Scarlet Words – A short story


Why Earth?

Of all the planets in the galaxy, this was where they had sent it. It had finished as the top apprentice after the fieldwork trials and exams. It had gained a reputation of being almost unsurpassed in single combat, perfect in undercover operations, and sharp-eyed as an observer. This posting was an insult.

“Why. What do you want me to do there?” It had asked.

“To observe,” they’d said.

“Observe what? The species is so primitive.”

“Observe everything that happens, and report back to us. We haven’t sent anybody there since Stiovebhu. They are an interesting species. We want an update on their progress.”

“What did Stiovebhu find?” It had asked.

There had been an awkward shuffling of feet and expressions of strange happiness. On Earth, it now knew they would have been fake smiles. They had told it that it got the assignment because the last two agents sent to Earth had disappeared without trace. They had said it was dangerous and that was why he had got the job. They said it was a matter of supreme importance for the security of the planet. He was the best apprentice. He would need to go.

“But not too dangerous for an apprentice?” It had asked. “Why not send a seasoned field agent?”

“Its not that important, but if you feel in danger you should immediately leave and we will endeavour get someone to pick you up as soon as is feasible. However, we feel you will be fine. Good luck, and make sure your last will and testament is up to date.”

It had protested more, but eventually it had, reluctantly, accepted the posting, feeling just a touch apprehensive. The journey had been long and boring, until it got close to Earth. And then it had become even worse as they made their way through the arse-end of the known Galaxy. It had been the most depressing week of its life, but then it had arrived, and within days it realised how lucky it had been. Humans were so malleable, so predictable, and so vulnerable. It fed on them at will, and knew that it would never be discovered for what it was. It had very quickly settled in to a job in a large organisation, begun observing, and then lost track of time.  It suspected that the previous two agents were still somewhere here on the planet. Why would they have left? Life was just too good. After a number of years, it lost the will to leave, stopped responding to the regular contacts from home, and became part of the Earth population.

One day, it sat in the main Boardroom, looking to all around it like a human being, as it scanned the agenda for its next meal. There was nothing that looked promising for the next seven items, they were all operational reports and mundane information papers, but there were a couple of low level decisions to be made after that. It was possible that they could provide some sustenance, but later there was a strategic planning and innovation item, being presented by bright, agile, and dynamic staff members. New meat. Young and tender. Hot-blooded.

So, with nothing to do until then, it sat dormant in its chair as it watched words cross the table in front of it. Unlike humans, it saw words, each one having a colour, and a shade of that colour. Most of them were grey, just ordinary dull words, but some did have the odd shade of blue or green, or even a hint of yellow. However, none burned with bright orange or red. None were of any interest to it.

The meeting dragged ever so slowly with the creature taking no interest in anything, just raising its hand to support the Chair every time she called for a vote. The minutiae of key performance indicators were discussed, the quarterly reports were analysed in excruciating detail, which was a trial for the humans, but not the creature which sat ignoring the bland grey words without any emotion whatsoever, barely aware of the passing of time. The schedule of board site visits was debated at length as the members balanced tropical beaches against inhospitable deserts. The tropical visits won. Then there was the chatter about holidays and sports and other matters totally foreign to it.

Finally item number eleven arrived, something about a new way of writing standard reports. It wasn’t anything ground-breaking, but it was presented by Melissa, a young graduate whose eyes sparkled as she pulled out her briefing paper. This was more like it.

It sat up straighter in its seat watching the glowing orange words exiting her mouth and circling around everybody at the table. The words either glowed slightly less or slightly more depending on their delivery. They floated through the room still glowing orange, but not radically so. They hadn’t turned into the red of a major meal, but orange would do for now as a starter.

When the creature spoke, it was with calm authority, explaining the benefits of maintaining the current report template, the status quo, and the fact that the familiarity of all staff and the external clients with it was of great benefit. As it spoke the words drifted towards it and as they passed through the creature they lost all colour and became grey. A warm fuzzy feeling coursed through its body as it watched the smile slowly freeze on the young girl’s face. It spoke more of the need to trial new ideas before they are embraced, to see if there were any unintended consequences, and others nodded, always looking for the comfort of the familiar, and the more it spoke, the last vestiges of colour were sucked out of the girl’s words. They were almost transparent now.

Her smile turned into a frown and the creature knew its job was done, its hors doovers consumed. Melissa left the room shoulders down, head bowed. The creature suppressed a smile of satisfaction, instead giving her a smile of encouragement. It wanted her back again; she was good for the future. Despite her current despondency, she would bounce back. There were many years left to harvest her enthusiasm. She had just enough intensity to survive for a prolonged length of time. All in all, it thought, the future was bright.

The next item on the agenda was more interesting. Three people came in.

“Welcome,” said the Chair, before introducing the staff members to the committee. The creature wasn’t interested in names; it identified people through their individual auras, and two of these had that telltale faint red glow of enthusiasm, boundless enthusiasm, or so they thought.

“Jason, and his two branch members, Ruby and Gerhard, have been working in the Strategic Planning and Innovations team for the past year and have been examining in detail our processes and procedures. They are going to present a blueprint of how we can cut down on repetition, the number of layers of approvals, and how delegation of some tasks can be done with minimal risk to the organisation. They forecast at least a twenty-five percent efficiency gain!”

“Working for a whole year,” the creature commented. “This should be good. I’m really looking forward to see what you’ve come up with.”

Other committee members smiled. So were they. The three presenters seemed to swell with pride and enthusiasm, at least the two young ones did, and that was just what the creature wanted. It saw their auras glow brighter and become richer in texture. Even Jason, their manager, was glowing ever so slightly. That was promising, the creature had seen him many times before and had fed on his energy, so much so that it had not thought there to be anything further to harvest, but here, undeniably, was a that faint glow. There was yet more to come from Jason, not much, but more all the same. And he always brought such great treats with him, always young, always bright-eyed and keen, always full of hope and energy. The creature waited for them to speak, Jason going first.

He spoke with a quiet neutral tone that was apricot in colour. He was restrained, but optimistic that there was promise in the proposal and that these two staff members would be the people to make it happen. It didn’t take much to change his words to a sort of gunmetal grey, and to be honest, the creature was left feeling unsatisfied. Its optimism had been misplaced, but no matter, the new meat was now speaking.

The creature started to watch and almost fainted. Ruby and Gerhard spoke with so much vigour, their words were not just red, but luminescent scarlet, so bright that for a moment the creature thought it had gone blind. It coughed to cover up its momentary shock, apologised, and waved for them to continue. Inside it was singing; this was a gourmet meal, an opportunity that came along once in a lifetime, twice if you were lucky. These ideas were so good and presented with so much enthusiasm, that it knew it had to feast carefully. There was a real possibility of overdosing if it wasn’t careful. It could actually start feeling the optimism within itself, and that was a dangerous place to be. Some members of its species had been known to die when confronted with such a situation, eventually feeding on their own feelings and sucking themselves dry.

As the new meat spoke, their words flowed around the table leaving trails of glowing sparkles that floated slowly clockwise as they gradually dissipated, until the creature saw the room as its own private galaxy turning slowly as those stars passed through the occupants. To the left of the creature was a shadow where the particles had passed through, been consumed, and then excreted as grey dust.

As the two youngsters spoke, taking the committee through their new ideas, it watched the fully formed words get brighter and brighter, waiting for the right moment, the moment when the maximum hope and enthusiasm was reached. If it acted too soon then it would miss out on some calories, if it went too late it would also miss those calories. The trick was the intensity of the colour. When it reached a hue of scarlet that was almost transparent, almost a pink, that’s when to speak.

There were so many scarlet words it as an effort just to control itself! It was beyond orgasmic. Whole sentences flowing out of their mouths in such a rich colour. The creature shuddered, as it couldn’t resist consuming a word early.

“What a great idea,” said the Chair. “Thank you so much for bringing it to us.”

Their auras glowed as bright as the creature had ever seen, so bright that it actually flinched.

“Are you okay Tony?” The Chair was looking at it with concern.

“Fine, fine,” it said. “Just a muscle twitch. I’ve been running and I’m getting too old for it now!” Everybody laughed and relaxed, but inside it was cursing itself.

Wait! Wait! Wait! Keep your self-control. There was no excuse in one now so experienced to lose it, not with such a feast on offer. It was almost time to feed. It just needed to tweak their enthusiasm one little bit more.

“That is probably the best idea I have heard in many years,” it said. “I commend you on this, it is stunning work. It stands to benefit the who organisation for years to come.” It paused as the smiles grew bigger and the words swirled faster and faster, slicing through it causing spasms of pleasure. Wait!

Then it continued, “but only after we have trialled it for a year or so to make sure there are no unintended consequences.”

The smiles became fixed and the words ceased increasing in brightness as they swirled around the room. It continued, “In fact I think the best way to proceed would be for us to form a sub-committee to take a closer look at what this entails, to make sure that we know what we’re letting ourselves in for.”

There were nods around the table. The creature knew that its fellow committee members would swim straight for an island of certainty if they were in the vastness of the untested ocean of innovation. It wasn’t that they weren’t excited by the prospect, it was more that they got nervous when they couldn’t see the horizon. And with something as new as what they were hearing today, their limited imaginations couldn’t see an end-point. It knew that they had all been waiting for somebody to punch a hole in the idea and give them an opportunity to reach for something familiar, an excuse to stop progress. A subcommittee was just what they now realised that they needed.

As more nodded and the two youngsters shrunk before its very eyes, the creature ravenously sucked the energy out of the words; it took more than one go with some of them, but one by one they lost their lustre and became yellow, then blue, then the leaden grey that indicated that almost all that could be extracted had been extracted.

The two previously bright sparks left the room dulled with their heads bowed, disappointed, even after the Chair decided they should both be on the new subcommittee. The creature saw them as others didn’t – desiccated, wrinkled, and looking ten years older. The life had been partially sucked out of them, and it showed. The creature thought it could had seen the wrinkles forming as it had spoken, prodding the defences of the idealistic, finding a weakness to exploit, taking advantage of that naive view of the world. Yes, seeing that visible deflation was better than the mating ritual. Seeing them depart looking wasted, their auras almost gone, had made its day.

Grey words now shrouded them, clinging on like limpets, smothering them, obscuring them, taking their personalities away, numbing them.

Sure, the creature could see that it hadn’t completely eviscerated them of hope and enthusiasm, but why would it? They would be back at least once more, probably twice, as they tried to work out a way of using the subcommittee to justify their ideas, not seeing the futility of their actions, just as other misplaced individuals had in the past.

If it was honest with itself, it was doing them a favour by taking away so much so soon. It was freeing them from the prospect of being slowly crushed and destroyed, dismembered by the relentless turning cogs of the system. If they were strong they would, after a short sharp shock such as they had just experienced, now become seasoned bureaucrats, perpetuating the grey changeless mundanity of the paper shuffling, conservative, risk averse office culture. And then they would start bringing their own new meat to the committee room.

It sat back, hoping the feast it just had would not lead to indigestion. Such a rich meal could come back to haunt it, repeat a little bit, cause it to burp up a little enthusiasm if it wasn’t careful, however unlikely that appeared. It had been careful not to over-indulge. The two of them would be back in the coming months; they simply had too much enthusiasm to drain it all in one go. They still had more enthusiasm left to give. Jason would try to dissuade them, but they would come back, probably at least twice, but the last time would be more of a snack rather than a meal, a sort of wipe of the plate with a piece of bread, mopping up the last vestiges of life.

The rest of the meeting passed by with no further incident and soon the committee were alone.

Another month over, it thought.

“See you all next month,” it said, its brow creasing as it smiled. The other five nodded as they put away their tablets and papers before exiting the room. They never said much. Soon only it and the Chair were left.

“I think those two young ones have potential,” she said. “What do you think, Tony?”

The creature paused as it closed its briefcase. “Yes, I rather think they’ll be back. In fact, I really hope so. Such enthusiasm is hard to find and nurture these days.”

“Yes, we should cherish it,” she said.

It smiled as they left the room. “Believe me, I do,” it said.

That evening it sat in its home and found itself wondering where its fellow agents were. The lack of enthusiasm for good ideas around this planet led it to believe that they were hard at work. Surely humans would have been on the moon by now, or even Mars, with their undoubted intellect, but they weren’t. Too many good ideas were stymied early on. It felt a moment of guilt at that thought. It and those like it were inhibiting the development of a species, but then again, they only had themselves to blame. So often they managed to talk themselves out of progress without any help at all.

It was a tough universe, and with that attitude they wouldn’t last more than a few decades once they got out there.

As it fell into a guilt-free sleep it dreamed of scarlet words.

Election Promises


What is an election promise

but a grain of hope,

washed in the grubby political shallows,

gathering grime by the layer.

A grain full of nothing,

no substance, just hot air,

that bursts when probed

leaving shattered illusions.

Fragments of truth drown in toxic ooze.

Grudges, Rumours & Drama Queens – the essential office manual

Yes indeed. The essential office manual is now available at Amazon and other online book stores.

Grudges, Rumours & Drama Queens is essential reading for all aspiring and current government officers at all levels, as well as anybody who is desperate to understand how the whole machine works. Grudges Rumours & Drama Queens is an essential text for all aspiring and current bureaucrats, whether they realise it or not. This book builds on the work of the ancient philosophers Futilius and Dillayus, and details the importance of grudges, rumours, and unintelligible jargon. This manual will take you from the basics, such as how to not make decisions and passing the time on a quiet day, right up to advanced skills such as avoiding the blame. It will ensure your success as part of the office machine!

Click on the cover to learn more.


Grudges, Rumours & Drama Queens is available at Amazon, Amazon U.K. And many other online stores

Grudges, Rumours & Drama Queens – soon to be released!

Grudges, Rumours & Drama Queens used to be titled You Can’t Polish A Turd, but the powers-that-be decided that Turd wasn’t a proper government-approved word. Those government auditors and policy wonks (at the highest levels I must add!) approved Grudges and Rumours as appropriate for a book about government and bureaucrats – and I thought they were a bunch of drama queens – hence the new title. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Many thanks to Taylor Street for publishing the original, but time moves on and it needed revising.

I shall be releasing this revised edition of the Government manual very soon!


Burocrates – Great Government Philosopher No. 2

Burocrates – The Greek perspective

The pre-eminent Greek philosopher was Burocrates.

Born in 450 BC, Burocrates studied early democracy and looked at government in a holistic manner. He regarded it as a form of art. He viewed public servants as artists whose job was to provide aesthetically pleasing processes and outcomes in a manner that was not rushed by the mere inconvenience of time. He was a contemporary of Socrates, and it is rumoured that these two philosophers spent many hours discussing the relative merits of democracy and royal rule, over large amounts of wine.

He met his death in 385 BC when he found himself in an argument with another contemporary, Aristophanes, who accused him of having all the characteristics of the popular politicians he studied: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner. They both died when their brains dribbled out of their ears due to the banality of their arguments.

Unfortunately, Burocrates is not widely known and few, if any, academics have seriously studied his work. However, he leaves us with some notable quotes including:

– The pure art of government should be unsullied by the ticking of the clock.
– Where the path appears straight and without danger, extra care should be taken and your pace slowed.
– A quick decision is like a premature ejaculation. It deprives the bureaucrat of respect and leaves him feeling unsatisfied.
– The vote is a precious thing, its value priceless; never have so many people been kept happy by such a futile act.
– Let a politician announce decisions and keep him happy for a day. Let a politician think he made the decisions, and keep him happy for a whole term of government.

A Message From the Director-General

The Department for Avoiding the Blame (DAB) is recognised as one of the world’s leading government departments.

By virtue of DAB’s size, experienced directors, incomprehensive and random policies, and resolute stance on not making any significant decisions, it has maintained a world class bureaucratic system that defers or ignores at least 80 percent of decisions it is asked to make or questions it is asked to respond to. This level of inefficiency has not been achieved anywhere else in the world.

Our knowledge of our politicians is by no means complete. We are learning how our new cabinet, and we are still trying to understand the short and long term consequences of the various intellectual capability of the various Ministers, such as those including health, climate change, and treasury.

The Annual Report (2012) provided a snapshot of our indicators. It showed that we were achieving an acceptable level of hot air output and that there was an increasing level of confusion in the general community about the purpose of DAB. While our structure was in reasonable shape, the report did indicate that there were emerging opportunities to add additional layers of bureaucracy to the system and that a sound strategic plan should identify where DAB can act on these opportunities.

The Government has made recent statements about reviewing and restructuring the government machine, including making risky changes to speed up decision-making within the bureaucracy. It has also flagged merging and splitting departments.

All of this creates potential risks for DAB and other departments, however DAB’s leadership team are committed to maintaining it aim of succeeding at the expanse of everybody else and will continue to work towards that goal.

DAB can play an important role in the workings of government.  It has the duty – on behalf of all of the public and, more importantly, the many esteemed ancestors of the current bureaucracy, to rigorously refuse to make progress on any proposals or policies, and to determine what impact this will have in inconveniencing other departments and private companies, and whether those impacts and obstinate refusal to use common-sense are of sufficient bloody-mindedness to frustrate everybody to an acceptable level.

Based on its own analysis, and drawing on the best scientific advice from other areas of Government, academics and the private sector, DAB will then ensure that it has the required tool to avoid blame for any delays and or financial losses. If it does its job well it will remain largely anonymous.

DAB also provides strategic advice to Government on key issues so that it can engineer its continuing anonymity and gain large slices of funding at the expense of other departments and non-government organisations without being asked to produce anything of any substance in return.

The complexity and volume of matters now coming to DAB, and increasing community expectations about the rigour and timeliness of decisions, means that DAB is failing, to some extent, in its quest for anonymity, it must therefore continue to embrace, and even promote, reform to ensure that roadblocks are placed where most effective and that the development of Government Function Inhibitors (GFI) progresses in a timely and efficient manner.

This Strategic Plan outlines the context in which DAB currently operates and its strategies and priorities for the period 2010-2013.  The plan also articulates DAB’s vision for reforming its practices to stay abreast of the changing social and economic conditions in which it operates.

Finally, this Strategic Plan is not a static document. It will be regularly reviewed and refined to better focus the efforts of DAB in fighting needless and expensive efforts to smooth out the current administrative systems to ensure that it meets its obligations to enrage and frustrate the community, business and the Government of the day.


Bartholomew Menzies-Thatcher

Director General

March 2010

A President’s Prayer

A President’s Prayer

Our President, somehow elected,
Delusion be his game.
It seems that he won
And there’s work to be done
And blame to be deflected.
Support  him today in his legal challenges.
And forgive him his petulant tweets,

As we forgive those who make petulant
tweets in response.
And lead him not into innovation,
But deliver him from progress.
For he has the Staff,
With the power and the will
To speak bullshit
For ever and ever.

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