ABSURDIA: Chapter 3 – Secular Jihad

With millions dead following the outbreak of a plague caused by plastics pollution, young politico Fred McVelly masterminds the creation of an ecofascist nanny state as an elaborate practical joke.

Chapter 3: SECULAR JIHAD

FROM HIS L-SHAPED, six-man sofa on the top floor of a tall, three-storey former brewery, Fred sipped at a coffee and looked out of his vast window onto the grandeur of River Drive. It was a bright, sunny late morning and near the river bank a small platoon of Environment Technicians wearing Bio-Hazard suits and helmets were dealing with an outbreak of Plasticitis effluent. Given the health threat it was advisable to stay inside until it was contained.

The day’s sunlight bathed the open-plan flat and seemed to create yet more space already afforded by the high ceilings. Fred drank in the warmth of the sun, its presence most welcome given that a rather insistent hangover had accompanied his waking.

Not that he’d struggled with getting up. He was always out the bedclothes with a zeal that had long since deserted many of his countrymen.

On the wall a huge screen played celebratory scenes from the day-before’s first anniversary of the Republic, and reminded Fred of the cause of his throbbing head. Next to the main screen were a series of smaller screens controlled from a panel embedded in the wooden table in front of the sofa. From here, Fred had access to the myriad CCTV cameras around the capital.

There were a smattering of books in a bookcase behind the sofa while a large desk faced the window, and an antique, wooden record player stood below the screens. The kitchen and dining area, replete with walk-in fridge and every modern accoutrement de cuisine, lay to the left of the sofa.

“Do you want any more coffee, babe?” said Denise, the flowing blonde hair of the President’s secretary the first part Fred saw of her as she emerged from the fridge.

“No, I’m good,” responded Fred, watching Denise walk to the window wearing only his shirt from the previous night’s Republic Gala. It fell off her left shoulder as she turned to him, her movement unleashing a sunbeam directly into his eyes.

“How long did they say it’d be?”

“Won’t be long now,” Fred responded, shielding himself from the light with his hands.

“So we’ve got a little bit of time then?” said Denise, climbing onto the sofa. She began crawling towards Fred and he watched as his shirt rode up her body, hung tantalisingly from two buttons. She started to kiss him on his neck, her hands moving towards his lap. As he turned to meet her mouth his new phone started vibrating on the table. Fred let it ring out but it started up again immediately. Again he let it ring out and again it started up immediately.

“Oh for f-” said Denise into Fred’s tongue. His phone buzzed for the fifth and sixth times. “You better get that.”

“I’ll deal with it in a minute,” Fred responded, pulling Denise back to him.

“A minute? Is that all?”

“Figuratively speaking.”

Despite the incessant buzzing and vibrating of his phone Fred felt that rebuffing the advances of a beautiful woman seemed careless in the extreme. Whatever government business required his attention could wait. Hardly anything moved without his say-so anyway. He saw to the task at hand.

After mutual satisfaction Fred reached for his buzzing phone. It was the latest model off the production line and he had received it just a few weeks before, a twenty-fifth birthday present. Though the environment had to be protected – manufacture was illegal for the common Citizen and anyone engaged in acts of such industry, no matter how small, was taken away, never to return – a special branch of Signor Oli Garqi’s workforce developed telecoms for the elite on a regular basis. For now, Fred was rather fond of his new device.

“Hello,” he said, a light smack on his rear accompanying his standing. “What?… Oh Christ… No, we don’t want to see him. It’s not the first time is it? Just sack him… No. We better replace him with one of their lot. Keep the special relationship ticking over. Honestly, some of these ministers. They get a new smartphone and they go absolutely mad… Exactly… Yeah, if you can get hold of Martin and can understand the lisp ask him who he wants to put up for promotion. If not, get in touch with Nicola… Yep. See you in a bit.”

“Somebody’s celebrations go a bit too far?” asked Denise. “Reinhart, by any chance?”

Fred nodded.

Samuel Reinhart, the Minister for Gender Equality, a married man of decent vintage, had been forcibly removed from a strip-club for lewd behaviour whilst severely intoxicated.

“Well he was well on his way at the Gala last night,” said Denise as she returned two coffee cups to the kitchen.

“And he wasn’t the only one, was he?” responded Fred. “El Presidente was hardly in fine fettle.”

“No but Sherry was! She tried to kiss me in the Ladies.”

“Is that a euphemism?”

“It’s not the first time she’s tried something. And Zini! Bloody hell. With that young Blackguard.”

“Yeah,” said Fred, laughing. “It was certainly some night.”

The Reinhart episode brought to mind the first ministerial casualty of the Liberal Compassionates’ tenure, Graham Calloway. He’d made some pretty eye-watering remarks about gender regarding insertion and consent, although it was a cat-impersonation on national television that had finally precipitated his departure, some fiasco involving lapping at an imaginary saucer on one of Garqi’s reality shows.

President Hair’s push to be whiter than white had meant a new code of conduct: The Public Accountability Directive.

This edict demanded that:

Those in the public eye set an example of decent behaviour to the rest of the country.

It was the Glasnost to befit the Perestroika. Calloway was told his actions were incongruous with his position, and was cut loose. He had avoided incarceration though, a fate that befell many sportsmen and women guilty of advertising soft drinks, fast food and alcohol.

At least this type of story didn’t find its way into the papers anymore. Think I’ll file this Reinhart fandango under lessons will be learnt, thought Fred, pondering also options for promotion. He knew President Hair would oppose the advancement of any more Neo-Luddites but what Fred wanted he usually got.

Hair had never been entirely sure of his liaison politique with his coalition partners. It infuriated him how difficult they were to get hold of. They certainly lacked a contemporary sense of efficiency, and with the exception of Reinhart (who seemed to have ditched all his principals since coming to power), they possessed no phones, computers or any other communication technology, preferring instead an elaborate message relay system involving many comrades. They advocated the end of lawnmowers – the gardener’s oppressor. “A man should be able to work free from the shackles of machinery!” they cried, though the gardeners in question found them quite liberating. But getting the Neo-Luddites on board – and in particular their leader, Militant Martin – had been the clincher in getting into power. It was he who had coined the phrase the end of the era of gadgetry, a phrase Fred rather liked, and a phrase that had rather set the tone for his project.

“I’m not looking forward to the mountain of post-Republic Day admin I’ll be doing for His Royal President,” said Denise finding her shoes under the lounge table.

“I’ll tell him to go easy,” said Fred.

“I should think so too,” said Denise giving Fred a lingering kiss. “Right, I’m going for a shower. Tell me when it’s safe for us to leave.”

“Sure thing, babe,” he responded.

Denise walked past him and gave his derriere a quick squeeze. He watched her enter the bathroom, a facility with every type of comfort, the key features being the free standing bath and a shower with a head the size of a dustbin lid.

Not for the first time today Fred’s phone buzzed. It was his deputy at the CAU (Citizens’ Announcements Unit, more colloquially known as The Cow). She had an important query regarding a policy announcement.

Fred was being asked to rubber stamp –

“Following the death of a man in his forties, dressed in a Superman outfit, capes are now to be banned. This is the best option going forward.”

Apparently some fool had leapt from his window dressed in this heroic garb. The idea of an accidental death had been brushed aside by the Investigative Unit in charge of this sort of thing. They had reached a verdict of death by suicide and so now the two, capes and suicide, were inextricably linked and it was decided that for the people’s safety, capes would be banned.

“In addition sir, we suggest a ban on all fancy dress outfits to follow. We believe there is a real issue of identity crisis at work here.”

Fred laughed inwardly at the culture he had inculcated. “Indeed,” he responded. “Release this immediately and add – Why do these people want to pretend to be something they are not? We must help them confront who they are. We must be tough on identity crises, tough on the causes of identity crises.

“Very good sir.”

Fred hung up the phone and sauntered to the master bedroom. He used the other bedroom as an occasional office or, more usually, his female guests used it as a dressing room. Both were replete with super king-size beds and walk-in wardrobes.

In his own room’s wardrobe Fred surveyed his choices, the rows of sharply-cut handmade suits of every imaginable colour and design, all meticulously arranged, and the huge array of clothes for every occasion. There were roughly forty pairs of shoes. Today he would wear his favourite brown lace-up brogues, freshly polished. Selecting a suit and shirt he put the garments on the bed. He clothed, and beheld himself in the full length mirror. Svelte and a little over six foot with a complexion that alluded to a foreign lineage, Fred had a distinguished and handsome look. He looked like someone you would like. He looked like someone built for success. It’s probably what had taken him so far, so quickly.

Fred had always harboured a strong desire to become involved in the machinery of government. Not for any ideological end you understand. He hadn’t gone into politics to eradicate inequality, for example – though given his own background that would have been a reasonable assumption. No. Fred’s only loyalty in life was to having fun, to mischief. He wanted to see how far he could get, and moreover, what he could get away with (not unlike most politicians). That his wild practical joke had had the whiff of sense, of justice, even, had made it all the more plausible.

For Fred, the opportunity, timing and execution could not have been better. He knew a people as disillusioned, tired and ill as the Britons of those recent times were ripe for the taking; that if he could penetrate the corridors of power, the collective state of inertia could afford him carte blanche to reshape the country. And how right he had been. He had reorganised the very texture of lives on a hitherto unimagined scale. Just to see if he could.

Advising a delusional drug-addled President who trusted him implicitly was like having his own toy and whatever whim or flight of fancy Fred dreamed up he could make happen. Thanks to Fred, the age of Consumerism – golden to some, a stain of regret and shame for others – was over. Thanks to Fred, Life Administration and NIPSD had revolutionised existence. Easification-Facilitation. Fred still laughed about that now. How could anyone have taken that seriously? He felt immense pride at the level of absurdity he had influenced. It was all more fun than he had hoped. As head of The Cow Fred liked to think of himself as the Goebbels of the LibCom regime, the government joke writer. He had great fun feeding lines to President Hair, often wilfully ridiculous. The funniest thing was that people had taken and continued to take his every word seriously. Coming up with the LifeManagement4Life mantras and HairVision! had been particularly enjoyable.

Tying his tie, Fred’s phone beeped. He looked at the message.

“River Drive Plasticitis outbreak neutralised. Safe to leave.”

Fred smiled again, not at the speed with which the situation had been resolved – he expected that – but because every outbreak of Plasticitis effluent reminded him that the advent of this deadly plague had been crucial in getting him to where he craved to be.

It was watching Militant Martin on TV that night almost two years ago that Fred’s idea had begun to slot into place.

He remembered the leader of the Neo-Luddites, puce with rage, arguing that for as long as anyone could remember an overriding idea had prevailed; that only newness could mark out a culture, a society, a way of living, as civilised; that it was so ingrained in the people to upgrade every six months some believed it to be a natural state. Certainly Fred did. But the rabid lust for the newest gadget that had reigned so supreme for so long, built on the possibility of selling the perfect life, had delivered anything but. People had gone on and on about climate change until they were blue in the face but in reality there was now a concern more pressing than the great feared-for tidal wave due any moment.

Martin fumed that everywhere you looked were reminders of the decadence of the age. All over the country huge piles of phones, laptops, kettles, computer consoles, disposable contact lenses, disposable lighters, plastic cutlery, last season’s trainers, sweat-shop t-shirts, toasters, external hard-drives, plastic packaging, bubblewrap, eBook readers, plastic bottles, bottle tops, branded plastic bags, electric bottle openers, memory sticks, plasma tellies and any number of other device adorned the landscape. There were old cars with a thirst for petrol that could never be sated again, fallen power lines, filth and debris everywhere, the waste from a million corporate events, the split black bin liners of rampant domestic refuse.

And the forests? Sold off and turned into vast dumping grounds. And as the people had become evermore at pains to find new junkyards to discard their unwanted, out of date objets d’amour, the earth was dug full of great pits for this refuse, this consumerist expectorate. Plastic effluent began to seep through the soil and land accompanied by a grotesque miasma leaching illness into the bodies of the populace.

The plague had become so widespread any policy could be justified by its continued presence. It was possible Plasticitis had even affected the genetic make-up of the people. It was still too early to tell. Not even The Great Clean-Up solve that.

When such outbreaks occurred (as they did regularly) the response was supposed to be rapid (as it had been in this case) but there was something of a post code lottery involved. An early missive Fred had penned for The Cow spelled out that –

“Unfortunately there just aren’t always the resources to address every situation immediately. The Liberal Compassionate Party care deeply for your wellbeing and safety. Stay indoors until Environment Technicians can arrive.”

Fred knew in some cases people waited up to three days, house-bound in the interim. This disparity was undoubtedly a contributing factor to the dissention that was now re-emerging. Just as Fred had known it would.

It was time for President Hair to discover what the Government would be doing to tackle this dissention and Fred had something quite special up his sleeve. In fact, his sleeves were bulging. He removed a thin document from his cherished briefcase, the one relic he had of his father. He looked at the document for a moment, slightly in awe of the courage of those behind it. Can’t wait to see the old dog’s reaction to this! he thought. He popped the document back inside his briefcase, delight and excitement coursing through him. Fred had been looking forward to this day for some time. Not only would Prez Tez be in for a bit of a shock, finally Robert Pope would begin his special role.

“Denise!” shouted Fred, walking out to the lounge. “We’re good to go.”

“K!”

As Denise emerged from the second bedroom Fred grabbed a handful of jelly babies from the bowl on the coffee table, and they headed out.

 

***

 

Fred smiled at everyone as he entered Buckingham Palace, greeted in turn with well wishes and general enquiries about his health. He strode with purpose, his every step met with awe, this tall, slender, good-looking, brown-skinned man, who was well-heeled to boot.

Despite his earlier exertions Fred elected to take the stairs, one of the very few permitted access to the sleeping quarters of the Palace. He approached a door and knocked.

On the other side of the door, in salubrious surrounds, a woman nudged her lover awake.

“Hello Mr President.”

They rubbed noses as was their wont.

“So great not to be common any more, isn’t it darling?” she said.

Before the President could answer there was another knock at the door.

“Enter!” cried the woman.

Upon hearing this command, Fred did just that.

“Good afternoon Mr President, First Lady,” he said. “I trust you slept well and are ready for the next chapter in salvaging the country?”

“Hello Fred,” mumbled Hair.

“Hello Frederick,” said Sherry, smiling eyes only for him.

She was wearing a tight fitting black robe. She looks good, thought Fred. He took the President’s wife’s hand and kissed it, maintaining eye contact while he did so. Sherry didn’t think she’d ever met so dashing and debonair man in her life. He looked vibrant. Her husband looked strung out.

“You are a vision as always.”

Sherry giggled.

“Oh stop it Fred. You’ve no chance. You know I’ve only eyes for one man.”

“Quite right too. And what a man he is.”

But the President didn’t notice this flirtatious interplay. He was troubled.

“I can never get this right,” he said, fumbling with his tie, “and it needs to look just so.”

“Indeed it does,” Fred responded, coming to his leader’s aid. “There you go. Perfect.”

“Thank you Fred,” said the leader, smiling affectionately. “God I feel terrible. I need a drink.”

Sherry was quick to accommodate.

“What would you like dearest heart?” she said, still glowing from her exchange with Fred.

“Whisky. Make it a large one with lots of ice.”

Sherry was quite taken aback by the abrupt tone. She rather liked it.

“Coming up,” she said, kissing her husband’s neck. “Fred?”

“Yes please, First Lady.”

As Sherry winked at him, Fred turned to the President.

“Yes sir, that was some party, wasn’t it? Hair of the dog – if you’ll excuse the pun – should get us going.”

With his back to his wife at the drinks cabinet, Hair nodded, said nothing, rubbed his eyes and head. Fred, sat directly in front of the President, watched Sherry slowly rolling up her robe and sucking her finger.

“Er, sir, if I may, can I use the-?” Fred motioned towards the bathroom.

“Of course, Fred, you needn’t ask.”

“It’s always better to be polite, Mr President.”

Fred mouthed ‘naughty’ at Sherry before entering the Presidential khazi. It was a fair size, containing a Jacuzzi and shower, and a bizarrely enormous toilet. After he had spent his penny, Fred flushed, a luxury not available to most.

Upon re-entering the Premier’s chamber, he saw Hair open a hatch and remove bountiful portions of bacon, egg, mushrooms, beans, fresh coffee, muffins and a selection of juices. Hair tucked in, while a sleepy Sherry pushed her food round her plate.

“I told those idiots down there that I want Muesli and Grapefruit. Why won’t they listen?”

“I’ll have a word,” said Fred.

Hair ladled a spoonful of beans towards his mouth. Half fell on the floor, the rest he gorged on.

“Republic Day was a disaster,” he said, expelling a beany mush.

Oh God, he’s not still going on about this is he? thought Fred. No wonder Sherry’s so sick of him.

The anniversary of the accession of The United Kingdom to People’s Republic of Britannia had indeed been a muted affair. For many hours after the celebrations President Hair had been sat in his study here in the Palace drinking away his gloom, remote control in hand, watching footage of the recent ceremony over and over again, flitting between obsessively rewinding and viewing the footage and staring vacantly into the middle distance, asking anyone nearby if it looked as bad as it felt.

Again, Hair pressed play and a close-up of his grinning mug filled the screen.

God he looks gaunt! thought Fred. Garqi did a number on him there, didn’t he?

Indeed. Signor Oli Garqi – head honcho of MediaCorp International and whose donations to the Liberal Compassionate Party had bought unilateral media control – had explained to Hair that he would appear more empathetic, more able to relate to the Citizenry if his appearance reflected the austerity of the times. Fred glanced at the leader sat next to him. Doesn’t look much better now, he thought.

Hair was fixated on the screen as he watched himself come out to a lukewarm reception.

“All hail the President, leader of the People’s Republic of Britannia!”

The LibCom flag-wavers had been there but that was about it. And as Fred watched more closely, he could see the leader say through smiling teeth – Where the fuck is everyone?

Hair shook his head in disbelief as he watched himself speak the announcement Fred had prepared for him.

“Now that we as a nation have finally moved on from an era of preposterous tradition, we can celebrate, united together, the freest we have ever been, the undue privilege afforded the Royals and CEO’s of Big Business removed forever.”

“Oh it looks terrible,” said Hair. Again.

“As I’ve told you President,” said Fred, texting one of his new girls, not looking up, “don’t worry. It looked different on the news. The reshoot was amazing and demonstrated a unified response of support and adulation. Remember, we have skilled cameramen and the highlights programme looked spectacular, edited complete with footage of teeming Monorails and grinning public.”

“I just can’t help thinking that it went out live,” Hair whispered.

“Oh darling, come on. It looked better than you think,” said Sherry. “How about another drink?”

She took Hair’s glass from him, not waiting for him to respond.

“Fred, how about you?”

“If you’re offering,” responded Fred, looking up momentarily.

That’s not all, darling, her eyes seemed to say.

“I can’t believe people weren’t there!” said Hair, suddenly animated. “Why didn’t the Public Harmony Unit do their job properly? They should’ve been letting it known in no uncertain terms that each Citizen’s presence was required!”

“All I can say sir is that lessons will be learnt,” Fred responded, finally putting down his phone and looking at the President. “We have launched a review of best practice immediately.”

“After what you promised me as well.”

“Sir all I can say is there was a communication breakdown. I can’t apologise enough.”

“Honestly Fred, they can’t even be bothered to come and show their appreciation. After all I’ve done.”

“I know, I know.”

“Are we in control here? Why was there no-one there? And I’m convinced Cliffe is up to something.”

Heath Cliffe, a thorough if uninspiring operator, was the man in charge of the country’s finances. Though he had developed the concept of Liberal Compassionatism it had been agreed he would have a more secondary role to the charismatic Hair – albeit that charisma was now on the wane. Since then of course, Fred had rebranded the party somewhat and found Cliffe easy to sidestep, believing him not to have the gumption to destabilise the LibCom ship.

“Oh it’s a lot of piss and wind where he’s concerned President. He hasn’t the balls to try anything. I wouldn’t worry about him.”

Hair nodded unconvincingly and picked up a muffin. Another emotional dip was imminent.

Fred was well versed in the President’s propensity for wild swings in humour – he was responsible for most of them, after all – but he hadn’t seen Hair this uncomfortable since the start of his project, when he had put it to Hair that adopting the policies of the Neo-Luddites would win a landslide. When Fred mooted that Plasticitis was the result of a pyramid of wealth built on the sinking, contaminated sands of a throwaway culture perpetrated by banks and big business, and that electoral success lay in bringing them to book, Hair’s eyes had glazed over. And when Fred put it to Hair that years of tax evasion and bonuses and a desire to own as much wealth and property as possible had driven the country into the dirt, that seizing their assets would fund the rebirth of the nation, Hair had been more than a little squeamish about the prospect of crucifying old friends.

But when Fred put it to him that he could be the people’s saviour, that, dare he think it, he could be their Messiah, Hair had nodded. Yes, he knew it was true. He had always known it was true. He just needed reminding.

Well, thought Fred, reaching into his briefcase, this’ll shake his belief in that.

“There is perhaps something you should see sir,” he said, handing Hair a thin, crumpled booklet.

“What is it?” Hair asked through a mouthful of muffin.

As the President scanned over the document incredulity took hold of him, the last morsels of muffin falling to the floor, panic spreading to his eyes.

The face of it had changed – the production values representing the limitations of the times – but the bold black letters etched onto a white background showed KARMATARMAK had made its return!

“I thought these fuckers were no longer operational!” Hair cried. “Where did this come from? How did it get here?”

“It appears they have been dropped all over the Central and North Districts. There’s no reason to believe this current crop emanates from anywhere other than Hellevue. Despite the considerable success we had in arresting vendors of the publication last time they tried something, and many contributors, we never did find the top brass, nor find out where it had its headquarters, even in its legal days.”

Until he had received an email out of the blue about four months ago, Fred had assumed KARMATARMAK was finished as well. Surely no-one would dare carry on after the last crackdown. In fact, he had wondered if anyone connected with it was still alive.

Hair picked up the copy of the zine ­– which comprised four sheets of A4 folded into a sixteen sided A5 document – and began reading the words of the editor, Herr Enigma.

“We were promised a green revolution. And what did this revolution bring us? Exactly what we had before, just with different faces. Hair says: ‘These are complicated and trying times, to hinder the Government is a treasonable offence.’ I would suggest reasonable.

“As we witness a year of the Republic, of eighteen months of Liberal Compassionate rule, I call on all of you to take part in mass acts of civil disobedience and to take to the streets again. Yes, the road to sedition, we must travel it! Disrupt the Life Administration Directive, board the Monorail on your no-travel days. We need one last push to overthrow these thieves of liberty!

“We do not make this make this call to arms lightly – I am all but aware of the terrible suffering after we last published. But we must do something, otherwise there will be no end to the horror and our country will be irrevocably damaged, future generations born into ever-expanding tyranny. Love to all who love freedom.”

“Didn’t think they could still write over there in that cesspool!” raged Hair.

“Well it appears they can,” responded Sherry as she wiped bean juice spray from her arm. “And with no shortage of lyrical prowess.”

The persistence of this KARMATARMAK ­greatly irked Hair. Being a vainglorious character – thereby upholding the political tradition – he wanted to be liked by all.

“Have the PHU uncovered anything?” he asked, sending bits of sausage spiralling through the air, impatient for answers. He fixated on a cartoon of himself, The Joker.

“In terms of identities, it’s early days, sir. We only started enquiries last night. We are-”

“Last night? Why wasn’t I told?”

“I didn’t want to disturb you sir. It was your special night. But as I say, we are questioning people as we speak. Tonight we will go to the terror district and commence operation Hellevue Harmony.”

“What about CCTV footage from when the zine was being delivered? Have you looked through that?”

“Of course, sir. But they were very well disguised.”

“Why didn’t the Blackguard stop them at the time?”

“We’re looking into that, sir.”

Hair slumped forward, disconsolate.

Sherry looked at Fred, mouthed ‘I want you.’ Fred wagged his finger at her.

“Sir,” he said, snapping his vision away from the leader’s wife. He tipped the remnants of a wrap onto the table. “Here. This will help with policy development.”

He chopped at the powder in front of him and handed the mirror to Hair. Hair brightened, nodded girlishly.

He’ll have to stop crossing his legs like that, thought Fred. People don’t trust a man who can cross his legs all the way over. And neither should they.

Hair snorted and snorted again.

“One for you, First Lady,” said Fred, giving a mock bow with a rolling hand. “I know what you lawyers are like.”

“Oh, that,” said Sherry pulling her eyes away from the ice bucket to see Fred chopping on a mirror. “Yeah go on then. Thank you, my Liege.”

She handed her men their drinks.

“This governing thing certainly suits us.”

It certainly does, thought Fred, hardening at the prospect of some more time alone with the President’s wife. He basked in this thought, sipping at his whisky, watching Sherry drape herself over the country’s premier.

“What an outrage!” shouted Hair, suddenly indignant after his granular intake. “I bloody well saved this country, practically single-handedly, and this is the thanks I get! And this isn’t the first time they’ve attacked me either, is it? No. What did they write when I first came to power, before we illegalised them onto the Un-British list?”

“I don’t recall President.”

“Is he in there, Fred?”

“Who, sir?”

“You know.”

“Oh. Ockham, sir?”

“Yes, Ockham.”

“Er yes, sir, he is.” Fred picked up the zine from the table.

“The Grinning Idiot of Salvation…”

Egg flew out of Hair’s mouth in a flurry of mucussy babbling.

“I’ve a good mind to go down there myself and tell these people exactly what I think! Denigrating the country like this! And Ockham. Hasn’t even got the decency to show his face! What I wouldn’t give for ten minutes alone with this character!”

Fred started again.

“The Grinning Idiot of Salvation cancelled our voices to protect the environment, emoting on the specifics of our times. The very action of creating led to all our problems, he claimed.

“Yet this is a debate the Dear Old Saviour deliberately misrepresents. In truth it isn’t the action of creating he wants to prohibit, but the disparaging content. The Cultural Revolution has banned new books, film, music, art… And us. Well we’re still here. They used violence but they never caught us and now we will rise again! It is time to launch a campaign of unceasing secular jihad!”

“Secular jihad!” bleated Hair. “Cultural Revolution! All these so-called writers and artists! Why don’t they get a proper job! I was a rock star when I was younger but I realised I had to grow out of it!”

From time to time Hair would throw his toys out of his pram and have a hissy fit because he’d never made it onto the stage at Glastonbury. It was why he had swallowed with such gusto the idea of what was now colloquially dubbed the Cultural Revolution, thought Fred. Sour grapes. He continued.

“We’ve all heard about the autonomous tribal zones throughout the country. The rest of us should follow. We must end the horror of New Democracy. Liberty for the United Kingdom!”

“Oh, I’ve heard enough!” cried the President. “It makes me quite mad. Where does this bastard get off? That’s incitement to riot! I mean it’s bad enough to attack the Government and me, personally, but democracy? Well, that’s just going too far.”

“I quite agree sir,” said Fred.

“What fools!” exclaimed the President. “What absolute, bloody….”

Hair slumped into his chair. He looked distraught.

“What am I gonna do, Fred?”

More panic and confusion engulfed the leader’s face as he again nuzzled the mirror.

“Now President, don’t you worry about that. The PHU are a very well trained and highly motivated bunch who hate all things literary or seditious. They’ll close down anything they come across, arrest anyone contravening Public Safety Directives. They live for it.”

“And there’s no sign of revolution?”

“Good grief no,” laughed Fred. “Of course, the problem doesn’t go away when we arrest this scum. New terrorists are always waiting to fill any void. Anyway, we’ll get em all, eh?” said Fred, slapping the leader on the side of his left arm. Hair nodded, uncertain. “Let’s not get depressed. Good work is being done, progress is being made and you, President, you, are transforming the country. You’re doing a fantastic job.”

This drew a smile from the leader like a smitten daughter for her father.

“You think so, Fred?”

Fred nodded.

“Well, yes, yes I am,” said a now buoyed Hair. “And no two-bit parasite in some rag is gonna sway me from my destiny!”

“That’s the spirit.”

“Yes,” said Hair, “my people,” then softer, “my people….” He looked up at Fred. “The only mistake I make is not listening to myself enough. I know I’m right but sometimes I just don’t have the courage of my convictions.”

“Come sir, we all wobble from time to time.”

“That’s right darling, you’re doing fantastically,” agreed Sherry, rubbing Hair’s back, pulling a ‘yawn’ face at Fred.

“You will need to make a statement though, sir,” said Fred.

“Can’t you get someone else to do it?”

“It’ll be better if it comes from you, sir. You are the President, after all. Your car is waiting.”

Reluctantly Hair stood up, turned to Sherry and kissed her passionlessly before turning to the door. As her husband looked away, Sherry looked up at his young companion and blew a kiss. Fred doffed an imaginary cap, bowing ever so slightly. Sherry smiled, gave a flirtatious wave. Fred was having too much fun. He waved back, regally. Tart, he thought to himself. I like tarts.

Then Sherry, louder, evidently for her husband’s benefit, “Bye Frederick.”

“Bye First Lady.”

Having given Hair a statement to read and assuring him that the Hellevue Harmony campaign would get underway forthwith, Fred bid a temporary au revoir to Hair. Though the President had wanted his confidante near him, Fred had declined. He was fastidious about not making public appearances. He had no intention of alerting a wider audience to his influence. His reasoning to Hair was that he didn’t want to detract from the premier’s limelight. As ever, Fred had the President just where he wanted him.

So what next? thought Fred. To flush out all those who may be inclined to get involved in revolution Fred had contacted NIPSD HQ and instructed all Citizens’ Accounts Technicians to focus on analysing the Social Media output and internet usage of Hellevue residents. In the main only those employed by the Government and the elite used computers these days but by looking at historical evidence – all the data had been gathered just after the LibComs came to power – the Government could get an indication of the likely characters. The slightest whiff and a Citizen was to be detained. Irrespective, the Blackguard and Public Harmony Unit had orders to arrest five per cent of the men of Hellevue later that night. Fred then planned to announce significant arrests through The Cow, to announce KARMATARMAK terrorists had been brought in, whether true or not. This, he had assured Hair, would lead them to the ringleaders.

And this all meant Fred had now arrived at the auspicious moment to release his story to warm the hearts of the nation, to show the great strides being made by the Government in Hellevue. Now that terrorism was back, it was time to launch Robert Pope into stardom. To do this he would need the help of his old friend and employer, Signor Oli Garqi, the sole foreigner in the LibCom operation. Foreigners were something of a rarity these days and though the world had deglobalised and international ties were virtually non-existent, a few people did still maintain international links, media moguls being the most preeminent of this group, topping even governments. It was thanks to Fred that Garqi had been brought in. And it was thanks to Garqi that the LibComs had had the funding to win the election. Fred loved the poetry of funding a Green-Commie revolution with the ill-gotten gains of an Italian media mogul.

After unfavourable coverage of phone-hacking at one of his papers in Italy and the imprisonment of one of his editors, Garqi was finally run out of his home country for fraud. Two things amazed Fred about this. Number one, that Garqi hadn’t been able to buy himself out of it. Second, Fred thought it pretty incredible that anyone had been charged with fraud over there. Knowing the Italian wanted to relocate his base and extend his vast media empire into Britain, Fred had come up with a plan. As his influence over Hair had grown, Fred offered Hair and the LibComs the chance for an injection of cash. As long as there was something in return. Garqi was brought in as a donor at first, with a tacit promise he could dismantle the BBC.

Official line had been that MediaCorp International had taken over the running of the BBC to make it more competitive, and that current independent channels would cease broadcasting due to the pollution they caused. In the early days there had been a bit of a walkout as the pro-government agenda was gradually imposed, departing employees speaking out about the tinkering with a story here and there. But the voids were easily filled due to the surfeit of unemployed journalists, which included, in no particular order, careerists and apolitical types and those that could put aside their ideology to secure a fairly decent standard of living. It wasn’t hard to look the other way if it meant a bit more domestic comfort. This was known as doing an Eriksson, either accepting money to turn a blind eye, as here, or selling yourself to the highest bidder. It was named after a philandering football coach from yesteryear.

In addition, all newspapers had been ordered to dismantle and hand over their resources to the Government. (Fred concocted this as revenge for an exposé on expenses. It was unanimously agreed by the newly seated LibComs). Because of the limited resources and the potential for pollution, only one broadsheet and one tabloid were permitted, both established out of the ashes of those that had disbanded. They were: The Daily Sentinel – the broadsheet, and The Daily Rumour – the tabloid. Naturally enough, Garqi now had both in his vast international portfolio. Unsurprisingly, more Citizens read The Rumour which was useful as the type of story Fred wanted to concoct was tabloid-friendly. Garqi had been very receptive to Fred’s idea. He liked it a lot, found it funny. Just say the word, he said. Well the word wouldn’t be long coming.

The idea to have an inhabitant of Hellevue display loyalty to the Government was undoubtedly a winner. It would change the perception of the district, show that it wasn’t just the playground of terrorists. This would make the people of Hellevue feel included. And make the life of Robert Pope rather different.

It had worked well that Zini had required Pope to complete ‘a few more realignment modules’ before he could be released. Fred had had to wait for the other player anyway – what was her name, ah yes, Clementine Romain – and for the final round of KARMATARMAK copies to find their way into the central districts, and most importantly, President Hair’s hand. Then the Hellevue raid could start and Fred’s news story could come out the next day. Tomorrow.

Fred rummaged in his pocket, found his phone and dialled.

“Hello Frederick, my darling. How are you?” cooed Dr Zini.

“Hello Doctor. A little ropey from last night but other than that, as good as ever.”

“Yes. Sorry I had to leave early. That young Blackguard just tickled my fancy!”

“I bet he did, Germolene, I bet he did. Now look, I’d love to chat all day but I’m sure we’re both busy. Is he ready yet?”

“Who? Your man Pope? Indeed he is. There’s just one more thing he needs to do. As agreed, he’ll be out tonight.”

“Perfect.”

Fred hung up and dialled again. Garqi.

“Freddi dear, ow iz your ‘ead?”

“Much better now. You?”

“Oh good, good. Wendi look after me today. But what about dee President? I have concerns about iz ‘ealth.”

“You’re not the only one, Oli.”

“Yes, I know. I ‘eard a few others ad started talkeen as well. Cliffe and dose Millipede brudders. Just ow ill is e? Is e finished?”

“Maybe soon, Oli. But for now, what about our story? Are we ready?”

“Yes we ready, Freddi dear. Are you?”

“Yes I am, Oli. Release the hounds!”

 

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