Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 43 (content warning: sexual references and rude words)

In the teeth of strong opposition, Kelvin succeeded in arranging for the construction of a small harbour near Hardboard city complete with crane.  Most of our settlements are coastal, and a crane to a coastal town is like a cathedral was in mediaeval times: both a status symbol and a great stimulant to the economy.  When asked to account for this act of lunacy, he calmly explained that it was of paramount importance to make Spalding and his followers believe that they were in a real town, with a real past and a real future.  Once they got the idea that the whole place was a trap, they would be gone.  Hence, not only was Kelvin prepared to allow Spalding to transport his remaining tank and helicopter to I-3, but he would oblige him by providing the means to unload them as well.  The harbour was the finishing touch. 

The invaders first set eyes on their new home on a breezy afternoon at what was the coldest time of the year for that part of the planet.  After they had landed on the new quayside (spied on by cams concealed inside a row of bollards) the first thing they saw was an old-fashioned telephone box.   Most of them were cramped from the over-crowding imposed on them after picking up the survivors from their main vessel, thirsty, hungry, and tired.  Most of them did not know what a telephone box was but, for those who did, it was the last thing they had been expecting to see.  They peered at it and circled it and looked through the glass sides.  They saw that, inside, it was plastered with stickers.  The stickers had pictures, writing and numbers printed on them.  The numbers looked like phone numbers.  The words were mainly women’s names.  The pictures showed women: bare-breasted or naked women; women in stockings and suspenders; women in thigh-boots and corsets holding whips; women in various kinds of uniform; women who smiled, beckoned, pouted, sneered, or sucked their fingers. 

I watched and listened to them: nearly everywhere in Hardboard City was under surveillance.  I was partly on the look out for names or other identifiers.  I wanted if possible to build up a dossier which contained a photograph of every invader, a sample of his voice, and his name. 

Eventually, one of them opened the door of the phone box, and went in.  He picked up the receiver.  It was an old-fashioned one: large and black and connected to the rest of the telephone apparatus by a cable.  The invader listened to the dialling tone.  It was loud and clear.  I could see his whole face and its perplexed expression as he regarded and then fingered the coin slots.  There were two: one labelled “1d”, and the other labelled “1s”.   He pushed the door open, and spoke to the onlookers huddled just outside.

‘It needs coins.’

‘What sort of coins?’

‘You know – coins.  One D or one S.’

‘What’s a one D or a one S?’

‘I don’t know.  We need to find one of the locals.’ 

This was the cue for an appearance by Layla.  She was conservatively dressed, in a long, rustic skirt, blouse buttoned up to the neck, and long shawl.  In one hand, she held a small, leather, draw-string bag.

‘Quick!  There’s one of them.  Get her!’  shouted one of the invaders.

‘Stop!’  commanded Layla.  She was operating independently, but I was still watching and listening intently, including to what Layla herself was seeing and hearing.  The invaders did stop for a moment, mostly out of surprise that a lone, unarmed woman would attempt to give them an order.  Layla walked slowly towards them, right along the edge of the quayside nearest the water.  One of the men still had his automatic rifle levelled at her, but she seemed not to notice.  Layla stopped about ten yards from the men.  One of them took a stride towards her: she took a stride back.  She held her arm out so that the bag was suspended over the water.  ‘Do you want some money for the phone box?’  No-one replied.  ‘Do you want some money for the phone-box, or don’t you?’

‘Er, yes we do.’

‘Well one of you come here, and I’ll give it to you.’  Four of them started walking.  ‘One of you one of you one of you,’ corrected Layla, like a drill-sergeant.  They looked at each other.  One only of them moved forward hesitantly.  He took the bag from Layla as if it were a suspect package. 

Three of the men tried to fit inside the phone box to witness the experiment with the new coins.  They dialled one of the numbers.  It was from a label which said, “Starlight Escorts.  200m from quayside.  All tastes catered for.  Rooms available overnight.  Satisfaction guaranteed.  Call Anna on 172169”.  The phone had just started ringing when their leader appeared, and demanded to know what they were doing. 

‘Hello.  Starlight Escorts.  What can I do for you?’  Anna said, at just the point when the man holding the receiver was dragged from the box and cuffed on the chin.  The line went dead shortly afterwards: the invaders were about to discover that the telephone system in Hardboard City was expensive. 

Wolf, as he calls himself, wanted them to go back to their ships and help to unload the tank, the helicopter, and the guns.  The men were halfway through these tasks when, in a cold and overcast afternoon, the proprietor of The Blue Sky Taverna turned on the neon sign and the sound system.  The invaders looked through the windows of the pub into the warm, yellow glow of the interior, where the barman was testing the pumps and polishing the glasses. 

The sun had gone down and a cold night was descending by the time the ships were unloaded.  Wolf seemed to be looking around for other work for his men to do.  Despite two breaks for food and hot drinks which Wolf  had grudgingly allowed them, they wanted to go off duty and see what the town had to offer. 

At that moment, I signalled to Sergeant Stewart, who was hiding near the quayside in civilian clothes.  He emerged, and interrupted a conversation between Wolf and his side-kick about the organising of patrols.  I would not have blamed Stewart for wishing that his mission was a double-assassination.  He was carrying a wooden box painted khaki, with rope handles.  Wolf saw the box in the lamplight which now illuminated the quay. 

‘You, there.  Stop.  Show me what you have got there.’

‘Er, it’s nothing, sir.  Nothing.’

‘Never mind nothing.  Bring that box here and open it.’  The box contained six hand grenades.  ‘Where did you get these?  Tell the truth, now, or I’ll have you shot!’ 

‘Over there,’ indicated Stewart, pointing to a small warehouse further down the quay. 

 ‘Show me.’ 

Stewart took them to the door.  Wolf un-holstered his automatic pistol and, pointing it at Stewart, gestured for him to open the place up.  It was dark inside.  Stewart stepped into the deep shadow, knocked something over which sent metallic clatterings echoing all around, and disappeared.  I was still watching them, on infra red.  The side-kick shone a torch.

‘Brunton, over here!’  The side-kick’s name was Brunton. 

‘Where is that man?’

‘No idea.  Never mind about him: look at these.’ 

‘What have you found, my Leader?’  

‘Shine the torch down here, quick.’

It was another row of khaki-painted wooden boxes.  Two of them were labelled “120 MM CANNON SHELLS”.  Each box contained six shells (and was very heavy).  Each shell had a small red dot near its base.  

Meanwhile, in the Blue Sky Taverna, Kyla and Angel were handing out business cards.

‘But, remember, my darlings, pleasure in this town is intense, and available night and day, but it comes at a financial cost.’

‘What cost?’

‘4 gold coins for a full, unhurried fuck.  Prices for other services available on request.’

‘We haven’t got any gold coins.’

‘Well in that case you need to talk to Anna and sell something.’

‘Sell what?’

Two minutes later, the man who had asked was in the phone box talking to Anna.

‘I’ll give you ten sovereigns for any machine gun – light, medium or heavy, plus at least fifty rounds of ammo.’

‘How I am supposed to manage that without Spalding shooting me?’

‘Get the sections who are usually furthest from the action to sell theirs first, and I guarantee that in return I’ll give you convincing replicas which make the right noise when you pull the trigger.’

‘Mm.  I’ll think about it.’

He thought about it for all of five minutes.  Stewart took delivery of the first batch of light machine guns and ammunition belts.  The invaders were grudgingly impressed with the quality of the replicas.


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