Ghosts, son? You're asking me if SPYGOD actually believes in ghosts?
Well of course I !@#$ing believe in ghosts, son. What kind of a dumb!@#$ question is that? Don't you remember when I was running with Chinmoku? They don't call him the only living master of Hungry Ghost Path of Kung Fu for nothing.
(The others failed, and became -- you guessed it -- ghosts.)
Now, yes, we can be objective about this. It's true that, sitting at that fire, I'm not really in my right !@#$ing mind. I'm fighting a black hole of depression, suicidal urges, and god knows what other long-repressed mental problems. I'm crying like I won an Oscar, thinking I
could just die right about then and no one would give a !@#$, and !@#$sing myself just after I realized I really needed to go water the beer
That and the radioactive !@#$ I'm drinking could probably kill a !@#$ing
atom-powered cyborg tyrannosaurus rex if you shoved it down the
wrong !@#$ hole.
So, yes, given that by the time those yellow-hatted mystics show up, I'm so !@#$ing drunk that I've lost all sense of time, distance,
proportion, and dignity, it's just possible that I imagine everything that comes next. But I don't believe that, son.
Not for a !@#$ing minute.
How does it go? Well, talking with the dead ain't like Charles !@#$ing Dickens, son. You don't get a herald, you don't get told how the ride's going to go, and you sure don't get away !@#$ing clean. Sometimes you don't even !@#$ing get away at all.
There's reasons that Shamen are both revered and feared for what they do, son. Any sensible person would run away from a job like that, but some people just have to be the ones to peek behind the veil and see what's there.
And you know what curiosity got that poor, dead cat.
when they inform me that there's people who want to talk to me, and I realize what they !@#$ing mean, I realize that I am in for a world of !@#$. Of course, I'm so !@#$ing drunk I can't even stand, much less crawl away, so they got me where they want me, these yellow-hatted, grinning freaks.
And so do the dead.
I see that one of the Shamans isn't there, anymore, and Second is there
instead, smiling at me with that special, little smile of his. The kind that always said that he knew, deep down, what a goofy, drunk !@#$-up I could be, but that he admired me, anyway, and wouldn't have wanted to work for anyone else.
And there's a second when I just chalk it up to the
!@#$ I've been pounding, and wishful thinking, and regrets? But then he starts !@#$ing talking, and I know it's him.
I'm sorry to report I kind of !@#$ed up, sir, he says: I
did my best while you were gone, but they had us beaten at every turn.
Dragon played us all against each other, they snuck in a bunch of GORGON
troopers, and... well, they had it well in hand, sir. I can only apologize.
"You shouldn't have to apologize," I tell him (well, blubber out, really): "I was your C.O, (REDACTED). I should have been the one giving the good orders, not you. And if I hadn't made those dumb !@#$ing mistakes... if I hadn't gone South instead of to DC... if I hadn't..."
If you had, you'd be dead, too, sir, he tells me: They had us cold, sir. Dead !@#$ing bang to rights. They had a plan for everything, including you.
"Well, it should have !@#$ing been me, not you," I blubber: "It should have been me..."
No sir, he says: It was always supposed to be me. You said it, yourself. Soldiers are there to die. The fact that you get another day is a blessing, and I had a lot of them. All of them good... well, most of them.
have no regrets, sir. I had a good run, and I died fighting. I went
down hard and I tried to take as many of them down with me as I could.
!@#$, I even pulled the wool over the Dragon's eyes for a little bit,
and that's not something you can say all that often.
"That's... that's good..." I say, not knowing what else to say. If I wasn't so !@#$ing drunk I'd have actually given him a real complement for that one.
Well, I learned form the best. And that's why you need to get back on your feet, sir. I did my best to save as many strategic talents from what was coming as I could, and they're going to need a leader.
And that's you, sir. And you know that.
Of course, I can't say anything to that but to make excuses, wallow in self-pity, and continue blubbing. I can't even !@#$ing look at him, son. He's looking at me like a proud parent, and all I want to do is crawl under a rock and die.
So it's a while before I look up, and when I do he's gone, and the Shaman he was inhabiting is looking at me with a nasty, red-toothed grin.
I never thought I'd see the day when SPYGOD got all maudlin and self-pitying, says another one of them. I turn and look, and it's Joe Samuels, who was the Owl, up until just recently. And seeing him there, dead, kicks me even harder.
"What... what the !@#$ happened?"
Well, I'm dead, he says, matter of fact as always: GORGON hit the Owl's Nest hard. They teleported in in droves and shot us to pieces. Your man, Second, tried to warn us, but we missed the message until it was too late. I had to atomize the Owls Nest in the end, just to deny it to the enemy.
"Oh gods... I'm sorry..."
He smiles: I took them all out with me, (REDACTED). You should
have seen it. I showed them what it meant to try and take us on our own turf.
And next time they tangle with my family, they'll be in real trouble.
"What about Martha? Thomas? Kaitlyn?"
Martha's fine, and she's with your friends, getting a resistance together. Thomas was hurt very badly, but he'll be alright. We're seeing to that.
And Kaitlyn... he smiles: She's going to be the best Owl that ever was, my friend, but she'll need your help do to it, just like you helped Martha and Thomas. Can I count on you?
Of course, this leads to me trying to blub some more, but he's not having it: Oh, stop it, (REDACTED). We don't have time for tears. Too many people have died, and too many people are going to die, for you to sit around a fire crying your magic eye out.
"Easy for you to say... you're dead. You don't have to face this failure-"
I didn't say it, my friend, he says, smiling and pointing at me: You said it. You said it to me. And if you think really hard, you might just remember when, and why.
And I never told you this, because I was so embarrassed, later? But thank you for that.
So, this is me returning the favor. Tears later, soldier. Action now. You fall apart you're no use to anyone.
"I'm already broken..." I try to say, but it comes across as a tangle of words. By the time I get my tongue unglued, Joe's gone, and in his place is that tall, black Colonel that'd been hounding my !@#$ since the assassination. Colonel Richter.
And he's not looking so !@#$ing good, either. His bald head's a misshapen mess, and one of his yellowed eyes has bugged out of its socket. It almost looks like someone smashed his brains in.
Well well, he says, smiling: Here we finally are. You know how long I've been looking for your sorry !@#$?
"I know... I'm sorry..."
Oh, don't you dare !@#$ing apologize, SPYGOD. Don't you !@#$ing dare! You don't have the right! !@#$, you don't even have the right to speak to me right now, you sloppy !@#$hole.
Now, for some !@#$ dumb reason, this takes me aback. Everyone else so far's been trying to shove complements up my !@#$, in spite of my getting them killed. But he's actually !@#$ing angry.
And, for some reason, that actually brings me up from the slippery, dark hole I've drunk myself down, just a little bit.
"What the !@#$ are you talking about?" I ask, rearing up a bit: "I didn't kill you-"
Oh, but you did, he says, sitting straight up and leaning towards me: That crazy-!@#$ vendetta of yours? Well, while you were !@#$ing liberating Cuba, you sent us off in ten directions at once, trying to catch your !@#$. You had the COMPANY so !@#$ busy chasing its tail that GORGON was able to walk in and !@#$ us without us even noticing.
If you'd just done the right thing and given yourself up, we could have been united. We could have stopped them. All those people would still be alive.
I'd still be alive-
"!@#$ you, Richter." I spit at him: "I didn't !@#$ up the COMPANY. You did."
What... he says, the anger bleeding away as confusion sets in: What the !@#$ do you mean?
"Why... why do you think they put you onto me?" I ask him, still too groggy to talk too fast: "What were you doing... before the President was assassinated?"
He tries to open his mouth, and then he closes it.
I... I don't remember...
"No. Of course you don't. Not your last birthday. Not your first kiss. And why do you suppose that is?"
I knew... I used to know...
"Yeah, when you were !@#$ing breathing. But now you aren't, anymore, and when you died all those memories just went away, didn't they?"
I... what are you-
"Because you weren't doing anything, Richter. They activated you. And then, when they didn't need you anymore..."
I point to my head, right about where his has been clearly bashed in, and then roughly pat it a few times.
He opens and closes his mouth a few more times. Then he screws his eyes shut and screams so loud my eardrums almost blow out of my !@#$ing head.
And then he's gone, leaving a hoarse shaman who's trying to hog the kumis bottle he and his two friends are passing back and forth.
How long did you know about him? asks a mellifluous voice I know all too well.
"About as long as... well, about as long as I suspected about you," I say, turning to look to my left. The Dragon is sitting there, smiling that slight, inscrutable smile of his.
And he doesn't even need a shaman to talk to me.
(SPYGOD is listening to Soul Kitchen (The Doors) and drinking... well, yeah. Don't ask.)