A meme on Facebook asked me for page 54 from “The Bakerloo Incident”, a conspiracy thriller set on the London Underground. So:
As we exited Stonebridge Park, I looked at the display on the screen. My oyster card was clear, but Jane’s was infected, just like Roy’s had been.
I couldn’t get off this train yet. For all I knew the person who sent that email really had my daughter, and could see the cameras, but Wifi was working at Wilsden Junction, and I pulled up a text conversation with the duty manager at HQ.
Richard: Hey, John, we’ve got a problem. John: Richad! How’s retirement treating you, mate? Richard: Been a rough first day. Someone’s kidnapped Kate, and they’ve said they’ve put a bomb in the network. John: Tell me your joking. *connection lost*
The train pulled out of Wilsden Junction, and couldn’t connect to the wifi at Kensal Green. There was a delay at Queen’s Park, and I could connect to the wifi network again:
Richard: By my life. No. John: Where is it? Can we stop it? Richard: I’m looking for it. He’s sending me email. I think it’s triggered by something spread though Oyster cards. *connection lost*
Jane had been running some tests on her laptop, and whisperered urgently to me.
“Rich? I think I’ve got it”, she said breathlessly.
“What have you found?”
“The cards, there’s an esclation exploit on them. I… I think it spreads the virus from the card to the gate, and from there to the other gates on the same barrier. There’s a counter on there too.”
“Something central is keeping track of how many oyster cards are infected.” said Jane.
“I don’t know” she said, helpless.
One swipe though a gate, and that station would catch it, and every card of every person who entered or left that station would be just as infected. It was still early, and the Overground was down for the day, but as our empty train rattled though Kilburn the cogs and gears in my mind started to think though the consequences.
Richard: I need you to shut down everything north of Paddinton on the Bakerloo before the train with carraige LL24601 gets though John: That’s a big ask, Richard. You’re not on the PTP anymore, I can’t just do it on your say so. Richard: If it gets to Paddington it will be impossible to stop the spread of the virus. There’s just too many interchanges. *connection lost*
The train slowed in the tunnel and came to a stop, and for a moment Richard thought they might have made it though.
“One million” said Jane, suddenly
“That’s what the counter’s looking for. When 1M cards are infected, that’s when the signal goes out.”
“Signal to what?”
“I… can’t tell. I think it might be the bomb.”
“How long until it spreads that far?”
“Infection isn’t my strong point, Rich, but if I’ve got my numbers right… about two hours after it hits Kings Cross. I think… maybe lunchtime.”
The lights flickered and went out, only to return some seconds later. The train started back up again, and slowly picked up speed to the next station.
Paddington was a nightmare at the best of times, but as a nexus point for the virus, it was terrifying. Jane looked briefly up at the emergency cord.
“I’m not sure enough. Do you think I should pull it?” she asked me.
Jane pulled the cord, and I hoped to hear the squeal of brakes. I should have known better. A voice came over the radio:
“We’re nearly at the station, whatever will have to wait until then.”
True to his word, the florescent lights began to flood though the window, lighting the grimy tiles of Bakerloo Paddington. The doors opened, and hundreds of infected cards poured out with their carriers, to spread across the tube network, relentless and unstoppable.
The tannoy at the station fussed and blared briefly as a microphone was turned on.
“Inspector Sands to the Station Master’s office, please. There is a package for you.”
Me and Jane exchanged a look. The code-phrase. We got off the train and hurried up to the main ticket barriers before I realised. In order to get out, I’d need to put my ticket though the machine. I’d need to infect myself.
I was saved from this terror for the moment by the Station Master’s office being on the right side of the barriers. I knocked, and they answered quickly.
“Hi,” I said, “My name is Richard Sands. I believe you have a package for me.”
The Station Master handed me the item, ashen-faced. It was little more than a bundle of tissues, and one end was clearly dyed a bright and liquid crimson.