I don’t want to leave hell, I tell myself as I start Judecca, the fourth round in the ninth circle of hell that is named after Judas Iscariot. I meet Satan himself in his residence. His flapping wings produce chilling cold winds. He has three faces, each face with a mouth gushing bloody foam, and he’s weeping. The mouths are full, chewing three men I don’t recognize. There is no light in this place, no warmth. I am frozen deep in ice, so are many others with faces out, eyes and mouths frozen shut, but my eyes are open.
Satan grows a fourth face and reaches for me. Before his claws glaze me, I feel a tap on my shoulder. It is Dante and Virgil. They pull me out. I scream as Satan gets hold of me, but my rescuers are faster, stronger.
“Welcome back, Angel,” a voice says. It belongs to none other than Command. “Tell me whether you still want to die …”
The pain starts again, at the pit of my stomach, so bare and intense. I feel my dignity, self-will and restraint leave, like a soul departing. I can’t breathe, I can’t speak. I feel entombed with the agony. I beg God to kill me, but I know God doesn’t control my life anymore.
I see a dark, lanky figure—the Angel of Death—coming towards me. The relief is debilitating, but instead of taking my life away, he gives me back my voice.
“I want to die,” I say, “not because I don’t want to live, but because I don’t live my life, and the world is a better and safer place without me. From morning to evening, I take human lives, orphan children, widow the married, leave parents childless; kill fellow human beings because I don’t have a choice …
“Killing another human being, whether for national security or retribution, is no more human behavior than it is with cannibals. It is profoundly shameful for the state to sanction deaths of the people it should be protecting and I am the tool for that …”
I am still groggy, floating on some kind of cloud.
“You are having a nightmare, Angel,” Command says.
“No, I’m looking at the nightmare—you!”
She fixes her eyes on me. “Angel, if I was, you wouldn’t be alive today …”
“Yeah, like you’re doing me a favour.”
“I understand where you’re coming from,” she says. “But I won’t give you the satisfaction. Your appeal to conscience and guilty is a frail attempt …”
“Kill me now …”
“No, that won’t happen, not any time soon. However, you’re going to do as you’re ordered.”
“What now? Pump more mind control drugs into my body so I can do your bidding?”
She says nothing for some time, then, “Maggie, life is not fair, and you can’t fight the injustice of fate.” And with that, she nods at the man standing obsequiously at her side and leaves.
Dr Kong, flanked by two stalwart guards, takes the stage. Though I am still strapped to the bed, they pin me down as the good doctor works on me. He swabs my right upper arm and syringes me. Slowly, I lose consciousness, but not before seeing him connect me to IVs and a bank of monitors that were probably brought in when Dante and Virgil were giving me a tour of hell.
When I wake up, Dr Kong is there, Tatyana too.
“Hey there,” she says, squeezing my hand. “How do you feel?”
“Never better,” I say. “How long have I been out?”
“Coupla hours,” Dr Kong says. “Perhaps you two should catch up.”
The door closes softly behind Dr Kong.
“What happened to me?” I ask Tatyana.
“You had an accident. But now you’re OK.”
“Ah,” I say and let my head fall back on the pillow.
Memories start coming to me in bits: the flight to Mombasa, I killing the extremist Sheikh, Leo and Gor receiving me at the airport, taking the Embakasi road that connects with Mombasa Road at City Cabanas, Exodus Protocol … sirens and … Being taken from the scene … the ambulances speeding along Mombasa Road … Then fading out completely …
I seat up all at once and throw the sheet over me.
“Where’s Leo, and Gor,” I ask. “Are they alright?”
“Easy, Maggie. Take it easy …” Tatyana tells me.
“Where are they?”
Tatyana holds my hand and says, “I’m sorry, Maggie, but Leo and Gor are gone. They wanted to hurt you …”
“What do you mean they are gone? I was with them in the same car when the accident occurred.”
Tatyana takes a deep breath and pouts her lips.
“They activated Exodus Protocol for you, said you wanted to escape …”
“I didn’t want to escape. You know that’s not possible to get away from The Squad …”
She cuts me off. “They died in the accident. The car exploded, and they burned beyond recognition. You’re the only one who survived. When the accident occurred, you were thrown out as the car rolled. But them? They were not so lucky.”
“You survived, Maggie. You survived.”
“Oh my God.”
I lie back again on the bed. The full twisted reality of it all starts to sink in.
“Command says you and her are going to have a chat, but don’t be alarmed. She isn’t punishing you anymore …”
I look up at Tatyana. “I was to be punished? I wasn’t going to escape, you know that, right?”
“I don’t want to say much, Maggie. I don’t know that much about Command’s plans. But I am here now, that’s all matters.”
“You’re not holding something from me, are you?”
“Like hell I am,” she says. “Are you now starting to doubt me?”
“I am not doubting you,” I say.
“Maggie, you have me. I’m here. I love you. That’s all matters.”
Tatyana isn’t going to tell me more. In other words, I am going to carry my own cross.