The teenage female server vacuuming the carpet and her male supervisor who can be no older than his early twenties look startled when I enter; I don't suppose they get many early customers looking like me in the state I'm in. I flash them my Zone card and explain I was involved in a bus crash: I need to use the Gents' to clean myself up before completing my mission. I also warn them that a couple of opportunistic thieves may be out looking for me, so if anyone asks, they've not seen me; and if they can they should try to alert me without arousing suspicion. A couple of notes handed to each of them ensures their assistance.
I'm directed to the back of the restaurant, along a corridor near to the kitchen; the intelligent and friendly supervisor thinking on his feet following me to put an OUT OF ORDER sign on the toilet door handle in the hope of ensuring me some privacy. He offers to stand outside to make sure no one forces their way through without being challenged and so at least giving me some kind of heads-up. His assistance is welcome; though I have to persuade him I'll be able to clean myself up unaided. He also offers to call the police but I dissuade him, explaining we messengers don't get involved with them unless it is unavoidable; we prefer to keep ourselves unobtrusive, so he should only call them in an emergency.
The arrangements made I enter the restroom to get cleaned up. If one or both of the shoe men were to come bursting in now it would be bad news, there being only one letterbox of a high window leading to who knows where; and looking at it there seems no way I could wriggle out through it even if I was fully mobile, which I'm certainly not at the moment. If it came to it I'd have to try to fight it out here and hope the staff would call the pols. Bolting myself into a cubicle I reach for my first aid kit.
It is anticipated Zone messengers will find themselves running into trouble from time to time. They are expected to patch themselves up and continue on to deliver their consignment as far as is reasonably practicable. To this end every messenger case has a first aid kit. Opening mine I find a spray can of instant skin and some special pain killers among its contents; I think I'll need them both.
Gingerly I ease my trousers off; no easy matter given the state I'm. They're obviously ruined; a collection of rips and abrasions. Scrubbing away at my bloodied leg with some cleansing wipes I find I've suffered some severe grazing, especially around my knee which seems to have borne the brunt of the trauma. There's a deep slash of a cut welling blood as well; probably caused by the moped's front mudguard striking me. In addition it feels as if my kneecap might have been wrenched. My legs, never a pretty sight, look as if they've been in the wars; they're going to look a lot worse when the bruises are fully developed. The magic spray stops the worst of the bleeding and eases the pain; some absorbent self-adhesive hypercolloid patches take care of the rest. With my unobtrusive pants now unwearable I'll need to use my Zone uniform trousers - folded along with the jacket in my backpack - instead: They shouldn't stand out too obviously, though putting those on in the confines of a toilet cubicle so soon after being injured is going to be a difficult and painful effort. Doing my best to stifle the gasps of pain eventually I manage it.
My bag looks badly scuffed and torn; it's probably best to dump it and my holed trousers here. Checking my light jacket over I find it is badly rent at the elbow as well: There's no point in wearing it and drawing attention to myself so reluctantly it joins the trousers stuffed into the rucksack after I've transferred its contents to my Zone jacket or case. With my incognito wear dirtied and shredded, denying me the option of blending in with the crowd, my only hope now is using the authority my uniform confers to avoid trouble.
Leaving the cubicle I check my reflection in the mirror. I still look a bit pale and shocked, but my face is uninjured. A quick wash in one of the hand basins wouldn't go amiss though. Then I swallow a painkiller along with another stimulant capsule which should keep me going for a while with a cupped palmful of tap water. A slow turn of an inspection in the mirror reveals nothing too badly awry, though an examination of my shoes reveals some scratches which I do my best to rub invisible with a wetted finger and the polish stick in my Zone case. Messengers always take pride in their appearance.
A final check as I'm now no longer Richard Davies; minor media executive but Richard Davies; Zone messenger. Any smart cards I don't plan to use immediately are placed in the scan-resistant case. Oh, the case! Though built to withstand a lot of punishment it has picked up some noticable gouges scored deeply along one side. Providing I remember to keep the damaged side facing my body no one should notice.
Fifteen minutes have passed, and it's time I was moving again. At the end of the corridor the manager gives me the thumbs-up; I hope he's not been bought or threatened into doing that. Pausing only to thank him quietly, I hand him my ripped pack for disposal, and slip him two more notes - one each for he and the girl. Then, mustering as much of the dignity befitting my newly-adopted role as I can, I leave.
There are a few patrons scattered about the restaurant; none of them appears to be a threat to me. Looking over at the bar at the display screen for the surveillance cameras, which is split into quarters, I can't see anyone lurking outside but I won't be lulled into a false sense of security just yet; I'll go out braced ready to at least parry an ambush from someone hiding beyond the cameras' fields of view.
As I pass through the main doors I check both sides in preparation for any attack, but there's no one there. Adopting the least painful walking style which doesn't display my mobilty problems too obviously I make it to the relative safety of the tube station without incident. Below the city streets, out of sight of anyone prowling the surface. I can get further away from here, then work out what to do and where to go next.
The loud warbling tone of the radiation alarm startles me as I enter the Underground station. Fortunately it's someone else passing through a separate detector arch at the same time who sets it off and gets all the attention. Swallowing my heart back down I take the Northern Line to King's Cross. Disembarking there I go straight to the public toilets, and hide in one of the stalls. Flicking on my dark slate I quickly scan the local news feeds as well as the MetPol blurt; the first reports of the South Lambeth Road and Harleyford Road incidents are appearing. A man has been taken to hospital in a critical condition after being hit by a bus; police are appealing for witnesses. So far they're not linking it with me, nor have I appeared on the Fed's Most Wanted page. That's some good news at least, but I don't discount them not telling the whole story in a bid to lull me into a false sense of security.
The other news is inferred rather than reported. There are more than the expected usual number of traffic delays, checkpoints, and 'incidents' being attended: All is far from well on the first day of the Reset. The Connies aren't taking their defeat lying down, and their former subjects are taking out a decade of resentment on any members of the old regime they can lay their hands on.
I've one final thing to do before I flick off the slate and drop out of sight again. I'd more or less come to the decision anyway hours ago, but now's the time when I take a step closer to making it irrevocable. I couldn't afford the fare myself, so logging on to the Eurotunnel portal using my Zone travel account I reserve myself the earliest available seat to Paris, and take an option on a later train to Brussels, just in case I can't reach St Pancras in time for the earlier departure. Even as I confirm the reservations I notice how many of the available standby seats are being sold; there seems to be a rush on to leave the Fed.
Flicking off my slate I replace it in the secure case and take out the cards I'll need for my onward journey. My Zone ID should be sufficient to get me out of the country and into France. One final precaution before I go; I put on a pair of those neutrally glazed spectacles which are designed to defeat facial recognition systems. They are standard issue to messengers who may well have a very good reason to avoid being easily tracked while conveying extremely sensitive consignments. I don't have faith in the claims made for them, though introducing any extra element of uncertainty as to my whereabouts can only help at the moment.
I've spent more than ten minutes in the gents' and now I'm ready to move on. Despite me wearing my covert specs it wouldn't be a too much of a setback if my presence here was noted; just as long as I'm far enough away not to get picked-up if it is. I want to set a few false trails to confuse anyone trying to catch up with me. With luck anyone after me will think I caught a northbound train, and could be anywhere along the East Coast main line up until it terminates at Berwick-upon-Tweed. The track north of there is mothballed, and sections of it even removed closer to the Hadrian's Wall border zone; but were my false scent to be taken my pursuers would have a lot of places to check before there.
With some time to go before my scheduled departure I decide my best chance of staying free until then is to keep mobile. I plan on taking a taxi as far as Shoreditch, or maybe Hoxton, then returning to St Pancras via the underground. It should be easy enough to find my way around using my paper A-to-Z. With any luck my being tagged by other surveillance systems and being seen elsewhere might also make the Eurostar reservations seem like just another feint rather than my planned escape route.
Anyway, I daren't linger here for too long lest I attract the wrong sort of attention. Ready to go, I wave my hand in front of the flush sensor, unbolt the door and leave. At least I've had another stroke of luck; there's no inquisitive toilet attendant hovering around. Acting as naturally and as least like a fugitive as possible, I limp to the taxi rank and hail a cab.
"Where to Guv?" Despite Crises and wars some things endure; the London cabbie being one of them. These days they drive hybrid taxis, but they are still mostly coloured black and retain their unique shape. The drivers, now rarely the opinionated white middle-aged male stereotype of old, still have to do 'The Knowledge' even in these days of autonomous smart vehicles, satellite guidance, and Integrated Traffic Management. Ask a cabbie about taxipods and you'll get a litany of their faults and failures. If you want to get there safely you've got to choose a human driven cab; there's still too much that can go wrong with those bloody robots...
The driver asks me the question in the typical estuary gravelled growl, but looks as if he's several generations naturalised from his Caribbean migrant ancestors. His collar length dreads are a subtle sign of - I hope - defiance or indifference to the Connies and their New Modesty. I tell him where I want to go.
"Are you sure that's a good idea, Chief? Things are a bit tricky around there at the moment. I took a fare that way about a hour ago and it was all kicking off!"
"Just do what you can to get me as near as possible; that's where it's got to be delivered"
"Fair enough!" He sets off. "Mind you we might have to go round the houses a bit to get you there; though if I were you I'd get your secure division to take it in by armoured car; still it's your call. D'you mind if I keep the radio on? I need to keep up to date with the news and traffic."
"No problem, I could do with catching-up as well; I've been busy since early this morning. What's been happening?"
"Just about everything! The Connies have lost the election, they've been going mental as a result, and people are taking out their frustrations out on them. Can't say I blame them after all these years; the Council started off allright and some of their ideas were sensible, but then they just got out of control. But I don't approve of burning things down; it's getting out of hand now. James Purvis has got to put a stop to it. Have you seen much of it?"
"I nearly got caught up in an incident!"
"Yes, I thought so looking at you."
So my disguise may not be that convincing after all. If it can raise the suspicions of an observant cabbie than who else's attention might my appearance attract? I might have to play on my slightly dishevelled state for some sympathy. Though given some of nervously ruffled looking people I've seen so far this morning, my look might fit in perfectly.
We ease our way into the traffic. Despite the shortages and the cost of fuel, the state of the economy and the move from private to public transport, London's congestion seems as bad as it ever was. There are always buses, vans, taxis, tuks, and bikes zipping somewhere for some reason. It's the usual stop-wait-go flow at the moment but I sense a subtle pertubation in the rythym; a feeling confirmed by the cab's multisource radio interrupting the bass heavy booming of the constant traffic updates.
These days the cab's digital radios receive information from a number of different sources and blend them into an aural information stream of the listener's preference. But an emergency blurt from a cabbie in distress overrides everything else: We hear one now. I can hear the undertone of fear in her voice as she calls for help; she's found herself boxed in by the trouble, her position is around a kilometre to our north. Before my driver can offer assistance three others closer to her offer to come to her aid. In any case we may have our own problems to deal with.
At the moment we're stuck in a temporary hold up; the pavement alongside seems strangely deserted for this time of the morning rush. Suddenly a figure runs past; he appears to be fleeing for his life. With my journalist's sense of observation I notice the look of utter terror on his face in the fleeting glimpse I saw of it; that he's wearing a Connie ute-suit with insignia, and he's running wearing only one flack; he must have lost the other one while fleeing. Hot on his heels the reason for his fear is only too apparent; four men wearing improvised face concealing hoods, carrying an asortment of knives and tools are chasing him. With that same remote detachment I can see some of the blades are stained with the bright red of fresh blood. If that group catch the Connie who has just rounded a corner I can imagine what will happen next. So can the cabbie.
"Jesus Christ! I've seen a lot on my time on the job, but I never thought I'd see that! Pardon my language sir, but it's turning into a fucking war out there. I really think it would be for the best and your own safety if I dropped you somewhere secure and then pulled off the road until this is all sorted out. Where would you like to go? The nearest Zone portal, or tube station?"
I'm considering my reply when the traffic starts to move again and instructions are PushBlurted from the radio. All taxis and TfL buses are being withdrawn from service until further notice. Once the general order is issued our taxi is told by a different artificial voice to take the next right turn. Then comes another announcement: All networks will carry a live 'cast by Prime Minister Purvis from the steps of 10 Downing Street before he enters it for the first time. There is a short, silent pause followed by the ambient noises of the preperations just before the cue to go live. Then James' addresses the nation.
"Good morning everyone! This morning the Electoral Commission confirmed the National Renewal Party has won the election with a majority sufficient to form an administration in the reformed parliament. His Majesty The Regent has invited me as its leader to form the new government: It is an honour which I accept with great humility.
It's been a long night, but this morning is a good one for our weary nation. The NRP pledged to revive the Federation, and that is what we will do. There is much that needs to be done in a short time to ensure stability and revive the economy. So as a matter of urgency the new parliament will address the most pressing issues facing us with a fast-track legislative process which will include...
An orderly phasing-out of Community Credit within three years and a wholesale review of the Assignment system.
The Transport Credit Act will be reviewed, and consideration given to either its radical ammendment or abolition.
A wide-ranging study into a new Bill of Rights is to be set up. It will liase with the Constitution Commission we will create to enact an absolute garauntee of our liberties which have been so perniciously eroded over recent years.
With the agreement of The Regent and with immediate effect the Carbon Reduction Act is repealed. An emergency building and recommissioning programme of coal fired power stations will be authorised. It is ludicrous when we had ample coal reserves available to us we were prevented from using them because of alarmist Consensus dogma about climate disruption. This government will keep the lights on and the power flowing by whatever means it takes to do so!
In co-operation with the London Economic Zone a carefully considered programme of economic liberalisation will be introduced; spreading the success of the Zone throughout the Federation. At the same time we shall be mindful not to repeat the mistakes of previous administrations who allowed matters to get out of control.
We promised to see through His Majesty's vision of a revitalised nation, and so we shall. Following consultations with Their Majesties we have agreed the Transitional Council will be wound-up as soon as possible; once parliament and our traditional system of government have been reestablished. However there remains an urgent need for radical measures in order to build upon and enhance our renewed democracy. It is my intent the new Constitution Commision be set up as soon as possible, and when the Transitional Arrangements have been enacted by Royal Decree the elections for the Second Legislative Assembly will be held within two years.
In addition both His Majesty and His Regent have agreed that once the arrangements are in place, and an election for an Executive Head of State concluded - hopefully within three years - the Monarchy will be brought to a dignified end. It is only right and proper that after serving the Federation with distinction through these difficult times we should express our grateful thanks to Their Majesties for their efforts on our behalf by allowing them to divest themselves of their onerous duties. I am sure both of them will continue to make a valuable contribution to our future public life.
Now regrettably, I need to address the immediate danger posed to our nation by the Consen-" The digital signal dissolves into stuttering chirps. This probably isn't frazzling, but an inherrent problem with the technology. A digital signal is all or nothing; prone to dropping out completely, rather than fading in and out as an analogue signal does. Despite the promises the issues would be addressed, the signals only too often collapse into gurgling gibberish.
It is now widely acknowledged the enforced switchover to digital radio was a mistake, creating mountains of electronic waste from perfectly good analogue radios, and forcing the purchase of expensive but inferior replacements. The irony was after much protest the plans to reassign the analogue frequencies were modified so that a few local and national stations could continue to use them; just in case an emergency rendered the digital network inoperative. The signal returns.
"- the Consensus have wormed their way throughout society, and eradicating their influence won't be an easy, or painless task. Some may think the robust measures we plan to implement are harsh or unfair. Nevertheless we must - we shall - purge our nation of this bizarre cult who have brought us to the brink of ruin. Numerous National Police Force investigations have been opened into allegations of treason and misconduct while holding public office against leading members of the former Council, who are at present being held in custody.
In addition a Truth Commission will investigate Consensus activities dating from the beginning of the Transitional Council. Its remit will be wide-ranging and it will investigate any allegations of wrongdoing by Consensus officials at any level. Those who have acted in good faith will have nothing to fear from it. Those who have abused their office and the people they were supposed to serve will face the justice they deserve. As part of this reconcilliation process all members of the Community Police are temporalily suspended - effective immediately - pending vetting and revalidation. Once the bad apples have been weeded out it is hoped to bring a reduced in size force back to duty as soon as possible. Street Wardens are unaffected by this order at present, though they too will be reexamined in the fut-" More watery gurgling lasts a few moments.
"-rther six month extension to the Temporary State of Emergency. We hope to lift these measures as quickly as practica-" The driver tries switching to the AM band, but there is nothing but a harsh electronic buzzing. "Sorry Guv; it's a bad area..." He switches back to the digital signal. "-go about your usual duties, and obey any orders given by-" No sound at all now, only silence "-ether we shall begin to build a new future for ourselves. Again, I'd like to thank you all for your support. Your electing the NRP was the first step on the journey to recovery, but there are many more steps we must take in order to reach our goal, and the sooner we get started the better. So if you'll excuse me I have a great deal of work to be getting on with."
There's a faintly shouted question about the disturbances. James replies he expects the isolated outbreaks to be brought under control soon; then there are the sounds of him being ushered through the big glossy black door of his new residence.
"I'd better let you out here!" says the cabbie. We've travelled quite a bit further on, and now the taxi is being directed by a MetPol off into a side street.
"Keep the change!" I say, handing him a high value note. I doubt I'll end up having to account for it on an expenses claim. That will be the very least of my problems in the near future.
"Thanks Chief! Best of luck to you!"
"And to you as well! We'll all need some today!" He drives away, following the instructions to park for the moment in this improvised safe zone.
Well, that didn't go quite the way I planned it. My plan to scatter some confusing sightings appears to have backfired. Caught out by circumstance it turns out all I've done is wasted time and ended up far from where I wanted to be right now. I need to get back to St Pancras quickly or risk missing my train to Paris.
Following a crowd of people being disembarked off a bus I find myself at a cordon being hurriedly thrown-up. Fortunately the police are more intent on getting people out of the exclusion zone than they are on checking identities. Their haste in clearing the streets is explained by the sudden arrival of a phalanx of hard core riot police supported by a menacing looking riot vehicle. It makes the one I was given a ride in earlier seem cute and cuddly by comparison. We're directed into Moorgate underground station, waved through the open barriers - ticketing having been suspended for the duration of the emergency - and onto the crowded platform crackling with a brittle apprehension.ns18.104.22.168da2