Unknown Knowns

“There are known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns,” Donald Rumsfeld had once said, “and it is the last that we must make known.”

Jude knew the latter part very much. After all, it had been his job for these last thirty years – to make the unknown unknowns known. Now, here he was, still watching a country that was not his own, waiting to report what he’d learnt.

His friends in this alien country were not really his friends. They didn’t know who he really was, why he’d come here. What they thought was known was truthfully unknown. Sometimes Jude felt small tugs of guilt for his lies, but then he remembered the reason for his deception and covered himself in a cloak of false verisimilitude, remaining unknown to the foreign Government.

It wasn’t very difficult, staying unknown in such a large country – despite the omnipresent camera, the constant monitoring of communication sent and received, if he kept his head down, said nothing, acted average, they’d dismiss him in favour of the more overt watchers. What he did remained private.

But those who were actively watched had their role in the Service, too: Jude’s contractors trained them deliberately to know nothing, to look as if they possibly knew it all – to act as a distraction.

And it worked.

When Jude had first arrived in his assigned country, stepping out onto foreign soil, he had known next to nothing – only the bare facts which had been provided in the format of tourist brochures. All the better to appear real. Foreign faces, foreign mores, had smothered him until he nearly turned back right there and then, and hide like a coward. However, his people had chosen him for the courage which reared in the face of adversity and bolstered his determination to eliminate any and all ignorance.

Jude’s hard work had finally culminated in this: an opportunity to sit in on one of the most significant strategy meetings of the Department of Defence. Jude was a waiter and everyone knew waiters were pretty much trustworthy. They were trained to be polite, not to eavesdrop. Anyway, how on Earth would a waiter even be able to hear the hushed conversations held distant from other people? They didn’t know that Jude’s cochlear implant wasn’t for deafness.

The meeting was strangely exciting. Jude had always liked knowing everything about everyone while controlling what everyone ‘knew’ of him. His employers’ motto had been ‘Know thyself and know others. Let others know not you.’ The agents he served cold drinks and tiny sandwiches smiled guilelessly, unaware that he was recording every word. The room was filled with susurrations of voices whispering and leather shoes shuffling on cream carpet. Jude could almost smell the headiness of tense secrecy. These men knew their country’s security rested on their shoulders.

A sharp spike of noise caught Jude’s attention; a warning murmur to hush, a lapse in conversation. Unbidden, Jude’s head angled his ear towards the disturbance. What was this? A plan … to … to launch an attack on his country. His country! A fog of frozen rage settled in his brain. Suddenly, the quiet seemed cloying. Every single word passed from thin lips was heard with clarity, but distantly. The surreptitious ticking of the steel clock in the corner became a drumming herald of doom. The rustling of suits was a raucous screech. It was time to break his silence, time to contact his country.

Jude turned to his unwitting supervisor with a frosty smile. “I – I have to – have to go –”

Somehow managing to realise the importance of Jude’s stilted words, his supervisor nodded in permission and guided him towards the doors, taking the tray of neat sandwiches and iced drinks from Jude’s clammy and shaking hand.

Outside, the sun shone bright – too bright – exposing Jude’s wan skin and sweating face. He tried to appear normal as he hurried down the bustling street, cringing at every car horn and feeling increasingly nauseous with each jolt from a passer-by. His training had never prepared him for this, for the event wherein he was the one contacting his country. They would contact him, normally. He knew everything about this country now, but nothing of his own. He’d have to work something out, quickly.

Finally, Jude arrived at his house, an inconspicuous building nestled between two other identical buildings. With numb fingers, he fumbled the key into the lock, turned the knob and stepped inside, then turned around and closed the door carefully.

He turned back around.

Unfriendly faces – the ones he’d served sandwiches and cold drinks to – watched him grimly as he pressed his back to the door, wishing for something, someone, to rescue him.

The leader, a man who had smiled at him in concern when he’d left, opened his fatal mouth.
“We know all about you.”

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