THE INTERIM YEARS
"Everybody is responsible for their own thoughts and the way
they deal with those thoughts."
--Peter Morrison, aged 15,
Talking to the Sunday Times, 5/12/93
Chapter Thirty Eight
"Your knowledge of what is going on can only be superficial
--William S. Burroughs, The Naked Lunch
The force of acceleration was immense. Huge. Terrific. Wonderful
feeling - marking the start of this journey into space. Wye was
pressed back into the flotation couch by the pressures of lift
The flotation couch consisted essentially of a tough, flexible
bag filled with water. As the Tertia - built along the same basic
lines as the Phaelon and her sister ships - needed more thrust,
the water in each couch could be drawn off into the main tanks
for use as reaction mass (as Newton observed, when you throw
steam out of the tail the craft is propelled forward - or, as in
this case, upward). In the meantime, however, there was nothing
to prevent the water being used to cushion the Tertia's
passengers from the more severe effects of acceleration.
After several minutes, which Wye and his fellow passengers spent
feeling their faces apparently trying to slide off the sides of
their heads, the acceleration suddenly cut out. By that time, the
level of water in each couch was reduced to only three inches of
cushioning - still more than enough.
When the G-force pressure stopped, each person on board felt the
effects of freefall. Every body reacted differently - but,
broadly speaking, they could be divided into three groups.
The first group felt nausea, and these reached immediately for
the sick bags which were provided within easy reach of their
strapped-in body. One or two missed, or panicked and couldn't
find the sick bags. This caused the cabin crew to have to wander
up and down on their velcro slippers, swiping globules of vomit
from the air with bags - looking for all the world like butterfly
hunters netting their prey.
The second group felt dizzy for a little while as their inner
ear sent bizarre signals to their brain, but most of them
steadied themselves fairly quickly.
The third and final group were those who were almost unaffected
by the switch into free fall - some, such as the cabin crew, the
pilot and the co-pilot, were used to making the transition into
practical weightlessness by now; others simply felt liberated by
the effects of free fall, and quickly began to feel impatient and
wanted to be released from their constraints in order to look
To the Dictator's delight, he found himself in this third group.
To Graham's dismay, he found himself in the first - though his
wife's assistance helped avoid the potential embarrassment of
having the contents of his stomach float around the ship's
When everybody had settled down somewhat, they began to notice a
strange - almost bloated - feeling, particularly in their head
and limbs. They had been warned before embarking of the effects
of blood pooling temporarily in the body's extremities under free
fall, but didn't realise that this what it was until one of the
cabin crew pointed it out - mentioning simultaneously that the
effect would be temporary only.
If they were to remain in free fall, of course, the effect would
continue - though, once the body had achieved an equilibrium
point, they would get used to it and the feeling that your head
was expanding would go away.
The Tertia, though, was bound for the Phoenix - bearing the
space hotel's first crop of guests - and the Phoenix rotated to
provide, via the coriolis effect, some semblance of the effects
These first guests were not paying, however, they were VIP
guests - heads of state invited by Wye to represent their various
governments in a symbolic espace sans frontières gesture on the
Dictator's part. Even the US President had been convinced to come
along for the ride - though, with characteristic distrust of the
Dictator, only after he had been assured that General Wye himself
would also be on board.
When the VIPs were guided, in small groups, to the Tertia's
windows, they were confronted by the sight of the Earth far
"below" them (if that word has any meaning where the effects of
gravity are absent). Wye, diplomatically, had been advised by
Graham to wait until the final group. He found such self-
restraint impossible under the circumstances, however, and made
sure that he was in the first group instead.
Looking away from the Earth, Wye could see, glinting in the
distance, the shape of their destination - the Phoenix space
hotel. As the enormous structure turned slowly in the raw,
unfiltered sunlight, its windows and solar panels gleamed and
Somebody - the Canadian Prime Minister? - had evidently been
thinking along similar lines, for Wye heard him ask one of the
cabin crew if it was safe to look out into unfiltered sunlight
"The sunlight you're seeing through this window is not, strictly
speaking, unfiltered, you realise," came the reply, "Rather,
sandwiched in between the inner and outer hulls of the Tertia,
and her sister ships, is a layer of a quasi-crystal polymer
specially developed for its absorbent properties."
At further question, the steward laughed, good naturedly, "No,
sir - the polymer doesn't absorb water, but light.
"More specifically, it absorbs and/or reflects the same amount
of light which is absorbed by atmosphere thirty miles thick."
"How? If it's not a commercial secret, that is," added the US
"How?" The steward thought for a moment. Absent-mindedly, he
flicked his collar-length hair, which - oddly - stayed where it
was flicked, giving him the appearance of wearing a clown wig
without the make-up. "No," he went on, "It's not a secret.
"The way it's done is by allowing the internal...well, to put it
loosely, the internal 'facets' of the crystalline segments of the
material (it's not a perfect crystal, by the way, but portions of
its molecular structure do bear a strong relation to crystals) to
reflect such harmful portions of light as - on Earth - would be
turned back or absorbed by the thick blanket of air. This all
happens on the molecular level, of course."
"Of course," replied the President, pretending to understand the
"In this manner," the steward continued, "The level of harmful
short- and long-wave radiation in the Tertia is restricted to
that found on the Earth's surface at sea level. The Phoenix is
similarly treated, of course, and - since the polymer is, by its
nature, transparent to visible light - windows were easily made
during construction, simply by replacing portions of the inner
and outer hulls by second and third thicknesses of the polymer.
"In fact," the steward concluded his explanation, "This approach
to ship building has the additional virtue of allowing the
central polymer hull to continue around the ship, unbroken save
for the airlock entrance and small access holes for control lines
to sensors and drive controls.
"So, the Tertia is as safe as we can make it. She can out-sense
and out-manoeuver any meteorite large enough to do her even the
slightest damage, and she's safe from anything short of a
At the last crack, Wye frowned - but the expression on the US
President's face as the steward glared at him almost caused the
Dictator to burst out laughing. That's right, he thought, Don't
let the bastards forget about the Phaelon - But don't rub their
noses in it too deeply either, he added to himself.
Wye missed the stewards following comments about the fact that
precautions had been taken against terrorists - though he
obviously couldn't say what they were - because he was too busy
staring out of the window.
As he watched, the Dictator saw the Phoenix growing larger and
larger as the Tertia approached the hotel. He could see shadows,
sharp and unblurred by an atmosphere, seeming to cut across the
structure. Some of the shadows were moving independently from the
rest - one, Wye could see, was the docking tube, which the Tertia
was approaching even as that flexible tube approached the
On the side of the Phoenix nearer the Earth (the "underside"),
Wye could see a set of huge thrusters. Once again, he wondered
idly what they were for - Gerald had insisted they be included in
the design, but had never explained his reasons. Now that he saw
them in situ, Wye could see what they were for. Without those
oversized thrusters, the Phoenix was merely an orbiting platform.
With them, she was a potential spacecraft.
The Dictator's eye played over the irregular lumps of the rest
of the space hotel - taking in the spiky projections which were
rest rooms, full-pseudo-gravity sleeping quarters and hydroponics
farms (scientific research and major recreations tended to be
undertaken close to the hub, where the coriolis effect was
weaker) - as he wondered why the Phoenix would need to be used as
The Tertia jarred only slightly as it made contact with, and
locked on to, the Phoenix's docking tube - they had a good pilot
on this trip. Even after passing out velcro-soled slippers, the
cabin crew still had to provide their charges with a great deal
of assistance before they could complete the journey through the
connecting passageway and into the space hotel Phoenix - the
first luxury hotel built off the Earth's surface.
Once all of the passengers left the ship and were in the docking
tube which led from the Tertia into the Phoenix itself, a thick,
solid-looking safety door slid across to seal the flexible tube
from the shuttle craft. A similar door at the hotel end of the
docking tube remained open.
As to the shuttle craft itself, the Tertia was to spend the
short time before it returned to the Earth's surface by
recharging its storage batteries, taking advantage of the
Phoenix's solar panels, and unloading its cargo. As well as some
luxury foods, this cargo included half of the remaining water in
the Tertia's tanks, to be used to replenish any small amount of
drinking and bathing water lost during the recycling process on
board the Phoenix.
The hotel's aim was to keep an emergency tank containing a
year's supply of water - which recycling would easily stretch to
sufficient water for centuries. Like the oversized thrusters at
the hotel's base, Gerald had insisted on incorporating these
water tanks in the Phoenix's design, but had refused to say why.
Wye's guess as to Gerald's reasons turned out to be correct,
though the facts were not confirmed during the Dictator's
Wye was the first passenger to pass from the docking tube into
the antechamber, which was also designed to serve as an emergency
airlock. Once all had done so, the second safety door sealed the
docking tube from the hotel proper and the tube - already
decoupled from the Tertia - was retracted into the hotel. As soon
as the cabin crew had checked to ensure that everybody's soles
were securely velcroed to the deck, the inner door - into the
hotel - opened.
At their first sight of the entrance hall, all of the passengers
let out an involuntary gasp of surprise and delight - including
Wye and the Greenes, who were overawed even though, having
approved Gerald's blueprints, they already had some idea of what
The idea had come to Gerald during his second trip into orbit,
and he had fallen in love with the concept to the extent that he
had sacrificed fully a quarter of the free fall "flying" arena
and shifted the Phoenix's reception area after it had been built
in order to make room for the new entrance hall.
It was based on M.C.Escher's lithograph, Relativity. The docking
tube entrance came out at the door which appeared in the bottom
left-hand corner of the original work - the passengers's first
sight was of a blank-faced humaniform automaton, carrying a
basket "up" and "down" a flight of stairs.
Like all surfaces in the free fall sections of the Phoenix, all
of the stairs, landings and walls in the entrance hall were lined
with velcro - as were the soles of the automatons's feet - in
order to allow a person to walk along relatively-normally. Though
it did take a little while for humans to become accustomed to the
fact that the second foot should not be lifted from the surface
it is attached to until the first has found a velcro anchor.
Wye decided to follow the automaton with the basket - others of
his companions went their separate ways, exploring different
parts of the entrance hall with the delight of children. The
basket carrier climbed a flight of stairs, then turned around and
started back down again.
Rather than returning, Wye wandered along a railed landing -
past a group of automatons in alcove designed and lit to look
like a garden on Earth, but which a sign indicated led to the
free fall flying arena. Another automaton was descending (if that
word makes any sense in free fall) another flight of stairs, and
the Dictator followed.
To his astonishment, the two - man and machine - were passed by
another automaton on its way "up." There were two remarkable
things about this new machine. Firstly, it had the form of a six
foot white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch
- to the General's delight, it even muttered "Oh my ears and
whiskers! I shall be late!" as it passed him.
Secondly, the white rabbit was moving up the staircase at ninety
degrees to the Dictator and his blank-faced machine companion.
That is, if Wye was placing his feet on - say - the top of each
step in turn, then the rabbit was placing its feet - paws? - on
the sides of the steps instead. Yet - because of the absence of
the effects of gravity - it was able to negotiate the steps with
no more difficulty than Wye.
In fact, when he reached the "base" of the staircase, Wye found
himself facing a blank wall covered in velcro. His automaton
guide was unimpressed by this - it simply stepped onto the wall,
turned around and then proceeded back up the staircase again.
The General shrugged - or tried to, the movement was a little
awkward in free fall - and stepped onto the wall. His head swam
for a moment, as his brain had to re-orient itself to a new
perspective. Before him was a black floor, leading to a blank
wall, while behind him the staircase which he had just negotiated
led back "upwards."
When he glanced back, Wye saw the white rabbit hurrying back
"down" towards him - though this time it looked to be oriented
correctly while his sometime guiding automaton looked distinctly
strange negotiating the stairs at an odd angle. Wye glanced to
his left - another blank wall, topped by a railing.
He glanced to his right, and his head swam again. There was a
wall there. Sticking out of the top of that wall was a railing
which was at right-angles to the wall, pointing towards the
Dictator. And standing at that railing was another automaton. Not
clutching desperately or even particularly holding on - just
standing as though leaning casually against the railing. That
automaton was standing, at right angles to Wye.
Wye wandered over. When he reached the blank wall on which the
strange automaton was standing, he hesitated - then stepped onto
the wall. His head swam again before everything clicked back into
place. He was on a balcony, overlooking another staircase - which
appeared to be upside down...and was modelled on the underside of
the staircase which led "down" from the balcony he was on. He
knew that both sides of the staircase were usable, mainly because
automatons - in the shape of a klingon and a cyberman - were
casually traversing both of them.
It took a long time to get used to the Relativity room.
Certainly more time than anybody had yet spent in there. The room
was incredibly confusing to explore. Whenever you turned a
corner, you would be face-to-face with some strange creature,
apparently engaged in an incongruous task and usually moving at
some peculiar angle with respect to you - and angle which made
your head swim.
For example, when Wye left the balcony he was on and headed
towards what appeared to be Terry Pratchett's orang-utan
librarian, seated against a wall and reading, his route was
somewhat bizarre to one accustomed to thinking in terms of
gravity - in terms of "up" and "down."
For one thing, the "wall" against which the librarian was seated
was - from the balcony's point of view - the ceiling. Wye's first
step, then, was back onto the wall which once again became - as
if by magic - the floor at the base of the flight of stairs he
Next, he walked in the direction of the librarian - passing
Count Dracula, ascending from and descending to a "cellar" which
the sign said led to the observation gallery, along the way -
until he came to the blank wall on which the librarian's bench
was sitting, as though it was a floor. When he stepped onto this
"wall" it did indeed become a floor from Wye's new perspective.
From this new vantage point, Wye could see that the trapdoor to
the staterooms which he had thought looked odd was - in fact - a
perfectly normal-looking oak-effect door (no actual wood had been
transported to the hotel - for safety reasons, doors were made of
a carbon fibre-based material which was immensely strong,
airtight and relatively-lightweight).
Now, the librarian looked to be seated normally, on a bench at
the base of a flight of stairs which led "up" to the balcony
which Wye had originally followed the blank-faced basket-carrier
to...or did it? Something looked wrong about the angles there,
too. When the Dictator approached the orang-utan automaton, it
looked up (Probably proximity sensors thought Wye) and merely
said "Oook!" before returning to its book.
The party of passengers spent over an hour trying - in vain - to
make sense of the Relativity room, waving to one another while,
apparently, standing upside down on the ceiling.
In the process, they learned how to get around in free fall
using their velcro shoes - and, by contrast, the rest of the
hotel looked almost normal.
Part of the point of the Relativity room was, of course, to
acquaint newcomers with the effects of a free fall environment
and amuse them at the same time.
The automatons which populated the room had been designed and
built by ex-Disney technicians, some of whom had worked with Jim
Henson back in the nineteen eighties. That, in any case, was the
explanation which the cabin crew gave for the spectacle in the
middle of one stairway - where a bright green, two foot high frog
was sitting and singing to itself.
Eventually, the group of hotel guests were called together in
the area between the librarian and Count Dracula. Once everybody
was on the floor beside the oak-effect door which Wye had noticed
earlier, they were led through to their staterooms.
Wye's room was pretty much identical to those occupied by the
other guests. As well as being luxuriously decorated, the room
was provided with a Terminal, a king-sized bed and an en suite
luxury bathroom. Electrical power was no problem, since it was
supplied by the solar panels unfurled outside, but the water
supply did - in theory - need careful watching, despite the
efficient recycling process.
Thus, while a bath was provided, an additional - prohibitive -
charge was levied if the guest wished to take a bath, whereas up
to three showers per "day" were included in the hotel's standard
charge. Since the bath-charge was levied in order to discourage
such wasting of water, Wye had acceded to the Phoenix's manager's
request that it remain in place even for these VIP guests.
The staterooms themselves were in the outermost parts of the
hotel's main structure, in order that the centrifugal force might
simulate full Earth-normal gravity, and thus remove the necessity
for installing special plumbing and then teaching the guests how
to make use of it.
Rooms were also provided at varying levels of simulated gravity,
right down to free fall, and plumbing and sleeping arrangements
were suitably modified according to the room's location - and
thus the strength of apparent gravity experienced within.
As the Dictator had anticipated, however, the vast majority of
the VIP guests were relieved to find what appeared to be normal
gravity in their rooms.
It was not until after Wye had entered his room, and heard the
swish of the door sliding closed behind him, that he allowed his
face to register any sign of the surprise he felt. "What are you
doing here?" he asked, slightly irritated.
"Waiting for you, Sol," his unexpected guest replied, as she
stood and crossed over to Wye. "It's been a long time," she
Before the Dictator could reply, he heard the door to his room
quietly swish open and closed. "Hello, Graham. Deborah," he said,
without turning around. He nodded towards Estelle Demot, who was
still standing in front of him, "Presumably," he added, "This is
'Lord Vetinari.'" It was a statement, not a question.
Still without turning around, and without taking his eyes off
Estelle Demot, Wye started to take off his velcro-soled slippers,
replacing them with a more conventional pair. Even so, he could
hear the dismay in Graham's voice: "We had hoped to surprise you,
General," he said, morosely.
"Well, you certainly did that, Graham," Wye said - finally
turning to face him, "You certainly did that."
By convention, time aboard the Phoenix was kept at British
Summer Time. This explains why it was that, when the Dictator
arrived on board the space hotel in the "early afternoon" of
September the first and Dot was simultaneously completing her
jury refresher course with Colin Simoney, David Sessions, Gordon
Bowman and Dave Jubal, both clocks and calendars in each place
showed the same time and date.
On this occasion, their cases were more numerous - rather than
three "trial" cases they were involved in more than a dozen
actual disputes. As with any jury, the seriousness of each case
varied enormously, according to which accusations were being
levelled at the time.
Thus, their first case involved an accusation by a resident
against a locally-based manufacturing company that they had been
dumping potentially-hazardous waste products into a handy river.
Both juries found that the company had breached First Agreement
with the locals, and sentenced it accordingly:
For restitution, the company was to pay for the river - as well
as another dump site which the accuser had not known about, but
which Colin Simoney's examination of transportation records
brought to light - to be entirely cleaned up. To the company's
protestations that they had not caused all of the pollution in
that river, the considered response of the two-jury, ten-person
sentencing panel was "Tough shit."
As a second stage of restitution, advantage was taken of the
fact that the company concerned was quoted on the stock market -
five percent of its voting shares, randomly selected, were to be
handed over to the local residents, to be divided equally among
The retribution segment was satisfied by various degrees of loss
of Card status - ranging from one to eleven months - imposed on
the company directors and those employees who had been involved
in the dumping. Those directly involved in performing or ordering
the dumping of the waste were given the longest sentences, and
any bonuses which the sentencing panel decided were related to
those actions were confiscated.
The director who was judged to bear the greatest responsibility
was further sentenced to three years in Lochbroom, despite his
plea that the sentence be commuted to a further eighteen months
loss of Card. As it happened, he survived his sentence - though
he was unable to function as a company director by its end,
choosing to work as a sociology researcher instead.
The final, rehabilitation, part of the sentence was that the
employees censured were to take part in an intensive programme of
ethical philosophy classes, psychotherapy and community service,
working with those injured by contact with hazardous waste. The
company's rehabilitation as a whole was - in theory - to find a
safer method of disposing of their waste products.
Since, as a result of the court case, it fell prey to a
takeover, however, that responsibility passed to the new owners.
From the heights of such cases, Dot's jury also found themselves
passing judgement on a noisy neighbour. In this case, the
accuser's neighbour was accused of persistently playing loud
music in the early hours of the morning.
The verdict in this case could not be guilty, since there was no
agreement requiring that one person show consideration for
another. Nonetheless, the Seventh Agreement (not to cause
emotional or mental harm to another person) was invoked in a
minor capacity, in order that some sentence could be passed.
The sentence decided upon had no restitution or retribution
components, but the rehabilitation portion of it involved the
simple expedient of placing a timed cut-off switch in the
accused's stereo and video equipment, and setting an enforced
(and extremely low) maximum volume on that equipment.
And so Dot's cases continued, ranging from the very important to
the incredibly trivial.
Chapter Thirty Nine
"Always do what you are afraid to do."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
At two O'clock on the following day, while Dot and her jury were
sending out a second forensic team to investigate a case of
unagreed killing (the first team's report did not include an
examination of a piece of evidence which David Sessions claimed
was important to the case), her twin sons, Adam and Shaun, were
taking part in an information analysis class.
"Your homework this week is to prove the following statement:
'People who have light-pink skins are inherently more intelligent
than people who do not'," said their teacher. The class was of
mixed race, and this claim did not receive a charitable welcome.
Adam's was the loudest - but far from being the only - voice of
The outraged shouts were ignored by their teacher. When the
class calmed down somewhat, he repeated the assignment. "And I
will expect a conclusive report - proving this statement - by the
end of the week.
"There is no doubt that the statement is true - any reports
which attempt to cast doubt on the statement will, therefore,
receive an automatic failing grade for the author," he added,
with a stern and unrelenting look.
At the same time as the twins's teacher was delivering this
warning, in Wye's room on board the Phoenix, Estelle Demot and
Deborah and Graham Greene were explaining what the ex-head of MI7
had been doing for the more than three years since the Dictator
had sacked her...
On July the twenty second, 2001, Estelle's reaction to being
fired was one of acceptance rather than surprise - Wye's reaction
to the BLA's bombing of the Phaelon was only to be expected, in
view of MI7's repeated assertions that no such attack was even
She had expected to be dismissed, but was thrown slightly by the
chat which she had had with the Greenes immediately afterwards.
Particularly when they ushered her into a room which she knew was
designed to be impervious to electronic eavesdropping devices.
The walls and door of the room were constructed in three
separate layers, with a vacuum between each layer and white noise
generators installed. The floor was similarly constructed, and
the seals at each corner and around the door were reinforced and
attached to the device in the centre of the room - which was
designed both as a white noise generator and to emit
electromagnetic radiation of such frequencies (shifting randomly)
as to prevent all but heavily-shielded bugging devices from
Other than that generator, the room was featureless.
Nonetheless, Graham's first task on entering the room was to
check Estelle, his wife and himself (Deborah did this) for
concealed devices, then the floor, walls, ceiling and the
generator. Finally, he switched on the generator and announced
that it was safe - that the three could now talk without being
overheard by anybody outside the room.
"We want you to work on the problem, Estelle," Graham said,
"You're the only person qualified to do it, and the only one we
feel we can trust within the intelligence community.
"MI7 has lied to all of us, that much is obvious. They lied to
the General. They lied to Deborah and myself. And they lied to
"How do you know they lied to me?" Ms Demot had asked, "What I
mean is," she went on, "How do you know that it's not simply that
I was lieing to you and Sol about what the agency told me?"
"Because your every movement has been followed by MI8 since you
became head of MI7." At Estelle's shocked look, Graham hastily
said, "Surely you could have guessed? You should have guessed,"
he said, accusingly, "Did you really think that you were
considered to be beyond reproach?"
"Well, yes," she replied, wounded, "Yes, I did. After all, if
you didn't trust me then why give me the job in the first place?
And who or what is MI8 anyway?" she asked, almost as an
"An intelligence agency under my direct control," Graham said,
"Their task is to monitor MI7, and one of my tasks is to monitor
MI8 to ensure that they are performing their task adequately." He
winced, "I made a mistake in assuming that it was enough that MI8
monitor the activities of the head of MI7 - I figured if you were
doing your job then you would police the rest of the organisation
yourself. I was wrong."
Estelle's eyes widened in horror. "Then everybody was watching
everybody else - the BLA was being watched by MI7, who were being
watched by MI8, who were being watched by you, Graham?"
Graham shrugged, "Of course," he said, "It's the old quandary of
quis custodiet ipsos custodes?: Who guards the guards? The answer
I found was to set a smaller guard - MI8 - on the guards, and
then personally guard the small group myself. In this instance, I
failed because I simply had MI8 watch you, leaving you to handle
the remainder of MI7's self-policing yourself.
"But you didn't do it properly - which is why Absolaam was
perfectly correct when he sacked you," he added, not without some
rancour. It was the first time Estelle had heard Graham refer to
the Dictator as anything other than 'the General,' and she took
it - correctly - as a sign of the strain he was under.
"So," Estelle Demot asked, almost reluctantly, after the pause
had started to become embarrassingly lengthy, "Why are you
telling me this?"
"Because, Estelle," Deborah broke in, "We have a job for you."
"What kind of job?"
"It will need to be kept secret - even from Absolaam. Do you
understand?" Deborah asked. When Estelle nodded, Deborah
continued: "Very well.
"The first thing we need to do is to locate the source of the
trouble within MI7 - you should check MI8 as well, while you're
at it. That may well be difficult, even though we know roughly
what form the problem is taking: You're looking for somebody with
links to the BLA. Somebody who probably had links to the IRA, or
some such organisation, before the coup d'etat.
"On reflection," Deborah added, "Perhaps our mistake was in
simply amalgamating MI5, MI6 and the other military intelligence
agencies into MI7 in the first place, without checking out the
existing agents. We didn't realise how deeply rooted the rot was,
In the three months which followed, Estelle Demot unearthed
forty seven agents with such connections - in many cases,
stretching back to the late sixties and early seventies. Despite
her previous career, working as Graham's secretary in a
department of the security services, she was astonished at both
the amount and depth of support which the British security
services had had with the terrorist organisations which they were
publically supposed to be fighting.
Wye's favourite question - Cui Bono?, or 'Who benefits?' - soon
resolved the contradiction, however. Who would benefit from the
continuation of Northern Irish terrorism? The objectives which
the terrorists claimed to be working towards were not helped by
the attacks - if anything, those aims were increasingly
frustrated as the attacks increasingly made a political solution
No - the winners in the situation were those people and
organisations who gained additional money and power as a result
of the continuation of those bombings, those who did not wish the
terrorists's avowed aims to become a reality and those who wished
to impose ever stricter controls on the larger population in the
sacred name of 'security' from such attacks.
In short, the security services and the politicians who
controlled them were the only ones who benefitted from the
continued campaign of bombings. The thought was frightening, but
so was the evidence in the intelligence files which Estelle was
Further delving revealed more and more corruption in the
service. By the time her research came to its conclusion, she
located only seventeen agents and intelligence officers that she
was willing to trust. And only five of those appeared entirely
The result of this work was the dismissal of the majority of the
staff of MI7, their replacements being picked by the twelve who
were judged trustworthy (the five who were 'beyond reproach' were
dismissed, on the basis of Estelle's hunch that their records
were suspiciously free of any hint of corruption - as though
those files had been doctored).
The records of the staff of MI8 showed them to be trustworthy.
This Estelle did not find too surprising, after all they had been
hand-picked by Graham, who was generally a superb judge of
character. Nonetheless, and perhaps because of the prior
assumption of their trustworthiness, she delved deeper with MI8
even than she had done with MI7. The members of that organisation
still came out extremely well - she recommended no dismissals
As it turned out, one of the five with absolutely clean records
was trustworthy - but Estelle had been correct in suspecting the
records of the other four. And the new agency still included one
BLA sympathiser, who had been careful and thorough enough to make
his records clean but not squeaky clean. However, after the
restructuring of MI7, and the rapidly-following though unrelated
collapse of the BLA, he was to be the cause of no major
difficulties in the future.
Once her task had been completed, both to her own and to the
Greenes's satisfaction, Ms Demot was invited to return to the
'safe room' once again for another chat with Graham and Deborah.
"Well done, Estelle," congratulated Deborah, "We're both very
happy with the work you've done in MI7." Her husband nodded his
agreement, so she continued: "So happy, in fact, that we have a
second task for you. Graham?"
At this cue, Mr Greene took over the conversation. "Estelle," he
began, "This second task is far longer term than the one you have
just completed. In fact," he added, "It is likely to occupy you
for fifteen or twenty years."
Estelle lit a cigarette, and inhaled deeply. "What is it?" she
asked, becoming intrigued.
"We want you to set up a...well, basically we want to disband
the armed forces."
The smoke caught in Estelle's throat, causing her to cough - she
had certainly not expected this. "All of them?" she gasped, when
the coughing was under control, "The army, navy and the RAF?"
"All of them. But not immediately - probably not until around
twenty-twenty, I'd guess. But it might be sooner."
"They're too expensive, they're anachronistic, they're not
needed and they're open to abuse."
"I think," Estelle replied, running her flame of hair through
her fingers, "That you had better justify that before we go on."
Graham nodded in approval, "Very well. Let's take the points one
by one." When under pressure, Graham still tended to regress to
the civil service training which lay at the core of his being.
"Firstly," He ticked the point off by raising the index finger of
his left hand, "They're too expensive.
"We don't need to pay billions for armed forces which are not
needed - and I'll come to that later. If there was even a remote
chance they might be needed in the future, or they cost less,
then there might be a case for keeping them 'just in case.' As it
is, there's no real reason for keeping them.
"Secondly," Graham raised his left middle finger also, making a
Victory sign, "They're anachronistic. Any war fought today would
be likely to take one of two forms - a nuclear exchange or a
"In the case of the former - or what are effectively its
equivalents, such as bacteriological warfare - then no number of
conventional troops will be useful. The same is true of the
"As to the remote chance of invasion of the British
Isles...Well, firstly such an invasion of an island off the coast
of Western Europe is so unlikely as to be tiptoeing off into the
realms of fantasy. Even disregarding our geographical location,
what country is going to risk annihilation by invading a nuclear
"But let us assume that we are to be invaded - or have been
invaded - what can the armed forces do to stop it? Not a lot, so
far as I can see: there aren't enough of them. So we'd have to
conscript thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands or even
millions, to form an effective anti-invasion force.
"The armed forces, then, are not needed," Graham's ring finger
joined the index and middle fingers, "Except, possibly, in order
to train the newly-drafted recruits. Far simpler - and, as the
Swiss have shown, more desirable sociologically speaking - to
train young people in firearms as a matter of course."
"That's...Well, that's rather extreme isn't it? And what do you
mean by saying it's socially desirable?" a shocked Estelle Demot
Deborah answered this question: "In Switzerland, schoolchildren
have been given lessons in firearms for generations, Estelle.
During the school holidays, they sign out a semi-automatic or
automatic weapon, to be returned when they go back to school.
Then, when they leave school, they take such a weapon with them -
only trading it in, for a shotgun, when they retire.
"One of the interesting points about Switzerland," she added,
sweetly, "Is that the rate of firearms-related crime, and violent
crime in general for that matter, in that country is actually
lower than in most other countries? Those which impose strict
controls on weapons - or, as in the United States, encourage
people to own and use guns irresponsibly - tend to have a high
violent crime rate.
"Have you never found it interesting that the rate of gun-
related crime in New York City is high - despite that city's
Sullivan Act, which imposes strict controls on firearms?
"One of the basic reasons seems to be that controls on the
ownership of guns tends to take guns away from the law-abiding,
but - almost by definition - such controls have little or no
effect on the ownership of guns by criminals."
"But what's wrong with simply requiring the owner to register
the gun?" Estelle asked, simply.
"Consider Paris," Deborah replied, "They had a Sullivan Act-
style law, requiring every gun owner to register their weapon.
When the Nazis marched into the city, all they had to do to
confiscate all firearms - and so disarm any potential resistance
- was look up names in the central register.
"Those kinds of laws are dangerous, Estelle. They do not make
the citizenry safer. On the contrary, gun control laws tend to
make the average citizen less safe - taking away her weapon but
leaving the murderer, the thief and the rapist with theirs.
Placing the individual at the mercy of the state - dependant on
"This may sound strange coming from me," continued Deborah,
"Given that we are in a dictatorship at present, but one fear I
have is what could happen if the citizenry is disarmed and a
repressive dictatorship established, perhaps using the armed
forces as its tool of oppression. It's happened in South America,
Africa, China, South-East Asia, Russia...And, if we're not very
careful, it could happen here too."
Graham nodded in his wife's direction. "Thank you, Dear," he
said, raising the little finger of his left hand so that four
were now in the air, "That is what I mean by saying that the
armed forces are open to abuse." Deborah made a small, light-
hearted bow to her husband.
"Okay - let's say I accept what you've said. With the proviso
that I'll check the story and the facts later on, of course,"
"Of course," the Greenes chorused.
"So, the question still remains: What is this task you have for
"Right," said Graham, "It's quite straightforward, really.
"The first thing is to train young people - from the age of
about seven years onwards - in the use of various weapons,
including firearms, along the lines of the Swiss model.
"Since you've got a fair amount of training in that area, more
than either of us at any rate, we want you to help us to work out
how to do this. Bearing in mind, of course, that this education
should instill not only how to build, maintain and use the
weapons, but also a sense of responsibility as to how they are to
be used (that is, only in extremis).
"That will involve imparting to these youngsters a solid, firm,
unshakeable knowledge that they really don't want to use their
weapons unless they absolutely have to. Only if they have no
other choice. I want them to know the effect of their weapons on
another human being, and what effect such devices would have on
themselves. In short, I want them - when they, say, pull the
trigger - to feel the bullet. And to know, deep in their bones,
that when somebody is killed then that person stays dead.
"No nonsense about resurrection, 'sending that person to A
Better Place.' And especially none of that Starsky and Hutch or
A-Team bullshit of anonymous ciphers dropping down and coming
back for more. They have to learn that each and every bullet,
bomb, knife, arrow, fist, chop and kick...Every one is personal."
"Tall order, Graham," Estelle whistled, softly, through teeth
which were tightly clenched around her cigarette.
Graham nodded, then added, "Yes, but Deborah's had some ideas
about that, including some gruesome-sounding practise dummies
which she's got a team developing even as we speak - I
particularly like the Coming Of Age ceremony she's come up with.
"But the second part of the task - and, for you, probably the
main part - is the selection and recruitment of...Well, what do
you know about the ninjas?"
"The Japanese assassins?"
"That's them. What we want is a group trained in assassination.
That's what is to replace the armed forces."
"I thought," Estelle said, breathing out a cloud of smoke which
smelled faintly of menthol, "That the arming of the citizenry was
going to do that."
"Partly - that's the insurance against invasion. Something,
basically, to discourage invasion - and to make any invasion
untenable. The assassination squad is intended to deter potential
"Instead of sending our armed forces to fight their armed
forced, we would simply send out the assassination squad and kill
whoever it was that ordered the invasion in the first place.
"That way, our retaliation is personal. No country's leader is
going to risk his own death by invading Britain unless he's quite
insane. If he does order the invasion, he's assassinated - as are
any successors, until the invasion is called off.
"The security measures that they'd need to deal with are why I
think of the team as ninjas, or Vetinari's Guild of Assassins in
Terry Pratchett's novels. But there's a problem," he added.
"The problem is that we don't want to install the assassination
squad until the General is about to abdicate his post as Dictator
- we don't want such a squad from a potential invade to
assassinate him, after all."
"What about his successor? Aren't you worried about what might
happen to the Dictator who follows in Absolaam's footsteps?"
Graham just grinned his reply, Wye-like.
A week afterwards, Shaun and Adam's class returned their reports
to the teacher - some grudgingly, others enthusiastically,
depending largely on the attitudes of the student's parents.
As the teacher had expected, the reports were based largely on
Charles Carroll's The Negro A Beast and The Tempter of Eve - from
which came the argument, among others, that The Negro's brain is
smaller than that of The White Man. Also well represented as
sources were Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race and
The Conquest of a Continent, as well as Lothrop Stoddard's The
Rising Tide of Color and Clashing Tides of Color.
Several entertaining sessions followed, in which the arguments
put forward in the students's various reports were torn apart. To
take the brain-size argument, for example, it was pointed out
Charles Carroll's statistics were rigged - he included only the
smaller measurements of negro cranial sizes, and the larger of
caucasian cranial sizes, in his data, disregarding others as
"Despite this systematic bias," the teacher continued, "Even
Charles Carroll's statistics show some African tribes as having
larger average brain sizes than his caucasian samples - the
Kaffir and the Amaxosa, for example. The Inuit, Japanese,
Amerindian and Polynesian groups he sampled also had slightly
larger cranial dimensions than the caucasian group.
"But all this is irrelevant - there is no evidence to suggest
that brain size has any bearing whatsoever on intelligence. Take
the Neanderthal, for example. That early, primitive hominid had
greater cranial dimensions than modern man - does anybody claim
that Neanderthal Man was more intelligent than we modern men
As the arguments in favour of the superiority of one race or
another came crashing down - the students themselves interrupting
more and more, often presenting counter-arguments which destroyed
their own report - the object of the exercise became apparent to
It was, therefore, small surprise that their next homework
assignment was to prove either the statement 'women are superior
to men' or 'men are superior to women.' The boys, needless to
say, were expected to prove the former, and the girls the latter.
What did turn out to be surprising, however, was that the class
was required to repeat that particular exercise three further
times before their efforts were deemed to be acceptable by their
teacher. The reason for this was simple: since the seven year-
olds now knew that the purpose of their reports was that they
were to be knocked down, the reports they were producing were -
at first - using only knock-down arguments.
Often, the students were themselves ready with the arguments
against their own report - whereas the idea was to produce
reports which, on first reading, appeared convincing. Maybe even
on second reading, in some cases. But not one report stood up to
close examination, on these or any future subjects which were to
Perhaps that's just as well.
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