Beyond (2): Crisis Cell
Prazma spins on her swivel chair and scissors her legs into the webcam. ‘Loubou tahn, Josh, baby. Are you getting this?’
‘This is Prazma,’ Claire shouts into the laptop. ‘A tall, authoritative woman.’
‘Claire once tagged me in a Facebook photo,’ Prazma says, ‘as ‘Prazma’ and then ‘Prazma’s tits’.’
‘She has got huge tits though.’ Claire takes a swig of this shitty wetlands rosé we are down to.
‘While my breasts are substantial,’ Prazma says, ‘they do not merit their own Facebook tag. Hey, Gaetan, you want to say something here?’
I’m on the balcony, chopping lines – it’s the only way I can keep drinking this rosé – and looking out over the city at night; around eighty per cent of the capital is brownout but there are still distant crackles of battlefire, from Dera, from Trallcore Buena, from Deep Cut Crystal, and the smell of gunpowder is everywhere. ‘I can’t say anything,’ I shout. ‘He can’t have a male voice on there, it will kill the magical illusion.’
‘This is Gaetan.’ Prazma leans into the Dell screen. ‘He’s basically an enabler.’
‘I’m Witchhaus,’ Claire adds. ‘She’s C-punk, I’m Witchhaus.’
We are meant to be writing the keynote speech for he that Prazma calls ‘The Boss’; but instead having wound up making a video for some guy that Prazma worked with at JP Morgan who apparently has a fetish for a certain kind of domineering Middle Eastern upper caste woman. Prazma and Claire are both Ozymandias media advisers and Ivy Leaguers, which makes them fairly upper caste… although for how much longer, I wouldn’t care to speculate.
I wander into the main bedroom carrying lines of coke chopped on the Callicore IV mirror and pass them round. We are in the private quarters of the Dias presidential palace. Lights flicker from an adjoining room that acts as a media hub; screens ranked along one wall display BBC World Service and CNN (bad) along the opposite wall you get Al-Jazeera, Press TV, Russia Today (good) below the screens are lines of laptops where staffers sit hunched over social media networks, trying to ID rebel activists from Facebook photos and online handles, and to disrupt rebel networks with yellow commentary and misinformation. The intimate luxury of this bedroom is marred somewhat by the winestains, rockburns and drug and tobacco paraphernalia that scatter the silk sheets, the Das Racist tunes that almost drown out the sounds of heavy shootfighting coming from I’d guess four out of the five main Dias districts, and Prazma and Claire cackling like demons on the four-poster, casting crazy shadows on the wallpaper in the light of Alia’s van der Straeten candlesticks. ‘Hey, fuck this shit, we got to get on with the speech.’
Prazma snorts at the coke. ‘This is cut to fuck.’
‘Our house dealer fled to Qatar. You pays your money, you takes your choice.’
‘Pass me the wine, babe.’
Claire throws it over. The bottle lands against Prazma’s cleavage and a gout of rosé splatters onto her neck and blouse. Prazma picks up a cushion and hurls it at Claire. ‘Wineboob!’ Claire shouts. ‘Wineboob!’
‘Okay.’ I call up Word on the screen. ‘What have we got so far?’
‘Faith. The Faith identity’s all there. Carrot and stick. Go against us and you won’t just die hard. You’ll live hard after you die.’
‘Okay.’ I am reading it over her shoulder. The perfume mingles with the rosé on her breath, jars me slightly. ‘The Israel section needs work.’
‘Zionists, bay-bee!’ Claire rolls back onto the four-poster. Candleglow reflects off the sheen of her tights in a startling and affecting way.
‘I’m not sure it needs to be a section,’ I say. ‘More a permeation. We have to get that hate to underpin the whole thing.’
‘I disagree.’ The clarity comes back into Prazma’s voice. ‘The speech must be properly structured. The Boss must come to Israel at section seven. That’s basic oratory.’
‘Okay. Bullet point me.’
‘Subtlety is the key. The Boss must imply, without actually saying so, that the rebels are funded by Zionist wreckers, reference the confessions of the rebels we captured; reference all the times our country has stood up to Israel and imply that reform will dilute our strength; reference our thing tomorrow –‘
‘ – and make it clear that they’re not just, like, passive, that the people too have a role in standing up to Israel.’ I’m getting into this now, and remembering how well myself and Prazma have always worked.
‘ – which feeds into the penultimate section of the speech, which is about The People.’ The keys click under Prazma’s nails like swarms of beetles. ‘The People, that’s really important, that’s holistic, that underlies the whole thing. He has to keep making reference to The People. Like: The People. It’s good that The Boss can speak in capitalisations.’
‘Maybe we say that Israel’s power extends beyond Israel.’ Claire has surfaced for a moment of sobriety. ‘Like, NATO, the UN, America… it’s all Israel. We could call America… Ziomerica.’ She repeats this a couple of times, then collapses into laughter. Her face is red enough to think hypertension, that she should lay off the coke.
We finally get the speech together. Prazma and Claire’s YouTube video keeps autoplaying, so I am distracted momentarily by the previous nonsense conversation repeating itself in the background. From the hub, shadows of nightshift techies slam down coffee from a machine, and the darkness is blue with cigarette smoke. The battle outside is scattery and recurrent.
Young men and women clock on to mukhabarat duty, and the exchange of banter wakes me as the day staffers fall into their seats with a kind of heavy physical sigh and the others head, maybe to find a safe speakeasy, maybe to go home and crash, after the standard security checks. The three of us rise with reluctance, too wrecked even to fuck. These days, hangovers cause me little pain, just like a soft balloon inside the skull, full of light and fog, obscuring everything. The older I get, the more I need to dig a dagger into the back of my hand to remind myself the world exists.
The ops room is crowded with state TV crews. There are more and more empty seats where high-ranking officers used to sit, long-service men either defected or killed. A seat at the head of the table, rimmed with our seal, also stands empty; Fatty, the Regent, is supposed to attend every one of these briefings, but some months ago elected to spend all his time in the Victor’s Quarter, fucking his whores and drinking away his fortune before it is looted at gunpoint by enraged farmers.
Colonel Dya’apo does the oh eight hundred crisis cell briefing and, to his credit, doesn’t bullshit. But we’re in the situation now where the full truth is not healthy and the Colonel’s briefing does contain some distortions and elisions. These are acknowledged too, in the glances and silences around the table, and in the look in the Colonel’s eyes and the sag around his cheeks and mouth. Here’s the kind of thing I mean:
‘As you all know, the rebels plan to hold one of their weekly demonstrations at twelve hundred in Samr-Alto. The demonstration is to be called ‘Tuesday is the Night of Democratic Intervention,’ following on from the previous week’s ‘Tuesday is the Night of Contempt for Killer Whoreson Ozymandias,’ and the previous week’s ‘Tuesday is the Night of the Overthrow of the Illegitimate and Sectarian Ozymandian Regime’. Today’s illegal demonstration will be suppressed with helicopter gunships, tanks and ground troops, and will prove an example and a deterrent.
‘Things look difficult, I won’t deny that. The rebels hold nine of our fourteen provinces. And it is true that isolated traitors, men weak to the Power, have chosen to abandon our regime. But we will win and we will not forget.’ The Colonel’s gaze sweeps our faces like a prison searchlight.
Commander Jute raises an arm. ‘Our force in arms is of course far greater. But the rebels are calling explicitly for NATO support. Should we not prepare for that eventuality?’
There is genuine laughter around the table for the first time in a long time. ‘I appreciate your commitment to your post, Master-at-Arms,’ the Colonel says. ‘But surely you would agree that the immediate rebel offensive is the greater priority at this moment in time.’
The Master-at-Arms sees the sense in this, and nods, and looks like he wishes he hadn’t spoken. A light lilt creeps into the Colonel’s voice. ‘I believe your question brings us to Ms Haddad’s area of expertise.’
You can sense a shift in the atmosphere. The old guard don’t like Prazma so much. If Prazma cares, her stance and diction do not betray it.
‘Gentleman, like they said in Chicago in ’68, the whole world is watching. But the world can only concentrate on one thing at a time. The rebels will be hoping that the world will be watching their petulant and wilful demonstration. They will be wrong. This morning our Palestinian brothers will storm the Disputed Sprawl; the raid will happen in full view of United Nations offices, in front of camera crews, and synchronised with Western news cycles. At twelve hundred hours, a rally will assemble at the Victor’s Gate, a rally that will dwarf the pathetic rabble in Samr-Alto –‘
There are exchanged glances at this. The Colonel is not the only speaker to gloss over basic facts.
‘ – at which Ozymandias himself will speak, and reaffirm his guardianship of the People against the Zionist-Crusader infiltrators. We shall show the world beyond that this man is loved by his people.
‘The other good news is that our friend Hamid Zlatan has finally seen sense and is ready to make his confession. And tonight, of course, we hold traditional New Year celebrations in the Victory Courtyard.’
The Colonel raises a hand at this point. It’s clear he thinks Prazma’s area of expertise should be restricted to the lighting of cigarettes and the top-ups of ground coffee. He also makes the reasonable point that the palace NYE party may seem a little frivolous, at a time of rapidly escalating civil warfare.
‘Nonsense,’ Prazma says. ‘We must show our internal and external enemies that we are not cowed. If you consider this unwise, you are welcome to raise your concerns with the President himself.’
The briefing ends. We rise to our feet and disperse. No one shuffles papers. There is no written agenda. We no longer write anything down.