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The man whose name was sometimes Theo Miller had been twenty-two years old when they abolished human rights. The government insisted it was necessary to counter terrorism and bring stable leadership to the country. He’d voted for the opposition and felt very proud of himself, partially because he had a sense that this was the intangible right way of things, but mostly because it was the first time his new name had been tested at the polling station, and held up to scrutiny.

The opposition didn’t have any funding, of course, and everyone knew that the Company was backing the winning team. But any fleeting disappointment he may have felt when they crumbled to a crushing defeat and the prime minister declared, “Too long our enemies have hidden behind human rights as if they were extended to all!” was lightened by the fact that his identity had held. He had voted as Theo Miller, and it hadn’t made a difference, and no one had called his bluff.

He’d still somehow felt it would work out all right in the end.

Chico Sanchez / Getty Images

When they shut down the newspapers for printing stories of corruption and dirty deals, he’d signed the petitions.

When they’d closed the universities for spreading warnings of impending social and economic calamity, he’d thought about attending the rallies, but then decided against it because work would probably frown on these things, and there were people there who took your photo and posted your face online—saboteurs and enemies of the people—and besides, it rained a lot that month and he just needed a morning off.

He sat at his desk in the Criminal Audit Office, patiently expecting handcuffs.

By then, of course, it was a little too late for petitions. Company men would run for parliament, Company newspapers would trumpet their excellence to the sky, Company TV stations would broadcast their election promises and say how wonderful they were. They would inevitably win, serve their seven years in office and then return to the banking or insurance branches happy to have completed their civic duty, and that was that. It was for the best, the adverts said. This was how democracy worked: corporate and public interests working together at last, for the greater good.

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When it became legally compulsory to carry ID, £300 for the certified ID card, £500 fine if caught without it, he knew he was observing an injustice that sent thousands of innocent people to the patty line, too skint to buy, too skint to pay for being too skint to buy. When it became impossible to vote without the ID, he knew he lived in a tyranny, but by then he wasn’t sure what there was left to do in protest. He’d be okay. If he kept his head down. He’d be fine.

He couldn’t put his finger precisely on when parliament rebranded itself “The People’s Engagement Forum,” but he remembered thinking the logo was very well done.

Having no idea what to do with himself, he did as he always did and on Monday morning went to work.

The fact they let him through security was strange. He sat at his desk in the Criminal Audit Office, patiently expecting handcuffs. For nearly twenty minutes he slouched there, fingers hooked on the edge of the desk, staring straight ahead without seeing, and waited.

No one came.

After twenty-five minutes an automatic alert appeared warning him that his productivity levels appeared to be slipping and that he was ten minutes away from being put on notice.

He stared at the pop-up message in amazement. In nearly nine years of working at the Criminal Audit Office, he’d never seen such a thing. He took a paracetamol, obvious and slow for the benefit of the camera on top of his screen, and set to work.

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The cops didn’t come.

Men in black didn’t burst through his window.

Nothing changed, so Theo did his job.

This is the daily diet on which Theo Miller is fed:


Guidelines on rape vary depending on whether it is felt that the woman may have dressed in a provocative manner or appeared to be sexually enthusiastic prior to the act of penetration. A woman who does not dress modestly is more likely to be a victim of crime and as a consequence we recommend indemnity in the low-to-mid £30,000 as a starting point for assessing the …

corporate espionage
assault on a corporation
anti-corporate profit activity

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By acting against corporate interests, individuals show a complete disregard for society and are harming all, not merely a few. Starting indemnities of £400,000 are a viable place to commence negotiation …


Once he heard the minister for social responsibility explain:

“Crime has huge financial cost on our communities. It is only right that we acknowledge its economic impact in a blue-skies thought-dynamic way that puts society back in the driving seat.”

Theo remembered that phrase clearly—“put society back in the driving seat”—because he found it inherently confusing.

“It is time to hero the narrative of personal responsibility!”

Forensics was expensive, best deployed only on really profitable cases.

The Criminal Audit Office had emerged some seven or so years before human rights were judged passé, from the outdated monolith of the Crown Prosecution Service. This was when the Company was still trading under many different names, a mess of loans and investments, debts and boards, but after they’d started investing in security. Prison was a deeply inefficient way of rehabilitating criminals, especially given how many were clearly irredeemable, and despite privatization efficiencies overcrowding and reoffending were a perennial problem. Rehabilitation through work was an excellent and scientifically provable way of instilling good societal values. The first Commercial Reform Institute was opened when Theo was seven years old, and made meat patties for hamburgers.

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Shall we go, shall we go to the patty line?
I kissed my love, she swore she was mine,
But they took me to the patty line.

Theo hums a half-remembered tune from his childhood under his breath, doesn’t notice, reads a report.

Semen was discovered but the victim was unwilling to pay £315 for the DNA test and thus we are unable to say whether the semen came from the accused. In light of this we would suggest a reduced charge of sexual harassment.

Theo checked the database. Sexual harassment had various subcategories, but the most he could levy was £780 for a first-time offense.

At first a lot of people had been excited by the indemnity system, until it emerged that the profits raised from prosecuting crimes were almost entirely eaten up by administrative costs from the various companies contracted to manage the cases.

Corporate Police, much more reliable than the tiny rump of Civic Police accessible by the uninsured or through NGO charity funding, had shareholders to consider when they invoiced for an investigation. The TV always showed the glamour, never the paperwork—forensics was expensive, best deployed only on really profitable cases.

The failure of the powers-that-be to swoop down and arrest him left Theo slightly annoyed.

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Corporate rehabilitation centers had a similar problem. As corporations bought up local communities, transforming towns into Winchester by Visit the Soul or Bath Spa Deluxe Healthy Living, local judiciary fell under their purview and great savings were made all round and there was much rejoicing, except for the scroungers who were unable to pay their corporate community tax, clearly weren’t contributing to society and thus couldn’t ask society to support them.

Raising the price of manslaughter in line with inflation …

a deduction in lieu of a promising corporate career …

Added fees: £480 for putting down victim’s cat.

£48,912 for the first offense, reduced to £38,750 for prompt payment …

The victim transpired to be illegally resident on a student visa, and thus the indemnity must be reduced by £4500 to reflect that it was assault on an alien, rather than a UK citizen.

Impaled on a garden fork added hospital costs of …

Theo audited the cost of murder, mayhem, and destruction, and when 5.15 p.m. came, he cycled home as the sun went down, made macaroni cheese, and ate it in his room and listened to Marvin’s drum and bass through the wall, and waited for the men to come to take him away.

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And no one came.

After the first three days, the failure of the powers-that-be to swoop down and arrest him left Theo slightly annoyed. The least you can ask when your life is about to be ripped apart is to get on with these things, rather than be left in suspense.

And no one came.

And a week became two.

And two weeks became three.

And for a moment Theo permitted himself to think that he’d imagined the whole problem.

And at the end of the fourth week he was intellectually certain that it would be fine, absolutely fine because that was how these things were, and on the Tuesday of the fifth week, she found him.

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Claire North is a pseudonym for Catherine Webb, a Carnegie Medal-nominated author whose first book was written when she was just 14 years old. She went on to write several other novels in various genres, before publishing her first major work as Claire North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, in 2014. It was included in the Washington Post’s Best Books of the Year list, as was her next novel, Touch.

Excerpted from 84K by Claire North. Copyright © 2018 by Claire North. Reproduced with permission of Orbit, a division of Hachette Book Group.

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