“Not bad for your first Outside Broadcast” said Trevor, and Faz had to agree. She grinned up from her monitor at the avuncular Trevor, who was so Old School BBC that his cardigan had leather patches on the leather patches on the elbows and was never seen without a mug of tea.
“I know!” she said, running down the checklist for the tenth time in as many minutes “Buckingham Palace on the occasion of Her Majesty’s Centenary Broadcast! That’s what I call work experience!”
“You’ve earned it,” said Trevor, wandering back to his own post in the outside broadcast unit “best of the new intake, been saying so for months…”
Beside Faz, Andy the Unpaid Intern was chewing a pen.
“She’s supposed to be making a major announcement today” he said, around the pen, his brow furrowed “what’s the betting she’s retiring?”
“Never happen!” said Trevor.
Faz shrugged. She adjusted her hijab, a rather nice pearlescent gray number her Dad had given her, the better to deal with headphones and settled back.
“I don’t think she trusts Charles” said Andy.
“She’ll never quit” said Faz, “have you seen how good she looks for a woman of one hundred? My nan’s only sixty five and she moves way slower than the Queen.”
“I bet your Nan would move like she was on rails if she’d had the same health care as Her Maj” said Andy.
“Dangerously republican talk, young Intern” rumbled Trevor as he checked and rechecked cables and connections. Andy did his best to look shamefaced, but flashed Faz a grin, raised a fist and mouthed “viva el presidente!” She smiled and went back to work. Outside, technicians were arranging cameras and microphones and the Producer, Director and very likely a number of supernumery people just along to see the inside of Buck House would be back soon. She’d have to focus.
Elizabeth sat in her study, at the curved and carved desk where she’d answered letters and conducted business for over seventy years, and pondered. Daylight flooded in through the tall windows to her left, picking out the pictures and photographs of ancestors, friends and family. Even the man in the gray suit was part of the furniture now. They changed every few years, but they were always there. A Saville Row reminder of Duty, as if she needed reminding.
“There’ll be an awful fuss” said the man in the gray suit.
“There’s always an awful fuss” said Elizabeth, brushing her hand over the speech she’d prepared.
“Ma’am, are you sure this is wise?”
Elizabeth fixed him with the glare. The glare that had made Prime Ministers stutter and stammer or, like Cameron, stop talking entirely.
“I have been doing this for so long now,” she said, her voice even and quiet and dangerous “that I no longer care about the wisdom of things. The People deserve to know some of the things that have been hidden from them out of a habit of secrecy. And I have put up with the Republican nonsense, all their comments about me being a parasite and contributing nothing, for so many years. Well it’s about time I put a few things into the public domain.”
“Your Majesty” said the man in the gray suit “once this particular surprise is out there, we’ll not be able to undo what you’ve done. Of course we’ll ride out the storm….”
“See that we do” said Her Majesty, standing and ending the conversation.
The BBC One Channel ID, currently planets orbiting a star for no comprehensible reason, was replaced by an image of the Royal Standard flying over Buckingham Palace.
“And now on BBC one, all other UK channels, and to an international audience of hundreds of millions, on the occasion of her one hundredth birthday, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second will address the Commonwealth.”
The announcer sounded suitably grave, thought Faz, as she kept an eye on the feeds to the broadcasters outside the BBC network. On the screen, the Queen sat behind a suitably imposing desk. Faz knew that she’s move out from behind it and sit next to a fireplace for a cosy chat with her subjects, and then she was supposed to make announcements. She’d been given an outline of what Her Majesty was supposed to say. The director and producer were in muttered conversation when there was a knock at the door. Andy opened it to be met by three men in gray suits. One of them, an elderly man in thick black framed glasses, stepped inside and tapped the director on the shoulder.
“Alright, son, out you go. And him” he gestured to the producer “everyone else can stay and get on with it. Off you go.”
“Now wait a minute…” said the Director, a long time associate of Jeremy Paxman and therefore not easily intimidated. One of the two younger gray suits reached inside his jacket and produced a wallet, which he opened to display what Faz assumed was a warrant card.
“Go on, son” said Black Frames gently “go away. Find yourself a cup of tea or something.”
Both left, too shocked to say much. Black Glasses sat down in the director’s chair.
“Who’s running the book?” he said. Everyone looked at everyone else. “Oh come on,” said the man in the grey suit “someone is. Odds on she’s abdicating. Ten to one she’ll say in favour of William. Hundred to one she really did kill Diana, thousand to one she did it herself and a million to one she really is a space lizard?” He paused. “None of you? Blimey. What is the world coming to?”
The Queen had reached the portion of her address the BBC had titled “hello commonwealth” and she was recounting the successes of commonwealth nations. The two younger gray suits had taken over the producer and director roles, although one of them was standing to do so since Black Glasses seemed disinclined to leave his seat.
“Do you know what she’s going to say?” asked Faz. Black Glasses smiled at her.
“I do. I don’t think anyone would guess it. Not in a million years.” He looked at one of his companions. “What do you think, Reggie? Has anyone got it right?”
Reggie flicked a glance at his elder.
“No, Harry. No one has.”
“There,” said Harry turning his attention back to Faz. “Although I suspect it might be of particular interest to you.”
Faz turned to Andy and shrugged. Andy shrugged back, but in the privacy of her own head, Faz began to wonder if the head of the Church of England and the Defender of the Faith had turned to Islam. Faz began to pay close attention to what the elderly woman in the tiara was saying.
Elizabeth settled back into the chair.
“As some of you will be aware, I have promised to reveal something surprising today. When I think back over my long years of service to this country…”
In his mum’s house in Liverpool, John Stoney sighed.
“Long years of service my arse” he muttered, and caught the flat of his nan’s slipper across the back of his head.
“Respect!” snapped the formidable Grandma Stoney.
“…many service personnel to whom we owe our freedom, our way of life and who are, in the main, unsung heroes. During the Second World War it was my honour to serve in an auxilliary capacity…”
“Did she really?” asked Faz. Andy nodded.
“Yeah. She was a mechanic. Google her later.” Andy’s attention was fixed on The Queen, hanging on her every word.
“…the capabilities of this nation, which too often also go untold and unremarked upon. What I am to tell you tonight will sound unlikely to many ears, even outlandish, but it is all absolutely true. Great Britain has for many years been able to field a military asset that many would describe as a ‘super hero’.”
“You are fucking kidding me!” said John Stoney, ducking instinctively. The slipper did not appear.
“What does she mean?” asked Grandma Stoney.
In the outside broadcast truck, Harry sat back and closed his eyes.
“Story time,” he said “Jackabloodynory.”
On the screen, Elizabeth looked at the floor and then back at the camera.
“I do not know the full history behind this remarkable project, only that it goes back to the reign of Elizabeth the First and her adviser John Dee. I am given to understand that Dee’s researches created something we nowadays might call a ‘super-soldier’ serum, a treatment which, when applied to the right subject, gave that person abilities beyond the human scale. It has been a closely guarded Crown secret ever since, and there has not been a time when the person in receipt of that treatment has not fought for this country.
A quirk of the treatment means that it is only effective on women. Thus, the superhuman agency of the Crown has always been referred to as Britannia.”
Andy was staring, slack jawed, at the monitor in front of him.
“The superman exists…” said Harry “..and he’s got tits.”
“Breasts” said Faz, barely above a whisper. The Queen was talking about how Britannia had always been a representative of the nation in times of crisis. There was footage of the Royal Marine Commandos training during World War 2, and with them someone obviously a young woman carrying a hoplite shield and trident, and wearing a Corinthian helmet which rather effectively doubled as a mask. The black and white footage showed her engaged in combat practice, taking on and beating commando trainees with grace and power.
“Over the years, the identity of the woman operating as Britannia has been held a closely guarded secret, but she has always been at the forefront of events” said the Queen. The image changed to footage of the seige at the Iranian Embassy in 1980. Taken from a different angle than the normal footage shot by news teams, it clearly showed a woman in pale gray combat clothes but wearing the helmet, shield and trident entering the building slightly in advance of the SAS. It cut again, to footage of Helmland. British troops are watching several young Afghan girls at play. One of them has a stick, a makeshift shield and a hat. The soldiers seem amused, but when the young girl adopts a combat pose they stand to attention and salute.
“It is long past time that the existence of Britannia was made public. It is long past time that the truth about our capability were known, and time perhaps that the symbol of this nation were more than just a weapon to point at enemies of the state” said the Queen.
“The process that creates Britannia is unique. The people who can undergo the treatment are also unique, and from a very specific lineage. We are extremely careful about who we select for the role. They must have the highest committment to their duty, they must understand above all things the importance of service, and they must be willing to sacrifice everything – recognition, family, love, any hope of a normal life – to take up the mantle.
“The process has a side effect. It greatly prolongs life, and youth, but this inevitably costs the person who takes up the role any kind of normalcy. They will watch their loved ones age and wither long before they themselves feel the chill of old age. And they will ultimately be alone, because there is only ever one Britannia. This is a lonely truth. But the truth is…”
The Queen looked down at herself, at the floor, for a long moment. Then she looked directly into the camera. Her jaw clenched. She hooked a thumb into the skin of her neck and in a moment that caused gasps the world over, appeared to slit apart the skin of her face to reveal…
…that face was nothing more than a mask. In a moment, seventy years of age fell away from her as Elizabeth Windsor demolished the remains of the prosthetic mask that hid her true features.
“..the truth is, I am Britannia”.
“Disney are probably going to sue” said Harry, but Faz couldn’t help noticing the pride in his voice.