January the 4th.
I'm up bright and early this morning. The NRP launch conference is today and there is plenty to be done in advance. I manage to snatch a bite from the Colum resteraunt's breakfast menu, then it's an early meeting of the campaign group to finalise the speeches and deal with any last minute snags before I take my place in the media centre we've set up next to the hall where the Aurora New Dawn Industries welcome reception was held last year.
My place isn't to produce our feed; our London office will take care of that, but to lurk near the BBC contingent and make sure that the Connie luvvies don't try to bugger us about. Just to be absolutely certain the launch doesn't suffer from any 'technical issues' we've arranged multiple streams running through varied and resilient nodes and even have some standby equipment available, so there can be no excuse for our message not getting through.
I wander around, greeting the crews from the international broadcasters, making sure all is going well for them. We want to keep them onside with us and I particularly want to network as widely as possible; I may be asking them for a job soon. Other of my colleagues in the campaign group are giving background briefings in advance of the launch but from the rising hubbub it seems it won't be long before the event begins.
The audience are reminded the banqueting hall's HyperFi blocking field is in operation in order to ensure the speeches remain uninterrupted by irritating ringtones. Some leading Zoners are first on the platform to lend their endorsement to the Party; then it's time for James to speak.
The lighting changes to the light turquoise the NRP has chosen as its hue; not so much a reflection of the NRP's ideology but because it was distinctive and had yet to be earmarked by any other party. James makes his entrance through a side door but unlike the Connie event there is no need for anti-micro drone drapes; this being the Column the lobby and major areas such as this are equipped with the latest detection systems and laser defences so nothing untoward should get through. A smattering of applause provides a polite welcome; then an expectant hush falls over the audience of lower level Zoners filling the floor below the rostrum. James pauses for a moment; then begins.
"For the last decade the people of the Federation have suffered greatly. We've suffered an economy trapped in a permanent standstill, an ever increasing bureaucracy, and a cloying, obsessive, intrusive state intervening in our personal lives where it has no business to. We've seen that same incompetent state watch impotently as our United Kingdom remains broken up by nuclear blackmail, with Scotland her people living under the jackboot of a piratical junta who care nothing about those they claim to represent and everything about their own privileged positions.
We've seen the Federation turn upon its own citizens; condemning those in the greatest need to a miserable life of unending and pointless effort, just so that they can be seen to be earning what was rightfully theirs in any case. We've laboured under the ridiculous and totally unecessary modern day rationing; the state slavery which is Community Credit. A regressive system which is literally wearing people down to exhaustion so they may obtain those things we once took for granted, but are now described by this all-wise state as 'luxuries'.
And what have these last few years of us all being - in the words of the song the Consensus tried to ban - "Busy Doing Nothing" got us? We have wind energy which overloads and breaks down whenever we have strong winds! We're told that our agricultural sector is the world's most ecological and sustainable, yet we are all constantly hungry because there isn't enough food being grown; or if the food is available we can't afford it! Supposedly we have almost everyone fully assigned and industriously beavering away but few people actually producing anything of any value! We have an ever-increasing number of people taking the train to Paris, or the ferry to Dublin and seeking asylum in the EU of all places! The Federation has become a living hell of austerity and drudge for its citizens; a laughing stock as the world looks on and wonders why we put up with it! Why are we putting up with it? Especially as there is no inevitability we have to live this way!
The world, the Federation, and we the people have been through a lot this past decade. We've been forced by events to make painful sacrifices and radical changes to the way we live. We were told we had to do so in order to secure the present and safeguard the future. But after this much time has passed we're entitled to ask "Where is this future we were promised?" Now that the situation has stabilised enough for us to resume our democratic traditions we demand those who have acted on our behalf account for themselves.
When the Crises showed the previous political establishment to be unfit to govern it was understandable the King felt impelled to act as He did. It was His wisdom which saved us all from the horror of a civil, and a nuclear war. We can all agree He acted with the most noble of intentions, but it must be said that when He set up the Transitional Commission and Consensus government I'm sure that He intended it to operate in a very different manner to the way it actually has.
He intended a far-reaching series of reforms to the way the the Federation is run; far different to the squalid rebranding of the existing political system under a new identity and a perversion of the environmental agenda we all wanted to see. When He called for a consensus He meant a wholly new relationship between the people and their goverment; not an agreement within the political class to put aside their differences in a Consensus of mutual self-interest. They have abused His trust in order to separate themselves still further, and impose their will more harshly upon us. That wasn't what He wanted; He envisaged a real national reconstruction, not a process sabotaged by the very people charged with seeing it through.
Now those same people believe they can stand for re-election with the expectation of certain victory. They arrogantly believe the electorates' will has been so broken by complying with their diktats that any alternative to their misrule is now inconceivable.
Well they are wrong! There is an alternative! Across the Federation people of goodwill from a wide variety of backgrounds are joining together in a movement for national renewal. We believe an alternative to the failed policies of the Consensus is not only possible, but vital. We have formed the National Renewal Party to put our case at the coming election, and I am proud as well as humbled to have been chosen to lead the campaign.
I believe we have the right people and the right policies to wake the Federation from its nightmare. I am certain with your support we can save ourselves from the future of never-ending austerity the Consensus have planned for us. All I ask from you is your confidence and we will undertake a genuine national renewal. We promise to make real His Majesty's vision, to see through to the finish the process He set in motion. We shall grasp the future we deserve!"
I'm sure the apologists for the Consensus will accuse us of offering wild promises which can't be fulfilled; but I say this to them. Liberalisation isn't an empty promise; it is a fundamental necessity for society to function effectively. The proof of it is all around us, for it is only within the London Economic Zone that real progress has been made. The Consensus know this to be true, for this was the reason they set up the Zone in the first place; to kick-start their stalled economy!
The Zone is living proof our policies are successful and that is why the Consensus fear us; why they spend their time trying to deny the irrefutable truth: Our policies work - theirs don't! And they know it as well as we do!
The NRP believes the advantages we have within the Zone shouldn't just be confined to one small part of the nation; it is our credo that everyone in every part of this land should have the freedom to make the best of themselves! Yes, freedom! It's a concept that's not been heard much of recently; yet it is fundamental to our beliefs. Freedom from the bonds of state control! Freedom from pretending to work in order for the state to pretend to pay you. Freedom to use your time as you wish, not as the state compels you to. Freedom from want and hunger. Freedom from the fear of the arbitrary and routine miscarriage of justice that our legal system has mutated into. Freedom to make your own choices, not have them decided for you.
Freedom: It's an empowering force and that's why the Consensus fear it; because they know a well-informed people given the ability to choose will make the right choice. They know people will realise the Council have been leading us up a cul-de-sac for the last decade, and they have nothing to offer except more stagnation; yet more pointless and inefficient toil for nothing.
They know their time is up; we know they're finished; and if you, the people of the Federation have the belief in yourselves to agree with us then they will be history! The forthcoming election must be more than a mere rubber stamping process to validate the status quo. It is our chance to pass judgement on those who have scrutinised us so closely for so long; and judge them we shall... So let this day go down in history as the day we began to reclaim our lives and our nation from the Consensus! Let our recovery start here and now! People of the Federation, and the wider world watching; I declare the National Renewal Party to be in business, and hopefully soon, in government!"
The applause is as we planned it to reflect the image we want to project; sincere but businesslike in contrast to the overblown staging of our opponents. The gauntlets have been thrown down; let battle commence! Though in reality it's more like the struggle between David and Goliath but as yet we've not even got a sling or a decent stone. Much of our party organisation exists on paper only, with about half of the candidates still needing to be appointed. James has realised he's wrung IMS dry of all of those who are inclined to stand so he's turned to the Zoners and some minor celebrities to swell the ranks.
This still being the phoney war before the real hustings begin in early April it doesn't matter too much that we're still getting ourselves organised. With the resources of the Zone behind us, and the capable people they can provide it should be easy for us make up the ground quickly. But that's what we will be doing from now until polling day; running hard just to stay in contention; just as the Consensus Party and their allies planned it.
It will only be a two horse race. There will be other parties contesting the election; vehicles for those few figures from the past who remain untainted by any connections with the Consensus; trying to revive the old political parties under a rebranded image and slightly changed names. They'll be launching in the next few days or weeks to come. We may have some organisational issues but ours are as nothing compared to their problems.
They'll say they've taken to heart the lessons of the past, and a Reset to the way things once were should encompass the return of our traditional allegiances, but they cut sad, egotistic figures, deluding themselves they still matter; unable to come to terms with the fact the landscape has permanently changed beyond what people could possibly have imagined back then. They're bound to find out the hard way they're no longer kings across the water, awaiting their peoples' call to return. No, the old politics have gone forever; they'll do well to collectively pick up even a few tens of thousands of votes.
They are dinosaurs who haven't realised they are extinct; for the truly smart politicians are those who've sought their safety within the Consensus. Even in the old days politics had become less about ideology and more about how to manage the commonly agreed upon authoritarian corporatism. There are still disagreements within the Consensus of course; and some times they get given a public airing, just to give the impression of difference and debate. But in reality those minor quibbles are soon resolved in the spirit of these consensual times, with all of the various factions getting most of what they are seeking; everyone involved realising any minor discordances are as nothing compared to the need to maintain their marriage of necessity.
So it'll be either Us or Them victorious in May. We're not starry-eyed idealists: We know only too well how the process is weighted against us. Yet we're equally not so cynical as to treat it as just a career development project. At least if we can't win we can give a good account of ourselves and putting up enough of a fight, raising public consciousness enough to make the Connies realise they can't go on as they have been might just force them to moderate their policies. It's a forlorn hope, but it's the only one we have. The thought of an unconstrained, reinvigorated Consensus in power indefinitely is one which chills my spine.
Well that went off without a hitch; even the BBC behaved themselves and didn't try anything; at least not from this end... We'll check on the entire downstream later on, just to be sure. Rather than my brooding presence ensuring they did as they were supposed to I suspect they'd been told not to throw any spanners in the works. Better to let us have all the publicity we're due for all the good it will do us, this new-found tolerance being highlighted as an example of how the Consensus are misrepresented in the world media. Still it's best to be on your guard, and let it be known you'll be keeping an eye on them...
After another round of glad-handing and media liaison duties followed by a quick committee debrief - there were no problems - my work here is done for the day. Then suddenly I find getting home will be far more problematic than I anticipated.
While we were busy making sure that our 'cast was distributed as it should have been, the news agenda was monopolised by a number of security alerts which have caused a great deal of disruption around central London. We didn't realise until our event was over and people flicked-on their scrolls once they'd cleared the blocking field of the hall. Not surprisingly the media and the general population are more preoccupied with the ongoing effects of that story, and far less interested in our launch conference.
It doesn't take much to spark an alert in these jittery times; just a holdall of old clothes left at a station or on a bus. Each alert has to be taken seriously though, with the consequent inconvenience for everyone affected. By the time I'd left the Zone the worst of the disruption was beginning to clear, though the knock-on effects would last for some time yet, and there were still some exclusion zones in force.
I become caught up in one. Suddenly the tube train I'm on stops at the next station with the announcement by public address system and PushBlurt telling us we should all calmly disembark and leave the station by the green-lit emergency exit routes. We do as instructed, expecting this only to be another drill, only to find ourselves at a pop-up ID check as we reach the surface ticket hall. That's typical Fed security incompetence for you; delaying an emergency evacuation from a potentially dangerous area. The TransPols seemed to be in a particularly officious mood as well, brusquely detaining anyone they regard as being insufficiently verified. My Zone card and IMS credentials get me through reasonably quickly, but no doubt logged on yet another database, the information held in perpetuity, to be used or interpreted in which ever way those in control of the system see fit. I make it back up to street level, free and safe for the time being but without any transport.
Arse! I'm not going to waste more of my time waiting for the All Clear or a replacement bus to be organised, and it's not worth trying to hail a taxi or a dodgy tuk (at least those death trap rickshaws were banned from the capital's streets many years ago). Instead I'll walk to Waterloo from here; it can't be more than a couple of kilometres and I've got a rough idea of the way. I can read the signs and be guided by my scroll map if they've shut down the HyperFi network for 'security reasons'. I may even get there more quickly on my own two feet.
It's not until I'm a vulnerable pedestrian I realise just how many police of different sorts have been mobilised; they seem to be everywhere! Twice more I'm stopped and checked, but I'm allowed to pass on unlike some of the other poor sods I see being taken aside for a shakedown and further interrogation. There on the other side of the road a tuk has been pulled over by the ComPol, and it looks as if the driver is going to be lucky to get away with just a good grilling and multiple tickets. Having noticed it I don't make it obvious I'm looking in that direction. You don't see it, you don't get involved in it, you studiously look the other way if you've got any sense...
Where did all these police come from so quickly? And how did it ever come to this? How did we ever allow it to come to this? Can we even stop it now? These questions are put to the back of my mind as I reach Waterloo. There crowds of disgruntled commuters are being held back by lines of aggravated looking MetPols in full riot gear who look as if they're about to enforce their authority with wands and truncheons. There's an angry, frustrated atmosphere brewing; I can tell from the tone of the hubbub. I think I'd be wise to get out of here before the annoyance boils over.
Something catches my ear. It's an announcement distorted by being shouted through a police loudhailer. Parts of it are lost in the swelling uproar but I'm sure I heard this station and others on the line will remain closed while they are given a thorough searching as well as something about an alternative bus service. Just at that moment a convoy of three double deckers arrives with SPECIAL SERVICE written on their displays, and as luck would have it I'm well placed to be one of the first to board and be seated before the rest of the crowd swarms - nay runs - across the street, hotly pursued by the pols and FedRail employees vainly attempting to regain control of the heaving mass of people who are trying to force themselves aboard. Some of the pols have their wands drawn.
They don't mess about. Barking orders they roughly shove the outraged, complaining people into line. Once organised they are counted onboard as quickly as possible. There are more people wanting to embark than there is capacity for, and the potential for a full-scale riot seems to have only been delayed, certainly not defused. As soon as our bus is crammed full the driver wastes no time in closing the doors and driving away as urgently as he can; like us he seems relieved to be out of there.
We arrive at Surbiton station and are hustled off the bus so that it can make another round trip. The platform is crowded and the confused travellers milling around are harangued by incessant emergency public service announcements telling us nothing we don't already know. At least there is a train waiting for us and the station 'Fi is working. I might be able to flick on and find out what's been happening, or what the media are trying to pass off as the truth. The nodes here should be able to handle the expected demand upon them with ease, and have an excess to spare, but for some reason the network is running very slowly. I don't know if this due to over demand or as a result of a deliberate decision to restrict the capacity, and hence the access to information.
On board the train and waiting for more fractious passengers to be ferried here before it can depart I, and just about everyone else are trying to find more; either online or by word of mouth. No one has heard of any explosions actually happning, just an endless series of alerts; some of which are bound to have been caused by a perfectly innocent unattended bag; others the result of malicious false alarms or even spontaneous rumours. From what I can gather from the uninformative news programming - at present PushCredded and subject to direct state editorial control under the provisions of Section 38 of the Media Act - much of the Greater London area is affected to some extent by the alerts or the disruption they have created.
Duplicating the announcements bombarding us from the train's public address system we're told by the emergency 'casts we should continue to watch or listen to this service for further information: At present there are no reports of explosions or casualties. Remain calm, and obey all orders given to you. You are legally required to do so and liable for severe penalties if you refuse to comply with any instruction. We are working to mitigate any disruption as quickly as possible.
I feel an increasing undercurrent of uncertainty, or is it anger? developing, the anxiety fuelled by the lack of information. Another bus load of passengers brings new rumours: Someone got zapped with a wand just for asking to see the commanding officer to find out what was going on; Connies were given exclusive access to their own buses, or a special train had been set aside for them. It was the bloody Albans or the insurgents again, the bastards!
Even using my scroll I can't flick on to the IMS confidential streams so I'm as much in the dark as everyone else. Under a Section 38 you have to 'cast the officially-approved BBC stream, or your output has to be compliant with the emergency guidelines; and woe betide you if you're not! The OMS are becoming increasingly intolerant of even minor breaches of their Guidelines and the Rehabilitation centres can always find some more pointlessly exhausting work for newly-arrived miscreants to do.
Exasperated I roll my scroll closed. I'm getting desperate for a slash and my legs are getting cramped in the ridiculously small amount of legroom they consider sufficient now. I'm only too happy to get out of my seat and let someone else have it; good luck to you! Squeezing my way through the you breathe in and I'll move my elbow crush I manage to reach the bog just as the the train lurches into motion. However my relief at finding it is short-lived; someone is using it as a seat! Grudgingly they move out and allow me to use it for its intended purpose. I think the flush is broken or the toilet blocked judging by the unpleasant sight I see floating in the stainless steel bowl and threatening to slop over its sides, and of course there is no paper to cover the sight; there never is. I'm relieved to get it over with, and to leave the disgusting cubicle with its thick, foul smell. The original occupant seems only to eager to resume their position.
Eventually I manage to work my way to a spot where I can stand near to a door. The fresh air I'm able to breathe every time the train stops is a welcome relief from the malodorous press of humanity. Two hours later than planned, thanks to the emergency timetable which stops at every station, the still overcrowded train reaches Petersfield. I get off here and catch a bus home. There's no point going all the way to the office to try to catch up on what is happening; it will all become clear in due course.ns 18.104.22.168da2