I awake gradually. I still feel groggy; slowed, detached from myself. I'm in what appears to be a dimly-lit private hospital room, the blinds covering the window are pulled down. As my bleary eyes focus they take in a well-built, suited man sat on a chair facing the door. He has the air of a minder about him. He notices my waking despite my attempt not to show it.
"Ah! You're with us again Mr Davies." My eyes can now focus on him: He's more middle aged than the person who opened the embassy door for me, his irish accented voice deeper, more gravelly, but with a kind lilt. At least he's not French.
"What happened and where I am I?"
"You're in L'hôpital Européen Georges-Pompidou. You collapsed in the embassy, don't you remember?"
"It was a good thing we got you here; you'd a very nasty infection set into your leg. If you'd not been treated within hours the toxic shock might have killed you. As it is they've given your wounds a good cleaning out, and put you on some strong antibiotics as well as shooting you full of vitamins." That would explain the drip feeding into my arm. "Apparently vitamin depletion, malnourishment and immunodeficiency are quite common among Federation asylum seekers, so I'm told. The doctor will be along later but they expect you to make a full recovery from your infection and your injuries."
"How long have I been out?"
"A good twenty hours or so."
"So this is Sunday morning!"
"It is. And you've missed out on the uproar your story has created."
"Well your timeblurts went out on time as you instructed, you not being in any state to rescind them, and they've been reblurted all over the place. Not that it's likely to make any difference. Prime Minister Purvis and the Electoral Comission still insist the election was free and fair, and they're refusing point-blank to allow an international independent audit of the voting record or the administration programme."
"Acting as if they've something to hide."
"Indeed. But the fact is there's little anyone could do about it now, or would want to do about it. You see this wouldn't be the first time that an election has been... 'adjusted'. It goes on more often than you might imagine; even in places in Europe where you'd never think it would happen, but oh yes, it does!
Did you never stop to wonder how it is that politicians can be so unpopular and yet still get reelected time after time? Now obviously there are plenty of guillible people about, but that's only a part of it. It's been going on for years you know, and electronic voting has only made it easier; why, you no longer need to stuff voting papers into a ballot box when you can be far, far away and achieve the same result with a flick of your finger; you're better able to cover your tracks as well. It's an accepted fact within the international community that it's the way things are done from time to time; and as long as it's not done too blatantly it's allowed to let lie. You don't go around shaking the skeletons in someone else's cupboard for fear they'll come and rattle the bones in yours."
I feel myself falling into a yawning pit of despair. "So you're telling me I've fucked-up my life for nothing!"
"Now I didn't say that! By making your story public you've performed a valuable service for which the Republic is extremely grateful. As you might imagine what affects our near neighbour is something we're extremely interested in. And it would seem that we're not the only ones concerned about your wellbeing; the French government are looking for you, as well as the Federation. Apparently they're seeking your extradition in regard to an unfortunately fatal road collision which happened in London on Friday, and the matter of embezzlement has been raised as well... So when all is said and done it's probably a very good thing we registered you here under a spare name we had going around; after all, we wouldn't want you lifted from under our noses before we've a chance to fly you to Dublin, get you debriefed and examine all of the records in detail, would we?"
"And how do you propose to get me out of here without the French intervening?"
"That shouldn't be too much of a problem: Our hosts aren't quite as clever as they think they are." He looks at his watch. "By now a chartered business jet should be landing at a small private airport not too far away from Paris. Unfortunately there's a grave family illness which requires the ambassador to fly home immediately; you and I will be accompanying her. It being a diplomatic flight there'll be no question of it being intercepted, and the identity you'll be travelling under will have diplomatic immunity as well. After a few days the health of the family member will take a turn for the better, the ambassador will return home after touching base with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and no one will be any the wiser. We'd prefer it though if the means by which you travelled to Dublin didn't become public knowledge, but we'll sort out the cover story for that later"
"After you've cooperated with us and we've fed you up a little you'll be granted extended leave to remain, or an Irish citizenship if you want it; and you'll be free to do whatever you choose. Your insight may be called upon from time to time as an advisor on Federation politics, for which no doubt a retainer would be payable."
"So what do you get out of it?"
"The genuine copies of your files, and the truth of the matter. There are numerous different versions of your blurt going around. Some of them are obvious forgeries or hack edits, others are more subtle. We'd like to see the source material before we come to any conclusion. We've left your case well alone for fear of triggering an autodestruct sequence; so we'd be opening it and your devices under shielded forensic conditions, so as to be absolutely sure they don't get remotely wiped when they are switched on, and there can be no allegations of our tampering with the data. After an examination of all the evidence the Éireann government will duly make its determination and act accordingly."
"How do you think they'd react?"
"I wouldn't know, but given all the condradictory blurts flying around I wouldn't be surprised if the government declined to express an opnion on the matter."
"So you'd sit on the story as well!"
"No, you'd be perfectly at liberty to say what you will, but the government is equally free not to comment."
Shit! I'd come this far, gone through this much, and still I'm thwarted by big politics. The Irish would know the truth after examining my evidence but they'd hold that card close to their chest as an undeclared weapon at the next set of negotiations between themselves and the Fed, whenever they may arise. James might suspect his opposite numbers were in the know, with me always available at short notice to be wheeled out in corroboration, but he could never be absolutely sure. Unsettling your adversary is always a strong hand to play in such high stakes games.
The man speaks again, almost as if he'd been reading my mind. "Worse things could've happened to you, you know. This way you'll be all right; you can be assured of that. And besides, you're out of options. For someone in your position you did the best you could, so I wouldn't feel too bad about yourself."
Still I feel an abject failure; blowing my one and only chance to change the world and prove what a journalist I am. Instead I'm laying in a hospital bed facing an uncertain future as a diplomatic poker chip.
A small, plain looking frump of a nurse enters the room without knocking. Noticing I'm awake she disconnects my drip before checking the data from my stick-on body sensors. She asks me a few questions in French to which I grunt a reply or answer far more haltingly than I need to; makes a few notes on her scroll, then bustles out again.
"Your body sensors must have alerted her." says the bodyguard "Now it's known you're conscious once more I wouldn't be surprised if the doctor looks in soon; and no doubt he'll be followed in due course by other people asking even more questions. For just a junior executive who is said to be suffering from delusional paranoia in addition to other mental health issues, quite a few people in London and Paris are taking quite an interest in you. Now I don't suppose that you'd want to wait here for them to work out what became of you and come visiting. Do you feel up to moving?"
"Not really, but I suppose I'll have to!"
"That's good enough! Here, put these on!" He hands me a bag full of nondescript clothes and my shoes. "Pull those sensors off as you go. If you need a hand, just say so. Hurry now; we don't want to be causing an embarrassing diplomatic incident, do we?"
While I'm dressing he makes a brief voice call on his scroll. "There'll be a car with diplomatic plates arriving shortly; it'll have your case on board. All we have to do is get in, and then it's a short ride to the plane. Lean on me if you feel unsteady, we'll just calmly walk out of here like a discharged patient and his helper; four hours from now you should be in the Emerald Isle." He helps me shrug on a jacket; my torso feels numb and my leg feels an unresponsive peg only partially my own. Then my nameless protector hands me an envelope.
"Here you are, Mr Callum O'Rourke. This passport and letter should see you through any problems you might encounter, not that I'm expecting any. Are you all right now? If so we'd best be going."
"Wait a minute!"
"I want my father included in the deal: You get him out of the Fed and settled in Ireland."
"If that is his choice then we'll arrange it."
"Good! I'll be holding you to it. Now let's get out of here!"