LOSING MY RELIGION
I wish I could go back to the comforting certainties of atheism; it’s so much less unpleasant than the One True Religion.
The truth won’t make your Baby Jesus cry because, sad to say, there ain’t no such Son of God. Moses may have taken two tablets before breakfast, but there was nobody home to listen to the prayers of the victims of the Shoah. The guardians of the Kaaba have got the world’s best tourism racket running, the Dalai Lama isn’t anybody’s reincarnation, Zeus is out to lunch, and you
I’m a believer. And like I said, I wish I was still an atheist. Believing I was born into a harsh, uncaring cosmos—in which my existence was a random roll of the dice and I was destined to die and rot and then be gone forever—was infinitely more comforting than the truth.
Because the truth is that my God is coming back.
When he arrives I’ll be waiting for him with a shotgun.
And I’m keeping the last shell for myself.
A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, ANGLETON SUGGESTED I START WRITING my memoirs. It seemed a pretty weird idea at the time—a thirty-year-old occult intelligence officer should take time off on the job to work on his autobiography?—but he had a point. “Bob,” he said, in his usual frighteningly avuncular tones, with a voice like dry sheets of parchment rubbing, “like it or not, that thick little skull of yours contains valuable institutional knowledge that has been acquired over years of service for H. M. Government. If you don’t start now, you may never catch up with the job. And if you don’t catch up with the job, part of the Laundry’s institutional memory might vanish for good.” He gave a curious little chuckle, as if he regretted having had to admit that there was any value to my meager contribution. “You might die on your next field assignment, or be turned by the enemy. And that’d be nearly ten years of work down the drain.”
Then he pointed me at the rule book that explained how all officers above OC2 rank are required to either keep a classified journal or to periodically update their memoirs, which would be stored under lock and key—automatically classified under the various keywords they’d been cleared for during the time period covered—the books to be opened only in event of their author’s death, retirement, or permanent disablement in the line of duty.
You know something? I
This is the story of how I lost my atheism, and why I wish I could regain it. This is the story of the people who lost their lives in an alien desert bathed by the hideous radiance of a dead sun, and the love that was lost and the terror that wakes me up in a cold sweat about once a week, clawing at the sheets with cramping fingers and drool on my chin. It’s why Mo and I aren’t living together right now, why my right arm doesn’t work properly, and I’m toiling late into the night, trying to bury the smoking wreckage of my life beneath a heap of work.
It’s the story of what happened to the Fuller Memorandum, and the beginning of the end of the world.
Are you sure you want to carry on?
The reality is, of course, utterly different.
It’s an early summer afternoon in June, and I’m sharing an overcrowded train carriage with an assortment of tired commuters heading back to their dormitory suburbs, and a couple of angry wasps trying to drill their way out through the toughened glass. The hamster-powered air conditioning is wheezing on the edge of a nervous breakdown, it’s twenty-eight degrees and ninety percent relative humidity out there, and the asshole behind me is playing something very loud on a pair of tinny headphones.
I’m having second thoughts about having paid fifty pounds to sit on this train, expenses or no expenses. But I don’t see what alternatives there are. I need to get from London to RAF Cosford, just outside Wolverhampton, and I don’t have a car and the Laundry certainly isn’t going to hire me a helicopter for a job that isn’t time-critical. They won’t even pay for me to take a taxi the whole way. So I’m stuck with a choice: train or coach. At least this way I get to avoid the M6 motorway . . .
And at least I’ve got a seat with a table. I reread my instructions as the train shudders and lurches through the parched countryside. It’s a low-priority field job: to investigate reports of eerie manifestations of a disturbing nature from one of the airframes stored in the hangar annex to the Royal Air Force Museum. The museum houses a lot of historic war-birds. Violent death tends to go with the territory, and a few ghosts—echoes in the informational substrate of reality—wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary. My job is to dispel any annoying manifestations, reassure the locals, close out the case, etcetera. It’s sufficiently routine and predictable that I’d normally send the office junior, but for some reason, Angleton pulled me into his office this morning. “Bob, I’d like you to deal with this one yourself,” he said, handing me the brief. “It’ll get you out of the office for a day.”
“But I’m busy!” I protested, a tad limply—the lack of aircon was getting to me, and I’m not good at standing up to Angleton at the best of times. “I’ve got to respond to the RFP on structured cabling requirements for the new subbasement extension in D Block”—don’t call it a crypt,
the Spanish Inquisition
“Nonsense!” Angleton said crisply. “You can take the paperwork with you, but I specifically want
Angleton is old school—so old school that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen his face in a departmental photo taken during the war, back when the Laundry was an obscure department of SOE, the Special Operations Executive, tasked with occult intelligence gathering and counter-demonology. He doesn’t look a day older today than he did back then, sixty-five years ago—dress him in a bandage and he could star in a remake of The Mummy . Ice-blue eyes with slightly yellowish scleras, skin like parchment left out for too long in a desert sandstorm, dry as bone and twice as chilly as ice. And I never want to hear his laugh again. But I digress. The thing about Angleton is that, despite (or in addition to) being the honorary departmental monster, he has a sense of humor. It bears about the same relationship to mirth that his cadaverous exterior does to Paris Hilton’s—but it’s there. (He has the heart of a young boy: keeps it in a reliquary under the coffin he sleeps in.) And right then, I figured he was winding me up for the punch line.