For the rest of the evening, I sit alone in the dim candlelit bedroom with my knees against my chest. I have run out of tears and my cheeks are now sticky and swollen. I hardly have the will to make my way to the bed to get extra sleep before I am handed to General Pol on a silver platter.
Tomorrow I will be in foreign territory surrounded by humans and mammalians I’ve never seen before in my life, a new med barn with new equipment I’ve never operated on, and for who knows how long?
I begin packing my duffel bag with my toolkit, my uniforms of betrayal, and my old comb with its broken spines and buildup. I look around the room and scan all the paintings of the swine family tree. The mammalians have these made to never forget where they come from. We humans don’t have that luxury when we pass. When we lose someone, our memory fades and there is not even a token of remembrance or memento to hold onto in their name. But I will do everything in my power to never forget my mother and values she taught me. I won’t succumb to the temptations of this lifestyle on the manor because it’s simply easier to.
I hear a thud by the window, and look to check the weather. There are no winds by looking at the trees, nor rain. What could have made that knocking sound? I set aside my bag and draw near the windowsill. I lower my eyes to see nothing but the fields full of coops and barns barely lit with lanterns, and the Tamsworths patrolling on foot and on their carts. There seems to be more of them on the grounds than usual probably the result of my recent actions.
I turn my back and walk over to my bag to continue packing. I laugh to myself. Continue packing what? I have no ownership of anything. I’m the one under ownership. I’m property.
I hear the noise again and turn around quickly to see a hooded figure coming in through the window and shutting it behind him.
“There are guards right outside that door! You better leave before I-“
The male human quickly covers my mouth with the palm of his hand.
I look beneath the hood to see familiar golden-brown eyes.
“Relax, it’s me.” He says as he slowly lowers his palm from my mouth.
The intruder being him and now knowing he has discovered the truth about me staying here does not make me any more relaxed.
“What in the world are you doing here?!” I ask him in a whispered shout. “If you were caught sneaking in here you certainly won’t be making it out.”
“I finally recalled when I’ve seen those uniforms before. When I was first drafted the General was at odds with the canine ranch. They had made countless threats and double the mammalian guards he had to protect his family. During this crisis, he ordered that all brownreds be on guard outside the manor. I saw a female human servant assisting his wife. She was wearing identical garments.” He tells me, as he strokes my gold collar.
“How could you betray us Chinatsu?” he continues, “Rio trusted you, and so did I.”
“I didn’t, I swear to you. This has all happened so fast against my will! I’m clearly under duress! I wanted to tell you, but I was scared…”
“Of you thinking that I betrayed you if I told you I had been relocated to the manor, the way you do now! This behavior of yours just proves me right.”
“I only think that because you didn’t tell us when you had the chance.”
“You still haven’t told me why you’re here, to rat me out to the General, to Rio, or both? If that’s the case, just get it over with.”
“I originally felt guilty about yelling at you earlier. I wanted to apologize before you left for General Pol’s tomorrow. So, after you left, I went to the med coop, then the barn, and asked around. Some apprentice, Fujita, pretty girl, told me you had been branded four days ago.”
Damn you, Fujita.
“Now that I see she was telling the truth,” he continues, “I don’t feel so guilty about how I treated you earlier. As a matter of fact, I think you deserve a lot worse.”
I try to resist the tears threatening to fall out my eyes, but it’s no use.
I begin to sob and fall to my knees.
“I have been on the receiving end of much worse these past four days. You don’t know the half of it! I’ve witnessed a demonic shoat that killed four humans, possibly more! I was attacked by canines and got an innocent human killed! I’ve had a stun bolt gun put to my head, been dragged my hair, and threatened to be skinned and propped up for everyone to see by the person I trusted most! All while trying to help you, Rio, and the rest of the rebels with your resistance!”
“The resistance is for the greater good of all humans.”
“You don’t think some of us humans are content with how things are run? Maybe it’s better for everybody if things don’t go back to how they were in ancient times. We obviously screwed up everything to where we’re just repenting for the suffering we caused to all the other species!”
“You’re starting to sound like one of them.”
“One of who?!”
“… So then… Are you going to tell Rio tonight when you get back?”
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t.”
“You want me to get on my knees and beg?”
Knock knock knock
I hear at the door. One of the Tamsworths shouts from the other side of the door, “Miss Kobayashi, what’s going on there?!”
“Kobayashi?” he says under his breath wearing a puzzled expression.
“Nothing – nothing’s going on! I’m only talking to myself trying to prepare for tomorrow afternoon’s travels.” I shout to the guards trying to sound as casual as possible when I hear keys jingling at the locks.
Koshi doesn’t move a muscle until I plea for him to leave.
“Get out of here before they come in! Please, go! Get out now!”
“We’re not finished here.” He says as he throws the hood back over his head and jumps out of the windowsill closing it behind him.
Seconds after, the two guards enter my room observing every corner of the room for the slightest sign of deceit.
“Good evening to you both. I appreciate the concern, but as I said, I was only talking to myself.”
“We swore we heard a male human’s voice through the doors, but it did not sound like Mr. Kobayashi.”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I was wondering his whereabouts. Do you happen to know?”
“He is assisting the General with the preservation of the late human’s body who was attacked this morning.”
“She had a name; Ima.”
“It’s best for us not to get attached to the human staff being that they come and go so often. Her absence won’t be felt for too long. We are expecting a new caretaker for the General’s son shortly. General Romano would prefer you briefly become acquainted with her.”
“Is she here now?”
“She already finished unpacking. She is in the family’s quarters as we speak evaluating His son’s current condition. We will escort you to-“
I push my way between the two guards and head towards Ima’s old quarters myself.
I see Fujita tossing frames and trinkets into a box and hear them break as they land. Those items belong to Ima, passed down to her from her mother, and now they are being thrown to the side like trash.
“Hey, have some respect for the dead.”
“Oh Chinatsu, my parents brought me along so many medical missions when I was just a humanlet. I was surrounded by dead people all the time that left behind what little junk they accumulated over their lives with no families to collect them. My parents always said you can’t get attached to the ones you couldn’t save; it’s a part of the job.”
Her calm, realist tone was the polar opposite of her usual, upbeat personality. Was it all an act?
“I hope Romano doesn’t find out that that is your mentality while you’re in charge of caring for his shoat.”
“Well, General Romano, knows that I know how to do my job. And if my job is to care for his son, I will meet those expectations with flawless efficiency.”
I pause and think if I should warn her of Aiguo’s abilities, then wonder if she already knows. Everything that happens under the roof of this manor can be some sort of test.
“You’ve been an apprentice for far less time than me. Why would he choose you?”
“Let’s see, my parents were actually veterinarians themselves unlike yours, I have a spotless record of attendance unlike you, and I have a signature of recommendation by Panacea, unlike you. I’m not sure who recommended you but you must have screwing him or her pretty good in the haystacks on your off time huh?”
“Panacea signed for you?”
How come she didn’t recommend me? Not that I wanted to be recommended, but if she believed in the system so much and believed in my capabilities, why Fujita and not me?!
“Besides, it seems you have responsibilities elsewhere. You should feel honored that the General trusts you enough to handle his affairs on another ranch.”
I see her cradling Aiguo mindlessly. With absolute skill, yet zero maternal affection. Suddenly, his eyes turn glowing red, but she doesn’t seem to notice as the paintings and artifacts in the room captivate her and she stares in awe.
As much as I would like to, I cannot let another innocent person die by my inaction today.
“You know what, Fujita. Why don’t you finish settling in while I take Aiguo off your hands? It’s my last night here for quite some time and General Romano ordered that I do some additional tests which I haven’t gotten to yet.”
“Don’t you need the rest for when you leave tomorrow?”
“I’ll be fine. Besides, I’m going to miss the little shoat.”
I lie through my teeth with my arms outreaching for her to hand me the furry, pink demon over to me. At first, she seems skeptical, but after a moment of consideration, she passes Aiguo to me.
As I step out of the room, I try to hide his crimson eyes from Fujita as much as possible.
“Thanks for letting me bond with him one last night. It’s nice to know when I return, I’ll have you as a friend to return to.”
“Remember what I said Chinatsu… don’t get attached.”
What a bitch snake.
I hurry towards the medical facility of the manor. I have come to find it is way more advanced than the one I’m accustomed to at the med barn. Nothing but the best for the Romano family I guess.
I set him down and place a photographic film between his head and the screen of the machine and capture the radiograph. It has always been easy to discern neurological conditions in swine being that their brains are so alike ours. We both have gyrencephalic brains, meaning that the outer cerebral cortex of the brain has many convolutions. Our white-grey matter ratios are strikingly similar. We both share SINES which is DNA leftover by viruses throughout evolution; not even Pol’s rodents have this trait. This is why I never understood how the mammalian could see us as less intelligent beings to be dominated.
I snatch the image to examine the shoat’s brain and what I find is even scarier than what I had first imagined.
His brain is much larger than the average piglet brain, and after I scan the image over and over again, I come to my conclusion.
This shoat has a human brain growing inside of its skull.
Suddenly, the blonde groomer who made me presentable for Pol’s meeting the other day passes by and sees me. I swiftly hide the x-ray image behind my back and let it fall behind the mechanical bed. Curious about my purpose for being in the facility at this time of the night, rightfully so, she questions me,
“Miss Kobayashi, what are you doing here with the General’s son this evening?”
“I was just giving him one last check-up before I’m on my way tomorrow.”
“And this was ordered by General Romano? Seems out of character.”
“You know, you never told me your name the last time we crossed paths.”
“Miwa, I’m actually glad you stopped by because I had some questions about Aiguo’s medical history and did not want to disturb the General or his wife as they surely are preparing for bed. Were you working in the manor when Aiguo was delivered?”
“Yes, I was.”
“Do you know if it was a natural birth?”
“I was a fairly new groomer and too consumed in my own field to worry about what was going on in the medical facility… but, there should be the entire family health records in those drawers behind you. Although, they’re probably locked and either the General or Mr. Kobayashi would have the keys.”
Of course, they would. Was he not a natural birth? Was he made in some laboratory to be used as a weapon by Romano? The answers must be in those records.
“Thank you, Miwa.” I bow to her and she bows back without another word before leaving.
I stare at the shoat closely, for the first time without fear. His mind doesn’t work any differently from any male human I’ve ever interacted with. Not that those interactions have always been positive. But at this moment, I sympathize with him.
Before I attempt to pick the locks of the drawers, I make sure to close the door and draw the curtains over the windows of the room to make sure nobody else catches me. Meaning if Aiguo decided to go demon and tear me to shreds, nobody would bear witness and step in to save me. I’m on my own now.
I scan through the different categories in alphabetical order brushing my finger against the labels until I spot them. Birth records!
I begin flipping through the files hastily. Aiguo’s file should have been near the beginning, but it wasn’t. What else could it possibly be under? Romano, maybe?! I quickly make my way to the R’s and pull out the file bearing the General’s last name. I find his own certificate and past health battles, along with his forefathers. Aiguo’s file should have been at the top of the file, but it is almost as if the shoat’s existence is… nonexistent! This drawer isn’t helping me in the least, so I lock it back up and scan through the rest of the categories.
I mean to end up at x-rays, but before I reach that letter, I come across a drawer labeled, “Euthanizations.” And the temptation to pick its lock rushes in. I look back at Aiguo, sitting and snorting in joy on the seat of the machine just watching me struggle.
“I bet you enjoy this, don’t you?” I ask him not expecting an answer, yet he oinks as if he understands me.
I want to skip this drawer and I know I should. I don't have much time, but I have to know. I pick it with the quill pen found on the desk within a matter of seconds. I shuffle through all the letters until I reach D. Dahlia; my mother.
I take a deep breath, terrified of the information I’m about to reveal to myself and think maybe it is better that I do not know. But I decide against my fear and flick open the file.
In there is a small image of her paper clipped. I haven’t seen her face in ten years, but it is exactly as I remember it. I stare at it, tempted to take it and keep it for myself. However, I know if the missing picture is noticed, they will come straight for me. I start to read the file aloud,
“Dahlia, #3035, age 38, occupation: harvester. Note: Human has extensive knowledge of experimental homeopathic remedies which can be of use in the medical unit. Human has one offspring… that’s – that’s me.”
I stop to listen if anybody is nearby, but silence fills the room so I continue reading,
“Reason for Euthanization: Human declined numerous times to be employed on… manor grounds? Human has made various escape attempts.
Procedure done by – by…”
The file falls from my hand allowing for all its items to scatter across the facility floor. Shock flows through my whole body like a lightning bolt unable to escape. My knees grow weak and the palms of my hands hit the mosaic floor. I crawl towards the paper to read it once more and see if I was mistaken, but I was not.
“Procedure done by: Panacea.”
My entire world comes crashing down in a matter of seconds because of a piece of paper. I’m frozen in place with the file still in hand for a few moments, until the piglet squeals and snaps me out of the daze. I look at him, and his eyes are glowing again. I can’t afford to be distracted right now. I contemplate keeping the document for myself but decide against it. Holding onto it would only make it more real. This means that the voice of the female vet I’ve heard, consoling me in my nightmares all these years, was hers. Why wouldn’t Panacea tell me? Did she take care of me all these years out of guilt?
I gather all the papers scattered on the floor and place them back in the drawer the same way I found them. I continue skipping through the letters, F, G, H… I reach a particular drawer labeled ‘Hybrids.’
I had never heard of a hybrid before, so I had to quench my curiosity. I see old, grainy photographs paper clipped to individual files all titled combinations of different species back when humans dominated the earth and mammalians walked on all fours. Ligers, zonkeys, jaglions? I had never seen these creatures before. An article clipping reads, “Birth defects caused by hybridization. What are the adverse effects of man-made chimeras? Most hybrid animals do not make it to adulthood, and if they do, most times they live infertile. If they aren’t sterile, they pass on their mutations. Some can grow too big for their organs or suffer from migraines or dwarfism. The first successful pig-human chimera was grown in 2017…” So long ago… “Human cells were injected into the pig embryo causing it to develop a… human brain…”
I look to Aiguo and back at the clipped image attached to the file. These creatures were created by man, and man hasn’t been in power for ages. 2017 was centuries ago and Aiguo was only a couple of years old. None of this makes sense.
“Where the hell did you come from you little shoat?” I ask as if he can answer me.
Leaving me no time to ponder, the sound of heavy footsteps becomes louder in my direction. I struggle to collect all the papers when I hear the doorknob jingle viciously.
I haphazardly stuff all the papers back in the drawer before closing it. It doesn’t look as neat as it did prior to my rummaging, but there was no time. I just had to hope that no one would notice.
As soon as I slam the drawer and turn around, I see Tomo enter the room. Aiguo’s eyes stop glowing immediately.
“I thought you were busy assisting the General with preserving the new skin.”
“You refer to Ima as if her death meant nothing to you.”
I hope he cannot see through my bravado, because Ima’s screams have been echoing in my head ever since I turned my back on her at the marketplace.
“I only knew her for a day, and I was told recently I shouldn’t get attached to anyone here.”
“Now you’re starting to understand how this place works.”
“So, what are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“I think it’s pretty obvious.” I nod towards the shoat who has now dozed off. “Romano asked me to run some additional tests before I leave tomorrow.”
“No, he didn’t. I would have known about it.”
“You think everyone is obligated to tell you everything that is going on in their lives. It’s his son’s health, maybe he would like a bit of privacy. I know I would right now.”
“He thinks he’s in Fujita’s care right now. I wonder how he would react if he knew you were going against his orders of her being the shoat’s primary caretaker until you returned from Pol’s.”
“Stop making threats, we already went over this a few hours ago.”
“I know you’re bluffing. You don’t have the guts to tell the General about me.”
“You think I’m afraid of him?”
“I think you’re afraid of me. Or of hurting me, because I’m all you got left.”
“You couldn’t be more wrong! I have –“
I thought I had Koshi, but after tonight, all he sees is a traitor, and it’s only a matter of time before he reveals what he’s seen to Rio and I lose her too. And I will never forgive Panacea for what she did to my mother. Maybe, he was right.
“That’s what I thought. You know you can’t survive this manor without me. Just admit it. Maybe ”
He gradually keeps stepping closer and closer to me, cornering me against the wall.
“Keep underestimating me and you’ll regret it.”
“You’ll regret not being on my good side pretty soon.”
“And keep thinking you’re on the General’s good side, the moment he discovers your slip-ups, he’ll put a stun bolt gun to your head. Even worse, have one of the Boars do it using the same one you stole.”
He wraps his hand around my neck and lifts me against the wall into the air.
All of the air is knocked out of me and I gasp for oxygen that never comes.
I begin to lose consciousness, dark spots fill my vision and then everything turns black. The last thing I feel is my body falling and hitting the floor.
When I come too, my vision is blurry and my whole body is disoriented. I pass my hand over my neck where Tomo’s hands fiercely gripped moments ago. I have no idea how long I was out unconscious on the floor. I try to sit up and have the most excruciating headache. As my vision clears, I become aware of the different objects around my body. The forest green drawers, the x-ray machine, the mechanical bed that smells of cleaning products along with the bedsheets that smell of detergent, except now they are fresh with bloodstains.
Aiguo! He isn’t sat on the bed anymore, so where did he go?! Did Tomo take him straight to the General? Or do something to hurt him in retaliation against me?
Finally, my vision fully clears and I see who the blood on the bed belongs to. It’s Tomo’s body lying on the floor, his limbs still twitching. He must still be alive, so I rush to his side. He moans in pain as he tries to sit up, but fails.
“Tomo, tell me what you saw.”
“I saw… I saw… the devil.”
“Describe it to me, please, I can still save you.”
I apply pressure to one of his bleeding wounds to slow it, but it only overflows.
“No Chi, you can’t, so don’t even bother. I know you want me to die anyway.”
“That’s not true.”
“Stop thinking you are purer of the heart than the rest of us. Don’t lie to me when I’m about to die, it’s the least you can do. Tell me how much you hate me.”
“I don’t- I don’t hate you; I just hate what you’ve done.”
“How come… how come… he hasn’t attacked you?”
And with that, his limbs go limp and his eyes roll to their sides.
Ambivalence fills my heart until I contemplate his last words.
Why hasn’t Aiguo attacked me yet? Aiguo! Where was he?
Staying in my crouched position, I carefully turn around to face the entrance. There sits Aiguo, his eyes like flames. I crawl towards him and reach my hand out to caress him. His eyes extinguish.
“Why haven’t you attacked me yet?”
“If you’re going to do it, just get it over with already!”
He runs around me and heads straight for Tomo’s motionless body and begins to nibble. He starts at the ear, slowly chewing until he completely rips it off of his body. I catch myself thinking, he’s doing me a favor. Tomo’s words fill my mind, “Stop thinking you are purer of the heart than the rest of us.”
That is just what I need to do.
Instead of leaving the room in fear and anxiously locking the doors as I wait outside like I did last time, I sit down on the floor and watch Aiguo as he devours every limb, every organ, every last piece of the male I used to see as my protector. To this shoat, he isn’t the least bit dangerous, he’s just another meal.
It takes about an hour for Aiguo to slurp up the last remaining bits of Tomo. He begins to lick the blood from the tiles, but to make the process faster; I grab a mop, a bucket, and some cleaning product. I start mopping forward and back across the floor in time with Aiguo’s licks.
“I don’t know what’re you thinking about right now, but I think we would make a pretty good team. I’m going to miss you little shoat. Hopefully, I make it back.”
Once the floor is shiny and spotless, I put back the mop and bucket and pick Aiguo up with a newfound sense of trust and responsibility. Panacea was wrong about me not being able to be responsible.
I close the doors behind me and when I turn around, Fujita stands right in front of me. She is quick to confront me,
“Those tests sure took a while. Are you done already?”
“Yes, all done,” I say with a fake smile as I hand her Aiguo.
“It’s about time.” She says as she walks away carrying the shoat close to her chest as if he needs protecting from me.
You may be the one who needs protection from him.
“Have a good night!” I say with a bow.
I make my way back to my room and plop down on my bed. I try not to worry about what may be being said about me in the rebels’ basement and shut my eyes.