Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 50

We counted the casualties.  We had 138 dead and 249 wounded.  The enemy had 407 dead and virtually all the rest sick or wounded, not including those who had fled the battlefield (many of whom would be among the sick) and those whose bodies had been pulverised during the bombardment of Hardboard City.

We let Hardboard City burn out, after the wind had dispersed the chlorine gas, and the following morning we searched through the debris.  The only thing of note we found, in a patch of ashen remains including a number of fire-corroded tools and pieces of metalworking equipment, was a piece of what appears to be work-in-progress wrought iron.  It was quite heavy, with two parallel curved rails of quarter-inch iron rod, with letters cut out of iron plate and welded on.  The letters showed the legend, “WIRK MEKS”.  We also found a loose letter F among the ruins.  The members of the set of squads which was searching the ruins contained a few linguists and scholars of English, who gravitated towards this exhibit.  They speculated wildly on what the legend might mean, but it is quite plain to me: the smith who made it just could not spell.  I have decided to keep it, but I have not decided what will be done with it. 

We took about 1500 prisoners.  We are still processing them.  We have not discovered much so far that can be relied on, but we do know what happened to the burns victims who came out of “The Kettle”: their leader (who is called Spalding) left them in Hardboard City and they were blown to bits during the bombardment. 

Accommodating these prisoners is not easy.  I did consider issuing the order to massacre all of them, but it was so obvious to me that this would be rejected that I kept my peace.  They are now being kept in two large pits lined with duckboards, one containing the sick and wounded, and the other containing the very sick.  Twice a day, they file out up a ramp, and are held at gunpoint while the inside of each pit is sprayed with bleach.  The stench of chlorine is evocative of the recent battle.  They get soup and bread at 08:00,  13:00 and 18:00, and water at 10:00, 15:00 and 20:00.  We have given them each a blanket, which I have told them will have to last them a week before it is changed, and we cover the pits with canvas at night.

I have put Violet in charge of cataloguing and interrogating the prisoners. 

Some of the army has already started to demobilise, but there is still work to be done in mopping-up around Hardboard City and on I-2 and I-13.  A detachment of Gurkhas has been sent to both the other islands.  The remaining regulars are still on I-3, and are being split between the mopping-up and looking after the prisoners. 

There will be another meeting of the Assembly when the war is finally over, which I hope will be within three months at the very outside.


One of the Butterflies (a heavily re-modelled Cindy with a savage haircut) came back with the skin on her face and her arm cut down to the carbon-fibre frame.  I think it was due to shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade.  I managed to conceal the damage with bandages before any-one on our side had seen it.  It would not have been the end of the world if people had found out she was an android, but it suited me to keep it secret a bit longer. 

I have sent the remodelled Kyla (Katya) and Layla (Liliya) to accompany each of the Gurkha detachments who are going to the previously-occupied islands.  I have given both of them the image of the man who killed Rosalind. 

I am staying here to finish processing the prisoners.  I am singularly well-suited to do it, because they can throw up and piss and shit themselves as many times as they like, but I don’t get infected.  I can also scan their insides with ultrasound to find out how much up-chuck they have the potential to spew.

If the prisoner has severe sickness and diarrhoea, I strip him, chuck his clothes in the incinerator, and stand him on a thing that looks like a cattle grid which is over a pit full of quicklime.  I photograph him and interrogate him from there.  Most of them have been co-operative up to now, but I have not processed the leaders yet.  They are being held separately and are under physical restraint to prevent them from harming themselves.  They have all been searched, very thoroughly.  I need to build up more of a general intelligence picture before I start on the ones who are likely to lie the most. 

I have moved Horace out of his little fridge, and he is now implanted in my uterus and gestating.  I have not yet decided when to tell Kelvin that he is going to be a father. 


I had to take a very long route to headquarters after being sent back by Colonel Gurung with a report for His Majesty.  This was because of a number of enemy soldiers who were leaving the battle area in small groups.  By the time I did get back, I found that the order to advance had already been given, and so I chased after the advancing line.  By the time I re-joined them, it was almost over.  I was very upset at first, but then I discovered what His Majesty might call “an isolated pocket of resistance”, and I killed two enemy men, one with my rifle and one with my kukri. 

I was very happy to be once again in the vicinity of His Majesty, who seemed tired after the battle, but in complete good health.    I wish I had been with him when he ordered the advance.  Perhaps there will be other engagements.


I have just heard that the fighting on I-3 is over, and Kelvin has come through it alive.  I can’t wait to see him again.  Thank goodness all this horrible violence is nearly over.  I just want life to get back to normal.  I want to tell Kelvin how I feel about him.  I think he and I should go away somewhere together, and be on our own for a while.  I know he is difficult to communicate with, but I am sure I can get through to him this time.  Long walks, meals eaten when ravenous, drinks drunk when parched, a tent, a starry sky, no distractions – these are the things we need. 


I have just heard that the battle is over, and Kelvin is unscathed.  I had hoped for a little flesh-wound or something, possibly with a tiny scar on his forehead.  That would have made a fantastic spread of pictures.  Nothing life-threatening or disfiguring – god forbid – but just enough to need bandages and possibly two or three stitches.  Anyway, he is alive and that is just what we need.  I will try to get another interview with him straight away.  I hear they are in the process of closing down the army, but I want to get a few more shots of him in uniform.  Circulation has never been higher.  The upsurge must be because of the war, of course.  I must find out what he is planning to do next, and try to make it sound as mysterious and as exciting as possible. 



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