Copyright © 2015 John Curzon
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or in any means - by electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise - without the permission of the author.
John Curzon asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
There are many people who have encouraged and assisted me in the writing of this novel. Given the nature of this story it is best their names aren't associated with it. But you know who you are, and my gratitude to you is by no means diminished by my maintaining your anonymity.
This book is dedicated to the memory of my late mother. It was her love of reading which introduced me to fiction and eventually inspired me to try my hand at writing.
Wherever her soul is now I hope somehow she is aware of this work, and approves of what her love and determination has finally resulted in.
To whoever finds this blurt: My name is, or was Richard Davies. This, for what it's worth, is my story and that of an era I hope is now ended. As I quickly edit this journal prior to hardlocking it for good I find it hard to believe we lived and acted in the way I describe; yet we did. Still harder to accept my small part in what has happened; yet there can be no denying it.
You may wonder at my reason for leaving you this account. To be honest I'm not sure myself. Perhaps I'm seeking some kind of immortality; to be known as a chronicler of my time rather than an anonymous casualty of the events (The figures for the Crises casualties in the Federation of England, Wales, and Ulster are being 're-evaluated' again and hence unavailable; as they have been for quite some time. Eventually I'm sure it will be statistically proven that no one died or was injured.) Or maybe it's my way of coping. A displacement activity; an individual raging against the dying of the light. I could be hoping my narrative will become part of the record of how history was changed against all the odds and a better future wrested from a foreboding present; though at this moment the outcome remains undecided. Most likely it is a combination of all of these motives.
What follows began as a diary; written as I realised how life in the Fed was at risk of going even more badly wrong than previously: I felt the story of how the decline of our once great nation began to accelerate needed to be told. Had I realised then how events would develop I would have set down a far more detailed and comprehensive record; but how could anyone have foreseen what was to come? I find myself as dumbfounded as everyone else, and I was supposedly in the know. So imperfect as this may be, what follows explains the circumstances which led to this sorry state of affairs coming about. I've done my best to keep it updated as the events unfolded. I'll add this journal to the files described in the text which I've cached in a few dark spaces, and set to massblurt at random times, just in case... So hopefully anyone who finds this will know what really happened and get my undistorted account of it all.
It won't be long now before it becomes clear if things have gone the way I believe they ought to. If not, I hope this will be my testament. I've edited the details of my personal life to protect those involved and because I regard them as irrelevant; but saved what I think may be of use to you, or should be recorded for posterity. Make of it what you will, take it as a warning from history, but above all learn from our mistakes. Don't allow yourselves to be fooled so easily, and become as quiescent as we did.
April the 5th.
I've got yet another conference to attend later today. I'm not sure if at it I'll be offered promotion or be told Independent Media Services no longer needs my talents full time, but it might be possible for me to continue to work for them on a freelance basis. It's nothing you've done wrong, but just the unfortunate way that things are going at the moment. Yes, it's far from ideal for you we know, but at least it's better than being Reassigned...
So I find myself stuck on a standing room only overcrowded train to Oxford; on my way to meet James Purvis and the board. The more I think about it the more hopeful I am this is a move up rather than a move out; God I hope it is! Or maybe I'm just trying to whistle down the wind. I don't think I could take the Reassignment process again, it's far more severe than it was a few years ago when I last claimed, and that was bad enough...
This worrying is making me feel nauseous; I'm flip-flopping between hope and despair. In my more hopeful moments I'm sure that if it was the Hard Word I've have had some idea beforehand, or just a curt message informing me my services were no longer required; and James seemed to like what I was doing when he visited on his last provincial tour. As for the depressive stomach lurches, well recently things haven't been going that well for us... At least I'll know one way or the other by the end of the day, if this cobbled together string of knackered rail buses can get me there on time; and if we don't get delayed by yet another freight train, or any other of the constant 'operational issues'.
The view out of the window has changed considerably since I last came this way a year ago. The spaces between the towns have shrunk still further with more tracts of insubstantial housing where there used to be fields. There are more razor wire surrounded giant sheds, solar panels mirroring the roofs, on the outskirts of the towns; probably National Resilience Agency response nodes, standing ready for the next weather emergency. More land that once would have been left to the weeds appears to be under guerrilla cultivation, and as yet appears to have escaped the attention of the DOA eradication squads, though much of the harvest of these illegal makeshift allotments along road and rail verges is bound to have been lost during the winter. And near Reading I notice a newly constructed Rehabilitation centre.
Looking through the fence I can see hunched, shaven-headed, orange overall wearing figures bent over industriously tilling the soil; closely watched by body armoured guards armed with wands and tasers. I inwardly shudder: Had I remained Pending Assignment for another few months I might have been wearing orange. If not for that reason there are many other quick and easy ways of finding yourself on the wrong side of the wire. The knot of fear in my stomach returns.
After travelling in fits and starts the train halts at Radley. It's the usual problem, line subsidence; hardly surprising after the near constant rain we've been suffering recently. Resigned to the inevitable delay we're all transferred to a waiting electrobus. I let James know that I may be late; his autosist takes the call saying not to worry, everyone else is having similar problems. These days you set off on a long journey hopefully, rather than depart with an expectation of getting to your destination at a set time. It's a sign of the times of course, and the reason so we're constantly reminded for the introduction of TransCred; a way to nudging us into reducing our unsustainable demand for transport.
Oxford seems just as congested as ever; a crawling crush of bikes, mopeds, pedicabs (as rickshaws are euphemistically named these days), tuk-tuks, hybrid buses; as well as biofuel powered vans and HGVs. The traffic is hemmed in on both sides by a throng of peds, all purposely trudging somewhere. You can still drive a private fossil fuel car if you really must, or a slightly less expensive hybrid or electric vehicle. But for most people the costs are prohibitive and it uses large amounts of TransCred, so they've all but given up. They've either put their cars into storage in the hope that the fuel shortage, the Transport Credit Act, and the government which passed it will fall; (some hope!) traded them in for tuks; or sold them at a hefty loss to be recycled - possibly broken for spares to be sold on the international market - or exported whole to somewhere more car friendly.
The shops lining the roads are still much the same since I was last here. The pre-Crises high street landmarks have been replaced by new staples: TecFix, Made4U Tailors, Delivery Depot, Xchange, Ta-Ta! tattoo removals, FixIt, Cobblers!, Fair Food, U-Fab 3D Print, Sew and Sew, Bikez. But there are fewer large supermarkets and home furnishing stores, or ready made clothes shops. More empty units have become Community Support offices, while others have been converted into microhousing or Slop N Drops.
We're ever reminded how business has become greener, more diverse and even modestly successful thanks to the Consensus' economic leadership; but there seems to be less of it visible. Much of it has retreated away from the streets into living rooms and sheds, or further out of sight beyond the reach of Community Credit. Eventually the bus, obviously running low on charge, reaches the Ambition! Business and Conference Centre. There seems to be a growing trend to add exclamation marks to names, I think it derives from some sort of cultural osmosis: A transferring of the leaping over obstacles, up with the rainbows exuberance of our Connie rulers to society in general. Now I've arrived it's time to get off this moribund bus and discover my fate.
Well that's a relief! I'm still fully employed! The role I'd assumed on a temporary basis has been made permanent though I'm not sure if that's good thing; I'm now high enough within the IMS hierarchy to be noticed, but not high enough to be able to deal with the consequences of appearing on the Consensus' radar. There are advantages in being one of the lowly, out of sight people the business can't do without but with the ever-rising cost of living these days the salary increase in New Pounds and ComCred isn't to be sniffed at.
I'm going to be leading the Central South Coast cluster from Southampton to Brighton, and as far north as Reading; in overall charge of news and content. As I'm going to be more mobile I'll also get a much increased company TransCred allowance, as well as an updated scroll. And after my private meeting with James I'm a bit more confident about my position. We both can see the way things are going and are agreed it isn't going to be easy; in fact if James is correct life may well become much more difficult for us in the near future, but at least he's trying to stand firm and do the right thing. I just hope the board will keep supporting him. The Connies aren't above going beyond the Office of Media Standards and other subtle, or less than subtle attempts to influence our editorial policies. It wouldn't surprise me to learn they had a mole or two on the board and were plotting a takeover to silence our independent voice: That's the sneaky way those sly bastards operate.
At least that's all over and done with, but by the time we are finished the evening is drawing on. No-one wants to hang around afterward for a drink, being as eager to get home as I. All of the nearby hotels are full as they always seem to be, so rather than stay overnight I catch a bus back to Radley station. The tracks are still being repaired, but fortunately rather than waiting around, as soon as we last few passengers are embarked the train rattles off. I manage to get a seat this time. It's late evening by now, the drizzly gloom of the line side streets only dimly broken by the new Light Emitting Panel moonlight street lamps: They are partly solar powered; complete with surveillance node and FreeFi repeater; weaker as well as being spaced further apart, but of course more energy efficient than the older lamps they replaced. To me they still appear to be broken or forever trying to warm up; they give the areas they light the appearance of suffering a random power cut or of sliding back to a new dark age - which we may well be doing.
The exception to the semidarkness is the Rehabilitation centre; overwhelmingly bright with harsh, shadowless, searching light. I don't think any of the other passengers slumped in their seats notice, it or allow themselves to be seen to notice. Such are our times... The day is starting to catch up with me, so I give up on trying to introduce myself to my new scroll. I flick it off. It curls into a small, thin, pocketable tube about the size an old style tablet stylus. Then trying, but failing to find a less uncomfortable position to squirm into; aim to get an hour or two's sleep if at all possible. Reaching Petersfield, I stumble off the train and take a taxituk back to Waterlooville.
April the 6th.
It can't be time to get up already! I'd only just gone to sleep. At least one of the perks of my new position is I'm responsible to myself now. I'll make a point of it that providing everyone does what they're supposed to well and on time I'm not bothered about the minutiae of office life, and yes, that includes me.
Still, I've got a good excuse for running a bit late having crashed in so early this morning. I blurt to let everyone know that I'd be in later and set about making myself presentable. I've finally got the hang of shaving with the new safety cutthroat, but I must remember to take it to FixIt for a resharpening; they do a much better job than I can. A quick splash wash has the water meter telling me if I keep being water wise for another day then I'll have saved enough to indulge in a short warm shower by the weekend. Though taking regular showers is encouraged to remove any low level fallout particles, we're not allocated the Water Credit to do so. That, like everything else these days, is of course an extra expense. It's a bitter irony that even as we paddle our way through one of the wettest periods in our metrological history, we're still being urged - nay, forced by rationing by price - to economise on our water use.
I should ride into work but I feel drained after yesterday, and with the monthly partial expiry of the TransCreds due it makes sense to use them or lose them; so I might as well catch the X47 express bus from the 'Ville into Pompey. At least these days it doesn't take long; with limited stops and at the 80kph limit down a clearer M275 you arrive in the city centre quickly enough.
Everyone knows of course, thanks to a massblurt from James; but I call a brief meeting anyway just to let them know everything is fine, and I'm still the same person that they knew the day before yesterday. I won't let my new power go to my head, and any changes will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. After introducing Lisa Burrows as the sort-of replacement in my old post I have a final announcement.
"Oh, and by the way, Kevin Ford blurted me this morning; news travels fast! He and Rosa are OK and busy setting themselves up near Narberth. Right now they've got their hands full with making the place habitable and getting the smallholding off the ground, but he hopes to be 'casting again within a couple of months, any help we could give him would be welcome. So, if any of our stories have a welsh connection, let him know and try to bring him in on it, any ViewCred is always welcome". There are nods all round: Kevin was popular here; we all owe something to him, and wish him well in his new venture.
"His final lines are... Once I've established myself here, consider yourself free to visit if you get the chance; and if you want to escape England for some relative freedom, either temporarily or permanently, just let me know. Get yourselves across the border before they close it! Rosa says that she doesn't regret moving for a moment, and they'd have to drag her back at gunpoint now; she wants Bron and Marie to grow up where there is room to breathe. So keep in touch and the best of luck to you all: I think you're going to need it!" Again more nods of agreement all round, I look for the telltale look or slight body language of disapproval, seeing nothing. I know we're all kindred spirits here but these days you never be absolutely sure... Or someone is very good at keeping their true allegiance hidden.
Lisa, and Bippin Swaroop hang back as everyone leaves.
"Trouble?" I ask.
"Sort of" says Lisa, "Dunno if you've had a chance to notice, but the OMS are all over our case about the Pig Club report after our local Connie media monitoring group took exception to it. Christ knows what got their hackles up about a group of allotment commonholders clubbing together to raise a pig on their plot, but they're claiming the tone of the report was mocking and the comparison with World War Two was misleading as there is no such austerity now; or maybe it's the meat eating that they're objecting to..."
"No, it's not that bad," interrupts Bippin "It's far worse now!" We inwardly groan at his humour.
She continues. "Anyway, as you weren't here I replied with the usual pro-forma; only stating the facts, let the viewers make up their own minds, unbiased, impartial reporting, blah blah blah... That should keep them quiet for a while but it's wearing us all down dealing with this constant drizzle of complaint".
"I know!' I reply. "That's why the wankers do it; but we mustn't let them get to us or they're winning. You did the right thing; let's see what they say to that or if they move it to the next level. If they do I'll take it on. James is aware of what we're putting up with, and we hope to be getting the MaggieSist online to deal with it soon".
"OK, well it's all yours now! I've got to go and compile my next bulletin; see you later!"
Bippin looks furtively around. I pull out my old slate and run my finger across the screen in that particular pattern which starts the scanning programme. No warning messages appear.
"All clear!" I say, showing him the screen, "Looks as if we're not that important yet, they can't be bothered to do more than snoop on our feeds."
"You never can be too careful!" He says. 'Anyway I've got these for you to sign-off: Installation of some more stuff. James has really splashed out this time; he must be expecting a lot of traffic! Thing is, we can't fit it all in here... I'd be able to if we didn't have that sealed space, so we'll have to split it between here and Anchorage Park, front end interface here - the works up there".
"No problem!" I say. "And Bippin; I spoke to James; there's a reason for that sealed space, but keep it to yourself. There's going to be some dark gear in there and a supply cache in case things get really bad".
"Yes he does, and there's more on the way soon. Can you install it discreetly and keep it off the system register?"
"I've been meaning to get a duplicate set of keys and codes for you; for here and Anchorage Park, and we'll be the only people with access. So this is strictly between us. As far as everyone else is concerned, and then only if they ask, it's a new Resilient Power Supply and Emergency Memory Core. I'll sort it out soon. When you get them, don't let those keys out of your sight."
"Fair enough! I wondered what was going in there; not even I could hack that code, and you'd need a battle 'bot to break down that door! That is some serious security!"
"I'd have been disappointed if you hadn't tried, and really pissed-off if you'd succeeded! Anything else?"
"No, that'll do it for now".
"OK; and please try to get the MaggieSist online as soon as possible!"
"Trust me; I want her online as badly as you do!" With that he leaves me.
I have the office to myself again. For a moment I can pause and take my newly permanent role in; but only for a moment. Then the responsibilities of it begin to nag at me: I'm barely two hours into the job and I've already done enough to earn myself a very long time filling sandbags on the East Coast Flood Defence Scheme.
The rest of the day passes quickly. A 'Keep up the good work' teleconference with the other local offices; writing my first executive order restating our ban on the use of influential background music and irritating filter effects from all news reports: - "we're repositioning ourselves at the serious news market" - plus the usual admin while keeping an ear on the output occupies me, and then it's time to leave.
I'm glad I took the bus this morning, I don't fancy riding back though the cold, ambush cloudbursts which have been brewing during the afternoon. Yes it is April, but even so...
The standing-only express bus trundles through the spray along the badly surfaced motorway. Strap hanging I can see the new shipyard developments; freshly constructed industrious looking docks; barges, cranes and hanger sized sheds crowding the waterfront. Outside, large primary colour painted parts of offshore aerogenerators ready to be assembled are spread along what was once the derelict tangle of rusty marine scrap around Whale Island and Tipnor.
This is the face of the Federation the Consensus is most proud of; a purposeful, green, industrial autarky newly reclaimed from the silt of the broken nation which had gone before. But soon the illusion passes and we're going past the former Horsea City Park. It was expropriated for housing, but a token play space and microhabitat wood retained as a reminder of the vision it might have been.
The bus reaches the desperate suburbia to the north. Disembarking at the 'Ville, I have a quick shop in the local collective store (no ComCred required), then walk the short distance home to finish my day by cooking myself a good sized baked potato and all the trimmings to celebrate my good fortune.
I'm not expecting Cath to call me, she seems to spend all of her time working in that bloody care home; so once I've had a good tot of Dad's latest hooch I'll turn in for an early night. It's no wonder our relationship has stalled with work keeping us apart, but as everyone is she's too busy trying to keep her head above water. In fact there was some research published recently which claimed we're all getting so tired as a result of our all-consuming grafting that we can't be bothered to get out and search for new partners, or satisfy the ones we have as often as we'd wish. The birth rate is falling despite the effect of all the fecund recent migrants having larger families than we Fedders: Our national libido is drooping. Still the eternal optimists of the Consensus will claim this is a good thing as it reduces promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases.
I really should just man-up about it, admit it's over and start looking for someone else; but it cuts both ways: They say whatever you do, don't date media people. But I can worry about that some other time; right now I need to catch up on some sleep.ns 18.104.22.168da2