Overtime

Overtime

illustration by carl wiens

 

Let’s rewind a week:

I’m pecking away at a quality assessment form on my office PC when there’s a knock at the door. I glance up. It’s Bill from Security. “Are you busy right now?” he asks.

“Um.” My heart just about skips a beat. “Not really . . . ?”

Bill is one of our regular security officers: a former blue-suiter, salt-and-pepper moustache, silver comb-over, but keeps trim and marches everywhere like he’s still in the military. “It’s about your Christmas shift,” he says, smiling vaguely and hefting a bunch of keys the size of a hand grenade. “I’m supposed to show you the ropes, y’know? Seeing as how you’re on overnight duty next week.” He jangles the key ring. “If you can spare half an hour?”

My heartbeat returns to normal. I glance at the email on my computer screen: “Yeah, sure.” It’s taken me about five seconds to cycle from mild terror to abject relief; he’s not here to chew me out over the state of my trainers.

“Very good, sir. If you’d care to step this way?”

From Bill, even a polite request sounds a little like an order.

“You haven’t done the graveyard shift before, have you sir? There’s not a lot to it—usually. You’re required to remain in the building and on call at all times. Ahem, that’s within reason, of course: toilet breaks permitted—there’s an extension—and there’s a bunk bed. You probably won’t have to do anything, but in the unlikely event, well, you’re the night duty officer.”

We climb a staircase, pass through a pair of singularly battered fire doors, and proceed at a quick march along a puce-painted corridor with high wired-glass windows, their hinges painted shut. Bill produces his keyring with a jangling flourish. “Behold! The duty officer’s watch room.”

We are in the New Annexe, a depressing New Brutalist slab of concrete that sits atop a dilapidated department store somewhere south of the Thames: electrically heated, poorly insulated, and none of the window frames fit properly. My department was moved here nearly a year ago, while they rebuild Dansey House (which will probably take a decade, because they handed it over to a public-private partnership). Nevertheless, the fittings and fixtures of the NDO’s office make the rest of the New Annexe look like a futuristic marvel. The khaki-painted steel frame of the bunk, topped with green wool blankets, looks like something out of a wartime movie—there’s even a fading poster on the wall that says CARELESS LIPS SINK SHIPS.

“This is a joke. Right?” I’m pointing at the green-screen terminal on the desk, and the huge dial-infested rotary phone beside it.

“No sir.” Bill clears his throat. “Unfortunately the NDO’s office budget was misfiled years ago and nobody knows the correct code to requisition new supplies. At least it’s warm in winter: you’re right on top of the classified document incinerator room, and it’s got the only chimney in the building.”

He points out aspects of the room’s dubious architectural heritage while I’m scoping out the accessories. I poke at the rusty electric kettle: “Will anyone say anything if I bring my own espresso maker?”

“I think they’ll say ‘that’s a good idea,’ sir. Now, if you’d care to pay attention, let me talk you through the call management procedures and what to do in event of an emergency.”

* * *

The Laundry, like any other government bureaucracy, operates on a 9-to-5 basis—except for those inconvenient bits that don’t. The latter tend to be field operations of the kind where, if something goes wrong, they really don’t want to find themselves listening to the voicemail system saying, “Invasions of supernatural brain-eating monsters can only be dealt with during core business hours. Please leave a message after the beep.” (Supernatural? Why, yes: we’re that part of Her Majesty’s government that deals with occult technologies and threats. Certain abstruse branches of pure mathematics can have drastic consequences in the real world—we call them “magic”—by calling up the gibbering horrors with which we unfortunately share a multiverse [and the platonic realm of mathematical truth]. Given that computers are tools that can be used for performing certain classes of calculation really fast, it should come as no surprise that Applied Computational Demonology has been a growth area in recent years.)

My job, as Night Duty Officer, is to sit tight and answer the phone. In the unlikely event that it rings, I have a list of numbers I can call. Most of them ring through to duty officers in other departments, but one of them calls through to a special Army barracks in Hereford, another goes straight to SHAPE in Brussels—that’s NATO’s European theatre command HQ—and a third dials direct to the COBRA briefing room in Downing Street. Nobody in the Laundry has ever had to get the Prime Minister out of bed in the small hours, but there’s always a first time: more importantly, it’s the NDO’s job to make that call if a sufficiency of shit hits the fan on his watch.

I’ve also got a slim folder (labelled TOP SECRET and protected by disturbing wards that flicker across the cover like electrified floaters in the corners of my vision) that contains a typed list of codewords relating to secret operations. It doesn’t say what the operations are, but it lists the supervisors associated with them—the people to call if one of the agents hits the panic button.

I’ve got an office to hang out in. An office with a bunk bed like something out of a fifties Carry On film about conscript life in the army, a chimney for the wind to whistle down (the better to keep me awake), a desk with an ancient computer terminal (shoved onto the floor to make room for my laptop), and a kettle (there’s a bathroom next door with a sink, a toilet, and a shower that delivers an anemic trickle of tepid water). There’s even a portable black-and-white TV with a cheap Freeview receiver (this is the first year since they discontinued analog broadcasting) in case I feel compelled to watch reruns of The Two Ronnies.

All the modern conveniences, in other words. . . .

This story is part of December Belongs To Cthulhu: ‹ previous | index | next ›
44 comments
Marcus W
1. toryx
Great story! The picture is fantastic as well.
Ronald Hobbs
2. dustrider
Love the Laundry world, and this is a great addition, would always love more! Well done on capturing Xmas in Britain perfectly, Aunty Beeb indeed.

I am surprised that Bob has dumped his pre for an iPhone though. Wouldn't have thought applied demonology would've made it through the appstore approval process ;)
...

Eldritch Horror set on devouring your soul?
There's an App for that.
Pablo Defendini
3. pablodefendini
Hi all! We're having a bit of a glitch with our CMS, so the artists' name isn't showing up in the credits. We're working to fix it, but in the meantime, check out Carl Wiens' work at his website, or at his Tor.com gallery.
Roland of Gilead
4. pKp
Awesome story, read it last week when you sent it by mail. I'll check out the rest of the Laundry universe when I succumb to my next book-buying frenzy.
Brian Murphy
5. murfman
Awesome! Thanks TOR and Thanks to Mr. Stross.
Charlie Stross
6. cstross
dustrider: the iPhone is explained in "The Fuller Memorandum" (due out in July next year) -- which this story is set, oh, about five months after. Suffice to say, Bob jailbroke it as soon as he got it home. OK?
Dru O'Higgins
7. bellman
Terrific story! I'll have to reread all the Laundry stories and pick up "the Fuller Memorandum" - shame it wasn't available for xmas.
jefff
8. jefff
I loved. Thanks for the early Christmas treat! Happy Holidays everyone.
jefff
9. Bob Thomas
Awesome! This was a wonderful Christmas gift to us fans! Thank you!
jefff
10. Ekithump
Another excellent, and seasonal, Laundry story - thank you Charlie.

I assume Tor are responsible for the typo regarding the 'stationary' cupboard? Or was it a cupboard previously possessed and moving around?

Can't wait for 'The Fuller Memorandum'.
Mary Kay Kare
11. MaryKay
What a lovely change from the stale sentimental crap shoveled out in mountains thus time of year! Thanks, Charlie.
MKK
Soon Lee
12. SoonLee
Thanks for this.

It was a delightful discovery to have this in my inbox last week, before the public release. Agree with toryx that the illustration is wonderful. And the story too.
Jon Rosebaugh
14. inklesspen
dustrider: Don't forget that Apple has different rules for the enterprise. Large businesses, like UPS, or Her Majesty's Government, can set up private apps synced to the appropriate users' iPhones. Though this does require a level of competence that might be missing in the IT bureaucracy at the Laundry.
Douglas Miller
15. demiller
Excellent holiday treat! Thanks Charlie!
jefff
16. Hairyears
All this, and there's still space for The Queen's Speech...
jefff
17. pjonesdotca
This made my holiday week!
Thanks for the Laundry Carol and a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours Mr. Stross!
jefff
18. Eschaton
Wonderful story! I look forward to reading the Fuller Memorandum and other tales of the Laundry. Thanks.
Michael Roberts
19. Michael
Damn, Charlie - if possible, you seem to be getting better at these!
jefff
20. Gerard Walsh
SPOILER ALERT!!!

Sooo, if Bob gets his iphone in "The Fuller Memorandum", and this story is set ~5 months after "Fuller", and references Bob getting out of hospital in September, after "being heavily sedated", I guess we know how "Fuller" ends! Looking forward to seeing how he gets there!
Michael Grosberg
21. Michael_GR
Nice story - I almost expected Dr. Who to drop by! Dr. Who and the Laundry... now that would be an awesome crossover.
David Thomas
22. davidateeyore
Iffen I recall correctly, (apropos @20) in the 'original' book -- "The Quiller Memorandum", the hero was hospitalised, under duress.

As a recently 'retired' denizen of a security-dominated bureaucracy, Bob Howard's description of Civil Service life is frighteningly accurate - another great story, Mr S...
jefff
23. Slothphil
"we’re its first target because we know it’s kind of old" -- I suspect "it's" is a typo there, and it had me puzzled about the meaning of that line for a few seconds.
Charlie Stross
24. cstross
@22, davidateeyore: "The Fuller Memorandum"'s title may be a pun on Adam Hall's "Quiller" novels, but alas, I changed target -- it's my Anthony Price tribute.

(I have tentative plans for Laundry novel #4 -- it's going to be a Modesty Blaise remix.)
Irene Gallo
25. Irene
The illustrator, Carl Wiens, posted a few of his sketches for the the artwork above on his blog. You can check out a number of variations there.

Carl Wines’ Overtime sketches

To tell the truth, loved them all. And after spending a month looking at Cthulhu art, I can honesttly say the final illo on this is one of the creepiest I've seen.

Thanks, Carl!

Here's one version:
http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y141/igallo/CarlWiens_sk-1.jpg
Soon Lee
26. SoonLee
Irene @25,
The one you posted is my favourite; bleak and creepy, though the one eventually used for this story is more appropriate, evoking as it does the Lovecraftian and the festive.
jefff
27. Jon Hendry
"I am surprised that Bob has dumped his pre for an iPhone though. Wouldn't have thought applied demonology would've made it through the appstore approval process ;)"

The US military has their own iPhone apps that probably aren't on the store. For example, an app for snipers that helps them calculate trajectories and take wind conditions into account.

On the other hand, Bob could have just jailbroken it and hacked his own.
jefff
28. Mark Dixon
Loved Overtime! Now I can't wait to see what the Easter Bunny brings. MD of Perth (the other Perth, the one in Oz).
jefff
29. 1queer1
Thank you Mr Stross for such a perfect Xmas treat (and thanks to Mr S Lee for passing around the link to the sloth like amongst us)
Christopher Hatton
30. Xopher
I'm loving these Laundry stories! I've just discovered them, and now I'm looking for all of them.

I saw two typos in this story; the one already mentioned (p7. stationery cupboard, not stationary cupboard), and a missing 'd' on 'supposed' at the end of p1.
jefff
31. No Delicious Spam
'twas the night the stars amassed
and all through the laundry
not a ward was disturbed
not a zombie came crawling

the stocking was hung
without a moment to spare
when out of the abyss
arose a stare...
jefff
32. Pickyman
re the photocopier images; it's not samarium (which goes in magnets these days)but selenium (which attracts little black particles)
jefff
33. bookwench
Awesome. :)
Thank you!
jefff
34. Arioch
I dunno. I feel kinda disappointed by the iphone thingie. Sure, it's cool and all, but... Well, suffice to say I'm kind of a jerk, and don't like mass trends very much. I see enough people buying iphones and being unable to do anything meaningful with it to find the whole phenomenon moronish, which is bad since, at the core, I think it's a wonderful idea.
jefff
35. JonathanH
Typo in the third paragraph: "game they’ve steering me onto". I'm guessing it should either be "they're", or "they've been"?
jefff
36. Serguei
This reminds me of old Russian sci-fi fantasy novel by Strugatsky brothers "Monday Begins on Satuday" first publish in 1964.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monday_Begins_on_Saturday
Soon Lee
37. SoonLee
Congratulations Charlie and other nominees for their Hugo nominations!

Tor.com got two nominations. "Eros, Philia, Agape" by Rachel Swirsky was the other. Also congratulations to Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Best Editor, Long Form).
Zac Stevens
39. KerouacZac
Woo-hoo, new Laundry tale!
I expect I'll be sending out a link to this story as my online x-mas card this year.


'the Filler of Stockings" I love it.
jefff
40. Patic
Great story.

One picky correction, binomials are usually only capitalised for the genus not the species: Amanita muscaria.
jefff
41. asbornsc
Much like a many-angled one at the bottom of a Mandelbrot set, I have an inhuman gnawing hunger... for more Laundry stories! Thanks, and keep up the good work!

And tell Pinky I said "poit!"

Squamous, rugose, and now nacreous. It's nice to read an author who keeps me pinging dictionary.com.
jefff
43. SilversurferX
Ooof - I'm *that* glad to have finished The Fuller Memorandum *before* reading this great, but emormously spoilerous short. Thank you, Mr Stross...and please get the next laundry novel ready as soon as possible ("asap!" - "Muhahahaaa").

Btw. if you just do type casting correctly, there won't be any conversion errors, not even in C++ :)
jefff
44. Elenaria
Oh my, what a great, awesome Yuletide story! A hundred cheers for you, mr Stross!
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
47. tnh
Asbornsc @41: Squamous and rugose are traditional. The rest of the set: cyclopean, chthonic, eldritch, gibbous, and non-Euclidean.

Nacreous is a fine addition.
jefff
48. ish Jones
now I feel Christmasy

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