This is installment #23 of my project “(fictional) notes from The British Museum,” wherein once a week, I visit a single room at The British Museum in London, zero in on an intriguing object therein, and quickly write a piece of flash fiction inspired by that object. This very short story may not have anything to do with what the object actually is — in fact, it almost certainly will not. (Click on the images to embiggen them. Learn more about this project.)
These stories are usually for Patreon patrons only, but to celebrate the six-month mark of the project, this one’s free. If you enjoy it and want to encourage me to write more like it, and other fiction too, please become a financial supporter via Patreon. For as little as $1 per month (payable in other currencies, too!) you’ll get instant access to the previous 22 flash-fiction stories I’ve published in 2019, and you will help support future work. Thank you!
The Day of Broken Glass
There was broken glass everywhere underfoot as I strode through the shattered offices. Of course there was. We had broken it: the exterior windows and doors, the conference-room fishbowls, the big-screen televisions mounted around the offices that had been running the faux-cheerful propaganda channels nonstop — and one that I had taken a particular joy in wrecking in the Director General’s office that had been airing the regime’s relentlessly nasty official “news” channel. It had been a shame those lovely new imported-from–New Zealand crystal semiconductor computer monitors had not survived our assault: only the regime had been able to get ahold of them, and we certainly could have put purloined ones to good use. But what the hell. We had been managing just fine with our ancient LCDs, and we sure as fuck didn’t want to be seen as looters.
Bonus: The optics of absolutely everything smashed in these sleek headquarters were working beautifully on our netcast of the raid. Likes were through the stratosphere. And not only were our view numbers huge, so were those of the copycat videos… copycat in the best way. Our supporters were following our lead: not destroying indiscriminately but with great precision and discretion. (In a nation that once regularly rioted randomly when our sports teams won, you better believe I saw this as a marker that our message had resonated just as we had hoped it would, and had modulated it to.) We were seeing shops that had refused service to POCs, LGBTQs, non-native-speakers, and others sanctioned as unwanteds (liberals, journalists, intellectuals, etc) reduced to rubble while, pointed video notice was made, their owners stood by unharmed, and also while, just as pointedly noted onscreen, shops next door with rainbow flags and all welcome signs were unscathed.
“He’s in here,” my lieutenant said, ushering me into what turned out to be a large janitorial closet where the Director General, looking forlorn, was hunched, just barely perched on an industrial-sized bucket of floor wax.
“Was… was he hiding in here?” I asked, amused and repulsed in equal measure.
“Yup,” my lieutenant said.
He heard me, which I intended: he glanced up at me, shooting daggers with his eyes through his spectacles. His murderous gaze was his only weapon, of course.
I laughed at him. And then the trickle of blood on his cheek registered with me, and the bruise under his eye.
“What’s this?” I asked my lieutenant, indicating the (extremely minor) injury.
My lieutenant nodded at the trio of painfully young soldiers who were guarding the Director General, holding him at gunpoint with weapons that I knew were unloaded.
“Ah,” one of the kids said, “that’s not our doing. He got that when he heard us bustin’ in and grabbed for that on his way runnin’ like a baby out of his office.” The kid chuckled. “He tripped over his own feet and whacked himself in the face. We have the CCTV proving that. From multiple angles, now all over the net and backed up in the cloud.”
The kid had indicated the object the Director General was clutching to his chest. I nodded at him. “Show me.”
With seeming great reluctance, the Director General unfolded his arms and passed to me a holograph of a small girl in a sparkly pink superhero costume, laughing at the viewer. The glass once protecting the image was mostly gone, but there were a few ragged splinters around the edge of the frame.
“Uh-huh.” I nodded. “You can spare me the speech about how you only did what you did in order to make a better world for her.”
The Director General scowled but said nothing.
I picked the remaining shards of glass out of the frame — couldn’t have him hurting himself, or anyone else, with it — and was about to hand it back to him when a thought struck me. This is what he saves from his office? A vague hint of something I’d read on one of the tech sites recently tickled at my mind. The sudden wariness on the Director General’s face cemented it.
“Give them over.” I waggled a few fingers at his eyeglasses… and when he sighed as he removed them and placed them in my palm, I knew we had him dead to rights.
I slipped his specs on, looked at the holo — was she even actually his granddaughter? — and it all jumped right out at me. The data was nearly microscopic, hidden in plain sight in the image, but I could make out, at a minimum, spreadsheets and invoices. As I turned the holo this way and that, more layers of data revealed themselves. This would, I was certain, be everything we needed to take to The Hague to ensure that he, and hopefully all of the regime’s senior officials, would go to prison for the rest of their lives.
I slipped the glasses and the holo into my pocket. “Take him away,” I spat with disgust.
The kids motioned with their guns, and marched the Director General out of the closet, their footsteps fading away down the corridor.
I noticed now another framed photo on a shelf, an old-fashioned 2D one, of an elderly man crouched down next to a little boy, both of them beaming at the camera. I took it down and gazed at it. I hoped the man wasn’t the janitor: he was too old to be doing that sort of work. Maybe this was the janitor’s father; perhaps the janitor was behind the camera.
“Do we know whose closet this is?” I said.
My lieutenant shrugged. “We’ve got the low-level support people down in the cafeteria. They might be down there.”
I nodded. “See if you can find out who this belongs to.” I handed over the flat photo. “Get it back to them.”
My lieutenant nodded. “You got it, boss.”
The glass in that frame was still intact.