The Blurt Of Richard Davies

When What Could Never Happen Here, happens here... It took a civil war and the fracturing of the United Kingdom to force the issue, but finally someone did what needed to be done to sort out the mess we were in once and for all. With the incompetent politicians replaced by the Consensus government, the Federation as we are now called is being led into a green renaissance. We may not be wealthy, but we're getting by, and from here the only way is up... While many people have been browbeaten into believing it, Richard Davies - an executive journalist recently promoted in one of the new media organisations - knows the propaganda to be an empty lie. But as a long-delayed General Election heralds the end of emergency rule and the start of the Democratic Reset he'll find out just how difficult it is to do the right thing in a world gone wrong. The Blurt Of Richard Davies: Today's fiction is a warning of tomorrow's nightmare. Read it while you are still able to.

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40. Chapter Forty

 08.04 on Reflection Day morning: Waking up in strange surroundings always disorientates me. Or I could be disturbed by the fact only a handful of people have taken up the offer to move here for the duration; instead choosing to stay where they are and take what comes after polling day there. I'm not sure if that's a sign of bravery, confidence, or a resignation to a predetermined fate.

 

After cleaning myself up in the temporary washroom I'm still feeling down and irritated. Fuck it! I've had enough of this! Back in my bed cubicle I check my scroll to find not only is the battery running low, but there's a priority blurt regarding a final meeting of the campaign group to be held later this morning in the usual place. Sod it! I've had my fill of electioneering. I send a reply telling them I'm feeling unwell, and in any case I've got to get back to Pompey: They can blurt me the summary of the meeting. What they think they're going to achieve today is beyond me; it's all over and done now, there's nothing anyone can do to make a difference. Now we must wait and watch history being made.

My scroll beeps another more urgent low battery warning so I shut it down. I don't want people ringing and blurting me anyway; not today. On what could be my penultimate day of freedom I want some time to myself, just to consider where I'm going. Though in a couple of days I suspect the decision will have been made for me...

Leaving the Column for what may be the final time I feel a weight lifting from my shoulders. My immediate future may be grim but like someone suffering a terminal illness I can look it defiantly in the eye and laugh in its face. I must have passed beyond the final stage of fear, or maybe it's the wan, watery sunlight raising my mood. Hoo-fucking-ray! It's all but over! Fuck James! Fuck the NRP! Fuck the Connies! Fuck the Zone! Fuck the Column! Fuck all of it! Fuck all of you! I'm finished with you all!

My scroll is powered down. It will dutifully report the fact and its parlous battery level to anyone with the required authorisation to ask it. It's so liberating not to be at risk of being bothered until I recharge it again, and just too bad I won't be able to do so on the train back due to a faulty charging point, nudge-nudge wink-wink.

It's such a relief to get my life back, if only for a short while. I wonder how I ever allowed myself to get suckered into that grey tunnel of overwork? I decide that if by some chance I make it through the next week without incident then I'm really going to make a major change in my life; I'll either go all-out for a new job, or finally take the plunge and go indy. It won't be easy of course, but I can daydream; at least until the day after polling day when the world will come crashing back in on me again.

Twice on the way back I've overheard people softly humming 'Word Of Mouth' to themselves. Yes it's a catchy tune, but I don't think it's going to be the soundtrack to a revolution.

Home at last! Relieved the commuting to London is finally over. I cook myself a pasta meal and then have an early night. It'll be a long day tomorrow.

Polling day; mid-evening. From this momentous day forth we're supposed to resume a semblence of the lives we had a decade ago; but with some 'minor' changes.

Earlier I cast my ballot on one of the touch screen electronic voting machines before taking the bus into town. The were plans to make voting compulsory but the Electoral Commission decided against it; probably because leaving the issue to an individual's choice would help the Connies. They will of course go and do their civic duty as well as encouraging their sympathisers to do the same; such participation on the part of our opponents will be just another hurdle the NRP will have to overcome, and most likely trip over.

Beyond the closure for the day of those parts of the schools and public buildings given over to be polling stations there are few signs an election is being held. The official signs outside the polls, written in that same unchanged for decades large lettered font, remain as they always have been; but apart from that all is new. No longer will the traditional representatives of the old parties who used to count people as they entered or left the polling room be found camped outside; they have been prohibited from besetting the polls, rendered as obsolete by the new modernity as the battered old ballot boxes. Instead the parties will be updated as to which voters have cast their ballots - but not for who - in real time.

This being a far more streamlined process the results should begin to come through shortly after the polls close at 22.00. I imagine all those millions of votes being stored on the machines' hard chips suddenly migrating en-masse when they are transported to the counting centres and downloaded. That tradition has survived at least, thanks to the fear of the Black Dragon corrupting a more widespread network; though the virtual emptying of the electronic ballot boxes and counting of the digital votes should be much faster than the labourious hand counts of old.

Also gone is the election night drama. Anyone who believes that the NRP can somehow gather enough of a late surge of momentum to overturn the Consensus Party's advantage is deluding themselves: Once shrouded in the privacy of the voting booth the years of propaganda and those old prejudices are bound to come to the fore again; and though it is obviously against peoples' own self-interest to vote for the Consensus, that is exactly what the lemmings will duly go and do.

By this time tomorrow we'll know what the new lie of the political landscape is; and how far the new Consensus goverment will choose to push its mandate. My guess is as soon as Lois Merck has installed herself in Downing Street she'll leap straight into delivering everything she promised, and then more, as quickly as possible. If we thought we'd seen things we'd never have thought possible happen in the last few years, I think our senses will be sent reeling still further by what the new government will do. God help us all.

That's probably why I'm swamped by a wave of dejection as the countdown to the end of polling approaches. Despite being involved in producing the election 'cast tonight, I've still got plenty of time for introspective moping. The team running The South Decides can look after themselves and the low level media speakers the various parties have put up to comment on the events of the evening as they unfold. I'm in place only to provide remote supervisory guidance from our office in Portsmouth to the bigger studio complex in Southampton if required, and I doubt if it will be. Despite our recent history of civil war our elections are still held under Queensbury rules of gentility; in the new Fed the unpleasantness occurs largely out of sight... At the very worst it will be harsh words rather than punches thrown across the set tonight.

All day the news, produced under strict OMS and Electoral Commission guidelines, reports polling has been steady. A projected turnout of 80% or greater is expected. Following that lead story there are the inevitably airbrushed retrospective pieces about the Dissolution and its after effects. On the surface they appear to be impartial but Connie supporting journalists have become very adroit at getting their point across while making it seem otherwise; a loaded word here, a nuance there... Apart from that the news today is dominated by the latest outbreak in fighting between the Israeli and Palestinian enclaves. Despite permnent UN peacekeeping forces being deployed there, both sides can't pass up any opportunity to add to the death and destruction the region has already suffered, and maybe grab another few square kilometres of tolerably radioactive land for themselves; and so the tragic history continues. This also is subliminal propganda; contrasting the continuing aftermath of the Crises in the rest of the world with the relative stability the Council claims to have brought to the Federation.

The bulletins end with a typically uplifting report. Yesterday it was about plans to use robots to mine landfill sites for scrap metals; humans would be needed to sort through it all once extracted of course, but these days there is always plenty of labour to be found, willing or otherwise. Today the story is about the first trials of some new genetically modified decontaminating bushes. Apparently their quick growing root stock has been altered to draw pollutants out of the soil and concentrate them within the plant itself, ready to be easily harvested and contained, leaving the ground suitable for reuse. A former industrial site in the midlands will host the first practical experiment. If sucessful it is hoped the technology can be used to remediate peripherally contaminated areas around the world, earning the Fed a great deal of money in the process. Oh yes, it's very subtle, but such a constant drip of optomistic news might have a slight effect on the outcome of the vote. We should know very soon.

 The historic hour arrives and passes. So here we go. The South Decides begins, but no sooner has it started there are a few glitches, though as yet nothing I need to become involved in. Almost at once we're told the announcement of the first results will be delayed by half an hour. The studio panel will need to fill-in for a while. I can hear the frantic calls put to the reporters at the counts; rushed cues to report live the building anticipation of the declarations, but as yet not the results. There is only so long you can report that as yet there is nothing to report; this might yet turn farcical. The production team are about to go back to another rehash of the discussion the studio guests have just had when at last there is a development, and this time it merits my attention.

The first exit poll projections have been released but they don't make sense. Something must have gone wrong with their compilation because they're showing the NRP substantially ahead of the Consensus Party. What do we do? Do we use them? Yes; we won't be breaking any regulations, and as long as we stress the fact such polls can often be inaccurate we won't look like fools if - or more likely when - they are revised. At least it will give the panel something to talk about. Through my loop I monitor the producer updating our presenter via his earpiece, and he introducing the breaking news along with the caveats about the estimates needing substantiation. That sets the cat among the pigeons and a lively debate ensues. At least it's filled some time before the real results start to flood in. Checking the BBC feed I find they're running with the polls as well, but giving them a jovial spin; an election night quirk, prior to the real nitty-gritty being decided.

Then the first results begin to be announced. These few first straws in the wind give the expectant backroom number crunchers something to work with, and yes they seem to confirm to some extent the initial projections. It appears there may yet be some excitement tonight, but I expect the results and predictions will converge over time to an adequate rather than a emphatic win for the Consensus; a sufficient, rather than overwhelming majority. Given the rumours about the Regent giving any bills passed some long and hard scrutiny before putting his signature to them, prior to the second chamber taking on a moderating function once it is elected in two years time; the Connies may find find parliamentary government more difficult than they anticipated.

More results come through confiming the trend. This is beginning to look as if it could be a proper shock in the making. In a stunning reversal of what few illicit opinion surveys were doing the rounds, the NRP appears to have won a surprise landslide victory. The Consensus Party representative in the studio is looking pale with shock; she's utterly dumbfounded by the news, trying to maintain her composure while choking back her tears: I don't think she'll succeed for too much longer. Already the rump parties which used to represent the pre-Crises factions; the Social Party, the Democrats, and the Conservationists are alleging a massive electoral fraud. I suspect it won't be long before the Consensus Party add their voice to the call for a comprehensive recount or an investigation; not that I think it will do them any good.

Once again the world is being turned upside down as we watch. Something is definitely going on, and we in the media - supposedly with our finger on the pulse - can't work out what is happening. The election feeds are becoming more erratic, prone to dropping the moment any sort of disturbance occurs at a count. It appears widespread scuffles and protests are breaking out all over and being uncompromisingly brought under control out of sight of the cameras. It's becoming more difficult to go live to our correspondents, the links keep dropping out. Is this a Dragon attack on our system at the worst possible moment? Or is this frazzling being undertaken by someone wanting to edit this history in the making as it is being recorded, and powerful enough to ensure it happens? Our Anchorage Park node is on an open line; Nate is there holding it all together and he reports all is quiet; the guards remain watchful, but untroubled as yet.

Monitoring the growing hubbub of the developing story I feel strangely calm, though maybe numbed or stunned would be a better description. From the atmosphere I sense around me I'm not the only one to share this consternation. The last time we in the media were collectively flailing to understand what the fuck had just happened was immediately after the King's Dissolution 'cast. Just as then this new world we find ourselves being thrown into is unnervingly different to the one we knew.

Amid this chaos of crashing and cut-off feeds the Portsmouth South declaration is streamed live. Apart from some boos and catcalls it passes off peacefully. In the latest tremor of this ongoing political eathquake Neil Moore has just been elected as the Member of Parliament. It's now the significance of the events really hits home; I'm beginning to feel a bit light headed as I realise we've fucking well done it! We've beaten the Connies! We're free of the wankers at last! And my old friend Neil is one of the new guard who'll be going in to fix the damage they've done; to give us our country back! Well done moosh! I take a moment out from my duties to blurt him congratulations, and propose we meet for a serious drinking session when - if - he ever gets the time; the chances are he's going to be a very busy man for the time being. Still it will be nice to celebrate his, no our, victory. Yes it's fair to put it that way; after all it's the fact he acted upon my suggestion that's just landed him this plum little earner, and not forgetting the work I put in on the campaign group which helped get him where he is now.

The news continues to come in. Lois Merck has been elected, but with less of a majority than expected. Still she has just scraped through, and should lead a very denuded opposition. Again we get just the bare text of the result, no live 'cast. We've not heard anything from the Consensus Party's national office for more than half an hour. They're not responding to any questions, leaving their shocked and stranded spokespeople out in the field to try to come up with a response to their unexpected setback. Everyone is wondering what is going on inside their headquarters, and what they will say or do when they eventually break their silence.

More blurts are clanouring for my attention. London will be taking over the majority of the 'casting, with regional hubs contributing as and when they can. Under the circumstances that sounds like a good idea. It's someone else's problem now and we were shuddering to a halt on The South Decides anyway. In retrospect we might have coped better, especially when the Connie spokesperson could no longer contain her emotions and burst into a full-on outbreak of blubbing tears as another NRP victory was announced; but hey, that's live media for you and I felt the unpolished rawness added a certain something to the spontaneity of the 'cast. Shortly afterwards she excused herself and left the set, nay the building. The final sightings had her nearly running streamy-eyed out of the door with her rolled scroll clanped to her ear like an old style telephone handset, obviously involved in an important call. A blurt arrives from James; I can imagine what that will be about so I'll open it later at my leisure; when I've had a chance to find a quiet spot, de-stress a bit, and decide how I'm going to respond to his offer.

But that will have to wait for a while. I get a call from Lisa Burrows who is running our infeed control. She's sounding flustered. "Richard, is there anything you can get Bippin to do about the inputs? They're starting to lag."

"I thought he'd fixed that problem earlier! Are you sure it's not a remotely instituted delay from London? They may have invoked Section 38 again but if they have they've not informed us"

"I don't think so. He had a go at it about an hour ago, and that worked for a while, but now it's as bad as it ever was. I rang him ten minutes ago but he's set his 'sist to hold all calls..."

"OK, I'll get on his case."

"Well please make it fast! Everything's been crashing or hanging all the time since he installed those last updates!"

"OK! I'm on it!" I reply testily before hanging up.

Yes, I'm stressed as we all are, but this isn't good enough and I'm going to tell him so. Bippin may not officially be responsible to me any more but I'm sick of this; especially on this of all nights! I'm going to see to it that he sorts this mess out once and for all. I'll pay him a visit and tell him personally to pull his finger out.

 As I approach I hear the sound of snoring from Bippin's office. Quietly I push open his partly ajar door. He's slumped back in his seat; balding head lolling, mouth slightly agape, sleeping the deep sleep of the exhuasted. Pity be damned! He's not the only one who's been working hard recently; it might be hard to cope with it all at the moment but we've all got jobs to do, especially now!

 

I'm about to shake him awake when the display on his terminal draws my attention. It takes a moment to understand what I'm looking at, but when I realise what it is I'm stunned. I have to look again just to convince myself  what I'm seeing really is the Electoral Commission's electronic voting system administration screen.

If you have access to that, and the right authentication - which wouldn't be difficult for a wurdler of Bippin's calibre to create - you have the ability to change with a few keystrokes the result of the election. Now it is all becoming clear; James' irrationally optomistic confidence, and Bippin's long periods 'working' on Marggie, an autosist which has never worked well despite consuming so much time and effort. With a start I realise they've only gone and secretly frazzled the fucking election for fuck's sake! This is the biggest story of the post-Crises Fed and I've literally walked in on it by chance: I'd not even realised what was going on under my own nose! Bippin's screensaver cuts in, fortunately without a warning beep to wake him, thank God! He's still well asleep; all those weeks of long hours finally catching up with him.

Silently I sneak out and pull the door to. Jesus Fucking Christ what have I stumbled on to? Heart pounding, almost shaking and feeling chilled inside I return to my office and after locking the door, log into my access to the supervisory system. Using my authority I copy all of the files which Bippin was working on. Then I cover my tracks as far as I am able. He and whoever put him up to this may - probably would - have installed tripwire alarms but it should be too late for them to do anything by the time they realise the secrecy surrounding their plot has been compromised. At least I should be protected by my next steps. I copy the files onto some old memory chips, as well as cacheing multiple copies in darkspace set to massblurt and repeat at preset times unless instructed otherwise. I do the same thing from my scroll and slate, just to make it that much harder to track every file and delete it.

Feeling more secure thanks to my distributed insurance policy and a pocket full of flash media I ponder what I should do now? Should I confront James about it? Or break the story and risk reigniting the dormant civil war as such a revelation is bound to do? Could I live with myself if I kept quiet and became complicit? Perhaps I might be able to use what I know to my advantage? But who is behind this and how far will they go to protect their dirty little secret? I doubt that it is only James and Bippin's work, they're probably but minor actors in what is a long-planned and well executed palace coup, and if that is the case I'd be a bloody fool to cross the people behind it. Besides I don't think I'd make a good blackmailer. No, the more I think about it the more I realise what I know now can't be forgotten or covered-up, and that assumes the people in charge of this subterfuge would be prepared to live with the risk of their plot being exposed. Given what I've learned of James' past ways of dealing with his problems, I think I'd be wise to assume the worst and act accordingly.

But that still leaves me in a quandary. What am I to do? Staying in the Fed at the moment is a risk so leaving the country seems to be my best, no safest option; but how? In theory it shouldn't be too hard, but in practice it will be far more difficult; thanks to the reduction in the means to travel beyond the Fed the darker green elements of the Consensus insisted upon. Their radical 'Predict and Restrict' air travel policy - pricing air fares way beyond the means of most people in an attempt to reduce the demand for aviation to balance the available capped capacity - certainly worked; not that it was that difficult to achieve given the collapse in aviation in the immediate wake of the Crises. Now flying is available only to those who really need and can afford it, while few people want to come here from abroad unless they are on business.

In fact the measures were so successful that the Fed now has a surplus of airport capacity, with some of the smaller regional airfields closing or being mothballed due to lack of demand. Still it wasn't all bad news; the quality of life for people living under the now quieter flightpaths was improved, and not building extra capacity, as well as the infrastructure links to it we once thought we couldn't do without saved plenty of scarce resources which were urgently needed elsewhere. The international environmental organisations even lauded the Consensus for its 'blue sky thinking'. I recall the Fed was even granted some extra international carbon credits to trade as a result.

So leaving by air is out; there's no chance of me getting a seat this close to the time I need to travel. These days you have to book weeks or longer in advance and then I'd have to provide a good justification for my journey. So with that option unavailable I'm left with the choice of the less frequent ferries or the Channel Tunnel.

As the Fed sank further into its insular destitution the Chunnel became more prominent as a way of entering or leaving the country. Hundreds of people still travel to mainland europe every day, and not all of them return. With my IMS or Zone accreditation I could catch a train to France or Belgium without arousing undue suspicion; the fare and TransCred paid out of a company account. I could be free within hours. Though it is possible, I doubt if I'd appear on a watch list just yet. It sounds like a plan; but what then, once I break the story? Maybe I could work for one of the international newscasters or get a job somewhere as a Federation studies analyst?

Whatever my poorly thought through plans they won't be advanced by my staying here in this office. I need to get a move on and leave while I still can.

 Suddenly it seems as if I may have left it too late; it's Gavin calling from the reception desk to warn several amoured vehicles have arrived outside the office; they look like NatPols. A scan of the exterior cameras confirms it. Do I want he and the Zone guards to stall them? No; thanks for the offer, but you'll only get yourself hurt for nothing: If the paramilitary NatPol want to barge in they'll do so; and won't care who's in the way or gets hurt while they're at it. I check the CCTV covering the rear entrance and the fire exits. Bugger! The pols dressed in their full combat gear are already there: All exits covered; no way out; we're trapped here. I thought this might happen, but so soon? Is this the Consensus' response to their defeat; to rip up the rule book, send the game board flying in a fit of pique, and call in their tame police?

What can I do? What do I need to do now? There's nothing on the official IMS system which should be incrimminating, not that it matters one way or the other: It'd be no problem for them to fit you up for whatever charge they wanted. My scroll and slate are protected so that anyone other than me - or I acting under duress - trying to access them will instantly blank them. The colleagues I'd need to warn are all here anyway, and I've got an automated massblurt set to alert my circle of friends ready to be launched in an instant, though if it's a large-scale round-up I don't know how much use it would be. It might at least give some of them a warning to grab a Ready Bag and enough of a head start to go to ground and stay hidden. If I have enough time I'll call Dad to let him know what is about to happen to me. We've prearranged plans just in case...

With a depressive downward lurch in my stomach I hear the sound of heavy booted footfalls approaching with unhurried confidence along the corridor. Shit! There may not even be enough time for that! Without even a knock the door opens abruptly. The NatPol officer is wearing body armour but his weapons are holstered, and he's taken his helmet off.

"Mr Richard Davies?"

"No point in denying it." I say, with my finger on the touchscreen, just a twitch away from an emergency wipe and blurting a warning.

"Mr Davies; I am sergeant Harman of the National Police Public Order division. By the powers vested in me by the Electoral Commission under the Election Act I am hearby placing these premises and the people within under the protection of my unit. Please continue about your normal business, but for your own safety I'd strongly advise you or any of your staff not to leave the building until the situation has been stabilised."

"What?"

"We have intellegence there are credible threats made against your organisation by elements disaffected by the result of the election. We're here to ensure your safety."

"Oh!"

"We'll do our best to keep out of your way, but we will need to stop and search anyone entering the building. And it would be for the best if no-one left the site without checking with us first"

It's hard to take it all in. I'm not going to get arrested for the moment, and the NatPol are even being polite to me! Things have changed!

"Mr Davies?"

"Uh, sorry; I've had a long night! Yes, I understand."

"We all have, but my shift should be finishing in a few hours. It won't be long before we've rounded up the Connie leadership. Once they're out of the way we can get back to some sort of normality."

"Do you really think it will be so easy? Do you think it's only a few of them? They've ingratiated themselves so far into society, you know; you'll have to do a hell of a lot of arresting to do to get them all!"

"That's not for me to say, sir. I'm just following my orders. I'll be down in reception if you need me." He turns and leaves; I have to resist bursting into tears of relief.

So the NatPol heavies are out in force, but whose orders will they obey? At the moment it's the newly-'elected' NRP but given an effective counter-coup in the next few hours the tables may be turned again. The blurred line between policed state and police state was crossed long ago; but at this moment the police literally are the state, with everything dependent on their loyalty. There's no point in hanging around here and making myself easily available for anyone who wants to lift me; I really must be going.

I call Lisa and tell her Bippin is spark out for a while. There's not much point in trying to wake him so she should carry on as best she can and let London cover as much as possible. If all else fails she should try him again later. She doesn't sound best pleased to hear it. That done I decide to open James' blurt, just in case it throws any light on the situation: Unfortunately it doesn't. As I was expecting it to be it's an invitation to come up to London and join the NRP Transition Team in their takeover of the new government. There's a hint my longer-term future lies in the reorganisation of the OMS. That's typically James for you; he always remembers his allies and never forgets his enemies. One thing I notice about it though, is that it must have been recorded before James' fall; there's no sign of any injury on his face. I could take as a compliment; him thinking of me so far in advance as part of his plans for a future government and feel flattered; but instead I sense it's more a case of allocating a junior, insignificant post to a potentially difficult character. An easy choice of little consequence; one to be filed and forgotten about.

Then I get a priority blurt. That gets my attention because I allow only a few people that status and one of them is Dad. But this isn't from him or anyone else I know. Instead this originates from a blanked address. It reads "Now you know the truth about the election. If you agree it should be publicised I can help make it so. Meet me as soon as possible at this place. Act quickly; the window of opportunity is short. Good luck." Then the message self-destructs, leaving just a stripped attachement behind.

Quickly I run a reverse scan but there's no record of the blurt stored on my scroll, terminal, or anywhere else on the IMS system. The only evidence the message wasn't a figmant of my imagination is the link to the meeting point. On opening it appears to be a Community Canteen in Vauxhall.

Now the fact I have discovered the secret is no longer a secret; an unknown other, or others know I know as well, and I have no idea of their motives in contacting me. I realise any hopes I might have had about sitting tight on the information have gone.

So what now? With control of the situation beginning to slip out of my grasp it seems there is only one thing I can do. I must travel to London while a renewed civil war appears to be breaking out in order to suss out whoever is able to infiltrate our supposedly secure systems with such ease. It's one hell of a leap into the unknown, and I've no idea how I will land.

 There are smiles beamed and congratulations backslapped to me as I make my way through the offices; along with a few knowing looks. There he goes, off to claim his reward... If only they knew what was really going through my mind; the fear and uncertainty, the moral dilemma I'm wrestling with even as I smile back at them. No doubt some of my colleagues are already eyeing my post when it becomes vacant as a result of my moving onward and upward.

I suppose I ought to appreciate all the warmly meant good wishes but instead I have an air of numbed detachment; as if this is the last time I'll see this place or these people. To be honest I don't think I'll miss any of them; I hope my feelings don't show, for they might raise suspicions. With any luck any preoccupation on my part will be mistaken for the effects of tiredness, or the haughty separation of the powerful from those they have power over already setting in. I should be back soon I tell them; we'll sort out any reorganisational issues out then. Who am I kidding? Neither myself or them but we all know the score; or at least they think they do.

In the reception the few NatPols and Zone security staff loitering there watching the election news on the large wall screen are hopefully thinking much the same thing. The NatPols are still politely deferential which is a good sign but their new commander, one I've not seen before, insists on calling his patrols in the nearby area just to be absolutely sure there's no risk before allowing me out.

I'm offered a ride in one of their armoured urban battle trucks the short distance to Portsmouth and Southsea station, which I decline as politely as possible. I say I'd prefer to walk, and I could really do with some reviving fresh air. Call it paranoia but once inside one of those dark grey brutish vehicles with its complement of uniformed thugs I'd have no control as to where it was driven, or what might happen next. Well-learned habits die hard; you don't get involved with the pols unless there is no alternative.

My new found authority appears to get him to relent, but he insists he and two of his officers escort me to the station; I agree to his suggestion. It's best not to push it too far yet for fear of arousing suspicion, but I have to ask.

"Isn't the city centre secure?"

"We're patrolling the area and a selective curfew is in force, but it's best we accompany you just to avoid any problems. We managed to nip what little local dificulties there were in the bud; and now we're in control we're not expecting any further trouble, but it's always best to be sure."

"Indeed!"

"We've been ordered to look after you, and that's what we'll do!"

"Very well then; let's go!"

At this time of the morning, even in the busy all hours Fed, the city centre is quiet. Given the situation I expected to hear some distant sounds of commotion or celebration, but there is nothing to disturb the calm underneath the milky streetlights. It makes my nervously vigilant minders in their robotesque equipment look even more incongruous. Wanting to break the awkward silence and pump them for as much information as possible, I ask the commander what has happened so far, feigning I've been too occupied in directing the technical aspects of the night's 'casting and trying to bypass the effects of some hostile frazzling to get a comprehensive view of the situation.

"The Consensus supporters were intent on causing trouble, but we managed to arrest most of them at the count at the Guildhall; a good thing we arrived when we did as a number of them were trying to break into the office where Mr Moore was taking shelter. It appears they'd decided on that course of action even before the Consensus national office ordered their supporters to physically disrupt the electoral process." His use of stilted police language and that particular tone of voice unique to the force irks me; attempting to beat someone up, especially a friend of mine, amounts to quite a bit more than 'physical disruption'. I wonder if Neil is a knowing party to the great fraud? I conclude he probably isn't. A secret of this magnitude would be restricted only to those who needed to know it.

"Their national leadership did that?"

"Yes sir, it was that action which prompted the Electoral Commission to order us to preserve the integrity of the process." If only he really knew what was really happening! I could tell him now of course; even show him the data. He'd probably be surprised, startled into action maybe, but I doubt if much would come of it, save for any investigation being closed and my arrest being ordered when word reached those in charge of this electoral coup. It would be best to find out more, get to a safe place, and then break the story as large as possible.

"So you were on standby, and didn't think you'd be this busy until this all blew up?"

"That's correct, sir." He might be telling the truth; I suspect the NatPol were anticipating making plenty of arrests this night, but weren't expecting they'd be detaining the Connies instead of the NRP. For them the only surprise was the difference in the detail of their orders; given a task to perform the pols are only too happy to unquestioningly get on with the job.

We reach the station. There are a few CityPols standing about instead of the Compies who habitually lurk here at this time of the morning, just waiting to pounce on any easy ticketing opportunity. The sight of my escort is enough for me to be waved through their loose cordon to the platform where I thank the pols for their assistance, wave my travel card near to a ticket machine which works for the moment, and then board an early train which draws in from the nearby terminus of Portsmouth Harbour; destination Waterloo. So far so good but I still feel vulnerable; I'm sure my safe arrival here and the details of the service I've caught will have been noted by the hovering police. Should anyone decide it were necessary it would be easy enough to make the arrangements to nab me while I'm confined on board this train. I'll be a lot happier when I'm able to disembark and create a bit of uncertainty regarding my whereabouts. With a smooth acceleration and whirring hum of electric motors the train moves off. My journey to my uncertain destiny is underway.

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