15. Fate takes over

Fagen struggled against his injuries and sat up in the wagon. They were passing through the outskirts of San Isidro. He looked around, and even in the darkness recognized the road they traveled. He inhaled the clean night air and welcomed the attending sharp pain under his bandages. The steady clip-clopping of Roberto's little burro through the dusty side streets brought focus to his thinking, and his brain reeled with myriad images that flashed before his eyes in quick succession.

He saw Ellis, bigger even than in real life, marching down the gangplank their first day in Manila, looking back at him with guileless, unsuspecting eyes. Then later, inside their tent after his confrontation with the misanthrope, Otis Youngblood, Fagen heard himself promise his cousin. "The army is like a wife to us. We took an oath and we're joined in the eyes of God. She's even better than a wife. You see the army can't ever divorce you. You give your life to her, and she can't ever turn her back on you." That hurt Fagen more than all his injuries. If it weren't for him, Ellis would be safe at home on their little sharecropper's farm in Georgia.

Then a thousand more scenes flashed across his mind's eye like a collage of garish pictures painted on a carousel, but the one that came to the forefront over and over was of Ellis in chains, kidnapped in the night, a stinking, vermin-infested blanket screening him from the outside world. "Help me Davey! I don't want to go away." The image too terrible to contemplate, Fagen banged his head against the wagon sideboard to free himself of it.

Fagen's mind raced over his own time in the Philippines. In the beginning he'd wanted so desperately to prove himself, to show the world what he was made of. He'd never forget his first day in combat, the exhilaration of discovering himself in battle and the joy he'd experienced believing he was destined for great things. Now that time seemed like a thousand years ago. Since then life had handed him harsher realities and darker memories.

Racial hatred among soldiers in the Philippines had been far worse than he could ever have imagined. Youngblood had been right, Jim Crow and Uncle Sam arrived in the Philippines at the same time. Had they always been traveling companions? The Filipinos were a colored race, and the Americans couldn't kill them fast enough. "Like shootin' rabbits in a field," Fagen had heard one white soldier remark. He recalled the day they marched to Camp McKinley and he first heard the words "gugu" and "slope." Now, white American soldiers used dink, slope and gugu interchangeably with darkey, nigger and coon.

He saw again the propaganda leaflets the Insurrectos had left in their camp. Your masters have thrown you in the most iniquitous fight with double purpose - to make you the instrument of their ambition, and also your hard work will soon make the extinction of your race. Now more than ever, Fagen believed he knew the truth behind that dark prophesy.

He remembered sitting across the table from Emilio Aguinaldo, listening to his earnest appeal. "David, you are oppressed in your own country. White people call you a sulking brute. They burn you on their crosses, kill your children. Is it your destiny to live out your life among people who despise you?" The general's words echoed in Fagen's brain and reminded him that now he'd been charged with murder, perhaps the end of his life was at hand. Was it his destiny to surrender himself to the mercy of a kangaroo court, knowing full well the last thing on earth he'd see was the sneering grin of the hangman as he placed a noose around his neck?

He knew then why Clarita had taken him to see Aguinaldo. Dear, sweet Clarita had tried to save his life, and he'd repaid her with scorn. How could he have been such a fool? Would she ever forgive him? A vision of her appeared before him. She stood smiling alongside EL Presidente while he spoke. "Join my army. We welcome you with open arms. You have the opportunity to help an entire nation achieve its independence. Countless generations of children will be born into freedom because of your actions. Your joining our fight will be a signal to other brave men like you that it is possible to love your country and at the same time hate its politics."

Roberto's wagon hit a bump and jolted Fagen out of his brown study. The moon, at its zenith in a cloudless sky, gave off a steady, white luminescence. Fagen was sure he recognized the terrain, and when he saw it knew where he was. Slowly inching his way to the back of the wagon, he hung his legs over the tailgate and when sure Roberto wasn't looking, slipped off and started walking.

He'd seen the trail that led off the main road and followed it through a small valley between ranges of rocky, green hills. Soon the trail narrowed and darkened, and the cliffs to his right and left became steeper. Ignoring the agony that came with each step, he found the path and started up, keeping to the rocks and away from the slippery grasses that lined the cliff face. Weakened by pain and exhaustion, it was an hour before he reached the narrow opening that led to Clarita's Simbahan, her sanctuary. "The one place I always feel safe," she'd said. "Nothing bad can happen here, there is too much beauty."

Fagen made his way down to the beach and collapsed onto the soft white sand. Tormented and tortured, mind and body, he resolved he would no longer let fate have its way. From that day forward he'd be in charge of his own life, and he'd do whatever he needed to remain free. With his last measure of strength, he reached out and put his hand into the cool water. Soon he felt the pain and anguish drain from his body through his fingertips into the pool. Every inch of him ached, and it hurt wherever she touched him, but her hands were cool and dry, and her nearness gave him great comfort. She lay down beside him and held him close. "I heard what happened," Clarita said.

Fagen rested his head on her shoulder and closed his eyes. "I prayed you'd come."

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1. Fagen arrives in the Philippines

2. White soldiers bring their prejudice with them

3. Fagen hears another side of the story

4. Dinner with Colonel Funston

5. Fagen's first taste of combat

6. Fagen meets Clarita

7. More than fair?

8. The water cure

9. Fagen gets his fortune told

10. Imperialism exposed

11. Sergeant Rivers speaks his mind

12. Genocide

13. Fagen meets El Presidente

14. Bad news comes to Fagen

15. Fate takes over

16. San Lazaro leper hospital

17. An offer Fagen can't refuse

18. Funston makes a plan

19. "Capitan" Fagen

20. Funston assembles his team

21. Morality, ethics and war

22. Jungle encounter

23. Commencement

24. Benevolent assimilation

25. Colonel Bloody Shirt pays a call

26. Fagen declares war on God

27. Major Baston tastes his own medicine

28. Funston on the march

29. Fagen goes home