Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 52 (content warning: THE IMPORTANT BIT)

The assembly met in the same place it had met before, on I-11.  The weather was better than last time.  There was a slightly increased attendance, including all the people who were watching via satellite.  Kelvin had ordered a plaque with all the names of the dead colonists on it.  He wanted it to be carved in stone, and this was being worked on, but all we had in the meantime was rolls of paper with the names written in pen.  I had uploaded the list.  It occupied about 17 kilobytes, uncompressed.  Kelvin is in the process of trying to memorise it.  He is about 20 per cent of the way through it, and finds that he can’t do much work on it without crying.  He is depressed.  His anger against the invaders, while the war was in progress, could be converted by his own efforts and the efforts of others, into relief, in the form of slaughter.  Now, it can’t.  There are still invaders on the planet, but they are protected by their own defeat and (as Kelvin would see it) the squeamishness of public opinion.

Kelvin asked me to stay somewhere near the stage.  On the stage were Kelvin himself and Prude.  Prude was sitting on a stool, with the microphone in her hand, looking as if she were about to sing a song.  Kelvin was at the edge of the stage, pacing up-and-down with his hands behind his back.  Prude called the meeting to order.  It appeared as if a lot of people had not realised that Kelvin was there.  People began to gravitate towards the stage.  Some spontaneous cheering and clapping broke out, which Kelvin resolutely ignored.   He pressed on with his address, even though it should have been obvious that many people could not hear him. 

‘I said at the beginning of the recent struggle that I wanted you to invest me with the powers I needed to prosecute the war against the invader.  That war is now over.  I relinquish that power, and I resign as Commander-in-Chief.’

‘We need to take a vote on whether to accept your resignation,’  Prude said to Kelvin, off-mike, so that only a few people heard it.  It was then that I noticed that Professor Gonzales was standing at the front, near me and the steps of the stage. 

‘Do you have to have a vote?’ asked Kelvin, but Prude’s suggestion had already taken hold.  There was a delay while stewards were selected to do the counting.  Prude repeated the wording of the motion.

‘This assembly accepts the abdication of King Kelvin, without succession, and his resignation as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and withdraws from him all powers with which he was previously vested.’

Somebody from the middle of the crowd proposed an amendment.  Kelvin wandered back to the side of the stage and looked at the sky.  He was mouthing something, which I could not lip-read because he was partly turned away from me.  I hope he was not reciting the periodic table: he does that at moments of extreme stress. 

The gist of the amendment was that its proposer wanted two votes to be taken: one to accept Kelvin’s resignation as Commander-in-Chief, and a separate one to deal with his abdication as King.  A long debate then ensued, which most people found difficult to follow, because not all those who spoke had microphones.  The proposer of the amendment turned out to be Augustus Blandshott.  Soon it also became clear that he was not alone.  Mr Blandshott was beckoned to move nearer to the front, and his supporters prodded him forward.  The debate centred on him and Professor Gonzales.  Both of them walked up onto the stage and were given microphones.

‘But what would the King do if he were no longer in charge of the armed forces?’ the Professor asked.

‘He wouldn’t have to do anything.  He would just be there in case of another crisis.’

‘And what would be the point of that?’

‘What is the point of any constitutional monarchy?  When was the last time the King of England did anything that required the exercise of power?’

‘The King of England does all kinds of things – dissolving Parliament, and so forth.’

‘Yes, but all that stuff is purely ceremonial really.  We don’t go in for all that because we are a much smaller community and we lead much simpler lives.  What I am saying is supposed to be practical.  We were facing the worst crisis that most of us have ever faced in our lives, and Kelvin lead us out of it.  Now the crisis is over, and he can go back to doing whatever he was doing before, but we want him to be ready in case we need him again.’  Mr Blandshott stopped speaking.  After a moment, to his and Kelvin’s mutual embarrassment, there was a round of applause from the Assembly.

Prude read out the motion again, incorporating the Blandshott changes, and the Assembly voted.  It took the stewards longer to count the ballot papers of those present than it did the computer system to count the votes of those who were voting electronically via the satellite link.

The result of the first ballot, the motion to accept Kelvin’s resignation as Commander-in-Chief and divest him of his powers was: 40947 in favour, 4392 against, and 74 abstentions.  The result of the second ballot, whether to accept his abdication, was: 7043 in favour, 38313 against, and 9 abstentions.

‘You are still King, I am afraid, Kelvin,’ said Prude, when the result had been read out.  Kelvin was about to protest, and then seemed to realise that we had other business to get through, and he did not want to be there all day.

The next item was a debate about what to do with the prisoners, which began with a very dry speech from Dr Condon-Douglas about their medical condition and state of nutrition.  They had recovered from the gastric problems which we had deliberately infected them with, but had since started to show symptoms of space flu.  A motion to give them the space flu vaccine was defeated.  A motion to massacre all of them was proposed by Kelvin was also defeated, as Kelvin expected it would be.  The discussion about what to do with them dragged on for hours, but only Professor Gonzales and a handful of other people seemed to have any appetite for it.  The upshot was that they would each be tried, with evidence being taken from my interrogation transcripts.  For each individual, one of three possible sentences would be given: imprisonment pending possible rehabilitation, life imprisonment, or death.  The death penalty would be reserved for those who had participated directly in violence against unarmed civilians.  People began to leave soon after this debate started.  Kelvin sat on a stool at the edge of the stage, saying nothing.  I suppose, as head of state and head of government, he could not go home while the Assembly was still in session, but he certainly looked as if he wanted to.  He was in normal clothes, not in uniform, and he seemed somehow smaller, more slouched and round-shouldered than I remembered him at the earlier assembly. 

The next speaker was Professor Gonzales.

‘If Kelvin is still the King, then we need to discuss the succession.  I am lead to believe that Kelvin has recently got married, for which I congratulate him.  I move that the King’s spouse should be brought in front of the Assembly, so that she can be recognised, and accorded official status within the body of the state.’  To cut a long story short, this motion was voted-on and carried.  I climbed the stage in my capacity as wife of the King of Achird-gamma.  My appearance was greeted by complete silence, except from Kelvin.

‘Hello, Violet,’ he said, ‘Fancy meeting you here.’  And then he did the last thing I could have guessed he would do.  He slipped one hand behind my knees, and the other behind my shoulders, and he lifted me up in his arms.  Without needing to grit his teeth, he carried me up to the microphone and, stooping slightly to make sure it picked up his words, he said, ‘I carry this woman across the threshold of the State.  I, the King, commend to you, the People, the qualities of Violet Stark, and I beseech you to accept Our issue as the heir to the throne.’  He glanced at me.  I started sampling his breath to see if he had been drinking, and then he put me down. 

I glanced over to Prude.  I expected her just to announce a vote on what Kelvin had proposed, in that irritating, plummy voice of hers, but she had stood up from her stool, turned her back on the assembly, and appeared to be doing something with a handkerchief. 

‘What issue?’ asked a few people in the assembly.  Prude turned round.  She was still crying.

‘Yes.  What issue?’ she asked.  She still had the microphone in her hand, and spoke into it, but she was looking at Kelvin.  Kelvin spoke into his microphone.

‘Violet is pregnant with my child.  I am going to be a father.’ 

‘I thought Violet was an android,’ said Prude.

‘Violet is an android,’ I said, and Kelvin said, at the same moment.

‘Well how can an android possibly be pregnant?’

‘That’s none of your business,’ I said, and Kelvin said, again at the same moment.  We looked at each other, trying to decide who was going to be the spokesperson.  Kelvin decided it would be Kelvin.  He spoke deliberately into the microphone.

‘My wife is a human being.  I will thank you to treat my wife as a human being, and to accord to her the same dignity and courtesy that you would to any expectant mother.’  Kelvin wept.  I wept.  It was horrendous.


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