinder the Japanese’s progress while Zauma’s lasers cut the Spaniard down. Likewise, the floating sphere that was MABINI flashed past as its mini-cannons dropped policemen where they stood while Pilar and the Luna siblings left their own trails of violence.
Refusing to be stopped despite his wounds, the Japanese threw a kick at Jack who blocked it with an arm. But the Japanese was no match for Jack, the latter throwing punches faster and more powerful than the other could counter. In a final move, Jack slammed both palms against the ears of the Japanese that buckled his opponent’s knees.
Meanwhile, the American had come to the defense of the Spaniard. With a roar, Zauma caught his enemy in a bear grip and proceeded to squeeze. The American tried his best to break Zauma’s grip, pummeling him furiously, but the assassin ignored him. He kept on squeezing until he heard the distinct crack of the spine.
And with that, the battle seemed over. For now.
Seeing the situation well in hand, Vinci stepped over to Maia’s side.
“Are you okay?”
Maia grinned, said, “It’ll take more than this to keep me down. How’s everyone else?”
Vinci looked around and saw that at least half of the girls were looking over the rest who seemed battered but alive, “Not as bad as I thought.”
“Well, I think that’s our cue to get the hell out of here.”
With a little cajoling, Maia, June and the rest managed to get the rest on their feet despite their wounds. Vinci, who had been standing by the side, found himself looking up at the imposing presence of Jack and Zauma.
“You were lucky, little one,” Zauma said, “if the Blessed Ones were not here, you would not have been able to call us.”
Jack laughed as he reloaded his six-shooter. “Alam mo, luck belongs to those who take it.”
Vinci was speechless for a moment, seeing how faithful he had rendered Jack to look like FPJ. Jack grinned at him, his look seeming to say, You got something to say?
He did. But he only said, “Thank you for coming. You saved our lives.”
“It is logical. You are our creator,” said MABINI.
They heard more sirens in the air and Vinci looked around in alarm.
“We will hold them here while you and others can get away,” Zauma said. “Do not worry about it.”
Vinci glanced at Maia who now stood beside him. Her grudging slightly-respectful look surprised him and he nodded back. Shrug it off. Gotta look like I do this all the time¸ Vinci thought even though his knees still trembled with the adrenaline.
Jack offered his hand.
“Mauna na kayo,” Jack said as he shook Vinci’s hand. It was a firm, strong handshake—what a hero would give to another person, Vinci thought.
“And anak ng puta naman, finish the komiks already,” Jack said to Vinci as he was about to walk away. “Rizal doesn’t like being kept out of action for so long. She hates waiting.”
“She’s a girl. What do you expect,” muttered Zauma.
As Vinci and the girls left through the backdoor of the house, the only thing that Vinci could think about was: Rizal is a girl? I didn’t know that!
With the hover brig in their possession, the rebels get the vehicle moving into the air and away from the mini-battlefield they have left behind.
MABINI bleeps, says, “With the MMDA identity codes on this hover brig, we will be able to infiltrate the Tagaytay maximum prison where Rizal is being held.”
“About time,” Jack says, lighting a cigarette. “Trust me, Doctor Andrea Josefina Rizal is not a woman that I want pissed at me. Of course, with a name like that, I can’t blame her.”
And with that, the hover brig heads towards the sunset to rescue one of their own.
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.