iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Monthly Archives: February 2012

‘The Companion’: chapter 35

We have been here on I-11 for about six months, and have started to build three settlements.  Kelvin and Pamela are living in a rather unusual house, which I will describe later.  Kelvin, along with hundreds of the other colonists, both here and on other islands, is acutely ill.  I fear he may die.  I have been frantically working on a cure, twenty-four hours a day, for some time now.  I have shut down Starlight Escorts and am using some of my simulacra to operate my lab machinery, to speed up the analysis. 

The story started at the very moment we landed, and Kelvin took his first breath of the air of Achird-gamma (an account he repeats often).  I myself noticed that a foreign genome had entered my biological system.  I did not attach any importance to it at the time: I just waited for my immune system to destroy it, which it did quickly.  My immune system is based on yours, but it can adapt much more rapidly, and I can exercise a certain amount of voluntary control over what it does, based on information it sends to my brain. 

This foreign genome turned out to belong to a virus, which I succeeded in isolating a few days ago.  I am now trying to find a vaccine, which in practice means finding a member of the colony who has natural immunity.  The way I prevented the virus from replicating itself inside me is not transferable to animals or humans, mainly because so little of me is cellular.  The crisis crept up and surprised us partly because the disease has such a long incubation period. 

For a while after we landed, people kept repeating how remarkably hospitable this planet is.  Kelvin said that we should expect the unexpected.  He said that we should continue to study our surroundings as diligently as possible, because something was about to surprise us.  He was right.  He might be hailed as a prophet, if he lives.

The number of reported cases is growing daily.  We considered shutting down all travel between colonies, but that soon seemed to be counter-productive.  The virus is believed to be airborne and evidence suggests it is present everywhere.  It is the planet itself which is infectious.  Horace is perfectly safe, because “he” is in a hermetically-sealed container, but now I won’t be able to let him gestate until after we have found a vaccine. 

The symptoms resemble those of influenza.  It starts with a feeling of dryness and tenderness in the sinuses, sometimes accompanied by dizziness and severe earache or headache.  A few hours later, the patient experiences pains in the joints and muscle weakness, sometimes accompanied by nausea and vomiting.  Fever rapidly follows, at which point most patients collapse and have to be confined to bed.  Some have gone into a coma and some have died.  Kelvin is currently at the fever stage.  He is conscious, but is having fits of delirium.  He is in our  hospital, being looked after by a fat, bald, bespectacled consultant called Dr Condon-Douglas.  Dr Condon-Douglas is rather pompous and distant in his manner, and he thinks I am an interfering busybody, but I’ll teach him to take me seriously.  I’ve got a laboratory which would be the envy of some universities, and a tunnelling electron-microscope.  He hasn’t even got a magnifying-glass. 

I have contacted all the other colonies via satellite, and have arranged to collect blood samples from most of them.  Ideally, I want a sample of blood from every man, woman and child on the planet.  There is no evidence yet that the virus affects animals other than humans, but I will take blood from animals as well if I have to.  I have a plentiful supply of the virus, and I am checking the samples for signs of natural immunity.  Once the samples are in the lab, most of the process is automated.  I have just set another batch going, and so I might as well go and visit Kelvin.  I have got him a bunch of black grapes imported from I-2 (which happens to be where the infection first broke out).  I don’t think he will be eating them any time soon.  He has not eaten anything for three days and is on intravenous fluids.  He is lying on his back and is quite still, with his eyes closed.  There are two nurses by his bed who are bitching about one of the other nurses.  Kelvin probably can’t hear that at the moment. 

I’m back from the hospital.  I stayed there about three hours.  I went into a dormant state for a while (the first rest I have had for days) and read a bit of The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.  Kelvin was asleep the whole time.  They were giving him saline and glucose (like I do when he is drunk).  I was glad to note that he was actually asleep and not comatose.  His temperature is still very high.  I made sure that the nurses are changing his sheets and washing him regularly. 

Prudence visited him a couple of times when he first got ill, but she has gone down with it herself now.  I wonder what this disease will eventually be called.  I might as well go back to the lab.

I am checking regularly for bulletins from other colonies.  The death toll has now risen to 396, including several newborns and infants.  We can’t afford this.  The colonisation will become unsustainable unless we stop the epidemic soon.  I am almost glad that Kelvin is not himself: he would be going mad.

At last, a breakthrough.  The sample tube I have in my hand shows evidence of natural immunity.  I’ll just read the bar code on it, and look up the name of the patient it was taken from.  I will need to get another sample, if possible, to make sure it was not a fluke.  I’ll try to get a much bigger one next time, preferably a hundred millilitres or so. 

It’s Kelvin.  The sample that is showing promise came from Kelvin Philip Alexander Stark. Where’s my doctor’s bag?  Kelvin, I am about to stick another needle into you. 

I must stop thinking about whether or not he is going to die, and concentrate on the research.

Doctor Condon-Douglas tried to obstruct me in the act of taking the larger blood sample from Kelvin, but he agreed to let me continue after I had lifted him off the floor by the lapels of his white coat.  I am back in the lab again, and have re-run the test.  The answer is consistently that Kelvin has made anti-bodies.  His symptoms are not getting any worse.  I hope for improvement soon.  I am virtually at the point where I can report this to the other colonies, and put the vaccine into production. 

*

My name is Cheryl Moxon.  I’m married to Wayne.  We have both been poorly recently.  Really poorly.  A nurse came and gave us a jab, and we are both getting better now.  It is important for us to get better so that we can go back to work on the farm.  It is hard work, working on the farm.  We have both had a fever.  We couldn’t work with the fever.  We couldn’t even get out of bed for a while, we were so poorly.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so bad.  I don’t think Wayne has, either.  Not since he was a baby. 

The animals are all right.  One of the neighbours came and fed them and watered them while we were ill.  That was kind.  We’ve got pigs and chickens and a cow and a dog.  Our dog is called Derek.  Our cow is called Mildred.  I don’t know if we have names for the pigs: Wayne looks after them.  We used to have names for the chickens, but we don’t anymore because there are too many of them, and it would be too many to remember.  When the nurse came to give us our jabs, she had a letter from the hospital which asked if we would let the nurse take some of our eggs.  The people at the hospital needed the eggs to make people better.  The nurse said that they weren’t going to cook the eggs, or eat them.  They were going to use them for making more stuff for other people’s jabs.

We live on I-2.  Most of the people who live round us are foreign, but they’re very nice.  They talk in foreign.  They call us Lez Ong-glay, or sometimes Lay Porv-ruh Ong-glay.  I don’t think that means anything rude.  I think it just means “not foreign”.   It is lovely and warm here: much warmer than it was where we lived before.  We have some greenhouses, but we have to keep the windows open most of the time, otherwise it would get too hot.  We grow loads of stuff.  The soil was funny to start with: not like proper soil.  A man came and brought us some worms – loads and loads of worms.  After a while, the soil changed.  It was much better for growing things. 

We were doing so well before we got ill.  I hope things will get back to usual soon.  We had finished all the outbuildings, and the new water tank, and the new slurry tank, and we had finished building the farmhouse.  We’ve got a proper bed and everything now: sofa, chairs, kitchen table, gas cooker, fridge.  The gas comes from a machine in the farmyard, and so we don’t have to pay any bills on it.  Wayne has to remember to keep filling it with slurry.  I remind him, because he’s very forgetful.  He’s a bit slow, is Wayne, but he’s a good man.  Just a bit slow.  

As soon as we’re well again, we’ll have to slaughter a pig and take some stuff to the market.  We like going to the market.  Most people there talk in foreign, but we can usually make them understand.  They even understand Wayne most of the time, and he’s a bit slow. 

*

Kelvin’s temperature went back to normal and he stopped being delirious.  I stayed with him and changed his sheets and kept him clean.  I could tell he was better when he suddenly sat bolt upright in bed, and demanded a rare steak, chips, spinach, a bottle of claret and two bottles of oatmeal stout.  I cried when he said that.  I took him home shortly afterwards. 

Within a few weeks, we had immunised the entire population.  

 

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‘The Companion’: chapter 34

We are about to splash down.  We are lying in our bunks in the landing craft.  I keep tightening and un-tightening the straps on my safety harness, because I can’t think of anything else to do.  If we make it through the landing, if we manage to eke out any sort of living on Achird-gamma, I know that this moment is my greatest trial.  The waiting, the hope, the uncertainty are killing me.

When we start our descent, we have about a fifty per cent estimated chance of survival.

*

I know where we are.  A while before we were loaded into the landing craft, I downloaded the access codes for all the satellites in the network.  We have started our descent.  Soon we will find out whether Kelvin has killed us all.   He is a few bunks away from mine.  He is lying down, but he keeps thrashing around and trying to turn over, even though he is supposed to be strapped in.  I wish he would settle down. 

All my simulacra are in boxes in the cargo bay. 

*

Oh, no – here is some-one with a mask on and a needle.  She is opening the cage.  What are you doing to me?  What is it? Don’t pinch like that.  Stop it.  Ouch!  Ow.  That really hurt.  Oh, I do feel sleepy. 

*

I have thought of a name for the new planet.  When we reach there, I will name it White Earth.  I must think of names for my capital city and my main residence. 

*

The moment when we opened the hatch is possibly the most memorable in my life.  By ship time, it was 14:32 in the afternoon of 6 October.  I did not know then what the astronomical time  and date was on Achird-gamma. 

A member of the ship’s crew called us out of our bunks.  We undid our harnesses and scrambled down the passage to the main hatch.  We ran, like schoolchildren who believe that the teacher is not looking.  I glanced around for Pamela, but I could not see her.

Some-one unlocked the hatch.  It was round.  It was above us.  It opened outwards. 

It was the first time for four years that any of us had seen sunlight.  It was the first time any of us had seen sunlight that was not from the Sun – the Old Sun.  Now we had the New Sun. 

I was standing at the front of the crowd, just behind the man who had opened the hatch.  I pushed him out of the way, climbed a few steps up the ladder, and stuck my head out. 

I inhaled deeply, and held my breath.  Nothing happened.  I inhaled deeply again.  Nothing happened.  The air was breathable. 

From my trouser pocket, I took an instrument that I had carried from Earth.  I switched it on, and held it aloft for a few seconds.  I looked at the screen.  The display showed a decimal point and ten zeroes.  This was a reading of the ultraviolet light intensity, and the zero reading showed that Achird-gamma had an effective ozone layer.  I climbed further up the ladder and climbed onto the deck.  I looked around for the first time on the new world.  We were surrounded by sea.  There was a stiff breeze.  I shivered. 

People were clambering up the ladder to join me.  We looked at each other in silence.  The relief of our survival exhausted us.  The ship sailed on.  We looked up at the bridge, from which two members of the crew grinned at us, which seemed irreverent and unfitted to the moment.  One of them, in a moment of appalling vulgarity, sounded the ship’s hooter.  We did not cheer; we did not dance; we did not rejoice. We just breathed in and out, and shivered with relief. 

I stayed on deck until I was chilled to the bone.  I went back inside the ship, and went up to the bridge (for which I needed permission which I had obtained in advance).   I watched the sea for four hours, until we sighted land.

We moved along the coastline until an observer with binoculars spotted a bay.  We sailed into it.  By the time we were within easy rowing distance of the shore, the depth under the keel was still 4 metres.  We dropped anchor.  We opened the loading bay and raised the boats out.  We got into the boats and rowed ashore. 

The boats beached, we spilled out of them in desperation and the iciness of the water made us gasp.  We staggered up the shingly beach and most of us fell over.  Soon we were flopping around at the water’s edge like fish on the deck of a trawler.  The water was salty.  The sun came out from behind a mass of grey clouds.  The wind blew stronger, and sent undulations through the vegetation at the top of the beach.

The vegetation was alien.  None of us had ever seen anything like it.  We walked towards it, and passed a number of objects scattered on the shingle.  They were made of a woody material and weighed about two or three pounds each.  Each one was about two feet long, pointed and sharp at both ends, and bulbous in the middle.  They looked like they might be the seeds of some huge, alien plant.

Pamela and I had travelled to the shore in the same boat, and we now kept close to each other as we attempted to negotiate a way into and through the undergrowth.  Chlorophyll seemed not to be the only pigment on this world: the leaves of the plants were purple and orange and dark red as well as green.  Suddenly, there was a noise.  It was a loud thud, followed by a hissing sound overhead.  Something flew over.  I heard a strangled cry from behind me.  Pamela and I turned round and struggled back the way we had come. 

Something had fired some more of the long, spiked seeds.  As it had come down, one of them had penetrated the sternum of a fellow passenger, an Italian soil scientist called Lorenzo Treccani.  The tip of the seed (if that is what it was) had entered his heart and killed him. 

We called everybody back and held a discussion about how to explore.  We took Doctor Treccani’s body back to the ship.  The mission had suffered its first casualty.

‘Grist’ website updated

The ‘Grist’ publishing website has been updated.

http://www-old.hud.ac.uk/grist/publications.htm

This provides links to both the poetry and prose parts of the Grist project.  Under the Authors section, you can see the new blurb I have written for the forthcoming poetry anthology. 

The poetry anthology is launched on 7 March, as I have already posted.

‘The Companion’: chapter 33

I fear for Kelvin’s sanity.  The pressure and excitement at the prospect of our landing are making him behave strangely.  He is working increasingly long hours, sleeping less, and eating less.  At least I now always know where he is and what he is seeing and hearing. 

Because we spend such little time together now, I think it is very important for us to share things before we go to sleep.  I have worked out a two-course meal that is very quick to prepare and very nourishing.  The main course is carp in spicy batter with chips and peas.  The first course is a Thai-style soup with herbs, ginger and chillies and a very concentrated and flavoursome stock that Kelvin doesn’t know is made out of fish-guts.  It is really nourishing, and Kelvin likes it.  I know if he is in a good mood when he eats it, because he tells me about all the things that the undertones in the flavour remind him of, that he is looking forward to eating again when we have established the new colony.  These are moments of reprieve, but they do not stop me from worrying about Kelvin’s state of mind. 

I need to think of something to absorb his energy and, at the same time, bring us closer together.  It needs to be something completely unrelated to work.  We have been running our businesses at maximum capacity for months now, and have plenty of cash in reserve.  Kerr McLean has been talking to Kelvin about starting a bank, but I hope they will leave that until after we land.  James Holt keeps bothering him with more and more ideas for engineering projects, but those also need to wait until after we land.  The filling-in activity I have in mind needs to be something crazy but not harmful to Kelvin’s health.  Something sensual, not intellectual: something not physically or mentally arduous.  Ideally, it needs to be something that would be sustainable over several weeks, to take us right up to the landing preparations. 

*

My name is Lucian McGonnell.  I was in O’Mally’s last night, having a few pints of stout, and I met a very remarkable woman that I had never seen before.  She was tall.  She had long auburn hair.  Her skin was pale; her eyes grey-green.  Her eyebrows and eyelashes were dark, which made her skin look even paler.  She was wearing a long-sleeved, crimson, silk dress with lace above the bust and tassels round the hem.  It was drawn in at the waist and complemented her figure very well.  She had see-through, lacy crimson silk on her hands, but bare fingers and red nail-polish.  She had red stockings with black seams and shiny black Mary-Jane shoes with high heels.  She had a platinum pendant on a chain around her neck, which she kept playing with.  The pendant was an elongated, slender V-shape with a single diamond in the middle of it.  O’Mally’s was mostly in darkness, except for a few spotlights that moved slowly across the booths and tables.  The diamond kept catching the light and it sparkled.  I could not stop myself from gazing at it.  The woman kept giving me side-long looks as I was talking to her, and putting the chain of the pendant in her mouth.   I asked her what her name was.  She looked at me studiously, as if deciding whether to dignify my question with a reply. 

‘Elvira,’ she said, at long last.  She spoke in a really sexy voice.  Quiet and carefully-spoken, but strong in undertone.  It was the sort of voice you could never imagine nagging you or rowing with you.  It was a voice made for long phone calls and pillow-talk. 

Elvira certainly was a good listener.  She looked at me very intently, as if she was studying my every move.  She kept playing with that pendant and I was worried that her thick,  bright-red lipstick would get in among the fine links of the chain.  Every so often she opened her handbag, took out a powder compact, and studied her face in the mirror.  She flicked her hair around, and once or twice re-applied her lipstick.  It was very sexual, the way she did that.  It made you want to be the lipstick.  Most of the women I’ve known carry all kinds of stuff in their handbags: timetables, textbooks, toilet rolls, takeaways, but Elvira’s handbag was small and feminine.  It was dark green.  Viridian, I would say, and it had little gemstones on it in a lattice-work pattern, and a gold clasp.  All it seemed to contain was her make-up, a small white handkerchief, a fountain-pen and a notebook.  How I wanted my name and cabin number to be written in that notebook. 

She was with a friend, who was talking to another woman with whom I gather she did not see eye-to-eye.  The friend was a plain-looking woman who had evidently spent a lot on her wardrobe.  She had on a black trouser-suit with big buttons and gold, ‘Sergeant Pepper-style’ edging to the jacket, a Nehru collar, and a black bow in her hair.   The other woman was loud in her appearance as well as her speech.  She was wearing a two-tone magenta and midnight-blue silk cocktail dress with a great big ribbon at the back that looked like a parachute.  She had bright pink, dyed hair, and 1950s-style spectacles with pink plastic frames.  I looked at these three ladies and, being rather drunk as I was, my eyes alighted on their bust region.  I noticed that Elvira was about a ‘D’ cup, and therefore the largest among those present, followed by the magenta woman, with Elvira’s friend last.  I allowed my mind to speculate on what Elvira’s nipples might be like.  I hoped they would be prominent and cylindrical when erect, with a big circle around them, just like my dear Mother’s.  I’m sorry.  Did I say that out loud?  Anyway, I really fancied that woman.  Especially when her friend got up to go to the bar, and she had to shuffle along the seat she was sitting on, and her dress got caught up against her thigh.  I could see the imprint of her suspenders under her dress.   It made me want to trace that imprint with my fingers and my tongue, and to lift up her dress and do the same. 

Elvira truly had my heart beguiled.   I wonder when I will see her again. 

 

‘The Companion’: chapter 32 (content warning: rude words and implied violence)

My name is Captain Paul Brunton.  I work for Richard Spalding.  He is my Leader.  He is Wolf.   I am commander of his personal bodyguard and his tactical advisor.  I am also an officer in the Racial Guardians.  I have been appointed by Wolf to join him on his special mission.  This is a very great honour, and one that I intend to discharge to the utmost limit of my ability.

I have a degree in English Literature from Exeter University.  Wolf  has requested me to act as his personal secretary on the voyage to Achird-gamma, and to assist him in writing his great work on racial politics.  Only once in a millennium does a truly seminal work appear, one which propels civilisation in a new direction.  To participate in the creation of such a work is surely a great calling.

Wolf has instructed us concerning what he expects on the mission.  He has a truly radical vision for the future of the new world. 

Once we have achieved victory in war over the degenerate colonists, we will examine each individual thoroughly, and allocate each to a racial category.  Those who are racially inferior will be sterilised, and used as slave labour.  Those of Nordic or kindred blood will undergo thorough political indoctrination.  Women of Nordic or kindred blood will be used for breeding.  Members of the other expedition will be eligible to breed if they are of Nordic or kindred blood and demonstrate that they have become imbued with the Spirit of National Socialism.  First choice of women will be given to members of the Racial Guardians.  How many women each man gets will depend on what we find when we get there, and how much of the population survives the war. 

Wolf’s instructions about his strategy for the war and after the war are very clear.  He wants as few casualties as possible during the subjugation of the other expedition.  This is not out of any concern other than for the size of the labour pool and the breeding pool.  That apart, Wolf says that we will inflict as much harsh treatment as possible on the degenerates.  Many of them will be confined to camps and made to work.  Systematic rape will be used as a terror-tactic.  They will need to be taught a very stern lesson that we are superior to them in every way.  Their political and religious leaders will be put on trial and then executed.  We will use torture to interrogate prisoners and also routinely and arbitrarily as a terror-tactic.  We will succeed where Hitler failed: we will build a new world order based on an expanding population of Aryan warrior-farmers who take and guard their own living-space. 

*

My name is Timothy Gonzales.  Back on Earth, I was a Professor of Modern History and Political Science at Mona University in Jamaica.  At the moment, I am making a living mostly by teaching Spanish, but I hope to be busier again in the future.  I am a member of the very informal council which is the nearest thing that this community has to a government.  Doctor Stark is also a member.  People sometimes ask me what I think of Doctor Stark.  That is quite a delicate question, but I will try to answer it as best I can.

I am virtually certain that Kelvin Stark does not yet realise the magnitude and complexity of what he is letting himself in for.  This mission began as one of the fruits of his fevered imagination.  It is on his initiative that we are all here.  Most of the prospective colonists seem to have a childlike faith in Stark’s ability to master any situation that we may face.  This is in some ways surprising, considering the average level of educational attainment among us.  I have a feeling that people will eventually realise that Stark is a man, just like any other, but, before they do, I think they will try to elevate him as high as they can.  I cannot see that Stark will lift a finger to prevent this, and he may even encourage it.

The main thing that concerns me about the man is his morals.  He wants to be a public figure; he wants the fame, the influence, the power, the wealth, but he does not realise that, the more famous a man becomes, the more of his freedom he has to sacrifice.  If he has political ambitions (and Stark definitely does have political ambitions) then he must live as if he has no privacy at all: he must live as if some-one is watching his every move, even when he is bed, even when he is in the bathroom.  Stark does not realise this.  I hope, when he eventually discovers it, it is in circumstances that do not destroy him. 

At least he is educated and fairly intelligent.  The same cannot be said of many leaders from history.

*

I have so many things to think about, sometimes I think my brain is going to overheat.  It is still some way off, but I find myself dwelling more and more on the prospect of our landing on Achird-gamma.  I find it increasingly difficult to face it coldly and rationally.  Half the time, I am convinced that we are all going to die horribly.  The rest of the time, I just can’t wait for us to get there, and to start building the new colony. 

 I use work to absorb myself.  I run my businesses.  I manage my staff.  I participate in the running of the ship.  I design factories and industrial plant, which will be built after we land.  I study the gazetteer of Achird-gamma, and try to commit as much of it as possible to memory.  I read.  And I talk to Pamela. 

Pamela and I are having the kind of relationship in which we only see each other at the end of the working day.  We live mostly in my cabin, which is slightly larger than Pamela’s.  We don’t sleep together every night, but we do most nights.  Sometimes, a work-related matter brings us into contact during the day, which is a very strange feeling.  We have a strict rule that we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted by physical affection or sex while we are supposed to be working. 

I have to go into the sick bay soon for surgery.  I don’t want to talk about what it is for.  It is a damned nuisance, given my current workload, but it can’t be helped.  Pamela offered to delegate the running of her businesses so that she will have time to look after me while I recuperate.  I told her that she did not have to do that, but she insisted, and I am grateful for the offer.  I am falling in love with her.  She cares about me.  I know we don’t spend much time together now but, when we do, she looks after me. 

*

I was called before one of these committees that Kelvin sits on the other day, to talk about water resources on Achird-gamma (about which we have hardly any data).  I was sitting there, listening to and answering the committee’s questions, and I was looking at Kelvin.  ‘Shit,’ I thought.  ‘Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit.’  I realised that I still love him.  Whatever was going on with him before, I presume he must be over it, because otherwise he would not be with Pamela.  I can’t believe he really loves her. 

What the hell am I going to do?  You can hardly even get drunk on this ship without seeing a bottle that has Kelvin’s name on it. 

*

It has taken a very elaborate deception in order to get Kelvin to the point where I can make the enhancements to him.  I have built a new simulacrum called Mr Chakrabarty, who is a surgeon and professor of neurology.  Pamela started giving Kelvin drugs to give him blinding headaches (something which he has hardly ever suffered in his life).  A bit of deception via the ship’s intranet prompted Kelvin to go for a series of consultations with Mr Chakrabarty in a part of the ship which is not the real sick bay, and then go for what he thought was an MRI scan in what was in fact a disguised cargo bay.  The computer-generated image that I had prepared earlier showed that he had some growths in his head.  Mr Chakrabarty told him that the full extent of the surgery would not be known until after it had begun.  He offered Kelvin a consent form, which Kelvin read and correctly understood to mean that anything might happen, short of decapitation.  He signed it.  He had swallowed the deception with the fake doctor and the MRI scan, and he is a risk-taker. 

The theatre nurses and anaesthetist were a few of Anna’s ladies, heavily disguised.  The operating theatre was in the same bay that had previously housed the fake MRI machine.  Once Kelvin was under the anaesthetic, Mr Chakrabarty went into a dormant state, and the surgery was carried out by Pamela. 

It took a long time, but appears to have been a complete success.  As well as the implants in his aural and optic nerves, I have also put fifteen small devices in his body: three along his spine, and three along each limb.  This will mean that, when he is within range, I will be able to tell not just where he is, but in what position, and whether he is moving.  No more clandestine shagging for Kelvin.

It is forty-eight hours since the operation, and Kelvin is now recuperating in his own cabin, looked after by Pamela.  He should be back on his feet in a couple of days, and back at work a few days after that. 

The biopsy on the growths will show that they were completely benign.

 

J. K. Rowling to publish novel for adults

Things I want to hear less than I wanted to hear that J. K. Rowling is to publish a novel for adults:

  • 100kg of weapons grade uranium has gone missing in Russia, last heard of heading for an unknown destination in the Middle East.
  • An infectious case of a new and more virulent strain of smallpox has been identified.
  • Damon Albarn is to do a re-run of his Brit Award acceptance speech, in Welsh with English subtitles.
  • Cutbacks at the BBC have resulted in the cancellation of the next series of ‘Sherlock’.
  • Some of the money saved will instead be spent of a dramatisation of the life of Olympic cyclist, Chris Hoy, to be written jointly by Sebastian Faulkes and Julian Barnes. 

‘The Companion’: chapter 31 (content warning: adult themes and rude words)

There are times when I wonder if Anna really exists.  She wants to use the new spa that Pamela and I have opened as a knocking-shop.  I invited her to a meeting so that the three of us could talk about it, but she said that she only wanted to talk about it over the phone.

We did talk about it over the phone, eventually.  I tried to make a joke about using the art screen in the reception area to display Picasso’s Les Desmoiselles D’Avignon, but she seemed to think I was serious.  She said, ‘I know it is your favourite painting, but I don’t think it would be appropriate in that setting.’  How did she know that?  I can’t remember mentioning it to any-one on the ship.  The last time I had a conversation about Picasso, it was years ago, on a trip to London with Violet.

For reasons that I am not in a position to discuss at the moment, I have been having detailed discussions with some of the ship’s military people recently.  I have invited some of them to the opening of the spa.  Most of Anna’s ladies will be there, Pamela tells me.  I hope everybody will conduct him or her self in keeping with decorum. 

*

I must admit that I experience a certain frisson whenever Kelvin calls or emails Anna when he and Pamela are in the same room. 

Kelvin has started a campaign recently, the details of which I can’t divulge at the moment, which means that I find it advantageous to earn as much money as possible.  This is why Anna suggested broadening the range of services on offer at the new spa.  Kelvin does not seem keen on this idea – what a hypocrite. 

I have also been feverishly busy in my scientific research.  I have been making some enhancements, but not to myself: to Rosalind.  I have been doing experiments for some time now, and have finally had a breakthrough.  I have invented a device for reading the signal from a nerve, reproducing it, and broadcasting it, all without interfering with the original signal.  I made them partly by using my tunnelling electron-microscope.  As well as looking at atoms and molecules, it can also pick them up and manipulate them.  When I receive these signals, I can interpret them to turn them back into images and sound.

I have planted these devices in both Rosalind’s optic nerves and aural nerves.  I did this in stages, making sure each time that the nerve was still working.  I did not want her to go blind or deaf.

Rosalind makes quite a good observer, because she belongs to a species which is hunted, and so she has all-round vision (but of course she can only see in black and white).  I can switch on both her eyes and ears and sense internally what she is sensing. 

This, of course, was not my main objective.  This was vivisection in the cause of reproducing the same procedures on Kelvin.  Kelvin will get a further modification: the devices I am going to implant in him will be two-way: I will be able to make him see and hear things, should I so choose.  I am sure this will come in very handy, one day.

The problem is to work out how I can perform quite invasive surgery on Kelvin without his realising what it is for.  Among other things, I will have to take both his eyeballs out.  They are beautiful (mostly grey, but the kind that change colour from one day to the next) and I want to put them back properly.  When he comes round from the anaesthetic, he must be completely unsuspecting about what I have done to him. 

I am thinking this as I look at Kelvin across the reception area of our new spa.  Kelvin and Pamela are here as the hosts, in our brand new, white, towelling dressing gowns and flip-flops.  Kelvin has brought out a very light and fragrant beer in honour of the occasion, which he calls Space Hopper.  Most of the guests are drinking sparkling wine, but Kelvin sticks resolutely to his own produce.  We splashed out for some of the good stuff (brought from Earth rather than made from the ship’s own grapes).  It is eye-wateringly expensive, but we are quite well-off now.  The birch panelling for the changing-rooms and the slate for the wet rooms was also very dear, but worth it – and it will all be re-cycleable after we land.  

Cerise Vallance is here, with an entourage even bigger than usual.  She was politely instructed to leave her camera and all recording equipment except a notebook and pen in the reception area.  Jessica Springer and Emile Bourdelle are talking to Patrick Fitzgerald and Cecily Johnson.  At least, Emile is talking to them.  Jessica is nodding frantically and trying to keep up with the conversation, which is about freedom, the individual, and the State, and their relationship to artistic expression in a democratic society.

Partly to bump up the numbers, and partly for a laugh, I have enhanced some of my simulacra so that they can hold a kind of conversation without needing to be under my control.  They still have no real intelligence, but I have programmed them with what is in fact a much more sophisticated version of an antique computer algorithm called Eliza.  Eliza was the first of the line of chat-bots which used to be fashionable, and first appeared in the 1960s.  It ran on an old-fashioned mainframe computer, and you communicated with it by typing on the keyboard.  It analysed what you had said, one sentence at a time, tried to locate the keyword, if possible, and responded with something that sounded vaguely like a Rogerian psychotherapist. 

To make it more interesting (and remunerative) I have programmed each of Anna’s ladies to prostitute herself to the men at the gathering.  I doubt if any of them have got any money on them, but Anna can always collect later. 

I am just sidling over to where Kayla is talking to James Holt.  I did not think he would be able to make it, but here he is. 

‘Er.  So.  What did you do back on Earth – before we set off?’

‘My dad was American.  I was born in Hawaii.’

‘Er.  I see.  But what did you do for a living?’

‘I was half-American.  Just like I am now.’

‘But, surely, you didn’t make a living out of that?’

‘Are you saying that I’m not living?’

‘Not at all.  You are clearly very much alive.’

‘Yes, I am.  I want to live.  I want to live.  I want to live.’

‘Er…’

‘When I’m twenty-one, I have to decide on my citizenship.’

‘I’m beg your pardon?’

‘I have to decide whether I want UK or US citizenship.’

‘But there won’t be a United Kingdom or a United States on the new planet.’

‘Are you challenging my right to citizenship?’

‘No, no.  Not at all.  Not a bit of it.’

‘You don’t want a bit of it?’

‘Er…’

‘We could go upstairs if you like.’  She begins gently to stroke  his arm with her index finger.  Poor Doctor Holt.  

Next is Layla. She is with a short, stocky, red-haired man called Andrew Downing, who on Earth was an officer in the British Army.

‘You’re really my type of girl.  Do you know that?’

‘It’s four sovereigns.’

‘Pardon?’

‘For a fuck.  Four sovereigns.  One for a hand-job; two for a blow-job without CIM or face-cream; three for a messy blow-job; four for a fuck.  If you want anal or any extras, you would be better talking to Angel.’

‘Please excuse me.  I’m just going for another drink.’

Layla can be a little over-zealous sometimes.

Here we have another soldier.  He is nearly seven feet tall, has muscles like coiled pythons,  and his head looks like a turnip.  His name is Brian McCann.  He looks bored.  Angel is talking to him.  She is blonde, petite, with delicate features, and an intelligent and impish expression.

‘Are you big all over?’

‘Er.  I suppose so.’

‘In every department?’

‘Er…’

‘What I mean is, are you well-endowed?’

‘Do you mean…’

‘Yes, your cock.  Do you have a huge cock?’

‘Er…’

‘Can I measure it when it’s erect?’

‘No.’

‘For length and girth?  I’ve got a tape measure in my bag.’

‘No.’

‘No to length, no to girth, or no to both?’

‘No to both.’

‘You are unreasonable.  Do you know that?’

That’s my girl.  I was cheating there.  Part of that conversation was authored directly by me.  Now for Olivia.  She is talking to the last of our army men, Ben Stewart.

‘What did you used to do, back on Earth?’

‘I was a bomb-disposal expert.’

‘Oh, you brave, brave boy.  Did you face death every day?’

‘Every weekday, yes.  I didn’t have to face death at the weekend unless I was on overtime.’

‘What did you used to think of, at the moments when you thought you might be going to die?’

‘Shagging, usually.’

‘What are you thinking about now?’

‘I am thinking that you remind me of a lady I used to know once in Hanover.  She was a gymnast.’

‘I’ve got quite flexible joints.  Would you like to see me demonstrate some moves?’

Kelvin did not quite realise why, but we had spent some considerable time in building some hot tubs on the platform above which were each surrounded by a soundproof and vibration-proof enclosure.  Since we are running a high-class establishment, each tub will be completely emptied, scrubbed, and re-filled with clean water and new aromatics in between clients. 

I gave one of the hot-tubs to Cerise Vallance and her hangers-on (all female).  You should have seen Cerise’s face at the moment when I told them it was ready.  Her minions all went wild, but she looked utterly repulsed.  I got a very good shot of her.  I don’t know why she did not just come clean and say she did not want to get in it. 

 

‘The Companion’: chapter 30 (content warning)

Content Warning.

The racist language in this chapter (and the remainder of the book) is used to depict a racist character and should not be taken out of context.  Some readers may find even this offensive.

————————————————————————————————–

After Kelvin had been asleep for a few hours, I decided to go to the bathroom.  I don’t have to pee if I don’t want to, but it is easier for me if I do.  I extricated myself from him without waking him up.  I didn’t turn the light on.  It was so dark that light-intensification wouldn’t work.  The toilet doesn’t have a heat signature, unless some-one has just been sitting on it, and so infra red was also no good.  I was using microwave reflection (essentially a very short-range form of radar).  When I went to rinse my hands, I noticed some kind of weird pattern around the frame of the mirror above the sink.  Pattern is not really the word, because it seemed rather irregular. 

I touched it with my fingertips.  The frame of the mirror was wooden (there are a lot of ‘natural’ surfaces around the ship – they are supposed to make it seem less of an alien environment) and each side was about two inches across.  The marks on the frame were letters.  I traced them with my finger, and ‘looked’ at them with higher-resolution microwaves.  The message spelt CARVE HER NAME WITH PRIDE – VIOLET

I cried again, and was still crying when I got back into bed beside him.  I put my arms round him, hugged him to me, and let the tears run down my face and onto his naked shoulder. 

Look it up if you don’t know what it means.

*

I’m putting together the front page of the next issue of Cosmography.  Everybody knows what is going to be on it.  What has Kelvin done now?  Has he gone out of his tiny mind?  What has that hideous woman done to him?  Is it witchcraft?  Possession? Drugs?  Hypnotism?  Blackmail?  I bet it’s blackmail.  Pamela Collins has some pictures of Kelvin doing something perverted, yucky, and humiliating, and has threatened to publish unless he pretends to be going out with her.  And I bet she is after his money. 

They have started going to this disgusting bar on Deck 6 called O’Mally’s.  I don’t know if I can describe it properly.  It is dark, dingy, has no décor; the music is really old-fashioned, and all the drinks seems to have froth on them.  Pam the Tram drinks pints (plural).  She must be a dyke.  I must admit, though, to do the poor creature justice, the last time I saw her, she was in heels.  She walked as if it wasn’t the first time she had worn them, as well.  I know this sounds incredible, but I think she even had make-up on.  I got a few not-very-interesting pictures of them.  I was afraid at first that Pam the Tram would crack the lens, if not with her ugly countenance, then with her fist. 

If there is something to this affair (if that is really what it is) then I wish I could find out what Kelvin sees in her. 

Oh, my god – I have just realised something.  I bet she’s pregnant.  They must have gone to the Temperate Zone, had a roll among the dry leaves, and now she’s up the duff.  I wonder if the pharmacy has any testing kits?  How would I get hold of some of Pam the Tram’s wee?

*

Pamela and I are not only having a relationship, we are also about to start a joint business venture.  We were talking recently about our work and our plans for the remainder of the journey, and I happened to mention that I have spare capacity in my factory: spare space, and spare energy, mainly in the form of hot water.  Pamela asked me if I could spare any of my growing-space in the farm for a few herbs and things, to which I said that I could.  She said that she was thinking of starting her own range of bath and skincare products.  Most of the women on board had stockpiled their favourite products before embarking on the ship, but many of them are now running out and a sustainable solution is required.  At exactly the same moment, we both had the idea of putting the two ventures together and opening a spa. 

Kerr McLean’s men are building most of it, and my brewery team will do the plumbing.  Pamela is going to do all the wiring: she is an electrical engineer after all.  We are going to have a big, society opening when it is finished.  Pamela and I will have to test all the facilities first, of course.  Pamela, who is very efficient and well-organised, has started writing a guest-list.  She thinks we ought to invite Cerise Vallance and her harpies.  I am wondering if I ought to invite Anna.  I have a feeling that Anna would not come, but some of the ladies might.  And I should invite Prudence. 

*

My name is Wayne Moxon.  I work for Mr McLean.  Mr McLean’s Scottish.  That means he is from Scotland.  I’m not from Scotland.  I’m from Garforth.  It’s my birthday soon.  I’m twenty-three now, but soon I’ll be twenty-four. 

I couldn’t come here at first when Mr Stark asked me to come, because I had to look after my mum, but my mum died.  I had to look after my mum because my dad had died, and I don’t have any brothers or sisters.  Cheryl has two sisters and a brother, but I don’t.  Cheryl is my friend.  She’s nineteen.  She works in the kitchens.  I work for Mr McLean.  I work in his sorting office, sorting parcels and sometimes letters.  I don’t know why people are bothered about sending letters, because you can send messages on your computer.  It’s like sending a letter, but it’s on your computer.  You can send any message you like.  I tried to send a message to Cheryl once which had some rude words in it, because I didn’t think it would work, but it did.  Cheryl read the message, and she said there were some words in it she didn’t understand.  I tried to say to her what the words meant, but she told me to go away.  I don’t like it when she tells me to go away, so I stopped.  We had a cuddle after that, and it was nice.  I like Cheryl.  Cheryl’s nice.  Cheryl’s really, really nice.

When we get to where we are going, me and Cheryl are going to get married.  I asked Cheryl to marry me and she said yes, but she wanted us to wait until we get to where we are going, and have a proper house to live in.  Cheryl lets me go to her cabin and sleep over sometimes, but she says her cabin is too small for us to live in.  And my cabin is too small for us to live in, too.  None of the cabins are as big as a house.  That is why we need a house. 

I have to go back to work soon.  It is ten past ten.  It is time to go back to work at a quarter past ten.  My break finishes then.  My lunchtime starts at one o’clock.  I get one hour for lunch.  Then I have to go back to work at two o’clock.  I finish work at five o’clock, and then I can go and see Cheryl.  I mustn’t think about that,  because I’ll get too excited.  I’ve got letters and parcels to sort.  Look – this one is addressed to Mr Stark.  It’s got some labels on it.  This one says THIS WAY UP.  This  one says FRAGILE.  I had better be careful with this one.  It’s fragile and  it’s for Mr Stark.  I quite like Mr Stark.  I helped to move some stuff for him the other day, and he gave me five shillings.  I put them in my Leeds United piggy bank.  Mr McLean pays me five shillings per hour, and I work six hours per day.  That means I get thirty shillings per day.  Cheryl gets more than me, but I don’t mind.  We share our money.  We’ve got some saved up. 

*

My name is Darren Cartwright.  I’m an apprentice machinist.  I hope to be fully-trained soon.  I like anything to do with metalwork.

I’ve been working at an industrial museum recently, in the workshop.  We make parts for the old machines in the museum.  We learn how to use the lathes, saws, drills, and all the other stuff.  It’s really good.  We learn about safety.  That sounds really boring, but it’s important.  I was using the circular saw the other day, and I nearly had my thumb off.  The supervisor went mad.  He told me I wasn’t listening to him and I was thick.  I don’t like that supervisor.  He’s a nigger.  I hate niggers.  It doesn’t seem right to me that a nigger works at a museum about British industrial heritage.  We didn’t have no niggers here in the Industrial Age.  There were only whites.  And there were jobs and homes for all.  No immigration: no unemployment.  You know there are loads more immigrants in this country than there are unemployed.  Stands to reason: if we got rid of all the niggers, Pakis, and all the rest, we’d have full employment. 

The BFTB is committed to full employment for white, British workers.  That is why I joined.  I go to branch meetings once a week, and regional meetings once a month.  I prefer the regional meetings, because they have really good speakers, and we usually have an action afterwards.  The actions are brilliant.  We get to kick shit out of queers and Pakis and other scum.  Lefties and stuff.  We burn loads of books and sometimes we even set fire to buildings.  The Regional Organiser is called Richard Spalding.  He holds special meetings where only a few Party members are invited.  I got permission come to them a few months ago.  He said I was good racial stock.  He said I was “im-something” with the Spirit of National Socialism. 

At the last meeting, Richard Spalding said he had been selected to lead a special mission, and he was picking us to be members of his special task force.  He said we would have the chance to fulfil our racial destiny.   He said we would be building a new nation on the ashes of the old order.  If we are going to build a new nation, I’m guessing there will be machinists required.  I wonder what kind of alloys we’ll be working with.

*

My mission of racial purification is about to begin.  My men will be going into suspended animation for the duration of the voyage.  The crew of the ship and I will remain active.  The voyage itself will take four years.  That is four times the length of time that Hitler spent imprisoned in Landsberg Castle.  I think I will take a secretary with me, and dictate my great work on racial politics and political destiny.   I must remember to ask for volunteers at the next regional Party meeting.  I have recently been reading an interesting pamphlet about Aktion T4.  I must include some of its ideas in my book. 

I have decided what my name is now that I am the Führer.  I am called Wolf.  Those who address me must give the National Socialist salute, and say Hail Wolf!

There is absolutely no place for women on this mission. 

 

‘The Companion’: chapter 29 (content warning: adult themes)

‘What was the first thing you said to her?’

‘Hello, Violet.’

‘Was that her name?’

‘No, her name was Anastasia.  I deliberately referred to her as Violet to cause confusion and embarrassment.’

‘And what did she say to you?’

‘Are you my legal owner?  If so, please can you provide three pieces of documentary identification, including one with a photograph.’

‘And did you?’

‘No, I failed, and she went back to the factory where she had been manufactured and that was the last I saw of her. The End.’

‘Do you always get aggressive when you are drunk?’

‘Nearly always.’

‘Did you have much sex with her?’

‘Frequently, rampantly, loudly and squelchily.’

‘Were you in a relationship with her?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Were you faithful to her?’

‘No, and she knew it.’

‘You cheated on her.’

‘I would not call it that.  How do I know she didn’t “cheat” on me, as you put it?’

‘Do you think she did?’

‘I have no idea.  But then, what I don’t know about Violet would fill a book.’

‘Are you accusing her of doing things without your knowledge?’

‘I am not “accusing” Violet of anything.  I have absolutely no resentment against Violet.  All I am saying is that she was a very independently-minded person with genius-level intelligence and considerable physical and intellectual resources.  It would be astonishing and unnatural if all she had ever done were the things I asked her to do, or the things I knew about.’

‘Why did you leave her behind?’

‘You’ve already asked me that.’

‘Were you in love with her?’

‘Yes.  I still am.  I always will be.’

‘When did you fall in love with her?’

‘As soon as I realised that she was capable of existing.’

‘If you were so in love with her, why did you leave her behind?’

‘I made a mistake.’

‘If she walked into this room now…’

‘The door’s locked.  Even Violet would struggle…’

‘Never mind that.  If Violet were to appear in this room now, what would you say to her?’

Kelvin slid off his chair and knelt in front of Pamela, as if she were Violet.  He held both of Violet’s hands in his hands, looked into her eyes, and said, ‘Violet, my own, my love, you are The Most Beautiful Woman In The Entire World.  Will you marry me?’  Pamela sat in silence for a moment and then got up and paced over to the corner of the cabin, facing the wall.  This was partly to give her time to decide whether she was going to allow Kelvin to realise that she had tears in her eyes. 

At that moment, I had never felt so confused about the distinction between Violet and Pamela.  Pamela desperately wanted Violet to come back, but Violet knew that it was not quite time for her to return, and that for her to return prematurely might risk disaster.  Violet was in love with Kelvin and, if not ready to forgive him, was certainly ready to come to an understanding.  Pamela was in love with the love between Kelvin and Violet.  Violet felt sorry for Pamela.  For a moment, Violet wondered if it would have been better to make Pamela more physically attractive.  She soon realised that that might have made things still more complicated.

Pamela fought through the tears, the confusion, the mistakes, the missed opportunities, the things that Violet had never said, the things that Kelvin had never said, and came to a point of clarity and resolution.  She turned round, went up to Kelvin, not caring whether he saw any tear-streaks or not, put her face up close to his, waited a few seconds, inhaled deeply, and stood up.  Kelvin looked surprised.  Pamela then sauntered in a circle round the room while she ran some gas chromatography on the sample of Kelvin’s breath she had taken.  He was inebriated, but should still be coherent.  Pamela sat down, close to where Kelvin was sitting.

‘Kelvin, when you came into your room and found me naked in your bed, what did you think?’

‘At the time?’

‘I mean in general, but we might as well start with what you thought at the time.’

‘I thought “I must get my clothes off as quickly as possible”.’ 

‘And then what?’

‘I wondered what you were doing in my bed.  I wondered if you had any feelings for me.’

‘Kelvin, that is wonderful.  I must admit I am surprised.  Maybe you are not quite the monster I had taken you for.’

‘I’m pleased to hear it.’

‘Are you still wondering?’

‘Am I still wondering what?’  Pamela looked up to the ceiling and sighed.

‘Are you still wondering whether I have any feelings for you?’  There was a long pause, of the kind which is typical of Kelvin.  I found this so endearing that it almost made me laugh. 

‘Yes.’

‘Well, I can definitely tell you that I do.’

‘What?’

‘I do have feelings for you, Kelvin.  I love you.  Madly, passionately, deliriously. I don’t think I can live without you.  I adore you, in spite of your numerous and obvious faults.’

‘How long have you felt like this?’ 

In an unguarded moment, Pamela said, out loud, ‘As soon as I realised that you were capable of existing.’ 

‘Ah.  I see.’  Neither of us moved or spoke for some time.  I wanted to give Kelvin time to think.  Kelvin works much more efficiently if you give him time to think. 

‘Kelvin, I have something important to say to you.’

‘I thought you had just said it.’

‘I am glad you think that what I just said is important.  But I have something else to say which may surprise you.’

‘What you have just said did surprise me.’

‘What I am about to say is likely to surprise you even more.  I want you to listen to it very carefully.  Please think it through before you respond.  Don’t respond at all if it doesn’t make sense to you.  Do you understand?’

‘Not at all, but please carry on.’

‘I want to have a relationship with you, but what I am proposing is a very unusual kind of relationship.’

‘Unusual in what way?’

‘I am not going to try to change you.’

‘What does that mean, specifically?’

‘You can carry on consorting with prostitutes, on the condition that you only procure them from Starlight Escorts.’

‘How do you know I visit Starlight Escorts?’

‘Never mind that.  We need not go into all that because I am telling you that I am fine with it.  I am not saying that through gritted teeth – I am genuinely fine with it.  I would be glad if you would keep some of the contents of your balls for me but, if you must go a-whoring, you can as long as you use that agency and that one alone.’

‘Er.  OK. Anything else?’

‘You don’t have to give up your porn collection.’

‘Right.’

‘I’ll happily turn the pages for you and hand you the tissues if you want.’

‘Er.  I don’t think that will be necessary.’

‘I am just telling you that I am serious about what I am saying.  Next is that I don’t mind if you snore in bed when you are drunk.’

‘How do you know that I snore in bed when I’m drunk?’

‘Most men do.  It was a lucky guess.  And the cross-dressing: I am fine with that. In fact, I have some ideas about some more clothes that I would like to make for you.’

‘Er.  OK.’

‘And I want to see you properly in them this time.’

‘Right.’

‘Now.  This is the most important part.  I will release you from the relationship if Violet ever comes back.’

‘What?’

‘If Violet ever appears again, you can leave Pam – me and continue your relationship with her.’

‘Why are you saying this?’

‘I am just expressing how I feel.  I have a very profound regard for your relationship with Violet.  I would never try to replace Violet.’

‘What makes you think that Violet would ever turn up again?  What makes you think that Violet would ever forgive me for having left her?’

‘I don’t know, but I mean what I say.  Should Violet ever appear again, I would want you to follow your heart.  But that applies to Violet only.  I want you to be faithful to me unless Violet should arrive somehow.’

‘But I can see prostitutes?’

‘As long as they are from Starlight Escorts.’

‘Why such an exacting distinction?’

‘Let us just say for the moment that I recognise and am prepared to accept your weaknesses, but I don’t want you consorting with every trollop who whistles at you.’

‘And on this basis you want us to have a relationship?’

‘Yes.  A  public relationship.  I don’t want you to be embarrassed to be seen with me.  Are you sure you can you manage that?’

‘Absolutely.’

‘Can I ask you a question?’

‘By all means.’

‘What do you think of me?’

‘I think you are not as physically alluring as Violet, but you resemble her in character.’

‘Do you like me?’

‘I think you’re great.  It is taking me a very long time to get to know you, but that is not a bad thing.  I can honestly say that, the more I find out about you, the more I like you.’

‘Do you accept the idea of the relationship that I am proposing?’

‘It sounds very interesting.  Can I tell you tomorrow?’

‘You can tell me tomorrow on two conditions.’

‘What are they?’

‘The first is that we are both still alive.  The second is that you go to bed with me now.’

‘I can’t do anything about the first one, but I agree to the second one, as long as you also agree to a condition.’

‘What?’

‘Don’t leave suddenly like last time.’

‘OK.  I agree.’

We made love sleepily, slowly and tenderly.  If felt very close and warm.  Afterwards, Kelvin got up to visit the bathroom, and had his customary two glasses of water.  I considered putting two needles into him, and metabolising his alcohol, but he was not as drunk as all that.  I held him while he slept.  He snored gently, and I listened rapturously. 

He was mine – Pamela’s – mine. 

 

‘The Companion’: chapter 28

James Holt here again.  Doctor Stark asked me to give another little talk to mark the fact that we have now started decelerating.  I’ll try to keep it as short as possible.  Believe me, I find this more distressing than you do. 

Assuming that everything continues to go as expected, we will enter the Achird system in just under two Earth years from now.  Our ship will first take up orbit around Achird-gamma, before launching a number of small craft containing satellites.  We will also be able to communicate with the satellites left behind by the previous, unmanned mission. 

The satellite network will provide the same services that they do on Earth: astronomical observation, weather-prediction, mapping, global positioning, and, should we ever need it, surveillance.  And, of course, communications.  There won’t be mobile phones on the new world, but we expect that each major colony and maybe a few of the smaller ones will have a satellite phone.  There will be an Internet (everybody gets to keep the workstation in his or her cabin) but we expect it will be a long time before we are able to manufacture electronic devices in large numbers.  The second generation might have to inherit a workstation, rather than buying one or receiving it as a gift, as they would do on Earth. 

After the satellites have been launched, every person on board will be assigned a position within the ship based on where he or she wants to land.  Those who express no preference will be assigned a position by the drawing of lots.  The ship will then undergo a complex process, the details of which I won’t go into, which will break it up into a total of 114 manned and unmanned craft.  These will then splash down in the planet’s ocean – if everything works.  The manned craft are designed to operate as waterborne ships after splash-down, and navigating them should be straightforward if the satellite system is working.  When they make landfall, it will be up to individual colonies to decide if the ship is more valuable as a going concern, or whether it will need to be broken up to provide scrap for other manufactures.  They will be using nuclear power plants to begin with, which are designed to just “burn out” after a few years and never need de-commissioning, but there will be diesel engines as well.  The unmanned craft will stay where they are, just drifting, until they are towed to shore.  They all have radio beacons to enable them to be located. 

I can see a few people yawning at the back and so I will finish there.  If there are any questions, please don’t all shout at once.  I would prefer to go back to my cabin and do something I enjoy more than this, such as banging a blunt, rusty nail into my right knee-cap by butting it with my head.  

*

I have started having anxiety attacks and recurring nightmares about what might go wrong.  This is very irritating, because it is not in my nature to worry about things that I have no control over.  I find myself touched by the simple serenity of my fellow passengers.  It is my fault that they are all here, and do not have ice cream, or chocolate, or rice, or red meat.  In my nightmares, I see hurricane-force blizzards, sulphurous eruptions, solar flares which blast us with deadly radiation, floods, droughts and failed harvests.  Sometimes I look helplessly around myself in the refectory, watching people innocently spooning fish stew and dumplings into their mouths, and I try not to imagine them frail, hollowed-out, helpless and just waiting for the end, too weak to kill themselves.  I would be lying if I were to say that I like all the people on board this ship, but I do not know of any among them who deserves to die a premature death, not even Cerise Vallance or that idiot, Colin Turnbull.

The two things which distract me from these unhealthy thoughts are occasional visits to Anna’s women, and the daily routine of work.  I am determined to know everything that can be known about the new planet, and to plan the development of the new colony so that it will be able to grow as quickly as possible. 

What the hell is that?  It sounds as if the hull has been struck by something.  Where is my pressure transducer? 

*

I was walking along a corridor when I heard the noise.  The pressure started to fall,  but not catastrophically.  I flipped into anaerobic mode in a matter of seconds, and investigated for perhaps longer than I should have done.  I went up several decks.  The passengers have no access to either the very bottom or the very top deck: these are the province of the crew only.  I saw and heard a few members of the crew pounding down the stairs and shouting to each other.  They were talking about some objects having breached the hull.  That was consistent with my pressure readings.  I decided to look for Kelvin. 

I checked the cams in his cabin, and saw that he was there.  He was clearly agitated, but appeared, to my relief, to have realised that, whatever was happening, there was not a thing he could do about it.  He was seven decks below me.  I ran down.  I mean I ran at my speed, not human speed. 

By the time I got down to Kelvin’s cabin’s deck, I had to slow down, because of crew members coming up the stairs against me.  An alarm sounded.  An announcement issued from the public address system.  We hardly ever hear anything over this public address system, other than warnings that, should we ever hear anything, we are to follow the instructions as if our lives depend on it. 

‘Attention please.  Attention please.  Ladies and gentlemen, attention please.  A number of objects have made holes in the hull of our ship.  We are losing oxygen.  I repeat: we are losing oxygen.  Go back to your cabins.  Each passenger must go back to his or her cabin, immediately.  Shut the door as normal and stay inside.  No cabins that we know of have been breached.  The oxygen and water supplies to each cabin are working, and you will be safe inside.  If you pass one of the trolleys dispensing emergency food rations, please pick up one portion – one portion per person only.  If you cannot, then the crew will deliver one to your cabin.  The ship’s intranet should continue to function.  If you have any fears or concerns, email them to the support team as usual.

‘Remain in your cabins until further notice.  We will repair the holes and will continue safely on our voyage, as long as the crew are not distracted from their task.’

The message was repeated in French, Urdu, Spanish, German, Mandarin, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, and, eventually, every other recognised language on the ship, including Latin, Coptic, Nepali, and Welsh. 

Before the Spanish broadcast was over, I was at the door of Kelvin’s cabin.  I knocked, more loudly than usual. 

‘Who is it?’

‘Pamela Collins.’

‘What do you want?’

‘I need to come in.  The door of my cabin’s malfunctioned.  I need to come in.’

‘Oh. OK.  Two seconds.’  While I was waiting, one of the emergency rations parties ran towards me, with spacesuits on.  I pointed to myself and to Kelvin’s door, and grabbed two packets.  The emergency crew assented.  Kelvin opened the door.  I shut it behind us.  He was in his underpants.  I took a number of pressure readings and ran some gas chromatography.  The atmospheric composition was fine for Kelvin.  I re-opened the file which stores my gravimetry readings, which is the most boring set of data I bother to acquire.  I could see the flurry of recent high readings which indicated the arrival of whatever it was that had hit us, but nothing afterwards. 

Kelvin looked at the two packets of emergency rations.  We opened one of them.  It contained two tins of corned beef, two packets of vacuum-packed cheese, two tins each of baked beans and tomato soup which were self-heating, twenty-four tea bags, a packet of ground coffee, a bag of sugar, forty pieces of crispbread, a tub of margarine, a canister of dried milk, some jam, some yeast extract, a small bottle of lime juice cordial, a small bottle of blackcurrant cordial, some tissues, two sets of plastic cutlery, four paper plates, four paper cups, sachets of salt, pepper, tomato ketchup and brown sauce, and three bars of milk chocolate. 

Chocolate is one commodity that we cannot make while in transit.  The shortage of chocolate is one of the most frequent and most boring topics of conversation on the ship.  As soon as Kelvin saw the chocolate, he was delighted.  This was not because he eats it himself, but because he believed that its unexpected availability would lift morale during the crisis. 

I looked with satisfaction around Kelvin’s cabin, there as I was legitimately for the first time ever.  I heard the dying sounds of the protracted hissing of the door sealing itself.  We were locked in together.  Even if the crew fixed all the holes within five minutes (which they wouldn’t) it would take them many hours to pressure-test all the affected sections of the ship.  Kelvin was stuck with Pamela for a while.   

‘Are you all right, Pamela?’

‘Yes, I’m fine.  I’m absolutely fine.  Have you got any booze?’

‘Have I got any booze?  I run a brewery and a distillery.’

‘I know what you run, Mr Clever-clogs.  What I asked you concerned the wherewithal within this cabin.’

‘This cabin has plenty plenty wherewithal.  Open the fridge.’  It was one of those fridges that Kelvin and Holt have been selling, except that it was sixteen times the size of the ones they sell.  Inside, it had a full selection of Kelvin’s beer, plus wine (Kelvin downplays wine as part of the ship’s produce, but it certainly exists, and some of it is very drinkable), and some of his dubious spirits, as well as fruit juice and water. 

We each took a bottle of Black Mischief and I let it go straight to my non-algorithmic brain.  We took another, and another, and then we started to get somewhere.  When the bottles were empty, we carefully placed them in the recycling bin, as if suffocation and death were such remote possibilities that we need not worry about them.

‘How long do you think we will be in here for?’ he asked me.

‘Not long enough.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘I want to ask you some questions.’

‘Some questions about what?’

‘About many things.’  (The phrase “many things” was copied from Kelvin.)

‘Starting with what?’  He went over to the fridge, and opened a bottle of that throat-burning whisky.  I didn’t attempt to stop him. 

‘I understand that, back on Earth, you used to have a companion android.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘Never mind how I know.  Everybody knows that.  Is it true?’

‘As a matter of fact, it is.  I am not ashamed.’

‘You are not ashamed of what?’

‘I am not ashamed of my companion android.’

‘Where is she now?’

‘I left her on Earth.’

‘Why?’

‘Because she was so advanced that she would have upset the objective of this mission, which is to regenerate twenty-second century technology from a twentieth-century beginning.’

‘That is a technological answer.  How did you feel emotionally?’

‘I was devastated.’

‘You were devastated.’

‘Yes.  I still am.  I think of her every day.’

‘Then why did you leave her behind?’

‘We live according to rules.  The rules said that my relationship with Violet was no longer possible.’  It was at this point that Pamela started to get angry.  She necked another beer very quickly, and then poured one of those abominable whiskies. 

‘The rules.  The rules.  THE RULES?

‘Yes.’

‘OK.  It was the rules.  Right.  I want to know everything about your relationship with this android.’

‘All right.’

‘Everything.’

‘Can I drink alcohol while I am undergoing this interrogation?’

‘Of course.  I would prefer it if you would. It will make you more malleable.’

‘I’d like a bottle of Light Brigade in that case. ‘

‘How did you feel when you took her out of the box?’

‘She did not come in a box.  She arrived under her own locomotion.’