The Fulcrum

I was woken up a few moments ago by a familiar loud clattering. Excellent. That’ll be the newspaper delivery. I know the sound well – there aren’t many different ones in this cell – and I smile in happy expectation. Maybe there’ll be some more news today about the Signals.

The newspapers are the centre of my life now. They say television and the Internet would be bad for me. I don’t understand but I’m happy to believe them and anyway I’m in my fifties, reading the daily paper is pleasantly nostalgic. It’s a shame there are so few left now, most of them have gone online.

It also seems to make the doctors happy – probably some new kind of therapy. The newspaper I always start with is The Fulcrum; it’s by far the best. Strange, I don’t remember it from my old life, it must have started publication since I’ve been here. It’s obviously a small independent without much money behind it. Still, the lack of production values doesn’t affect the quality of their news service. It’s by far the best, especially for local British political news.

Sometimes it seems curious to me that I can accept this life of mine so happily. All I ever seem to do nowadays is to sleep, eat and read the newspapers. Since the food is as poor as I always believed hospital food would be, the newspapers are my only real source of pleasure.

How long have I been here now? Months at least. I’ve lost track, but however long it is I’m sure my old self wouldn’t have put up with it. I think they’re drugging my food to keep me happy, but if they are then the drugs must be effective because I don’t care. Whatever the reason, I always feel very good nowadays, so peaceful and contented.

My old self never felt like that. Back then I was moody and irritable, always getting wound up, always angry. The slightest thing used to upset me and I was quick to believe the worst of people. A friend would say a single wrong word and I would wish them dead or imagine some horrible torture for them. One by one those friends just drifted away.

And then one day I was here. The first few weeks are fuzzy in my memory, probably more drugs, but I don’t really mind. I asked once if I was a prisoner – had I committed some terrible crime? They laughed and assured me that there was never any evidence against me. It seems that I’m doing important work, though I’m not sure how. But whatever it is, apparently the Prime Minister is very pleased with me. I’m a lot happier now, happy to be helping my country with my mysterious job and my newspapers.

The Fulcrum really is so much better and more reliable than the others. I remember back at the beginning, when I first arrived, all the doctors recommended it. They were so enthusiastic that I couldn’t help but believe in it myself.

And they’re right. The Fulcrum seems to know everything before the rest of them, even something as significant as the discovery of the Signals. I’ll read a story in there and then a few days later the other newspapers will say the same thing. Like the month when the unemployment figures first fell to zero. I laughed when I read it in the Fulcrum, but the doctors gave me my medicine and persuaded me that the Fulcrum is always right. Sure enough, all the other papers carried the story a few days later. It’s just a pity The Fulcrum doesn’t cover sport – they seem to specialise in political and scientific news.

The one thing I do miss in here is contact with other people. I see the doctors, of course, but they’re always so coldly professional. There was one chap, one of the guards; very young, he looked ridiculous lugging around that huge gun. He use to spend a lot of time talking with me and we became quite friendly. I really liked him. Then one evening, when no-one else was around, he sneaked in to my cell for a chat. He told me that he’d won the lottery the weekend before – a double rollover with him the only winner. He was a multi-millionaire! He was going to buy himself out of the army and live a life of luxury.

Well, I’m afraid I just laughed. I hadn’t realised that he had such an over-active imagination. A single winner of a double rollover? It would have been in all the newspapers – even the usually intellectual Fulcrum would have covered something as important as that. He tried to persuade me, almost pleaded with me to believe him, but I wouldn’t. Apart from anything else, the odds against it were staggering. As I carefully explained to him, he was far, far more likely to be run over by a bus on the way home.

The poor boy was obviously embarrassed – I hadn’t realised he was so sensitive. He went pure white then rushed out of the room. I never saw him again.

That’s when they gave me this diary in which to write my thoughts. I don’t normally grumble, they prefer it when I celebrate all the good things happening in the country.

Things have really been improving recently. The latest good news was the improved productivity figures – the economy’s certainly going through a boom at the moment, doing much better since the trade unions disbanded. The international situation’s improving too, with the Prime Minister having personally brokered several peace treaties around the world. And then there are the Signals; the first verified contact with an alien race, proof at last that mankind is not alone.

Given all that, it’s not surprising that the government’s popularity is at an all time high. Last week, after the Prime Minister personally reported the discovery of the cure for cancer, the leader of the opposition agreed to merge the two main parties in a government of national unity and suspend the need for elections. All as reported first in The Fulcrum.

Still, they don’t always get it right. A few weeks ago they printed an article announcing that the queen had decided to abdicate and to pass her remaining constitutional powers down to parliament. Well, I just couldn’t believe that. I’ve always been a great fan of the monarchy and the queen. She’s a great lady, she does a wonderful job and would never run away from her people. No, I was convinced that The Fulcrum had it wrong this time and nothing the doctors said could change my mind. Sure enough, a few days later they had to print a retraction.

I think they’ve made a mistake today as well. Since the Signals started arriving a week ago, the approaching alien spacecraft has been on the front page of all the newspapers. Today’s Fulcrum says that it has landed in Downing Street. The alien aboard has spoken to the Prime Minister and invited Earth to join the Galactic Federation. He will be our planet’s representative and in return they will give him their advanced technology to share with the rest of the world. The Fulcrum is convinced that the aliens are peaceful and friendly.

It all sounds rather suspicious to me. I haven’t said anything – everyone here’s so excited I don’t want to burden them with my worries – but it seems almost too good to be true. Why would aliens give us so much? What’s their real motive? I think that they’re afraid – they’ve seen how rapidly we’ve been advancing and they think we might become a threat soon. I don’t trust them.

You know what I think? This is all just a ruse to keep us off guard until their main attack fleet arrives. Ten thousand massive battleships that are hurtling towards us even now. We’ll be totally defenceless against their horrendous weapons; they’ll wipe out all life on Earth within a week.

I really believe that.

Copyright © Trevor Mendham 1998,2016. All rights reserved
A slightly different version of this story first appeared in Flickers ‘n’ Flames #28