My most insidious Blue

Excerpt from This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

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This is an excerpt from the book This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone.

My most insidious Blue,

How does one begin this sort of thing? It’s been so long since I last started a new conversation. We’re not so isolated as you are, not so locked in our own heads. We think in public. Our notions inform one another, correct, expand, reform. Which is why we win.

Even in training, the other cadets and I knew one other as one knows a childhood dream. I’d greet comrades I thought I’d never met before, only to find we’d already crossed paths in some strange corner of the cloud before we knew who we were.

So: I am not skilled in taking up correspondence. But I have scanned enough books, and indexed enough examples, to essay the form.

Most letters begin with a direct address to the reader. I’ve done that already, so next comes shared business: I’m sorry you couldn’t meet the good doctor. She’s important. More to the point, her sister’s children will be, if she visits them this afternoon and they discuss patterns in birdsong—which she will have done already by the time you decipher this note. My cunning methods for spiriting her from your clutches? Engine trouble, a good spring day, a suspiciously effective and cheap remote-access software suite her hospital purchased two years ago, which allows the good doctor to work from home. Thus we braid Strand 6 to Strand 9, and our glorious crystal future shines so bright I gotta wear shades, as the prophets say.

Remembering our last encounter, I thought it best to ensure you’d twist no other groundlings to your purpose, hence the bomb threat. Crude, but effective.

I appreciate your subtlety. Not every battle’s grand, not every weapon fierce. Even we who fight wars through time forget the value of a word in the right moment, a rattle in the right car engine, a nail in the right horseshoe… It’s so easy to crush a planet that you may overlook the value of a whisper to a snowbank.

Address the reader—done. Discuss shared business—done, almost.

I imagine you laughing at this letter, in disbelief. I have seen you laugh, I think—in the Ever Victorious Army’s ranks, as your dupes burned the Summer Palace and I rescued what I could of the Emperor’s marvelous clockwork devices. You marched scornful and fierce through the halls, hunting an agent you did not know was me.

So I imagine fire glinting off your teeth. You think you’ve wormed inside me—planted seeds or spores in my brain—whatever vegetal metaphor suits your fancy. But here I’ve repaid your letter with my own. Now we have a correspondence. Which, if your superiors discover it, will start a chain of questions I anticipate you’ll find uncomfortable. Who’s infecting whom? We know from our hoarse Trojans, in my time. Will you respond, establishing complicity, continuing our self-destructive paper trail, just to get in the last word? Will you cut off, leaving my note to spin its fractal math inside you?

I wonder which I’d rather. Finally: conclude. This was fun.

My regards to the vast and trunkless legs of stone, Red

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

This is How You Lose the Time War – Summary

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war.

Copyright © 2019 by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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