5406 words (21 minute read)

Part 16.

For a little while, the crowd’s nervous shuffling settles into quiet resignation. In the dim light, the whale-goddess seems like any other young woman: Her bright blue sundress and soft leather sandals are not unusual among everyone else’s school-clothes, and work aprons, and suits.

Amidst the chaos of the new arrival, Haik brushes past her shoulder and startles Mirasol--he’s so big and yet so quiet when he wants to be.

Hadassah’s hand tightens on Mirasol’s in disapproval. “She’s not walking right,” she whispers. “Did the officers beat her up?”

“She’s been like this for a while,” Itak tells them, hunting for a patch of wall they can lean against. “She and Mom got mugged when we were little.”

“Mama got shot by the Spaniard when she was carrying me, because he was afraid that I was a god,” the whale-goddess says, to her siblings’ frantic looks. “Then Papa turned into a crocodile and ate him--”

“No, Ate, that wasn’t real,” Banog tells her. “Remember? The doctor said it was just some weird dreams from the anesthetic.”

“Oh.” But she’s only disappointed, as if she was playing in a sandbox and ran into some finicky adult rule that she didn’t realize was there. “Well, I guess it was. But I’m okay now!”

“No, wait--”

AY, the Turtle laughs. YOU CAN’T REWIND THINGS, CAN YOU, MIJO?

No, Banog responds. They didn’t see her too well the first time, but they’re still on edge.

The world does not freeze this time; but a bleary mist softens all the edges, like Mirasol’s just woken up.

“Ay, now they think she’s crazy.” Lola laughs in sympathy. Her scales scrape along as she shuffles around people, like an arthritic human grandmother. “Maybe you should have let her stay a goddess, Totoy.”

“But Papa doesn’t have a last name, Ina,” Banog retorts. “We’re lucky as hell that Hadassah thinks he’s depressed as fuck, because he is. All we had to do was nudge her along. But people can’t get nudged to accept a goddess showing up in their jail cell--not anymore. They won’t fucking listen to it. It’s too much for their heads now.”

“It’s not too much for me,” Mirasol offers.

BUT YOU ARE VERY OPEN, SIRENITA, the Turtle’s voice comes in. HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE YOUR HUSBAND CAME BACK? YOU’VE TRAVELED SO FAR IN THE SPIRIT WORLD; EVEN YOU DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE BY NOW. ALL THAT LAND AND FIRE--ONE ALWAYS GIVES THE OTHER MORE FUEL, AY?

What a strange way of saying it, Mirasol thinks. “How do fire and land give each other fuel? Fire eats things and it only leaves little bits of them.”

Lola’s laugh rattles in her chest. “Ay, Neneng. That’s just when it gets out of control. You like to think modern society controls everything, that you have tamed the world with technology and medicine and science. But nature is quite stubborn. You learned how to work with fire--but you can’t control it, not completely. You can’t stop the big fires eating. Not where lightning hits, or where sparks land, or when volcanoes erupt. You can’t even control when a pot cools down, or when the lye’s turned to soap. Perhaps you’ll learn in the next thousand or so years, but until then? You will remember that you are creatures with soft skin, and only in the middle. Not big enough to dominate, but not small enough to be content. Haik loves you, he protects you from the water-demons, but he was born a man and he’s used to that shape, as tree-gods are used to being trees. So even Haik will die if something else is more determined than him--he just knows the way back to life now.”

Lola laughs, and the demigods’ eyes flicker to her.

Itak--however she tries to hide it--shifts closer to Mirasol. “Ina, don’t scare her.”

Mirasol does not remember what the fire-people would have been like, besides her scattered looks at the sun and the volcano-god.

She thinks again about Haik’s grandfather, who grew the second coconut and gave people fire, but yet fell prey to the land-people’s unchanging nature. Was it a big, seismic shift that made the volcano-god start refusing to accept change, or were there a lot of little changes that dug into his skin as they added up?

But the mist begins to fade, and people stir again: Their eyes are locked on the whale-goddess’ bright grin, though a few of them try not to.

“Ay--they think she’s crazy now, Neneng.”

If there weren’t a few key word changes, and if Lola didn’t sound so suddenly, achingly tired, Mirasol would have thought she was repeating herself. “What are we gonna do?”

“Don’t worry too much.” And now Lola shakes her head with a groan of tiredness, as she curls up around Mirasol. “Whales are such gentle things,” the dragon goes on, and Mirasol is reminded of the shaman in her last life with Haik. “She is not one to hurt people, unless in self-defense. But whales are too big to fret about craziness and social customs, at least not from little land-creatures like yourselves.”

“Ate!” Banog reaches for Itak. “We need to keep our stories straight!”

“She and Mom got mugged when she was little, and she had some weird dreams from--from anesthetic, you said?” Itak recounts.

“Dreams that she remembers right up till now. Fuck,” Banog realizes. “So… she must have gotten her head knocked around, plus the surgery for her legs,” he continues, “because people are shit and they mugged a tiny little thing like Mom and her five-year-old daughter. Yeah, however you spin it, she’s messed the hell up.”

“Five years old, good,” Itak resigns herself. “Oh wait! How old is she now?!” She calls after Banog, who sprints back to his position.

“Twenty… two!”

And the world comes back into focus.

The whale-goddess spots Haik near the two women, stumbling for him despite Itak’s warning reach.

Oh no. Mirasol’s chest sinks as the whale-goddess runs for him again.

“Papa! I haven’t seen you!”

They make contact before Itak can reach her, and she parts the crowd of people. They seem afraid to be brushed by her clothes or soft black curls--such a contrast to her father and siblings, who all blend in so well.

“He can’t be your papa!” Hadassah tells her. “He’s thirty!”

“Twenty-nine,” Haik reminds her with a grin.

“Whichever! You’re still not old enough!”

“We know.” Itak sighs, tugging at the whale-goddess’ arms. “She… she has trouble,” she tells Haik, and by extension everyone else, while she pries the whale-goddess off. “Telling people apart from Papa.”

“It’s ’cause you’re tall and dark,” Banog states bluntly. “You look like Dad and he looks like our cousins. She recognizes Dad, duh--but sometimes we run into a dude like you, or him, and she just… she forgets. We’re not kids anymore.”

They are forced to paint such a very sad picture of the whale-goddess, Mirasol muses, as people around her draw back.

“Where are they now?” Hadassah asks. “Your parents? ICE got all of you here, and it must have been a whole day since then.”

“I don’t know,” Banog shakes his head, bitter and hopeless. “I just hope they’re not here.”

“We don’t want Papa to get mixed up with the cops,” Itak agrees. “Sometimes he forgets, too. He’s not thirty anymore.”

“He don’t forget, he just don’t care,” Banog corrects her, laughing. “Thinks he can still wrestle a dude for talking shit about his crazy girl.”

“She’s not crazy, Totoy,” Itak insists. “She’s brain-damaged--”

“People don’t care,” he retorts, and there is a sudden, final sharpness to it that Itak settle down reluctantly, while the people nearest them draw back.

They cannot be afraid of Banog’s retort or the whale-goddess herself, wobbly yet effortlessly bright; as the mothers and fathers wrap white knuckles around their children, there is a sense of desperate pity for the whale-goddess, and a hope that this story will not happen to their own.

Banog must have tried to tell people before, about the gods. About their own half-divine nature. They won’t fucking listen to it, he told Lola earlier.

Have they tried to get the whale-goddess used to walking with mortals? Much like their father, they’re accustomed to making up stories safe for mortal comprehension--and they’re always trying to wrangle their older sister into following logic as well.

Once, Haik was human, the ancestors remind her again. That is why he is so kind to us. He remembers what it’s like to be afraid.

Whales are too big to fret about craziness and social customs, Lola the dragon tells them, at least not from land-creatures like yourselves.

The whale-goddess came here because she heard Mirasol being unhappy, she realizes. Will she start doing magic unrestrained soon, breaking people’s heads open more than she already is?

Nobody believes Haik’s a god, either, she remembers from way back when. They only tolerate him when he pretends to still be human. (It hasn’t been that long since he told her, but it goddamn feels like it.) Will he have to do something? She wonders. To make them believe?

Does he want to, anymore?

Hadassah must have mistaken the look on her face for discomfort or pity, rather like everyone else’s, and she tucks an arm into Mirasol’s. “When we get out home,” she whispers, “and get our phones back and all--you have to tell me how you met up with Haik.”

A story, Mirasol thinks. A new one, all the way east across the sea.

But there is no time for that now. The ship reluctantly groans forward again, jolting all of them into each other or the walls, or the lone benches like islands at the corners.

The guards walk up to the doors and start grabbing whoever’s nearest, working through the crowds to the back of the rooms, and the passengers shy away from their outstretched arms.

“Come on! Move!”

We’re being herded, Mirasol realizes faintly.

Hadassah pulls her to the fringes of their sub-group before linking arms, for Mirasol is small and prone to being swept away; Haik’s own hand catches her free hand, tense and straining and hot, though even now he’s trying hard to keep his own desperation from hurting her.

“Papa!” The whale-goddess has to sprint for them, latching on to Haik’s hoodie despite her siblings catching up.

Haik doesn’t answer her, the whites of his eyes straining and wet. Mirasol doesn’t know if he can process how the whale-goddess tugs at his clothes, mouth pleading wide; her voice gets lost in the crowd.

Has he always been deported alone? Mirasol wonders. Or have Itak and Banog managed to find him before?

She hopes that he had someone besides her, in the other lives of deportation and misery. But when is she going to ask about it?

The crowd jolts to the side, crushing through the insufficient doorways. There are bursts of children crying, some in fear but others in pain. Did they hit something? Were they stepped on by cramped adults in a too-small space? Did the ICE officers hit them for straggling?

“Don’t,” Haik whispers, mouth right by her temple. “Don’t think too long, lovey--”

Parents or relatives are pleading to stop or slow down or let them stay still a moment; the people around them try to answer, but--

“Move!”

“Get out get out just get out,” Haik begs her--

They move out of the cells into the narrow hallway, and the restriction of the tunnel is almost welcome. Now they can press against the wall for a semblance of relief--

A metal thing hits flesh. Mirasol doesn’t know if she actually hears it, or if it’s just an instinct picked up from the people who flinch to get away.

“Keep going,” Haik begs her again.

---
On the deck as they finally surface, the noontime sun burns. Mirasol’s chin locks onto her collarbone--between Hadassah and Haik, she has no free hand to shield her eyes.

There are yet more guards up on deck, and there is a second ship’s bridge waiting for the transfer; across the small metal bridge, the first wave of people is crammed through.

“Papa!” The whale-goddess grasps at whoever she can--they forget their fear of her from below deck, and reach back in spite of the guards’ shoving. “Papa, you have to help them!”

“There’s no point, lovey.” Haik pulls her to the side. “Be careful. They have guns--you’re gonna get shot.”

“But they’re upset,” she frets, as miserable and unrestrained as a child. “Papa, the other gods told me stories about you! You never liked it when people got in trouble, you’d always go and help them, and you still don’t like it now! Why aren’t you helping?”

“Shhhhhh.” He cannot avoid holding her now, if only to keep her still, and finally breaks loose from Mirasol. “Lovey. Sometimes… people… get tired,” he fumbles. “Sometimes they want to keep helping people, but there’s too many people and there’s too many things that go wrong, and then everything hurts, and we’re not much good at anything anymore.”

“If you get tired, why don’t you rest for a while?” She nestles into his elbow. “You’re still good at some things. You have to be.”

“It doesn’t matter what I want,” Haik laughs, miserable. “There’s no time to rest. Trouble keeps finding us, anak. This whole world is full of it. And I am only one person.”

“Where’s Itak?” Hadassah’s eyes scan around them. “I haven’t seen her.”

“Oh no.” Mirasol doesn’t remember if she or Banog got out of the hallway. “Itak?!”

“She’ll find us soon! She can turn into a dragon!” The whale-goddess assures. “Itak! We’re up on deck!” And she puts a hand to her mouth for a whistle.

“Ow! Not next to us!” Hadassah has to cover her ears.

But the echoes are long and piercing, an eerily loud noise from such a small girl--and like when Haik called up his paraw, the water pulses at her call.

There is something strange happening now, as the transfer begins. The seagulls all spot Haik as one, wheeling down to look at him, and Mirasol hears a faint chorus of joy and welcome:

What’s up, Kuya?

Haik who came from the east!

You finally got your daughter back--

“Stop,” Haik says to them, his normal arm out to keep the birds at bay. “Stop it, stop it, this isn’t a fucking reunion--”

Are you getting deported again?! A female eagle swoops in to survey the ship, too smooth and pristine to be the monkey-eating eagle. Her belly is white against great black-rimmed wings--and Mirasol catches a flash of big black eyes and a dark beak, before the seabirds’ joy turns to rage.

FUCK YOU, WHITE PEOPLE! HE JUST WANTS TO SEE HIS WIFE--

YOU’RE ALREADY PUTTING YOUR GARBAGE IN THE WATER! NOW YOU’RE THROWING AWAY PEOPLE!

HE IS OUR BROTHER!

Mirasol flinches--their emotions are swinging so fast--but then, she remembers how the orcas ate the Spaniards.

“No, wait!” Haik calls, barely heard in the din. “Wait! There’s civilians here, they don’t know what’s happening--”

The crowds bolt in all directions as the guards get mobbed by whirlpools of feathers, led by the white-bellied sea-eagle. Mirasol ducks under the rail, and Hadassah crouches next to her.

“What are they doing?” Hadassah asks. “The eagle’s one thing, but when did gulls start attacking people?! They’re not trying to get some fucking chips!”

“I don’t know.” Mirasol only half-pretends to be scared--the birds are wild creatures and raging besides, too incensed to listen to Haik. “Just--stay still, I guess?”

And there are more of Haik’s family who hear of his trouble: They swarm at the water’s surface, silvery bullets leaping from gray waves. Mirasol can’t see it directly, but she can see Haik’s hands go slack and wondering--and the glittering fish are reflected in the dark of his eyes.

As she ventures to stand back up, shark fins appear in the water, circling the two iron ships--and as people stampede both ways across the bridge for some semblance of solid earth, the hammerheads jump in vain for the guards, teeth or heads or fins clanging against metal.

“What the hell?!” The guards are as nervous as anyone, though they still haven’t made the connection to Haik and the whale-goddess, the only two who are trying to stay calm.

“You need to help us!” The whale-goddess reaches down to the water. “Papa’s in trouble and he’s too tired!”

The corvette’s guards are bolting for the doors below deck.

“We can’t start right now!” One of them yells into his radio. “There’s goddamn sharks and the birds are going crazy! We gotta move away from them so we can finish the transfer!”

“Move? Where?” Comes the question. “To shore or out to--”

“Fuck, ANYWHERE!”

“The sharks must have got here late from the migration--”

“Late from where?! Fucking Hawai’i?!” The guard demands. “This is the Bay Area! We don’t get hammerheads this far north!”

The engine hums. Slowly the corvette starts to turn and heave away from shore, and its fellow begins its own track. The birds continue wheeling and diving for the ICE officers. More sharks appear, torpedoes with oversized white-tipped fins. 

HAIK! Comes a multitude of yet more voices. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!

“I… I don’t know.” Haik, her people’s sea-god, he looks like he’s going to pass out. In his eyes now are the lights of the deep-sea creatures, coming up fast to the surface. “Where were you?”

The real lights of the devilfish leap out of the water in turn: Man-sized Humboldt squids, dogpiling onto the nearby buoys and jetting out of the water to chase the corvette, stretching tentacles in vain for their brother.

“Mija!” A woman with gray-streaked hair comes over for Mirasol and Haik. “The diablo rojo are coming up! Don’t stay close to the rails!”

The guards heading inside must have shut the doors by now--those who didn’t make it pound against them in vain, crying to be let in.

“Ay, mijo, you can’t watch them!” The woman begs an unmoving Haik, tugging at him. “These fuckers eat each other when one gets hurt! They’re gonna eat you if you fall!”

As the corvette gains momentum, the devilfish and sharks are left behind in a calm stretch of blue--but only for a little while, for it takes time for such a big ship to get to speed.

The squid have no chance of climbing onto deck--but many coast-dwellers have a well-trained fear of the diablo rojo nonetheless, wailing prayers as they pick up small children, or shielding people behind them.

They cross into the blue-water.

The corvette has more room to start racing, but a second group of devilfish cuts them off. How many hundreds of them have surfaced?

Flashing red with sharp hooked beaks, even Mirasol is nervous. The memory of the orcas comes to her again, ripping the Spaniards to pieces; her father had warned her they’d eat her as well in their fury, and Haik told the village that his brothers were not pets.

“Help!” The whale-goddess cries down again to the sea-creatures. “The others got separated! Some are on the other ship!”

“God, shut up!” A straggling ICE officer comes up and shoves the whale-goddess away from the rail. “They’re animals! Wherever your fucking dad is, they’re not gonna help him!”

The whale-goddess, far from afraid, seems insulted at the white man’s arrogance. She stomps a few feet towards him, though even her rage cannot balance her tottering legs, and he grabs his radio for backup.

“Hey,” he says. “I need help, there’s a girl who’s making trouble!”

And Haik, her people’s sea-god, laughs like he’s going to throw up. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” he calls to the guard. “Calling for backup on a girl who can’t walk? People call you Nazis for that!”

Itak and Banog arrive with a screech of the protesting door, pushing through the crowd.

“Who’s gonna miss a crazy girl?”

“Get away from her!” Hadassah lunges, but then the officer raises his gun--

And the sea-eagle takes it, with a cuff around his shoulders for good measure. She flings it away to the churning water below, and the ICE officer ducks as she circles back up.

Do it again. She spills back down again to warn him, even if he cannot hear her. Do that shit again, motherfucker, and I will rip your face off. She lands, and she flexes her talons.

It’s surprising--and terrifying--just how big and sharp the sea-eagle’s claws are. It’s like they’re as long as Mirasol’s fingers. She has never seen a bird of prey up close, for the local hawks are usually flying; and zoos have bars; and wildlife documentaries discourage people interacting with nature. Is the monkey-eating eagle as big as this one?

“Hey!” comes a crackly voice on the radio. “Two of the illegals just got on deck!”

“Brilliant! Three kids who don’t look twenty-five! They’re the only ones fighting back! And you’re all losing your shit!” Haik laughs now, falling from the railing like he’s drunk.

What gave him more energy? The whale-goddess’ refusal to stop asking for help? The reunion with his sea-creature brethren?

“Do you know I was afraid of you, once?” He is walking towards the ICE officers, too, with the whale-goddess and the demigods forming a loose circle around them.

“So many years,” Haik muses, wiping tears off his face. “Don’t talk to the ICE officers. Don’t tell people you’re not documented. I lost how many years, being afraid of you fuckers? And here you are! Scared of three kids, and one of them can’t walk.”

The others take their guns out.

“Haik!” Mirasol grabs him, but she can’t stop him and Hadassah has to pull her away.

Below are the sharks and the squid, going mad in the froth of the water. There are dim, frantic clangs as they ram against the ships’ sides. Above are the seabirds, just as mad as them. The guards try to aim, but they don’t know where first.

Haik, her people’s sea-god, he slams one hand against the wall he’s passing by. The ship rocks at his effort, sways and groans, and yet no civilians lose their balance or fall against the floor. It’s only the ICE officers, like dominoes toppled by wind.

“YOU KNOW WHO YOU SHOULD BE AFRAID OF, MOTHERFUCKERS?”

And Haik is laughing and laughing again, as the ICE officers struggle to regain their balance.

“ME!”

One of them gets a frantic shot out, splitting the air and grazing his normal arm--he puts a hand to his bicep as something tears out of Mirasol’s mouth.

“Haik!”

The gods are all restrained by the nearest ICE officers, and Mirasol by Hadassah. The others dogpile Haik and they drag him back up to the railing--

“You’re as crazy as the crippled girl!” One of them tells him. “You can’t fight ten of us, no matter how big you are!”

“I can try!” Haik sets his feet and pushes. The corvette rocks again, and Haik’s shoes leave scars on the floor. “Gods aren’t always all-powerful! Not like that power-tripping, capital-G God that you Christians love to talk about! But the important part--” he finds his grip on someone. “THE IMPORTANT PART IS THAT WE TRY!”

His opponent is not tossed over the rail like they were planning for him--but he is thrown a good distance as the others rush him again.

There is Haik’s laughter welling up again as the white men lift him over the rail. They mass underneath him, forcing the onlookers to watch.

Below are the sharks and the squid. Above are the furious birds.

Haik, her people’s sea-god, he falls laughing into the foam.

“Haik!” Mirasol breaks loose and gets to the rail, but already he is a dark shape amidst flashing red lights and white foam.

What happens when a god is sacrificed? White men have killed gods, bloodied the ground with farmers’ and children’s and priestesses’ lives to gain worship for their God, but have they sacrificed another one before? So that their followers don’t even have the usual token choice between Catholicism and death?

She doesn’t trust the Spaniards’ records about killing gods--they’re always saying the bad islanders are short and dark-skinned peasants, and the islanders who play nice are fair-skinned and important--

“Haik!”

---
In the water there’s barely any room for light, though the surface is only ten or twenty feet away. The Humboldt squids reconnect with Haik and wrap their swimming arms around him, though once they catch a whiff of his blood, they cannot help a few attempted test bites.

He laughs and pushes them off, bubbles surging up. His clothes are rapidly shredded.

“Haik!” There is Mirasol, so far up and away.

The squid are getting heavy and frantic now, sinking down with him into the darker blue. They’re starting to eat each other. Their barbed tentacles rake hard and sloppy, pulling across him by mistake.

Will I die this time?

Another, harder laugh. I knew white folks wouldn’t have the guts to kill me. They kill my wife, my kids, hope I shut up and play nice. And now they’re making my mates kill me for them.

“Give me some room, mates,” he tells the squid gently. “Even I run out of breath eventually.”

Sharp stabbing lines zigzag down his back. Did the squid lose control and start biting him, too?

Will I die this time? All the way east across the sea? But he remembers the way back to the living; it’s not a fun trip for one person, plus he’ll have to meet back up with his paraw, but Haik is the son of voyagers.

He thinks Mirasol would try to find him if he got lost. How big and reckless and stubborn is that soul of hers, locked up in her cramped little body.

Once, the great chiefs and kings held feasts for him before every sea-voyage. Once, the fishers and sailors and warriors all marked themselves with crocodile scales. Even after the Muslims arrived and the bulk of them stopped tattooing, still they worshipped the gods and called Haik’s name. Once, he could dock at near any port in the south of Luzon, and a good way inland through the rivers, and they all knew him and loved him.

There are only four now, his wife and their own three children.

And once, Haik was human, too.

It’s too cold in the east of the sea, he muses mournfully. He remembers the South Island’s chilly water and rocky beaches, but he hopes he doesn’t take too long to get back to Mirasol and the kids--he rather enjoys a warm bed.

But the whale-goddess is back on this side, he laughs as his lungs start to fill. How did my cousin find her? How long has she been up on land?

His cheeks burn red-hot, like needles hammering his skin. The bubbles take longer to reach the surface now, and all he sees are the devilfish and sharks in a feeding frenzy.

Will I die this time?

He wouldn’t mind a break, as long as he passes out before he gets eaten. The devilfish are a fearsome way to go for the fishermen here, and he doesn’t much fancy it either.

But as he sinks lower and lower into the deep, another shadow comes above him.

Long and torpedo-shaped, that makes sense--but a needle-pointed snout, and no fins that he can see? It looks like someone else’s god.

Maybe Turtle Island is helping me out, he thinks.

Until a gigantic fishhook plunges into the water.

Oh.

And Haik the crocodile-god, he laughs as Lumawig fishes him back up to surface.

He swings like a fish, too, helpless and bloody-limbed--he can hold tight to the hook as its chain is reeled in, and he struggles those last few feet up, but that’s where his energy runs out. He ends up straddling the dragon-headed prow.

What a sight he must be for the other gods, frantic and calling his name.

---
It’s quiet on the corvette, all the way out here. Some are crying after ICE made an example of Haik, but they don’t dare do it too loudly. Only the whale-goddess lets herself sob and struggle against her siblings.

There are no more signs of Haik, Mirasol worries, restrained again by Hadassah. He was already getting left behind; by now he must have sunk underneath the devilfish.

“Don’t worry, mija.” The old woman comes to help Hadassah, and holds Mirasol tight. “Don’t worry if he dies. It doesn’t always stop hurting, but it gets better. And you’re still young, ay? There’s always someone for you.”

But I died how many times, Mirasol lunges, and Haik still hasn’t left me--

“Look.” Itak sees it first, pointing out with a dragon-scaled arm.

There are crab-claw sails on the horizon. Gold shimmers into focus as the gods’ mothership cuts through the water.

As the drumbeats sound, the crocodile-god is lying flat above the white eyes and teeth of the balangay’s snarling green maw. Amidst his exhaustion and the kelp, the half-clotted wounds under shredded clothes and pieces of squid, he’s laughing.

And the spray washes off his tattoos.

The mothership is much shorter and leaner than the corvette, but the gods can shunt the sails the other way around while the corvette’s guards blare on their radios to cut the engines. In a few moments, the balangay stops only meters away, her bow-wave just splashing the corvette’s gray flank, and there is a flurry of wonder and unease as the Four Winds and Lumawig board the ship, hauling Haik back on deck like a hard-won net of fish.

“Haik!” Mirasol runs for his dark bulk, slumped against the railing, though she’s nervous about hugging him with all the cuts and squid-bites marring his chest.

She settles for tracing the crocodile-teeth on his cheekbones, like glossy black arrowheads, and his fingers close warm on her own.

“Where did those come from?” Hadassah wonders.

“I always had them, you know,” Haik says. “Just can’t show them nowadays. At least not to the wrong people. Face tats are for jailbirds now.”

“What the shit is happening?!” One of the ICE officers demands. “Who are you people?! How did you find him ten minutes after he fell?!”

“Oh, ten minutes?!” Lumawig laughs. “He’s my cousin! We been looking years for him, bro!”

“Don’t move!” Their guns point at Lumawig. “I don’t know where that thing came from, but this is an American ship!”

“But you’re on international waters!” And Lumawig laughs his ass off now, as wild and reckless as the birds. “Why are all these people stuck here, anyway? We can take them off your hands if you want. You ain’t treating Haik too nicely if you threw him to the devilfish.”

“No, mijo, please!” The old woman runs and kneels down, clutching at his knees. “They’re trying to deport us! We need to get back to California!”

“Deporting? What did you do?” Mayari wonders, squinting through her good eye.

“We don’t have papers,” the old woman says. “They’re sending us back and they won’t let us talk to any lawyers.”

“No crimes and no lawyers?” The South Wind checks around the deck. “Gods, you got kids here. This isn’t deportation, they’re fucking hostages.”

“Now look, I don’t care what kind of cosplayers or reenactors you are!” An ICE officer motions for the others to aim at the gods. “If you boarded our vessel and talk shit about us, that means you’re a threat!”

“Oh, you want a threat, Rambo?” Mayari-who-is-the-moon shows her teeth at him, as sharp as the points of a crescent. “We don’t let a fucking Nazi tell us what to do.”

Next Chapter: Conclusion.