Cover image cobbled together from the Technocracy symbol and Wikipedia images, which fall under Creative Commons. The image of the sunglasses was originally created by Jaschke, the image of the fedora by Kjetil Ree.
Agent Sanders paused for a moment to use her mirrorshades as a mirror. Her tie was indeed straight. Putting the glasses back on, she headed out into the night. Neatness and professionalism were important, even and perhaps especially if reality fluctuations were massively above the already intolerable background noise level. Almost every sensor embedded in the ubiquitous CCTV cameras returned readings above the criticality threshold. There was no obvious cause for this deviancy, only a few locations where the fluctuations were strongest. She would have to go to the front line herself to stop this.
Adding to her misfortune, Mr Taylor, her supervisor and mentor, had urgent business elsewhere. He had wished her a boring time and left, warning her not to skip any steps in the chain of command. Despite trying five different ways of contacting him, Mr Taylor was proving unreachable, leaving her in charge.
George was coming along in case she needed the firepower of a HIT Mark V. With him at her side, both dressed impeccably in black, she almost felt confident in her chances of mission success. This was the first time she was acting on her own accord as a Technocratic Union operative. She had to eliminate the disturbance, to confirm the correctness of trusting her with the responsibility.
It was drizzling, but that did not matter. The 21st of July 2007 was not a date on which she had expected trouble and she would do everything to ensure there would be none. They were going to defend the world from reality terrorists.
While travelling to the disturbances' foremost epicentre, a drunk knocked off Sanders' fedora, which was subsequently run over by a lorry and abandoned in a puddle. The drunk staggered onward without so much as an apology. Pub crawlers were blissfully unaware of the alarming reality readings. Even if they knew, they were unlikely to be deterred. It was the weekend.
Fortunately, Technocracy issued fedoras were standardised, so Sanders salvaged the situation by taking George's. Waterproof numbered among the HIT Mark V's many features.
The mode of transportation was regrettable, but the van was undergoing repairs, Mr Taylor had taken the car and even if she could fly the helicopter, there would be nowhere to land. That had left the bus and pedestrian conveyance for the remainder. Sanders ignored the stares. Unlike some, they were dressed impeccably, even missing one fedora.
They arrived at a large store on a centrally located street. The premises were swarming with people, the majority attired in unacceptable attire. Brightly coloured scarves were a favourite among the crowd. Many also wore robes, giving the appearance of a cultist football hooligan convention. Almost everyone was brandishing a stick, making Sanders appreciate her mirrorshades. In addition to being emblematic of her authority, the glasses would decrease the success rate of attempts to put her eye out.
The atmosphere seemed anticipatory and jovial, which only intensified her suspicions. People had no right to be cheerful outside of Technocracy approved and mandated activities.
The sign said the place was a book store, something the interior seemed to confirm. In hindsight, consulting the bus routes and timetables was insufficient reconnaissance. Not that it was going to matter.
The disturbance's source was obvious now. Had the chatter not given it away, the cardboard stand ups would have. The final book of the horrifyingly successful reality deviant propaganda known as the Harry Potter series was to be released at midnight.
Sanders would have those books banned. They did terrible things to unaware minds. She herself had fallen for the insidious Potter series, but had immediately seen her error in her newlife and come to understand them for what they truly were in a propaganda workshop. Whimsy and excitement held an insidious appeal, but they were a bright and shiny distraction, a lure to sell the deviants' vision to the masses. Only the Technocratic Union could offer humanity the progress, security and stability it needed. But people would rather read Harry Potter, and there was little she could do to stop it.
Little, but not nothing. If she could diminish the enjoyment of the reading experience, maybe that would help break the programming, at least for some of the misled people here tonight. "George, I need your assistance." She was insistent, but making her way to the counter was considerably easier with a HIT Mark V to part the crowds.
Once there, she confronted the clerk, whose tag asked how she could be of help, which was useful. It also gave her name, but that was of no importance. "Ma'am, I require a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows now. It is an issue of vital security concern." Sanders was dressed in a sharp suit and mirrorshades. Her attire was more than sufficient for the purpose, particularly with George standing behind her, even if he was not wearing a fedora. She spoke in a way that demanded compliance. This was a command and there would be no questions, no disagreement.
The clerk nodded and left for a back room. She returned with the book, which she handed over while trying not to be noticed by the anticipatory horde.
"Thank you for your cooperation." Sanders flipped to the last page and read the last sentence. Too ambiguous. The one before it was clearer, but still did not offer sufficient certainty. She would have to read the whole page.
If Mr Taylor was here, she would have cleared the course of action with him first, but as he was not, she would have to rely on her own judgement. As an agent of the New World Order, she could handle one page if she was on her guard. Armed with her training she would be able to resist the book's corrupting influence, unlike the masses it was about to be unleashed upon. Suppressing a shudder, she read it as quickly as possible, then handed the book back to the clerk. The less time she had to hold the thing the better. The sample size was sufficient.
Sanders took a deep breath. It was ten past eleven. Time to act. She clambered onto the counter. Looking down at the mob of costumed fanatics prompted a surge of contempt. The Technocratic Union worked tirelessly to protect and shepherd the masses. And how was this sacrifice repaid? By using the peace and prosperity created for them to read Harry Potter and dress up as reality deviants. It was unfair. Yes, they did it all in secret and took pains to ensure that no one found out about the Technocratic Union and the threats they were being protected from, but a bit of gratitude would be nice.
However, indulging in such thoughts did not help. Best focus on the matter at hand. Quite a few of the crowd were already looking at her in puzzlement, but she wanted all of them. "Attention, citizens." Sanders knew how to pitch her voice to get it. "I have an important announcement to make regarding Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows."
The chatter to subsided. All eyes were on her. "Harry Potter lives and defeats Voldemort!" she announced triumphantly. The second part could not be directly deduced from the section she read, but she was well enough versed in psychology and propaganda to infer it with ninety-nine percent confidence. The audience stood silent, shocked. This was a minor victory in the War on Superstition, but a victory nonetheless.
Then an uncontrollable crowd situation developed too quickly to be prevented. Books were thrown. Sanders braced against them, but there were too many. One whistled past her ear, unhatting her a second time. Another hit her squarely in the chest, unbalancing her. For a very long split second, she thought she could regain her composure, but that was an exercise in futility as the deluge of books rained down upon her. She fell. Her mirrorshades flew away and it went light.
"Amy, stop pretending to be unconscious. Your brainwaves betray you." The voice's owner was the reason not to announce that she was awake. It belonged to Dr Eloise McKenzie of the Progenitors, who was unserious, unorthodox and in need of psychological adjustment, which was putting it most kindly. Also, if her first name had to be used, Sanders preferred Amelia. She had no desire to participate in McKenzie's pretence that they were pals. The only reason they were not enemies was because there was no disunity within the Technocratic Union.
McKenzie was a fellow member, so while it was not always necessary to volunteer information, falsehoods were to be avoided. Sanders reluctantly opened her eyes. The hospital room swam into focus. "I wasn't pretending, I was resting."
McKenzie was grinning. "If you say so. They really did a number on you, eh?"
"It was an unfortunate incident." Sanders did not particularly want to talk about it and certainly not with her.
"Look on the bright side! You two were the best dressed people admitted to hospital all week."
Two? Yes, George had been there. "How is the HIT Mark V faring?"
"Not my department, I work with biologicals, although I guess that's an easy mistake to make with me treating anal automatons like you." McKenzie shrugged. "Took an Order of the Phoenix hardback to the head. That's only made of primium and titanium."
"Is he all right?"
"I guess. ItX is having a look and those things are tough. Tougher than you at any rate."
Sanders nodded gently, so as not to disturb the bandaging, stitches, tubes or wires. "Enlightened Science," she said, pleased.
McKenzie laughed. "Yes, it works magic."
Sanders did not dignify that with a response. Normally she would have reported it as soon as she was well enough to stand, but right now that would seem like a desperate attempt to distract from her failure. It was below the threshold where reporting was absolutely necessary, if only by a very narrow margin. Instead she glared silently at McKenzie, who eventually got bored and walked away, a result that could have been achieved considerably faster if Sanders had been wearing her mirrorshades.
Sanders stared at the ceiling and sighed. This could only be a disaster for her career.
Mentioning disasters, McKenzie was bounding back towards her, grinning more widely than ever. "I was hoping you'd think something like that. Surveillance has its perks!"
"I was hoping you would leave me to recover in peace."
"Don't be like that." McKenzie waved dismissively. "Don't you want to hear that last night was actually extremely good for your career?" Sanders knew how that was supposed to play out. She was to answer in affirmative, enabling the punchline, "You might like to hear it, but it isn't the case."
Refusing to play along, Sanders said, "I am never in the mood for jokes and particularly not right now."
"You seem eager enough to titter sycophantically at your superiors' witticisms, but never mind. I'm completely serious. You've been promoted."
It was nice to think that she had managed to do some good or that her efforts were being acknowledged, but it did not seem likely. "If that is true, I will hear it in debriefing from Mr Taylor."
"You'll hear it in debriefing, but not from Mr Taylor. You'll get his job."
That actually made sense. Despite last night's embarrassment, she was the obvious choice for his replacement once he received his well earned promotion. "He will have distinguished himself."
"Distinguished himself? I guess you could call it that." McKenzie laughed. "Don't you wonder how you survived?"
Sanders wanted to say that she had no time to wonder, because she was constantly being pestered, but then realised the answer. "He rescued us?" That seemed insufficient reason for a promotion though.
"He did, but why was he there in the first place?"
There was a trap there. "On a mission, presumably?"
"Not quite what I would call it." McKenzie knelt down next to Sanders' bedside. "He was there for the release party."
Impossible. "As an undercover agent maybe."
"A very undercover agent. Complete with preorder and an elaborate Dumbledore costume. If anyone else ordered it, they're in full denial now."
Sanders studied McKenzie. She seemed to find these terrible circumstances hilarious, but that fitted her psych profile. Nothing indicated that she was lying. Outright falsehoods were not known to be her style anyway. It did not seem plausible that Mr Taylor could do such a thing, but what if it was true? It just showed that one always had to guard against treason and not only from obvious candidates like McKenzie. He would gain no joy from the book, even if it were possible to find pleasure in reality deviant propaganda. It would be pulped. The Technocratic Union no longer held book burning as it was neither image nor environmentally friendly.
"This is even more unfortunate." She was fond of Mr Taylor and he had saved them. He could have left them to their fate at the hands of the Harry Potter fanatic mob in an attempt to hide his misdeed. It would have been futile of course, as the Technocracy would ultimately discover his crime. They always did. Hopefully those responsible could be lenient when it came to punishing his transgression, but ultimately they knew and would do what was right.
McKenzie shrugged, then smiled maliciously. "He'll get off lightly enough. Not only did he save your sorry hides, he secured a copy of Deathly Hollows. Someone in Control will be enjoying it as we speak. Purely for research purposes, of course."