Magazine May 17, 2010, Issue

The Voice of the Derg

Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown visiting an NHS facility, June 30, 2008. (Eddie Keogh/Reuters)

Science-fiction writer Robert Sheckley wrote a story titled “Protection,” whose first-person protagonist acquires a guardian angel. The angel is actually a validusian derg — an invisible, immaterial being from another plane of existence, present only as a voice in one’s head. The derg’s sole satisfaction is to keep a human being safe from harm.

Like all pacts with the supernatural, this one turns out to have a downside. By taking on the derg, our narrator has made himself conspicuous to that other realm. Dangers multiply. The derg explains:

“If you accept protection, you must accept the drawbacks of protection . . .”

“Are

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