"Free will can be frightening."
--Craig Shaw Gardner,
A Disagreement with Death
"The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is
--Thomas Paine, The Age of
Glasses were raised, spilling champagne down three arms, as
Graham, Deborah and Wye stood once more in the cabinet room.
"A toast!" declared the General, "To Wholemeal!"
"To Mighty White!" cried Graham.
"To Allinson's Stone Ground!" exclaimed Deborah, then all three
drank deeply from their glasses.
Graham quickly re-filled the three glasses, then shouted,
"Another toast! To the Network!"
"To the Network!" the other two chorused. Just before drinking,
Graham thought he heard Deborah add, sotto voce, "And to Mother's
Pride family size," but he couldn't be sure, and didn't like to
Exactly one year had passed since the new government had seized
power - a year and a day since Graham Greene and Absolaam Wye had
shared an after-work drink. "It's been a surprisingly quiet year,"
added Wye, voicing all of their thoughts, "Considering."
Graham agreed, but added, "All that stops now, though. The
literacy programme ends today, and the fibre-optic network was
completed earlier this afternoon." He paused a moment, "You know,
I still find it..."
"...incredible?" his wife completed the thought, "That the
network should be completed so quickly?" The two men nodded, as
Deborah went on, "Yes - but think of what it's cost us to get it
done so rapidly: almost two hundred billion pounds for the
network, and one hundred million for the literacy classes. And
neither job is really finished, even now."
"I know." Wye broke in, "We still have to hook up the computers,
and move on to the second stage in the education of the public..."
Dot and Gerald were feeling contented, for the moment. Gerald,
now that he had learned to read, was devouring avidly the works of
Robert A. Heinlein. One of Wye's early actions had been to
massively subsidise the cost of all science and philosophical
fiction and non-fiction - as well as children's books.
At the moment, Gerald was busily reading the uncut version of
Heinlein's classic, Stranger In A Strange Land.
"Do you believe this, dear?" he asked of his wife, "The
government in this book tries to kill Smith - you know, the Man
from Mars - just because he's rich and politically inconvenient."
"Yes, dear. I've read the book - but, remember, that our
government killed tens of thousands of people just for being in
their way. And that was only a year ago - and it was real, not
just a story."
"Yes, yes," said Gerald, dismissively, "But that's all in the
"I wouldn't be too sure, dear. Just because they paid for you to
learn to read..."
"And they're paying for most of the cost of my books as well,
"Well, yes - that too. But it still doesn't mean that they're not
as ruthless as ever - especially that General. Now he's a nasty
piece of work if ever I saw one."
"I suppose you're right, dear," sighed Gerald, "I just thought it
was incredible, some of the ideas in this book, that's all I was
saying." Pause. "The news is on soon, shall I put the teevee on,
dear - or will you?"
"No, you do it."
The television sparked into life just as the anchorman started to
report on a new announcement from General Wye, "Earlier today, the
"Take that, now, love," Gerald said.
"Well, the General called himself 'Dictator of the British
Isles.'" Then, proudly, he added, "That's irony, that is - he
hasn't acted like a dictator once. Except on that first day, that
is," he added, quietly.
"Give him time, dear," his wife added, "Give him time - he'll
show his true colours again, you mark my words. A leopard never
"Shush a moment, love - I want to hear this." Dot was so
surprised at her husband's out-of-character words that she
actually did stop talking.
The anchorman continued, "...the literacy programme, as promised,
is to be stopped when the final student finishes her studies at
midnight tonight. At that time, it is estimated that well over
ninety-nine percent of the population over the age of five will be
able to read, write and type sufficiently well to be able to
improve without professional help.
"In other news: the national fibre-optic cable network was
completed this afternoon, at a cost to the government of close to
two hundred billion pounds. It is understood that this money came
from donations from wealthy individuals, who wish to remain
anonymous, and not from tax revenue. The Dictator is about to make
a further announcement, and so we take you now, live, to our
camera on the spot."
The screen's image changed to show General Wye, seated on a bar
stool in front of the camera. In his right hand, he held - as
always - a glass of neat whisky ("Bourbon, straight up - no ice"),
and he had long since ditched his General's uniform in favour of a
T-shirt and more casual trousers, which he found more comfortable
under the hot lights of the television studio. The T-shirt was
printed with the message The Great Dictator, with the words Live
on Television in smaller type underneath.
Wye smiled easily into the camera, "As you have probably just
heard, the fibre-optic network is now completed. Starting
tomorrow, the second stage will go into operation. Every household
will be connected to the network via a small computing system,
such as this one."
Wye indicated a desk beside him containing a monitor screen,
which had a full-size keyboard and a telephone receiver attached -
each via a coiled flex wire. There was also a small, raised
rectangle to the right of the keyboard itself, but this wasn't too
obvious on the television - Dot and Gerald, for instance, didn't
"As you may be able to tell, this basic model is...well,
basic..." Wye smiled again, "More advanced models will, no doubt,
become available from private firms at some future date, once the
system parameters and protocols are published in a few months
"You will have noticed that a telephone forms a part of this
system. There is a very good reason for this.
"Once these systems are installed nationwide, which should take
one to two months, they will be activated. At that time, the
Network will be capable of carrying all your telephone calls. If
you have any shares in telecommunications companies, I'd advise
you to unload them right now."
Wye glanced out of shot to his left and appeared to be reading
something for a moment before he added, grinning mischievously,
"Oops - sorry, the share prices are plummeting, even as I speak...
"As I was saying, the systems - once activated - will initially
be useful only for making telephone calls. In the very near
future, however, the British Library computing system will be up
and running, and will be accessible from any one of these
terminals at any time.
"The eventual aim, which I'm told should happen within two to
three years, will be to allow you to download the entire text of
any book in the library into your terminal. The cost will be that
of the phone call, a royalty for the author and a standing
subscription fee to the service.
"I hope that you will make good use of this facility."
"Here now, love - that'll come in handy," Gerald said to his
wife, "It'll be just like having the whole library in our house."
"Hush, dear," Dot answered, with more than a little savage
revenge for being told to be quiet earlier, "He's still talking."
"Here," and now Wye indicated a second desk, "Is the bonus for
those of you who worked on the installation of the fibre-optic
On this desk was a system identical to the first, except that it
had a more polished look and - Gerald noticed - it also had some
sort of printer built in to it.
"This system is more advanced than the standard version. As well
as allowing a volume to be read over the telephone lines, it also
features a built-in bubble-jet printer, which I'm told is a good
one," the Dictator grinned his usual self-deprecating grin into
"In addition, the advanced model has more sophisticated software
which permits the library to be more easily searched. I hope that
you will find the bonus worthwhile."
"See that, Dot?" Gerald said, "We'll get one of those advanced
models. I told you it was a good idea to spend all those weekends
helping out with the cable laying around town."
"Okay, okay - you've made your point," said his wife, "I just
wonder how many other people around here will get one as well.
Hey!" she exclaimed in delight, "The Fredricksens will be green
with envy - you remember how Brian laughed when you said you were
giving up your weekends?"
Gerald - perhaps sensibly - entirely failed to remind Dot that
she, too, had laughed at him for giving up his free time in that
way. Instead, he turned back to the television.
"Now, to the education program.
"The literacy classes have now finished, as you are no doubt
"In their place, you will find that you can sign up for classes
in philosophy. You will probably find these classes a little odd
to begin with, as the teachers are not going to teach. Instead,
they are there to help you to learn..."
As the Dictator continued to speak, Gerald turned to Dot. There
was a flicker of resolution in his eyes, which Dot observed. So
she said it first: "I think we should all sign up for those
philosophy classes first thing tomorrow."
"Yeah," Gerald, who had been ready for his wife to argue against
signing up, was forced simply to agree, "But not the twins - you
heard what he said: they'll get their classes when they go to
school. This time, it's people aged ten and over only."
"Alright, not the twins. We'll find somebody to babysit them
As Dot continued talking about babysitting arrangements for the
twins, and the Dictator continued talking about how and where to
sign up for philosophy classes, Gerald sat back, and wondered how
a teacher could help you to learn something without teaching it to
The latest broadcast finished, the Great Dictator slowly - sip by
small sip - finished off his bourbon, savouring every drop, while
the television crew removed their equipment from the cabinet room.
The crew, supervised by David Jubal, their producer, was careful
not to disturb Wye as they worked, largely because Jubal himself -
even after the passage of a year - remained very nervous in the
presence of the General.
"Thank you, Mr Jubal," were Graham's only words, addressed once
the equipment was removed, "And goodbye." After the door had been
closed, Graham went about the painstaking ritual of checking the
cabinet room for bugs.
He ran his detection equipment over each surface in the room -
with Deborah following with a second detector, double checking his
every move. Eventually, once the windows had been examined to
ensure that the seals of the triple-glazing remained intact, they
gave the thumbs-up to the General. All Clear.
The windows of the cabinet room were triple-glazed to reduce -
perhaps even remove - the chance that sound within the room could
be deciphered from outside by analysis of the vibrations of the
window panes. The white noise generator - between the outer two
panes, so that it could not be heard in the cabinet room itself -
was in place for the same reason.
To remove the further possibility of lip-reading by telephoto
lens, all three panes of each window consisted of one-way mirrors
- with the mirrors on the outside - and, for safety, every window
was as completely bomb-proof as possible.
General Wye, with immaculate timing, finished his drink just as
the Greenes gave the all clear. "I wish that the high-security
windows weren't necessary," he said, wistfully.
"So do I, Absolaam," replied Deborah, "So do I," she repeated,
with a pained and somewhat regretful expression.
Graham nodded his own agreement before saying, "But you know why
they're there, General."
The Great Dictator sighed, resignedly.
The cabinet room had had bomb-proof windows for over a decade, of
course, but enhancements had become necessary for protection from
Six months earlier, Wye had peremptorily removed all British
troops from Northern Ireland with the words, "I find it
distasteful to use troops to occupy a part of my own country.
"So: If you want to kill each other, fine. If you don't, that's
fine too. And if you don't like the bombers then for fuck's sake
don't give them any money and don't give them any help - turn them
in to the police."
As a result of that particular broadcast, almost two thousand
people were shopped to the police - with seventy-five percent
later being convicted of murder, attempted murder, blackmail or
extortion. There remained, however, a 'hard core' consisting
almost entirely of 'loyalists' which had the new objective of
assassinating the Great Dictator, and thereby freeing the British
Isles from tyranny.
The Great Dictator himself found it particularly amusing that the
BLA - the British Liberation Army - was made up of both protestant
and catholic terrorists, people who were previously violently
opposed to one another.
He knew this because the BLA was now almost entirely infiltrated
by MI7 - the security service which Graham had formed in January
of the year 2000 by the simple expedient of amalgamating all of
the existing secret services, such as MI5 and MI6.
According to MI7 reports, the BLA was made up almost exclusively
of the remaining Irish terrorists, though some of the top-most
ranks appeared not to be British citizens. MI7 was holding off its
final destruction of the BLA until the leaders could be positively
"Fifty-ninth flapper?" Wye said into the intercom, "Call in
Estelle Demot at once."
Within five minutes, Ms Demot walked into the cabinet room. A
tall woman, in her mid-forties, she looked ten years younger. Her
flaming red hair was no longer entirely natural, but the dye was
far from obtrusive, being almost precisely the shade that her hair
had been before the grey had appeared. Estelle Demot believed in
precision, particularly when attending to details.
She did not knock - the Head of MI7 was not required to - but
simply strode across to the General and seated herself in a chair
"You sent for me, Dictator?"
"It's okay, Estelle - the room's clean, and the four of us are
alone - you can knock the formality on the head," Wye said.
"Fine, Sol," Estelle replied with a poker face, "What was it that
A resigned look crossed Wye's face as he sighed, "I suppose
there's no way you're ever going to talk to me normally 'what was
it that you wished' indeed!" he snorted, and the Head of MI7's
brow creased briefly in the closest approach she ever made to an
Graham broke in, quickly, "What we're after, Estelle, is some
idea of what progress you've made on the BLA problem."
"Progress on the sub-facet of that particular difficulty which I
believe that you are probably referring to has unfortunately not
been quite so rapid as we had anticipated that said progress would
be at the time that the operation to infiltrate the British
Liberation Army was initiated," Estelle began, in conscious self-
parody, "I would advise you, Graham, to address yourself to my
previous report, since progress made since that report is
insignificant, even non-existent."
Graham nodded. Deborah nodded. Wye sighed again, "So - still no
luck finding out who the big cheese is?" he inquired, hoping that
his disentangling of Ms Demot's statement was accurate.
A pained look flickered briefly across Estelle's face - barely
touching anything below her brow - as she reluctantly answered,
"That is essentially correct, Sol."
"Okay - I didn't think there would be," Wye replied, "Still - no
harm in asking. I'll see you tonight?" he asked.
"Hmmm - tonight might be difficult," Estelle said, mentally
changing gears, "I've got to sort out publication of the religion
accounts. But I'll see what I can do."
"You're handling the publication of accounts?" the General asked,
"Simple, really, Absolaam," Deborah broke in, "I asked Estelle to
handle it because she's the best person to track down fake
businesses and figure out where the money is and how it's been
spent. Since I don't know what you plan to do about the
religions," she glared at Wye, who just grinned, happily, in
response, "I figured that the more comprehensive the accounts
published the better things would be."
"You're quite right, of course," Wye said. "And, Estelle," he
looked towards the Head of MI7, "Make sure that the published
accounts are scrupulously exact. If dummy corporations are
involved, I want all the sordid details published. Even if it
screws up our personal plans. Clear?" he added, grinning ruefully.
"Perfectly clear," Estelle said, walking over to the door, "I'll
get right on it."
As Estelle left, Deborah turned to her husband and asked, "Is
Estelle doing all she can over the BLA thing?" Noting the
Dictator's agitation, she added, "Yes, Absolaam. I know how you
feel, but we've got to absolutely certain."
Graham replied, "As far as MI8 can tell, MI7 is working smoothly
and as efficiently as possible. It's just a long, tough job," he
"That's good enough for me, Graham," said the Dictator, rising
from his seat then leaving, to retire for the evening.
"The number of robbers, highwaymen, rapists, gangsters and
other criminals at any period of history is negligible
compared to the massive number of those cheerfully slain in
the name of true religion, just policy or correct ideology."
--Arthur Koestler, The Ghost In The Machine
"Anglo-Egyptian Holdings?" Estelle murmured to herself in
surprise, "Now where have I seen that name before?" She set the
computer to search all of her records for references to that
company, then sat back to drink her coffee ("Black, three
sweeteners") and light up another cigarette.
When Graham Greene had worked for the security services - was
that only a year ago? - Estelle Demot had been his secretary. As
his 'work' took up more and more of his time, she had effectively
taken on his entire workload.
After the coup, then, when Graham had come to form MI7 from the
ashes of MI5 and MI6, he knew that Estelle was both loyal and
extremely good at her job. She was the natural choice to head the
new department, her first task being to ensure that the rest of
the security services were loyal to the new government.
Looking back to that January, Estelle still felt a little
surprise at how easy that initial job had been. There had been
very little grumbling at the 'new management.' In fact, her
colleagues - underlings, now - seemed quite happy to be released
from the yoke of democracy and free to perform their work with far
Several still complained about the switch from lethal ammunition
to tranquilliser darts, but there were always some who were never
Besides, the tranquillisers ensured that more people were
captured for interrogation. Even with the, strictly enforced,
prohibition against torture, this still resulted in MI7 having
access to vastly more information than either of its predecessors
had ever had.
The computer beeped, signalling that the search was over. Estelle
opened the file of extracts found in the records and blinked, sure
that she was seeing things.
Her original search had been made to track down what had happened
to ten million pounds of the money from the Roman Catholic
church's account, but Anglo-Egyptian Holdings appeared in quite a
different set of files.
To be on the safe side, Estelle had the machine double-check
itself by asking that the records of every company mentioned in
the second set of files be checked against those mentioned in the
accounts of all of the religious organisations.
She lit another cigarette, drawing the smoke into her mouth only
and not inhaling any further. Tasting the smooth smoke as it
rolled around her tongue, wrapping it in a coat containing a hint
By the time her second cigarette had burned down and been stubbed
out, the computer had beeped again, signalling that its second
search had been completed.
Estelle opened the new file and read its contents,
disbelievingly. With her right hand, she reached over to the
'phone and punched Wye's private number.
"Hello?" came Wye's voice over the intercom.
"Estelle Demot here, Dictator," her clipped tones replied, "I've
found something which I think you ought to see."
"Now?" came the sleepy voice.
"Right away, Dictator. It's important," she added.
"I'll be right there," Wye's voice cut off sharply, and Estelle
started to dial a second number.
"I don't believe it!" Graham said when he read the file, his and
his wife's heads bobbing in unison. Less than half and hour had
gone by since they had received Estelle's 'phone call.
"I do," said Wye, soberly, "I'd suspected something like this
The other three occupants of the room looked at him, daring the
General to justify his statement.
Wye went on, "Don't you recall what I said to you all those years
ago, Graham? Of each action, particularly a political action, we
must ask the question: Cui Bono?"
"'Who benefits,'" translated Deborah, in a deadpan voice.
"Precisely," the Dictator continued, "And the major beneficiaries
of my assassination would be the people and companies who lost
money and power when we took over.
"Those who lost money, and whose only power had been economic,
don't figure too greatly, since they've effectively been rendered
"But what of those who still have some power, and still have some
"The answer is obvious. If they benefit - or think they would -
from having me killed then that's precisely what they're going to
try to do."
"Yes, okay, Absolaam," broke in Deborah, "But them?"
"Why not them?" countered Wye, "The BLA has to get its money from
somewhere, and now we know that its two principle benefactors are
the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England."
"But," began Graham, "But what about Christianity? What about
brotherly love and all that goes with it?"
Wye smiled, grimly, "Ask the same question of the Inquisition,
the Crusades, the Islamic Jihads, the...but I think I've made my
point," his expression changed slightly, as he tried to recall
something, "Have any of you read William Burroughs's works?" he
Deborah and Estelle both nodded, Graham shook his head.
"You should read Burroughs, Graham," Wye advised, "The line I'm
thinking of comes from his novel, Cities of the Red Night. The
main character, Kim Carsons I think his name was, looks across the
river and describes the Christians he sees there. He says:
"'I can see the mean, pinched, hate-filled faces of decent
church-going women and lawmen with nigger-notches on their guns.'
"Try taking a trip around the Bible Belt in the United States
sometime. You'll soon realise that religion has always been more
about hate than it is about love."
Wye went on, "The more organised it becomes, the more hate it
preaches while it carries on pretending to preach love.
"Hate of the Gentile; Hate of the Jew; Hate of the Christian;
Hate of the Mohammedan; Hate of the Unbeliever; Hate of the
Heretic; Hate of the Black; Hate of the White; Hate of everybody
who disagrees with you.
"How can you reconcile the love with the Hate? Simple: You
pretend that the person you hate needs to be 'saved,'" Wye paused,
glumly, "And from there it's a small step to deciding that the
only way to 'save' that person is to kill them - to 'send them to
the loving arms of the Lord.'
"And that Hate is what makes religions grow. The love is just a
blind, at best a self-delusion, which frees the person to hate and
justify their hatred as 'God's will.'
"The Hate is the appeal to the low, savage part of human nature.
The part that says: You are not in my tribe, therefore you must
die, and I will kill you."
All four paused a moment in thought. Eventually, Estelle asked,
hesitantly, "What are you going to do about this, Sol?" Her shock
was evident in the simplicity of her speech.
"Nothing," the General replied. Seeing their horrified faces, he
quickly explained, "There's no way I can destroy organised
religion, so my plan is to force the organised religions to
"And the best way to do that is to do nothing. Not right now,
anyway," he added. Turning to Estelle, he said, "When the accounts
are published, make sure that the list of dummy companies on each
of these accounts goes only as far as Anglo-Egyptian Holdings, and
the corresponding company for the C-of-E."
"'Low Tech Furnishings,'" Estelle prompted him.
"Them, yes. I want to make sure that the accounts in themselves
do not show a link between these two churches and the BLA, but the
link should be obvious to any journalist with an ounce of sense,
once the BLA's accounts are published."
"Why, Absolaam?" asked Mrs Greene.
"Because, Deborah, It would be best to wait for the BLA to
perform their next truly horrific act. I want that act stopped,"
the Dictator said to Estelle, "But right at the last moment.
Nobody hurt - but it should be absolutely clear that the intention
was mass murder.
"And don't," he said, severely, "Don't instigate any such action
just to drum up propaganda. I have the feeling that they're going
to place their own heads into that particular noose with no help
The General grinned fiercely, "Yes, the BLA has little chance of
killing me, so they'll try to force the public against me by
making their fear of the BLA greater than their fear of Wye."
As the General turned to leave, he added, "Oh, and - Estelle -
check the movements of all of the Anglican and Roman Catholic
clergy against what you know of the five joint leaders of the BLA.
My guess is that you'll find four definite matches."
"Four, Absolaam? Not five?"
"Only four, Estelle," Wye sighed as he left to return to bed,
Once the General had left, Estelle started her computer on the
new search that Wye had suggested - correlating the public diaries
of the clergymen with MI7's notes on known meetings of the BLA
After a little while, six names appeared on the screen. Some
simple checking removed two of those names from the list - the
identity of the fifth leader of the BLA remained unknown, but the
other four had been found.
Deborah, Graham and Estelle had a small drink to celebrate before
all three retired for the evening.
Meanwhile, in his room, the Dictator saw the results of Estelle's
search come up on his own screen.
So, Wye ran his own searches through the computers. He took full
advantage of the power which the Network gave him to probe into
the British Library files, as well as backdoors into the files of
every major company and corporation in the British Isles.
After a while, he grunted satisfaction as he found the match he
was looking for - confirmation of the identity of the fifth leader
of the BLA.
He toyed for a moment with letting Graham, Estelle and Deborah
know of his discovery. Then, in savage decision, he typed 'erase,'
a command which released a tapeworm to delete all trace of his
activities since he switched on the machine.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.