Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 38

The threat of war was both the reason that Violet and Kelvin were able to get back together, and why our relationship became contingent on its victorious end.  Until the invaders have been dealt with, there is very little else that is worth doing (and certainly nothing that includes thoughts about Horace).

Kelvin has finished his political preparations for the struggle, and is already beginning to revert to one of his most typical behaviours: that of a completely detached, emotionless, analytical machine.  I know that once he is fully involved in the economic and military problems which face the colony, it will be impossible for me to reach out to him.    Kelvin has been repeatedly leaving me the whole time I have known him, but he doesn’t need a means of transport to do it: he can do it while we are sitting in the same room.

Our lives are on hold again.  Whatever my feelings of resentment against this, I am taking the prospect of war seriously, for Horace’s sake.  I am just not going to allow the war to become my whole self, as Kelvin seems about to do. 

On our first full night together back as Violet and Kelvin, I moved some of Violet’s stuff out of storage in a distant outhouse and into the living quarters, partly to remark my territory and partly because I needed it. 

Before I continue, I should describe our house and its surroundings.  This is the house that Kelvin designed, and Pamela and Kelvin built together, but which Violet and Kelvin are now living in. 

Its situation was chosen after much exploration by Kelvin.  It is on an island in the middle of a river.  Our estate is the island itself, which is an ellipse about 500 metres wide and a kilometre long, plus rights to some of the  land surrounding it, should we ever need to invoke them.  We have built a jetty on each side of the river, and you get across on a ferry-boat.  We have two ferry-boats: a little one for people and a big one for vehicles and livestock.   We have another boat for travelling up and down the river, which is navigable from the estuary (about 50 kilometres away) to about 20 kilometres further upstream. 

The centre of the island rises to about 15 metres above the normal level of the river.  It was here that we started building, nearly three Earth years ago now.

Of the house itself, everything we have built so far is underground.  This was a very expensive way of doing it, because the concrete and other materials which were required in vast quantities to make it damp-proof are in relatively short supply.  Nevertheless, Kelvin insisted that this was what he wanted.  He declared that he was happy to build a magnificent house eventually but, for the moment, he wanted to live in a bunker.  Pamela asked him many times why this was necessary. 

‘I want somewhere I can defend,’ he kept saying.

‘Defend against what?  Defend against whom?’

‘I don’t know yet.  There will be something, and some-one.’  This unknown agency became known in the household vocabulary as “hostile elements”. 

There was no reasoning with him.  To his credit, not once has he mentioned this since the news broke about the invasion, when the hostile elements actually materialised. 

For aesthetic as well as practical reasons, Pamela tried during the construction to make sure that the place did not end up looking like the Berlin refuge of Adolf Hitler.  It is well-insulated, bone-dry and is quite easy to heat, but it is still underground.  Pamela insisted that no pipe-work or conduits should be visible in the passageways.  These were all neatly boxed-in and then painted. 

Kelvin has a periscope, salvaged from an old Royal Navy submarine, which he has fitted near the hearth in the sitting room, from which he can see most of the surrounding countryside (when there is enough light).  When he has a long session of observation through this instrument, I refer to it as his “playing with his periscope”. 

The house has three ways in and out:  a hatch in the roof, with a wall-ladder up to it and a pole for coming down in a hurry; a lift for moving furniture or other bulky items, and a secret tunnel (again sealed by a hatch) which leads to a cave by the water’s edge.  Kelvin usually keeps a canoe moored there and sometimes goes out in the dark when he is playing Commandoes. 

The house itself contains our kitchen, larder, dining room, sitting room, two bathrooms, two studies, Kelvin’s laboratory, my laboratory, a workshop and a large underground store-room, the last two of which we share.    We have plant for processing air and water, and the house is connected via pipe-work to underground tanks for storing gas and diesel. 

Our vehicles, farm equipment, livestock and the equipment for our various businesses are kept above ground in barns, stables, sties, coops and outhouses.  Most of these are not proper living areas, the notable exceptions being the building from which I run my clothing company (whose trade name is really all that remains of Pamela Collins) and the dormitory where Kelvin’s brewery workers sleep if they are working shifts, or helping with the harvest.  We also have two kilns, fruit-growing enclosures, greenhouses, poly-tunnels, and sheds of various kinds, as well as our gardens and fields.  We have everything that you would expect to see on the estate of the owners of a small but successful farm back on Earth, except there is a bunker instead of a house. 

Next, Kelvin wants to build a gun emplacement, ‘to prevent hostile elements from navigating the river’.  Pamela’s response to this was, ‘Why can’t we have a house, so that we can save energy by using solar illumination, entertain guests,  raise a child, and look out of the window?’ 

Kelvin has never been a morning person but, since the invasion, he now routinely gets up before 6 am (or oh-six-hundred as he has now taken to calling it). 

 Kelvin held meetings with all the people he had appointed.  That eventually included me.  Kelvin described to me how he wanted to set up an organisation to be called the Special Operations Executive (SOE).  He wanted me to lead it, with the rank of Lieutenant to start with.    It was to include me, Sergeant Stewart, and Anna’s ladies initially, to be joined later by anybody I thought it was appropriate to recruit.  Sergeant Stewart would be under my command.  At first, I thought Kelvin’s proposal was just another example of his nostalgia for World War Two.  The SOE was the organisation for which Violette Szabo, after whom I was named, was working for when she was arrested and taken to Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she was murdered.  As the discussion continued, I realised that it was serious.  The appointment sounded interesting.  It occurred to me to wonder what the salary was, but I didn’t ask.  I accepted, and Kelvin seemed pleased. 

I have become a secret agent in the service of the government of Achird-gamma.  Kelvin gave me some intelligence reports (most of which were less than one page in length) and asked me to analyse them and report back to him with some proposed operations the following morning.  He also told me to expect some guests: newspaper people. 

Kelvin will be moving out again soon, but this time with my permission.  He is going to live in a tent at a training camp run by Sergeant McCann (whom Kelvin has been trying hard to promote, in the teeth of opposition from McCann himself).  They are going to be climbing ropes, digging holes, reading maps, using walkie-talkies, lighting camp fires, eating stew, and firing all sorts of guns.



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