iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 56

Oh, for Christ’s sake.  I was in the middle of sampling some sediments on C-1 and I was effectively put under arrest by a gang of armed men in uniform.  It seems there has been another invasion, but this time there is going to be a court case instead of a war.  The journey from my bore-hole to this place was so short that I am still in mud-stained shorts, T-shirt, walking boots, and utility belt.   Once I had been frog-marched into the court room (or whatever it was) I unbuckled the utility belt and dropped it on the floor before I sat down.  It made quite a crash when it landed on the floor.  I didn’t care.

I was sitting before a long table, behind which sat some-one I recognised but could not put a name to (her nameplate said Cecily Johnson).  Next to her was a smug-looking man whose nameplate said Secretary Greenwood, and various juniors and hangers-on.   At the back of the room was an audience which contained some men and women in uniform, and some fellow colonists, including Kelvin, his assistant, and that creature of his.

‘What do you want?’ I asked.  I was playing with my hair.  I knew I was.  I tend to do that when I am agitated.

‘We’re asking the questions,’ said the smug man called Greenwood.  I suppose he was trying to sound polite but firm, but he just got up my nose even more.  Greenwood and his lackeys whispered to each other and shuffled papers for a few minutes.  I just sat there and did not even bother to try to keep still.  The room was silent except for the occasional sound of a baby gurgling.  The infant had kept up a uniform babble, which had not even wavered when I dropped the utility belt.  I wondered that Mr Greenwood did not object to this, but he seemed ready to ignore it completely.  Eventually, he condescended to begin his questions.

‘Your name is Prudence Tadlow?’

‘Yes.’

‘You currently occupy the position known as Speaker of the Assembly?’

‘That is not what it is known as; that is what it is called.’

‘Indeed.  Please answer the question.’

‘Yes. I do.’

‘Your election to this position was, on the last occasion, unopposed.’

‘Yes.  I suppose it was.  Yes, I had forgotten about that.  Thank you for drawing it to my attention.  I must be popular, mustn’t I?’

‘Please confine yourself to answering the questions as truthfully and as concisely as possible, Miss Tadlow.’

‘Ms.’

‘Ms. I apologise.’

‘You could always call me Dr Tadlow.  I do have a PhD.’

‘Yes.’

‘From quite a reputable awarding body, I think you will find: Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine.’

‘Yes.  Thank you.’

‘My thesis won a prize, you know.’ 

‘Yes, thank you, thank you, Dr Tadlow.  May I ask whether you would consider yourself to be a suitable person to preside over a trial in which the principal defendant was Kelvin Stark?’

I thought about this for a long time.  I expected that Greenwood would start badgering me, but he did not.  He waited and waited.  I looked at the floor.  I looked at the ceiling.  My mind went blank, and then back to a recollection of the work I had been doing on C-1, standing in my slit-trench on a duck-board, taking samples and labelling them.  And then I returned to the question I had been asked.

‘No, I would not.’

‘Please allow me to point out that lack of legal training need not be an obstacle here: you would be supported by impartial legal experts who could give you all the advice you would need throughout the proceedings.  It is your judgment that would be your chief qualification.’

‘It is nothing to do with lack of legal qualifications, but the judgment that you refer to would in my case be impaired.’

‘Why is that?’

‘I understand that the quality you are looking for is impartiality.’

‘Certainly.  It is the utmost duty of a judge to be impartial.  That is one of the very qualities that I have been led by others to believe that you possess.’

‘I could not try Kelvin Stark because I would not be impartial.’

‘Your previous membership of any body appointed by him, also, need not be an obstacle.’

‘It is not that.’

‘Well, can you explain to the bench what you see as the problem?’

‘The reason why I could not act as an impartial judge in the trial of Kelvin Stark is because I love him.’  I heard a ripple of chatter move through the public gallery.  Greenwood turned a bit red, coughed, and started moving papers around for no apparent reason. 

‘Hmph.  Ah.  Well.  Mm.  Yes, then.  Er, you may be excused, Dr Tadlow.’

‘Don’t you want to ask me any more questions?’

‘Er, no.  Thank you.  That will be all.’

‘You brought me all this way just for that?  It hardly seems worth it.’   Now he was ignoring me.  I picked up my utility belt and walked back to the door at which I had come in, passing Kelvin as I did so. Our eyes met for a moment.  All he gave away was that he recognised who I was.  As I turned my gaze away from him, my eye was caught by the sight of his creature.  She looked at me.  She had Kelvin’s baby on her knee.  It was almost like looking at a real person.   She looked as if she was about to attack me, in spite of the baby.  I didn’t hang around.  I wanted to get out of there.  I had arranged to stay with a friend on a farm a few miles away.  I wanted a bath, a long drink and a lie-down in a darkened room. 

Afterwards, while I was mulling over what had happened, it occurred to me that “the visitors” (as they had become known) would be going back to Earth eventually.  I felt that I should approach them to ask if I could go back with them. 

I don’t know what to do.  Coming to this planet has certainly given me a lot to think about.  When I split up with Kelvin, it was hard, and upsetting, but at the time it seemed to make a kind of sense.  What is happening now doesn’t make sense.  I know this is stupid –stupid in a juvenile way, like teenage pregnancy – but, when I found out I would be coming here, I allowed myself to believe that Kelvin would still be available.  Now I find that, not only is he head of the government here, but he is married and has a baby son.  I never imagined that.  It just doesn’t seem right. 

I need to talk to him.  It looks as if I am going to be here for quite a while, but I can’t leave without talking to him.  I need to work out how I can get some time alone with him.  I need to work out how people communicate in this place.  He seems to have a subordinate who wears a Gurkha uniform and sometimes brings him messages in little envelopes.  I wonder if I could pass a message to him.  I wonder what the subordinate’s name is, and where I can get some envelopes.  I suppose they must have shops here, but I have not seen any so far.  I wonder what sort of money they use. 

It is really strange seeing Kelvin in uniform.  When we were together back on Earth, he seemed like the archetypal civilian: undisciplined, lazy, badly organised, always late, and unable to prioritise things properly.  The idea of seeing him in uniform would have seemed like a joke.  I must say, now I have seen him, he does seem to have a military bearing.  And that Gurkha chaps jumps at this every word.  I only caught a glimpse of them.  Kelvin was signing things, and reading messages from a wad of those envelopes that the Gurkha gave to him.  They exchanged a few words and then the Gurkha took two steps backwards, bowed gravely, and then ran off at the double.  It was like something out of a black-and-white film.  Kelvin was wearing a beret, a khaki battledress, combat trousers, gaiters, and boots.  I don’t know who looks after his kit, but his boots shine like conkers.  He doesn’t polish them. I am sure of that. 

I can’t talk to him.  I just wouldn’t know what to say. 

*

Ed’s temperature has gone up nought-point-three-three centigrade in the last four thousand two hundred and eighteen seconds.  I have also noticed that Kelvin’s has been going up at almost the same rate.  I hope they are not both coming down with something.  We had Ed immunised against space flu as soon as he was born.  Since then I have been including things to boost his immune system in my milk.  Kelvin doesn’t know about this.  I don’t think he would object, but I am not interested in his opinion on this subject.  I am Ed’s mother and I know what is best for him. 

Something else that Kelvin does not know is that Ed now has a simulacrum.  It can do just about everything that Ed can do, except bleed, and it also has data acquisition systems which are wirelessly linked to me and to my file server and which report at four hundred millisecond intervals on a range of data, as well as recording streaming video and sound.  Kelvin started talking a few weeks ago about baby-sitters.  I asked him what we needed a baby-sitter for, and he went on about how it would be healthy for us to leave him with some-one else for a few hours now and then.  Three of our neighbours have now had a go at looking after Android Ed.  This was quite difficult to arrange without Kelvin’s finding out about it, and had to be done by taking Android Ed to the baby-sitter, not having the baby-sitter round to our house.  Nevertheless, Android Ed acquired a great deal of data.  He was too cold when he was with the Petersons, overfed when he was with the Van den Bergs, and variously too hot, too cold and under-stimulated when he was with the Howards.  Mr Howard also dropped him during a moment of horseplay, and was apparently amazed at how little damage he sustained from the fall and how little he complained about it.  Quite.  When he had had time to settle a bit, I sent an instruction to Android Ed to crawl over to Mrs Howard’s nearly-finished embroidery, which she had absentmindedly left on the floor, and vomit copiously all over it.  Android Ed is back in my lab now. 

This court case is another of Kelvin’s charades.  He is maintaining an outward appearance of dignified resignation tinged with moral outrage, but it is obscenely obvious to any-one who knows him that he is wallowing in every minute of this, with potentially dire consequences for his appearance in the dock.  Fortunately, I have an ally in this matter: a competent ally whom I believe I can rely on.  She is Counsellor Johnson.  She asked to speak to me after her first consultation with Kelvin, and I could see by her state of agitation that she had quickly come to regard him as a problem client.  Cecily said that it was blatantly obvious that Greenwood’s strategy would be to get Kelvin riled up to the point where he would make self-righteous speeches.  Greenwood would then ask Kelvin to give detailed accounts of what was inflicted on the invaders and why, and these Kelvin would provide, with total honesty.  That would be enough to make any-one think that Kelvin was a psychopath, and find him guilty.  We then had a long talk about how this might be avoided, but we did not reach any firm conclusion and we are both still thinking about it. 

‘Would it make him less abrasive if he were very tired during the hearing?  Couldn’t we just keep him awake the night before?’

‘No.  He tends to get an adrenalin rush when he goes without sleep, and that makes him aggressive.  That would be doing Greenwood’s work for him.’

‘Could we give him something?  No, I didn’t say that.  That would be completely unethical.’

‘Drugs, you mean?  I think it would be difficult to formulate something that would have the desired effect without being noticed.  We don’t want the jury thinking he is a druggie.’

‘Indeed not.  What then?’

The best idea I could think of at that point was to lock Kelvin up, and send a simulacrum to stand in the dock.  I didn’t say that. 

 

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