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Antoine Bello

Legends

Translation from the French

by Bérangère Callens

Legends

January 17th, 19..

This morning, T. called me to his office. “That damned Falklands Conflict has caused us to heavily dip into our stock of legends”, he told me. “Control finds it dangerous. He wants us to replenish it as soon as possible. Would you like to take care of this, Nigel? Naturally, we’d reduce your workload at the Archives.” At first, it sounded like a pretty good deal, but then I remembered the Nottingham wiretaps and asked for time to think it over. T. seemed surprised. I think he expected me to show more enthusiasm.

I mulled the proposition over all morning long. I managed to sit next to B. in the cafeteria. He was in charge of legends back when the mission kept five people busy full time. Things have changed quite a bit, but no one’s more qualified than he to advise me. The bloke was well aware of it for that matter. He disclosed his opinions one by one like dropping so many pearls of wisdoms, starting off with a bit of historical background.

Legends are imaginary characters created and maintained by intelligent agencies all around the world to be utilized for a purpose yet unknown on the day they’re given life. We British are credited with having fabricated the first legend: a physicist named McDermott, who was recruited by the NKVD in 1952. After World War II, concerned that the Soviet civil nuclear industry was falling behind that of the United States, Stalin allocated Beria a sizable budget in order for him to hire a Western technician. Our offices got wind of the project through the cultural attaché of the USSR embassy in London, a double agent named Poliakov. He helped us define the profile of the ideal candidate. The premise was that the NKVD would favor a single young man, educated in Oxbridge, and if possible, receptive to the communist ideology. Since no agents fit the description, Lord S. had the idea to unearth the file of Anthony McDermott, a young lieutenant who had died in battle. Born in 1917 and abandoned by his parents soon afterwards, McDermott would’ve been 35 years old in 1952. In 1940, he graduated summa cum laude from Cambridge with a degree in Theoretical Physics. He enlisted against the advice of his professors and met a glorious death in El Alamein. Quite unexpectedly, a personal journal establishing McDermott’s sympathies for the communist regime was found amongst his belongings. Some observers pointed out that with a bit of hindsight, the young man’s itinerary was crystal-clear: he’d abjured his faith in adolescence, then militated against the rise of fascism in Germany, before forging strong friendships with several labor movement leaders. What combination of negligence had resulted in such a personality being chosen to lead valorous British soldiers in battle? No one could say. Nonetheless, sensing the interest that this unusual biography could assume under other circumstances, Lord S. resolved to keep McDermott’s death secret. The army files merely indicated that the Lieutenant was sent to the back to treat his wounds, then incorporated into the British nuclear program. One could rest assured the NKVD sleuths would sniff out such a promising lead. Our contact Poliakov reported that upon reading McDermott’s file, Beria had exclaimed: “It shall be he, and no other!”

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