Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Rockall Chapter 5- Aliens

Chapter Five- Aliens

The ‘phone rang while Zachary Neelum was on the toilet. He leaped off the seat and tumbled forward with his trousers round his ankles. He ran like a shackled convict, not bothering to pull them up. He fell again and crawled the rest of the way. He snatched up the receiver. “Hello!?”
“Good morning, Zach. I hope I haven’t woken you too early.”
“Trevor! What do you want!?”
“I was just wondering if you were planning on doing any work today. It’s eleven thirty and you’re not in your office.”
“Get off the line, Trevor! I’m waiting for the Guard to call!”
“The Guard can call you on your mobile; now please make an effort and drag yourself across the Port; I’ve got some Home Office releases for you to countersign.”
Zach went down to his garage, got into his new Jaguar and drove the single mile across the settlement to The Rotunda. He parked in the forecourt and made his way up to Trevor’s office, keeping his eyes averted from the empty secretary’s desk. Trevor was on the ‘phone as he walked in. “Sorry, I’m late…” Zach began.
The Governor waved him silent. “Yes… Yes… Very well; let me know as soon as she’s available. Thank you.” He put down the receiver. “Damn!”
“I’ve spent the last hour trying to find a temp to cover Kayleigh. Ross says he won’t be able to get anyone out here for a week. Blast and botheration!”
“I’m touched by your concern!” Zach spat sarcastically.
“Oh, come on, Zach! Life goes on. We still have an island to run, Kayleigh or no Kayleigh.”
“Trevor! She’s been missing for nearly two days! The last people to see her were those bird-watchers! They said she wandered off on her own! Don’t you realize what that could mean!? She might have fallen and broken her leg or caught hypothermia or something!”
“Kayleigh’s never stuck me as the reckless, mountaineering type.”
“So what if a gang of thugs have got hold of her!?”
“Then how’s your worrying going to help her?... Look, I’ve posted every off-duty Guardsman to the search. If she were still on Rockall, they’d find her.”
“What do you mean ‘if she were still on Rockall’?”
“Well… Have you ever considered that the reason she’s missing is that she doesn’t want to be found?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Perhaps she’s gone away… to think.”
Zach shook his head in bemusement. “Eh?”
“Well, I know that you and she have been having a little… liaison. It might have left her somewhat confused and uncertain about her feelings. She’d probably needs some space.”
“A little liaison!? How did you find out?”
“How did you expect anyone not to find out? We’ve all decided to keep it from Dill for the time being.”
Zach paused. “But… it doesn’t fit.”
“It fits perfectly. Now why don’t you just put her out of your head and wait. In a while she’ll turn up as happy as Larry and you can go off to bed and carry on where you left off.”
“But the bird-watchers found the car where she’d left it. Why didn’t she go back to it and drive home?”
“She probably walked down the coast to Hasselwood. It would only take a few hours. If she’s clever enough to sneak across the border into the US Sector I’m sure she’s clever enough to sneak back… It beats me how she managed to do it. I wish I knew.”
Zach put his hands in his pocket and shifted on his feet. He cleared his throat. “Er… So where do you think she is now?”
“Staying with friends in Hasselwood; or perhaps she’s gone back to the mainland. She could easily have stowed away on that Edinburgh Uni flight yesterday.”
“Back to the mainland!?”
“Yes; to her parents’ place.” The Governor leaned back in his chair. “Zach, have you checked your emails lately?”
“No, I’ve been too busy worrying about Kayleigh.”
He tilted his screen towards Zach. “Well, why don’t you do it now?”
Zach typed in his password and called up his inbox. “My God! There’s one from her! It came in last night!”
“Read it.”
He opened the email. DEAR ZACH. MUM ILL. GOT 2 GO HOME 2 GLASGOW. WILL B BACK IN A FEW DAYS. KAYLEIGH X. Zach straightened up and smiled. “It’s an I-fone message. She sent it from her mobile.”
Trevor grinned. “There you are; told you so.”
Relief turned to suspicious anger. “You knew!”
Trevor didn’t reply.
“You knew and you never said a word! You let me go on worrying!”
“I received a similar message at around the same time, yes. I’ve ordered the Guard to call off the search.”
“Why didn’t you tell me!?”
“Because I didn’t want you doing anything rash. I thought I’d wait until I could break the news to you in person.”
Zach picked up the ‘phone. “Well, I’m calling her.”
Trevor cut off the line with the edge of his hand. “I wouldn’t if I were you.”
“Why not!? I want to talk to her!”
“Zach, that’s why I wanted to tell you face-to-face; in case you tried something like this. Don’t you see? She’s got cold feet. Let her work it out in peace for a while. She’ll come back to you; just be patient.”
“What do you know about women, Trevor?” he asked sulkily.
“What, do you think I’m a monk or something?... Come on, let’s get these releases signed. We’ve got the Rockall Summit coming up in just over a year.”
Zach treated himself to a medicinal whisky from a bottle that he kept in the top drawer of his desk. He reclined in his chair and sighed deeply. The relief! Terrible images had been haunting his mind for the past forty-eight hours: Kayleigh’s body lying at the foot of a cliff while the sea washed over her. Kayleigh being tied up by a gang of soldiers and screaming as they dragged her away. It made him realize that she meant a lot more to him than he’d previously thought. Maybe Trevor was right; she’d been a bit thrown by his suggestion that they went official with their relationship and decided to ease off the throttle for a while. But was Trevor right to advise him not to contact her? All he wanted to do was talk; that wouldn’t do any harm, would it? He picked up the ‘phone and dialled her number.
The Tetralink ‘phone you have called is not responding. It may be switched off. Please try again later.”
“Damn!” He deliberated for a few minutes then called up Kayleigh’s parents’ number from her file. It rang loudly in his ear.
“Hello, is that Mrs Ford?”
“This is Zach Neelum here on Rockall. Could I speak to Kayleigh please?”
“Kayleigh? She doesn’t live here any more. She’s on Rockall with you, isn’t she?”
Zach hesitated. “Did you just say she’s on Rockall?”
“Aye; haven’t you seen her?”
“No; she sent me an email saying she was with you.”
Kayleigh’s mother chuckled. “Don’t worry; she does this thing from time to time. But if she shows up, I’ll tell her you’re looking for her.”
“Thanks, Mrs Ford. Goodbye.” Zach got up from his desk and jogged along the corridor to Trevor’s office. “Trevor! Trevor! Kayleigh’s not with her parents! She’s…” As he ran up to Trevor’s desk he noticed something strange about the Governor’s expression: he was frowning furiously. His face was flushed and his brow knotted. “What’s wrong, Trevor?”
He hissed through his nose. “How could you!?”
“How could I what?”
“Did you really think you’d get away with it!?”
“Are you feeling alright, Trevor?”
The Governor slowly got to his feet. “You’re sacked, Mr Deputy-Governor!”
“I said you’re sacked!”
Zach chuckled. “Very amusing, Trevor. Not a bad joke for a beginner.”
“Do you hear me laughing?”
There was an icy silence. “But… what’s all this about?”
“This!” Trevor held up a printout of the Emergency Access Order that he’d forged for Kayleigh.
Zach teetered backwards and nearly fell over.
“Oh, so you feel shocked, do you!?... Well, so do I! Shocked, betrayed and deceived!”
“How… how…?”
“How did I find out?... Though you went to great lengths to delete the file you created on my personal system, you forgot to also delete the backup file on the Rotunda mainframe! The one with your user name on it!... Now I know how Kayleigh breached border security!... GET OUT!”
“Come on, Trevor! There’s no need for…”
“Yes there is!... Sergeant!”
A uniformed member of the Rockall Guard entered the room immediately as if he’d been standing by just outside. “Your Excellency?”
“Escort ex-Deputy-Governor Neelum to his home address.”
Zach felt an abyss open up in front of him. “Trevor! Please don’t do this! We’ve been through so much together! You’d never have got here if it hadn’t been for me!”
“Just go, Zach.”
Zach began to weep. “Please don’t sack me, Trevor! I’m sorry! Give me one more chance! This job is all I’ve got!”
The Governor looked down on him with an expression that was totally drenched in contempt. “Huh! Did you think that if you hung on long enough you could be back in my shoes one day!? Well, now you can forget it! Rot in despair, Zach!... Sergeant! Get this snivelling wretch out of my sight!”
The Guardsman put a hand on Zach’s shoulder. “Come along now, Mr Neelum. Let’s not have any trouble.”
Three days later, Zach received his P-Forty-five through Rockall's internal postal service. The envelope was addressed in Trevor’s hand. There was no note; the document was the only thing inside.
He hadn’t left First Landing once since the Rockall Guardsman had dropped him off. He’d spent the following days lolling about the place, eating, drinking and watching TV; his brain out of gear. Since his dismissal, Zach saw no reason why he should get up early, so he’d been lying in every morning, sometimes till well after midday. He’d had no visitors or ‘phone calls, so when the doorbell woke him up just after nine AM two weeks later, he assumed it had been a dream and closed his eyes again. It sounded again. He propped himself up on his elbow. “Shit! Who’s that?” he muttered. “Go away!” The doorbell rang yet again, as if the caller had heard these words. Zach cursed and rolled out of bed, snatched his bathrobe off the back of the door and plodded down the stairs. He opened the front door to a bright, cool morning and a shabbily-dressed young woman standing on his doorstep. “Yes?” he said. “What is it?”
She smiled. “Good morning to you too, Zach.”
Her familiar voice sparked violently in his clotted brain and it took a moment or two to register who she was. “Kayleigh!”
“Well, it’s nice to see you remember me.”
“How long have you been back?”
“I haven’t been away… Look, are you going to invite me in; ‘cos if not I’ll go and have a bath somewhere else.”
“Er… yeah. Of course, Kayleigh. Come on in.”
She headed straight to his kitchen and made herself a strong cup of coffee. Zach watched her as she gulped. He’d never seen her like this before. Her clothes were creased and covered in mud; her hands were grey with dirt and her hair was tousled and stained. “So… How have you been keeping?” asked Zach.
She dropped the empty coffee mug into the sink. “Ah! That was good! I needed it!”
“Kayleigh, where have you been for the last two weeks?”
She smiled at him, and it struck Zach that her face looked different too. There was a light in her eyes that hadn’t been there before; a curl of the lips when she grinned. “Wait a mo’, Zach. I’ll have a bath first, if you don’t mind. I’ll be able to think straighter when I’m clean.” She then proceeded to undress completely where she stood, tossing her clothes into a pile on the floor. “You couldn’t run these through your machine while I have a wash, could you?”
“No problem.”
“Great.” She headed for the stairs, skipping and humming to herself as she walked.
A putrid odour rose from Kayleigh’s clothes as he pushed them into his washing machine. They were the same ones that she’d worn when she’d left Rockall Port on the day that she’d disappeared more than a fortnight ago.
“Zach?” she called down the stairs.
“Can I use your toothbrush?”
“Sure.” He looked upstairs with his arms akimbo and sighed. Then he went up quietly and knocked on the bathroom door.
“Come in, Zach.”
Kayleigh was sitting in deep tub of water that was nearly black with grime. She was shaving her legs with Zach’s razor and whistling. Her wet hair drooped over her shoulders.
He sat down on the toilet and rested his elbows on his knees. “Kayleigh, what’s up? Where have you been? Your email said you’d gone to Glasgow.”
“I lied; sorry.”
“I know; I called your mum and dad. Why lie?”
“I had to. I couldn’t tell you where I really was and if I’d simply gone missing you’d have had the police over here looking for me.”
He paused. “So then, Kayleigh; please tell me where you’ve really been.”
Kayleigh stood up and let the water sluice off her body. She stepped out of the bath and put on a dressing gown then she wrapped her hair in a towel and arranged it around her head like a huge turban. “Zach, I’ve found something out about Rockall that you wouldn’t believe. I’ve made a discovery that you could never have imagined in your wildest dreams.”
She hesitated. “If I tell you... then you must swear that you’ll tell nobody else; absolutely nobody! Not a soul! Not until I decide when and how. I mean it! This is more important than you can comprehend!”
“Swear it to me, Zach!”
“OK, OK; I swear it; now spill the beans, Kayleigh; before I die of curiosity.”
She breathed hard and looked down. “No, I can’t tell you; you’d think I was nuts. I’ll have to show you.” She beckoned. “Follow me.”
Kayleigh dressed and led Zach down to the garage. She insisted on driving herself. She did so quickly with both hands on the wheel. Her face was noncommittal, but every so often she’d grin to herself. They turned onto the Trans-Rockall Highway and headed north. Kayleigh used her access order again to penetrate the US Sector and they carried on towards Green Port.
The American base had been expanded into a futuristic-looking city since the Treaty, but Kayleigh didn’t drive into it; she turned right at a McDonald’s burger bar and headed towards Anderson Bay and the uninhabited highlands of the east. The road became a pair of wheel ruts branded into the moor like a scar. Much to Zach’s distress, his Jaguar was soon spattered with mud. She parked and got out. “This way.”
“But, Kayleigh; this is the eastern coast! There’s nothing here!”
“Looks can be deceptive.”
“As deceptive as a woman?”
She laughed. “Come on, let’s go.”
They hiked through the morning, setting a pace that soon made Zach out of breath. The eastern cliffs were more empty and desolate than anything he’d ever seen before on Rockall. It felt forbidden and intimidating. “Kayleigh!”
She stopped walking and looked at him. “What?”
“I’m getting a little weary of this! Are you going to tell me what’s going on or are you content to just lead me like a donkey?”
“I’m content to just lead you like a donkey.” She turned and carried on walking.
“I’ve a good mind to turn round and go home!” he called.
“That’d be a shame ‘cos we’re nearly there.”
Zach hesitated then continued in her footsteps. “This had better be worth it, Kay!”
Half an hour later, Kayleigh stopped beside the edge of the precipice where a series of precarious-looking, grassy slopes led down to the shoreline. Without waiting for him, she jumped down onto the first slope and began crawling. Zach’s head swam as he stood on the brink. “Wait a sec’, Kay! I don’t think I can do this!”
“It’s perfectly safe, Zach!” she sang out and leaped down onto the next stage of the descent.
Zach screwed up his eyes and followed, gripping the grass as tightly as he could, moving one foot or hand at a time.
“Mind the last bit; some of it’s a bit loose.” Kayleigh was standing on the beach below, waiting for him.
Zach slid down the scree berm and picked himself up to stand beside her.
She laughed at him. “Your face looks like a beetroot! Come on; we’ve a little way to go yet.”
The next part of the journey was even harder. Kayleigh and Zach followed the shoreline south along the foot of the cliff by clambering over green, slimy rocks and ledges, covered with limpets and seaweed. The surf thundered violently against the land just a few feet beneath them. The noise was deafening and the air misty with spray, making Zach’s eyes sting. “Don’t fall in here, whatever you do!” yelled Kayleigh.
“Thanks for reminding me! I was just about to!” His heart pounded against his ribs as he stared down at the churning, white spume of the sea.
“It gets easier here!” called Kayleigh an hour later. They mounted a narrow, but flat ledge; almost a pathway. It was smooth and dry and a rope had been attached to the cliff face at waist level, making a convenient handhold. Zach was so relieved that it was ten minutes until the obvious struck him like a thunderclap. Where does this rope come from and who put it here? It was an unusual rope too, made from plaited strips of leather. It was made fast to the escarpment by being lashed around recessed cleats that had been carved from the bare rock. “Kayleigh!” he shouted, but she was too far away to hear over the din of the surf. She was almost out of sight behind the obscuring curve of the cliff. A hundred yards further the ledge ended in a deep, narrow cove with overhanging cliffs and opened out onto a dry terrace of flat rock. To his astonishment there were people standing on it. Kayleigh was talking to a group of slender, long-haired figures, gesticulating broadly as if they were foreigners. As Zach got closer he noticed that the strangers were all wearing the most unusual clothes: tan leather trousers and jerkins. Despite the chilly conditions, they wore nothing on their feet but sandals or moccasins with no socks. One of them spotted Zach approaching and gaped at him in awe. He tapped the shoulder of one of his companions and the next moment they were all backing away from him. They huddled tightly against the cliff face, their arms up in a defensive posture. “What are you staring at me like that for!?” demanded Zach.
“It’s alright.” said Kayleigh to the strangers. “He’s a friend.” She turned to Zach and smiled. “Zach, this is Zhadek, Queylie, Peen, Yonax, Ibul, Tapuss and G’hog… And this is Zach…” She then spoke a few words of a foreign language that didn’t sound like Gaelic.
“What was that?” muttered Zach.
“They’re just a bit shy, that’s all.”
“They’re not used to strangers. It took them a while to accept to me.”
One of the women in the group began slowly edging towards Zach. One of the men protested and groped at her shoulder, but she shook his hand away. She closed the distance cautiously, her face wide and inquisitive.
Kayleigh encouraged her in that strange language.
The woman had long, wavy, golden hair and the blackest eyes Zach had ever seen. Her leathers were stitched neatly and evenly, but the thread used was very thick, almost like cord. Small seashells decorated her clothes in a complex pattern.
“This is Queylie. They’ve started calling me her sister ‘cos her name sounds so much like mine.” Kayleigh seemed exuberant and joyous.
Queylie reached out a callused hand and ran her fingers over Zach’s red, Gore-tex jacket. She crouched down and examined his boots then straightened up and gently touched his cheek.
“Kay?” said Zach between stiff lips like a ventriloquist. “What’s she doing?”
“You’ll have to excuse her. She’s never seen a shaven man before. All Erkdwala males grow beards.” She pointed at one of the men. “That big feller’s Zhadek. He’s the first one I met. Gave you a bit of a shock, didn’t I, Zhadek? I almost fell into your lap! Zhadek is married to Peen.” She indicated another woman, taller and older than Queylie. Grey streaked her blonde hair and wrinkles lined her face. “She’s a doctor.”
Zach grinned wryly. “Of course she is.”
“I was quite badly hurt when Zhadek brought me here; I’d fallen down the slope, you see. Anyway, Peen fixed me up. She put some sort of herb on my cuts and look! There’s not a mark on me! Same with my sprained ankle. Peen wrapped it in a poultice and it was as right as rain in two days! No disrespect to Dr Forbes and Arlene, but if I’d gone to the hospital in the Port, I’d still be on crutches now…”
“Kayleigh.” interrupted Zhadek and began jabbering away in the strange language.
She replied briefly and nodded. “Zach, we’ve got to go and meet Kerroj.”
“He’s their leader; a lovely old man. Come on.”
The strangers directed them towards a deeper part of the bay where the rock cracked into the jagged, yawning mouths of caves. Zach’s apprehension redoubled. “Kay! Where are they taking us!?”
“Into their home. It’ll be OK; it’s very pleasant in there actually.”
A few yards inside, the cavern was blocked by a leather curtain. Zhadek held open an access flap to let them all pass inside. Zach’s brain could scarcely take in what his senses bombarded it with. Beyond the curtain, the cavern widened into a huge chamber where a hundred or more people stood or sat, all dressed in a similar attire to Zhadek, Peen and Queylie. Naked children gambolled about and babies cried. The air was dense and warm; powerful scents flooded Zach’s nostrils: wood smoke, charcoal, roasting meat, heather, grass and flowers. All the heat and light came from three open fires in the centre of the room. The occupants stared at him and gasped, fingers pointed and excited chatter orbited the cave.
Only one of them remained composed; a lean, elderly man who stood directly opposite the cave entrance. Even without his brushwood crown and elaborately-designed cloak of gull-feathers it was instantly apparent that he was in charge of this gang of odd-balls. He was by far the oldest person present and his dark eyes were hard and intelligent. He looked at Zach differently to the others; his gaze communicated regal wisdom, pride and understanding. His white hair and beard fell almost to his waist. Zach imagined that with a pointed hat he’d have made a great wizard. He spoke a few words in that bizarre language of theirs and held out his hand to Zach, making a strange gesture in the air that felt like a greeting. “Zach, this is Kerroj; he’s the Erkdwala chief. These people respect him deeply. Zhadek is his son.”
“I see; so what happens now?”
“I’m not sure. I think they’re inviting us to share their dinner, but we’re the first guests they’ve ever had and I didn’t catch what they just said.”
One of the women pointed to a pair of round, flat rocks topped with heather sprigs. “Thank you, Shalah.” said Kayleigh. “Sit down, Zach.”
The heather tickled the base of his back where his skin was exposed, but he soon made himself comfortable. Kerroj pointed at the fire and some of the men, using knives made of sharpened bone, began slicing steaks off some joints of meat that were roasting there. The smell was delicious and the note of the conversation rose. People smiled and licked their lips. Zach was feeling hungry after his long walk and climb, but as soon as he saw the manner in which they were about to eat, his appetite left him. The steaks were served on flat animal bones, probably shoulder blades, which acted as plates. There was no cutlery and the platters were passed around by dirty hands.
Kayleigh didn’t appear to mind and began tucking in as soon as she was served, grinning as she chewed. Queylie handed Zach his meal and he looked down at it in disgust. The steak was rare and raggedly cut; a pile of redcurrants and some wild radishes, uncooked and covered in soil, completed the “dish.” Queylie looked nonplussed at Zach’s expression, inquiring in her incomprehensible tongue.
“I’m not very hungry.” he told her.
She pointed into her open mouth and nodded.
“Yes, I’m aware that it’s food; I just don’t feel like eating it… And could you speak in English when you address me, please!?”
She sensed the irritation in his tone and backed away.
“Zach.” said Kayleigh reproachfully. “Don’t be so tetchy. Eat it; it’s very nice… And she doesn’t speak English. None of them do.”
“What? Come on; of course they do.” He picked up the steak and took a bite. “Must be full of germs; being cooked in the open. What meat is this?”
“What’s that?”
“Roast Rockall Pony.”
He gasped, barely resisting the urge to spit out his mouthful. “What did you say!?”
“It’s a pony. Don’t worry; it’s fresh. The hunters caught it last night. These are the people who’ve been carrying out the mysterious pony-killings. They have to; it’s part of their way of life.”
Zach leapt to his feet. “What the hell’s going on here!? Who do you think you people are!? You can’t go hunting Rockall Ponies! They’re a protected species!”
The strangers stared at him in silence. Kerroj smiled; partly embarrassed, partly amused.
“Sit down and shut up, Zach!” spat Kayleigh. “You’re making a prat out of yourself!”
“I just think that if your Mr Kellogg’s is going to bring his disciples here then he needs to be informed of the law of this island!”
Kayleigh hid her face in her hands and sighed.
After everyone had finished eating, water was passed round in a bladder then one of the women stood up and started talking intensely, mining as she spoke. Everyone else watched her. “Ooh’s” and “Ah’s” or riotous laughter broke out every now and again from the audience.
“They do this every mealtime.” said Kayleigh. “I think she’s telling a story. It’s the only form of entertainment they have.” She looked wistfully at the orator. “I wish I could understand it.”
“I thought you’d learned to speak their language.” said Zach.
“I’ve only picked up a few phrases; look.” She took a notebook out of her jacket pocket and handed it to him. Zach flicked through it. She’d filled a few pages with vocabulary:
Gwecka = Pony
Assi = Sea
Ard = Man
Bley = Woman
Libbi = Baby
Pumpoo = Sky
Alcock = Boat
Shiosh = Fish
Hellia = Redcurrant
Keekma = Blackberry
Peynaploo = Pony leather
Chayn = Cave
Arkdwa = Rockall, or something bigger?
“I try to talk to them and sometimes they understand me.” said Kayleigh.
“Isn’t it a Gaelic dialect or something?”
“No; nothing like it.”
“Why don’t you speak to them in English?”
“I’ve told you; they can’t speak English.”
“But that’s ridiculous!”
The man sitting on his left muttered something to him.
“I think he wants you to keep your voice down.” said Kayleigh.
When the story-teller had finished, she sat down and everyone in the cavern began swaying and chanting. It was a sound beyond description; totally unlike anything Zach had heard in his life. “what’s this?” he asked.
Kayleigh was enraptured. “I think it’s some kind of prayer. They do this every evening. Isn’t it beautiful!?”
“Sounds weird to me.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
Zach paused. “Kayleigh, who are these guys?”
“They call themselves Erkdwala.”
“What’s that in English?”
“It isn’t.”
The gathering broke up and their hosts slowly filed out of the cave, chatting quietly. None of them paid Kayleigh or Zach any further attention.
“Where do they come from, Kayleigh?”
“Here. They’re native Rockallians.”
“I don’t understand.”
She turned to face him. “Don’t you? Zach, Jesse Curtis wasn’t the First Man on Rockall and neither were the Americans. The Erkdwala were; they live here!”
“Kayleigh, that’s absurd! Rockall has always been uninhabited! These folks are hippies on some sort of retreat…”
“How do you know Rockall has always been uninhabited?” she challenged.
“Well… it just was! Everyone knows that! Before the Yanks arrived there was nothing here but rocks and grass…”
“How does everyone know if no one’s ever been here before?”
“Because… we just do! Everyone does! Rockall was completely unexplored before May Twenty-oh-nine. That’s an established fact!”
She groaned. “Zach, when you and Trevor and the Yanks set foot here, you were stepping onto a shore which already has a native population.”
“Impossible! How could anyone live here without us knowing?”
“Because no one else has ever been here! What did you expect them to do; send you a fax? The Erkdwala have lived her for a long time, cut off from the rest of the world; maybe thousands of years. They look quite Stone Age to me.”
“So why didn’t they come down onto the beach at First Landing and say hello when we arrived.”
“I expect they were shit-scared. They don’t seem to have any knowledge of the outside world, so it must have been a bit of a shock. And surely you must realize that we look a bit weird to them. Our languages, our customs, our clothes, our technology… Yesterday a helicopter flew overhead and they bolted for cover screaming.”
“So they know we’re here?”
She chuckled bitterly. “They could hardly miss us, could they? They’ve kept themselves out of our way; that’s why we’ve never discovered them until now… Except they had to carry on hunting to survive, hence the pony-slaughtering and rumours of the ‘Rockall demons’. Remember your confusion over that campfire you and Trevor found on the second day? An Erkdwala hunting team lit it.”
“Well, they appear to be friendly enough.”
“They are now, but it took a few days for them to accept me. The notion of an ‘outsider’ or ‘visitor’ is unthinkable to them.”
Like Kayleigh, Zach was soon absorbed into the Erkdwala tribe. He was given accommodation in a smaller, residential cave that led off from the big, communal one where they’d eaten. They retired early and by eight PM everyone was asleep. Zach lay in a claustrophobic alcove with a family of five who were snoring on a dried heather mattress. They made him a space on the floor on which to spread his parka. The fires were kept burning all night and the cave was warm. He lay awake, staring at the gleam of firelight on the rock ceiling, his mind trying hard to assimilate everything that had happened that day.
At eleven PM, the family’s youngest child, a baby of about nine months, started to cry. The mother awoke and comforted the squawking infant, breathing lullabies and sweet nothings until the youngster dropped back off to sleep. For half an hour the mother chatted quietly with her husband; then they kissed a few times and, to Zach’s extreme abashment, began to make love; right next to their three children, less than six feet from where he lay. They panted and groaned, quite oblivious to his presence; the stench of their bodies filled the air. Zach pulled his parka hood over his face and put his fingers in his ears.
He was woken by another Erkdwala woman. He rolled over, coughing in the foul air of the cave. “What do you want?” he asked.
She didn’t reply and handed him a bone platter.
“Oh, thanks.” Breakfast was a raw cod fillet with limpets and various other shellfish, garnished with redcurrants and seaweed. The whole tribe was awake and wandering out of the cave. Zach followed them, longing to breath the outside air. The orange arc of the sun was peeking above the horizon and the skin of the Erkdwala glowed in its rays. They were lying about on the rocks like seals, munching their food. Zach took a sniff at his and his stomach contorted with hunger. He forgot his worries about hygiene and ate.
After breakfast, the whole tribe stood and faced the sun, closing their eyes, stretching out their hands and chanting another prayer. “Good God!” muttered Zach. “I’ve got to get out of here.” He found his mobile ‘phone at the bottom of his jacket pocket and called Trevor’s number. The signal was poor and he had to try a couple of times before he heard it ring.
Someone snatched the instrument out of his hand. He turned to see Kayleigh standing beside him. She jabbed the cancel button. “Don’t even think about it!” she hissed; her face was a tight ball of fury.
“You promised!” she shouted. “You swore!”
The mobile rang and its Land of Hope and Glory ringtone penetrated the rumble of the surf, making the Erkdwala stare. “It’s Trevor.” said Zach. “He must have picked up my missed call.”
Kayleigh flung the device as hard as she could; it struck the face of a green roller with a plop.
“That cost me a hundred and fifty quid!” shrilled Zach.
“I should never have brought you here! I should have known better than to trust you!”
You should have known better!?” He stood up and faced her. “I should have known better than to let you drag me out to this shit-hole! I mean… what the fuck am I doing here!? I’ve had people trying to poison me! I’m black and friggin’ blue from lying on bare stone! I’ve had to watch Fred and Wilma Flintstone bonking away right under my nose! I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m dirty… and I’m scared; OK!?”
Kayleigh relented. “Alright, Zach; I’m sorry, OK? You just mustn’t tell Trevor about this place! Please! Not yet!”
“Well, I can’t now, can I!? You’ve chucked my mobile in the sea!”
She held up her hands. “OK, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. I'll buy you a new one.” She took his hand. “Come on; let’s go and watch the fishermen.”
The Erkdwala had a dozen fishing boats, each about ten feet long. They were pony leather coracles with outriggers. The crews carried them from the cave down over the seaweed-covered boulders into the sea. They rode the breakers with the acumen of surfers, fearlessly attacking every crest, paddles digging deep. Within a few minutes, they were out of sight among the waves. “Maybe I’ve misjudged these folk.” said Zach. “In many ways they’re quite clever. I mean, they have no shops or supermarkets; they just pluck everything they need off the land or sea.”
“But our stuff comes from the same place as theirs.” said Kayleigh. “Tesco’s strawberries don’t grow in those plastic cartons, you know. The difference is that we’ve become divorced from the real source of our food. The Erkdwala live right inside it… Isn’t it amazing how they’re lifestyle is linked to their surroundings. There are no trees on Rockall, so the things we’d make out of wood they make out of pony-bones.”
“I still can’t get my head round it.” said Zach. “People; native people, living here! Incredible!... It must be Rollosson.”
“Yeah, he must have landed here and left more than the ponies; he established this colony.”
She shook her head. “Nah, these folk don’t look like Vikings. I think they go back much further.”
“Kayleigh! Kayleigh!” A woman was running towards them. She let fly with a stream of rapid Erkdwala. Zach picked up the word “Libbi,” which, he remembered from Kayleigh’s vocabulary, meant “Baby.”
“My God!” Kayleigh gasped. “Keesa’s gone into labour!... Come on!” She jogged after the woman.
“Kayleigh! Where are you going!?”
“Keesa’s baby’s about to be born! I want to see it!”
“Are you crazy!?”
There was a lot of commotion in the central cave. The Erkdwala were packed in shoulder-to-shoulder. A young, naked woman was crouching near the hearth. She was puffing hard and her skin glistened with sweat. Her swollen belly bulged over the tops of her thighs. Peen was kneeling opposite, palpating Keesa’s womb with an air of expertise. Her immediate family stood nearby with concerned looks while a young man, presumably her husband, crouched beside her holding her hand.
“I hope it’s not twins.” said Kayleigh as she and Zach edged closer for a better view.
“Don’t you think we should get her to the hospital?” whispered Zach.
She looked back at him with a scornful frown. “Don’t be a tosser your entire life, Zach! Take an hour off!”
“But she needs proper medical care!”
“She’s got it: Peen!... Zach, we have to let these people live in their own culture .”
Keesa’s body tensed and she screamed.
Zach felt a prick of nausea. He backed off and slipped outside. He walked out along the ledge until the noise of the ocean drowned out Keesa’s agony. He stared up at the solid, impassive cliffs, feeling very exposed and vulnerable. The sky had clouded over and the wind was up, breaking the wave crests into feathers of vapour. “Zach!”
He looked back to see Kayleigh waving to him from the terrace.
“Zach! She’s had it! It’s a boy!”
The Erkdwala were emotionally saturated by the delivery of Keesa’s son. The cavern reverberated to their sobs of joy. The little boy was passed from person to person, almost in the form of a ritual. They looked at him in adoration, tears of rapture staining their cheeks, even those of old Chief Kerroj. Eventually the screaming baby was wrapped in a leather swaddle and returned to the arms of his proud parents. his face was beetroot-red, his eyes clenched and his toothless mouth gaped wide as he vented his fury at being evicted from Keesa’s warm, safe womb.
Zach watched for a few minutes then noticed that Kayleigh had gone. He looked back at the cave entrance in time to see her pass through the curtain. He followed.
She stood at the edge of the terrace, her arms wrapped round her body, gazing out to sea. He approached her and put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you OK?”
She nodded mournfully.
“It’s great when a baby’s born, isn’t it? I’ve often wondered what it’d be like to have a kid.”
“Yeah.” she sighed. “It’s always been the same for them, you know. Everyone’s been born and raised in that cave the same way; even Old Kerroj’s great-granddad’s great-granddad. I bet it hasn’t changed for thousands of years.”
“I suppose not. Why does that make you sad?”
She swung round and looked at him. “I’m just wondering what things will be like for Keesa’s baby when he’s old enough to become a father himself.”
“What do you mean?”
“Their world is about to meet ours, Zach. We can’t stop it. The next generation of Erkdwala will have to contend with that; and I’m afraid for them.”
The new addition to the tribe was named Karsk. The two proud parents, Keesa and Grayvin, were still sitting on the spot where he’d been born. His mother rested on a heather couch, tucking into her own roasted placenta while Karsk guzzled from her breast. Kayleigh went over to talk to Chief Kerroj then returned to where Zach was waiting, the firelight reflecting in her eyes. “Let’s go home.” she said; there was a mournful tone to her voice.
They made their way back along the roped ledge that they’d traversed the previous afternoon; it seemed like weeks ago to Zach. Kayleigh led the way, never speaking to him or even looking at him, alone with her thoughts. The sun was getting low by the time they arrived at the beach and crawled up the slopes to the plateau; and it was dark when they reached Zach’s car. They collapsed into the seats, exhausted. “So, what happens now?” asked Zach as he started the engine and put the Jaguar into gear.
“What do you mean nothing? We have to tell people about this.”
“No we don’t; and we’re not going to.”
“But the world has a right to know!”
“The world has no such right! Our modern society is built upon the broken lives of people like the Erkdwala! Dill told me!”
“That was centuries ago! And Dill’s a crank! Kayleigh, we can’t keep this a secret! You said it yourself; their world will eventually meet ours.”
“We can keep it a secret and we will! You will because you swore an oath to me that you would!” She rubbed her eyes and took on a calmer tone. “We will let the world know, eventually; but you’ve got to leave that to me. I’m going to let Dill in on it. I’ve got a feeling he suspects anyway; he knows the in-country better than anyone. We’ll contact someone who can help; maybe the United Nations.”
“Kayleigh, those people live in a filthy hole in the ground, even little kids! Nobody should have to endure that in this day and age! Why don’t we just go back there now and lead them all to the Port, to civilization?”
She shook her head. “You don’t get it, do you?... To them we’re like aliens who’ve just landed from another planet. Until a couple of years ago they didn’t even know we existed. For them there is no outside world! This island and the sea as far as the horizon is all they know! They call it ‘Arkdwa’, but that word translates as ‘Rockall’, ‘World’ or ‘Universe’.”
“That’s all the more reason to widen their view of life; show them the rest of the world.”
“Show them what? A skyscraper hundreds of feet tall? An aeroplane? A computer? An ocean liner big enough to carry the entire Erkdwala population ten times over? Cities of a million people? Continents of a billion?... The technology, scale and diversity of the planet Earth would overwhelm them! The culture-shock would mentally destroy them!... Zach, these people must be protected!”
There was a long silence as they drove south and eventually the lights of Rockall Port appeared in the windscreen. “So.” said Zach when they arrived back at first Landing. “Do you want to come in for a coffee?”
“Not tonight.” she said. “I’ve got to go and see Dill. We’ve got work to do.”
He hesitated. “Kayleigh, I still think we ought to tell Trevor.”
“NO!” she almost screamed at him. “Don’t you dare!”
“If you breathe a word to Trevor, I’ll kill you! I mean it!” Her eyes flashed and her teeth clenched like a vice. She got out of the car, slammed the door and stomped off towards her Bower-cast.
He wiped his brow. “Whew! You’re life hung by a thread there, Zach old chum.”
Zach couldn’t sleep that night. He lay in bed, staring at the ceiling with his hands behind his head. He pictured the Erkdwala crawling around their bare rock cave in the dirt, eating slurry from bone dishes and going to the toilet in the sea. Then he thought about the ordinary British and American islanders going about their daily business just a few miles away. Two totally different worlds, living on top of each other, the latter completely unaware of the former’s presence. “Good God! I’m sitting on dynamite here!” he muttered. “When this story breaks…” He could see it as clearly as if it had already happened: Fame, fortune, Rockall again the centre of world attention, this time for a different reason. Anthropologists,politicians, reporters from New Scientist descending on the island in droves. Unconsciously, he rolled over and reached for his bedside ‘phone to call Trevor.
No! It was no good; he’d promised Kayleigh that he wouldn’t talk about it. Damn! What did he have to do that for? Kayleigh! You stupid girl! Can’t you see what we’ve got here!? Don’t you see how much prestige we could gain from the Erkdwala? No! You’re all drugged up on some idealistic crusade!
He turned his head and looked at the telephone. Why shouldn’t I? My oath to Kayleigh is not valid if she’s so obviously misguided. I’m merely correcting her in her foolishness. In fact I’m doing her a favour. He picked up the receiver then put it straight down again. What about the Erkdwala themselves? Kayleigh said they’d never survive contact with the rest of the world… But how does she know? She’s no expert. She’s only a bleeding secretary!
His hand hung above the ‘phone quivering as his conscience and willpower battled away; but his willpower had a secret weapon: And of course, as well as the money and fame that would flood onto Rockall, I’d be sure to get reinstated as Deputy-Governor. The battle was won; he picked up the ‘phone and dialled.
Trevor sat down hard in his armchair and gazed vacantly at the table. Zach walked over to the drinks cabinet in the Governor’s private apartment and poured them both a large Scotch. In the courtyard below, the Rockall Guard night-watch stood at attention. He placed the whiskey tumblers on the table. “I’ve a feeling you could do with this.”
Trevor reached out a hand, clenched like a hawk’s talon and picked up the glass. He sipped deeply. “You promise this isn’t a ruse?”
“Go and look for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
He paused. “Is that why you called yesterday morning?”
“Yeah, but when you tried to ring back Kayleigh threw my ‘phone in the sea.”
He chuckled. “I take it she doesn’t approve of you bringing this information to me.”
“She doesn’t know.” He took a gulp of the spirit, letting it flood over his tongue.
“Right, so how many of them are there?”
“Around three hundred.”
“Three hundred!? Why has no one spotted them before?”
“The colony is well-concealed and they’ve been keeping out of our way since we landed here. Kayleigh only bumped into them by accident.”
“Are they armed?”
“Only with the bone and flint spears they use for taking out ponies. They’re unbelievably primitive! How these folk have survived for so long without modern technology is beyond me!”
“Well, they won’t have to for much longer.” Trevor emptied his glass and got up to pour another. “What do you suggest we do?”
“Get the press onto it of course; and then go out and rescue these poor people. They’re going to need extensive rehabilitation. They’ll have to be taught to speak English to begin with.”
“My goodness! Real Stone Age savages, alive in today’s world!... Only Kayleigh and Dill know, you say? Fine; keep it that way… You’ll have to come along and show us where this place is.”
“Whoa! Not so fast!”
“What’s in it for me?”
“How do you mean?”
“If I’m going to lead you to the Erkdwala, it’ll cost you.”
Trevor frowned. “Don’t bother trying to do deals with me! I don’t need your help, you know! Now you’ve told me there’s something there, it won’t take me long to find it.”
“You’ll need a few days to search the entire eastern coast. In that time, Kayleigh and Dill will have assembled a legion of bleeding-heart civil-liberties solicitors to defend the Erkdwala’s right to live like pigs… But if you count me in, I can take you to the cave right now.”
Trevor sighed and folded his arms. “What do you want?”
Zach took his P-Forty-five out of his pocket and tossed it onto the Governor’s table.
Trevor picked it up and looked at it for a moment. “Welcome back, Deputy-Governor Neelum.”
Zach grinned. “It’s a pleasure to be working with you again, Trev'.”

(Previous Chapter:
Chapter 4- Rendezvous

Next Chapter:
Chapter 6- The Spanner vs The Works

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