Revisiting ‘The Field’
I once wrote a short story, about a dozen years ago, which I, on a lark, entered into the Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature. Amazingly enough, it won, and I was on Cloud Nine for a while. It was something called The Field, a short story about a kid from the future doing schoolwork by reseaching Jose Rizal and his execution by watching a video of it using a time-travel sort of device, and things go terribly wrong. Interesting, if I do say so myself. Certainly good enough to win an award. But I hardly wrote any fiction since; a lot of non-fiction, and magazine writing and editing, but hardly any fiction. Life, as it is wont to do, got in the way.
Recently, at my daughter’s request (she wanted to read it), I tried to dig it up, and was surprised to find I didn’t have a copy! I looked through my old files, and couldn’t find a single blessed one. Not a single draft, none. I supposed I could’ve asked for a copy from the Palanca people, but it seemed like too much trouble for a single short story from 12 years ago. So I searched online. Desperately, as it turned out. No copies there either. But I found that someone had posted a copy on a website, a Palanca archive, but that site had long gone the way of the dodo. There was a cached copy of the site (God bless the folk at Google), and I managed to wrangle a copy from that mess, but it was riddled with HTML code and other stuff that made it near impossible to read.
Despite the code, I quickly made a copy and pasted it onto Microsoft Word, and resolved to clean the mess up for my kid. And for myself too, because I hadn’t thought to make a copy for posterity’s sake. It took me the better part of an afternoon, but I managed to do it and prettify the story into an acceptable format.
Reading it back, I sorta saw where I was at, writing-wise, a dozen years ago. I saw where I wrote a little purplishly, getting carried away, and saw portions where I sorta had a pedestrian, kind of over-excited and strident view of certain things and wrote those passages accordingly. I slightly rewrote those portions, cheating a bit on history. Then again, who’s gonna get mad? It’s my stuff, my writing, and I can damn well do what I want with it. But I realize the folly of revisionism, and kept it to a minimum.
Bannor, the tempo-tech helping out Paolo in the story, was a bit too over-the-top in the original version, and some of his dialogue, in hindsight, seemed too excitable and too young-sounding, so I toned it down some. (His name came from a character in a series of novels I read by Stephen Donaldson, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and I cribbed it brazenly.) I had trouble then, as I do now, of thinking up names for my characters, and end up with the commonest, plain-sounding, unimaginative names ever (odd, but that trouble has always been there, some deep-set and fundamental creative inability that I constantly struggle with).
I saw certain things that dated my writing, but I left that stuff in anyway. I felt like I was becoming George Lucas a little bit too much. I also corrected several little items in the general text, and reading it now in its slightly revised version, you’d wonder what the fuss was about. It looks basically the same, warts and all. But that’s the curse of writing. You can’t stop revising your stuff, and left to your own devices, you’d rewrite and rewrite the thing to death. Which was why some wag once wrote that you don’t ever finish a story, you just give up on it and let it be.
So, I’ve decided to let The Field be. I’ve decided to leave it alone, warts and all, and move on with my life.
Here it is, for posterity’s sake, posted after the break, so that at least one copy exists online:
THE SENSOR POPPED OUT TWENTY-FIVE meters above the field with a little clapping sound. A maya flew close, and the little ball noiselessly shifted position with puffs from tiny nitrogen retros.
It was four inches around and it had a pass-through mimic surface. Anyone looking directly at it couldn’t tell it was there unless the sensor ball moved, and even then they would just notice a slight shimmer, depending on the amount of movement. Tiny fiber optic lenses and receptors small as pinheads covered the surface like tiny glittering diamonds. Each lens read what was directly in front of it and re-projected the image on the lens directly opposite, as the opposite returned the favor. This way the sensor rendered itself nearly invisible from any angle, a shimmering ghostly ping-pong ball. Already a neat trick for arm’s length work, at the moment it was shimmering twenty-five meters above the activity it was observing.
None of the Guardia Civil noticed the sensor hovering above them, recording thermals, humidity, altitude, atmospheric content, infrared, audio, and of course, three-dimensional visuals in a sensor sphere a hundred meters wide.
The air above Bagumbayan, a grassy little field a stone’s throw from the Manila Bay, outside near the narrow Postigo Gate of the Walled City, was smoky this morning, as it always was, from all the wood fires burning in Intramuros. Carbon, nitrogen and methane dominated the sensor feeds, along with trace elements and the tang of nightsoil and horse manure around the field. In late nineteenth century Spanish-occupied Philippines, indoor plumbing was still a luxury, and food was still generally prepared over wooden fires at the backs of the Spanish-influenced slums in and around the walls of the city.
The lenses adjusted to focus on the activity below. Paolo, a chubby young student in gray sweats and a fashionable mop-head hairdo, tweaked the adjustment to concentrate on a squad of soldiers, obviously Indios in ill-fitting uniforms, clasping old ill-made single shot rifles, milling around nervously. Moving in close, he could see the beads of sweat on their brown foreheads, cutting streaks in their rough button-down undershirts. Very obviously they’d rather be somewhere else.
The modest crowd behind them, hardly at all as large as what some history books portrayed, was restless, edgy. All in all, the ceremony didn’t seem a big deal in the calendar of events of Manila that week.
Paolo glanced at the event clock, and it blinked, redly, 0633H. It was time.
Four soldiers approached, bayoneted rifles held ready, leading a short medium-built man wearing a suit that was a size small for him, in keeping with the fashion of the day. He wore a plain black derby, and his hands were tied behind his back from wrist to elbow. On either side of the man walked two Jesuits, and a military officer. One of the Jesuits, the chubbier one, carried a little leather-bound book and a brass crucifix. Paolo saw that he was mumbling something under his breath. After adjusting the audio input he could tell it was a prayer in old Spanish, ponderous and repetitive. In the background a small military band was playing a cheery march.
“Hey, can you make that out?” he asked Bannor, the tempo-tech assisting him.
“No need to wonder. Got the translator module last August. Hardly use it,” Bannor said flatly. He was a little older than Paolo, with a bald pate and black overalls, a grouchy tech-head. “Then again, hardly anyone goes this far back nowadays. All they want is the damned war is all they want.” He punched in a command and selected instantaneous conversion. In a second, a high, wheezy voice from two and a half centuries ago filtered though the flat little speakers on the wall in New Queen’s English. “It’s from the Bible. Matthew 6:9, in Espanol, circa late 19th century. He’s praying the Lord’s Prayer,” said Bannor. He snorted.
“Hm. Can you widen the sensor field to include everything?”
“If you want a mess, sure.” A clack of keys, and there was a cacophony of noise as every word spoken in the crowd was normalized in level and translated in unison. Paolo was taken aback by the sudden noise. Bannor’s fingers flew, and it lowered to a drone. “Just aim the pointer, press the button, and it’ll select the source input you specify and it’ll amplify and translate it in real time. Mostly boring shit, if you ask me.”
Paolo watched the little spectacle unfolding several meters below.
The man in black was led through the trampled grass towards a huddled group of uniformed soldiers. Another man waved the little group off to a clear grassy part of the field, between two lamp posts. Beyond them, the ocean glittered, and through the clear sky an island was visible in the distance.
They were distracted by a scuffle that broke out to one side.
“There. Close in.”
Several Indios had shoved their way to the front, shouting something, and the Guardia Civil moved in swiftly, clubbing them to submission. Paolo readjusted focus. Ah, there was some life in this crowd after all, he thought. He scanned the screens for significant players in this drama, but couldn’t find any other than two women and a man who had anguished, desperate looks on their faces. Relatives?
“There, that group! See the women and that man. Could they be – “
Bannor interrupted him curtly. “Don’t ask me, I just work here. People always assume I’m a history nut, and expect me to tell them what they see. I don’t give a shit, really,” Bannor muttered. “I’m just a tempo-tech. It’s all the same to me. I don’t know all the names and places, especially this obscure crap we’re looking at now.” From the speakers, the crowd droned on. “I just punch in the dates and spatial coordinates, and I punch in, record and pull out. People dying, that’s what you kids all want to see.”
“I didn’t mean – ”
Bannor was bristling. “Ask me about JFK, I can recite chapter and verse. I’ve been to Dealey Plaza often enough. It’s a bitch trying to avoid dozens of other sensor balls from past concurrent visits. Shit, I think some are even mine, and it’s really the height of stupidity to get in your own damn way, right?”
Bannor glared at Paolo. “I keep telling them to watch the three-vids, they’re all the same. I mean, free temporal space above the grassy knoll is damn difficult enough to find, and they all want to find their own angles. It’s a waste of money,” he said, pissed and obviously wanting to go home. “And it’s dangerous when the balls bump into one another and cross paths. You don’t know what could happen. You know the sickest part? It’s just expensive busywork.” He looked at Paolo. “It’s all been done before.”
“Well, it should be over soon,” Paolo said uncomfortably. “This is an execution. A martyr from my ancestors’ old country. I just want to see it happen, take a three-vid home, do my report for school.”
“Yeah? Then I suggest you watch carefully, because I think they’re going to start.”
Paolo whipped his head around to look at the monitors. The unattended sensor had been panning across the field, going into auto-scan. His teachers and his parents would skin him alive if he wasted this opportunity. Getting expensive camera time on the machines was difficult, and he wouldn’t get a second chance anytime within the semester even if he did have the credits. Which meant he was almost surely going to fail his class.
He’d meant to pick an obscure event from history, something from his biological parents’ roots. He’d turn in a great report, or at least something new. This rebel execution was relatively unknown. Everyone did Gandhi, Hitler, Anwar Sadat, John Paul IX, Princess Diana, John Lennon, Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein, JFK, even poor John-John Kennedy strapped upside down in his little plane sunk off the sea near Martha’s Vineyard. He could even have gone to a couple other events from the old country – old granny Imelda Marcos with the knives in her bedroom, or that messy one with Joseph Estrada’s vehicle convoy at Guadalupe Bridge in ‘01. But instead he chose the doctor.
Dr. Jose Rizal, National Hero of the erstwhile Pre-Juncture Independent Philippine Industrial Republic from two hundred fifty years ago seemed a good choice. Paolo wondered, though, why only two other researchers before him had accessed this part of the timeline, according to the logs.
On the wall of monitors, the man in black had been led to face the threadbare soldiers, who were forming a ragtag line in front of the two lampposts. The motley crowd mumbled lowly as one on the flat speakers as a splendidly uniformed officer took out a parchment and began reading something in Spanish in a loud, officious voice. The language was mellifluous, lilting, despite the gruff manner. More time to listen to it closely later, at home.
Paolo dragged on a fader and the sensor ball dropped twelve meters closer to the little scene. It shimmered in the sky as the gyros hummed and the nitrogen retros buoyed it up.
“Hey! Stop that! You can use the digital zoom to get closer! Help me lose my job, why don’t you?” yelled Bannor.
“Optical’s much better. You only have 3x optical on this old heap, and I want good resolution,” countered Paolo.
“I have 124x digital! Come on, I’ll get into trouble!”
“124 pixellates like a son of a bitch. Don’t worry about it. I’m paying enough. Now give me full-bore on all feeds, full spectrum, high-res everything.”
“It’ll cost you.”
“It’ll cost my Dad. Just do it.”
On the field the crowd noise went up several decibels, and Paolo saw on the monitors that the squad officer and a man with a medical bag had withdrawn and the priest had moved forward to administer last rites. The other officer who had walked the Death March with them came along. A quick, unbidden tug of memory told Paolo that the Spanish officer’s name was Lt. Luis Taviel de Andrade, Rizal’s legal counsel, and the Jesuit priests were Father March and Villa-something-or-other. The other members of the Guardia Civil formed a line at the edge of the little crowd and dug in their heels as the band stopped playing.
Bannor shook his head and his fingers clacked on the keypad. Immediately, eight other panels clicked on, and a whole bank of monitors went on-line. There were thirty-six different views and angles of the field, from thirty-six of the hybrid fiber optic lenses, and at least a dozen other receptors started capturing data and assorted information.
The priest finished his rituals and made the sign of the cross. He offered the crucifix to Rizal and he bowed his head and kissed it. The doctor, arms still bound, turned around awkwardly to shake hands with him. The Jesuit was about to leave when the man in black said something Paolo didn’t quite get. The priest cocked his head and listened and then motioned to the officer, who had stood respectfully to one side. The man in black said something else and the officer looked thoughtful for a moment, and then nodded. The receptors recorded everything, even the conversation, but it was too soft to hear. On playback later he can up the volume and translate it, but Paolo already knew what they were talking about.
The doctor had requested to be shot facing the squad, against tradition. Lt. De Andrade walked over to the commander of the firing squad and started a brief but heated argument. He looked over at the doctor and shook his head. Request denied. The receptors sucked up everything for posterity.
Paolo pulled on the lever and yanked on a joystick, and two and a half centuries away the sensor dropped eight meters more and three fiber optic lenses focused on the man in black from three different tangents. Bannor, outraged, thought to say something but shut his mouth.
Bannor noted three other sensors in the periphery of their sensor field, watching and listening, blinking red-green on his monitors. Unknown tempo-techs and maybe some smart-ass students from the recent past or future controlled their respective sensors, watching the same scene, knowing each other was there and trying to stay out of each other’s way.
Hold on. Three balls? I thought there were supposed to be only two.
The event-clock clicked over to 0700 local time. Three minutes left. One of the balls skittered around for a reverse angle of the scene, shimmering in its path like a heat wave, hovering over some large trees at the edge of the clearing, watching Rizal as he faced the sea. The other sensors were working hard recording as the events of Bagumbayan Field wound down to its inevitable conclusion.
Bannor tugged on a few levers. He was worried about the third sensor, which wasn’t on the temporal logs. What kind of screw-up was that? It was a couple of magnitudes beyond idiotic, he thought, as he ran a check for the fourth time. He was puzzled over some other phantom readings of sensor balls he was detecting on the grid… seven, eight, nine. Nine balls? What’s going on?
Their active sensor was just five meters above the priest and the officer, invisibly transmitting data over time and space. As nanoservos twirled and adjusted focal lengths on equally minute cameras, Paolo could see the texture of the man’s black hat, a scraggly felt-like material, dusty as if it had fallen on the ground and someone had put it back on him without dusting it off. He pulled back to see the man’s brown, mustached face, with a stiff smile, fully calm. The sensor’s data stream told him Rizal’s pulse was in the normal range, if a little fast.
He could see the pores on his cheek, a little mole underneath the temple just underneath the pomaded hairline, a little fuzz on his jaw where it was unshaven, and underneath that, a yellowing bruise.
The Spanish commander of the squad stood beside nine sweaty Indio soldiers with their ill-made rifles and drew his sword from his scabbard. The man with the medicine bag, a Spanish medical officer judging from his uniform, stood nearby, looking slightly nauseous.
Dr. Jose Rizal Mercado y Alonzo, 35, facing history, turned his back on death and his firing squad and faced the ocean. In the distance he could clearly see the mountains of Cavite and the island of Corregidor, on that December morning two hundred and fifty years ago.
So it’s true, at least this part, Paolo thought. I read that he’s supposed to be shot in the back, and then turn around so he’d fall to the ground face up, to see the blue sky. We’ll see if that was some convenient nationalista fiction dreamt up by his compatriots to make his martyrdom a little more dramatic, and get a little more mileage. We’ll soon find out.
He dialed in more optical zoom and framed Rizal against the horizon. Somewhere in the distance, the other sensor recorded impassively. It hovered a little closer. Bannor sat up. Paolo moved his sensor directly above Rizal, and let it drop by a meter and a half, his camera dialed up to the full 3x zoom. When he falls on his back he’d be looking directly up at us, he thought.
Bannor looked at the monitors on the wall, scanning for anything unusual. All he could see was that one of the other balls, curious, had crept in close. The other two sensors kept a respectful distance. He looked at the man on the screen. It’s going to be a little anticlimatic. Always is. Death is so pedestrian. It’s never as how we imagine it. Flat, undignified pain, an embarrassing mess, and then oblivion.
The event-clock clicked over again: 0702H. It was time.
The crowd noise tapered off, and for a moment Paolo thought that the audio sensor had screwed up. The officer raised his sword and told the firing squad to take aim. The Jesuits crossed themselves. Paolo’s hand shook on the controls.
“Fuego!” the officer yelled, suddenly and without ceremony, and the squad fired their rifles, not in unison.
Three of the crude bullets smashed into Rizal’s back between his bound arms and tore through his black suit and smashed his spine. A lump of hot metal hit him on the low of his back, splintering the bones of his right forearm as it went through, smashing his coccyx and his pelvis. Rizal gave a surprised gasp as his lower motor functions shut off and his legs and his sphincters gave way. The rifles were underpowered, and the bullets lacked energy to exit through his front and just lodged themselves in his torso. One of them had collapsed his left lung and it filled immediately with blood.
Paolo and Bannor watched motionlessly in the control room, as Rizal staggered and fell on his right side on the grass between the two lampposts. He flopped on the ground sideways like a grounded fish, struggling to turn over but the loss of motor function didn’t give him much leverage. Blood gouted from his back and he coughed as frothy blood from his collapsed lung came up through his nose and mouth, staining the trampled grass. His hat had fallen off and rolled on the ground several feet away. Droplets of blood from his mouth and his mangled back had spattered the rim of the dusty, scraggly felt-like material of the derby.
Bannor stood, reached over and fingered the zoom and pan controls and focused tightly on the doctor. Paolo slapped Bannor’s hand away and grabbed the directional lever himself.
Dr. Rizal twisted about for several seconds and his strength began to leave him as shock and pain took over. The mixed crowd of Filipinos and Spaniards at Bagumbayan Field gasped on the wall speakers as Rizal fell on his back, trapping his bound hands underneath him, coughing and gulping for air.
With a final, wrenching twist, his face turned towards the sky, and he looked straight into Paolo’s eyes.
Paolo was startled, and his hand involuntarily pulled on the directional lever of the sensor. It swooped down to within six inches of Rizal’s face in one breathless second, and Paolo and Bannor stepped back involuntarily as Rizal’s face filled the monitors, large, and in agony.
A klaxon began whooping in the control room.
What the hell? Bannor looked around at the control panels for the source of the alert, and was horrified to see that one of the sensor balls, the one watching from above the trees at the far end of the field to the west had swooped dangerously close to theirs.
Two more alarms joined the racket as the two sensors edged close together. Two hundred and fifty years in the past, a dying man saw two spots in the air above him shimmering, shifting in color. Jose Rizal watched, dying, his synapses firing wildly, and thought, it is finished. They are here for me.
In the control room, Bannor cursed under his breath and shoved Paolo aside to get to the directional joysticks.
“Dammit! Who’s manning that ball? If those two connect, it’s going to go to emergency extraction and retrieval!” Bannor jammed the joystick backward in an effort to separate the two, but apparently the other tempo-tech from some other time and place had the same idea, and the two sensors twirled, circled each other and suddenly came together in one large shimmering burst, inches above the dying man’s face.
Several of the panels blanked out in static, and sparks flew from the console in front of Bannor. The machine, fail-safes engaged and functioning by themselves, marked off the immediate area around the sensor and went into emergency retrieval mode, automatically acting on the premise that something had gone terribly wrong. Clean as you go. Nothing from the future must be left behind in the past, said the old spray-painted warnings on the machines.
When the ball extracted itself, the safety margin built into the system took with it a two-and-a-half-meter circular area around the ball in the hope that all pieces of the malfunctioning sensor will be captured and sent back. It was either that, or the ball be destroyed completely and utterly, pulverized in subatomic self-destruct mode if retrieval was impossible.
In a nanosecond, a large, spherical chunk of air and soil two-and-a-half meters wide, like the bottom third of a large globe, plopped on the platform in front of the control panel with a loud clap. In the middle of it, lying on a circle of bloodied grass, a man in the last moments of his life looked about. Beside his head a four-inch wide ball smoldered, dead. On the remaining monitors, the feed froze on the image of the field with an ugly scooped-out hole between two lampposts.
“Oh my God!” breathed Paolo, and ran to the platform.
Dr. Jose Rizal gurgled, his mouth working wordlessly. Bright red atrial blood bubbled from his nose in a scarlet froth.
Paolo climbed up onto the circle of grass and almost slipped in the blood. He kneeled helplessly beside the Doctor, holding his shoulder, feeling his agony.
Dr. Jose Rizal looked fearfully around the room, at the 360-degree bank of monitors on the wall, at the smoking control panel. His eyes tried to drink it all in, his mind trying to work feverishly through the pain and the shock. He glanced at Bannor, frozen at the panel.
Rizal mumbled something, weak and faint and said around a mouthful of blood, and Paolo leaned close to listen, but recoiled as the instantaneous translation boomed the agonized whisper on the big wall speakers. “What? What? Where am I? What is this? It hurts. Ahh, the pain, the pain…”
He just nodded to Rizal and stroked the mussed, pomaded hair, shushing him, and trying not to cry at the same time. He looked at his hand and there were smears of blood on his palm from the hair.
Bannor was panicking. “We have to send him back! I don’t know how this is going affect everything!” he screeched.
“Can we do that? Send him back?” Paolo said calmly, as he felt Rizal’s warm blood begin to soak through the gray fabric of his sweats, right into the thermal padding on his thigh.
“The coordinates are still in the machine.” He flipped a switch. “Yes. We can send him back to a nanosecond after he left. I’ll just punch in a slight delay to avoid overlap, but damn it, this has never been done before. Jesus. Jesus.”
Rizal, drifting in a world of glassy pain, turned his head towards Bannor’s direction at the mention of the name. “Jesus,” he echoed in a husky whisper, and the translator was quiet.
“Just do it. Will everything be restored?”
“I don’t know. Pretty much. I have to compute for dilation, and temporal movement, but on the nanosecond level errors might not matter. Or they might. Jesus!”
“Jesus,” whispered Rizal again. Paolo held Rizal fast, cradling the Doctor’s head under his leg. Blood was now pooling around Paolo’s knee, and Rizal’s eyes had begun to glaze over. The dull eyes looked about, and he muttered something. The translator instantly amplified it. “The lights. They are here.”
Paolo glanced up and saw a shimmering in the air before them. A sensor ball? Here? What the hell? He looked around wildly. He couldn’t see anything but sensed there were others hovering about the room. We’re being watched. He debated telling Bannor, who would certainly freak. He decided against it.
“Hurry! He’s going fast! He can’t die here. Can the machine handle the transfer?”
Bannor’s hands flew on the keyboard. He ran over to a couple of panels, opened them up and pulled out charred boards. “I don’t know. It’s a big packet. I’ll have to reverse the fail-safes by hand and see if it’ll work. Otherwise I don’t think we have much to lose, everything’s as fucked up as it can get. God help those jerks with the other sensor, whoever they are. Bastards are probably dead if their sensor self-destructed after extraction. It didn’t tank on the field or else we’d have seen it.” He yelled at Paolo, “Help me here! We can’t send back that sensor. We’ll use another one.”
Rizal seemed to listen to this exchange with some amusement. His blood- flecked lips moved wordlessly. Paolo gently set Rizal’s head down and went to help Bannor. “Stay there, I’ll be right back,” he said quietly. Rizal nodded once as if he understood. He probably did. New Queen’s English isn’t all that different from the English he would understand. For a second Paolo was tempted to tell him about what eventually happened, to the movement, to the country, but what difference would it make? He’d be dead in minutes. No. No. It wouldn’t be a kindness.
Paolo and Bannor worked quickly, and Rizal mercifully passed out. Two minutes later they fired up the machine, which whirred to life. Lights blinked on and the monitors showed swirling test patterns. Bannor set a sensor ball on a patch of blood-free grass.
“So far, so good. Say goodbye to your friend and stand back.”
Paolo ran over and smoothed down the dying man’s hair, and fixed his coat and lapels as best he could. “Get outta there!” yelled Bannor.
“God go with you,” Paolo said gently, and ran back to the consoles.
Bannor pressed a button and the sensor ball hovered, shimmering, over Rizal’s body. He threw a couple of switches and there was a bright flash and a loud clap and the dying man and the circle of blood and grass and soil was gone. A trace of ozone limned the air.
Almost instantaneously several of the monitors winked to life, and focused on the spot on a field where, less than five minutes and two hundred and fifty years before, two sensor balls had, unbelievably, touched.
Bannor glanced at the remaining monitors. “Everything seems to check out. Nobody noticed they lost a nanosecond or two. I think we’re free and clear.” Paolo looked around the room and thought the air was shimmering.
On the field Dr. Jose Rizal was still. Several of the Spaniards had taken up a cry of victory. “Viva Espana! Muerte a los traidores!” You could just make out a faint two-and-a-half meter circle around Rizal outline in the damp grass, if you looked hard enough.
The Spanish Military Band struck up a tune, a happy military ditty called the Marcha de Cadiz. The crowd, hot from the morning sun, didn’t join them and began to disperse. The spectacle was over, and it was time to get on with their day. On the screens, a pretty young woman was wailing, held up by her female companion and a man, who had stoically watched everything.
One of the priests and the military physician, Dr. Castillo, walked over to the still figure, his upturned face strangely peaceful, his hair in place and his suit torn and bloody but oddly unwrinkled. As the priest intoned words in a high wheezy voice that Paolo and Bannor could not understand, the doctor kneeled over Rizal’s body and examined it. He stood up after a few minutes, and shook his head. The officer who had led the firing squad came forward. He had sheathed his sword, but had unholstered his pistol.
He kicked Rizal over on his face and fired one shot point-blank between Rizal’s shoulder blades, a coup de grace, and walked away. The body didn’t move.
“Son of a bitch,” said Paolo. That wasn’t in the history books. He watched the field on the monitors. “Is everything all right?”
“As far as I can tell. Everything’s in God’s rightful place again. I think. But there will be hell to pay.”
“Nothing we could have done about it. That other ball made the mess.”
“We’ll never know what happened with them, I think. Not if their sensor detonated in their control room. Now that was bad news.” He sighed. “Hey, look,” he pointed to the platform.
On the wide space, there was a thin dirty circle of mud and soil.
“We didn’t get everything, after all. Well, I don’t think they’d miss a few ounces of dirt. I’ll get the ball back, and then I gotta write up a report. Stay here?” Bannor said.
“Yeah. I have to get the three-vid disc. I’ll help you clean up. I need to clean up myself.”
“OK, man. You gotta back me up on this.”
“Yeah, sure. Uh, Bannor? Tell it straight, OK?” Paolo looked at a shimmering spot two feet above the burned panel.
Later, he found Rizal’s derby while he was cleaning up. There were still dark, congealed droplets of blood on the rim of the dusty black hat with its scraggly felt-like material. He didn’t tell Bannor about it. He put it his backpack with the three-vid disc and his bloodied sweats and took the shuttle home.