American Chimera – 23.2

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At the time, I weren’t ’ware that Stacy’d passed out. Her face was bloody as hell, but she was out of the fire and safe enough.

My beloved daughter was still stuck. The bus’s alarms blared, screaming out that the thing was on fire. Despite the loud noise, I could still hear Dani’s screams for help.

I hustled down the hill, crowbar in hand, and made my way down to the bus. Old Man Potter lay unconscious and drunk in the creek, but Stacy’d gotten him clear of the blazing heat. I shielded my face from the lithium fire as I made my way around the bus.

“Dani!” I shouted. “Dani, are you alright!”

“Help!” she screamed. Her legs stuck out the broken back window, waving for help. “Daddy, help me!”

I looked over the back of the bus. The door was right crushed, no way I could open it wide enough for my girl to get out. As much as it pains me to admit, Dani was stronger than me – even at the time – so I handed her the crowbar. “Here, baby – see if you can crack ’er open. I’m gonna get Mama, see if’n we cain’t get the hinges off this door.”

Over the crackling of the fire and bursts of offgas from the broken battery casings, I shouted up the holler, “Janie! Janie, bring your kit!”

“What?” she shouted.

“The Bojangle’s kit! Dani’s stuck!”

Janie grabbed her kit and slid down the embankment. She steadied herself with a hand, and I caught her at the bottom, but she still managed to get a cut from a stob or summat on her leg. She tossed the kit on the ground and looked at the bus. It didn’t take her long to fish out a can from her kit. “Git Dani away from the door.”


“The composite shell is the same stuff that coats the Bojangles’ machines. It’s hard to break, but thermite can burn through it. It’s hotter ’n hell here, and I’m ’fraid the reaction might start afore I get the powder in place.”

While she opened her canister and screwed on a spout, I went back up to the door. “Dani,” I said. “Dani, Mama’s gonna try gettin’ you out with the robot kit. She’s breakin’ out the thermite, so you best back up if’n it’s safe enough.”

She nodded. “It’s hot in here, Daddy.”

I knew it was. The bottom of the bus burned a white hot. Sparks and smoke exploded from the batteries, the wires, and the pipes running down its length.

“Can you do that for Daddy?”

She scurried off, deeper into the bus. I bit my finger when I heard her coughing, ’cause there was nothin’ I could do but suffer and wait.

Janie secured the canister and came over. She poured the two powders down the spout and onto the door. She poured the powder such that it ate through the ceramic and cut the door in half and ate away the bottom hinge. It didn’t take too long, thankfully, ’cause the canister got too hot and the thermite started burning through. Janie’s still got the scars on her hands to show what she did that mornin.’

She screamed from the pain, but managed to eke out, “Dani! Dani, push the door! I cut the top, so you gotta push it open now!”

Dani put the crowbar in the crack between the door and the bus, and she got it to pop off its threshold. She crawled out, just getting her big ol’ bottom out.

I hugged her when she was free. Her clothes had holes in them, and her carapace felt flaky from where she’d been burned. A human wouldn’t have fared so well.

Though she was still awake and stronger than me or Janie, I pointed up the hill. “Stacy’s up there – head on up. We’ll get Mr. Potter up to safety.”

Dani nodded. She did as I asked, and I sent Janie after her. I dragged Mr. Potter as best I could, but I ended up just takin’ him further downhill to get ’im out of the way of the lithium flames.

We stayed ’til the fire department was called, then went to town with the ambulance that came to get Stacy.


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American Chimera – 23.1

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Brett rubbed his wrists. “Why ain’t I chained this time?”

“Things have changed.” The interrogator leaned comfortably back in her chair. “It took more than a month, but all the easily released subjects have been sent back home. Anyone who had little to do with Dani is back where they should be. They’re quiet, normal, and safely monitored by the government. The information I need from you no longer has anything to do with helping those people.”

He put his hands back down to the armrests, despite the lack of chains. “So why would I say anything to you? You ain’t nice, and you ain’t give me nothin’ but Coke or pain.”

The interrogator smiled. “No, I suppose not. But I’m going to Washington, D.C. in about a week’s time, and I might not return for a few months after. I know you like to talk, Mr. Huffman, so I decided to invite you into the chamber and chat.” She leaned forward. “You won’t see anyone else for at least a couple weeks. You know how talkative the meal-bots are.”

“Ain’t this considered cruel and unus’al punishment?” he asked. “I ain’t done nothin’ to deserve bein’ locked in solitary for months on end!”

“True. The thing is, Mr. Huffman, no one cares about your plight, and anyone who decides to care will be locked away the same as you. Your freedom is the requisite sacrifice for the freedom of all Americans, understand?”

“No, I don’t understand. This ain’t right, and it ain’t fair.”

“Tell that to Uncle Sam.” The interrogator pointed to the door. “If you don’t want to sit around and chat, you’re free to go back to your cell. I’m offering this as a brief respite from your torture. Nothing more.”

Brett tapped his fingers. “What you want to know, then?”

“I’m interested in a story Stacy told me. She said that Old Man Potter ran a bus off a cliff, but she passed out before you and Janie Huffman successfully freed Dani from the bus.” She reached to a small box on the bottom shelf of her table, then pulled a chilled Pepsi from it. “Tell me, Mr. Huffman, what happened after Stacy passed out from blood loss. Tell me what you did, what Janie did, and what Dani did, in as much detail as you can.”

He nodded. “Alright. I don’t see how you could do summat evil with that story.”


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American Chimera – 22.4

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The door to Dr. Worthington’s room opened. At the influx of light, Dr. Worthington turned her head and squinted her eyes. “I’m afraid I don’t have any more data you’d want.” Her voice crackled like it hadn’t been used in days, like her breath had been rattling through a dry throat.

The interrogator shuffled up to Dr. Worthington’s bed and sat at the foot of it. She reached out, held the old woman’s crepey, thin hand, and squeezed tight. “I know you can’t give me anything else. You’re 97 years old and falling apart. It’s why I put you at the top of the list for euthanasia, now that my job here is wrapping up.” She grasped at the blankets beneath her. “I’ve done things like this before, but…I feel awful, Dr. Worthington.”

“Ah. If you feel bad, you’re doing something right.”

“What?” the interrogator asked. “You want me to feel bad, forever? You told me to feel bad about what’s happening to Dani, to Stacy. Aren’t you going to tell me how to make that stop? Aren’t you going to help me stop this awful train wreck?”

Dr. Worthington chuckled. “No.” She laid her head back down on the pillow, closed her eyes. “You’re in a hard place. You know what you have to do in order to keep the country and the world safe, but lord help your soul if you don’t feel bad doing it.”

“You’re a despicable old crone, you know that?”

A light smile accompanied Dr. Worthington’s chuckle. “Well, you’re here to make me a miserable dead crone. Now, what did you bring to kill me? Drugs? A gun? Just going to withhold the blood thinners?”

The interrogator stood from the bed. “I’m going to do what’s right, Doctor. Nothing can change that decision.”

“I wasn’t trying to change your mind.”

“Why? Are you afraid of what would happen if you did change my mind?”

“Oh, child,” Dr. Worthington chided, “There’s no use in my being afraid. No value. If I die, it’s not going to harm much of anyone – even my children wouldn’t have lost much, not really. I mean, how many years do I have left? You’re putting more weight and importance on getting my love and approval than you should, is what you’re doing.”

“I hate that I can’t despise you.”


The interrogator took a gun from her pocket. She checked the chamber, checked the safety. “Dr. Smith wouldn’t give me the drugs to make this less painful. I have to start reducing the mouths to feed – I’m sorry, Doctor.”

Dr. Worthington didn’t tremble. “Don’t worry. Just tell whoever I saved that they’re welcome.”


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American Chimera – 22.3

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“She’d found some way to get drugs. I don’t know what kind. But the cops took her in, sent her to the VA where the shrinks tried to help her. She was gone a long time.” Stacy wiped her face, beat back tears with her eyelids. “Oh God. Oh, God, I don’t know what’s happened to Antigen on accounta me. Dani is real – you know it, I know it, but her doctors didn’t. What did they make her suffer? What did they do to her? What if I’d just let it go and never called Mom about that?”

The interrogator clenched a fist. “It’s not your fault. Your Auntie Jen is here, in a cell. I’m not a psychologist, but I think she should be able to get over some of her issues, especially when we reveal that she’s been right all this time.”

A tear rolled out of Stacy’s eye and ran down her cheek. “We’re not gettin’ out of here, ever, are we?”

“No,” the interrogator answered. She reached to a lower shelf of her side table and removed a box of clean handkerchiefs. While handing the box to Stacy, she paused, but just for a moment, before giving her the box. “You and Auntie Jen aren’t going to leave this facility for the rest of your lives. What happens to you is more dependent on politics than any sort of behavior on your parts.”

Stacy rubbed her eyes with a handkerchief, then squinted her eyes angrily. “Then why ask all these questions? What do you want from me?” She tossed the handkerchief to the ground. “You’ve got Dani under lock and key. You got her parents, me, Antigen, God knows who else. Why can’t I see Mom or Dad? What did I do wrong?!”

The interrogator closed her tablet. “This isn’t about wrong or right. It’s about what’s convenient.” She stood, offering a hand to Stacy. “Come along. Our time today is up.”


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American Chimera – 22.2

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I don’t know if you’ve talked to my aunt or even if she was abducted by you Yanks, but Antigen was in the Chimera War. I don’t remember her from before the war, not really, but mom says she didn’t used to be such a beeyotch. She says Antigen is disturbed by PTSD and other acceptable mental problems brought on from being a drone soldier, but Antigen’s been mean since the day we went and got her from Fayetteville. Off and on they sent her to a hospital where she was supposed to get better, but it never really helped.

Once, she had to stay with me and my family when Gramma got a hip replacement and Grampa didn’t have the chops anymore to take care of both her needs and Antigen’s. So Antigen sat on our couch in the den all day with the lights off. She closed the blinds and pulled the curtains, then taped scads of aluminum foil around the edges. If I’d done that, Mom would’ve whooped my butt for putting tape directly on the walls!

I didn’t know if mom wanted me to say hi to Antigen or not. It was always a risk to do too much or too little. After I got home from practice, I peeked into her room and knocked on the wall where I’d entered. “Antigen?” I asked.

Her eyes opened, the whites visible in the darkness whereas her face was not. That scared me, you know, since we’re white – our faces are easy to see in mild darkness. What had she done? Anyway, I was weak, so I screamed and jumped back.

“You scared?” Antigen asked. I saw the shadows in her room change, and she jumped up from where she sat. “Why should you be scared? I know your secrets. They don’t believe me, but I know what you’re hiding.”

“What?” I asked. My voice wavered more than I wish it would’ve.

Antigen crawled on all fours across the couch and peered over the arm. “I saw you with her yesterday. Your friend. The doctors won’t believe me, but what do they know? They think I’m crazy. But you know I’m not crazy, don’t you?”

“Are you talking about Dani?”

“The spider,” Antigen said. “The Chimera we created. You know it’s real? Right? Right? I’ve seen you with her. You can tell me the truth.”

The air in the room smelled weird, so I pulled away from the door. “You’re scaring me, Antigen. Are you ok?”

“I’ve never been so alive,” Antigen said. “I know what we need to do. I need your help, kid – the war isn’t over, you see? It’s just a trick. It’s just a trick, and the damn Gooks are out there, infiltrating us. We’ve got to kill her, see.”

I shook my head. “No, you’re in America. America! The war is over!”

Antigen leapt from the couch and grabbed me by the collar. “The war is never over! Don’t you see what they’re doing?! The fiendish Dr. Kim has got to you, has she?!” She shoved me into the far wall in the hallway where light from the door shone on her face. Dried blood cracked from her face, her pupils were different sizes.

“I don’t know a Dr. Kim! Stop, Auntie! Please, stop! You’re high or something!”

“I’m the only one who understands, kid. There’s a Chimera out there, and we’ve got to kill it. Kill it before it can kill us all.” She pulled a shiv made from a sharpened toothbrush out from a pocket. “You know what you have to do.”

I shook my head. “Dani’s my friend.”

“It has to end.” She shoved the toothbrush into my hand, releasing my collar where a smattering of blood – both of the wet and dry variety – stained it. “Take it. You’re the only one who can stop this.”

I nodded and grabbed the toothbrush tight. “Ok, Auntie. I’ve got the…thing. Is that all you want?”

“Bring me her head when you’re done. Damn Gooks.” Antigen stood up, breathing beleaguredly. She stumbled back to the living room and the couch where she lay down on it.

With her gone, I was able to tell that my heart was beating a million miles an hour. I took the toothbrush – also bloody all around the handle, carved with God knows what to a pointed end – and fuhhh, er freaking ran out the front door. I called Mom, not knowing what I should do otherwise, to get help.

Cops came in about 15 minutes, and an ambulance arrived a little later.


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American Chimera – 22.1

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The interrogator tapped her tablet with stylus. Her eyes looked into the face of Stacy Ellington, pensive without betraying her intent.

“What?” Stacy held her wrists and wrung them. “We both know you’re not a shrink. What you want?”

Nothing changed. The interrogator blinked once, twice, but kept tapping the tablet with her stylus in rhythmic fashion. She clutched at something under her jacket, something solid.

The pace of Stacy’s breathing increased. “Is something going wrong? You haven’t acted like this before. I’m not going to die, am I? You’re not going to kill me?”

The interrogator released the object beneath her jacket. “Your fate hasn’t been decided.”

“Is that what I’m here for? You, like, my judge now or somethin’?”

“Perhaps.” The interrogator pressed a button on her tablet, shutting the mechanism down. “You’re young. Hopeful. Not yet cynical and disillusioned enough with the world to be displeased by the garbage people older than you left behind.”

Stacy rolled her eyes. “Please. You talk as if people my age don’t realize hags like you killed all the animals. ‘Save the environment by killing all the cows?’ My ass.”

“Cows aren’t truly natural animals. They’re not part of a healthy ecosystem-”

“Yeah, but where are the buffalo then? Where are the wolves, huh?”

“They’ve been gone for longer than you’ve been alive.”

“Because you didn’t save them. We’ll inherit the mess you left, all because you didn’t save the animals!”

The interrogator breathed in as if to refute Stacy’s comment, but then thought better of it. “Several years back, there was a war. The Chimera War. Have you learned about it yet?”

“That was like seven years ago. I remember it happening, dillweed. That’s not history.”

“Tell me how you feel about that war. How would you feel if it were happen again, right as you are about to flower into your draftable age?”

Stacy pulled back. “I’m not gonna stop bein’ Dani’s friend! I know the Accords don’t want her alive, but you can’t make me betray her!”

“That’s not what I requested. I want you to tell me what you, a fine young woman with a brain surely ripe for use as a drone soldier, think about war.”

Stacy gulped and looked around her. The interrogation room only offered her shadows and steel, nowhere to run. “Alright. I reckon it won’t change anything.”


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American Chimera – 21.1

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“Excellent work, agent,” Ivanov’s hologram said. He put down the tablet containing the interrogator’s report. “You’ve really picked up the pace recently.”

“Yes, sir.” The interrogator bowed her head and cleared her throat. “I was kindly allowed by Dr. Smith to see specimen 803. Her information has proved extremely invaluable, and the most innocent have already been released. I should be able to finish the interviews of those minimally involved by the next call.”

“I can see that. I think it’s time we start talking about what’s next for you when you’re done here.” Ivanov typed something into his own tablet, which triggered a document to upload onto the interrogator’s. “As you astutely recognized when you first got here, the discovery of a female chimera has reinvigorated interest in Dr. Smith’s research here at headquarters.”

“Does that…does that mean you want me to return to questioning the prisoners about how they triggered Dani to hatch as a female?”

“No. It does mean, however, that we need to station a semi-permanent agent or rotation of agents at the lab. We think you, with your experience, would be the best choice.”

The interrogator shook her head. “I’d rather not, sir.”

“And why not?”

She swallowed. “You’ve seen my record in full, sir. I served in the Chimera Wars, and I’d rather not continue participating in the creation and upkeep of our own stock of atrocities.”

“You were intelligence in the war, not a drone soldier.”

“How does that make my request any less valid?”

Ivanov smiled. “It’s not the same. You weren’t psychologically wrecked like some of those poor kids, and you’re hands down the most knowledgeable agent when it comes to chimeras of any sort.”

“I don’t believe this research is right. It’s immoral, a crime against humanity, just like the accords said. It’d be best, in my opinion, if this place were wiped from the map.”

“This isn’t Pyongyang. You can’t just blow up the labs, and you can’t just erase American ideas off the map.”

“I didn’t just blow up the labs. I took all the hard drives I could.” The interrogator puffed her chest. “I didn’t like what the North Koreans did then, and now that I know more about what’s gone on in Nevada, I don’t like what I see here. I request you station me somewhere other than here once the interviews are complete.”

“Request denied. There’s no one better for the job. We’ll get someone else, someone younger, to take rotation with you. Surely there’s incentives to working there – they’ve got to have hobbies in Nevada, right?”

The interrogator pursed her lips.

Ivanov waved away her concerns. “Don’t worry. You’re going to be done with these interviews soon, you and Dr. Smith will kill off interviewees that aren’t useful and can’t be released, then you’ll come back to DC for a while. Official stationing won’t need to happen until the next budget cycle begins.”

“Understood.” She stood from her chair. “Agent Ivanov, I do have, uh, one more question. I sent you the video proof from Dr. Worthington’s drives. It’s undeniable that Hinkley molested a child, and he could be hiding other crimes, maybe even continuing them. Are you going to send an agent to arrest him again?”

Ivanov’s cool demeanor melted. The corners of his lips sank to form a tight frown while his hologram tapped the top of his desk. “Look, I didn’t expect you to find that file. I agree that the man’s a criminal, but my hands are tied. We can’t just arrest him now, immediately after we released him.”

“Why not? You don’t have to bring him back here immediately. He’s not going to be that expensive to transport.”

“Imagine what other people would think. If you were also abducted and released, wouldn’t you start to question the value of your affidavits? If we arrest any of them, even on credible charges like the one you’ve made, someone is going to crack, and that could encourage the lot of them to break the news internationally.” He leaned forward. “If you are so worried about the last war, imagine one in which we are the bad guys. The North Koreans were up against the entirety of civilized might, of which we are a major player. Hell, everyone donated to the cause. And, yet, it took us a year and a half before the production of the Korean Chimeras was halted – with many thanks to your services – and the government capitulated. If we’re the bad guys? If America is caught doing these dastardly things? Well, we have the resources to make a thousand times the number of chimeras. We have the bombs, the soldiers, and the hardware not just to keep our borders safe, but to make offensive strikes all over the globe. When we decide to go total war, we can show them real war. But the foreigners won’t let it go, I can guarantee. It’ll be an evenly matched war, at least for a while, but in the end we’ll all suffer.” He pinched his brow. “The climate may never be rectifiable after we finish the war.”

“That sounds awful.”

“So you understand why I can’t arrest Hinkley?”

She bit her lip and looked away from the hologram.

“It still bothers you, huh?”

“It bothers me that you lied and said you’d look into it. Open an investigation.”

“I did look into it. It just didn’t take very long for me to realize what a terrible idea it’d be. You have to admit that it’s obvious, right? That the risk we’d be making is just too high?”

“He could just be arrested for child molestation.”

“Total war is too big a risk.”

“You’re letting an evil man get by without punishment.”

“Someone will eventually bring him to justice.”

“He’s old! He could die before then, probably will!”

Ivanov pounded a fist on his desk. “That’s enough, agent!’ He stood from where he sat. ”You will be assigned to this post after you get rid of the useless captives, and you’ll have plenty of time then to help Dr. Smith with his quest to make more female chimeras.“

The interrogator paused, looking all around the room. “Alright. Yes, sir.”

“I can’t believe it,” Ivanov said with a shake of his head, “You came in gung-ho, supportive of our efforts, ready to make more chimeras and keep our country safe. What happened to you? Is there something you haven’t put in your reports?”

“No, sir.”

“Then why the change of heart?”

The interrogator lifted her chin. “The female chimera suffers. Specimen 803 understands her pain, sir, and that’s something not even the North Koreans did to their chimeras. It’s absolutely cruel. No more of them should be created.”

Ivanov signed some papers. “Health issues can be improved in subsequent generations of the bugs. You’ll learn to accept it like the scientists do.” He pointed to the door. “Unless there’s something else you want to complain about, I think we’re done here.”

“Yes, sir.”


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American Chimera – 20.6

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“And that’s the way it was for two years. I ended up going to therapy, got put on a truckload of medicines, and have been hospitalized three times for psychiatric episodes.” Jen’s eyes welled with water. “And, you know, I see what Vic meant about Dani. She’s a pretty ordinary girl, down in there, and just as nice as they come. But I see what she is, I know what they did.”

The interrogator lifted a brow. “What did they do? Is something wrong with her?”

“There’s headaches, other things. She’s athletically skilled, so her parents have had a pretty easy time covering up how many health issues she’s developed. She’s developed ulcers, had thyroid issues, and has to take a bunch of weird vitamins to account for nutritional problems. Whoever made her was a genius for getting her together in the first place, but they’re evil for letting it happen.”

“You don’t think she deserves to live?”

“I don’t think she should have been created. I’m ambivalent about whether she should die now or not.” Jen blinked her eyes, forcing a tear to run down her cheek. “Honestly, I’m ambivalent whether we should all die or not. Someone obviously made, probably still makes, something that lives in pain. How could we let that happen? Why would a good universe allow that to happen? We’re no better than the damn ape men, not really, so who’s to judge that the human race is worth saving?”

The interrogator crossed her legs. “Several international votes are working towards the goal of keeping humanity safe. We’ve all made many terrible sacrifices, and it’d be terrible to let your service – or mine, for that matter – be in vain.”

“Weren’t you listening?” Jen asked. “It’s already in vain.”

After an uncomfortable moment’s wait, the interrogator uncrossed her legs. “It is my job to interview everyone involved with Dani Huffman and determine if you’re ready to be released. I have to admit that I’m unsure about your case, due to your self-destructive behavior.”

“Hmph. So you’d let me go if I weren’t a loon?”

“I’d be more certain you wouldn’t disclose classified information in effort to harm the world, if you weren’t a ‘loon.”’

Jen released her fists. “What did you do during the war that put such a stick up your ass?”

“The war doesn’t define who I am anymore.”

“It doesn’t?” Jen asked. “I take it back. I’m not the loon here.”


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American Chimera – 20.5

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My mind flashed to images of ape men ripping people apart. I remembered grabbing my boyfriend and pulling him back, then suddenly hearing Stacy’s voice, “Stop! You’re hurting me!”

My therapist says the PTSD hadn’t fully sunk into me at that point, that I hadn’t been away from battle long enough to truly show symptoms – but I had been scared.

I shook my head and let Stacy go. “What is that thing?!”

“Dani! My friend. She’s a spider girl, and like really good at basketball.”

I rubbed my eyes. The spider waved a small American flag. Stacy admitted that this was a monster, a real monster. “What…does it talk?”

The spider’s lips upturned, its fangs and feelers wiggling in a strange, happy manner. “Of course I do! I’m a spider girl, duh.” She stood up on her rear sets of legs and waved her arms. “Thank you for your service!”

I knew what she was. I didn’t have to wait any longer to understand what I was seeing. An American Chimera, something even more frightening and advanced than the ape men unleashed by the North Koreans. I laughed – couldn’t control myself, couldn’t stop – and dropped the duffle I carried. Everything I fought for, suffered for, wished I had died for, was useless. They’d made me fight to destroy an army that lived and died entirely in pain, made me fight so a treaty would be signed.

And they’d already broken the treaty.

Fuck them. Fuck them to death.

Dani and Stacy ran up to me and held me from the ground as I laughed. “Antigen, what’s wrong?” Stacy asked. It wasn’t long before Victoria tried picking me up, but I didn’t stop laughing.

“I can’t believe it,” I said, “It was all for nothing. I accomplished nothing.”

Victoria grabbed my upper arm more tightly. “What? You kept us safe. You are a hero, Jen.” She ushered me towards the car, away from the fragile ears of the children. “Those two girls are very proud of you and your accomplishments.”

“One of them is a chimera,” I said. “The world can’t take another war like that, especially not with the US as the defenders.”

“How do you know she’s a chimera, hm? You fought nothing like her, and she’s a sweet girl, anyway.”

“Chinese won’t care. Russians won’t care. Hell, even the goddamn Limeys won’t care. We’re dead, just fucking dead!”

“Jen, please! The children!”

I pushed her off me. “WIll it matter if they’re all just destined to die?” I huffed, breath heaving up and down in my chest. “I fought against an atrocity in a foreign war only to come back and find out that we did the same damn thing I fought to stop.” I opened the car door and got in. “Nothing matters, Vic.”

Victoria’s brows furrowed, and she formed tight fists. “I understand things have been hard for you, so I’m going to just let that go and tell you to get in the car. Mom and Dad will want to talk with you, and I’ll bring Dani and Stacy along with me and Jim.” She opened the door and showed me a hand in. “Get in. I expected more of you – I expected someone who’s been to war to appreciate being greeted by her fellow Americans, even if they do look like spiders.”

“You speak as if she’s human.”

“She’s Stacy’s friend. And I’m sorry if she’s bringing up memories of the war, or if she’s making your sacrifice feel empty, but Jen – oh, Jen, she’s a little girl, and she just wanted to welcome you home.”

“Tch,” I snarled. “Kids get whatever they want because their useless parents defend them. I hate that about children.”


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American Chimera – 20.4

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When the war was over and I was sent back home, I was on all sorts of watch lists. Likely to go full-on PTSD nutjob, likely to be suicidal. They didn’t think I’d ask to be sterilized, but they should have expected something like that out of us. They should have known we’d be crazy in ways no one else had been before.

Anyway, I came back home. I was dischaged honorably at the base in Fayetteville, my duty fulfilled. I didn’t want them to watch me so closely, didn’t want them to take me away when I was so close to regaining my freedom. I sucked it up, held in the flashes of gore and terror, and just hoped to get home. I didn’t know, didn’t care, what I would do after. My body was intact, so there was at least that.

I saw Mom, Dad, and Victoria waiting for me when I came out. There was a whole slew of people, waiting for beloved family members to come back, waving American flags in celebration of victory and the terms of the convention. The flags reminded me of the cookies in our MREs, of the choking levels of patriotism I’d had to endure while simultaneously watching my friends get brutally slaughtered. I just cried, hugged my parents, and told them how much I loved them. I remember the scent of lavendar on mom’s hair, the musk of dad’s cologne. Victoria was fresh as a daisy. “Take me home,” I asked.

“Oh, yes, sweetie. You want to stop at Mickey D’s? Get a burger?” Mom asked. Something about her cheerful tone made me cringe – she didn’t understand what I needed.

I nodded anyway. “Sure.”

She held me at arm’s length. “You ok, sweetie? Did you get opportunity to say goodbye to your friends in the army?”

I forced myself to smile, then picked up my bag. “I’m fine. Just happy tears.” I marched toward Stacy and the exit, hoping not to get sent back. I marched fast enough that Mom, Dad, and Victoria couldn’t catch up. I bent down and picked up my favorite little girl, then twirled her in a circle while she waved her sickeningly red, white, and blue flag.

“Antigen!” she cried out, her child-voice so high pitched and deafening.

’Auntie Jen,’ she was trying to say, but I felt worse. It made me feel like a disease to hear that. I heard the screams of my friends. I saw the ape men in my mind.

“Antigen, welcome home!” She pulled back from my face after giving me a kiss on the cheek.

“You going to take me to McDonald’s? Eat some nice black beans?” I asked. I focused on good, American food, hoping to get the thoughts of the war away from me.

She nodded. “Yeah. Black bean pattie and fries.” She scrambled down, getting out of my grasp and back on the ground. “I brought my friend, too!”

“You did?”

“Uh-huh.” She held my wrist with one hand and pointed with the end of the flag in her other hand. “This is Dani, my friend from basketball. Oh, and school.”

At the other side of her flag was a monster.


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