Saturday, 21 February 2009

Rockall- Chapter 3

Chapter Three- The Unmanifest.

Despite everything, Trevor McCain knew that there had to be a solution; there always was even in the bleakest of situations. The key to power was within his grasp; ultimate power that would leave Dill, and anyone else who challenged him, tossing and rolling in his wake. All he had to do was find it.
…and in summary, I conclude that over eighty percent of goals and targets this month have been met.
Trevor hesitated with the cursor over the “Save and exit” icon. Should he add more? He decided not to and left the document as it was. He attached his latest progress report to his email to Ross Quentin and sent it.
“Trevor, are you ready?” Claire knocked on his office door.
“Nearly.” he answered. He sighed and stepped into his hiking boots then stood and put on his jacket. Outside Johnny, Sarah and Dill were waiting. They were also dressed for the long walk. “Very well, let’s go.” he said. Then he turned to Zach who was waiting by the door. “Zach, we should be back sometime tomorrow. Don’t mess things up in my absence.”
“I’ll try not to, Trevor.” he replied with a sarcastic half-smile.
Zach’s attitude was becoming a problem again. After First Landing he’d really made an effort to be the obedient and trustworthy assistant that Trevor needed; Trevor had even considered offering him the deputy-governorship, but since around New Year he had started regressing back to his old self. A great disappointment.
Trevor cursed under his breath as they trudged northeast away from Rockall Port. The wind was strong and the rain had turned to sleet. The soil between the heather plants had was melting into loose, wet mud. Every step he took was an effort. The four-hour trek to the American base was going to be sheer hell. The rabble were twenty feet ahead, striding comfortably. Claire dropped back a few feet and called over her shoulders: “What’s the matter, Trevor? First time away from camp?” Her tone was jeering and the other three sniggered.
“No, of course not!” he retorted.
“But you don’t go in-country very often, do you?”
“He’s missing his nice cosy office!” sneered Sarah.
They all laughed and Claire put on pace to catch up with them, leaving Trevor on his own far behind. Times like this made him wonder if Project Rockall was all a big mistake. The last six months had been the worst of his life. The eighteen other residents had rejected his leadership and abandoned themselves and him in a purgatory of profitless inertia. They were undisciplined, footloose, ineffectual, time-wasting and downright stupid. All his attempts to show them a better way of life and build them into a coherent working unit had ended in failure. No, worse than failure! They were actually less coherent than they had been before First Landing. How was that possible? “Huh!” he puffed to himself. “I’d be better off alone like Robinson Crusoe!”
“Ow!” He stepped in a pothole and fell flat on his face. His elbows splashed into mud.
The rabble stopped, turned and looked at him. They paused for a second then, with the exception of Dill, carried on walking. Johnny laughed.
“Are you alright, Trevor?” asked Dill. His cagouled figure was walking towards him.
“Of course I’m alright! Go and catch up with your chums!” He gulped and winced as he felt the familiar burn of his stomach; another attack of indigestion, the third that week. He pulled off his gloves and popped an antacid pill into his mouth. “I’m the future governor of this island!” he muttered when Dill was out of earshot. “Can’t I get to my damn feet without aid!?” The rabble were still chuckling, taking delight from his indignity. He wiped as much of the mud off his body as possible and started walking again. The others were far ahead now, chatting and laughing. “The first thing I’m going to do when I’m Governor is build a tarmac road between Rockall Port and Green Port so we can walk across the island without getting soaked or dirtied!”
Green Port! Now there’s a town to be proud of! Efficient, positive and expansive. That’s how Rockall Port should be.
Professor Jack Laird was one of the few people on the island whom Trevor admired. He was a winner; strong, dedicated, pragmatic and self-possessed, but unlike Trevor he had the respect of his team. Trevor was always trying to find an opportunity to ask him for some advice and discover the secret of winning over his men, but unfortunately the American was very aloof. Like everyone else, he was more interested in Elaine, Claire, Dill and Zach… ad nauseam. Damn! We should have gone home for the winter, new base or not!
Once they’d arrived at Green Port they were, as usual, offered a chance to wash, change clothes and recuperate in one of the guest bedrooms. Trevor had a long, luxurious shower in hot, American water; then he put on one of their tracksuits with a Stars and Stripes on the shoulder and brushed his hair. He sat on the bed, booted up his laptop, called up the familiar number and waited as it rang. “Hello, Lord McCain’s residence.” The smile and uniform of the Filipina maid materialized on the screen.
“Hello, Celisa.”
“Oh, Master McCain; how are you?”
“Very well thank you, Celisa. Is my father in?”
“One moment, Master McCain, I’ll fetch him.”
The familiar, gruff, moustached man sat down in front of the webcam. “Trevor.”
“Good afternoon, Father. How are you?”
“Keeping up with the Rothschilds, if you know what I mean.”
“How are Jeremy and Rupert?”
“On the Prince’s Polo team!”
“They made it! Wonderful!”
“I should say! They’ve been tasting the latest Claret with the Marlborough clan and there’s a big pheasant shoot planned for next week. I might get my old tool out and pop along myself… How are things on… er…? Rockall?”
“Erm… fairly well, Father. I’ve just hiked overland to the American base to do a bit of diving.”
“Diving, Trevor? I thought you were out there to deal with the land not the sea.”
Our biologist, Claire McMooney, wants to investigate the shallow reefs off the north coast. There may be some unusual sea creatures there.”
Lord McCain raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t realize you knew how to dive.”
“I do, Father. I went on a training course in Wales.”
He shifted in his seat. “Well, you’re full of surprises… Be careful, Trevor.”
“I will, Father.”
There was a long pause and the digital image of the man seemed to stand still. “Trevor?”
“Yes, Father?”
He coughed. “You know that your mother and I have never approved of this... little project you’ve set yourself.”
“I know, Father.”
“You should be doing something worthwhile with your life, Boy; not frittering it away on some lonely, Scottish isle.”
“Rockall is hardly Scottish, Father; it’s further away from Edinburgh than London is.”
“You know what I’m talking about, Trevor. You should be making money for your future, gaining the power and status you deserve, building a reputation… carrying on the family name.”
“Trevor, for goodness sake! Why won’t you marry Leticia Spires-Carnegie!? She’s a suitable bride! Her father is director of the Brunei and Malaysia Bank...!”
“She’s a tiresome, brainless girl! I feel like I’m dealing with a six-year-old whenever I speak to her! She’s a gossiping, lecherous little whore and I can’t stand her!”
His father frowned and his breath came in trembling pants. “I can’t believe that you’re rejecting such and advantageous opportunity! There are men fifteen years your junior who’d give their right arm for her connections! How old are you, Trevor?”
“Father, I’m thirty-nine. You do remember my birth, I take it.”
“Don’t be facetious!... I need a grandson! The McCains need an heir!”
“What about Jeremy and Rupert?”
“They aren’t true McCains! Their…” He quickly glanced over his shoulder and lowered his voice. “Their mother, your stepmother, comes from a family of railwaymen!”
“So it’s down to me, is it?”
“Yes! You and you alone can continue our line!”
Trevor chuckled scathingly. “I don’t believe this! You’ve finally admitted what I’ve always known! I’m nothing to you but a pedigree stud!”
“Don’t be impertinent!”
“Why not, damn it! Nanny brought me up, not you! Then you wrapped me like a parcel and sent me to New College at seven years old! Then it was Eton, then Oxford!... You’ve never cared for me one bit!”
“What nonsense!”
“Sorry, Father; I have to go now.”
“Trevor! Don’t you…”
He cut the line and slammed the lid of his laptop shut. “Bastard!” he hissed. He was quivering badly, his mouth was dry and his face poured with sweat. He stood up and walked back and forth across the carpeted guest room until his heart slowed to normal. There was a knock at the door which made him jump. He wiped his cheeks with a towel and cleared his throat. “Come in.”
Dill poked his head around the door. “Hi, Trevor. Jack says to meet him in the bar. We’re going to get prepped for the dive at one.”
“Very well. Thank you, Dill.” As the door was closing some impulse made him call out: “Dill?”
The door opened and the head reappeared. “Yes?”
“I was wondering if… I could have a talk with you sometime.”
“Oh, you’d like to book a counselling session.”
“What!? Counselling!? Certainly not! I have absolutely no need of your services in that respect! I was merely offering to discuss with you subjects of my interest!... Counselling indeed!”
Dill smiled. “No problem, Trevor. I’ll meet you in the bar in ten minutes?”
“Erm… that’ll be fine.”
“See you there.” He closed the door.
The Green Port bar was the biggest enclosed space on the island. Fluted and engraved windows had been set in the door bearing the words: Cheers Rockall and the first thing that greeted Trevor as he entered the room was a novelty wooden signpost with an arrow pointing out of the window saying: New York City 4166 miles. The furniture looked authentic and out-of-place in a scientific station like the American base. He and Dill ordered a beer each and sat at a table to talk. Claire, Johnny and Sarah were standing at the bar giving them curious looks.
Trevor picked up his glass and took a sip. He preferred wine, but any alcohol was better than none. The thick, white head bulged slightly above the rim of the glass and stuck to his top lip. Tiny bubbles formed on the bottom and rose to the top like inverted snowflakes. Water droplets condensed on the chilled surface of the glass. “Mm! That tastes very nice.” he said.
“So you definitely don’t love this girl, Leticia?” Dill asked rhetorically.
“Good heavens, no! I don’t even like her! She’s pretty and charming, but you should hear her when she lets the charm slip! I’ve never heard anyone talk such drivel! The woman’s as dense as pigs’ manure!”
“So you’ve told your dad how you feel?”
“Yes, but he still says it would be wise for me to marry her; and he’s right. If I do I’ll be set up for life. Her father is one of the top names in the Far East. He controls more shares and holdings than anyone else in APEC. I’d have to be crazy to turn her down.”
“I don’t agree. I would never consider marriage unless I was in love with the person I was marrying. Your dad seems to regard marriage as some sort of dynastic business deal.”
“I suppose so… but isn’t that what it is?”
“No, or at least I personally don’t think so. I don’t believe that money is important; love is all that matters.” He sat back and took a deep pull on his beer. “But I’m probably in a minority there. Most people would jump at the chance to wed a pile of cash.”
“Well, Kayleigh thought…” Trevor stopped himself when he saw the expression on Dill’s face.
“Fifteen minutes, Guys!” Professor Laird’s called from the other side of the room. “One beer only and no food, OK?”
“Dill, what’s it like to be in love?”
He tittered. “Trevor, I can’t explain it to you in words. When you meet the right girl you’ll understand.”
“The right girl?”
Dill grinned. “Yes… and it won’t be Leticia Spires-Carnegie!”
“Thank you, Dill.” He smiled back at him. “I’ve enjoyed our little talk. It’s nice to be able to speak frankly with a chap like you.”
Dill nodded.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation like this with anyone on Rockall, if anywhere.” He realized that he was slightly tipsy. The enforced abstinence on the island had made his body very sensitive to alcohol; even a single pint of lager. “None of you ever talk to me the way you do to each other. I suppose I must accept that; the loneliness of command.”
Dill shrugged as if unsure of how to answer.
“I don’t expect people to be friendly towards me, Dill. To be a good leader of men is to be respected and obeyed, not liked. My job is to set an example and inspire, but I can’t do that when everyone on this island hates me!”
“Nobody hates you, Trevor.”
“They do! I fell over in the mud this morning and the others laughed! You were the only one who offered to help me up! They laughed, Dill! They laughed and gloated over my misfortune!”
“Trevor, you have to understand… people feel resentment at the way you govern the colony. If you changed your policy and management methods they would accept you like that.” He snapped his fingers.
“My policy!?... There’s nothing wrong with my policy! I’m a good governor!”
“You’re not.” Dill’s voice was firm, but calm. “You act in a very detached and dictatorial manner towards us. You refuse to take part in manual labour; you commandeer the biggest room in Rockall Port for your own personal use. Remember when we lost that replen drop over the cliffs; you didn’t go on short rations, did you? How do you think that makes us feel? Do you think we like it when you talk to us as if we’re slaves, or when you tried to stop us putting up the wind generator? Good grief, you even snapped at Elaine for saying her prayers!”
Trevor was speechless for several seconds. He struggled to collect his thoughts. “Dill, on Rockall we live lives of intense isolation and hardship. Such conditions require strong leadership. The people must be disciplined and that discipline must be firmly instilled. One hint of weakness on my part and our society will collapse into a melee of anarchy and internecine violence; the stores looted, the women raped, the huts burnt down. It would be like a scene from Lord of the Flies! The people need a powerful personality to rule them with an iron hand. Yes, I treat the people as my charges, which they are. Yes, I enjoy the privileges of my position. These are sound, established methods for maintaining order. I do NOT apologize!”
Dill tittered. “And I thought Machiavelli was dead!”
Control slipped from his grip. “Stop it! Stop it now!... How dare you, Gibson! You just remember whom you’re talking to! I don’t have to justify my actions to you! And it’s not your place to question them! In future, just do as you’re told and keep your mouth shut!”
Dill remained unruffled. He shrugged. “As you wish, Trevor. I’m not questioning; I’m merely telling you that if you continue on your present course then loneliness and unpopularity is a price you’ll have to pay.”
Trevor got up and walked out of the bar. He strolled through Green Port for a while to let himself calm down and popped another antacid. What a mistake it had been to confide in Dill! He cringed and vehemently reprimanded himself for allowing his concentration to lapse. “No more alcohol!” he promised. From now on there would be a ten-foot, solid brick wall between him and all the other residents of Rockall Port.
Of all the eighteen people he was marooned with on the island, Dill Gibson both worried and interested him the most. Interested because he was a bundle of contradictions. He was by far the most ditsy and hair-brained of the rabble, but in his own way he was very intelligent and strong-willed. He was much less hostile towards Trevor than the others were, but Trevor found his presence the most threatening of all. Before they’d sailed a mile beyond Oban harbour Trevor knew that Dill was going to be trouble. He was a crackpot New Age scholar and an animist who worshiped lumps of stone. The episode on St Kilda made Trevor wish that Ross hadn’t recruited Dill to the mission; better to work a man short. Dill had also fallen in love with Kayleigh, a short, fat, obtuse, very plain young woman with no education or prospects. For him to develop such feelings for someone so unattractive made Trevor seriously doubt his sanity. Dill had apparently been making good progress with a psychology degree when he had, for no reason at all, dropped out of university. Why? It made no sense! Along with his misgivings, Trevor couldn’t resist a kind of ghastly curiosity towards Dill. What made him tick? How could a human being turn out like him?
Dill worried Trevor. The young counsellor was a bad influence. He was popular and had quite a following among the rabble. Many of them respected him and looked to him for advice and alternative leadership, especially in disputes with the official authority: Trevor himself. This was a dangerous situation that could easily tear Rockall apart. “This island can have only one leader… and it’s me!” Trevor gritted his teeth as he stared north over the ocean.
Trevor, Dill and Johnny stripped down in the men’s changing room and pulled on their neoprene wetsuits. The garment had an unpleasant stench and felt uncomfortable against Trevor’s bare skin. They left the divers’ hut and walked stiffly over to the top of the lift. The temperature had dropped considerably during the hour they’d spent indoors. By the time the women joined them it was snowing hard. The warming effect of the wetsuits didn’t work out of water and Trevor began shivering with cold. A few minutes later Jack Laird showed up in his own personalized, red wetsuit and led them into the lift, an ingenious device that ran down a track built into the vertical cliff face. It was an open cage lift like a pit car and it rattled and jolted as it dropped down towards the raging surf and giant rocks. The icy wind whistled through the structure and the view outside was vertiginous. Trevor narrowed his eyes and gripped the handrails which were sticky with the cold.
The lift opened out onto a large aluminium jetty which was mounted on poles drilled into the rock. It was high tide at that moment and the waves sloshed six feet below the gridwork floor. The platform was ten yards square and boxes of equipment and boat parts lay all everywhere. They entered another hut and put on the rest of their diving gear: A ballast belt with square weights, flippers, goggles and a scuba set with heavy air tank. Trevor’s diving courses had taken place in a swimming pool and once in a gently-flowing river. This would be his first experience of open sea and his stomach cringed slightly as they left the hut and clambered down into a dinghy.
The snow stuck to his spray-soaked body as the boat growled through the surf, the waves smacking the hull. Ahead was the other half of Green Port, the anchored American ship the Richard E. Byrd. They tied up the boat at a diving stage that was moored to the ship and rolled backwards off the gunwales into the water.
The noise of the wind and sea vanished suddenly. The wet envelope of the water felt warm and cosy after the freezing air above and the drag of gravity fell from Trevor’s body giving him a sensation of liberation and invulnerability. He was perfectly balanced in neutral buoyancy, weighing exactly as much as the water he displaced; effectively weightless like an astronaut in space. He rose and sunk a few inches every time he inhaled and exhaled. The ocean was a thick, misty blue, stretching to infinity all around. The others crumped through the surface beside him. Laird pointed in the direction that they had to go and Trevor kicked his fins to follow him along the rough, steel wall of the ship’s hull. The bubbles from his mouthpiece tickled his cheeks as they poured into his slipstream. They reached the heavy, rusty chain of the ship’s anchor. It broke the surface six feet above them and led down into the depths, fading in the cloudy murk. Laird pointed in that the direction and the others sounded, following the chain into the invisible abyss. Trevor felt a frisson of fear, instincts holding him back. Laird looked over his shoulder and made the “OK?” sign with his fingers. Trevor responded by copying the gesture. Laird beckoned. Trevor stamped hard on his nerves, up-ended and dived downwards. The weight of the water above began to press on every inch of his body, pushing his goggles against his forehead and making his eardrums hurt. He blew hard through his nose until his ears popped. He looked back and saw that the wavy surface was already out of sight. The thought of how deep he was chilled him. He checked his gauge: twenty-five feet. How deep was the shelf at this point? He didn’t think he could go much further without panicking. Then he saw that the others had stopped and were floating in a circle just above the rocky seabed.
The sea was like soup; visibility less than ten feet. Bits of weed and plankton flowed past Trevor’s vision like submarine sleet. The shelf beneath their feet was hard, cracked basalt covered with green slime and barnacles. Trevor’s fear eased and he reached down to touch the stony floor with curiosity. It was as cold as ice, rough, sticky and solid. It was a hidden, inaccessible place; as alien and unknown as the surface of another planet. Laird passed round a rope which they all fed through loops on their belts so that they were tied together like mountaineers. Then they began their exploration.
Trevor’s job was very simple: To collect as many different kids of shellfish that he could find and put them in a bag to give to Claire. Dill, with typical sentimentality, had refused to do this when he discovered that the creatures would die. “They have as much right to life as we do!” he had protested to Claire. She riposted: “Dill, we can’t study them without taking them out of the water, that I’m afraid means killing them.” “Then better not to study them at all!” he returned. She groaned and walked away. Dill was here on an errand for Elaine instead, collecting rocks. Trevor shook his head as he recalled the debate. How could someone of Dill’s obvious intelligence behave in such an obscure, child-like way?
He came across a colony of limpets. He took out his diver’s knife and placed it under the edge of its shell to prise it from its stone, but the shell instantly retracted against the surface, sticking to it like superglue. Trevor chipped and stabbed at it as hard as he could, but the little creature was totally immobile; almost as if it had become part of the rock itself. He tried another limpet but the same thing happened. He remembered forcing them off rocks with a screwdriver as a small boy. Rockall limpets must be of a much tougher constitution than their mainland cousins. He travelled on a dozen more yards and a school of sprats came out of the miasma. They orbited him a few times then sped off into the boundless ocean. The plant life was getting thicker. Fronds of seaweed reached up to brush his limbs in the gentle current. The deep sea forest provided shelter for many types of fish, but these were very shy and darted for cover as Trevor split the vegetable canopy. Crabs scuttled under rocks and eels buried themselves in patches of sand.
He felt two tugs on the rope: a signal indicating that it was time to return to the anchor chain and swim back up to the surface. He looked at his air gauge: just twenty minutes left. He was about to turn around for the paddle home when something caught his eye ahead, right on the limit of his vision. It was just a ghost in the aquatic fog, very dark, standing upright and looking uncommonly like a tree trunk. He pulled the rope five times, indicating to Dill, the next man along, that he couldn’t or wouldn’t turn back. He kicked his fins and glided nearer to the object. He saw that it was a solid black column, about five feet high with little branches at the top, sprouting out of a crack between two rocks. Could it be a new species of seaweed or coral? Claire would be very impressed with that. But then he noticed two things about the object that made him blow out a cloud of bubbles in shock and kick back furiously so as not to get too close to it. It wasn’t ceramic and knobbly like coral, nor thin and wispy like seaweed; it was smooth and shiny as if it were made of plastic and it was the deepest, purest black imaginable; and it… My God!... It was moving. As he watched, it grew taller and thinner like a time-lapse film of plant growth.
A deep, primeval terror washed through Trevor’s system. He suddenly became acutely aware of his own position: A land creature invading the alien, hostile submarine world; an inverted fish-out-of-water, kept alive only by a cylinder of mixed gasses and a rubber tube. He backed swiftly away and almost collided with Dill and Laird. He pointed tremulously at the phenomenon. His two companions floated for a moment examining it; then the professor began inching forward. Dill grabbed his tank to try and stop him, but Laird pushed his hand away. The older man cruised towards the black tree. As they watched, one of the branches seemed to melt in the middle and break off, forming into a giant, black drop which floated slowly upwards. This made Trevor realize that the tree was actually a plume of viscous fluid. Laird reached out a hand and poked his fingers into the column. He brought them out and examined them, rubbing the tips together; then he beckoned to Dill and Trevor.
The black liquid was flowing out of a crack in the seabed. Trevor touched it and it stuck to his fingers like glue. It must have been lighter than water because it rose swiftly, calving off into treacly globules. Laird pointed upwards and they followed the procession of globules to the surface, pausing every few feet to allow their bodies to adjust to the easing pressure. Five feet below the waves they began to feel the motion. The movement of the sea was dispersing the fluid. Trevor’s hands and head broke through the surface and the air felt tenuous after the density of the water. His ears drained and the onslaught of sounds buffeted him. The black liquid had spread out into a thin sheen on the waves. He took off his goggles and spat out his mouth piece. The smell and taste of the substance was surprisingly familiar.
Laird and Dill popped up like ducks beside him. “What is it!?” yelled Dill above the splash of the sea.
“Is it…?” began Trevor.
“Yes!” Laird paused as a roller washed past him. “It’s oil!”
“It’s crude oil! You don’t need a buoy to mark the spot; you can see it from here.” Professor Laird looked out at the sea through the ship’s porthole. He, Trevor and Dill were sitting in the wardroom of the Richard E. Byrd wearing dressing gowns and slurping coffee from huge mugs. Out on the blue, choppy sea was a grey-brown stain that spread out down-current. The slurred cliffs of the Roosevelt Skerries lay in the background.
Trevor ran a hand through his wet hair. Despite a thorough shower he still smelled of salt. “But where can it be coming from?”
“There must be an anticline down there somewhere.” said Laird, still looking outside.
“A what-line?”
“Anticline. It’s a bubble of porous oil-bearing mineral trapped between two layers of denser rock like jelly in a sandwich. Occasionally fissures develop in the upper layer and some of the oil leaks out; that’s what we saw down there. The question is: Where is it exactly and how big is it?”
“Oil on Rockall!” Dill frowned with unease.
“Oil on Rockall!” said Trevor. His mind struggled grasp the implications
“We need to get a survey done.” said Laird in a businesslike tone. “I’ll call Washington and get them to send out the right people and equipment…”
“Wait!” barked Dill.
The other two looked at him.
“We can’t do this! We mustn’t!”
“What do you mean?” asked Trevor.
Dill put down his mug and stood up. “We must tell nobody of this! Not a soul! I want you all to swear to secrecy!”
“Why?” asked Laird.
“Rockall is the last unspoilt wilderness in Europe! We cannot let the oil industry come marching in here! They’ll dig the place up!”
“Now hold on, Dill; don’t jump the gun.” said Laird. “Nobody’s going to talk about digging up Rockall at this stage.”
“At this stage, yeah!”
“Listen to me, Dill! It’s only a survey, a scientific survey of what will probably be a minor deposit too small to be worth drilling. Ninety percent of prospective sites end up that way.”
“And if it is worth drilling.” said Trevor. “Just think of the money the Commission could make selling the rights! We could be millionaires!”
Dill flew at him, red-faced. “For fuck’s sake! The world’s most unique natural treasure is in danger and all you can think about is how much its destruction will line your pockets!”
“Calm down!” shouted Laird.
“You stink, Trevor!” Dill swung away into the middle of the compartment holding his head in his hands.
“Get a hold of yourself, Dill!” said Laird. “Now both of you are planning the wedding before your first date! I repeat! The leakage plume we saw today will probably turn out to be nothing! It is way too soon to talk about environmental destruction or making millions! But we must report what we’ve discovered! No, Dill! I will not swear to secrecy! Even if I did, someone else would find it sooner or later. Let’s be rational and adult about this! We live in a world that’s gripped by a global oil shortage. My son can only afford to drive his Goddamn car three days a week! It is my duty to inform Washington that we’ve struck oil on Rockall.”
“What happens then?” Dill asked tight-lipped, his back still turned.
“The USGS will send a prospecting ship with sonic scanning equipment and a sounding rig. An acoustic survey will be carried out, maybe some seabed bores. If nothing significant is found, they’ll pack up and go home. If, and only if, they find a sizable deposit…”
“Yes!?” Dill pivoted back round to face him.
Laird paused. “They’ll sink a test well to see if there’s viable pressure. If there is then the government will award a contract to an applying commercial petroleum provider to build a set of full-scale extraction wells…”
“And oil rigs and pipelines and…”
“No, Dill! Oil production these days is much more environmentally friendly than it used to be. A few years ago a well was built in Poole Harbour, England. Its impact on the local wildlife was negligible! They only had to cut down about six trees!... Nothing will be done here without consulting the Rockall Commission. Every move made will be assessed for its effect on the environment and afterwards the island will be returned to its natural state.”
“Just one question.” said Trevor.
“When you said that the government would award a contract to an oil company… which government did you mean?”
The professor was about to reply, and then stopped with a lungful of breath and his mouth open. There was a pensive silence. He raised a hand and rubbed his chin. “Damn!” he mumbled. “I didn’t think of that.”
Trevor found it hard to contain his excitement. The sense of loss, frustration and failure that had been oppressing him for the last six months was magically lifted and Rockall started to look different in his eyes; purposeful, prominent, every stone and clump of heather glowing with potential. “Hold on! Hold on!” he kept telling himself. “Don’t get your hopes up!” He decided however that it wouldn’t hurt to toss in a discrete feeler. He thought it best not to go through Ross Quentin; the Commission director knew him too well and would smell a rat. Instead he contacted Arthur Foxwell, the Home Secretary, a man he’d only met three or four times. He worded his enquiries very carefully, not wanting to let anything slip about his underlying motives.
Dear Trevor, came the reply. Thank you for your email; it’s nice to hear from you again. The simple answer to your question regarding sovereignty of Rockall is: No bugger knows; at least not at the moment. It’s an issue we’ve put very much to one side at present. It’s not of crucial importance right now anyway; I gather that your own mission is working very well alongside the American one. Ross tells me you all went scuba-diving together last Saturday. If circumstances arise in which the island’s official nation status becomes paramount, we will address it then. Who knows what future discoveries might be made. Regards, AMC Foxwell. (Home Secretary)
He knows! Trevor sat forward in his seat and bit his nails as he reread the message. The last line was an obvious hint; he could imagine Foxwell winking at him as he wrote it. He’d already found out about the dive through Quentin, but then Quentin told him everything; why mention that in particular? By now the USGS offices in America must know about the oil. Perhaps Foxwell had connections in the US government who’d tipped him off. Perhaps he had also guessed what Trevor was planning. “Damn it!” Trevor stood up and started pacing to and fro in his office. Acid burned in his gullet. Would it really be so bad if the Yanks decide to get in there first? Yes! The American government could choose to ratify their own territorial claim; then Rockall would belong to them and the Commission would have to pay them rent! In that situation he’d have to forget about the oil; it would be out of his reach forever.
He deliberated feverishly for an hour then decided that the only sensible course of action was to come clean. If he laid his cards on the Government’s table then there was a reasonable chance that they’d do something swift and positive to neutralize the American advantage. He began typing out a reply to Foxwell.
A photograph of the Cartwright Plaque would help. Foxwell had advised. Easier said than done. In its seven months of human occupation, nobody on Rockall had succeeded in finding the fabled plaque. It was hidden somewhere among the Roosevelt Skerries. Only one photograph of it had ever been taken. Trevor called it up from the Ministry of Defence archive and printed it out to study it. It was a black-and-white close-up showing the square, metal plaque attached to a cliff base just above the foaming high tide waves. The photo had been taken by the men who’d just cemented it there on the Fourteenth of September Nineteen-fifty-five. Neither the picture nor Commander Cartwright’s log gave any clue to its exact location. Trevor reasoned that it would most likely be in a very visible, prominent place where any foreign power with designs on the island would encounter it before trying to land. But then why hadn’t anyone living there encountered it during the last seven months? Perhaps it was gone. Fifty-five years of ice, salt and winter storms could have eroded the mortar until it fell into the sea. Trevor had to find out. His whole case could hinge on whether or not it was still there.
Stealing the explosives was easy; Elaine kept a store of dynamite in the geology desk in the common room. It was always left unlocked and Trevor only needed a couple of ounces. The remote detonator was more difficult. He spent a day on the internet downloading its software and teaching himself how to rig one up. The British base didn’t have what he was looking for and he had to pilfer one from the engineers’ shack in Green Port.
“You want to borrow one of our boats?” asked Yannik, the American store master, with a disbelieving frown.
“In this weather?”
“I’m doing a geology survey for Elaine.” lied Trevor. “Urgent catch-up; it can’t wait.”
“It’s Force Nine out there and you want to take a thirty-two foot coaster into the Skerries?”
“I know what I’m doing Yannik. The boat’s insured, isn’t it?”
“That’s not the point, Trevor…”
“Come on, Yannik; I need to get out to sea!... Look!” Trevor took out his wallet and whipped out a blank cheque for a thousand US dollars. “I’ve got another of these if you can keep your mouth shut.”
“Shit!” Yannik looked over his shoulder. “Man, I can’t take that! Laird would fuck my ass!”
“I won’t tell him if you don’t.”
Yannik quivered with a moment’s indecision then took the cheque. He gave a guilty sigh and handed Trevor the keys.
As soon as he pulled out of Green Port Bay, Trevor realized the danger of what he was attempting to do. A full-on Atlantic storm was at its peak. He couldn’t sail broadside to the wind because the waves would capsize him, so he tacked slowly westward like an old man tramping up a steep hill. He was terrified and almost turned back to the harbour, but then thought that if he did so he may not get another chance until it was too late. Thoughts of thick, green wads of notes overcame his fear and he chugged on. It took all afternoon to clear Cape Roosevelt. He sat on the helmsman’s stool wrestling with the wheel, alternately encrusted with snow and soaked with seawater. He was horribly seasick and leaned over the gunwale every so often to vomit into the ocean.
By five PM it was pitch dark, but the headland was at last between himself and the jaws of the Atlantic. He brought the boat in close to the shore and dropped the anchor. He’d brought plenty of supplies, but the thought of eating made him cringe. He peeled off his foul weather gear and collapsed into the damp bunk.
He made much more progress the following day, keeping close to the cliffs inside the outer rocks. He felt better too and ate a little as he sat in the cockpit, scanning the precipice with binoculars. Twice he thought he saw something and broke off his patrol to investigate, only to find when he got closer that the square object on the rock was just an odd shaped crystal formation or a patch of seaweed.
When he anchored for the second night, he booted up his laptop and received an email from his father’s wife. Dear Trevor, I’m sorry to bring you this news. Your father is very ill. He had a heart attack last night at the tennis club. He’s in hospital and the doctors don’t know if he’s going to get better or not. You’d better come home. Yvonne.
Trevor scoffed at his stepmother’s message. “Stop whining, you little drama queen! You don’t fool anyone! We all know you’re only after his money!” Then he lay back and stared at the overhead. “Don’t die, Father! Please!... Just hold on a few more months until you’ve seen me as an oil baron! After that you can buy it and roast in Hell for all I care!”
He located the plaque just before dusk on the third day. It was mounted at the head of a gulch in Dawn Bay behind Kissinger Point, the eastern edge of Peary Bay. Trevor could understand how no one had ever spotted it before. Perhaps when they found out that it wasn’t on any of the capes they’d assumed it was lost. In a way, Cartwright’s choice of location made sense. He probably postulated that the plaque would be beaten off the rock by the elements unless he mounted it in a sheltered place. The spot he’d selected was defended from the open sea by two peninsulas and a rough, conical tor called Great Limpet Rock. Trevor dropped anchor for the night and slept for ten hours.
In the morning he called up a newspaper website and printed off a copy of the front page then he blew up the coaster’s inflatable dinghy and paddled over to the historic plaque; the only place before June the Thirteenth, Two thousand and nine that man had touched Rockall. The fifty-five-year-old metal plate was brown with rust. The cement fixing it to the cliff was damp, crumbling and mixed with guano, silt and snow, but the inscription was still legible. Trevor mumbled the words aloud: “By the authority of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of her other realms and territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, Etc, Etc, Etc, and in accordance with Her Majesty’s instructions dated 14/9/55, a landing was effected this day upon this island of Rockall from HMS Northlea. The Union Flag was hoisted and possession of the island was taken in the name of Her Majesty.”
Trevor took some metal polish and a wad of steel wool from his jacket pocket and scrubbed the plaque hard until the rust loosened and came away. The sign wasn’t as good as new, but it looked a lot better than before. He took the dinghy a few feet back, produced his camera and took a salvo of shots from different angles. Then he went back in for a close-up, holding up the newspaper page in front of it, so effectively dating the photograph. Then came the most difficult part of the operation. He opened up his tool bag and took out a masonry drill. He excavated two holes in the mortar behind the plaque, inserted the stick of dynamite into one, attached the wires and sealed the charge with putty. Then he switched on the little radio detonator and tested the signal. He dropped it into the second hole, wired it to the charge and then sealed the detonator after making sure that the aerial was exposed. He smiled at his handiwork as he paddled back to the coaster.
He plugged the camera into his laptop interface and emailed the photographs to Arthur Foxwell. There was no more news about his father’s condition. He shrugged and started the engine to return to Green Port.
The US Geographic Survey ship Forties Adventurer arrived on Sunday the Thirty-First of January, just two weeks after the dive. The scent of oil had spread fast and almost the entire Rockall population was on the Green Port cliff tops to watch her sail into the bay and drop anchor two cables from the Richard E. Byrd. The new arrival had a hundred-foot derrick sitting amidships like an obelisk of girders.
The crew of the oilfield survey vessel came ashore one boatload and liftload at a time, anxious to stretch their legs after their eight-day cruise from Charleston, South Carolina and they were greeted with big hugs and handshakes from Professor Laird’s team. They seemed to be in no rush to start work and a party was thrown for them in Cheers Rockall. Trevor got a chance to meet most of them. The captain was Laird’s cousin and the first officer was his sister-in-law. All-in-all they were very akin to the resident American community; content, relaxed and open.
That all changed the following morning when they began work. They immediately became intensely stoic and professional. All non-USGS personnel were banned from the ship and had to watch proceedings from the town. Through his binoculars, Trevor could see them pottering up and down on deck in wetsuits. They lowered boats and a stage into the water and got kitted up for a dive. They offloaded all sorts of outlandish equipment, including several dozen orange capsules which they towed out to sea behind their boats. After a few hours the British contingent became bored watching and, one-by-one or in small groups, began the long hike south to Rockall Port.
Two weeks passed and a depressive, edgy ambiance hung over Rockall Port. The residents were very snappy and sullen. Worst of all was Dill who became a virtual recluse, spending all his free time going out alone. He spoke to nobody, even Zach who was his room mate. Trevor overheard Jennie and Morag gossiping about him in the kitchen: “Poor lad!” said Morag. “He’s worried about all those oil people. He loves this place. Well, I suppose we all do in a way, but it’s special with him. It’s like… Rockall’s got inside his heart.”
“Nah, I reckon he’s just missing Kayleigh.” Jennie was disdainfully scrutinizing the homemade Valentine card that Gareth had given her. “What do you think Malcolm Tustian got her for Valentine’s Day? Probably a diamond tiara, gold bracelets and a Porsche!”
“Lucky bitch!”
“Not half!... Don’t tell a soul, but if a man like that cocked his eye at me, I’d drop Gareth like a hot potato!”
“Aye, she made the right choice there all right! The same one we all would have. Dill’s a nice guy, but at the end of the day a bloke’s got to deliver; and that means crisp tenners. Show me a room full of girls who’d prefer flowers and a love song to satin sheets and a mink coat and I’ll show you an empty room!... They are still getting married, aren’t they?”
“To be honest, I’m not sure. Let’s check.”
The morning after, one of the Green Port helicopters came roaring in over the rooftops, waking Trevor up. All the residents leaped out of bed, dressed in a hurry and ran outside just as Professor Laird stepped down from the idling craft with a long, cardboard tube under his arm. He walked straight up to his opposite number. “Trevor! I need to talk to you now! You and Dill!”
“Why do you need Dill?”
“Just get him in your office! We’ll need Ross Quentin on the line too!”
The American waited patiently while a search party went out looking for Dill. He was found meditating by Peary Bay, one of his usual haunts. When he arrived, Trevor called up Quentin’s office line and the director’s big, bearded face appeared on their laptop screens. The meeting began. Laird opened the tube and unrolled a square yard of computer printout on Trevor’s desk. It was covered in a collage of multicoloured pixels arranged into patches or strips. “No bullshit, Guys.” The normally jovial man was now as grave as a judge. “I’m holding nothing back. I’ll tell you everything I know; no rules, no conditions. It’s up to you how you make use of it.”
Nobody spoke for half a minute then Quentin’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Trevor, can you turn your webcam round a bit so I can see what he’s got… Ta. What is that, Professor?”
“It’s a vector-seismogram of the Rockall shoals; a sonic picture built up by analysing the echoes of earthquake vibrations and our own acoustic transmissions. Rockall is not connected to the rest of the British Isles; it lies away from the continental shelf. It’s a seamount on the North Atlantic Plateau. The island that we’re standing on is just the peak of a submarine mountain. It’s actually the remains of a two hundred million-year-old volcano.”
“Well, it’s a very pretty pattern, Professor; but what does it mean?”
Laird drew a pencil line around a cluster of green blobs in the centre. “See that?”
“It’s oil, isn’t it?” said Dill thickly; his cheek twitched as he spoke.
Laird sighed and bowed his head. “Yes.”
“A lot of it?” asked Trevor with baited breath.
“An unbelievably incredible lot!... It’s the most staggering thing I’ve ever seen in all my thirty-eight years as a geologist!”
“How big is it exactly?” asked Trevor. He forced himself to speak normally while he stamped hard on the rising thrill within him.
“We don’t know yet; we haven’t scanned all of it, but it’s big, Trevor! By far the biggest deposit ever found! Trillions and trillions of barrels! Many times the North Sea and entire Gulf yields put together!”
“Fuck me tender!” Quentin gasped
Laird shook his head and mopped his brow with a tissue. He was flustered and sweating. “There’s enough juice under our feet to run every internal combustion engine on the planet for ten thousand years!”
“So the fuel crisis…”
“It’s over!” He shrugged. “Just a bad memory; never to trouble mankind again.”
There was another long silence.
“So, to coin a phrase: What happens now?” asked Trevor.
“I imagine there’ll be a rather sticky escalation in Rockall’s sovereignty dispute.” Laird grinned humourlessly. “If either country tries to fuck up this oil, things could turn bad.”
“How bad?”
“Real bad! A trade embargo, maybe even war.”
“Oh, God!” cried Dill and hid his face in his hands.
“Between the USA and Britain!? Nonsense, Jack!” Trevor put in. “That’s impossible!”
“I hope so.” said Laird.
“How many people know about this?” asked Quentin from the Commission office in Glasgow hundreds of miles away.
“No one outside the USGS yet apart from you. But that won’t last long. News of this will be about as easy to contain as a tidal wave. The President’s being briefed at lunchtime.”
“What about the press?”
“We’ll keep a lid on it for as long as we can, but I doubt if that’ll be more than a couple of days.”
The TV image of Quentin shifted as he moved in front of his webcam. “OK, I’ll fly down to London and brief the Prime Minister. Trevor, we’re going to need you over here.”
“What? You want me to come over to the mainland?”
“Yes. I’ll contact the Admiralty and get them to send you a ship.”
“Right… Fine.” The thought of leaving Rockall after all these months was very appealing.
“Bring Zach with you.”
“Zach too?... But, Ross; who’s going to run Rockall Port?”
“I dunno… Put Dill in charge.”
“Dill!? I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”
“For Pete’s sake, Trev’; what does it matter!? There’ll be no Rockall Port if we screw up!”
He sighed. “Very well… Dill, you’re acting executive until my return.”
The young counsellor didn’t respond. He was curled up like a ball on a chair; arms folded, face hidden.
The blush of dawn began in the east, subtly changing the night time hues of Trevor’s garden. The shapes of trees and bushes showed more firmly through the glare of the desk lamp in the conservatory windows. The clock chimed six and he rubbed his eyes. He wondered if he should try to sleep; he still had two hours and knew that he needed to be fresh and alert today. He was about to shut down his laptop when he noticed a mistake in the document. “’Tried’? No that’s the wrong word. ‘Attempted’ would sound better in that sentence… What about ‘endeavoured’?” The mot faux stood out on the page like a blob of spilled ink. He made himself another cup of coffee in the kitchen then returned to the conservatory to continue his work. The report was eleven thousand words long and Trevor had been working on it for a week. He’d revised it and revised it until it was almost perfect, but almost perfect wasn’t good enough.
He kept an alarm clock on the table just in case he dropped off, and he did. It served its purpose well, jangling him into consciousness on the stroke of eight AM. He sat up and shook his head like a dog. There were a few pages of meaningless letters and symbols on his laptop screen and he realized that his elbow must have been leaning on the keyboard during his sleep. He erased it, being careful to preserve the proper text. Now came the most painful part of the procedure. He deliberately averted his eyes from the monitor, knowing that he’d only spot more errors, and plugged it into the printer. The document on which he’d worked so hard was squeezed from the anus of the machine.
He showered, shaved, dressed in his best suit and practiced his fake smiles in front of the mirror. Then he headed for the garage. Trevor’s house had six bedrooms and twenty-six acres of grounds on the edge of a remote village in Surrey. It had been a twenty-fifth birthday present from his father. An elderly couple did the housework and tended the garden in exchange for a rebate of lodgings on their little bungalow that sat at the edge of the estate. Trevor’s car was a silver Mercedes and, as he drove westwards along the M-Twenty-five, he kept the speedometer needle dead on seventy miles-per-hour; no more, no less. It was a bright, mild morning and the roadside trees were thick with blossom. The sky was bare except for a shading of cirrus underscored by airliners’ vapour trails.
He turned off the motorway and into the tunnelled entrance of Heathrow Airport. He parked in the VIP slot and turned off the engine. He was about to open the door when his laptop beeped. He opened it and saw another email from his father. Trevor, I’m being discharged from hospital today. Damn doctors have banned me from shooting and riding for six months! You’ve been in the country ten days. When are you going to come and visit? Regards, Lord AKCL McCain. Trevor slammed the computer case shut with a snort.
The Terminal One arrivals hall was thronging with passengers and their relatives. He wormed his way through them to a place where he could watch one of the display screens. The flight from Glasgow landed right on time and began releasing its load soon after. Zach Neelum and Ross Quentin appeared behind a Scottish family with a heavy trolley. “Trev’! Good to see you!” Quentin grinned through his beard as he shook his hand. “Have you got it?”
“Right here.” Trevor held up his briefcase.
“OK. I’ll have a read of it in the car.”
“Hang on.” said Zach. “Let’s go to the bar first.”
Trevor gritted his teeth behind his lips. “There’s no time.”
“Get away! We haven’t got to be there till twelve. I need a quick one after that landing! I hate air travel!”
Quentin shrugged. “Come on then; one swift half.” He led the way to the airport’s designer pub.
Trevor had always been irritated by Zach’s unprofessional attitude and since the botched First Landing his tolerance for it was losing force. As Zach raised his head to gulp his beer Trevor noticed that his collar was unbuttoned and his tie loose like some TV detective. His thick, black hair was untidy. He was thirty-eight, around the same age as Trevor, but looked like a scruffy teenager who’d been unwillingly forced into a suit for a wedding.
Thank goodness for Ross! Trevor mused. If Zach were the ship’s propeller then Ross was its rudder; calm, intelligent and practical, he took Zach in hand and steered his energy towards the best possible goal. He was well-built and rugged in appearance with twinkling, dark eyes. He had a mature, booming West County voice. Even though he was a fifty-six one could never describe him as old. “Hmm. This is good stuff, Trev’.” Quentin studied the report as he sat at the pub table, a pint of Guinness by his elbow. “Very persuasive. You’ve been working hard on this, haven’t you?”
Trevor nodded. “I’m glad you noticed. Do you think it’ll do the job?”
“That all depends on how thin a limb Foxwell is willing to climb out upon.”
“He’s on our side.”
“Of course, but… Are you sure he got the photo?”
“Yes, I checked.”
“Well, that might clinch it. But he’s a politician, remember. He’ll be primarily concerned for his own career. To keep his yardarm clear, as we used to say in the Navy.”
“In other words, he’s up the Prime Minister’s arse!” Zach chuckled.
Quentin frowned. “That’s a little unfair, Zach. Besides, the PM is very much on the fence as far as this matter goes. One gentle nudge could push him either way… and look at this.” He pulled a rolled up newspaper from inside his overcoat and spread it on the table. “It’s quite a hefty nudge, I’m sure you’ll agree.” That day’s copy of The Sun had a huge photograph of the Rockall coast and a Union Jack ramped across the front page along with the headline: YANK ‘EM OUT! In the bottom left was a caricature of the US president walking away with his head and shoulders slumped dragging a crumpled Stars and Stripes along the ground. “You see? A week ago nobody had heard of Rockall; now it’s a household name. Everyone’s sick and tired of the fuel crisis, sick and tired of Britain taking half-measures. The press are all for us. The PM will love this! With an election coming up in the summer he can arouse our patriotic passions. It worked for Thatcher after the Falklands.”
“Well, to be fair, Rockall is British and I’ve got the picture to prove it.”
There was a pause and Quentin looked at his watch. “We’d better be going. Drink up, Zach.”
They hit a traffic jam in Wandsworth. The file of vehicles stopped and started for a few minutes then seized up completely. Trevor cursed, closed the handbrake and shifted the gears into neutral.
“It’s alright, Trev’.” soothed Quentin. “We haven’t got to be there for an hour.”
“We should have bagged us a chopper from the airport.” said Zach from the back seat. “We are VIP’s now after all… What’s that book called? The sci-fi story about London in the future where everyone flies around the joint in helicopters.”
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.” said Trevor.
“That’s the one. Bloody good book!”
“You’re deluded, Zach! It’s a load of codswallop! Huxley was a technophobic commie!”
“Alright! Take it easy, Oven Chips!”
“Don’t call me that, please! You know I can’t stand it!”
“Now then, now then.” rumbled Quentin. “Let’s not start, Lads. We’re all a bit on edge at the moment, but we mustn’t take it out on each other.”
There was a pause. “I wasn’t taking anything out, Ross.” said Trevor. “I’m sorry if you thought that I was.”
“No need to apologize, Trev’. We’re all Alpha males together.”
Whitehall was guarded by hundreds of armed policemen; one every few yards down the pavement. As Trevor pulled up outside Downing Street a huge crowd of reporters closed on the car. Flasbulbs blinked and voices prattled. A squad of police herded them back to allow the three men to step out of the car. A dozen microphones stretched out towards them and the dusky eye of a TV camera followed them. “Mr McCain, how confident are you that Rockall is legally British?”
“Mr McCain, will you be taking a finder’s fee from the Government if the Rockall oil field is not put out to tender?”
“Mr McCain, if the Americans refuse to give up their claim to the island, would you sanction the use of military force?”
“Mr McCain…”
Trevor looked back to see that Zach had stopped to speak to the newsmen; an impossible task since they were all firing six or seven questions at him simultaneously. Quentin grabbed him by the shoulders and propelled him through the black gates at the end of Downing Street leaving the clamour on the pavement outside. They passed through the famous black front door of Number Ten and were swiftly led down an ornate corridor to a conference room that was full of suited people both standing and sitting. Quentin, Trevor and Zach were ushered into seats beside a long, shiny table; a blotter and water glass sat on the smooth top in front of each of them. Seated around the table were the entire cabinet; at the head was Craig Weller, the Prime Minister. Trevor looked up when he sensed Arthur Foxwell’s eye on him. The Home Secretary covertly smiled and nodded his head.
“Gentlemen, I’d like to welcome Mr Quentin, Mr McCain and Mr Neelum of the Rockall Commission.” said Weller. “Mr Quentin, you have your report?”
“Yes, Prime Minister; it’s right here.” He held up the folder containing Trevor’s document.
“Right, let’s get it submitted… Gillian!”
A tired-looking secretary came up and took the report. She then went to a sideboard and began running the pages through a fax machine.
“The World Court’s been in session for three hours.” The Prime Minister gestured to a display screen on the far wall which showed a tiered meeting room at the United Nations headquarters in New York. “Put in your earphones if you want to follow the proceedings.”
Trevor was handed a pair of small plugs to put in his ears. They reminded him of deaf-aids, but once they were in place he could hear voices coming through that matched the moving lips of the court officials on the screen. The British UN barrister had the floor. “…and furthermore, the US counsel’s attempt to invalidate our ownership of Rockall defies logic and credibility. You have all seen the contemporary photograph of Commander Cartwright’s plaque.” He held up a large print of the shot.
Trevor glowed with exhilaration. My word! That’s the one I took!
“Objection!” The camera closed in on the American barrister. “Where on the island is this enigmatic plaque? We’d only like to know in case we wish visit the place ourselves and see it with our own eyes.”
“That information is not available. According to reports, the photographer happened on it by chance in a storm and cannot recall the location.”
“So how do we know it’s not a fake!? A cunning reproduction taken on some quiet stretch of beach in England!”
“The picture has been analysed and reanalysed by trained photographic experts! They all say that this picture is genuine! The background rocks match those in the original Cartwright records one hundred percent!”
There was a silence and the judge interrupted. “Do you have any further questions, Mr Stanski?”
“Yes, Your Honour. I concede that objection, but I have another: If the photographs of the Cartwright plaque are both genuine then that’s good, because both the present ones and the Nineteen-fifty-five ones clearly certify that the plaque was mounted just above high tide on a sheer rock face with no footholds. This means that the operation was carried out by men standing in a floating boat, not standing on the island itself. Cartwright’s log corroborates with that. According to international law no nation can annex and unclaimed shore without effecting a landing. Nobody on the Cartwright expedition ever set foot on Rockall! No British citizen has ever set foot on Rockall until June Thirteenth last year; and by that time a US scientific station had been established there for six weeks!”
The British barrister guffawed. “So why did the USA wait fifty-four years before setting it up? If the UK’s claim is invalid then they could have marched in at any time. And what a coincidence! America decides to annex Rockall just six weeks before the British landing. Could it be that the Rockall Project itself gave the American government the idea? Did they look into the matter and spot a loophole that they could exploit? I wonder!”
“I’m going to overrule your objection for now, Mr Stanski.” said the judge on the other side of the Atlantic. “This is a matter that needs to be handed to our political subcommittee.”
The UK counsel looked pleased with himself while USA just grimaced tightly.
Recent developments had squared the complexity of the Rockall custody battle. During the previous week, seven other countries had also submitted a claim for sovereignty: Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Canada, Ireland, Russia and… Brazil. Each one had to be presented at the hearing. The core of Denmark’s case was that Rockall had, in the past, been part of their territory of Greenland. “They’re not kidding when they say: ‘In the past’!” whispered Quentin. “When Rockall was last connected to Greenland dinosaurs were walking the Earth!” Ireland stated that, of all nations, it alone mentions Rockall in its folk mythology. It was meant to be a pebble thrown into the ocean by a giant called Finn McCool. The Irish also boasted that theirs was the homeland of the man who discovered the island: Earl Knut Rollosson. The testimonies dragged on through the afternoon. “Do any of these cases so much as mention the new oil field?” asked Trevor with a yawn.
“Oddly enough, no.” replied Quentin. “Ironic, eh? If they’d only catch honesty disease we could have this all over with in five minutes.”
Eventually the UK barrister had a chance to read out Trevor’s faxed report. It spoke of the courage and endeavour of the Commission crew and listed their achievements. He mentioned the hard life they’d led in the tents, the time the supplies were lost and the rationing imposed as a result. He described Kayleigh’s illness and the rush to save her life. (Trevor was impressed with his own ability to sound sincere.) In conclusion, the report emphasized that the oil well had initially been discovered by a Briton: the report’s author, Trevor. This seemed to go down very well with the jury, judging from their faces.
At five PM the jury retired to consider their verdict. The cabinet took this opportunity to break for their own recess in the White Dining Room. Coffee and biscuits were served by butlers and they decanted into little circles to talk. The next hour would be crucial to Trevor’s plan. He left Quentin and Zach and ducked into the toilet. He stood at a sink pretending to wash his hands until the fat, bald-headed figure of Arthur Foxwell came through the door and addressed a urinal. Trevor dried his hands and chose the one next to him. “Hello, Arthur.”
“Good evening, Trevor. I thought you were supposed to wash your hands after taking a piss.”
“I need to talk to you, Arthur.”
“What about?”
“Not here. Somewhere private.”
The Home Secretary tittered. “Oho! Very furtive!”
“Please, we haven’t got much time!”
“Alright; outside the Cabinet Room in five minutes.” He zipped up.
Foxwell was on time, standing outside the doors to the conference chamber in which they’d been watching the trial. “So, what can I do for you, Trevor?”
Trevor glanced over his shoulder to make sure no one was in earshot. “I was just wondering what the plan is if we win.”
“Then the oil is British, along with the rest of the island.”
“I know, Arthur. I was thinking more along the lines of development contracts. Who’s going to be in the enviable position of drilling this lucrative field? Exxon, Esso, Shell?”
Foxwell gave a sly smile. “We are.”
“Who’s ‘we’?”
“The Great British Public.”
There was a pause and Trevor stood back with a frown.
“Trevor, since the fuel crisis began the Yanks, who own most of the oil industry, have been acting like playground bullies nicking all the other kids’ sweets! This country has been starved and crucified in order to fill the hungry petrol tanks of America and we’ve had enough! Why should we allow some greedy oil baron inside our borders to bleed us dry of our own, native resources and send them to Mr and Mrs Kowalski from Gator Creek, Mississippi!?... The Rockall oil field is a chance for us to get back on our feet and retake our rightful place on the world stage! The PM’s going to make an announcement tonight on the BBC, assuming all goes well, declaring that the Rockall oil field is to be made a state asset and no private company or foreign power will get a single drop of anything it yields. In exchange, we will announce to the international community that we are stopping all oil imports; IE, the dregs that they throw to us as if we’re beggars in the gutter. They’ve been laughing at us, but soon we’ll be laughing at them as we become the world’s first oil-independent nation! I can’t wait to see their faces!”
“Yes, every oil product used in the UK will come from crude that has been drilled, shipped refined and delivered within the borders of the UK.” He laughed with glee. “Who knows? In a few years, when we’ve established ourselves, we can sell them our surplus at an inflated price! Then they’ll come begging to us!”
Trevor nodded coolly. “That’s great, Arthur… What, may I ask, is going to happen to the profits from the Rockall field?”
“They’ll go straight into the public chest to be spent on hospitals, schools and defence.”
“How about shares?”
“No shares, Trevor. Remember that this oil is under state ownership. No individual will be allowed to hold shares.”
“Oh, I think one person should; the man who… er… found the oil in the first place.” He looked hard into Foxwell’s eyes, raising one eyebrow.
The Home Secretary took a step back. “Who, you?”
“Yes. I was the one who first saw the oil gushing out from the seabed. If I hadn’t we might never have known it existed.”
“Someone would have noticed it sooner or later.”
“Yes, but that someone happened to be me.”
Foxwell paused. “Are you trying to say something, Trevor?”
“I think I’m entitled to a reward, Arthur.”
“Sure, we can arrange for a fee to be paid…”
“No, I want shares! Just a quarter of one percent will do.”
Foxwell laughed. “I don’t believe it! Eat your heart out, Malcolm Tustian! Even a quarter of one percent will be worth billions!”
“I know.”
He shook his head. “Impossible! It’s totally contrary to our policy! The PM would never clear it.”
“Does he have to know?” asked Trevor in a low voice.
The Home Secretary’s jaw dropped and his podgy face turned white. “What are you suggesting!?”
“Just a little… accounting error.” He kept smiling, his eyes confident, but inside his heart was pounding and his stomach churning with excitement and fear.
“My God, Trevor!... You’ve got a bloody nerve!”
“Come on, Arthur! You didn’t get where you are today by being a flawless angel.”
“Who the hell do you think you are!? Just because you were in the right place at the right time doesn’t mean we owe you anything! As I said, someone else would have noticed it eventually. The Rockall oil will belong to the British people! All its revenue will go to serve the British people! Full stop!”
“You keep saying ‘will’, Arthur; but shouldn’t you use the conditional tense? The hearing’s not over yet.”
“Yes, but the jury can’t possibly back the Yanks now! You saw what happened; our man had Stanski trussed up like a turkey!”
“Yes, but supposing… some last minute evidence came to light that cast a shadow of doubt over the authenticity of the plaque photo.”
“Well, I don’t know if…” Foxwell broke off and his face transformed as he realized what Trevor was implying. Disbelief, fear, rage and self-rapprochement flickered across his countenance. “What!?... Are you blackmailing me!?”
“I prefer the term ‘strategically persuading’.”
“How dare you!? You bastard!”
“Correct, and I’ll be a rich bastard soon.”
“It’ll never work! We’ll just go and take our own picture of the plaque!”
“I’m the only person in the world who knows where it is.”
“We’ll find it! I’ll get a dozen ships to scour the entire coast!”
“That wouldn’t be a very good move. You see, when I found the plaque I decided to take a few precautions. After I’d got the photographs, I went back and attached a small explosive device to it.”
Foxwell gasped in shock.
“The cement is crumbling anyway; it won’t take a very big charge to blast the plaque into the sea. The detonator is triggered by a digital radio receiver. All I do is send an email to it, authenticated by a special code word, and the charge will blow. Once the plaque is gone, the British sovereignty claim will fall apart like a rotten fishing net.”
The Home Secretary ran a hand across his red, sweating forehead.
“Look, Arthur; I’ll make it worth your while. Say, ten million euros in cash?”
He sighed. “If we’re caught, we both go down for years.”
Trevor put a hand on the shoulder of his suit. “You’re a politician, Arthur; therefore I have faith in your ability to lie and cheat.”
There was a long silence. “Alright.” he whispered.
An hour later everyone assembled in the conference room as, in far away New York, the jury returned to their seats. They were as mixed a group as possible; half men half women, all citizens of neutral countries. “Would the foreman of the jury please stand.” said the judge.
The foreman, a Kenyan in a traditional African robe and hat, rose to his feet.
“On the subject of national sovereignty of the island of Rockall, whom do you award a valid claim to: The United States of America, The Republic of Ireland, The Kingdom of Denmark, The Russian federation and Commonwealth of Independent States, The Kingdom of Norway, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, The Republic of Iceland, Canada, or The Federative Republic of Brazil?”
The foreman coughed for an agonizing half second. “The United Kingdom of Gr…”
His voice was drowned out by an explosion of cheers from everyone in the room. They jumped to their feet, hugging, back-slapping, handshaking, beaming with joy and relief.
Trevor just sat back feeling suddenly exhausted. He took out his earpiece and threw it onto the table. He looked at Foxwell, but the Home Secretary was deliberately avoiding his eyes. I’m rich! Trevor thought. I’m stinking, filthy rich!
It was ten PM when Trevor set off for home. The celebrations had gone on all evening and were continuing at the Carlton Club, a favourite retreat for Government officials. Trevor however had his own celebrating to do. His hands shook on the wheel as he drove. It still hadn’t sunk in yet. Billions of pounds were now as good as his. Billions! He began to make plans. He would buy the most expensive car in the entire world and drive it right up to his father’s front door, just before seizing all his assets in a hostile takeover. Yes! But he wouldn’t leave Lord McCain destitute; he’d build him a little three-up-two-down on his estate for him and Yvonne to live in (if she hadn’t dumped him for losing his money) and give him a couple of hundred pounds a week for housekeeping. Of course the money wasn’t yet in Trevor’s pocket, but it never occurred to him that anything could go wrong with his scheme.
He flicked his left indicator and turned off the motorway. There was no moon that night and the minor road was dark and spooky. The trees and bushes seemed to move in the shadow of his headlamps. A double pinpoint of light appeared in the distance and quickly flicked dimmer as the oncoming driver dipped his own lights. The oncoming car got closer and closer then shot past. Trevor stared into his mirror at the retreating, red tail lights until they’d gone and he was once more alone on the road. A large, black shape loomed over the verge ahead, broken by a pair of gleaming eyes. Trevor’s foot hovered over the brake pedal, but the deer didn’t move. It just watched him calmly as he drove on.
The lights of his home village peeped through the trees. He slowed as the black verges turned into pavement and he passed the ‘phone box and pub. After a few seconds he was out in the rough again and spotted the reflector that marked his driveway. His house was also well lit. Ah, Mr and Mrs McTavish must have switched them on for me. He pressed the remote control button that opened his garage and he parked the car. Trevor went inside, switched on the TV and poured himself a Scotch from the sideboard bar then he flopped into his armchair with a sigh and flicked on the news. “…addressed the Commons at six o’clock this evening.” said the newsreader. “After that he returned to Downing Street to attend a press conference.” The picture changed to an evening scene outside Number Ten which was a repeat of an earlier, live broadcast. Prime Minister Weller was standing at a podium, illuminated by flashbulbs. A gaggle of suited men, including the cabinet, stood in the background. Trevor was gratified to see himself among them. Zach and Ross were behind him. “No!” he hissed as he saw Zach pick his nose. “This was live TV! Idiot!”
“Today is an historic day!” said Weller. “For the first time in decades we have been presented with an opportunity to exalt our nation into World Superpower that it once was. We now hold within our hands the means to cleanse and rejuvenate our ailing economy… Two hours ago the United Nations World Court declared that the island of Rockall is, now and forever, as it always was by rights, British!”
Trevor switched off the news and opened his email inbox; he had three: One from his father that he erased unread, one from Dill and one from Professor Laird. Dill’s said: Trevor, please do everything you can to prevent the oil drilling… bla bla bla. The precious, natural environment of Rockall will be destroyed!... bla bla bla.
“Oh, shut up, Dill!” Trevor deleted the message.
Laird’s email was more light-hearted: How much rent do I owe you, Mr Landlord? Trevor laughed, switched off the TV and clumped upstairs to his bedroom.
He hummed to himself as he stripped off. Pretty soon he’d be able to abandon this mediocre mansion for something grander: Three, maybe four palaces in Europe and North America. He slipped into bed and softened the lights. He read his bedside Jeffery Archer for half an hour then plunged the room into darkness.
He was just drifting off to sleep when a sense of alarm poked its way into his consciousness, alerting him to a strange, hissing sound. He opened his eyes and sat up; the sound continued, clearly not part of his dreams. It seemed to come from outside his bedroom. He got out of bed and stood up. Immediately a wave of intense dizziness passed through his head, forcing him to sit down again. He shakily returned to his feet and stumbled over to the door. His body felt weak and heavy, as if someone had turned up the Earth’s gravity. He slipped on his dressing gown and opened the door. The air on the landing was lazy and humid with a sticky-sweet, smell of cherries. The hissing sound was coming from the ground floor. He tottered on his feet as he descended the stairs, gripping the banister with both hands. At the bottom, in the entrance hall he turned on the light. Smoke was gushing in through the letterbox. He looked closer and saw that it was coming from a hosepipe that had been pushed through the flap. Fear gripped him and he ran across the carpet towards the front door, but his muscles wouldn’t cooperate with his will; they lost all their energy and shut down. His head was spinning and his whole body tingled numbly. He collapsed face-first and the carpet came up to meet his nose.
The next thing Trevor felt was a sharp, pricking pain in his arm like a bee sting. Bright light blinded his eyes. When they adjusted, he saw that he was in an odourless, white-painted room. Four human figures stood around him, clad in black overalls with hoods and plastic face masks of the same colour. The one closest to Trevor was brandishing a syringe. Their eyes glinted through holes in the masks and their breathing was loud and constricted behind the mouth orifices. Trevor was sitting on a cold, metal chair that chilled his back and bottom. He then noticed that he was completely naked. He tried to get up, but his wrists and ankles were shackled to the chair. Dread poured out through his stomach and iced his body. He swung his head left and right looking for a way out. The room was windowless and unfurnished. The floor was made of white, ceramic tiles and there was a drain in one corner as if the place was designed to be hosed down. There was a single, white steel door. “What’s going on!? Who are you!? Let me go!” he yelled out at once.
“Shut up, McCain!” snapped one of the shrouded ghouls. His voice was distorted by the mask, but sounded familiar. Trevor got the impression that he was the chief of the quartet.
“Please! Let me go!”
“Forget it!”
“What do you want with me!?”
“You know the answer to that!” He leaned close. “You’ve been a naughty boy, haven’t you?”
The chief stood back and paused. Then, with theatrical slowness, he raised his hands, drew back his hood and pulled the mask off his face.
Trevor knew that he had to be imagining things. The face was instantly recognizable; one of the most well-known in the world. “But you’re… No!”
“Yes!” said Craig Weller, the Prime Minister with a smile.
“Let me go, Prime Minister! Please!”
Weller folded his arms. “Did you really think you’d get away with it?”
“Get away with what!?”
“Embezzling the Government out of Rockall oil shares. Who do you think you are; Richard Nixon?” He snapped his fingers and one of his subordinates brought into view a short, rubber-coated stick with two, stubby copper prongs at the end. As the Prime Minister spoke, a bright blue arc crackled in the air between them. “Allow me to present to you the electric baton, one of the most popular and effective instruments of torture on the market today.”
Trevor grunted in terror and fought against his bonds.
We just place this against the soles of the feet, the genitals, the teeth…”
“Then kindly answer me one question?”
“Where on Rockall is the Cartwright Plaque?”
“Dawn Bay; on the east side of Kissinger Point, just above the waterline!”
Weller smiled. “Thank you, McCain.” He nodded to his accomplice. The man lowered the electric baton and produced a shiny, steel combat dagger.
Trevor’s fear redoubled. “What are you doing now!? I told you what you wanted to know!”
“No deals, McCain.”
“No! Don’t! Please!”
“I think we’ll arrange a dramatic demise for you; something that will go down in history. You’re driving your car over a bridge late at night when you lose control, crash through the wall and plunge into the river Thames. They find your car, but not your body. Sounds good, eh? Better than falling in front of a bus.”
“Prime Minister! Please don’t do this!”
“I’ll attend your funeral, McCain. I’ll even do a reading.” He turned to the armed man. “Go ahead.”
The masked assassin switched the knife to his other hand then took a step towards him, raising it.
“NO!” Trevor screamed.
The steel door was hurled open with a reverberating clang. “STOP!”
All four men jumped back, allowing Trevor to see the newcomer; it was his father.
The dagger fell from the assassin’s hand, clattering loudly on the floor.
“Councillor.” The Prime Minister was deflated. “What a pleasant surprise.”
“Let him go!”
“Sir, with respect, your son is a criminal. He must be disposed of.”
“I said let him go! That’s an order!”
The Prime Minister flushed and hesitated.
“After this afternoon, don’t you think you’re in enough trouble already!? Do it now, Weller, or you’ll find yourself in that chair!”
He nodded stiffly at one of the assassins. The man took a key from his pocket and unlocked Trevor’s manacles.
The interrogators turned into carers. They brought Trevor a dressing gown and helped him to his feet. They assisted him out of the room and along a grey, concrete corridor to a small lounge furnished with armchairs and a glass coffee table. It was also windowless. The room had a second door in the adjacent wall. Trevor and his father sat down opposite each other. “Leave us.” commanded Lord McCain and the four men obediently exited the lounge.
“F… Father?” began Trevor.
“Wait a moment.” He pressed a button on the arm of his chair. “Two cups of tea, Soft room F.”
It must have been an intercom because a few seconds after a penguin-suited waiter brought in a tray with two steaming cups and placed them on the table. He then straightened up and walked away through the far door without a single word. Trevor noticed that the man was completely bald and had a large birthmark on the side of his nape.
“I think that’s what you call the nick of time.” said Lord McCain with a dry chuckle. “I came over the moment I heard. I wish I’d got here sooner to prevent you having to go through that.”
Trevor slurped his tea, spilling a little with his trembling hands.
“That was a good idea of yours; trying to cream off that oil money; an impressive piece of initiative. Unfortunately it wouldn’t have worked.”
“Father… what’s going on? What is this place?” Now that his ordeal was over he was beginning to scrub the adrenalin from his system and find his voice again.
“It’s where foolish, little amateur crooks who are out of their depth end up.” His father spoke without ire. Then he gave a sarcastic half-smile. “I’m much better now, you’ll be glad to know; thank you for asking. Also it was nice of you to visit me in hospital; and the flowers were delightful!”
“Father… who are you?”
“You know who I am.”
“Do I? I just saw you speak to the Prime Minister of Great Britain as if he were one of our butlers!”
“Well…” Lord McCain got to his feet and began pacing the room with his hands behind his back. “In the rush to save your neck I suppose I’ve blown any attempt at discretion…”
The far door opened and one of the masked men reappeared. “Councillor, the Chairman requests your presence in the Chamber as soon as possible.”
“Very well… Trevor, would you excuse me; I’ll be back in ten minutes.” He followed the masked man outside and closed the door.
Trevor was alone in the room. The only sound was a faint rush of air from a ventilation grille in the ceiling. The absence of any windows made him feel that he was underground. His curiosity rose above his fear; he stood up, walked over to the far door, opened it a crack and peeped out. A chilly breeze blew along the empty corridor beyond. He opened it wide, stepped out and closed it softly behind him. This passageway was carpeted and panelled in acoustic tiles. It led for about twenty yards to the left and right where it ended in a pair of lifts. Directly opposite was another door. Trevor crossed the corridor and slowly opened it. Inside was an empty pantry with a wall kettle, refrigerator and sink. Several pots stood along the sideboard. Trevor went over and picked one up; it contained sugar. Another contained coffee. Then he caught a glimpse of something behind him. He turned round and yelped out loud in shock. A man was standing in the blind spot behind the door. It was the waiter who had served him with tea a few minutes earlier. “My God!” Trevor quavered. “You made me jump! I thought you…” He stopped when he noticed the look in the man’s eye. “Are you alright?”
The waiter didn’t reply. He stood staring directly ahead of him; as vacant and still as a clothes shop dummy. His head was upright and his arms were by his sides like a soldier on parade.
“Hello?” Trevor took a step towards him. “Hello? Can you hear me?”
The man’s eyes blinked briefly then returned to their vacuous gaze.
Trevor waved a hand in front of his face.
He didn’t flinch.
Trevor walked up to him and examined the side of his head. It was totally bald, devoid of even stubble. There were no features on it at all except for the large, circular birthmark two inches below his right ear. But it was a strange-looking birthmark. He was standing just six inches from the wall and his back was in shadow, so Trevor shut the door and moved to his side to get a better view of it. “What the…” It wasn’t a birthmark at all, but a silvery metal device that looked electronic. From the way the waiter’s skin dipped down around it Trevor could see that it was not just stuck on the surface, but actually embedded in his flesh. It was an implant of some kind. The waiter blinked again. Trevor stepped back and decided time his blinks by the clock on the microwave oven. The waiter blinked once every half-minute, on the dot.
Without warning the waiter moved forward. Trevor jumped back raising his arms to block any attack; but the man wasn’t moving towards him, he was heading for the sideboard. He took a few mugs from the cupboard and scooped in spoonfuls of coffee then he added sugar and milk and filled them up at the kettle. He placed all the mugs on a tray, picked them up and marched robotically out of the pantry. Trevor stood at the door watching him walk down the corridor then decided to follow. The waiter seemed as oblivious to Trevor’s presence as he had been before as he padded along. He approached one of the lifts and pressed the call button. The doors opened at once, the waiter entered and Trevor squeezed in beside him. The lift’s buttons weren’t labelled and some of them were sealed behind a Perspex guard. The waiter took a key out of his pocket, opened the guard and pressed one of them. The doors slid shut and the lift jerked into motion. It went downwards for about two minutes then stopped. The doors slid apart and the waiter stepped out into a brightly-lit room full of voices. Trevor hid behind the waiter’s body as he exited the lift then dived for the nearest cover he could find: a high-backed chair. He lay still for a few seconds, expecting someone to have spotted him, but the tone of the voices didn’t change.
Trevor was hiding behind a row of blue, velvet chairs beside the lift door. The floor was carpeted in a thick, luxurious pile that smelled clean and rubbery as if brand new. He slowly lifted himself up and peeped out from the gap between two chair backs. He was in an open observers’ gallery mounted above an enormous, modern parliament chamber. About five hundred seats were arranged in tiered circles around a speaker’s podium. Two thirds of the seats were taken by people, most of whom were wearing black suits. The room was lit by huge lights that hung from the fluted concrete-domed ceiling. Once again there was no sign of any windows. The waiter was walking down a stairway that led from the observers’ gallery into the chamber floor. He deposited the coffee mugs on a table at the front, about-turned and walked back the way he’d come. He strode past Trevor and reentered the lift.
Trevor began to pay attention to what the people in the chamber were saying. One of the black-suited men was currently standing at the speakers’ podium. “Craig Weller is a liability!” he said. “The man should be killed now! The medical department already has a dose of Cardio-sham ready and the media department has prepared the headlines. I recommend that we have him drop dead in Parliament in front of the cameras. All we need is word from the Thirteen and he’s history.”
“Do you think there is any alternative to having Weller killed, Hercules?” asked one of the men on the front table. “After all we have a lot of time and money invested in the man. We’ve been grooming him for his role since he was at Oxford. We appointed him unanimously. It’s taken years to prepare him and prepare the Sheep to accept him. He still has the potential to do a lot of good work. He has committed a minor error, not a major one. It can be rectified.”
“With all due respect, Councillor; this is no minor error. The world is on the brink of an unplanned war, thanks to Weller. Remember that an unplanned war can be as counterproductive as no war at all.”
“As you know, Hercules; this is one issue on which you and I totally disagree. There’s no such thing as a counterproductive war. The Sheep need war! They need it like the air that they breathe! War generates fear and anger without which they would be ungovernable. As long as the world is full of enemies the Sheep will look to our servants, people like Weller and Selby, to protect them and grant them revenge. It’s worked for thousands of years, so why shouldn’t it continue to? I suggest that we look upon this as an opportunity! Order Glenmar Selby to go ahead with his solution to the Rockall problem… No! Order him to do it even sooner and more strenuously. Tomorrow, if possible. The faster he reacts, the more chaos we can create; and what does chaos make?”
Hercules shrugged. “Order.”
“Order! Exactly! Thank you, Hercules… Does anyone else want to add anything?”
A third man on the front bench rose to his feet. “Yes, Councillor. As you both have said, this is an unplanned event; therefore we have not yet designed the props around it. We will have to delve into our contingency archive to see if there’s anything we can use. It is essential that the forthcoming conflict be as believable and vivid as if we’d been concocting it for decades. Remember the Kennedy assassination? What a shambles! To this day the Sheep don’t accept it, and why the bloody hell should they!? If I’d been in charge of that one I would have done it much better! But today it’s even worse, for the Sheep are getting harder and harder to deceive. Do bear in mind also that the mere threat of war can be as effective as all-out war itself. For half the last century we maintained excellent control of the Sheep through a standoff between NATO and the Soviet bloc, accompanied by the occasional quick skirmish in places like Cuba and Vietnam…”
Trevor didn’t quite realize until he looked at the back of the speaker’s head. He knew the voice so well… But it can’t be! Without knowing it, he stood up. His fear was gone, replaced by disbelief. He stepped out of the observer’s gallery and onto the walkway; the carpeted steps felt warm under his bare feet. He walked down towards where the speaker was standing. The assembly gave a great gasp and stared at Trevor.
Lord McCain stopped his address and turned his head. His composed face melted. He gaped and blanched. “Trevor!” he roared. “What do you think you’re doing in here!?”
Everything happened at once. Alarms started ringing and lights started flashing. A group of black-masked guards bundled into the room and dragged Trevor to the floor. Handcuffs closed around his wrists and he was frogmarched out of the chamber and along a series of corridors until he arrived at another lounge similar to the one where his father had left him. The black-masked guards forced him through the door and slammed it shut behind them without a word. Trevor was once more alone. He tried the door handle, but this time it was locked. A few minutes passed in silence. He sat down on one of the settees and tried to control his breathing.
A key rattled in the lock; the door opened, his father walked in and shut it straight away, locking it again. “The only reason you’re still alive is because I told them that you were delirious and sleep-walking… and because you’re my son.” he said.
“Dad!... What’s going on!?” whimpered Trevor.
Lord McCain softened. “’Dad’?... You haven’t called me that since you were four years old.” He came over and sat beside Trevor, leaning forward with his hands on his knees. He chuckled lightly. “Ho ho ho! You’re a McCain alright! Only one of our family could do what you did just now!... Do you know how many people have entered the Council Chamber since it was built?... Nobody! Not a soul except the Councillors.”
“Council members… Good grief, Trevor! When I looked up and saw you there!... Do you realize how close you were to your own death!? Twice in one day! God! Don’t make a habit of it!” He paused for a moment. “How much did you hear?”
“Hear about what?”
“The things we were saying in the Chamber.”
He shrugged. “Nothing.”
“I hope that’s true, Trevor.” he said severely. “But just in case it’s not, I’m going to warn you… Forget it! All of it! If you want to stay alive, keep telling yourself that you were never here and you never heard a word. Understand?”
“Yes, Father.”
He sighed. “Right. That’s taken care of. Now we’d better get you home.”
“Father, where are we?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“You don’t need to know, Trevor, because you were never here! Remember?”
He nodded.
Lord McCain reached into his pocket and brought out a small gas canister with a breathing mask attached. “Now, lie down on the settee and take a whiff of this, there’s a good lad.”
“What is it?”
“Sleeping gas. The same stuff they filled your house with to bring you here.”
“No! You can keep me awake for the journey. I won’t say a word; I promise!”
“Sorry, Son; it’s house rules. There are only two ways out of here: asleep or dead.” He put the canister in Trevor’s hands and smiled. “Take care of yourself, Son.”
Trevor hesitated then brought the mask up to his face. He inhaled deeply, smelling the sickly cherry scent. He kept his eyes on his father’s smile until his awareness blinked out like a light.
Trevor awoke slowly, watching the sunbeams dance above his bed. He rolled over and groaned, feeling relaxed and refreshed as if he’d slept very well the previous night. He thought back, trying to remember any dreams he’d had. “Damn!” He jerked bolt upright, memory flooding back. He jumped out of bed and ran downstairs to the front door. There were no foreign objects in the letterbox. He opened the door, but there was nothing outside except his tarmac driveway and croquet lawn. It was a bright day with blossom on the trees and birds shuttling between the boughs. He returned to his bedroom and turned on the TV to check the date: Wednesday the Third of March; it was seven-ten AM. They must have brought him back last night and tucked him into his bed. When the gas had worn off he had lapsed into natural sleep. It was only about seven hours since the start of his ordeal; that meant that the secret interrogation centre had to be quite close; somewhere within London probably, or at least within the Home Counties.
Secret interrogation centre!? My God! What am I thinking about!? Despite the warm sunlight Trevor shivered. This wasn’t China or some South American dictatorship. This was England! He must have been… That’s it! He snapped his fingers and laughed out loud with relief. Of course; it had all been a nightmare! Paranoia mixed with a bit of Freudian subconscious guilt. He tittered at his own stupidity and reached to his bedside table for his watch. “Ow!” He winced as he went to put on the timepiece. His wrist was bruised, so was his other. Both his ankles were bruised too. It must have been… Oh, God!... when he’d fought to free himself from his shackles. He looked at his upper arm and saw a needle mark; that was when the inquisitors had injected him with the wake-up drug. No! No! No! His mind rebelled. I must have bruised myself in bed. I rolled over and hit the sideboard with my left wrist and ankle then I rolled the other way and hit the other sideboard with my other wrist and ankle. Then an insect must have flown in and stung me. See? There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this… “AAH!” He started violently as the telephone rang. He picked it up. “H…Hello?”
“Trevor! It’s Ross!”
“Oh, hello, Ross. You know I was just…”
“Never mind, Trev’! Switch on your computer and take a look at USA Today!”
Trevor did as Quentin instructed and gasped. “Ross, this has to be some sort of joke!”
“That was my first reaction; but I’m afraid it’s not. Read it and call me back. We’re going to lodge a formal protest at the Yank embassy later today."
The headline was written in the largest possible print:
President Glenmar Selby revealed this morning that the tiny Atlantic island of Rockall is being developed into a covert platform for intercontinental ballistic missiles, almost certainly armed with nuclear warheads. They are believed to be aimed at centres of population in mainland America in answer to the US Trident/Minuteman deterrent system that has been in operation for over thirty years.
The president has compiled a list of intelligence reports concerning the top secret British project, including satellite photographs of the island clearly showing large numbers of missile silos being constructed. The work began last June under the cover of a civilian scientific expedition run by a government department called “The Rockall Commission.” This, President Selby has revealed, is a front organization for British Intelligence. The key players in the Rockall Commission are three men: Ross Quentin, Trevor McCain and Zachary Neelum. Engaging in a project that is outwardly harmless, they are in fact assets of MI5. They have been directing the massive Ministry of Defence engineering project to sink two hundred foot shafts into the island, install missile launching and guidance systems and, it is virtually certain, loading fifty, state-of-the-art, highly accurate, multiple-warhead missiles that are easily within range of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and other American cities. It is now complete and the facility is operational. If the British Prime Minister gives the order, those missiles will be on their way to their targets in thirty seconds. They will arrive in less than an hour and they cannot be shot down.
The United Nations Security Council is holding an emergency meeting to vote on a resolution to send a team of weapons inspectors to Rockall to assess the risk posed by this installation and decommission the site. This move has already been rejected by President Selby. He said: “This is a national emergency. There is no place now for diplomacy; we’ve gone beyond that. Only the weak talk; the strong act! And we are strong! Tough and instant action is the only solution! All US forces are being set at Defcon-three. Aircraft are taking off and ships are putting to sea. (Turn to page two)
There was a huge, full-page photograph of Rockall on the cover, apparently taken by a satellite hundreds of miles above the Earth. It showed a row of circular holes on the flatter ground east of Mount Clow. Alongside them were a number of five hundred-foot wide construction barns, tower cranes and pile-drivers; a full scale building site that covered more than half the island. Over ten naval haulage ships were moored around the coast.
Trevor stopped reading and pressed the call-back button on his telephone.
“Ross, I had a horrible nightmare last night and I think it’s coming true.”
“The fuckin’ world’s gone mad!”
There was much less traffic than usual on the roads into London, as if the people had already been frightened into staying at home by the grim news. Trevor pulled up outside the hotel in Shepherd’s Bush and his two colleagues quickly got in. He opened the handbrake and accelerated onto the main road to the city centre. They drove in silence for a while then Trevor said: “Ross?”
“I just want you to know that Zach, everyone else and I have not been building a secret underground missile base on Rockall.”
Quentin gazed back at him with mock-sincerity. “Well, Trevor; if you look me in the eye and say you haven’t then that’s good enough for me.” They all laughed, breaking their tension slightly.
“How did they do that satellite photo?” asked Zach.
“Computer generated imagery.” replied Quentin. “They probably took a real photo and added on all the other bits.”
“It looks so real!”
“I know, but then so did the Lord of the Rings movies. It’s amazing what they can do with special effects nowadays, but they’re about as real as a cardboard cut-out.”
“It’s weird.” said Trevor. “This is what I dreamt last night. I overheard a group of people planning this very thing.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve gone a bit Dill, Trevor!” said Zach.
“Don’t insult me!”
The Embassy of the United States of America was tall, elegant and set in front of a grassy quad in Mayfair. It was impossible to approach because the surrounding streets were swarming with people, mostly journalists and police. Trevor parked in an alley and they moved into the verge of the crowd on foot. As soon as they were recognized the newsmen mobbed them, shouting. Microphones and camera lenses filled Trevor’s view wherever he looked.
There was a period of confusion then a knot of policemen pushed their way to the front of the crowd to clear the throng. “You can’t get through there, Fellers!” one of them bellowed above the noise. “The Embassy’s sealed off!”
“You what!?” thundered Quentin.
“The place is being guarded by soldiers!”
“Shit!” He took out his mobile ‘phone and began dialling. “Hello.” He stooped slightly and put a finger in his vacant ear. “Yes, could I speak to Mr Havenisle, please?... This is Ross Quentin and it’s urgent.” There was a pause. “Hello, Your Excellency. May we come in and speak with you? We… What!?... Damn!” He lowered the ‘phone.
“What did he say?” asked Zach.
“He said: ‘Sorry, Guys; you just lost your island.’ then he hung up.”
Zach paled and bit his nails.
“Where can we go now?” asked Trevor.
“Westminster!” growled Quentin.
Trevor had plenty of time to think as the emergency cabinet meeting lasted all afternoon. He sat in a long anteroom adjacent to the commons with a chessboard floor and paintings of old MP’s on the walls. He flicked through a few copies of Country Life, but found that he couldn’t concentrate. Every hour he took a trip to the coffee bar and then to the lavatory. He was alone for most of the time. Quentin had gone back to the US embassy to try to gain entry once more while Zach, who was taking the crisis very badly, had absconded. Trevor guessed that he was venting his anger in one of Westminster’s pubs.
Trevor began to deliberate over the turn of events. Could he possibly salvage anything of his get-rich-quick plan? He needed to talk to Arthur Foxwell as soon as possible. When’s this damn meeting going to finish!?
At five PM Ross and Zach turned up, the latter was staggering and looking even more dishevelled than usual. “Sorry I took so long.” said the director. “I waited for ages outside the gates, but they wouldn’t even come out and speak to me. There are squaddies all over the place with their rifles pointing at the crowd; it’s like Bloody Sunday!... Then I had to find this one and sober him up.” He nodded at Zach with a grimace.
“Can’t be long now.” said Trevor. “It’s gone five.”
“Then the PM’s going straight to his office to call our forces and send them in to blast those Yank bastards off our island!” Zach’s fists and teeth were taut as he spoke these words.
“They’re not there yet.” said Trevor.
Quentin gazed hard at Zach. “You sound like you’re looking forward to it. You’re talking about war; you do realize that?”
“Of course.”
“People get killed in wars, Zach.”
“By ‘those Yank bastards’ I suppose you’re referring to Professor Laird and his team.”
“Well… no, but if we go to war then they’ll be our enemy. We’ll have to keep out of their way.”
The director shook his head disdainfully then turned to Trevor. “So what do you think triggered off all this kerfuffle?”
“Could it have anything to do with yesterday’s World Court ruling?”
“No, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.” Quentin chuckled.
The conference room door opened and the Prime Minister came marching out; his face was pale and tight. He looked at the three Commission men, but didn’t speak as he strode past. The rest of the cabinet followed walking slower; they looked at the ground and talked in low voices. Foxwell peeled away from the peloton and came over. “It’s war.” he said. “The PM contacted Selby and offered him a provisional power-sharing deal, but he refused.”
“Good God!” hissed Quentin. “But it’s all a load of crap! Are people actually buying that missile base story!?”
“I’m afraid so; especially in America. There’s talk of riots on the streets!”
“So what if Selby says he’s found missile bases in Orkney or Shetland!?”
“We should get our own back!” put in Zach. “Put a story on the front page of The Sun saying we’ve spotted an American missile base on Hawaii! Then we can invade them! An island for an island!”
“Shut up, Zach!” yelled Quentin. “You talk about it like it’s a game of football! You’ve never seen it; I have! I was in the Falklands! My ship was hit by a missile and sunk!”
“Hey, man! I’ve been there!” jeered Zach, snapping his fingers.
The Home Secretary interrupted. “Trevor, could I have a word with you in private?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Foxwell drew him into the doorway of the cabinet room and lowered his voice. “Look, Trevor; I want to apologize…”
“Never mind, Arthur.” whispered Trevor “It’s not over yet. We can still find a way to pull this off… Here it is.” He handed him a slip of paper.
“What is it?”
“The number of my Swiss bank account. Memorize it and burn it!”
“What!? You can’t seriously want to carry on after last night!”
“Last night?”
“Yes; that’s why I wanted to say sorry. I didn’t grass you up to the PM; I swear! He must have planted a bug on me, or the place we were talking and…”
“Hold on!... What about last night?”
“Well, after you got picked up I felt guilty. I’m so relieved to see you! I never thought you’d come out of that place alive; very few do.”
There was a long pause. Trevor’s whole body quivered and horror saturated his system. Blood pounded in his head. “No!... It was a nightmare! It was just a nightmare!” He grabbed the lapels of Foxwell’s jacket. “Tell me it wasn’t real! TELL ME!”
“Trevor, keep your voice down!”
Trevor let go and ran down the corridor. He burst out into the bright sunlight on the Palace of Westminster forecourt and jogged over to his car. The city noises seemed to be extra loud; every window was watching him.
He drove slowly and unobtrusively, his eyes constantly on the mirrors to see if he were being followed. On the motorway, he tucked in behind a coach and cruised quietly along. When he reached his home, he sealed the car in the garage and ran around the big house, frantically bolting all the doors and windows. He squirted superglue around the edges of the letterbox and pushed it tight shut until it held.
He collapsed on the settee panting. The room orbited around him as if he were drunk.
He poked his head into the larder. The McTavish's had recently been to the shops and it was almost full; enough to last him several weeks. The ‘phone started ringing and he almost leaped cleanly in the air and had to steady himself against the larder door. He approached the instrument one step at a time. It seemed to be ringing louder than usual. He picked it up. “Hello?”
“Trev’, it’s Ross. You’re mobile’s off; what’s wrong?”
“Oh… nothing.”
“Why did you scarper like a stung horse today?”
“I… erm… didn’t feel very well. I still don’t.”
Quentin hesitated. “OK; when you feel better contact me straight away. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“Right. Goodbye.” He put down the ‘phone and switched it off so that nobody else could get through. Then he made his way to the kitchen and put on the kettle. It was starting to get dark outside so he lowered the blinds. He was just pouring the tea when the doorbell rang. “AHH!” he screamed as boiling water splashed onto his hands. He tiptoed to the entrance hall and peeped round the hall door. The caller abandoned the bell and resorted to the knocker. Rat-tat-tat. “Mr McCain!... Mr McCain, are you in there?”
He sighed with relief as he recognized Mrs McTavish’s voice. The old housekeeper had a key, but he had bolted the door from the inside. After a few more knocks she gave up and left.
He bandaged his hand and then checked his emails; he had over a hundred, mostly from journalists forwarded from the Commission offices. One was from Jennie on Rockall: Trevor. All Hell has broken loose here! Planes have been flying over dropping soldiers onto the plateau by parachute. There are hundreds of them patrolling the island. They’ve been digging trenches all over the place and Claire is doing her nut because of the damage. The soldiers have ordered us to stay indoors. One of them pointed a gun at me when I tried to go out. Dill has locked himself in your office and refuses to come out. I think he’s flipped his lid. I’m taking charge in his absence, but we need your help! A few helicopters have landed in-country and I heard shooting a while ago. I’ve tried to call you, but your ‘phone’s off and Ross is too busy. Please ring as soon as you get this message. Jennie.
Trevor switched off his laptop. “What do you think I can do, Jennie?” he muttered.
The following week passed quickly even though Trevor never left his house. He watched the news every evening:
“All the charges laid against us are lies!” said Quentin slowly and emphatically as he stood on the green outside the Houses of Parliament. “The US charges are no less than a work of fiction! There is NO missile base on Rockall! The idea of it is ludicrous beyond belief! This whole story has been dreamed up by the American government so they can justify taking control of the island and the huge oil field close by! We should have guessed that something like this would happen when the sovereignty hearing went against them! If they can’t get the oil through international law, then they take it by fraud and illegal force!”
The next TV report was from an “embedded” newsman who was on Rockall. The camera showed the familiar, rocky heathland with Mount Clow in the distance. Camouflaged, heavily-armed soldiers were strutting back and forth in the foreground. “I’m on the ground with the Third Battalion Parachute Regiment on Rockall. I arrived here by helicopter from HMS Ocean yesterday after the first wave of troops inserted by air drop last week. We have been digging in at strategic locations awaiting the imminent US attack.” There was a short sequence showing soldiers hacking at the ground with picks and spades. Then the scene changed to a single paratrooper firing his rifle from a crouched position. “These men have spent the week getting accustomed to the terrain and carrying out live-fire exercises, using the local horses for target practice.” The camera lingered on the bodies of two Rockall Ponies lying dead, their skin splattered with blood from bullet wounds. Trevor laughed. “God! No wonder Claire’s flaming!”
Just before midnight Trevor received an email from Quentin: Trevor. I’ve been trying to ‘phone you for the last four days but can’t get through. It is imperative that you contact me straight away. Is there anything wrong that I should know about? Ross.
Trevor sat awake all that night, peeking out of a front bedroom window that overlooked the door. Moths fluttered around the security lights and, on the far side of the lawn, bats wheeled amongst the trees. As the sun was rising, Trevor reluctantly crashed onto the bed and fell asleep.
The doorbell woke him. He jumped to his feet in panic and ran to the window. Old Lenny, the village postman, was at the front door. Trevor opened the window a crack. “What do you want?” he called.
The man looked up. “Oh, there you are, Mr McCain". He held up a sheaf of envelopes. “It seems your letterbox is jammed.”
“Just leave them on the doorstep.”
“Right you are, Sir… Terrible goings on at present, don’t you think? Looks like we’ll be at war again soon; and with America too! I thought they were supposed to be our friends!... Strange world.” he mused as he rode off on his ramshackle old bicycle. “Very strange world.”
“You’re not wrong there.” said Trevor to himself.
Trevor switched on the news the following Monday. The terrified ominous atmosphere that had covered the world for the previous fortnight was descending into shapeless hysteria. The streets of London were like a ghost town and riots had broken out in other British cities. In Glasgow a massive peace demonstration had disintegrated into a drunken, anarchic orgy. Supermarkets and grocery shops were being raided as panic-stricken people stockpiled tons of tinned provisions in their cellars. Political talk shows replaced the usual TV schedule. Trevor sensed an element of denial and disbelief from both the panels and the audience. USA verses Britain: the impossible war; but it was really happening.
In America the population seemed as much outraged and belligerent as frightened. Two million red-faced people had marched through the streets of Washington DC waving Stars and Stripes and banners that read: “KEEP OUR COUNTRY SAFE!- ATTACK NOW!”
British citizens in the US had been warned to leave the country. Already several had been killed and many beaten up. The airport departure lounges were packed and British Airways had lain on additional flights to cope with the exodus.
Two American aircraft carrier battle groups were heading at full speed for Rockall. Hundreds of Royal Navy ships were sailing into the Atlantic to meet them and others were throwing a protective screen around the island. A hundred Royal Marines had joined the paratroopers in their defensive lines on the plateau.
There were a dozen emails in his inbox that night, mostly from Ross and Jennie all of which he deleted unread. The following day the Prime Minister came on TV to announce that the rioting had become so bad that he’d been forced to declare martial law.
After that, Trevor stopped watching TV or listening to the radio. To him the world was already a madhouse, war or no war. Half of him hoped that everything would dissolve around him in a nuclear fireball and allow him to return to the peaceful, meaningless oblivion that he had enjoyed for the eternity before his birth, but every morning he opened his curtains and the sun still rose and the trees still glowed green and the birds still sang. His doorbell rang every so often, but he ignored it; not even bothering to peep out of the window to see who it was. He passed the time by reading Jeffery Archer and watching movies on his internal system.
Another week went by. One lunchtime he’d made himself a ham sandwich and settled down in front of Independence Day when the doorbell rang. It rang again. Trevor wondered how many times they’d try before going away. BOOM! The front door resounded to the impact of a hard, heavy object. Trevor was on his feet in half a second. BOOM! “This is it! They’ve finally come for me!” Though he’d been dreading this moment for weeks, he was surprised that he felt no fear, only resignation; even relief that the waiting was finally over. He ran to the scullery and grabbed the nearest thing he had to a weapon: a loose mangle roller. Then he made his way to the entrance hall and crouched behind the hatstand.
BOOM!... BOOM!... BOOM!... CRASH! The latch split and the door swung violently wide, striking a marble statue by the bootrack. Two figures entered, silhouetted by the light from outside. One was brandishing a sledgehammer.
Trevor jumped out of his hiding place, lifting the roller above his head. Then he stopped. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Perhaps you were expecting the Avon lady.” said Zach, resting the sledgehammer on the floor.
“Can we have a word please, Trevor?” asked Ross.
There was a pause. “A word!?” shrilled Trevor. “A WORD!?... You bash in my original Victorian oak door with a handmade Manx brass latch to have a word!?... Get out of here!”
Quentin raised his hands in a pacifying gesture. “I’m sorry about that, Trev’. I’ll pay to get the door fixed… You see, we had no choice. We’ve repeatedly tried to contact you in the normal way to no avail. I’ve been ringing your doorbell every day and ‘phoning you… For all we knew you could be lying dead in here!”
“I’m fine. I just felt ill so I’m having a break.”
“Now is not the time for breaks, no matter how ill you are.” said the director. “Look, why don’t you put the kettle on and we’ll all sit down and have a chinwag?”
Trevor led his guests to the conservatory and made a pot of tea for the three of them, though Zach also insisted on helping himself to Trevor’s ruby Port.
“What do you mean you haven’t been watching TV!?” exclaimed Quentin. “Don’t you know what’s been happening!?”
“Like I said, I’ve been very ill; in bed most of the time.”
“We’re poised on the brink of World War Three!”
“On the brink? Hasn’t it started yet?”
Quentin lifted his hands to his face and huffed. “What’s the matter with you, Trevor!?”
“Nothing; I’m fine now.”
“Well, I’m bloody glad to hear it!... Anyway never mind all that. There’s a big confrontation going on around Rockall. British and Yank ships are eyeballing each other and showing off their muscle. The sky’s full of jets and there’s a couple of thousand troops on the island waiting for the invasion.”
“So what’s being done about it?”
Quentin raised his eyebrows. “Oh, so you do give two shits then.”
Zach burped loudly and put his Port glass down on the table. “That’s why we smashed your door in; to show you this.” He opened his briefcase, took out a neat folder and handed it to Trevor. “Read it.”
Trevor held it up to the light and studied the first page:

The Rockall Treaty (Draft Proposal)

Compiled by Ross Quentin, Zachary Neelum and Jennifer Luxley of the Rockall Commission.

Summary of Power-Sharing directives.

Section 1:
A multilateral cessation of all hostile action by both the UK and USA and commencement of immediate peace negotiations.

Section 2:
The immediate implementation of an in-situ political structure servicing the interests of both the UK and USA.

Section 3:
The establishment of an organization to ensure the fair and equal distribution and access from and to the Rockall region’s oil resources, representing all interested governments and/or private companies.

Details of Power-Sharing directives.

Section One:

The United States and British governments shall hold emergency peace negotiations as soon as is practically possible. A venue shall be booked on receipt of signature at a neutral location in a third country. Military leaders from both nations will discuss the immediate end to all offensive action and the withdrawal of all warships, submarines, aircraft and ground forces from the island of Rockall and surrounding seas; the object being to make the region completely free of all but a token military machinery and personnel within six weeks of receipt of signature.

Section Two:

The island of Rockall will be partitioned into two equally-sized zones based on the Cyprus model. The border placement and areas of sovereignty will be negotiated at a separate summit, but the American sector must contain the settlement of Green Port and the British sector must contain the settlement of Rockall Port. Both nations will appoint governors to administer their presence on the island. The UK governorship shall sit at Rockall Port while the American governorship shall sit at Green Port. The Rockall Commission has proposed, seconded and elected Zachary Brian Neelum as Governor of the British sector. The United States Geographic Survey has proposed and seconded John McWilliams Laird as Governor of the American sector. The result of that election is pending.

Section Three:

An independent consortium shall be established and appointed to administer the Rockall oil field, representing any parties with an interest in exploiting its considerable potential. All national governments, public limited companies, private businesses, sole traders or cartels will be permitted to join. The aim of the consortium will be to maintain fairness and equal opportunity for all member parties and prevent internal conflict and bullying
. It shall be managed by a board of directors on which every member shall have a seat.

The document went on for several more pages, containing footnotes and conditions. Trevor tossed it down onto the table. It slid across to where Quentin was sitting. “’Zachary Brian Neelum. Governor of the British sector’.” He looked at the floor, not daring to meet Zach’s eyes. “Am I missing something here?”
“No.” replied Quentin deadpan. “The Commission held a meeting last Wednesday to elect a governor. Zach was the only person nominated.”
“What about me?” said Trevor in a tense, icy tone. “Why didn’t you give me the chance to put my name down?”
“We did. You were telephoned on five occasions in the days leading up to the meeting, but we received no answer. We sent you about a dozen emails notifying you of the impending governorship election, to which we had no reply.”
There was a long, terrible silence; then Zach piped up: “It’s alright, Trevor; I’m planning on appointing you my deputy.”
The tone of his voice said it all. Trevor finally raised his eyes from the floor tiles to look at Zach. A gloating smile burned out from Zach’s face. Trevor felt a clod of rage, hatred and frustration materialize in his belly and melt to spread out through his bloodstream like venom, infecting every cell and poisoning his brain. Sparks of fiery violence filled his mind’s eye. “Zach!” he hissed; his own voice sounded exactly like a snake.
“Ah, ah, ah!” Zach raised a scolding finger. “’Your Excellency’.”
“Alright, Zach; that’s enough!” snapped Quentin.
“Come on, Ross; I’m only having a laugh!”
“Well you’ve had it now, so let’s get back to business… This draft has been sent to President Selby and we’re still waiting for his response, but I’m quite certain he’ll accept. The key section is number three, the oil…”
“Ross!” Trevor interrupted. “I wish to formally contest the results of the Governorship election!”
“On what grounds?”
“On… er…er…”
“Er… er…” mimicked Zach.
“I want to nominate myself as a candidate.”
“It’s too late.” said Quentin. “The election is over. Do you have some reason for believing that it was conducted wrongfully?”
“No, I just…”
“Then you have no right to contest its outcome.”
“For God’s sake I’ve been ill!” shouted Trevor. “I’ve been running the whole show for nearly a year and…”
“Well, I’m running the whole show now, so live with it, Mr Deputy!” said Zach.
“Shut up, Zach!” shouted Quentin. “Now you listen to me, Trevor!” He jabbed a finger at him. “These last few weeks have been dogshit-on-the-beach for us! Zach, Jennie and I have been up every day at dawn and slaving away till dusk to get this draft ready! Lobbying the PM, lobbying Foxwell, lobbying the Yanks! I’ve called and called and called, but got nothing back from you except dumb silence! Not one word of explanation as to why you’ve deserted the Commission in our hour of greatest need! We’re absolutely fuckin’ exhausted! You haven’t lifted a finger to contribute, so don’t you dare sit there and whine at me ‘cos you’ve been left out!”
“Ross… I had no choice.”
“Why not? Explain!”
Trevor paused. “I can’t. Just take my word for it.”
“Not good enough!” He stood up. “I trust you’ll be available for work tomorrow… Good; then we’ll be off.” He picked up his briefcase and marched out.
Zach followed with one more triumphant smile. His laughter echoed in Trevor’s ears.
Heathrow Airport was almost deserted, as it had been since the start of the Rockall crisis, and Trevor had no trouble in purchasing a first class ticket to Glasgow International. He parked his car in the VIP slot, handed the keys over to the valet and headed to Terminal One to check in. As soon as the plane was in the air, he picked up the seat ‘phone and dialled.
“Hello; Lord McCain.”
“Hello, Father.”
“Ah, Trevor. I had a feeling you were about to call.”
“So what’s the verdict?”
“I’ve just been speaking to the Council.”
“It’s dealt with. We’ll inform Selby and Weller today.”
“Wonderful! Thank you, Father.”
“That’s fine, but take care over there, Son. Neelum won’t take kindly to being usurped.”
“I can handle Zach! I’ll call again when it’s done.” Trevor hung up and leaned back in his seat chuckling. The burning in his heart turned into a glow of victory and anticipation.
At Glasgow International he boarded an executive jet that flew him to Benbecula Aerodrome in the Western Isles. It touched down forty-five minutes after takeoff in a driving rainstorm. Visibility was less than 500 yards, allowing him to see very little of the island; just a floor of dirty-grey sea and a glistening runway. The plane came to a halt and one of the crew escorted Trevor with an umbrella across the tarmac to the small, chartered transport plane that would take him on the last leg of his journey. He squeezed in behind the pilot and shut the door. “Whew! What a downpour! Let’s go.”
“Not yet, Mr McCain. We’re waiting for our other passenger.”
“Other passenger? But this flight was booked especially for me.”
“No; our order’s clear. Two passengers and supplies.”
Trevor leaned back and sighed. “How long?”
“Only a few more minutes. He’s mobile from Stornoway on a chopper.”
The helicopter landed ten minutes later in a cloud of mist and spray. A short, stocky figure in a cagoule disembarked, jogged over to the plane and clambered into the seat beside Trevor. A hand came up and lowered the cagoule hood revealing a plump young woman with short bobbed hair. She caught on his memory quite firmly, though Trevor couldn’t recall who she was or where he’d met her.
She grinned at him. “Hello, Trevor. Fancy meeting you hear.”
“Do I know you?”
“No, but we used to chat occasionally in The Hilton.”
Then his recognition circuits fell into place. “My word! Kayleigh!”
She laughed. “I know I’ve changed a bit.”
“Well, well, well! It’s the hair that stumped me.”
“Suits me though, don’t you think?” She brushed her head with her fingers. “Easier to wash.”
“So you’re coming back to Rockall too?”
“Yes… Actually I’m going to be your secretary.”
“I don’t have a secretary.”
“You do now; Ross has just made me it. It was the only job going.”
“Doesn’t your husband mind?”
“No, he’s cool about it.”
“That’s good.”
“But that’s only ‘cos he's not my husband.”
“Eh? I thought you were…”
“The wedding’s off, Trevor. I’m not marrying Malcolm Tustian.”
Trevor paused. “Oh, right.”
There was a long silence. The pilots ran through their pre-flight checklist. “So, how is everyone?” asked Kayleigh brightly.
“I haven’t spoken to them lately. I’ve been off Rockall myself for quite a few weeks. Obviously the war will have affected things. There are several regiments of soldiers stationed on the island at the moment. Something for you ladies to admire, eh?”
Kayleigh shuddered. “I don’t think so.”
There was another pause. “Do the others know you’re coming back?” asked Trevor.
“No; I haven’t told them. I decided I’d just turn up.”
“That’ll be a nice surprise for them.”
She turned her head and looked out of the raindrop-covered window as the aircraft started to move. “I hope so.”
Barely twenty minutes into the flight they were approached by a US Navy fighter from one of the two carrier battle groups patrolling west of Rockall. The sleek, deadly-looking warplane came up to only a dozen feet from the Rockall Commission charter aircraft’s port wing and hung there, matching their speed. “Don’t worry, Mr McCain.” said the pilot. “We’re civilians; he can’t touch us.”
“I wish he’d sod off nonetheless!” remarked the co-pilot. “He’s giving me the hab-dabs!”
The American pilot made no attempt to radio them, but stared at them constantly. His helmeted head was plainly visible inside the blister cockpit.
“I’ve had a gutsfull of this!” growled the Commission pilot after quarter of an hour of the unwelcome escort. “Hold on tight everyone!” He jerked the yoke to the left and the plane suddenly rolled onto a new course. The American pilot was taken by surprise and pulled his aircraft up sharply to avoid a collision. The Commission aircrew laughed. “Do you get the message now, Pal! That’s our way of saying ‘Fuck off’!”
The American raised his middle finger to them and banked away. Within a few seconds he was lost in the storm.
“Careful!” warned Trevor. “You could have hit him; then we’d both have crashed!”
“Nah! I was a mile away from him.” chuckled the pilot. “And I got rid of the bugger for you didn’t I?”
The storm cleared as they flew on westwards. When Rockall came into sight the rain had stopped, but the sky was still covered in high cloud. It was the first time that Trevor had seen the island from high above and he was surprised at how small it looked; just a rock platform pushing above the Atlantic swell, supported by chocolate-coloured cliffs. As the plane descended he saw that the place looked very different to the one he had left six weeks before.
“Oh, God!” exclaimed Kayleigh. “What have they done!?”
There were temporary buildings everywhere; so many that he couldn’t pick out Rockall Port or Green Port at all. In between them were camouflaged tents, almost invisible against what was left of the heath. The gannets and other gulls were notable by their absence, repulsed by the massive human presence. Mount Clow had gone. The highest hill on Rockall had been decapitated and the excess soil piled up into a causeway which was covered with steel plates to create an airstrip. A pair of huge half-pipe hangers stood nearby. Tiny human figures were sprinkled everywhere. Tanks stood on the lower hilltops like dark sentinels of steel, their telegraph pole gun barrels aimed out to sea. Along the cliff edges were one hundred-foot lookout towers and at their feet stood anti-ship missile and artillery batteries, radar posts, AAA guns, helicopter pads and a field hospital. Trevor wondered what had become of the Rockall Ponies until he saw the charcoal pit, red embers still glowing. Greasy, excorticated bones lay all around it. The soldiers had evidently been having a barbecue, building up their strength to repel the American Threat. At first Trevor thought that the ponies must all have been hunted down, but then he saw a small drove of live ponies, clustered beside a boulder, looking fearfully at the buildings and vehicles.
The charter plane landed with a thud and braked hard, the makeshift steel sheet runway bumping under the wheels. They pulled up beside a hanger and the pilot cut the engine. A cluster of people ran up to meet them; among them Trevor recognized Duncan, Alasdair, Johnny, Tony and Jennie. As Trevor climbed stiffly from the aircraft, Jennie came up to him, her face tight and strained. “It’s good to see you, Trevor; we were beginning to think you’d gone missing!”
“Sorry, Jennie; I was unavoidably restricted in my usual function.” He walked on without giving her the chance to ask what that meant.
Luckily she was quickly distracted and gave a delighted squeal. “Kayleigh!... It’s you!”
A few of the Royal Marine airstrip workers helped the Commission crew to unload the plane and pack their supplies into wheelbarrows, a new addition to their equipment. Then they walked south towards Rockall Port. It was a walk that Trevor had done many times before, but the scenery of it had changed beyond recognition. Instead of acres of rolling, empty moor there were rows of huts, tents and trenches covered by DPM camouflage and surrounded by reels of barbed wire. Most of the plant life was gone, trampled underfoot by a thousand pairs of army boots until nothing was left but a giant mud pit. The buildings were connected by roads covered in chickenwire and sawdust to prevent further soil erosion. Everywhere there were people; Britain’s loneliest isle had become an isolated, but bustling town. Men in DPM combat utilities stomped everywhere; queuing at the bath hut or munching hamburgers outside the kitchen. Jeeps and armoured personnel carriers lined the curbs of the roads. Trevor found it hard to grasp that this was the same island that he’d left just six weeks ago. Kayleigh appeared to be in shock. She was white-faced and her eyes darted like a squirrel’s. Jennie kept a hand on her arm to guide her.
Rockall Port itself was the sole familiar sight. The twin huts were still there, but before they had stood out in a desolate landscape; now they looked small and insignificant, tucked into the space between a helicopter pad and a jeep laager. As Trevor and Kayleigh got closer, the Twenty came outside to greet him. They had changed since he’d last seen them, looking bewildered and dazed as if they too had not come to terms with what had happened to their island home. They shook his hand and smiled; a few tried to make jokes like: “Come to check on the missiles, have you?”, but they were mostly rather shy of each other as well as him.
The old Hilton was still standing defiantly. He and Kayleigh were led inside and treated to mugs of cocoa and a few tots of rum, a gift from the Royal Marines. “Where’s Dill?” asked Trevor. “I haven’t seen him yet.”
“In your office.” sighed Gareth and looked at the ground. “He’s been in there for a month and refuses to come out.”
“Dunno. He locked himself in when the squaddies first started landing. We’ve been taking him food and drink, but he just snatches them from us at the door.”
“Will you speak to him, Kayleigh?” asked Elaine. “He’ll cheer up once he knows you’re here.”
Trevor sheltered in the doorway of The Hilton as a helicopter took off and plugged his ears against the deafening shrill of its engines. When it had gone he walked over to Hut One with everyone else behind him and knocked at the door of the office. “Dill, it’s Trevor. Could you open the door please?”
“Dill! Open this door!”
“What are you doing here?” came a muffled voice from inside.
“I’ve come back, Dill.”
“Open the door and I’ll explain. I can’t converse through an inch and a half of plywood.”
There was a clack as Dill drew back the bolt and the door opened.
“Thank you… Phew! What’s that smell!?... Good grief! What have you done to my office!?”
The room which Trevor always had kept meticulously neat and tidy was like a junk shop. Files and folders were piled up like towers on the desktop. Computer printouts littered the room like windblown leaflets. Old water bottles and food wrappers added a little colour to the shambles. The worst thing was the stench. It reminded Trevor of the Pit, but in this case it came from his metal waste paper basket. It was obvious what Dill had been using it for. Trevor took out a handkerchief and covered his face.
The room’s sole occupant was thin and bearded, squatting cross-legged in the corner like an Indian ascetic. His hair was like a bird’s nest and his eyes were bloodshot. He was dressed only in a crumpled, stained T-shirt and boxers.
“Hell’s teeth!” cursed Trevor. “Look at the state of you!”
“I didn’t think I’d see you again.” Dill’s voice was thick and slurred, his eyes vacant. “Why have you come back?”
“We’ve got a rescue package for the island. Jennie must have told you about it.”
“The island is dead!” Dill shouted, jumping to his feet. “Look around you, Trevor! Look at the place! Rockall is dead and we killed her!”
“The war’s not going to happen, Dill. In a few days time the Treaty will be signed and all these soldiers will be gone.”
“It’s too late, Trevor!”
He paused. “I’m not the only one who’s come back, you know. I’ve brought and old friend of yours with me.” He opened the door and Kayleigh walked in. She smiled, seeming impervious to the stink.
Dill gaped and fell to his knees as if he were seeing a religious apparition. “K… Kayleigh?”
“Hello, Dill. It’s good to see you again.”
His eyes filled with tears as he reached up to take her hands.
“You poor, old thing! Come on, let’s get you cleaned up… Rockall’s not dead yet! I can still hear her Spirit!”
The ceremony was to be held near the eastern cliff tops at Guestine Point, the new highest place on Rockall since the destruction of Mount Clow. Builders and caterers arrived five days beforehand to erect the marquee and set up the kitchen, bar and dining area. Every plane that landed brought boxes of serviettes, wine glasses and eating utensils. A temporary hotel complex was built for the VIP’s, but the press would have to make do with tents. Gas burners were lit to warm up the marquee; even in April the Atlantic wind seldom relinquished its pride in chilling human bones. Technicians hung arclights from struts to make sure that the camera crews could capture the historic moment for posterity. Carpenters hammered and electricians fiddled with wires. “Just think!” said Ross Quentin, who’d arrived on one of the early transport flights with a gaggle of junior VIP’s. “On the day you left Oban to discover Rockall, you had a crowd of a dozen people and one reporter from a local rag. Look at us now!”
Monday the Twelfth of April was to be the day of the signing. The media were up at dawn, testing their equipment and satellite links. The weather was cloudy, but tranquil and everyone was out and about, enjoying the festive atmosphere. At one PM the island’s entire population of about ten thousand assembled beside the Mount Clow airstrip. Trevor stood with Zach and Ross, ankle-deep in mud behind a row of burly troopers. There was a roaring of jets in the sky and an executive aircraft dove out of the cloud base accompanied by two Sea Harriers. It touched down with a yelp of tyres and the two fighters peeled away and hovered over a pair of nearby helipads until the jet came to a standstill, then they gently lowered themselves with an ear-splitting blast of spray and hot air.
A phalanx of flashbulbs let rip as the plane’s door opened and the ladder extended. A trio of bodyguards stepped out and took positions on the runway; then Craig Weller emerged, smiling and waving for the cameras. “Prime Minister!… Prime Minister!… Prime Minister!...” The journalists yelled inaudible questions at him. Weller swiftly made his way to the edge of the apron and boarded a jeep which sped off towards the hotel block. Half an hour later another similar jet landed, this time escorted by four US Navy fighters which circled Rockall vigilantly until they were sure that President Glenmar Selby was safe.
When all the fuss of the grand entrance was over, Trevor joined the queue for the cookhouse. He watched the two soldiers in front of him trade banter until he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned round and saw Zach.
“Hello, Trevor.” Zach said with a self-satisfied smile. “Looking forward to your forthcoming appointment as Deputy-Governor of Rockall?”
Trevor had to suppress an involuntary smirk. He decided to lead him on by feigning chagrin; it would make the outcome all the more satisfying. He looked away, bowed his head and puffed deeply.
“I’ve been wondering what sort of mansion I’ll have.” continued Zach. “A big one, obviously. Stucco walls and a stone-slab roof. I’ll have it built over at the top of the ramp where we first came ashore and I’ll call it First Landing; a bit of history in the name, eh?... Of course, as my deputy, I’ll expect you to drive me round Rockall in my official car. Shall I have a Rolls Royce or a Cadillac? What do you reckon?”
“Cheeseburger with onions and ketchup, please.” said Trevor to the cook; and the man served him.
“Tell you what; you can organize my menu.” Zach jeered on. “I’ll expect to dine in style.” He turned to the cook. “Hot dog, please.” He kept his smug eyes on Trevor as he picked up his food and took a bite. “My last meal of cheapo food!”
“You’re really enjoying yourself, aren’t you?” said Trevor.
Zach became serious. “Yes! And do you know why!? ‘Cos ever since we left the MAFF you’ve been lording it over me! Talking down to me in front of Ross and the public! You used me as a stepping-stone to fortune and glory by promising it to me and letting me beat the track for you… only to pull the rug from under me at the last moment and snatch it for yourself!” His face twisted into a bitter sneer. “Well this is pay-back time! And I’m going to do everything I can to make you feel exactly how I felt!” His voice dissolved into a snigger as he walked off.
“Laugh away, Zach!” muttered Trevor to himself. “Enjoy it while it lasts! I can’t wait to see your face this evening!”
Trevor straightened his bow tie in the bathroom mirror. Twenty sets of evening wear had arrived by Commission plane a few days ago for the Rockall Port residents to wear; tuxedoes for the men, ball gowns for the women; all in packages with their names on, each one a perfect fit.
The bathroom door was open and he could overhear Dill and Kayleigh chatting in the kitchen:
Kayleigh: Why couldn’t they give us the option of ordering our own gear? I don’t like crepe, especially with bloody lace!
Dill: It’s like we’re kids being issued with our school uniforms. This whole thing’s a publicity stunt! We’re being dressed up for the cameras! (Inaudible sentence.)
Kayleigh: They must have got our sizes from our files; you know, when we were fitted out for our hiking gear. I’m not taking this stupid handbag! It makes me look like Princess Anne!
Dill: (With sincerity) You look beautiful.
Kayleigh: Oh, Dill! You’ll make me blush! Are you sure you’re not coming? I think Ross expects you to be there. I’d like you to be my date; it’ll give me someone to talk to.
Dill: I’d love to come with you, Kay; but I can’t. Sorry; it’s a matter of principle.
Kayleigh: That’s alright. I understand. You (Inaudible) in front of all those people. (Inaudible)
Dill: No, I don’t approve.
Kayleigh: (Inaudible) for the treaty?
Dill: The Rockall Treaty is a scam, Kay! A scam to let Weller and Selby back down without losing face!
Kayleigh: (Inaudible question)
Dill: No, I’ve checked the small print. There’s not a single word about environmental protection and human rights that can’t be superseded by Section Three.
Kayleigh: (Inaudible) built that missile base!
Dill: (Laughs ironically) We’re so easy to fool! We’re like babes in arms! Take these soldiers. They’re here! On Rockall! The island where the missile base is supposed to be! They can see for themselves that it’s not there! They know the story is a lie and that they’re being conned; but they just carry on, blindly obeying orders “Yes, Sir! No, Sir! Three bags full, Sir!” Sometimes I think the human race deserves everything it gets! (He switches on the microwave oven, drowning out the rest of the conversation)
“Trevor.” Ross Quentin’s face appeared in the mirror beside his. He too had on a penguin suit “Are you done?”
“Just about.”
“Good; we’d better get over there. The president and PM will be arriving in half an hour.”
He turned to go, but then stopped and looked back. “Er… Trevor?”
“I’m… sorry about the Governorship. I’ve never had the chance to apologize before. The things I said when we broke down your door were unfair. I was too hard on you. I’ll make sure that Zach treats you properly.”
Trevor chucked, his eyes meeting Quentin’s reflection. “No need, Ross.”
“Yes, there is. You see…”
“No, Ross! There really is no need.”
He frowned suspiciously. “What so you mean?”
Trevor turned round and slapped his shoulder as he walked towards the door. “You’ll see… Watch this space!”
Rockall had undergone yet another transformation. First uncharted wilderness, then military camp, now ballroom. A white-coated steward held open the flap of the marquee and Trevor stepped into a warm, softly-lit interior. The canvas walls were covered in pink, silk drapes and the supporting metal struts hidden by plastic ivy and clematis. The floor was fake parquet, a string quartet trilled away in the corner and the place smelled of perfume, aftershave and dry-cleaned mohair.
Another steward showed them to their seats and a cocktail aperitif was placed in front of them. Trevor looked up and down the table, recognizing some of the diners. Arthur Foxwell was there with the rest of the British cabinet. Many American politicians had also turned up: Heath Barber, US Secretary of State; Michael Tuzzio, Vice-President; Elvis Patton, Secretary of the Treasury. Many military officers of both countries were present, brass and medal ribbons adorning their dress uniforms.
The rest of the Commission came through the door, almost unrecognizable in their suits and dresses; the women especially. Broadway was stunning in her ball gown and Gareth, clutching onto Jennie’s arm, was making a transparent effort to avoid looking at her. Even Kayleigh looked quite attractive, despite her ample figure.
He noted with amused satisfaction that Zach had already taken his place in the Governor’s chair at the head of the table. Professor Laird came in looking a little uneasy in his white dinner jacket and sat opposite in the American Governor’s chair. The USGS crew followed and clustered round him in a supportive way.
A man walked up to the speaker’s podium beside the table that would be used for the signing. “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention please? All rise for Craig Weller, Prime minister of the United Kingdom and Glenmar Selby, President of the United States!”
The two heads of government walked in onto the stage like a comic duo, striding swiftly, smiling and waving. Everyone applauded and flashbulbs strobed. TV cameras followed them; this event was being broadcast live around the world.
Weller approached the podium. “Well…” he began. “If you’d said the name ‘Rockall’ to me a year ago, I’d have said ‘That’s something to do with the weather forecast. Is it anywhere near Fastnet or Viking, or whatever they’re called?’” Everybody laughed. “But now here I am, standing on Rockall with all you good people, the brave and dedicated men and women of the armed forces; and of course my good friend Glenmar Selby. To think that our two countries with our Special Relationship, allies more than a century, almost went to war with each other over this little island! But here we are; friends again. We fell out, but we’ve made up… I’d like to thank Ross Quentin and all the men and women of the Rockall Commission who’ve braved incredible hardship…” He droned on for five more minutes then gave the floor to Selby.
The US President was an ancient, bony man with a sparse, white beard. Despite his Hillbilly accent, he had been born and raised in Denmark and only emigrated to the United States at the age of twenty-five. The law had been changed to allow him to take office. “Thank you, Craig. You know that this is my second term in the White House. I’ve travelled the world, climbed high mountains, even stood at the South Pole, but I’ve never seen a Goddarn place like this!...” He relayed a series of humorous anecdotes that he’d heard during the diplomatic wrangle of the last two months. “…and so he said to the UN Secretary-General: ‘Is that Rockall, Texas or Rockall, Alabama?’” He laughed loudly along with everyone else. “Now I’d like to take a moment of your time to thank the United States Geographic Survey…”
Eventually the speeches were over and the two men sat at the table and signed the Rockall Treaty documents under the flicker of flashbulbs and snap of shutters. Then, at last, the moment arrived that Trevor had been waiting for. The master-of-ceremonies again took the podium. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have one more order of business to conduct. Now that the Treaty has been signed we must appoint and swear in two governors; one for each sector…” Trevor saw Zach shift in his seat and fiddle the papers of his speech. “Would John Laird and Trevor McCain please take the floor?”
Trevor stood up and walked to the front of the room. There was a round of applause from the gathering and bewildered expressions from the Commission table.
Zach had already got to his feet before he realized that something was amiss. He froze on the spot as Trevor walked past him.
The investiture only took a few minutes. Trevor and Laird signed a few papers each and read out an oath. Then each had a chance to make a speech. Trevor stood on the podium looking down onto the rows of VIP’s; cameras pointing at him, microphones listening to every word he said, millions of TV viewers watching him: Pure ecstasy! “First I’d like to thank my colleagues on the Rockall Commission for their support and for always believing in me. I intend to appoint Zachary Neelum as my Deputy-Governor in recognition of all his hard work and loyalty…”
Zach looked as if he were about to cry. He stared at the table cloth, his cheeks almost purple.
“Thanks for keeping the seat warm, Zach!” Everybody laughed except the Commission. They were all giving him looks of shame and derision; but then hadn’t they always?
As Trevor prepared for bed that night he felt gratified, light and free. He showered and brushed his teeth, humming to himself. He was just about to switch off the light and climb into his sleeping bag when there was a knock at the door. He opened it.
“How did you do it, Trevor?” Zach stood in the doorway. He was still in his evening wear, but his collar was undone and his shirt hung out over his belt. He stank of alcohol and his eyes were bleary. He held an open champagne bottle in his hand.
“With remarkable ease, Zach. My father is a member of the Council that rules the world in secret! Weller and Selby are his servants!... You’re nothing, Zach. Nothing more than an average, everyday bloke! A loser! Do you know what the Council calls people like you? ‘The Sheep’… That’s all you are; one of a flock of sheep. One slice of meat in a herd of farm animals! How on Earth do you think you can compete with me!?”
“Like this!” Zach turned the bottle in his grip, lifted it above his head and brought it down like a club. Champagne gushed everywhere.
Trevor threw himself sideways, dodging the blow. Zach swung round to try again, but Trevor grabbed him in an arm lock and pushed him against the wall. The plywood frame of the hut vibrated from the impact. Zach kicked and flailed with his free arm, screaming hateful incoherencies. Trevor dug his fingers into his wrist until the bottle fell to the floor.
Several other people burst into the room and intervened. Trevor saw Ross and Gareth clutch Zach by the shoulders and force him down to the floor. Alasdair and Duncan took a leg each, seizing then as if they were a pair of escaped crocodiles.
Zach’s face was bulging with rage. “I’ll kill you, Trevor! I’ll fuckin’ kill you!”
“I’ll fuckin’ kill you, Your Excellency.” He corrected, panting hard.
Ross Quentin turned his baleful eyes on him. “You make me sick, Trevor!”
He laughed loudly. “So what’s new!?”

(Previous chapter:
Chapter 2- From Rags to Rivets )

(Next chapter:
Chapter 4- Rendezvous )