So it's mid-afternoon in St. Petersburg, and yours truly is putting his feet up and enjoying a very !@#$ fine bottle of vodka.
And yes, I know that sounds !@#$ing obvious, son, but you'll be happy to know that SPYGOD got himself some culture, today. I managed to actually visit the Russian Vodka Museum, which I'd been !@#$ing promising myself I'd do for some time. And, after a !@#$ fine tasting, complete with zakuski, I bought myself a nice souvenir, and have been pulling on it ever since.
Good !@#$ing day for it, too, son. Kind of blustery outside, now. A sharp, !@#$ wind is slipping around the cracks and corners, trying to slice up your !@#$ skin and send you indoors. Overcast and dreary, windy and wet.
Spy weather, as we liked to say when all we could imagine about a place like this was that it was as cold, grey, and heavy as the government that controlled it. I used to feel that way too, especially since every time I came here I was out on spy business, and either trying to !@#$ing kill someone or avoid being !@#$ing killed. Sometimes both at once.
But you know, son? This is a big !@#$ country. And as much as it's !@#$ing easy, and maybe even desirable in times of war, to just point your !@#$ing finger at the map and say 'here lies the big !@#$ enemy,' the fact is that there's no absolute evil or absolute good in this world. Just endless !@#$ing shades of grey.
Take this city, for example. It was settled by the Swedes, back in the day. They called it Nyen, which was their name for the Neva river. And they lived and !@#$ed and smoked fish and went about their dark and dreary lives that would eventually translate into really dark and dreary crime fiction, come the 21st century.
And then Peter the Great came along and took the !@#$ing thing, back in 17whateverthe!@#$itwas, and stamped his !@#$ name on it. St. Petersburg became the capitol of Russia, and stayed that way until the !@#$ Commies took over in the !@#$ Revolution.
And those !@#$ers were all about changing names, weren't they? First they called it Petrograd, and then they named it Leningrad after Comrade Number One bit the !@#$ing dust. And that sorry state of affairs lasted until the Soviet Union bit the dust, too, and the people voted to have it named St. Petersburg again.
Different !@#$ names, same !@#$ city. Same beautiful architecture hiding under decades of socialist rot and decay. Same people trying to live and be free in the face of something nasty and degrading. Same struggle everywhere in this country, and the sad thing is that you don't always realize how !@#$ing beautiful it is until the rain and the snow stop and the Sun comes out to say hello.
I can hear it now, up there, talking to me from behind the clouds. Solar wind is a song so !@#$ loud that you can't always !@#$ing make it out, but when you just sit back and listen, like I'm doing now, you can actually start making out the melody.
Speaking of changing names, I'm sure you'll recall me talking about Soviet Steel, now and again.
Who's he? Just the guy I ran into when I parachuted into Havana to try and kill that !@#$er Castro, all those years back. Six foot ten, wearing this hideous, red, one-piece bathing suit that could have doubled as gear for the Russian women's swim team, and made of !@#$ing metal from head to toe. Remember him?
That's right, son. One of the best known of the People's Protectors, which was the Soviet Union's happy, communist answer to the Liberty Patrol. Except that we wanted to free people, and they wanted them !@#$ing enslaved by socialist bull!@#$.
Of course, I'm sure they thought the same !@#$ thing about us, or at least said they did. God only !@#$ing knows what they really thought about it, given what a sorry snakepit that group was.
!@#$, son, there was one night where half the people just !@#$ing disappeared. And it was all because someone thought someone else was going to narc on him, so he !@#$ing narced on him first, but the guy he narced on narced on him, and a few other people, and then they narced on a few other people on the way down...
Yeah, a real Soviet-style cluster!@#$, son. One minute there were twenty Peoples Protectors, and there had always been twenty People's Protectors. And the next thing you know there were ten People's Protectors, and there had always been ten People's Protectors. Good thing that things like that could never happen in the good old US of A, huh?
(Yes, son. I'm being !@#$ing sarcastic. But we'll talk about that fat !@#$ McCarthy another day.)
But whatever their !@#$ problems were, you couldn't deny that every time the Soviets went out to influence the world in their slimy, dirty way, there was one of those Protectors along for the ride. And they were there to make sure we didn't do the obvious !@#$ing thing with a high powered rifle or some disposable third party, or maybe just a naked and unashamed superfist to the noggin.
That's why there were a few of them in Comrade Castro's party pad, the night that I parachuted in, in case you were wondering.
Anyway, by that point the Liberty Patrol didn't exist, anymore. Korea kind of put an end that !@#$ing ride, and instead we had the COMPANY, and, by extension, the Freedom Force. And they were out doing superheroey !@#$ instead of just acting as an arm of the American military. That was what they had the COMPANY for, after all, and if I needed them on an op, I could draft them in, but the rest of the time they were out catching muggers, putting out fires, getting kittens out of trees...
You know, superheroey !@#$.
So how about the People's Protectors? Well, they did superheroey !@#$, too, but it was all in-country and hyped all to !@#$, so you never really knew how much of it was true, false, or just inflated out of all proportion to what actually happened.
However, every once in a while, you would have some big !@#$ world-shattering disaster that was so !@#$ bad and nasty that we all had to drop our flags, rally around the middle, and fight together to save the !@#$ planet. I'm talking about things like THAT, of course, and some other really crazy, potential world-killing things that blundered into our flightpath before and after we built Deep-Ten. Conceptual and trans-cosmic alien invasions, reality breakdowns, godwars... you know, the sort of !@#$ they keep me around to deal with.
And at those times, and on those days, I very gladly clasped hands with people I'd been trying to !@#$ing kill not less than 24 hours previously, because if we didn't table that !@#$ for later and work together, there wasn't going to be a later to table it to.
Which is how I got to know Soviet Steel, all four of him.
Four Soviet Steels, you ask? Why yes, son. There were.
The first one, who did it the longest, was the same one I met in Havana, that one night. And it turns out we'd sort of met, before, when we'd all converged on Berlin, back during the War. Except that the Commies got there, first, and didn't want to let us see what they'd found. But by that point I'd !@#$ing killed Hitler, and we figured the war was pretty much !@#$ing over in Europe, at least until we learned about ABWEHR, and that the People's Protectors had !@#$ing failed to stop them from escaping...
But yeah, that's another story for another day, too.
So yeah, we'd seen each other across the line. And at the time I'd probably thought "Who's that metal mother!@#$er?" And he'd probably thought "Oh, he killed Hitler, did he?"
And little did I know at the time, or even until well after Havana, but that Soviet Steel actually !@#$ing respected me. The only reason they let me out of Havana alive at all is because he vouched for me, in his own red, realpolitik way. And the next time we met up, when there was a real !@#$ing threat in the Pacific !@#$ Ocean, he actually shook my !@#$ hand and said it was good to see me.
Can you imagine that? Mr. !@#$ing USA wouldn't even acknowledge my !@#$ing presence in the same !@#$ room, but here's this guy who threatened me with nuclear war, and that I'd been trying to off ever since, and he thought I was worth having as a frenemy.
So we fought as allies and enemies, at least as much as his handlers in SQUASH would let him, and we got to know one another. He stayed down in Cuba for decades, watching over Comrade Fidel, and I made !@#$ sure no one actually killed Comrade Fidel so World War III didn't break out. Call it a !@#$ weird working relationship, if you have to, but it worked, and over time I tried to kill him less and less, and he was more polite.
!@#$er even sent me vodka on my birthday, once. And it wasn't even !@#$ing poisoned.
Not as good as this stuff, though. Should have bought two bottles.
Where was I... oh, right. So one day, in the early 80's, something happens, and the next time I see Soviet Steel, he's not my Soviet Steel. He's a foot shorter, with a different uniform, a Ukrainian accent, and no tolerance for us Americanski capitalists and our decadent ways.
What happened? Well, you remember that period in the 80's where every !@#$ time you turned around the Soviets had a new leader because the previous one had either fallen out of favor or just !@#$ing kicked the red bucket? And you remember that SQUASH eventually got too weird, even for the Soviet !@#$ing Union to handle?
Well, Brezhnev was SQUASH, and liked Soviet Steel. And the guy who took over from him, which was Kuznetzov, wasn't exactly SQUASH, but he liked Soviet Steel, too.
But when Kuznetsov stepped down to let Andropov take the chair, it turned out that Andropov was not kindly disposed to SQUASH, and did not like Soviet Steel at all. And since the Soviet Steel technique was something they could do to people, rather than waiting to find someone with usable Talents, well, they just "retired" my Soviet Steel, and wheeled out a new one, who was supposedly three times as strong as the old one, thirty times more pompously Soviet, and hated SQUASH like a Saturday night hemorrhoid.
What happened to my Soviet Steel? Well, son, if you're going to have a man made out of Steel on your side, you !@#$ well better have a gun big enough to take him down in case he decides he doesn't want to be on your side, anymore. And they reported a successful test fire of that gun on June 17th, 1983, which was just one day after Yuri Andropov took over.
Yeah. Sad times. Like I said, he was my enemy, but I was actually starting to like that red, Soviet !@#$.
So we had this new Soviet Steel, looking after Comrade Fidel. And he was a tin douchebag with no sense of humor, but at least a lot of nationalist honor. On those occasions when we fought on the same side I could at least rely on him to do what he !@#$ing said he was going to do, and I got the sense that he was really !@#$ angry that you couldn't say the same about a lot of the other People's Protectors, many of whom were also second-generation, or the third or fourth person to wear the uniform after the War.
One night in 86', between near-endless waves of weird-!@#$ alien god machine things from Dimension !@#$ Your Mother In The !@#$hole, he and I got a little drunk on some vodka I'd appropriated from a smashed-up liquor store around the corner. And he opened up just a little, and told me something interesting.
"Comrade SPYGOD," he says, slurring his words a little: "In America, you know the truth, but you pretend you do not know it, because you love the lie. In Russia, we know the lie, but we pretend we do not know it, because we love the truth."
Yeah, I'm still !@#$ing puzzling over that one, son. I was going to ask for an example, but a couple seconds later we got ambushed by another wave of those weird-!@#$ alien god machine things, and that was that's night exposition quotient right down the !@#$ing toilet. So I never really got a chance to follow up on it.
And wouldn't you know? The next time I see him, in 1988, he's not him, anymore. He's half a foot taller, got a thinner face, a better costume, and sounds like he grew up in Berlin.
And he is the slimiest, most worthless, piece of !@#$ Soviet super I have ever met in my life.
Seriously, son. I mean, the first Soviet Steel was a true !@#$ believer, but had that belief tempered with enough humanity and decency to be called a worthy adversary. The second one was a true believer, too, and as for humanity... well, he had his moments. But if you jammed the soviet stick any further up his !@#$ you could have used his mouth for a !@#$ing paper towel dispenser.
This third guy had none of their humanity or decency, and he sure as !@#$ didn't believe in a !@#$ thing, either. He was all posture and poses, and was basically down in Havana to party his !@#$ing lights out at Comrade Fidel's expense. Didn't give a !@#$ about anything, and no one really cared to tell him otherwise.
What happened? Well, son, that's a big !@#$ story in and of itself, and I'm kind of on a short schedule here. Suffice it to say that the second Soviet Steel's stick in the !@#$ caused some big !@#$ problems for someone during a particularly messy situation, and that big !@#$ problem caused a messy situation of its own. And so the Soviets decided that they didn't need to be giving any true believers any !@#$ing powers from then on out.
But that was 1988. Three short years later, it's 1991. You know what !@#$ing happens then.
And when the Soviets essentially tell their Supers that they aren't getting paid at the end of the month, and they're on their own, now, the true believers stay with Castro and other friendly nations, and the people who were just in it for the cash get the !@#$ out of dodge and go try to make a buck.
The third Soviet Steel fell in with the Russian mob, doing wetwork. A couple years after that, he got the wrong !@#$ people angry with him, and the next thing you know he's been melted down into ingots and left in someone's safe.
Which brings us up to Soviet Steel number four, who was created by the new government as part of a new Russian superhero group. My old SQUASH buddy Boris Yeltsin spearheaded it, kind of as a response to the COMPANY, the Freedom Force, and all that !@#$.
It lasted for a good long while, too, but it eventually it proved to be a PR disaster in the waiting, especially when it was discovered where they'd gotten some of their Supers from. And then...
Well, again, son, that's another big !@#$ story I don't have time for. But the important part is that they actually let people !@#$ing retire from that group, rather than retiring them. And Soviet Steel number four was hired to look after the man who took over from Boris Yeltsin.
Being the former President of Russia, who is quite possibly the most evil !@#$ing person to be in charge of this region since Joe Stalin was alive and grooming his !@#$ mustache with the blood of Soviet Jews. The new new new Soviet Steel, whose highly-checkered past has such proper nouns as "Alfa Spetsnaz" and "suspected serial killer," has been keeping that lizard-eyed, worthless !@#$ alive this entire time as the head of his security team.
Which is just !@#$ing ducky, as it'd made it pretty !@#$ hard to get any good info on the guy's more secret movements. But one thing I did learn, lately, thanks to a few people who really needed big !@#$ing money in the time of the Imago, was that old lizard eyes somehow !@#$ing escaped the events of 3/15, and went right the !@#$ underground before those tin-suited mother!@#$ers could get their hands on him.
That's right, son. The way they tell it, he took one look at the !@#$ White House, that morning, did that weird !@#$ing thing where you swear his eyes are going to go all lizard-like for a second, and then turned right around, got in his car, and told the driver to get them as lost as possible. Then he shot the driver, and he and Soviet Steel took a walk, and just vanished somewhere in the streets of Moscow.
I think the Imago gave up looking for his !@#$, after a while, which is probably what he wanted. And I'm sure he's probably planning some weaselly comeback, as soon as the !@#$ers take the !@#$ off, which I'm sure he's figured is coming at some point, here, because he's !@#$ smart enough to have figured that out.
But, lucky me, I happen to have a few talents up my sleeves, even in a !@#$ty world like the Imago have left us. And one of those talents has gotten me the address for this nice safehouse he's been keeping, here in St. Petersburg.
Yeah, son. This one. And if I've gotten my timing right, he should be coming in through that door over there in a few minutes.
Oh, and Soviet Steel? Well, that's a !@#$ good question, son. But let me answer that with another question or two.
You know how I said that the Soviets had a way to kill their metal men? And that's what happened to the first Soviet Steel?
Well, after the fall of the Soviet Union, there were a lot of scientists who also got told they weren't getting paid on Friday. Some of them really wanted money. And some of the ones who really wanted money came to us folks in the COMPANY, and told us all kinds of interesting stories.
Like, for example, how to make a gun that could put a big !@#$ hole through the skull of a man made of living steel, and disrupt his energy patterns enough to actually kill that steel man stone !@#$ing dead.
So we got the !@#$ plans, and we made copies of that !@#$ gun. And I had several copies made that were just for me, and I stashed them in lockups all over the world, especially here in Russia. Because I knew there'd be a day when I would have to run into that Soviet Steel !@#$er, or someone just like him, and I'd need something that would kill him.
And that's why I've been sitting here, in this nice chair, with a fancy gun in one hand, a nice, almost empty bottle of fine Vodka in the other, and my feet up on what's left of the head of Soviet Steel number four.
Because I've traveled here, to St. Petersburg, to have some words with the former President of Russia. And I'll be !@#$ed if I'm going to have those words left unsaid because of a sad knock-off of one of the few Soviet Supers I'd have been genuinely sorry to have had to kill.
And with that, you'll have to pardon me, son. I hear a certain pair of footsteps coming down the way, and I that means it's time to play 'surprise house guest.'
We'll catch up later, really. But right now, I got a world to save, and a really bad idea on how to do it, and this sly, nasty !@#$er may be the only salvation I have.
So it's a good thing I brought two bottles, eh?
(SPYGOD is listening to One Hundred Years (The Cure) and having a Rusky Standart Platinum)