One moment Dr. Gumatao was in the operating room and the next, he was standing on a grassy hill gently sloping towards a long wooden building. Noel felt a presence to his side. He turned, and saw the tallest woman he had ever seen. She stood a full head over him, and she was wore a multi-hued tunic and brass bangles on her wrists and ankles. On her left she propped up a wooden shield almost as tall as she was. Instinctively he held up his hand with the thing that he gripped there. It was a moment before he realized, with much embarrassment, that it was his scalpel. A tiny scalpel.
The woman flashed a wide toothy smile. “Greetings, Awang, and welcome!”
Awang? He had not been called that since he was a child, and only by Nana, who never accepted his Christian name. “How do you know…?”
“Here you are known by your true name.”
“Where is here? What is this place? Why am I here?”
“Here is Tambaran. In your heart of hearts you know what this place is. You are here because you have been found worthy.”
Tambaran? His people’s heaven? Such were the tales that he heard from Nana. Such was the final reward of Lumabat, of Malaki Lunsud, and all the other mythical warriors of his people. But they were only fairy tales!
I am dreaming, thought Dr. Gumatao. Hallucinating.
“I don’t belong here,” Dr. Gumatao said.
“You are bagani,” the woman said. “You died a valiant death, in battle.”
“In battle?” Dr. Gumatao laughed. “I am a doctor, a healer, not a warrior.”
The woman said nothing. She merely looked at him with placid eyes, as if the truth would come to him soon enough.
The operating room. It was a delicate procedure. The patient, anesthetized, lay on the table. The sternum had been cut and held open by clamps and forceps. The bypass machine beat its steady rhythm. Around him, the nurses and assisting doctors moved in practiced steps.
He had completed the grafts. He inspected his handiwork, going through his mental checklist. Everything had gone perfectly. He stepped aside briefly so Dr. Quitaen could verify the work. Dr. Quitaen nodded. It was time to close the patient up.
“Prepare to restart. In 3…2…1…”
From the hallway came loud noises and shouts. What was going on? He blocked out the commotion. He waited for the cue from the nurse but it didn’t come. He pushed down his rising anger and prompted: “Status?”
The nurse hesitated, then replied with a tremble in his voice. “35 bpm. Rising. Doctor…there’s…”
“Lockdown! Lockdown!” He heard the announcement faintly over the PA system. There were screams.
“There’s a shooter in the hospital,” Dr. Quitaen said. Two shots rang out. They were very close.
“God-dammit….. Focus, people! We’re going to lose the patient.” He looked up and around the operating room. There was fear in their eyes. They were no good to him now. “I need two volunteers to finish the operation. The rest of you, get out.”
There was a rush of feet heading out of the operating room. Dr. Quitaen took over the chief nurse’s station. One other brave soul remained at the instrumentation, calling out the readings.
The commotion was very close now. It was right outside.
He began wiring the chest cavity closed. He worked steadily, unmindful of the banging and screams outside. More shots.
He had finished closing the patient when the door to the OR burst open. A wild-eyed man entered, shouting obscenities. In his hands was a rifle. Dr. Quitaen and the nurse scrambled to the far corner of the room and dove to the floor.
Dr. Gumatao turned around. He gripped his scalpel in his hand. His eyes met the shooter’s. For a brief moment, the shooter stood dumbly.
“Get out of here,” Dr. Gumatao ordered. “Now.”
The shooter stepped back and seemed to obey. Then, he screamed again and pointed the rifle at him. He felt a jerk on his side, then a radiating stab of pain.
He staggered a step, lunged forward. His left hand grabbed the barrel of the shooter’s rifle and brought it up. The shooter fired again.
Dr. Gumatao brought the point of the scalpel up against the chin of the shooter. He slashed downward. Blood came spurting out. The shooter went down to his knees, and Dr. Gumatao went down with him.
The OR doors burst open again. Men in dark blue uniforms poured in. His vision became hazy. They were shouting but he couldn’t understand what they were saying.
Over to the side, he heard a familiar voice. “Noel….” It was Dr. Quitaen.
And then, everything went black.
“I am not a warrior,” he repeated, but more to himself now, than to the woman. “I am…”
The woman smiled, then turned and started to walk up the meeting hall. She beckoned for him to follow.
Growing up, Dom was surrounded by giant robots.