The Unit of Disaster Management

The unit occupies an annex towards the back of a Victorian building, around the backstreets of Waterloo. The floor exists in a state of perpetual disrepair, with lino torn up on the steps and corridors, faded public notices peeling on the walls; an air of an abandoned school in a nuclear zone. Desks are arranged behind high partition boards, and workers in the unit have the reputation of being querulous and aloof, recruited from obscure research programmes, or transferred from government departments in complex, short-lived secondments.

The focus of the unit’s activities is arcane and elusive. Ostensibly concerned with the impact of risk on the nation state, the main project is understood to include developing a complex model of prediction. Butterfly populations in the outer Hebrides, acrostics of a German experimental poet from the nineteen sixties, the motifs in the paintings of occult painter Austin Osman Spare, all these elements are absorbed into workings of the model, which aims to warn of the nature of exogenous threat.

Years before, a schism arose between the two founder members over accurate sources for prediction. A power struggle over a funding grant culminated in one of the founders disappearing from the unit, although his paperwork still litters filing cabinets and desk, including diary entries hinting at meetings with intelligence, measurements of Essex floodplains, an ex-wife’s cardiogram discarded amidst the ephemera.

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