"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 things...
The driver asks me the question in the typical estuary gravelled growl, but looks as if he's several generations naturalised from his Carribean 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 wild 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 any 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. The Regent has invited me as its leader to form the new government: It is an honour that 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 that 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 reuse 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 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-" There is more watery gurgling that lasts a few more 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 large 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.
Despite the disorder erupting above ground the tubes continue to run. Our train arrives and I cram aboard with everyone else. Squeezed up; painfully so in my condition against the carriage partition, I can pause for thought. Soon will come the moment of truth; a calculated risk, but one I must take. If I want to leave the country I'll have to do it soon before my window of opportunity closes; and that means checking-in at the Eurostar terminal. If I've been placed on a watch list I'll soon find out there.
I arrive with ten minutes to spare. The announcements are already warning of the train's departure. That's a relief; my plan appears to be back on track. I wanted to arrive here at about this time in any case, not wanting to hang around here for too long in advance and risk being tagged. The Eurostar embarkation process is very similar to entering the LEZ. In a moment I'll have passed through the smart tunnel without incident, or alarms will sound, barriers will close, and my goose will be well and truly cooked. Well here goes...
Much to my surprise I pass through without any drama; obviously the connections have yet to be made. There before me, standing poised at the platform, is my sleek, streamlined escape from the Federation. Suddenly from behind me I can hear a bustling commotion approaching. Fuck it! I was so close to getting away! Then I realise it's not a belated chasing after me but a flustered group; yes a family - two adults and three children - rushing through the portal at the very last minute before it closes.
There's something familiar about one of them. I'm sure I've seen his face before, but at the moment I can't put a name to it. I could FacePop him if I really couldn't contain my curiosity, but I don't want to attract attention to myself right now; and I suspect that the well-built man accompanying them - no doubt a minder - would take exception to my doing so.
No, this isn't a family priviliged enough to be able to holiday abroad rather than at one of the rejuvinated seaside resorts who have arrived at the last minute to catch their train. From the small, lightly packed bags each of them is carrying, their apparent unaccustomedness to wearing obviously new Fedwear in the hope of remaining inconspicous, as well as their uneasily furtive expressions I deduce this is a mid-level Connie functionary and his family attempting to avoid being interned by the new regime.
So it seems I'm not the only refugee making a hasty exit this morning. I wonder how many other seats on this train would have remained empty had circumstances been different? How many of these nondescriptly dressed passengers, like me, have secrets to hide?
Exactly on time the train departs. As it burrows underground into the tunnel which will take it below London and out into the Kentish countryside I can allow myself a slight measure of relief. But I'm by no means out of the woods yet. At least being French-run trains and mostly reliant on their nuclear energy there is less chance of the Eurostars breaking down or suffering a power failure. Even so I won't feel safe until the train has stopped at Ebbsfleet International station, then passed on into the French territory which begins at the mouth of the Channel Tunnel. Only when we're speeding through the Pas de Calais will I hook my slate on to the train's HyperFi. I'll know I've finally made it if I can pass through the portal at the Gare du Nord without incident. Once in Paris I'll withdraw what I can from an ATM; then find a cheap, anonymous hotel to go to ground in and prepare my story. Once that is finished I can consider my next move. But I'm getting ahead of myself: First I have to get out of the Fed.
Before I know it we're slowing and the announcements about the stop at Ebbsfleet are broadcast. This is the first hurdle; then there are the stations at Ashford International and Dover where the train may be stopped and boarded.
This doesn't look good. As the the train draws in I can see a host of Border Security Force officers waiting on the platform. The doors at the end of the carriage open and a squad of stern-faced guards file along the central corridor towards my seat, not stopping to check any other passengers as they pass... Well I tried. I wanted to do the right thing and now it seems I'll be paying the price for daring to expose the truth. I hope they've not been able to trace and delete all of my cached timeblurts; in theory that shouldn't be possible as I've lodged a few of them in dark spaces only I should be able to find. All it needs is for just one of them to activate, and for only a few of the recipients to take the message seriously enough to forward it on for the rolling snowball to gather momentum and become an avalanche of truth which will smother this deceit in its tracks. That's my only hope now.
There's no point in trying to resist my arrest but I won't be a coward about it; I'll maintain whatever dignity I have for as long as possible. I won't show any fear, no matter how much my insides have turned icy cold. I'm not the villain of this story; just someone who - perhaps naively - believed this supposed fresh start really should be a clean break with the past and not the shoddy foundation of a corrupt future.
The file of stern faced police keep relentlesly approaching... and pass right by my seat. Evidently they have other fish to catch. Further behind me are sat the fleeing Connie family and it is they who are the ones being sought. All of them - children included - are arrested, handcuffed, and frogmarched from the train. Once they have been removed another team go through the carriages checking anyone they deem to be suspicious. Remarkably I'm given only a cursory look. That done, the train is given permission to resume its journey, and I get the chance to get my heart rate back down. I need to go and relieve myself!