iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 40 (content warning: violence)

Name: Andrew Jonathan Downing.  Rank: Major.  I have been captured.  The main objective of my mission has failed.  The mission has now moved into phase two, which I will describe later.  I came here with 39 men, most of whom are dead or wounded, and some of whom, like me, have been captured. 

We began on I-11 in the Northern Hemisphere, and were transported at great expense by means of light aircraft to a beach on the north coast of I-13, in the tropics of the Southern Hemisphere.  This was the island where satellite surveillance had detected the enemy, after he moved from I-2.  We then travelled through the jungle on foot, taking four days to reach the settlement where the enemy was believed to be, and in fact was, billeted.  The jungle was of native, rather than imported, plant-life and was a hostile environment.  There are no native animals on this planet, but the local flora has some large and very bizarre plants which throw seeds with considerable force.  Three of my men were injured by these as we traversed the jungle, but none of them seriously.  The effect on morale was noticeable, but anxiety lifted as soon as we left the forest and came to clearer and more cultivated ground. 

Our primary mission was to neutralise as many as possible of the enemy’s tanks and helicopters, thereby removing the tactical and material advantages that he held over us.  We conducted surveillance on the settlement and the enemy’s movements.  We found that most of the vehicles were being kept in a large garage, which I decided we would assault at dawn the next morning.  I committed my entire force, in two equal groups: the building had two doors.  The two groups would be attacking in opposite directions, but my men were all battle-hardened troops and could operate without shooting each other.  We had no weapons other than small arms, and so we intended to destroy the vehicles simply by dousing them in petrol and setting fire to it.

The tanks were old Conqueror Mark IVs, about fifty years old.  I don’t know where they came from, but they seemed to be in full working order – as we found to our cost.  This vehicle has two machine-guns: a 12.7 mm gun at the front, and a 7.62 mm at the rear.  We opened both sets of doors, at the same moment.  We saw no-one inside the building, only the tanks themselves, four of them, and one helicopter, all in a row.  We were then immediately fired upon by one of the tanks: the one nearest the doors.  We were sitting ducks.  Virtually all the casualties we suffered we took in those few moments.  It had simply not entered my head that any of the vehicles should be manned at that time. 

Superior enemy forces were summoned by the noise, and we were immediately forced to surrender.  I would have fought to the death, had it not been for the secondary objective.

Before we set off from I-11, my Commander-in-Chief had a word with me, and told me that, if I were captured, he wanted me to do whatever I could to convince the enemy to make for a certain location.  It is a place near the mouth of a river on the east coast of I-3.  He showed me how to draw a map of the area.  It is on a very distinctive, jagged coastline and had been deliberately chosen so that even an idiot could find it.  It has been prepared as a killing zone. 

I am currently stark naked, and tied to a metal chair with bare metal wire.  I have been alone in here for an hour or so, after the second of what I expect will be a series of beatings.  I have lost four teeth, and am somewhat bruised.  Also, I think my left wrist may be broken. 

I think I can hear some-one outside the door.  They are coming back. 

I am going to try to hold out for at least two days, to make it more convincing.  I hope I will still be able to remember the back story. 

*

My name’s Ryan Bartlett, and that’s my little brother, Rod.  We must be the jammiest fuckers on the whole planet.  We went out, right, last night, with a few other blokes, and we were in this like pub place where we’ve been going for a few days now.   We’ve found a barrel of rum and a barrel of this  stuff which is a bit like whisky – really, really, really rough whisky.  Like meths, only it’s the same colour as whisky.  We can drink as much as we like for nothing, except that we have to be on parade at oh-seven-thirty.  We are supposed to be back in our barracks by ten, but nobody bothers about that.  Rod and me worked out that the best way not to get done for being late back to barracks was not to go back at all, and that was when we thought of the idea of sleeping in the tank.  It is cramped, but there’s just enough room on the floor for two bed rolls, if you move the seats out of the way. 

We’d been doing this for a few days, and Rod had been saying that we were sure to get found out sooner or later, when something happened.  We were in the tank, wide awake – still a bit pissed, actually – and we were talking, quiet like, when we heard some noise.  We looked out of the ports, me in the front and Rod in the back, and we both could see the doors opening.  It was just getting light.  We couldn’t see very well.  Whoever it was had torches with them.  They wouldn’t have known we were there, see. 

‘What the fuck are we going to do?’ whispered Rod.

‘I don’t know.  I don’t know.’

‘Shoot the fuckers.  Shoot ‘em!’  So we did.  We could tell by the uniforms that they weren’t our men.  We mowed ‘em down.  We just mowed ‘em all down.  Well, most of ‘em.  A few of ‘em hit the deck, and we couldn’t hit them then, because they were too close and the guns wouldn’t go down that far.  One of our patrols came, and we stopped firing then.  I think we had finished a whole belt by then, anyway.  I kept shouting to Rod, ‘Fire in bursts!  Remember the training, you daft sod!’  I think he must have damaged the barrel.  He just pulled the trigger and went dakka-dakka-dakka-dakka-dakka, like that. 

Anyway, it doesn’t matter about that, because now we are heroes.  Spalding gave us some bollocks at first about how he wasn’t going to do us for not going back to barracks on time, and he wasn’t going to do us for being drunk, and he wasn’t going to do us for this and that and the other, but then he stopped being an awkward sod and he changed his tune.  He said he was going to call a parade to honour us, and give us both a medal, and stuff.  We’re his golden boys now.   He’s got a place where he keeps some women, and he said he’d let us go there.  He said we could have a woman each.  Loads of blokes have been asking what they have to do to get a shag.  Well, now we know, me and Rod.  “Comfort women”, he called them.  “Shagging” – that’s what I call it.

Spalding said the best thing was that we’d managed to take some of the enemy alive.  Fuck knows what he’s going to do with them, but I bet it’ll sting.  Cut their bollocks off, probably.  I bet he’ll do it himself.  He’s a weird fuck.  His eyes are funny.  Better not say that to any-one else, though. 

*

I had taken half a day off from training in order to convene a cabinet meeting, when we were interrupted by Chandra, who looked very distressed.  He told me there was a message for me on the video link. 

‘Where from?’ I asked.

‘From Major Downing, Sir.’

‘From Major Downing?  He has missed four reports now, hasn’t he?’  Chandra nodded.  There was a monitor in the meeting-room and so we had a look.

Downing was naked, tied to a chair, with his head down and bruises and streaks of dried blood all over his body.  A hooded figure stood next to him on each side.

‘Downing?’ I said into the microphone.  One of the hooded figures grabbed Downing by the ears, and lifted his head up.  His speech was slurred and indistinct.  His lips were swollen, and he’d lost a lot of teeth.

‘This is Major Downing.’ It sounded like Downing, and yet unlike him at the same time.

‘Downing, can you tell me…’ I continued, for the want of anything better to say, but Downing either was not listening or could not hear me.  He seemed to be reading from a prepared statement. 

‘My men and I have been forced to surrender.  We have been forced to surrender to a superior force – both superior in number, in armaments, and in racial purity. [An enterprising use of the word “both”  I thought.] Most of my men are dead, and the rest have been captured.   I am about to hand you over to the leader of…’ Downing’s voice gave way to another.  Whoever was speaking was out of camera-shot.

‘I am the leader of the new government of this planet.  In the name of our National Spirit I order you to surrender.  In the name of Wolf, the Leader, I order you to lay down your arms and surrender.’

‘What is your name?’ asked Kelvin.

‘My name is Wolf.  Are you going to surrender?’

‘That’s not a name: it’s a recipe for indigestion.  What is your name?’

‘ARE YOU GOING TO SURRENDER?’

‘Never.’

‘I have all your men you sent here; I have captured them, and I can do anything with them I like.  If you don’t surrender they will be tortured.’

‘You mean, they will be tortured some more.’

‘WHAT?’

‘You have already tortured them.’  I did not raise my voice, or hurry.  I spoke in just my normal voice.

‘ARE YOU TRYING TO ARGUE WITH ME?’

‘No, I am telling you that I refuse to surrender.  My cabinet refuses to surrender.  My Army refuses to surrender.  My steel helmet, battledress, my boots and my webbing refuse to surrender.  My dogs, my cats, my chickens and the worms in my garden refuse to surrender.  My vest, pants, socks, handkerchief, and the multiplicity of things I wipe my pert but hairy little arse on refuse to surrender.  My knife, fork and spoon, my egg-cup and my matching condiment-set refuse to surrender.  My toast-rack, my teapot and my cafetière  refuse to surrender.  One may go so far as to say that, refusal-to-surrender-wise, a pattern is emerging.  I wouldn’t surrender to you if you were the last Nazi invader left in the universe.’ 

My interlocutor (still off-screen) did not interrupt me, which is one reason why I blathered on for so long.   

‘Well.  Well, then.  Then I suggest you listen to this.’  They attached some kind of mechanical device to Downing’s right hand, which one of the hooded figures proceeded to operate.  There was an agonising grinding noise, followed by the sound of stifled and desperate breathing, while Downing raised his head, and all the vessels in his face and neck stood out as if they would burst.  Eventually,  Downing screamed in pain.  He was obviously trying not to cry out, and so he screamed in short, staccato bursts, until the point where whatever was being done to him overcame him, and he screamed continuously, until a dreadful kind of diminuendo terminated by gurgling and his head falling back down to his chest indicated that the Major had either died or lost consciousness.  Holt, who was sitting next to me, opened his mouth to call out to Downing, but I silently signalled to him, and the others, not to utter a word.

‘Did you see all that?’ asked the voice on the other end, with apparent glee.

‘This conversation is over,’ I announced, and cut the link.

There was a stunned silence, which was broken when I spoke again. 

‘We will now stand and reflect for a moment on the bravery of Major Downing and his men.’ I stood up.  Holt and the other cabinet-members all stood.  I did not know what the others were thinking, but Holt for one looked extremely upset.  I allowed them a short time to consider what had happened – no more than two minutes, and then I signalled for them all to sit down again, and get back to business.

‘I know this is a stupid question,’ said Holt, ‘But shouldn’t we have…’  I looked at him for an instant and managed to convey ‘Yes, that is a very stupid question.’

‘What was in Downing’s last report before he was captured?’ I asked of  Captain McCann (I was promoting him in stages).  I had already read the report, naturally, but I wanted to refresh my memory.  McCann read it out loud to the meeting. 

‘It is impossible to tell whether the enemy has divided his forces between I-13 and I-2.  We have counted approximately one thousand three hundred enemy soldiers and are still counting.  Each man is equipped with an automatic rifle.  There are also units which have rocket-propelled grenades, and light, medium, and heavy machine guns.  All their motorised transport seems to have been stolen from us.  In other words, they are using some of the old Land Rovers which we brought with us from Earth.  We have counted four tanks, which appear to be Conqueror Mark IIIs or IVs and hence obsolete by Earth standards.  These armoured vehicles seem nevertheless to be mechanically sound.  We have not seen them fire either the 120mm cannon which is the vehicle’s main armament or any of the machine guns which are the secondary armament.  These tanks have been used to bulldoze or demolish many small buildings for no apparent tactical or logistical purpose. 

‘We have spotted one helicopter, which is currently being used to search for refugees or resisters in the jungle behind the coastal capital.  This machine also seems to be in good mechanical repair.  It has been observed to fire its machine guns, but we could not discern what the target was and this volley of fire did not seem to inflict any casualties.  Primates from Earth and other animals have been introduced into the jungle and so they may have been the target.

‘The standard of uniform appearance and drill of the invader seems to be very poor indeed.  NCOs seem to enforce discipline by physical threats rather than by respect for their authority, and most of the enemy soldiers seem to have an insatiable appetite for alcohol, both night and day.  They waste a good deal of ammunition by firing into the air while they are on patrol, despite repeated warnings not to do so from their superiors.  This seems to be an enemy whose morale will break easily under sustained pressure from a more determined or numerically superior opponent.

‘The commanding officer seems to be a man who is about six feet tall, with short, dark hair, who wears a Nazi Swastika armband.  The better presented and more disciplined members of the invading force are evidently members of some kind of political organisation, of which this man is also the leader.  Intelligence suggests that his name is Richard Spalding.’  McCann stopped reading and looked up.  ‘The rest is a lot of stuff about what these bastards have done to the civilian population.’

‘I’ll read that later,’ I told him, and I did.  ‘Now, can somebody go and find Violet, please?  I need to speak to her urgently.’

 

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