Chapter 9- Rockall Burning
Kayleigh Ford entered Rockall Port Hospital’s new extension and looked through the window into the room where Jolo and Seenta lay motionless in neighbouring beds. Jolo’s eyes were half open and she squinted at an invisible point on the ceiling. Her mouth gaped and her hands rested corpse-like on the sheet in front of her. Seenta looked almost asleep; wires led from under the blankets to monitors on the shelf showing her heartbeat, breathing and temperature. Arlene was shining a light into their eyes when she noticed Kayleigh looking. She put down her penlight and quietly came over. “No change.” she said. “I’m afraid we’ll have to go IV.”
“Is that really necessary?” asked Kayleigh.
Arlene nodded sadly. “It’s been three days. If they can’t eat then we’ll have to feed them another way.”
“What’s going into the drips?”
“Saline water, dextrose, proteins and vitamins in various solutions. We can keep them going indefinitely on that.”
“But… their brains are alright?”
“The CT scan was clear, yes.”
“So… why are they like this?”
“It may be a reaction to the psychological trauma of their ordeal. Dill tells me they did the same thing when they were forced out of the caves.”
Kayleigh nodded. “But they woke up eventually.”
“And I’m sure Jolo and Seenta will too.” Arlene smiled.
There was a long silence. “Can I see them?” asked Kayleigh.
“OK, just for a few minutes.”
They both entered the bay and stood between the two beds. Kayleigh began to feel bilious as she looked down at the unconscious forms. Jolo and Seenta were from Family A and Family D respectively. They weren’t directly related in three generations, but they’d been as inseparable as twins. Two young Erkdwala women, who’d been best friends since they were babies; cheery, playful, full of life… until they’d both gone to work in the Kissinger pipe plant. “Are they… safe?”
For the first time the nurse flushed and breathed deeply. “As soon as they were admitted we washed them and gave them a morning-after drug.”
“Arly, the men who did this…”
“I know, Love; but let’s not talk about that now.”
Tears brimmed in Kayleigh’s eyes. “Trevor’s right; the Erkdwala are freaks. They’re freaks because they’re not evil like we are!
Arlene put a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you free tomorrow?” Kayleigh asked in a firmer voice.
“I’m on an early.”
“Come round to the community hall at Six PM.”
“We need to talk.”
Arlene smiled. “I’ll be there.”
The Rockall Port Community Hall was packed shoulder to shoulder. The meeting had to be held in the cavernous sports hall with the committee table under one of the basketball nets. Drinks were passed hand-to-hand among the attendees. About three quarters of the island’s population were there: Erkdwala, crofters, USGS scientists, Commission scientists and staff. Kayleigh, who was sitting at the table beside Zach on Dill’s right, looked round to see Arlene standing by the squash wall with several other nurses. Kayleigh waved and Arlene grinned, raising her glass of beer.
“Ladies and gentlemen.” began Dill. The chatter in the hall died away. “People of Rockall; thank you for coming here tonight. The terrible crime that was committed here on Monday is the last and worst straw in a long and many-sides attack on this island and her people. It has blighted our lives and threatened our future ever since the Twenty first landed three and a half years ago.
“Three days ago, in the oil terminal construction complex on the north coast, two Erkdwala women, Jolo and Seenta went to work as they do every day. Only on this day, these two women were brutally and mercilessly gang-raped by BGC construction workers.”
He had the full attention of everyone in the room; not one so much as fluttered an eyelid.
Dill’s face tightened with emotion as he spoke and he raised his voice. “I think we all feel the same way about what has happened. This was an attack that was opportunistic, sadistic and cowardly! It was carried out against a pair of human beings who were both defenseless and incapable of retaliation! They are part of a culture that cannot comprehend violent crime. The aggression that the rest of our species is so accustomed to is unknown to them… Chief Kerroj.”
The Erkdwala leader was dressed in his full regalia. He rose slowly to his feet. “All people of Rockall, Erkdwala and those from the beyond, I have been explaining to my Erkdwala what has happened. Since Tuesday, no Erkdwala man or woman has been into the oil terminal… and none of them ever will again!”
He paused as a deafening cheer exploded from the audience. They clapped and roared their support for the old man.
“This thing that these men doed to Jolo and Seenta is a very bad thing, but it has also done good to the Erkdwala because it make us… understand what the Black Gold Consortium really think of us: as people for exploitation… Erkdwala are not people for exploitation!”
More zealous applause.
“People from the beyond have been on Rockall for only three years. Erkdwala have been here forever. But in this only-three-years time, everything is changed. The land of Wilontu-Kyantshwer, what you call Roosevelt Skerries, was the home of rock spirits and angels, a gift from Arkdwa Gods for human beings. It was there for a thousand thousand years, now it is gone and we cannot bring it back. Half the Rockall Ponies are dead, many plants and animals are all dead. If things carry on into the future like they are now, all of Rockall will be dead.” He sat down.
“Well.” said Dill quietly. “That says it all. Thanks, Kerroj… What is it, Calum?”
Calum had his hand up. He was standing at the left side of the room next to Carol and a bunch of other crofters. “I have a question for Chief Kerroj; may I ask it now?”
“Of course.” Dill leaned back in his chair.
“Kerroj, when you said that the Erkdwala have been on Rockall for ever and outsiders have only been here three years, did you mean that Rockall should belong solely to the Erkdwala and nobody else?”
Kerroj turned slowly in his seat to look at the man. “Belong? Rockall is not your shoe or your trousers or your house. Arkdwa does not belong to any person; Arkdwa belong to Arkdwa.”
Calum frowned in confusion then seemed to get it. “Ah, I see. No; what I meant was do you believe that outsiders should leave and only the Erkdwala should live on Rockall?”
“No.” said the old man. “All of you people are now Erkdwala.” He moved his hand in a circle to indicate everybody. “’Erkdwala’ in English just mean the same as ‘human beings’. Any person who steps onto Rockall and love Arkdwa and respect Arkdwa and want to be part of Arkdwa is therefore an Erkdwala. It is the futile effort to own a place rather than being a part of it that has caused all your people’s problems, my friend.”
Kayleigh gasped aloud in astonishment. Kerroj had spoken this last sentence in Gaelic. She’d had no idea he’d learned the language. Calum looked equally surprised.
Elaine spoke next. “I think Chief Kerroj is aware that many of the British and American contingents who have settled here in the last few years have an attitude towards Rockall that is similar to his own people’s: We see it as an object of reverence. What he calls the Arkdwa Gods is something a lot of us can sense.”
“Definitely.” Dill nodded vigorously.
“We only found out about the Skerries being demolished when the border was opened. I felt like I’d lost a friend. I cried my eyes out for weeks.”
“So did I.” said Kayleigh.
“I think we’re getting slightly away from the point here.” interjected Professor Laird. “We were talking about Jolo and Seenta…”
Zach leaned close to Kayleigh and whispered: “Do you think he feels bad?”
“Yeah.” she replied. “It was the USGS who found the oil field. Dill tried to persuade him to keep quiet and he refused; something that he regrets now I think.”
“OK.” said Dill. “We attempted to put in a complaint with the British Governorship, but Trevor refuses to grant us an interview. He replied to our letter earlier today, but he is still trying to convince us that this is nothing to do with the BGC.”
“I saw him driving into the construction site on the afternoon it happened.” said Kayleigh.
“He gave the game away there.” added Zach. “Anyway, I gave Dack Peterson a ring and he denied all knowledge of the incident. He claims all the Erkdwala workers went home at the end of the day fit and well.”
The audience hissed and muttered angrily.
“Let’s take it higher!” said Audrey, an American biochemist. “Call the BGC head office, or even the White House!”
“I’ve tried that.” said Zach. “I even sent an email to the UN Secretary-General and got sweet FA back.”
There was a silence. “That’s the situation we’re in, Ladies and Gentlemen.” said Dill. “The authorities and governments have shown us their true colours. We mean nothing to them! Rockall means nothing to them! All they care about is the oil under our feet!” He stamped the ground.
“Basically, we’re squatters.” said Kayleigh. “Even the Erkdwala who made this island their home many millennia before history began. Rockall is now a giant oil rig and it’s clear that we’re not welcome on it.”
“So what’s next?” asked Elaine. “Are they going to make our lives so unbearable that we up and go?”
“That may be part of their plan.” said Dill.
“Our crofts!” cried out Calum’s brother. “We’re going to lose them!”
“Calm down, Guys.” said Laird. “It’s not happened yet. Let’s wait and see if we can do something.”
“Do what!?” said Calum. “The government, the US president, even the UN won’t back us up! What can we do when all the powers-that-be are against us!?”
Others voiced their accord.
“The powers-that-be have no real power.” said Dill. “In actual fact they play a passive role and wield the power that we have given to them. Remember what Barry Gervaise said about the shepherd and the sheep. They only control us because we concede our individual sovereignty and fall into line. The Rockall Governorship consists of Trevor, his Deputy, his three aides and the twenty Guardsmen. The BGC contingent is made up of just forty construction contract mangers. They are the shepherd, we are the sheep. What are we going to do?”
“Dill, what are you proposing?” Laird looked worried as he spoke.
“I propose that we say ‘enough!’ I propose that we announce that we will not allow them to control our lives and our island any more! I propose that we take back and exercise the power that we have given away!”
Dill stood up, his eyes shining, his voice wild and valiant. “Revolution!”
“What!?” What the…!?” “What the fuck…!?” everybody yelled at once.
“We take over our island, declare our independence and implement the Free Rockall constitution!”
“Dill!” Laird stood up to face him. “Don’t talk crazy! That was just a hypothetical exercise; a bit of fun!”
“Then it’s high time we put it into practice!”
“We can’t do that!?”
“Well… er… if we’re going to protest then we should protest through the correct channels.”
“The correct channels are the problem, Jack; not the solution.”
“But this is nuts, Dill!”
“No! What’s nuts is that we never suggested it before!”
Laird held up his hands. “Dill, perhaps the committee should discuss this in private.”
“No! Let’s all decide now!” He looked at the crowd. “What do you all think?”
Their response was a mixture of laughs, catcalls and worried silence.
Laird rolled his eyes. “Dill, you’re being disruptive; for Chrissake sit down!”
The younger man capitulated, but his face was still glowing with excitement. “Let’s at least think about it!” he said. “Indulge me for a few minutes and imagine we are independent; neither British nor American, just Rockallian.”
“Well…” Laird frowned. “I imagine it would be pretty lonely. Without a subsidized economy behind us we’d probably starve to death. We’d have no access to the benefits of British and American lifestyle, no citizenship, no legal protection. You realize that to live here we’d have to relinquish our passports and become like asylum-seekers? I personally value my American nationality more than anything else I have. One look at some countries makes me thank God I was born an American.”
The other USGS staff murmured their assent. “And I thank God I’m British!” said Jennie.
“Being independent doesn’t mean that you’d have to give up your current citizenship.” said Dill. “You could hold dual nationalities. Personally I regard myself as a citizen of Planet Earth.”
“This island couldn’t support an autonomous population, Dill.” said Claire. “Much as I like the idea.”
“Rockall has supported a thriving human population for fifty thousand years.” he countered.
“Only three hundred; we’re two and a half thousand.”
“But remember we have the crofts. St Kilda is roughly the size of Rockall and its crofts not only fed the islanders, but also produced a surplus which gave them a healthy living.”
“I knew he’d bring up St Kilda at some point.” whispered Kayleigh to Zach.
“If necessary some of us would have to leave.” continued Dill.
There was a burst of raucous protests from the audience.
“Alright, alright!” Dill showed his palms. “Scratch that… It’s encouraging to see that you’re taking the idea seriously.” he added with a half-smile.
“How will we go about it?” asked Elaine. She was the only person who’d been listening to Dill with a straight face. She was also the first, Kayleigh noticed, to refer to the subject in the future rather than conditional tense.
“We just walk up to Trevor and tell him that he’s out of a job; and the same goes for you, Jack, with all due respect.”
Laird chuckled and winked.
“What if he doesn’t want to go?” asked Elaine.
Dill shrugged. “Tough titty! There’s two K of us saying that he’s out and just him and his handful of staff saying otherwise.”
“I’d love to see that!” said Zach.
“Yes.” said Laird. “But some of that handful are the Rockall Guard and they’re armed.”
“Well…” Dill paused for thought. “Obviously we don’t want to get into a firefight, that’s essential… The revolution must be peaceful.”
“A peaceful revolution? Sounds like a contradiction in terms.” said Laird.
“Not so long as we are adult and restrained about it.” responded Dill.
The American professor scowled. “So if the Guardsmen form a square around Trevor, point their guns at us and tell us to go home and have a cup of coffee, what do we do?”
“We try to reason with them.”
“Reason with them!? These guys are former special forces!”
“We must try, Jack.”
“And if, God forbid, it doesn’t work? What then?”
“We go home and have a cup of coffee.”
Laird snorted and threw his hands in the air.
“What’s the matter, Jack?” teased Dill. “It’s just a hypothetical exercise, remember?”
“Dill.” said Audrey. “If we decide to go ahead with this revolution, we must be willing to fight for it; otherwise we’ll be wasting our time.”
“We will fight for it, Audrey; with all our hearts.”
“And our fists.”
“No; this must be about ideas not brute force!”
“But brute force can hold us back from presenting our ideas!”
“Nothing can hold back a good idea.”
Laird returned to the debate. “With respect, Dill; I think you’re talking in a very idealistic and naive way.”
“’Idealistic’ and ‘naive’ are words used to describe anyone who’s trying to avoid the mistakes made by previous generations. Stone cold reality in this case is doing things the traditional doomed, useless way!”
“Come on, Man! You’re talking about the removal of an established government that has no intentions of being removed! Of course we’ll have to use brute force!”
“Hold on!” said Kayleigh, recalling her experience of being in Glasgow during the Rockall Missile Crisis. “What will the people back home think? How they see us will have a big effect on the success of our independence.”
Everybody turned and looked at her. “In what way?” asked Claire.
“If the newspapers fill their pages with lurid colour photos of dead Rockall Guardsmen and BGC security officers, what will the public reaction be? We all know how easy it is to diddle them with news stories; every time I ‘phone home, people still ask me what happened to the missiles. The US and UK governments will not be impressed when we take power, especially when we stop oil production. They will try to take the island back and the only chance we have of preventing that is if we break through their propaganda and get the people on our side.” There followed a long silence. She expected Laird to challenge her, but he just sat still like everyone else and gazed at her.
“That’s a very good point, Kayleigh.” said Dill. “If we use violence against the Governorship then we give Weller and Selby the justification to use violence against us.”
“So that’s it?” said Calum. “A Catch-22 situation. We can’t take over without using violence, but if we do it’ll give the government the excuse they need to stop us taking over.”
“I don’t think so…” began Dill.
“Yes! Calum’s right!” butted in Zach. “What’s more, even if we did what Dill says and took over peacefully then it wouldn’t matter a jot! Weller and Selby can fabricate an excuse; they’ve done it before. We’ve all seen it.”
Kayleigh nodded with a sigh.
“So let’s quit this baloney and get back to business!” snapped Laird. “We came here to talk about Jolo and Seenta.”
“And we are.” insisted Kayleigh. “What happened to Jolo and Seenta is a product of the regime we want to get rid of!”
“You can’t get rid of it! ‘It’ is the military might of the world’s two most powerful countries! The economic might of the global industrial community!” Laird thumped the table. “This is an exercise in pure fantasy!”
“I’m sure someone said that to George Washington.” riposted Dill.
The American glowered at him and the crofters laughed and applauded.
“Remember William Wallace?” said Alasdair. “He’d be right behind us!”
“Shut up, you Lowland twerp!” yelled Calum.
A dozen people intervened and a slanging match broke out.
“Let’s have some order, please!” shouted Dill, but his voice was drowned in the bickering.
Kayleigh then noticed that Kerroj’s lips were moving. The Erkdwala chieftain had sat quietly listening throughout the debate; now he was talking, sitting still and speaking softly, not attempting to raise his voice above the argument. “Quiet, you lot!” yelled Kayleigh. “Shut up, will you!?… SHUT UP!”
One by one they caught on, stopped what they were saying and turned their eyes towards the old man. Once more there was silence in the hall.
“Sorry, Kerroj.” said Kayleigh. “Could you start again?”
Kerroj smiled a little shyly. “Sorry if I stop you talking… I want only to say that what Dill and others say about… revulsion?”
“Revolution.” Kayleigh corrected.
“Revolution, yes! It is a good thing that you say this. It makes Rockall happy when you think and say things like that. Arkdwa is ill; and she is feeling sad and lonely. So many men are now here who know nothing of her; men like Trevor and BGC who want only money. She is crying with pain and sadness. When you think of things like revolution, it is because you can hear Rockall crying and you give her a cuddle. She knows that you all still love her and it gives her happiness and hope.”
“I’m glad you feel that way, Kerroj; but thoughts can’t change anything.” said Laird.
“Yes, yes, yes!” Kerroj nodded resolutely. “Yes, they can! Rockall can hear your thoughts. She can see every picture of your mind. When you love Rockall and you want to set her free the power of your thoughts comes out of your head and flies around Rockall like a puffin. It goes into earth and rocks like water from rain. Your thoughts are making Rockall strong!”
“Well, that’s nice to know, Mr Kerroj.” said Calum. Kayleigh found his tone teasing and patronizing. “But it won’t change the outcome of the revolution. Thought can’t stop a bullet from a gun.”
“Why not? Who holds the gun? A man with a mind presses the trigger. The mind fires the bullet, not the gun.”
Calum tittered sardonically. “Right! Let’s keep thinking about freedom and go home to bed, eh?”
“No, no, no!” The old chieftain shook his head like a wet dog. “Thoughts must be real, not imagined!”
“’Thoughts must be real, not imagined’!? What is this drivel!?”
“He means that we must have real intent.” put in Kayleigh. “Thinking freedom must be more than saying: ‘Well, it would be nice, but we just can’t have it.’ We have to actually strive for it! Give it a try!”
“Yes, yes, Kayleigh!” said Kerroj. “Trying is more important than doing! If we try then our thought will be powerful and even if we fail we will still succeed. Winning is not success; winning is effort! If you succeed without effort then you have lost.”
There was a long pause then Dill cleared his throat. “I understand what you mean, Kerroj.” he said.
“Remember Jolo and Seenta.” said Kayleigh. “We owe it to them, we owe it to ourselves… and we owe it to Rockall!”
There was absolute hush in the room for several minutes. The occupants were as motionless as statues. Then Laird reached forward and picked up his beer glass. “Alright, I’m in.”
Kayleigh, Dill, Kerroj, Elaine, Zach and Claire all copied his action. The USGS and Commission staff followed. There was a pause then the younger crofters did the same. Calum looked around at the forest of raised glasses. “Very well.” he said. “I will submit to the majority.”
Dill stood up. “To Rockall!... And freedom!”
“How the hell did that happen?” Zach asked no one in particular. “I was expecting us to organize a demo or a lobby or something… and we come out of that meeting with a plot to bring down the Governorship!”
“It seemed to make sense though… somehow.” said Kayleigh. “The moment Dill suggested it, something in my head went ‘Click!’. It’s as if we’re scientists who’ve been slogging away for years at some formula and then we discover one short, simple equation that makes all the others fit.”
Zach pushed his pillow back and raised himself up onto his elbow. He looked down on her, his eyes reflecting the moonlight from the window. “It was Kerroj that spun it. That feller’s amazing!”
“Kerroj is the most incredible person I’ve ever met.” said Kayleigh, sticking her leg out from under the blankets to cool herself.
“Yeah; until a few years ago, he didn’t know the outside world existed, and now he’s sussed it better than most of the folk who live in it.”
“And we should congratulate Dill; it was his idea in the first place.”
“Yeah, Dill can be very persuasive.” Zach got out of bed and walked to the sideboard. His skin glowed as if luminous in the moonlight as he poured a glass of water. “I’ll never forget Trevor’s ballot back in the tents! His face when the votes were tied! He was so sure that the ‘Go’s had it in the bag! But he hadn’t counted on Dill’s silver tongue.”
“Dill says February the Fifth is the day.”
“Why February the fifth?”
“That’s when the BGC change crews. Their supply ship will be in dock so we can use it to offload both crews from the island.”
“If there are any left alive.” said Zach with a frown. “There was a look in Audrey’s eyes that scared me. I think she’s after blood for what they did to Jolo and Seenta.”
“Well, she can’t have it. I agree with Dill, the revolution must be bloodless.”
“Do you think that’s possible?”
There was a long pause. “I hope you’re right.”
At midnight the Free Rockall Union met by The Devil’s Tea Cosy. There was nowhere big enough for them all to meet indoors without attracting attention and surprise was essential in these last few hours. Dill climbed up onto the top of the Cosy so that he could address the crowd. “My fellow Rockallians!” he boomed. “This is the last time we will meet under corporate colonial occupation! The next time we see each other, we shall be seeing free Rockallians!”
The party cheered and raised their fists in the air. Kayleigh felt Zach’s arm encircle her; his hand rested on her hip. She nestled into his armpit and rested her head on his chest.
“We all know what we’re supposed to be doing. Audrey? Is your team ready?”
“Remember, we must strike together, simultaneously. Nine AM, on the dot. My team will be waiting in Rockall Port at our homes; your team shall be ensconced in the USGS centre in Green Port. If there are any problems, call me on my mobile.” He paused for a few seconds. “We stand at the brink of a new age! The American Governor has openly joined our cause, and the British governor will soon be deposed…”
“He’s in good form tonight.” whispered Zach.
“On a roll, I’d say.” responded Kayleigh.
“You know, when he talks about things like this with such passion, I can almost believe it’ll come true.”
“That’s what Kerroj reckons is most important.”
“…so let us go!” yelled Dill. “Go and take the freedom that is our birthright! Take back our island home from the greedy and oppressive! The Rockall Ponies shall roam free again! The birds shall fly high above the plateau! Their nests safe from harm! Onward!”
They left in high spirits to take up their positions, becoming grave and apprehensive as they split up to go their separate ways. It was feeling more real now.
“But I want to help!” said Kayleigh, stamping her foot.
“You have helped.” replied Zach.
“Then let me help some more! Bring me along with you!”
“Kayleigh.” He put his hands on her shoulders. “These guys have guns; it could be dangerous. I’m worried you’ll get hurt.”
“Don’t talk to me like I’m a little girl!” she yelled.
“Sorry… sorry.” He closed his eyes and swallowed. “Look, I care about you, Kay.”
“And I care about you!”
Dill interjected. “Are you ready, Zach; we’re leaving?”
“Yeah… Kay, please stay here!” He swung round and was out of the front door before she could reply, leaving her and Dill alone.
Dill smiled shyly. “What will you do?”
“Stay here, I guess.” She shrugged. “Look after him, Dill.”
“I will, Kayleigh; he’s a good friend to me.”
“And yourself too.”
“Oh, I’ll be alright!” he chuckled.
She stepped up to him and they embraced. “Freedom.” she whispered.
“Freedom.” He stood up straight, zipped his parka up to his chin and turned for the front door to follow Zach. Jack Laird was just outside. He winked cheerily at her then the door shut and they were gone.
Kayleigh was not alone in First Landing. Kerroj and several other Erkdwala elders had remained behind to take care of the children. The old folk sat and conversed softly in their native tongue while the youngsters played with toys and computer games. Peen squatted on the bed in one of the spare rooms with Gareth and Jennie’s youngster, Nina, who was showing Karsk her collection of teddy bears. The woman had a mixing bowl full of water in her hands. She looked up and smiled as Kayleigh approached. “Hi, Kayleigh.”
“Hi, Peen; what are you doing?”
“I talk to Elkika.”
“The water-goddess? What does she say?”
“She say: ‘Splish-splash-splosh!” Peen laughed.
Kayleigh laughed too. “You people are amazing! You even take the piss out of yourselves!”
“We are funny… Anyway, Elkika say good news. Revolution is full of good blessings. The heart of Arkdwa warms and her wounds can start to heal.”
“Well, that is good news. Thank you.” Kayleigh took a pair of binoculars out of the wardrobe then went to Zach’s bedroom and focused out over Rockall Port Bay.
The masses had reached The Rotunda. They had surged through the main gate and were pouring into the courtyard like a human wave. Their voices were easily audible like the roaring of the crowd at a football match. The vanguard was sprinting up to the front doors of Trevor’s private apartments. A posse of alarmed Rockall Guardsmen hastened inside and shut the door. There’s Dill! His figure in its distinctive blue parka was the first to reach the door and try the handle. He was swamped by dozens of others, some carrying sledgehammers. They all brought them down simultaneously and the door gave way with a single strike. Dill disappeared inside the building, the rest bundling in behind him.
Something caught Kayleigh’s attention at the edge of the lens. She panned left to see that a small group had peeled off from the main throng and were caucusing in a corner of the yard. One of them was Jack Laird. Zev Kahar, another USGS scientist, emerged from the loose tail of the crowd and joined them carrying a pair of rolled-up linen sheets under his arm. They all kept furtively looking over their shoulder as Zev unrolled the sheets. Inside were a stack of thick-barreled military rifles, hand grenades and ammunition pouches. Laird and his companions began loading magazines into the weapons and methodically working the breeches.
“Jack!” Kayleigh mumbled aloud. “What are you doing!?” She put down the binoculars, took out her mobile ‘phone and called Dill. As he answered she was almost deafened by the background clamour. “Hello!?” Dill yelled.
“Dill, it’s Kayleigh! Jack’s up to no good! I’m watching him from here! He’s got…”
“What was that!?”
“Jack’s got guns, Dill!”
“I can’t hear you, Kay!”
“Be careful! Jack’s… got… guns!”
The call cut off. Kayleigh dropped the device in frustration, wiped the condensation of her breath off the window and returned to her vigil. Laird and the other USGS crew were pushing their way into The Rotunda, brandishing their weapons.
Meanwhile the portion of the crowd that couldn’t fit inside the building was clustered around the flagpoles. They lowered the Rockall Triumvirate, there was a flicker of combustion and the three standards burst into flame. The crowd cheered and blazing cinders were kicked into the snow.
When her attention returned to the house itself, Kayleigh saw to her disbelief that two figures were climbing up the drainpipe on the west corner. When they reached the upper floor level they began inching along the horizontal drainpipe that ran all the way around the building, using the eaves of the roof as a handhold. Moving one step at a time, the two climbers circuited The Rotunda until they’d turned the corner and were on the south wall which leaned directly over the edge of the cliffs. The two men’s heels hung over a five hundred foot drop. Kayleigh put her free hand into her mouth and bit her nails in terror.
As the first climber reached the side of the facade’s biggest window, he produced a hammer from his inside pocket and proceeded to smash the pane with it. POP! POP! POP! A series of three, quick explosions echoed around the bay and the man who’d shattered the window let go his perch and fell. He plummeted noiselessly down the cliff face, rolling in the air like a film-maker’s dummy. He bounced off the rocks and hit the sea with a puff of spume. His hammer landed a split-second later, copying his death in miniature.
Kayleigh screamed. Her heart throbbed and her vision pulsated, but some hypnotic fixation riveted her to the scene. Her hands were shaking feverishly, but she continued to stare through the binoculars.
The second climber froze like a fly caught in a spider’s web. He made no plea or attempt to escape as a Rockall Guardsman leaned out of the window, leveled his pistol at him and fired. The climber collapsed on the drainpipe, clung on for a few seconds with his fingers and toes then succumbed to gravity and hurtled downwards, following his companion into the jaws of the ocean.
Peen opened the bedroom door. “Kayleigh, I hear your voice. What’s wrong?”
She pointed a quivering finger at The Rotunda.
“Oh, Kayleigh; don’t watch! We can do no help! Come to me and wait until this thing is over.”
Peen led her to the bed and laid her down; the room rolled around her head like a fairground ride. The Erkdwala woman gave her a glass of redcurrant juice laced with a herbal tonic and Kayleigh became relaxed and drowsy. Soon she fell asleep.
She awoke to the sound of shouting and yelling outside the house. She went to a landward window and saw a crowd outside First Landing. The Rotunda was burning and smoke filled the air. The front door opened and she heard excited voices downstairs. She put on her shoes and left the bedroom.
The kitchen, lounge and hallway were swarming with people all talking at once. Kayleigh almost fainted with relief as she saw Zach and Dill. She came down the stairs and pushed her way through the mob. “What happened?” she asked Zach.
“We did it.” he answered flatly. His face was drained and blank. “We won.”
In light of this news, she wondered why nobody seemed happy. Everyone appeared to be involved in a huge argument or a hundred different ones. Fingers jabbed at faces, mouths were red and wide, profanities popped up above the background hubbub. A brawl erupted in the hall between two groups of crofters. The hatstand was knocked over and the mirror fell from the wall and shattered. Then Laird arrived; his white beard was ruffled and dirty. He still held his rifle in his left hand. Dill turned on him in fury. “You stupid, stupid bastard!”
“Fuck you, Dill!” the professor retorted. “I just won you your goddamn revolution!”
“You just got a dozen men killed!”
“Horseshit! If it weren’t for me we’d all have been killed!”
“We fucked up ‘cos of you!”
“How dare you say that!? How dare you, you dumb-ass little motherfucker! We depose Trevor and set these people free and you chew my ass out for it!? Damn your hide, Dill!”
“Who the fuck do you think you are going behind everyone’s back!? We made plans together and…”
“No, goddammit! You did! You made all the plans and expected us just to fall in behind you!”
“We agreed on our methods!””
“No, I did not! Why the hell should I sit quietly and let you lead us all on some suicide mission like goddamn, fucking lemmings!? The Guards were armed! You gonna outtalk a nine-millimetre slug!?”
“We had the bloody place in our hands, Jack! We had Trevor cornered like a weasel! We could have starved him out if you hadn’t gone in blazing away like Arnold Schwarzenegger!”
Laird snorted contemptuously and shook his head. “My God! What a stupid little kid you are! When are you gonna grow up!?”
One of the USGS staff interrupted. “Heads up, Guys; prisoners coming through!”
The crowd herded the prisoners into the house with a gust of boo’s and cat-calls. First came Royston Keen, Trevor’s butler; and then John Patterfield, his chauffeur; and then the five, surviving Rockall Guardsmen looking wide-eyed and fearful. They were frogmarched down into the empty cellar and the door was locked. Ibux, one of the Erkdwala, stood outside to guard it. Finally, amid a crescendo of derisive howls, the Ace of the Pack was dragged in, wearing only dressing gown and slippers; and was thrown to the floor. His shoulders were stooped and trembling, his hair and clothes caked in mud and snow. As Dill and Zach stepped up to him, he made a palpable effort to compose himself. He tottered to his feet and pulled his dressing gown girdle tight. He said something inaudible above the noise.
“Shut up, you lot!” said Dill and the racket died down. “Do you have anything to say, Trevor?”
“Dill!... Kayleigh!...” he croaked hoarsely. As he looked at his erstwhile Deputy, his angry expression was mixed with pain. “Zach!... Not you too!”
Kayleigh looked at Zach, but her lover’s face remained unmoved.
The ex-Governor rotated in a circle, taking in his predicament. “HOW… DARE… YOU!” he hissed.
Dill’s face took on an uncharacteristic sneer of satisfaction. “Put him on ice!”
The cellars of First Landing had been prepared in advance for their inmates. Dill had insisted on basic humanitarian conditions: A mattress on the floor, a slop-bucket and a bottle of clean water. Some had protested at this. “Let him lie in his own shit!” Audrey had put in, but eventually Dill had had his way. The staff and Guardsmen had been bundled in together in the main chamber, but Trevor was kept in solitary confinement in the wine cellar opposite.
As morning became afternoon, the rabble headed off over the moors to Mount Clow and Green Port to reinforce the other lines while Dill became very busy, sending text messages and making calls as he tried to coordinate everything like a general in his headquarters bunker. He asked Kayleigh to relieve Ibux from his guard duty. “The Erkdwala are trustworthy, but they aren’t accustomed to this sort of thing.” he said. “I’d rather have someone down there I can rely on.” She reluctantly agreed.
Laird was waiting for her at the top of the cellar steps, out of sight from Dill. “What’s up, Jack?”
He said nothing until Ibux was gone then produced an automatic pistol wrapped in a leather holster. “Take this, Kayleigh.” he said. “Just in case.”
“In case of what? Both doors are locked.”
“Then why even post a guard?... Look, Kayleigh; I’ll worry about you down there. I can’t stay; I’ve got to shoot off to Green Port. There’ll be less than ten people in the house this evening; I dread to think what’ll happen to you and those kids upstairs if these guys find a way to escape… Please take it.”
Kayleigh slowly reached out and took the weapon. It was heavier than she’d expected. “I watched you this morning, Jack.” she said. “I was by a window with binoculars. I don’t like the way you went behind our backs.”
“I’m sorry about that, Kayleigh; but I had no other choice. I knew I could make this venture succeed if we were armed, but I knew Dill would never agree.” He grinned. “Every good revolution has its cabals. And it worked didn’t it?”
“In the short term, but in the long term I still think Dill’s right; it’s going to cost us dearly.”
Laird sighed. “Dill is a decent, courageous, kind young man and I love him like a son… but he’s an obsessive idealist! He needs to wake up and smell the blood!” He put a hand on her shoulder. “Think about the things he says before agreeing to them and take care of yourself.” He turned and walked away.
Kayleigh descended the narrow, stone steps to the cellar, her fingers running along the breezeblock walls. There was a landing at the bottom just three feet square with a door on each side and a blank wall ahead. It was lit by a single bulb in a cage on the ceiling. The doors were made of heavy beechwood with bronze jambs and latches. Each door had a ventilation grille, just seven inches by two, installed at eye-level. She could hear the murmur of conversation from the chamber on the left, but from the wine cellar to the right there was silence.
She leaned against the cold wall to begin her vigil, but then caught a glint of light from behind the grille of the wine cellar; just a ping of reflection off a cornea. She was being watched. “Is that you, Trevor?” There was a long pause. The hush was creepy and she felt a twinge of claustrophobia. She suddenly became very aware of her vulnerability; just a couple of inches of wood separated her from her prisoners. She undid the pop-stud on the pistol’s holster.
“Who else would it be, Kayleigh?” Trevor’s voice was hoarse and muffled from behind the grille as if he were being smothered.
“Are you OK in there?”
“I’m alive, if that’s what you mean.”
“Good; that’s all that matters.”
There was a long silence. “What are you planning on doing with me?”
“I don’t know yet; that’s for Dill to decide.”
“Dill!” His voice dripped with contempt. “Dill is using you, Kayleigh.”
“No! Dill doesn’t use people! That’s your forte! Dill loves and cares for people! Something I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
There was another pause then Trevor coughed. “Would you consider letting me out of here?”
Kayleigh snorted. “What did you say!?”
“Just unlock the door and look the other way; I’ll be gone, no strings attached.”
“I’ll make it worth your while.”
“What; you’ll pay me, Trevor? A few million in petrodollars?”
“How about some BGC shares? Ten billion dollars worth of them! And their value is going to skyrocket! Just think about it, Kayleigh! You could buy anything you want!”
She was sweating despite the basement being damp and chilly. She wiped her brow. “Forget it!”
“You’re a fool!” he hissed.
“Do you know I feel sorry for you, Trevor? You can only think in pounds and pence.”
“And you’re a sentimental, little trollop! Living in the pockets of your mentor Dill!... Do you honestly think you’ll get away with this!? You really have no idea what you’ve done; or what’s going to happen to you for doing it!”
“I’m not scared, Trevor!”
“Well, you should be!... You’re all as good as dead! Even if you surrender you’ll be shown no mercy! They’ll save the women for last! You’ll be raped and mutilated until you beg for the final bullet!”
“Shut up, Trevor!” Kayleigh drew the gun from its holster. Her hands shook and the weapon slipped in her clammy grip.
“Why don’t you use that now, Kayleigh; on yourself! You’ll be better off!”
“I said shut up!” She kicked the door.
“It doesn’t have to be like that.” he persisted in a gentler voice. “I can protect you if you cooperate with me. Unlock the door and let me out. We can escape together and I’ll get you off the island to safety.”
Then she understood. She composed her self and said: “Trevor, I wasn’t born yesterday! Bribery then threats? Very original!” She chuckled.
There was a pause then Trevor struck the door with a resounding thump. “LET ME OUT!... LET ME OUT!” he shouted, beating on the door with his fists and feet. “I’m the Governor of Rockall! Let me out, by God! NOW!”
“What’s going on?” Calum appeared at the top of the steps. Then he laughed heartily and jogged down. “Is our guest not satisfied with his accommodation?... Hey, Trevor! Has luncheon not been served on time? Is the caviar too cold?” He turned to Kayleigh. “I’ve come to relieve you. Dill wants a word.”
Kayleigh pattered up the stairs back into the world of warmth and light. Calum was her saviour; his laughter and jibes dissolved the fear that Trevor had dragged her into, but the best news was yet to come.
Dill’s face was pale and his jowls hung limp with exhaustion. He smiled weakly as he flicked through his text messages. “It’s over, Kayleigh; Green Port has fallen.”
“What about Mount Clow?”
“Elaine’s negotiating a surrender as we speak.”
She ran forward and embraced him with tears in her eyes; there were some in his too.
Heavy rain fell as they drove northwards on the Trans-Rockall Highway. The temperature had risen ten degrees in the last half hour and the snow was already turning to slushy rain. Dill gripped the steering wheel of the Landrover with both hands, swerving to avoid the most slippery areas of the road. To his left in the distance, crowds could be seen dancing with elation up on the ridge between themselves and Mount Clow. The terraces outside the domes of Green port were alive with revelers despite the weather. Jack Laird waved to them as they drove past on their way to the oil works.
The tower cranes and machinery was still and silent for the first time ever. The yellow-painted supply ship was tied up at the wharf. There was not a single face in sight as they stepped out onto the rain-spattered ground. The force that had captured the works had been led by Audrey. “Where’s Audrey’s gang?” asked Dill, voicing her own thoughts.
They walked forward a few steps and saw the first corpse. “Shit!” Dill ran over and rolled the figure out of the puddle where he’d been lying face down. He was clearly dead; his head had been bludgeoned. Kayleigh noticed that he was wearing a BGC boiler suit before turning away in revulsion.
From then on, they found bodies wherever they looked; all were BGC employees. Some had been beaten, some stabbed. One or two had fatal bullet wounds. The drainage ditches on the building site were tinted pink with blood. “Audrey! What have you done!?” Dill growled. “Come on, Kayleigh; we’d better get down to the ship and have a word.”
As they got close to the wharf, the sound of gunfire broke out from the moored supply ship. “DOWN!” yelled Dill and dragged Kayleigh to the floor behind a stack of oil barrels. More shots rang out and Kayleigh peeked through the gap between two barrels. The huge, yellow wall of the ship loomed over the quay; brown smoke poured from its funnel and the BGC motif was ramped across its beams. There were faces at the brightly-lit windows and a number of men on deck with rifles, but they weren’t aiming at her. “Dill.” She tapped his shoulder. “They’re not trying to shoot us. Look; they’re trying to shoot the mooring cables. They just want to get away.”
The gunman took aim again and fired. The bullets missed, ricocheting off the concrete dock with a flash of sparks. Dill got up and ran to the dockers’ hut. He came out moments later with a megaphone. “AHOY THERE!” he called, standing in full view of the ship.
Kayleigh watched as the shapes of the men on deck turned and stared at him. They all lifted their rifles again, this time training them towards Dill. She heard herself scream. Shots cracked past her, exploding on the girders behind them with ear-splitting pings. She pushed her face against the wet concrete. Dill landed beside her, panting hard. “I’m OK; they didn’t hit me!” He raised the megaphone and spoke from where he lay: “DON’T SHOOT! WE MEAN YOU NO HARM! WE WANT TO HELP YOU!”
There was a shriek of feedback from the ship then an amplified voice replied: “BULLSHIT! YOU WANT TO KILL THE REST OF US!” The speaker sounded close to tears with anger and fear.
“NO!” countered Dill. “THERE WILL BE NO MORE DEATHS ON ROCKALL! PUT DOWN YOUR WEAPONS AND WE WILL CAST OFF YOUR SHIP’S LINES FOR YOU SO YOU CAN SAIL HOME!...”
BANG! BANG! BANG! A hail of bullets snapped past their hiding place.
“PLEASE!” said Dill. “THE HARMING OF B.G.C. EMPLOYEES WAS STRICTLY PROHIBITED BY THE FREE ROCKALL UNION! THE MURDER OF YOUR COLLEAGUES WAS AN UNAUTHORIZED ACT! ALL WE PLANNED TO DO WAS PUT YOU ALL ON YOUR SHIP AND DEPORT YOU!...”
“THEY DIDN’T DO ANYTHING!” screamed the reply from the ship.
“THOSE GUYS YOU WASTED! THEY WERE INNOCENT! YOU WANTED REVENGE!? IT WAS THE TUNNEL-BORE CREW THAT RAPED THOSE TWO GALS! THEY WERE MOVED OUT LAST WEEK!... YOU’VE MURDERED INNOCENT MEN, YOU MOTHERFUCKER!”
Dill closed his eyes and wiped his face with his hands; rainwater squeezed from between his fingers. “I’M SORRY, I HAD NO PART IN IT, I PROMISE. LET ME…”
“FUCK YOU, GIBSON, YOU ASSHOLE! YOU SHOW YOUR FACE IN THE OPEN WE’LL BLOW YOUR FUCKING BRAINS OUT!”
He lifted his megaphone to reply, but Kayleigh stopped him. “Dill, leave it. It’s too late.”
They leopard-crawled out from the dock area until they were far enough away to stand and look back. The flicker of a welder’s torch glowed on the foredeck of the supply ship. The BGC crew had found another way to cut the lines. Twenty minutes later, all their moorings were severed and the ship backed away from the quay, switched her engines ahead and sailed for the open sea.
There was nothing more they could do at the oil works so they left the bodies where they lay and drove off.
They rejoined the Trans-Rockall Highway and after a few miles, hit the stone track that led westwards into the excavated basin of RAF Mount Clow.
Almost everyone who’d taken part in the action that morning at Rockall Port was now there, surrounding the base. Trapped inside was the island’s military garrison. The Royal and US Marines had taken up defensive positions around the airbase buildings. They crouched in the grass with their rifles leveled at the insurgents. Dill and Kayleigh parked the Landrover at the edge of the crowd and wormed their way through to where Zach was standing. The former Deputy-Governor had his mobile ‘phone to his ear. “Yup… yup… OK, let me talk to my friends. He lowered the ‘phone and turned to Dill. “I’m on the blower to Major Stankowski inside the base. He says that all he wants is to get all his men aboard the aircraft and into the air.”
“They’re evacuating!” said Claire who was standing nearby. “It’s a retreat!”
The word spread out like a ripple and the whole throng gave a roar of victory.
Dill pondered for a moment. “Tell him that he can proceed and we will not hinder him, but first ask him if he has room for a few more passengers.”
“Who?” said Zach.
“The prisoners down at First Landing.”
“Wait up! We’re not letting Trevor go!”
“Trevor? Christ no! We’re keeping him alright! I was thinking of his servants and the Rockall Guardsmen.”
Zach passed on the message and Stankowski agreed. Dill and Claire went back to Rockall Port with a posse of crofters in their lorry and returned an hour later. They halted right in front of the base gates while a squad of marines jogged up and drew the sliding gate open a few feet. Dill and the crofters decamped from the lorry and goaded down from the rear a group of men with their hands tied behind their backs. The prisoners walked one at a time over to the gate where the marines ushered them inside and slammed it shut.
Half an hour later the engines on the three Hercules transporters on the apron began to whine; their props slowly spun up. The revolutionaries gave a deafening jeer as the column of military personnel exited the hangers in a row and boarded the three aircraft with their eyes fixed ahead, not speaking. The crowd laughed and whistled; and began chanting: Goodbye, Scumbags! It’s nice to see you go! over and over. Dill looked at them with a disparaging frown. “I do wish they wouldn’t gloat!”
“You can’t blame them after what’s happened.” said Kayleigh.
The airbase was empty and the aircraft's navigation lights started flicking. They trundled slowly in single file onto the runway then, one at a time, they lumbered down the airstrip, building up speed until they levitated into the air. As the last aeroplane’s wheels lost contact with the tarmac, the assembly gave another roar.
“That’s it.” said Dill. “Foreign occupation of Rockall has officially ended after just seven hours. Who said it was impossible!?”
The three planes rose higher and higher in the darkening afternoon sky and banked southeastwards as they entered the low cloud cover. The racket of their engines ebbed away beneath the rush of the wind and the squawks of the seabirds.
The mob surged forward with a thunder of voices. They rammed the gates with the crofter’s lorry and accelerated up to the nearest hanger. The men inside leaped out and pelted over to the building’s doors, racing each other to be the first to capture the base. The winner was seventeen-year-old Ewan MacLeod, the youngest of Calum’s sons. He reached the door and began to fiddle with the latch…
Both hangers expanded like balloons and burst into yellow-white blobs of fire. Kayleigh put up her hands to shield her face. KA-BOOOOOOOM! The blast hit her like a dozen fists and she sprawled onto the heather. When she looked up again, the airbase had dissolved into a volcanic lake of liquid fire, roaring and crackling, belching solid, tar-black smoke into the air. Some of the crofters had been caught at the edge of the deluge. They thrashed about, screaming like pigs, their voices shrilled and warped by agony, their figures wreathed in flame like salamanders. They were mercifully overcome within seconds and collapsed onto the infernal carpet. Their flesh melted, combusted and added fuel to the blaze.
Kayleigh had got to her feet and was running, though she didn’t remember doing it. Her ears were battered numb by the shockwave of the explosion. The others were either fleeing like she was, or gawping at the scene in horrified disbelief. The stench of burning smothered her lungs.
They all stayed downstairs in First Landing that night; Dill, Kayleigh, Zach, Claire, Kerroj, Elaine, Laird and a few others. They huddled close for comfort, sleeping or weeping intermittently. Nobody spoke.
The noise of the ‘phone ringing was like a church bell; they all started. Dill leaped to his feet. Kayleigh instinctively picked it up. “Hello?” she croaked.
“Hi, Kayleigh.” Arlene’s voice came on the room’s speakerphones.
She cleared her throat. “How’s it going, Arly?”
“It’s bad news. Terry, Neil and Finn have just died. We did all we could, but their burns were too deep and extensive.”
“I think he’s going to be alright, but he’ll need a lot of plastic surgery… Oh!” Her voice cracked and she squealed. “Oh… Kay…” She sobbed uncontrollably.
“Thanks, Arly.” Kayleigh replaced the handset.
Thirty minutes passed in Trappist silence. Zach’s grandfather clock struck five AM. Then Laird stirred. “Someone should have contacted us by now.”
“Perhaps they’re just letting us stew for a bit.” said Zach.
Kayleigh eventually succumbed to mental exhaustion and fell into a dreamless sleep. She awoke in her seat, tingling with pins and needles. It was getting light outside and the clock said eight-forty AM. Nobody ate breakfast, but a few took tea and coffee. At one minute to nine the netphone beeped and the words Incoming call flashed up on the computer wall screen. Everyone froze and stared. “Answer it, Dill!” Laird’s face flushed as he spoke. “This one’s yours, Pal.”
Dill stood up. “I’ll connect it to the room cam, OK?” He stepped up to the console and hit a key.
A double window appeared on the screen. One showed Craig Weller sitting in his armchair; the other, Glenmar Selby hunched behind his desk in the Oval Office, the Stars and Stripes on a pole behind him. “Good morning.” said Weller.
“Good morning, Prime Minister… Mr President.” said Dill.
“Do you know why we’re calling, Mr Gibson?” asked Selby.
“It must be someone’s birthday.” said Dill with a half-smile.
Selby frowned. “Is this a big joke to you, Gibson? Eighteen American civilians were massacred on Rockall yesterday by your guerillas and you think it’s a joke!?”
“We don’t know anything about any massacre.” put in Laird.
“Yes, we do.” said Dill.
“No, we don’t!” Laird leaned close and whispered: “For Pete’s sake, they’ve got no proof!”
“No more lies, Jack!”
“Shit!” Laird fell backwards in his seat with a huff of exasperation.
“Mr President, I regret deeply the actions of the force that captured the oil terminal works. The killing was unauthorized and the perpetrators will be dealt with.”
“Damn right you will be!” exclaimed Selby.
“Mr President, Prime Minister, when your forces withdrew yesterday, they rigged a booby trap bomb to the RAF Mount Clow airbase. It ignited a fuel dump and killed nine people. A dozen more are in hospital with third degree burns.”
“I know.” said Weller. “By killing innocent bystanders at the oil terminal you committed an act of war. Our forces were preventing the base from falling into enemy hands; I wholeheartedly support their actions and do not apologize for the deaths and injuries caused.”
Dill ran a hand across his face. “Gentlemen…”
“There’s nothing to discuss, Mr Gibson.” interrupted the Prime Minister. “We didn’t call to negotiate; we called to deliver an ultimatum. Forces are at this moment on their way to recapture the island of Rockall. You must surrender to them immediately and place yourselves under arrest. If you fail to do so we will retake the island by force. If you attempt to damage the oil-drilling infrastructure in any way; we will wipe out every man, woman and child on Rockall.”
Dill’s face was as white as icing. A trickle of sweat ran down his temple. “There will be no surrender, Gentlemen… Zach, Jack, bring Trevor here!”
The two men headed for the cellar, Laird had his pistol drawn. A few minutes later they came back up with the ex-Governor between them. He was still in his dressing gown, tousled and unshaven, blinking in the light. His face was deadpan and he made no attempt to resist as they marched him into the lounge and forced him to his knees in front of the webcam.
“Take a look at this, Weller!” Laird pointed a pistol at the side of Trevor’s head. “Here’s your Governor! If you attack us we’ll kill him!”
“No, we won’t!” snapped Dill. “We’re not murderers, Jack!”
“Goddammit, Dill; whose side are you on!?”
They both cut off as they noticed that the two men on the screen were both laughing scornfully. “So that’s your bargaining chip, is it?” said Weller, drying his eyes with a handkerchief.
“I’m… Trevor… McCain!” Trevor rasped, his voice tight and dry. “Governor of Rockall… British Sector… dependency!”
“You’re nothing, McCain!” spat Weller. “Just a shriveled bollock! There’s plenty more where you came from! When we take back the island we’ll put a man in your place who’ll do his bloody job properly… Kill him if you want, Laird! Do whatever you like with him!... Gibson! The deal is closed! You have until March the First; then we send in the troops!” Weller touched a button on his own keypad and the screen went blank.
Kayleigh slept soundly until about midday then woke up. She looked out of the window and saw that The Rotunda had been reduced to charred walls with empty holes where the windows used to be. Smoke still wisped from the ruins and some red spots still glowed on the pile of carbonized timber within. She wandered around the bedrooms which were still being used as a secure nursery for the children during the troubles. She went over to Karsk’s cot and looked down at him. The little eighteen-month-old was lying on his side asleep next to Nina. His chubby legs were tucked up and his hand grasped the ear of his teddy bear. He smiled briefly as if hearing a joke in his dreams. Kayleigh leaned down into the cot until she could hear his quiet breathing; then she reached down and gently stroked his curly hair. She heard a noise behind her and straightened up. Dill was standing in the doorway watching her. “Everything alright, Kay?”
She walked over to him before replying so as not to wake up the babies. “No, Dill; I’m scared.”
She hesitated. “Dill, don’t hate me for saying this, but I think we should surrender.” Dill’s face didn’t flinch so she quickly followed up: “This was always going to be a gesture; you know that. We can’t fight off superpowers! We’ve made our point; the world will sit up and take notice. Let’s quit while we still can. I don’t want to see any more people hurt.”
He sighed. “Me neither, Kay; but will surrendering make that any less likely? If we wave a white flag they might just kill us anyway… We always knew this was going to be dangerous.”
Kayleigh trembled. “Oh, Dill! I wish this wasn’t happening! I want it to be over!”
He put his arms around her and caressed her shoulders. “So do I… Remember the Rockall Spirit is with us. She’s worked her magic on us and I’m sure she will on any soldiers who land here.”
The following morning, Kayleigh switched on her laptop and called up the front page of The Sun:
Eighteen American oil-workers hacked to death on Rockall by a gang of bloodthirsty thugs.
The lonely island of Rockall descended into hell-on-earth on Tuesday as a riot broke out among the population of three thousand people. Protesters on both American and British sides who have been demanding unity and independence, as well as an end to oil extraction, resorted to violence and murder to put their point across.
The uprising, on the site of the decommissioned missile launching base, began at dawn as two gangs of rebels carried out a synchronized attack on the island’s infrastructure. One stormed the British Governor’s mansion, shooting dead fifteen security guards and taking Governor Trevor McCain hostage. The other descended on the oil station with what one survivor describes as: “Psychopathic fury”. “There were thousands of them and they came at us with axes, knifes and baseball bats.” said Dack Peterson, manager of Pickard Security Services, part of the Black Gold Consortium. “We had no choice but to run for the supply ship and jump aboard.” The four hundred surviving oil workers are now sailing for New York on their ship, along with the relief crew who were going to take over from them. Reports have come in that the Governor of the American Sector, Professor John Laird, has defected and joined the ranks of the rabble that perpetrated the attack.
The servicemen at the island’s RAF station were forced to retreat as the rioters turned their attention on the Mount Clow airbase. All the personnel, including the 42 Commando Royal Marines, used the base’s own aircraft to evacuate to the mainland. They all arrived safely at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire and are at home with their families.
The mob, who call themselves the “Free Rockall Union”, are currently in control of the island and are holding the Governor hostage. Both President Selby and Prime Minister Craig Weller are united in their condemnation of the incident. “This brutal, frenzied attack on innocent Americans will not go unanswered.” Mr Selby announced on US national television last night. Mr Weller called it “A vicious and animalistic assault on the sanctity of human life. The people of Britain and America want an active response and we promise to deliver…”
The story continued for five or six pages with comments and photographs. One had a picture of Dill and an accompanying column:
This is believed to be the mastermind behind the Rockall rebellion: Twenty-five year old Dill Gibson, a former psychology student from Beckhampton in Wiltshire. He is one of the “Rockall Twenty”, the original Rockall Commission colonists who were sent to explore the island in 2009. He has always been openly critical of government policy towards the island and instrumental in sabotaging the attempts to rehabilitate the island’s native Erkdwala people, a head-hunting culture left over from the Stone Age. He had a reputation at school and Bristol University as a raving inciter of disobedience. He is a member of several New Age movements and used to attend hippy festivals at Stonehenge…
The article rambled on for a few more paragraphs, portraying Dill as an antisocial drop-out, a deranged conspiracy theorist and a “failed guru” or “frustrated world-saver.” Kayleigh switched off in disgust and dialed Audrey’s landline, punching the buttons with her fingers.
The videolink showed the American sitting at her kitchen table in Green Port. She was munching cereal in her dressing gown. “Hello?” she mumbled with her mouth full.
“Have you seen today’s papers?” Kayleigh asked.
“So, what have you got to say for yourself!?”
“Hey, come on, Kayleigh! You can’t blame me for all this!”
“I blame all of your section!”
She put down her spoon. “Those guys were fucking rapists! They got less than they deserved!”
“They didn’t do it, Audrey! You murdered innocent men!”
“Huh! There’s a contradiction in terms!”
“The blokes who did it had been moved off the island! The ones you killed were no more responsible for raping Jolo and Seenta than you are!”
“What did you expect us to do!? Give these creeps a slap on the wrist and let them go!?”
“Didn’t you hear what I just said!?”
“What? If you can’t get the guilty then the innocent will do!”
“Men are all guilty, Kayleigh. When you grow up, you’ll realize that.”
Kayleigh groaned and cut the connection.
Trevor wore a detached, blase expression on his face as he walked. Laird, as usual, was acting as his security guard. He walked to his right, while Sean, a big, burly crofter, walked on his left. Kayleigh strolled a few feet behind and, on Laird’s instructions; she had a pistol tucked into her right grip. The former Governor strained at the bond that secured his wrists behind his back. “Is this prison yard routine really necessary?” he asked.
“Yes.” replied Laird.
“Why? Where am I going to run to if I escape? It’s a long swim home!”
“I don’t know, Trevor; but I do know what a devious, resourceful little sonofabitch you are. If you want exercise and fresh air, fair play; just don’t expect us to let you wander free on your own.”
“Suit yourself, Professor.”
They topped a shallow rise which loomed over Lookback Point and froze simultaneously. A trickle of fear ran over Kayleigh’s skin. It was a clear, bright day and on the horizon sat the hazy, grey silhouette of a warship. Laird got out his mobile ‘phone and called Dill urgently. “Dill, there’s a ship out to the south!... It must be ten miles away!... It’s a destroyer or something, I don’t know! Shit!”
The prisoner was roaring with glee. “Take a good look, Boys! That’s your Nemesis and my saviour! There’ll be more where that came from too! The Rockall pirates are about to be fished from their lair!”
“Alright, Trevor; that’s enough!” Laird propelled him roughly away from the vista. “You’ve had your hour outside; let’s go!”
“There’s nothing I can do, Mum.” Kayleigh was holding back tears as she looked at her mother’s face on the laptop screen. Her father was standing behind her and in the background was the kitchen of her house in Glasgow.
“God, I wish you’d never got involved in all this!”
“Well, I have. I can’t turn the clock back so I’ll just have to make the best of it.” She longed to be with them in her house on the other side of the screen.
“But, Kay… Isn’t there a boat you can jump into and just get the hell out?”
She shook her head. “The island’s being blockaded by the Navy. Nobody goes out or comes in alive.”
Her mother put a tissue to her mouth and sniffed; her father put a hand on her shoulder.
“Mum, I know you don’t believe everything you read in the papers, but…”
“It’s alright, Sweetie; we’re both just worried for you if it comes to fighting.”
“I’ll keep my head down and…” The screen suddenly went blank.
“Mum!... Dad!” She tapped the keyboard, but nothing happened. Then a message appeared on the screen: Error. Cellular modem connection terminated. Contact internet service provider for further advice. “Shit!... Dill!”
At the moment she called his name he burst in through the door. “Kayleigh, are you cut off too?”
“They’ve struck us off the Net!”
Dill studied the error message on the blank screen. “It’s not like it used to be in the old days. A TV set was once something that functioned on its own and was operated independently by the user. It picked up radio waves that were broadcast freely and in the clear, available for anybody with the right receiver. Anyone with a TV set had free access to those radio waves and could view them at will, unmonitored and for no extra charge. These days a TV set is merely part of a centralized network. Those who control the network alone decide what you watch, when and where you watch it; and in our case… whether you watch at all.
They took the island’s six, surviving Landrovers and headed out onto the Trans-Rockall Highway. It was a clear, windy day, just above freezing and they were all clad in Gore-Tex and wool. Laird tapped his pneumatic drill. They turned onto the track for Mount Clow and drove down into the artificial valley that had replaced Rockall’s highest hill. It was as if a lake of tar had formed over the land. Kayleigh climbed out of the vehicle and trudged over to where the blackness began. The grass and heather had all burned away and the ground had lost its body and consistency. Mixed with rainwater it was just loose, charcoaled mud and Kayleigh sank in almost to the tops of her Wellingtons. “My hope and glory!” cursed Claire. “Look at the soil, or what’s left of it!”
“I’ve never seen mud like this on Rockall.” said Kayleigh.
“The fire killed off the biomass.” said the biologist. “Normally it’s a very high percentage being natural and uncultivated.”
“Where are the… you know?”
“Bodies? All gone! You won’t find a cinder. The heat of burning aviation fuel is hotter than any crematorium.”
“So we can’t even give them a decent funeral.” muttered Zach shaking his head.
Even the steel hangers had been reduced to a few blackened, distorted girders sticking out of the ground like a surrealist sculpture. “OK, let’s roll!” said Laird and walked eastwards down the runway, towing his handcart and compressor behind him. The runway at Mount Clow was a simple affair of leveled topsoil overlaid with Portland cement. “Here’s a good place to start.” said the American. He used the pneumatic drill to break open the cement and then dug with a spade down to about three feet. He carefully measured out a charge of dynamite, dropped it into the hole and shoveled the earth back on top of it. A few crofters drove up in another Landrover and dumped a boulder on the spot. Laird then walked eastwards, trailing a wire out behind him from a reel. “Where did you learn to do this?” asked Kayleigh.
“I’m a geologist; I’m used to blowing things up.”
Fifty yards further along they repeated the process; then they walked another fifty yards to lay their third charge.
A sound came from behind the southern ridge. It rose so quickly that Kayleigh didn’t have time to identify it before a fast-moving, bird-like silhouette crested the ridge and stooped into the basin, speeding towards them. Kayleigh put her hands in her ears as the noise rose to a deafening peak. The small, stubby fighter aircraft skimmed the ground at fifty feet; she watched as the crofters dived for cover. She half-expected it to start shooting and was relieved when it banked into a sharp turn and vanished behind the northern berm. Its din quickly faded.
“That was a Sea Harrier!” said Laird. “Royal Navy!”
“Why didn’t it attack?” asked Zach.
“I guess it was just doing a reconnaissance; keeping an eye on us… Come on! Let’s get this over with!” He marched on with renewed urgency.
By mid-afternoon, they had laid twenty charges on the two mile long runway. Laird looped the wire to a spot behind the berm and connected it to the detonator. He put a key in the lock at the side of the box and turned it. The small, square button glowed red. “Who wants to do the honours?”
Everyone looked at each other.
“OK.” She took the box.
“FIRE IN THE HOLE!” Laird yelled at the top of his voice and quickly looked up to make sure that everyone had taken cover.
Kayleigh pushed the button. BOOM! She felt the explosion more than heard it. Everyone was standing up and cheering. When the smoke cleared she saw that twenty neat cavities had been poked in the runway and the whole area was surrounded by black ejecta.
“That’s it!” bubbled Laird. “The runway’s gone! Nobody’s going to land an airplane here and there’s nowhere else on Rockall where they can!”
“Will this stop the invasion?” asked Zach.
“It’ll make it a hell of a lot more difficult.”
“Why? They can always come in helicopters; they don’t need a runway.”
“Yeah, but helicopters can’t carry tanks, artillery and heavy infantry.”
“They’re hardly going to need those though, are they?” Zach shrugged.
Laird swung round to face him, his cheeks ruddy. “Goddammit, Zach! Did you bury your balls in one of those holes!? Why don’t you just fuck off Rockall and surrender now!?”
“I was just…”
“Just being a defeatist asshole; that’s what you were being!”
“Jack.” Kayleigh put a hand on his shoulder. “Zach didn’t mean it, did you, Zach?” But Zach was stomping away with his hands in his pockets.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Zach.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Kayleigh.”
They kissed each other and made love. There were no parties to go to, no cards to send; everyone was crouching in their home with their partner, if they had one. Four other ships had arrived during the day and were casing the island, popping up and down on the horizon. More and more aircraft were overflying. It seemed an intimidation tactic rather than anything else. Once a Harrier flew so low over the rooftops of Rockall Port that the windows buzzed. When this happened, Trevor kicked his prison door and screamed with laughter.
There was still a total communications blackout; not a single cellular telephone or internet connection on Rockall worked. The TV was also down. For a week now, the Rockallians had been isolated from the rest of the world. It was chilling for Kayleigh. As she looked at her blank laptop screen, she could easily imagine that the outside world had vanished, leaving them alone, as the Erkdwala had once believed they were; a tiny island in an infinite cosmic ocean.
Kayleigh and Zach slept soundly and awoke at nine AM feeling relaxed. She’d just finished showering when the landline rang. She went down the stairs and took it in the hall. “Kayleigh! It’s Arlene!” The nurse’s voice sounded shrill and far away. “Jolo and Seenta have woken up!”
Kayleigh ran the mile between First Landing and the hospital in athletic time. A huge mass of people had already gathered, mostly Erkdwala. Jolo and Seenta were sitting up in bed eating a cooked breakfast and chattering away in rapid Erkdwala to Kerroj, Yonnax and Queylie. “Kayleigh!” Jolo yelled and spread her arms. They all spent about ten minutes in a group hug and the nurses looked on dabbing their eyes.
The two Erkdwala women were thin and pale, but their eyes were bright and their smiles broad. “We know what happens now, Kayleigh.” said Seenta in her broken English. “Kerroj tells us things. Bad men from outside are coming to Rockall.”
“Not if I’ve got anything to do with it!” said a new voice.
Everyone looked up to see a figure on crutches, swathed in bandages like an Egyptian mummy.
“Calum!” scolded Arlene. “You’re not supposed to be out of bed!”
“Sod that, Woman! If there’s going to be a battle then you’re going to need all the hands you can get! Ewan wouldn’t want me to lie about all day and miss the fun!”
As February aged, the people of Rockall prepared for war. This time, the nursery was set up in a basement under one of the Green Port domes after Zach voiced his concerns that First Landing would probably be a prime target for the invaders. There was plenty of food because the crofters had kept their market goods frozen. Medical supplies were also sufficient for many months; Arlene had raided the infirmary at the oil works and found tons of drugs, equipment and dressings. If it came to an extended blockade, they would have an ample breathing space.
More importantly, according to most, there was also a plentiful stock of beer in The Pissed Gannet. On the evening of the twenty-fifth, Kayleigh and her friends met there to reduce it a little. “They won’t blockade.” said Dill. “They’ll attack.”
“What makes you so sure?” asked Kayleigh.
“A blockade’ll take to long. It’d mean committing half the Royal and US navies to sail around in circles for months on end; and seeing that we’re such a soft target, it’d be a waste of time. And don’t forget the oil. The Government wants to get production started up ASAP.”
“So what can we do about it, Dill?”
“You know what one of my earliest memories is?” said Dill. “Sitting on my mum’s lap watching TV and seeing a column of tanks rolling down a street. Then suddenly this little bloke jumps out in front of them. I expected him to get run over, but no! The column stops and the driver of the leading tank sticks his head out to talk to the bloke standing in the road.”
“I’ve seen that too.” said Zach. “It happened in China in Nineteen-eighty-nine. The student protests.”
“And I think it holds a lesson for us.” continued Dill. “The might of the world’s biggest army was stopped short by one little feller with an idea and the guts to get out there and say it.”
“You got a point.” said Troyman. “In the Vietnam War, both sides agreed that the most dangerous thing an enemy plane could drop was not a bomb, but leaflets.”
“But look what happened in China in Eighty-nine.” said Audrey. “The army still went ahead and massacred hundreds.”
“But even still.” said Dill. “Everyone remembers that little feller stopping a convoy of tanks by talking to them. Our situation is just like that.”
“So in the end we get massacred too!” Audrey slapped her thighs. “Great idea, Dill!”
“Actually half the first unit of the Chinese army sent into Tiananmen Square mutinied.” riposted Dill. “Supposing that happens again. Maybe all of them will mutiny this time.”
“How do we know?”
“We don’t. We have to risk it.”
“Hmm.” said Laird. The former American Governor had been uncharacteristically taciturn all evening.
“Are you OK, Jack?” asked Kayleigh.
“Yeah… I’ve been thinking.” he replied.
He paused. “I’ve had an idea.”
“Not more ideas, please!” groaned Audrey.
“No, I’ve thought of a way that might stop the troops invading.”
Everyone stared, astonished at this announcement. “Well, what is it?” asked Dill urgently.
There was an astounded silence. “That’s impossible! It’ll never work!” said Zach.
“It will!” insisted Laird. “We have everything we need: equipment, raw materials and the nous to put it together. It’s so simple it’s genius!”
“But something like this has never been tried before.” said Audrey. “Not with crude.”
“So let’s be the first.”
“No, no, no!” exploded Dill. “What are you suggesting!? It could kill us all and destroy the island!”
“The island will be destroyed anyway.” said Zach, who seemed to have been converted. “I know it sound nuts, but we’ve nothing to lose by giving it a go.”
Everybody began talking at once. Dill leaned forwards with his hands on the table. He said something just above a whisper.
They all stopped. “What?” said Zach.
“I said alright!” he stood up quickly, knocking over his stool and stomped out of the room.
“Ah, he’s facing reality for once in his life!” sneered Audrey.
“Shut up!” snapped Kayleigh and got up to follow him.
They called it “Project Firewall” and started work on it at dawn the next day. There were only three more days until Weller’s deadline and ships were everywhere, completely surrounding the island. As she stood on the cliffs at Green Port with her binoculars, she saw that one was an enormous, wedge-shaped aircraft carrier. “Those ships don’t need to come in so close to Rockall.” said Jack Laird who was standing next to her.
“They’ve got radar, sonar, recon aircraft; normally they’d be a good fifty miles out to sea. The reason they’ve come so close is so we can see them.”
“Ah, I thought so!”
“Yeah; they’re showing off their muscle.”
“In Britain, we call people who do that ‘posers’.”
“In America they’re called ‘Jocks’.”
“Well whatever you call them they’re not going to scare me!”
Just beyond the bay, boats were bobbing in the surf. The USGS technicians were installing the double row of inflatable barrages. “Do you have enough of those barrages?” asked Kayleigh.
“Hell, yes! BGC’s got over a hundred miles of them in storage; it’s regulations in case there’s a spill.”
“Won’t they get burnt?”
“No, they don’t actually float on the water, but hover about three inches beneath it. They’re specially designed to deal with a burning slick.”
“Then how come the oil doesn’t just float over the top?”
“Well, a little of it does, that’s inevitable, but not enough to ignite. These barrages aren’t meant to be a total containment barrier; they’re only meant to prevent the spread of fire.”
“So… some of the oil will seep through and pollute the shore?”
Laird sighed. “Yes. That can’t be helped I’m afraid.”
Kayleigh watched a flock of gannets circle in the air and plunge into the sea.
“It won’t be a lot of oil.” stressed Laird. “There’ll be no scenes like you see on TV when an oil tanker sinks. We’re talking about a hundred barrels, tops. It’ll be washed away in no time.”
“What if the barrage fails?”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“Hmm; well, pollution won’t be a worry.”
“Because we’ll all be roasted alive in the inferno.”
She gulped and put a hand to her mouth.
“We’ve come this far, Kayleigh. Do you want to live on a free Rockall or not?”
At the first test well, a mile beyond Green Port Bay, the USGS crews were swarming all over the oil rig. A US Navy helicopter hovered nearby watching them. There was no way to prevent that so the two work parties pressed ahead, trying to ignore it. The second team was sailing westwards in two boats, laying out the double barrage and anchoring it to the seabed. A helicopter also accompanied them. Kayleigh wanted to help, but Laird wouldn’t let her, explaining that Project Firewall required engineering expertise that only the USGS could provide; so she stayed in Green Port and watched, feeling helpless.
The navy was increasing its pressure on the free Rockallians. The island was now being overflown at least once a minute by Sea Harriers and also by the bigger, noisier twin-tailed American aircraft. The clamour was relentless and Kayleigh was forced to fill her ears with cotton wool in order to sleep that night. The lack of cellular systems meant that the work parties could only communicate using shortwave walkie-talkies. Kayleigh spent much of the night sitting awake and listening to their conversations on her own receiver: “Hey, slow down, Man! You’ll break the anchor chain!” “Can you give me a little more slack on the six-line?” “Bring the inner wall ten degrees east.” “Damn that chopper! I can’t hear myself think!” “Number Two pump’s failed. What are we gonna do now, Jack?” “How deep are we here?” “No, the right clasp!... That’s it.” “Shit, I’m tired!” “Let’s pray to God this works!” “Oh, dear!”
By the evening of the Twenty-seventh the work was complete. Rockall was encircled by two lines of barrages five hundred yards apart. Thousands of neutrally buoyant, inflatable sausages had been blown up and dropped into the sea to make a track thirty miles in circumference. At six PM the boats pulled into the Green Port jetty and the crews disembarked. They stumbled from exhaustion as they entered the lift. Their hands were blistered and their eyes red from lack of sleep. They collapsed into the canteen, had a quick meal then went to bed.
The next morning was the last day of February, Two thousand and thirteen and less than twenty-four hours before the deadline. Nearly everybody was on the cliffs of Green Port staring out at Test Well One; binoculars were handed from person to person. Kayleigh focused on the bottom deck of the rig as Jack Laird began ceremoniously turning the wheel of the first valve cock. A trickle of thick, black oil spurted from the disconnected scupper pipe and landed in the sea. The trickle became a stream, the stream became a torrent. Audrey and the others opened the other three valve cocks. Four great, python-like columns of oil shot out over the sea in the four directions of the compass. They then clambered speedily down into their boat and zoomed back to Green Port Bay.
A black stain began to spread out over the sea, muffling the waves into rolling, creamy humps. Soon the stain began to form a distinctly east-west shape as it was squeezed between the barrages.
“The ignition charge is primed.” said Laird as he came out of the lift. “I’ve got the transmitter here.” He tapped his pocket.
“When’s lighting-up time?” asked Gareth with a half-smile.
“Midnight.” he said. “Right on the deadline.”
The crowd began to disperse. Kayleigh looked around for her friends; they were all there except Dill. She scanned the cliff tops back and forth, but couldn’t spot him. Then when she looked over the precipice, down onto the jetty below, she saw the solitary figure of a man. She descended the lift down the cliff and walked over to join him. “Dill, are you alright?”
He didn’t reply, but just pointed.
The water around the jetty was covered in black, oleaginous scum. It was already beginning to accumulate on the cliff walls and nearby rocks as a black, sticky slime. As she watched it was soaking into the seaweed and dripping off the limpets. A fulmar paddled past, its feathers streaked and matted with oil. It floated low in the water, ruffling and preening itself frantically. “Do you think this whole thing is a bad idea, Dill?”
The young man nodded. “I think we’re doing Weller and Selby’s job for them.” he said.
At eight PM, everyone began leaving their houses and assembling outside First Landing. When they were all together they began walking northwards along the Trans-Rockall Highway towards the heart of the island. It was a freezing cold, moonlit night with stars poking through the streaky cloud. Kayleigh trudged along beside Zach, Claire and Dill while Laird walked at the head of the procession, holding hands with Elaine. The narrow tarmac road was slick with frost and the icy air stung Kayleigh’s lungs as she inhaled it.
It took them two hours to reach the first of the crofts. The population spread out up the road and mingled with the procession from Green Port. The crofters handed out hot drinks and as many snacks as could go round and they waited.
It was decided to move the lighting time forward to eleven PM Rockall Time, GMT minus one, because though the deadline was midnight, Weller hadn’t specified which time zone. “Better an hour early than an hour late.” Laird had said.
At five minutes to eleven Professor Laird took the detonator out of his pocket. “Is everybody here!?” he called. “Are all of you accounted for!?”
During the general replies of affirmation Dill suddenly shouted “No!”
There was a long pause. “Where is he!?” demanded Kayleigh.
“Still locked in the cellar back at First Landing.”
Laird shrugged. “That’s too bad.”
“What!? We must go back for him!” said Dill.
“Don’t be stupid, it’d take to long!”
“I’ll use a crofter’s Landrover!”
“No! The deadline is in two minutes!”
“But it’s our fault we forgot him!”
“NO!” Laird opened the trigger guard on the detonator, pulled out the aerial and pressed the button.
There was a silent flash of white to the north, silhouetting the ridges around Green Port. It settled down into a steady glow that reflected off the clouds. “Sorry, Dill; Trevor will just have to take his chances.”
The glow spread like melting butter along the northern skyline. With remarkable speed, the wavefront of flame shot out in both directions to encompass the whole island. It took about five minutes for the two waves to join again on the southern horizon. A ring of fire now surrounded Rockall. The light was so bright that it was possible to read by it. Occasionally an extra large gobbet of flame rose above the landscape like a dragon. There were exclamations of wonder and astonishment from the gathering. “Wow!” said Kayleigh. “It’s like standing in the middle of a solar eclipse!”
“We’re safe now.” said Zach. “No fucker’s going to get past that!”
“Just one thing.” said Dill. “How do we put it out?”
“Oh.” said Laird after a lengthy pause. “I hadn’t thought of that. Er… I don’t know. I… guess we just shut off the oil flow from the well and the blaze will burn itself out.”
“How do we shut it off? The rig is in the heart of the blaze.”
“Well…” Laird scratched his head. “Er… Audrey!?”
“Yeah?” The woman called from the other side of the road.
“How do we put out the fire when we’ve finished with it?”
“Well, we… I don’t know… One moment.”
It took about ten minutes to locate someone who could answer Dill’s question; a USGS diver called Brad. “There’s a second set of cocks on the seabed.” he said. “They operate the well-head valve. You have to swim under the burning slick to get to these cocks and shut them. After that you just gotta wait for the residual oil to burn away, which will probably take a few hours.”
“There! That’s your answer.” Laird smiled and spread his arms wide.
“Thanks.” Dill mumbled dryly.
At two AM the Rockallians began to return to their homes. As Kayleigh trudged with her friends back to Rockall Port, the light on the horizon became brighter and brighter.. The air started warming up and melted frost dribbled along the edge of the tarmac. A thick, heavy fog enveloped them and her nostrils filled with an acrid, tarry smell; as if there were roadworks nearby. “It’s not fog; it’s smoke.” She coughed.
By the time they reached the settlement, visibility was below thirty feet. Everyone was coughing and guttering uncontrollably. The entire seaward side of the town shone with a lurid, fuzzy, white glow. Kayleigh approached the edge of the cliff to try and see the conflagration, but the heat was too intense. A thunderous, crackling, blazing roar came from the fume-choked sea. It was as if Rockall Port had been moved to the edge of a volcano caldera.
Kayleigh and Zach entered First Landing, gave Trevor some food and water and went to bed. They both slept badly. The oil blaze shone in through the window many times more brightly than a full moon. Despite Zach turning off the central heating, the house grew stiflingly hot. It was like a summer night. Kayleigh kicked off her bedclothes, stripped naked and lay on her sodden bedsheet. Sweat trickled down her temples into her hair.
She woke just after nine AM in a fit of coughing. She ran to the bathroom, choking and retched sputum into the toilet. She knew that it was after dawn, but the light beyond the windows remained the same. She dressed and went outside with a wet dishcloth over her mouth. The air temperature was thirty-five Celsius, according to the meteorologists’ box; the hottest ever recorded on Rockall. The sky was invisible and she couldn’t even see to the end of the driveway. The sun must have been shining, but it was totally hidden; the only light came from the great fire out to sea. She turned to go inside and winced as she touched the doorhandle. It was covered in a gluey, grey substance. She went to one of the downstairs windows and ran her finger along it; it left a trail of clean glass on the pane. She looked at her fingertip and rubbed it together with her thumb. It was a kind of soot and it covered everything in a sticky, greasy film; the house, the Landrover, the rocks, the grass.
She was washing her hands in the kitchen sink when the ‘phone rang. It was Laird. “Hi, Kayleigh; what do you think?”
“Well done, Jack. Dante couldn’t have done a better job himself!”
“Hopefully it won’t be for long; just till we can get Selby to the negotiating table.”
She coughed. “But I’m suffocating! You can’t even tell if it’s day or night out there!”
“It’s day. St David’s Day, actually. Happy St David’s Day!”
“I’m Scottish, not Welsh.”
Laird paused. “Tell you what. Why don’t you drive up to Green Port? We’ve found some painter’s masks in the BGC stores; they might help you breathe more easily.”
It was the most difficult drive she’d ever had to do on Rockall. The Landrover’s headlights were completely absorbed by the fumes and she had to crawl along at five miles-per-hour. A drove of horror-struck ponies stumbled across the road. Poor things. she thought. They must think it’s the end of the world. She had to stop several times to wipe the windscreen and lights clear of soot. All in all, the five mile journey took over and hour. Once her nose and mouth were covered by the painter’s mask, she found things a lot easier. Her airways cleared, her coughing stopped and her irritated lungs were soothed. She took a box of six hundred back to Rockall Port and spent the day distributing them among the residents. By the time she got back to First Landing, her body felt like she’d been bathing in treacle. She threw her greasy clothes into the washing machine and went upstairs for a shower. The water that came off her was as black as ink.
The temperature outside was now forty-three degrees Celsius, more than a hundred Fahrenheit. The pitch black of day slowly became the pitch black of night and Kayleigh wore her painters mask in bed to ensure a good sleep.
When she stepped outside the next morning, Kayleigh noted immediately that something was different. The landward sky was brighter and when she turned eastwards, she saw a small, yellow disc painted on the roiling fumes. The sun! She dashed to the edge of the cliff. This time she could easily withstand the radiated heat of the inferno. The flames had definitely abated during the night. She darted to the driveway, jumped into the Landrover and sped off to Green Port.
“Jack!” she ran up to him on the cliff tops. “What’s happening!?”
“The firewall’s fading.” he responded grimly.
“Something must have blocked the oil supply.”
They descended in the lift to the jetty. Audrey dressed up in a scuba kit and clambered down into one of the boats. Kayleigh and Laird joined her and they headed out into the smog-covered sea. The water was thick with oil and there were hardly any waves. The outboard motor strained as if the propeller were being entangled or choked with something. Every few feet a dead fish floated by and the occasional oil-stained bird. “Good job Dill can’t see this!” muttered Laird.
“Poor Dill!” said Kayleigh.
The fire was close now; flames could be seen writhing and crackling a few dozen yards ahead. Laird cut the motor. “Are you ready Audrey?”
“Yup.” She spat into her mask and wiped it with her finger.
“Now remember! You can’t surface! Once you’re under the oil, you got to stay deep, OK?”
“Yeah, OK, Jack. I know what I’m doing.”
“If anything fucks up, turn around and hot-tail it back here. If you come up too soon, you’ll be cooked.”
“Nothing’s going to fuck up, Jack.” She took off her spectacles and pulled down her mask. Then she popped in her mouthpiece and tested her air supply; her regulator hissed. She rolled backwards into the buttery sea, upended with the flick of her fins and vanished.
Laird leaned over the gunwale, staring at the spot where she’d dived.
Kayleigh touched his arm. “She’ll be alright, Jack.”
“Damn it! It’s dangerous!”
“She volunteered… What do you think’s causing this?”
“There’s something in the well that’s throttled the oil flow. Perhaps the valves have fallen shut or maybe the heat of the fire’s caused the rig to collapse and dam the well head; we’ll see.”
“Can Audrey do anything to get it going again?”
“Depends. She should have no trouble in reopening any shut cocks, but if the whole rig is lying on top of the outflow pipe then there’s nothing anyone can do to move it; it weights over a thousand tons.”
“So the firewall will go out.”
“I guess so.” The professor shifted his weight to the middle of the boat and leaned back. “The residual oil will be exhausted by midday.”
Half an hour passed in silence. The only sound was the roaring of combustion and the slop of oil against the hull of the boat.
SPLOOSH! Something broke the surface with an explosion of water. Kayleigh and Laird dashed to the gunwale to see Audrey floundering on her side about fifty feet away. She spat out her mouthpiece and screamed. “HELP ME!”
“Fuck!” shouted Laird. “Kayleigh! Start the engine!”
As Kayleigh swung the boat around towards Audrey her heart was fibrillating. Had Audrey been attacked by a shark; if so, how badly? Would she have lost any limbs?
Laird clutched Audrey by the armpits and heaved her into the boat in one movement. She was weeping and moaning. Her wetsuit and scuba gear were smeared with oil and blood. Kayleigh took a few moments to locate the source of her injuries: a puncture wound on the side of her chest, just below her armpit. It was bleeding steadily and there was a thin, metal rod sticking out of it. “Fuck me!” gasped Laird. “It’s a harpoon!”
“They shot me!” panted Audrey. “They shot me as soon as they saw me!”
“Goddamn, fucking Seals!” shouted Laird.
“Seals!?” said Kayleigh.
“Navy Seals, special forces, amphibious soldiers! Quick, let’s go, Kayleigh! We need to get Audrey to the hospital!”
As Kayleigh opened the throttle and pointed the boat towards Green Port blood was filling the bilges. “Come on, Audrey! Hang on!” Laird opened up the first aid kit and squeezed rolls of gauze and bandages into the wound around the shaft of the harpoon. He pressed hard, but Audrey’s blood seeped through his fingers.
Audrey’s face was ashen. Her eyes rolled deliriously. “I wish we hadn’t killed those guys!... Innocent!... I’m sorry!”
Kayleigh called Green Port on the radio and told them to prepare transport to rush Audrey to hospital. Then she called the hospital direct and warned them to stand by. On the jetty, there were a dozen people waiting to help. They lifted her out of the boat and carried her over to the lift. She was unconscious by now and a trail of blood dripped behind her.
Kayleigh and Laird got the second ride up. By the time they reached the plateau, Audrey was on her way to Green Port hospital in an ambulance. They waited for ten minutes until the radio squawked to announce that Audrey had died from blood loss a few minutes after being admitted.
Kayleigh was allowed to lie down in one of Green Port guest rooms until she felt better. She stood up an hour later feeling alert and alive. She was not possessed by anger over Audrey’s murder, nor did she suffer any grief. A mysterious energy filled her body making her feel strong and light on her feet. She left the bedroom and headed for Cheers Rockall where everyone else was sitting. Laird was ashen and trembling; he didn’t say a word.
Dill looked up from his beer. “Kayleigh; are you better now?”
“I’m fine. So, what do we do?”
Zach stood up to address the packed bar of tight, hurt faces. “The firewall has failed.” he began. “The well head has been captured by a Seal team. The Seals have obviously shut the valves and are guarding it. They’re clearly ordered to shoot anyone who comes near it on sight.”
“How did they get there?” asked Elaine.
“They were probably dropped off by a helicopter or submarine and swam under the burning oil. The fleet has been watching our every move, so they must have worked out how to stop us… I’m afraid I’m out of ideas.” He shook his head and looked at the floor. “I know Audrey wouldn’t want us to quit, so I’m open to suggestions.”
No one spoke.
“Very well; meeting adjourned.”
Kayleigh went outside for a walk. The firewall was no more than a few puddles of flame on a sea that was beginning to look cleaner and fresher. The waves were once more pounding the cliffs as they had done for a million years before their two-day break. It was colder too and she needed her usual winter jacket. The smoke had all gone and vanilla clouds blew in from the southwest. It began to rain solidly and the rivulets of water trickling off the cliff were grey with displaced soot. She smiled to herself. It heartened her to see the grime wash away. Underneath, Rockall was still her same old self.
Bleep! A noise came from her trouser pocket. She reached in and, to her surprise, pulled out her mobile ‘phone. Like everyone else, hers had been cut off after the revolution and it was so long since she’d used it that she’d forgotten about it. But now it was working; the display showed the logo of her network. She was staring in bemusement at the instrument when suddenly it rang again with the SMS alert and the text message symbol appeared on the screen. It was immediately followed by an electronic fart and the logo vanished. Kayleigh hesitated then opened the text.
DO NOT ATTEMPT ANY MORE ACTS OF RESISTANCE 2 MILITARY OPERATIONS. WILL CALL @ 10AM-RST 2MORO 2 XEPT UR UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER. CW+GS.
The cellular lines had been reopened for just five seconds then closed again. In that short time, an identical text message had been sent to the mobile ‘phones of every single person on Rockall.
At nine-forty-five the following morning Zach and Kayleigh opened the front door. The Free Rockall Union committee walked up the path towards First Landing. Their heads were bare despite the rain and their brows were firm. They swung their arms and they walked with their fists clenched. They entered the house without a word and went to sit in the lounge, facing the wall screen. Zach booted up the PC.
At ten AM on the dot, the words: Incoming call scrolled across the screen. The frame flicked up and a picture of Craig Weller appeared, sitting at his office desk exactly as he had done when he’d last called almost a month ago. He smiled. “Good morning.”
“Good morning.” replied Dill.
“How are you all?”
“We’re tired, lonely and fed up… Where’s Selby?”
“President Selby is indisposed at the moment.”
Dill raised one eyebrow. “Flu?”
Weller chuckled then said: “That was a good idea of yours; laying out that oil fire to act as a shield. We never expected that one.”
“Well, you soon put a dampener on it, as well as killing one of our divers.”
“Was someone killed? I hadn’t heard about that.”
“Why should you? Her name was Audrey Tanner; a biochemist with the USGS. She was shot by the navy divers who took the well. She was only thirty-one.”
“I’m sorry.” Weller seemed genuine as he said so.
Dill nodded slightly.
“What about the oil works? Any harm done?”
“I was wondering when you’d bring that up. Test Well One was damaged by the fire. Apart from that everything has been left well alone. We took some medical supplies from the infirmary; we’ll need them to treat the potential victims of your impending attack.”
“Fair enough I suppose.”
“We haven’t touched the bodies. I imagine by now that they’ve been consumed by scavenging birds.”
There was a long pause. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Apart from leaving us in peace?”
He hesitated. “Could you leave the ‘phone lines open so we can talk to our families?”
“I’m afraid not, but we will download you some messages from them before we sign off.”
There was a minute’s silence. “So…” Weller began twiddling his thumbs. “I take it you comprehend the seriousness of your position.”
“And are you ready to surrender?”
The Prime Minister sighed through his nose. “That’s unfortunate… and very unwise.”
“I’ll make a note.”
He leaned forward. “Don’t be a fool, Gibson! You know you can’t win!... This is absurd!”
“Was it Winston Churchill who said: ‘A game is never lost until it’s won.’?”
“Actually it was Don Bradman, the cricketer… For pity’s sake, Gibson; give yourself up!”
“There’s no pity here to have a sake.”
“Do you want to die!?”
“No, but I want even less to live in slavery.”
“It’s not slavery!”
“Yes it is! Our shackles may be made of money not iron, but we’re still well and truly in chains!”
“One last chance to change your mind, Gibson!” said Weller between gritted teeth.
He shrugged. “It’s out of my hands. Even if I did change my mind, I’d be outvoted… The Rockallian people have decided unanimously to oppose any foreign occupation of our homeland! We will stand by that until we are cut down.”
Weller glowered at him. “Have it your own way!” He cut the connection and the screen went blank. Kayleigh felt oddly calm as she sat in the lounge next to her dearest friends.
Just twenty minutes after the end of Weller’s call, Kayleigh first heard the inevitable sound of juddering helicopter rotors. It grew louder and louder until she could work out its direction. They all slowly got up and went out into the driveway. Four, huge double-rotor helicopters were gliding in over the plateau like vultures from the northeast.
“AAAHHHRRRGGGHHH!” A guttural, bellowing cry came from the doorway behind them. Kayleigh jerked herself round in time to see Jack Laird explode out of the front door and dash past them before anyone could stop him. He was clutching an assault rifle. He sprinted over the road and capered up onto the heath to meet the helicopters.
“JACK! NO!” screamed Kayleigh and took after him.
The helicopters were now hovering in an arc formation about forty feet above the ground as if searching for a good place to land. The downdraft of their rotors rippled out across the grass as if it were water. It ruffled and flapped the white mane of Professor Laird as he pelted towards them. When he was almost underneath the nearest aircraft he stopped, leveled the rifle at it and fired. The muzzle flash was clearly visible, but the report was drowned out by the scream of engines.
The target helicopter heeled up vertically to open the range, but appeared to be undamaged. Laird continued to spray rounds at it, his legs firm on the ground, his broad shoulders absorbing the powerful recoil. One of the other helicopters was turning to face him; the cannon under its cockpit was moving.
“JACK!” screamed Elaine.
BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM! Fire spat from the muzzle of the aircraft’s cannon. Jack Laird was hurled six feet above the ground; the rifle flew from his grip and pirouetted in the air above him. He came to rest on the heath in a cloud of smoke. Elaine shrieked in horror and they all dashed forward. Kayleigh fell to her knees a dozen feet from where he lay. The two, huge, ragged wounds on his chest had already ceased bleeding. A wide pool of blood covered the ground around him, soaking into his hair and beard. His face was turned to the zenith, his eyes closed peacefully.
Elaine sobbed as she collapsed onto the heath, bent over and embraced her lover.
The four helicopters had come to rest half a mile away to the east. Kayleigh got to her feet and stared at them. Her face glowed and her vision pulsed. Electric sparks coursed around her body. Ramps had lowered at the rear of the aircraft and ground troops were disembarking and taking up positions on the plateau. They crouched behind tussocks and leveled their weapons at the Rockallians. They were all composed and pragmatic, totally unperturbed by what they had just done. For the first time in her life, Kayleigh felt pure hate. The very light that entered her eyes seemed to turn black. She spotted Laird’s rifle lying in the grass, ran over and picked it up.
“Drop it, Kayleigh!” Dill shouted at her.
She turned to see him jogging up the slope towards her with a megaphone in his hands.
“For God’s sake drop it before they shoot you as well!”
The fire drained out of her as she let the weapon fall to the grass. Misery and exhaustion took its place.
The soldiers were now all on the ground, spread out across the moor in a line, their weapons at the ready. One of them, presumably the commanding officer, shouted an order. The rest of the force leaped up and jogged forward about eight paces then resumed their squatting position.
“GENTLEMEN!” Dill’s voice reverberated from the megaphone. He was standing out in front. There were only a couple of hundred yards between himself and the line of troops. “MY FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS!? WE ARE YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS, YET YOU SEE US AS AN ENEMY! WHY?”
“Bastards!” grated Claire. “Murdering bastards!”
Dill motioned at her to keep quiet. “GENTLEMEN, DO YOU WANT TO DESTROY US OR ARE YOU JUST OBEYING ORDERS? BLINDLY SAYING’ YES, SIR’ AND DOING IT WITHOUT QUESTION! WE DO NOT DESERVE THIS! WE ARE SIMPLY TRYING TO PROTECT OUR ISLAND AND LIVE THE WAY WE WANT TO LIVE! DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THE NEWS ABOUT US!?... THE GOVERNMENT IS USING YOU! AND BY CARRYING OUT YOUR ORDERS WITHOUT QUESTION YOU ARE TURNING YOURSELF INTO THEIR PUPPETS! THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU! THEY HAVE SACRIFICED MILLIONS OF YOUR COLLEAGUES IN WAR WITHOUT A QUARM! YOU MEAN NOTHING TO THEM BUT CANNON-FODDER!”
The troops ran forward a few more yards.
“GENTLEMEN! THINK TWICE! YOU ARE NOT LIBERATING ROCKALL FROM PIRATES! YOU ARE IMPRISONING ROCKALL FOR THE OIL GIANTS! KILLING PEOPLE SO THEY CAN RULE US ALL AS WELL AS MAKE PERSONAL FORTUNES!”
The line advanced again. Now they were just a hundred yards from where Dill was preaching.
“MY FELLOW HUMANS, DON’T DO THIS! REFUSE! MUTINY!”
They advanced again. This time, when they stopped they were only fifty yards away. There they crouched; three or four hundred of them in a single echelon. Their faces were dehumanized, devoid of all character or individuality. Features were disguised by camouflage makeup, eyes hidden behind rifle sights.
Dill didn’t move. He continued speaking, eyeballing them all over the rim of his megaphone horn. “ SO WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO!? KILL US!? GO AHEAD, WE’RE UNARMED! YOU CAN WIPE US OUT WITH IMPUNITY AND GO HOME TO A HERO’S WELCOME! IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT TO BE!? MASS-MURDERERS OF DEFENSLESS CIVILIANS!? COWARDLY BARBARIANS!?”
Then one of the troops stood up and leveled his rifle directly at Dill. Kayleigh wanted to scream and run forward to protect him, but her voice was petrified and her feet rooted to the spot.
Dill took a pace forward and addressed his assailant personally. “GO ON THEN MATE; SHOOT ME! PULL THAT TRIGGER LIKE A GOOD LITTLE ROBOT! CARRY OUT YOUR MASTER’S ORDERS! I PITY YOU! EVEN IF I DIE RIGHT NOW, I WOULDN’T WANT TO SWAP PLACES!... BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO, MATE! YOU CAN MAKE A STAND! TURN BACK NOW AND LIVE YOUR OWN LIFE!... IF YOU KILL ME THEN YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE AND SAYING ‘IT WAS JUST ORDERS’ IS NO EXCUSE! BUT IF YOU DECIDE NOT TO KILL ME AND WALK AWAY, YOUR LIFE WILL BEGIN ANEW AND YOU’LL DISCOVER THE WONDER AND FREEDOM THAT IS ALL AROUND YOU!” He pointed at him. “CHOOSE!”
The commanding officer stood up and yelled something. All at once, the entire company, turned and ran back to the helicopters as fast as they could. The aircraft themselves powered up their engines. It took less than two minutes for all the soldiers to climb aboard. The giant helicopters soared into the air, yawed around to the east and juddered away at full speed.
The Rockallians gaped at each other as if waking from a trance. “I don’t believe it!” shrilled Claire. “What happened there!?”
Dill hadn’t moved. He stood in the same spot, megaphone hanging at his side.
Kayleigh ran up to him. “Well done, Dill!” but as she touched his shoulders, he fell to his knees, his body quivering like a ramshackle lift. His face was blanched and his eyes were wet with terror.
They buried Professor Jack Laird at sea, Erkdwala style. The people gathered in a small fleet of boats which drifted in the waves as Zach and Dill released the weighted sack containing Laird's body into the deeps off Guestine Point. Nobody spoke and there was no formal service. Even Elaine was stoic as she watched the sack disappear beneath the surface. As they slowly paddled back to shore, Kayleigh looked over her shoulder to see Kerroj and a few other Erkdwala approach the spot in their canoes holding out their hands and chanting. The ceremony would last for several hours until Jack Laird’s soul was well on its way to Atloi, Realm of the Ancestors.
Everyone gathered that evening in the community hall to drown the day’s events in beer. They all praised the valour of Dill, especially Broadway: “He was amazing!” she exclaimed between hasty gulps from her glass. “He stood is ground bravely and spoke right to their hearts! And they heard them, those squaddies! The things he said really struck home!”
“Yeah.” said Jennie. “He’s always had the gift of the gab.”
“They could have shot him just like that!” Broadway babbled on. “But no! He reached something deep in their conscience that made them turn back!... He has such a deep and powerful soul! What a guy!”
Kayleigh didn’t interrupt as the women prattled away. She didn’t want to tell them what she was thinking as she had no wish to disillusion the Rockallians’ already battered morale. That morning she had watched the soldiers carefully, and throughout their brief visit to Rockall they had been flawlessly decisive and professional. Dill’s words had had no visible effect. There had been no faltering, no hesitation or signs of internal conflict. When they had turned back at the last minute it had been a manoeuvre, not a mutiny. An order must have come through on their radio headsets at that very moment. Also, if one unit had deserted then the force commander would simply have sent in another. Why didn’t he? It seemed unlikely that the entire fleet would mutiny at the same time. Something strange was going on, and Kayleigh was certain that events on Rockall were about to take another twist.
A second circular text message arrived the following morning:
@ 12.00-RST SINGLE UNARMED H’C’TER WILL LAND 1 MILE N OF R’PORT. PEACE NEGOTI8R ON BOARD. REQUEST U ALLOW HIM 2 DISEMBARK UNMOLESTED. THIS WILL B IN UR OWN BEST INTERESTS AS HE MEANS U NO HARM AND WANTS 2 PROPOSE AN AGREEMENT THAT I THINK U WILL FIND FAVOURABLE. CW.
“What does that mean?” Kayleigh asked.
Dill did not object to Troyman accompanying them to the parley with a rifle. After the previous morning it would have been tactless if nothing else. He stood on the heath with Zach and Kayleigh at his side. Many more were watching from a distance. Zach looked at his watch. “They’re late.”
“Only five minutes.” said Kayleigh.
“No, there they are!” Dill pointed. “Look!”
A tiny speck crept like an ant along the cloudy sky to the south. As it came nearer they saw that it was a helicopter. “It’s a Royal Navy Sea King.” said Zach from behind his binoculars. Soon they could hear the sound of its engines as it swooped over the rooftops of Rockall Port. Dill lit a flare to help it judge the wind and then it hovered and landed, its wheels sinking into the heather.
Troyman lifted his rifle, but kept it pointing away.
The pilot cut the engines completely and the rotors wound down until they were revolving slowly, drooping like the spokes of an umbrella. A sliding door opened on the flank of the aircraft and a small, thin man stepped out onto the ground. He was wearing a life jacket, flight suit and helmet, but gave the impression of being clumsy and unaccustomed to that mode of transport. “Thank God I’m here!” he muttered. “What a confounded rattletrap! I never thought I’d make it!” He took off his helmet and tucked it under his arm. He was an elderly, stiff-bodied man with greying hair and thick, bushy eyebrows. He looked around with the mien of a tourist. “So this is Rockall. Impressive.” He approached and shook their hands; his grip was firm and his hands warm. “Hello, hello! You must be Zach, Dill and er… Kayleigh. How do you do?”
The Rockallians responded with perplexed smiles.
“Who’s John Wayne over there?”
“That’s Professor Ray Troyman of the USGS.” said Kayleigh.
“You’re not planning on using that blunderbuss, are you, Ray?” the newcomer called with a chuckle.
The American shrugged and slung the rifle over his shoulder.
“Now then.” he continued. “My name is Lord August McCain. I’ve come here to propose a new initiative for ending this crisis…”
“McCain?” said Kayleigh. “Any relation to…”
“Yes, I’m his father… As I was saying, this contretemps has gone on long enough. I’m sure you’re all as sick and tired of it as I am, so I’ve come to offer you a deal.”
“No deals!” said Dill. “We’re Rockallians and we’re free! We won’t compromise an inch of that!”
“Please give me a chance to speak, Mr Gibson.” said McCain. “Uncompromised freedom is what’s on offer, if you’re willing to listen.”
Zach frowned suspiciously.
Dill gazed intently at McCain. “Go on.”
The British and American governments, as well as the whole international community is willing to recognize Rockall as an autonomous, self-governing nation state with diplomatic and territorial rights under international law, and a seat on the United Nations.”
“What!?” shrilled Zach.
“It’s yours if you want it.” McCain smiled and shrugged.
Zach gave a cynical laugh. “Oh, yeah! We get out independence so long as we allow the BGC back onto the island!”
“No, the BGC has been liquidated. Instead we plan to begin afresh with a new strategy: to access the oilfield from a spot twelve miles south on the edge of the shoals. We’ll need to build a set of submarine rigs. It’s new and untested technology, it will take longer and cost one heck of a lot more money, but the authorities have been told… have agreed to do it.”
“Why would they agree to that?”
McCain smirked. “Let’s just say that a higher power intervened.”
The Rockallians all looked at each other. “And what do you want from us in exchange?” asked Dill.
McCain paused. “My son.”
“What? Trevor?” said Dill.
“You’re holding him here as a hostage, are you not?”
“Well, if he’s on the chopper with me when I leave, you get your freedom.”
“And what else do you want?”
“Hold on, Mr McCain… If we give you Trevor, you give us our freedom; no oil works, no blockade, no invasion, nothing?”
“That’s the deal!” He grinned widely and the corners of his eyes crinkled under his brows.
Dill shook his head “Why?”
“Does it matter? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Mr Gibson.”
“Is this some sort of ruse?”
“No; no ruse. I just want my son.”
Dill closed his eyes for a moment then turned to Zach. “Zach, go with Ray to First Landing and bring Trevor here.”
Zach did a double-take. “Wh… What!? You don’t trust this old Fagin, do you!?”
He sighed then winked at Troyman. The pair set off back towards Rockall Port.
“Thank you.” said McCain.
There was a long silence then Dill coughed. “So, Mr McCain… Weller was lying. Trevor does mean a lot to him after all… I’m sure he’ll be flattered.”
“Trevor doesn’t mean a lot to Weller, but he does to me.”
“So then how did you persuade him?”
“How did I persuade him?” McCain grinned and undid a few inches of his flight suit zip. Underneath he was wearing a black suit jacket.
Dill gasped. “Gordon Bennett! You’re… But…”
“Don’t ask, Mr Gibson.” He held up his palm. “Just be grateful and glad… How is my son?”
“We’ve been treating him humanely.” said Kayleigh. “Feeding him properly, taking him out for exercise, that sort of thing.”
“Thank you for that.” said the old man earnestly.
“It’s perfectly natural; we’re not the brutal monsters that we’re portrayed as by the media.”
A few minutes later, Zach and Troyman could be seen walking back towards them from Rockall Port. Between them was Trevor. After a month of captivity he was pallid and dirty. His hair was greasy and his dressing gown stained. A patchy beard grew on his chin. He smiled sardonically as he caught sight of his father.
“Hello, Trevor.” said McCain.
They stopped three feet away then Zach untied the cords around his wrists and pushed him forward. The ex-Governor slowly stepped across the grass to face his father. “Hello… Dad.”
“I’ve come to take you home, Son.” He put a hand around his shoulders and guided him over to the aircraft. One of the flight crew helped Trevor don a life jacket and helmet and showed him into the door of the helicopter.
“Thank you, once again.” said Lord McCain. “I’m glad we could do business.”
“So what happens now?” asked Zach.
“Isn't that obvious? You enjoy your freedom… Good luck!” He climbed aboard the helicopter beside his son muttering: “Hope this bloody thing holds together until we’re back on the carrier!”
The aircraft lifted off and flew out to sea. Soon it was once more a speck on the face of the clouds.
(Go back to Chapter 8: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2009/08/rockall-chapter-8.html
Go on to Chapter 10, the final chapter: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2009/03/rockall-chapter-10.html)