Vauxhall has changed out of all recognition in the years since I was last here. It and the Thames frontage as far west as Battersea were one of the last areas to be comprehensively redeveloped as the Crises took hold. Though the area is now dominated by new high rise towers, closer to the east and the railway line the older brick built back streets and arches remain largely untouched. It is in this area, at a Community Canteen on a narow street named Broadway, where I'm due to meet whoever it was who blurted me. The more I think about it the more I'm sure I'm putting my head in the lion's mouth. Once there it won't be easy to get away if I need to, and if I have to escape my room for manoeuvre will be limited by the Thames to the west and the busy roads which surround the area.
These days there may be far fewer cars on London's roads, but that hasn't made them any safer. Paradoxically the reduction in traffic has allowed the remaining vehicles to speed up. Though the 50 kph urban speed limit is still in force it is all too often ignored by people desperate to get somewhere and get on with their jobs. The average speed cameras often fail due to Dragon or frazzling attacks and there are 'journey optimisation' wurdles available which allow you to drive right up to the average speed limit without falling foul of the cameras known to be working. Anyone who uses or crosses one of the capital's roads still takes their life in their hands.
Not attending this rendezvous would be the sensible choice, but it seems the reckless abandon gripping the nation has affected me as well; I'm going to go through with it.
The chances are my face is known to them, but on the off chance it isn't I'll do a walk by just in case I can spot something obviously amiss. If it is a rapidly organised set-up those who planned it may have overlooked a vital detail; one which may be a warning to me. Before gettting any closer I check my button cam is recording, then adopting the head down, world weary air of a typical Fed-ped on their way to work I take a circuitous route to the ComCant.
I turn left into the Broadway from Parry Street; surreptitiously noting every detail of the scene. At once my hackles rise: All is not right here. My attention is drawn to a credder gang working further along the road, nearer to the rendezvous. Could they be the problem? Taking a closer look I see they've set up some plastic barriers out on the pavement next to their van as well as a pop-up shelter, but they've not actually begun to do whatever it was they were supposed to be doing. That's strange; most credders - especially those involved in lower value grunt - are in a hurry to get their task finished, no matter how adversely that affects the quality of their workmanship, and be credited for it; so why are they just standing about doing nothing? And what exactly are they supposed to be doing there? It isn't immediately obvious; again that is unusual. Most credding is low skilled and has an obvious purpose. Here they just seem to be waiting for something to happen or someone to arrive...
Yes; at least one of them appears to be a look out and suddenly they all seem to be taking an interest in me. As I look again at the lead watcher and our eyes meet I notice he and the other credders are wearing brand new uniforms, unmarked and devoid of insignia; not of the usually issued type. There could be a logical explanation for that but they appear to be too well fed, too well built, for your average cred serf; they seem to lack some intangible authenticity. That, as well as their almost identical military style haircuts and obvious unity of purpose are telltale signs. With a sinking feeling I realise I'm walking into a trap.
A mnemonic from my security briefing comes to mind; "If in doubt, get out!" I turn to leave only to see two more burly men in identical overalls walking toward me. One of them is reaching inside a pocket for something...
There can be no doubt now. Time seems to slow to an eternal crawl as it does in the moment when you realise you're about to have an accident and there's nothing you can do to stop it. It's during moments like these your mind feels like a passenger within your body while your subconscious survival instincts take over.
How I manage it I don't know: I suppose the times spent practising as had been suggested to me on the security course helped prevent any panicked fumbling, but I find myself beating my would-be assailant to the draw. There isn't the time to shield my eyes with my other hand, so I'll just have to fire my Blinder as best I can. The rest of the drill kicks in; slide the safety off - aim and close your eyes - turn you head away and PRESS!
Fucking hell! Suddenly I know just how Babette Veldjans must have felt when the Alban nuke detonated nearby. I was expecting it, yet it is as if a silent, blastless bomb has exploded right next to me. My slight disorientation and vision partially obscured by throbbing purple patches must be as nothing compared to what those two heavies must be feeling now. They're howling in pain and writhing around on the pavement, no longer a threat to me unlike that group who must surely be approaching from behind. It seems ages have passed since I fired the Blinder but in reality I've already turned around to meet this new challenge. As I expected they have already run half the distance separating us towards me, spread out in a line which will encircle me before attacking from all directions. One of them is drawing a boxy looking device fused to a pistol grip - a taser! I need to shoot again before he's able to target me.
I squeeze my eyes closed, turn my head away, and sweep my weapon in an arc across them. A satisfying chorus of agonised screams reassures me I'm on target. A crack and swishing sound off to my side tells me I fired just in time to put the taser man off his aim.
I open my eyes again but even I am having trouble in seeing. I can make out five of the six are incapacitated for the time being, but that leaves the other one to my left to deal with. Either he realised what I was about to do and managed to get a hand over his eyes in time or my sweep only partially affected him: Though visually impaired, shocked, and obviously suffering some pain he's not only on all fours groping around for his dropped taser, but he's still crawling toward me.
I'm not going to wait around for him to find it and learn the hard way if it can fire more than once as I suspect it can. It's time for me to leg it before they get themselves together enough to summon reinforcements, or more trouble arrives.
I'm off and running back the way I came, giving the two toughs sprawled convulsing on the pavement a wide berth. I hear a shout behind me along with the unsteady beat of heavy boots running; obviously taser man has found his feet, if not his full vision, and is following me. Behind him I can hear what sounds like two extra pairs of lightly shod feet giving chase. Shit! There are more of them!
I'm running as fast as I can, pure fear lending me speed, but I seem to be moving so slowly! I know like most Fedders I'm probably undernourished and not as fit as I could be; and keeping hold of my case must be slowing me down, but even so!...
My problems keep coming: Rounding the corner into Parry Street I collide with a pedestrian, sending her sprawling. I've no time to stop and apologise despite her accusatory curses, instead running on right under the railway bridge. I get wary looks from the few other peds about, but their suspicions are of no concern to me; I have other things on my mind right now, such as how to cross the South Lambeth Road and live to tell about it.
This particular stretch of the route is three or four lanes of one-way traffic as far as I can make out, busy even at this early hour; pulses of trucks, vans, buses, tuks and cyclists created by traffic signals elsewhere all moving at speed with few gaps to be seen. I can't wait for a safe moment to cross because there won't be one - at least not before my pursuers catch up with me. I need to throw caution to the wind and go.
Horns blare, brakes screech, tyres squeal in protest. A cyclist swears at me and bunny hops his bike onto the pavement. The light van I ran out in front of only just misses me; I'm buffeted by its slipstream. Another larger van swerves into another lane in an attempt to avoid rear-ending the one in front which has slammed on its brakes, but in so doing it is now aimed directly at me.
Putting on an extra spurt of speed I didn't believe I was capable of I manage to get out of its way, the van's worn tyres slithering as they struggle for grip, the driver wrestling with the steering wheel in a vain attempt to keep it from slewing across the carriageway and being hit side on by the following traffic. I'm most of the way across now but just as I think there's a chance I might reach safety a moped appears from nowhere, arrowing at high speed straight at me and I can tell at once there is no way its startled eyed, shocked faced rider has any chance of avoiding me.
So this is what it's like to know you're about to die; these last interminable moments experienced by your hyper-aware senses in such exquisite detail. I feel no fear, no regret; only a numbed peace of desensitisation as my body and mind make their final preperations to ease the shock of the inevitable. I don't even see images from my life flashing before me: With the disconnected gallows humour of the condemned I wonder if the totality of my life really was so dull that it couldn't even be bothered to make an appearance at its own end.
The moped clips me; the impact sends me spinning. The isolation suddenly lifted I'm reconnected with the world, a confusing, painful, tumbling perspective of sensory overload: Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! The moped, unbalanced by the collision, wobbles uncertainly across the road before the inviolable laws of physics reassert themselves. The bike flips sideways, jettisoning its rider who rolls along the tarmac, limbs flailing; hopefully protected to some extent by their airbag jacket which has automatically inflated. A speeding tuk on the furthest lane trying to avoid my sprawled body bounces onto the pavement, suspension wallowing wildly, but then loses the struggle to stay upright. It tips on to its side, scraping along while straddling the road and kerb.
For a moment I lie where I've fallen, winded and groggy; but then the sight of some well-meaning witnesses rushing through the stopped traffic toward me and the sprawled motorcyclist reminds me of the danger I'm still in. My befuddled mind clears and impels me to get going again. Ahhhhh shiiiiiit! That was not a good idea! My leg seems to have got the worst of it, it's gone numb and stiff; but I have no choice but to move. Pausing only to grab my case which was knocked out of my hand by the impact I set off like a frightened rabbit, jarring my injured leg: Fuckit!
As well as the sounds of the accident I've just caused I can hear those rapidly clumping boot sounds getting louder: For fuck's sake the bastards are catching up with me!
I need to get out of here and lose them. The first turning to my right - Vauxhall Grove - is a through road if it bears any resemblance to the street map I tried to memorise on the train here, just in case something like this actually happened. Well it happened allright, but my local knowledge appears to have evaporated under the stress of the moment.
The narrow street brings me into the solidly built terraces of Bonnington Square, a final stiff-necked glance out of the corner of my eye as I round the corner doesn't reveal anyone following but I couldn't be absolutely sure in the split-second view I had. I'm not exactly sure where I am. I hope I've not run myself into a square with only one way out - the route I came in.
I've a choice of two directions; I turn left in the hope of getting myself out of the line of sight of my pursuers; increasing their confusion as to which direction I've taken. If I can jink left-right a few times and put some distance between myself and them; far enough away for me to go to ground without the risk of being discovered in a search of the immediate area, then I can stop for a moment and think of a plan to get me out of this mess.
Running painfully along the northern edge of the square I wonder if I haven't made a fatal error, there ought to be a road leading out of here, shouldn't there? Yes! There it is! Relieved at finding my escape route I follow it, leading me out on to what must be the A202 Harleyford Road. I turn to check I'm not being followed but there, rounding the corner at an uncertain jog, is the man in the credder suit.
The nearside lane of Harleyford Road is filled with stationary traffic; no doubt stalled by the accident I caused but the farside lane is still busy. Without thinking I rush across using a gap in the traffic not even the most seasoned jaywalker would consider in one of their most reckless moments, but it will have to do.
Maybe it's the shock from the collision but my mind still seems detached from my predicament; swirling with thoughts, and some of them are verging on the unrealistic considering the situation I'm in. Despite just having been roughed-up in a road accident I still feel pumped enough to consider making a defiant stand against my pursuers if, as seems increasingly likely, I can't outrun them.
After an unpleasant encounter with a few YCs a couple of years ago I vowed I wouldn't get caught at a disadvantage again and had some basic judo training. I may be a bit rusty but I won't go down without a fight. If I can cause enough of a ruckus to get the MetPol summoned I could possibly escape abduction or worse by holding out long enough for the coppers to arrive; but having to explain myself out of this situation isn't my goal; it's just the best of the unattractive options available to me at the moment.
In any case it's all academic right now with an articulated lorry bearing down on me, its driver leaning on the horn and braking hard: I need to worry about surviving the next few seconds.
With a slam of air and the Doppler stretched fading of its horn the truck just misses me, I'm sure I felt its side give me the very slightest of brushes, or it might have been my imagination. In the relative silence of it's wake the more remotely observational part of my brain registers the footfall of work boots catching up with me. The fucker won't give up!
Half running, half limping to the safety of the far pavement, I turn in an awkward pirouette to face him, reaching into my other pocket for the gas spray: Shit! It's gone! It must have been lost in the collision. I also realise I must've let go my grip on my Blinder and left it back there as well; not that I was likely to get much of a chance to replace it's spent cell with the spare in my case in the the next few moments, but it might have come in useful; if only as an empty threat.
Taser man has almost made his way over; he's unarmed now, his semi-blinded movements still hesitant. I decide to wait until he's almost reached the pavement, then I'll throw myself at him with my secure case held in front of me as a ram. Body checking him back into the traffic will give him something to think about, and with any luck he'll get run over. Or maybe slamming the case hard against the bridge of his nose with enough force might break it. The move may just buy me enough time to pull out my stun pen.
He runs toward me, but then the sight of his fluorescent overall is eclipsed by the movement - edges blurred by speed - of a double-decker bus as it passes across my field of view; its mournful big beast in pain howl of brakes punctuated by the solid thud of metal hitting flesh. I hear a woman's screaming, and that's enough to re-energise me into moving again. Whatever has happened to Mr Taser - be he knocked flying or dragged under the bus - his two soft shoed friends might still be after me. I'm not waiting around for the emergency services and their awkward questions to arrive: I need to get out of here and quickly.
Jogging again I can feel my knee stiffening further and my back is beginning to ache; I feel as if I'm the slowest wilderbeast in the herd; ungainly, vulnerable; about to feel the lion's teeth. I have different predators to evade; though as yet I can't hear them chasing me. They might have got caught up in the hiatus surrounding the accident, or abandoned their pursuit and dropped back out of sight when they realised the situation had blown up in their faces with their team either incapacitated for the time being; and in one case badly injured, possibly dead. Nevertheless I must continue to act as if they are still after me and have only been temporarily delayed.
I flee along Harleyford Road towards the Oval cricket ground. My escape would be aided by my being inconspicuous, but trying to run as I am with my clothes dishevelled I'm attracting some unwanted attention from the few people in the street. I need to do something about that. Jerking my thumb in the direction I've just come towards the distant stopped bus I breathlessly gasp, "THE BUS! CALL FOR HELP!" It seems to do the trick. Two peds run off in that direction while another makes an emergency scroll call. Further along a middle-aged woman in a ute-suit but no visible Connie insignia asks if I'm OK; I briefly flash her my wallet full of impressive looking credentials - too fast for her to read them - and tell her I have to organise an emergency aid point; where is the nearest Community Support Office to be found?
She seems unsure; not knowing the area too well, so I tell her to run after the others and do what she can at the scene. To my surprise she obeys, though given the last ten years of conditioning most people tend to unquestionably do as they are told by someone purporting to have authority so it shouldn't be so remarkable. Left unbothered for the time being I can lope around the road which circles the Oval to the north. It gets me out of sight for the moment. I need to put further distance between myself and the trouble, then do something about not looking like a road crash victim.
I can hear the first of the sirens arriving; the sound echoing off the buildings making it hard to work out from which direction the vehicles are coming: The last thing I need is to be noticed and thought of as a casualty needing treatment or perpetrator to be arrested. Looking around without trying to appear too furtive I spot a figure, or was it two figures? further back along the road just as I slip out of view. Were they the soft shoe duo following me? Did they spot me? I don't know.
With no certain signs of pursuit as yet I'm beginning to become more hopeful I've given them the slip. There are the sounds of more distant sirens, but I don't sense any threat from them. Just as I reach the junction where this road rejoins the A202 and start to relax I'm startled by the sudden approaching high-pitched rasp of a tuk being driven at speed; the weakly screeching electronic siren identifying it as a ComPol vehicle. Shit! It's coming this way! There's no point in trying to find cover to hide behind - there isn't any - so instead acting as naturally and innocently as posssible while trying not to wince in pain, I bend over and pretend to tie a shoelace as it passes. It gets my face out of the way of the onboard cameras and their live link to any facial recognition database; just in case.
The tuk passes without slowing; it must be heading toward the incident. At least while I'm bent over I can look between my legs for any sign of the soft shoe men, but the coast appears to be clear. Straightening myself - aaaaaaaaaaarrrghh! - No, I really shouldn't have done that! - I realise I'm injured, bleeding, aching, out of breath, flushed, sweating, and my heart is trying to batter its way through my ribs. The adrenaline rush has run its course, my limbs are feeling like stone, and my body has given me all it can. I'm a mess: I need to stop for bit. Crossing the road I'm tempted to go directly to the Oval Underground station and catch the tube, but from some of the suspicious looks I'm getting, I think it would be a bad idea.
From my map study I think there was a Fair Food located nearby, which is what I need right now. A short limping walk reveals my memory to be correct. It appears to have just opened its doors for the day. I hope it can be my temporary sanctuary for a short while because I'm in urgent need of some.ns 18.104.22.168da2