The Diego Vega Project
The first time I saw Diego I knew he’d come to kill me.
He found me at the crossroads of hope and despair. He found me at a time when the villains were winning, when those few heroes left in Old Detroit City were dying with the regularity of a bus schedule. He found me, and he saved me in the only way he could, by taking away my cape and my uniform, by demoting me to civilian again before I got myself killed, and it was sure as hell coming, let me tell you.
Of course, I’d be lying if I said I understood it at the time. At the time, I hated him for it. It’s a sorry fact, but my powers and my uniform and the respect they demanded were all I had back then. Being a hero, helping the defenseless, keeping the streets clean and safe for the lost and the outcast was the only thing I had to live for, so you can imagine how having them stripped away by the Angel of Death might fuck with a person’s head, even yours.
It’s been ten years since he came to kill me, ten or maybe twenty or maybe a hundred years, it’s hard to say because of the chemicals and the voltage and how bad the Whitecoats screwed up that gland in my brain that helps me measure time.
He found me just after midnight at the darkest edge of Old Detroit City. I was at the terminal end of that red brick alley downtown behind the fish market. He found me with my back against the wall and my throat against a knife. The offending party was one of the thousands of villains prowling the city back in those days. He was named Eddy Grisbane, but we called him The Eel because of the greasy sweat that always covered his face, and how he could control the electricity flowing through the city just by thinking about it.
That night The Eel had abandoned his usual routine of robbing and harassing the civilians foolish enough to be caught walking those desperate streets after dark. That night he’d set his mind on more formidable prey. That night he ran with a taste for the blood of heroes, and I was the hero unlucky enough to cross his path alone.
Now, don’t get me wrong… I did fight him. I fought him long and hard and with the moral determination of St. Christopher. I fought him all the way from Visger Street to East Market, fought him until my mind spent its powers, until my uniform was threadbare and my cowl ripped away, until I was exhausted and burning with blood.
But… and here’s the queer part, the part I still can’t explain… on any other night my mental powers would have been enough to defeat him, even with his ability to bleed the city’s electricity through his dirty hands. On any other night I could have melted the circuits in his brain and excised him like a tumor from the heart of this city. But this wasn’t any ordinary night, was it? No, this night was unique. This night was breathtaking and legendary and utterly perfect, and even as we fought, even before I smelled Diego coming to kill me, I somehow understood that nothing would matter after this night, not the misery before that infernal moment or the white light that opened after it.
See, in that brilliant moment, I somehow understood that this was providence, and I could no more regret providence than I could regret my hands or my mouth. And as Eddy pinned me to that graffiti-scarred wall, as my boot heels clacked useless against the red bricks, as he burned the last vapor of life out of me with his sweaty, electrified fingers, I saw the utter perfection in it. Of all the endless roads in this lifetime, of all the roads leading to all the dark alleys in all the world, this was exactly where I supposed to be. This was my destiny. This was the preordained moment of my death!
And then I smelled Diego.
I smelled the single-mindedness of his thoughts and the burden of his truth. And in a moment as small as a wince and as grand as heartbreak, I beheld the future. It didn’t matter one shit what Eddy the Eel had in mind for me, because the Angel of Death was coming for us both. And if I could have drawn a breath, I would have laughed out loud at the perfection of it.
So I stopped trying to wrench the Eel’s hand loose of my neck. I stopped trying to push the blade away. I stopped resisting, because this was exactly the point in time that I was destined to be.
I saw the queery glow of Diego’s flames rising over Eddy’s shoulder long before I ever saw his face. He floated down that midnight alley toward us like the Ghost of Christmas Future. His face was shrouded in a cloud of screeching bats, his eyes writhed like a hundred hatchling snakes. Quicksilver claws clicked and sliced at his sides until the night’s black blood flowed into the darkness behind him. And as he drifted closer, I saw the thousands of crimson spiders pouring out from his smoky sleeves and from under his darker robes, flooding the alley behind him all red and bloody, and scattering in his wake like rose petals chased away by a pissy wind.
It was horrifying and paralyzing and thrilling. He was the sum of all my terrors. He was Cthulhu. He was Grendel’s mother. He was Nosferatu and Hannibal Lector and the Joker. He was the flying fucking monkeys!
Eddy left the ground like a rabbit snapped up in a snare. Diego held him in the air with one great claw and peeled him like a potato with the other, even using Eddy’s own knife, which I knew was plenty dull, because until that moment it’d been parked against my throat, so I think Eddy must’ve been reasonably uncomfortable as Diego skinned him.
Diego painted that alley Eddy-red before the poor villain even had time to brace himself. He solved all Eddy’s worldly problems quicker than a gardener lopping the head off a wilting rose.
Then, as he pitched the Eel’s body off into the garbage and the rats, he turned to me. He pressed his flaming face into mine, sniffing at my eyes and my mouth and slicing those dagger teeth together like it was all he could do to resist taking a sample, while I just stood there against the bricks trying like hell not to piss myself in the presence of this god.
But he didn’t kill me, did he? No, instead he simply and inexplicably turned away. He walked away from me as casually as if I were a worm dying on the sidewalk after a dirty summer rain, and man was I dying. My life ended in that boundless instant when he made contact when me, when he breathed his holy breath into my mouth and cast the pissy remnants of my life asunder, and I’ve never in my life felt more exhilarated.
It wasn’t until later, much later, long after the Whitecoats and the voltage and the talking and talking and endless fucking talking that I finally saw the truth. From the fresh perspective of my chemically induced sanity, I learned that Eddy the Eel really had been a villain, that it hadn’t been just another delusion. Turned out he’d had his way with a woman who didn’t appreciate his greasy approaches, which from where I’m standing could be just about any sane woman on the planet. But this particular woman was special. This particular woman happened to be a nun from that old church downtown on Washington Street, St. Aloysius I think it was. Yeah, St. Aloysius’s Parish. Turns out The Eel had raped and murdered a nun, for Christ’s sake. He’d raped a poor innocent nun, and Diego had gotten wind of it and done what the cops in Old Detroit City could never do: he brought the wrath of Heaven down on Eddy just as surely as if he’d taken God by the sleeve and dragged him down to earth to witness the deed.
So… I see your expression. I see it and I can smell the thoughts swimming behind it. You’re thinking the same thing everyone thinks when I tell them about Diego. You’re thinking, yeah, okay, what’s the point of this? Or maybe this fool just gets his jollies scaring innocent strangers with the psychoses buried in that slum behind his face?
Well, that’s fair enough, and I hear what you’re saying, and you’ve stayed with me this long, which I know is no easy task, so now I’m going to show you the truth of it. See, the thing is… the truth is… this story isn’t about me. And it’s not about Eddy the Eel, either, or the nun, God rest her soul. This story’s not even about Diego, not in a straight line, anyway. This story is about Diego’s mother and the man who murdered her.