Dear Mr. Carter,
The lands of Rus are now laid bare before us. As chaos seizes the former domains of the tsar, we may yet find profit in the situation. However, while the wonders of the ruski are great, those of the rossisski are still greater. Do not neglect them.
Time, however, is not on our side. Send all available employees to Russia immediately, for the situation may soon right itself.
The paper trembled in Carter's hands as he re-read it, keeping it at arm's length . The wordings of Dark's communications had a way of twisting and weaving like smoke, leaving their true meaning clear only after he had gotten whatever he wanted. It was unlikely to actually bit him, but it never hurt to play safe.
After reading and re-reading it, he remembered the other presence in the room. He looked up at the mouthless creature slouching in front of his desk. "Y-yes. Thank you. Tell Mr. Benlash we- that this will cover cost of the Golden Cradle," he said softly. The creature nodded and began to move what looked like hands. The space around it seemed to fold inward, and in a moment, it was gone.
A sharp line of sweat ran down Carter's back. Consciously willing his hand to be steady, he picked up the phone on his desk and began to dial. The phone on the other end gave three rings. The fourth ring was cut short, replaced by what sounded like ill-tempered mechanical bees on the other end.
Carter interrupted the buzzing. "It's Dark. He's sent a letter…"
The wire went silent. A hesitant voice came from the other side.
"No I'm not going to tell you over the phone. Get over here now." The line went dead. Carter looked at the mouthpiece with some distaste before replacing it on the hook.
Fifteen minutes later, there was a sharp rap at the door.
"Open up Carter, it's me!" came a voice from the other side. Carter lifted himself from the chair and waddled to the door. As he opened it, Marshall half pushed himself in. The thin wisps of what had once been a thick head of hair, usually exactingly combed, were in disarray. As Marshall ran his tongue over his thin lips. His bulbous eyes darted nervously around the room. Like a liver-spotted iguana, Carter said to himself.
"Please, have a seat," he said to Marshall.
Marshall coiled into the seat. He stared at the paper on Carter's desk, tilting away from it slightly. Carter sank into the chair behind the desk. For a moment, they were silent, their eyes fixed upon the letter.
"What does he want now?" Marshall asked, looking to Carter. Carter leaned over and handed the paper to Marshall. After a moment's hesitation, Marshall snatched the letter and and began to read. When he was done, his eyes flicked up from the paper. "Russia? Really?"
Carter nodded. "I can only assume. He's not known for his jokes."
Marshall replaced the letter on the desk. He absently massaged his spotty scalp.
"Christ, and he says that time is limited." He paused, trying to remember something. "We've got no grounding in Russia. We never have. Come to think of it, Dark's never said anything about Russia before."
Carter nodded. That wasn't entirely true, but it was near enough. For a moment, the men sat in quiet.
Carter leaned in. "Why do you suppose? All the secrecy, I mean? It's not the political situation. It's been unstable enough for months; we could land an entire platoon in Petersburg and no one would stop us."
"Who knows? He's as inscrutable as a Chinaman. Still, we're where we are because we listen to the damn fool, for all his eccentricities."
"Right. Anyway, I've been thinking about people we could send. I've got a list. There are one or two others that could be added, but these are the most reliable," Carter murmured as he picked up a piece of paper from the desk. He leaned over to Marshall. Marshall half-stood and took the piece of paper.
Before Marshall looked at the list, Carter already knew what was going to happen. Marshall looked over the list for a barely a second before looking up again.
"Carter," he said slowly, over-annunciating every syllable, "Where is the second page?"
Marshall's voice rose in volume as he spoke. "Please tell me, Carter, that we have more than ten people for all of Russia.The English and Americans will have least a hundred! Even Crowley and Blatavsky, for all of their mystical horseshit will have at least a few dozen!"
Carter took in a deep breath. Of course Marshall would say something so god-damn shortsighted. It was like they said: amateurs studied tactics, while experts studied logistics.
"This is what we have," he said slowly. "They're people that can be trusted and all with considerable talent. Besides, you're forgetting something we have and they don't: the Library. Crowley and the Russian were both part of the Hand, back in the day. As such, they and their associates can't even sense a Way anymore. The Americans wouldn't know the Library if it bit them, and the British are too paranoid to go near it. Dark, and by extension, we, are in Good Standing. I'll admit that it's not an ideal situation, but it's a great deal better than you make it out to be." He put the list on the table and ran a hand over it.
Marshall sighed. "Fine, fine. I'll have Jacobson and the others start looking for Ways into Russia. They can look over any catalogs of merchandise there as well. Myths and hagiographies and whatnot. If I can't get a night's rest, then neither will they." Marshall got out of the chair and turned to leave.
"Kharasho. I'll call up everyone on the list. By tomorrow evening, we should have enough to at least begin."
Marshall muttered something as he left. A few minutes later, Carter heard shouting from down the hall. No doubt a pleasant conversation with Jacobson on the telephone. Satisfied Marshall was as perturbed as he had been, Carter set to work.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Grankin groaned as the telephone rang. His bedmate shifted. At this time of night, there was only one person it could be.
He plucked the mouthpiece from its latch and picked up the phone. The speaker on the other end said seven words. Vladimir got out of bed and was fully dressed within two minutes. After pausing to kiss the orange-skinned man in the bed, he dashed out the waiting car outside.
Bronislav Davidovich Kowalski suppressed a yelp as the chilly hand passed into his thoughts. It was just seven words this time, but the dizziness hit him just the same. He knew what he had to do. The man opposite him continued to speak in Polish about the terms that some gang in Chicago would accept for something or other. It wasn't important now.
Bronislav rose unsteadily to his feet, his head spinning. Making his apologies, Bronislav left the man muttering in Yiddish. Steadying himself against a wall, he opened a broom closet and found himself in North London.
Anne Borisevna Vitayeva sipped the tea, feeling the heat of the midday suns pour over her. Even a hundred thousand divergent worlds away, it was still important to enjoy things in a proper, civilized manner. She had put enough distance between herself and the hive that she could at least enjoy a proper tea time before setting out again.
The mechanical bird squawked in its tree, its voice hard and hollow. Suddenly, it spat out seven words. Anne frowned. So much for enjoying tea. She set the tea on the red grass and gathered up her things. A bead of sweat rose from her forehead and ran over the giant black eyepatch over her right eye.
She instinctively flicked it away as she fumbled for the glass flute. She played a short tune and, within a second, was facing a gaping hole between worlds. She stepped in.
Over a million miles and a dozen parallel worlds away, Carter reached out to the other available agents. Within two hours of Dark's letter, eight of the listed agents were in London, with another two en route.
As Carter looked over the preliminary plans he had compiled, the doubt and fear inside of him was swept away. Certainly, plans might fall through and things might not work out as planned. But there was a plan. He felt a hum of energy in his chest, the feeling he got when there was new money to be made, new things to be had.
Russia was older than God, and contained dark wonders of ancient times. Wonders that the wealthy and cultured would appreciate and would buy for repulsive sums of money and favors. And whether it was the favors of Lord So-And-So, or the finger of a living saint, the important thing was that it would be his.
Many thousands of miles away, while Carter felt the warm glow of greed inside of him, Sergei cursed as the shovel struck another yet another rock. Stupid rocks. Stupid hole they were digging. Stupid city in the middle of stupid nowhere. He looked at the bodies splayed in a ragged line. Stupid family. He stuck his shovel in the dirt and wiped his brow with the back of his hand. Simeon glared at him.
"Get back to work. The sooner we dig, the sooner we can go," he said to Sergei. Sergei cursed under his breath and began to dig again. Within a few minutes, the pit was complete. One by one, the bodies were dumped in, two men to a body.
Sergei was stuck with the youngest girl, beautiful but for the bullet holes. He took her arms, while Kiril took her legs. They picked her up and slung her into the ditch. Sergei tried not to look at face.
The father was last to go in. No one had bothered to close his eyes. He stared up into the morning sky, a look of permanent shock on his face. Boris and Yosef dumped him in.
The men gathered around the mass grave, looking over the bodies. "Should we say a prayer for them?" someone said.
Mikhael leaned in. "Yeah. Burn in hell, you fuck! My aunt was there on Bloody Sunday!" The others joined in the cursing, and for a moment the country night was alive with oaths and swears.
Sergei spat on the man's corpse. None of his family had died by the old man's order, nor did he particularly care for all this talk about world revolution. But this was likely his only chance to do something like this. A schoolboy part of his brain lit up with pleasure as the gob landed on the man's beard.
The others joined in, and soon the man's shocked face was covered in spit and phlegm. Someone pointed out that it was almost sunrise and that had best hurry. Sergei took a shovelful of dirt and dumped it onto the old man's face. With that, the burial of the former Emperor and Autocrat of All of the Russias, Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov, began.