Monday, 4 May 2009

Rockall Chapter 6- The Spanner vs The Works

Chapter 6- The Spanner vs The Works

“I knew it! I always felt that…” Dill Gibson cut off as Broadway walked past the kitchen on her way to bed. She swiftly glanced in and smiled inquisitively then climbed up the stairs. Dill stood up and shut the door. Then he went to the sideboard and poured out a second cup of tea. “I saw them once.”
“What!? Really!?” Kayleigh exclaimed.
“From a distance at night. It was during the first week, up on Mount Clow. Remember me telling you?”
She nodded.
Erkdwala.” he said, partly to himself. “What a beautiful name. I recognise it. It’s an echo of our own lost memory; the secret past that deep down we all yearn for. We’ve forgotten it; and we’ve forgotten that we’ve forgotten it, but we can feel it every day as a hole in our spirit… And you were chosen to bring them to us, Kayleigh!”
“Chosen? What do you mean? It was a coincidence. I just bumped into them by accident. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
“No; there are no such things as accidents. No coincidences. The Rockall Spirit chose you to reveal her greatest secret. The hardships you faced last year may well have been part of your preparation for this moment. You’re a very special person, Kayleigh! A unique soul whom the Rockall Spirit loves especially!”
She paused with an impatient frown. “That’s all very well, Dill; but these people are in grave jeopardy. We’ve got to something before the rest of the island finds them.”
Dill had been drifting off into a daydream state, but Kayleigh’s words brought him back down to Earth. “Yes; of course…Gordon Bennett, you’re right! Our true ancestry is about to collide head-on with our Twenty-first century collective mind! How many others know?”
“Only Zach.”
“Are you sure you can trust him?”
“Yeah; he’s promised. He’ll be a useful ally in the months to come.”
“Right. Can you take me to them? We need to set up a line of communication and present the Erkdwala a positive and reassuring image. If they know that at least a few of us are on their side…”
“What about outside help?”
“There’s a charity called ‘Disappearing World’ that I’ll contact. They’re dedicated to preserving minority cultures against the onslaught of the global one. They’ll bring a working party over here to handle the publicity… I’ll send them an email now.” He got up. “Go home and get some rest, Kayleigh. We better leave early if we’re going to get there at dawn.”
He went up to his bedroom, booted up his laptop and went online, after half an hour he went to bed and slept for a few hours until his alarm woke him at three AM.
The morning was black, chilly and damp. Dill and Kayleigh quietly slipped into the garage and drove out in the Range Rover. Kayleigh had faked a special permit that allowed her to cross the border, but when they arrived at the checkpoint they found it deserted. “Strange.” said Kayleigh. “I wonder why that is.” Dill frowned, feeling an intuitive unease. They headed deep into the American Sector and parked on the coast just half a mile from Cape Nelson and walked. It was staring to get light by then. Kayleigh led him to a point where the plateau had fractured into a series of slopes and climbed down to the shoreline. “Let’s get a move on, Kayleigh.” said Dill.
“Why the rush?”
“I’m picking up some bad vibes.”
There was a ledge running along the cliff foot where Dill was fascinated to see his first Erkdwala artefact. A rope woven from leather thongs and wrapped around recessed cleats. “Amazing!” he observed. “These fittings were hand-carved into the rock. It must have taken years to do it; maybe even several generations.”
“Come on, Dill.” said Kayleigh. “You get me all worried and then stop to check out the sights… What was that!?”
“What was what?”
“That noise!...We’ve got to get there! RUN!”
They made their way along the precarious ledge as fast as they dared. Dill strained his ears and soon began to hear another sound over the orchestra of the sea: A steady, metallic whine with a warbling base undertone. As they got closer it rose to a deafening shriek. They rounded a promontory and Dill saw a military helicopter hovering above the wave crests in the shelter of the bay. Its downdraft was scattering seaspray like sand grains. It was a small, single-rotor attack craft painted in bi-chrome camouflage. Wicked-looking cannon and missile launchers protruded from its hull. The footpath he was walking along ended in a broad natural terrace with a row of caves behind it. There was a flurry of activity ahead.
Kayleigh was way in front, fairly jumping along the treacherous ledge and holding on to the rope with one hand. The group of people on the terrace were too preoccupied to notice her.
“Take care, Kayleigh!” shouted Dill, but his voice was washed away in the ear-splitting racket of the helicopter. The wind it produced whipped round him, forcing him to crouch and grip the safety line tight.
Kayleigh reached the end of the walkway, dashed onto the terrace and was quickly lost in the melee of bodies. It was hard to see through the spray, but Dill could just make out what was going on. A platoon of troops was spread out in a line, trying to contain a gang of frightened-looking people. The men all had long hair and beards; the women were crying, some clutching babies. The soldiers seemed to be herding the people up against the far wall of the cove, taking slow, coordinated steps forward. They held their rifles out in front of them, bayonets pointing at the bodies of the civilians.
Dill leapt down onto the terrace and drove through the stinging spray; he never saw Kayleigh until he was twenty feet away. His friend was knelt beside a man lying flat on the ground, hair and beard soaked. His body was totally still and his eyes were shut. Dill then saw that the chest of his pale leather tunic was drenched in blood. “ZHADEK!” he heard Kayleigh scream, almost inaudibly through the whopping of rotor blades. She cradled the man’s head in her arms, weeping with grief. A few feet away an old man knelt with his head bowed, as if in prayer. His long, white beard and hair undulated around his head and shoulders.
One of the soldiers approached the cave, took a small, cylindrical object from his kit belt and pitched it into the entrance. White smoke began leaking out, dispersing quickly in the tumbling air. People burst out of the cave into the open; dozens and dozens, gasping and choking with their hands clamped over their eyes in pain. Several older folk were being carried by their younger companions who braved the tear gas; their eyes were watering copiously. Eventually, several hundred people lay squirming on the terrace; blind, incapacitated, panting to clear their lungs. The soldiers began calmly and methodically walking among them, shackling their wrists and ankles with steel cuffs.
A trooper approached Dill’s shoulder. He was very young, maybe still a teenager, and the bayonet mounted on his rifle barrel was bloody. “Is he dead?” Dill had to yell above the noise.
The youngster nodded, his face shameful. “I couldn’t help it, Mr Gibson.” he shouted back. “He came at with me with a spear. It was either him or me.”
The troops set about evacuating the area. They roped the civilians together and forced them along the walkway like a chain-gang. The people followed numbly and semiconsciously as they were pushed and prodded. Several still had bloodshot eyes from the effects of the gas. Mothers were allowed free hands to carry small children. The gunship soared away and for the first time in over an hour there was silence in the cove.
Dill’s mind had switched to a new gear; he was unable to comprehend what he’d just witnessed. His feelings were frozen and logic prevailed. Kayleigh was still kneeling in the middle of the terrace, her locks damp and flat from the spray; her eyes were narrowed and trembling. Water dripped from the hem of her jacket. Dill put his hand on her shoulder. “Come on, Kayleigh; let’s get you home.”
She didn’t move or speak; a statue.
“We can’t stay here, you know.”
Slowly she climbed to her feet, pushing Dill away when he tried to help her, and plodded towards the ledge with her head facing her toes.
When they reached the spot where the slopes led up to the plateau, a handful of people passed them, heading back the way they’d come towards the caves. These were civilians, dressed in white oilskins and carrying rucksacks with the Rockall Commission motif on them. Dill recognized a few of them as members of the in-house science department. He never left Kayleigh’s side as they ascended the natural stairway to the cliff top. When they arrived he saw that the soldiers were loading the cave folk into two large, double-rotor helicopters. The Erkdwala allowed themselves to be ushered with the indifference of sheep being dipped. Their faces were blank and pale; not one of them spoke or even looked up as they mounted the rampways to the dark interiors of the aircraft.
Trevor and Zach were there, standing to one side, supervising the operation. Kayleigh let out a blood-chilling scream of rage and before Dill could stop her she’d thrown herself at Zach like a mad dog; punching, kicking, scratching. Several soldiers stepped forward and pulled her off him. She writhed in their arms and a field medic came up to attend to her.
“Sedate her!” ordered Trevor. “And make sure she gets home safely.”
They escorted Kayleigh away to a nearby parked Landrover. Trevor turned away to talk to an army officer.
Zach was flushed and tight-lipped. He trembled as he stared at the ground. Blood welled from scratches on his cheek caused by Kayleigh’s fingernails. “Zach.” said Dill. “Why did you tell him?”
Zach looked close to tears. “I… had to.” he faltered. “It was the only way.”
“The only way for what?”
“To get my job back.”
Dill groaned. “Your job!?... Do you know what you’ve done!?”
He nodded. “I wish I hadn’t now.”
“Where’s he taking them?”
“Mount Clow; and then on to somewhere else by air.”
“Where else?”
Zach shrugged. “Only Trevor knows that. He’s arranging the flight for as soon as possible… Oh, God; If only I could put back the clock!”
Dill paused. “Everyone wishes that at some point in their lives, but it’s impossible… There might be something we can do, though.”
“There’s nothing we can do!” Zach shouted. “Trevor’s in charge!”
“Well, there’s a way round that, but we’re going to have to work together. Listen…”
“One step at a time, Gibson.” Dill told himself as he arrived back in Rockall Port. He ran to his house and, headed straight upstairs and called a friend on his laptop. Then he went to Kayleigh’s house, fielding Broadway’s questions. Trish ushered him inside. “Thank God you’re here, Dill!” she said. “These two army blokes brought her back an hour ago; they almost had to carry her! She went right up to her room and locked the door; I haven’t heard a peep out of her since!”
Dill climbed the stairs and hammered on the bedroom door. “Kayleigh!”
There was no reply.
“Kayleigh, if you don’t answer me, I’m going to have to assume your sick; then I’ll have to bash the door in.”
“I’m OK.” came a croaky voice that hardly sounded like Kayleigh’s.
“Then let me in so we can talk.”
“Leave me alone, Dill!”
He sighed. “Look, Kayleigh; I’ve thought of a scheme to save the Erkdwala, but I need your help!”
There was a long silence; then the latch turned and Kayleigh’s tearful, straggly head poked out.
“Zach feels very bad about all this.” said Dill as they drove along in the Range Rover.
“I never want to hear that name again!” hissed Kayleigh.
They turned off the Trans-Rockall Highway onto a narrow lane that headed westwards towards RAF Mount Clow.
“Who’s this mate of yours then?” Kayleigh asked.
“His name’s Barry; he runs an organization called the Wiltshire Union Flying Squad. They’re a kind of New Age emergency service. He travels all over the world responding to events like this one; drawing attention to covert government operations, leaking secrets to the public. He’s going to get out to Rockall as soon as he can.”
“Events like this one? There can’t be many of those!”
“Don’t you believe it! Back in Two thousand and five a flying saucer crash-landed in the middle of a park in Peterborough. The Government tried to hush it up. They sealed off the city with the military and police; and banned TV, radio and newspapers from reporting it. Yet thousands of people saw the bugger parked next to the duck pond; and luckily one of them had the sense to call the WUFS. Barry and his colleagues went up there and camped outside the cordon until they’d persuaded the authorities to give it a single mention in the county rag.”
Kayleigh laughed. “Dill, there are no such things as flying saucers!”
He raised his eyebrows. “Of course there ain’t!” he said in a false-cockney accent. “If there was then we’d have read about it in The Sun!”
She laughed again; it was a welcome sound.
RAF Mount Clow came into sight over the next hill. “OK.” said Kayleigh. “What do we tell them?”
“The truth.”
She sighed tremulously. “I’m scared.”
“Don’t be! We have the Rockall Spirit on our side; we can’t fail!”
“Can I have that in writing?”
As they approached the airbase and stepped out of the car it was just starting to rain. They showed their Commission ID’s to the gate guard and he directed them to a holding area inside the fire cone of the guard towers while he made inquiries. Over by the hangers, a C-One-thirty Hercules transport plane was taxiing, its propellers feathering idly. “Let’s pray we’re not too late!” muttered Dill.
Kayleigh nodded, her jaw tightening.
A young RAF officer came out from the hanger and approached them. “Good morning, Mr Gibson; I’m Squadron Leader Justin Knight. I believe you’ve been appointed by Governor McCain to take care of the… um… classified operation that took place yesterday.”
“Yes, though I was actually given this task by Deputy-Governor Neelum.”
He shrugged and smiled. “Same thing.”
He looked at Kayleigh. “Is this lady cleared?”
“Yes; this is Kayleigh Ford. She’s the only one who speaks the language so she’ll be acting as interpreter… Where are they being housed?”
“Follow me.” The airman led them towards one of the hangers. It was about two hundred yards long by one hundred. Around it was a human chain of Royal Marines, standing evenly-spaced, their weapons at the ready.
“Wait up!” exclaimed Dill. “You can’t keep three hundred people in that!”
“There was nowhere else we could put them, Sir; considering the need for security.” said Knight. “Besides, they don’t seem to mind; and we’re not keeping them there much longer.”
“Two hundred and ninety-nine.” said Kayleigh quietly.
“I beg your pardon.”
“Two hundred and ninety-nine, not three hundred.” Her voice was low and bitter. “Zhadek was killed by one of your men.”
Knight coughed and turned away. “Shall we go inside?”
Their ID’s were thoroughly vetted by another guard before they were allowed into the hanger. A marine unlocked a little side door and they stepped through. It was dark; only a row of small bulbs broke the gloom with a sticky, yellow radiance. There were no windows. The next thing Dill noticed was the appalling stench. The chamber stank like an open sewer. He held his nose and blew out his cheeks. The floor of the hanger was encircled by a band of eight-foot high, white canvas screens, as if to hide something from the sight of anyone who happened to get a glimpse inside the open doorway. It left a narrow space around the walls to walk. There were several other people in view; some civilian, others in military uniforms. One of them, a man wearing a white lab coat, came up to greet them with his hand outstretched. “Mr Gibson, how do you do? I’m Dr Jeff Bryant, Ministry of Defence. I flew over here from Whitehall last night.” He wore a friendly smile, but his face was rather ghoulish. His features were pointed and his head completely bald except for long, grey locks at the back and sides which fell to his shoulders. “It’s good to meet you.” He shook Dill’s hand then proffered it to Kayleigh. “And you must be Miss Ford. I understand you’ve learnt a bit of their language. How fascinating! I’m looking forward to…”
Kayleigh looked at Bryant’s hand then up at his face, her eyes like marble.
Bryant grinned tightly and withdrew his hand. “Right, let’s get down to business. This way.” He showed them to where there was a gap in the screen and they passed through into the interior. The corrugated metal floor of the hanger was completely covered by people lying as if asleep in no particular formation. They were totally still and silent, their eyes half-closed. Despite them all wearing white hospital gowns, Dill recognized them as the Erkdwala.
“They’ve been like this since we brought them here twenty-four hours ago.” said Bryant. “They won’t eat, sleep or even use the loo.”
That made Dill realize why the place reeked so badly; each one of the Erkdwala sat in a puddle of urine and excrement. “Bloody hell! What are your people doing about this!?”
“There’s nothing we can do. They won’t respond to any verbal or physical communication. We’re caring for the babies at the base infirmary, but the older children have fallen into the same trance as their parents.”
“Why don’t you bring some nurses over to clean them up?”
“Sorry, no can do. They’re not cleared for Top Secret material.”
Kayleigh walked out into the middle of the floor crouching down by one of the petrified bodies. “Queylie!... Queylie!...” She moved to another, looking distressed. “Keesa!... Keesa!...” She gently slapped the face of the woman she was addressing.
“It’s incredible!” Bryant folded his arms. “Absolutely incredible! Real life Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers! A living time-capsule! The rest of the world changes and these chaps were left behind, shut away on this island. Amazing! I wonder how they got here… How long did this girl spend with them?”
“Just over two weeks.” said Dill. “She discovered them while she was out hiking.”
“And she learnt some of their language; that’s very useful.”
“Where are their clothes and possessions?”
“Being studied by my colleagues in the storeroom next door. Their cave has been sealed off by the Commission.”
“Everything must be left as it is!” said Dill sharply. “Nothing in the cave must be disturbed!”
“Of course not.” Bryant grinned slyly. “It’ll be treated with the respect of an archaeological site; the Governor has given me his assurances.”
“The Governor hands out assurances like sweeties…”
“Dr Bryant!” Kayleigh called from the other side of the room. She’d been trying to rouse the old man whom Dill had seen praying the day before. “These people are in shock! They need help!”
“They’ve been given all the medical attention…”
“No; you don’t understand!” She walked quickly back to where Dill and Bryant were standing, careful to avoid treading on the prostrate Erkdwala. “These people aren’t like some drunk in a police cell! Their whole concept of existence has been turned upside down by what the Governorship has done here! It’s as if their whole universe has cracked open! We can’t even begin to imagine what’s going through their heads! It’s quite possible they believe they… they’ve died… We’ve got to return them to the caves and leave them alone.”
“I’m sorry!?”
“We have to, Dr Bryant! If we don’t they could really die!”
“Don’t be silly, Miss Ford! If necessary we’ll give them intravenous fluids and nutrients.”
“Didn’t you hear what I just said!? You must take them home! All the nutrients in the world won’t save them if their minds decay!”
“Calm down, Kayleigh!” Dill held up his hands. “Dr Bryant, Miss Ford has spent a lot of time with the Erkdwala in their natural environment; much more time than anyone else. She is the nearest thing we have to an expert on their culture; and as manager of this project I have to sustain her suggestion.”
Bryant scowled and shook his head. “That would be a most unscientific move to make as well as counter-productive to their integration with the rest of society.”
“I think not. Miss Ford is correct, after all, in noting that these people are in shock and her experience of their mindset leads me to believe that they would be better off with a gentler and more progressive introduction to the civilized world, rather than being grabbed by the hair and wrenched into it, which has been the case. It would also be better for the collection of anthropological data to study this unique human phenomenon in their everyday environment… now I’d like to speak to the base commander to arrange helicopters to fly them back to the eastern plateau.”
“Impossible, I’m afraid.”
Dill frowned and said in a low voice: “I’m in charge here so make it possible.”
“You don’t understand, Mr Gibson. We are flying these chaps out of here, but not to the eastern plateau. They’re being shipped off Rockall in a Hercules to a… facility that can better cater for their needs.”
“What facility? Where is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Dr Bryant, you can’t fly these people away from Rockall!”
“Yes we can. Orders direct from the Prime Minister.”
“But a trip like that might kill them! As manager of this operation and officer of the Rockall Commission, I forbid you to remove the Erkdwala from this island!”
“The Rockall Commission has been given jurisdiction over the Erkdwala caves and habitat as well as their belongings.” Bryant spoke loudly and slowly. “But the people themselves remain the property… the responsibility of the MoD.”
Dill grinned. “Well, I’m afraid that’s not the case. If you take a look at Paragraph Six, Subsection One, Clause ninety-four slash fifteen of the Rockall Act of Two thousand and ten, you’ll find that the Governor of the island and his associates have the power to decide whether a mentally or physically ill citizen can be evacuated or not. The Erkdwala are all Rockall citizens, fulfilling the definition as a person who has had an abode on the island for more than eight months. I am a representative of the Governor in this situation… and I say get those choppers and take them back to the caves; OK?” He walked away before the flushed Dr Bryant could respond. He went to the doorway and asked to be let out. Once back in the fresh air, he ran a hand across his face and sighed. “How in God’s name did I do that!?”
The operation to repatriate the Erkdwala began at one PM. Straight away; it became obvious that it was going to be extremely difficult. Kayleigh spoke to them in their own language, consulting her handwritten vocabulary, informing them as best she could that they were about to be taken home to safety, but the Erkdwala remained in a comatose state. Dill decided that there was nothing for it but to stretcher them. A party of ten junior airmen were drafted in for this job. They set to work, rolling the inert bodies onto ambulance trolleys and wheeling them out to the waiting helicopters. A group of RAF medics accompanied them to monitor their condition. It took until two PM just to load the aircraft. At last the engines were started, the rotor blades spooled up and the huge helicopters heaved themselves into the air. Kayleigh and Dill sat on the floor of one which was covered with motionless bodies wrapped in thermal blankets, pale as if dead. Only the minute rising and falling of their chests indicated that they were still breathing. Kayleigh was holding the hand of the young woman named Keesa. “What about the infants?” she asked.
“They’ll have to stay on the base for now until the parents have recovered enough to look after them.” replied Bryant.
The spot on the eastern coast that gave access to the Erkdwala domain was easy to see because the Commission scientists had erected an orange tent by the cliff. The helicopter landed and the passengers were hefted out. Getting the Erkdwala down from the plateau and along the walkway to the terrace was a treacherous undertaking. Kayleigh chewed the collar of her jacket as the airmen inched their way down the grassy slopes and along the narrow ledge. The pony leather clothes followed, wrapped in plastic sacks. When the Erkdwala were all finally laid out on their beds of heather in the cave complex, everybody breathed an enormous sigh of relief and exhaustion. It was five PM. “So what happens now, Miss Ford?” asked Dr Bryant. They were all standing in the cave’s communal area.
“Er… well now they’re home in familiar surroundings, presumably they’ll wake up.”
“Are you sure?” asked one of the RAF doctors. “They could be so traumatized that their senses have shut down.
“It must get through to them eventually that their ordeal is over.”
Everyone else looked sceptical.
Dill spoke up. “Perhaps we should go away and leave them be.”
“No, Sir; we can’t do that.” said the medic. “If they didn’t regain consciousness they might stay like this and die.”
An hour later they made a round of the complex, checking every individual Erkdwala. There was no change in their condition. They met up in the communal area by the cold, black hearth and there was a along silence. “Well, Mr Gibson.” Bryant raised his eyebrows at Dill accusingly. “What do we do now?”
Dill hesitated. “This isn’t going to work. We’ll have to get them out of here and into hospital.”
The other men groaned and stamped their feet. Kayleigh hung her head.
“There’s not enough room at the base infirmary.” said the doctor.
“I know; they’ll have to go to the Green Port med centre.”
“Now hold it right there!” said Bryant, stepping towards him. “You’re not taking these chaps to a public hospital where everyone can see them! This is a Top Secret MoD operation!”
“I don’t care if it’s the Queen’s surprise birthday party!” retorted Dill. “If these people die then we won’t be guilty of murder, we’ll be guilty of genocide!”
There was a stunned silence.
“Now get on the radio and call the porters back!”
“The Governor won’t like this when I report it to him.” muttered Bryant.
“The Governor can take a running jump!”
Trevor McCain was beginning to have doubts. He looked down at his desk and around his office. He was now Governor of Rockall, exactly where he’d aspired to be on the day he, Zach and Ross Quentin had founded the Commission. Unfortunately the power and status that he’d expected to enjoy tasted a little sour at that moment. Perhaps he should give his father a call and ask to join…
The ‘phone rang and he picked it up. It was the receptionist. “Your Excellency, the Home Secretary is on the line.”
“Very well, Margarite; put him through. Has Kayleigh arrived yet?”
“I haven’t seen her, Your Excellency.”
“Damnation! She’s supposed to be back today. When she turns up, tell her to come and see me straight away.”
“Yes, Your Excellency.” She transferred the call.
“Hello, Arthur.”
“Trevor.” Arthur Foxwell’s voice was low and gruff; it sounded tinny from the coded satellite beam.
“I suppose you’ll want a progress report on the savages.”
“Not me, Trevor; the PM. He’s getting itchy. He wants to know why they’re still on the island.”
Trevor screwed up his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “We’re going as quickly as we can, Arthur.”
“Well, it’s not quickly enough. What’s the hold up?”
“We went to their caves and took them into custody, just as you instructed; but when we got them to the holding area they fell into some kind of stupor.”
“What do you mean?”
“They collapsed on the floor and just laid there. Some trance or coma, the doctors think. Gibson says they’re in no state to fly.”
“Gibson!?” A pause. “You’ve given Dill Gibson a hand in this!?”
“Yes, on Neelum’s recommendation. “I’ve put him in charge of their healthcare and transportation.”
“Do you think that’s prudent? He’s hardly reliable.”
“He’s sensible and methodical; he’ll do his job.”
“Are you sure? He’s also something of an idealist; and rumour has it he’s got a soft spot for that secretary of yours. Together they might cause problems for us. Can’t you deal with the savages yourself?”
“Well, not really, Arthur. In fact until Neelum and my secretary turn up for work I can’t deal with anything myself. I don’t have the time!... Dill Gibson knows when he’s outgunned. He’ll have no choice but to obey my orders and get them in the air as soon as they’re out of the hospital.”
“Hospital!?” snapped Foxwell. “The infirmary at Mount Clow, you mean?”
“No; there are so many of them, we’ve had to admit them into the civilian hospital at Green Port.”
“What!? Are you crazy!? You’ve actually put these creatures into an ordinary hospital, in full view of all-comers!?... Damn you, Trevor! What the hell do you think you’re playing at!?”
“Arthur, with respect, they’re being held on a secure ward and the US Marine Corps are guarding them.”
“You might as well have put an announcement in the papers!”
“It was Gibson’s idea. He’s been conferring with the doctors and Kayleigh Ford. They’re in the know on these matters.”
“So this whole outfit is being run by a bloody hippy and a Shorthand-Shirley!... Fuck it! I should have ordered you to dispose of the savages there and then!”
“Dispose? What do you mean?”
“Well, why not? If no one had known they were there then no one would have missed them. We could have taken DNA specimens for the scientists and dumped the bodies out at sea… Damn!”
Trevor hesitated; confusing thoughts popped into his mind. He speedily shut them down. “Well, we have to deal with the situation as it is.”
“I quite agree. Get those bloody savages onto a Hercules and get them off that island!”
“I want them in the air by noon tomorrow! Relieve Gibson now and handle the operation yourself!”
“What shall I do with my other pair of hands!?... Arthur, I can do what you ask, but only when Ford and Neelum show up for work! I’m juggling here!”
There was a silence and Foxwell softened. “Very well, Trevor; but I cannot overstress the importance of getting those creatures safely away from Rockall to a place where they can be… processed.”
“Where are you taking the savages when you get them off Rockall?… Just out of interest.”
“I don’t know to tell you the truth. The PM alone has that information. I think the Americans are handling it. They have a special secure facility on a military compound that’s going to receive them. A scientific team is flying over to pick them up… There’s another problem, Trevor.”
“What’s that?”
“Barry Gervaise is on his way to you. Somehow he managed to find out about this business.”
“Barry Gervaise?”
“Yes. We managed to stall him and his rabble at Oban; cancelled tickets; but now they’ve headed down to Liverpool and chartered their own car ferry.”
“Hang on, Arthur! Barry Gervaise is a loony! Dill knows him.”
“That figures! And now we know who tipped him off! But this bloke’s trouble with a capital ‘T’. He’s an expert at stirring up crap and filling people’s heads with it.”
“He’s a freak! I’ve seen him on TV. Doesn’t he believe in fairies or something?”
“Don’t underestimate him! He may be nuts, but he’s an established, proficient firebrand. He came close to blowing open a classified operation in Peterborough a few years ago. That’s another good reason for making sure the savages are gone by the time he arrives.”
“I’ll do what I can, Arthur.”
“You do that, Trevor. I like a Governor who makes things happen when we ask and I’d very much like to think that you were one of them. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Arthur.” Trevor frowned as he put down the ‘phone. Foxwell’s last sentence was a veiled threat.
Trevor now understood the cause of his discontent. His power and status were not the absolutes that he’d always dreamed of. They were purely relative. He might be superior to Kayleigh or Margarite or the cleaning woman, but he was as much a gopher as they were. When his own superiors spoke, he had to jump just as high as Kayleigh and Margarite did when he spoke.
The receptionist rang again a few minutes later to report that Kayleigh was in the building. He waited for her knock on the door. “Come in.”
She slowly entered the office, examining the tubular walls and domed ceiling as if seeing them for the first time; her expression was indifferent. She wasn’t dressed in office wear, but Trevor decided to let it pass just this once. “Kayleigh, thank goodness you’ve arrived! It’s bedlam here! Now I need you to hold the fort for a while so I can visit our prehistoric friends in hospital and…”
Kayleigh pulled an envelope out of her pocket and dropped it onto the desk in front of him. “I’ve only come here to give you this.” she said with a sneer of contempt. “It’s my resignation.”
He picked it up between two fingers. “Kayleigh, is this really necessary?”
“I’ve always felt uncomfortable working for you and I put up with that; but this time you’ve gone too far. I can’t in good conscience continue to work for you or anyone else on the Commission: An organization that treats vulnerable human beings like slabs of meat and destroys lives and cultures just because they’re different to our own!” Her voice rose in volume and feeling towards the second half of this speech.
“Kayleigh, listen to me.” He leaned forward and looked up at her. “It may not seem like it at the moment, but we’ve actually done the Erkdwala a favour. One day they’ll thank us for it, and so will you.”
“Don’t count on it!”
“For God’s sake, they were living like rats in a hole! Eating filthy, raw meat! Bring up babies in rock burrows!”
“You think that just ‘cos they don’t have mobile ‘phones, semi-detached houses and Volvos that their culture is inferior to ours!?”
“No, I think that because they don’t have health care, clean water, proper food and education that their culture is inferior to ours.”
She snorted and turned towards the door.
“You’re secretary to the Governor of Rockall, Kayleigh. It’s a position of prestige. You won’t throw that away.”
“Yes, I will.”
“And what will you do?”
“Maybe I’ll clean the toilets like my ex-fiancee. It’d be more honourable than what I’m doing now.” Kayleigh turned back and faced the desk. “I never want to have anything to do with you or Zach again!... But before I go, I want to claim Zhadek’s body on behalf of the Erkdwala Nation.”
“Whose body? Ah, yes; that fellow who died.”
“Was murdered.” corrected Kayleigh.
“It was self-defence.”
“Whatever... I think he should have a proper funeral.”
“He’ll get one. I’ve been in touch with Revered Hamilton.”
“No!” she cut in. “He must be treated in accordance with the customs of his own people!”
“But, Kayleigh…”
“Are you suggesting that the Erkdwala are Orthodox Church of Scotland!?”
“No, I meant to say that no one knows what the Erkdwala death rites are. We can’t ask them, can we?”
“We can when they come round.”
“And when will that be?”
Kayleigh sighed and looked at the carpet, shuffling her feet on its thin pile. “Can’t we… keep him on ice at the hospital or something until they’re better?”
“I’ll do what I can.”
“Thank you.” She once again moved to the door.
“Kayleigh, there’s something you should know.”
She stopped in the doorway. “What?”
“I want you to remember that, now you’ve resigned as my secretary, you’ve lost your one chance to find success in life. You’re going to be a nobody until the day you die.”
She chuckled scornfully. “I can live with that!”
Trevor listened to the echo of the slamming door reverberate grotesquely around the cylindrical office. He stood up, went over to the door and opened it. Kayleigh was strutting down the corridor in a confident, liberated fashion. She pattered down the stairs and was gone. He was about to return to his desk when he heard the sound of a vacuum cleaner starting up at the other end of the corridor. He looked and saw Seonaidh hoovering the immaculate Rotunda carpet. She was smiling to herself and whistling. Her face was carefree and content. Seonaidh, you’re a loser! You’re a cleaning woman, the lowest of the low, society’s garbage. Zero money, zero status, zero power! A nothing!... But you’re happy!
I’ve given everything I ever had to get where I am today! I’ve fought, struggled and sweated blood my entire life to rise as far above you as possible! I’m way above you on the ladder of achievement... But I’m NOT happy!... It doesn’t add up! And it isn’t
Trevor rung Zach’s home number. He gave it fifty rings before giving up. “I’ve had enough of this!” he growled. He put his voicemail on and headed for the garage where his Bentley was parked. He ordered Patterfield, his chauffeur, to drive him to First Landing. As he parked outside the house, he saw one of the downstairs curtains twitch. “Aha! I’ve got you now!” he muttered. He got out and gave the doorbell a good five-second clatter. “Zach! Open the door! I know you’re in there; I saw you from the car!”
There was a pause and he heard feet shuffling behind the door. “Go away, Trevor!” said Zach in a sullen voice.
“No, Zach; I shall not go away! I need to talk to you now, so open up!”
“I’ve got nothing to say to you!”
“I never supposed for a moment that did, but I’ve got a lot to say to you! I’m the Governor of this island and I’m your superior... so open the damn door NOW!”
The latch clicked and the door swung wide. Zach stood there dressed only in a T-shirt and boxers. His cheeks were sallow and unshaven. Trevor pushed past him into the studio lounge. The kitchen, sideboard and coffee table were covered in dirty plates, glasses and cutlery. A row of empty wine bottles stood on the floor by the armchair. “What’s up; is the butler on strike?”
Zach followed behind him, walking like an old man, his shoulders slumped and his head hanging. “I’ve not been feeling very well these last few days.”
“I can see that. Perhaps you need a bit of fresh air. I’ll open the car windows while I give you a lift to the office.”
“Oh; sorry, Trevor; I’m not up to coming back to work yet.” His breath reeked of alcohol.
“You’ve been off for six days; what’s wrong?”
“Flu, I think.”
“Flu, my sainted aunt! Acute pissitis, that’s all that’s wrong with you! Come on, get yourself cleaned up and dressed.”
Zach walked into the kitchen alcove. He poured himself a glass of red wine from an open bottle with a shaky hand. “No.”
“What do you mean ‘no’?”
He took a gulp from the glass. “I mean no!... Non, Nein, Ni tha, No se, Niet; take your pick!”
Trevor felt himself flush with affront. “Who am I!?”
“You’re Trevor.”
“I am Trevor McCain! Governor of the Island of Rockall (British Sector)!... Now I’ll ask you again: Would you please clean yourself up, dress yourself and come to work!?”
Zach raised his glass and smiled. “And I shall reply to you again: No.”
Trevor rose to the verge of explosion; everything throbbed red in his vision. His power was slipping away! He caught it just in time and stamped upon his rage. “OK, Zach. Let’s sort this out, shall we?... Just tell me all your grievances and we’ll deal with them one at a time.”
Zach held up his index finger. “Grievance Number One: My boss, the Governor of Rockall, is a cheating, manipulative, two-faced wanker. Grievance Number Two:…” He raised his middle finger beside the index, made and inverted Churchillian “V” and gestured obscenely at Trevor.
The Governor groaned and put a hand to his forehead. “I’m obviously wasting my time.” He turned to go. “I’ll leave you to your booze and self-pity trip.”
His face fell and he shivered. “Have you seen Kayleigh?”
“Yes, she came into the office an hour ago to hand in her resignation.”
“Did she mention me?”
“Yes, she said she never wants to have anything to do with you again; or with me for that matter.”
Zach put down his wine glass and ran both hands across his face.
Trevor smiled and sat down on the settee. “So that’s what all this is about.”
“There’s no point blaming just you; I’m equally guilty. Kayleigh’s right to hate me. I don’t deserve her. I’m a worthless, cowardly waste of space!”
Trevor shrugged. “I hope you don’t expect me to argue with that.”
Zach glared at him. “We’re both scumbags, Trevor! We might as well stick together. The only friends we have right now are each other.”
“Speak for yourself.”
“I grassed to you about the Erkdwala to get my job back, but I’d never have done it if I’d known this would happen! I thought you’d go public with it; get the media involved, scientists, the UN. The presence of a native population here could change the world! No more bickering with the Yanks, but international protection; World Heritage status!... But you used my information to sweep the whole thing under the carpet!”
“It’s for the best, Zach.”
“No it isn’t! The people of the world have a right to know! The people of this island have a right to know about the wonders that it holds! Why not tell everyone!? Why keep it a secret!?”
“It’s not like that, Zach.” said Trevor, dodging the question. “The savages are going to get help. They’re being shipped to a special scientific and medical facility in America where they will be cared for. And in a few months when that work is done, the news about them will be announced for all of humanity to hear; and then they will be returned to their homes on Rockall to live in peace and prosperity.”
Zach tittered ironically. “Do you really believe that, Trevor?”
He paused for a moment then laughed. “Well, not entirely, but it sounds good!... And who knows, it might be true!”
“So you admit it.”
“I admit nothing. How do you know that letting the savages run free on the plateau would be any better for them? Nobody does! Anyway…” He walked over and put a hand on Zach’s stooped shoulders. “What does it matter? This island is ours now, Zach! It doesn’t belong to Britain or America, or to some lost tribe of cavemen… It’s ours!” He raised his arms and made a circle in the air.
Zach looked at him out of the corner of his eyes and grinned weakly.
“That’s the spirit.” He took his hand away and walked to the door. “I want you at the office in an hour.” he said over his shoulder.
He looked at his watch. “I’ll call you on your desk line in precisely one hour from now. If you don’t answer, I’ll appoint Greg Slydes as my new Deputy-Governor.” He left the house before Zach had time to reply.
The border was unmanned. The apprehending and protection of the savages was eating Rockall’s military manpower. Trevor crossed into the American Sector and ordered Patterfield to drive straight to Green Port.
The George W. Bush Medical Centre was built into the side of the cliff. It had an entrance on its top floor and a panoramic view over the harbour and bay from its windows. Patterfield parked outside the Accident and Emergency department and Trevor took out his mobile ‘phone. He waited, looking at his watch, and then dialled. “Hello, Zach; it’s exactly eleven-fifty-six AM. Are you there?”
“Yes.” came the sulky reply.
“Then I’m pleased to say that you’ve successfully renewed your contract of employment.”
“Anything else? Perhaps you’d like me to serve you afternoon tea!”
“If I do, I’ll let you know.” He ended the call and got out of his car.
The hospital was modern and stylish. Like many of Green Port’s buildings, it was still in a state of construction. Some corridors led to working wards and clinics, others to bare, dusty caverns where excavators were still drilling away at the rock. Trevor was escorted by a US Marine Corps gunnery-sergeant to a lift which dropped downwards like a pit-car until it pulled up on a floor that was half finished. The passageway was lit by miners’ lamps. Patches of bare granite showed through gaps in the chipboard panelling and the place smelled of sawdust. The builders must have been halfway through their work when the area was sealed off by the military. Trevor showed his ID to a pair of tough sentries. They saluted him and pulled aside a polythene curtain.
The room beyond was brightly sunlit by a row of wide windows on the far wall; each pane still had the glazier’s sticker on it. All sounds echoed loudly off the naked, plaster walls. Electric wires and water pipes were exposed through gaps in the falsework. The chamber had been jury-rigged as a ward with hospital beds and monitoring systems standing isolated on the dusty floor. Wires trailed to makeshift transformers and sockets. A number of jumpy, tense-looking nurses bustled about, tending the patients in the beds. They ignored Trevor and concentrated on their jobs.
Jeff Bryant was sitting in a corner, chatting to a gaggle of doctors as Trevor approached him. “…I hope therefore you realize that neither you nor these nurses may discuss anything that takes place inside the cordon; not even with your colleagues. I’ll have to ask you to sign the Official Secrets Act…” He looked up and saw Trevor. “Excuse me.” He smiled ingratiatingly as he walked up. “Your Excellency, how do you do!?” He shook Trevor’s hand. “If I’d known you were coming I’d have organized a welcoming committee…”
“No excuses please, Dr Bryant! Just make sure I get one next time! Where’s Gibson?”
“Popped to the loo, I think.”
“Right.” He walked up to the nearest bed and looked down at the man lying in it. He was as still as a cadaver, his eyes half-open. Yellow and orange wires led from stickers on his chest, some obscured by his beard. A nurse was busy inflating a blood-pressure cuff on his arm. He was covered by bedclothes up to his waist and a transparent bag of urine stood on a holder beside the bed. Fluids ran from bags hanging on dripstands down clear tubes to patches on his arm.
“They’re all the same.” said Bryant. “All except the little kiddies. It’s been nearly a week now and their condition hasn’t changed.”
“How odd.” said Trevor.
“Isn’t it just? The doc’s say they’ve never seen anything like it before.”
He moved to the next bed. It contained a teenage girl with small breasts. Like all her compatriots she had coarse, blonde hair. Her face was very homely and untypical. The nose was large and fleshy and her mouth thick-lipped and pouted. Her skin was almost paper white. “Not exactly an oil painting, is she?” said Trevor.
“She’ll never be Miss World; none of them will.” concurred Bryant. “Remarkable racial features, though. They’ve been breeding independently for thousands of years and it shows. Perhaps all our ancestors looked like that once!”
“Apart from the skin and hair-colour they could be Negroid.”
“Yes; give her a coat of black paint and you’d have Aretha Franklin lying there! I wonder, Your Excellency, if there might be a bit of Neanderthal in them.”
“It’s a pity no anthropologists will get to see them.”
“Not official ones anyway.”
Trevor reached out a hand and gently raised the girl’s eyelid. Her eyeball gleamed in the light like a marble. Her iris was large and jet black. “Are you sure you can’t just carry them aboard a plane and fly them out of here? What harm will it do?”
“My thoughts exactly, Your Excellency.”
Trevor whipped down the bedsheet to scrutinize the rest of her body. Her pubic hair was thick and dark brown, almost black. “I see they’re natural blondes. Either that or they’re the first culture on Earth to invent peroxide before the wheel!”
Bryant roared with laughter.
Dill and Kayleigh appeared in the doorway. They were walking in a carefree manner, but as soon as they saw The Governor, they pulled up short. “Trevor!” said Dill.
“Hello, Dill. Just thought I’d pop by and see how things were going. How are these chaps getting on?”
Dill strode up to the bed and pulled the sheet back up over the girl. “They… They’ve made no progress unfortunately; still comatose. The medical team has been checking them and keeping them clean…”
“Excellent, Dill! Splendid work! I’m so glad Zach chose you to take care of them! Now all that remains is to get them onto a plane and off this island.”
“Out of the question at the moment, Trevor.” Dill said quickly, squaring his shoulders. “I don’t think they’d survive the trauma of air travel.”
“Trauma? What do you mean? They’ll be in a heated, pressurized cabin being pampered by medics. It’ll only be for seven or eight hours anyway. They’re human beings, not renaissance paintings.”
“I… still don’t think it’s prudent to…”
“Then let’s take a handful of the younger ones first and see how they get on. If they can handle it we’ll ship the rest of them.”
“No, Trevor. You see… I believe their condition is caused by the psychological shock of being evicted from their natural home…”
“But you returned them to their natural home and it had no effect on them.”
“No, but… we’re dealing with a culture and psyche that we don’t understand. Any experience we put them through may have a dire effect that we can’t predict.”
“Dill, you’re a good fellow and a good worker; you’ve done a great job. You must be sick and tired of being cooped up in this little hole with these stiffs. Why don’t you let me take it from here? Go back to the Port and turn your attention to something more interesting and profitable.”
“No thank you, Trevor; I’m fine here.”
“No, no! I insist!”
He paused. “Are you kicking me out?”
“Call it ‘redeploying’.”
Dill glowed red in the face. He looked as if he were about to say something, but Kayleigh beat him to it. “No!” she yelled. “You mustn’t, Trevor! You can’t take the Erkdwala away from Rockall! I won’t let you!”
“Keep out of this, Kayleigh!” shouted Trevor. “You resigned, remember!”
“Trevor!” Dill stammered. “Don’t do this! You’re about to make a terrible mistake! These people are not fit to travel; you’ll kill them!”
“You have no evidence to support that claim!”
“They belong here!” yelled Kayleigh.
“Yes! This is the Erkdwala ancestral homeland!” said Dill. “It would be a crime to take them away!”
“Rubbish!...” He broke off, for a commotion had started at the far end of the chamber. A group of doctors and nurses burst in through the door chattering excitedly. “Dill!” called a nurse. “One of them has woken up!”
The throng of tightly-packed medics were crowded around one of the beds, four deep, bubbling like children. “Let me through!” commanded Trevor. They respectfully moved to one side and allowed him to approach the bed. The patient was an elderly man with long, white hair and a beard. He was fully conscious and sitting up. He looked around himself in wonder with his watery, black eyes. “Kerroj!” whooped Kayleigh.
Trevor looked at Dill’s deflated face and felt a wonderful rush of victory. He stared into Dill’s eyes, drinking up his defeat like wine. “Dill, call the airbase and tell them to prepare a Hercules for immediate take off.” Then he turned away dismissively and walked off with a snigger. It was moments like this that he lived for. Utter power, authority and self-importance! You don’t know what you’re missing, Seonaidh!
Kayleigh Ford knelt down on her bedroom floor and prayed for the first time since her grandmother’s death. “Thank you, God! Thank you, God!” she muttered fervently. The ‘phone call she’d just received from Dill confirmed it. This wasn’t just a one-night blow-out; it was the worst gale to hit the British Isles in years. All flights in and out of Rockall were cancelled until further notice. It had struck just as Trevor was preparing to move the Erkdwala to Mount Clow.
Kayleigh put on oilskins and left the house to meet up with Dill. The wind chilled her to the bone and buffeted her violently. The rain soaked through the seams of her jacket. Her boots were leaking and her socks soaked up icy water from every puddle. She lifted her head and let the water run down her nose into her mouth. “Whee!” She yelped for joy. “I love you, wind and rain!”
Kayleigh’s spirits were falling. She shivered as another drenching gust rolled along the Trans-Rockall Highway, slamming into her and penetrating her jacket. She staggered to the garden gate of the next croft and fumbled the latch open. She clumped up the garden path, water dripping from her eyebrows, and rang the doorbell. It was answered by a squat, black-haired crofter whose name she didn’t recall. “Hello.” said Kayleigh, speaking in Gaelic. She handed him a leaflet from a plastic bag she was carrying under her arm. Despite its protection, the paper was still damp. “I’m calling to ask if you’d be interested in attending a public meeting tonight in Rockall Port Community Hall.” Her teeth chattered as she spoke.
“Oh, yeah? What’s it about?”
“A few days ago, a walker on the eastern plateau discovered a colony of ancient, Stone Age people who’ve lived on Rockall since prehistoric times. When she reported her findings to the Governorship, they immediately abducted these people and are right now attempting to cover up the fact that they even existed…”
The man’s face collapse into a scornful frown as she recited her litany. “Excuse me; I really don’t have time for this garbage!”
“But it’s true! I swear! We are being denied knowledge of the most incredible discovery of the century! The greatest wonder Rockall could ever give the world is being destroyed!”
The man shook his head and began to close the door; Kayleigh blocked it with her foot. “Please! You must believe me! They’re being held in secret in Green Port hospital! If we don’t help them they’ll be flown away from here forever!”
The man kicked her foot away from his threshold. “Get out of here, you fruitcake!” Slam!
Kayleigh sighed and slumped back to the street. Dill was waiting for her. “How’s it going?”
“It’s not. All I’ve had so far are piss takes and abuse.”
“Well, that’s all the crofts done. Did anyone take a flyer?”
“A few.”
“That’s something. They might just fall into the hands of someone a little more broad-minded… Anyway; there’s one more to do: Calum’s; do you want it?”
She laughed. “You’re too kind!”
Carol, a tired-looking crofter’s wife in a wax jacket answered. “Hello, Kayleigh. What can I do for you?”
Kayleigh spoke quickly as had become her habit since everyone that day had shut her up before she’d been able to finish.
“Lord in Heaven, Kayleigh! That’s incredible!” Carol eventually replied. “So, let me get this straight. These people were living here before First Landing?”
“Yes; thousands of years before.”
“So, they’re… cave men?”
“Yes; and now the Governorship has taken every one of them prisoner and they’re going to be exiled to America and no one will ever know they even existed! We’ve got until the storm lets up to save them!”
“Hell’s Teeth! What are we going to do!?”
“That’s what we’re going to discuss at the meeting tonight.”
“Well, count me in, Kayleigh! Calum and I will be there!”
“Great!” Despite her wet feet, Kayleigh skipped a little as she walked down the path.
That afternoon the cavalry arrived. The chartered car ferry carrying every single member of Barry Gervaise’s Wiltshire Union Flying Squad came in sight on the western horizon. They tried to land at Green Port, but harbour master refused them permission, claiming that the ship’s draught was too deep for the inshore waters. “A likely story!” scoffed Dill.
“Can’t we get them ashore somewhere else?” asked Kayleigh. They can use the ship’s lifeboats.”
“Not in this weather; they’d drown.” said Dill. “And then there’d be the cliffs to climb.”
“The wind’s a north-westerly. There must be somewhere on the south coast where they are sheltered and can get up to the plateau without…” She saw Dill’s face change and realized that they’d both had the same idea at the same time.
Kayleigh parked the car outside her house. “We’d better approach First Landing on foot in case Zach hears the engine.”
“Even if he does he’s not going to shop us to Trevor.”
“Don’t you believe it! He doesn’t like Trevor any more than I do, but he’s a weak, selfish, career-obsessed idiot who’d eat his own shit to stay in the Governor’s good books."
They got out of the car, bracing themselves against the gale, and walked along the path towards the big, white house. They tiptoed hastily past it, Kayleigh glancing nervously up at its facade, but the curtains were drawn on every window. The wind eased as they descended the slope to the beach.
The car ferry was already at anchor about two miles off Rockall Port Bay. Kayleigh could see a row of distant figures crowded along the promenade deck. The orange blob of a lifeboat was slowly inching its way down the ship’s flank as it was lowered from the davits.
Kayleigh and Dill clambered down the foot of the rocky slope and landed on the muddy beach. A cairn stood to mark the spot where they’d first stepped ashore two and a half years ago and the Union Jack that they’d planted was still flying. The boat was schooning across the water towards the shore, bouncing over the breakers and spitting foam from its prow. It was packed to the gunwales by people wearing brightly-coloured, thickset oilskins and immersion suits. A few of them waved and Dill waved back.
The people in the boat waved again; now they were pointing and calling out words that were drowned by the distance.
“Something’s wrong.” said Kayleigh.
The boat’s crew were now yelling, cupping their hands over their mouths to amplify their voices.
“What’s the matter!?” hollered Kayleigh.
“Well, well, well! What have we here?” said a new voice from behind them.
They all leapt in shock and swung round. Trevor was standing about ten yards away, beside the foot of the slope. They’d been so engrossed in watching the approaching launch that they hadn’t noticed him sneaking up behind them. On each side of him, stretched out in a row, was a squad of stone-faced soldiers. “Dill and Kayleigh.” said the Governor. “I had a feeling I’d find you here.” He laughed coldly.
“Did you follow us from town?” asked Dill.
“No need.”
“Zach called you, didn’t he?” said Kayleigh.
“Zach? Goodness, no! Zach’s in his office, sniffing coffee and trying to get over the latest instalment of his long-term hangover. We’ve been following the ship; never heard of radar?”
“Trevor.” said Dill. “We are not breaking any laws, nor carrying out any activities that warrant your attention…”
“You are assisting the passengers of that ship to land on this island when they have no permit! That is illegal!”
“What’s wrong with you, Trevor!?” shrilled Kayleigh.
There was a loud thump as the lifeboat rode up onto the sand. The crew began jumping out. “What’s going on!?” demanded a bespectacled man with a beard.
“Good morning, Mr Gervaise.” smiled Trevor. “I’d have thought, now that whale-hunting is banned, that you fellows would be out of a job… Get back in your boat and return to your ship!”
“Now hold on a minute, Mate…”
Trevor lifted his hand and snapped his fingers. The soldiers raised their rifles and fired a shot into the air simultaneously, as if at a funeral. “That’s the only warning shot I’ll give.” said Trevor. “Now return to your ship and leave these waters! A naval vessel will escort you to open sea.”
The bearded man lunged forward with his teeth bared, but two of his companions held him back. “I’m sorry, Dill.” said one of them. They pushed the boat back into the surf and climbed aboard. Then they turned and began chugging back to the ship. The crew looked astern at the beach, their heads hung in sadness. Kayleigh felt like crying, but no tears would come out. Trevor’s smug expression raised a cold loathing for him inside her. A pair of warm hands closed on her shoulders. She looked up and saw Dill’s face, grey in the shadow of the cove.
The soldiers stayed to guard the beach while Trevor climbed back up the slope. Dill and Kayleigh followed him at a distance. There was nothing else to do; without the WUFS they were helpless. Kayleigh was semi-conscious with shock, only vaguely aware of what was going on. She stared at her feet moving over the rocks as if they belonged to someone else. The grief and sadness of their defeat and loss was just starting to bite.
There were more troops on the cliff top, clustered around a row of army lorries parked outside First Landing. “Right, you two!” barked Trevor. “That’s quite enough of this nonsense for one day! Dill, I want you back in town now! Kayleigh, if you don’t want to be arrested I’d advise…”
TOOT! The sound of a ship's whistle interrupted him. It came from the direction of the car ferry.
“Ah.” said Trevor. “They’re weighing anchor already. Good.”
TOOT! It sounded again, reverberating and warbling around the inlet. TOOT! TOOT! TOOT! TOOT!
“What are they doing?”
“It’s the distress signal!” said Dill. “What the… Gordon Bennett!”
Kayleigh looked up and turned round.
A pall of black smoke rose from the top of the ship’s deck, just abaft of the funnel. Orange flames flickered beneath it. There was a whoosh and a rocket ripped up into the sky from the bridge and exploded into a blinding magnesium flare.
“The ship’s on fire!” yelled Dill. “Call for help!”
One of the soldiers began speaking into his radio. “Casualty! Casualty! Rockall Ambulance control! Merchant vessel is Code Red, vicinity of First Landing!”
Trevor snatched the instrument out of his hands. “What are you doing, Corporal!? Stop that now!”
“Give me that back, Your Excellency!”
“Can’t you see that this is a trick!? There’s nothing wrong with that ship!”
The trooper wrenched his radio out of Trevor’s hands. “I’m sorry, Your Excellency; but that ship has just given out a correctly-formatted distress signal. I have to assume it’s genuine and report it.” He turned back to his radio. “Repeat! Casualty…”
Loaded lifeboats were already beginning to drop from the davits into the sea as if they were on the Titanic. The decks were packed with passengers waiting their turn to escape the inferno. Dill was roaring with laughter; Trevor’s face was bright purple with frustration. “I’ll fix you, Gibson!” he screamed, spitting with fury. “This island’s mine! You hear me!? MINE!” He stormed off to his car.
Three boats were by now in the water, skipping over the ocean towards the shore. Dill and Kayleigh capered back down the slope to meet them. The first one to hit the beach carried the same bearded man. As he jumped into the shallows and waded up onto dry land, Dill ran forward and embraced him. The two men shrilled with mirth. “I’d never have thought of that one, Baz!” said Dill.
“It was easy! Just a pile of mattresses from the cabin bunks with a bottle of paraffin poured over it. Did it look real?”
“Very! For a moment I thought it was!”
“So long as it blew out that twat of a Governor!”
More boats ran up to the shoreline, and the beach at First Landing soon became very crowded. By the time the first of the passengers had reached the top of the slope the ambulance from Rockall Port hospital was approaching, siren wailing. The ship’s captain then reported that the fire was under control and nobody was injured, but unfortunately his vessel would be unable to sail… probably for a good few days.
Dill’s friends from the ship numbered around a thousand and when they set up their tents on the edge of town it looked like a refugee camp. They were an assortment from various backgrounds and organizations, all under the banner of the WUFS. There were environmental activists, New Age and oriental spiritual persuasions, conspiracy theorists and those with an interest in native cultures. One of them was a very well-known presenter of historical TV documentaries whom Kayleigh recognized at once. With their help the canvassing was finished quickly and a leaflet was on the doormat of every home on Rockall.
It was seven PM and the community hall was a flurry of activity. Barry Gervaise and his roadies were busy setting up loudspeakers and microphones, unreeling wires and setting up lighting decks. Spotlights flickered on and off and the words “Testing, testing!” echoed around the room, often accompanied by the screech of feedback. Kayleigh and Dill pulled stacks of plastic chairs out of the cupboards and began laying them out and straightening them into rows on the parquet floor. When they’d finished they went and had a cup of coffee to calm their nerves. They both new that one way or another tonight was going to be make-or-break night.
At seven-thirty people began arriving and filling the two hundred-or-so chairs. Carol and Calum were one of the first to arrive and took a seat at the front row with Ewan, Seonaidh and their other children. They waved hello to Kayleigh who was clearing the stage of unnecessary furniture. Another group arrived, scientists this time; then some more crofters.
“Right.” said Barry. “I’m going to make a start now.” He jumped up on the stage and took the microphone. “Hello there! Can everyone hear me OK?”
There was a mumble of affirmation from the crowd.
“Great. I’m not sure if anyone else is going to turn up, but we’re running to rather a tight schedule so I’m going to lead off… Oh, no; here’s one more. OK. Good evening, Mate.”
The door to the chamber had opened and a dark-haired man had entered. He was dressed in a parka with the collars turned up and a dark blue, woollen hat. Despite his attempts to hide his face, Kayleigh recognized him. She jumped to her feet with a gasp before she could stop herself.
“What is it?” whispered Dill.
“That man over there.”
Zach had taken an isolated seat by the door in the very back row.
“Well, so it is!” said Dill. “What does he want?”
“He’s got a bloody nerve showing his face here!” growled Kayleigh.
“Today is a unique day.” said Barry. “A major turning point in the history of the planet! A beacon of hope in a world that has almost lost hope.
“One day, twenty to thirty thousand years ago or maybe even earlier, a boat or raft landed on this island carrying a handful of men and women. They may have been fishermen from the mainland who got carried out to sea. Perhaps they were explorers, trying to find new lands with a cargo of live horses. They might have been refugees from a tribal war or conflict with Neanderthal men. Whatever the reason they decided or were forced to stay here.
“They created a new community, living off the sea and land as was their way. They had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren; the tribe grew bigger and bigger with each successive generation. Ice ages came and went; Rockall must have got a lot smaller as the sea levels rose, maybe causing famine.
“In the rest of the world, history progressed. The Neolithic Age began and people produced monuments like Stonehenge. The civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt rose and fell. The Greeks and Romans came and went. The Normans invaded all the other British Isles. World wars raged and rockets flew into space… All the time these things were happening, Rockall was left unnoticed and ignored. The people here continued to live their lives as they always had done, unaware of the forces and changes that were going on just over the horizon.
“Then, just two years ago, in the last percent of a percent of Erkdwala history…” He held up his thumb and forefinger almost touching. “…humans from the outside world landed here.”
Barry Gervaise was a very cogent and enthralling speaker. His lead-off lasted over an hour and not one of the audience stirred, even those members who later on professed to be sceptics.
“If all this is true then what I don’t understand is: why the cover-up?” asked Calum during the discussion that followed. “What reason could the Governorship have for keeping the existence of this lost race a secret?”
“There could be several reasons.” replied Barry. “Firstly, the presence of an indigenous culture on Rockall would knock the political situation on its arse. The biggest oil well in history is about to open and powerful people and organizations are preparing to exploit it… But there may be a deeper more fundamental reason. I’ve found, in my experience, that governments seem to have an almost knee-jerk aversion to all the things that you might describe as ‘paranormal’ or ‘out-of-the-ordinary.’ Things like ghosts or UFO’s, or events like this one, which rock the boat of conventional worldviews. They will attempt to deny, reject and suppress information on any phenomenon that could lead people to question the reality of the banal, three-up-two-down existence which we live in. I think they need us to be quiet, subservient and bored in order to rule us. Take a shepherd; he can control a flock of fifty sheep with the help of just a whistle and a dog. How? Because those sheep see nothing, think of nothing and follow nothing except the arse of the sheep in front. We’re like those sheep; we outnumber our leaders a thousand-to-one. They can’t control us by force, so they manipulate the things we see and feel in order to keep us in line.”
“Where are they taking these people and what will they do to them?” asked Carol.
Barry answered dispassionately. “They’ll probably be flown to a sealed, military installation in the USA where they’ll be studied by initiated scientists and then probably killed. Their bodies will be either preserved for further experimentation or incinerated along with their personal belongings.”
A sick chill flooded Kayleigh’s chest.
The meeting closed at half past ten and the audience filed out; Zach was nowhere to be seen. Kayleigh and Dill hung around the community hall to help Barry and his team pack up their equipment. “I lead a bit of a nomadic lifestyle.” said Barry. “Going from town to town, country to country, investigating, protesting. I’ve got two kids back in Wiltshire; I don’t half miss them!” They carried the boxes of gear outside to the Range Rover. They’d walked a dozen yards before Kayleigh noticed that something was amiss. “Stop!” she cried.
“What?” They turned and looked at her.
“Haven’t you noticed!?”
“Noticed what?”
The lamplit community centre forecourt was quiet and echoic. The building was reflected in the puddles. “Oh, shit!” exclaimed Dill. “The wind’s stopped!... The storm’s over!”
Everyone dropped their load on the pavement and sprinted for the car. Barry stabbed manically at his mobile ‘phone while Kayleigh unlocked the doors.
They parked the car on the ridge above Green Port and hiked along it to a point where they could overlook the hospital entrance. They crouched down behind a boulder and took out their binoculars.
It was immediately apparent that something underhand was going on. All the lights around the hospital had been switched off. In the tiny amount of glow that leaked from Dome One, Kayleigh could see that military personnel and vehicles were all over the A-and-E admission ramps. Most sinister of all was a double row of parked lorries. “Oh, no!” said Dill. “That’s what they’re going to use to transport them to Mount Clow!... Look!” He pointed.
One group of soldiers had lined up in two rows, creating a path between the hospital doorway and the trucks. Along this path, the nurses and doctors were escorting the Erkdwala in pairs like schoolchildren. They were completely docile and subordinate as they had been when they’d first been herded from their caves the previous week, walking slowly with their heads down. They were all clad in identical velvet anoraks with the hoods up. Some of them were carrying babies. They stepped aboard the lorries and ducked under the canvas tenting on the back without a hint of protest.
Dill took Kayleigh’s hand in an iron grip. “There’s not a moment to lose! We must go to Mount Clow!”
“What are we going to do!?” she whimpered.
“Anything we have to!”
Kayleigh sat in the middle of the back seat, leaning forward between the two front seats. The road was white and glowing in the car headlights. Dill seemed to telepathically sense her unease. He reached his hand over his shoulder and laid it on top of hers where she gripped his headrest. They turned right off the Trans-Rockall Highway onto the track that led to RAF Mount Clow.
The entrance to the airbase was blocked by a huge throng of people, mostly Barry’s associates whom he’d just scrambled by mobile ‘phone. They turned to face the Range Rover as it approached and their eyes glinted like cats’ in the light. The crowd closed round as she, Dill and Barry jumped out. Kayleigh, being shorter than the other two, was hemmed in by chests. “I’m sorry, Barry!” said one of them, a man she recognized from the lifeboats. “We bundled up here as soon as we got your call but we were too late. The lorries are all inside and they’ve shut the gates.”
“They must have come down the west track.” said Dill, his face in shadow.
“Can’t we cut the fence?” asked Barry.
The man shook his head mournfully. “No good; they’ve got squaddies guarding the runway.”
Barry groaned and put a hand to his forehead. “This is my fault. We should have come straight here and not bothered with the hospital.”
Kayleigh left them and began worming her way through the crowd. She gently pushed and manoeuvred; people squeezed aside to let her past, until she hit the high fence, topped with a spool of barbed wire, which marked the perimeter of RAF Mount Clow. She put her fingers through the gaps in the wire and looked.
The airbase was floodlit like a sports ground. Every shadow stood out as sharply as if it had been cut with scissors. The rough heather stretched away from the foot of the fence to the apron several hundred yards away. The parked aircraft were dark and inert like roosting swans except one, a C-One-thirty Hercules transporter, which showed lights in its cockpit. Its engines were shrilling and one of its propellers was turning slowly like a windmill. The aeroplane’s huge back doors were open and its ramp lowered. There were people everywhere on the ground, looking small beside the giant aircraft and a dozen army lorries were parked in a line under its wing. Kayleigh strained her eyes and saw the soldiers and aircrew goading the Erkdwala into the maw of the Hercules.
The huge crowd of former-protesters gave a great wail of misery as the Erkdwala appeared. Even if the fence hadn’t been there it would have been pointless. The whole area was surrounded by a curtain of Royal Marines. A hundred or more of them strolled up and down on the heather beside the hangers and runway, pointing their rifles at the herd of activists. More troops sat at the top of the guard towers, hands resting on the breeches of machine guns. It was over.
Kayleigh subconsciously pushed against the fence, wanting to go to them; Kerroj, Keesa, Grayvin, Peen and her “sister” Queylie, remembering the wonderful fortnight she’d spent living among them, sharing their sweet, peaceful lives. She would never see them again; few people would. They would soon be gone forever, Rockall would be “back to normal” and the Governorship could breathe a huge sigh of relief. Her heart burned with anger, guilt, regret and longing. The terrible way in which fate taunted her, by letting her see them one last time when they were already lost, tore into her. She leaned her forehead on the barrier and cried. Several others in the crowd were doing the same.
“Excuse me.” Someone tapped Kayleigh’s shoulder.
“Yes?” she sniffed and raised her head, blinking away her tears.
“You’re Kayleigh, aren’t you?” The speaker was a woman who was so small that at first Kayleigh mistook her for a child. She was at least an inch shorter than Kayleigh and as slender as a fairy. Her accent was Glaswegian like her own.
“Listen, I’ve got an idea of how to get inside the base, but I need your help.”
“Get inside? How?”
“I’ll show you.” Her eyes were large and bright brown above a pointed nose. Her hair was straight and black and she wore a leather jacket studded with flowers, Krishnas, and various other New Age and peace symbols. “Have you got the keys to your car?”
“I’ve got a set in my pocket, yeah; but the car’s not mine.”
“That’s fine; let’s go! We’ve not got much time.”
They made their way back through the crowd to where the Range Rover was parked. “I’m Barbara, by the way.” called the girl as they snaked through the mass.
“Hi, Barbara.”
Behind her, Kayleigh heard the scream of the aircraft’s engines rise. The Erkdwala must have all been stowed aboard and the Hercules was preparing for takeoff. Barbara snatched the car keys out of Kayleigh’s hand and opened the vehicle’s door. Kayleigh got into the front passenger seat beside her.
Barbara started the engine and stomped on the accelerator. She looked like a little girl as she drove, clutching a steering wheel that seemed much too big for her tiny hands. They left the road and bumped across open moorland. People at the edges of the crowd pranced out of the way as they picked up speed. “Where are we going, Barbara?” asked Kayleigh, reaching behind her for the seatbelt.
“You’ll see in a sec’.” She shoved the Range Rover down a gear and started mounting one of the ridges that bordered the RAF base. As they bounced and jarred up the hill, their view improved. Everything lay spread beneath them, glowing in the melange of the hazy moon and the base floodlights. The seething mass of protesters clumped against the fence, howling and booing. The airbase hangers and buildings looked small in the distance. The aeroplane with the world’s only remaining Erkdwala inside it was like a toy as it crawled across the tarmac. It turned onto the runway and began picking up speed. Red and white navigation lights blinked from its tail and wingtips.
Barbara swung the car around to face the panorama and ground to a halt. “You’d better get out now, Kayleigh.” she said.
“Why? What are you going to do?”
“Never mind that, just get out! I can’t take you with me!”
She released her seatbelt, opened the door and stepped out onto the heather.
Barbara’s face was in shadow; only her eyes were visible, shimmering in the light. “Find my friends and tell them I love them.” She didn’t even wait for Kayleigh to close the door. The tyres rasped and the car leaped forward as if on a released spring. As it built up speed on the uneven ground it rocked and jarred so much that it looked as if it would overturn. It tore down the hill like a rolling rock. Barbara thumped the horn repeatedly and the crowd parted, shouting and pushing to get out of her way.
“Bloody heck!” muttered Kayleigh.
As the vehicle reached the flat ground it accelerated even harder. Aiming square, it hit the fence with a metallic smack and the taut wire flopped to the ground, dragging a couple of posts and thirty yards of fencing with it. The mob cheered and surged towards the break like a released flood.
But the car carried on, a coil of barbed wire entangled in its rear bumper. If anything, Barbara was driving faster. She was heading towards the runway, skilfully leading the moving aircraft, aiming for the point where it would be when she arrived rather than where it was now. The marines stopped strutting and stared at her.
“Barbara! Are you crazy!?” said Kayleigh aloud, and then screamed as she saw the flicker of muzzle flashes coming from the guards’ rifles. “BARBARA!” A second later she heard the rat-a-tat of gunfire.
The range was very short. There was a loud popping sound which must have been the tyres bursting and the windscreen shattered, but the vehicle carried on. It passed the line of the cordon and the marines continued to pump bullets into it from behind. The nearest guard tower joined in and yellow tracer fell onto the Range Rover like sparks from a furnace. It was only a hundred yards from the plane which was by now doing about fifty knots, almost enough for flight.
Kayleigh then understood what was about to happen and heard herself shriek like a banshee. “NO!”
The aircraft’s pilot had by now spotted the Range Rover and guessed what it was about to do. A puff of smoke wafted from the plane’s wheels as he applied the brakes. A parachute popped out from the tail and snapped open in the slipstream. Barbara must have been still alive at this point because she altered her track slightly to account for the Hercules’ change of speed. She carefully selected the nosecone as her target, knowing the passengers would be in the rear compartment.
The delicate airframe crumpled like cardboard as the perforated Range Rover rammed it. There was an ear-splitting shriek of rending metal; the nosewheel collapsed and the Hercules tipped onto its foresection. Sparks flew and friction with the tarmac dragged pieces of fuselage under the aircraft’s belly. The mangled remains of the Range Rover jammed underneath one of the rear wheels and the plane veered violently off the runway. One of its propellers touched the ground with a clatter and its blades snapped off and flew away into the darkness outside the pools of floodlight. The marines threw themselves out of the way, but one wasn’t quick enough and was crushed beneath the speeding mass of torn metal like a beetle beneath a lawnmower.
The wrecked plane gouged a brown track through the heather as its inertia carried it onwards; through the fence as if it were a spider’s web. It slowed gradually and eventually came to rest against a gentle rise at the foot of one of the berms that made up the remains of old Mount Clow hill. Sirens moaned across the compound.
Kayleigh was running. She pelted down the hill and was absorbed into the tail end of the stampede. The next few minutes were very confusing. She ran like she’d never run before, carrying on, ignoring her breathlessness and aching body. She was deafened by the roars and shouts of people around her. Wide faces flashed at her, elbows and knees knocked against her.
Then came the sound of popping gunfire from the guard towers. The throng gave a scream of terror. Glowing tracer-bullets rained down like biblical brimstone. Lead slapped against flesh and bone; blood flew into the air to fall like warm drizzle. Kayleigh was hardly even conscious; adrenalin washed through her system. People were falling all around her, some obscenely mutilated by gaping head wounds. She tripped over a body and almost fell. There was a crunching, crackling noise and one of the guard towers leaned over and crashed to the ground like a felled tree.
The shots eventually ceased. The crowd grew closer and closer until Kayleigh felt herself being crushed. She shoved the backs and bellies of the enflamed activists, their voices filling her ears. Someone pushed her hard against a wall; then she saw that it wasn’t a wall, but the skin of the crashed Hercules. There was a whooping of ambulance sirens and blue, flickering lights bathed the pandemonium. A hand roughly seized her arm and yelled inaudibly in her ear. She looked up and saw Barry Gervaise. He embraced her with both arms and they began running. The whole mass of people were now fleeing the scene. It became darker as they left the floodlights behind them. “We got ‘em out!” Barry panted.
“Wh… What?” Kayleigh breathed.
“The Erkdwala! We got ‘em out of the plane!”
“Where’s Dill?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
They watched the giant TV screen in silence, listening to the base commandant’s telephone report on the speakerphone. The picture was being filmed from a helicopter hovering over RAF Mount Clow. “…As you can see, Your Excellency, the whole operation’s gone to pot! The aircraft is totally fucked! The rabble have stormed the wreckage and kidnapped the passengers! We believe they also took weapons! We couldn’t stop them, Sir; there were too many!”
“What!?” scoffed Trevor. “You’ve still got guns, haven’t you!? Why didn’t you carry on shooting!?”
“But, Sir; they brought down one of the guard towers with a chain saw! The foot-patrols were lucky to escape being flattened…”
“I’m not interested in hearing you excuses, Wing Commander! You should have carried on shooting until they were all dead!... Where are they now!?”
“They’ve scattered into the countryside, Your Excellency. Most have gone northwards; I think that’s where they’re taking the passengers. Kayleigh Ford was with them. We’ve captured Dill Gibson; he’s been shot in the shoulder.”
“Very well. Maintain air patrols until further notice; if you locate them notify me immediately… And, Wing commander; don’t fail me again!” Trevor punched his finger down on his keyboard, cutting the connection. The screen went blank.
Zachary Neelum approached the desk. “Let’s face it, Trevor; we’ve just come home from a bank holiday weekend break in Cock-Up Land.”
“I will not be defied by a bunch of malodorous, subhuman tree-huggers!” Trevor spoke in a low, taut voice. His face glowed, his cheek twitched and his arms were crossed on the shiny desk.
“What do you suggest we do then?”
“We find them, we arrest them, we kill them if they so much as lift a finger to resist; then we take the savages, put them onto another plane and deliver them to the Americans as promised!”
“How!? Any attempt at secrecy has been blown wide open! The whole of Rockall must know what’s been going on! The Erk… the savages could be anywhere and you can’t find them without making it obvious what’s been going on! The islanders will no longer trust you!” As if they did anyway! Zach added silently in his mind.
“Zach! I pay you to assist and advise! Not to preach cowardice and defeatism!”
“I’m being realistic, Trevor!”
The Governor got to his feet and began shaking as if having an epileptic fit.
“Trevor? Are you alright?”
“AAAAHHHHHRRRRRGGGGHHH!” He let forth an explosive bellow of pure rage and hatred. He picked up his half-empty bottle of red wine and dashed it against the curved wall of his office. Zach shrank back as Merlot sprinkled onto the pristine carpet. Trevor sank to his knees, his right arm resting on the side of the desk.
“Hey, Trevor; take it easy, Mate.” said Zach cautiously.
“Get out of my sight!” he growled between gritted teeth.
Zach walked along the corridor to his office. Once inside he locked the door and helped himself to another Scotch to calm his nerves. Along with the relief he felt at the news that Kayleigh had survived the battle were generally very mixed feelings about the whole affair. A part of him was glad that the Erkdwala had escaped their fate. A weight had lifted off his shoulders. Perhaps he wasn’t being as realistic in his counsel to the Governor as he claimed. Maybe he should do something positive now while the opportunity was ripe. If he did then Kayleigh might forgive him.
He telephoned Trevor’s office, not daring to visit in person. The voicemail was on so he left a message. After that he went down to the courtyard and drove back to First Landing. All the lights were on in the Bower-casts; nobody was sleeping that night.
He made himself a sandwich before bed. As soon as he’d finished eating it, the ‘phone rang. “Hello, Zach.” said Trevor in a genial voice. “Thank you for your message; do you want to pop back over here to discuss it?”
“Er… yeah, no problems.” he answered suspiciously.
Trevor was smiling as Zach entered his office in The Rotunda. The night-maid was busy washing the carpet of the wine stains. “Thank you for coming back, Zach.” said Trevor. His demeanour had totally changed. His expression was calm, his eyes were clear and he’d put on a fresh suit. “That’s an excellent idea of yours.”
“Yes. It’s a stroke of genius.”
Zach paused. “You mean you’re going to offer them my plan?”
“I don’t get it. Half an hour ago you were dead against…”
Trevor tittered melodiously. “I saw the error of my ways.”
“You saw the error of your ways!? How much of that wine have you drunk? You've never backtracked on anything in your life!”
“Even Homer nods, Zach.”
The word came though at dawn that the Erkdwala had been located. They were holed up in the McDonald’s burger bar at Green Port with several hundred of the surviving insurgents. The security forces had surrounded the position and were waiting for further instructions. Trevor had Patterfield prepare the Bentley and drove there with Zach.
It was a damp, cold morning. Thin, aubergine clouds partly concealed a dark, early morning sky. The blast of the sun forced its way through the bushes at the far side of the car park. The soldiers and marines were crouching fifty yards away behind rocks or in hollows in the ground. “They’re armed, Your Excellency.” said the officer commanding the stake-out. “We definitely saw them carrying rifles. They must have swiped them from the plane.”
Zach looked towards the McDonalds. The windows were smashed and the doors forced; furniture had been torn up and piled around the walls to create a crude barricade. He spotted a flutter of movement from within.
Trevor took a megaphone from an army Landrover. “ATTENTION!” he called. “WE KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE! THE BUILDING IS SURROUNDED!... DO NOT BE AFRAID; WE DO NOT INTEND TO ATTACK! ALL WE WANT TO DO IS TALK!... WOULD KAYLEIGH FORD PLEASE STEP OUTSIDE AND NEGOTIATE WITH US!?” He paused for half a minute. There was no sound except the breeze and the cawing of the seabirds. “KAYLEIGH, IT’S TREVOR! IF YOU’RE IN THERE, PLEASE COME OUT AND SPEAK WITH ME!” There was another pause then Zach saw a shadow in the doorway. There was a noise as a table was dragged aside and Kayleigh stepped out into the open air. “Alright, Trevor!” Her voice echoed like a bell in the hush. “I’m here! The Erkdwala are here! What are you waiting for, you piece of crud!? Come and get us!”
Trevor handed the megaphone to a soldier who took it wordlessly. He then stood up and walked forward into the car park to meet her. Zach followed at his shoulder. Kayleigh didn't acknowledge his presence and addressed Trevor as if he were alone. The Governor smiled at her. “How is everyone in there?”
Kayleigh laughed scornfully. “You really sound as if you care!” There was a long pause and she relented slightly. “There are about two hundred of us in there, plus all the Erkdwala. We’ve got twenty-seven hurt; five are serious.”
“I have ambulances on standby ready to take them all to the Green Port and Rockall Port med centres.”
“Do you really think we’d be happy to put them into your hands!?”
“Why not? We won’t harm them?”
“How can you say that after last night!?”
“Kayleigh the events of last night were a tragedy, but everyone on all sides feels equally upset about it and wants to close the door on it… Five Royal Marines were killed as well you know.”
“So now they’ll want their revenge!”
“Don’t be silly! Everyone realizes that this whole thing should never have happened. We just want the hurt in hospital, the damage repaired and everyone safely back at home.”
“How many?” asked Kayleigh.
“How many what?”
“How many were killed?”
Trevor huffed deeply and looked at the sky. “Two hundred and forty-five. We also have another three hundred and seven in hospital, including Dill. He took a bullet through the shoulder. He’s got a broken collarbone, but he’s going to be alright.”
Kayleigh was visibly affected by the news of Dill. Her mouth opened and she tottered slightly.
“How are the savages?”
“The Erkdwala are fine. None of them were badly hurt. Tell the Yanks that their secret lab specimens are undamaged!”
“What are you standing around nattering for, Trevor!? You have the men and the guns! Why don’t you click your fingers and send them in to get us! We know that’s what you’re going to do!... You can chase me up afterwards if you want to gloat!”
Trevor smiled slightly. He raised his hands in the air and snapped his fingers. With a rumble of boots all the troops stood up, made safe their weapons, about-turned and began marching away in double-file. Their vehicles followed and they headed off south down the Trans-Rockall Highway. Within five minutes, the sound of the withdrawing force had faded away into the distance and Trevor, Zach and Kayleigh were alone in the car park.
Kayleigh was slack-jawed. “What’s your game!?”
“No game.” replied Trevor. “I just came here to tell you the score: The savages will not be deported from Rockall. They have the freedom of the island and my guarantee that they will not be molested. If they choose, they may return to their former abode on the eastern plateau; otherwise accommodation and employment will be provided for them by the Governorship… I am also granting an amnesty to everyone involved in the incident at RAF Mount Clow last night. Nobody will be prosecuted for anything that happened there, Kayleigh.”
She didn’t reply.
“Thank Zach for all this!” Trevor jerked his thumb over his shoulder with a chuckle. “It was his idea.”
For the first time, Kayleigh looked at Zach. “Is that true?”
“Yeah.” Zach nodded.
“Why should I trust you, Trevor?” she put her arms akimbo.
“You shouldn’t if you don’t want to.” the Governor responded. “Sit around in that McDonalds for the next month if you chose! It’s no skin off my nose… But if you decide to believe me, give me a call.” He turned and walked away.
Zach glanced once more at Kayleigh and then followed. He was overjoyed to see that she looked at him with a very different expression; one devoid of resentment and contempt. “I think I love you, Kayleigh.” he muttered. He wasn’t sure if he spoke loudly enough for her to hear him.

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Chapter 7- To Turn and Turn Again:

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