Sunday, January 5, 2014

12/28/12 - The Master and Mother!@#$er - pt 1

"Once in 1919 when I was traveling at night by train I wrote a short story. In the town where the train stopped, I took the story to the publisher of the newspaper, in the hopes that he would publish my story. He told me it was the worst thing he had ever read, so I tore it up before him and left without saying a word. 

"I never tried my hand at it again. I have been too busy with other things, since.

"Many important things."

- Mikhail Bulgakov (Head of SQUASH): 1891-1991

* * *

April 30th, 1966

"I have to say, Colonel, that I am... uncomfortable with what we are about to do."

The dark-uniformed man pushing Colonel Bulgakov's wheelchair down the long, damp, concrete hallway is white-faced and sweating -- almost stammering. That might be the reason why the twisted and sickly person in the well-padded chair doesn't fix his one good eye on him and give him the Look of Death. 

Or maybe the man they call The Writer (but only ever well-behind his back) is in just too good a mood to be bothered.

"It is a logical extension of our current works, Comrade Sharik," Bulgakov says, his voice a harsh and grating thing: "Our thaumathematicians reach into the realms beyond ours to bring forth etheric weapons for Mother Russia all the time, and with some success-"

"Yes, Colonel Bulgakov, but we only ever get the smallest of creatures in this fashion. Our equations can neither summon nor control anything larger. And yet tonight-"

"Tonight we risk it all, Comrade!" the man in the chair shouts, pounding a withered fist on the side of the chair: "The answer was before us all along! Why should we settle for what small creatures we could nudge our way when we could speak to the head of the zoo, and have the largest cages unlocked? If there are greater formulas and hidden proofs to be had, then this greatest of etheric creatures must have them. And soon we, too, will share in them."

"But at what cost, Colonel?" Sharik asks as they approach the black steel door at the end of the hallway: "Making a deal with... with this? Does it not stand against all that our Soviet Union stands for? How can we say we've thrown off superstition if we're willing to summon up the Devil?"

That's done it, then. The Colonel slowly turns around in his chair, and fixes his stammering lackey with that one, good eye: the one that's as red as blood and so shot through with veins and cataracts that it looks like broken glass. 

"We are not calling up the Devil, Comrade Sharik," the man sneers, his voice like deadly thunder: "We are making contact with a primary ultraterrestrial intelligence. A mathematical intellect of the highest degree. We have scraped the superstition away from one of the oldest sciences Man has ever developed, and used it in service to the state!"

"Of course, Colonel-"

"And you would do well to remember that, should you wish to continue serving in our organization, yes?"

"Yes, Colonel," the man stammers, nodding so enthusiastically his officers' cap almost flops off: "I understand, sir. And I do wish to serve."

"Good, Comrade. Remember where I found you, all those years ago. And remember that I can have you put right back there, too."

"Of course, Colonel," the man stammers some more, bumbling around the chair in his pants-!@#$ting fear and putting his hands on the black door.

The moment he does, it glows, ever so much. Then the light is gone, and with it is the door.

And beyond it lies mathematically-sound horror. 

* * *

So how did this withered and broken fellow, Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov, become the head of SQUASH, most feared of all the Soviet Union's many spy organizations, you may ask?

Well, there lies a story. It is not a pretty story, but very little in Russia ever is. It is almost as if God insists that anything that happens here must be tainted, just to keep us from ever getting too high above ourselves.

He wipes his !@#$ with us, God does, and then sends down the snow to help us clean ourselves up.

So, the story. Here is a man who has many things going for him. He is born into a well-bred, wealthy, and loving family. There he grows up kind and intelligent, and becomes well-educated. He learns art and literature, goes into medicine, marries well. 

Everything is going fine for him, and there is no reason that it should not. But then there is war. Several wars, really. 

And this is when things must change for Mikhail Afanasyevich.

The first is, of course, the First World War. It has him on the frontlines, tending to the wounded. There he gets a reputation for being quite the lifesaver. Some even call him an angel of mercy in disguise.

But the front lines are always under heavy fire. Mikhail is himself wounded, and quite badly. He may well have died, except that, while he was in the hospital, something happened.

What exactly was this thing? We do not know. It is nowhere in his files, and he has not spoken of it. 

But one night he was on his bed, perhaps dying, perhaps not. And the next morning he was standing at the window, asking when he might leave and get back to work. 

And not so much as a scar upon him! How strange, indeed. 

(Stranger still that, from that time on, he has nothing more to do with his family, with whom he was once quite close...)

So, Mikhail goes back to the front for a time, but he is no longer quite the lifesaving angel he once was. Perhaps his injuries have dulled his skills, or perhaps it is just bad luck. But the men begin to dread seeing him at the front, with them. 

He is no longer their angel of mercy, you see. Now he is perhaps an angel of death, come to take them away.

That war is interrupted by another war. This time it is the Civil War. The Revolution. Call it what you will, it ends with the old Tsarist order swept away and the new, Soviet state standing in its place.

His family is now in Paris, but still he is considered a liability because of their connection to how things were. Under normal circumstances, the Cheka would pick him up, and he would have disappeared, along with all those other people that vanished during those early, feverish years. 

But our Mikhail Afanasyevich? He does not wish to wait for the secret police. No, he goes to them, and, after a time of not being seen, he comes out the other end as one of their interrogators. 

Quite an enthusiastic little worker, they say officially. Unofficially, they say he is the sickest bastard they have ever had to work with. Very inventive. Very effective.

Very disturbed.

Even more disturbing is that, sometimes, the people he puts in the chair to question are later seen around him, as servants and subordinates. He claims they have seen the light of reason and are being rehabilitated. Others say other things, and these are darker things indeed.

Now, you know how things go, my friend. We Russians do love our shell games, where the black ball is shuffled from cup to cup, only to seem to become blacker with each shifting of position. So too does our man Mikhail Afanasyevich get shuffled from group to group, becoming larger as he goes. 

The Cheka becomes the GPU, within the old NKVD. Then they leave it to become a thing unto itself, the OGPU, which remains until the old NKVD is replaced with a new one, and then the OGPU becomes folded back into this new NKVD as the GUGB. All the while, he stays with the ball, getting larger with each new cup.

So it is in the GUGB, working directly under Lavrentiy Beria as his most reliable of truth-getters, that our Mikhail Afanasyevich finally reaches the notice of Stalin. They have a few talks, and something he says must have impressed Stalin, for when the Fascists break their pact with us and invade, he is one of the people that Stalin taps on the shoulder to help create a deterrent against their costumed supermen. Their U-Men.

With the fate of Mother Russia hanging by a mere, burning thread, he helps to rally those darker things to our side. Where the People's Protectors work in the light, he dwells within the shadows. And together, these armies of day and night push the Germans back, all the way to Berlin!

Victory is had, but now our other wartime allies are to become our peacetime enemies. Stalin understands this, and knows that we must not rest. So when it is decided to form a separate organization for superior soviets and People's Protectors, rather than shuffling them back into the ball with our spies and counter-spies, our Mikhail Afanasyevich is given the job. 

So the group is made. SQUASH is its name, as you well know. And it spends many, many years bedeviling the forces of Imperialism, Capitalism, Fascism, and anything else that stands against the goals of the Soviet Union. To do this they use science, but a science so black and perverted -- so arcane -- that it may as well be dark magic for all we know.

But never, ever say that to this man who runs this great and secret show. If you are lucky, you will merely disappear. 

If not? Well, they say this dark science requires sacrifice to achieve its goals. And if there is one thing Mother Russia has been good at doing, it is finding many people to sacrifice. Many, many people.

And, thanks to Stalin and his paranoia, Bulgakov had many, many people to work with. 

One last fact that we know for certain? Joseph Stalin died in 1953, just before the KGB was created. Many things were swept out along with Stalin, himself, and the KGB was quite happy to do the dusting. 

But for all the complaining and whispering about what Bulgakov had gotten up to, down in his dark cellar where he ran SQUASH? Not a single person spoke against him. No one even thought to make him disappear, himself. It is almost as if he had some sort of assurance? 

But, of course, no one will speak of this. And I think by now you know why. 

(Recorded conversation with Boris Yeltsin, circa 1987) 

* * *
The massive, light grey concrete room behind the black door is domed, so as to amplify and collect all sound. Even the smallest of shuffles from the other side can be heard with total clarity. And so all the quiet conversations going on within it swirl and congeal into one larger dialogue -- an endless, droning susurus of human insect noise.

And this is why they call it The Uley: the Beehive.

Every inch of its walls is covered in mathematical formulas and equations, so long and sprawling that they can only be described as arcane. Dozens of teams of dark-suited men go from section to section, crawling up ladders and getting down on their hands and knees to manually triple-check the work of the other teams. All this to be absolutely certain that nothing is even slightly amiss.

In its center is a stark, large dais: one designed to rise up to where the sound truly converges. On top of it is what may be a massive computer surrounded by pulsing, live, lit-up cables, or perhaps a strange garden of phosphorescent, exotic plants. Perhaps both.

And on the floor, arranged in a great geometric design, are people. 

There are hundreds of men and women, here, all stripped to their boring Soviet underwear -- bound tight, but not gagged. Each one stares into space as if drugged, and doesn't even care to struggle against their bonds. And each one has a small, grey box strapped to the back of their head, with an aerial raised up to the ceiling.

Comrade Sharik has to carefully navigate this design, pushing Colonel Bulgakov's wheelchair through the labyrinth of flesh. It takes some time to get to the center, where the senior thaumathematician awaits his leader.

"We are close to complete, Colonel," the man says, handing over the final checklist to Sharik, along with a pen: "We estimate being well ahead of schedule. We will solve this equation at Midnight, as specified."

"Excellent, excellent," Bulgakov says, watching with his one good eye as Sharik turns the pages for him -- not too fast, but never daring to go too slow -- "This is to be our biggest solution ever, Comrade Doctor Rokk. With it, we will win the war of ideas with the West. We will take the one thing they cling to and destroy it, giving them no illusions to hide behind any longer."

"What's that, Colonel?" Sharik asks, having not really been told the finer details, yet.

"Hope, Comrade Sharik," Bulgakov sneers, casting a sickly eye over the last page of the checklist: "We will barter with the ultraterrestrials we contact tonight -- the beings known as the Supreme Six. They shall give us what we desire, and then we will use those things to destroy their hope. To shatter their belief that their decadent, imperialist ways can bring them anything but horror and misery.

"And that will bring them to us at last."

With that, the Colonel lapses into a shaking fit of grating, black laughter -- one that echoes all around the Beehive and back again.

(SPYGOD is listening to Little Russian (Tchaikovsky) and having a Hrenovuha, because !@#$ you.

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