iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 42

I had all the crew on the bridge arrested once we had got everybody on board the other vessels in the convoy.  I interrogated them, but they told me nothing about what had caused the malfunction.  I was sure that there had been an act of sabotage, but I could not work out who had carried it out.  There were eight crew-members, and I ordered one of them to be hanged. 

I have lost four tanks and a helicopter, plus a lot of other material, including food, fuel and ammunition.  I have issued an ordinance saying that any man caught firing off ammunition without an explicit order or justifiable cause to do so will be flogged. 

I think the main problem will be shells for the remaining tank gun.  There had been space in the large vessel for all the tanks and helicopters, but I decided to divide them between vessels, as a precaution.  My decision to do this has been vindicated.  That is further proof that I have been chosen by Providence.  I cannot at the moment see what the solution to the shortage of shells is, but I am certain that I will find one. 

We picked up nearly all the prisoners.  I did not issue any special order to save them but, inexplicably, all cabin doors came unlocked, and there was an announcement over the ship’s public address system to say that the ship was sinking and passengers should take to the  life-boats.  A few of them tried to row away to freedom, but we caught up with them. 

One of the things I had to leave behind when I left the ship was the manuscript of my book on racial politics.  I will have to dictate it to Brunton all over again.  It was 800 pages long.

This is a set-back, but I will still succeed in conquering this planet.  The Spirit of National Socialism will prevail. 

*

I am Kelvin Stark’s rifle.  I am a Lee Enfield No 4 Mk I.  I was made in 1947 at a Royal Ordnance factory at Maltby in Yorkshire.  Kelvin has told his soldiers that all the rifles they have been issued with were used in World War Two, but that is just propaganda.  I was first used in real fighting during the Malayan Emergency in the late 1940s and 1950s.  When that was over, I was moved back to England, and used for training conscripts who were doing their national service.  After that, I was packed in a crate in rifle grease and put into storage somewhere. 

I was eventually woken by Kelvin.  He scraped all the solidified grease off me with the blade of a penknife, stripped me down, cleaned me, lubricated me, and put me back together.  He adores me.  He keeps me constantly within reach.  He has a special name for me, but I’m not telling you what it is.  It is our secret. 

Kelvin is a very good marksman.  I admire him for his concentration.  When he takes aim, he is not thinking about whether he might be in danger, or what he is going to eat for his dinner, or sex, or whether his cause is just: all he thinks about is the target.  I love the way he squeezes my trigger.  He is very gentle, and he has very strong fingers. 

*

I am preparing to depart for I-3, to lead my army into battle.  Today I made a last inspection of the industrial war effort.  I had a look round some factories near Carbonapolis which have become known as “Chemical Alley”.  I saw two things which touched me to the point of tears.

I went to the factory on my own, and unannounced.  That is the only way that you can really see what is going on.   I was looking at a big, cast-iron digester in a dye-works.  I noticed that it had an improvised blue plaque on it, which bore the following words:  This vessel was used to make the dye for the uniform of King Kelvin the First, enthroned by resolution of the Assembly of Achird-gamma, Commander-in-Chief of Colonial Forces and Field Marshal of the Army.  2143 CE, 3rd year of the colonisation

I was creeping about, trying to make as little impression as possible, because I did not want people to stop working.  By peeping from behind a row of fume-cupboards, I managed to observe a young man in dye-stained overalls at work without letting him know that he was being watched.  I saw him adding reagents to a large vessel, mixing them, setting the thermostat and starting the stirrer, and making sure the effluents were being extracted correctly.  The man then took his gloves, boots, lab-coat and apron off, made up a small camp bed, with a pillow and a blanket, set his alarm clock for when the process would be complete, and lay down to sleep in the middle of the factory floor.  Nothing else that I have seen has convinced me more of our ultimate victory.

*

This morning I was called to a meeting with the King, Le Roi.  I had no idea what he wanted with me.  What he said was astonishing, but most welcome.  He described his vision of the final confrontation with the enemy.  He told me that he wants cultural diversity to be present at the battle, and to be part of our force.  He said he wanted a wall of noise.  This is not ceremonial: it has a military purpose, which is to strike fear into the enemy. 

I am now Lieutenant Bourdelle, with a uniform and a rifle.  I wish my father could see me.  I must set to work on my task at once. 

*

Kelvin is getting ready to leave with the army.  He is leaving me in charge of the government.  He said I was the most popular member of the cabinet, which was nice, I suppose.  I hope Violet is going with him.  She hates me, and she gives me the creeps.  Kelvin’s relationship with Violet is the only thing that I don’t like about him.  If I allow myself to dwell on the idea of him having sex with an android, it makes me feel queasy, and so I try not to think about it.  I want to get back with him.  He can’t seriously be having a relationship with that thing.  He must want a relationship with a real, human woman, surely.  I know he is a bit strange, but he’s not a weirdo. 

Oh, god, I hope he doesn’t get killed.  You can see that he is not taking this conflict seriously.  He is convinced that he is indestructible.  He thinks he is like James Bond.  He thinks that everything that happens on this planet is his story, and therefore, he can’t be killed by anything, because if his life ended, there would be no story.  He’s mad.  I think he has always been like that, but it has got worse since the epidemic.  He thinks that the fact that he had natural immunity to the disease, and the development of the vaccine from his antibodies is some sort of sign that our destiny rests on him.  He won’t admit this, but I am sure it is what he believes.  I hate the very idea of “destiny”.  Stuff happens, that is all.  It doesn’t mean anything.  It isn’t a narrative.  It’s just stuff.  Sometimes people insist on seeing patterns in it, but they aren’t there.  I wish we could just all get on with our lives and stop all this army nonsense.  It is so primitive. 

If Kelvin does come back alive, I am going to tell him how I feel about him. 

I have just had another thought.  What if he gets paralysed or brain damaged?  I know what is going to happen.  He will end up with a bullet lodged in his brain or his spinal column, and he will need constant care for the rest of his life as a dribbling imbecile. 

I’ll hold off on telling him I feel about him until I have assessed what condition he is in.

*

My name is Brian McCann.  I’m a sergeant, and I still think of myself as a sergeant, even though in this army I have been promoted to captain.  Kelvin wants to promote me to colonel, which just doesn’t seem right to me.  His reasoning is that he wants to put me in charge of a regiment (which is our largest unit – we don’t have enough men for divisions). 

We have a lot of problems.  We have plenty of rifles, and plenty of ammo for them, but we are desperately short of machine-guns and other support weapons.  Holt is working on a kind of Stokes mortar at the moment.  Intelligence suggests that we are going to have to fight tanks and helicopters.  We have no air cover, no anti-aircraft guns, and no anti-tank guns.  Holt, Stark and I had a serious talk about this.  The only gun we have got which can damage a tank is our 10-kilogram field gun.  Holt is working on an armour-penetrating round for this gun.  We are going to mount them on the back of pick-up trucks, to make a primitive kind of tank-destroyer.  Each of these will be instantly knocked out if it gets hit, but they will be very manoeuvrable and, I hope, there will be enough of them for us to outnumber the enemy. 

The main thing in our favour is the amount of time that the soldiers have spent in training.  Kelvin is a genius for having started the training so long ago, while we were still on The Irish Rover.  The men (and women) aren’t soldiers, because they have had no combat experience, but they can shoot straight, they know how to follow orders, and most of them are reasonably fit. 

The biggest problem of all is the officers.  Apart from the Gurkhas, who are being kept together as a single unit, any-one with previous military experience has been promoted to Lieutenant or higher, and put in charge of, at least, a platoon.  The superior ones among the raw recruits have been made Lance Corporal or Corporal, and put in charge of sections.  They will probably be all right.  But the ones I am worried about are the inexperienced officers.  I predict a lot of promotions and demotions once we find out what’s what.  Kelvin thinks we can win this war with one big pitch battle.  That is the only really silly thing I have heard him say. 

*

Ben Stewart’s platoon and the girls and I are now established in a set of cosy billets on I-2, near Hardboard City.  We are concealed inside a pine plantation, partly dug-in and camouflaged from the air. 

I have brought some of my equipment, but I can’t do much research here.  It is time to put to use what I have already come up with.  I have my box of pathogens and toxins, some chemistry apparatus and reagents, a theatre for operating on androids and humans, and a decent optical microscope.  I have had to leave everything else, including my electron microscope, at home. 

Kelvin is nearby.  He is with the infantry.  They have been digging anti-tank ditches around the perimeter of Hardboard City.  Kelvin’s favourite word at the moment is canalise.  It means to force an enemy attack onto a narrow front in such a way that it can be counter-attacked from the sides.  They are deliberately leaving gaps at certain points between the ditches, to encourage the enemy to attack at those points. 

The operations centred on Hardboard City will be in a number of stages, and my work will mainly be the first.  I have to convince the enemy, at least for a while, that this wooden town whose tallest structure has three stories is indeed a town, and not a killing zone.  I am allowed to inflict damage on the enemy while I am doing this, but it is only allowed to be in ways that they will not notice straight away, or which have a seemingly innocent explanation. 

Anna’s ladies will be in the vanguard, but I have a company (three platoons) from the Women’s Regiment and another company from the I-3 Regiment to draw on as well.  That gives me almost a hundred people to use as the “population”.   The story is that the town is new, which is why there is hardly anybody there.  It was built to enable the exploitation of a new goldmine, which is going to be dug nearby.  The gold “ore” is powdered gold bullion which has been fired into the ground with a shotgun.  It is an idea that Kelvin got from an ancient episode of a black and white American TV serial called Champion the Wonder Horse. 

I keep looking up where the convoy is.  They are proceeding at a very uniform speed, and are expected to make landfall in three days. 

 

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