Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 57 (content warning: this is nearly over)

The trial is about to start.  The hearing is in front of two judges: Professor Gonzales and Doctor Lansakaranayake.  Mr Greenwood appears for the prosecution.  I appear for the defence.  The accused is Kelvin Stark.  We have agreed that our side will not attach any titles to him. 

A recent but very surprising development is that this trial is being heard before a jury.  Look at them: six members of the crew of Greenwood’s ship, and six colonists.  The crew members were picked by me, and the colonists were picked by Greenwood.  He rejected dozens, including anybody who had served in Kelvin’s army, and anybody who had been wounded or suffered a bereavement at the hands of the invaders.  The crew members are all in uniform.  The others are in what I would call “colonial casual”: handmade leather shoes with visible seams, trousers covered in multi-coloured patches, hand-knitted jumpers.  I have made Kelvin swear solemnly that at no time during these proceedings will he turn up in his military uniform.  Once I had got his agreement on that, I started to feel a bit more relaxed about our prospects. 

Here comes Kelvin, wearing a kind of Graham Greene-style linen suit, narrow bronze-coloured tie and brown shoes (polished by Chandra, as usual).  His choice of clothes is rather unseasonable: it has been raining solidly for two days here.  There is a slight smell emanating from the colonists’ waxed coats which hang at the back of the hall.  Kelvin is escorted into the dock by one of the ushers, who is an employee of the local council, and a colonist.  The courtroom has an improvised feel about it, which is not surprising in this town which does not have a name yet.  The public gallery is a set of wooden benches on a rostrum, covered in cushions that people have brought themselves.  It is packed.  The dock, the empty witness box, the jury and the judges’ bench are divided from the rest of the room by panelled and varnished wooden partitions.  Greenwood is wearing a pin-striped suit, and the judges both wear black, academic gowns.  Before the trial, I had thought for one awful moment that Greenwood would insist on wig and gown for counsel, but we have been spared that. 

Now we stand.  Has Kelvin remembered to stand?  Yes, he has.  There is some uncertain shuffling among the audience.  The judges seat themselves, and so does every-one else.  This court is now in session.  Greenwood stands again, and begins his opening speech.  After a few minutes, I must admit that I am slightly disappointed.  It is a bit predictable and tedious compared to what I was expecting from him.  At last, he is about to call his first witness, Samantha Dale.  I remember her from when I had to prosecute Pamela Collins and Prudence Tadlow during the voyage.  I lost that case.  Miss Dale is now taking the oath, on the Bible.  Here comes Greenwood’s first question.

‘Miss Dale, is it true that, during the conflict which happened here about two years ago, you were captured by a group of armed men?’

‘Yes, and repeatedly raped, and threatened, and locked up.’

‘Yes, indeed.  I am sure we all feel a sense of repugnance at the way you were treated.  I commend you for your courage in coming through that ordeal.  Now, at any time while you were being held by these men, were you taken from your home on the island known as I-13 and put on board a boat?’



‘It was a huge great ship, not a boat.’

‘Indeed.  A ship.  Can you tell me what happened to end your time on that ship?’

‘The fucker sank.’

‘Er.  Just so.  Please remember that you are in a courtroom, Miss Dale.  Has anybody ever told you how the ship came to sink?’

‘No.  Nobody ever bothers to tell me anything.’

‘Well I can tell you now, without fear of contradiction, that the ship was sunk deliberately, under the order of Kelvin Stark.’

‘King Kelvin, you mean?’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘You talk about him as if he was just some bloke: Kelvin Stark: it makes him sound like a teacher or an estate agent, but he’s the king.  He is King Kelvin the First.’

‘Er, indeed.  Could you answer the question, please, Miss Dale?’

‘What question?’

‘How do you feel about the fact that you were subjected to shipwreck and possible drowning under the orders of – er – King Kelvin?’

‘I am fine with it.’

‘You are fine with it?’

‘That’s what I just said.’

‘But your life was put at risk.  Many of your fellow passengers drowned.’

‘We were prisoners, not passengers.’

‘Many of your fellow prisoners were drowned.’

‘And raped, and beaten to death in front of their loved ones, raped again after they were dead, and then the loved ones shot.’

‘Miss Dale, do you accept that you were at severe risk of drowning when Kelvin Stark issued the order for the bow doors of your ship to be opened in order to make it sink?  Yes or No?’

‘Yes, but I’d…’

‘Thank you, Miss Dale.  You are dismissed.’

‘But I…’

Judge Gonzales intervenes.  Samantha Dale leaves the witness box.  Jessica Springer is called.  She also swears on the Bible, though what she is saying is so quiet that only the clerk and the judges can hear her.  Greenwood looks concerned, and somewhat abashed.

‘Miss Springer, how would you feel about the news – which is not in dispute – that you were subjected to drowning at the order of Kelvin Stark?’

‘I think he’s a bastard.  A total bastard.’

‘I see.  Why do you say that, Miss Springer?’

‘He should have killed us all.  We don’t want to live.  We were defiled.  We were polluted and tainted with their filth.  We can never, ever be clean.  We want to die, die, die.  It is the only way we will ever find relief.  We were their playthings.  The dignity of human beings, callously and ingeniously abused for mere sport and entertainment.  I would have killed myself by now, but I can’t think of a method of suicide that would make me dead enough to forget what they did.  Are there degrees of deadness?  What is the worst?  Burning?  Acid?  Explosives?  What?’

‘Er, your Lordships, I suggest that this witness should be, er…’

Some-one appears to escort Miss Springer from the witness box.  I can’t see who it is at first.  She turns round.  Oh, it’s Violet.  Jessica seems remarkably docile in her company.  Violet steers her towards the back of the room and waits with her until a medical orderly arrives.  I wonder who is looking after Ed while this is going on.  After a suitable interval, Greenwood continues.

‘Your Honours, I call, er, the witness known as Moon-Flower.’ He pronounces the name as two separate words.  Moon.  Flower. 

Moonflower appears in court much as she had done at the Assembly two years before.  She is still barefoot.  She had an intricate array of patterns painted with henna on her hands and arms.  She spends a great deal of time outdoors, so I  am told,  and the dye complements the tones of her tanned skin very well.  She floats airily across the floor, her voile billowing behind her, into the witness box.

The usher picks up the Bible but falters after just one step towards her.  There is something about Moonflower’s appearance which suggests strongly that she is not an adherent of any orthodox religious faith.  A hurried conversation begins between the judges,Greenwood, the clerk and the  ushers.  One of the ushers begins rummaging in a small bookcase in the corner of the room.  It has various books in it which were selected before the proceedings to represent as much of the canon of human belief as could conveniently be fitted into a small space.  It looks like something from a hospital waiting room.  The usher returns with a faintly hopeful expression on his face.  In his hand he holds a rather battered paperback which turns out to be a copy of the I-Ching.  He offers it to Moonflower.

‘What’s this?’ she asks.  She sounds as if she is enquiring about a dish in a Mongolian restaurant.

‘You have to swear an oath to tell the truth.’

‘I know that, but why are you giving me this book?’

‘It is customary to swear the oath on a book.’

‘What is that?’

‘It’s the I-Ching.’

‘What’s that?  I think I may have heard of it somewhere.’  Judge Gonzales interrupts.

‘Miss Moonflower – ’

‘My name is just Moonflower, Judge.’

‘Sorry.  Moonflower, are you telling me that you have never read the book that the usher has just now offered to you?’

‘That’s right.  I don’t read all that much, to be honest.’

‘Is there a book upon which you are prepared to swear the oath?’

‘What sort of book does it have to be?’

‘It has to be one the contents of which you are broadly familiar with, in the truth of which you have a strong conviction, and whose principles you believe should be upheld, to the point where you honestly believe that you regard it as a source of guidance in your own life,’ intones Judge Gonzales.  Moonflower’s face lights up with delight.

‘Let’s use this!’ She takes something from an emerald-green, bejewelled silk handbag.

‘What is that?  Please show it to me,’ asks Gonzales.

By squinting hard, I can just about catch the title of the book.  I gather that Kelvin does as well.  Kelvin takes out his handkerchief and pretends to blow his nose.  Out of the corner of my eye, I think I can see him stuff the handkerchief into his mouth.   Greenwood looks up and seems to wonder if Heaven can still look down upon him in this accursed place.  Another hasty conversation takes place, and then Moonflower solemnly swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on a copy of Catcher In The Rye by J. D. Salinger.

‘You spoke at an assembly some months ago, I believe.’

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘What was the subject on which you spoke?’

‘We were trying to decide what to do about the people who had invaded our planet.’

‘And what was your contribution to that discussion?’

‘I was saying how I thought that we ought to be able to reach a compromise with them.’

‘I see.  And what happened?’

‘People disagreed with me.’  Moonflower smiles.  ‘Well, you wouldn’t expect to agree, would you?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, it was just silly.  I must have been out of my mind to have thought that.’  Greenwood has a tell.  Every time something happens that he doesn’t like, he grips the tabletop on his right side.  He has a tendency to roll his eyes as well, but he can control that.  The table-gripping thing he doesn’t attempt to control. 

‘But you did give a speech in which you said that your side should enter into dialogue with the people who had recently landed.’

‘Yes, but I now realise how impossible that would have been.  How can you have a dialogue with some-one who begins by firing a missile into a crowded building?  You might as well talk to a rabid dog.’  Greenwood grips the table and seems defeated.

‘No further questions, your Honours.’ 

Now he is asking for a recess.  So far, this is going better than I expected.


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