NOTE: IF YOU MISSED PART 1, YOU CAN READ IT HERE.
Mac walked quietly down the stairs, listening for a sound that would indicate Emilija hadn’t really fallen asleep. He attained the bottom and still had heard nothing. He decided she really would have her nap on schedule today. He went to the front door and peered through the peephole. Their next-door neighbour’s four-year-old was tearing through the parking lot on his bicycle, but otherwise all was quiet. An hour after returning home with the chimera he’d seen a group of police officers trudge past the end of their complex, but since then, nothing.
He sighed in relief and turned away, heading for the kitchen.
“Draga?” he called softly.
Petra didn’t answer. She wasn’t in the kitchen. Mark was conspicuously absent and quiet. Then he heard a sound directly below him. It could have been a cry or a playful exclamation, but it was Mark.
He flung the basement door open and dashed down the stairs. What had he done? How could he have been so stupid to bring that monster into his home. Oh God, please ...
“Petra!” He took the last four stairs at a leap.
“What is it, medeni?” she said, calmly turning towards him and dipping a bloody rag into the bucket perched on a stool next to her. The chimera sat on the floor before her; its hideous features fixed on her in a childlike expression of adoration. Its grey camo Battle Dress Uniform stuck out of a garbage bag at the foot of the stool. It had a pair of Mac’s sweat pants stretched over its lower body, and Petra was washing the many wounds about its torso. Mark sat on a blanket nearby playing with toy cars.
“Uh ... what are you doing?” Mac said, inching forward, reaching a hand out to pull Petra away. “Petra, this thing ...”
“Is not a thing,” she said. “He’s a human being, Mac. And look at these wounds! I couldn’t leave him like this. And those filthy rags he was wearing would only draw more attention to him.”
He looked at the chimera, which now turned its eyes towards him. “Stand easy,” Mac said nervously. He slowly took Petra by the arm and pulled her away from the creature. “Petra, look, this thing’s a genetically modified killing machine. It’s like a Frankenstein’s monster -- I’ve seen these things in action in Iran, it’s not --”
“Don’t talk about him like he’s not here,” Petra said hotly, pulling her arm away. “And don’t be stupid. Of course he’s human -- he’s a Man. Sorry Jerko.”
She turned back to the chimera and looked it over.
“You named him -- it?” And after the patron saint of Croatia, no less. She ignored him. “Look, to have a rational soul you need free choice -- this thing only kills.”
“Oh? We seem to be alive.”
“Well, I gave it an order -- on instinct -- and it thinks I’m in its chain of command ...”
“Instinct, eh?” She continued her inspection of the chimera. Satisfying herself it was sufficiently clean, she pulled out her needle and thread. “Now, let’s look at this here ... that looks like a bullet wound ... Mac, get me your pliers. And while you’re at it, he’ll need some food. It’s the least you can do considering he saved your life.”
Mac could only stare dumbly. Mark gave one of his cars an overly enthusiastic push, and it skittered off the blanket and across the concrete. Gently, the chimera reached down and pushed it back to the toddler. It looked up, and again its eyes met Mac’s. Are you human? Mac wondered.
The chimeras he’d seen in Tabriz had no regard for Mac and his men. They hadn’t attacked them -- they were obviously focussed on their mission against the Iranians. But they never made a move to assist any wounded or extricate Mac’s platoon when they were pinned down. They just went about their business of sowing terror. That was simply following orders ... was what happened down the hill something else?
He grabbed his pliers from his toolbox elsewhere in the basement and dropped them beside Petra. Then he trudged upstairs to see what they had for food.
When night fell, Mac ordered the chimera outside and repeated his command for it to set up a tactical hide somewhere. Each morning when he left for work he’d catch a glimpse of it somewhere along his path, and after three days it started visiting the backyard -- leaping the six foot fence in a bound. Petra brought it food, and Mac grudgingly would go out as well. He discovered that it had command of more speech than simply asking for orders, and it would report to him observations of the neighbourhood. It seemed that Military Police had moved into the area and were searching for the chimera.
He wondered whether it knew they were searching for it specifically? In any event, it kept itself hidden because he told it to, and it didn’t maim or kill, either. He continued to ponder whether it had a human nature or not. Had it developed a mere pet-like attachment to him and his family, or was there something more?
Mac was sitting in the living room on a Saturday afternoon a week after first encountering the chimera, chewing over just that, when the doorbell rang. He put down his Roman Catechism -- a gift from Petra when he’d been conditionally confirmed six months after returning from Iran -- and moved to the door. He peered through the peephole.
On the doorstep were three soldiers -- two men, one woman -- in grey urban camo and black berets. On their left arms, each wore a grey brassard with “MP” in big black letters. Their carbines were pointed at the ground, but they had an air of readiness about them that made Mac afraid. He tried not to let that show as he opened the door.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Frazer,” the leader of the group, with a grenade launcher slung about his neck said. “My name’s Staff Sergeant Chau.”
“What brings Military Police into the projects, sergeant?” Mac said.
The sergeant looked him over. “You saw time in Iran.”
“Yeah ...” Mac decided to be friendly; it might give him an edge. “Yeah, did two tours over there. Well, one and a bit -- second one got cut short.”
“Glad you made it out alive,” Chau said. “Too many didn’t. And some that did ... look, there’ve been some killings around here. A vet from Iran, gone off the deep end.”
“Really?” Mac tried to look shocked.
“Come on, L.T.,” the M.P. said, using Mac’s rank from before his discharge. “I know what you’re trying to do, but this guy’s gone way over the line. I think you know something about this. We found your D.N.A. at the scene of one of the killings. In vomit ... I figure you saw something and --”
“Okay, I saw those kids. They were messed up pretty bad. I lost it when I saw that. Booked it back here and took the rest of the day off work.”
How much do these guys know? Mac wondered. Were they really told it was some insane war veteran, or is this just a trick?
“We’d like to take a formal statement.”
Mac had never considered Emilija’s crying such a welcome sound, but as it wafted down from her room upstairs, it gave him a way to buy some time. “Look, now’s not really a good time. Can you guys come back?”
“Alright, L.T., sounds like you’re busy,” Chau smiled. “Here’s my card. You work?”
“Yeah, usually get back into town pretty late.”
“That’s okay, I’ll arrange someone to pick you up at your bus and we can take your statement then. Sound good?”
As the M.P.s headed away, the female turned and fixed Mac with a suspicious look. Mac forced himself to close the door slowly. He then rushed back to the kitchen where Petra was peeling potatoes.
“Go get the baby,” she said crossly.
“Draga, that was the military police at the door,” Mac said. “They’re onto me. They found my D.N.A. where the chim--”
“Whatever -- where it killed those kids. I don’t think they believed the line I gave them. Look, he can’t keep hanging around here; I’ve got to order him way away from us.”
“Well where’s he going to go?”
“I don’t know -- look, he’s born and bred to survive in a city like this. He doesn’t need us to wipe his butt for him!”
That night Jerko attended the backyard to report in as usual. Mac still called it the chimera when he spoke to Petra, to keep her from getting more attached to it than she was, but he realised he was starting to think of it by that name as well. As he marched out to face it, or him, he felt an awful sickness in his stomach. It felt wrong to do this, but what could he do? His family was at risk. He reminded himself that chimeras didn’t officially exist. He had no doubt the MPs only objective was to kill it -- the Lord alone knew how it had even made it to this side of the Atlantic. But what would they do to those that knew about it? Maybe he’d heard too many of Petra’s tales from her newspapers, but he couldn’t risk it.
“Look, ah, Jerko,” he said, clearing his throat. “It’s not safe for you to stay around here.”
The chimera looked at him questioningly. Mac decided he might as well tell it like it was, and maybe if the chimera really were human it would understand.
“We’re in danger if you stay here. I’m therefore ordering you to take up a different hide.”
Jerko only cast his eyes down to the ground and slunk backwards. He then turned and leapt silently over the fence. And that was that.
The next morning Mac sat at the kitchen table staring at his untouched breakfast. He pushed the plate away and forced himself to drink some coffee. It, too, had gone cold. He looked over at the window over the kitchen sink that overlooked the backyard and let out a deep breath. He got up and walked over, half-hoping he’d see the chimera back there. The small yard was empty. And it was getting light out, which meant he was late for his bus. But he didn’t really care.
“Mac!” Petra cried from upstairs.
“What is it?” Heart racing at the urgency of her voice, he dashed up, taking the stairs two at a time. She was in Mark’s room at the back of the house.
“Look -- the neighbourhood’s crawling with soldiers!”
Mac’s eyes followed her outstretched hand, and he could see she was right. Soldiers in groups of three were moving cautiously through the complex, carbines held at the ready. He caught four such groups as they moved between buildings. He was certain there were many more. He opened the window slightly, and through it wafted an officer’s voice amplified by a megaphone.
“... present yourself for inspection.”
“They’re drawing him out -- they’re ordering him into the open so they can kill him like dog!” Mac turned and bolted back down the stairs. As he was pulling on his work boots he heard Petra following him.
“Where are you going?” Petra demanded.
“I’m going after Jerko,” Mac said. “He’ll listen to me -- I have to tell him to get out of here.”
“What? Mac -- you said it yourself, they’re out there to kill. They’ll shoot you too!”
“I’ve got to do it.”
“Are you crazy? Have you forgotten your family? You’ll be killed! What will happen to us? You and your stupid proud heroics!”
“Petra, please ...” He stood and hugged her. She nearly collapsed into his arms as her rage dissolved to sobs. “I love you so much. But I ... you wouldn’t be the man I love if you didn’t.” She kissed him on the lips, then backed off, wiping her eyes. “Get going!”
He ran out the door. If he looked back he might lose his nerve. Petra was right, of course, about the family. But he’d never left a man stranded. And he knew Jerko was a man, a horribly abused and scarred one, but a man nevertheless. He deserved way more than he’d been given.
“Jerko!” Mac shouted.
Around the side of the complex he nearly collided with one of the kill teams clearing a corner.
“Hey, curfew hasn’t lifted yet,” one of them said. “Get back in your home. Hey --”
Mac brushed past them and sprinted off down the hill. He heard their boots pounding the pavement behind him, but unencumbered, and fuelled by desperation he was able to put some distance between them.
“Jerko!” he called. “Stay hidden, don’t listen to them!”
“Freeze!” he heard one of the soldiers shout behind him. Mac darted down a side alley.
“Jerko!” he kept calling.
Fifty feet ahead another team of soldiers entered his alleyway. One of them had his head tilted towards the radio on his shoulder. The other two raised their firearms.
“Hey, you, stop! Stop or we’ll shoot!”
Mac skidded to a stop. The next alley he could go down was too far ahead to make. Were these guys ready to shoot a civilian? He tensed to make a try.
“Don’t do it ...” said the soldier ahead. The first group was now closing in behind him. Mac made a break for it, hoping they wouldn’t risk hitting each other.
They didn’t, but this path proved to be a dead end. He came to a halt again at the foot of a small mountain of garbage climbing up the three walls hemming it in. He turned around to face the six soldiers.
“What are you doing?” the leader from the first group growled.
They kept their guns trained on him and moved slowly forward.
“I heard him calling a name,” another of them said. “Do you think he could be --”
The question was cut off with a yelp as Jerko, seemingly from nowhere, leapt down on them. In a heartbeat, six carbines lay on the ground and the soldiers had retreated around the corner. There were a few drops of blood on the concrete, but Mac didn’t think Jerko had seriously hurt any of them -- although he’d moved so fast it was impossible to know. The chimera approached Mac and sat on his haunches so they were eye-to-eye.
“Friendlies,” Jerko whispered.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Mac said. “Look, we’ve got to hide you somehow. And you’ve got to ignore --”
“Okay, it’s over, take it easy, buddy ...” Jerko said, putting a hand on Mac’s shoulder. Then the other hand smashed Mac in the throat. Mac staggered back, coughing, fighting for breath.
Oh no, I really was wrong, he thought as the chimera reached towards him. The talons dug into Mac’s arms and he was thrust into the pile of garbage. He could breathe a little, but couldn’t speak. He drew breath with effort, his trachea on fire. His eyes tracked the chimera. No, he hadn't been wrong. Jerko had hidden him and was going to sacrifice himself for him. Jerko loped to the foot of the alley. Mac couldn't call out to stop him. He closed his eyes and let the tears roll down his cheeks as the explosions of gunfire echoed off the walls, cutting the chimera down.