Back in the ship, it’s dark and timeless as usual; and Haik is already awake, as he so often is. But when Mirasol eases out from Hadassah’s arm, she falls through the bars into Haik’s cell, where Lola the dragon hauls out from the shadows.
He chuckles gently and picks her back up. “Let’s go on a quest, wifey.”
“Where? We can’t get off the ship.”
Their bodies are unmoved, tranquil and almost unobtrusive.
“To the control room.” He tucks his arm around hers, and then they walk through the bars.
But the ship gets clipped by some other great beast, groaning with uncertainty--Haik has to brace an arm against the wall, and Mirasol’s pitched against him.
“Is that the kraken?”
“Mga arte-arte--he’s too old to be making such a fuss,” the dragon grouses. “But maybe he got excited. It’s been a long time since he made a rescue; mortals so rarely go voyaging anymore.”
“Pinoys travel everywhere, Lola,” Mirasol points out. “Like, throw a stick and you’ll find some of us wandering around in different countries.”
“That’s not voyaging, neneng. That’s trying to be less poor.” The dragon sighs and hunches for balance, more unsteady from that than from the other creature’s disruption.
“Kuya?” Mirasol calls. “Kuya, if you go onto the deck--”
But the creature doesn’t seem to hear her, only gnawing away with a teeth-itching rip of metal.
“Trouble’s not always literal in the spirit-world, love.” Haik’s eyes are wide and scanning the walls. “This could be a lot of things. Giant squid, merfolk, water-demons, crocodiles. Just all your souls could do it. After all, the feds are punishing you for not having papers--”
Another clang as the panels finally give out. The great beast roars into the hallway with one last scrape of her claws, beak open, with a painted shell and massive front legs.
“Whaaaaaaat is that?!” Mirasol backs up to the wall as the dragon’s tail coils around her.
Haik wrenches himself out of his hoodie to show his tattoos, and alongside his nerves, his teeth are beginning to sharpen. “Great Turtle,” he begs, “Turtle Island, I am the crocodile-god of the Tagalog tribe, and we do not wish you harm--”
Mirasol searches her memories as Haik’s tattooed back-ridges become real ones: She doesn’t remember any myths the Tagalogs had of such creatures, whether they’re friendly or--
“Turtle Island?” She realizes.
“DON’T BE AFRAID, MIJA.” The Turtle is female, and her old voice tears into Mirasol’s ears. “I’M LOOKING FOR MY PEOPLE.”
“What will you do in the spirit world?”
“Mama Tortuga!” A little boy’s soul has darted into the commotion, and he tries to wrap his arms around one of her tree-trunk legs. He cries and pleads in Spanish, and the Turtle nuzzles him with her beak.
“DON’T WORRY, MIJO,” she tells him; that’s all they understand, aside from fleeting words shared by Filipinos. The boy sniffles with no hint of ear pain, and the Turtle turns to Haik, one eye peering at his scales and crocodile-teeth: “YOU CAN’T BE FULL FILIPINO,” she surveys. “YOU LOOK INDIO. LIKE ZIPACNA.”
“Well, I’m indio for the Philippines,” Haik tells her, laughing, and morphs back to human.
Another beast clangs against the other side of the ship, and Haik winces and scoops up the boy’s spirit--though the Turtle laughs.
“WHAT KIND OF GOD ARE YOU, MIJO?” She wonders, shielding Mirasol and the boy against another impact-blast. “PINOYS DON’T THINK CROCODILES ARE GODS. THEY’RE DIRTY COPS AND POLITICIANS.”
“They worshipped us,” the dragon says. “Until the conquistadors came. We were dragons and gods and ancestors, sometimes all at once.”
“AY,” is all she says, shaking her head.
The creature finds the first entry wound from the Turtle, snaking in easily. This dragon is not-quite-as-great as the other two--while they’re nearly as long as the grandmother dragon, they’re much slimmer, and the armor is smooth, lighter-colored and less rugged.
But it’s the boar-head and tusks that give her away.
“Itak!” Haik grins and puts the boy’s soul down.
“Papa!” When she does the halok with him, she morphs back to human: Eye-level with Haik, her angular muscles are packed onto sun-darkened skin. “Why are you getting deported?!” She frets. “Last I heard, you were at the ferry docks, but your stupid boat wouldn’t tell me where she left you! I had to check all the piers!”
She does two rapid haloks with the grandmother-dragon and Mirasol as well, a quick press of the forehead with no long inhale.
“I’m sorry she’s so stubborn, anak,” Haik sighs. “We got deported because I got tased. All right, we need to go to the control room.”
Oh yes, they were on a quest. Among so many sea-beasts, and held captive to boot, Mirasol feels her tree-heart curling into itself with caution.
“Turtle, do you want to come with us?” Mirasol wonders. “We’re trying to escape.”
“AY, NO, MIJA.” She crouches so the boy’s spirit can climb onto her neck, as happy as if he were riding a pony. “I DON’T SAIL, SO I’LL TAKE CARE OF MY PEOPLE. BUT CALL ME IF THE GRINGOS CATCH YOU, AY? THEY CAN’T TELL YOU TO PLAY HOUSE ON MY LAND, THEN SEND YOU AWAY WHEN YOU STOP LETTING THEM RUN EVERYTHING.”
As the Turtle lumbers off on her own quest, the truth stings, but clean like antiseptic. Mirasol’s home in America was not bought, at least not from the real owners, and she doesn’t speak Ohlone or Miwok (she can’t even speak her own language that well). Her heart isn’t a sequoia or a live-oak, either--it’s a mangrove tree, from across the Pacific.
And she wonders with yet another small terror--she has so many of them now--that perhaps she fights Haik’s deportation so badly because Manila is no place for the gods anymore. Not that she knows of, at least, and she knows so very little outside of Catholicism.
Would they get shipped away from there, too, when America is done with them? Haik is so dark-skinned with so many tattoos--he could speak all the languages of all the islands, but still not get hired by pale celebrities or pale shop-owners or pale businessmen.
Mirasol is easily hired if she stays in the acceptable “brown, but not FARMER-brown” range, though her terrible Tagalog would give away her real nature. (Her behavior might, too: Being deported would void being nice, being American, and having job experience--Pinoys are nothing if not petrified of a criminal record.)
“Let’s go, lovey.” Haik whispers, but still startles her, and he tugs her gently down the hall.
“Did you hear all my thoughts?” Her breath hitches. “I’m sorry.”
As Itak leads the way to the control room, Haik wraps Mirasol up and lifts her off the floor, breathing deep into the crook of her neck. She can hear his heartbeat again--and it brings her back to their last life before things went wrong, nestled onto the baliti.
“Where will we go?” She wonders after she touches back down. “If we don’t get deported?”
“You’re the one that broke the pattern, love,” Haik laughs and winds his hands into her hair. “I can’t see shit anymore.”
She breathes in his saltwater smell, and then she keeps walking.
“You go on, neneng,” the dragon calls. “I’ll go watch your bodies.”
The control room is a mass of buttons and dials, with grids glowing faint in the dim light. The dragon keeps watch at the doorway, while the three humans look around.
“Let’s see,” Haik muses. He sits down in a rolling chair and pushes himself along the main panel, one hand streaking down the edge. “Oh, he’s a corvette. You won’t be able to deport us yourself, will you, mate?”
“Is he decommissioned, or is he just too small for a direct voyage?” Itak wonders.
“Neither--he’s just holding us until they send us off,” Haik says. “And he doesn’t like this shit anyway--he thought he’d be keeping an eye on real criminals, not children and civilians.”
It’s helpful (if ridiculously specific), and the little boy flickers at the edge of Mirasol’s mind--where are his parents? Does he have older siblings? The Turtle is formidable in the Otherworld, but what kind of turtle is she in the regular one?
As Mirasol worries, Haik closes his eyes and breathes out, rattling: His hands are pulled by invisible strings, pressing dials or moving levers--
“Hey!” A guard cuts into the doorway. “What are you doing here?!”
“Haik!” Mirasol calls, but he continues with the ship controls and doesn’t (can’t?) hear her. She tries to pull him up, but her hands won’t close around his wrist. A sudden magnet energy repels her. “Haik, we need to go!”
The guard unclips his radio. “Hey, I need some backup! Three of the illegals are--”
Itak grabs one of Mirasol’s hands and shoves her own through the forcefield on Haik: The sound of breaking glass tears through their ears, and Haik shakes himself out.
“Sorry, loves,” he tells them as they stumble for the door. “All those controls, all that focus.”
“Don’t worry, Papa.” Itak locks eyes with the guard. “Turtle! The white guys caught us!”
He draws a gun as the footsteps of other guards draw closer, as uncertain as the Spaniard--and he nearly drops it when the Great Turtle rocks the ship.
“What are you waiting for?” Someone calls. “Shoot the big guy!”
“You want me to shoot you, too?” The first guard snaps.
As the crush of men head towards them, the Great Turtle surfaces.
From her huge open mouth, the sound crashes through all their bones: It’s something like Haik’s T-Rex roar, but with a throatier, mammal-like bellow.
When the Great Turtle swings her head along the cramped hallway, the guards panic and unload as many bullets as they can--and Haik locks up around Mirasol, dragging her to the wall.
“Haik!” She pushes, but can’t get loose. “They can’t shoot us!”
He cries and only gets tighter while his heartbeat reaches the same frantic tone.
“Haik, let go!”
Itak sets her weight with a human-sized roar, and she bulldozes them through the wall.
The guards are all startled at the prisoners’ disappearance, a small pause followed by a spurt of arguing, and someone pounds on the metal to remind themselves it’s solid.
“YOU GRINGOS CAN’T FOCUS ON SHIT, CAN YOU?” The Great Turtle laughs and sinks back down.
With all the pipes and wiring, there’s so little room to move, even for spirits trying to reunite with their bodies, but the stumbling and dead ends help Haik calm down.
Unfortunately, it’s in the wrong way: When they take a break in a storage closet to get the ringing out of their ears, Haik sits down with her and shakes his head.
“No,” he says into Mirasol’s temple. “No, no, I shouldn’t have done that. No.”
“Papa, they can’t shoot her.”
“They can when she’s in her body again,” he snaps. “No.”
“So, you’re not even trying to fight anymore?” Mirasol asks, but it comes out sadder than she expected.
I miss not giving up, he tells her back in their house--her house, she corrects. (But can she go back there without him?)
“This isn’t the old days,” he reminds her. “We can’t have a goddamn firefight with hundreds of civilians who can’t run.”
“But we can’t just let everyone get deported!” Mirasol argues. “They’ve done even less than we have!” Living in America without the right papers, she thinks bitterly. Taking someone to the hospital, where they found out he didn’t have papers. Resisting arrest once ICE found out.
“I don’t have anything now!” He tells her. “I am a god whose people hate him! I am a god with no more songs, no rituals, no stories--the only things I still have are the tattoos that everyone hates! WHAT IS LEFT OF ME TO GIVE HELP?!”
“You have me,” Mirasol says. “You have me and Itak, right here--”
“You?! No!” He explodes. “You are not things, Mirasol! People aren’t some fucking trinkets that I take out of a drawer and put away when I’m done! Is that what God does here?!”
Faint buzzes and clicks filter through the floor, and it morphs into a human voice.
“Papa!” Calls Banog. “Are you up there?”
An older woman commands something in Tagalog--but hers is the old language, from Haik’s long-dead stories. Mirasol can’t make sense of it.
And, she admits, I was expecting humpbacks--
“Haik,” Mirasol shakes his arm. “Haik, do you hear them talking?”
But she’s not even sure if he hears her, right now--for Haik is crying again, and his heart is drumming frantic against his ribs. Will it break away from his chest so soon?
The great beasts gear up to charge: Orcas are big, but they’re still so much smaller than a modern ship. Yet this is the land of the spirits, their souls are as strong as their great white teeth--
--and Banog blasts through the hull like a torpedo.
“Papa!” When Banog lands on the floor, he’s human again, tan skin in a muscle shirt and jeans; his forearm tattoos are dominated by longer, lighter snake-skin patterns, much more like feathers than Haik’s heavy black-work scales. “Are you getting deported again?”
“I can’t,” he says, still stuck in the past few minutes. “I can’t just run off and do big dramatic rescues anymore, lovey--”
“Papa, come on,” Banog pulls at him. “You need to get back to your bodies.”
Itak draws him back with a shake of her head. Haik isn’t responding--they just have to wait.
But beneath them, the orcas wait, too.
Time in the Otherworld is as shapeless as it is in their cells, but from Mirasol’s count, it’s about eight minutes and fourteen seconds before Haik catches back up to the present.
He inhales hard, shakes himself out, but it doesn’t do much and he’s still tense. His eyes, wide and wary, they don’t rest on anything for long--and it’s not clear what exactly he’s seeing.
“Haik,” Mirasol whispers, and tests a hand on his forearm.
There, his shoulders go down. “How long was I out?”
“Not too long, Papa,” Itak assures.
“And when did you get here, anak?” Haik tries to smile at Banog, but it’s a little thin.
“While you were out.” Banog does the halok with Haik and Mirasol now that he’s back: A softer, shifting press compared to Haik’s and Itak’s steadiness.
Through the wilderness of cables and air-vents, they find their cells again. Hadassah and their bodies are still sleeping, and Lola the dragon laughs as she vanishes.
“Will you two stay with us, anak?” Haik wonders. “We’ll have to find a cover story if she wonders about--”
“What’s there to explain, Papa?” Banog stretches by using the bars of the cell. “We’re a new batch of illegals. Getting deported. Done.”
“I would have liked a different story.” And Haik, her people’s sea-god, he winds his arms around Mirasol’s chest and lifts her up off the floor.
“Did you hear the whales, Papa?” Banog asks him.
“I came here with the sea-wolves--”
But Haik sighs and hides his face in Mirasol’s hair--
And Mirasol wakes up.
The doors to their cells clang open: Two sudden guards arrive to shove their children through. Banog goes with Haik, and Itak with Mirasol and Hadassah.
“Hey! Roommates!” Banog laughs, though it’s bitter, and he sounds so much like Haik.