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Resonance: Chapter Twenty Three

       Last updated: Friday, November 4, 2005 11:18 EST



    Graham took the long way back to the Post Room, walking every floor and corridor, peering into offices and seeing who was about. There was a strange mix of noise and silence, calm and bustle. Some people scurried from room to room with papers and briefcases while others sat staring blankly into space, or at the televisions on the wall.

    Graham hovered outside the Post Room door and listened. He couldn’t hear Ray. He took a deep breath and walked inside. The room was empty. The television flashed and boomed in the corner of his vision. A reporter broke in occasionally with background information and statistics but mostly let the pictures do the talking. And the screaming, and the wailing.

    Suddenly a voice broke Graham’s concentration. A voice he recognised. He turned. The man was there, on the wall, talking to the camera - the tall, gaunt man. A caption came up with his name. Adam Sylvestrus, CEO ParaDim.

    “The world is not the same place it was three years ago,“ he said. “The pace of change has been unprecedented. Yes, established industries have become obsolete. Yes, this has caused problems. But the gains far outweigh the losses. We have synthetic food processing plants that can alleviate famine and drugs that can enhance and prolong life. For the first time in history, disease and famine have been tamed. How can that be bad for the world?”

    The camera cut immediately to a close-up of a young male reporter. His question fired back at Sylvestrus almost before the older man had stopped speaking. 

    “Isn’t it true that Sylvestrus Industries has released untested drugs into the Third World?”

    Sylvestrus smiled and shook his head as though dismissing a child.

    “Every one of our drugs is thoroughly tested. Why waste four years testing products by outdated means when new technology can carry out those tests in days? We have saved millions of lives by getting our products into hospitals when they are needed and where they are needed.”

    The camera cut back and forth, Sylvestrus taking his time, calm and assured. The reporter trying to unsettle him, interrupting, sneering and shaking his head to camera whenever Sylvestrus made a point.

    “Isn’t it more truthful to say that, so far, you’ve been lucky and that Sylvestrus Pharmaceuticals is a disaster waiting to happen?”

    “Luck has nothing to do with it. The world has moved on. We have models and simulations that can compress centuries of study into a handful of hours. It’s the Western world who are endangering their people by clinging to outdated methodologies and refusing to accept the benefits that New Technology can bring. Death rates in, what you call, the Third World will soon be lower than in the Developed World.”

    “But what about weapons proliferation? You can’t deny that ParaDim has been responsible for making weapons of mass destruction freely available.”

    “As I have said many times before, neither ParaDim nor Sylvestrus Industries deal in weapons of mass destruction. For every new offensive weapon we bring to market, we introduce twice as many defensive products.”

    “But people don’t buy the defensive products, do they? They buy the weapons. Last year, you sold twenty offensive weapons for every counter-measure sold.”

    “That will change.”

    “Don’t you feel any responsibility for the riots in London? They’re your weapons being used against the police.”

    “And they are our weapons being used to protect the trade talks. A more pertinent question would be to ask the British government why the New Tech shields are only in place around selected government buildings and not the whole of London.”

    “Do you think that ParaDim is above the law? You don’t like the anti-trust legislation so you pick up your ball and leave.”

    “What I don’t like is politically motivated legislation. Do you really think that breaking up ParaDim will stimulate competition and help the consumer?” He shook his head and smiled warmly into the camera. “It’s a thinly disguised attempt to nationalise ParaDim Defense and gain control of our Artificial Intelligence system.”

    “So you ship all your assets out of the country? Take jobs away from the countries that back the break up of ParaDim and open new factories in countries that support you?”

    Sylvestrus shrugged. “It’s a natural progression. New jobs go to the areas with the greatest prospect for growth. If America and Europe are bent on protectionism and the suppression of New Technology, then what else can we do?”

    “But isn’t it financial suicide to take on the regulators of the world’s biggest market?”

    “America and Europe are no longer the world’s biggest market. Things have changed. The West has to realise that it can’t dictate to the rest of the world any more. Money will follow the new economy wherever we decide to locate it. ParaDim isn’t about bricks and mortar - it never has been - it’s about ideas. And ideas are mobile. As is money. If America and Europe don’t recognise that then in ten years time they’ll be nothing more than a backwater…”

    The interview ended abruptly as a new picture flashed across the screen - a bird’s eye view of London, shot from roof height. Two helicopters were flying ahead, skimming low over roof tops. They began to open fire on the streets below, the target out of camera shot. The camera swooped down and to the left. There were people on the streets. Smoke, fire, a sudden flash, two flashes coming up from ground level. The lead helicopter exploded, the other pulled hard to the right and out of shot. A second explosion. A blur of cloud as the camera swung violently through 180°.

    “These pictures were taken a few minutes ago,” a breathless female voice reported. “Two military helicopters have been shot down over Knightsbridge.”

    The picture changed again. An office block, the camera zooming in and out, panning wildly, windows coming into and out of focus. A flash. The camera swept back, zoomed in, a window, the outline of a face, another flash.

    “He’s over there!” A shout off camera. The sound of heavy breathing, running feet and a microphone rubbing against fabric.

    The shot changed again. A woman - young, worried, breathless - talking to camera. “A sniper has opened fire from the top floor of…”

    An explosion. The woman ducked. The camera panned to the smoking remains of a vehicle.

    The picture changed again. An aerial shot, looking down on the southern tip of Hyde Park. A convoy of military vehicles spread out along a road. One was on fire, then another. Beams of light arrowed down on the convoy from the tops of office buildings. Every vehicle they hit glowed for an instant before exploding in a shimmering ball of flame. 

    Graham stood transfixed. He’d never seen anything like it.

    Another explosion, louder this time and not from the television. The Post Room windows rattled, the floor shook, glass shattered somewhere in the building. Graham clung to his desk and looked back towards the door.

    “Help! Somebody!” A cry from the foyer. More voices. “We’ve got wounded here!” Confusion, smoke, screams. Graham ran into the foyer. People everywhere - soldiers, reporters, wounded. Bodies lying on the ground by the lift, by the door, being carried in from the street. More people arriving from the stairs, from outside. Everyone shocked. So much blood, so many burns. And the noise, everyone talking at once. Where’s a doctor? Help me! There’s more outside!

    Graham stood at the back, unable to help, not knowing what to do.

    Another explosion. A rush of air from outside, a cloud of smoke blew past the door. Screams, engines revving, panic and flight.

    Someone shouted from the main entrance. “They got the second tank!”

    “Stand away from the door, you idiot!”

    Another explosion, smaller, further away this time.

    “Jesus, it’s a weapons drone. The bastards have got weapons drones out there! It’s taking out everything that moves.”

    A soldier ran to the door. “Can’t be! They’re not supposed to have anything like that.”

    “It’s firing again!”

    Graham winced automatically and turned his body away from the door. A small explosion, a stifled scream from a woman hunched up against the wall next to him.

    “What’s a weapons drone?” someone asked in a quiet voice.

    “A modified surveillance drone.”

    “Like our flying cameras?”

    “That’s right. But modified to carry a pulse weapon.”


    There was a sudden cry from the door and a shout of “Get down!”

    Graham glanced towards the door. A red disc hovered in the doorway. People were scattering. Shots rang out - four, five, in quick succession, the noise deafening in the confines of the lobby. The disc wobbled for a second then dropped and clattered to the floor.

    Everything went silent.

    A man stepped out from behind the reception desk and leaned over the smoking disc.

    “Congratulations, corporal, you’ve just shot down CNN.”




    “It looks worse than it is. Mostly cuts, burns, flesh wounds.”

    One of the senior civil servants was being briefed in the corridor as Graham brought the last of the First Aid kits into the lobby. Already some journalists were reporting in, interviewing the wounded while multi-coloured camera disks floated just above head height.

    A hand settled on Graham’s shoulder. “You’re wanted in the Post Room.”

    Graham put the First Aid kit with the others and made his way back through the crowded lobby towards the rear corridor. He stopped outside the Post Room door and listened. Ray was having an argument with someone.

    “Look, Ray, if I needed something delivered fast, I’d pick you every time.”

    Graham recognised the voice - Jack Kingston. Jack had been Graham’s boss for three years before he’d transferred out eight, nine years back.

    “But,” Jack continued, “if my life depended on that package getting through, I’d choose Graham. It’s as simple as that. He may not be quick but give him a job and he does it. He doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t take risks and he doesn’t get side-tracked.”

    “I don’t believe this,” shouted Ray. “I do not believe this.”

    There was a crash - it sounded like a filing cabinet being kicked - then Ray appeared at the door, his face contorted in a scowl.

    “What you lookin’ at?” he snapped at Graham before barging past.

    Jack Kingston smiled apologetically as Graham walked into the room. “He’ll grow up one of these days.”

    Graham smiled nervously. 

    “We have a problem,” said Jack. “Our masters, in their infinite wisdom, have decided that the trade talks have to go on. They’re not sure if they’d ever get the buggers in the same room again. And after the sixteen hours we’ve just had, can’t say I blame ‘em. Can’t see many countries volunteering to host the next meeting, can you?”

    Graham shook his head in agreement.

    “So,” he said, holding up a black computer disk, “this is the briefing document for the UK delegation to the trade talks. All the detail’s there - facts, figures and projections. I don’t need to tell you how important this is. Or what’s happening out there on the streets. If there was another way, we’d take it. But there isn’t. All the comm lines are compromised. Someone’s got to take this to St. James’s Palace. And that someone is you.”

    Graham swallowed hard.

    “I wouldn’t be sending you out there if I didn’t think it safe. I’m not going to kid you that there’s no risk. But it’s been quiet out there for the last twenty minutes. Intelligence reports say they’ve pulled back. The army has pulled back too, so there shouldn’t be any reason for anyone to open fire. We reckon that a lone civilian on foot stands the best chance of getting through unscathed.”

    Jack paused and looked hard at Graham.

    “It’s less than a ten minute walk if you go through the park. There’ll be someone waiting for you at the main gate. Once you get within fifty yards of the Palace, you’re safe. They’ve got New Tech shielding, missiles, the lot.

    “And don’t take any risks. If things change, find somewhere to hide up and try again later. The riots can’t go on forever.”

    He handed the disk to Graham.

    “Now slip out the back way and keep your head down.”



    Graham circled around the block, crossing Westminster Street a few hundred yards to the west of the DTI building and the still smouldering wreckage of the tanks and news vans. Everything was quiet. The streets were deserted and a faint burning smell hung on the air.

    He walked briskly, hugging the walls of a side street heading north towards the park. He turned left and right again, zigzagging along the undamaged back streets. No hint of danger anywhere. No far off shouts, no bangs, no rubble in the street. Not even a flying camera to dog his progress.

    He paused opposite the entrance to the park. As soon as he crossed the road he’d lose the protection of the buildings. He’d be out in the open. He looked left and right. Still no sign of anyone. He had four hundred yards of trees and open lawns to cross.

    He took his note out of his pocket and wrote six words on the back. Take disk to St. James’s Palace.

    He took a deep breath and stepped out into the open.



    Graham followed the path as it curved right to bypass a stand of trees. A stand of trees that hadn’t existed two days earlier.

    The path swung back and Graham stopped. There were people on the path up ahead. About fifty of them standing quietly in a group about one hundred yards away. There was a car there too - a police Land Rover.

    Graham walked closer. Everything open now - rolling lawns to his left and right. A few stands of trees around the long thin lake that ran east to west across the centre of the park. The lake bisected by a single footbridge, sixty yards long. St. James’s Palace on the other side, a mere two hundred yards from the far side of the bridge.

    He was almost there.

    He counted three police Land Rovers, he could see them clearly now. A handful of burly policemen walked amongst the crowd, talking and leaning over to examine people sat on the ground - or were they children? He couldn’t quite see.

    Some of the people on the edge of the group had blankets wrapped around their shoulders, some stared blankly into space, others walked aimlessly. They looked shell-shocked.

    Graham stepped out onto the grass to walk past. People stared right through him, not saying a word. A police radio crackled.

    “Say again, how many do you have there?”

    “There’s about fifty of them,” a deep Welsh voice responded. “Mostly from flats attacked in Buckingham Gate. They’re pretty shook up but no major injuries. What do you want us to do? There’s another group coming over the park from the Buckingham Palace end. About a hundred or so. Do you want us to wait for them or start ferrying this lot over to you?”

    Graham glanced to the left and saw another group in the distance walking slowly across the grass towards him. 

    There was a rush of static as the radio switched over.

    “Can they all walk?”

    “There’s a couple of young kids who look completely out of it. We could load them and their families into one of the Rovers and send them up first.”

    “Roger that. We’ll divert some of the drones to search for other groups.”

    Graham moved further out from the path to walk past a bed of shrubs and small trees. A girl sat, leaning against the trunk of a small flowering cherry. For one second he thought it was Annalise. But it wasn’t. She was only a child.

    He looked again - harder this time. Could it be a young Annalise? The nose looked wrong, and the eyes, but the mouth?

    The girl never moved. She sat there, lifeless, blank, no hint of anyone home.

    Graham shook his head. It couldn’t be her. The line of the face was all wrong and…

    He heard the whining sound first. 

    Then the explosions.

    The group coming across the lawns were not evacuees. They were rioters.

    A Land Rover went up in a ball of flame. People were screaming, running. Graham threw himself flat on the ground and rolled over. He could see a hundred people charging across the grass firing indiscriminately, whooping, arcs of light emanating from their centre, the air rent with whines and bangs and screams and…



    He had to get out. The footbridge was only fifty yards away, he could get there ahead of the mob. There were trees on the far bank - cover to hide behind, to protect his back as he ran the last two hundred yards to the trade talks and safety.

    He started to run. A tree by the near end of the footbridge went up in flame. Were they shooting at him? Most of the fire was arcing over his head back towards the police.

    And the girl.

    The girl sitting in the bushes.

    He stopped and turned. She was still there, she hadn’t moved an inch. No sign of emotion or knowledge that her life was in danger. And the police didn’t know she was there either.

    Two of the Land Rovers were moving, people clinging onto the back and sides, people running alongside, people falling over. Everywhere panic, confusion, noise and smoke. Everyone heading east and away from the advancing mob.

    Except the girl, forgotten in the chaos.

    Graham had a choice - complete the mission or save the child. Jack Kingston’s words came back to him. He doesn’t get side-tracked. Give him a job and he does it.

    He looked back towards the bridge. He could still get there ahead of the mob. But not with the girl. If he went back for her the moment would be lost.

    His eyes were drawn back to the girl. She couldn’t have been more than twelve years old. The shrieks grew louder, whining, flashing, explosions, the air filled with smoke and static. He had to leave. Now!

    He looked at her again. If she asked for help, he’d give it. All he needed were those two words - help me - and he would. Two words and it would be her choice, not his.

    They never came. He turned and ran towards the bridge. Three steps, four. The trees by the bridge were enveloped in flame, black smoke rising and billowing. He could still make it. They might not even see him behind all that smoke.

    The girl.

    She was behind him but he could still see her, imprinted on his memory, the vacant gaze, the despair. He couldn’t leave her. He doesn’t get side-tracked. Give him a job and he does it.

    But not today.

    He turned and ran back, grabbing the girl, whisking her to her feet in one easy movement, clutching her to him as he turned and skirted the shrub bed, his feet pounding in time to his breaths. The Land Rovers were up ahead, people spread out behind, everyone running for their lives between the smoke and the craters.

    There was a police line in the distance, a long line of blue, two hundred yards away. The first Land Rover drove through a gap, then the second. The gap immediately closed, officers gesticulating wildly at the fleeing stragglers - about a dozen of them, caught in no man’s land and running for their lives.

    “Come On! Hurry up!” Desperation in the officer’s words. Some were running out from the lines towards the stragglers. Graham and the girl were at the back, way behind everyone else. He was struggling, her extra weight and … the pain! A sudden stabbing pain behind the eyes. His hands wanted to fly to his head but he couldn’t take them from the girl.

    He slowed, his legs buckling. And his eyes - the park shimmered, all colour drained, features blurred and blended and starting to spin. He wouldn’t let go. Had to run, had to see her safe. Not far.

    A wave of pain hit him and dropped him like a brick. The girl fell out of his arms and tumbled somewhere in front of him. He rolled over, reached out, blind and desperate. He felt her hand, her fingers closed around his. He looked towards her. The world a blur and receding. He could feel himself being pulled backwards, the world in front of his eyes receding like a tunnel. Was he unravelling?


    He fought through the pain and pulled the world back. Like hurtling through a tunnel on a runaway train, the park flashed from black to dazzling white to greens and…

    He could see the girl. She was smiling at him, her arm outstretched. If only he could get up.

    The girl flickered before him. Three, four times. She was there, she wasn’t there. There was smoke, there wasn’t smoke. He was leaving her against his will.


    He was not going to unravel. Not now. The world could unravel later - as many times as it wanted - but not now!

    He fought through the pain, the nausea, the disorientation and staggered to his feet, all the time keeping hold of that tiny fragile hand. Noise everywhere - fire, smoke, screams, whines and explosions. The police lines lit up like a World War One trench.

    But no one was falling down. The police lines were holding, the explosions hit an invisible wall. The New Tech shield?

    He started to run again, jerky, doubled over, the girl running beside him. Eighty yards to go. He could hear people behind him, close. Some of the explosions started to drop short of the police lines.

    More shouts of encouragement from the police, frantic gesticulation. Two, three people reached the police lines, were grabbed, blankets thrown over them and enveloped. Others weren’t so lucky. A woman fell twenty feet short and didn’t get up. A man rose up on a ball of flame and split apart.

    Graham didn’t want to see any more. He knew where he was running. He squeezed the little girl’s hand and she squeezed back. And they both ran blindly through the smoke.

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