Why ‘Presidential Pardon’ Is a Great Espionage Story

Paul Hair

Espionage stories usually veer far away from reality in order to make things exciting. Fine. But I wanted to buck that trend (sort of). So I wrote “Presidential Pardon.” It’s set in a universe where superhumans exist, but apart from that, it includes some very realistic plot points, including one about how espionage works in the modern world. I made some flaws in executing this short tale, but it remains a solid story and it’s definitely worth your time to read. Here’s a bit more about it. (Minor spoilers ahead.)

“Presidential Pardon” is one of the 13 quick reads in Appalling Stories: 13 Tales of Social Injustice (December 2017). The major theme of the story is that it’s possible to do the right thing even when it seems like every choice will lead you to doing the wrong thing. For a bit about its conflict, see what I wrote about it last year here at The Loftus Party.

The plot involves protagonist (and superhuman) Adam White trying to figure out what to do after the government orders him to bring in a man who killed a traitor. What makes Adam’s conflict even harder is that journalists and others had turned that traitor into a hero, which amplified the damage he had done with his initial treason.

Adam White also appears in MORTAL GODS: IGNITION. And, no, that isn’t him in the above illustration.

And this is how I made the espionage elements of “Presidential Pardon” highly realistic. A typical spy story might involve a secret agent with a gun trying to stop some madman from blowing up the world. But that’s not how intelligence usually works.

Instead, one of the ways espionage normally occurs in modern times is that someone who has access to classified information steals it and gives it to journalists, who in turn publish it. Journalists then shape the narrative to portray both sets of traitors—the person who stole the information and they who published it—as heroes.

This is incredibly damaging. Not only does this espionage technique reveal sensitive intelligence to enemies, but it causes deaths to American troops and civilians by providing propaganda that portrays American enemies as good guys, and Americans as bad guys worthy of being killed.

All of what I just wrote factors either explicitly or implicitly into “Presidential Pardon.” And that is what makes the story—even with its inclusion of superhuman characters—a tale that features a lot of verisimilitude when it comes to the world of intelligence.

Adam White is a secondary character in “GET ‘EM ON THE KILL LIST,” a free flash fiction tale published here at The Loftus Party.

Pick up Appalling Stories (and its sequel) today. “Presidential Pardon” isn’t a perfect tale. But it’s a fun read and one of the rare stories that portrays espionage in a realistic fashion.

All artwork © Paul Hair. Middle artwork illustrated by José Cano.