Charles Stross

The Apocalypse Codex

In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

—Dr. Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Principle



THINGS ARE GETTING BETTER: IT’S BEEN TEN MONTHS, AND I only wake up screaming about once a week now. The physiotherapy is working and my right arm has regained eighty percent of its strength. The surviving members of the Wandsworth Cell of the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh have been arrested and detained indefinitely at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, in accordance with the secret supplementary regulations in Appendix Six of the Terrorism Act (2003); and every day, in every way, my life is getting better and better.

(The happy pills help, too.)

Please ignore the nervous tic; it’s an unavoidable side effect of my profession. The name’s Howard, Bob Howard: I’m a hacker turned demonologist, and I work for the Laundry, the secret agency tasked with protecting Her Majesty’s Realm from the scum of the multiverse. The nightmares, scars, and post-traumatic flashbacks are the fault of the bad guys, some of whom also work (or rather, worked) for the Laundry— which fact is currently causing a shit-storm of epic proportions to rage through the corridors of government.

Ten months ago, while seconded to the BLOODY BARON committee, I stumbled across evidence of a leak inside the Laundry. That sort of thing is supposedly impossible (our oath of office supposedly binds us to service on peril of our soul) but, nevertheless, Angleton—whose assistant I am, and who is not entirely human—set a trap for the mole, with yours truly as the tethered goat.

Things got a little out of hand, and before the dust settled the Black Brotherhood attempted to raise and bind an ancient evil called the Eater of Souls, using a ritual that required a human body for it to possess. (Guess who they had in mind for the starring role?) Luckily for me they hadn’t quite worked out that the Eater of Souls already is incarnate in a body—Angleton’s—but before the Seventh Cavalry arrived I discovered the hard way that Nietzsche was right: if you stare into the Abyss for too long it stares into you, and likely finds you crunchy with ketchup and a little relish on the side. Bad dreams ensued all around, and it left me with a disquieting new talent that I’ve been doing my best to avoid thinking about too hard.

Well, they arrested Iris and her surviving minions and sent them to a camp in the Lake District where it rains sideways five days out of four, all technologies invented after 1933 are forbidden, and if you walk too far beyond the perimeter fence you find yourself walking back towards it. I imagine that’s where they live to this day, when they’re not answering questions in a room where the patterned carpet makes your eyes burn if you stare at it for too long, and your tongue writhes like a tapeworm in your mouth if you try to stay silent.

As for me, I got to go home four months ago. I finished writing up my confidential report, and the nightmares have mostly stopped: I only dream about the fence of living corpses around the step pyramid on the dead plateau a couple of times a week now, and the hole in my right arm has mostly healed. So I’m all right, at least on paper.

A month ago, I went back to work. I’m on light duty for the time being, but I’m sure that’ll change once management decides to feed me back into the meat grinder.


A couple of years ago, Angleton told me to start writing my memoirs. Which should have struck me as really fishy—why on earth should a junior civil servant in an occult intelligence agency be required to write a memoir? (Especially as ninety percent of the stuff therein is classified up to the eyeballs and protected by wards that will make steam boil out of your ears if you try to read it without the right security clearance.) But I’m older and more cynical these days, and I understand the logic behind it.

The deadliest threat to any covert organization is the loss of institutional knowledge that comes with the death or retirement of key personnel. The long-term survival prospects for those of us who practice the profession of applied computational demonology are not good. Let me put it another way: I’ve got a really generous pension waiting for me, if I live long enough to claim it. As we drift helplessly into the grim meat-hook future of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the final crisis when “the stars come right,” the walls between the worlds dissolve, and the monsters come out to play, we’re going to need more sorcerers than can be trained by conventional methods; we’re going to have to drop a lot of our existing security practices, allow the stovepipes between departments to melt, lower the firewalls, and get these sorcerers up to speed and mixing new metaphors as fast as possible. These memoirs are therefore intended to feed into an institutional knowledge base that, by and by, will help my successors (including new operations management personnel) to survive by allowing them to avoid my non-fatal blunders—blunders I only lived through because I made them in a kinder, more forgiving age.

(Also, there is this: writing down nightmares is a really good way to exorcise your demons.)

However, as I record this account of the events surrounding the Apocalypse Codex, I’m going to have to take some liberties. For starters, even if I’m dead when you read this, other people affected by the events in this document may still be alive—and what you learn from it may hurt them. So I’m going to have to redact some sections. Also, I’m in line management these days, and although I debriefed all the surviving participants and read all the reports, I didn’t personally witness all the action. In fact, I spent much of my time following the trail of broken bodies, explosions, and general mayhem that BASHFUL INCENDIARY left in her wake—and praying that I wouldn’t be too late.

(Praying? Well, yes—metaphorically speaking. As you doubtless know if you’re reading this memoir, there is One True Religion; but I wouldn’t want you to get the idea that I was a follower of N’Yar lath-Hotep, or The Sleeper, or any of their nightmarish ilk. My prayers are secular, humanist, and probably futile. It’s one of my character flaws; I was a lot happier when I was an atheist.)

Anyway, I’m going to use a simple convention in this memoir. If it happened to me, I’ll describe it in the first person, from my own point of view. If it happened to someone else, I’ll describe it in the third person, from the outside. And if there’s something you really, really need to understand if you’re to avoid having your brain eaten by gibbering monsters from beyond spacetime, I’ll take time out to harangue you directly.

Finally, if it happened to one of us but it has the potential to be damaging if disclosed, you’ll have to come back with a higher security clearance in order to check out the version with the spicy bits.

And so, to business.


Dear diary…

No, scratch that. Two months ago I went back to work.

The first month was light duty, pottering around the office, catching up on a backlog of training courses and paperwork, filling in time.

And of course I let myself be suckered into a false sense of security, into thinking that everything was, in fact, getting better and better. Despite the nightmares and the security protocols and the ever-present awareness of the fast-approaching end of reality as we know it—I began to relax.

Big mistake, Bob.

A lot of things can happen in a month. In the context of the last month, I have…

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