Butterflies by Victoria Avilan

A short political fantasy by Victoria Avilan (Edited by Beth Hill)

“The shuttle is ready,” announced a tall blonde in a white lab coat. Her name, Michelle Schwartz, Ph. D., was embroidered in a flowery font on her breast pocket.

Her collaborators—about a hundred women of all races, ranging in age from nineteen to ninety—bumped fists and filled the brown and yellow drought-stricken canyons with loud cheers. The echo returning their happy voices could be mistaken for millions of hopeful cries.

The women were experts in their professional fields—auto mechanics, aerodynamic engineers, nurses, marines with deadly skills, and one drug dealer who had tight connections with the Medellin cartel. A few doctors were among them, as were two veterinarians who specialized in the air transfer of large mammals.

“Unveil it,” Dr. Schwartz commanded in her melodious contralto.

The heavy tarp emitted loud squeaks as it was rolled back to reveal a huge cylindrical object resting on its side. Its corrugated surface sparkled endless shades of pink and gray in the dying sunshine.

Dr. Schwartz eyed the shuttle with pride. It was financed entirely by the Hollywood Film Industry and built by Silicone Valley, but its shape was hers, a private joke between her outer engineer and inner artist. How long would it take the others to catch on?

Not long at all.

“This looks like my trash can,” noted a girl with a long braid down her back, a nursing student from UCLA.

A new wave of cheers and applause came from the women. Then a gargle of restrained laughter erupted from the throat of Dr. Schwartz. “Let’s load it up with garbage and save the planet,” she said.

The happy cheers gradually subsided, and now many admired the shuttle in silence. A few couples were kissing. Mirjana and Frenchie’s passionate kiss lasted a long time. Newly in love, they’d scheduled their wedding for next month, here at this glorious overlook above the South Bay. The two were to be married immediately after the shuttle launched, carrying within its sturdy walls the sedated bodies of Earth’s tormentors. Mirjana and Frenchie wanted their special day to be recorded in history as a day of liberation. They also had to make sure that Mirjana’s husband––AKA Asshole in Chief––wasn’t around anymore.

“We did it,” Dr. Schwartz kept saying. “Phase one is done.”

She dreaded phase two, the most dangerous in a project the team had slaved over for the last year.

Mirjana stopped kissing Frenchie and came up for air. “We don’t have long to celebrate,” she said in her soft Eastern European accent. “We’ve got to move on.”

“I know.” Dr. Schwartz observed her with unusual tenderness. Normally she wouldn’t waste compassion on a woman like Mirjana, whom she considered useless and one of them. Yet this spoiled woman held the key to their success.

Mirjana––a beautician who could handle a syringe of Botox like no one else––was working from the inside. Hers was the most demanding part of the mission—phase two—the dinner party. Would she survive? And if she didn’t, would any of them?

The sun plunged into the ocean beyond the Santa Monica Mountains, illuminating the islands of Santa Barbara and Catalina and painting the winter sky pink, orange, and deep shades of purple.

Butterflies were everywhere, their huge wings reflecting the colors of the sky. Global warming and air pollution were to blame for the sunset; still, the women enjoyed the view, the weather, and those hundreds of beautiful butterflies. Once their project to rid the country of the poisonous administration was complete, the experts on climate change could start working on reversing the damage.

“I hope the sunset is this gorgeous on our wedding day,” Frenchie whispered lovingly.

“First I’ll have to survive phase two.” Mirjana chuckled, as if to ease the grave omen of her words.

“You will, because without you, my life is over,” Frenchie said.

“Get a room, you two,” Schwartz said. Mirjana had confided in her that, as a wedding gift to her bride, she planned to wear the light blue dress she’d worn for her soon-to-be-doomed husband’s inauguration.

Mirjana detached herself from Frenchie, her face paler than usual.

Frenchie seized her by the shoulders. “What is it, darling?”

“I can’t be part of this.” Mirjana collapsed to the ground, her manicured nails digging into the palms of her hands. “I can’t be the one to do this.”

Frenchie kneeled next to her. “Darling, we can’t do it without you.” She smoothed Mirjana’s long blond hair.

“What’s going on?” Schwartz asked, horrified that their plans might fail in the final hour.

“I just can’t,” Mirjana repeated quietly.

“But he’ll get us all killed,” Schwartz said, barely containing the fear in her voice. “Isn’t that why you joined us in the first place?”

She knew they couldn’t trust this woman. What if she ratted to the Secret Service or the FBI? What if she told her husband?

#

Her husband.

Mirjana felt sudden heaviness in her stomach, a sadness she couldn’t explain. She saw Frenchie anew through a film of tears, but she thought of him.

Yes, he was a son of a bitch, but this––the shuttle, the dinner, the deception––was wrong. He was the father of her children, after all, and he had loved her once. How could she act so treacherously against a man who had rescued her from a life of poverty and prostitution?

But how could she turn her back on her new friends, on her lover? How could she fail to act when she was in a position to save the world from real monsters?

This January was the hottest recorded in Southern California and most of the crew wore shorts and T-shirts. But not Mirjana. She was dressed in her usual elegance to please her beloved Frenchie. And now she was hunched on the ground, tossing elegance to the wind.

Ignoring their worried questions, she pushed her designer sunglasses up her nose with a slim forefinger and gazed far south, to a spot across the bay.

The long tongue of Palos Verdes Estates and Malaga Cove obscured the lighthouse and beyond it, the gorgeous stretch of wild coastline and the golf course purchased by her husband––now the president––years ago in one of his greedy shopping sprees. Mirjana had tried to discourage the acquisition, believing that First Sea Breeze, a true paradise, should remain untainted by his tiny, grubby hands. Despite her advice, he’d bought the golf course and renamed its exclusive clubhouse after himself.

The beachy pastel motif of First Sea Breeze had been replaced with dark wood and gilded trimmings, totally wrong for the relaxed Pacific Coast. Paintings by local artists were replaced with gold-framed portraits of his German-military ancestors and his Aryan-looking children from his first wife. Even the public toilets had been torn out and replaced with gold fixtures.

Now the place formerly called First Sea Breeze would be used to bring him down and put an end to his vicious administration.

Gazing toward Catalina Island, Mirjana thought of his obsession with golden toilet bowls and felt a little smile painting her lips, just like the soft lipstick she had recently launched, the one that had failed in the market because of a backlash against his dangerous rhetoric and the irresponsible way he conducted himself.

For instance, on his last public appearance in Florida, he’d shocked his admirers by whipping out his diminutive penis and urinating on a succession of sacred documents. After the initial shock, the crowd cheered as he desecrated copies of the Constitution, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita. His enlarged prostate made the trickle of urine stop short before hitting the Jewish bible.

Why hadn’t she tried to stop him? Because no one stopped the king. Mirjana followed orders just like the rest of his staff. She was supposed to act the supportive wife, smile and look pretty.

She could have forgiven him even that madness––she did love him once––but his next actions had truly terrified her.

Waves of nausea turned Mirjana’s stomach as she considered one more time what she had signed up for. The rest of their mission was in her hands. Her actions would decide the course of the country. Maybe even the world.

He had gone too far when he poked his short fingers into North Korea, bullying the master bully, an insane leader who’d taken an entire nation prisoner. When her husband started agitating that miserable part of the world, possibly inciting a nuclear retaliation, she knew he’d stop at nothing to improve his failed ratings. In fact, the whole running-for-president game had been a joke to him, another pissing contest against what he hated most, a woman candidate.

Now that he’d gone too far, she’d decided to join a cause that would help bring decency back to her adopted country. She’d help save the world. And why did she care about a world that hadn’t treated her well? For the sake of her two young children.

Mirjana was underestimated by most, including her husband, but she was a student of life. She’d been a child during wartime and conflict. She knew what could happen to the innocents, and she would save her children.

So she’d joined project Trash Day and worked with others who shared the same goals, the same love for the country and its next generation. Then she’d met the beautiful Frenchie and fallen in love. She belonged for the first time to something bigger than herself.

She volunteered to plan a surprise dinner party that would bring him and his cronies down.

The exclusive event in honor of the president’s birthday would take place in that clubhouse across the bay.

Mirjana had been responsible for choosing the venue, the flowers, the food, the drinks, the entertainment, and most importantly, the guests. The invitations she’d designed were written in gold leaf on white cards and ended with a special request to keep the party top secret.

Keeping her involvement under wraps, what with the Secret Service and the Internet and ubiquitous cellphones, had been beyond difficult, but being First Lady allowed her certain freedoms, and she’d exploited every one.

She might not be as adapt as her husband at getting her way, but she was no slouch either.

The party guests consisted of key players in the nightmarish administration––the president’s nephew, who served as his senior advisor; the vice president; the clueless secretary of state; the fascist chief of staff; the attorney general; the chief strategist, and the other neo-Nazi recently appointed to the Supreme Court. Their wives were included as dinner guests, although they wouldn’t be serving as part of the project.

All those invited had accepted.

A ten-course dinner would be served to the sixteen guests. Food and drinks would be spiked with Rohypnol. Even the guards would be drugged.

Eight military choppers would land on the golf course in honor of the president’s birthday. Women trained for the suicide mission would emerge from the choppers disguised as belly dancers and armed with hidden tranquilizer guns. While they entertained and distracted the guests, a signal would sound.

The women had been rehearsing for months, the plan tested and retested. Mirjana trembled as she ran through it once more in her feverish mind.

The dancers would swiftly use their guns on the bodyguards. All the guests would be shot with more sedation. All except Mirjana. Sitting on her husband’s right, she would be responsible for injecting him with phenobarbital. She’d practiced endless times so as not to be distracted by the chaos unfolding around her.

All eight sleeping men would be transported into helicopters and airlifted across the bay, straight to the hideaway within the mountains—this place—where the shuttle, powered and ready to be launched, would be waiting for them. Each sleeping body would be strapped into a seat, and a final check would ensure that all eight targets were present and healthy.

Phase three was countdown, then launch.

The shuttle filled with tormentors would be launched into open space, yet equipped with only enough oxygen for one day. If all went according to plan, the travelers would wake up twelve hours later, far from the earth they so despised and far from the people they abhorred––the gays, the blacks, the Jews, the poor––in a shuttle created by the science they wouldn’t endorse.

And speaking of travel restrictions, the shuttle was going only one way, Jose.

That was the plan, the plan she’d helped perfect. But now she didn’t want any part of it.

She couldn’t decide—were they doing the right thing? Would the world be thankful or fickle, and declare her and her colleagues monsters?

“Why not just overdose them at the table be done with it?” asked the nursing student with the long braid.

Mirjana looked up at her and shuddered at the question.

“Because we aren’t a bunch of cold-blooded murderers,” Schwartz answered. “We’re giving them a chance to find their way back down.”

“Is there a way?” asked the student.

“There’s always a way,” said a seventy-year-old philosophy teacher with a formidable voice. “Once you lose your blinding arrogance and acquire humility, you can come down to earth.”

“Exactly,” Schwartz said with a smile. “That’s why you teach philosophy.”

For a silent moment––a silence preceding the great storm––they all gazed down at their creation. Mirjana saw mixed expressions on their faces: fear, jubilation and, matching her own emotion, uncertainty.

As she sat, filled with questions and wondering what to do next, a single butterfly landed on her hand. It rested a moment in her open palm, slowly flapping its huge wings, as if trying to communicate, or showing off its unusual shades of pink, orange and deep purple.

It wore the colors of the sunset, she thought. The colors of global warming and air pollution.

The butterfly spread its enormous wings and slowly flew away.

What was wrong with this butterfly, with its slowness and its ravishing colors? What was wrong with its size?

Then she remembered that article she’d read about the effects of climate changes on the size of butterflies. Global warming made them bigger while robbing them of nutrients. And her husband planned to relax more environmental regulations for the sake of his greedy buddies.

A sense of urgency seized Mirjana, erasing all remorse from her mind.

“Let’s do it,” she said to Frenchie.

She stood upright, straightened her skirt and cleared her throat. Then she announced in a voice loud enough to be heard by all the women, “We must get rid of the trash, ship it out of here, for the sake of the butterflies.”

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