"They are not supermen at all. They are men with feet of clay which extend almost all the way up to their brains"
Edwin O. Reischauer, former U.S. ambassador to Japan (1967)
* * *
The White House
"Well, SPYGOD, you have to understand, here..." President Nixon stammers, doing his best not to melt under the gaze of the head of the COMPANY.
"What, Mr. President?" SPYGOD says, reaching into the box of cigars on the man's desk and taking one before he or his various advisers can say anything.
"Well, I know you've been doing a good job trying to keep this, well, this... problem out of the public eye."
"That we have, yes," he replies, using what might be a pocket-sized flamethrower to light it up: "Sir."
"And I know there's been some close calls. Some really (EXPLETIVE) close close calls."
"That's for !@#$ sure. Sir."
"I mean, that thing in Massachusetts, with the (EXPLETIVE) fish people? That was pretty (EXPLETIVE) scary for a while, there."
"It wasn't a problem," SPYGOD says, blowing smoke rings at the Vice President: "We had those !@#$ers on the run before you could say 'Cthulhu Ftaghn'"
"Gesundheit," Kissinger says.
"!@#$ you, wave-head," SPYGOD snorts: "Go make yourself useful and get me and the President a drink?"
"I have had about enough of this!" the man says, stomping his feet and stepping forward.
"And I've !@#$ing had about enough of you," SPYGOD says, putting one hand up in front of the man's face: "All of you, quite !@#$ing frankly. You're like flies on !@#$ in here. Now, I think me and the President should have a quiet drink, and the rest of you should !@#$ off."
"Henry, just do as he says," the President says. He's pale and sweaty and clearly has something on his mind, and is therefore willing to have his 'flies' swatted down by his now-openly-gay superspy chief.
"A proper drink, Henry," SPYGOD says, pointing to the bust of Thomas Jefferson, over by the wall: "I think Jack left his special green bottle in there as a settling-in present. Let's get good and !@#$ing toasty."
And as his flummoxed guru goes to bring a bottle of the hard stuff from the secret stash under the bust, the President gestures for SPYGOD to sit down -- if only so he doesn't have to look up at him -- and waves the others out.
"Do you have to talk to my people like that?" the President asks after they've had a few sips of whatever was in the green bottle: "It's just so... so (EXPLETIVE) emasculating, frankly."
"Mr. President, you are !@#$ing surrounded by clowns and idiots," SPYGOD says, swilling his drink around in the glass: "It is my fervent belief that they are going to be the !@#$ing ruin of you, one day. You'd be better off without them. Especially that mustachioed douche-bag you've got breaking into campaign headquarters on the sly."
"Oh," the President mumbles: "I didn't know... you knew... about that."
"SPYGOD knows all, Mr. President," he says, raising the glass and downing it.
"Now, we can talk about what that !@#$ing means another time, Dick, " SPYGOD says, taking the green bottle and pouring himself another: "What I want to !@#$ing know is pretty simple. What the !@#$ did you want to talk to me about?"
"Well. Um. Yes."
"I know that you're working on what's been going on," the President says, leaning forward and letting his hands do most of the talking: "And I know you're working pretty (EXPLETIVE) hard on it."
"We covered that already, Dick."
"Yes, we did. Well, one thing we didn't cover is that, well, this is an election year."
"I noticed, Dick. Are you worried they're going to vote for the Democrat?"
"No, but I'm worried that the problem might impact my (EXPLETIVE) re-election chances. And that's why I was wondering if... well..."
"If well what?"
"Well, is there any chance you could... well, hurry it up?"
SPYGOD looks at the man, and scowls rather impressively. The President gulps audibly and is about to wave it off as a joke, but then the man abruptly rises out of his chair, and the President almost !@#$s himself.
"You mean you're asking me to get this all wrapped up as soon as possible, just so you don't have to worry about it come November?"
"Well, yes," the President says, swallowing hard: "If it wouldn't, um, be too much trouble, that is...?"
* * *
New York City
Jim Morrison can't stop laughing at that, and John just rolls his eyes and puts his head down on the bar: "!@#$ rotten drunk in the White House. Why can't the !@#$ bastards ever be sober?"
"Why can't you?" Dr. Krwi snorts, clearly disgusted at the direction this planning session has taken. Bad enough they met at this horrible, dark, and dingy bar that seems to be full of mad ghosts and evil spirits.
"'A cup of wine that’s brisk and fine, and drink unto the leman mine, and a merry heart lives long-a...'" the Hell Blazer says from his darkened corner.
"'Fill the cup and let it come, I’ll pledge you a mile to the bottom,'" Morrison finishes, raising a glass to the revenant.
"What are you two talking about?" Krwi sighs.
"That would be old King Henry," John warbles, getting another drink: "The Fourth, in fact. !@#$ old fool."
"But it ended well," Morrison points out, having another drink.
"So what did you tell him?" Doctor Power asks, trying to wave off the literary discussion: "Did you actually say yes?"
"I did, yes," SPYGOD says. And that hushes everyone up.
"Are you serious?" Krwi says: "You had no right to tell him anything on our behalf!"
"Kind of ballsy, (REDACTED)" Morrison admits.
"I have to agree," Doctor Power says: "This isn't the sort of thing you can rush-"
"Isn't it?" SPYGOD says, standing up and fixing himself a drink: "Gentlemen, let's !@#$ing consider something. We got together in May of '66, in the face of this !@#$ thing, and since then we've been !@#$ing running ourselves !@#$ing ragged trying to play catch-up."
"I think we all know that," Doctor Power insists: "There are six of those things at work in the world. It's hard for us to chase after them as two-person teams."
"Yeah, but that's just it," SPYGOD insists: "We chase after them when they !@#$ing show up, and then we don't try and turn the !@#$ tables on them. It's all been react, and not act."
"I had noticed, yes," the Hell Blazer says, getting up and walking into the light: "Almost as if we were content to wipe blood from the spoiled wound while leaving the infection unanswered."
"Something you're quite familiar with," Krwi mutters.
"The ghost biker's got himself a !@#$ point," John says, getting his head up off the bar: "We can't let this go too !@#$ long. Sooner or later they're going to realize they can't get past us. Can't win by those !@#$ rules."
"And when they do, who's to say they won't just topple the !@#$ board?" SPYGOD says, pounding his drink: "Bring the whole !@#$ing thing crashing the !@#$ down?"
"I'm surprised they haven't already," the walking corpse says, reaching for a forgotten bottle behind the bar: "Hell is not a patient taskmaster, gentlemen. They expect progress to be made. They desire spiritual profit. And if the Supreme Six can't have the world well..."
"They might burn it," Morrison finishes, nodding serenely: "'Come on, baby, light my fire.'"
"And that's about the shape of it," John says, knocking back another drink.
Doctor Power shakes his head: "I don't... I mean, how could that happen? How could that be allowed to happen?"
"Heaven has long since given up on our world," Krwi sighs: "No more floods, no more saviors. We stand or fall only by our own actions. And if a crazed fool in a country that has abandoned Christ has decided to bring the likes of them into the world, then that is all the answer that God needs."
There's a silence, then, broken only when John coughs into his hand: "So, I guess you got the !@#$ letter, then?"
"What letter?" Krwi asks.
"This letter," SPYGOD says, pulling a postcard from his uniform and fnapping it down on the table. It's from Tahiti, supposedly, and written in what appears to be bad cursive. But if it's held at a certain angle, the scrawls turn out to be chopped-up Cyrillic.
"What does it say?" Morrison says: "I can barely read my own handwriting, man."
"Well, John?" SPYGOD asks, handing his over: "They sent it to me, but it had your name on it. So they were clearly expecting me to !@#$ing give it to you, clearly."
"That'd be right," John nods, taking it and giving it a look: "Classic !@#$ case of somewhat-skullduggered misdirection. Typical Russian diversion. Make a simple thing look complicated, get us going the wrong way."
"I'm glad someone understands this," the Hell Blazer says: "But for those of us who aren't spies...?"
"It's a cypher, at least on the surface," SPYGOD says: "It took my boys a while to decode it, and I'm not !@#$ing explaining how they cracked it, because it gave me a !@#$ing headache, and you know that's saying something."
"It usually is," Krwi snorts: "Please get to the point, friend."
"What it says is 'We have a common enemy, now. I will prepare the way, but you must enter. Remember symmetry or all is lost. B.'"
"Bulgakov," SPYGOD answers: "Our !@#$ing idiot friend who called the Supreme Six up in the first place."
"What does this mean?" Doctor Power says: "Is he wanting us to stop them?"
"That's what I think," SPYGOD replies: "And things I've heard from inside the Kremlin back it up. Apparently SQUASH is a !@#$ing mess, right now. What they thought was a sure thing now looks like the bad !@#$ing deal it always was."
"So the scene's gone bad, and they want us to sweep up?" Morrison says, chuckling: "Wow. I take back what I said, (REDACTED) -- that's ballsy."
"But what does he mean by preparing the way?" Hell Blazer asks.
"And I think I know what he means by symmetry, but I'd want to be sure," Doctor Power says.
"Well, why don't we !@#$ing ask him?" SPYGOD says, pointing to the card.
"How?" Morrison asks, miming picking up a phone and crooning: "'Long Distance information...give me Moscow, pretty please?'"
"That would be amusing if we had anything better to go on," the Hell Blazer sighs.
"That's just it. We do." SPYGOD insists: "Look at the postcard. Really !@#$ing look at it. Especially you, English."
The Revenant does, and then takes a quick step back, startled. Krwi jumps to his feet and pulls both guns, pointing them at the postcard. And when Morrison sees what they see, he starts laughing as though he just heard the funniest joke in the world.
"SPYGOD, do you realize what you've done?" Doctor Power says, stepping back and casting a protective hex.
"I sure as !@#$ do, Eben," SPYGOD says, pouring himself another drink: "And that's why I said we should meet here, tonight. Because if anything went bad, well, no one's going to !@#$ing miss this place."
"That's putting it mildly," the Revenant says: "Untangling this sort of thing could blow up half the block if we're not careful. One doesn't just rewind someone on a whim."
"So I was right?" Morrison asks, looking at the card again: "That is someone trapped in that card?"
"I guess you might call it an exquisite corpse," John intones: "Not exactly what Marcel Duchamp had in mind-"
"We should burn it," Krwi hisses: "Whatever they sent us can do us no good-"
"If they wanted to !@#$ing kill us, I don't think they'd choose this method," SPYGOD says: "I say we open it up and see what they say."
"It's... I don't know," Doctor Power says: "Here? Under these conditions?"
"Well, !@#$," John says, putting the postcard down: "How about we all stop pointing guns and fingers at me for a !@#$ minute? Let a man figure out how to finish someone else's !@#$ Operation."
"Sure thing," Morrison says, getting up, grabbing the bottle he's been working on all night, and sauntering to the door: "Come on, folks. Let the man do his thing."
"You can't be serious," Krwi says: "It's... ungodly! Do you understand what they've done?"
"I understand that too many writers ruin the song," Morrison replies, winking: "(REDACTED)? Let's go shoot the moon, huh?"
SPYGOD nods, and, looking to the others, gestures to the door: "We'll be close if you need help, John."
"Yeah, best help you could be is halfway down the !@#$ street," the Operator says, looking at the butchered writing on the postcard and wondering how he's going to untangle it: "But while you're down there? Bring back the first full newspaper you find. And a decent cup of coffee."
"Cream?" SPYGOD asks, winking.
"Go !@#$ yourself," John says, waving him off. And then he's all alone in the room with the bottles, the postcard, and the exquisite corpse someone's sent in the mail.
He inhales, and then exhales. He blinks a few times. Takes a swig of something strong and nasty he doesn't know the name of, and doesn't care to.
And then, once he knows the others are far enough away, he begins to Operate.
* * *
"You really can't be leaving this up to him," Krwi sighs as they head back to the Black Rat, wishing his cup of coffee was something a lot stronger.
"We're not," Doctor Power says, ensuring that they all look like normal people to any onlookers: "He might be driving the car, but we're going to help him every step of the way."
"Too many writers..." Morrison reminds him, finding it amusing to be able to walk down a New York City street late and night and not be recognized.
"It would be better to let him handle it, I think," Hell Blazer says, smelling the coffee and feeling a faint stirring of regret: "There's a reason it was sent to him. Our enemy knows us. This was tailor-made for his unique skills. To interfere too much may cause... complications."
"English has it !@#$ing right," SPYGOD adds in, holding the extra cup of coffee with some care: "And those complications will !@#$ up the whole block if they go off in his face. So why don't we just-"
An explosion shakes the world around them. Someone up ahead screams as his body is engulfed in flame. Then another, and another, until the entire world around them is full of shrieking, burning people, all fleeing the all-consuming pain and horror. Men and women who, seconds earlier, were just out for an evening on the worse side of town have now become human torches.
And each new person they pass joins them in the fire.
"What the !@#$ing !@#$?" SPYGOD screams, dropping the coffee and wondering which gun to use: "What the !@#$ is going on here?"
"Fireflies," the Hell Blazer says, his hands catching fire as he prepares for battle: "Demons of the Flame-Plague pits. The enemy is near. They must know."
"Well, so much for surprise," Doctor Power shouts above the conflagration, preparing to cast a counter-spell: "Krwi! You and Hell Blazer, find what's responsible for this! Morrison! Help me contain it! SPYGOD-"
But SPYGOD is already moving, shooting the stricken with the biggest, fastest gun he can bring to bear. Each shot he fires drops one of the running, screaming victims in his or her tracks, ensuring the fire plague goes no further until the magicians can put up a barrier.
And while it takes all of Doctor Power's concentration to create a shield large enough to contain the victims -- and with it the plague -- the look on SPYGOD's face as he executes victim after victim haunts him to the core.
* * *
Inside the Black Rat-
-the man dragged in a thick package of newly-printed all this week in the variety All mysteries revealed Voland tonight and a theater usher which announced in large variety a special act large red letters on a green background
BLACK MAGIC ALL MYSTERIES REVEALED
Operating's the tough thing the only thing large hand on the window pushing open the world and all in it rearranging the pieces the board the rules themselves Operating the doctor says he might pull through Operating the doctor says he has no chance Operating the doctor said it go any which way it wants to Operating is the key the doctor's a !@#$ drunk wants booze and junk and boys from Tangier in his bed the doctor the Operator the man who knows what the !@#$ is going on here but doesn't have to tell you he's the Operator !@#$ it and he will do any thing any where any time if that's what he has to
ALL MYSTERIES REVEALED BLACK MAGIC
"The more I talk to you,' said Woland kindly, ' the more convinced I am that you are very intelligent. Let me reassure you. He is utterly impartial and is equally sympathetic to the people fighting on either side. Consequently the outcome is always the same for both sides."
"comE froM thE !@#$ wherE diD thaT?" John thinks, moving the pieces around. Bit by bit the man unravels the puzzle before him. Words are power, here. Words making a world that only was ever seen by one man. This B fellow, the failed writer become some kind of !@#$ vampire. Like bum boys sitting on the steps of the bathhouses, waiting for the next trick that might or might not come, tonight, only he went and got the whole !@#$ bathhouse before he knew what the !@#$ he was doing. And now all he can do is hang the !@#$ on while the world rearranges itself around him.
ALL REVEALED BLACK MYSTERIES MAGIC
Pieces of a man, unraveling. The word is "skin" and there is flesh. The word is "bone" and there is a structure. The word is "penis." The word is "hair." The word is "guts."
"The word is murder, old boss."
Piece by piece, skin by skin, bone by bone, what was written becomes unwritten. The poem is unscrambled. Words is words, parts is words, parts is Operated on.
"Doctor, I need you."
Operating under the rules and beside the rules. Moving things here and there. Making black white and back again. Up is down. Here is there. Good and Evil and Right and Wrong don't factor in, here. Just words. And words are made to be Operated on-
-Operated made are on to be And
MYSTERIES ALL REVEALED BLACK
* * *
"Man Jesus," John says, collapsing on the floor, feeling the room come back together around him.
Outside he can hear people screaming, through the sound is getting smaller and smaller. He thinks something really !@#$ bad must have just happened, though he really doesn't want to know.
He shudders and gets himself a hit of something strong. Then he remembers to pour another glass.
He's got company, after all.
"Name's John," he says to the naked, shivering, and flabby man that's sitting in a chair in front of him: "Just John. I'm an Operator."
"I'm... Sharik," the man says: "Colonel... Colonel Bulgakov sent me. Sent me to tell you... that... things..."
"You're here to get us in, aren't you?" John says, handing him the drink: "To wherever these Supreme Six are?"
"May Day," the man says, sipping the drink and making a face: "The Midnight before. Then, maybe, you have a chance. We have a chance."
"Well then," John says, hearing the others approach at last: "I guess we all got some planning to do, eh?
"Here's to your health, sonny."