The Crises - Part Five. Already there had been nervous undercurrents stirring. Something wasn't right; things can't have been going as well as we'd been led to believe for Our Boys fighting for the right of our fellow Britons to remain in the Union. It all should've been dealt with by now: There must be something going on that weren't being told about... Then the brilliant flash which was visible from across much of the Fenlands starkly illuminated the whole shaky edifice of propaganda and outright lies for what they really were, and the last few flimsy ties binding the government of the United Kingdom and its people together finally snapped.
There was no way this event could be denied; or those in power escape from the accusation they had deliberately misled the people about the gravity of the situation. And no way to disguise the fact the state had proved utterly incompetent in its most fundamental duty of defending the people it was supposed to serve. As its last shreds of legitimacy were stripped away by the distant thunder of the blast wave the government of the United Kingdom descended into panic.
Despite the attempts to jam its transmissions and destroy its facilities, Rèidio Alba triumphantly announced the explosion of one of the many nuclear weapons it claimed it had access to. It warned unless Westminster announced a ceasefire within two hours and a total withdrawal of all armed forces from Alban territory within a day, further strikes would be launched, and this time cities would be targeted. The inhabitants of Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff, and London were warned to evacuate while they still had time.
Those who learned of the threat took it to heart, dropped everything, and fled for their lives. The government tried to forestall the chaos that a mass panic was bound to provoke, but they hadn't a hope of stopping hundreds of thousands of people from stampeding away from the potential target zones by any means. Unprecedented and unpublicised, the internet and mobile networks were shut down in a vain attempt to prevent news of the Alban ultimatum from becoming more widely publicised. Those not in the know thought their connection problems were just a result of local over demand, rather than a deliberate policy decision. The Raidió Teilifís Éireann long wave service, which had boosted its signal to broadcast accurate and impartial reports of the war to the many Irish nationals living in the UK, was jammed with a roar of static. They tried changing frequencies but the jamming followed them. All public transport services leaving the threatened cities were shut down, and major road junctions were blocked by the army with light tanks.
Still the mass flight spread and intensified. Cars and buses were hijacked; even trains, but they didn't get any further than the next signal set against them before the passengers used the emergency override on the doors and disembarked whether they were at a station or a busy junction. Risking electrocution or being hit by another train out in the countryside was better than being near Ground Zero if the Bomb fell.
The army was ordered to maintain the cordons hurriedly thrown up around the major cities. Control of the population had to be maintained whatever the cost. The troops opened fire on the crowds of would-be escapees; first over their heads, and then directly at them. Scores of people were killed but there were many more who avoided getting shot and kept on coming. The soldiers soon ran out of ammunition, yet the desperate people kept pushing toward them; an unstoppable surge of fear. In the end the forces resorted to clubbing or bayoneting the panicked crush with their empty weapons but were eventually overwhelmed by the sheer weight of numbers and according to some reports torn limb from limb by the enraged mob.
Some of those fleeing for their lives fell victim to a new breed of instant highwayman, while others - proving there were two sides to human nature - give lifts, aid, and shelter to the new refugees. A few local authorities acting in ignorance or open defiance of the central government 'stay put' directives set up Rest Centres for the displaced. The leisure centres or budget hotels situated in the run down retail parks of towns far from the Alban target list soon became overcrowded and their supplies ran out.
Other evacuees, seeing the squalid conditions developing in the reception centres and not trusting their lightweight construction to absorb fallout radiation, left and kept going as far away as possible, seeking their safety in distance. With them spread the news and the contagion of anxiety. Depart quickly; travel far; tarry long had been the admonition which had saved many lives during the mediaeval Black Death. The advice was just as relevant when facing a 21st century nuclear threat.
The official news outlets continued to repeat there was no reason to believe the Alban threat to be genuine; it was by no means certain the explosion was nuclear in nature, and panicking wouldn't do any good in any case. Faced with such obvious lies wild rumours again took the place of facts. For a few minutes the BBC showed two of the series of decades-old Protect and Survive films explaining how to select a safer Fall-Out Room in your home; and take shelter within it if warned of a nuclear attack. They were only shown the once. The further episodes dealing with how to construct, provision, and live in an Inner Refuge didn't follow. Whoever had taken the initiative to broadcast the advice had either been suspended or thought it was the best they could do under the circumstances. There was no time in which to do; and no point in doing anything more.
Whether they had planned it this way or if it was fortuitous that their plans worked far better than they expected, the Alban scare tactics proved remarkably effective. Having demonstrated one bomb the threat of an attack with more weapons they must be certain to have was enough to terrorise the entire nation into a paralysis of disruption. No longer the nation which had once stoically endured the Blitz; there was very little in the way of Keeping Calm And Carrying On.
In London the sight of a swarm of helicopters over Westminster, swooping down for a moment to pick up their Very Important Passengers, then climbing away at high speed to the north-west prompted another rush to the suburbs. Those wealthy Londoners who'd bought well-provisioned houses in the country just in case this sort of thing ever happened began to wonder if they shouldn't have left the city far sooner. They and many others stormed the underground network in the hope of finding shelter. Such was the crush of people the network was forced to close; already there were reports of deaths and serious injuries emanating from the tunnels.
London was; and remains, one of the most intensely surveilled places on earth. Most Londoners had become used to hearing spy microdrones buzzing above their heads, so the slightly different engine note of what they thought to be just another aroused little notice until it flew to Hyde Park and exploded, killing five people. When the bomb squad arrived at the scene they examined the wreckage and discovered a number of titanium plates engraved with messages designed to survive the blast. They explained the autonomous drone had been launched from Alba, and guided itself all the way to the capital. Even if the UK air defences were able to intercept a medium range missile, they couldn't detect - let alone shoot down - a stealthy dirty drone.
The Albans had shown they could attack any target of their choosing, and there was no way of stopping them. It appeared they held the whip hand; if the ship which had fired the original missile were to be destroyed there were other ways with which the Albans could continue the war with drone delivered chemical weapons. In any case, with the Scottish people being used as unwilling human shields there was no hope of being able to target the secessionists without inflicting horrendous non-combatant casualties. For all of its armed forces the Westminster government had been rendered impotent with a single well-planned strike.
London and the other major English cities were now defenceless hostages, while the political class who had the means to do so were abandoning the people to their fate; ratting out to real or imagined safety elsewhere. Though most communications were suspended there were still enough satellite phones and secure internet connections to foreign embassies for some news to get out. And the word was some great changes were in the offing. Suddenly all the mobile networks and internet connections were restored, but with one telling difference: An emergency messaging programme, designed for eventualities such as this, had been activated.
Every UK based mobile device, social media account, and email address received a priority message announcing a UN brokered ceasefire was in operation, and His Majesty would make a broadcast of national importance at six pm this evening.
The nation came to an apprehensive halt. The battling factions tearing at each other in the inner cities, the footsore refugees heading for hoped for rural safety, and the wider world waited expectantly; wondering what the King would announce.
There were no advance leaks of the contents of His speech: Only He, personally drafting his statement, knew from moment to moment exactly what He was going to say, and He was constantly rewriting His address in response to the changing situation even as the time for transmission approached. When He finally spoke to the nation what He announced was completely unexpected.