Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 55 (content warning: rude words and here we go again)

The headline in the special edition of Royal Flush was ‘CAN KING KELVIN SAVE US AGAIN?’  In The Gen, it was ‘MORE ARMED INVADERS – IS ANYWHERE SAFE?’  In The Rover, ‘LET PEACE TALKS COMMENCE’.  Augustus Blandshott, the editor of The Notebook, was carrying out maintenance on his press when the shock was inflicted and so could not print anything.  The Digger, well-known for the editor’s succinct turn of phrase, had ‘FUCK OFF AND LEAVE US ALONE’. 

I put selected columns from all these in my scrapbook. 

I was the first person to speak to the new invaders.  

Their vessel was the most sophisticated of the three that had travelled to Achird-gamma.  It did not release capsules which had to crash-land in the sea, as the previous two had done.  It sent down a re-usable craft which landed on solid ground.  This landed on a moor a few miles from my house.  I don’t know if that was deliberate or accidental.  Its impending arrival had been detected by both radio- and optical astronomy. 

Chandra and I met the newcomers on the bank of the river.   The island with my house on it was in the background.  The guns which  guard the approaches to the island were visible, but not manned and not trained on anything in particular.

‘Good morning, and who are you?’ I asked.  I offered my hand in greeting.  The person I was speaking to was obviously human and obviously British.

‘I am Adrian Greenwood, Special Envoy of His Majesty’s Diplomatic Service.  I represent the Government of theUnited Kingdom.’

‘Of course.  I am Kelvin, the King of Achird-gamma.’  Secretary Greenwood appeared momentarily surprised.  He recovered his composure, and bowed solemnly from the waist.

‘At your service, Your Majesty,’ he murmured.  Chandra looked pleased to hear some-one other than himself address me as “Your Majesty”.  

‘What can we do for you?’ I enquired.    

‘We are part of a commission appointed by His Majesty’s Government to investigate acts committed under the dictatorship which replaced the civil administration a few years ago.  That dictatorship is now, thankfully, at an end, but the Government is concerned to detect as many of the crimes that it perpetrated as possible.’

‘You have come a long way for this, haven’t you?’

‘We have, to be sure, come a long way.  Happily, it did not take us as long to get here as it would have taken you, and we can travel back anytime we need to.’

‘I see.  It is fortunate that it won’t inconvenience you to travel back, because I think you have come here for nothing.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘The invaders who came here two years ago, and who were sent by the dictatorship that you mentioned, have been dealt with.  We dealt with them.’

‘Where are they?’

‘Most of them are dead, including about fifty-seven that I killed myself.  A few remain in prison.’  I did not mention that these prisoners’ lives continued in the teeth of opposition from me.

‘Can we see them?’

‘If you like.’

Secretary Greenwood’s party looked upon the ancient Land Rover with nervous wonder as they climbed into it.  Chandra drove us to the prison at the sedate pace which was typical of motor transport on Achird-gamma. 

‘You and your staff will need to be vaccinated against space flu,’ I explained during the journey.

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s an influenza-like illness with an incubation period of about six months.  It appears to strike once, and we have found that it is fatal in about ten per cent of cases.  Otherwise, there is a complete recovery, which seems to confer immunity for life.’  The Secretary looked worried.  ‘The vaccine is completely effective,’ I reassured him. ‘The disease happens to be the only harmful agent we have discovered on what is otherwise an amazingly hospitable planet.’  The Secretary was still not convinced, but there was nothing more I could say.

We arrived at the prison, which is a single-storey, grey concrete blockhouse.  I am politically and morally opposed to the presence of this building, and so I asked Chandra to conduct the visitors round it, which he was content to do.  I waited outside.  The tour lasted about thirty minutes.

When Chandra and the Secretary returned,  I surmised from their expressions they had had some kind of disagreement.  The Secretary took his entourage to a spot just out of my earshot, while Chandra approached me.

‘I think we may have here a problem, Your Majesty,’ said Chandra.

‘What sort of problem?’

‘These people seem to disapprove of the way we conducted the war against the invaders.  In fact…”  Chandra could hardly bring himself to utter the words.

‘Yes?  Spit it out, man.’

‘They say that some of the things we did were…’



‘Oh?  Is that all?  I thought for a minute you were going to say something terrible.  Yes, I expect they would say that.  Taken from a certain point of view, quite a few of the things that we did might be considered illegal.’ 

I had a brief discussion with our visitors about how they were going to subsist and what their likely movements would be.  I obtained from Greenwood an agreement that they would live at their own expense and would not do anything that might include force of arms without prior notice to me in writing.  Greenwood asked for permission to “gather evidence”.  I told him he would need the owner’s permission to go inside a building or a fenced enclosure, but he could go anywhere else as he pleased.  I also said he could interview people as long as they gave their consent.  In return, I promised to keep Greenwood informed of my movements.  We exchanged a few technical details about radio and email communication and how he could get in touch with me through intermediaries. 

I then went home and sent out orders to re-convene the War Cabinet – as many of them as I could get hold of, as quickly as possible – and also to call for a session of the Assembly.

In the middle of all this, Chandra asked me a question.

‘Your Majesty?’

‘Yes, Chandra?’

‘Haven’t we been invaded again?’

‘Not like last time.  Violence was necessary last time.  We must avoid violence this time.  This lot may be a nuisance, but they aren’t Nazis: not by any means.  There has just been a colossal misunderstanding.’

In the absence of the Assembly, I issued a temporary ordinance forbidding anybody from carrying firearms out of doors or carrying out military exercises without express permission from me or a member of the Cabinet.

I needed a lawyer. 


My name is Cecily Johnson, attorney-at-law.  I returned home after the war, and reluctantly took the position of Acting Mayor after the death of my dear friend and colleague, Patrick Fitzgerald.  I told the council and the electors that I was taking this only as a temporary position, while a more suitable candidate was found.  After a few months, I realised that nobody was lifting a finger to find this “more suitable candidate” and that the people had played a trick on me.  I had found by then that immersing myself in work was the only effective palliative for grief over the loss of Paddy, and so I went along with the arrangement.  I had just got back into a satisfying routine when I was interrupted by a message from Kelvin Stark to say that he needed me to travel to I-11 for an unspecified period in order to defend him against a charge related to alleged war crimes.  This was a very great and stressful distraction, and I tried at first to refuse.  I asked him why he wanted me – a prosecution specialist – to   defend him.  I suggested John Mallard as his representative instead.  Kelvin seemed adamant that he wanted me rather than Mallard.  When I told the council, they were very supportive, and told me that I could accept Kelvin’s open-ended summons as long as I promised to return when the case was over.  

My transportation to I-11 was, so I am told, provided by the other party in the dispute, namely the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  I had hardly had time to disembark from their craft into the cool and misty climate of I-11 before I was entangled in the business of the trial.

The main point put forward by the prosecution was that the Alpha Project was an undertaking of the British Government.  It had been paid for by the British Government, and its participants were therefore expected to conduct themselves at all times in accordance with the law ofEnglandandWales.  Hence, the prosecution argued, the sinking of the ship with Spalding’s equipment on it had been illegal.  Any associated loss of life had been unlawful killing, and practically everything done in the build-up to, and during, the Battle of Hardboard City, had been illegal.  Most, if not all, of the casualties that Kelvin’s army had inflicted, were, they believed, victims of murder.  The expeditionary force sent to I-13 had been a reckless venture from an unqualified and ill-informed administration, from which injury and loss of life had been inevitable, and for which the administration which sent it was to blame.  The refusal to negotiate after Major Downing had been taken prisoner was evidence of a dictatorial presence within the administration whose malign influence had run rough-shod over many matters of public interest and civilised governance. The prisoners executed by Kelvin had all been murdered.  The prisoners who were currently being held had not been processed in a manner that was recognised by His Majesty’s Government and should be freed immediately, pending further investigation.

This last point was the one that was most hotly contested (on the grounds of public interest) by the defence, and it lead inescapably into an argument about vires – in other words, who had the right to do what to whom, and on what legal basis.  It was the defence’s position that, far from being a continuing emanation of the British state, the so-called Alpha Project as it had been originally conceived was now effectively over.  It was, at the very least, well into its second stage, which was the regeneration of an entire civilisation from a very tiny seed.  But this seed was an independent entity.  In short, the colonists believed that the prosecution had no more rights on Achird-gamma than it did in theUnited States of America – a place, indeed, where it had no jurisdiction at all.

Somebody put forward the idea that the position of the colonists and of the British Government should be examined by a higher authority.  The question was – what higher authority?  Secretary Greenwood then happened to mention that he had brought with him an expert on jurisprudence from the United Nations.  This man turned out to be a very welled-dressed Sri Lankan called Dr Sanjaya Lansakaranayake.  Dr Lansakaranayake’s presence turned out not to be a beneficial one.  The fact that he had been produced by the prosecution, and the fact that he was a citizen of a developing country that was in a position to benefit from co-operation with theUnited Kingdomprompted the defence to argue that he was biased.  This argument, which boiled down to our word against theirs, rumbled on for days.

I can’t remember who suggested it first, but the appointment of a panel of judges was the next compromise that was sought, with an even number from each side.  The problem would then be transformed from that of two sets of advocates trying to persuade each other, each from an entrenched position, to that of two sets of advocates trying to persuade a panel of (in theory) open-minded jurists.  Secretary Greenwood immediately announced that he supported this option, and nominated Dr Lansakaranayake as his preferred candidate.  This was even before it had been agreed that the juridical panel would sit, or how many members it would have.  It seemed that the eminent Mr Greenwood’s feet were getting too big for his “Church’s of Northampton” shoes. 


My name is Adrian Greenwood.  I am the official emissary of the government of the United Kingdom.  I have been on this planet for six weeks now, and I think I can now see how the hierarchy of this primitive society works.  Information has been rather difficult to obtain, but I have just learnt the name of what I believe they refer to as “The Speaker of the Assembly” – in other words, the person charged with lending a semblance of dignity to the public brawl these apes call a parliament.  Her name is Prudence Tadlow.  She is in some remote location at the moment, which is inconvenient, but I gather that the reason for this is that she is, of all things, a geologist.  She has, as far as I can gather, absolutely no knowledge of any branch of law, or public administration, or politics.  She is perfect.  I am about to lend my full weight to her selection as the juridical representative for the colonists.  Lansakaranayake will run rings round her.  I just hope that they can get hold of her before she falls into a ravine.   Ah.  My mobile phone is ringing.  I don’t know why I brought it here but, to my considerable surprise, it works.  That is the defence calling.  The leading council looks like a mere slip of a thing but I understand that she has been to Cambridge and Harvard. 

That was one of Counsellor Johnson’s clerks to tell me that they have managed to locate Miss Tadlow, and that they are inclined to look favourably on the idea of her examination for the panel.  They want to convene a tribunal at which the prosecution and defence can send anybody they like to ask her questions.  That seems quite reasonable.   I could not disagree.   They asked if they could borrow our shuttle to pick her up.  I assented.  They asked when I would be ready to examine her.  We have agreed tomorrow at 11am.


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