“I think that scientific persons of the future
will scoff at scientific persons of the present.
They will scoff because scientific persons of
the present thought so many important things
Kurt Vonnegut -- "Welcome to the Monkey House" (1968)
* * *Moscow - The Beehive
April 27th, 1968
Colonel Bulgakov can't stop screaming.
He shouldn't be able to scream at all, as he no longer has lungs. He also has no legs or arms, either, as he is little more than an eviscerated, sexless trunk, writhing in a half-inch pool of demonic cat urine at the bottom of a large, dark grey, plastic tub.
But still, he screams. He's been screaming for days. And he'll keep screaming until the demon that did this to him finally relents.
Not that Voland is likely to do that. He seems to enjoy sitting in front of the spectacle he's made of the impetuous (and now treacherous) human who's summoned him. Indeed, he's done nothing but sit and watch the show since he realized what the cunning little fellow went and did while they weren't looking.
Nothing at all -- just like most of the five other demons that came through with him, almost two full years ago, have been doing, lately.
Voland looks from his chair at the others who are in this great domed room with him, and sighs over the screams of his victim, quite unhappy at what he sees. A small army of Thaumathematicians run this way and that, fulfilling the orders they were given some time ago. Another, somewhat-larger army of them stand in the wings, waiting for fresh orders or new tasks.
But the ones who would be giving it to them? The so-called Supreme Six they went to such great lengths to bring here?
Koroviev sits at a desk in his motley, coaxing sweet-sounding notes from the unfortunately-named, long wind instrument that someone gave him as a joke. He's supposed to be using that golden voice of his to mastermind the last stages of the undermining of Rome, but seems content to do nothing more than what he's already done. Which is considerable, to be certain, but nowhere near complete.
Azazello stands at his workbench, off on the other side of him, and tinkers with the same thing he's been tinkering with for the last month or so. He's supposedly working on the weapons that will let this pathetic human organization conquer the world in Hell's name, but making no real progress on the fire-throwers he'd promised them, a full year ago. Or anything else, for that matter.
Hella is not there, as usual. She's out in the world, making monsters one bite at a time, or rousing the darker things to wakefulness once more. But the more they call upon her to do specific things, in regards to the general plan, the less she deigns to respond. It's almost as if she resents being told what to do, and would rather burn the world all by herself.
Abaddon is nowhere to be seen, either, but then he was always one to !@#$ off for months at a time. Sometimes Voland thinks he understands the demon's part in their plans, but the rest of the time he thinks that even Abaddon has no idea what he's supposed to be doing.
(He's also fairly certain that Abaddon doesn't care, and never really did.)
And Behemoth? Oh, how the mighty have fallen! The cat that was once pure terror -- dealing death and pain with the most gleeful of sarcastic smiles-- is now merely content to sleep the days away, there on that AK-47 he used to fire at people at random. He snores, he farts, he occasionally turns over, and when he stirs to true motion it's only to eat, or else to burgle another bottle of vodka from somewhere.
In fact, when they learned what Bulgakov had done -- though they never quite learned why -- Voland had to practically threaten to send the fat pile of fur back to Hell just to get him to !@#$ on Bulgakov. Before this, the little !@#$ would have done it without having to be asked, and a whole lot worse
And what, then, of Voland? He cannot spare himself the criticism he would give to his fellows. Indeed, he bears a great deal of the blame for this, he feels.
Once upon a time, he would be moving amongst these lethargic layabouts and inspiring them to their higher calling, by word or by force. He would loudly remind them that they once had such delicious and grand designs for this world. He would urge them to recall the ages they languished on the other side of the Barrier, waiting for those choice moments when some mortal fool sought to bring them to Earth.
And then he would tantalize them with their ultimate goal. How they planned to use this corrupt human organization to its utmost, taking fear and horror to every corner of the globe. How they would destroy any sense its inhabitants might have that Heaven cared a whit for them, and leave them crawling in the weight of their own despair. How they would leave this world a blackened cinder that no amount of direct action from Heaven could hope to redeem, and reenter Hell as conquering heroes, the sound of their fanfares shaking the foundations.
He would inspire them with grand visions. He would cajole them with obscene promises. He would lash them apart with his tongue and his hands, and slap them rudely back together if he had to. He would call upon their loyalty, make them quake in fear, have them scrambling to please him, and complete their mission.
And then they would all go out and conquer together, as one, as intended...
But yet, all he can do is sit in this chair and watch as his others do the bare minimum to justify their being in this world. Even dealing with Bulgakov was more a chore than a gleeful, sick pleasure.
What is it, he wonders? What has gone wrong? How did they get to be like this? How did they go from having such concrete and grand ideas to merely going through the motions -- resting on old glories they constructed when they were newly within the world, but haven't truly cared to duplicate?
What is missing from the great and terrible magic that brought them here?
"You," he says, waving at the nearest Thaumathematician, wandering by with a stack of formulae in his hands.
"Yes?" the dark grey-suited man says, approaching him with more wonder than fear, in spite of what's happened to his former superior: "How can I help you, Comrade Voland?"
"What's your name?" Voland says, somewhat stung by the word 'Comrade.'
"It's Kuznetsov, Comrade. Pyotr Kuznetsov. Thaumathematician of the fourth rank."
"Comrade Kuznetsov," Voland says, bidding him approach closer: "I need to ask you what may seem a strange question."
"Well, of course, Comrade Voland."
"And I assure you that is is not a trick question with no correct answer. This is not a test, and I will not seek to harm you if I do not like what you say."
"I understand, Comrade Voland," the man says, his wonder perhaps fogging up his ability to sense any threat from all that: "Please ask me what you will."
"How do you see me?" Voland asks, leaning forward and putting his hands together: "What am I to you?"
"Do you mean physically or as a concept?" the man asks in return, putting a hand under his chin.
"Well, both, actually," Voland replies, glad he's asked someone who can think.
"Physically, you appear as a man," Kuznetsov answers after a moment, pacing back and forth a little: "Maybe in your late 40's. You are well groomed and well dressed. Your mustache... well, my old family photos had men with mustaches like that, but not nearly as grand."
"Do I remind you of anything?"
"Well, yes. You seem to me to be a man who should be in front of others, conducting an exhibition of some kind. Perhaps a magic show?"
Voland smiles a little at that, casting a glance at the ruined, screaming man in the tub on the floor: "And what am I, Thaumathematician Kuznetsov?"
"Why, you are an ultraterrestrial, Comrade Voland," the man says, smiling: "An intelligent, multi-dimensional mathematical construct. One of the greatest, just like your fellows!"
Voland blinks, recoiling a little: "An... ultraterrestrial?"
"Yes. It is our word for what you represent, here. Did the... um, late Colonel not tell you this?"
"No," Voland says, trying to maintain his composure: "No he did not."
"That seems a strange omission," Kuznetsov says, casting a quick glance at the 'late" Colonel in question.
"So I am not an evil spirit, in your way of thinking?" Voland continues: "Not a creature of the Lower Dark? Not a... demon?"
"A demon? Oh, Comrade Voland. You do yourself such an injustice."
"Well, you see, in less enlightened times, entities such as you and your fellows would be considered demons, or angels, or some other sort of being. You see, what people in ancient times thought to be magic was actually a higher kind of mathematics. It's just that they stumbled upon the final equations before they truly understood what they were doing, sort of like a total amateur at the game of chess being able to beat an opponent by making a few lucky, final moves when they inherit a long-running game from another player."
"Then..." Voland continues, getting up as slowly as possible: "Do you mean that... all this time, you've considered me and my allies to be... math problems? Is that it? Walking equations?"
"After a fashion," Kuznetsov replies, not sensing any menace from his interrogator: "Certain mathematical principles are so strong that they are able to intersect with our world at key angles. They can take shape and form, here, and bring the strength of their own plane down with them. Such things appear terrifying to the uneducated and bourgeoisie, and invoke ancient fears, but those who know the truth behind them are not truly afraid."
"I see," Voland says, leaning over the man and steeping his hands: "Do go on, Comrade Kuznetsov. This is... fascinating. Do you mean that I am not a thing to be feared?"
"Of course, Comrade Voland! Decadent Western magic may apply such silly, superstitious labels to things they don't truly understand. But you must remember that you are here, in the Soviet Union. We do not rely on religious dogma, here. We seek the truth behind the myths, and are stronger for it."
"Stronger," Voland says, putting his hands on the man's shoulders: "Truly?"
"Oh yes, Comrade Voland! We see you as you truly are! We rejoice in your true shape and form! And we are so happy to be working with you to bring about a World Revolution!"
Kuznetsov smiles and holds out his hands, as if he were experiencing rapture. And the look on his face is so beatific and pure that Voland cannot restrain himself a second longer.
So he takes his hands from the man's shoulders, places them on either side of the man's head, and drives his thumbs through his hope-filled eyes at the same time he pushes his palms together, cracking the man's skull as he goes.
"We are not mathematics, you simpering fool!" he bellows as the man screams and gibbers: "We are the stuff of which nightmares are made! We are hate and fear given shape and form! We are the things that make Angels fear to tread and cause God to weep!
"We are of Hell, little man!" he emphasizes as his palms finally touch, in the center of what used to be the Thaumathematician's skull: "And thank you for reminding me of that..."
The body falls, trailing blood and brain as it slumps to the floor. Voland stomps on the bloody, ruined skull with his foot, just because he can, and the sickening crunch made by what's left of it gives him a joy that he hasn't felt in ages -- not even when he was dealing with Bulgakov.
"Azazello!" he shouts as he walks from the bloody mess he's made: "Koroviev! I have just realized a thing."
"What is that?" Koroviev asks, putting the flute away, seemingly unmoved by the spectacle he just witnessed.
"I know why we have been so... lethargic in this place and time. Why we have failed in our mission, and failed one another. Why we have failed Hell."
"What might that !@#$ing be?" Azazello asks, putting his soldering iron down: "I thought it was the food, myself."
"It is the air, my friends," Voland says, raising his hands and whirling about: "The atmosphere of this place. It is filled to the brim with antiseptic twaddle. We are drowning in whitewashed metaphysics and sanitized murder.
"And that is because that fool that brought us here -- the one who shaped us in his mind -- has told these people that we are not demons."
Both the demons' jaws drop, and then they begin to become angry.
"All this time, we've been reflecting the lack of fear we've been feeling from these people," Voland reveals, gesturing to the thaumathematicians around the room, none of whom seem too concerned or perturbed by the gruesome murder they've just witnessed: "They've been brainwashed into thinking we're just some facet of higher mathematics. Call us demons? Oh no. That's unsophisticated. Backwards, even.
"We're... ultraterrestrials," he spits, his face contorting under the strain.
"What?" Azarello screams, his face getting as red as blood, his wall-eyed bulging.
"We're beyond good and evil in their book of maths, my friends. Just an equation made flesh, brought here to help them conquer the world. And their lack of faith in our true selves has been so complete that we haven't even been aware of it.
Azazello screams and smashes his workbench with his bare hands. Koroviev shrieks, making cracks in the floor. Both of them seem ready to destroy the planet, here and now.
"We must retake our heritage, my friends," Voland counsels, his face suddenly a riot of red, glowing lines: "We must show these simpering fools what they have summoned. We must bring them evil, and show them its meaning.
"And once we have killed them all, and their families, and their friends, and anyone else with any connection to this... Beehive," he spits the last out: "We must bring our friends back here. And when they are here, we will turn this entire city into a black pit of misery and terror."
"Yessssssssssssssss..." Koroviev hisses, his eyes shining behind his dark glasses.
"And we will use what we make here as the blueprint for what comes next! A cracked and dying planet where mothers strangle their babes to spare them the pain! Where children kill their parents to eat the flesh from their bones! An existence where hate is strength, fear is commonplace, and love is the greatest obscenity of all!
"We shall build a new Hell on this world, starting in this very spot!"
At that declaration, they all scream as one, and change into the forms they rarely show to mere mortals. Truly terrible visages that should only be seen by one another, and not the fragile human mind.
As if to underscore this, every single Thaumathematician in the room instantly goes incurably insane, and begins to scream, whimper, fall down in silence, or tear out their own eyes.
What happens next can best be described as a slaughter, but even that word fails to truly describe the carnage that ensues. The men and women of the Beehive to not merely die at the hands of their long-time guests: they are rendered -- violated in body and soul, roughly separated into still-living parts, re-made into newer, less-identifiable things, and then shoved up and down the clean, stone hallways, there to be mass-assembled into great and terrible new shapes and uses.
Throughout it all, Behemoth snores. It's not that he didn't hear, but frankly he doesn't care to do anything about it. He'll be told when he needs to do his thing, and until then, he thinks he's earned a good rest.
Especially for having to sleep with that screaming thing in the tub so close...
* * *
New York City
April 30th, 1968
Jim Morrison is the first to arrive at the rendezvous point, early in the afternoon. He just sort of walks into the abandoned subway terminal, there below the city, and sits down on a half-collapsed bench, like he was waiting for the next train. He should be wondering why the lights are still on, down here, but he figures it's all part of the show.
Doctor Power appears next, maybe a little miffed that Morrison beat him there. He puts down a large bag, and begins pulling a number of things out of it. Before long it's clear that the sheer number of things he's taking out should not have been able to fit in the bag, but that's sort of the way of these things.
Doctor Krwi comes next, muttering and cursing as he stomps down the steps. He's so loaded down with weapons and ammunition that it's a wonder he can move at all. He looks at the other two, and gives them a warm nod, which is returned by Morrison but not by Power, as he's too busy putting his candles and talismans around him.
By the time John gets there, the circle that Doctor Power's been feverishly assembling is almost complete, and seems to have a weird, off-color glow about it. The fellow just sort of wafts in, his film-grey coat snapping about his skinny ankles, and asks if anyone has a !@#$ light.
(Of course, Morrison does, and that eases the chill a bit.)
A heavily-armed, clearly-tipsy SPYGOD shows up next, tromping down a different set of stairs with a well-dressed Comrade Sharik in tow.
"I only wish we could have had more time at that club," the fat fellow says, adjusting his silk tie to match his exertions: "Those girls... oh, those girls."
"Yeah, well, that's capitalism for you," SPYGOD chuckles: "It tends to make you act a little more !@#$ing free."
"Freedom's completely free, my friend," Morrison says, waving them over: "Always has been."
"Not completely," SPYGOD replies, and the look on his face shows Morrison he's talking about a different kind of cost. One that the singer can well-understand, given his past (and future, he sometimes insists).
"Is this it?" Doctor Power says, looking at his watch: "It's two O'clock. That gives us just an hour to do what we need to do, over there."
"I'm not certain we need our other friend," Krwi says, wishing he'd joined SPYGOD for that final tour of New York's finest clubs, now: "We have six, do we not? Six against six is what we said."
"Well, that's the problem," Doctor Power says, looking over at Sharik: "He's not exactly making the trip with us..."
Krwi blinks, and looks to the others. The large Russian nods, and begins to take off his shirt. And SPYGOD holds up a finger to the vampire hunter's face before he can begin to protest.
"This is how it !@#$ing goes down, Krwi," he says: "The man was sent here to be our !@#$ing door. And the moment it closes, he's gone."
"This... it's obscene..." Krwi says, looking at the ground and grousing.
"It is a blessing, Comrade," Sharik says, stripping down as much as he can: "You do not know what I have been through, these years. What was done to me. What that monster Bulgakov has made of me. This is, perhaps, his idea of a reward for my years of service. Or maybe an apology of sorts, if he is capable of it."
"We go through him, and he goes back to the source," John warbles, pulling out a flask and having a pull, and then passing it on down: "Best !@#$ retirement plan I ever heard of."
"Better than mine," SPYGOD admits, having a swig.
"Oh, you have made this a wonderful thing, Comrade (REDACTED)," Sharik says, taking a swig and then letting Doctor Power lead him to the center of the magic circle, careful to step over the glowing, chalk lines: "You have shown me more life in the last few months than I have known in years. I am not sure where I am going, after this, but at least I can take those memories with me. And they will be happy ones."
"Got him laid a few times, I'm guessing?" John chuckles, taking his flask back and having another steady pull off it.
"Just a few," SPYGOD says, taking the flask from the man and all but draining it.
"You're a good man, (REDACTED)," Morrison says, snatching the flask and finishing it off.
"Yeah, but let's not tell the !@#$ing taxpayers about that. All that booze, coke, and hookers... they just might just !@#$ themselves."
"So if there is no sixth, then where are we?" Krwi says, trying to ignore the booze and talk of sex while in the presence of a fat, naked man: "Is the English corpse coming or not?"
As if to answer, there's a roar from the other end of the subway tunnel. An unearthly light blazes from the darkness, and seconds later the Hell Blazer is speeding towards them on his demonic motorcycle, the fires of Hell burning right beside and behind him.
The twisted, black machine hurtles past them, heading for the gaping hole on the other side of the station. But then, at the last second, the revenant jerks it up and off of the tracks, as if to take it up over the edge of the platform. He's airborne for just a second, and the moment its wheels leave the ground, the machine effectively splits in half, becoming a pair of black, metal wings that blaze with an unearthly fire.
("Show off," Krwi spits.)
"And so, we are six," the Hell Blazer says, touching down to the ground, at which point his wings slide back inside him, and he takes off his crossboned, black helmet, revealing his dried, ruined features.
"And not a !@#$ moment too soon," Doctor Power sighs, gesturing to the circle: "We need to get this working going, folks."
"That's !@#$ straight," SPYGOD says: "My sources tell me the Kremlin's up in arms over what's going on. Looks like our enemy went and got religion while we weren't !@#$ing looking."
"You think they know we're coming?" Krwi asks, wondering if he brought enough guns.
"It is nothing to do with us," the Hell Blazer says: "They have learned that something was holding them back. The fail-safe that our doorway's leader put into place has itself failed. And they have redoubled their efforts out of sheer embarassment."
"Strange how you know what the enemy is thinking..." Krwi insists.
"Can we argue about this later?" Doctor Power almost shouts: "It's time!"
"Always about time with you, isn't it?" John sighs, walking over to his spot in the working: "When are you going to realize that you're here because you're here, and time's got not a !@#$ thing to do with it?"
"About the same time he pulls the staff out of his !@#$hole," Morrison chuckles, heading to his spot: "Which, thankfully, is never."
"I really don't like knowing my future," Doctor Power scolds, ushering Doctor Krwi and the Hell Blazer to their spots. And by the time he's turned around to find him, SPYGOD's already snuck behind his back, and is standing right where he needs to be.
"Take it easy baby, take it as it comes," Morrison sings, dropping a wink at the man.
"It's not the future you should worry about, in here," Sharik says, his arms crossed over his ample stomach: "Bulgakov told me that this doorway must be one to the past, otherwise the Supreme Six will be able to see you coming."
"Oh, now he tells us," John sighs, tossing his cigarette away: "Is there any other !@#$ thing we ought to know about? Russian bum!@#$er sailors waiting at the great beyond, maybe?"
"You wish," SPYGOD chuckles, tipping the old man a wink.
"Any last words?" Doctor Power says: "This is the time to say them, and then I want you all to have blank minds."
"A blank mind is a dangerous thing," John says, lighting up another cigarette: "Let's just remember that, shall we?"
"It's been a !@#$ of a ride," Morrison says: "I'm glad I took it with you all."
"Same here," SPYGOD says: "And thank you for this, Sharik. I'll say a capitalist prayer for you."
"All of you have been excellent warriors against the darkness," Krwi admits, looking over at the Hell Blazer: "Even you, at times."
"Well, thank you for that," the revenant says, looking right at the vampire hunter: "I know we have had our differences, and not for minor reasons. But now that we are about to enter Hell, and I know that not all will return, I say that I would weep for you all... if I could."
"I think that's the best complement we're going to get out of English," SPYGOD says: "And on that note...?"
Doctor Power looks at Sharik: "This is probably going to hurt."
"I think it will be agony," Sharik admits, a strange look on his face.
"Would you like me to... make you sleep? I can do that, I think."
Sharik shakes his head: "My friend, the first time I died, I did not even feel it. I was robbed of it, and then brought back to life by Bulgalkov, to be his slave. So I think this time I would like to feel it. I would not want to get to wherever I'm going without having paid the full price, yes?"
"!@#$ of a thing to say in a !@#$ subway station," John says, nodding: "You're a brave man, Comrade Sharik. I'll put in a good word for you, next time we meet."
And with that, there's really nothing else to say.
"Everyone empty your minds," Doctor Power insists, stepping to his spot. The moment he does, the circle begins to glow even brighter. The candles blaze, the talismans begin to smoke, and the lines seem to catch fire.
And then, as he practiced for the last few weeks, Doctor Power begins to say the words that will unlock the spell that Colonel Bulgakov sewed into this poor man's very soul, knowing full well that it will kill him and throw them all into deadly danger.
The ritual goes very quickly -- perhaps a testament to their enemy's thaumathematical talents. They don't even have time to hear Sharik scream as his body is remolded into a grotesque, gaping door through space and time.
And then there is light. And then there is black.
(SPYGOD is listening to Tchaikovsky (Symphony no. 3) and having a Ballantine Ale)