- OUR FAR FLUNG CORRESPONDENT
- By D
- Back in the spring, a real reporter at a real news bureau with a real computer published a phony April-Fool's article saying that the EU Copyright Court was relocating to Sealand due to the micro-nation’s unique position of diplomatic impartiality. The editors at my office didn't recognize the piece as a farce, and the prank resulted in my instillation as the Akron Evening Beacon's first foreign correspondent. The conversation leading to my deployment, if I remember correctly, went as follows:
- “Lewes, you're young and you're hungry for a good beat, right?” The Editor-in-Chief at the Beacon, Carl Sanderson, was the closest thing one could find to an honest-to-God and wholly deranged living caricature of J. Jonah Jameson. This is actually how he communicates with other human beings.
- “Of course si-”
- “How'd you like an assignment overseas?”
- “I'm not sure I can do that with my coursel-”
- “It's in Sealand; you know, that little oil platform or fort or whatever that declared independence or some shit like that-”
- “No, I don't kno-”
- “Anyways, apparently they're moving the EU Copyright courts out there, and no one's on this beat-”
- “Sir, I don't know if covering Sealand is a sound investment of ou-”
- “Lewes, you sonuvabitch, you've got a mouth on you, and I love ya for it, but I've got a gut, and that gut never lets me down, and that aforementioned gut is pointing its nose at this beat!”
- “Well, even so, sir, I can't-”
- “Horseshit; of course you can. You're young! You're hungry for a good beat! I don't see where this doesn't fit into the equation!”
- “Sir, I c-can-”
- “I knew you'd come around! You're a real go-getter, y'know, you've got that stuff, that right stuff. The right stuff, dare I say.”
- “Sir, I don-”
- “Now get out of here and get packed up, kid, you're flying out of Cleveland bright and early in the morning.”
- And that was how I dropped out of graduate school.
- While Sealand claims a double-digit populace, I share the re-purposed fort on a day-to-day basis with the lone naturalized Sealandian still residing in his adopted homeland: his Honorable Sir Gerald McDermott, Official Sealand Palace Guard, Caretaker, Press Secretary, Engineer, Secretary of the Interior, and 1992 Recipient of the Silver Anchor Medal for exemplary service to God and Platform. We interacted three times a day: in the morning for the daily Sealand Palace Press Conference, at sundown for the lowering of the Sealand colors, and in passing as we returned to our respective, adjacent quarters for the night. Aside from these contexts, McDermott's cabin door never opened, and he never ventured outside of it.
- By the grace of Sealand's techno-utopian trappings, the platform has internet access, so I'm not in a vacuum, and every so often a mail-boat will come out here and I'll hitch a ride back to shore for the weekend, shirking my duties as the foreign correspondent to the principality of Sealand. I don't know anyone in the entire United Kingdom, though, so its not worth the effort most of the time, except for when I run out of liquor. Aside from these occasional detours, however, I never fail to submit my daily news brief to the Beacon, and regardless of their reliable banality, Sanderson publishes every single one of them.
- It was in late April that I got the email telling me my term of correspondence here had been extended indefinitely; Sealand loved the press, and my Sealand features were relatively popular with the Beacon's readership, so I suppose it was inevitable. The email read as follows:
- Sealand's offered to keep you stowed away-- on the house. I figure this is a great opportunity to corner the market on Sealand News. If anything ever breaks in this place, they'll have to pick us up nationally. All you have to do is wait, maybe throw us a few gimmicky bones once in a while, and when something happens, my boy, it'l be grand. It'l be quite grand. You'd better not miss anything, because this could be grand. Keep toughin' on, soldier.
- And that was how I broke up with my girlfriend.
- Like clockwork, every morning at ten-fifty-five GMT, Press Secretary McDermott takes his place at the podium in the small conference room with garish bruised-purple wallpaper and begins his daily debriefing, whether I am there or not. The news was typically somewhat slow around these parts; the day's announcements typically revolved around the more noteworthy individuals to purchase a title of Lordship from the principality on a given day. Last week, the entire twenty-minute press conference was devoted to the news that Gwyneth Paltrow was now an official Countess of Sealand. Today was a busy day, as the official Sealand Roller Derby team-- composed entirely of British Nationals, most of them Welsh-- arrived on the platform, along with his eminence himself, his Royal Highness Prince Regent Michael Bates I, to pose for photos before their first competition this Saturday.
- I've met the Prince Regent a few times. He's a decent fellow; fifty, balding, and exceptionally portly, he's otherwise devoid of the aristocratic trappings others may have with such a title, though it does help that his nation commands no standing army. We've shared a drink or two, and small talk whenever he comes to visit. The Prince Regent is convinced that expanding Sealand's athletic presence is key to expanding its chances at diplomatic legitimacy-- “Whatever that means for our fine principality”. As such, the announcement of the Sealand Defilers' Roller Derby team is a big deal around here; in his Press Release, Prince Regent Michael declared it “the newest, most exciting chapter in Sealand's burgeoning history”.
- The People's History of the Principality of Sealand reads in reverse as follows:
- -Sealand is bringing an online casino to the platform in December, but that will consist of nothing more glamorous than a few massive computer servers and an extra satellite dish.
- -Sealand caught on fire in 2006. They rebuilt it, of course, this time around painting the exterior of the new steel palace solely in shades of black and red, in a misguided attempt at nationalism.
- -The founder of Sealand, Prince Roy Bates, retired to the UK with his wife about fifteen years ago; Prince Regent Michael also lived on the mainland, exercising the most relaxed and uncontentious reign-in-exile since the dawn of recorded history, serving his birthright from his living room.
- -Back in 1977, self-proclaimed Prime Minister of Sealand Alexander Achenbach tried to stage a military coup of the platform, for God knows what reason. It was wildly unsuccessful.1
- -In 1967, Prince Roy Bates declared the abandoned HM Fort Roughs to be the sovreign principality of Sealand.
- Meanwhile, obnoxious college kids and fifty-year-old dads discovering the internet buy Sealand titles and t-shirts, and the Principality's economy supports itself through the merits of its own mere existence. That's about the whole of it.
- The Sealand Defilers stood in a single row, ten-strong in their forest-green tank top uniforms, directly behind Press Secretary McDermott. A couple of them clearly struggled to stifle a few chuckles at the absurdity of the honors they were there to receive in the company of the cold, soundless seas and its lone diligent correspondent; they all had their different coping stratagems, some shuffling their feet sheepishly, others biting their lips, all of them taking care to avoid contact with the six other eyes in the room. McDermott cleared his throat, and began,
- “In 1967, the year of our Lord, our brave Patriarch, His Eminence Prince Roy Bates I, founded this nation with a vision of a community whose thresholds of acceptance were as broad and all-encompassing as the seas themselves.” McDermott had a particular affinity for his own concept of pageantry, which mostly consisted of throwing regal-sounding words at a page until he was content with the end result.
- Sometimes it worked out alright for him. More often than not, the end result resembled this: “In Sealand's grand millennial ascendance to a state of greater global significance, we have championed our penchant for existing on the cultural zeitgeist, a grand beacon for the great global world in which our Principality was built to thrive. It is with this, then, that I am pleased to proclaim to the masses of this great planet, the official formation of the Grand Principality of Sealand's Micro-National Roller Derby Association!” The Press Secretary paused, his hands aloft, awaiting the applause he felt such an announcement deserved. McDermott was in his mid-seventies by now, and the tradewinds showed their wear on his every tortured wrinkle.
- I broke the silence with a golf clap, and McDermott deemed this sufficient enough recognition to continue, “And now, without further adieu, here to present the members of the SM-NRDA's very first Roller Derby club, his Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, Sir Michael Bates I, his holy see, and philosopher-king of the great empire of Sealand!” McDermott crouched behind the podium, and pressed “PLAY” on a small tape-deck boombox he kept for such occasions. The Sealand National Anthem began to play, muffled through tape hiss and tinny speakers; Basil Simonenko's “E Mare Libertas” was a piece that clearly intended to convey a sense of wonder and majesty, with its triumphant horn introduction to assert its legitimacy, and the sinusoidal sweeps of its flute and string melodies. It always seemed just a bit off-- as though it were an anthem filtered through the haze of a tipsy navy-man, its grandiosity undermined by the silliness of the fact that it was being played in such a time and place and state.
- I hopped to attention a few seconds late, as Prince Regent Michael strode casually down the center aisle of the room, dressed in Reeboks, a black polo, and denim shorts; he gave a quick wave of his hand, and told McDermott to cut the music. The most decorated man in Sealand fumbled with the buttons behind the podium for a moment or two before bringing the anthem to a premature halt. The Prince Regent cleared his throat for a moment, holding himself up by the edge of the podium, and he muttered: “Unfortunately, due to recent developments in the state of Prince Roy's health, we're rescheduling today's press conference for next Wednesday. I have no further news to share on my father's present condition at this time, and again, we're sorry for the inconvenience.” Prince Regent Michael left the podium almost too quickly for McDermott to play him off with the Anthem. Almost.
- The Sealand Defilers were still standing in the back of the room in a state of mild confusion, considering their return boat wasn't expected to arrive until two hours from now. McDermott turned to them and quietly whispered a few attempts at instructions in their general direction, but they all seemed to be unintelligible even to the team standing right next to him. Before he could clarify, he'd already retreated to his cabin. The Defilers now all stared me straight in the eyes, looking for answers, though I had nothing to offer. The team captain-- a short, brunette, green-eyed woman who couldn't be more than twenty-six--- whipped out her cell phone, in hopes of stumbling across a signal to call their boat service. “We've got a landline down the hall,” I mumble, as I tried to remember how to talk to someone vaguely near my age, and someone as astoundingly cute as the team captain seemed in that moment. “Dial nine for outside calls.”
- She chuckled. I didn't realize that she assumed my directions were a joke. “Do you-”
- “Nope,” I cut her off, “I have no idea what's happening right now. I'm just with the press corps.” At this point, the entire team was cracking up.
- The captain finally pulled herself together long enough to eke out a sentence. “Seriously, though, where's the bathroom in this place?” A sharper man would've pointed to the sea, but I simply directed the team to head downstairs past the boiler room. They filed down the staircase, still guffawing, still marveling that such a place existed, and I sat back down to daydream about this platform collapsing into the ocean in a pillar of white hot flames. E Mare, Libertas.
- I decided to get my daily update out of the way, developing stories be damned:
- OCTOBER 9TH, 2012
- JAKE LEWES, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT FOR THE AKRON EVENING BEACON
- SEALAND, SEALAND
- A ceremony to honor the establishment of an official Sealand Roller Derby team was derailed today by the news that the Honorable Prince Roy Bates I, founder of Sealand, was in critical condition. No details are available at the time of press, though the ceremony has been postponed until further notice.”
- I emailed it in to the office and closed my eyes once more. The Roller Derby team joined me in the fires, though they were pulling away in a lifeboat, one or two of them blowing kisses in my general direction as I cling to the last patch of steel to yet elude the inferno. McDermott is sinking below the waves, still not uttering a word to me, the Sealand Anthem filling with a deafening static crackle as the boombox suffers mortal water damage. Prince Regent Michael is hovering overhead in a helicopter, a ladder dangling in front of my face, a megaphone in his hand, and a few cries about my getting on and getting out of there. Just as I reach my hand out, my patch of fake land collapses under my feet, and, of course, E Mare Libertas.
- I'm jolted awake by the Roller Derby captain's hand on my shoulder. “They told me to bring you out to the Flag Deck.” I slowly straightened up, and I made my way down the empty red-and-black corridor -”The Hall of Military History”, as the Prince Regent liked to quip, even though this was a slight misrepresentation of their combat record. The Flag deck itself is nothing more than a stretch of barren steal, with a single flagpole sticking up from the platform's edge. Sealand's red-and-black flag flew at half mast, its semaphore-inspired design seeming to convey some kind of message of distress at this point. Why no one has ever tried to rescue this vessel's passengers yet is a question I ask myself every moment when I rise from my cot.
- The Roller Derby players were stationed off to the side of the deck, their heads bowed solemnly as their Captain walked over to join them. McDermott was standing at attention by the flag pole, and Prince Michael of Sealand was sitting at the end of the deck, his legs crossed, his face resting in his hands. McDermott broke attention, and walked to the center of the deck, to do what he did best:
- “It is with deep sadness that we announce today the passing of His Royal Highness, Prince Roy Bates I, Philosopher King and Leader of Men. His supreme eminence presided over this platform from its founding until the days when his mind began to wane, though his spirit eternally waxed nonetheless, even in his twilight.” It took all my respect for decorum not to audibly groan at McDermott's elegy. “There will never be another man with even a modicum of the greatness and tenacity, and sheer inventive brilliance than that of our founder, and it is with a heavy heart that we trudge on in his absence. But fear not, my fellow Sealandians, for-”
- “Alright, Gerald, that's enough.” Gerald McDermott gave Michael a mortified glare, “I'll take it from here.” The new Prince clumsily stood up, and wiped his grimy hands off on his jean shorts, leaving black fingerprints all over the fabric. “I loved my Father. I loved him more than any of you-- more than this shitty little metal island ever could. I don't want to talk about that, or about him. I don't ever want to talk about him. I just want to slip into the background, and disappear. All the years of my life I spent on this platform, hoping for something resembling significance in this isolated domain. What do I have to show for it? What does my dad have to show for it? A punchline? A wikipedia page? I can't be arsed to care. Therefore, in my first and last act as a full Prince, I, Michael Bates, am formally dissolving the nation of Sealand, effective immediately, and I am placing the property up for sale as soon as possible. Go home, people.” Michael shambled slowly back into the main building to seek out his quarters, as we stood frozen in silent disbelief.
- A few hours had passed since Sealand's final press conference, and the renaming denizens of the platform walked about in a silent daze of sorts; the Sealand Defilers, still waiting for their boat service, were huddled up in the far corner of the Throne Room. Those of them who weren't napping were trying on the crowns and chatting amongst themselves. I sent a follow-up report to Akron, detailing the death of Roy Bates, and the dissolution of Sealand. I dreaded a response, knowing that Sanderson would have me exhaust this story before I could finally come home. I mulled over that idea for a moment or two-- what did I have to come home to?-- but before I could give the future any thought, a severely intoxicated McDermott stumbled out of his quarters, and plopped down in the seat next to mine. He held his boombox in his right arm, and pressed play, prompting E Mare Libertas to hiss through the speakers once more. I stumbled for something to say, only to settle on the worst possible choice: “So, how are you feeling, Gerald?”
- I watched his lower lip tremble, and his eyes fighting back the waterworks, and I braced myself a collapse that never came. Gerald held fast, a few tears half welling in the corners of his eyes, unable to trickle out fully on their own. He didn't say a word; when the weight your world vanishes from your shoulders, only to leave you with nothing, what can anyone possibly say? I pulled out a handle of Gin from my bag, and I poured him a glass. I slid it over to him, toasting, “E Mare Libertas”, and he threw his drink back almost instantaneously. I did my best to follow suit, but I still feel the burn in my throat that comes with each drop-- a small miracle, considering how I've spent the majority of my time here in Sealand. Gerald's tape came to a stop, prompting him to flip it over, and press play again-- it was the same Anthem on both sides.
- I poured and summarily drank another two large glasses of gin, and Gerald did the same. In an unexpected turn, he began to mutter drunkenly in my direction:
- “Will I remember how to drive? I don't know if I remember how to drive. I haven't driven in forty-five years. I gave up the roads for this country.” He returned to his glass, not saying another word before passing out face-first on the table. I hoped with all my hopes that Gerald was enjoying the same fantasy I enjoyed every night in my various stupors both sober and drunken, for he had earned it far more than I.
- The Sealand Defilers were soon picked up by their boat service, and they offered me a ride back to shore before they left. I turned them down, telling them I had to finish a story overnight. I had another gin, and the open word document blurred on the screen in front of me as I passed out in a heap next to my chair.
- I woke up in the middle of the night to the too-familiar beep from my open laptop that served as a harbinger of Sanderson's always undesired standing orders. I opened the email, dreading the inevitable follow up articles I'd be forced to write. As usual, the email was titled, “From the E-Desk of Carl Sanderson, Editor in Chief, Akron Evening Beacon”:
- The AP beat you to the punch-- even got quotes from Prince Michael. You had ONE job. ONE. You had to be FIRST to these stories. AND YOU BLEW IT. Pack your things and get back here on the next plane; we need you to move your stuff out of your desk here in the office as soon as possible, because your ass is fired.
- YOU HAD ONE JOB. THIS COULD HAVE BEEN GRAND, JAKE. THIS COULD HAVE BEEN BIG. YOU JUST HAD ONE FUCKING JOB.
- I start cackling like a maniac, and I push my computer closed, almost unable to contain myself. I expect the noise to cause Gerald to stir, but he's still snoring on the table. I crawl onto the floor, and I smile as I drift back to sleep, yearning for my sea of flames.
our far flung correspondents draft
hothamwater28 Oct 15th, 2012 159 Never
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