When I have a day off I mean a day off! I spent the day doing some easy clearing up in the commonhold's allotment, then stood a guard shift in our comfortably converted shed just to make sure none of the local garden grubber scrotes have away our artichokes. I kept my scroll switched off and didn't watch the news at all; it's better for your mental health not to these days. I certainly felt my mind was improved by avoiding a day's pollution by the media. I needed this free time to recover from the weekend.
It's a good thing my Annual Health Assessment isn't due as I would be certain to 'fail' the blood tests after that weekend of indulgence. It'd be a near-certainty my insurance group would be raised to a higher contribution level and I'd be given some stern lifestyle adjustment instructions. But the day has to end, and on Tuesday I'm back in the groove again. I find a lot has changed in my absence.
It appears James has been very persuasive in selling his NRP to the Zoners. Overnight a deal has been struck between Aurora New Dawn Industries and the various collective funds who owned IMS. Mr Yu made them a generous offer they couldn't refuse, and as a result IMS is now jointly owned by an ANDI subsidiary, Charles Bennett, and James Purvis. It explains the deal James was finalising, and what Ellison was trying to tell me between bouts of retching on Saturday night about it all changing. The poor sod was trying to drown his insecurity in alcohol. Well it turns out he'd nothing to worry about; IMS continues as it is.
A restricted list blurt from James explains the reasoning behind the deal was to forestall any attempts by any Connie elements there might have been on our now previous board to stop IMS backing the NRP. The Connie media are bound to object to this latest development, but they can't say too much against a new major investor into the Fed. The OMS aren't happy either, but there's nothing they can do about a Zone deal. No doubt they'll continue to do their best to make our life awkward, and we'll have to come up with a counter to the inevitable charge we're just a corporate mouthpiece. Well talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
These could be interesting times to come. It appears the relationship between the Consensus and the LEZ; never that harmonious in any case, has broken down to the point where the LEZzers have decided to get seriously involved in Fed politics. I don't think the Connies were expecting that sort of intervention! Still, they can count on their deep-rooted support, and the undecided voters' fear of the unknown. In any case the Consensus Party's expected victory will be rendered more legitimate by a properly contested election.
Meanwhile in other news I, and the rest of the NRP Policy Steering Group have been summoned back to the Column this Thursday: The preparations appear to be gathering pace.
On my way back from the Zone I'm at a loss to make sense of the day I've just had. I thought it was just going to be a round table kickabout of campaign strategies, but once I was back inside the Column's secure area I realised things had become far more serious.
It began with the downloading of a new, and apparently cutting edge encryption wurdle to our scrolls. The MaggieSist has been updated to use it as well so our terminals should be just as secure.
From what I understand of it, this constantly generates a random background of uniquely encoded blurts into which parts of our messages are inserted. Any hypercomputer surveillance system has to decode all of the content before it can even hope to separate the blurts into discreet items; then it must defeat a very slippery encryption algorithm before it can piece together and read the content of an individual message. This supposedly overloads the eavesdropping system with more work than it can handle. We were told that while it is theoretically possible to read a blurt, the chances of it happening are infinitesimal. Nevertheless, we shouldn't rely completely on it. Some things are only to be spoken of in person in this room.
I was amused by the thought of those deep bunkers full of hypercomputers in Utah, Düsseldorf, or Cheltenham overheating under the strain; but we were informed in no uncertain terms this technology is on the very edge of legality, so it's really not a good idea to boast about it or be caught using it. It being covert it is designed not to show on system logs but this kind of thing is always a leap-frog race. At the moment the lead has shifted to us, but at some point, and no-one knows when; we may find ourselves on the back foot once more.
Then we were instructed as to the security protocols we must use when communicating with each other. If that wasn't startling enough, the briefing on personal security that followed soon made us realise were no longer involved in a polite contest; this is now a deadly serious affair.
We didn't get involved in any real hand-to-hand fighting but our instructor - a man who radiated the understated self-assurance and quiet authority of someone who had spent his career doing this, and untold more for real - gave us some eye-opening theory lessons about situational awareness, counter surveillance, and threat identification, along with a few easily remembered basic self-defence strategies.
If it ever comes to the point where we are under direct physical attack from the organised Connies the game is lost, but it's still useful to know how to deal with a lower level goon trying to throw their weight about.
Then, after lunch, we were armed.
They are known as non-lethal weapons but as our anonymous teacher explained, in the wrong hands they could cause a great deal of harm, and not just to the intended victim. Micro sprays of tear gas and electric stun pens have been around for decades, though they are illegal to own or carry. But what really caught our attention was being shown how to use a pen torch sized Blinder.
These are a new development though the principle behind them is an old one. A capacitor delivers an intense pulse of energy to one of the new generation of light emitter chips, with the result anyone looking at the wrong end of it suffers an extremely painful and temporary blindness. Extremely painful as defined as having a red-hot poker thrust through your eye socket and into your brain, and temporary as not being able to see much for several hours, and "severe loss of visual acuity" for a number of days.
There are anecdotal reports of longer term and even permanent eye damage in cases of people exposed to Blinder flashes. Needless to say we are instructed only to use them in situations where we believe ourselves to be in imminent danger, as they are to the old laser pens what a flintlock pistol is to a modern assault rifle. A point further reinforced when we watched a vid of them being used on a live subject. This film was used in the latter mopping up leading to a ceasefire stage of the Korean War to frighten the few North Korean officers who were captured alive into talking.
It opens with a shot of a bare room and what looks like a DPRK prisoner of war strapped into a stout metal execution style frame chair with his head clamped into immobility. Another man wearing a white medical coat and dropdown welder's visor walks into the bare room. Then without any preamble he pulls down his eye protection, points a Blinder at the captive's eyes and triggers it.
The flash knocks out the fixed camera for a few seconds but the sound continues to record perfectly. I don't think I will ever forget that animal shrieking of pain; nor the fact despite the chair being fixed to the floor the prisoner's pain-frenzied thrashing nearly tore it free.
The unfortunate victim tears his arm out of one of the leather restraints, leaving much of his skin behind. After a minute of inhuman screaming, and teeth grinding to the point of breaking some of his molars as well as biting off a part of his own tongue, our instructor stops the sequence, although it's too late for one of the female members of our group who is unashamedly vomiting into one of the bags we were thoughtfully provided with just in case.
We're told the test subject continued in that manner for another ten minutes before exhaustion claimed him. Apparently it's not just the intensity of the flash which is effective, it's also the way the pulses of light encoded within it interact with and overload the optic nerve which causes the pain and disorientation.
Think of it as an optical bastinado; the pain isn't too bad to start with but the cumulative effects of the stimulation make all the difference; within a few milliseconds in most cases. So remember: Only use it if you absolutely need to; keep your eyes tightly closed and turn your face away from the target, shield your eyes with your free hand if you are able to; and don't forget you have no more than a few seconds of use if you need to sweep a group or room.
Being caught with one of those during a routine stop and search would lead to a long trip to East Anglia, but there's a way to sidestep the law. Though we've not done the training required for the post we're marched through a confusing route of corridors to another set of rooms where we are enrolled as Zone Messengers. Even in these digital days there are still paper documents and contracts which are too sensitive to be sent online, or extremely valuable consignments which can't be trusted to normal couriers. The Zone has created their own corps for these special deliveries.
I'm relieved to find the uniform doesn't date from the 18th century as with the Facilitators but is an unobtrusive variation of the standard business suit, though still styled to be recognisable at close range. We're issued with permanent Zone accreditation which grants us a wide range of immunities, though it doesn't entitle us to live there; as well as the standard secure briefcase containing everything a Messenger would ever be likely to need. Also included are the discreet messenger lapel pin, and rolls of the special tape and seals which will render any package as Zoned and so immune from search or seizure by Fed law enforcement personnel, except under specific and very limited circumstances.
That protection extends to the messenger and also the messenger's home address: I'm issued with a plaque to mount on my front door declaring my tiny flat to be under LEZ jurisdiction. After another briefing explaining the rights and obligations of our new status, as well as what we should do if we run into trouble, we're each given a food parcel of little luxuries from James - to be kept in our secure bags - and allowed to leave.
Looking out of the train window as I leave London, the light of the setting sun falling on the ever dominating Column lends it a baleful aspect. I'm beginning to wonder what exactly it is I've allowed myself to be drawn into. This is no longer an amateur dabbling in politics by a minor, but rising player in the media world: Now James has managed to recruit some powerful allies to his cause; people who can pull strings and get things done by the recent evidence I've seen. They're not the sort who waste their time and money sponsoring or tolerating failures.
Ranged against them are the Consensus, as keen to hold on to what they have as those backing the NRP are to sweep them out of power. It's going to be a bitterly fought struggle, with no quarter asked for or given. Despite my position in the campaign and the privileges I have as a result I'm still a lowly rank; one of those in the front likely to be an early casualty when these two implacable forces clash.
That thought of the coming battle prompts a bout of stomach-gnawing anxiety. But it's not just the thought of the election which is making me uneasy; it's worrying about the effect just the thought of power is having on James.
Twice recently I've spotted something - I can't quite put a word to it - flashing in his eyes. Once during his speech last Saturday and later on the Column's viewing gallery. The second time it was longer lasting; I noticed it as he was looking over the cityscape below and saw a ravenous, predatory, almost repillian anticipation in his gaze. I might be imagining it, or seeing more than there actually is, but I feel something has changed within him. Power is an addictive drug; just look how it has affected the Connies these past few years! I fear James is becoming hooked on it as well, and who knows what effect it may have on him; how it will change who he is, or the way he acts. My train of thought is interrupted by the guard asking to check my ticket. It's the same jumped-up little squirt as last Sunday evening; only this time as he notices my Zone suit he seems taken aback by my change in status and is far more deferential.
I suspect he's well aware of the rules; he's entitled to check my ticket card once, but more than once would constitute Harassment of a Messenger in the Performance of their Duty, and would be grounds for filing a complaint against him. The sort of complaint which would get him a retraining course at best, and a Reassignment at worst.
I don't think he wants to be wearing the luridly yellow and purple uniform of an NRA draftee at the beginning of the autumn/winter alert season so I expect I'll be left alone for the rest of my journey. Equally so could I wave away the attention of any nosey Transport Police who might want to try their luck with a random search to see what they could confiscate for themselves. My accreditation gives me that power, but it's a power I hope I don't have to use. I might get too arrogant, and let it go to my head. It's such an easy thing to allow to happen...
Which reminds me about James, ANDI, the NRP, and the Zone. My journalistic instincts are telling me I should conduct some discreet dark research on them all. It's not the sort of thing it is wise to do on a company scroll on a public HyperFi network at this particular moment, but I'll get around to it. Given the recent turn of events it would be wise to find out a bit more about who I've got myself involved with.
Another day, another PushCred. But this time it's one we can live with. Mid-October marks the start of the Winter Preparedness Campaign. Ever since we as a nation were caught out by the Hard Winter, the first of many; the NRA have organised an annual awareness campaign.
I'm laying out my winter clothes and making sure any mending they may need is done now, rather than later. Sew and Sew have got in on the act by offering pre-season special offers on replacements for worn zips or fastenings; and why not ask about our special deals on additional insulation added at the same time? Just visit your local branch.
We didn't get this kind of prolonged cold before; but it's something we've had to adapt to. No-one these days dreams of Christmas card scenes of snow. Instead we dread the coming of winter as a time of discomfort, disruption, and extra expense.
We all know by now how to dress for the weather, but that doesn't stop the piercing arctic winds from knifing through your often inadequate clothes, or the penetrating cold from seeping into buildings which were designed with a different climate in mind. As for preparedness, it all boils down to grabbing your Ready Bag, and going to your nearest (Connie run) Warm Centre if the temperatures fall dangerously low.
Beyond that there is little else you can do. Stockpiling food, if you could afford to do so or find any spare supplies, is frowned upon as being too selfishly individualistic. And 'hoarding' is an offence in any case. Instead the good citizen should join with their fellows in a spirit of community resilience, trusting their local Connie organisation and the NRA to come to their aid in time of need.
That sounds fine in theory, but the institutionalised incompetence pervading the Fed also extends to its civil preparedness organisations. They've let us down in the recent past, and despite all the reassuring noises about Lessons Being Learned I suspect it will happen again this winter if it turns out to be as severe. Time will tell.
Things certainly are moving now IMS has got some heavyweight backing. At long last I've been able to schedule the company tuk in for a proper servicing - almost a remanufacturing - and a new battery pod should finally be available.
That's not the only thing which is getting improved. Our Anchorage Park resilient node is getting a comprehensive upgrading: Today I have to be there to supervise and sign for the delivery of some special supplies.
True to their word the LEZ liveried van arrives on time, and we receive numerous crates full of what we'd need to keep us 'casting in the teeth of adversity; though I'm not sure how realistic a plan it would be in the event of the Fed nodes being Section 40'd and given how unreliable satellite links can be post-Korea, but at least trying is better than conceding defeat without even fighting.
There are the standard, unsecured boxes full of spare parts, memory storage and batteries; cartons with tamperproof seals containing tinned food and bottled water; and the ones that concern me the most, the alarmed crates which will transmit a satblurt to the Zone when they are opened.
I don't know what is in them, I don't want to know what is in them, but from the dimensions of the shrink-wrapped heavy-duty plastic I've a good idea. They could be just the right size to hold an AK12 assault rifle and its ammunition, as well as some stun grenades. I'm not going near them; won't even touch them, and instruct the delivery people to stack them out of sight and out of the way in the inner vault. They can even cover them with a plastic sheet. I don't want my DNA to be found on them.
As far as I'm concerned they are just items I signed for; I had no knowledge of the contents inside. I doubt if that defence would hold any water, and if things ever reached that point then we've probably had it anyway, and the building's Zoned status won't matter. But I can still grasp at straws.
There are times when I wonder if we aren't getting just a bit too paranoid. Yes the Connies aren't the sort of people you'd invite to dinner, and they may have a few occasionally thuggish elements within their ranks, but I don't think even they in their desperation would go to the extremes that our new reinforced armoured doors or rolls of monofilament amourtextile glued to the inside of the breeze block walls - proof against most small arms and RPG fire - would imply.
To be utterly cynical I doubt they would have allowed the Reset to take place if they weren't absolutely confident they would win the election with a comfortable margin. But all of this still really disconcerts me. I hope this is just a case of over preparing for events that will never happen, rather than any naiveté on my part leading me to underestimate a potential threat. Are the Zoners expecting trouble to come? If so, what do they know that we don't?
I sign to accept everything via a live link pad, and the Zone van departs. Making very sure that the node's doors are securely locked - both physically and digitally - and the alarms are set, I have to kick start the reluctant hire tuk to get me away from here as quickly as possible.