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Resonance: Chapter Twenty Two

       Last updated: Tuesday, October 25, 2005 20:23 EDT



    His first thought was to take the watch off and fling it into the nearest bin. And then he remembered the cameras. He’d do it later, when he was alone and unobserved.

    He hurried along the street, wondering what information was passing between his watch and the cameras on the street. Was he being tracked or was it something more sinister?

    Movement at the far end of the street caught his eye. Something small and fast was flying along the centre of the road at roof height. It looked - Graham rubbed his eyes in disbelief - like a tiny UFO.

    It stopped and hovered noiselessly some fifty feet above Graham’s head. A grey disc stationary against a blue sky. It swooped down and slowly circled him. It was almost within reach. Graham turned with it, swivelling on the spot. It looked like a large metal discus - one foot in diameter with a black band around its rim.

    And a red light that flashed three times.

    Graham looked at his watch. It flashed twice.

    The disc rose and accelerated in one smooth movement, levelling off at roof height before continuing its journey along the street. Graham watched as it swung north at the next intersection and disappeared.

    What had happened to this world? It was as though he’d stepped out of the clinic into a future world. A world where discs flew silently through the air. And strange weapons whined and exploded. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Was this the resonance wave that Kevin Alexander was so worried about? A wave so powerful that it made the biggest unravelling seem nothing more than the weakest aftershock?

    He had to get to Westminster Street quick. He was sure to have something written down on his notice board or hidden away in his desk. Some explanation as to what the hell was going on.

    He started to run. Expensive homes, squares, offices, hotels and shops - all came and went. All looked deserted. Occasional signs of damage - abandoned cars, smashed windows, smoking holes where houses used to be. Occasional glimpses of a face at a window, or the sound of child crying or a dog barking behind a locked door. And over everything hung the distant sound of destruction and hate.

    Where was everybody? Were they really all hiding inside their homes? Or had most been evacuated. And if so, where to? The desolation stretched for miles. It was like running through a ghost town.

    There was a sudden squeal of tyres and a car turned the corner up ahead. It was going so fast it mounted the pavement in front of Graham before swinging back onto the road and zigzagging away at breakneck speed.

    A red disc flew around the corner and set off in pursuit. Graham watched it flash past, ten feet off the ground, a coloured version of the grey disc he’d seen earlier.

    Graham turned into Westminster Street. There was a roadblock up ahead. Dark green army trucks and … was that a tank?

    He slowed to a walk. It was a tank, there were two of them. And behind them a host of other vehicles and people.

    A voice came from low to his right. “Keep going, Mr Smith.”

    Graham jumped and swung round. There was a soldier crouched in a doorway, cradling a rifle in one arm and signalling with the other.

    “They’re waiting for you at the checkpoint,” he continued.

    Graham walked on, wondering how the soldier knew his name. People called to him from behind the roadblock.

    “What’s your name?” they shouted. Who are you? What are you doing? Seen any bodies?

      Police and soldiers held them back. A green and red disc hovered over the police lines.

    A gap appeared and he walked through, microphones were thrust in his face, reporters everywhere.

    “You okay, Mr Smith?” asked a heavily armoured policeman grabbing hold of Graham’s left arm.

    Graham nodded.

    “We’ll soon get you through this rabble, sir. Don’t worry.”

    Two more policemen cleared a way though the fifty yards to the DTI’s main entrance. So many people. After the desolation of the past hour Graham felt claustrophobic. Reporters were everywhere, and those discs - there were dozens of them, hovering just above head height. They had to be some kind of flying camera, reporters were talking to them, discs of all colours, some with logos - NBC, BBC, RTL.

    The door swung open just as he climbed the last step. Two armed men in full riot gear came out and escorted Graham inside. 

    “You’d better go straight up, Graham,” said Andy on reception. “They’re waiting for you in Conference room C”



    His first, second, and third thoughts were ParaDim, ParaDim and ParaDim. They’d come for him. It was happening the same as last time. Ignore ParaDim and they only get stronger.

    What did they want with him now?

    Graham climbed the stairs hesitatingly, trying to push back the moment of his arrival. A security guard stood motionless outside the conference room door. He watched Graham’s approach for a few seconds before leaning to the side and pushing open the door.

    Graham walked through. The room was as impressive as he’d remembered it. The huge table, the panelling, the paintings - but this time the room had a more lived in feel. Jackets were strewn on the backs of chairs, cups and plates and papers were lying haphazardly about. And the people - he counted five of them - looked as though they’d been up all night.

    Graham hovered by the door.

    “Come straight in, Mr. Smith,” said a tall man Graham vaguely recognised. “Don’t stand on ceremony. Did you get the disk?”

    Graham was about to shrug when he remembered the computer disk he’d found in his pocket. He took it out and handed it over..

    “Good man. We thought we’d lost you during the power cut.” He took the disk and handed it to someone Graham hadn’t seen for two years - Roger Tyler, used to work on the fourth floor, very small handwriting.

    “Have you had breakfast?”

    Graham shook his head. He didn’t think so, he felt hungry.

    “There’s plenty over there,” the tall man said pointing to a table against the wall. “Help yourself. You deserve it.”

    Graham sidled over to a table against the wall. There was a pot of coffee, milk, plates of croissants and bread rolls, a rack of cold toast, butter. Graham stood over the table, wondering whether he was meant to grab a handful and leave or stay, silently, in the background and eat.

    The disk was slid into the computer in the corner, a few taps on the keyboard, a long pause, more taps and then a long relieved sigh.  

    “It’s all here,” said Roger. “The Japanese have accepted the amendments to the energy proposals and suggested a rewording to the section on patent extension.”

    “Excellent. To recap, gentlemen. I want the updated tariff proposals evaluated, changes noted and the draft ministerial briefing revised for discussion at nine. I’ll be leaving for the trade talks at nine thirty.”

    The tall man picked up his jacket and walked towards the door. Graham poured himself half a cup of coffee and prepared to drink it very quickly.

    “You think they’ll still go ahead with the talks?” asked a short, middle-aged man.  

    “Until we hear different, the assumption is the talks start as planned.”

    “Even with the Japanese delegation stuck in Knightsbridge?”

    The tall man stood by the door and shrugged. “It’s not our decision.“

    The door clicked closed. Graham quietly buttered a piece of toast and listened to the conversation behind him, hoping to discover how a Japanese disk had found its way into his pocket. Had he been sent to Knightsbridge to collect it? Was that part of a messenger’s duties in this thread of reality?

    “I still don’t understand why the army hasn’t been sent in.” A different voice this time, Graham couldn’t tell who. “It seems madness to sit back and let a few hundred rioters have the run of London. Have you seen the TV pictures? They’re laughing at us.”

    “That may be what they want,” said Roger. “I was talking to the captain outside. He thinks they’re trying to lure the army into a trap.”


    “You’ve seen the pictures. That’s no random mob. A mob would take out all the cameras and street detectors. But this lot don’t. They want to be seen. They rampage through a small area then disappear and another group springs up in front of the cameras a mile away. It’s organised. They want to provoke a reaction. The army think they may have planted several large devices around the city - ready to detonate if they can get the security forces to take the bait.”

    “They’d do that?” Graham could hear the shock and incredulity in the man’s voice.

    “The army reckons they have a hardcore who will. And you don’t have to be rocket scientist to use New Tech weapons.”

    “Then why haven’t they cancelled the trade talks?”

    “Haven’t you heard? They’ve set up a New Tech defensive perimeter all around the talks and Westminster. Nothing can get through.”

    “Are we inside the perimeter?”

    “I didn’t ask.”



  Graham stuffed two extra bread rolls into his jacket pocket - stepping out for lunch might not be an option today. He slipped out of the conference room unnoticed and made his way back downstairs to the Post Room.

    A television was on, the screen flashing with images of riots and mayhem. He’d never seen a television in the Post Room before. And this one was large and hung like a picture on the wall - exactly the same as the one he’d seen earlier.

    Three people were perched on desks watching, their heads swung round guiltily as Graham walked in.

    “Relax, it’s only Mr. Post-it,” said Ray to the other two men - security guards from the look of their uniforms.

    Graham groaned inwardly and forced a smile. Could the day get any worse?

    Ray’s smirk told him it could. It followed Graham across the room. The television and the riots forsaken in favour of more immediate entertainment.

    “You found your desk all right then?”

    Graham didn’t bother to turn round. It would only prolong the ordeal. He’d check his desk, see what he could find, then leave.

    “You don’t want to walk around the room a couple of times to get your bearings?”

    Graham pushed Ray’s words to the back of his mind and opened the top drawer. There were several notes inside - reminders of jobs he’d agreed to do, procedures he should know about, his tube route home.

    “This is the bloke I was telling you about. You know, the one on TV a half hour back? All he had to do was pick up a disk from a hotel in Knightsbridge and the muppet gets lost.”

    A reporter reeled off another list of statistics and Graham continued reading his notes. It looked like he worked on the van deliveries as well as in the office. There was a schedule of deliveries and routes and a list of contacts at the other buildings.

    “You can’t blame the bloke for walking into a riot,” said one of the security guards.

    “I didn’t walk into a riot,” said Ray indignantly. “I had to go all the way to Earl’s Court for my pick-up but you didn’t see me get caught up in any riot, did you?” He paused, calming down. “You get in quick and you get out quick. And you keep your ears open. Course, it doesn’t help if you’re deaf as well as stupid.”

    Graham closed the drawer and leaned forward to check the array of Post-it notes on his notice board.

    “What do they want with disks, anyway?” asked the other security guard. “I thought everything was sent electronically these days.”

    “You haven’t heard?”

    “Heard what?”

    Ray lowered his voice in a conspiratorial way. Graham stopped reading and listened.

    “You know that New Tech phone system? The one that was going to revolutionise everyone’s lives?”

    “The ParaDim NG?”

    “That’s the one. Infinite bandwidth, infinite capacity. A friend of mine overheard some of the IT guys talking last week. They reckon ParaDim scan every call.”

    “I thought that was impossible.”

    “It is. To everyone but ParaDim. You got to admire the bastards. They practically give away their system to make sure everyone uses it. They show everyone this amazing code that no one can crack and all the time they have the program to do just that.”

    “But they can’t scan every call, can they?”

    “What’s the matter? Guilty conscience?” Ray laughed. “Those buggers have technology that can do anything they frigging want.”

    Graham wondered if Ray was telling the truth. Was this another of his stories to impress people? Or was it true? And was that why Gary and Kevin were so circumspect whenever they called Annalise? Because they knew all calls were routinely scanned?

    He checked the last of his Post-its - nothing to say why he was sleeping at work or how long for. Presumably it was something to do with the riots and the trade talks rather than a specific danger to him at Wealdstone Lane.

    If only he could find Annalise.

    Gunfire blared out from the television as Graham walked over to the trolley and swung it around towards the door.

    “Where do you think you’re going?” asked Ray.

    Graham tapped his watch and pointed towards the door.

    “You’ll be lucky. There’s no post and no one to deliver it to. Essential staff only since yesterday afternoon. Well,” he paused, “essential staff and you.”



    Graham went to the cloakroom instead. Choosing the fifth floor even though it wasn’t a Friday - anything to put the greatest distance between him and Ray. 

    He wandered empty corridors, checked empty out trays in empty offices and gazed out windows over an empty London.

    What the hell was happening out there? It all seemed so unreal.

    Maybe that was the problem - it wasn’t real. Maybe he was trapped inside a decaying virtual world - the program degrading so fast it could no longer populate the streets. The riot no more than a device to cover the fact that the world was collapsing in on itself.

    He stared towards the horizon. Was it getting closer? Was that why he had to sleep at work - because Wealdstone Lane no longer existed? The world having shrunk to a few square miles?

    He shook his head. So much was happening. Every time the world shifted, ParaDim became more prominent. It was like he was moving into the future watching ParaDim grow from concept to company to threat to the world’s stability. And yet the year never altered. Time flowed as normal. Yesterday was June 20, tomorrow would be June 22. But tomorrow for ParaDim? It could be the equivalent of years in the future. Was that the resonance wave? Something that ParaDim used to extricate itself from the constraints of time?

    And where would it end? Would ParaDim grow and grow or collapse? What would this world be like in another year? More riots, more advanced weapons, more chaos?

    He closed his eyes and tried to blink the world away. Maybe if he refused to believe in its existence…

    The same world stared back. Real or not, it wasn’t going anywhere.


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