I'm sure, by now, you've read the reports that I was dead, and then alive. It's a stunt I pull every so often just to see which way the !@#$heels I work with and for will jump when they think I'm out of the picture. But before I'd only gone a couple days before popping up from behind the tombstone, so I had to go for a full week this time, just to be sure.
At least that's what they'll think when they have time to properly analyze the situation. There's more to it. There always is.
(And you'll have to forgive me if I don't tell you what those things are, exactly. I know you'll figure it out, just as you always do. Wheels inside wheels, as always.)
I did a stupid thing, friend. A very stupid thing. I let my ego get in the way of clear thinking. I overstepped one inch too many. And someone innocent paid the price for my error.
Her name was Muna. She was the only daughter of a good, steady ally. Someone I'd fought beside on several occasions and come to call a brother in arms. He accepted me in spite of some of my wilder eccentricities. I accepted him because he was no better or worse a man for his opinions and beliefs than so many I'd had to accept under wartime conditions, and indeed a !@#$ sight better than most of them, all in all.
I'd known Muna since she was a bump in her mother's belly. I'd seen her as a toddler, a child, and a young woman. The last time I saw her she was a lovely person, walking to and from where the ladies took their iftar while we men whooped it up in the other room, regaling my friend's family and friends with tales of what we'd been up to.
(And I know you know what I'm talking about. I've heard you've got a betting pool on when the Colonel's going to get his chickens fried, even in the "administrative limbo" your former masters have allowed you. Well done, friend.)
The problem was that this monster must have heard about it, too. And when he came back at me, he did so with one thing that would give me pause. The life of a child of a friend.
I don't quite know what this Moloch thing was. A confidential discussion with a friend who used to be in higher places told me that he wasn't anything to do with his kind, or their opposite, or anything inbetween. "Look for the obvious answer on this one," I was told.
So I don't quite know what to make of a clockwork, brass minotaur who put a living person inside its chest, closed it shut, lit them on fire, and used that fire to burn its foes. Some weird superhuman trait? Special effects? All I knew was that you couldn't have found a more lethal combination with me if you'd tried.
The desert was perfect. Not a soul around for miles for him to grab. And even if he did, it'd just be some poor guy he grabbed from the nearest town.
So I figured he'd come out there, go for round three and then I'd cap his !@#$ with some cryo-grenades. Not a whole lot. Just enough to knock out his teleporter and get him cold enough to be at death's door, just like the last time.
Only this time he wasn't going to be teleporting away, and I was gonna get some answers out of the son of a !@#$, even if I had to ram fist-sized chunks of ice up his metal !@#$. And if I was lucky, I'd finally figure out how to save the person he was using as charcoal.
And then he appears, and he's got a victim already. And it's Muna.
What could I do? I didn't know for sure that she was doomed. He said he'd let her go if I just sat there and took it, and I didn't have a whole lot of time to decide.
So I gestured to the backup to do nothing, and played for as much time as I could. Not that he gave me a whole lot of it. !@#$ said his employer wanted me burned to cinders, and he was going to give that man just what he wanted.
(And yes, I died. And yet here I am, alive. I'm sure you can find some dumb!@#$ koan that'll speak to that. I'm still keeping that one close to the chest, though.)
Could I have done anything to save her? I don't !@#$ know. It all became a moot point once my backup decided to disobey orders and launch the Freeze Cans. Moloch torched them all for it, but it was a Pyrrhic victory on his part. The ordinance flash-froze him, and his own fire cracked him.
I had two teams working on the forensics. One that reported to the main part of the COMPANY, and another, quieter bunch who were in on the gag. They scooped up every piece of Muna they could as a quiet favor to me, and I went to Algiers to present my friend, The Lion, with her remains. She deserved to be buried as well as they could, under the circumstances, and he deserved to know the truth.
The whole truth.
He listened. I'll give him that. He should have punched me or tried to take revenge, and I wouldn't have blamed him if he did. In the end I could only apologize.
And he said this to me:
"I cannot accept your apology, for this is not your fault. But I cannot forgive you, either, because it is what you are. You cannot die, so death follows in your footsteps, taking others in your place.
"I have seen this happen many times before, but ignored it. I was foolish to do so. I am foolish no longer.
"Please leave my house this instant, and come here no more. I will not have death follow you to my home again."
Maybe the poetry doesn't come through. It's hard to translate Algerian Arabic into Mandarin and have it retain its magnificent qualities. But you'll have to take me at my word when I say that what he said to me was the most beautiful wound I'd ever suffered, and anything I could say in return would be worthless !@#$ that could only break against him.
So I nodded and left, minus yet another friend.
That was yesterday night. I write these words a day and a night later, drunk off my !@#$ in the worst drinking pit in Algiers, surrounded by things best left indescribable and unspoken. I feverishly tied to drink and !@#$ my way back to self esteem, like a man facing his final hours on Earth, and told to do anything he wanted, one last time. But the alcohol, the hash, the sex... it all just left me staring at one dark hole after another, paralyzed by a reflection of my own emptiness.
There was nothing to save me in anything I did.
Years ago, one of The Lion's friends told me that I was the devil, and that my hell was paved with the bones of those too unlucky to get out of my way. I laughed it off at the time, but he died not long thereafter, just because he was a little too close to me.
I laughed that off, to, but I'm not laughing anymore, my friend. I'm weeping.
I miss having your friendship through rivalry. It helped anchor me in bad times and made the good ones just that much better for having thwarted you. But can we have something more than that? Do we dare?
I wish I could see you in person. I wish I could tell you these things in realtime. I wish I could hold your hand and kiss you. Talk to you like a man. Confess these feelings and be absolved of my pain and my stupidity and my ego.
Find communion with you at long last.
I would give it all up for you. The Thai whores and sordid nights and wasted mornings. The broken stretches of time when I'm not on a mission and have to destroy and rebuild myself to stop from going mad. The great inner emptiness that eats all I give it and !@#$ out despair and loathing like black, tarry turds from a torn and hemorrhaged colon.
But even in this I realize how broken I am. "I would give all this up for you," I say. But when will I give it up for me? When will I say to myself that I am better than this? When will I admit that I am worthy of kindness to myself?
When will I say that the cycle of death and rebirth that I've been stopped on for so long is only a single, selfless act away from starting back up again?
When can I finally be a devil who doesn't take someone down with me, but looks into the fire and finds an equal there, waiting in the pit?
Dear Gods I hope so. And I hope that devil is you.
I'll keep this letter on me, and post it to one of your allies, soon. I might rewrite it when I'm not so !@#$ maudlin or drunk. Or maybe I'll just publish and be !@#$. Same as always.
If you want out of house arrest, contact me. I will move heaven and earth to set you free. Even if you don't want to be near me, just knowing you're back out there, moving freely in the world, would set my heart aloft again.
But please don't turn me away. It would break what little I have left.
(SPYGOD is listening to Mr. Pessimist (Tears for Fears) and drinking Algad Power Beer)