Shit! Is that the time? It's early on Saturday morning. I wake disoriented by my strange suroundings. I feel fucking awful and hurting all over, which isn't surprising given what I've been through recently. My leg aches and feels overly warm to the touch; I think it might be infected, as if I didn't have enough problems to deal with. If it gets any worse I'll have to find a services d'urgences to take a look at it, and risk me blowing my cover. I'll try to postpone it for a while yet.
My catch-up sleep ambush has thrown my story-breaking plan into disarray as well. Even in the era of constantly updated news some habits from the past still hold sway. There is always less happening on a weekend, so there are fewer staff on duty and more autosists running the 'casters I'll to contact. It'll be much harder to talk to a human decision maker who can give my story the go-ahead, and I'll be at greater risk of just being bounced around from 'sist to 'sist.
The other problem will be the amount of time I've carelessly allowed to slip past. It's quite possible by now the plotters would've taken steps to create a wholly ficticious election record they would claim and verify to be genuine.
My leg has stiffened again, which makes getting across to the bathroom a slow agony. Once inside the shower cubicle and peeling off the bandages it's clear from the reddening, weeping edges of the wounds an infection has set in, and is gaining ground; I won't be shaking off this one without help. I give it another excruciating clean before dressing it. It's clear I can't waste time playing around at being a furtive whistleblower; today's the day I'll have to break the story wide open and then get my leg seen to by a professional.
There's no terminal or filmscreen in this bare little box; only the standard LibriFi. These days you're expected to use whatever device you have to connect to the world. I'll wait until I'm in the relative obscurity of a public 'fi area before I flick on, catch up with the news, and start hawking my story; it's best not to use this node as it would be easier to trace it back to this specific location. Anyway, it's high time I took the Metro into the city centre.
After a late breakfast-early lunch I'm feeling a bit better, but my leg is still tender and puffy. I've settled into to a coffee shop and am using it as a base from which I can reach out to the world. So far I appear to be banging my head against a wall of disinterest; I find myself either dealing with 'sists or being told outright by low-level editorial staff that without further evidence and corroboration my story can't be taken seriously. It may well be an opening negotiating gambit but I'm not daft enough to give away the whole narrative at once. This is a gun loaded with a single bullet I'm holding, so when I fire it I want my aim to be true. I also get the sense the election result is something the semi-official French media has welcomed; "Les Feds rejeter leur folie enfin!" - The Feds reject their madness at last! is one of the more striking editorials I've seen today. If only it were truly so!
Catching up on the news it appears the attempted Connie insurgency has been brought largely under control, with few qualms about the mass arrests being voiced either in the Fed or here in mainland europe; it's just going unremarked as a something which needed to be done. Even after all these years and the erosion of so many of the liberties we once took for granted I find such a matter-of-fact indifference shocking. Am I the only one outside of the conspiracy who has any inkling of what is going on? Surely someone must have had their suspicions aroused, or some hint of what has happened have leaked out?
Further research discloses the person chasing me who was struck by the bus on Harleyford Road was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. I don't feel any emotion upon learning that news; it was his decision to chase me, and if he hadn't involved himself in my attempted abduction he wouldn't have put himself in danger. It was his own fault, not mine. I've more sympathy for the moped rider who is reported to be suffering serious injuries. He, like me, was a victim of circumstance; I hope he recovers soon. Police are still appealing for witnesses to the events surrounding the multiple vehicle incident on the South Lambeth Road to come forward; there's no mention of my name in the public reports which means either I've not been connected with the event or I'm being airbrushed from history; becoming a non-person who can be easily dismissed or disappeared without undue notice being taken.
I'm sure that was my likely fate if those heavies had managed to catch me. From the accents I heard them grunting in pain when I used my blinder on them I'm almost certain they were American; probably an improvised team formed from the embassy security staff. Had they been sucessful in taking me the chances are I'd have been thrown in the back of the van, drugged, and taken to either the officially US territory which is the embassy or more likely one of the East Anglian air bases: There to be kept out of sight or flown out by military plane to another secret hellhole prison; possibly even jettisoned while I was still insensible somewhere over the mid Atlantic.
I think I've been here for too long. I should move just in case anyone is trying to locate me. Just before I flick off though I get a return blurt from Média France; at last I might have got some interest from a well regarded organisation! They want to know more, and would like to arrange a meeting. Quickly I reply we should meet, but at a place of my choosing, and according to my conditions. I'll advise them when and where soon, but I'll be flicking off for a while.
I've learned my lesson well; maintain your control over the encounter. Heaving myself out of my chair - shiiiiiit! - I leave the bar-restaurant and limp a few painful streets to another cafe where I order a coffee and flick on again. There's a message waiting for me. Yes, they're still interested so I tell them the details of our rendezvous. It will be at a bistro within sight of my table, just so I can be on alert for another set-up being arranged. If I have any suspicions I can just walk away as inconspicuously as possible with a gammy leg. I drop off the grid once more and keep observing the busily trafficked entrance area for signs of anything being amiss. So far I've seen nothing to raise my suspicions; nethertheless I wait a good five minutes after the arranged time before I finally make my move.
Ten minutes have passed since I sat down, I'm still waiting for my contact to arrive. Have they decided to blow me out? Or maybe they've baulked at my conditions? One person only to meet me; no 'cording. I'll give it another ten minutes and if no one shows by then I'll head back to my hotel and rethink my plans. But what's this? Through the window I spot someone who looks much like the picture of my contact which was blurted to me approaching. I know what they look like; but they may not know my appearance. With my zone jacket slipped off and folded to cover my case I shouldn't stand out.
The man, dressed well in an expensive looking suit and shoes, enters. He doesn't have the air of a reporter about him; the way he walks unerringly to my table and without asking sits down opposite me leads me to suspect another set up. How did I miss the signs? How did this happen? The second question is the easier to answer; someone must have been eavesdropping on my contact with Média France, or an agent within the organisation provided the tip off. I grip harder the stun pen in my pocket; one wrong move from him and he gets it jabbed hard in his thigh.
"Good morning Mr Davies." He says quietly in perfect english, with only the slight hint of a French accent; he sounds well educated and confident. "I believe we are in a position to assist each other."
"Possibly so; but that depends on who you are and who you represent. You don't look like a journalist to me."
"You are very perceptive, Mr Davies. I am not a journalist; I represent the interests of the French government. As you may imagine we would be extremely interested to learn of any developments which may affect the stability of one of our european neighbours." I fix him in the eyes impassively; the unflinching gaze I've learned to develop is a good way of asserting your dominance in an encounter. Faced with such an obviously accomplished negotiator I'll need to make as much of my position as possible.
He continues; "If what you say is so, then we would share your concerns about the validity of the election. But handling such a revelation in the right way is something beyond the competence of a mere media organisation. Such an issue should be dealt with at an intergovernmental level where concerted action could be taken to force the Federation government into allowing an international audit of the voting records, and to rectify any malpractices-"
"Well Monsieur Anonymous - I don't want to know your name, and you've probably got several of them in any case - I think that frazzling the entire Electoral Commission voting system and altering anything from fifteen percent of the vote upwards constitutes just a little bit more than a minor malpractice; don't you?" I lean toward him, invading his personal space; I'm gratified to see him shrink back slightly. Good; I have him on the defensive. "Let's assume I agree to allow you access to the entire file grab, and your experts verified it as genuine, which they would; what would the French government do about it?
"That of course would depend on the circumstances pertaining at the time. As you can understand I am not able to make any committments at this stage. What I would ask you to consider Mr Davies, is who else do you think would aid you? Let us assume for a moment your story is published; what then? You obviously want some action to be taken as a result of your diligence; who else but a government would be able to use your disclosures to effect the change you seek?" He has a point there. "And we may be able to help you in other ways as well..."
"The Metropolitan Police are eager to speak with you in regard to incidents in London yesterday; and the government of the Federation appear to be extremely interested to learn of your whereabouts. You appear to be quite high on their list of concerns. The French government have been asked for our cooperation in finding you and arranging your return as quickly as possible. Now normally such requests would be turned down, given the current concern here about the judicial processes within the Federation: However there are occasions when we might give a request for extradition a more sympathetic hearing; when more serious matters are involved, such as when someone dies for example..." He let the threat hang in the air. "However if such a request was deemed to be politically motivated; an attempt to punish someone who had disclosed a wrongdoing, then of course we would be bound to refuse and to offer you asylum here."
So that's the deal. It's a tempting offer and I could probably wring some more concessions from him, but I'm still not sure. Something tells me that he, and the government he claims to represent, are untrustworthy: They may well decide to sit on the information, and use it for diplomatic leverage rather than make it public.
I make painfully to get up and leave. "I'll give your offer some consideration. I know where to find you; or it's more than likely that you'll know where to find me anyway and be in touch again, won't you?"
"Mr Davies-" He begins to rise out of his chair.
"You'd best stay seated until I'm out of sight!" I growl quietly. My hand in my trouser pocket pushes the tip of my stun pen against the material; hopefully he'll mistake the bulge for a more powerful weapon. "It's not that I distrust you; it's just that right now I don't trust anyone. I need some time to think. And it would be a bad idea for anyone to try to follow me or do anything rash; I'm just not in the mood for it. Remember that unless I postpone them those timeblurts go live. Good luck if you think you can stop them all!"
He settles back down again but says more softly "Mr Davies. You need help; you need friends. In fact, looking at you now I believe you are in urgent need of medical attention. For how long are you going to go on like this? Soon your money will run out, and then what?"
"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it! A bien tôt!"
I'm wary as I leave, but there are no signs of any goons lurking around to sweep me away in the event of my being uncooperative. Either the man really did come alone; believing with typical French government arrogance I'd agree to his proposition, or any supporting agents are professionally invisible. Or as yet I don't merit an unsophisticated grabbing off the street. But the irritatingly suave bastard does have a point. I can't go on like this indefinitely. Either this story will break or I will. I don't feel in any immediate danger, but just to be sure I decide it would be wise to take the next bus or taxi I see into the city centre. In a crowded public area well patrolled by the gendarmerie I should be relatively safe from the risk of abduction for the time being.
The buses here appear to be fairly regular and reliable. Even though France didn't go through as much of the hair shirt austerity as the Fed the French couldn't escape the worst effects of the Crises. There's less private traffic than I remember when I last was here; so long ago it almost seems to be a different era... As a result the buses move freely and quickly. One going in my intended direction pulls up as I shuffle past a stop so on a whim I board it.
Once moving I decide to flick on to see if there have been any further bites on the bait I've cast. Judging from the silence, apparrently not. My hunch the french goverment wants to sit on the story seems to be confirmed; whatever pressure they've been applying against the local media appearing to have been effective. There are no takers. As if to emphasise the point a thanks but no thanks message arrives from the Daily Post; they too have decided to climb aboard the NRP bandwagon. Well it wouldn't be the first time they've supported a dubious cause... But with even the mouthpiece of the expat community choosing to ignore the obvious truth, I'm at even more of a loss what to do. It seems my immediate future is either a heroic destitution, or being kept on a close leash under the control of official minders while I'm debriefed in a safe house; waiting indefinitely for a breakthrough which will never come.
Something the anonymous man said to me is nagging at my mind; I need the resources of a goverrnment behind me. But how to achieve that? And which government? Not the French obviously. But this being a capital city there ought to be plenty of diplomatic missions to be found. Maybe one of them will be interested?
This sounds like a plan so I sprite the locations of the nearest embassies. As luck would have it one of the nearer ones is that of Éire. That'd be ideal; a nearby english speaking country with a fierce tradition of independence from the former UK; a far better exile than somewhere far away with an incomprehensible language and adverse climate. The only trouble being that they're closed on a Saturday. How can I get their doors to open for me?
As the bus slows for its next stop a plan comes to mind; all I need to do is stay free long enough to implement it. I decide to get off here and give it one last try before giving in and seeing what the French have in store for me.
I'm trying to be as inconspicuous as possible inside a touristy chain coffee shop; my unwanted drink cooling unouched by my side as I flick on to their 'fi: By now I'm sick of the taste of coffee, even the luxurious by camparison real thing available here! No doubt my modus operandi has become apparent by now; find a cafe, wurdle, flick off and move on to another. As a Person Of Interest I expect I'm a priority to be monitored and traced, but hopefully I'll have enough time to get what I need to do done before the inevitable catching up with me.
It doesn't take long; a blurt to the Irish ambassador, then another to as many Irish media outlets as I can find publicising my contact with the ambassador's 'sist and asking for an immediate response. That should wake someone up. Soon the replies come in; there are expressions of interest from RTÉ and a couple of the indies followed by a response from the embassy: In most cases such requests are refused, but given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding my case I have been granted an emergency interview.
Getting up from the table I feel light headed; everything in colour appears to be bleached out and a lightning fork of pain shoots along my bad leg. I'm feeling a bit dizzy, more nauseous in fact, but I've got to keep myself together for just a short while longer.
The embassy is only a few streets away but I feel as if I'm limping an ardous, paranoid marathon. I'm fatigued, nervous; constantly aware of everything and every one around me: Are they the hidden threat which will prevent me from achieving my goal this close to doing so?
After what seems like the best part of the day I finally get to the corner of la rue Rude: At last, there it is! Walking those final few metres is becoming more problematic: It seems as if I'm wading through an invisible but extremely viscous fluid draining my energy with each jarring step taken by my heavy legs. I feel incredibly hot as well; breaking out in a flushed sweat.
My approach must have been monitored, for as I reach the imposing door it opens for me; a man in a suit is waiting just inside. For some reason I have trouble making out any details of his appearance; he appears to be all indistinct shadow.
"Mr Davies?" he asks in a politely soft educated Irish brogue; his voice seems faint and far away.
"Yes!" I reply, though speaking, even breathing is an effort now.
"Please would you come this way. Are you all right Sir? Can I-"
I need to get the words out while I still can. "I have information of interest to the Irish goverment" I say; swaying. "I believe my life and safety are at risk from those who would prefer that information was suppressed." There's a roaring rushing, pulsing sound in my ears, the room is beginning to revolve slowly. "Accordingly I claim asylum." My blurt completed, the black mist clouding the edges of my shrinking vision rushes inward as the plush pile carpeted floor leaps up to slap the side of my head.