006. Writing Group

Weston sat there and looked around the room and he thought how these people were a distillation of history, and how you might be able to read their output and see a certain section of deep time from a fictional construct that shaped a factual construct. The fake history these men were responsible for had a very definite shape, and what they were doing here would have a similar impact. They called this place The Speakeasy, and it was totally illegal; it contravened everything they had all agreed to when they signed the Official Secrets Act.

Suffolk sat down on one side of him, and Gloucester on the other. Forrester, still part of the circle, was the notional head of the table. Green stood up and handed out a broadside.

‘They’re starting to move from a purely monitoring stance to a proactive removal of trouble sources.’

‘You’ve seen Blue Pens?’

‘I’ve seen a guy.’

‘You’ve seen a guy, Weston?’

‘Yes, Green. He came to warn me off saying anything further.’

‘Further? Meaning you said something?’

‘Meaning I said something.’

‘You’re lucky you’re not dead.’

‘Yeah, I might not be able to come to these.’

‘Funny. I heard that the women’s group has even better attendance.’

‘Who runs that?’

‘Carol. Anita Purdue is her second. She has Emily Blink going, Charlotte Tench, Barbara Buckingham. There are more, but they’re not from my time segment.’

‘So, gentleman,’ said Suffolk ‘What are we doing here? We know that some of what we were trained in was purely misinformation, but the other thing, the Lost Universe Activation Project was something abandoned that we might start up again. Everyone here is trained in super-positional influence writing. The women are involved in Names, Objects, Metaphors, In Synch, so that we can work up a wordlist of metaphorms in this time sector. Project Man In A Mask In Meadow is precursor to something called Fieldtest that we have infiltrated.’

‘Forrester, how is the cover story going?’

‘We have the magazine loaded into a gun made of poetry. We’ve been secreting meaning into a few multi-storeys. We’re working as hard as we can around the clock. Gloucester says we should stay hidden for a while.’

‘I need to know how you’re doing, Weston. We heard that Reeder was out and walking around. These packet sniffers are like truffle hunters, and we’re the truffles.’

‘Nice analogy, Suffolk.’

‘Yes, so answer the question.’

‘I have been building metaphorms like you asked, and places. A Poet Tree and a Know Villa in Spain. A few pocket universes in New York gutterspace.’


‘Villa In. Old Cover’s Karaoke Bookshop in Manhattan. The Muse Ich shop in Brooklyn. Old’s Oak. Under Hill in Oxfordshire. And there are a few tulpas walking around too – Hemmingweigh, Rabbit Burroughs, who both write; Tara Misoo, the film-maker; Hink, the musician; and Peter Aint, the artist.’

‘Good, lots of stress points we can exploit. And yourself as something of a sacrificial lamb of course.’

‘Ah, maybe. I thought more of a honey trap, myself.’

‘That is some honey I want nothing to do with.’


‘Yes. OK. Anyway – this was only a brief meeting, designed for the purpose of headcount and loose coordination. Go to it.’

They left.


005. The Go-Between

David was sat there in a towel. Weston didn’t like it – he was discreet, and David wasn’t. He tried to keep his life like a black box – it was part of the training, and despite what the man who had just visited him tried to assert, he was careful.

David was too into finding out what he knew and what he had done, and learning all about the Fiction Department and what it did. Weston felt like he was a pretty good judge of character, and he knew that David wasn’t a spy, but if he hadn’t been so good in the sack he would have got rid of him a long time ago. David was there for the money, not for the love – sure, it was disguised as presents, but there was more of a rent boy type thing occurring than either of them would have liked to admit.

But David might be useful, might he not? Weston, like everyone else from the Fiction Department was great at running scenarios, and thinking things through to a point of absurdity that would have been unthinkable to most. They had to write those kind of things sometimes – finding the plausible in the ridiculous and running with it – sometimes planning out months of stories to construct a narrative. He’d had the pleasure of seeing his lies be trumped by the weirdness of the truth several times, and that was always a good indicator that he was moving in the right direction.

He didn’t like that he had been threatened. How else was he supposed to get in contact with them, apart from a letter? He didn’t know about any dead-drops anymore – he had no means to contact anyone in-between the designated times – no, they contacted him. Who could he turn to to protect himself if the people he was protecting himself against ran the country? The press? He chuckled a little – he knew that most of them were led around by the nose, but he knew that some of them had enough celebrity, or enough respect to sidestep the problems that most people had. He believed Curry to be such a man. The thing was – even if he couldn’t get protection, one thing he could do was to set things right – as much as he was able – before they got to him. David would make the perfect go-between – he was smart enough, or cunning at least, and he was greedy enough to be persuaded to do it.

It wasn’t a hard thing to slide into the conversation. It was even easier to pitch to the kid. He knew that dangling the story out there for Curry it would not take long to get a bite – he knew all the networks out there, and he knew how to work them, even if he had never operated in the field. Sure, there were much better chess players out there than him, but Weston might at least be able to pull this off. He compiled some notes, added in some photos, and handed the material to the soon to be endangered David Norris.

004. A Quiet Word

Exeter sat down next to Weston and took out his cigarettes, lit one up. Weston turned and stared at him, incredulous.

‘You can’t do that here.’

‘But I just sat and watched you do the exact same thing with that stinky cigar not ten minutes gone.’

‘But I’m …’

‘What? Special. I think what you are, Mr Weston is a fucking liability who draws attention to himself. And might I say how bloody inconvenient it is for the likes of me who have to come and slap the wind out of you bloody demand feed babies.’

‘You’re from the agency?’

‘I am, and you, sir, are lucky to be seeing me and not receiving a full metal jacket in the back of the head.’

‘For what? What was your name? I didn’t catch it.’

‘If you find out my name, sir, it will be endgame for you. Do you realise how many protocols you have broken with your little missive you sent? Do you have any inkling of how many people you have exposed to the danger of being identified or targetted? I am thinking you are what you look like – a clueless and selfish fuck.’

‘Well, I …’

‘Yes, I know, you want to protest. I will save us both some time and let you know that I don’t really care about anything you might have to offer up as a reason or excuse. I have a message to deliver and that is that you will do nothing else to respond to this person. You will let us know the next time you receive something, and you will do that via sanctioned channels.’


‘Goddamn, I hate you Fiction Department fucks – you are so unprofessional. Or … I will paint the wall with your brains you stupid motherfucker. Go back to being anonymous and not giving me a headache or you will die.’

Several sentences jostled to come of Weston’s mouth, but thankfully they all died before they reached his lips … his inability to pick a stupid thing to say was probably the only reason he survived the encounter.

Exter was biting his tongue and holding himself back from just returning to that seat and killing this problem. It was going to happen eventually – this kind of thing didn’t go away when you had people like Weston who could not keep quiet.

He’d go home and he would file his report. He alerted someone to make a soft contact with Weston – someone trained to divert any attention a target had from the things he wanted to do into something much more relaxing. Bartlett had been running smother operations for years, and she tasked one of her best to keep this quiet … Bulstrode, for all the fireworks she set off in most men’s hearts, was quite capable of convincing a plain and uninteresting specimen like Weston that she found him stimulating and worthy of her time.

Exter was going to a lot of effort not to kill Weston, and he knew that Weston would not appreciate that restraint in the least. It was always preferable to handle these things quietly if possible though.

003. Reading Matter

Exter never went in cold – that was the kind of mistake that rookies made. If you didn’t know the basic lay of the land you weren’t going to be able to spot anything out of the ordinary. These Fiction Department bastards were selected out for their ability to lie, so their was no telling how much subterfuge was going to be involved. Either that or he’d be some puffed up blowhard with an over-exaggerated sense of his own sense of importance in the scheme of things. Weren’t many who had any real fieldcraft; he didn’t envisage much trouble.

Exter had neutralised more threats than most. He was a cold fish to be sure. Businesslike shot through the head was his trademark – nothing fancy; no fingerprints or signatures … this was work.

No one liked him and he cultivated that; he’s deep-sixed two ex-girlfriends who had turned state’s evidence and threatened the sanctity of several deep pockets he’d created to bankroll some black ops he’d been tasked with running. Only connect – Forster would have made an awful spy … great data analyst, but awful spy.

Weston’s file was kind of interesting – he wasn’t a bad writer; not that Exter was any kind of judge. He had been liked, but he had never been what one might call showy, or looking to impress anyone and advance beyond the lowly position he managed to occupy for the majority of his career with the department.

Weston wasn’t impressive – he was anonymous. He had kept quiet for so long, so why cause trouble now? Something had to be applying unusual pressure to him, or rather, someone was using something to apply unusual pressure to him. The fact that said pressure could be applied meant that Weston was a liability, so he would have to be taken care of. Not before they found the person applying that pressure though.

Exter was glad that he had little to do with the internal workins of the Fact and Fiction Department – he liked it simple; he had been trained to be a good weapon – he was not unquestioning – but when he was told to strike he struck. He had had a long career. For what he knew, in the line of work he was in, was he likely to live long and die peacefully? Probably not. But he would die doing what he was good at, or, if he failed that, he would die pretty soon after.

Weston, Weston, Weston. This could only end one way.

002. The Network Handler

He hated dealing with these old farts who had been retired out of the service – they seemed to lose all sense of how to act; they got lax, and didn’t think very much in terms of security. If someone sent you a letter about something you had done with the secret services then they already knew who you were and where you lived – what they might not have yet was any connections to you. You might be a name on a list and nothing more.

But, you write a letter, and the person on your tail, if they are good has a name or at least an address, and if not that then the secret drop-box that you led them to. This was why each of these men were given non-hard-line connections that were safe. All it took was a fucking phone call. Simple? No? No, apparently not.

Did this warrant a clean-up? He sat there and pondered. Did they need to send out a wetwork specialist to wipe out this moron? A fiction department bastard after all was so low on the food-chain  as to barely rate a mention, ever. Someone that low incurring the expense of wetwork in what would almost definitely be an inconveniently civilian setting.

He hemmed and hawed – this kind of thing bothered him immensely. He did not want to have to stretch his resources any further than he already was because the budgetary constraints imposed on him were strangling any chance of showing initiative and being promoted out of this hell already. Yes, he was pinching pennies, and yes, he resented the bastard that he might have to kill.

He picked up the phone.


‘Yes? Is this Parabola?’

‘Yes. I have ¬†question – are you still tasked with handling problem fiction department people in the field? Before you remind me, yes, I know I am the Network Handler, but aren’t you able to move freely in the field?’

‘Freely – hmph – well, as much as anyone I suppose. Send me a name or a location. I take it he’s compromised? Being watched and / or sent letters, right?’

‘Yes, how do I not know about this?’

‘I’m not sure. Someone playing the old games of sitting on the communication lines between the field, and the upper echelons?’

‘God, I hope not. Sounds frightfully dull as a thing to deal with. Almost as much as this – it’s quite ruined my digestion.’

‘No doubt. No doubt. Don’t worry, Parabola, I will deal with this expediently and give you an update when it is dealt with.’

‘Good man, Exter.’

‘Yes, yes.’

Parabola hung up the phone and was satisfied it would be handled, and that no one would have to die.

001. To The Letter

The first letter that he received about his role in the department came as a surprise to put it mildly. At first he felt scared that there was someone outside of the familiar people that he had always dealt with who knew of the existence of the department; then his fear intensified as he questioned why, our of all the people who had worked there he had been singled out for this missive.

Fear turned to anger and he wanted to start pointing fingers – someone had to have been asleep on the job to have let this happen, didn’t they? If everyone was doing what they were supposed to then there would have been no wiggle room for some bastard to have slipped this in under the wire.

He wasn’t active anymore – the department was less active than it had been before; at least he so believed … he wasn’t really connected up to them anymore. But it was a case of – once a fiction man, always a fiction man. He knew about scapegoating – he had written targetted pieces based on briefs for years, and they had been successful; had triggered countless necessary hate crimes. Was this one of those groups rising, phoenix-like, out of the ashes to claim revenge? He wondered. Why did they even care anymore? Wasn’t the control total now? It seemed like it – enough that this amount of worry had been, for him at least, as someone on the inside, something alien.

What good would it do them? What influence did they think he might have on anyone? On anything? He had been employed because he was a good writer – nothing else – but as an entity he meant little to nothing. They might have to search a little to find someone with his particular skill-set, but it wasn’t the end of the world for them if one of him or his team shuffled off the mortal coil.

He sat down to write a complaint to someone. Who? His network’s handler. Would it help? Maybe. Maybe not.

000. In The Bubble

No such thing as an idea that is too outrageous – that was what they told him on the first day he started work there. He hadn’t believed them, because of course, it sounded too good to be true. It was true though, and he had great fun doing what he wanted to do. He had no second thoughts or regrets about the effect that he had on the public at large. He was getting to write – he had a captive audience, and he was getting to have an effect on people’s lives. All those fantasies he had about being God and being omnipotent got free reign when his script was put out there into the world.

He lived in a bubble for the longest time, and that was how his employers wanted it to be – they didn’t want any of their writing team to have to consider the fact that when it came down to it, what they were doing, was fucking with people. Their editor mollycoddled each and everyone of them; wrapped them in cotton wool and kept them blinded to the facts. What goood would it do for them to know otherwise?

For the small sacrifice of keeping away from all external media in the world, theirs was a life of luxury. They would have been the envy of everyone in the world at large if it had ever been possible for anyone to know of their existence – but it wasn’t. The kind of things that went on in the Fiction Department were never going to be declassified. The only time any data might be sanctioned as leakable was if something leaked about the department itself and they needed to discredit the source and destabilise the informational substrate of the world.

Weston sat down on the bench and took out his cigar – there was no smoking allowed in public spaces for the general populace, but he was not one of the plebs, and any copper stepping into his vicinity would get a warning light flashing on their retinal implant. He liked to smoke, liked to take advantage of the things he could do that others couldn’t. He was smug knowing that he was protected and too valuable for them to allow any harm to come to him. None of this worked any kind of alchemy on him to make him charming or pleasant to be around, rather it set a rot in him, allowed the rust to intrude. To be necessary but unpopular breeds resentment, even amongst those who recognise your worth.