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In The Detail

Simon Kewin is the author of over 100 published short or flash stories. He lives in England with his wife and their daughters. His cyberpunk novel The Genehunter and his fantasy novels Engn and Hedge Witch were recently published. Find him at simonkewin.co.uk.

Daniel Corder--Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland--regarded the senior Civil Servant standing before him with something like astonishment.
"Are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting?"
The Civil Servant, Lord Swallow, adjusted his tie as he formed his careful response. Swallow was old school. The sort who'd been quietly running the country for centuries. An appearance of refined gentility and a mind like a concealed man-trap.
"I believe I am, sir."
"But... the voters will never accept such a thing. The newspapers will have a field day. The idea is hideous."
"The media will certainly require careful handling," said Swallow. "But there are several significant advantages to the scheme. As you know we have urban overcrowding and a dire shortage of land for affordable housing. And, given the parlous state of the public finances, we were instructed to come up with creative solutions."
"Even so," said Corder. "I mean is it even possible?"
"Oh, quite possible. The Necromancers and Diabolists Working Committee have studied the proposal in depth. They are quite clear it's feasible."
"Wait, wait," said Corder. He massaged his forehead. A nagging pain was already starting to grow behind his eyes. "You're saying the British government has a committee of necromancers and diabolists?"
"Most definitely, sir. One of our oldest. Given the nature of its work it is, of course, rather... shadowy."
"Even so. What does the Archbishop of Canterbury make of it?"
"We do try our hardest to keep them apart."
Corder studied Swallow for several moments. The man was serious.
"Let me spell this out," said Corder. "Just so I'm clear. You're suggesting we build a new town in hell."
"That's correct, sir."
"And what would we call it? Hellington? Hellaby? Helland?"
"We're still considering. Although, actually, there are already towns in Britain with all those names."
"There are?"
"And you have negotiated this arrangement with the, ah, relevant authorities?" What was he saying? He was actually taking the suggestion seriously. But the polls were bad. Very bad. Frankly, anything was worth a try at this point.
"We have," said Swallow.
"Won't there be, well, problems with the locals? Tormenting and that sort of thing?"
"We are assured tensions will be kept to an absolute minimum."
"And how much room would we be granted?"
"Fortunately, hell is limitless in extent," said Swallow. "Room is not a problem. I'm told the climate is pleasantly warm, too."
"Perhaps 'hot' might be a better word. A welcome escape from the British climate, I should say."
"And which circle are we talking about?"
"The eighth. Some of the circles would be most unsuitable for a modern community, but the eighth should work well."
He tried to think back to his schooldays, flicking through a battered copy of Inferno looking for good bits. "The eighth? That's not Lust is it?"
"No, no. Fraud. Barely even a sin these days."
"But surely you're not suggesting we kill a large part of the electorate?" said Corder. "I mean, even if we did, how could we be sure they'd all go to hell?"
Swallow smiled a little smile to himself, as if Corder had repeated one of his favorite jokes. "I don't believe there'd be any problem finding a sufficient number of sinners among the British electorate, sir. But that isn't an issue. There will be no requirement to actually kill those being relocated."
"Then how will they go to hell?"
"I'm no expert, sir, but I believe it's a matter of portals and pentagrams and the opening of fell gateways to the regions of the damned."
"Ah. And so if someone's house is in hell but they work in, let us say, central London?"
"The problem has been planned for. We envisage a new junction on the M25 motorway that leads directly through a portal to Hades. Our research suggests most drivers will barely notice the difference."
Corder stood and walked to the window. Through the blinds, the towers and rooftops and drizzle of London looked reassuringly normal. Could they really do this? Perhaps. The voters might be persuaded. He'd found out long ago that the public tended to object to the little things while letting the really huge and serious impositions go by unchallenged. As if some lies were somehow too big to see.
"We would have to sell it to the public," said Corder.
"We already have a crack team of marketing experts working on slogans," said Swallow. "Your little corner of heaven in hell, that sort of thing."
"I see." Something about it troubled him, though. Something didn't add up. Call it a politician's instinct. "But why is he doing this?"
"He, sir?"
"My... opposite number in hell."
"Yes. Satan. Him."
Swallow took a moment to reply. He removed his glasses and cleaned them on a silk handkerchief while he sorted his words into a precise order. "There was a negotiation, sir. A certain amount of give and take was discussed."
That didn't sound good. Not good at all. Corder knew when he was being softened up. The devil is in the detail. "And what exactly do we have to give in return?"
"Your opposite number..." began Swallow.
"Satan, yes. In return he requests only one thing. A seat on the Cabinet."
Corder felt ice trickle through his veins. He was all for inclusive government, but this was going too far. He sat back down in his chair while he absorbed the news. His head was throbbing sharply now. "Satan wants to be a part of my government?"
"Quite so. A minister without portfolio would be acceptable. He will advise and vote. He doesn't need to be in the public eye."
"Good God, I should hope not! Will there be... horns? Spiked tails?"
"I am assured he will appear no more demonic than any other member of the Cabinet, sir."
"Even so. The idea of it."
"There is the offer of money as well," said Swallow, as if this had only just occurred to him.
"It turns out the Lords of Hell are very rich. Apparently they run several major banks here in the mortal realm. They would be prepared to offer a sum of money to sweeten the deal. A considerable sum of money."
"How much?"
Swallow slipped a folded piece of paper across the desk. Corder looked at the figure written there. "My. That is a lot of zeroes."
"Quite so."
Corder considered for a few more microseconds. With that much money their reputation for good economic management would soar. There could be some eye-catching pre-election giveaways. And the housing shortage was a tricky problem.
"Well," said Corder. "Sacrifices do have to be made in these difficult times. Would you able to set up a meeting with my opposite number so we can move this forwards?"
Swallow smiled and dipped his head in assent. "I shall arrange it at once, sir."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 31st, 2015

Author Comments

I was watching a British politician on TV explaining with well-rehearsed regret the sacrifices we'd all have to make as a result of the "difficult decisions" he'd taken, and this scene popped into my head.

The story was a lot of fun to write, growing from a few lines with each new draft. Those towns do exist and I really do doubt people would notice much difference if the M25 had a junction for Hell. Also, if there isn't a Necromancers and Diabolists Working Committee in the British civil service, then frankly I don't know what we all pay our taxes for.

- Simon Kewin
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