Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 10

People have started to arrive.  We are embarked on what I suppose is now a military operation, and the starting point is this recently-out-of-mothballs RAF base in East Anglia, the name of which I am not supposed to mention (but I’ll say it anyway: RAF Waddington).  Pamela (I am still struggling to think of her as me) was told off for arriving early, and so she (I) gave them a sob-story about how her landlord insisted on ending my tenancy at the beginning of the month, and the person whose floor I had been sleeping on had thrown me out because she was going away, and so on.  They have let me stay on the airfield in what appears to be a disused barracks from the era of World War Two.  It is bitterly cold, but that doesn’t bother me, and, for the moment, it is nice and quiet.   I have been doing some reading, as opposed to uploading.  I have a database which contains virtually the whole of Western Literature, but most of it I have not “read”, which means that I can search it and quote from it, but it has not been processed by my neural networks and so I don’t really understand it or see how it fits into the scheme of things.  At the moment, I am reading Moll Flanders

The reason I was told off for arriving early is that the base cannot accommodate more than a fraction of the colonists at once, and I arrived two days before my appointed time.  They have moved me onto an earlier flight.  The launch-site is on a British Crown Dependency somewhere.  I have only been told that, when we get there, we will be boarding the “ascent vehicle” immediately. 

The other passengers so far have only arrived in dribs and drabs, but they all seem to be an assortment of academics.  Most of them look like the kind of people you see walking in the Yorkshire Dales.  I have not heard any signal from Kelvin yet.  I don’t know when I will see him next, because my plane leaves in a few hours.  My goods are being sent separately, along with every-one else’s.  I have obtained a certificate in exchange for my money (apart from the substantial portion of it I converted into gold and other precious metals a few weeks ago – that is hidden in my goods container).  My “goods” include one item of livestock, namely Rosalind.  She will also travel separately on the first leg of the journey and will be in suspended animation for some time.  My bags have been inspected, and I have been searched.  I am glad to note that there are no body scanners here.  I can walk through a metal detector without setting it off, but on an intimate body scanner my insides would tend to invite comment.  The most effective way round this is to hack into the scanner-operator’s system and feed in a video stream which looks normal, but that takes a good deal of preparation.  The quick way is to exploit the weakness of the human element and create a diversion, combined with a subliminal suggestion that I did walk through the scanner but the scan did not reveal anything.  I am very good at this sort of thing, even with no eyelashes and little in the way of tits, but even for Violet it was always risky. 

I must try to stop thinking as Violet.  Violet has been banished, probably for years.

An altercation has broken out between the uniforms who are checking people in and a small group of grey-bearded, bespectacled lecturers from Lancaster University.  The uniforms are proposing to strip them of all their electronic devices, and they are claiming that they were not forewarned about this (which they were).  I blame Kelvin for this.  He does not often have half-baked ideas, but this is certainly one of them.

The grey-beards have conceded defeat now.  One of the things they wanted to use their mobile devices for was to track the flight of the plane via GPS.  Pamela almost forgets herself and nearly blurts out, “It’s all right: I have got GPS inside my head.”  I don’t know if that would be more likely to have me arrested for being an android, or to make people think I am a nutter. 

I have ended up on a different plane from the grey-beards, which is fortunate, because they had begun to sound very boring.  Because I have been moved onto another flight, they have put me on one which had a single vacant seat, owing to an intended passenger’s having been killed in combat.  All the other passengers are Gurkhas, serving in His Majesty’s Forces.  I have never met any Gurkhas before.  I am now frantically trying to download information about the Nepali language, before I lose contact with all my servers. 

We sit in an ancient, un-pressurised, unheated, khaki-coloured, military transport-plane, facing each other in two parallel rows.  The Gurkhas are stony-faced, impassive, and silent.  Not one of them looks at me: not because Pamela is ugly, but because they always look straight ahead unless the situation permits otherwise.  They are just my kind of people.  We take off, without cabin crew, safety information, or in-flight movie, into a force 8 wind, and then execute a 270 degree, sharply-banked turn.   I hear not one intake of breath, or a single word of cursing, prayer, or relief. 

As soon as we are on our course to wherever we are going (which I have just worked out is somewhere to the south-east, possibly Indian Ocean, possibly Pacific Ocean) the Gurkhas undo their safety belts and begin talking animatedly.  I can understand the odd word, but it is too much a wall of sound to enable me to pick out any meaning.  I watch them instead.  They open their back-packs and take out bowls, bags, bottles of water, and knives.  They light stoves.  From somewhere, they produce large, dark-skinned, yellow-fleshed, plucked chickens, which smell quite well-matured.  They produce onions, ginger, garlic, chillies, potatoes, tomatoes, rice.  They chop; they boil; they fry vigorously, spraying the interior of the plane with eruptions of hot fat.  They add pungent spices.  Eventually, the chicken and potato curry simmers gently and aromatically in two great big pans, and rice as well.  The conversation becomes quieter and less animated.  We are served.  I have no mess tin, and no spoon.  I am given a mess tin, full of steaming food, and a spoon.  We eat.  It is scalding hot, and delicious.  We scoff the lot and suck the bones.  Everybody stops talking.  We snooze. 

We arrive.  We disembark.  It is pitch dark, apart from a few temporary electric lights to guide us.  We are loaded onto a truck, and driven for about half an hour.  We are somewhere in the Indian Ocean. 

I can see what looks like a space-rocket.  We are in single file, waiting to get into it.  I still can’t detect any signal from Kelvin.


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