The first we knew was the internet going down, the music streaming into the floor standing speakers going quiet without warning. A sudden loss of connection, WiFi box rebooted twice and still nothing. The dimming of the lights was the next, not total power failure, the solar panels on the roofs and the farm of south facing glass cells next door to thank. Still we drank, draining the supply to a bottle of port bought from the local supermarket on a hangover fuelled run.
It was New Year’s Eve 2017. We’d rented a holiday cottage on the extremes of Cornwall, almost Land’s End. The cottage was one of nine in a gated development, each built the new way but made to look old, the doors a funny proportion. Building regulations I’m told. Each built out of the way of the rest, in a wide circle, a thick copse of trees separating. In the centre was a manager’s house, a small shop, a bar. Where a tenth could have sat was the wide road out and in. There were ten of us, the cottage full to bursting, twin and double rooms shared despite all but four of us not being coupled. We’d been there four days already, the recycling bin emptied with the ring of bottles each morning. A maid cleaning out the jacuzzi we’d piled in all night until the Atlantic air got too much and we headed back to dry around the wood burning stove.
We lasted an hour before myself and Andrew dressed, mounting an expedition, walking the couple of hundred steps to the centre of the circle. We weren’t the only ones there. A huddle had formed at the open door of the managers house, a half drunk crowd shouting over each other. I remember the concern on Andrew’s face. Our worst fear, the little shop had run out of it’s overpriced alcohol and the mob were about to lynch the grey haired manager unless he’d drive a rescue party to the nearest twenty-four-hour supermarket. We still thought it was true as the door closed in their faces, people turned to each other, some strangers, some not, dumbfounded at his actions, but before the small crowd could become a mob, the door was back open, the guy returning with an ancient radio in his hand, garbled words and static rattling from the paint flecked speakers.
The crowd hushed as more joined at our backs, we were now in the middle of a group, but we hushed too, listening to the voice settle, a handful of words coming clean from the speaker. A power station had been attacked by terrorists, the nuclear reactor in Somerset. Panic rippled through the group as adrenaline worked its way to nullify the alcohol. Two of the group pushed outwards and I turned to see them running back to one of the nine houses. We continued to listen. The sudden drop in power to the grid had destabilised the network, emergency breakers had sacrificed the South West to save the rest of the nation from total darkness. The radio broke up as the words radiation came isolated from the rest of the sentence by static. Andrew and I stared, turning to others, but they’d read no more meaning. Then came the reassurance again. A false reassurance we know now. The damage was not to the reactor, but to the distribution system. There was no danger of radiation leaking. The core was stable. We peeled off back to the cottage, thoughts of alcohol long gone.
The second we knew was the hammering at the door in the early hours of the morning. With the power still dimmed, rationed between the ten buildings, I was the first to answer, the one to see the silver haired guy rush to tell me to get the hell out of there, mumbling the word evacuation without pause or breath as he moved away, running towards the centre of the circle before I had a chance to question.