Chapter 42: Whose Whole Delight Is In Destroying
They smote the city with the edge of the sword, and one of his main motivations was the high cost of proprietary software houses.
Afternoon, May 12, 2017
New York City
“Can I ask you something?” said Brian Young.
“Busy,” said Dylan Alvarez. “And close the door.” He got up, closed it himself, locked it, bolted it, then sat back down at the table. It was a perfectly ordinary New York City apartment, located in a nice neighborhood in a building without any irregularities to excite a passing cop. The decor was modern, the lighting excellent. There was a basket of fruit on the table. There was also a blank piece of paper, at which Dylan was staring and furrowing his brow theatrically. Finally Brian felt too awkward not to ask.
“What’re you doing?”
“Tell me, Mr. Young, are you a man of letters?”
“You ever written a card?”
“Yeah. My mom. For Mother’s Day.”
“That’ll do.” He motioned Brian to sit down at the table, pushed the paper and pen over to him. There was a big package on the table, wrapped in brown paper. “You write it. Something appropriate.”
“What’s the occasion?”
“…you’re sending a card for a letter bomb?”
Dylan pulled back the card and pen. “Mr. Young. You are, as your name suggests, young. Perhaps your parents have not yet taught you how civilized people behave. When one sends a parcel, the polite thing to do is to write a card. It shows the recipient that you are thinking of them, that you didn’t just throw some money at them without any kind of personal connection. I want Secretary Stoward to know that this isn’t just a letterbomb. It’s a letterbomb for him. Now, put that big brain of yours to work and think up some kind of message. Clever, but tasteful.”
“Um,” said Brian. He was a chemist by trade; eloquence was not his forte.
“Come on! Out with it!”
“Um. Maybe, ‘Dear Secretary Stoward. Hope you have a blast.'”
Dylan looked horrified. “Mr. Young, I said tasteful! Juvenile puns such as that may be suitable for second-tier groups like al-Qaeda, but BOOJUM is a classy and mature organization. Now give me something I can work with!”
Brian stared at him. “I’m a chemist, Mr. Alvarez. I don’t think I’m very good at this. And if you’re really not busy, I want to ask you som – ”
A very big man walked down the stairs, set himself down on one of the chairs with a thud. “I got your message right here for you, Dylan. Roses are red. Violets are blue. Elvis is dead. And so are – ”
Dylan laughed, then cut him off. “Mr. Clark Deas, I am proud to have spent ten years not taking any of your advice whatsoever, and I certainly will not start now. Besides, that is tremendously offensive to the King, who never died at all, but instead ascended bodily into heaven much in the manner of Enoch or Elijah.”
“Have it your way,” said Clark, “but I’m telling you, you’re missing out on fecking gold. The papers would love it. They’d – ”
“Look,” Brian interrupted. “Can I ask you something?”
“I can already tell if I don’t answer this you’ll never leave me alone,” said Dylan. “Si, mi compadre. Ask away.”
“My ex is in New York. She’s really smart. Ran a Unitarian group in California. And she’s a big fan of your work. And good at kabbalah. Just arrived today. Called me up, came over to talk. She wants to meet us and, like, help with our cell. Can I, um, bring her over?”
Dylan rolled his eyes.
“Mi compadre. We are a clandestine terrorist organization, not a high school couples dance! There is nothing in our manifesto that says ‘bring your plus one’. You are here because you make explosives. The Burnses are here because they are professional cat burglars. Michael is a hacker. Clark is a generally amazing guy. I am a generally amazing guy.”
“What about Maduegbuna? All he ever does is appear suddenly out of places and grin disconcertly at people. He doesn’t even talk or – AAAK!”
Maduegbuna suddenly appeared out of – somewhere – and sat down at the table. He grinned disconcertingly at everyone.
“I could live to be a hundred and twenty and never get tired of that,” Dylan said. “Mr. Maduegbuna is Nigeria’s foremost professional assassin and we are honored to have him on our team. We take who we need. No more.”
“My ex is good at kabbalah,” said Brian. “She could help with…that kind of thing.”
“This is the twenty-first century, Mr. Young. Everyone is ‘good at kabbalah’. All you need to do is hang out with the right crowd until one of them gives you a list of divine Names, then memorize it. I myself know a half-dozen Names by heart, and if I ever needed any more, I would go onto the darknet and ask for them. If they refused to tell me, I would offer them images of unclothed anime girls in exchange. It all sounds much easier than bringing a new person into our terrorist group which, I may remind you, very occasionally engages in illegal activities we could go to jail for if people knew about.”
“She knows, like, the theoretical stuff. Her cousin is an up-and-coming theologian, her friend was the guy who broke NEHEMOTH.”
“Theoretical kabbalah is very interesting if you are the CEO of Gogmagog. But us? We are simple, innocent people, Mr. Young. We have no need for grand ivory tower theorizing. All we want is a warm meal, a soft bed, and to burn the fucking system to the ground. I don’t need theorists. I need assassins, hackers, burglars, and chemists. I need people who can do tricks.”
“I can do tricks,” said Erica, and popped into visibility.
Dylan and Clark both reached for their guns, but before either one could draw it from the holster Maduegbuna had somehow gotten behind Erica and established a chokehold around her neck. He grinned disconcertingly at everyone.
“Let…go…” gasped Erica. “Friend…want…talk.”
Dylan nodded at Maduegbuna, and he let her go.
“Speak,” said Dylan.
“My name’s Erica Lowry. I have a sort of…mystical link to two of my friends who are really good at kabbalah. Somehow they’ve come up with some new Names. I don’t know how. One of them gives me the power to turn invisible. I can give it to you if you want. And any others that I learn. I want to join BOOJUM. I hate UNSONG and I think they got my friends. You guys seem to be the only people doing anything about it instead of just talking.”
Dylan frowned. “You have any experience with this kind of thing? Any special skills?”
“I wrote a radical newspaper,” said Erica.
Clark started laughing. Dylan turned and shushed him.
“A newspaper,” he said. “You know, in a sense, we too are a sort of media outlet.”
“Oh Christ,” said Clark, “You’re gonna do one of your feckin speeches again, aren’t you?”
“Media outlets,” said Dylan “are supposed to tell you the state of the world. But they can only do so much. Yes, the newspapers can tell you that the health system is failing, that there aren’t enough scrolls with the Coagulant Name for everybody who needs them. They can give you all sorts of statistics, they can show you pictures of the corpses. All nice and well. But somehow, people just don’t seem to get the message. Something has been lost. The widow wailing because her husband bled to death after a car accident, she’s got something that the guy sitting in an armchair reading the paper hasn’t. The widow understands what a shortage of the Coagulant Name means, understands what it means when the guy in the suit says that we can’t lower the price or else it would ‘hurt innovation’. The guy in his armchair has been told, but he hasn’t understood. A failure of communication, you see? Everywhere people suffer, and the media tells people, but they don’t get it.
“I have always thought we can do better. That’s what we do here at BOOJUM Media, Ltd. You can talk about elephants all day long, but at some point if you want someone to understand you’ve got to take them to the zoo and throw them in the elephant cage. The only way to make people understand what it’s like to live in fear is to make them live in fear. The only way to make people understand what it’s like to suffer is to make them suffer. You can tell a Senator a thousand times that people are dying out there, but it’s not until the Senator’s colleague gets a letter-bomb that it sinks in. We’re not just a media outlet. We’re a boutique media oulet. We cater to the rich and famous, the elite. We give them a better class of service, the premium deal. The middle-class get to read about other people’s suffering in the newspapers. But the rich? They deserve better! They deserve to experience a little piece of it, to have all the conflicts of the world packaged neatly in brown paper and brought to them in their own living room. It’s the most elite media service in the world, and we do it all for free, all for the warm glow of knowing that we made a difference.”
Clark nudged the letterbomb on the table. “Think they’re the ones who end up feeling the warm glow, most of the time.” He laughed uproariously at himself.
“It’s not a joke!” Alvarez protested. “A letterbomb is, in its way, the most honest form of communication. People say communication is about conveying information, but it really isn’t. Communication is a form of magic. The kabbalists say they know words that can draw lightning from the sky, or summon trees from the ground. So what?! Our everyday words are far more powerful than their most sacred incantation! A German guy with a silly beard writes a manifesto, and fifty years later half the world is in flames! An Austrian guy with a silly mustache gives a speech, and a decade later ten million people are dead! A hundred diplomats in the UN sign a charter, and suddenly you’ve got to pay Gogmagog everything you have if you want the doctor to be able to save your life. People get all excited about the Names, call them words of power, but who ever heard of a Name that kills ten million people? Oh, there are words of power, all right, but it’s not the Names of God you have to worry about. And in a sense this – ” he tossed the letterbomb up in the air, then caught it theatrically – “is the essence of kabbalah. The Word made flesh!”
Clark clapped sarcastically. Erica and Maduegbuna just stared. Brian looked pained. “Please don’t toss the bomb,” he said. “The detonation mechanism is still…”
“Ms. Lowry,” said Dylan, cutting him off. “Do you think you’ve got what it takes?”
“And what is your position on burning the fucking system to the ground?”
“Strongly pro,” said Erica.
“Then – executive decision. Welcome to BOOJUM.”
“What?” said Clark.
“Really?” said Brian.
“It’s actually a totally reasonable choice,” said Dylan. “I want invisibility. She’s got it.”
“That’s why,” said Clark, very patiently, like he was explaining this to a small child “we break her kneecaps until she tells us how to do it.”
“Mr. Deas,” said Dylan. “That sort of thing may fly in Belfast, but we are a reputable organization. Furthermore, I am a placebomancer. These things have their own logic. When a young woman with a mysterious past comes to you bearing strange secrets and offering to join you, you take her. If she has no apparent skills or abilities, you super take her. If you hurt her, bad things will happen to you. If you take her, then, when all else is lost and your own power avails you nothing, she hands you victory in some totally unexpected and hilariously ironic manner. Isn’t that right, Ms. Lowry?”
“Yes!” she said enthusiastically. “That’s totally what I’m here for!”
“So…fecking…annoying,” Clark mumbled to himself.
“Tell me, Ms. Lowry, you’re a writer, what would be an appropriate message to put on a card for a letterbomb?”
Erica thought for a second. “How about – condolences on the recent death in your family?”
Dylan slapped his head. “The girl’s a genius!” he said. “See! I knew this would work out! Compadres para siempre!”