Fiction: “Fieldcraft”


I think of speculative fiction as the genre of literalized metaphor.  This is a particularly personal one.  (CW: authoritarianism, homophobia)

by Kellan Sparver

This is how you resist.

Do not look him in the eye, when you are at dinner and are waiting to be brought your meal, except to emphasize a point. Prolonged eye contact is a sign of intimacy.

If you try, he will look away, flush of more than wine on his lips. He does not have the training that you have.

Mind your tone of voice. You are two friends catching up after a long week’s work, sharing a meal and a drink. Perhaps you plan to meet other friends afterwards at a late-night café.

You should be studied as you discuss serious matters; jovial as appropriate to the conversation. You should never seem bubbly or overly-excitable. Do not lisp or adopt an overly-affected manner of speech, even though this is one of the ways men like you signal their interests.

Keep your voice low and project for his ears alone. There are other diners, other ears, and even if you never discuss sensitive matters in public, a canny person overhearing can still learn much from which topics you avoid.

Above all keep your voice hard — you are men, and you comport yourselves as such. Do not allow them to hear any warmth.

Split the check. Do not get dessert.

Should you need to discuss him while he is not present — he has gone to visit the washroom, perhaps — he is “my friend” or the name he is called by those he respects, never any name more intimate. Nor should you use any name more formal — that is just as much a sign that your relationship does not follow the expected patterns.

After dinner, at his club, the louder and darker space permits more forward speech, but body language should be policed at all times. Very limited touching is permitted — on or around the shoulders, or on the back, for no more than a second at a time; hands, to shake only. All other touching is forbidden. A certain casual camaraderie is natural, but do not let it go too far.

If he asks, you may light his cigarette, but do not volunteer. You may use his match to light your own. He may buy you drinks, but you must always reciprocate. If he offers you a sip of his drink, you must decline.

Burn your codes after use; that way you will not be tempted to reuse them, and they cannot fall into the wrong hands. Keep neither a cleartext nor a ciphertext record of the messages that you send. The enemy can learn much from the barest scrap.

Avoid learning your contacts’ places of residence. The less you know, the less you can reveal.

Back in his rooms, lie under him, the sheets under your back clammy with your sweat, as he thrusts into you.

What do you call a spy who has been revealed? A traitor. A failure. A corpse.

Even now, do not look at his eyes — which are closed anyway, your faces mirrored masks of concentration.

Clean yourself off. Afterwards, you are permitted to smile at him, but only when you look at him out of the corner of your eyes.

There is a reason that men like you become actors or politicians. Every waking breath is in some sense a lie. How can any script or party platform hold less truth than the air you exhale?

The identity is in the hiding.

Do not use another agent’s codes, or allow another agent to use yours. Doing so invites compromise not just of individual agents but whole networks.

Do not become romantically entangled with your contacts. Many an agent has been betrayed by a jealous lover, wife, husband. Many have been lured into an ambush with the promise of a private rendezvous, and captured or killed.

You are permitted to make eye contact with her. When she contacts you using the prearranged phrase, beg off your other committments under the best pretexts you can manage.

Leave word of your whereabouts with a trusted associate in case anything should happen to you. Take her to one of your usual restaurants — it will prevent the staff there from drawing conclusions about your habits. Hope that you do not see any of the companions you spurned.

Observe all the usual niceties which polite society expects of a gentleman in the company of a married woman whose husband he is not. Take her coat and hat. Pull out her chair for her. Do not touch her — that is her husband’s prerogative alone. You may kiss her gloved hand if she offers it, but she does not.

Take care how you look at her. If you make too much eye contact, she will think you a flirt, but do not be boorish in your attentions and this may prove to your advantage. Many women like an honorable flirt, even married women, and especially married women whose husbands are off to war. They like to be seen by others with a man like you.

Only flirt with her if it puts her at ease — you need information from her, and she will tell you more of what you wish to know if she feels comfortable with you.

Tell her something of your cover story, as the opportunity comes up in conversation, to build her trust.

Order drinks. She will perceive the alcohol as making you more vulnerable.

Gauge your level of intoxication carefully. You are exposed here, meeting her. If anything untoward should happen, you will need your wits about you.

As the meal approaches conclusion, you may drop some carefully-selected tidbits which she will think she elicited and you did not mean to drop. This will make you appear truthful, and will encourage her to reciprocate. You must drop nothing too dear, or she will think you naïve and trust you less. She knows you are both playing a dangerous game, and if she informs for you, she is entrusting her life to you. You must appear worthy of her trust.

Afterwards, back in her apartment, move in her as she groans under you.

Pay careful attention to the people around her residence, when she asks you in for a drink. Who sees you — the butler? The cook? The maid? Who knows your whereabouts? Try to find out their sympathies, if you can do so without being too obvious. Do they know their mistress is informing on their country? In a well-kept household, they should not. They are points of leverage the secret police may use to compromise their mistress, and thus to compromise you.

Do not pause or stammer when she asks you to bed. Do not remark over how little experience you have. You must appear confident but not overbearing. Undress her carefully, and allow her to do so herself where the arcane hardware stymies you. Do not stare as though you have never seen a woman naked before. Many of the techniques transfer, although her more delicate physique will require a lighter touch.

Unlike your usual lovers, she will expect you to take the initiative, although she will give subtle signals that she is ready.

Do not fail her in this. It is the same motion.

Feel yourself floating, unmoored here, as you move in her, like a launch rocking next to a dock. If you cannot make eye contact with her, because her eyes are closed and her head is turned to the side, study the line of her neck, the stained wall, the way her hands clench in the sheets.

Do not feel, here, that sex is the most intimate act two bodies may perform. Feel that you are as far from every other human being, including the one under you, as the planet Jupiter, and as cold as the distant stars.

Acknowledge that an advantage of wartime service is that you are not the only one with secrets you will die to protect.

Everyone is careful of eavesdroppers. Everyone’s outer self is controlled, every word chosen for the ears of the secret police as well as their companions. Men, women — foreigners and natives — no one is excluded. Anyone could hear the wrong things under your words. Any sentence could be your death-sentence.

In his rooms, in your private place, is no more freedom. Do not forget that just because he is like you in this way he is not also their eyes and their ears, as much as his own. Do not believe he would put your life before his if they came for him. They will use him if they find him, use him to get to you. For a man like you, there is no life but lies.

Be careful how often you meet with your contacts. Too often and your habits will be noted; too infrequently and the exceptions will stand out.

Any compromising information revealed to others gives them power over you.

Do not establish fixed patterns of behavior. If you always dine at the café on Thursdays followed by a visit to his club, you will be an easy target if they decide to take you in for interrogation.

In some ways, it is a relief when the secret police come for you.

In the time after — the war, the bombs, the secrets, and the lies — do not look for the ones you knew before. They are dead, many of them. She, in the camps, you heard, perhaps by her own hand; he, given over to the thugs by a zealous lover, in exchange for a pardon. The ones who knew you, who remain, do not know you any more.

Do not wonder if the time of lies is really over, or if this is merely a pause in the fighting. Do not wonder if the secret police are truly disbanded, or if even now your neighbors are reporting on you. Do not pause to ask who you might have been, if not for the war. Do not even try to conceptualize a world where you might live in truth, as a whole man, not the man you are now, a man who is the hole circumscribed by the faces he shows to his neighbors.

What good could possibly come of that?


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Copyright © 2017 Kellan Sparver. All rights reserved.

The cover image is modified from “10/365″ by Victor Semionov on Flickr, used under the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license. The image is used for illustrative purposes only. All persons depicted are models, and no endorsement or association is intended or implied.