(Editorial note: this is not part of the Laundry Files timeline (which ends in 2015); it's merely a disturbing dream from one of the wrong trouser-legs of time, in which our protagonists are confronted with a threat infinitely less plausible than any tentacular alien horror from beyond the walls of the universe ...)
So I'm sitting in my office, staring despondently at a stack of ancient hard drives I'm supposed to be decommissioning per protocol (a ritual pass through the degaussing coil, followed by three brisk taps with a sledgehammer while chanting the drive's UDID, then interment at the bottom of an acid bath—or failing that, the cat's litter tray) when my phone screams.
I startle and nearly fall off my chair. It's the famous Elsa Lanchester scream from Bride of Frankenstein, a ringtone I've assigned to—
"Bob here. How can I help you, Persephone?" Because of course it's Persephone Hazard, doyenne of External Assets and not someone who generally calls me to make polite small-talk about the weather.
"Crisis meeting, room 410, right now. Drop everything, we have a situation," she barks, then hangs up. And I just know that my day is about to go from boring to exciting, and not in a good way.
I don't hang around waiting for tentacles to come out of the walls: I'm out the door so fast I leave rubber tracks on the lino. What's going on? Who the fuck knows? It's been that kind of week, or maybe month, so far. As Lenin put it, sometimes years pass like weeks, and sometimes years happen in weeks. And ever since the unexpected Brexit referendum result, I've been half-expecting a crisis-call. It's just a wonder that it's taken so long to come.
I shove through the door of the Mahogany Row briefing room to find it nearly full already. There's the Senior Auditor, chairing, along with all the other Auditors in the office right now: representatives of External Assets—including Persephone—and a bunch of senior managers, Vikram, Chris, Boris, and others. Even Mrs MacDougal from HR is present, heaven knows why, and evidently she's nervous (she always knits when she's worried: today it's something pink and disturbingly tubular, intestinal). "Yo," I drop into an unclaimed chair, "what's happening?"
The SA smiles at me, a trifle tense. "It's the new PM. There's been a cabinet reshuffle."
I blink, perplexed. "This affects us how, exactly?"
Persephone sighs exasperatedly. Vikram leans forward: "Haven't you been following the news?"
"No, I've been busy working --" I stifle the impulse to say something waspish. I've been buried under a mound of paperwork, mostly contingency planning, for the past week, trying to ignore the new, which has gone from bad to worse ever since CASE NIGHTMARE TWEED eventuated three weeks ago. Don't get me started on the idiocy of my being expected to fill in as the departmental public relations officer; hint: we're a secret government agency, we don't have a public relations officer. As for my one and only appearance live on Newsnight ... let's just say I have a strong motivation for ignoring the media right now. "What's happening?"
Vikram breaks it to me: "We have a new Minister."
"What? But we're ... um?" I look around. Everyone is wearing their longest Leonard Cohen face. How bad could it be? Hammond? Gove? "Come on, it can't be that—"
"It's Boris," says the SA. Then he buries his face in his hands. "Oh God."
"Buh-buh-buh ..." For a moment everything goes blurry. I check my ears: they seem to be working. "Huh. I could swear you said she'd appointed Boris—" not our Boris, the ops manager with the speech impediment—"Surely that can't be right ..."
Chris Womack gives me a funny, tight little smile. "You heard right, I'm afraid. The new Prime Minister is shuffling the deck and she's handed Boris Johnson the reins of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Meet the new boss, so not the old boss."
"Oh dear ..." God—and by "God" I mean "Cthulhu"—I think. "Well, fuck. What do we do now? What does this even mean?"
"It means, dear boy," says the SA, grinning like a skull, "that responsibility for MI5, GCHQ, and the Security Services goes to the FCO and thus—"
"But we're SOE!" I protest. "We're still part of the Ministry of Defense!"
"Probably not," Vikram contradicts me bluntly. "We were part of MoD, but according to the classified schedule D to the Civil Contingencies Act of 2003 we're the responsibility of whoever is running GCHQ. Which means—" He coughs horribly as his internal censor cuts in just before he says something unforgivable about the Hairpiece from Hades. "It's unclear, but we can't assume that our dual reporting stovepipe to MoD will protect us if the FCO Minister decides to take a personal interest."
"We're doomed," I say, then try the second word out a second time, for effect: "doooomed."
"No Bob," says the SA. "We have a CASE NIGHTMARE plan for this sort of thing. We're simply going to have to ensure he's briefed properly, then keep calm and carry on. Without any screaming and fainting in circles, I hope."
"Oh good!" I say brightly, standing up and sidling slowly towards the door. "Then there won't be a problem—I'll just go and double-check the supplies and fallout filters on the bunker down in Dunwich for when he gets through glad-handing Vladimir Putin and whoever briefs him can—"
But the SA hasn't finished. "Of course, as a secret agency we can't risk exposing the cover of covert assets or jeopardizing the plausible deniability of our external operatives." His smile vanishes. "Persephone, cover the door in case he runs. I'm sorry, Bob, but you're out of luck this time. As our most senior public-facing media relations officer it falls to you to brief our new Foreign Secretary on what it is that we do.
"You have a preliminary meeting tomorrow, at the FCO building, at nine o'clock sharp. And this is what you're going to tell him ..."
So my question for you is, what does Bob do next? And what does the Minister make of it all?