(This is the final chapter of Rockall)
Chapter Ten- The Foreman
Constitution of The Rockall Republic (Draft 1)
Part 1. Directives
The Island of Rockall is sovereign to itself alone. It belongs to nobody except Arkdwa. Its environment, physical and biological structure, humans, animals, plants, visiting birds and microbes that live on it are to be regarded as sacred objects. Their defence and protection are the absolute first priority of the state.
The people of Rockall are each sovereign to themselves. Every individual citizen has the following rights:
A: To live in whichever way they choose, so long as it does not cause a detriment to the Island or another citizen.
B: To solely possess the product of their own labour.
C: To exist free from exploitation, violence and oppression; both from within or without the territory of The Rockall Republic.
D: To have an equal and adequate share of all industrial produce.
The people of Rockall are also stewards and guardians of the island and therefore every individual citizen has the following duties:
A: To honour Right A of every other citizen.
B: To defend Right C of every other citizen, and themselves also.
C: To protect, preserve and heal, when necessary, the environmental, physical and biological structure of the Island and those who live on it; whether human, animal, vegetable or microbiological.
Part 2. The structure of Human Society
The Government of Rockall is to be founded on the Gibson-Ford-Laird Model first proposed in September 2010. It is based on the “Parliament” of St Kilda. The population is to be divided into small groups taking into account geographical location (e.g. Rockall Port), occupation (e.g. crofting) and ethnic group (e.g. The Erkdwala colony). These groups called “parishes” will decide all affairs within their own interest.
B: The Rockall Assembly:
The Rockall Assembly will discuss all affairs concerning the whole Island. Each parish will elect one person to sit on the Assembly and these people will consist of its members. The Assembly shall elect its own chairman. It will be subordinate to the parishes on local matters and supreme on Island matters. The members will be unpaid and subject to immediate recall on the authority of their parish.
C: The President:
The President will be elected by a single pool vote and subject to immediate recall by his/her own choice; or by order from the Assembly or plebiscite. In such instances another President will be elected in the same way. The role of the President shall be to deal with emergency matters when there is no time to consult the Assembly or parishes.
The currency of Rockall is to be non-exchangeable with other national currencies. It is to be publicly owned and administered by The Bank of Rockall and the Rockall Assembly. Citizens may take out interest-free loans on their authority.
Employed citizens are to be encouraged to form workers’ cooperatives for their particular industry. This is where all the employees are also equal shareholders of the company. Supervisors and managers are elected from the board or hired from specialist management agencies and all capital is disposed of according to their decision.
Law is to be administered by the Legal Committee of the Rockall Assembly which will appoint counsel to any plaintiff or defendant. Trial, verdict and sentence for any person, parish or cooperative that breaches the Directives will be by selected jury.
A: Education: All citizens are entitled to raise their children in accordance with their cultural values so long as this does not contravene the Directives.
B: Religion: The Rockall Republic shall have no established state religion. Citizens are entitled to believe in any faith they wish so long as they do not practice aggressive conversion or contravene any of the Directives.
C: Language: The Rockall Republic shall have three official languages: English, Scots Gaelic and Erkdwala. All documents, minutes of Assembly meetings and notices must be freely available in all three tongues.
The Rockall Port Hospital and the Ross Quentin Hospital in Green Port will be run by the health workers cooperative cartel which will be entitled to claim a Health Fund grant from The Bank of Rockall where necessary. The Legal Committee shall also have the power to bill a citizen for treatment if a trial decides that he/she is to blame for another’s illness. Medical licences will be granted to all qualified members of the health workers cooperative and the Erkdwala native physicians.
It should not be necessary for the state to impose a tax, so long as the Health Fund functions effectively. All other services will be provided by private cooperatives.
Dill Gibson leaned back in his seat and rubbed his eyes. He’d been hard at work all morning. The little wooden chair he was sitting on had made his legs and bottom ache. His bedroom measured ten feet by eight and his desk only just fitted between his bookshelf and bed. Had any other Founding Fathers worked in such austerity?
He stared out of the window of the little Bower-cast in Rockall Port that he shared with Broadway, Perry, Duncan and Morag. Spring was coming and the dark green, wintry heath, stretching out from the foot of his house down the slope to the exchange warehouse, was dotted with blossom. It was five days since Trevor’s departure and it was only just beginning to sink in for Dill. The naval taskforce was gone now and the horizon was clear. Correspondence was arriving by the ton from various governments and the UN; the Nation of Rockall was about to be born. The document he was writing was no longer just a theoretical whim, it was to be a true, living social blueprint that would rule their very lives.
Dill went online to reply to an email from his brother. When communications had been restored three hours after Trevor had left, the islanders had a backlog of thousands of worried messages from parents, spouses, children and friends; advice from Ross Quentin; encouragement from supporters and a few abusive tirades which Dill deleted unread. Another good thing about being back on the Net was that they could catch up on news. During their month of electronic isolation events in the outside world had been progressing at their usual pace. On February the Twelfth, southern California had experienced its worst earthquake in living memory. Almost all the buildings in the city of Los Angeles had been damaged and many had been reduced to rubble. Eighteen thousand people were dead; it was a disaster that had shocked the world. Every person on Earth had heard about it… except the rebels on Rockall.
One thing that particularly interested Dill was way in which the Rockall incident itself had been portrayed. There were the predictable, blustering rants in the tabloid headlines: “GO IN AND GET ‘EM!” “ROCKALL PIRATES” etc, etc, etc, but he was pleasantly surprised at how many people were on their side. It was very different to the group hysteria of the Rockall Missile Crisis. There were heated debates on Question Time and Newsnight. Half a million people had marched through London in their support and protest at the Government’s policy on Rockall. Humans across the globe, he sensed, were waking up, thinking for themselves and becoming much more sceptical of the authorities and their hype.
Dill lifted his eyes back to the window and saw Kayleigh and Zach walking along the path from the community hall. They were holding hands. Dill quickly turned away. Come on, Gibson; don’t be so wet! he scolded himself. He looked up; they were kissing.
The sound of the doorbell took a few seconds to permeate through to his consciousness. He jerked out of his trance when he heard Kayleigh and Morag chatting in the hallway. Footsteps were coming up the stairs; he turned to his laptop and acted like he was in the middle of working. “Come in.” he said deadpan when he heard the knock on the door.
“Hiya, Dill!” Kayleigh bubbled cheerily as she entered. “How’s things?”
“OK.” He shifted round in his seat to face her.
“Have you finished?” She sat on the edge of the bed, knees together, clasping the verge of his duvet.
“Nowhere near! But here’s what I’ve done so far.” He pressed a key on his laptop and the document slid out of the printer.
She picked it up and scanned it, her eyes moving back and forth like a typewriter. “It’s very simple.”
“It’s only a draft; I based it on that thing we did with Jack a couple of years ago… And what do you mean by ‘simple’?”
“I expected it to be more complicated. Government papers usually are.”
“Maybe that’s because politicians use complexity to wield power. They launder their duplicity behind long paragraphs and bureaucratic small print. An honest government should be simple. Simplicity is used by those who have nothing to hide.”
Kayleigh nodded with her eyes on the page. “I like Directive One.” She grinned, meeting his gaze for a moment. “Directives Two-B and Two-D look a bit contradictory. How can you posses the product of your own labour and have an equal and adequate share of all produce? Supposing all the crofters chose to hang on to everything they grew and let the rest of us starve. According to B that’s within their rights, but at the same time they’d be countering D.”
Dill looked at the laptop screen. “I see what you mean… We’ll have to think about that one. Let’s see what the others have got to say.”
Kayleigh read on. “What happens if Assembly and parish legislation come into conflict?”
“If it’s a local matter then the parish’s decision is final.”
“How do you define local?”
“Erm… Anything that affects that parish alone is local.”
“But some things can be both. I’ll give you an example: Er… Supposing a crofting parish decides to husbandize a few ponies; this might come into conflict with the Erkdwala hunting parish. This will in turn affect the island as a whole if the biologists’ parish believe it will endanger the pony population. What do we do?”
Dill nodded. “You’re right; it’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it?”
“I can see another problem; some parishes are going to be bigger than others. The Port health’ parish will consist of just Arlene, Michelle, Broadway, Dr Forbes, Billy the porter and Sharon the housekeeper. That’s just six people; and one of them will be an Assembly representative. But the Erkdwala will probably want to form just one, big parish; that’s over three hundred people, yet they will still only be allowed a single representative to sit on the Assembly. That’s not fair.”
“True again, Kay. Australia had this problem when it first became independent because most people live in the south-eastern extremity of the continent. The population of some states is a couple of million, in others it’s just a hundred thousand.”
“How did they solve it?”
“They have two assemblies. One is called the House of Representatives and it’s manned by MP’s elected by constituencies of equal numbers of people; the other is called The Senate and it’s more like the Rockall Assembly, representing particular states or territories of varying population sizes. Having the two together was the only way to stop Victoria and New South Wales from ruling the whole federation.”
“Yes; every bill has to be passed by both houses. That makes it fairer.”
“Does it? How?”
Dill laughed. “I don’t know, but I’m told it does!”
She read on. “What shall we call our currency?”
“The ‘Rockall Dollar’?”
“Oh, no! It must be something uniquely Rockallian; maybe an Erkdwala word.”
“The crofters will never have that. It must be a translatable word though.”
She looked pensive for a few seconds. “How about naming it after Jack Laird’?”
“I can’t think of a better memorial.”
Dill paused. “We’ll run it past the others. Maybe it should be the first decision of the Assembly.”
“I like the idea of workers’ cooperatives.” said Kayleigh after she’d read a bit further. “But cooperatives only work if everyone gets involved. If too many employees cash in their shares, the company becomes a regular top-down-ruled organization. I think that’s what happened to the supermarket.”
“We’ll make sure everyone is aware of that.” said Dill. “If we instil an urge in ourselves to want to control our own destiny then that won’t be a problem. It’s apathy and despondency that cause cooperatives to break down; and Rockall is going to be a despondency-free zone!” He watched her eyelids flicker as she carried on reading.
“This bit about law is less positive, Dill.” she said with a half-smile. “Could it be something of an itchy subject for you?”
“Dealing with crime is a negative issue, Kayleigh. If someone commits an offence, I see it as a failure of their society.”
“But sometimes people do; that’s an unavoidable fact.”
“And how do we deal with those people effectively, but fairly?”
She pondered for a few seconds. “Good question.”
“Do you know what the St Kildans used to do with their criminals?”
“Nothing. There was no crime on St Kilda; not a single recorded case in a thousand years of history. I’m hoping Rockallians will become like that as well.”
“Me too, but until then we need a judicial system. Perhaps we could bring Trevor back to organize it; flogging, hanging and stocks!”
They both laughed.
“Let’s put that one on the back burner for now.” She lowered her eyes to the paper. “Will we need to keep the school going?”
“I expect so; St Kilda had one for a while. We’ve got a hundred-odd children on the island; about twenty of those are Erkdwala. For now it seems a good idea to have the school, so long as Mrs Bottomley and Mrs Figgis are willing to stay on.”
Kayleigh nodded. “This bit about language availability makes sense for the Assembly stuff, but do parishes need to do everything in all three languages? A parish of American scientists in Green Port having to produce a Gaelic translation for material that only they will read is unnecessary and a waste of time. To force them to do so is impractical. It’s not discrimination; it’s just about what that one parish needs.”
Dill nodded. “Fair comment.”
“And this ‘Health Fund’; who will be entitled to it and how will it work?”
“If you’re taken badly ill and need a lot of expensive treatment… like Calum with his burns; it could bankrupt him. So we just ask The Bank of Rockall to let him off some of his bills and make up the difference from the parishes and coop’s donation. There wouldn’t be a fixed rate; it could be an as-and-when requirement charge.”
“I like that; all for one and one for all… And you’re sure there’ll be no other tax required?”
“Yes, based on this model.”
“Why?” asked Dill. “The members of the Assembly won’t be paid, nor will The Bank of Rockall or legal committee. We have no police, no armed forces, no system of formal education; what would we spend it on?”
“Blimey!” she exclaimed. “You’ve broken one of the three Certainties of the Universe! There’s only birth and death left!”
Dill laughed. “Could you knock out a Gaelic translation of this draft? Include your notes if you like.”
“I’ve had a word with Kerroj; he’s going to do an Erkdwala one.”
“Most of them still can’t read.”
“I know; they don’t need to in their culture.”
“It’d be nice if they learned to though.”
“Yes, but only if they want to.”
Kayleigh stood up. “OK, Dill; I’ll get back to you when I’m finished… See ya!” She brushed his shoulder lightly as she left the room.
Dill watched her from the window as she strolled away from the house, her arms swinging, her head bobbing from side to side within her parka hood. He could still feel the afterglow of her fingers on his shoulder where she’d touched him.
A few weeks later the Erkdwala held a conference and decided unanimously to return to their colony on the Eastern Capes. They dressed in their horseleathers, gathered their spears and bone tools and left their houses empty. Not one single member of the tribe stayed behind. “We want to turn back the clock.” said Kerroj. “We will feel happier if we are living as Erkdwala. We don’t need whiskey and mattresses and TV. You might, but you are different. It’s nice that people are so different.”
A big crowd gathered to see them off. The three hundred and fifty-two Erkdwala in Rockall Port and Hasselwood congregated on the South Road to begin the hike back to their old universe. It was a wet, cold morning and the misty rain glistened on their tunics. Dill recognized the look in their eyes; it was the one they used to have when he’d first met them. It had been dulled for so long, but now it was back, shining out of the faces of every individual, as bright as ever. He realized that even the ones who’d become outwardly very westernized had all that time been secretly nursing a spark of their true selves deep within their hearts. Despite their “successful rehabilitation,” all attempts to extinguish it had ultimately failed.
Kerroj approached his friends and warmly shook each one’s hand. “I will not say goodbye.” said the old chieftain. “Because there can be no goodbyes on Rockall.”
“The place is too bloody small!” replied Zach. “We’ll be bumping into each other all the time.”
He chuckled. “Your world and our world will always be partners. Please come and visit us in the caves sometime; you will be very welcome.”
“We will, thanks.” said Dill.
“And we will visit you too.” said Kerroj. “At least one of us will sit on the Assembly.”
“That’ll be great.”
Kerroj looked over his shoulder at his people. “You know something, my friends; there was a time when I began to think that this stubbornness with which I was keeping our old lifeway going was hurting my Erkdwala. I began to think that the best thing to do is tell my Erkdwala to leave it behind and change like Trevor wanted us to as fast as possible.”
“Thank God you didn’t!” said Dill emphatically.
“Yes indeed!” he laughed.
“I’m sure you’ll go down in Erkdwala history as a great leader.” said Zach.
The old man looked pensive and appeared not to hear. “Well, it’s time to go home.” he said.
The Erkdwala picked up their belongings and started walking northwards towards the eastern plateau. It would take them two or three hours to reach the site of their old home. They waved to the islanders as they departed.
Everyone waved back. Some were in tears and Kayleigh was sobbing.
As they hiked further and further into distance, the caravan of Erkdwala spread out and decanted into different groups. Kerroj was easily recognizable in his gull-feather cloak. At the very back of the procession walked two young women, skipping joyfully like lambs; they were Jolo and Seenta. Beside them toddled little Karsk, whose birth Kayleigh and Zach had witnessed two years ago.
With the departure of the Erkdwala there was suddenly much more room in the two southern towns and the inhabitants began to diffuse into the empty spaces. Duncan and Morag decided to occupy Queylie, Ibux and Ibul’s old house in Hasselwood while Perry moved out to go and live with Alasdair a few doors along. Dill’s home seemed very empty and echoic with only Broadway and himself living there. Broadway offered him Duncan and Morag’s old room in the attic which was by far the biggest and had its own toilet, but Dill declined. He’d become quite fond of his cosy, little broom cupboard and insisted on Broadway occupying the master bedroom.
One day someone in Green Port ‘phoned to say that a ship was approaching from the west, the first to come within sight of Rockall since the lifting of the blockade. It signalled as it came inshore asking for permission to dock. Dill called a hasty conference with Kayleigh and Zach. In the end they called Ross Quentin who told them that the ship was ARS Janice on charter to the Loise Valley Construction Co. They had come to dismantle and offload the half-finished oil terminal. Dill called the ship personally and granted them a landing permit. The next day he drove up north to see what was going on.
The first thing the crew had done was repair the barbed wire fence around the complex; they were taking no chances this time. Instead of the handful of security guards manning the gate, the workmen had brought along a veritable army of helmeted mercenaries armed with submachine guns and fierce dogs. When Dill came close to the gate, one of them warned him off. He got out of the car to talk to the man, but the guard wouldn’t allow him within ten feet. When Dill disobeyed, the guard shouted and pointed a gun at him. Dill hastily backed off and returned to Rockall Port. He called Quentin who informed him that the demolition operatives were under company orders to remain behind the cordon and have no contact whatsoever with the Rockallians; they were to eat and sleep on board the moored ship.
The decommissioning of the oil terminal would take eight months. The workers would remove the buildings, metalwork and machinery, but of course nothing could be done about the rock borings. Like an unfilled cavity in a tooth, they would be left as they were. It wouldn’t be forever, Dill reassured himself. Wind and wave would continue to take their toll. During the centuries to come, the smooth, flat walls and round tunnels would be eroded into more natural shapes. In a few hundred thousand years, there might even be a new set of Roosevelt Skerries. When he arrived home, a mouth-watering aroma filled the house. A beaming Broadway came out of the kitchen in a pair of oven gloves to announce that she was cooking a special dinner for the two of them. When it arrived it was delicious and Dill was very grateful. He insisted on washing up himself.
The elation that Dill felt over Rockall’s independence was being drowned in work. The following week there was a meeting at the community hall at which he’d have to present the draft constitution to everyone. There would be amendments and additions suggested and debated; and in the end, he fervently hoped, the constitution would be inaugurated. The meeting began at five PM, scheduled by Zach. “I’m sure we’ll have it all over within a few hours.” he said optimistically. Dill didn’t reply.
Discontent began almost straight away from a very predictable source. Calum had returned from England a few days earlier and his body was wrapped in bandages from the plastic surgery he’d had to repair the scars of the Mount Clow bomb. He hoisted himself to his feet with his crutches and yelled across the room at the top of his voice: “Bollocks!”
“Keep it down, Calum!” said Zach, who was the chairman.
“I will not keep it down! Who wrote this pigswill!?”
“I did.” said Dill.
“I might have guessed!” Calum waved his copy of the draft in the air like football scarf. “’Rockall belongs to nobody’!? Then what the hell are we doing here!? Why don’t we all just piss off back to Oban and leave the little birds and bees to their sacred shrine!?”
“But we’re part of it too, Calum.” said Kayleigh.
“The hell I’m part of anything! This is our land! Ours!” The other crofters cheered in agreement. “We were told by the Commission that if we came to Rockall, we’d own a share of the territorial rights!... Good grief! Why do you think we left our homes and communities for this tiny, Godforsaken bit of earth in the middle of nowhere!? Because we couldn’t maintain our businesses on the rents our landlords charged!”
“You supported independence, Calum.” said Elaine.
“Only because he convinced us we were getting something better!” He pointed at Dill.
“And you are! No one is going to charge you rent here!”
“No! Instead they’re making us subordinate to Arkdwa! A mumbo-jumbo phantom which doesn’t exist! I’d rather have my landlord back; at least he’s flesh and blood!”
Kerroj frowned and said: “Calum, you are hurting yourself when you say this thing!”
“Put a sock in it, Granddad!”
Dill jumped to his feet. “That’s enough, Calum!”
“No, it’s not! I’ve got every right to be angry! All I hear from you lot is: ‘Erkdwala this’ and ‘Erkdwala that’! I’m sick and tired of hearing about the bloody Erkdwala! If they’re the only people on Rockall who have human rights then let’s just all become their slaves and be done with it!... I mean, I heard a rumour the other day that we’re going to be forced to collectivize some of our holdings to make way for Erkdwala hunting ground!”
“That’s the first I’ve heard about it!” retorted Dill.
“Well if it’s true then it’s typical!”
“Alright, alright, alright!” Zach thumped the table until everyone fell into silence. “The meeting’s gone down a bad road so I’m suspending it! We’ll resume at six PM. now let’s all get a beer in and calm down!”
But Calum continued to grumble loudly in The Pissed Gannet and when they all sat down once more, the crofters continued their challenges. “What the hell is a ‘parish’!?” shrilled Calum. “Are we going to build churches on Rockall!?”
Kayleigh patiently explained to him.
“Why should we get involved in this!? It’s contrary to our way of life!”
“Because if you sit on the Assembly you can have your say without shouting at the top of your voice.” she replied. This drew a laugh and Calum blushed.
But Calum was undeterred on his criticism of the draft. “I don’t want to be part of a worker’s cooperative!” he stormed. “I’m head of my family! I own my croft! My wife and children are my employees! They don’t elect me; they obey me!...” And so it went on.
They broke for another drink at eight. “Damn that friggin’ yokel!” Zach seethed as he gulped a pint of beer at the bar. “He’ll never rest until he’s scuppered every clause in the draft just for the hell of it!”
Dill shrugged. “As a Free Rockallian, he’s got every right to speak his mind. That’s what we’ve fought for all these months. As Voltaire said, we can never be truly free unless we’re willing to passionately campaign for the rights of those who oppose us to express themselves… He’s frustrated ‘cos the crofters have been sold down the river, first by the Commission, then by the Treaty, then by the Governorship and the BGC.”
“Also remember that we’re dealing with a peculiar culture.” said Kayleigh. “Hebrideans are very stubborn and suspicious by nature. They’re set in their ways and become defensive if those ways are threatened. Considering their history, you can hardly blame them: The English imposition; the Gaelic language nearly died out at one point.”
“Well, those days are over.” said Dill. "We have to make it clear to them that we’re not enemies.” “I’ve reshuffled the agenda.” said Zach. “We’ll spend the rest of the evening on a less controversial subject and come back to the nitty-gritty another day.”
The first item of the next session was the christening of the currency. “It must be named after something rare and precious.” said Kayleigh. “Money always is, which is why you get ‘sovereigns’ and coins coloured gold, even if they’re not made of gold. The word ‘dollar’ comes from a German expression that means: a silver coin.” She proposed that they mixed the preciousness aspect with the rejection of materialism and tabled the name: ‘Skua’. A skua is a large bird of prey that is an infrequent visitor to the waters of Rockall. Occasionally a few of them were seen cruising around the coast in late summer, and it was a noteworthy event. Claire and her team always became very excited when one put in an appearance. Nobody tendered any other name so it was passed. They weren’t sure how to set the value of the Skua until Alasdair held up his beer glass and said: “I’ve got it! Let’s make the alcohol unit the equivalent of one Skua!” Everyone roared with laughter and it was quickly seconded and carried. The Skua was then subdivided into twenty ‘Puffins’.”
The mood of the conference had eased considerably and on the following item, the Assembly structure, even the crofters contributed positively, though they were still opposed to it. The Australian two-house system was agreed on. The Parish Assembly, the equivalent of the Senate, had already been designed; so the next stage was to put together a “lower house”, their Australian House of Representatives. A map of Rockall was rolled out on the table and Zach took up a pencil and rubber. Over the next hour they quarrelled and cogitated on where the constituency borders should run. It was a delicate balancing act because every constituency had to have a roughly equally-sized population. Zach drew and erased, drew and erased until they had what they believed was a solution. The constituencies were named: Rockall Port West, Rockall Port East, Rockall Port Central, Rockall Port North, Rockall Port Bay Head, Rockall Port Landing, Rockall Port Old Hut Area, Rockall Port Rotunda, Hasselwood East, Hasselwood West, Hasselwood Port, Hasselwood New Estate, Hasselwood New Estate Extension, Green Port East Domes, Green Port West Domes, Green Port Middle Domes, Old Green Port, Green Port Elevator, The Rest of Rockall East and The Rest of Rockall West.
“Hold on.” said Calum. “What’s this ‘Rest of Rockall’?”
“It’s anyone who doesn’t live in the main settlements.”
“And we’re all put together in just two constituencies?”
“Yes. The populations are around the same number as the other constituencies.”
“But… but… The only people who live outside the three towns are the crofters and Erkdwala!?”
Calum gaped. “I’m not having those bloody savages running our crofts!”
There was uproar. Dill, Kayleigh and Zach hung their heads as the attendees exchanged bellows of abuse. It took twenty minutes to get the meeting back to order then Dill took the floor. “I’ve got an idea.” he announced. “Will you give me the chance to tell you about it without butting in?”
“Very well. It there a printer in the building?” Dill called up the census, listing the names of all two thousand nine hundred and thirty-nine people on Rockall. He printed them out and proceeded, with the help of a few volunteers, to cut the sheets up with a pair of scissors into little strips. On each strip was the name of one person. He went to the bar, brought back an empty ice bucket and dumped all the strips into it. Then he took twenty sheets of blank paper and selotaped them to the squash court wall. With a black marker pen, he numbered them. “Now then, Calum.”
“Aye?” The crofter looked apprehensive.
“I’d like you to come over here and pick the names out of the hat… Give ‘em a good shuffle first; that’s it… Now, take this glue and stick the first name you pick out onto Sheet One, the second onto Sheet Two, the third onto Sheet Three, etcetera. When you’ve done twenty, go back to beginning and start again.”
Calum did so, looking mystified. After a few minutes, Dill invited some of the other crofters to help him. It took them an hour; then the ice bucket was empty and all the strips of paper were stuck to the sheets.
“Each of these names has been selected at random.” said Dill. “And every group is as equally proportioned as possible, because of the method of their selection. Each numbered sheet represents a member of the Lower Assembly.”
There were a few “Ah!”s as people understood.
“To avoid any fuss over constituency boundaries and who lives in which one, I say we dispense with constituencies altogether. Each random group probably contains an equal number of American, British, Hebridean, and Erkdwala people. Get together and elect your MP… and stop bloody bickering!”
There was a round of applause and for a brief moment, everyone was united behind Dill’s insight. Several people came up and clapped him on the back as he returned to his seat. “Let’s hope this lasts!” he said to Kayleigh.
The meeting adjourned at eleven PM and Dill trudged home through the wind and rain, but when he was a few feet from the house, he stopped. There were no lights showing at any of the windows except the kitchen. That was quite usual; what was not so usual was the nature of the light. It was much dimmer than the kitchen neon strips and it flickered slightly. He slowly stepped up to the front door and opened it.
Mellow music wafted from the stereo and the smell of food filled the air. The light came from a candle standing on the kitchen table. As Dill entered the kitchen, he saw Broadway and had to suppress a gasp. His housemate was dressed in a way that he’d never seen anyone dressed before on Rockall: A loose, low-cut purple dress that ended at mid-thigh. Her shoes had stiletto heels and both her finger and toenails were varnished maroon. Her face was made up and jewellery sparkled at her earlobes and wrists. She had applied perfume and its scent mixed with the aroma of the food to tantalize Dill’s nostrils. “Hi, Dill.” she said.
“H… Hello there, Braw.”
“I heard that the meeting was making people stressful; a few hot tempers and things like that, so I thought I’d prepare dinner again to help you relax… I hope it’s not too late for you.”
“No… no! I never go to bed before one AM these days, as you know!” he chuckled.
Broadway was a slim, elegant woman, conventionally very pretty, and Dill's admiration of Kayleigh made him one of the few men on the island not attracted to her… at least not until now. He was caught off guard. The sight and smell of her made his heart race and his hormones surge. “Sit down.” She had laid a bedsheet over the table as a cloth and arranged two sets of crockery and cutlery on it. She produced a bottle of red wine from the sideboard and filled two beakers from it. “Shame we haven’t got proper glasses, but there’s not much call for them out here.”
“Gordon Bennett, Braw! Where did you get this wine!?”
“When Trevor was let out of the cellar, I… borrowed a few bottles.”
“Did you tell Zach?”
She shook her head and giggled.
Dill did too. “I don’t suppose he’ll miss it.”
She brought a dish out of the oven and spooned the food onto both plates. “It’s cauliflower cheese; my mum taught me how to make it. I’ve put in a few bits of bacon, is that alright?”
“Oh, yes! Sounds yummy.”
They ate in silence for a while, Broadway smiling at him every few mouthfuls. “Was the meeting as difficult as I heard it was?”
“Yeah; how did you know?”
“Arlene ‘phoned me during the break… So how many more sittings will there be?”
He waved his fork in the air as he swallowed. “God knows! The whole process has been going Monte Carlo! We have a serious schism with the crofters that needs to be resolved.”
“I hear old Calum’s being very vocal.”
“He is. He feels strongly that Free Rockall is not representing his interests and he’s reacted very militantly.”
Broadway paused. “Gareth was like that.”
“Yeah… pushy, loud-mouthed, arrogant.”
“Well… you got on alright, didn’t you?”
She shook her head. “I should have left well alone.”
“Because he was married to Jennie?”
“Yeah, but also ‘cos he was a bit of a compromise.” She chuckled. “In the absence of Mr Right, I’ve got to make do with what’s on offer.”
“Yes.” She fluttered her eyelashes, allowing the candlelight to twinkle on her irises. “I’m not into macho men, Dill. Never have been. I like a guy who’s gentle and kind; a sensitive, deep-thinking man.”
Dill looked down and concentrated hard on his plate of cauliflower cheese. He washed up, said “Thank you” and went to bed.
The conference got underway again the following evening. The format of government had now been dealt with; only a few more details remained. Someone asked where Rockall’s houses of Parliament would be built. Several of the Americans suggested that it be housed in an underground chamber, as much of Green Port was, to avoid any more surface clutter on the plateau; but Elaine countered them, saying that they could do just as much damage blasting and drilling the rock from underneath their feet.
Then Kayleigh took the floor. “Do we need special buildings at all?” she asked. “The Assemblies probably won’t have to meet that often once we’ve settled down so why don’t they just meet anywhere?”
“They could meet outdoors like the St Kildans’ did.” added Dill.
“Or here in the community hall like we are right now.” said Zach.
“Or online.” said Elaine. “Just sit back in your lounge in front of the laptop.”
Nobody tabled an objection so Kayleigh’s motion was passed.
The next issue was much thornier. Since the revolution there’d been two schools of thought concerning the future of Rockall. The first, backed by most of the ex-Commission crew and the Erkdwala, was that the island should establish a closed economy; one that was self-sufficient and isolated from that of other countries. The second school found favour with the crofters and most Americans: Rockall should be open and play a part in world trade, importing and exporting as much as possible.
“St Kilda survived for almost five thousand years with a closed economy.” said Dill. “Just over eighty years after joining the international market, the place was deserted and the islanders all either dead or emigrated… We’re a midget living on a street of giants! They’re just waiting for us to let them in! As soon as we give an inch, they’ll take a mile and before you know it, the oil derricks will be sprouting up again!”
“Oil extraction is prevented by the First and Third directives.” responded Craven, an American climatologist. “And we can’t live like the St Kildans. Our society has modern amenities: computers, machinery, household appliances. We don’t have the means to repair or replace these items so we’ll be forced to do deals with the mainland anyway. If we approach the issue positively, we’ll be in a much more powerful position than if we concede to it with reluctance.”
“And what about our crofts!?” said Seonaidh. “What do you want us to do with our surplus, Dill; chuck it in the ocean? Ewan didn’t die so that we’d be forced to live off grass like the ponies! Let’s sell our wares to the mainland like we always have done and buy luxury goods with the revenue! There’s no harm in taking the chance to turn a penny!”
There was an almost fifty-fifty split between the two camps, but Dill reluctantly conceded that the “openists” had a point and didn’t attempt to block an amendment to reverse monetary policy and make the Skua exchangeable. “I don’t know what to think.” he lamented to Kayleigh in The Pissed Gannet at break time. “I know that what Seonaidh and Craven said is right, but I feel it’s a failure on my part to admit it. It’s as if we’re sliding back down into the abyss we’ve just escaped from and I don’t know how to stop it.”
“We’ll find a way.” said Kayleigh.
The next session was one that Dill had been dreading. It was time to elect the President, a crucial role in the Rockall Republic. The President would be the official legislator, presenting bills to the Assemblies for approval or rejection. He or she would also be the one to make snap decisions in emergency situations when there was no time to consult the houses. As soon as the poll was announced Calum leapt to his feet and Dill braced himself. “Let me guess who’ll get the job!” said the crofter, pointing his scarred finger. “Dill Gibson! Leader of the revolution and first national hero! Our very own Nelson Mandela! Gratitude alone dictates that he should be the one!... So, go on, Dill! Nominate yourself!”
Dill cringed. He had no intention of being President, but Calum’s words struck him hard. Then once more an idea flicked into his mind. He stood up. “Ladies and Gentlemen, people of Rockall; I would like to nominate… Calum MacLeod for the office of President of the Rockall Republic!”
The committee roared in merriment and the crofters’ faces were blank.
“I second!” chuckled Zach through his mirth.
The vote was counted by a show of hands. Only two or three raised theirs against.
Dill walked up to Calum and shook his limp hand. “Congratulations, Mr President!”
He saw a camera bulb flash out of the corner of his eye. I’ll have to get that one framed! he thought.
“There she is.” said Don. “Ain’t she a beauty?”
Dill picked up the one Skua bit and hefted it in his hand. “It’s a big ‘un.” he said.
“Half an ounce. Nice and chunky like an old, silver dollar; feels solid in your pocket.”
The coin was circular and made of brass. On one side was a relief of the Eastern Capes; on the other, the outline of a perched skua. Around the edge were the words: “ONE SKUA” in the three tongues. On the reverse, the inscription read: “2013. ISSUED BY THE BANK OF THE ROCKALL REPUBLIC.” The coin was professionally and artistically made; polished to a smooth finish. “It’s beautiful.”
“Thanks.” The old, American engineer shrugged modestly. “I’m working on some others; a five and ten Skua piece; also Puffins in one’s five’s and ten’s.”
“Where did you get the material?”
“Oh, there’s about half a ton of scrap in the metalwork shed… I thought I’d do the Puffins in stainless steel or pure tin to give them a silvery look and to distinguish them from the Skuas.”
“Have you got enough? We’re going to need thousands; especially if we suffer from inflation as part of our teething troubles.”
“If I run out I’ll scavenge the spare aluminum struts from the jetty.”
Dill nodded. “Good man!”
“One more problem, Dill… These are going to be darned easy to counterfeit, more so than if we contracted an industrial mint.”
“I know, but I’d prefer to keep it in the family… I think we should start exercising a little trust too. We must believe that our fellow Rockallians won’t try to fiddle us.”
“I hope you’re right, Dill.” Don replied with a grim frown.
Then Claire burst into the Green Port machine shop. “Dill! We’ve got a problem!” she panted.
Dill apologized to Don and left the machine shop with her. “What is it?”
“Not here!” she whispered. “Let’s go somewhere more private.”
They strode quickly away from the settlement, southwards up the slope onto the moors. When they’d walked a hundred yards or so, Claire laid her laptop on a boulder and opened it. “After the ‘open-closed’ debate yesterday, I decided to access the croft books and do a few sums on their productive potential. I also verified my own calculations on Rockall’s bioeconomic capacity…”
“Claire, you’ve lost me; I only speak English, I’m afraid.”
Claire ran a hand through her hair. “God, it’s so obvious! Why didn’t we spot it sooner!?”
She looked up at him. “There are too many people on Rockall! The island can’t support us!”
There was a long silence. “Shit!” muttered Dill.
“Let’s keep this to ourselves for now, Dill; we don’t want to start a panic.”
“No. Secrecy is the politician’s way; we’re different. We have to be open, honest and stare our problems straight in the face, however bad. I’ll make an announcement at tonight’s meeting.”
The agenda had been cleared for an emergency discussion and everyone was curious as to why. As soon as they had congregated in the sports hall with their beers, Dill stood up and spoke for ten minutes. “…and now all we have to do is come up with a solution.”
There was silence for about half a minute. “So, how many people can this island feed?” asked Zach.
“I estimate five to seven hundred.” said Claire. “That explains the level of the Erkdwala population. It’s settled at the optimum number. If they ever allow it to expand far beyond that, famine sets in and kills them back.”
“You make them sound like garden weeds!” said Kayleigh with a grimace.
“I’m merely explaining the situation in bioeconomic terms.”
“I don’t see the problem.” said Calum. “Our crofts make far more efficient use of the land than the Erkdwala hunter-gatherers. “Why don’t we simply expand the crofting land and take on more hands until we’re producing enough to feed three thousand?”
Claire shook her head. “To do that you’d have to plough up virtually the entire plateau and turn it into farmland. This would kill the environment stone dead; and that includes the soil and water tables; in the end it would reverberrate back on us.”
“So, Dill; what do you suggest?” asked Duncan. “That we pack up and go home?”
Dill took a deep breath. “That would be a last resort.” he said quietly.
“You’re bloody right it would!” shouted Elaine. “Some of us have given our lives for Free Rockall!”
“I know that, Elaine and I wouldn’t insult Jack’s memory by proposing a retreat… We’ve faced problems before and we’ve found solutions. I’m sure we can do it again.”
“But… but why are we still here, if what you’re saying is true?” asked Kayleigh. “How come we already haven’t eaten the place out of house and home?”
“Because we haven’t needed to.” answered Claire. “Before the revolution we were parasitic consumers. The colonies here were sponsored and maintained by our former governments. All the food we ate was shipped in from outside on the taxpayer’s tab. Now we’ve been cut off from that to fend for ourselves. The nine crofts are now our only source of food and they’re not nearly enough.”
“How much do we have left in storage?” asked Duncan.
“Three months’ supply; six if we ration ourselves.” said Dill.
Craven jumped to his feet with a laugh. “My God! This isn’t a problem! It isn’t even the bombshell you’re making it out to be! We’re simply continuing the question we were discussing last week! An open-versus-closed economy! This simply proves that isolationism won’t work! We need to open our doors to our fellow humans! Import our food and other consumables, but this time not on a parasitic basis. Instead we buy them with the revenue of our own industries!”
“We could make tweed!” piped Seonaidh enthusiastically. “I’ve brought my spinning wheel.”
“Rockall Tweed! A brilliant idea!” said Craven. “It’ll sell well on the luxury market.”
“We could prospect the bedrock for minerals.” added Troyman. “Open a little mine.”
“Good… Can’t you see, Dill?” said Craven. “We will be independent! An independent, mature, powerful nation with a sound, productive economy; able to hold its own in the world market!”
Dill was speechless for a few seconds. All the things he wanted to say at once were jamming his mind. “But… but… but… this is a cop-out!” he yelled. “An easy fix!... It’s not a solution at all; it’s a regression to our pre-revolutionary existence! The moment we start to form trading partnerships with the global economy, we submit our freedom and become dependant on them, just like we were during the Treaty years!”
“Grow up, Dill!” retorted Craven. “Grow the fuck up and join the real world!”
“I am, Craven! I am!”
“Then listen to what Claire says! There’s no alternative!”
“There has to be!”
“Well… we could find ways of improving croft productivity.”
“Impossible.” said Calum. “Without more land space we’re up against the ceiling.”
“Then… how about the sea?... Gordon Bennett, of course! The sea!” Dill slapped his head. “Why didn’t I think of it before!? We’re starving men at a banquet! The ocean around us could supply all our needs! We could set up fish farms, cultivate plankton and grow fields of edible kelp!”
Seonaidh stood up and shot a finger at him. “I am NOT eating cod fillets and seaweed for every meal!”
“But it’s not like that…”
Every one was shouting at him now. Eventually Zach was forced to adjourn the meeting and order everyone to the bar for a cooling-off period.
Standing there, Dill downed several whiskeys, one after the other. Kayleigh came over and put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry all this has cropped up, Dill.” she said. “I always thought that once the revolution was over it’d be downhill all the way. Silly me!”
“The whole things falling apart, Kay.” he mourned. “They’re setting up to jack it all in!”
She sighed. “Why? It’s as if there’s a relentless gravity dragging us back from our achievement.” He turned to face her. “You know what? The revolution isn’t failing!”
She raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t it?”
“No! It isn’t failing because… it hasn’t happened yet!”
“Sure, we’ve removed Trevor’s regime and established our own government, but that isn’t the real revolution. The real revolution is in here.” He tapped his head with a finger. “We’ll never be free until we start thinking free!... And most of us are still thinking like slaves! Fear, doubt, insecurity, looking to the world economy to solve our problems! We’re creating a new regime that’s just another expression of the old one; the pigs in Animal Farm! The same thought structures, the same institutions, the same control and dependences. Whether you fly the Rockall Triumvirate or a ‘FREE ROCKALL’ banner over it makes no difference.”
Kayleigh chuckled ruefully. “Shall I get on the ‘phone and invite Trevor back?”
“Seriously, I can see that coming to pass!”
The meeting backed Seonaidh and Craven. An open economic policy was voted in by a ninety-two percent majority.
He walked home slowly with his shoulders stooped and his head bowed. The night was cold, still and so dark that everything outside the little puddles of light from the Bower-casts was invisible. As soon as he opened the front door, Broadway ran out of the kitchen to greet him. “Dill, are you alright?”
He kicked off his boots with a deep sigh. “Just about.”
She put her hands on his arms. “Arlene’s just called and told me… I’m so sorry.”
He raised a hand and patted hers. “It’ll be alright, Braw; one day they’ll learn.” He let go and stepped into the kitchen. There were a few cans of beer in the fridge; he plucked one out and gulped from it.
Broadway stood at the door, fiddling with the latch. “So what exactly does this vote mean?”
Dill walked into the lounge and crashed onto the settee. “It means we’re heading right back where we came from.”
“Is it really that bad?”
“Yup! We’ve already started! We’ll slide so slowly that we won’t notice it. One day, in two or three years’ time, we’ll look back and think: ‘Blimey! How did that happen!?’ and you wouldn’t even know that there’d been a revolution at all.”
“Oh, dear.” She sat down on the seat beside him.
“Those idiots! Calum’s already cabled the UN to announce our decision!”
Broadway leaned closer so that her arm pressed against his. She began gently caressing his palm. “You’ve still got me.” she said huskily in his ear. “I’m here for you; I won’t let you down.”
Dill’s heart thudded on his eardrums. He could smell Broadway’s skin and feel her breath on his cheek. His body trembled with the pleasure of her closeness. With the most enormous effort and self-control, he pushed her away, stood up and walked over to the door.
She sat up and stared at him, shock and hurt passing over her face in alternating waves. “Dill…”
“Don’t, Braw!” he croaked. “Don’t do this to me!”
“But, Dill; I love you!… I only want to make you happy!”
“You can’t… I’m sorry.”
“Dill!” She stood up and walked towards him. “Kayleigh doesn’t want you! She never has done! Forget about her! If she’s too stupid to see what she’s missing then that’s her problem; don’t make it yours! You can do better than that! I’m everything Kayleigh is and more!”
“Stop it, Braw! Just leave me alone!” He bolted up the stairs and slammed his bedroom door behind him. He leaned against it for several minutes, panting hard. When he’d calmed down he switched on the light and got undressed for bed.
He listened to Broadway pottering about in the kitchen as if nothing had happened. After an hour she came up the stairs. She paused for a moment on the landing and Dill saw her shadow fall on the crack under his door; then she continued up to the attic where she slept. The toilet flushed, the floorboards creaked over Dill’s head for a while then went silent as she got into bed.
I could go up there now and tell her I’d changed my mind. thought Dill. As soon as he’d suggested it to himself he was overcome by a burning lust. It was years since he’d been touched by a woman and there were times when he really longed for it. But I’d be using her! Perhaps breaking her heart just to relive my cravings!... It wouldn’t be fair, Gibson! And that’s all there is to it! He fell into a fitful sleep.
Dill awoke at ten o’clock; later than usual as he’d slept badly. The wind moaned against the eaves and the sun streamed in past the curtains. He dressed and went downstairs. Broadway’s parka and boots were gone from the hall; she must have got up and left while he was still sleeping. When he went into the kitchen he saw a note lying on the table. Dill, on an early in ITU so I’ve left. Plenty of cornflakes in the packet. Made a bit of a fool of myself last night, didn’t I? Sorry if I upset you. Feel like a right idiot! You’re a good mate and I don’t want to spoil things so can we forget it ever happened? Broadway X.
Dill closed his eyes and sighed, screwing up the note in his hand.
He left the house and headed down to the warehouse to help with the stock audit. It was a bright, breezy day, warmer than the previous few; a sure sign that spring was in full force. The doors to the barn were open and he waited on the threshold as a group of people came out.
A dozen feet inside, Kayleigh was perched on a crate filling in a clipboard file. Her small right hand moved neatly as it clasped the pen, the left held the board steady. Her fine hair puffed slightly in the eddies of wind that made it past the doorway. She was clad in everyday Rockallian clothes: An orange Gore-Tex parka and velvet jogging bottoms; her small feet tucked into hiking boots.
“Kayleigh.” Dill muttered to himself as he stared at her. “I’d forgotten how beautiful you are.”
She looked up at him and smiled. There was no way she could have heard his musings; perhaps she was telepathic. She waved briefly.
He waved back, but her eyes were already returning to her work.
Dill’s mobile ‘phone jingled in his pocket, making him start. He took it out and pressed it against his ear, turning into the wind. “Hello?”
“Dill; it’s Zach. Are you free?”
“Come up to First Landing; I need to talk to you. Bring Kayleigh with you.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
He paused. “You’re not going to believe this!... I’ve just had a ‘phonecall from Trevor!”
Dill and Kayleigh made themselves a cup of tea while Zach rolled the mouse around beside the computer keyboard. The screen remained blank. “I don’t get it!” he said. “This was definitely the number he gave me to call him back.”
“Maybe it’s a bad line.” said Kayleigh. “Try again.”
“OK… Here we are… dialling… dialling… Ringing! We’re through!”
They gathered round the wall screen and looked up expectantly. The image cleared and the scene of a broad, yellow sand beach filled the window. Beyond it was a tranquil, blue sea and a clear sky. The picture jerked and rolled as someone shifted the webcam and a man came into view sitting in a deckchair. He was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts and his feet were bare. His skin was deeply tanned and he was screwing up his eyes against the strong sunlight. “Hello, Zach… Hello, Dill… Hello, Kayleigh.” It was Trevor.
“Bleedin’ heck, Trevor! Where are you!?” exclaimed Zach.
Trevor laughed; something he did very rarely and it sounded strange in Dill’s ears. “Actually I’m in South Africa; I’m attending the G-Nineteen summit in Durban. I’ve decided to take my lunch break on the beach… So how are things progressing on… Free Rockall?”
“Fine, thank you.” said Zach.
“What do you want, Trevor?” demanded Kayleigh.
“Several things. Firstly I wanted to… apologize for all the difficulties of the past year. I’m aware that I’m very much to blame for most of them and I regret that that is so.”
Zach guffawed. “Is this the same Trevor McCain we’ve got here!?”
“I’d have played it differently had I known.” concluded Trevor.
“Known what? That we’d lock you up in my cellar?”
On the other side of the world, Trevor smiled. “No; if I’d known the extent of the difficulties my policies would cause… Secondly, I think there are a lot of questions you’d like to ask me about the political shift that took place a few weeks ago that allowed Rockall to be granted its independence.”
“You can say that again!” said Dill.
“Well, in the coming weeks I’ll do my best to answer those questions… The third matter is a little plan I have for when I come back to England next week.”
“Another Rockall Summit, to which the three of you are invited.”
“Dill, you’re a fledgling nation, a new kid on the block of the international community. You need to get together with your new neighbours and hold discussions.”
“Discussions about what?” asked Kayleigh.
Trevor spread his arms wide. “Anything and everything. Fiscal matters, currency exchange, political goals and plans, immigration and visiting rights.”
“We don’t want any of that crap, Trevor!” said Dill.
“But you must do! Supposing… you wanted to go home to visit your families. You’d need to arrange a passport system with the British authorities, visas, import duty, customs and excise policy. A passage on a ship or aeroplane… With all the people on Rockall, you might even require a regular ferry service for cargo and passengers.”
They didn’t reply for a few seconds. “Trevor… perhaps we’re not the people to ask. Calum is our President now; maybe he should attend this… summit.”
Trevor sat up. “No!” he almost shouted. “It must be the three of you!”
“Why?” asked Dill, taken aback.
“Because…” Trevor calmed himself and seemed to be thinking hard for a moment. “You were the pioneers of Rockallian history. You stepped out of a boat onto an empty island.”
“Empty except for the Erkdwala and a few American scientists.” said Zach.
“You struggled against the harsh elements in a tent.” Trevor continued, ignoring him. “You’re the Hernan Cortes of Rockall.”
“I’m not!” barked Dill.
“That’s why it must be you three who attend this conference! Without you the spirit and drive of the event will be missing.”
There was a pause. “So when’s this conference taking place?” asked Zach.
“It’ll begin a week on Sunday.” said Trevor.
“Well… they were all dead eager to get going. Selby and Weller will be there along with the Taoiseach of Ireland and the PM of Canada. It’s being held in St David’s Hall in Cardiff.”
“I’m not sure, Trevor.” said Zach.
“Please, Zach! This is really important!... And we’ll be putting you up in the best hotel we can find.”
Zach leaned towards Kayleigh, nodding at Dill to do the same. There they could whisper out of range of the room’s microphones. “What do you two reckon?” he asked.
“Dunno.” Dill shrugged.
“What if it’s a trap of some sort?” Kayleigh said. “Once we’re over there, they can grab us and lock us up. Hold us hostage, like we did to him.”
“But if they wanted to take us, they could do so any time they liked.” said Dill. “Besides, I can’t see our lives being worth the effort of ransoming. Some people round here might even be glad to see the back of us.”
“Maybe… this time he’s for real.” said Zach.
“For real!?” snorted Kayleigh. “Trevor doesn’t do ‘for real’!”
“What if this time he is?”
“Yeah, and I saw a striped leopard in the bar the other day!”
“Come on, Kay.” said Zach. “If he wanted our hides there are easier ways he could take them.”
She didn’t reply.
“I agree with Dill; this doesn’t sound like a plot. We should go.”
“I never said we should go.” said Dill.
“But what have we got to lose?”
Kayleigh sighed. “Apart from our lives and freedom?”
“No, Kay.” said Zach. “And he’s got a point when he says we need to arrange policies with other countries; especially now the ‘Open’s have had their way.”
No one else said anything.
Zach straightened up. “Alright, Trevor. We’re coming. A week Sunday you said.”
“Great! All three of you?”
“Wonderful! I’ll start making arrangements now! We’ll bring you over next Thursday.” An odd expression passed over Trevor’s visage. Could it be relief? Alarm bells rang in Dill’s mental ears.
The alarm clock collided violently with Dill’s nightmares. He silenced it with a semiconscious sweep of the hand. The five minute snooze period felt like five seconds; it clamoured again. He lifted his head with a groan and opened his eyes a crack. The sunlight peeking through the curtains seemed brighter than usual; painfully so. He tried to sit up, but his body felt as if it were made of lead. He knew he had to be up for a very important reason, but he couldn’t remember what it was. He didn’t care and was asleep within seconds.
“Dill!... Dill!...” He was roused again by Broadway hammering on the door. “Are you awake?”
“Yeah.” he groaned.
“Zach and Kayleigh are downstairs. Come on, Dill! The chopper will be here in half an hour.”
The ground under Dill’s feet pitched and rolled like a seesaw. His suitcase felt almost too heavy to carry. The short walk from Rockall Port to where the helicopter had landed could have been a hundred miles. He was feverish and giddy; little sounds kept making him jump and an indomitable tiredness sucked at his body. Kayleigh walked beside him. “Are you OK, Dill? You look a bit poorly.”
“I’m a bit under the weather, that’s all.” Dill evaded.
The helicopter was a huge, forty-seater, long distance craft normally used to transport oil rig workers. Zach, Kayleigh and Dill were its only passengers. The lone stewardess showed them to their seats and the pilot revved up the engines. As the aircraft lifted smoothly up into the sky, Dill groped in the pouch on the back of the seat in front for a sick bag. He filled two before the helicopter had reached cruising height and then fell into a pyrexial half-sleep for the rest of the journey.
It felt like the next moment when Kayleigh shook his shoulders. “Dill, we’ve landed. We’re here.” He staggered down the aisle and out into the cold, pouring rain. A number of smartly-dressed men surrounded them, holding umbrellas over their heads and carrying their luggage. They were ushered down a tarmac path towards an attractive, modern set of buildings surrounded by trees. A signboard in the middle of an ornamental water-feature said: “Glencarrick Hotel”. They were checked in at the marble reception desk and shown to their rooms. Dill went mushy with relief when he saw the bed and only just had time to crawl under the sheets before falling back into oblivion.
The doctor placed an ice cold stethoscope against Dill’s chest and listened for a few moments. “Breathe once more… That’s fine.” He put the instrument back in his case. “Would you like me to prescribe you something for the fever?”
“No thanks, Doctor; I’ll survive… So what’s wrong with me?”
“Could be something you ate; or maybe a virus… But it beats me how you could have caught it out there. Has anyone else on Rockall fallen ill lately?”
Dill shook his head.
“Well, never mind; it’ll pass.” He stood up. “Any more problems let the manager know. I hope you’re feeling better soon, Mr Gibson.”
As soon as the doctor had left, Kayleigh came in. She must have been waiting outside the door. “How’s it going?”
Dill sat up in bed. “I’ll live, but I still feel like shit. Well, at least the sickness is gone. Thank God! I want to be better for the conference; only two days to go.”
“Two days? Oh, of course; you haven’t heard.”
“The conference has been moved back to Wednesday. Trevor called me this morning.”
“Selby has extended his retreat in Camp David.”
“Trust him! Can’t we just go ahead anyway?”
“Without the US President?”
“Yeah; the world doesn’t revolve around Glenmar Selby, does it?”
“Ooh! Don’t say that in front of him! I’m afraid Trevor has already fixed it; Wednesday is the day.”
Dill paused. “Where is Trevor anyway? He hasn’t been to see us yet?”
“He’s in Cardiff sorting out some business. He sends his apologies.”
“I thought we were supposed to be staying in Cardiff too. Where are we? I haven’t had the chance to look around, what with being ill.”
“When you do, you won’t want to be staying in a smelly old city! Look!” Kayleigh whipped open the curtains.
Dill blinked in the sunlight. A magnificent valley lay spread out before him like an oil painting. Dark green forest padded the flanks of hills and a shaft of sunrays struck down from a cleft in the cloudy sky to illuminate a patch of canopy in glittering gold. The whole panorama had a backdrop of tawny mountains, their peaks rocky and flecked with snow. “Gordon Bennett, that’s beautiful!” he exclaimed.
Kayleigh nodded. “This is the real Scotland for you!”
“Where abouts are we?”
“The Grampians, Mate. Shall I close the curtains?”
“No, no! I love it!... I feel better already. Where’s Zach?”
“Having the time of his life. This morning he’s gone for a round of golf.”
“I didn’t know he could play.”
“He can’t. He’ll just bluff his way as usual!”
“But God! You have to see this place! I’ve been to the leisure centre and they’ve got a swimming pool the size of Loch Lomond! Squash, tennis, ping-pong, a multi-screen cinema! I could live here! To think that old Oven Chips would put us up in this joint! I was expecting a B-and-B in a Cardiff back street. He’s going soft in his old age.”
“Hmm… It’s a pity we’ll have to leave and go to the conference.”
“Not half! Maybe if we ask him nicely he’ll postpone it for a couple more weeks!”
The next morning, Dill felt well enough to get up. The hotel they were staying in looked very expensive. Since the revolution, his Commission salary had ceased and he was worried that his savings wouldn’t hold out against the impact of its charges. He still felt slightly limp and dizzy as he walked along the corridor to the lifts and descended to the lobby. “Good morning, Sir.” said the dapper, young woman at reception with an artificial smile.
“Hi, there.” said Dill. “I’d like to pay an advance on my bill please.”
“Certainly, Sir; may I have your name and room number please?”
“Dill Gibson; three-five-eight.”
She fiddled with her computerized till. “Your bill has already been paid, Sir.”
“Eh!? It can’t have been! I’ve been stuck in bed since Thursday afternoon!”
“Well… someone else must have settled it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. It’s been paid up to next Tuesday night.”
“Oh, I see… and what’s the name of my benefactor?”
“Bear with me, Sir and I’ll see if I can find out.” She withdrew into an office behind reception. By the time she came out, Dill had guessed the answer. “It’s a Mr McCain, Sir. Trevor McCain.”
“Trevor!... So that’s it!”
“Does the name ring a bell, Sir?”
“Oh, yes! A whole clock tower full of them! Thank you.”
That afternoon, Dill went for a stroll down a lane away from the hotel and around a nearby village. It was raining hard, but the air was clear and fresh. Blossom peeped out from behind the pale spring leaves of the trees. Glorious mountains towered all around the valley. Dill tried to enjoy it, but something held his spirit back. He didn’t know what it was or why it was bothering him; a dread, a worry, a sense of vulnerability and insecurity. Something very bad was about to happen; of that he had no doubt at all.
Dill decided that the time had come to share his concerns, solid reason or not. His two friends had a right to be warned; whether they believed him or not was their choice. He knocked on Kayleigh’s door, but there was no answer. He walked round and round the leisure centre, but there was no sign of either of them. He tried their mobile ‘phones, but they were both switched off. He learned from the girl at reception that the two of them had left that morning before breakfast and had not been back since. Dill’s energy was flagging so he decided to return to bed and catch up with them that evening.
He slept soundly and was woken by a loud knocking on his door. He rolled over and looked at his clock: ten-fifteen PM. “Who is it?”
“Dill, are you still awake?”
He got out of bed, put on a dressing gown and opened the door. “Kayleigh! Thank God you’re back! I need to have a word with you...”
He broke off when he saw her expression. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes were glowing and she wore a dreamy smile across her face. “Hi, Dill.”
“What’s up with you, Kay?”
She tittered briefly and raised her left hand. On the fourth finger was a brand new gold ring with a glittering diamond on it. “Oh, Dill!”
He caught his breath. “Zach…”
Dill invited her in and poured her a drink from the mini-bar, his brain on standby.
“Oh, Dill! It was so romantic!” She spun around the room like a ballerina with her hands clasped beneath her chin. “We drove down to Fort William and… I had no idea! We climbed all the way to the top of Ben Nevis! I was knackered! Suddenly he said: “Kayleigh, have you ever thought about having a husband?’ I said: ‘Why?’ and he took this ring-box out of his pocket and said: ‘’cos if you did, could it be me?’ and I just…” She started weeping. “Oh, Dill; I can’t believe it! It still hasn’t sunk in! I keep thinking I’ll wake up and… Oh!”
“I’m really pleased for you, Kayleigh.” he said. “I hope you’ll be really happy together.”
She looked at him dubiously “You’re not… er…?”
“No, no! Of course not!” he laughed. “I want what’s right for you. I’m happy if you’re happy… and I’m sure I’ll end up marrying Broadway eventually!”
“Ooh, Dill! I love you!” She jumped up and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re the best friend a girl could have! Thank you!... What did you need to have a word with me about?”
Dill hesitated then shook his head. “It wasn’t important.”
“OK, I’ve got to get back to Zach! He just popped down to the bar for some champers! See you later!” She pattered out of the room and slammed the door behind her.
The loud bang of it closing reverberated dully around the empty, silent bedroom.
On Monday morning, Dill’s mobile ‘phone rang. It was Trevor. “Good morning, Dill. Are you well?”
“Trevor!... I’m fine thanks. Where are you?”
“Erm… London; dealing with some business. I tried calling Zach, but his ‘phone’s switched off.”
“Yes… Why haven’t you come to see us yet? We’ve been stuck in this hotel for four days.”
He paused. “Oh, is there anything not to your satisfaction?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s a great place; it’s just… isn’t it about time we got down to some business?”
“Yes, of course it is, Dill; and we will, very soon… I’ll try Zach later.”
“I wouldn’t bother; Zach and Kayleigh are virtual recluses at the moment. I’ve hardly seen them all weekend. You see, they’ve decided to get engaged.”
Trevor gasped. “Really!? That’s wonderful! When’s the big day?”
“I don’t think they’ve set a date yet; mind you on their gallivants around Scotland they might already have tied the knot in Gretna Green.”
Trevor laughed. “Well, I trust I’ll get an invitation; and please pass on my best wishes.”
“Sure, but you’ll see them yourself the day after tomorrow.”
“In Cardiff… The conference?”
“Oh, yes!... Ah, that reminds me. The reason I called, before Zach and Kayleigh’s good news got in the way, was to tell you that I’m afraid we’ve had to delay the start of the summit again. I know it’s a bore, but we had no choice.”
Dill sighed. “What is it this time? Has Selby got a sore throat?”
Trevor laughed again. “The venue’s been double-booked; some damned eisteddfod! A bunch of Welsh dimwits singing and playing harps for three days! Confounded nuisance! Still nothing we can do! Damn Taffies are still under the misconception that it’s their country!”
Dill paused. “I see… So when’s it going to start this time?”
“Saturday. Saturday’s the day for sure!”
“Right; so we’ve just got to amuse ourselves all week have we?”
“Is that so bad? You’re staying in one of Scotland’s finest holiday resorts and you don’t have to pay a penny. Splash out, Dill! Enjoy yourself!” He laughed. “Everything is on me! The food, the beer, the facilities. Sit back, relax and let the days roll by… I’ve got to go now, Dill. I’ll be in touch. Goodbye.”
Dill stood still for a minute, listening to the dialling tone and thinking. Trevor, you laughed three times during that conversation!
Dill called up directory enquiries on his room landline found the number he needed and dialled it.
“Hello, Bore da, St David’s Hall.” said a voice.
Dill took on a business-like tone. “Hello, I’m just calling to confirm the start date of the Rockall Summit.”
“The Rockall Summit; I believe it begins on Saturday.”
“Rockall Summit?... I’m sorry, I don’t know what that is. There’s no event booked with that name. We’ve got the World Badminton Finals running till Saturday then Tom Jones Coming Home on Sunday.”
“That’s OK; thanks for your help.” Dill put down the ‘phone, kicked his suitcase out from under his bed and started packing.
The plane came to a standstill at the gate and the jet-way extended. Dill undid his seatbelt and waited for permission to disembark. When he reached the arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport in London he snatched his suitcase from the conveyer and jogged to the coach station. It was only four hours since he’d left the hotel. A coach arrived within ten minutes and he bought a single ticket to Oxford. As the vehicle started to move he tried to ring Kayleigh again. “The Tertralink ‘phone you have called is switched off. Please try again…” “Shit!” he cursed and composed a quick text message: “KAY, AS SOON AS U SWITCH ON UR FONE CALL ME. VERY VERY IMPORTANT. GONE 2 ENGLAND 2 TALK 2 TREVOR. DILL.”
It hadn’t been easy to locate Trevor as he had called from an ex-directory number. Dill had had to make several enquiries while in the taxi to Glasgow. First he called Ross Quentin then Arthur Foxwell; both had come back a blank. It was an internet link to a journalists’ research agency that finally gave him a firm set of tracks. Trevor wasn’t very famous, but he was famous enough not to be able to hide away from the press.
The trip to Oxford was non-stop motorway so it took just over an hour. The coach wormed its way through the tight city centre and terminated at a modern bus station. Dill asked directions in the ticket office and headed for his destination. The noise and bustle of the city was unfamiliar and intimidating to him, but luckily Trevor’s hotel was only just around the corner. Dill wasn’t surprised to see that it was a huge, very ornate, classical-posh hotel set in a corner slot on a plaza dominated by grand university architecture; just Trevor’s style. Dill was about to go in through the red-carpeted entrance when it struck him as bad move. Trevor had probably left instructions with reception not to reveal his presence. What’s more if he got wind of anyone enquiring about him, he’d most likely do a runner through a side door. So Dill crossed the road and set up a picket on a bench fifty yards down the street. He turned up the collar of his jacket and pretended to read a newspaper while keeping his eyes glued on the hotel doorway, like a cat watching a mousehole.
An hour passed then two. He considered giving up for the night and looking for a place to stay, but almost as soon as the idea had crossed his mind, a trio of suited men emerged from the hotel doorway, chatting and laughing. One of them was Trevor. Dill jumped to his feet, tossed his newspaper into a litter bin and followed them. Drivers hooted as he swiftly crossed the road to keep up with his quarry when they turned a corner.
Trevor and his posse entered a packed shopping street and Dill had trouble keeping them in sight through the crowds. He pursued them as closely as he could without risking them seeing him, dodging round passers-by. They weaved into a narrow side street and arced into a pub. Dill slowed and walked past the building. He tried peeping in through the windows, but there was too much reflection. He doubled back and stepped into the pub’s warm, steamy bar. Music played and multicoloured lights burbled on fruit machines. Trevor’s threesome were ordering drinks and leering at a group of women on a nearby table. Dill walked up to the bar, less than six feet from where Trevor stood, and ordered a pint of lager. Then he stared intrusively at the side of his head.
It took Trevor more than half a minute to notice Dill’s eyes on him. When he did, his expression changed from awareness to recognition, to astonishment to fear. “D… Dill!?”
“Well… I… Fancy meeting you here!”
“It’s no coincidence, Trevor. I traced you; and I’ve come to ask you why you’re lying to us.”
There was a long silence. Trevor’s lip wobbled awkwardly. Then he smiled at his friends and tittered “Excuse me, Gentlemen.” He picked up his drink, took Dill’s arm and led him away to an empty table. “How the hell did you find me!?” he hissed.
“With difficulty.” Dill replied. “So much for being in London, dealing with some business! You’re hiding from us, aren’t you!?”
Trevor closed his eyes and sighed.
“You tricked us! I rang St David’s Hall, Trevor! There is no Rockall Summit! You’ve moved us into a luxury hotel, pampering and pandering to us so that we’d forget all about it! What the fuck’s going on!?”
“Dill, please understand!” Trevor laid both his hands sideways on the table. “I had to do it! I made up the conference as an excuse to get you off the island! If I’d told you the truth…” He shook his head.
“What? What truth?”
“We can’t stop it, Dill! My father has been outvoted and he doesn’t have the incentive of rescuing me to overrule them!”
“What are you talking about!?”
“Dill! You’re my friend! Like Zach and Kayleigh! There’s nothing I can do about the others, but I had to get you three to safety! I had to save you!”
“Save us from what!?”
“I was going to tell you in a few days when it was all over!”
“When what was all over!?”
“TREVOR!” Everyone in the bar turned to stare at him. “What is going to happen!?”
Trevor’s eyes were blank with shame. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “They’re going to nuke Rockall.”
There was silence. Beep, beep, beep! Dill’s ‘phone rang. He pickled it up. The screen said: Kayleigh calling.
Trevor chartered an executive jet from an aerodrome in the north of Oxfordshire. It was a forty-minute taxi ride and a one-hour flight to Glasgow during which he and Dill never exchanged a word. A helicopter was waiting on the apron to whisk them to Glencarrick Hotel and as they landed, Zach and Kayleigh were standing beside the helipad. Dill refused to answer any of their frantic questions; he merely beckoned and led all three of them up to his room. Once they were all inside, he locked the door. “Come on, Dill; what’s the crack?” demanded Zach.
“Yes, let’s hear it!” said Kayleigh. “Your ‘phone call really scared me!”
“Well, go on then, Trevor!” snapped Dill. “Tell ‘em!”
Trevor was flushed and panting. He walked over to the sideboard and picked up one of the hotel’s own brand Scotch miniatures. He downed it in one go then took a deep breath and said in a deadpan voice: “Rockall is scheduled to be destroyed by nuclear bombardment.”
“Excuse me!?” Kayleigh frowned.
“It’s going to take place in the early hours of Thursday. Five warheads at two minute intervals; six thousand foot air bursts; each a hundred kilotons, about ten times the size of the Hiroshima bomb…”
“Stop it, Trevor!” interrupted Kayleigh. “If this is some sort of sick joke then I, for one, don’t find it very funny!... Dill! This is a joke, right!?... DILL!”
Dill gazed down at the carpet.
“But this is ridiculous!” said Zach. “It’s impossible! Don’t listen to him, Kay; it’s a wind-up!”
Trevor sighed again. “The coordinates of the island have been fed into the targeting computer of a Trident D-Five missile. The missile has been loaded aboard a submarine. All that has to pass is for the submarine to clear port, sail out to the fifteen hundred mile stand-off range, dive to the correct launch depth and fire the missile…” He turned and looked at them, his eyes reflecting the room’s mellow light. “Believe me, Zach; it’s perfectly possible.”
“No!” Zach shook his head furiously. “People wouldn’t stand for it! There’d be public outcry! He’s talking bullshit, Kay!”
“The public won’t know anything about it.” replied Trevor. “It’ll be done in total secrecy. Even the submarine will be manned by a special non-navy crew… Zach, bigger things than this have been covered up before.”
“But… but… Rockall…!” Kayleigh seized the hair at the sides of her head.
“When the warheads detonate, Rockall will be laid waste. Human, animal and plant bodies will vaporize; the surrounding ocean will turn to steam, the soil will burn away and the blast will blow the ashes into the sky. Some of the Erkdwala in their cave might survive the initial heatflash and shockwave, but even they will succumb to radioactive fallout within a few days.”
There was a long pause. “WHY!?” screamed Kayleigh, her eyes glistening with tears.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it!?” said Dill bitterly. “The oil!”
“Tests at the prospective offshore site on the shoals have proved it to be unworkable.” continued Trevor. “The seabed is fractured like crazy paving. The only locations that are stable enough are too deep for the rigs. The island of Rockall itself is the only place suitable for drilling. It’s there or nowhere.” He paused and wiped his mouth hesitantly. “Erm… there’s more. Your "Rockall Constitution" has been deemed highly subversive; it must be eliminated in case the idea catches on elsewhere. It was decided to sanitize the area with nuclear weapons because it’s a quick, clean, discrete and effective method for a place that’s already had more than its fair share of publicity. It’ll be all over in an hour and no one will know anything about it.”
“So what good will Rockall be once it’s been nuked to rubble?”
“It won’t be. The soil and upper regolith will be melted away, but the granite bedrock is virtually indestructible; we can build on that. It’ll actually be better; a nice, smooth vitrified surface and no troublesome natives to get in the way.”
“But the BGC decommissioning crew are on Rockall at the moment! They’ll die with everybody else!”
Trevor shrugged. “So?”
There was another pause. Kayleigh collapsed on the bed with her hands over her face.
“How do you know about all this?” asked Zach, tight-lipped.
“My father told me.”
Zach chuckled. “You’re pulling our legs!”
“Who do you think my father is!?” he retorted. “While I was enjoying the hospitality of your wine cellar, the world’s biggest naval taskforce was amassing in the sea around us! One word from my father and they pulled back and left you alone!”
“You’re father’s a Councillor, isn’t he?” said Dill.
“A Councillor? Where did you hear that word?”
“Rumours get around if you know where to listen… So is he?”
“No. He’s above them. He’s a Foreman. He sits on the Council of Thirteen.”
“I only found out about them a few months ago. Nobody even knows the names of every member except the Chairman; it was he who appointed my father.”
“The men-in-black!” exclaimed Zach. “And you’re one of them now, aren’t you!?”
“My father has called me to sit on the Council, yes.”
“What do they do?”
“Rule the world.”
“Do Weller and Selby know about all this?” asked Zach after a hesitation.
“Weller will be informed, afterwards, that the act has been carried out. As our servant he’s told things on a need-to-know basis.”
“What!? No, he’s not! I saw him on TV only last night!”
“Glenmar Selby died of pneumonia on the Thirteenth of February. What you saw was computer-generated imagery adapted from library footage. His public appearances are handled by look-alike actors.”
There was a long silence during which Trevor helped himself to another Scotch and this time Zach had one too. “How long have you known?” asked the latter thickly.
“About Rockall? My father told me a fortnight ago.”
“And you never told us!”
“That’s what I’m doing now.”
“You weren’t going to though were you, Trevor!?” said Dill. “You were going to keep us in the dark until it was all over! But you didn’t count on me smelling a rat!”
“Is that true, Trevor!?” asked Zach.
Trevor hunched his shoulders and bowed his head. “Yes.”
“Why you little…!”
“I had to!” he shouted. “It was the only way! If I hadn’t you’d all have died!”
“So this summit thing was all baloney!”
“Yes. I made it up to entice you off Rockall.”
Zach snorted. “Why bother!?”
Trevor raised his eyes and looked at him. “You’re my… friends.” He spoke the word as if it were an unfamiliar technical term or an expression from a foreign language. “I care about you; all of you.”
“Care!?” growled Zach. “You’ve never cared for one single person in your whole miserable life except... no!... Not even yourself!”
“I’ve changed, Zach!” said Trevor with uncharacteristic sincerity. “I see things differently now.”
“But, Trevor.” said Dill. “If your dad is one of these Foremen, why doesn’t he put a stop to this bombing?”
“He was outvoted eight-to-five.”
“But he has the power to do something! He did before!”
“He would never disobey a Council of Thirteen order. None of them would dare.”
Zach huffed deeply and ran a hand over his face. “Well…” He coughed. “I suppose I should thank you for saving our lives.”
“What did you say!?” Kayleigh lifted her head and glared at her fiancee.
“Come on, Kay! He could have left us to be barbecued!”
She stood up. “Rockall is about to be wiped off the face of the Earth! Every living thing on her will be reduced to cinders!... And you say ‘thank you’!?”
“It’s not our problem any more, Kay! Yeah, it’s a bastard deal, but what can we do about it!?”
She gasped. “What kind of gutless worm am I marrying!?... We have to stop this!”
“How!? Swim out and float in front of the submarine!? Catch the missile in a fishing net!?”
“You can’t prevent this from happening, Kayleigh.” said Trevor. “It’s as good as done.”
“Thank you, Trevor!” said Zach. “There you are! Hook, line and sinker! What can’t be helped shouldn’t be mourned! Forget about Rockall; it’s over! Look forward, not back! You’ve got your whole life ahead of you to enjoy!... Our lives; our marriage!”
“Forget about Rockall, just like that!?” said Kayleigh. “No! We’ve GOT to do something!”
“We have to try!”
“Calm down, you two!” said Dill. “This will get us nowhere!”
Kayleigh shot a finger at Zach. “Well, according to him there’s nowhere to go!”
“SHUT UP!” Dill yelled. He paused as the room fell into silence. “Now… I agree with Kayleigh; we can’t just sit back and let this pass unopposed. We have to at least make an effort.”
“Oh, yeah?” said Zach. “Well, when you’ve thought of a way to stop a bunch of maniac Foremen with a nuclear sub tucked into their belt, let me know!”
“We can’t stop them.” said Dill. “But he can!” He pointed at Trevor.
“P… Pardon?” stammered Trevor.”
“You’re in a privileged position, both in terms of information and ability.”
“I’m nothing of the sort!”
“You’re a Councillor!” Dill thought hard for half a minute, fanning the spark of an idea until it grew into a flame. “Look… Can you get us on board that submarine?”
“No! The Chairman himself is going to be aboard to supervise the mission. Security would be impregnable!”
“But no one will suspect a Councillor like you! You could ask the Chairman if you could come along for the ride… and bring a mate with you.”
Trevor snorted. “Don’t be ludicrous, Dill! What would you do once you were aboard anyway!?”
“Sabotage the submarine.”
“You can’t do that!”
“Well… even if you were lucky enough to get on board with out being noticed and successfully sabotage the submarine, it would be a suicide mission. There’s not much you can damage aboard a nuclear submarine without sinking it and drowning yourself.”
Dill swallowed a stab of fear. “I… I’ll risk it.”
“Dill, be sensible! It’d be a waste of time, not to mention our lives!”
“I want to try!” he said.
“And I’m coming with you!” put in Kayleigh.
“Hey! Time out, Kay!” barked Zach.
“Kayleigh, no!” said Trevor. “Even if by a million to one chance you save Rockall, it would almost certainly be through your own death!”
She closed her eyes and shivered, then just shrugged. “OK.”
“What!?” shrilled Zach. “No way! You’re not doing any death-and-glory stuff! Forget it!”
“Zach, Rockall is worth more than our lives!”
“Of course it’s not!”
“Fine! Stay here! Me and Dill will go on our own!”
“I can’t let you do that!”
“Fine! Then come with us!”
“Hold your horses!” butted in Trevor. “This is all hearsay, right!? You don’t actually expect me to try this, do you!?”
“Yes!” implored Kayleigh. “Please, Trevor!”
“Trevor.” said Dill. “You said earlier that you’d changed and you’d learnt to care. Well… this is caring, Mate!”
He guffawed. “This is insane! We’ll probably be stopped before we get within a mile of the submarine! They’ll capture us and kill us!”
Trevor’s features formed an expression that he’d never worn before. “Alright.” he said, just above a whisper. “But we must act quickly; the submarine puts to sea on Wednesday morning.”
Trevor, Dill, Zach and Kayleigh entered the Glasgow department store and went up to an assistant. “Good morning.” said Dill. “We’d like four black suits, please. Three gent’s, one lady’s. We’ll need four pairs of sunglasses too.”
“Remember, money’s no object for the Councillors.” warned Trevor as they went over to the fitting rooms. “Buy the most expensive one you can find; it’s all going onto my card.”
“That assistant probably thinks we’re off to a funeral.” said Dill as he looked at himself in the fitting room mirror. He put on the dark glasses and smiled. “Yes! Very sinister!”
Zach didn’t respond. He was slumped on the bench with his chin propped on his hands. His cheeks were ruddy and his breathing laboured. He looked close to tears.
“Are you OK?”
“No.” he sniffed. “I keep seeing myself walking down the aisle with Kayleigh… Have you ever been engaged, Dill?”
“Well, it changes your life! This weekend I’ve been living in Heaven! I’ve seen my dreams all laid out in front of me: Our wedding, a nice house, a car each, three kids, two boys and one girl, family holidays… It doesn’t look like it’s ever going to happen now!” He dissolved into tears.
Dill crouched down and put an arm around his shoulder. “It might yet, Zach. You never know.”
“It might… but it won’t! You heard Trevor!”
“Well… at least you and Kayleigh have had a wonderful weekend together. That’s more than some folks get.” The words were already out of his mouth before he could stop them. He regretted saying them, but Zach fortunately didn’t pick up.
“But it’s not enough, Dill! We’ve made a lifetime of plans and I want to see them come true!”
“We all make plans, Zach. We all have hopes and dreams, but sometimes you just have to be content with Now!... And you can’t beat a happy memory! A happy memory is worth ten hopes because it’s indestructible! It’ll be yours forever to enjoy whenever you like! Nothing and no one can take it away from you!”
“I don’t want to die!” he wailed. “I want to live; to live and marry Kayleigh!” He switched to anger. “I wish she’d just drop this whole thing! What’s the use!? If Rockall is going to die then why do we have to die with it!? It’s like she’s into some sort of Japanese death-pact! Damn her! Stupid cow! She must love that pile of rocks more than me!” He thumped his knees.
“Come on.” said Dill. “Let’s go and pay for our disguises.”
It was early on Wednesday morning. Dill woke up and was fully alert within a few seconds. He showered and dressed in his suit then put on his sunglasses and checked himself in the mirror. It was still dark outside when he, Kayleigh and Zach left the guest house in Helensburgh and walked along to the street corner rendezvous, feeling conspicuous in their disguises. A milk float and a few cars went past, but didn’t pay them any attention. On the stroke of five AM the limousine came along the main road and pulled up beside them. Dill and his friends climbed in beside Trevor and the car drove off. The driver sat in a sealed-off compartment at the front, allowing them to talk privately. “Any problems?” asked Dill.
“Not so far.” replied Trevor. “Have you remembered my little lesson in Councillor Etiquette?”
“Yes.” said Kayleigh. “We’ll remember to bow to the Chairman when we’re introduced. My name is Aphrodite, Dill’s is Apollo and Zach’s is…”
“Paris.” said Zach.
“Good.” said Trevor.
The river Clyde was over a mile across. It looked grey in the dim hint of sunrise and reflected the opposite shore as a glistening, black stain. A merchant ship was visible in the distance, its masthead lights flashing.
Faslane Naval Base was set into the wooded surrounds of the Gareloch, a deep gulch in the Firth of Clyde. The main road north ran along its perimeter and it looked like a prison camp with high, barbed wire fences and security cameras every twenty yards. Within the fence was a thick forest, preventing anyone from seeing more than a few feet inside. The car pulled up at the main gate and Dill forced himself to appear calm as the armed sentry scrutinized the fake ID cards that Trevor had made the day before. Entrance was granted and the car drove into the compound. “Whew!” said Zach. “That’s the worst bit over with!”
“It’s not, you know.” said Trevor. “And don’t look too relieved! It’ll seem suspicious.”
The limousine passed through the forest into a built-up area of office and industrial blocks. At the far end of the road was an expansive concrete dock lined by towering cranes and the Gareloch beyond them. The car stopped by the quay. Tied up alongside it with six-inch-thick cables was an unearthly-looking hill of black metal. A sailor marched up and opened the car door, and Dill and the others got out.
A cold, salty wind blew in from the sea and seagulls keened overhead. The submarine wallowed low in the choppy, grey waves like a dead whale. Its conning tower loomed over their heads and sailors crawled along its upper hull, looking as small as mice. The energy that came off it was dark and sinister and it made Dill shiver. Here was a vessel with more destructive power than all the bombs dropped during the Second World War; and its full venom was about to be unleashed on tiny Rockall. A gold-braded naval officer approached them and bowed deeply. “My Lords and Lady Councillors.” he said. “I’m Admiral Carefield, Flag Officer Submarines. Her Majesty’s Submarine Victorious is at your disposal. She is ready to put to sea on your order.”
Don’t return his greeting! Trevor had warned them. He’s nothing to you!
“Admiral!” Trevor snapped. “I want all your men off this vessel immediately.”
“Yes, Councillor.” Admiral Carefield turned to another officer who was standing nearby. “Captain, order all your crew to lay ashore.”
The captain frowned. “I beg your pardon, Sir?”
“Order all your crew to lay ashore.”
“Aye aye, Sir.” he replied, looking befuddled. “All except the engineering watch, I assume you mean.”
“No, Captain, I mean all your men, every last hand, off that boat. You’re all on leave as of now.”
“But, Sir; the reactor’s critical…!”
“Aye aye, Sir.” The red-faced captain crossed the gangway to his vessel. A few minutes later a column of sailors and officers climbed out of the deck hatches and filed over the gangway to the wharf. They headed away into one of the buildings.
“Allow me to show you aboard, Councillors.” said Admiral Carefield with another deep bow; and he led the way to the gangplank.
Dill was surprised to find that the outer skin of the submarine was not made of metal, but of a soft, rubbery substance, presumably as a protection against sonar. He felt a pang of claustrophobia as he climbed down a vertical ladder into the bowels of the craft. The interior of the submarine was very confined. The ladder ended in a passageway that was only just wide enough for them to move in single file and it smelled strongly of oil and electrics. The low ceiling was open and consisted of pipes and cables. Carefield opened a door for them and bowed once more. “My Lords and Lady Councillors, here are your quarters. The Chairman will be with you shortly.” He left them in the cabin and returned to the ladder. Dill shut the door and bolted it. They all took off their dark glasses.
Kayleigh gritted her teeth and let out a suppressed squeal of triumph. “We did it, we did it! We’re aboard! I can’t believe it!” She laughed manically.
Even Trevor was wiping his brow with relief. “Hold it together, Kayleigh! So far so good, but it’s not over yet by a long chalk.”
“So, we’re on the sub! What the fuck do we do now!?” hissed Zach.
“We’re going to save Rockall!” Kayleigh was seething with excitement.
“Yes, Kayleigh, we’re going to save Rockall, but we have to work out how!... Trevor! What happens now!?”
“Now, the Chairman comes aboard with the new crew and we set sail. We will have to retain our cover until we reach the launch point. Then we’ll have to find a way to bugger up the missile deployment."
"How?" asked Zach.
"Well there's one method that's guartenteed... We could open a hatch somewhere and sink the sub.”
“With us still on it?”
“No!” said Zach. “There must be a way to do this without killing ourselves!”
“Well… the sub has to be on an even keel at the correct depth to launch the missile. If we cause a disruption in the control room at the crucial moment, we could knock it off balance and send the missile into the seabed. It wouldn’t sink the sub; the crew would be able to regain control afterwards.”
“What would they do with us after that?” asked Dill.
“Probably kill us.”
Zach groaned. “Well done, Trevor! Keep going; you’re nearly there!”
Trevor unbolted the door. “Look, you three sort it out amongst yourselves. I’ve got to go and greet the Chairman.”
When he’d gone, Kayleigh went to use the cabin’s adjoining toilet. Dill looked around him. The stateroom was about the same size as his bedroom on Rockall with four bunkbeds on opposite walls. “Not exactly First Class, is it?” he said. “Hardly fitting for a Councillor!”
“Dill…” said Zach quietly. “Are you scared?”
He turned and looked at Zach with a grimace. “Yes, I’m terrified… Are you?”
Zach tittered. “Not as much as I was.”
“That’s because we’re all high on adrenalin. Look at Kayleigh! She’s practically floating up to the ceiling!”
“It’s not just that.” said Zach. “I feel somehow… relaxed with whatever comes our way.”
“I wish I was.” chuckled Dill.
“I keep remembering this story Kerroj told me a few months ago. It was about a dolphin. You know it, don't you? The Erkdwala spiritual myths? Do you believe it?”
“Yes. It’s very similar to what the Druids taught me.”
“So… we shouldn’t be worried really, if we snuff it on this sub? We’re just dolphins falling back into the water?”
Dill paused. “I suppose so. When we die it’s just part of the natural process of our life-journey.”
“So you’re not really scared?”
“Yes, I just told you; I’m shitting myself!” He laughed. “I know it seems like a denial to my beliefs. It’s just a natural human instinct though; of course I don’t want to die.”
Zach shivered. “If we do die, do you think I could meet Kayleigh in another life and marry her there?”
Dill smiled at him then crossed the compartment and put his hand round his shoulders. “Of course you could. You can have whatever you want. We make our own reality to experience.”
Kayleigh came out of the toilet and they sat on their bunks and waited for Trevor to return. When he did, he stumbled into the room as if he’d just been hit. His face was beetroot-red and his eyes glazed in horror.
“Trevor!” said Dill. “What’s wrong!?”
“The… Ch… Ch… Chair… man…!” he stuttered.
“Yes? What about the Chairman?”
The door to the cabin opened and the occupants just had time to replace their sunglasses before a black-suited, elderly man entered. “Councillors.” he said.
“O, Lord Chairman.” Dill said and bowed as Trevor had taught him. Kayleigh and Zach copied his action.
“Arise!” said the Chairman of the Thirteen.
Dill stood up and found himself face-to-face with Lord August McCain, Trevor’s father.
“The crew will be MenCon’s.” said the Chairman as they paced backwards and forwards on the submarine’s casing. “They’re more reliable than humans on sensitive missions like this. The Sheep are becoming more restless and disobedient; there are changes going on in the body of the Earth that sharpen their minds and make them more difficult to herd.”
“Yes, My Lord Chairman.” Dill nodded. He was relieved that he’d managed to iron the quaver out of his voice. He still hadn’t recovered from the shock of meeting Lord McCain. Thankfully Trevor’s father had failed to recognize Zach, Kayleigh or himself; either he didn’t remember them from their encounter on Rockall or their disguises were better than they’d thought.
Zach and Kayleigh were also hiding their surprise very well. They walked along beside the Chairman poker-faced behind their sunglasses. Trevor was being rather less opaque, but then his father would have probably expected a little surprise and discomfort from his son in this situation.
“I’d been told we had four extra passengers, Trevor; but I had no idea that one of them was you!” Lord McCain patted his son’s upper arm. “What are your friends’ names again?”
“Apollo, Aphrodite and Paris.” Trevor answered in a hoarse voice.
A black coach with tinted windows drove up to the dockside. “Ah, here they are.” said the Chairman.
The coach parked and the passengers decamped. They were all men, totally bald wearing orange overalls. They crossed the gangway silently without stopping or looking around them. They passed the four people on the casing as if they were invisible and descended the ladder into the submarine. The look in their eyes frightened Dill. It was a vacant, unconscious, mesmerized look, like waxworks. Their eyes were like those of a corpse, painted onto their faces. Each one had a malignant-looking metal implant growing out of the side of their nape.
The Chairman took a device out of his pocket that looked like a TV remote control and pressed a few buttons. “Right, I’ve downloaded the crew their instructions; we’ll be getting underway in a few minutes. Lay below decks and I’ll call you when we’re ready.”
As soon as they were back in the relative safety of their cabin, Kayleigh turned on Trevor. “Why didn’t you tell us your dad was the Chairman!?”
“He didn’t know…” said Dill. “…did you, Trevor?”
Trevor shook his head. He still looked as if he’d just seen a ghost. His cheek twitched and his eyes were watering.
The deck gave a lurch as the submarine moved away from the quay. It was too late to go back now.
The Chairman invited the four passengers to the control room to watch the dive. The MenCon crew handled the submarine skilfully and with a detached familiarity. Everything they needed to know had been programmed into their filleted brains through the electronic interface attached to their necks, Trevor explained. MenCon was short for “Mentally-Controlled.” They were people who’d been adapted by surgery into zombies. The Councillors used them as living robots, programming them with instructions through devices like the TV remote type one that the Chairman had brought with him; and then they would carry them out as mindlessly as a photocopier.
The hatches were shut and the submarine took on a downward angle. The rolling of the waves ceased as the craft sank deeper and deeper.
That evening the Chairman ate dinner in the wardroom with Trevor, “Apollo”, “Aphrodite” and “Paris”. The meal was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding served by a MenCon chef. “In a few hours it will all be over.” said Lord McCain proudly. “Rockall will be gone. I don’t know why we didn’t do this in the first place. What do you think, Apollo?”
Never speak to the Chairman unless he speaks to you first. Dill recalled from Trevor’s instructions. “Indeed, My Lord.” said Dill. “It is a most expedient move.” He pretended to enjoy his meal until they were thankfully excused and permitted to retire to their cabin.
“Right.” said Dill. “This is it! They’re launching the missile at six AM. We have to… Ooh!... go through our plans and make sure we all know what we’re doing.” He clutched his belly as a painful twinge of indigestion rolled across his stomach.
“OK, we ask if we can come to the control room to watch the launch.” said Kayleigh. “Then I distract the Chairman’s attention.”
“Yes.” said Zach. “Then Dill and me grab him and get hold of that little control box he wears on his belt… What if the final launch instructions are already programmed into the MenCons? Trevor?”
Trevor didn’t reply. He sat on his bunk staring at the deck. He’d been in a depressed, trance-like state since his father had first arrived.
“Trevor! Answer me!” prompted Zach.
“The deployment trigger hasn’t been downloaded yet.” he mumbled. “My… dad will have to do that just before the launch.”
“So there we are!” said Kayleigh brightly. “All we have to do is grab the control box and he can’t launch the missile!”
“He might try to do it himself from the missile room on the deck below.” said Dill. “We’ll have to keep him down to stop him running there.”
“While you’re holding him, I’ll run to the helm and grab the controls. If I push the yoke forward the sub will move off depth and the launch will be ruined.”
“Don’t push it too far!” warned Zach. “We’re out in the Atlantic now and the ocean’s deep. If the sub goes beneath a thousand feet-or-so the sea-pressure will crush us like an eggshell!”
There was a long silence and all three of them looked at Trevor. He hadn’t moved once since dinner. “Trevor?” said Dill. “Trevor, are you with us?”
He nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Look, Trevor; I know it’s a shock for you finding that your dad’s here, but you mustn’t let it get you down. We’ve got a job to do, remember?”
He nodded again.
“OK… Now the Chairman’s going to call us just before going to action stations. So we’ve got seven hours to wait.”
They climbed into their bunks and tried to sleep. Dill didn’t think about Rockall; he kept his mind focused on the immediate future. Zach and Kayleigh chatted softly and Trevor remained where he was, squatting dismally on the edge of his bed. Eventually Dill gave up on sleep; he got out of bed, crouched down on the floor and meditated.
Dill was brought out of his deep state by a knock on the door. “Councillors!” called the Chairman from outside. “It’s five-thirty.” They heard him walk away.
Kayleigh and Zach sat up with a jerk. Trevor was locked in the head.
“Gordon Bennett!” said Dill. “I’ve just been meditating for six hours! That’s a record for me.”
“Wonderful.” said Zach impatiently. “Now shall we get prepared?” He knocked on the head door. “Trevor!... Trevor! Open the door, Mate; it’s time.”
The lock clicked, the door opened a crack and a wan, tousled face appeared. The stench of vomit came from inside.
“Trevor! Have you been sick!?” asked Dill.
“Slightly.” he replied. “Dinner last night… didn’t agree with me.”
“Well, let’s get going.” Dill buttoned up his shirt.
They walked along the passageway, Trevor stumbling along behind his three companions. The control room was dimly lit and the bland faces of the MenCon’s were illuminated by the multicoloured wash of their instruments. In the centre of the compartment, beside the two steel shafts of the retracted periscopes, stood the Chairman. “Good morning, Councillors; nice to see you up. Shall we begin?” He unclipped his control box from his belt and pressed a few buttons. Instantly there was the clatter of feet from the decks below and they heard running boots. Zach looked at Dill and winked.
MenCon’s rushed into the room from the passageways and quickly took their places at action stations. The two helmsmen at the front of the room pulled back on their wheels and the submarine tipped upwards. Kayleigh began edging closer to them. Trevor was standing at the back of the room facing the bulkhead with his hands in his pockets.
“OK.” said Lord McCain. “The launch procedure is quite simple. As soon as we’ve reached the required depth of a hundred and fifty feet we’ll bring the sub to a crawling speed, open one of the missile tubes and blow the missile out. It will ascend into orbit and release its warheads. These will fall one-by-one onto Rockall, blowing it to smithereens.”
The submarine levelled off. It was almost time. Dill, Kayleigh and Zach exchanged one more glance.
The Chairman pressed another button and the helmsmen turned a dial on their console. “Right, now I am instructing the crew to bring the vessel to a bare steerageway state.”
Dill tensed his muscles.
He pressed more buttons. “This will tell them to open the missile tube door.”
Dill heard a humming and clunking sound from the hull above as the muzzle door swung up to expose the Trident missile. He edged forward towards Lord McCain.
“Dad! Dad! Watch out!” yelled a voice from behind them.
Dill swung round to see Trevor pointing a pistol at him.
“Watch out, Dad! It’s Gibson, Neelum and Ford! They’re trying to stop the launch!”
Zach and Kayleigh stared at him in disbelief.
Lord McCain’s expression of shock lasted only a couple of seconds and he reacted coolly. “Alright, Son! Don’t panic! Give me the gun!” He walked over and took the weapon from Trevor’s hand. He stepped back and levelled it at Dill, Zach and Kayleigh. “Well, what have we here?” he asked in a neutral voice. “I thought I’d seen you three somewhere before. How did you get on board?”
“I brought them, Dad.” said Trevor, crying shamefully. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it! I’ll never betray you again, I promise!”
“Trevor!” Kayleigh’s face was contorted and purple. “YOU FUCKING SCUM!”
“I’ll deal with you later, Trevor.” said Lord McCain. “For now we’ve got more immediate business… What are you three doing here!?... Answer me, Mr Gibson!” He aimed the gun at Dill’s head.
Well, at least we tried. Dill thought to himself, feeling emotionless. ‘It’s not the succeeding it’s the effort that counts’, Kerroj says. “We got through security and stowed away, My Lord.”
“Trevor helped us.”
“I’m sorry, Dad!” Trevor wept.
“Shut up, Trevor!... Why did you stow away, Mr Gibson!?”
“We heard the Council had decided to destroy Rockall, so we wanted to stop you.”
“That’s an awful lot of trouble and danger to go to just for a worthless, little island.”
“Rockall is not a worthless, little island, My Lord. It’s the most precious place on Earth; and you’re about to blow it up.”
He smiled. “Yes, I am… And you’re too late to stop me now, Mr Gibson, Mr Neelum, and Miss Ford.”
“I know, My Lord.” said Dill quietly.
McCain switched the pistol to his other hand, reached for his belt and raised his control box. “You see this? It tells the MenCon’s what to do. The sub is ready at the correct speed and depth, the missile tube is open and the computers and machinery are primed. All that remains is the trigger and…” He paused and coughed. “All I have to do is enter the word ‘FIRE’ into the keypad and the weapon will be gone. Once it’s out of the water, no one can stop it… Would you like a minute or two to say goodbye to Rockall?”
Kayleigh was weeping copiously. Zach was stiff and tight-faced.
“Very well… here goes.” He lifted his thumb to the keypad then stopped. He stood statue still for a couple of moments then his face went white and he began to tremble. He let out a guttering choke of agony. He dropped the control box and the gun and clutched his chest.
“DILL!” shouted Zach.
Dill was already diving towards the Chairman before he knew it. He seized the pistol while Zach grabbed the control box.
Lord McCain fell to the deck, violent spasms racked his body. “DAD!” screamed Trevor and dashed to his side.
Zach and Dill were on their feet again. Zach frantically examined the device in his hand. “What do I do!? What do I press!?”
“Anything except ‘FIRE’!” yelled Kayleigh as she dashed forward to intercept the helm.
“Take the batteries out!” said Dill.
He fiddled with the case. “I don’t think it has batteries… Trevor, what do I do!?... TREVOR!”
Trevor ignored him. He was crouched beside his father. Lord McCain’s body had stopped moving.
The submarine’s deck lurched downwards as Kayleigh pushed the yoke.
“NOT TOO DEEP, KAY!” shouted Zach.
Kayleigh eased back and the deck levelled out again.
“We need to shut the missile tube and turn off the battle computers!” said Dill.
“Is that all!? Thank God for that!” shrilled Zach. He turned the control box over and over in his hand. “Oh, what the hell!” He dropped the device to the deck, grabbed a hammer from a wall-mounted tool-kit and bashed the little box repeatedly until it shattered. Strange-looking broken electronics splashed out of it.
The effect was amazing. Every MenCon in the compartment instantly fell limp and slumped in their seats like rag dolls. “You fuckin’ prick!” screamed Dill. “What have you done!? We need these guys to drive the sub!”
“Well, what was I supposed to do, Einstein!?”
“Dill! The missile room!” yelled Kayleigh. “Zach, come here and take the wheel!”
Zach pushed the flaccid MenCon helmsman roughly onto the floor and jumped into his seat. Kayleigh and Dill left the control room and dashed along the passageway, and then down a flight of stairs to the missile room. The floor of the missile room was covered in comatose MenCon’s. One of them was slouched in a seat beside a control panel. In his limp left hand he held a trigger switch trailing a wire that led to an open, combination-locked safe. Kayleigh approached him and gingerly removed the switch from his hand. “Careful not to press it!” warned Dill. She placed it on the deck under his chair.
Dill and Kayleigh scanned the panels as quickly as they could. Eventually they found what they thought was the open-shut control for the missile tube hatches. They flicked the only open one of the set to the ‘shut’ position and were relieved to hear a hum and clunk from above as the hatch shut. In the end they had to smash a glass box and pull out the emergency circuit-breakers to shut down the battle computers. The control panels blanked out and the hard-drives spun down; everything went silent. “Whew!” Kayleigh leaned against a bulkhead and wiped the sweat from her brow.
The missile systems were now off which meant that Rockall was now safe, Dill laughed with relief and joy. It hardly mattered to him their own predicament was still far from ideal. They were on their own, hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean, hundreds of miles from land aboard a submarine that none of them knew the first thing about how to operate. They’d managed to get the hang of the helm which meant that at least they could control their direction, but the other controls perplexed them. When everything had calmed down they walked around the control room trying to make sense of all the various knobs, levers, keypads, displays and dials. Trevor didn’t help. He picked up the body of his father and carried him out of the aft doorway, weeping bitterly.
“Ballast tanks!” said Kayleigh. “These switches are for the ballast tanks.”
“Where?” Dill came over to look.
“Here.” She pointed. “Aren’t ballast tanks what a sub uses to come up?”
“Yes. When the sub dives it lets water into the ballast tanks and it goes down; when it wants to surface again it blows the water out with high-pressure air and up it pops.”
“’HP air induction’ Shall we try it?”
Dill shrugged. “We might as well.”
Kayleigh pressed the switch and a deafening hiss filled the hull. The air in the compartment filled with fog and Dill felt pressure on his eardrums.
“Look at the depth gauge!” Zach pointed. It had been registering a steady two hundred feet for the quarter of an hour since the fight, but now it started changing rapidly: one hundred and ninety, one hundred and eighty, one hundred and seventy… “We’re coming up!” sang out Zach cheerfully.
The submarine began to rock in the motion of the waves once again and the depth gauge stopped unreeling. “We’re on the surface.” said Dill. “What do we do now?”
Kayleigh found the hatch that led to the conning tower. She wrenched the wheel until it came loose and the hatch swung open easily as if counterweighted. She and Dill climbed up the cold, narrow, steel shaft to the top where there was another hatch. As they opened this one it was thrown back by a blast of air and they felt their ears pop as the pressure equalized. They were blinded by the cloudy sunlight and chilly sea air as they stepped up onto the wet metal platform at the top of the submarine’s conning tower. The ocean around them was empty and desolate. It was raining lightly and bitingly cold. The submarine was ploughing through the water very slowly as they hadn’t altered its speed since the attempted missile launch. “Where are we and where do we go?” asked Kayleigh.
“I don’t know. We should ask Trevor; perhaps he knows.”
She scowled. “I wouldn’t ask that bastard for the time of day!”
“Well, I’m going to see if I can find us some warm clothes; it’s all brass-monkeys up here!”
He went back into the pressure hull where Zach was still calmly sat at the helm and rummaged in a locker until he came up with two thick reefers. As he was climbing back to the bridge, he heard Kayleigh yelling excitedly. When he joined her, she was waving her arms and jumping up and down.
An aeroplane was flying low around the submarine. It was a big jet and it had the words “ROYAL NAVY” painted on the side of it. “It must have picked us up on its radar when we surfaced.” said Dill.
The maritime patrol plane eventually flew off, but Dill was sure that now that they’d been found someone would be sent out to collect them. They decided to make it easier for their rescuers by and stopping the submarine. Zach tried turning the speed selection knob to All-Stop, but nothing happened. They weren’t sure what to do until Kayleigh went down to the engine room and found the “Emergency SCRAM” button, which automatically shut down the submarine’s nuclear reactor. After discussing it with Dill and Zach she went and pressed it. Alarm bells rang and the lights shifted to red as the electrical system switched to emergency battery power. The submarine’s engines stopped she slowed to a rest, rolling in the ocean swells.
At three PM that afternoon, a warship appeared on the horizon, steaming towards them at full speed. Less than two hours later it pulled up alongside them a mile away and the sailors on deck lowered a pair of boats into the sea. They headed over towards them, one towards the submarine’s amidships area, the other towards the bows, trailing a thick towing hawser from the ship’s stern.
Zach, Kayleigh and Dill opened the deck hatch to allow the boat party aboard and Dill went to find Trevor. He tried several places before eventually locating him in the captain’s cabin. He was kneeling, motionless on the floor with his hands on his lap; he didn’t even look up when Dill opened the door. On the bed lay the waxy-faced corpse of his father. “Come on, Trevor; there’s a rescue ship arrived to pick us up. We’ve got to go.”
“I’m staying here.” he croaked.
“No, we’ve all got to go. If you don’t come willingly these sailors will force you.”
Trevor didn’t respond.
“Look, mate; I’m not angry OK? Kayleigh and Zach are, but I’m not. I know you loved your dad deep down and that’s why you grassed us up to him. The other two will understand in their own time.”
“I was happy when he had his first heart attack.” said Trevor thickly. “I actually wanted him to die! What sort of man wants his own father to die!?”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Mate; lots of blokes have difficulty in relating to their dads.”
“And now I want him to live… and he’s dead!” Trevor started crying again. “I’d give everything to have him alive now, Dill! My houses, my cars, my shares, my Council seat! Everything I own and everything I’ve ever owned!”
Dill walked into the room and sat beside him. He put a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve got your friends now, Trevor.” he said quietly. “For the first time in your life, you’ve got real friends.”
“Earth to Earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust!” said the vicar.
Trevor walked up to the graveside and threw in a single bloom. The clock-bells rang in the tower of the little old church as Lord August McCain was laid to rest. Birds serenaded him from the trees nearby. Zach, Dill and Kayleigh bowed their heads as the final prayer was read. Yvonne, Trevor’s step-mother, who was probably younger than Trevor himself, wailed loudly and buried her face in a sodden handkerchief. She looked utterly grief-stricken. (A little too grief-stricken, Dill thought.)
They didn’t speak to Trevor as the funeral troupe filed out of the churchyard; he was surrounded by his immediate relatives. They all headed off to the reception at McCain Hall while Zach, Dill and Kayleigh made their way around the corner to the Hertfordshire village’s charming little pub. They ordered drinks and sat at a wooden table near the fire. “I’ve had an email from Calum.” said Dill. “He’s thought about it and he’s totally refusing to sign the constitution.”
“That’s messy, seeing as he’s the President.” said Zach.
Dill shrugged. “Well, he’s a Free Rockallian.”
Kayleigh laughed. “Will you always be so nice, Dill?”
Zach nodded. “Who was it who said: ‘It’s better to debate a problem without solving it than to solve a problem without debating it.’?”
“Joseph Joubert.” said Dill.
“So long as we keep arguing and not dictating then the Rockall Republic will succeed.” said Kayleigh. “That’s what lies at the heart of it; not Skuas and Puffins or some constitution.”
“We’ll have to make that Joubert’s saying our national motto.” said Zach.
When Zach went off to the toilet, Kayleigh turned to Dill and smiled. “We’ve set a date for the wedding.”
“Brilliant!” replied Dill. “When is it?”
“August the Thirty-first.”
“Right, I’ll make a note in my diary. Will it be on Rockall?”
“Oh, yes! Reverend Hamilton is going to do it.”
“I thought Zach was Catholic.”
“He is, but that doesn’t matter to people like Duncan Hamilton.”
“Well… I’ll look forward to it.”
She nodded and paused; and looked awkward. “Dill… There’s been something I’ve been meaning to say to you.”
“I know how you feel about me and… I’m sorry I can’t feel that way about you.”
Dill shrugged. “That’s alright. We don’t choose who to fall in love with. You’ve got to be pretty lucky to fall for someone who also falls for you. Really, when you think about it, the chances against it are astronomically small!”
“I’m glad you and Zach were that lucky. I wasn’t, but so what? Neither was Broadway. True love doesn’t depend on being loved back.”
“I’m glad you’re alright about it.”
They grinned warmly at each other.
“There’s something I could never understand.” said Dill, hastily changing the subject. “How, when the first mission to blow up Rockall failed, the Councillors didn’t simply deploy another submarine to do the job properly. By rights we should have only delayed the destruction, not succeeded in saving our island.”
“Who cares, so long as we did!” said Kayleigh. “It’s a good thing we never thought about what you’ve just said before we got into all this or we might have given up there and then.”
“Hey! You two!” Zach called from the other side of the room. “Come and look at the TV!”
His voice sounded so urgent that Dill and Kayleigh stood up and walked over to the bar where the television was on.
It showed a news flash announcing that a major oil deposit had been found in the South Pacific. “These are unconfirmed reports!” the newsreader said excitedly. “But the initial speculation is that this field under the Loaduan Islands is twice the size of the Rockall field and in a much easier location to tap. If it turns out to be a viable source, it will make the Rockall field obsolete! The world’s fuel crisis will be over…”
“I think that answers your question.” said Kayleigh.
Dill went over to the pub’s public internet terminal and began flicking through the entire website list on the Loaduan Islands… Archipelago in the South Seas… site of ancient stone monuments… home to an ancient culture related to the Ponapei civilization… lush tropical nature reserves… population of fifty thousand…
“What are you doing?” asked Kayleigh as Dill then called up a travel agency website.
“What do you think I’m doing, Kayleigh!?... I’m booking us all on the first available flight to the Loaduan Islands!”
The island of Rockall actually exists! Though I have changed some of its details to create the imaginary island in the story, it lies in the same place as the real Rockall: 191 miles west of St Kilda in the Western Isles of Scotland. It is marked on most maps and has a weather forecast sea region named after it. The real Rockall is a stone pinnacle just 70 feet high and 83 feet across. It has no soil and is a home to no one but seabirds who use it to rest on during long flights. However it has been landed on a few times and even occupied by the charity-fundraiser Tom McClean, who lived there for thirty-eight days in 1985. Since then it has had other visitors, most notably Greenpeace protestors. Some of them have produced a very amusing e-zine called The Rockall Times. The island of Rockall was also the subject of a set of fantasy novels by the late Antony Swithin. A friend of his is currently trying to get them back into print (see: http://www.rockallonline.com/ .)
(Go back to Chapter 9: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2009/08/rockall-chapter-9.html )