I'm currently in a phase of finishing, altering and recovering stories. This is something I like but I suspect won't stand much of a chance with any anthology or magazine quite soon so enjoy, or don't.
I am merely a psychologist, a professional psychologist with a practice of my own, but when I’m seconded to the Agency That Cannot Be Named1 I become the Reality Manager. The job of the Agency That Cannot Be Named is to parse world news, political gossip and internet traffic on behalf of the government. Given the amount of information out there, not to mention the urgent, competitive ethos at the Agency, it’s not surprising that a few manias develop every now and then and when they do I am called up.
Don’t be fooled, these are not petty rows among grey, passive bureaucrats. Not so long ago an agent was working late at a facility in Stanmore when for no good reason he chopped himself into several pieces, threw his body parts into a utility room and locked himself in from the outside. There were no clues as to what happened, aside from the fingerprints and human hair found on the scene, not to mention the security video of five hooded figures hacking the agent to death. It was a mystery.
The Agent had been working on data showing a correlation between global warming and Islamic fundamentalism. This angered not a few in the Agency who had been briefing sources over a number of years that climate change was invented in 1975 by a conspiracy between the Green Party, the London School of Economics and the BBC Natural History Unit. If he found a causal link between the two factors the Agent would have knocked the bottom out of several long-term infiltration projects.
No one could prove anything though, and disbandment or prosecution would be dangerous for morale, not to mention the time and effort it would take developing new identities so the agents could reintegrate into civilian society, so my second job was invented. My role is to alleviate operational manias and if possible reconcile them with reality. I am the Reality Manager. Where there are opposing delusions I have to reconcile them as well.
A good example would be the Case of the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition was a dangerous man, a dark horse. He was made party leader unexpectedly. Despite being a cabinet minister in a previous government his background, his past was dangerously unfactored.
He was the son of a refugee socialist foreigner. He once attended a demonstration where other socialists were present. He was on the record as praising Clement Atlee. Despite having children he was unmarried. All this aroused interest and concern in the Agency. Then came his policy announcements: a modest increase in the minimum wage, utility price freezes, Venezuelan rent controls, Monster Munch to be nationalised, the BBC to be broadcast into every home, bacon sandwiches to be made illegal, bananas to be made straight, a free swan for every asylum seeker, Baa-Baa Green-Sheep as the national anthem and the abolition of slavery.
Two theories arose in the Agency That Cannot Be Named to explain the Case of the Leader of the Opposition:
- He is a Russian Communist Spy sent forward in time to overthrow British Capitalism.
- The USSR still exists.
The second ruminescence was easy to grasp: “You can’t trust Ivan,” I remember one particular Agent saying. The agents who followed this line were largely veterans. Operational inertia was at play here. Once you’ve spent half your adult life chasing Russians round Central London it was hard to stop. That said the faction did recruit a number of younger agents, often ambitious but lazy and prematurely nostalgic. The first theory was a bit more complicated however. I spoke to one of its prime movers, Field Agent Andy Bilson (not his real name2). He told me:
“It’s really very simple. What happened to the space race? It got to 1973 then it stalled. Why, because they brought more than just rocks and dust back from the Moon. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity says the faster you travel the slower time passes. The Leader of the Opposition was not born in the 1960s, he was from the 1960s. That’s why the Russians had all those long-duration missions on their space stations, they were creating sleeper cells.”
If Einstein heard this he would be spinning in his grave3. I asked Bilson how he linked this to the Leader of the Opposition? He told me he’d been working recently in Eastern Europe. They were at a top-secret rendition facility when his partner, Agent Fissure, had a Ukrainian taxi-driver, a frustrating hold-out who claimed he knew nothing, in a stress-hold. After ten minutes the taxi-driver started shouting: “Miliband! Miliband!”
Two hours later they had the whole story down. The taxi driver used to be a rocket engineer during the Soviet era. He was busted down for objecting to the prolonged missions, the deleterious effects of microgravity and radiation4. That’s why he was a taxi driver and Ed Miliband, a commissar at the laboratory where the taxi driver used to work, real name Eduard Mikoyan5, was a Soviet spy.
How to resolve this? One side, the Future Perfect faction, preferred to arrange assassination. Their opponents, the Structuralists, favoured the long-view. If the USSR still existed then it was an institutional, not a personal problem. Preparations were being made for an army coup if the opposition party won6.
The arguments were furious. The future of the nation was in the balance after all. Something had to be done. This had to be nipped in the bud before agency staff started breaking windows, cutting brakes or slipping polonium 210 into the coffee machine.
It was too late to point out this was a likely Department of Misinformation ruse gone too far. That would just escalate matters, full on inter-agency war. Instead, after several months shuttling between factions7, I managed to broker a compromise solution, accepting that Russia’s natural elevation8 and multiple time zones would likely cause some temporal distortion that could lead either to the USSR still existing or Ed Miliband/Eduard Mikoyan being thrown forward in time to 2010 and accidentally made the leader of the Labour Party. We eventually all agreed would be better not to prejudge the result of the election but instead activate agents within the opposition party, the media and the International Space Station to monitor the situation. Both factions agreed to de-escalate their respective plots. There was even a little document, a form signed by both sides. We called it the Canteen Covenant.
That was six years ago. Of course it all went out the window when Labour lost the 2015 election. Now we have a new Leader of the Opposition who actually is a socialist, and the faction fights broke out again. I could tell you all about the manias I have to deal with now but then I’d have to erase your memory with a magnetic brain-wipe and, trust me, you wouldn’t want that. A reality manager’s work is never done.
1 You know the one I mean though. It’s based in the big building we all work in on Vauxhall round-a-about that doesn’t have a postcode or photo on Google Maps.
2 It is his real name.
3 If his brain hadn’t been preserved in a secret laboratory under the Pentagon
4 Apparently, due to some property of coronal mass ejections, a few cosmonauts developed counter revolutionary superpowers, I asked what powers but Bilson did not elaborate on this to me.
5 Not his real name.
6 With Prince Harry elevated to King, Nigel Farage as Prime Minister, Jeremy Clarkson Director General of the BBC and Gary Barlow as Head of Entertainment at Butlins Death Camps.
7 Literally, the rival groups occupied opposite ends of the canteen at lunchtimes, refusing to speak to each other and occasionally flicking food at each other.
8 I made that bit up. Russia is in fact mostly swamp and grassland.