covers, had all but fallen apart. I tore a
page trying to zoom it.
Irene released a folding table from
the wall, with a bang that echoed.
“Now, lad,” she said, “let’s see what
I opened the briefcase and heaved out
the two thick stacks of A4 that crammed
it. Irene put on reading glasses and
peered at a few sheets, tilting them this
way and that.
“Typed on a typewriter,” she said
approvingly, “with handwritten cor-
rections. This is the real thing all
right.” She indicated a corner in
which an electric kettle and some
mugs sat on an old chair. “Make your-
self a cup of tea, and I’ll go let the lads
and lasses in.”
The “lads and lasses” turned out to
be four old men and two old women,
who set about their work. Within two
hours, the press was rolling.
It took me a little longer to understand what was going on.
A week later a woman I knew from
the Party hammered on my door at an
“Out,” she said. “Station. Now.”
Her car was overloaded with news-
papers. She dropped me off at the
station with a bundle to give away to
anyone who would take a copy. At ev-
ery station and shopping center in
the country, others would be doing
the same. We’d blanket the land with
paper—leaflets, newssheets, posters,
placards—whose production and dis-
tribution owed nothing to the net.
I had a shock when I jumped
out of the car. Our opponents had a
team already at the station, handing
out copies of their free newspaper.
They’d had the same idea. Or we’d
had a leak, our elaborate precautions
all for naught.
My fury faded. It didn’t matter.
Now they had to fight us on the same
ground—and the ground was level.
We lost that election, but we got democracy back.
Ken MacLeod ( email@example.com) is the
author of 17 novels, from The Star Fraction (Orbit Books,
London, 1995) to The Corporation Wars: Emergence
(Orbit Books, London, 2018). He blogs at The Early Days
of a Better Nation ( http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com) and
tweets as @amendlocke.
© 2018 ACM 0001-0782/18/05 $15.00
Even I knew what that was—a human version of a workplace rights app.
“Oh,” I said. “More than I need to
She shot me a look as she turned a
key in the lock of a steel door.
“Don’t be daft, lad. Now put both
hands to this and give it a push.”
I set the briefcase do wn on the floor,
and shoved. The hinges were well
oiled, but the door was heavy. It swung
open and I followed her in. Ancient
fluorescents flickered on overhead.
The chamber was large. What wasn’t
stacked with oil-drum-size rolls of pa-
per and barrels of ink was occupied by
a machine of blue-anodized steel with
dials and rotary handles, alongside a
row of cabinets. The air smelled of old
concrete and oil.
The door clicked shut behind me.
“What is this?”
“A printing press,” said Irene, scorn-
“I mean, what is this place?”
“Part of the old Regional Seats of
Government network. Mothballed and
sold off. We bought it. Underground
print shop, left over from the last Cold
“And now in use in the current one?”
“Something like that. D’you get here
“Yes, fine,” I said, untruthfully.
Clarkson’s map reference had tak-
en me to a moorland crossroads. I’d
tramped to the nearest lonely tree,
where I’d found a tobacco tin so old it
didn’t have a health warning. Inside
was a scrap of paper, with handwrit-
ten address and postcode. The A to Z,
all dog-eared pages and Sellotaped
policy? Not a word.
“Worse than I expected,” I said.
“Yes,” said Clarkson. “It’s always
worse than you expect, and it’ll go on
I shrugged. “What can we do?”
Clarkson leaned closer. “Here’s
what you can do. Keep that card. Check
out the reference on your father’s
maps. Don’t, whatever you do, look
it up online. Borrow the map, or buy
your own copy—in a shop, with cash.
See if your dad has an A to Z of the old
hometown. Borrow that, and arrange
to borrow your father’s car at short no-
tice. Ten days before the next election,
you’ll get a delivery. Take the package
and sign for it. Inside will be a brief-
case, quite heavy. Tell your partner that
you have to go away for a couple of days.
Leave your phone at home . . . ”
“What?” I said.
“That’s crucial,” said Clarkson.
“Better yet, leave it with your partner,
or a friend who lives locally, and ask
them to carry it around.”
“But I’d be lost without it!”
“Exactly,” said Clarkson. “That’s the
point. Go to the map reference. Near-
by, you’ll see a big old oak tree. Look
among the roots, and go to the address
you find there.”
“Hand over the briefcase, and go
This sounded far too much like a
drug or bomb delivery for my liking. I
said as much.
“If you’re worried,” said Clarkson,
“phone the Leader’s office and ask for
me. You’ll get a reply: ‘He’s sound.’ If
you’re happy with that, put the phone
down. If not, insist on speaking to me.
You won’t get through to me, and you’ll
never hear of this again.”
Two days later, I phoned, and put
the phone down on the reply.
Whatever this was, I was in.
“I used to be father of the chapel,”
Irene confided as she hurried along the
dim-lit concrete corridor. For a woman
in her 90s, she was remarkably quick
on her feet.
“The what?” I said.
“In the print union, it’s what we
called the branch secretary.”
[CONTINUED FROM P. 120]
The A to Z, all dog-
eared pages and
had all but fallen
apart. I tore a page
trying to zoom it.