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They swim unseen in jewels of dew, where the jungle breathes, wet and hot. In scintillating swarms, they braid the boughs of the Ceibas, spilling down from the leafy canopies in silvery cascades. Through the frosted glass window of the observatory, Anacoana watches the forest ignite, blue and bright and perfect. They flicker, visible through the carmine brume as the last tendrils of sun creep below the horizon, a mottled mess of swaying palms and karst massifs. Anacoana exhales with relief, for the eldritch glow of this dusk is an invitation, a signal of reassurance that the searing light of Sol can no longer harm her. In the dusk that is her dawn, Anacoana sets out from the shelter of the wrecked observatory into the luminous wilderness.
The soft fires of stars flit at her from the patches of cloudless sky boring through the canopies. Anacoana resists the urge to cower from their reach. But these stars are not like Sol, their light is cool and gentle. She takes deep breaths to calm herself, peering out at the milky skeins of cerulean dappling the leaves and boughs of the trees and ferns of her arboreal world. Such wondrous, shimmering things were once confined to the northern bay of Fajardo, or the mangrove forest near Guánica, in the south. However, dire circumstances required the critters to adapt. The Bright necessitated metamorphoses of various kinds to survive. Aided by the trembling hands of her cacicazgo’s shaman-engineers—her behiques, the critters altered themselves to illuminate the way for the Taíno’s successors. The dinoflagellates, once confined to the salty inlets and bays of Borikén, were now flourishing in the dew drops of the cloud forest.
“They’re brighter today,” The voice from the shadows is soft and pitched.
“It’s a new moon,” Anacoana says dismissively, recognizing her sister, Yuiza, as she emerges from the shaded canopies into a pool of azure radiance.
“Still,” Yuiza mutters, her puffy, brown cheeks hueing purple in this pulsing phosphorescence. “I have a feeling.”
“You always have a feeling.” Anacoana sighs, her sharp features contorting into a scowl.
Yuiza crosses her arms, braids swishing, lips puckered into a pout. “You were the one that said that I have Grandmother’s gift of sight. I thought you trusted my intuition.”
“I do.” Anacoana approaches her sister, clasping each of the younger woman’s shoulders with her calloused palms. “But things are good now, as good as they can be, as they’ve ever been. We have more than we can eat, we have each other, and even if the sun is too hot and bright to play in like we used to when we were girls, it’s alright. The moon will have to be enough. Besides, look around you.” Anacoana gestures to the metallic shimmers of invisible organisms coruscating about the forest, emitting ribbons of light, a sapphire milk, as they spill over the leaves and trunks and ferns. “We would have never made this if the sun hadn’t gone Bright.”
“You’re right,” Yuiza says, above the din of chirping tree frogs, “I shouldn’t be worried, I should be grateful.”
“Still…” Anacoana smirks, her teeth aglow as she bares them, “let’s do our rounds. Check on the guineos and the cassavas and the gallinas and the cabras.”
Yuiza chuckles. Her eyes crease as she smiles, and in that elated visage Anacoana sees the ghost of their brother’s face. “It’s like when we were girls and you used to check under the bed to make sure there was no Chupacabra waiting for me to shut my eyes.”
Anacoana leads them through the maze of ripening guineos. They smell sweet and musty. “You’re still afraid of the dark, hermanita?”
“Still.” Yuiza whispers. “Just like…hermanito.”
Anacoana quickens her pace as they encircle the ruined observatory, inspecting the crops and makeshift pens where they keep the hens and goats and mosskin. She doesn’t want to be reminded of little brother Vero. She doesn’t want to remember then. The time before the Bright, before the Chinese occupation, before Hurricane Teddy, when Borikén was still Puerto Rico, a colony of the American imperium. She doesn’t want to remember. She misses their hermanito too damn much. And yet she finds her mind drifting as she inspects the hirsute limbs of the mosskin, bioengineered creations imported from the distant genomic factories of Singapore. The little motile gardens scuttle like insects, but they have no nervous system to speak of. Their spindly limbs allow them to move quickly into shade when the canopies don’t sufficiently dim the Bright. She knows they feel no pain as she plucks fruit from their limbs, but she winces sympathetically nonetheless. In silence, Ancoana and Yuiza fill their baskets with fragrant guavas and starfruit.
“I’m sorry for mentioning him.”
“Don’t be.” Anacoana shakes her head, curls bouncing as she stares into her sister’s eyes. “Forgetting doesn’t make the pain go away.”
Yuiza rubs her sister’s back. “Perhaps someday he’ll come back to us.”
Anacoana grumbles softly in agreement. She permits her sister to cling to this hope, this fantasy, because she fears that without it, she’ll run away too. She knows that not everyone has the constitution to rebuild, the courage to remain and brave the island of their ancestors without the aid of the United Nations Parliament and their technological sorceries. She knows that the world beyond their shores, wrecked as it might be, is a place of comfort, opulence even, for those able to afford it. Synthetic melanin. UV-shielded domes. Bioglass. Mirrorsilk. Envirosuits. Such luxuries are not available on Borikén, but this is the cost of freedom. Many people now resided in artificial habitats, where diurnality was maintained by simulating the conditions of daylight. And then there were places like the Printed City of the Sun, the megalopolis formerly known as Phoenix, now encased in a sphere of ultraviolet-shielded glass. Such things repulsed Anacoana. She would rather live free than in some false shell. People had wasted too many generations shackled; now, shine or dark, was the time to be free.
“Do you think,” Yuiza gulps, “he is happy?”
“He may be, for a time,” Anacoana says gently, indulging the fantasy, suppressing the fear that Vero has perished, “but his heart will always be here in the mountains, here with us.”
She tries to suppress the memories from flowing but it is futile. They are bursting, cascading in little pools around her cheeks as she collects the eggs from the hens. That day. Then. The day he fled. The day the world ended…again. She was a younger woman then. Her black hair had no canas, and her cheeks were as smooth as those of Yuiza now. The sun was unusually hot and bright but still bearable. A messenger boy from the yucayeque had come running, his face flushed with horror. Aliens. He had called them aliens. They might as well have been.
The emissary arrived, having hiked their way up the ruined route 10 to the remains of the Arecibo Ionosphere Observatory, where they had built their solar forest village, their yucayeque. When Anacoana beheld them, she too, thought of aliens. For a moment she wondered if they had come—albeit, much delayed—to reply to the Americans in the SETI project from decades prior, when the Observatory was more than just a husk. But they were not alien, they were something far worse.
We regret to inform you.
The emissary was short, donned in all-white regalia, cape and slacks stained with jungle mud. Their face was hidden behind an awful visor that made them look like a robot or a child in a Halloween costume.
A United Nations Parliamentary commission was formed to address the issue of catastrophic planetary warming. After years of study and laboratory trials, they determined that a sulfate-based solution could be injected into the atmosphere at scale to reverse the runaway greenhouse gas effect and revert carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels.
Their voice was cold, modulated and mechanical to mask their identity (or perhaps their humanity). Anacoana searched for eyes in that armor. When at last she found them, a pair of amber spheres, she felt no trace of compassion or remorse reflecting back at her.
We regret to inform you. That our delivery drones malfunctioned in orbit, resulting in a fissure to the ozone layer the size of Madagascar. In twelve days time, your island will no longer be safe to dwell in without our printed habitats. We are prepared to assist with your evacuation.
Sometimes memory has a way of making us appear more flattering to ourselves. She remembered her brazen rage, the unbridled, passionate wrath of a hot-headed youth, the daughter of a former Alcalde.
“Evacuate yourself from our island.”
“Ana,” Yuiza muttered, trying vainly to cool the fire leaping from her sister’s seething eyes.
“Cabrónes! You’ve helped enough,” Anacoana sneered with venom, “We’ll find our own way.”
Your people will perish without our technology.
“Our people might perish because of your technology!” she bellowed.
Things had been good before the aliens came. Sure, Hurricane Teddy wrecked the island, claiming the lives of many Boricuas (including her parents). But the financial cost for cleaning up a Category 6 hurricane was too great for the United States, already reeling from debt—too many unpaid loans from China’s Climate Bank. So the Chinese seized Puerto Rico as collateral. They showed up with their drones and automatons. Printing highways and rail-lines and wind farms and new modular structures along the flooded coasts. They were not as cruel as their previous masters but they seemed just as disinterested in the welfare of their subjects. After three years, the Chinese vanished, abandoning their half-built infrastructures. Many Boricuas fled to the United States or Spain, but some remained to serve as custodians of the forests and mountains, as had their ancestors in the centuries before.
Before long, they learned that the decade-long Sino-American cold war had finally gone hot. Her people salvaged and rebuilt, carving a new universe from the ashes of the empires that oppressed them. They wove solar panels into the forest canopies, grew cassava and tropical fruit on the lush slopes. They called it a solar revolution, a neo-Taíno cacicazgo powered by the light of Sol. For half a decade, their solar cacicazgo had granted them lives of prosperity and plenty, without sacrificing their heritage or ideals or sovereignty to achieve it. Until that day, the day the aliens came with news of the Bright.
Anacoana tugs at a bushel of plantains, pulling hard enough to make the little mosskin that bore them stumble. She used to think they were ugly, but now, she appreciates their peculiar, entomological beauty. Gathering plantains had been much simpler in the days before the Bright. But now, things are different, the most sun Anacoana will brave is at dusk or dawn on a cloudy day. Like the dinoflagellates, Boricuas had to adapt, becoming as nocturnal and lunar-synched as the slippery cokis chirping all around her. The voices of those little tree frogs soothe her as she wields her machete to cut the yuca roots jutting up from the black soil.
“Ana!” Her sister shouts to her, voice tremulous with fear, “We have a problem.”
Anacoana runs to her Yuiza’s side, finding Yuiza staring in horror at a mosskin whose fruits have been smashed and whose limbs have been ripped from their sockets. The sisters stare in silence at the violent scene, a peculiar musk still brimming about the air. Their eyes track strange footprints that trail off into the jungle.
“Dioses,” Yuiza blurts, gawking at the mysterious imprint in the mud. “What is it?”
“For all we know,” Anacoana says, her voice low and rasped, “La Chupacabra.”
The attacks on the mosskin persisted. To compensate, the cacicazgo implemented rationing and nightly patrols. The air was tense with dread as the mysterious predator continued to stalk the synthetic organisms. The children in the yucayeque whispered incessantly about the creature, drawing fanciful images and stealing out to the edge of the village to watch the adults from afar as they searched the silvery twilight wilderness for traces of the phantom predator. It had been weeks since Yuiza and Anacoana had gone on patrol together. Morale had grown as thin as when news of the Bright first circulated around the island. The sisters decide to follow a fresh set of tracks to an outcropping of karst overlooking the valley.
“I don’t know, Ana,” Yuiza says, voice thick with restrained tears, “without the mosskin, how will we grow enough to feed the yucayeques?”
“Don’t be so fatal, Yuiza,” Anacoana snaps, “We’ve weathered worse.”
“But what if we can’t weather this one, Ana?” Yuiza turns away from the tracks to face her sister, “If this creature can’t be caught…if it continues to kill our only way to sustain ourselves, then isn’t it our responsibility to do something about it?”
“That’s what we’re doing, isn’t it?” Anacoana retorts, with the same chastising tone of their abuela.
“I don’t know if I can keep going,” Yuiza says, tears sparkling in her eyes, her voice weary, defeated. “Have you considered…”
“No,” Anacoana says quickly, “Never.”
“But Ana, what if you’re wrong?” Yuiza grabs her sister’s wrist. “What if we have finally lost?”
“You’ve lost hope – just like hermanito.”
“Maybe Vero was right to leave, maybe it’s time we accept the truth.”
“How could you?” Anacoana scowls, “How could you bow to them after all they have wrought on this Earth? You’re stronger than that.”
Yuiza steps back, “No, I’m not as resilient as you think. I only stayed because of you. To watch over you.”
“I don’t believe it,” Anacoana bursts into tortured laughter. “So, you’ve been meeting with them, haven’t you? The white angels. They’re behind this, aren’t they? What’s happening with the mosskin is their doing, and you’re an accomplice!”
“Sister, what are you talking about?”
“No me mientas, hermanita,” Anacoana snarls, “Have you betrayed us?”
“I’ve done no such thing. I’m only trying to save you…from yourself.”
“I don’t—” Anacoana stops mid-sentence, hearing something scuttle in the brush behind them. She covers Yuiza’s mouth with her palm so she doesn’t cry out. They turn together, slow, breathless, to face the rustling thing behind them. Before they can catch a glimpse, it darts away. A slick, dark shape, illuminated in iridescent bursts by the blue pall of the dinoflagellates in the forest. Anacoana bolts after it, leaving her sister behind.
“Don’t follow me!” Anacoana shouts over her shoulder “You have to go warn the others, tell them it’s heading to the Observatory!”
She dashes through the forest, which seems to be sweating as much as she is. The shambling creature is quick, many-limbed, and lithe as it bores through the faintly luminous ferns toward the pale wreck of the Observatory. Anacoana wonders if it is truly the Chupacabra of legend, or a real extraterrestrial answering the call of the SETI project only to find ruin. Or perhaps it is a bioengineered abomination created in the genomic print-factories of Southeast Asia, a weapon sent by the United Nations Parliament to bring their cacicazgo to heel.
In a frenzy, it slips its sleek body into the seams of the cracked wall. She follows at a slower pace, contorting her body or crawling on her hands and knees to fit through the fissures in the rubble. Its odor tickles her nose, a familiar, saline musk that makes her think of fear. What could scare a Chupacabra? She wondered. Every step grew more arduous, and as she neared the beast, which she could inexplicably feel more than see or hear or smell, her eyelids grew heavier. She trudged on, somnambulant, resisting the pull of a dreamscape where this mysterious being appeared to dwell. She cursed. If only she hadn’t sent Yuiza away. That gift of hers might help unravel this mystery.
Anacoana stumbles to the threshold to the facility’s decayed broadcast hub. Beyond the splintered doorway, the interloper is waiting. Somehow she knows this. She can almost feel its thudding pulse. Her gut swivels, as it often does during an earthquake, and yet the ground is quite still. Was this what Yuiza felt? Was this what her grandmother Serafina felt when she whispered on moonless nights to a bowl of still water, searching for blessings from Madre Agua in the ripples her breath made? Was this what her grandfather Abey felt, when he ground Cojobana seeds with his mortar and pestle, when he burned incense and whispered to the Taíno deities carved into stones by the jungle streams? She might not ever know, but tonight, she would find out. Tonight, she would have to be enough. Because this apparition demanded that she engage it on its own terms, in that plane between the wakeful and the dreaming, the living and the dead.
She breathes deeply, savoring the scents of soil and decay and growth that are the smells of the jungle, the great cordillera of Boriken. She hears the Chupacabra howl from inside the chamber, a sound somewhere between a bird and a wolf. Its voice flitting between planes, riffling through dimensions, past the realm of the living to Caobey, the underworld of the Taíno gods. In the sash along her waist, she pulls out Grandfather Abey’s heirloom; a y-shaped pipe of buffed limestone. From a seashell phial, she empties ground Cojobana seeds into the pipe and sniffs deeply. The seeds infuse her blood with power, bringing her to the dizzying threshold of Atabey, the all-mother and creatrix of the cosmos. She steps into the wrecked broadcast station and, as she walks, she crosses the etheric membrane to the worlds beyond. Her body remains, tethered to the room, where garbled transmissions are blaring from radio consoles. She knows this is impossible, that the equipment is molded, that the circuits are pulverized beyond repair, that the looping transmissions to space from SETI have long since ceased. But here in this realm of the beyond, the radios are crackling once more. In the static cacophony, she can hear fragments of voices, yearnings, distant memories, and the residues of dreams.
Up on the brink, where the ceiling had caved in to reveal the tapestry of stars, she sees the creature perched. In the sidereal haze it takes the shape of a bird, though its legs are longer, somewhere between canine and primate. Midnight, telescoping eyes brim with agony. World-rending sorrow; a cyclone, whirling, bearing down on the archipelagos of the Taíno. The wrath of the Goddess, Atabey, in her cataclysmic aspect. Arms spiraling to set the winds into a continental spin. Guabancex. Cloud hooking to earth and water and flesh to rip the world apart. But beyond the calamity, there is light, bright and beautiful and harmless.
The Juracán will come this way.
Anacoana peers at the creature that now takes the shape of a man, ochre skin aglow, nostrils flared, azure feathers jutting up from a simple corona.
It will bring death. It will bring sorrow.
“But how will we survive?”
From death springs life. Destruction sows the fruit of renewal.
“Why have you killed our mosskin?”
The White Angels gifted them to you, but they are not what they seem. Hidden within them are magics for listening. They watch and wait until you fail, so that they might claim you. Because they cannot believe that you can thrive in this nightworld. Because they are jealous. Because they covet all they see. Their white sails hunger to claim our shores. I have ended the mosskin because this place of the laughing Guayaba, this underworld you have created must endure. Because in time, the Sun will dim and you will be free of this endless night.
“I don’t understand, Cacique,” Anacoana says in deference to the being morphing into a chieftain of old.
I am the storm. The Juracán made flesh. And I will remake the sky as I descend from the turey.
“You mean to end the Bright?”
The chiefdom that flourished under the light of the sun will be remade.
“How will I know when it is safe?”
Do not be afraid, Xbalanque will guide you.
The world softens as the cojobana releases her from its iridescent grip. Reality spins backward and forward, until she finds herself on the floor of the observatory control room. Something wet and warm caresses her cheek. Then, a hot breath. She opens her mouth to scream but feels inexplicably secure as her vision coalesces. The being that is nursing her back to consciousness is something akin to a jackal, only larger, its coat an unnatural shade of crimson. Loba roja. Utiw. A beast of the Mayan mythos.
“Ana!” Yuiza shrieks from the doorway, apparently spooked by the gigantic canine looming over her sister. The red wolf, curious but unphased, cranes its head to beckon the younger sister.
“I’m alright, hermanita,” Anacoana says, climbing to her feet, the beast stepping back to give her space. “And don’t be alarmed, Xbalanque is a friend.”
“A friend?” Yuiza says warily as she approaches.
“Sent by our allies in the Yucatán. The new Mayan Empress.”
“The one they call Loba Roja.”
“Yes,” Anacoana smiles, scratching the tuft of hair on the gargantuan skull of the creature. His eyelids shut in pleasure.
“But isn’t this the Chupacabra? The thing that has been eating our mosskin?”
“Yes, but there is more to it. There is something I must show you.”
“As must I,” Yuiza gulps, “but you can go first.”
They leave the observatory, Xbalanque panting excitedly as they approach the corpse of a mosskin. Anacoana rummages through the wrecked limbs in the exoskeleton, until she finds it. A tiny pearl of silicon.
“What is that?” Yuiza curls her eyebrow.
“The whitecloths, they’re observing us,” Anacoana hands Yuiza the transmitter.
Yuiza fidgets suddenly, turning away from her sister’s intense gaze.
“What is it, hermanita?”
“My turn to share,” Yuiza stammers. “Another emissary came by the village.”
“They say another Juracán is coming. One worse than Teddy. They say we won’t survive it without their help. They say a fleet is coming here to secure a shelter for us in the mountains.”
“A fleet…it’s just like the Cacique said.”
“The Cacique? What aren’t you telling me?”
“I had a vision. Atabey in the shape of a Cacique. They said the tormenta is coming, but when it has gone, the Bright will end.”
Yuiza gasps, “Ana…the emissary said that this storm is different. They said it may be an act of terrorism, because it appears to be chemically induced.”
“Then the time has come for us to abandon the Yucayeque. We must take shelter in the caves. We must be like the bats until the storm has passed.”
“And what of this fleet?”
Xbalanque growls. Someone approaches from the brush, clad in white. The visored stranger hesitates; perhaps the sight of the big canine startles them.
You cannot weather this storm, it is unnatural. Their voice is mechanical and placid.
“In our religion, storms are the wrath of the Goddess, our all-mother, only the wicked should fear retribution,” Anacoana crosses her arms.
Our technology can save you. Our fleet can withstand the elements.
“You mean the chemicals?”
For the moment, the chemistry is beyond our understanding, but the compounds resemble those used by our scientists to mitigate global heating.
Anacoana turns to face her sister, ignoring the strange emissary. “Cacique, he said that he is the storm. Perhaps he has come to deliver us from this Bright.”
You will die if you do not comply.
Yuiza shakes her head, “No, emissary, it is you who will perish if you don’t listen to us. We are the stewards of this land. We have survived in spite of everything you have inflicted on us and this planet. Come with us to our caves, if you want to live.”
The air thickens as dawn approaches. The emissary is silent, appraising the strange canine.
If the Caribbean goes the way of the Yucatán, If the Taíno follow the Maya into the wilderness, then I am afraid you will soon become extinct. Our United Nations Parliament is the only path to global peace and prosperity. I will not die with you in your caves.
“We’ve gone extinct before,” Anacoana grins, “and yet, here we are.”
Yuiza grabs her sister’s hand, “Let’s go, Ana. They have made their choice.”
From the sanctuary of the caves, amid bats and frogs and little insects, Anacoana and Yuiza and all the cacicazgo listen to the harrowing stillness. The Juracán has passed. For seven days, it had ravaged the land. Guabancex, the Cacique of Winds, had plucked trees from their perches, hurled mud and silts to brown the forest floors and the pearly beaches. In her ire, she swelled the seas, corroding the last remnants of coastal cities, superhighways, and automatons, drowning the white fleet of the United Nations Parliament before they could make landfall.
And now, there is silence. Soon comes the dawn. The people of the mountains huddle by the entrance of the cave, daring to peer out at the pink flower blossoming over the sky. Anacoana clasps her sister’s hand and they smile, incredulous at their own survival, as Xbalanque sprints through their legs out into the open wilderness.
“Xbalanque!” Yuiza screams, fearing what will happen when the light’s rays engulf the canine.
Anacoana stares as the hound starts barking.
“Someone is coming,” Yuiza says, squinting, as the sun spreads its molten cast over the wounded jungle.
“It’s the Sun!” Yuiza cries, nervously. But Xbalanque does not flinch. He merely waits as a silhouette emerges from the shadows of the forest. A man. Ochre skin gleaming in the pink sunrise. Crimson streaks of achiote paint line his cheeks as he smiles. His obsidian hair gleams as it flutters in tight braids that fall to his knees.
Anacoana steps out to meet him, Yuiza close behind, as the others in the cave shout for them to retreat from danger. The sun is rising.
The man approaches, kneeling down to rub Xbalanque’s ears as the people gasp and gawk in recognition.
“It’s a miracle, hermanita,” Yuiza mutters, her eyes squinting through the sun’s glare.
Anacoana mouths his name, “Vero.”
“Cacique,” Anacoana says, in awe, staring at her brother, returned from the outworld, wearing a kapok waistcloth and feathered headdress in the style of the old chiefs.
He nods to her, “I prefer grandfather’s nickname for me, Agüeybaná, the name of the last Cacique of Borikén.”
Before he can finish his sentence, Yuiza is upon him, kissing his cheek.
Anacoana appraises him from afar, watching as the mesmerized ranks of the cacicazgo approach. Where they see a deity she sees the child that she helped raised, the boy who left them and returned a man.
“Oh Ana,” His voice quivers.
Good, she muses, he should always fear his elder sister. She hears the apology embedded in his tone. The plea for forgiveness. Yuiza hovers beside them, giddier than she has been in years. “I always knew you would return to us, hermanito,” Anacoana mutters, reaching out to stroke the man’s face, but he is too quick. He lowers his body to the ground, in genuflection. And then, like raindrops, the others follow, kneeling, not to Agüeybaná but to her, their Anacoana.
“In the absence of the sun, you were their light,” Agüeybaná whispers to her, as they embrace, as she kisses his puffy cheeks, the ones that remind her of their grandfather Abey.
“Come now, sisters, let us enjoy this beautiful day,” He gestures to the brightening world around them. As the sun crests over the mountains, the Taíno emerge from their caves to welcome their new caciques and celebrate the restoration of their life beneath the sidereal warmth of their star.
E.G. Condé (he/him/Él) is the author of Sordidez, a climate fiction novella forthcoming with Stelliform Press. Condé’s short fiction appears in If There’s Anyone Left, Reckoning, EASST Review, Tree and Stone, and Sword & Sorcery. Condé is the imagineer of an emerging genre of speculative fiction he calls “Taínofuturism”, which depicts a liberatory future of indigenous renewal for the people of Puerto Rico (Borikén) in the archipelagos of the Caribbean and beyond. When he isn’t conjuring up faraway universes, he is an avid gamer and hiker of sand dunes.