iamhyperlexic

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‘The Companion’: the final instalment: chapter 59

That’s all folks.

Anybody who wants the final chapter can email me directly at wjtg2@my.open.ac.uk

Just because you send me an email, it doesn’t mean that you will get it, but if you don’t, you won’t.

‘The Companion’: chapter 58 (content warning: last chapter to be posted here)

I have just sworn the oath, on the Bible.  I don’t consider myself to be religious, but I could not be bothered to enter into a discussion about it.  I want this to be over as quickly as possible.  Here comes the first question.  At least, I think it does.  I wish he would stop rambling and get to the point.  What has been the nature of my relationship with Kelvin?  I am talking now.  I am saying something.  I don’t really know what I am saying.  The nature of my relationship with him is that I agreed to join his mission to colonise a new planet.  Don’t ask me why I did that, because I did not previously know him, but I did agree to it.  We were then lovers, briefly, for a period of six weeks while we were in transit from Earth.  Our time together was physically passionate and I thought I was falling in love with him, but it was very difficult to know whether I did love him because he was so difficult to get to know.  Once I heard about his so-called “companion”, I experienced a feeling of repulsion and did not want to be with him anymore.    This seemed to wear off eventually, probably because I foolishly allowed myself to forget what a big part this “companion” had played in his life.  I simply assumed that he would want his partner in life to be a flesh-and-blood woman rather than a machine manufactured to look like a woman. 

Here comes another question.  I suppose I should be paying attention, instead of scanning the public gallery to see how many people I can recognise.  There is that awful Vallance woman.  She has been told off by the usher for taking notes.  Every time there is a recess, she goes outside and scribbles frantically.  I am looking for The Machine, to see if she will still glower at me, but she is not there for some reason.  Kelvin seems remarkably composed in the dock (is that what it is called?)   I wonder if they will actually put him in prison, if he is found guilty.   The next question is: do I think that Kelvin was glad when news of the invasion arrived, because he knew it would mean conflict?  Yes, I am convinced he was.  For a start, he was the only person who wasn’t surprised.  He reacted as if being invaded was an ordinary, everyday occurrence.  In other words, he didn’t react at all.  He just started talking about something called “Plan K-13”.  I asked him what “Plan K-13” was, and he said that it would be revealed on a need-to-know basis.  I asked him why it was called “K-13”, and he said it had to be called something.  I told him it sounded like something out of an unpublished novel by John Le Carré,  and he thanked me.  I didn’t tell him that the reason why the hypothetical novel would remain unpublished is because it was crap.  

Now he is asking me if I knew anything about Operation Meat-grinder.  No, I didn’t.  My duties had nothing to do with the fighting.  Oh, that’s the end.  That didn’t last as long as I feared.  I can’t go home, however.  I have to hang around in case I am wanted again. 

*

‘How should I address you?’

‘Most politely.’

‘I mean, by what form of address?  What title?’

‘How about “Mrs Stark”?’

‘Very well.  Mrs Stark, what was your…’

‘Before you proceed with your examination in chief, Mr Greenwood, I wish to raise a point of order.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I wish to question your right to examine me as a witness.’  The judges lean forward and listen more attentively.  Greenwood looks surprised and annoyed.  Those people in the public gallery who have been paying attention start muttering to each other.  Judge Lansakaranayake intervenes.

‘Mrs Stark, could you explain to the court what it is to wish to question?’

‘Your Honour, it occurs to me that, under the legal system in Mr Greenwood’s country, he could not ask me any questions, even if he wanted to.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because I am an android.  I am not a natural person, in the eyes of the law of England and Wales.  According to Mr Greenwood’s legal system, I am merely a machine.  If he wants to know anything about me, if he wants disclosure of anything that my data acquisition systems may have recorded, he can serve a court order against my legal owner.  But he can’t question me.’  Greenwood’s face falls.  He knows I’m right.  Lansakaranayake looks puzzled.  Gonzales looks amused.  The two judges exchange a words which no-one else can hear. 

‘Will Mr Greenwood and Miss Johnson please join us in our chambers, please?  Mr and Mrs Stark are each dismissed until further notice.’

*

Violet’s point was upheld.  We are making the law governing this trial up as we go along, but the assumption is that, where no law has been codified by the colonists, we will fall back on English Law.  Greenwood had already committed himself to that principle and, in this regard, English law is very clear: androids are not legal entities, except inasmuch as they incur liability for their legal owners.  Greenwood tried to argue that Violet was capable of being treated as an independent person, but the judges said that he could only appeal to the written law of this colony if he wanted things done differently from the way they are in England.  No law on this subject has been passed in the colony.  In desperation, Greenwood asked if Kelvin could produce his certificate of ownership of Violet.  This was duly produced.  Greenwood then observed that Kelvin and Violet are married, and asked how he could marry something that wasn’t a person.  The judges asked what relevance the validity of Kelvin’s marriage had to the matter in hand.  Greenwood could not answer that question.  The judges conferred for about two minutes, and came back with a joint decision that Greenwood did not have a leg to stand on.  He could apply to the court (subject to various exemptions) for orders to obtain from Kelvin the disclosure of Violet’s data, but he could not put Violet back in the witness box.  I asked if Violet would be allowed back in the public gallery, and received permission for her to continue watching the trial. 

There is still some time left today, and so we are re-convening after lunch. 

*

Greenwood’s next witness is a prisoner called Darren Cartwright.  He looks well-nourished and healthy enough, apart from a rather appalling case of acne.  Greenwood starts questioning him about what he saw and heard of his fellow invaders being scalded in the concrete tank that Kelvin ordered to be built.  I interrupt, and read a pre-prepared statement which concedes all the factual  points that Greenwood has been trying to make and adds that they are not in dispute.  It includes everything about the poisoned food,  the drinks that had been adulterated with methanol, the booby-traps, and the cutting off of the water supply.   When I finish, Greenwood thanks me unconvincingly, and closes with a few questions to Cartwright about how he is being treated.  He says that the prison is boring but comfortable enough and the food is to his liking. 

We are getting close to the point I have been dreading.  I just hope we have done enough preparation.  I hope Kelvin remembers my instructions and does as he has been told. 

*

Kelvin gives his evidence from the dock.

Kelvin’s atheism re-opens the question of what he will swear on.  After dismissing all the religious books on the usher’s shelf, somebody suggests that he just affirm, without a book.  Kelvin asks if there are any secular titles.  The usher peers at each spine in turn.

‘There is just one,’ he reports, with resignation.

‘What is it?’ Kelvin asks.

‘It is a copy of Whitaker’s Almanack for the year 2125.’

‘That’ll do.’

‘What?’ Greenwood exclaims.  For once, I agree with him.

‘What did you say earlier, Professor Gonzales?’ Kelvin asks, addressing the bench.  ‘It has to be a book 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.’

‘Yes, Dr Stark, I did say that.  Are you sure that Whitaker’s Almanack satisfies all those criteria in your case?’

‘I am certain of it.’

‘What principles does Whitaker’s Almanack set out?’

‘Democracy, for a start, and accountability.  It gives you the address of every member of parliament and holder of public office in the United Kingdom– in Mr Greenwood’s country.  I will swear on a book that attests to the accountability of Mr Greenwood’s employer.’  Gonzales and Lansakaranayake look doubtful, but they hold a brief conference which is inaudible to the rest of the court. 

‘Very well,’ indicates Gonzales to the usher, with deadly seriousness, ‘You may proceed with the taking of the oath.’

‘You are Kelvin Stark,” assertsGreenwood, after this (in his opinion) travesty has been played out. 

‘That is my name,’ confirms Kelvin, with a slight emphasis on the word name.  Oh, no.  The examination in chief is just starting, and he is already forgetting his lines.   Come on, Kelvin: pull yourself together. 

‘What office do you claim to occupy in the administration of this community?’  The question is obviously framed to be as offensive as possible without breaching the decorum of the courtroom.

‘The title of King was conferred upon me by the parliament which we refer to as the Assembly.  I attempted to abdicate from that position after the war was over.  This had been my stated intention when I accepted the title and the office of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.  That abdication was not accepted by the Assembly.  It therefore seems that I am still King.’  Kelvin speaks more quietly than he usually does.  He must remember some of what I told him.

‘You must have been very gratified to find that you were still regarded as King.’

‘No. In fact, it was a pain in the arse.’  A ripple of laughter moves round the courtroom.  Greenwoodis annoyed to see that even some of the jurors he selected himself are laughing.  He glances expectantly at the judges, hoping that they will reprimand the accused for having used the word arse in court, but they say nothing.  I am wondering whetherGreenwood knows that it was Judge Gonzales himself who suggested that Kelvin be King and not simply Commander-in-Chief.

‘I believe, Mr Stark, that…’

Doctor Stark.’  Greenwood pauses for a moment and looks at the ceiling, but he has not started gripping the table-top yet.  I suppose he is wondering how many of these blasted colonists have doctorates.

‘Dr Stark,’ he resumes, ‘I believe that, after this assembly, you affected the title of Field Marshal.’

‘If you really insist on putting it as offensively as that, then yes, I did.’

‘Did you have any previous military experience?’

‘None.’

‘Then how could you do it?’  With an air of wearied resignation, Kelvin picks up the copy of Whitaker’s Almanack that the usher has absent-mindedly left on the partition next to his chair, and turns to the page described in the index under Royal Family, Military Titles.

‘The King,’ he reads aloud, by which he means Henry IX.  ‘Lord High Admiral of theUnited Kingdom, Field Marshal, Marshal of the Royal Air Force. Admiral of the Fleet, Royal Australian Navy. Field Marshal, Australian Military Forces, Marshal of the Royal Australian Air Force.  Admiral of the Fleet, RoyalNew Zealand…’

‘Yes, yes, thank you, Dr Stark,’ Greenwood interrupts.  ‘What, precisely, is your point?’

‘Yes, I was wondering that,’ adds Gonzales, and so am I. 

‘It is the role of a leader to give his or her followers something to look up to and admire – something that inspires confidence.  If I was to give orders to soldiers, then clearly I had to outrank them, and the easiest way to ensure that was to take the rank of Field Marshal.’

‘But on what basis did you expect to give the orders?  I understand that some of the men you commanded had military experience, whereas you had none.’

‘Some of the women I commanded had military experience as well.  I accept that.  There were three reasons why I was in command and they were not.  Firstly, it was my idea for us to travel to this planet in the first place.  That, I felt, burdened me with a certain amount of responsibility.  Secondly, although I had no previous military experience, I did have considerable experience of fighting fascists and Nazis.  What we were up against was not just a military force: it was a political and psychological one, and in this I do claim to speak as an expert.  Lastly, I believed that the conflict  had the potential to last a long time and to involve the entire colony.  The economic and strategic implications of this are something else on which I claim to speak as an expert.  Adolf Hitler said precisely one thing with which I agree.’  Oh shit damn hell bugger.  This is not going well.  This is not what we rehearsed.

‘And what, may I ask, is that?’

People believe in that which is seen to be strongly believed by others.  For this reason, and because I believed in our eventual victory, I found it necessary and desirable to behave like a victor, even when we encountered set-backs.’

‘Set-backs?  Would you describe what happened to Major Downing and his men as a set-back?’

‘In military terms, yes.  In human terms, it was an appalling tragedy, and a waste of life.’

‘Would you have conducted this operation differently if you had had the chance?’

‘That is a hypothetical question and I do not propose to waste the court’s time by answering it.’ Greenwoodputs down the paper he is holding and looks angry. 

‘Dr Stark, I am trying to give you the opportunity to show the court that you are a human being after all, and not the unbalanced despot whose character one infers from the accounts we have heard of recent activities on this planet.  This chance is one that you seem determined to throw away.’

‘Well let me reciprocate, Mr Greenwood, by offering you the chance to spell out what it is that I am supposed to have done which is so heinous.  I landed on this planet with the knowledge and permission of a civil, constitutional, democratic government.  My peaceful existence here and that of my fellow colonists was rudely interrupted by invaders who were trying to rape, kill, maim and torture us.  Some of those invaders were shot.  Some of them were poisoned.  Some of them were bayonetted.  Some of them were burned alive.  Some of them were drowned.  Some of these actions, I deeply regret to say, incurred collateral damage.  In other words, in order to prevent the loss of innocent civilian lives, I had to kill some innocent civilians.  I have never made a secret of that.  It makes me desperately sad, but not criminally culpable.

‘I am the King.  This is the most unexpected thing that has ever happened to me in my life, and I must admit that I still find it impossible to comprehend sometimes.  However, when I attempted to stand down, the people would not let me.  It was my application to the Alpha Project that got us all here, and I suppose some of them see me as a symbol of their hope for peace and security in the future. In spite of unfavourable odds, every major undertaking that this colony has embarked on has succeeded, and that makes me very proud.

‘If I am a King (which I am) then I belong to the least violent royal dynasty in the history of the human race.  Monarchy on this planet was constitutional from the outset.  My position was conferred upon me by a popular assembly – a point which it took theUnited Kingdommany centuries to reach.

‘If the worst thing that you can accuse me of is that I shot a known and dedicated fascist when he did not have his machine-gun in his hands, or that I ordered the sinking of a ship that killed some of my own people, then I challenge you to go to the rulers of any state back on your planet and insist that they govern in the same just and pacific way you seem to be espousing here.

‘The people of this planet, though they sincerely wish to remain on good terms with your government, are not subordinate to that government.  Even considering recent advances in technology, you are too far away for your wishes to be taken into account here on a daily basis, and your troops were absent when we were in our hour of need.  Your presence here now is wearisome, obstructive and superfluous.  We will go our own way and, though I cannot promise that we won’t make mistakes, we will attempt to learn from yours, of which there have been a great many.  I daresay the agents of your government committed more errors in one day of the First Battle of theSommethan I have in my entire time as Commander.

‘Do you have any more questions for me?  If you do, I beseech you to be as brief as possible.’ Kelvin stops speaking, and the public gallery breaks into loud applause.  Some of them are on their feet.

The disturbance is only slightly shortened by the two Judges calling for order.  When order is finally restored, there is a pause in which nobody says anything, and then Judge Gonzales asks Greenwood if he has anything further.  I can see indecision in Greenwood’s face.  On one hand, he has succeeded sooner than he expected in getting Kelvin to stand on his dignity but, on the other, Kelvin seems to have endeared himself to most of those present.  Gonzales presses him and he reluctantly admits that he has finished.  The judges turn to me.

‘The defence rests, Your Honours.’ 

Now it is all up to the jury.

*

The jury has been deliberating for four days, and the foreman (one of the colonists) has asked for them to be released.  The jury is split, eight to four in favour of “not guilty”.   How the hell are we going to sort this out?  The only person who seems gratified by this situation is Greenwood.

‘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?’

‘No.’

‘No?’

‘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.

‘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. 

 

‘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…’

‘Yes?’

‘Illegal.’

‘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.

‘The Companion’: chapter 54

Katya and Liliya have found the man who killed Rosalind, on I-13.  I have signalled to them to put him in a crate and bring him home, alive, with all speed.   I need to ask Kelvin if he can get me some acid – about two hundred litres.

Horace will be born soon.  Kelvin is being supportive.  This may be his way of shielding himself from aspects of public life that he now finds unpleasant, but I don’t mind.  He seems to be with us in mind as well as body.  We have nearly finished building a proper house, above ground.  I don’t want my baby to be born in a bunker.  Kelvin has even painted the baby’s room, with paint manufactured by a new concern that he and James Holt have started.   I asked him if it was non-toxic but he just rolled his eyes heavenward.  The colour scheme is in lots of stripes because Kelvin wanted to try out every colour they had come up with.  It looks insane but I am sure the baby will find it interesting.  He is now working on a wooden mobile, with stars, planets, comets, space rockets and aliens.  One of the aliens’ faces reminds me of Prude.

*

Violet will soon give birth to our baby, who is still known as Horace.  Violet refuses to tell me what sex the child is, and I have not pressed her about this.  She assured me that the baby is healthy and, as she puts it, ‘doesn’t have two heads or eleven fingers’.   I wonder if Horace will be the first creature ever to be conceived in one solar system and born in another.  He (I call him ‘he’ for convenience) must surely be the first human child born of an android mother. 

I hope Violet got the DNA right.  I don’t care what he looks like, or how he grows up, but he’ll be such a disappointment to Violet if he is weak, ugly or stupid.  Perhaps weakness or ugliness she could tolerate, but not stupidity. 

We have had something of a disagreement about the birth.  She said that she wanted me to see the baby as soon immediately after he has been born, but she did not want me at the birth itself. 

‘Can’t I help?’ I asked.

‘I won’t need any help. You can help by doing as I tell you.’

‘I thought labour was very traumatic and sometimes dangerous.’

‘Labour.  It’s redundant.  There won’t be any labour: just parturition and delivery, which I will oversee myself.’

‘Don’t you think my being present at the birth will help to make the three of us feel closer together?’

‘Why the hell do you have to go all gooey every time I am trying to do something practical and scientific?  This is the conclusion of a ground-breaking research project: one which is, by the way, arguably one of the most significant events in modern human history, and I want to manage my experiment in my own way.  Can’t you understand that?  Or is it now too long since you did any proper science for you to remember how it is done?’

‘In the first place, fuck you, and, in the second, I refuse to have my child referred to as merely the product of a scientific experiment.’

‘Well it is the product of a scientific experiment.  “I Married An Android” – remember?’

‘No, you’re not an android.’

‘Yes, I am an android.’

‘You’re a fucking android when it bloody well suits you.’

‘Yes, Kelvin, and so are you.’

And then we both started crying.  She looked at me with the strangest mixture of venom and longing that I have ever seen.  I may be making this up, but I thought at that moment that I knew what she was silently trying to convey: remember that if it weren’t for my own efforts, we would not be here together, and so I held my peace.  The tacit agreement is that I will be outside the room when the baby comes into the world, but I will be able to hear it cry and to see it and hold it immediately afterwards.  And I won’t be able to sleep with Violet or see her naked until after she has repaired herself. 

*

I know that I swore I never would, but I have reluctantly decided to publish another edition of Royal Flush.  It would be silly not to:  people are clamouring for news about the royal baby.  It’s a he, and he weighs ten pounds – what a pork-ball.  That’s not a baby: it’s an oven-ready turkey.  His name is an absolute hoot: Edgar Pascal Democritus Stark.  I can hardly get it out without cracking up. 

I have to admit that the photo shoots (plural) have been a triumph.  The royal couple have been disgustingly good about the publicity.  And the baby is without doubt a little celeb in the making.  He chuckles and smiles in all the right places.  He does look adorable (as much as one with no teeth and who suffers from the combined effects of baldness, obesity and double-incontinence can do).  And, just as things are getting a bit boring and predictable, he pukes up, right in front of camera.  Marvellous.  I could not have trained him better myself.  There is nothing like a bit of well-aimed projectile vomiting to get people’s attention.  I just hope he can sustain this for the next twenty-five years or so.  I hope the little chap isn’t taking too much out of himself.

I wonder what age he will hit puberty.

The special issue is four shillings, by the way.  Yes, I know that is twice the cover price of the previous print-run, but this is a collector’s edition.  I’d prefer it in silver, if you don’t mind.  My girls will end up with shoulders like rugby league players if they have to carry all that copper around in their satchels.

*

I keep volunteering for geological expeditions to more and more remote parts of the planet, but still I can’t help hearing news about Kelvin.  I just want to shut it all out, but even on this sparsely-populated world, there are still satellites and radios.  It is difficult to work in a professional manner and still escape the flow of information. 

I hear that he has had a child.  I’m not much of a biologist – or an expert on androids – and so I still don’t really grasp how this was possible.  How can it possibly be in the interests of the child to have a machine for a mother?  Is there any way back from this?  I can’t see one.  Even if Kelvin came to his senses now, and annulled his so-called marriage to this thing he calls “Violet”, what future would there be for us?  Would he expect me to look after the baby?  Would I be able to face the baby?  Even if I could, how would I feel about it later after we had had a child of our own: a proper child, with a human mother. 

One of the articles I read said that she is going to breast-feed.  I suppose that just goes to show that you should not believe everything you read.  Is that possible?  How does it work?  What would it taste like?  Would it be like UHT?

 

‘The Companion’: chapter 53 (content warning: Grace Jones)

Report on the interrogation of prisoners of war carried out by the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

All the interrogations were carried out by Lieutenant Violet Stark, a bio-mechanical synthetic being chosen chiefly for her disease-resistance, endurance and data-recording abilities.  The early phases of the operation were characterised by prisoners in very poor states of health, many showing symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting.  During most of the interviews, the prisoner was naked.  This was not primarily intended to weaken or humiliate, but to cut down on laundry.  The interrogation area was kept at a temperature between 18 and 24 centigrade.  No artificial stimuli (bright lights, loud noises, beatings) were employed. 

All the prisoners are male.  The oldest appear to be in their early 30s. 

In order to carry out the interrogation with the minimum of assumptions, it was decided to interview the prisoners in ascending order of rank.  They were divided according to the colour of their uniform and hence their status within the enemy organisation.  Black uniforms were worn by the members of a group known as the ‘Racial Guardians’, who assumed superiority.  Khaki uniforms were worn by the rest, most or all of whom appear to have been members of a political party which changed its name after their spaceship left earth but before it arrived on Achird-gamma.  It had been called Britain For The British, but became, by order of Richard Spalding, The National Socialist English Workers’ Party.  The prisoners consistently reported that this caused discontent among a handful of men of non-English heritage.  One of these, who happened to be a speaker of the Welsh language, was shot as an example to silence dissent. 

Most of the interviews with the lower-ranked prisoners revealed next to nothing.  They appear to have been imbued with an ideology characterised by racism, nationalism, the subjugation of women, propensity to violence, and obedience to the party leadership.  However, most of these prisoners seemed to have little or no idea why they travelled 19.4 light years to come to this planet.  The most vivid accounts they gave concerned day-to-day existence on board their ship, which was over-crowded and Spartan (in both the un-luxurious and sexual sense of the word).  The three activities that seemed to fill the time were queuing for food, queuing for the toilet, and cadging illicit vodka. 

Two senior prisoners were identified for longer and more considered treatment.  They were Paul Brunton and Richard Spalding.  Both of these referred to Richard Spalding as Wolf, though Spalding did not consistently refer to himself in the third person. 

Brunton is intellectually and politically a zombie under the control of the party of which he is a member.  He claims to be educated to degree level.  Secret observation of his interaction with other prisoners confirms that he is competent to exercise authority over his subordinates, but is utterly subservient towards Spalding.  Brunton seems to have spent most of his time aboard the spaceship acting as Spalding’s scribe, and taking dictation for a book he has written (and claims still to be working on).  This is a work of political philosophy.  Both Brunton and Spalding claim this had grown to about 1,500 pages by the time of the Battle of Hardboard City, most of which were lost in the conflagration.  The following is a quotation from one of the surviving pages.  This is indicative of what survives of the rest of the work.

And so it is the task of the Political Leadership and most especially of the Leader himself to establish a regime in which the overriding emotions felt by the People are love of the Fatherland and hatred for everything – culturally, geographically and genetically – outside the Fatherland.  The chief manifestations of this love should be the desire to obey, to work and to fight, and an increase in the population.  The manifestation of this hatred should be the ability to absorb and internalise propaganda from the Party leadership and an increased capacity to wage total war. 

The establishment of this harsh regime begins with the actions of the Leader and the Party leadership in giving direction to the life of the Nation.  It becomes gradually the duty of every good National Socialist to inculcate this both as a principle and as a way of life in both himself and his comrades.  It is the historic task of successive generations and of the Nation as it aspires to true Nationhood to pursue this to the point that it purifies and strengthens the blood of every member of the National Community. 

Once National Socialism has drawn towards itself all the valuable bloodlines available to the Nation, either from the Nation itself or from racially salvageable fragments of other white-skinned nations, the rest of the global population will rapidly become so racially inferior that they will be unable to carry out any activity beyond mere subsistence or manual labour under direct Aryan supervision.  Under the new, racially purified and invigorated Nationhood, antiquated ideas such as liberalism, feminism and racial equality will become unsupportable, because the degenerated structures within the human brain required to support these polluted doctrines will cease to exist.  Some of my fellow racial theorists have suggested that surgery or drugs might be used to accelerate this process, but it is the author’s view that the establishment of a true National Socialist regime will make this unnecessary.

In case any reader is still in any doubt, it is of the utmost importance that the agents of the new National Socialist state including the army, the police, and most of the civil service  are fully imbued with the Spirit of National Socialism before they can be called upon fully to carry out the task of subduing and, where necessary, annihilating politically subversive, economically useless, or racially hostile elements.  As the Party Leadership perfects itself in this regard, it is of paramount importance for it to carry the Party membership and the Nation with it. 

The only time that questions put to Richard Spalding elicited responses longer than a single word was when this document was put in front of him, and he was asked to expand upon it.  What follows is a transcript of the very end of that conversation.  The opening remark is from Spalding.

‘You do have a chance to save yourself.’

‘What?’

‘It isn’t too late.  You have done nothing but carry out the orders of a corrupt and racially mongrel government.  If you help me and my comrades to escape and re-arm, you could be free.  You could even join us, after the necessary political re-education.’

‘I don’t think you would want me in your – how shall I put it – movement.’

‘But I can see just by looking at you that you are racially salvageable.  You have magnificent white skin.  You don’t have brown eyes.  You seem fit and strong.  You could be an excellent mother of fine, Aryan children.’ 

The interrogator admits that what she did next, while it did have a genuine motive in seeing how the prisoner would react to having his ideas contradicted, was chosen partly for her own amusement. 

‘I don’t have brown eyes?  What do you mean?  Of course I have brown eyes.’ 

‘No, I – oh.  Oh.  That is very odd.  I looked at them several times after you came into the room, and I could have sworn you had either grey or blue eyes.  Now I see that they are quite clearly brown.  That is disappointing.’ 

‘And I don’t have white skin, either.’

‘Don’t be absurd.  Aaaaah!  Aaaaaaaaaah!  What’s happening to you?  What is happening?  Do you have a disease?  Oh, god!  Is it infectious?   Let me out!  Let me out!  I demand that you let me out of here!’

The interrogator confirms that she reverted to her normal appearance before the next person entered the room.  She also reports that the image she used her bio-mechanics to present to the prisoner was based on a twentieth-century singer called Grace Jones.

 

 

‘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.

‘The Companion’: chapter 51 (content warning: royal wedding)

Another Assembly has been arranged, to take place in two weeks.   I will abdicate, relinquish the position of Commander-in-Chief, and the monarchy can be abolished.  If every-one sticks to the point, the whole thing should be over in about ten minutes. 

Violet has been acting very strangely.  She has really started bothering me about building what she insists on calling “a house for normal people rather than troglodytes”.  She goes on about this for hours.  It is driving me to drink, which is something she seems increasingly to disapprove of.  Violet herself has virtually given up alcohol.  She has also started eating like a horse.  She has taken over one of the poly-tunnels on the farm, and is growing avocadoes, peppers and tomatoes.  Until they are mature enough to harvest, she is in communication with various farmers and merchants on I-3, and is importing them by the crate, at colossal expense.  She takes the avocadoes out of the box, one-by-one, and she cries if any of them are bruised.  She eats them with raw onions, tomato-bread, olive oil, yoghurt, herbs, and all the fish she can lay her hands on.  I have told her not to bother cooking my meals any more, because she has taken to over-cooking meat until it is like leather.  I have always preferred mine rare on the inside. 

She says she has something she needs to tell me.  I am really worried.  I think I have been unsettled by the change of identity from Pamela to Violet.  I thought I had lost Violet.  Let me re-phrase that more accurately: I thought I had allowed myself to make the mistake of leaving Violet behind, and then Pamela turned into Violet, and I suppose I still cannot believe that I have been given another chance, even though I know that Violet is the real Violet. 

I will not say that we could not have won the war without Violet, but I will say this: as soon as I heard her speaking to me, seemingly out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, I knew that it meant conflict, but I knew that we would win. 

*

‘Kelvin, there is something I need to tell you.’

‘What?’

‘It is something very important.  Are you listening?’

‘Yes.  What is it?’

‘Are you here?  Are you with me?  Where are you?’

‘I’m here, for fuck’s sake.  What is it?’

‘I’m pregnant.’

‘What?’

‘I’m pregnant.’

‘Do you mean that you are going to give birth to a baby?’

‘That is what being pregnant usually means, you idiot.  Bloody hell, you are hard work, sometimes.’

‘And to whom will the baby be genetically related?  Who is the baby’s mother?’

‘Me.’

‘And who is the baby’s father?’

‘Kelvin Stark.’

‘And so it is our baby.’

‘Yes.’

‘How is this possible?’

‘It is a long story, but it is happening.  Kelvin…’

‘Yes?’

‘You are going to be a father.  Are you up to this?’

‘What?’

‘Being a father?’

‘No, probably not.’

‘I see.  And so what are we going to do?’

‘We will just have to do the best we can.’

‘That is not good enough.’

‘Well, what do you think we should do?’

‘I want you to wake up to your responsibilities.  I want you to think sensibly and act to prepare yourself for fatherhood.  I need your support.  I need you to face up to this.  Do you know how to do that?’

‘Of course.’

‘I don’t think you do.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because you never have in the past.’

‘Yes, I have.’

‘No, you haven’t.  You face up to boys’ things, like wars, and bayonet-charges, and running a brewery, and colonising new planets, but you are bloody useless at relationships, and communication, and being honest about your own feelings, and families, and children.  You are good at things that are transient and trivial and dangerous, and bad at things that are lasting and important and safe.’  She started poking me and slapping me.

‘Less of the domestic violence, please.  Ouch!  That bloody hurt.’

‘Poof.  Wuss.  Cissy.’

‘Violet, do you mind if I ask you a question?’

‘You just have done.’

‘Do you like me?’

‘No, I fucking hate you, you self-absorbed, dysfunctional, cowardly, useless little bastard.’

‘Well why do you stay with me?’

‘For two reasons.  First, I like to keep an eye on you.  Second, I like to be on hand to exploit any opportunity to watch you suffer.’

‘As a basis for a relationship, that seems to me to lack resilience and warmth.’

‘And what would you know about resilience and warmth?’  There was a long pause. 

‘How many weeks are you?’

‘Two.’

‘When did we conceive then?’

‘Back on earth.’

‘When?’

‘Do you remember the night I wore that white lingerie?’

‘The first time I saw you cry?’

‘Oh.  You noticed that.  I did not realise you had made that observation.’

‘Well, I did.’

‘Why didn’t you say something?  No – don’t bother to answer that.’

‘Why are you only two weeks pregnant if we conceived years ago?’

‘I froze the embryo.’

‘Where did you keep it?’

‘Inside me.’

‘Do you know if it is a boy or a girl?’

‘Yes, I am certain that it is either a boy or a girl.’

‘No, I mean which is it?’

‘We don’t know yet.  I’ll generate some sonograms later on.’

‘How is this possible?’

‘I did some research.  I invented an artificial uterus and a vascular system.  I have generated a genome for myself.’

‘And so the child will look like you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Fantastic. Will it be as intelligent as you?’

‘That is much less certain.  I can only say that I hope so.’

‘The vascular system – did you menstruate a few times?’

‘Once, yes.’

‘That explains the tampons.’

‘Yes.’

‘I’ve still got them.’

‘What the hell for?’

‘I took them to remind me of you.’

‘Kelvin, I do wonder why you didn’t take me to remind you of me.’

‘What are we going to call it?’

‘I have not made up my mind yet.  At the moment, I call him or her Horace.’

‘I like that.  Horace.’

*

After I got back from my last geological survey, on C-2, I went back to I-11 and paid a visit to Kelvin’s estate.  He lives in the nuttiest house you have ever seen.  There is a little building, big enough for about two rooms, behind a huge gun emplacement.  It is on an island in the middle of a river.  You have to get across on a boat.  I had been fore-warned about this in the village, and rowed across the river on a coracle which I borrowed from the place where I was staying.   I walked most of the distance, with the coracle on my back, and then rowed across. 

I had butterflies in my stomach for most of the journey.  I could not stop thinking about Kelvin.  There was so much I wanted to talk to him about.  I had been rehearsing conversations for weeks.  I had been trying to anticipate every possible thing he could say as a reply.  In my imagination, I kept asking him if he loved me. 

By the time I got to the jetty on Kelvin’s island, I was shaking all over.  I walked up the steps, and peered over the parapet.  Kelvin and what I took to be a woman were standing about a hundred metres away.  They were looking at the ground and pointing, as if discussing an extension to the house.  They seemed too deeply absorbed to notice me.  I watched them for a few minutes.  When they had finished gesticulating, they moved towards each other, and seemed to be talking more confidentially.  And then they kissed.  I don’t mean a quick peck on the cheek.  I mean a huge snog with tongues and, when you finally come up for air, finding you have got one of the other person’s fillings in your mouth.  I felt sick.  I could not get a very good view of the other person, and then I realised who it was.  It was Violet.  Kelvin was kissing an android.  He didn’t just kiss her, either.  When they had finished licking the back of each other’s throats, they nuzzled and cuddled each other.  It was nauseating.  It was all I could do not to throw up.  I dropped back below the parapet, crept back down the steps, got back into my coracle, and rowed silently off down-stream.  When I got back to the village, I just went up to my room, and sat on my bed until it got dark.  I didn’t go down for dinner.  I just went to sleep.

Oh, god, I hope they don’t ask me to be the Speaker at the Assembly.  I don’t think I could stand on a stage with Kelvin now.  I don’t know what I am going to do.

*

If I can stop crying for a few minutes, I am about to start putting together another edition of Royal Flush.  This edition will be the last.  I had thought it would come to an end when my Earth-manufactured printer broke down, or I ran out of ink, but in fact I am about to run out of things to say.  The paper’s newsworthiness comes from the excitement the female  readership – bless them all – gets from speculation about the King’s future marriage prospects, and he has just announced that he has got married.  Not engaged, you understand, but married.  I will never forgive him for this – never.  I know that he never considered Royal Flush to be a respectable periodical, but he was at least polite to me when I used to ask him for interviews.  He never just cut me off.  But this – this is a calculated insult.

There was no pomp and circumstance; no doves; no cathedral; no organ music; no page boys or bridesmaids.  No cheering crowds; no hats in the air.  There was a dress, I am told.  I have seen a picture of it, and it looks like something that would have been worn at the wedding of the Princess of Frumpland to the Prince of Chavaria.

I hope it all goes wrong.  I wish him an eternity of rows, thrown crockery, infidelity, and stillborn babies.  I hate him.  I hate him.  I hate him. 

 

‘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.