On the other side of the Atlantic in a flat in east London, Ian Clarkson was getting ready for work. As he tied his tie, Ian looked at himself in the bedroom mirror. He wasn’t an interesting person to look at, being a 37 year old white male with dull brown hair and simple glasses. But he had a job to do and he intended to do it every day in order to bring home the metaphorical bacon. After adjusting his glasses and making sure his belt was on tightly, Ian walked out of the bedroom and into the kitchen of the flat he shared. Upon entering the kitchen, Ian saw Grace his flatmate sitting at the table eating her own breakfast and checking the news on her phone. Ian said good morning to her, before opening the cupboard and taking out a synthetic loaf to put in the toaster. While he was waiting for it to cook, Ian turned on the radio to hear the news.While he could have easily done it on his phone, Ian had a thing for the radio. At that time, the news simply repeated the reports of what was going on in the african territory wars. Everyday the citizens of the W.E.R. listened in in the hope that their brave troops had managed to push back the P.R.E. forces and help bring another part of the former African continent into the glorious ways of the W.E.R.
“So what’s on the agenda at work today?” Grace asked Ian.
Ian looked up from his food. In the background, the radio had finished the news and was now beginning the top 40 music countdown for that day
“Not much” Ian replied “Just the usual reviewing the new film releases to make sure they comply with the W.E.R.’s guidelines”
“Sounds more interesting then my day” Grace smiled “I’ve got a couple of regular clients coming in for the usual jobs and we’ve got two new people coming in that’ll hopefully enjoy our service enough to-”
At that point, Grace noticed that Ian was completely focused on his breakfast and didn’t appear to be listening to her
“Do I bore you?” she asked
This took Ian off guard.
“Of course not!” he replied confused. Grace looked sceptical
“Then why are you trying to avoid conversation?”
“Sorry if it looks like I’m ignoring you” Ian smiled nervously “I’m not trying to. I’ve just got a long day in the office ahead of me”
Ian briefly hesitated “Thinking about what I’m gonna be doing in the office. You know I’ve got some new films being brought to my attention and I’ve got to make sure it’s all fit for viewing”
Seeing that Grace almost looked somewhat hurt, Ian quickly tried to save face
“Hey don’t worry, I’m sure being a hairdresser is a great job too. Now I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve got to finish my breakfast.”
After the two of them had finished, Ian and Grace said their goodbyes and set off for their respective jobs. Ian’s job took him on the underground to central London. After he stepped out of the station a tall white rectangular building came into view. Above it’s doors were the words Department of Media Monitoring although most people just called it the D.M.M.. Ian took great pride in working here as the D.M.M.’s job was one of extreme importance. They monitored the media of the UK to make sure that nothing was said which could be damaging or cause havoc. This included simple office work going over films and tv shows and checking that everything corresponded with W.E.R. standards or field work travelling to people’s homes to check for illegal material. Ian mostly did office work although he had done a few field jobs though not for a couple of months. Stepping into the lobby, he scanned his id badge into the computer by the entrance. The doors opened and Ian made his way to the nearest elevator to head to floor 3.
“Another day of keeping the public safe” he thought to himself while riding up in a tightly packed elevator.
The 3rd floor of the D.M.M.’s building was full of office cubicles arranged in a grid format with office drones scuttling about and typing things on computers (though not at the same time). Ian always hated this job. After all, the lower floors always got the stuff like teen mags and porn. Ian always wished the people at the top would be kind enough to transfer him to a higher floor watching the latest blockbuster movies. But he didn’t have much of a choice as he had to pay the rent somehow.
As he walked up to his cubicle, a voice behind Ian said “Hey Ian!”
Ian turned around to be greeted by a man with dark black hair who was slightly younger then him
“Oh hey Doug” Ian said “Everything fine at home with that girl you live with?”
“Of course!” Doug replied “We sent off the paper work to register a birth yesterday. Hopefully this means we’ll be able to carry on our legacy a little”
“That’s great” Ian tried his best to sound enthusiastic “And I guess it’s great that you won’t have to waste time with the whole child raising thing”
“Yeah I know!” Doug grinned “It means that I can continue working productively without having to waste time bringing up my child in the great ways of the state!”
“I’ll talk to you later” Ian said turning away“I’ve got a whole lot of stuff to type up”
As he walked away, Doug (oblivious as ever) replied “Yeah sure! I’ll speak to you on break!”
Upon sitting down at his office chair, Ian groaned to himself. Doug was a guy who always seemed to hang around Ian like a bad smell. Despite his irritating nature, Ian always felt compelled to stand and listen to the guy. He wondered why he did it. Probably because in a way he felt a bit sorry for Doug. Doug was the kind of guy who went along with whatever he was told to do by the state. What made him different from the thousands of others who did this was his bubbly nature. The guy had total trust in the W.E.R. and it’s great ways. Which was probably why he was so productive.
Ian groaned and logged into his account. The first thing he was shown was a report from one of the higher ups which read
Hi Ian, we’ve got the copy of Teen Wow! for you to read over. There shouldn’t be anything too offensive, but you can’t take any chances can you?
Below it was a link to the file for the Teen Wow! edition for that week. After the W.E.R. had taken over, paper and print media was pretty much extinct and everything was online. Teen Wow! was one of the more popular webzines among the teen demographic (Hence the name) and was often assigned to Ian’s department to look over
“I guess it ain’t too bad” he thought to himself “I could be stuck looking at the mature women porn publication again…”
With a heavy sigh, Ian began going over the magazine to make sure the whole thing conformed to the W.E.R.’s demands.
Ian spent nearly two hours reading over the magazine’s various pages. As usual it was the same old dross about looking good, the latest celebrity gossip and the dieting/self help columns. When Ian finally reached the end of his report, he declared the publication satisfactory and unlikely to offend anyone. As soon as he sent it off, Ian had mixed feelings. On one hand, he felt glad that he’d gotten the bloody thing out of his hair. But on the other hand, that meant that he’d just have to go through more of them until he reached the end of the shift. Ian opened the file and silently cursed. His next publication to review was a crude low level pornographic magazine “for women who liked real hot beefcakes”. While most porn had largely been written off in the W.E.R.’s attempts to provide such blessings like gender equality throughout the state, the occasional publication was allowed to satisfy the masses although they were more likely to be aimed at women.
“Let’s just get this over with” Ian groaned.
Before Ian could begin his report of the magazine, a hand tapped him on the shoulder. Ian turned around to see a tall employee with a grizzled black beard, by the name of Paul standing over him
“Can I help you?” Ian asked
“We’ve got to head to room 7FB” Paul explained “There’s a big field job that’s about to be carried out and the guys on top want you on it”
“Great!” Ian thought “ A little change of pace from reading dross magazines!”
Ian then followed Paul to the meeting room where several of his work mates had already gathered. Paul walked up to an electronic board and pressed a button on a small control panel to the side. Immediately an image of a rather crude looking website appeared on the screen. It’s background was an ugly yellow and the text on the webpage, a dull red. The title at the top read “The truth behind the W.E.R.”. Below it were several links that read shocking statements such as “Why the W.E.R’s views of gender equality create more problems” or “Why the banning of religion was a bad move”
“As you can see” Paul explained “This website has been causing trouble for the UK branch of the W.E.R. for several weeks. We’ve tried many tactics to remove it. We’ve had it removed from search engines and we’ve tried having it removed from our servers. But it just relocated to the deeper regions of the web. Of course we’re concerned that young people could access it and start holding dangerous views that could threaten the sanctity of the nation.”
Paul then pressed a button and the image on the board changed. It showed a rough map of the greater London area with a red circle in the southern area of Lambeth.
“A few hours ago, our cyber detectives were able to get a reading from the site’s IP address and back trace it to this region here. Our job now is to get to the address before the site’s owners realise they’ve been traced and permanently put them out of business”
Another worker raised his hand “Do they know they’ve been traced?”
“We can’t be sure” Paul replied “Our methods are usually discreet, but they’re not perfect and it’s possible they may already know we’re coming. That’s why we’ve got to get moving. Any other questions?”
Nobody in the room responded
“Good” Paul nodded “Now let’s go!”
The standard equipment in a team like this included a metal helmet and bulletproof armour to protect against attacks. Surprisingly operations like this often featured violence from the perpetrators, so of course the appropriate measures had to be taken. The kit also included a baton, pepper spray and even a handgun for times when offence was the best form of defence. As Ian and the others poured into the back of the van, Paul set the coordinates into the van’s driving computer before joining them. He then produced a map of the property.
“The house is part of a small neighbourhood and has no garden. As a result, half the team will take the back to prevent them from escaping while the rest of us will cover the front”
Paul then looked at another member of the team
“Frank. I want you to lead the rear team”
“Understood” Frank nodded. Paul then pointed to another part of the map
“We think that the servers for the site are located in the house’s basement. When we enter, the first thing we do is secure the occupants before heading into the basement and destroying the servers. We’re also gonna have to sweep the house to make sure that the site hasn’t been backed up on a stick or something”
“How many of them are there in the house?” Ian asked
“ We’re not sure, but according to our surveillance teams, we think there’s two men and a woman.” Paul explained “The problem is that they know they’re doing illegal things and so they don’t leave the house that often. They’ve had a neighbour buy food for them who we are in the process of apprehending for aiding dissidence”
A little while later, the van pulled up to the street where the house was located. Ian followed Paul to the front while Frank lead his team round the back. When they were all in position, Paul gave Ian the signal. His squad then charged at the front door and knocked it out of it’s frame with a single kick. The squad charged through the front hallway and into a nearby kitchen where two young men were standing.
“D.M.M. freeze!” Paul yelled . Both of the men were scruffy looking young men who looked exactly like the sort of delinquents who would cause trouble in any situation. The two of them quickly realised they were both outnumbered and outgunned and held their hands up. The men were then forced to the ground and had their hands restrained,
“Right then!” Paul demanded “We can do this the easy way or the hard way? Where are the website’s servers?”
“I don’t know what you mean” one of the men grunted. Paul slapped him hard on the back of the head
“Do you think we’re a bunch of fucking idiots?” he spat “We know your site is based here! We know this! If you don’t cooperate, you’ll be facing additional charges of obstructing justice! So cough up!”
“What do you think we are? Fucking spineless!?” the other man replied angrily “We’ll never-“
The first man then shushed him
“It’s in the basement below the laundry room.” he said, half mumbling
His partner scowled at him, but remained silent. Paul yanked the man to his feet and put a gun to the back of his head
“Take us there!” he demanded.
Ian and the others followed Paul and the man through the house while two over members of the squad dealt with the man’s partner, to a dirty old laundry room. The man then walked over to the floor with Paul right behind him and opened a trap door.
“You go first” Paul ordered. Knowing he didn’t have much choice in the matter, the man obeyed.
The inside of the cellar was made of bricks with a cold hard floor. In the corner were a group of old servers which were still quietly humming away. Paul turned to the rest of the officers
“Right lads, unpack the flamethrowers. We’re gonna burn this prick to the ground”
The unpacking and assembly of the flamethrowers specially designed for this sort of job took a couple of minutes. As they were nearly finished, the group heard a noise from upstairs. Then Frank stumbled down the steps with a young woman.
“Sir!” Frank saluted “We caught this individual in the upstairs bathroom. She was attempting to upload something through her phone which we’re certain was a copy of the website”
“Did you stop it?” Paul asked. Frank simply nodded. Paul then walked up to the woman and looked her over. She was very plain looking with short blonde hair. Even from where he was standing, Ian could see her trembling. Then she lashed out at Frank. Everything that happened next seemed to happen in slow motion.
The woman snatched Frank’s gun from its holster and punched him in the face knocking him to the floor. As the rest of the officers got ready to tackle her, she aimed the gun at them
“Any of you fucking pricks move and I’ll shoot!” she screamed. For a second, nobody dared to move.Then Paul tried to diffuse the situation
“”Now just calm down-!”
“No!” she screamed “You’re not gonna take away our freedom!”
As Paul approached her, she then began to panic. In desperation, she pointed the gun at Ian
“I’ll kill you!” she screamed “I mean it”
Ian then grabbed his gun and pointed it back at her. However this didn’t discourage her
“You’re really gonna shoot me! Then go ahead and do it!”
Ian hesitated. He’d fired the gun on the job a couple of times, but he’d never actually had to kill someone. As he fretted over his dilemma, the girl began to pull the trigger
“What are you waiting for!” she screamed “Fucking do it!”
As she pulled the trigger a little tighter, Ian panicked and pulled his trigger.
Immediately, the gun’s barrel exploded and blasted a bullet right through the girl’s skull. Parts of bone, brain and blood burst out the back of her head and splattered across the wall behind her. Her lifeless body then slumped to the floor. The officers present all breathed a collective sigh of relief
“Thank fuck that’s over” Paul sighed before helping Frank up. He then walked over to Ian who was panting heavily and laid a hand on his shoulder
“Nice job there son. You really saved our hides.”
Ian nodded, but remained silent
“Right men” Paul said turning back to the officers “Now that that’s over, let’s get on with the destruction like we originally planned.
The torching of the servers went well. Ian and the others watched with delight as the flames licked over the metal of the machines burning them away,twisting them and turning them black, wiping out any trace of the website from the internet. Paul smiled with satisfaction. Once again him and his officers had played their part in keeping the W.E.R. stable and preventing a repeat of the giga wars. After the servers had been completely wiped out, Paul gave them their next orders
“Right lads” he ordered “I want you to search this house and make sure they have no backups of the site or any illegal materials.”
He then turned to two other officers
“Cooper! Brown! I want you two to assist me in processing the owners of the site. They’re gonna be facing a long prison sentence”
Cooper and Brown both saluted “Yes sir!”
The rest of the house looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned in the better part of a decade. All the rooms were filled with garbage and objects scattered across the floor. In the bedroom, the sheets of the bed appeared to have not been washed for months. Ian was sent up to the attic of the house. He was sent by himself as the attic was judged to be the least likely to have dangerous things in it and Paul thought he could use something a little less dangerous. As he climbed up the ladder into the dark cold room that made up the attic, Ian was still thinking about what he’d done. Whipping out his flash light, he began the search for contraband items. Looking around the attic, he could see the room was mostly barren of features with the exception of a few cardboard boxes. Ian opened one and shined his light in to reveal it was full of useless crap like old coat hangers and dirty clothes. The whole time though, he did it all on autopilot.
“I killed her” he thought “Snuffed out her life in an instant”
Ian then tried to reassure himself
“Don’t worry about it. She had it coming. After all, she was threatening you and she was an enemy of the state. She’s only got herself to blame for getting her head blown off…”
Ian then sighed “But I didn’t have to kill her” he thought “ I could have just wounded her or…or…”
At that, he stopped. Ian saw something on the wall opposite. Shining his light, he saw a part of the wall where the paint had peeled away slightly. And something was lurking behind it. Ian rushed over and peeled away the remaining paint causing something to fall out with a quiet thud.
Ian shone his light on the object. It was a small bundle of paper held together by some sort of cardboard that allowed it to open like a clamshell. On one side of the cover was text that read “The Divine Comedy. By Dante”
Ian blinked. He knew damn well what this object was.
It was a book. Once popular among the ignorant masses until the W.E.R. had been established. Before they came along, books caused nothing but untold misery and hurt numerous people emotionally. Of course this had all contributed to the Giga wars which the W.E.R. had bravely ended. It was such a momentous occasion that they’d even got rid of the old calendar based on some intolerant religion and replaced it with After Justice to commemorate the day when humanity reached utopia and all were happy and equal.
Ian frowned. He’d have to report it to Paul for destruction. Yet as he looked it over, Ian was curious. Why would this small insignificant object be so destructive and dangerous to the great and powerful W.E.R.?
As he stared at the cover, Ian decided that surely one little peak couldn’t hurt. So he opened it up , shone the torch on the pages and began to read the words inside.
When half way through the journey of our life
I found that I was in a gloomy wood,
because the path which led aright was lost.
And ah, how hard it is to say just what
this wild and rough and stubborn woodland was,
the very thought of which renews my fear!
So bitter ’t is, that death is little wor-
“Ian!” Paul’s voice called out causing Ian to stumble “You alright up there?
“Yeah I’m great!” Ian replied “Just finishing up! There’s nothing of value up here”
“Well we’re nearly finished clearing up the rest of the house” Paul said “You come down and I’ll give you the briefing”
When Ian stepped down from the attic, Paul was there to greet him
“You ok?” Paul asked concerned
“I’m a little shaken” Ian replied “I’ve never had to kill someone before”
“If I’m honest, you look like shit” Paul told him “You think you can handle the rest of the day?”
“No I don’t” Ian groaned “I know this is asking a little much, but you mind if I take the rest of the day off?”
“I guess that’s fair” Paul replied “You just head back with us and then head home when we get to the office”
Ian nodded “Thanks”
The journey back to the offices in the van was one of the longest Ian ever took. Not only had he lied to Paul about there being nothing of value in the office, he’d also stuffed the book into a small carrier case on his suit. Normally these cases were only there so that the officers could take objects back with them to be analysed. Of course they certainly weren’t supposed to be used to smuggle contraband items. If Ian got caught there existed a very good chance that he’d be sent off to a correction centre. He shivered at the thought.
When the van arrived back, Ian discreetly went back to the uniform deposit area and carefully slipped the book out of the case. Stuffing it under his shirt, he hurried back to his cubicle and quickly slipped it inside his briefcase. Just when Ian though he’d gotten away with it, a voice behind him said
Ian spun around to see the concerned face of Doug staring back at him.
“What do you want!” Ian snapped. Doug held up his hands
“Sorry mate. I just heard what happened on the job and I was a little concerned about you”
Ian sighed “Sorry. I’m just a little on edge. In all the years I’ve been doing this job, I’ve never had to kill someone”
“It’s all right” Doug patted him on the shoulder “That sort of thing will shock anyone at first. Just look on the bright side”
Ian rolled his eyes “Which is?”
“You’ve managed to uphold the sanctity of the W.E.R. and done your part in keeping the nation safe”
“Thanks” Ian replied “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got the rest of the day off”
As he walked away, Doug replied “See you tomorrow!”
As soon as he got back to the flat, Ian poked his head around the door
“Grace?” he called out. No reply. Ian rubbed his hands together with glee and walked into the bedroom. He then closed the blinds to stop others from peering in and sat down on his bed (being that him and Grace slept in separate beds). With a high degree of anticipation, Ian took the book out of his briefcase and began reading over it. Although he found it slightly difficult to understand, Ian was nonetheless fascinated by what he was reading. In fact he actually lost track of the time doing so.
Ian had just reached a rather fascinating chapter on a place called the city of Dis when he heard the door open.
“Oh crap” he though “Surely they haven’t found out already”
Ian then quickly slipped the book under his bed and went outside.
When he left the bedroom, Ian was relieved to discover that it was only Grace. However she looked a little concerned
“What’s wrong?” he asked
“I got a phone call from your boss earlier” she replied “About what happened on the job”
Ian smiled reassuredly “Oh don’t you worry about that. I’m fine now. It’s just an occasional hazard on the job”
Grace frowned “Are you sure? It sounds really horrible”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds, but it’s still pretty bad” Ian replied “But I should be well enough to go in tomorrow. Now how about dinner?”
As Ian picked at his synthetic steak, Grace stared at him. She worried about him sometimes. The job he did was always demanding and she had a strong suspicion that Ian only stayed on for the money. Finally she decided to say something to break the ice.
“You know, I’ve been thinking…”
Ian looked up “About what?
“Maybe we should register to have a child. I mean neither of us are getting any younger and…”
“I don’t think I’m ready just yet” Ian replied. Sensing Grace’s disappointment, he quickly spoke again
“But maybe in the near future-“
“You always say that” Grace groaned “Every time we want to do something, you find an excuse. Sometimes I think it’d be much better if I moved out into another flat”
“Of course not!” Ian replied “I like having you around. It’s just that I’ve got some significant projects to work on at the office at the moment. But I assure you that when the workload decreases, I’ll put in the first application”
Grace folded her arms “Really?”
“Of course” Ian replied “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need some sleep. So I’ll see you in the morning”
“What about your food?”
“I’ll wrap it in foil and put it in the fridge” Ian replied.
After he’d left, Grace thought to herself
“There’s something strange about Ian. Maybe it’s just the stress from work… But I don’t know. I’ll see how he is in the morning and if he still seems shaken… I’ll have to call the doctor”
Grace then shrugged and went off to get some sleep for the night.