The Colonel is gone.
I can’t quite make myself believe it. He has been the voice of my mission for decades. He kept me going when I was weak, gave me hope when I would have given into despair and ultimately gave his life for me.
Does it make me selfish, that all I can think about is that I could have ordered another to go in his place? That I could have realized sooner that the only path to victory was to feed Condemner’s hunger. That if I had done that with comatose shades, instead of sending his troops out to be gunned down, he might be with me still?
But my failure runs deeper than that. Whatever the Regime might believe, I lead this Fist. I have made it my responsibility to make it a force for a better world. To use it to find a way to embody my shades. To use it to end Prevailer. I’ve accepted monstrous moral compromises to this end. And still, I was blind.
I had an intrinsic trust in the Union. I walked us right into their trap, assuring the others that this last remnant of the world that I once knew wouldn’t stab us in the back. Assuring them that they’d be smart enough to take an obvious win when we fucking HANDED it to them.
Even once it became obvious that that officer was insane, I still tried to reason with them. We were captured because we took Indulger out of his element, took no precautions to keep ourselves safe. We trusted, and the Union betrayed that trust. More than betrayed it. Their entire plan HINGED on us being naïve saps. They could never have subdued us if we’d been careful, if we’d approached things in a military manner. If I’d had the Colonel’s precautions in place. They DEPENDED on being able to trick us, and they were right.
I should have had us surrounded by shades on the way in. Their presence would have kept us from being surrounded, and if we’d refused to enter that fucking building-plane, or whatever it was, we never could have been shanghaied all the way out into the middle of this fucking wilderness. We’d have had Prevailer as backup.
‘Could haves’ are useless though. The fact is that I didn’t. Despite the Colonel’s insistence on scouting, I went in blind. Despite knowing Indulger’s weakness, I brought him into a building. Pig headed stupidity, and only the Colonel saved us.
And he didn’t save all of us. Irene pegs the tally of the fallen at 208. They are gone, because of me. The American unit is led by a Major now, but I don’t know him. The game, the pretense that I am still a member of a military organization, and that I have a purpose, I’m tired of it.
I’m tired of everything. I don’t give a shit anymore. Let Preventer take the lead for a while. She could hardly do worse than I have. I need this time to tend to my rotation, get everything settled again.
I can’t let them down again.
I can’t even die, but they can. I’m in some special kind of hell. Responsible for thousands, growing older even as their number swells, unable to succeed or fail conclusively, experiencing life as a series of small, but crushing, losses.
God help me.
I have never really died before.
I don’t like it.
It took a long time, after that iron lady broke my neck. My gift kept me kind of hooked to my body somehow, hurting but not hurting, looking for energy. Like the way that it is when it is about to rain, but it isn’t. But eventually, with no connection to the ground, my gift let me slip away.
But then Linker’s gift caught me. The way that we can all sense each other, the way we know each other’s thoughts (kinda). That is just the outside of it. Like the shell of the main part. Somehow, the gift did something to me where I was CAUGHT by the others. I couldn’t know anything about my own broke body anymore, but I still had that sense of them. That weird ‘knowing where all of us are’ sensation that we’ve had ever since we got Linked.
When I was dead it was ALL I had. And it swelled as time went on, until in the night it somehow pulled me back into the world. Everybody was happy, they weren’t surprised because they could feel me coming back. They even had some clothes to wear from the Union guys that got killed.
I was sad that all of those guys died. I guess I’m happy that it wasn’t us, but when I have my matches I try to keep stuff not hardcore. I’m going to talk to the rest of the group when I have a chance to do that. I want to tell them that if the bad guys start running we can let them get away.
I had planned to make sure that that’s how we would fight, but I was dead for most of this fight, so I didn’t get any ways to change how it went. Being dead sucked.
I guess it must suck a lot worse for people who weren’t in a Fist. It is finally sinking in for me how crazy powerful Linker’s gift is. Like, it is hard enough to kill me anyway. But now they have to get all of us in just one day? We are basically invincible.
Well, except for Her. Obviously She can still handle us whenever, which must be why the other Fists obey Her. I never thought about it before, but I understand how the things works much better now.
This is our second big team battle, and just like in Redo there was a lot of sneakiness going on. Here we were on the receiving end. I don’t like that. I think we will do a lot better in a stand up fight.
I’m worried that She will be angry that we didn’t make the peace work. That’s not quite right. I’m worried that She will be angry that we didn’t screw it up in the right way. I hope She is in a forgiving mood.
What a colossal clusterfuck.
I was completely caught off guard when the Union men betrayed us. I never saw it coming.
I have a recurring issue with this kind of thing. I’m working to correct it. I just have a hard time anticipating utterly self destructive and pointless behavior. I generally model agents as taking action that they believe will bring about their agenda, and these daggers weren’t validating that model at all.
Haunter has basically been catatonic since this fiasco, and the rest of the troop is mostly occupied with the mundane realities of our trek back. I doubt if any of them have managed to devote any brainpower to the bizarre situation that unfolded in that ship.
We offered Prevailer’s cooperation to the Union. Why on earth would Peggy Martin agree to work with the only country where She imposes a Processing quota? Could our intimations to that fanatic have contained a gem of truth? Does Zeus have a checkmate just a few moves down the line?
Possibly even more importantly, I have answered a question that I was afraid to ask. I took no action during this scuffle, reasoning correctly that so long as I maintained my immortality there was no true risk to our unit. I had been concerned that the squad might resent my inactivity, but they have taken it in stride. None of them have chided me, at any rate, for reserving my barriers as I was hauled away.
It is possible, of course, that they are waiting for an opportune time to remark upon the matter. But I doubt that they have sufficient subtlety. Indulger certainly doesn’t, and Nirav and Fisher mostly have eyes for one another. Haunter’s depression seems to preclude acting upon received information. She has mostly marched along in silence since our return began.
Indulger’s mode of travel has been extremely impressive. While he was useless when separated from the ground, he more than makes up for it when granted the necessary environment. Despite our utter lack of a vehicle, and a crash site located somewhere in the north part of Union territory Indulger insists that by shifting the ground that we walk on we are travelling as fast as we would in Haunter’s bus at top speed.
I’m looking forward to our return to civilization. I need to get Thui to renew contact with a Pantheon asset, find out if there is anything to this talk of a secret army, and what I might do to make certain that my Fist doesn’t end up in front of it.
I let them live.
The woman, Preventer, was not there when Nirav let his grip on my gift slip. By the time I found her, squirreled away like the useless bitch she is, I had wrecked the ship too thoroughly to take the appropriate action.
It seems as though the daggers intended to freeze her. She would have been put into a storage area with no space for the rest of us to reform, and held until her gift wormed her free. Nirav and the others would have lost months.
I would have died.
I can tell by how they act, how they complement one another’s movements and finish one another’s utterances. They are the ones who are Linked. Just as Nirav surmised, I am not.
I am alone, my life not tethered by this mighty gift. The tether is attached, instead, to the useless disguise persona that I crafted for my time in Bany. The irony pains me.
Since they were Linked, there was nothing to gain by destroying them when I had the power to do so., save pleasure. They would only have reformed. It galled me, but I played the part of the friendly djinn, aiding them in battle and freeing them to trudge miserably south, as I sought my ease within Nirav.
The one thing to come out of this whole experience that is worth anything is that I have tasted Haunter’s slaves. They are sweet and delectable. Their essence, untrammeled by the bonds of the flesh, fills me with might.
If I could take enough of them, take them swiftly, without letting their energy dissipate, then I could attain a peak of might that I have never glimpsed before. I could burn the air, the colors and radio waves. I could burn time and space, leave reality itself an ashen ruin.
I might even burn Preventer. It is worth an attempt, at least.
It was hard to let go.
When the Colonel descended upon me I knew what I had to do, but I almost refused. Only the dread of dishonoring his sacrifice, of bringing calamity upon the ones that he strove to protect made me let Condemner out.
I can feel his control slipping. I am most of him now, I think. He has pretended to be me for so long that I feel as though I am actually real. Linker’s gift, Betty’s affection, and the lived experiences that I have accumulated are anchoring me ever deeper within Condemner. But what anchors his prime personality?
He is just a voice in the back of my thoughts, just a trick of the mind. No one knows him, no one speaks with him. Our being is entirely about me, and, slowly, I think that is having an effect. I was once a mask, but now perhaps I am a shroud, or the skin entire. One day soon, I may be all that there is, just a man with the gift of flame, and memories of the evil creature that I once had been.
Let it be so.
Locked away within the Union Ultra’s stasis beam I nearly snapped.
It was too like my confinement within the Pit. Too like the eternity that I spent there, my other form trapped within the darkness. Too like the time that I was brought nigh to Torturer.
I felt what would happen if I did lose it. Getting right up to the edge of collapse allowed me to see over it.
I am a bomb, and I’ve seen the explosion. I am an agent, and I’ve seen the compulsion.
There at the edge of my self, facing the memories that the immobility was stirring up, I saw another scene. A sight from my past, one I have long repressed.
I was brought up from Torturer’s pit. I was dangled before Her, promising anything and everything, the sun and moon, if only I could be killed then and there. Begging to die, rather than to descend once again to within a hundred feet of that fiend.
Prevailer had no interest in my protestations. She spoke only to give orders. She told me that I would be joining a Fist. She told me that that Fist had a few people who might lack discipline, might go against Her orders.
By this point I was raving my hate for them. I murdered everyone on my team in my heart in that instant, gutted them and fed on their corpses, all before knowing who they are. Prevailer promised me that if I did as She asked, watched for signs of disloyalty and killed any who betrayed, She would not put me down again.
I can still remember the shudder of relief that ran through my forms as I thanked Her, my Hook licking Her boots as she stood over my Lure. Subtracter raising a fist and returning me to darkness.
Does remembering this mean that it has no more power over me? By glimpsing my buried past, have I gained my independence? Am I a puppet no more?
I don’t know the answer to that question. I feel no compulsion to betray my friends, my love. I cannot imagine denouncing Jane or Nirav. The idea seems incomprehensible to me.
But at another time I stood in another place, and what was incomprehensible to me then was doing anything that might make Her send me down again. The me from that time would have cheerfully denounced a hundred Fourth Fists if it kept her from Torturer. Two hundred.
I know myself, as only a form changer who alters their shape at will can. I know myself as one who can see the objectives of others, laid out like goals across a black board. I know myself as one can who is, functionally, less than a year old, who has conscious memory of every significant part of their life. I know myself.
I know that I would never betray Fourth Fist. I know that the trust and respect that they have shown me is all that is worth anything in my life.
I know that I would instantly betray Fourth Fist. I know that staying out of Torturer’s pit is all that is worth anything in my life.
I just don’t know which will trump the other, but I have a sinking feeling that I’ll soon find out.