As we stated in the teaser yesterday, today we begin the bridging ‘meta’ series between The Home Front — the era of Mystery Men up through the second World War and its immediate aftermath (specifically capping around 1950, if this post is any judge, though “My White Plume” is a letter written in 1952, so take these for whatever they are) — and The Age of Heroic Intent, which launches with the first appearance of the Goldfish in 1989. This bridging series is called Project Corrigendum.
A corrigendum, for those playing along at home, is a correction to the record that needs to be made — generally referring to corrections in print materials. It the world of RPGs and other games, we’d use the term errata this way, back when I was active in RPG development. When something goes out to press and gets sent out, and you discover mistakes in those materials… those are corrigenda.
In the case of Project Corrigendum… the error being corrected is simple. According to all sorts of media and historical accounts, there were super human beings who fought during World War II and afterward. As the United States slid into the Cold War and the Korean Conflict, superhuman assets were of tremendous strategic importance… and reducing the information known about them was a military, counter-intelligence, and political priority.
That task fell to a new agency, formed during the early, turbulent years of the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1950, the CIA was still young… and had racked up an impressive series of ‘failures of intelligence’ from the point of view of civilians. They’d continued predicting Russia would be ‘years away’ from a tactical nuclear capability after Russia had already detonated nuclear weapons, for example. And they found out about the invasion of South Korea… well, more or less on the news while it was happening. In a world of change, a lack of intelligence was deadly. The CIA needed to be rebuilt and reformed.
But in the world of 023SG, the spread of superhuman abilities added an entirely new and even less predictable wrinkle to the whole affair. After all, in the war the Allied navy was supported by a young woman capable of throwing waves the size of buildings against enemy ships, while an armored flying tank blew up tank columns in Europe and another man ran over a hundred miles an hour over battlefields.
As of 1950… the United States had a significant advantage in the arena of superhumanity. Having lost their atomic lead… the U.S. couldn’t afford to lose their superhuman advantage as well. And that meant changing the record — making fact into myth, and shrouding the men and women who could lift cars over their head and fly through the air in a new level of mystery and disinformation.
But before that process could begin, it would need to be organized. Agents recruited and trained. Assets moved into place. Intelligence gathered. And in 1950, the CIA was in no position to do any of that.
But at least one CIA agent was. All she needed, really, was unlimited funding… and the approval of her superior. And she certainly didn’t think of the Director of Central Intelligence was her superior in any way. She needed his boss.
You didn’t need to be a spy to know that boss lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
It’s always fun to put “Harry S. Truman” in your character tags.
Notes and acknowledgements — particularly to the original Superguy roots of all of this — will follow in comments. Thanks, and please enjoy.
August 11, 1950
The White House
She was a bombshell—a real looker. Too hot by half and too cool for school. Her hair was so brunette it was practically blue, her legs went sky high and any college professor would want to study her body of literature. That was true when she was walking down Broadway in New York, the Champs-Élysées in Paris, Skid Row in the City of Angels, or the Nevsky Prospect in the city they called Leningrad these days. She looked equally comfortable in all those places—confident, head up, slight smile…. Where some snobs might project old money or breeding, this woman immediately gave off the sense that she was better than you because she knew more, could do more, and was more successful at anything either of you might try. It was an attitude born of experience, much to the chagrin of almost anyone who went head to head against her.
Today she wasn’t walking through a slum, a shopping district, or a Soviet avenue. Today she was walking through the halls of the White House. And yet, every move suggested she wasn’t any more impressed by these storied walls than she’d been by the cracked sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue. And as she passed by, every head turned to watch. They practically clicked like gears in a watch. Tic… tic… tic… drawn to her charisma, her amusement, or her legs, depending on who was looking.
She walked past Connelly, the President’s appointments secretary, without even acknowledging the thin faced man. Connelly’s head could be turned by more than her stockinged calf—there were oil men and shoe manufacturers and the like who’d figured out the man who made the President’s appointments wasn’t much used to being given nice things. It was a weak point in the President’s outer shell, and she didn’t have time for weak points. She did half-smile at Rose Conway—the President’s primary secretary, who’d followed him from the Vice Presidency and would likely follow him into machine gun fire if he asked.
“He’s in a meeting,” Rose said, smiling slightly herself.
“He is at that,” the brunette said, pushing into the Oval and swinging the door shut behind her. The President was startled but not cowed—he didn’t cow easily—standing smoothly as she walked straight to the desk. “Good afternoon, Mister President,” she said, her smile in full force.
The President’s meeting was apparently with Representative Brehm of Ohio. The thick faced man had jumped out of his seat, too. “What in the world— Harry, what kind of place are you running here.”
“Now Walter,” the brunette said, her smile twisting slightly. “You know full well that a President’s time is never guaranteed. How is that clerk of yours, anyhow? What’s her name—Craven? Oh yes, Emma Craven. Where does a girl like that even put her hands on a thousand dollars, do you imagine? Well, it’s understandable—money just turns up sometimes, falling out of any given filing cabinet… it’s like ants in the sugar bag, really.”
Brehm frowned, lip curling as he prepared a retort, before his color changed—paler, as her words set in. “I—”
The President was frowning as well. “I’m sorry, Walter. Sometimes people forget the basics and need to be reminded. Have you met our Miss Cordelia Anfoesegol? Beetle Smith absolutely despises her and won’t hesitate to tell you about it, but also won’t take most jobs unless she’s got a position too. What that says about the good General I’m not entirely sure.” He turned to Anfoesegol, frowning. “She doesn’t seem to think waiting rooms or chairs apply to her. I’m not inclined to encourage her.”
“And I’m not inclined to take meetings with anyone unless I can get the most use for my time out of them, Mister President. I’m certain the Honorable Mister Brehm understands that.” She turned to the Representative. “Right, Walter?”
“I… think we were pretty much done anyhow, Harry,” Brehm said tightly—still quite pale and clearly angry, but doing a bad job of pretending he wasn’t. “I wouldn’t want to hold Missus An…Andro—”
“Miss, actually. Miss Anfoesegol. But don’t worry—no one gets it on the first go-round.” She smiled sunnily. “And thank you so much for your understanding.”
The President had a slightly dark expression on his face, but nodded. “All right then, Walter. We’ll talk later.”
“Thank you, Mister President,” the Representative said, then made the barest of nods to Anfoesegol and retreated the field.
“I’m worried he’s not getting enough meat in his diet, Mister President,” Anfoesegol said, lightly. “Anemia’s no joke.”
“What in God’s name did you have on him, Cordelia?”
“This and that. I pay attention, listen to the wind. It’s why Ambassador Smith both hates and adores me.”
“He does more than that. You know I pigeonholed him to take over the Central Intelligence Agency—make some sense out of that damn morass… and that was before those dunderheads managed to miss the entire damn invasion of South Korea until it was in the past tense column!”
“I know a lot of things, Mister President.”
“Really? Why didn’t you warn us about Korea then?”
“Because I was elsewhere, which is why I’m here now. In this oh so modern world you have to look after priorities.”
“And something had a higher priority than the invasion of Seoul?”
“Oh, Mister President. So many things have a higher a priority than the invasion of Seoul. “
“People are dying, Miss Anfoesegol.”
“Yes they are, Mister President. All over the world, every day. In wars and squabbles and sickness. People die every day, and sometimes it’s because of the Communists and sometimes it’s not, and either way there’s plenty more important things than that. That’s why I’m here.”
“It’s also why Admiral Hillenkoetter wants to fire you. He’s wanted to fire you as long as he’s been the Director of Central Intelligence, which is almost as long as there’s been a Director of Central Intelligence.”
“During which time he didn’t just miss the Soviets preparing to test their atom bombs, he literally missed them blowing them up. Which is hardly a surprise. Hillenkoetter fundamentally doesn’t believe that a single agency can both gather intelligence and execute covert action, and as a result the CIA doesn’t do either particularly well.”
“I’m aware.” The President turned to look out the Portico windows. “That’s why I’m tapping Beetle Smith. And Beetle Smith is why you’ve kept your job dating back to the OSS despite both Smith and Hillenkoetter hating you.”
“None of which is particularly important to why I’m here.”
“When I tapped Beetle to take over as Director, he told me I should give you the job instead.” The President didn’t turn around as he spoke.
“Ambassador Smith’s quite perceptive.”
“You agree? You think you’d be better than General Walter Bedell Smith?”
“I don’t think any such thing, Mister President. I know it. He knows it. You should know it, and what’s more I think you do know it.” She paused. “But as I keep alluding to in this meeting, there are higher priorities at play than the CIA.”
The President finally turned to look at the woman. “So. It’s done, then.”
“It’s done, yes. The Exeter Project no longer exists. Everything they learned we know, and we are the only ones. Seventeen superhuman operatives have been neutralized, and four have been turned through a combination of factors.”
“And how exactly did you manage to do all of that?”
Anfoesegol smiled once more. “I can’t think of a single good reason I should answer that, for either of our sakes, Mister President.”
“How about ‘because the President told you to?’”
She shrugged. “That President needs deniability, now more than ever.”
“Deniability’s another way of saying cowardly, Miss Anfoesegol.”
“And honorable courage is another way of saying idiotic, Mister Truman. You’ve had scandals. You’ve lost the atomic lead we’ve held from the beginning. You have the Communists daring you to try and stop them on the Korean Peninsula, and they did it under your nose. You have several compromised staff members who are mostly guilty of naiveté which itself is shocking given how long you and Mister Roosevelt jointly held this office. I am aware ‘the buck stops here,’ but that doesn’t mean it should ever start. You don’t need to know how I accomplished my goals. If you knew how I accomplished my goals you would likely find fault with my methodology, my common sense, or my morality, and not one of those things matters so long as the job is completed.”
The President’s eyes narrowed, and he leaned forward, putting his hands on his desk. “I think every one of those things matters, Miss Anfoesegol.”
Anfoesegol’s smile grew slightly. “And so long as we don’t go into details you can go on thinking that, Mister President. Which is why I’m here.” She stepped forward, walking up to the other side of his desk. “There are more important things, and right now we aren’t looking after them at all. Admiral Hillenkoetter doesn’t think your Agency can handle both the passive and active sides of espionage. Ambassador Smith knows better… but is focused on the threats of the world the way it was. It’s not his fault. Soldiers always want to fight the last war.”
“So what, exactly, is the next war?”
“You know the answer, President Truman. Just like you knew the answer to the question of the atomic bomb.” She cocked her head to one side. “Do you remember the Wave swimming out into the Battle of Midway, Mister Truman? And do you remember her pulling the water up and around, until the Hiryū capsized? Do you remember that Life Magazine cover, taken by that suicidal photographer she hauled behind her on the surfboard, looking down on the Yamato as the water crashed towards its decks from above?”
“I’m a mite tired of your tone, Miss Anfoesegol.”
“Then I apologize. Of course you remember. And you remember Lieutenant Blockbuster obliterating tank columns from the air, and the Quick pulling rifles out of infantrymens’ hands.” She looked in the President’s eyes. “Do you think the Soviets remember them too?”
The President paused. “Of course they do, damn it,” he muttered. “That’s no excuse for—”
“Oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine, Mister President. We will maintain our standards of civility. I’m sure it will be years before they actually develop a functional atomic bomb.” She cocked her head, smiling. “Oh, sorry. That was the last go-around.”
“And some damnably dirty pool, Miss Anfoesegol.”
“It’s meant to be.” She stood back up. “For whatever reason… America has more people manifesting these abilities right now than anyone else in the world. Despite nearly three hundred and seventy million people in India, or five hundred and sixty million in China, far more Americans have shown these powers and abilities than anyone else. But it won’t last. The Exeter Project was a symptom. I promise you—the Soviets are trying to unlock the secret of superhumanity. So are the Asians. For Heaven’s sake, the French are trying to make replicable powered humans, Mister President. We must stay on top of this. We must disrupt or subvert any resources they manage to get. And we must develop the capacity for controllable, reproducible powered humans of our own.”
“And this is what you want to do instead of heading up the country’s Intelligence efforts?”
“Intelligence…” she shook her head. “Mister President, I obviously don’t need to remind you about our Atomic program. You know better than anyone about what we’ve gone through and what we—and you—had to decide during the war. But during the Manhattan Project… we had the best and brightest working on solving this issue. And for most, it was a monumental task, wherein we were literally going to break apart the stuff of matter into an explosion greater than thousands of tons of TNT. It fascinated and horrified them. But for a very small number of those scientists… they were excited because this incredibly powerful, destructive force would make a perfect trigger for a real bomb. Kilotons weren’t ambitious enough.”
“I know this, too. Earlier this year I authorized the development of that bomb.”
“I know. Teller and Von Neumann and the rest. And they’re working on it—working on an atom bomb shaped to implode hydrogen into a fusion explosion the world can’t begin to imagine. And I know they’re not talking about kilotons of dynamite any more, Mister President. They’re talking about megatons. Millions of tons of dynamite. That’s where that world is going. Well, that world is our world, Mister President. Ambassador Smith is going to take the Central Intelligence Agency to new heights—to all sides of Intelligence, whether active or investigatory. But that’s not enough in a world of people who fly, and explode, and sink Aircraft Carriers with their minds and a swimsuit. We need the hydrogen bomb of Intelligence. We need a Megaintelligence Bureau. It is the single most crucial priority in espionage today, and we are sleeping through it.
“And you need it without pesky things like bothering the President with what you’re doing?”
“Mister President, we need to protect American freedoms. We need to promote American values. We need to assure American superiority. And we need to spread American hegemony. Because if we don’t, then I absolutely promise you the Kremlin will, only their values and hegemony won’t be American. And we need to do that either with or against people who can lift tanks over their head. None of that can happen if we’re playing to the agendas of Congressional beancounters and Presidents who change every few years and bring their doctrines with them.”
“Then who exactly will provide oversight for your Megaintelligence Bureau?”
“We will. I will.”
“Provide oversight for yourself? You’re insane! And you really do think I’m stupid! That’s a recipe for the worst excesses! How do you expect to fight corruption—”
“Fight it? I’m going to recruit for it! Mister President, anyone can be turned with the right inducements. You lost your closest aide over a bribery scandal where the bribes were literally kitchen freezers. You’ve already pardoned two former United States Representatives after they were imprisoned for corruption!” She lifted her chin. “If you find a man who’s good at what he does, alongside all the picayune crap he’s wrapped around himself and skeletons he thinks he’s closeted… let him know what you know and imagine for himself what he can lose… and then show him all the wonders he can gain from working with you? You have him by the testicles for life. You control him. That’s oversight.”
“And who has your testicles for life?”
She half-smiled again. “Mister President, a Megaintelligence Bureau, operating on the fringe, can dig into this new world of mystery men and super guys and gals. We can make sure the powered are working for our nation’s aims and we can blunt those who work against us. All you have to do is let us do it… and if you don’t, then the next unexpected atom bomb will be a person walking through Megapolis Heights, bringing buildings down while bullets bounce off his skin and the Communists sit and wait for our surrender.”
“And you don’t think those mystery men will protect America without you? I don’t remember needing to ask them to stop Nazi spies, much less volunteer to help us win in Africa and the South Pacific.”
“Well, that is true. I’m sure they’ll gladly protect us. As a reaction, after who knows how much damage has been done, since they won’t know about it in advance. But that’ll be fine. After all, the South Koreans weren’t overly inconvenienced by the surprise attack from Pyongyang, were they?”
The President’s frown turned hard. “There’s a line between telling truth to power and being offensive, Miss Anfoesegol. You may have noticed passing it a few minutes ago.”
“Please, sir. Call me Cordelia.” She paused. “You know I’m right. You know this keeps happening. And you know you want to be in front of this, this time. You need this Megaintelligence Bureau, Mister Truman.”
There was a pause. The President turned, and rang a small bell. The door to the side opened, and Rose came in. “Yes, sir?”
“Please bring a coffee service in. I think Miss Anfoesegol and I have a lot more to discuss.”
“Yes sir, Mister President.”
Anfoesegol smiled a bit more as Rose left, taking a seat.
“You’re seriously intending to call this the ‘Megaintelligence Bureau?”
“That’s the worst agency name I’ve ever heard in my life.”
“I know. It’s absolutely perfect.”
“How could that be possible?”
“Because it describes our mission while being completely ridiculous—which means absolutely no one will believe it when they’re told about it.” She leaned back. “You find the most distinctive, most laudable and respectable name when you want the world to know you’re on the job and better than any of them. The Central Intelligence Agency. The Federal Bureau of Investigation. The name becomes the mystique. Not that our good Admiral Hillenkoetter hasn’t worked hard to destroy that mystique, but I have hopes for Ambassador Smith. He’s really quite capable.”
“So why would you pick a frankly stupid name?”
“Because no one would ever believe it, like I said. Rumors will fly, but then they’ll see they’re attributed to a government agency called the ‘Megaintelligence Bureau,’ they’ll decide it’s just a rumor or joke. It works better than you think. During the war my OSS kill squad was called the Understudy Whiffenpoofs. No failed missions, even though I know at least six times our operational details were intercepted.”
Truman shook his head. “This is insane. All right, if you’re going to be that secret with no oversight, how exactly are we going to authorize and fund you?”
“Same as always—set up a cover organization then bury yourself in it.”
“What cover organization?”
Anfoesegol looked delighted. “This is almost my favorite part. The Department of Operational Intelligence.”
There was another pause.
“You… intend to conceal a covert, undoubtedly illegal spy ring inside a public spy ring?!”
“Mm.” Anfoesegol smirked. “I don’t think we’re a ring, per se. Maybe a cabal? I’ll need to check the handbook.”
“If this has been a complete waste of my time—”
“I already told you, Mister President—you pick a name with mystique or panache, and let it carry your mission ahead of you. You pick a ridiculous name to make your agency’s existence unbelievable. But an agency like the ‘Department of Operational Intelligence?’ It’s worse than a bad name—it’s mediocre. It screams ‘archiving and compiling and analysis and accountancy’ and no one wants to discuss it. The D.O.I. isn’t about espionage—it’s clearly about shuffling papers for rubberstamping. But it can have branch offices essentially everywhere, which means being able to move pork into congressmens’ districts, and having an actual, entirely impressive bureau hidden inside of it? No one would ever buy that story. It would be like embedding Underwater Demolition Team operatives inside the Naval Observatory’s mailroom.”
“God damn stupid way to run a government.”
Anfoesegol shrugged. “It’s useful.”
“Why will the Republicans go for this ‘Department of Operat…’ whatever it was? I don’t even know how I’m going to sell it to my own party.”
“Oh, that I’m not worried about. It’ll pass—not overwhelmingly, not squeaking by—just business as usual.”
The President frowned slightly. “You sound very certain about that.”
“I’ve already told you. If you know a man’s shames and his desires, you have him by the testicles. They’ll pass it, in exactly the numbers you want.”
The President flushed slightly. “You’re literally talking about blackmailing Congress. To me. In the Oval Office. And you expect—”
“Ambassador Smith really does hate me, Mister President. To the point where he’s spoken of killing me before, purely out of the public good. But when you tried to refight the last war with your ersatz O.S.S. and the good, decent men you tapped to run it failed, he told you to get me. Yes. I will blackmail Congress. I will blackmail the Kremlin. I will sacrifice innocents and I will ruin honorable men in front of their children. And in the process I will protect American freedoms, promote American values, assure American superiority, and spread American hegemony, and literally ask for nothing but a free hand and a relatively modest government salary.”
Anfoesegol pulled a photograph out of her purse and set it on the President’s desk. It was of an attractive, smiling girl in a formless dress, sweater and kerchief. “This is a sixteen year old girl in Kirghizia. I talked to her for quite a few minutes. She’s a sweetheart. Kind to old people and animals. She believes in the Revolution. She believes in the five year plan. She believes in Stalin. She believes in her country and she believes in the evils of Capitalism.”
Anfoesegol took a second picture out, setting it in front of the President. “And… this is that same young woman holding her hand out and levitating a pond. Seriously. All the water in a pond. You can see the fish if you look close.” She looked at Truman. “When Captain Kōsaku Aruga looked up from the deck of the Yamato, and saw a wave taller than the Empire State Building breaking downward towards him, what do you think he thought about, Mister President? What do you think he said? Or did he say anything at all?”