I swim slowly up from the depths of sleep back to consciousness. I can feel a thumping dehydration headache developing, and my legs don't feel as if they are quite my own. Too bad; I'll just have to tough it out and get myself going, for today is the day that we take the first steps to shaking ourselves free of the Connies. Feeling shivery and not fully connected to the world I clean myself up, but I can't quite scrub away the effects of last night. This is what drinking Fed piss does to you; it renders you unprepared for proper alcohol.
I pick up my scroll - thank God I remembered to drop it onto the wirefree recharging mat before I turned in - and find there's a priority blurt demanding my attention. A last minute change of plan has seen the planning caucus for the launch of the NRP moved from IMS' head office to the Column. The location makes little difference to me, but it's good to know a breakfast buffet will be provided. I don't think I could handle another Full English at the moment, but I know I'll get ravenous later; probably by the time I arrive there.
The fresh morning light does nothing to improve the appearance of the Column. It is still an eyesore, and fills me with a sense of uneasy foreboding. I sense a pent-up, potent evil latent in the very fabric of it. I'm really tempted to turn around, grab my things from the Perch and catch an early train back home; joining those braver than I who politely declined James' invitation to become involved and make my excuses. But it's too late now; I've made a commitment to his Project. If I just do my best to blend into the background I can probably get away with doing as little as I need to do to keep my career on track, and honour will be satisfied all round.
The conference is held on a different floor this time. The sprite guides me along several corridors to a large windowless room, then informs me I am in a screened, highly secure zone and though my scroll will be still be able to trickle charge from the electromagnetic field in the area, it won't be able to make calls, connect to the HyperFi or make recordings. I think this is paranoia gone mad, even if we are setting ourselves against the Connies; but if that is what James wants, or has been advised to do I'm not bothered.
He's already here, along with a handful of early risers. He looks disgustingly healthy considering the party the night before. I suspect he woke early and sweated out his excesses in a gym somewhere. What it must be to be so driven, and to have the energy to spare! There are still gyms in the Fed of course, but the days when people drove cars to them to exercise have long gone. Now you do your best to stay clear of them unless you are compelled to go to one in order to satisfy any conditionality related to your Annual Health Assessment, or work off part of a community punishment. Being healthy is to be aspired to; self-obsessed narcissism is yet another socially undesirable vice.
After a quick bite and a couple of good cups of strong coffee I'm beginning to feel human again. James opens the conference, then has to leave and finalise another deal somewhere. Instead Charles Bennett will preside over the meeting.
The morning is taken up by a seminar covering the framework of the new electoral rules and how the planned transition back to a revised form of the democracy we once knew is supposed to take place. Then we're given a talk by a well-known professor of politics at a leading university. He's sympathetic to our cause but here in a personal capacity and would prefer his involvement remains confidential if we please. He fears, probably with good reason, that were his support for us to become known his life may be made 'difficult'. The malign influence of the Consensus is making itself felt in academia as much as the rest of life.
He cites case studies from the past of similar organised transitions from states of emergency rule back to democracy, and explains in only about half of the cases was the process successful without either violence or a reversion back to the previous regime. This is followed by a session devoted to a summing-up of the history and likely future direction of the Consensus; as well as an outline of possible strategies which may be successful in defeating them.
After a break for lunch the proposed organisation of the NRP is sketched out, and there's an informal discussion as to who will play which roles in the running of the campaign. The conference decides to divide itself into two task forces: One will deal exclusively with the setting-up and organisation of the party, while the other will concentrate on electioneering and propaganda. I manage to get myself assigned to the second group.
By mid-afternoon we've achieved all that we're going to today, and everyone is anxious to go home; as am I. We're thanked for our contributions, told that we will be contacted as and when required, and warned above all else to maintain absolute secrecy. Then we are free to leave. Pausing only to collect my bag and check-out of the Perch, I ask the sprite to organise my way out of the Zone.
It being a Sunday the tube I planned to use is unavailable due to the CanaryWharf station being closed for preplanned maintenance, so instead of reversing my route here I have to take the replacement bus.
Looking out of the window the contrast between the Zone and the Fed is marked. Where in the Zone the streets were swept by people with motorised street sweepers or by robots, in the Fed the credders do the same job with brooms and long-handled dust pans. Those ineffectual petrol powered leaf blowers are never seen on the streets now; I think they may even have been banned.
This may be partly due to the shortage of fuel, and concerns about what there is being used inefficiently; but also there is the theological Council opposition against any form of laxity, with them regarding it as morally uplifting to labour by hand. Some of the wilder elements even object to the 'unnecessary' use of power tools, but then they aren't the ones who have to use their hands all day long.
Apparently, during the Fuel Crunch serious consideration was given to the idea of reverting to human powered farming; with teams of people undergoing Rehabilitation pulling ploughs and harvesting by hand, but even the Connies had to give that idea up as impractical. Nevertheless a grudging acceptance of the advantages in productivity conferred by mechanisation doesn't stop them wistfully hankering for a return to a romantic age, and a rediscovery of the dignity of human labour; providing someone else does it.
Until you see something different to compare it with you don't realise how stark, grey and bare the Fed has become; it's as if you are viewing the world through a darkening filter. I also notice how so much of the public space has become dominated by Consensus propaganda, be it the large filmscreens advertising the latest anti-ComCred fraud drive and the various ways which the upright citizen can report their suspicions; or the inevitable health promotion messages. If not those, the slogan of the month is repeated ad nauseam. COMMUNITY CREDIT: FOR EVERYONE being the latest. But most of all I'm made aware by it's reappearance after its absence in the Zone of the ubiquity of the Consensus' symbol.
It reminds me of the old trademark of a 1980s Japanese computer game and hardware company - Atari I seem to remember - that I saw when I once filed a report about the opening of the Museum of Electronic Technology. Of course the Connies would claim their logo symbolises the many different groups of society coming together for the common good, but I can't shake that black image against a white background out of my head. Whatever the inspiration for the design was, it seems to crop up everywhere.
We've become used to it to the point where it has become a subconscious fixture of our everyday lives. It reinforces one of the points made by our professor today about how we're really in an unprecedented situation: Never has an organisation such as the Consensus relinquished its hold on power without a struggle. They are so deeply institutionally entrenched now it'll be one hell of a job to dislodge them.
The bus arrives at Waterloo. For a change the train back to Pompey actually runs to its scheduled timetable without any problems, though my attempt to have a nap is disturbed three times by the same ticket inspector who despite having checked my ticket before insists on scanning it again. There are times when I wish James' NRP wasn't an exercise in futility; that there really was some hope of it winning and freeing us from this sort of officiousness. But even in the remote event of an election victory it's one thing to win power; but erasing a decade of these sort of ingrained social attitudes will be far harder.
I get off at Petersfield, and take a bus back to the 'Ville. Tomorrow will be a well-earned day off to recover from this weekend.