From Krill . . .

‘Many comrades didn’t make it.’ Joe Lenz’s lilting accent drew me back into the present, or rather back into his past. ‘In the dark days of apartheid, you might say that we were living a posthumous life. The flower of South Africa’s youth was butchered by . . . sorry.’ A faraway smile settled on his lips. ‘Don’t mind me, John. I’m sure you have better things to do than listen to the ramblings of an old man.’

‘Not at all. It’s not every day I get to meet an alumnus of Robben Island,’ I said. ‘So how did you manage to keep your wits about you while you were incarcerated?’

‘I used my time to think about the media. But communications have come a long way since then.’ Mister Lenz lit another cigarette and exercised his lungs with the same dry hacking cough that I had noticed earlier. ‘You see, the opposition was locked in a propaganda war with the state. After I was released from detention, I was tasked with setting up a guerrilla alternative to the Apartheid Regime’s Ministry of Information. We might inhabit a different century, but plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,as our French friends would say.’ My blank expression met with a patronising smile. ‘Oh, come on, John – you know what that means, surely? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Think about it. People don’t realise the extent to which the media brainwashes us. If you think the Internet is a liberating medium – a force for good – you could not be more wrong. Far from being a source of uncensored information and the dissemination of ideas, it is the most powerful manipulative tool humanity has ever known.’

‘Fascinating,’ I said. ‘But what has this got to do with me?’

‘Well, you might say it concerns us all, whether we know it or not. You see, cyber-space is the new battleground.’ Noticing my frown, Joe Lenz explained, ‘you must understand that knowledge is power. Self-serving elites exercise a stranglehold over all forms of communication. Their truth becomes our truth if it’s the only truth we’re allowed. Falsehood becomes fact if it’s all we’re given.’

‘Oh, come on,’ I said. ‘We have a free press in this country. No one is grinding a political axe.’

‘You believe that? Really? So, when The Daily Planet accused you of corporate homicide, it was honest to goodness old-fashioned reporting, was it?’

‘Well, no, but . . .’

‘There you are, then. The only difference between that and any other headline is, you know it was a barefaced lie. And if you think it was an isolated example, you are a fool. Are you, John – a fool?’ Mister Lenz gave me a long, hard look. ‘No, don’t suppose you are, but you’re easily fooled – we all are. As the saying goes, you can fool all of the people some of the time . . .’

‘And some of the people all of the time. But not all of the people all of the time.’

‘Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, John. In the Internet age, you can fool all of the people all of the time.’

Concerned that Mister Lenz might be one of those deluded conspiracy theorists that I had heard so much about, I felt it best to humour him. After all, we had only just met, and I was not sure whether he was fully compos-mentis. ‘If that’s the case,’ I said, ‘I don’t see what we can do about it.’

‘We must fight back.’ The words bore a firm resolve. ‘And we’re preparing the battleground.’

The longer we talked, the more reason I had to doubt Mister Lenz’s faculties. To be on the safe side, I professed agreement. ‘That television talent show should give the scoundrels a thing or two to think about, eh?’ I made a pretence of checking my watch. ‘Good grief, is that the time? Better get a move on if I’m to catch McGill before he leaves.’

‘You think I’m a senile old bru, don’t you, John?’ Mister Lenz humoured me with another of his good-natured smiles. ‘Fact is, we intend to use McGill’s appearance on Streetstars to launch the revolution.’

‘Oh look – a pig.’ I pointed to the sky. Although I made light of Mister Lenz’s comment, I was, to be honest, incredulous. ‘A reality television show is hardly Battleship Potemkin, is it?’ I said, unable to contain my scepticism. Scepticism? Downright disbelief would be closer to the mark. ‘Sounds more like a battle of the couch potatoes than a call to arms.’

‘That’s quite a sense of humour you have there, John,’ Joe Lenz said with a longsuffering smile. ‘But before you jump to conclusions, consider this . . . the only voices tyrants can’t suppress belong to celebrities – writers, musicians, actors, clergymen. Don’t forget – Harry Belafonte, Miriam Makeba, Dollar Brand, Hugh Masekela and Bishop Desmond Tutu were opposition figureheads in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid. And let’s face it, Pussy Riot have done more to confront state censorship in Russia than all the politicians in the Duma put together.’ His smile faded to a look of steely-eyed determination. ‘If you can draft a watertight contract,’ he said. ‘We will use Streetstars to promote McGill as a spokesman for the alternative society. Someone who can spread our message to the masses.’

Spread our message to the masses . . . As the phrase resonated, a glimmer of enlightenment prompted me to say, ‘Mister Tyler is not a financial engineer, is he? And I don’t suppose Kontrol has anything to do with rigging the stock market.’

‘Rigging the what?’ Mister Lenz burst out laughing. ‘Sounds like you’ve fallen for one of McGill’s legendary shaggy-dog stories.’

‘So, if Mister Tyler doesn’t run a hedge fund, who exactly are you?’ I asked nervously; I was not sure that I really wanted to know.

Joe Lenz stared into the distance with a firm – a certain – smile. ‘Why, we’re New Praetorians, John,’ he said, almost at a whisper. ‘Guardians of the Truth.’

Photograph of Crouch End Foxcub by Annie Cartwrite

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