A rapping on the windowed door caused Len Jaymer to look up from the stack of papers that currently demanded his unwavering attention.
“You called for me boss?” asked the shadowy silhouette behind the frosted glass that bore the mirrored words “HEAD EDITOR” and “BUZEL BEAGLE”.
The heavy-set newspaper man grunted acknowledgement, found a resting place for his quill, and settled back in his chair. The door clicked open, and in walked junior reporter Jaycee Knab. He offered her the seat across from his desk, which was fortunate since the pile of papers that used to occupy it had just recently been transferred to his desk. She strode over, seeming to whistle as she did so, her angular features cutting the air in front of her like a sword.
Len leafed through his current stack, and found a particularly messy sheaf of papers. Coffee stained, crumpled and torn, the script on it resembled draconic more than the common script the Beagle was published in.
“I thought women were supposed to have neat handwriting”
“Didn’t realize ‘Calligraphy’ was part of the job description”
“You’re lucky my writing’s worse than yours” Len replied, smirking. He raised his hand to silence her before she could retort.
“I’d love nothing more than to exchange barbs with you, but the fact is I’m too busy” she seemed a bit disappointed at this. True journalists loved nothing more than to hone their skill with words.
“Alright boss, what am I in for?”
He tossed the sheaf into her lap. She looked up at him, her cocked head begging him to elaborate.
“I can’t print this”
“Is it not up to your historically-high-but-recently-low standards?”
“Funny. And no. It’s well written. Very well written. But I can’t print it. High Command won’t allow it”
“And why would that be? I have sources for everything”
“The truth isn’t the problem. Or rather, it is exactly the problem”
Jaycee paused to consider his words. The clacking of the sea of typewriters outside soon filled the office.
“I don’t understand” she finally replied.
Len got up from his desk, and walked over to his cabinet bar, gingerly avoiding the precarious paper towers that had grown up from most of his office’s floor space. Reaching the bar, he grabbed two chipped glasses, and an unlabelled bottle of black liquor. He uncorked the bottle.
“We’re at war. That’s the short version of what I am about to tell you.”
Satisfied with his pour, he journeyed back and handed his protege a glass.
“The long answer is, people don’t want the whole truth right now. Or, more accurately, the High Command doesn’t want people to know the whole truth.” He took a sip, grimacing as he did so. “See, we scratch their back, they scratch ours. We print stuff they like, they allow our journalists to see the frontlines and warroom briefings. If we lose that privileged access, we can’t compete with our competitors”
“Wait, so this is a business decision” her voice started to quiver.
“Let me finish” the editor said calmly “A war isn’t won by guns and lances. It is won by ink and pens. Our singular purpose during wartime, in the opinion of the High Command at least, is to inspire every man, woman, and child in the Bexellian Republic. Now, I am not so depraved as to suggest you write false things. We do have abide by the ethics of our noble profession, after all. However, I think you could relax a bit on the details. This 10th Company you were attached to, these Underminers, are not exactly the sort whose deeds inspire national pride.”
“So what you are saying is during a war people don’t want to read about dead Tareans” the young reporter retorted. She was angry, and was clearly trying to get a rise out of him. He elected to ignore the sarcasm.
“Aten fend, I almost vomitted reading your draft. Necklaces of baby ears? Face-flaying? People want stories of heroism. Of ordinary people performing amazing feats of bravery. When they want to read about death, they want to read it through a veil of numbers, or in the context of noble charges. No one, especially not the High Command, wants stories circulating about war crimes. Are you listening Jaycee?”
“Barely. You hired me to do two things: see the truth, and write the truth. I went to war. I spent months with the 10th, and I wrote about it.” She said through gritted teeth, her voice dripping with rage. “Then you tell me I did my job wrong.” she stood up.
“Jaycee, as I’ve been trying to explain to you, it’s just not that simple”
For a second, he thought she was going to smash the glass over his head. Instead, she slowly put it to her lips, gulped the liquid inside, and set it down.
“Well boss, it’s been fun. I appreciate the drink, but I think it’s time for a change of scenery. I heard the Post is hiring. Sure, the pay is worse, but at least I won’t be writing propaganda.”
She stormed out of the door, the air behind her whistling as she did. The small vortices caused by her slicing through the air ripped pages from their stacks, and caused several paper towers to fall.
Len sat at his desk, feeling a lot older than he was. There was a time when he would have joined arms with her, and stormed out in solidarity. Now, he had only a singular thought: people quitting means more paperwork.