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Resonance: Chapter Twenty One

       Last updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2005 17:45 EDT



    Graham looked out the window on his left, hanging back so that he couldn’t be seen from the street. The buildings opposite looked undamaged - no pockmarked facade, no broken panes. Had the street at the back of the building somehow escaped? He leaned a little closer. The parked cars looked undamaged too. And there was no debris on the street. Everything looked normal.

    Except there were no people and no traffic.

    And it was the middle of the morning rush hour.

    Where was everybody? Had there been a riot? Was there some kind of curfew in place and he’d been mistaken for a looter?

    And what kind of weapon had that been? 

    He noticed a newspaper in a waste bin by the desk and retrieved it. It was dated, Tuesday, June 20, 2000. Yesterday.

    He glanced at the headline. Monopolies row spills over into Trade Talks.

    He read further.

    The proposed break up of ParaDim and Sylvestrus Industries took another turn yesterday when Adam Sylvestrus, CEO of ParaDim, confirmed that plans to relocate all their operations to ‘friendly’ countries were in an advanced stage.

      “ParaDim and Sylvestrus Industries will not be broken up,” he asserted. “We will move all our operations to countries that still believe in a free market economy.”

    Only North America, Europe and Australasia still back the anti-trust legislation that, if ratified, will break ParaDim into thirty separate companies and Sylvestrus Industries - the manufacturing arm of ParaDim - into five.

    The most controversial aspect of the proposed break up is the placement of ParaDim Defense under American military control. A Pentagon spokesman reiterated yesterday that the catastrophic weapons proliferation of the past two years had to be brought to an end.”

    Mr. Sylvestrus, addressing a meeting of the Latin American and Asian trade delegations in London last night, declared the anti-trust legislation to be politically motivated. “The Pentagon has wanted to get their hands on ParaDim from its inception. Not to share information as we have, but to keep the information for themselves.”

    Trade delegates had earlier been told that America would use sanctions against any country that worked to undermine the anti-trust legislation. “ParaDim has to be broken up. It’s too big and too powerful. Power has to reside with the people and their elected governments, not big business.”

    The London trade talks were further hit by threats from the Japanese and ASEAN delegations to walk out. “The new tariffs are biased against New Technology products and particularly ParaDim generated New Technology.”

    The one piece of good news for the trade talks came late last night. After protracted talks with the police, Anti-Globalisation protestors have agreed to move this afternoon’s rally from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park. Organisers expect thirty thousand people to attend. Police are confident they can now keep protestors away from the trade talks. 



    Graham looked up. Hyde Park was just to the north, less than half a mile away. Had yesterday afternoon’s rally turned into a riot?

    He walked over to the windows along the northern wall. Smoke rose between gaps in the buildings, the horizon dotted by fire and columns of thick black smoke. The building opposite was pitted with damage, there was a car slewed in the middle of the street.

    And yet some buildings were untouched. In fact, looking to the left, the whole street seemed untouched. It was like throwing open a window after a tornado had passed. Some buildings, some streets, were unaffected. Others were wrecked. Destruction at its most random.

    Lights suddenly flickered on. The whole room awash with light. Graham turned towards the door. Had someone flicked a switch?

    No one was there.

    Screens flashed into life, computers hummed, printers clicked. The power had come back on. Had it been turned on at the mains? Was someone downstairs?

    And was that a voice? He could hear someone talking nearby. He dropped down behind a desk. Was it the police? Looters? The owners of the building?

    Music played. A snatch of a song, more voices. A television?

    He moved towards the door, listening intently. No sound of footsteps on the stairs. Everything quiet except for that one voice, calm and matter of fact - a woman.

    “…thirty-six people dead and another eighty-seven critically injured. Eleven policemen lost their lives. Two looters shot dead.”

    Graham followed the voice along the corridor, listening to the tale of destruction, the individual acts of heroism, the unthinking acts of violence, the statistics.

    Another voice took over by the time he reached the room and looked inside. A television was hanging on the wall like a picture. A terrifying picture of London at night - ablaze with fear and hatred.

    The picture flashed back to Hyde Park the previous afternoon.

    “Fifty thousand people had attended the largely peaceful rally. It was only when the crowd were asked to disperse that a heavily armed splinter group opened fire.”

    Graham watched. The firing was indiscriminate. Arcs of flame poured down on the lines of police. Explosions, that eerie whining sound, screams, panic, people running, people falling. People lying very still.

    Graham looked away.

    “Police are advising everyone not to travel. Bands of heavily armed rioters are still at large in many parts of West and Central London. Residents are advised to stay at home and keep away from windows.”

    Graham closed the door and tried to shut out the sounds of terror and dissent. Muffled screams and sirens followed him down the corridor as he walked blindly away. What should he do? Wait in the building like the police advised or leave while it was still quiet?

    He paused by the stairs and listened. What if that policeman came back - the one with the gun? He was in a strange building without the owner’s permission. He’d smashed a door to get inside. Did that make him a looter? Could he be shot on suspicion?

    He hurried over to the lobby windows and glanced outside. It looked quiet enough. He peered up and down the street. Still no sign of movement. He held his breath and listened. Maybe a dull murmur in the distance, that was all. Surely he’d hear a rioting mob if they were close?

    And Westminster street was only a mile away. He could be there in fifteen minutes, less if he ran.

    There was a crash followed by an explosion. Not loud but not far away either. He pressed his face against the glass and peered to the left as far as he could. There was movement - difficult to make out - windows shimmering from upper floors at the northern end of the street. Nothing distinct, reflections maybe, ripples of changing light and dark.

    And noise.

    He heard it that time. People shouting. People coming this way.

    He ran down the stairs, crunched over the glass at the bottom and threw himself flat against the northern wall of the covered doorway. The sounds were louder, distinct voices amongst the background roar, shrieks amidst the sound of smashing glass.

    He inched along the wall and peered around the corner. They were about two hundred yards away. A mob, spilling across the street, into and out of buildings. Debris rained down as large objects - monitors, chairs, cabinets - were dropped from upper storey windows. Cars bounced up and down in the street, people climbing all over them, jumping, shrieking, yelling.

    And that strange whining sound, a group of hooded youths at the back, firing volleys into top floor windows. Explosion after explosion. And then the flames. A building on the far corner caught alight. 

    He had to get away.

    He slipped out of the doorway and walked briskly along the pavement, keeping close up against the buildings, his right shoulder brushing along the stone and brick. He followed the contours of the street, pushing into every recess and doorway, counting his way to safety with every step and praying that whoever was behind him was too caught up in their own amusement to notice one stray pedestrian.

    Eighteen, nineteen. A railing pushed him away from the building. The wall eight feet away, he felt exposed. Twenty-one, twenty-two. A large explosion. Another. A huge cheer. Twenty-five, twenty-six. Broken glass everywhere, he picked a path through the debris, trying to make as little noise as possible. Thirty-three, thirty-four. A smooth white stone wall brushed against his shoulder. Almost there.

    He broke into a run for the last few strides and threw himself around the corner. Nothing else moved. Even the clouds seemed frozen in the sky, there wasn’t a breath of wind.

    He flattened himself against the wall of the building. Where to next? He needed to go east but that would mean crossing the road in full view of the mob. Should he go west for a block and then work his way south and east?  

    He looked to the west. The Cavendish Clinic was less than a hundred yards away. What would happen if he went back through the revolving doors? Would he step back into a world of medicals and bogus mothers? Or had that thread unravelled away for good, unloosed from reality to float forever in some twilight realm?

    An explosion brought his head spinning back around. That sounded very close. A cheer, a chant, a series of crashes.

    He ran away from the noise, heading west then crossing over to the south. He reached a side street, turned south, everything so still, no people, no signs of life. He kept going, turning east at the bottom. He passed a row of shops - boards hastily nailed to where the windows used to be. A dog barked. Four security men stared out from behind the glass wall of an office foyer. All of them armed. He’d never seen armed security men before. He’d never even seen armed police before.

    He hurried past. He could feel their eyes upon him. One wrong move and he was sure they’d open fire.

    A noise up ahead. A car, several cars. Graham froze. A convoy of white police vans raced past him - no sirens, no flashing lights. Van after van went by, the occupants all looking at him, grim determination written on every face.

    He kept going, heading east and south and east again. Gunfire crackled in the distance, punctuated by explosions and screams.

    He entered a residential area - expensive houses, white columns, black railings. And cameras. Cameras everywhere - on top of the porches, halfway up the lamp-posts. All of them swivelling to track his progress.

    And all of them had a tiny red light that pulsed just as he was about to pass by. Three short flashes then nothing. He was fascinated, fascinated by the regularity. He watched the cameras turn as he approached and then - one, two, three - he…

    stopped. He’d noticed another flash of red light. Not from a camera. He’d caught the rapid flash of light out of the corner of his eye.

    It had come from him.

    He took a step back. The camera on the lamp-post swung back with him. He stepped forward. Three flashes from the camera. And two flashes from his left wrist.

    He stared at his watch. It looked like an ordinary watch. It looked very much like his ordinary watch. But it wasn’t. He could see the manufacturer’s name on the dial.


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