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Snake's Eyes

May the laws of random chance preserve us! That things should come to this and I should live to see such dark days! I keep asking myself, was there anything I could have done. I'll probably get blamed. A disaster this big demands at least one scapegoat. Already the other hosts in Westminster are scurrying to cover themselves and heap blame on me, but as Prime Minister it was not my job to intervene.

The title is outdated; a historical leftover. As I was told when I got the job, we have a tradition of keeping traditions. Apparently in the old days, by which I mean the generation before mine and earlier, the country was actually run by a dozen or so men. These men were called ministers and made all the important decisions by themselves. The prime minister was the most powerful and had the final say in what was done and the most airtime. There were also several hundred MPs in parliament who were mostly spectators like today, but did have some power to change the minister's decisions. These people were organised into two rival groups known as parties, although I can't see why. They were all chosen every five years in a nationwide popularity contest between the two parties.

As you can imagine, this system had lots of problems. The popularity contests were, history tells us, unfair. Nor could they have been otherwise. There is a theory in crowd psychology that, roughly speaking: that many people cannot be right. Worse, ministers were often corrupt. Many took bribes or just ran things to suit themselves. Also they were always worried about their jobs. They had to keep winning the popularity contest or they were kicked out, so they didn't have the courage to make unpopular decisions. What's popular isn't always what's best - for example no-one likes paying tax, but it's vital to the country, and pot noodles continue to sell. Still, the ministers were only guaranteed work for five years, so they kept on making short term policies. We mustn't be too harsh on them; unemployment was a terrible thing back then with very little hope of anything better.

Those ministers who were honest were under a terrible strain. They were directly responsible for the running of the whole country and its future. Millions of lives were entrusted to their care. No wonder some of them went mad. There used to be a painting of one such at No. 10 Downing Street. She was a woman, which was unusual then, and you could see the madness, a sucked in hard madness, in her eyes. Thank god the job of prime minister has changed. I doubt that I could have taken that level of pressure. Her picture's gone now - it gave me the creeps.

Between the corruption, short-sightedness and plain old human incompetence, people became disillusioned with this system. However it took a long time for our own parliament to replace it. The transition began when they tried choosing MPs and ministers by random lot. Whilst still a dangerous way to run things, this did improve government a lot. The essential dilemma that flawed the old system and all forms of government before it - which were even worse - was this: the qualities required to gain power were precisely the qualities which were undesirable from those in power. Only those with a real lust for power could get it, and they were unlikely to wield it fairly. This problem turned many revolutions, so noble in aim, into repressive dictatorships, and it is inherent in any process that relies on human judgement.

The new system eliminated this. There were plenty of critics who predicted disasters of every kind, but there are always of plenty of critics and they were proved wrong. Those chosen did not invade France, or repeal all taxes. It was then that the department which would eventually metamorphose into our Department of Handicappers was started, to train the new MPs in the duties of government. The benefits were immediate. Mobile phones were abolished, corruption dropped off, and there was an end to political squabbling. More importantly it produced a national rebirth. I can only describe it as a great groundswell of spiritual well being. Not something that's easy to document, but a look at the records does show both crime figures and divorce rates fell. The explanation is simple; the people of Britain had been given hope.

Gradually it was realised that the improvements in policy making were due not to better and more honest MPs, but rather to the dying out of belief-based political motives. Ideologies are always simplifications. They can never fit what is, in reality, an unbearably complex universe, and when they don't fit the problems pile up and grow.  The removal of ideology from politics was a great leap forward. Human failings however meant that problems remained. The potential for corruption was still there, as was parliamentary bickering. It became clear that the only way to produce a perfect system was to remove human beings, with our inevitable human failings, from the decision making process. The natural world, which produces such miracles as the human body and rainforests, is governed by the laws of chance. Attempting to impose an artificial structure on this can only lead to trouble. Hence the gradual phasing in of our current system. It began with tentative schemes in local councils. Most people knew little about local politics and cared less. The public were quite willing to accept making decisions by `tossing a coin'. These schemes were so successful that the idea soon spread. Faith in luck and gambling has long been a part of our psyche, which can be traced back to the replacement of National Insurance with compulsory National Lottery tickets. Today's government, from the fruit machines in your DHSS office to the great Wheel of Policy TM and the Golden Dice in the House of Commons, has been completely freed from the constraints of human failings. Only the boffins in the Department of Handicappers still have to carry any individual responsibility. Even that - refining and checking the equations used by the House of IBMs to calculate odds - can't directly affect policy. Our political system has won a string of international awards. Politics is extremely popular these days. Not only are our ratings sky high, beating even the classic soap operas, but more and more people are becoming involved creatively, now that anyone can submit a proposal for any level. We must not let recent events tarnish that achievement; this current crisis must not be allowed to damage such a good system.

The investigation into how a terrorist group managed to compromise security so badly is still underway. They were clearly highly organised, well equipped and ruthless. It seems they also had at least one man on the inside, whom they shot when the job was done. Several infiltrated the viewer's box where they used disguises to remain after closing time. Fake hollow fire hydrants were found the next morning. Forensic analysis has revealed ash from cigarettes of middle eastern origin on their insides. They were after the Golden Dice. The location of the Golden Dice is no secret; to prevent tampering, they never leave the House of Commons. They are kept in a rocket-proof safe under the prime minister's podium. Or rather, they were kept there until two days ago. The safe is state of the art - requiring my finger prints and a TV audience of over three million to open. The fittings, however, were just ordinary  screws. After killing the security staff, the perpetrators simply stole the whole thing, and were airlifted out. Their escape was by a fast military helicopter which came in on a flightpath towards Heathrow, but then swept across London and out to sea. By this time all sorts of alarm bells were ringing in police and military headquarters, but it vanished from our radar screens before it could be intercepted.

Obviously this was highly embarrassing to the producers and potentially a terrible blow to my career. The Golden Dice are only used for the most important of decisions, and it is my privilege as Prime Minister to be the one who rolls them. They are the highest power in the country, able to decide the fate of millions - everyone holds their breath when the dice are rolling. Still, the engineers assured us that the safe was completely impervious. It could, they said, be destroyed but never opened. It was a fatal underestimation of the people we were dealing with.

A policy was added to the wheel calling for a new set of dice. It had good odds, but failed to come up yesterday. Then, this morning at 9:27am, a letter addressed to `The Decadent Imperialist Infidel Dog People of Britain' arrived at the House of Commons. It contained a statement and a video. The statement was from a group called `The Marxist-Muslim Army of Liberation' and claimed responsibility for the theft. The M&Ms army is an extremely radical terrorist organisation responsible for atrocities against just about everyone. Their leader, Mohammed Nazif the self-styled `Mother of all Maoists', is wanted for murder in seven countries and for copyright infringement by Hershey in the USA. They are known to have links with both Syria and Israel. They detest both, and will take aid from either to attack the other. The complicity of the Syrian military is suspected in this operation. Relations with Syria have been bad since an SAS task force accidentally shot a cousin of the King's during the rescue of a British teacher, convicted of murder, from the cruelty of Syrian justice.

It was the video that meant disaster. It opened with a simple shot of a plain wooden tabletop. On it rested what were unmistakably the Golden Dice. I had held them just three times in twenty years, and each time I was filled with a sense of the power concentrated in them. Always, though, I had felt secure with my trust in the accumulated probabilities. A masked man stepped into the shot and picked up the dice in a black gloved hand. Seeing this, a sense of dread welled up inside me unlike anything I have ever known. He rolled, and the camera zooms in on the dice as they tumble to a stop. The final frame showed that a double one had been rolled. Two ebony dots stare out of the screen like the eyes of a malevolent god. The Handicapper of the Day fell to his knees trembling when he saw those two black dots and his deputy fainted on the spot. It was left to me to announce the terrible news to the nation. There was no avoiding it. Constitutional law decreed that the decision was final, and neither the Chief Handicapper nor I could revoke or alter it. Dark and precise, the roll of the dice meant nuclear war. The missiles have now been launched, and there is nothing we can do but cross our fingers and hope.


© Daniel Winterstein 1998-2008

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