3-9: Building and planting

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I

Hugh looked at Nikki. ‘This other lady you mentioned … did I … um … love her?’

It was clearly an effort for her to say it and he noted that. ‘Yes, Bebe, you loved her, just as she did you. She had always loved you in fact.’ A tear trickled down her cheek.

‘I hope I loved you just as much, I think I loved you far more, Sophie said I was besotted by you, had you on my brain.’

She smiled at that – Sophie did have her uses. ‘Look, Bebe, it’s not my place to speak of this other woman one way or the other – she was once a key member of our Section, she was my colleague, we were all very close, but she was married and she fell in love with you and … um … well I’d prefer not to speak of her.’

‘Fine.’

‘One was the husband of Emma, named Michel.’

‘Emma?’

‘Yes, the one you loved apart from me, the one you sailed on that boat with. There was another we haven’t mentioned before – Nadine, much younger.’

‘Did I sleep with her too?’

She gave a hollow laugh. ‘Yes you did but not in that way. Both she and Michel were executed by people our Mademoiselle brought in.’

‘I see. Anyone else?’

‘There were many around the peripherique but they were the main ones.’

‘So let me get this clear – I had Emma as my lover when you disappeared and Michel was killed. Did you and him ever have anything or have I got it the wrong way round?’

She almost stopped breathing, she opened her mouth, closed it, opened it, closed it. He knew he’d scored a major hit but couldn’t fathom why. No doubt she’d explain.

She did and now she admitted something else. ‘Like Rory, he briefly went inside me but I called out for help and the other house people came.’

‘He raped you.’

‘Yes and no. You see,’ and he saw this was difficult for her, ‘he’d been a childhood flame of mine – you’d say a crush -’

‘Nikki, if this was before my time, I don’t need to know, truly.’

‘She gulped. ‘The crush was long before you, the sex was recent. I couldn’t stop myself, Hugh – I told you I become worse away from you.’

‘Like Major Peters.’ She gasped. ‘May I tell you how I see it?’ She nodded. ‘I know now that I behaved terribly with you, even though I adored you. I see why you stayed with me because you had invested so much.’ She was nodding her appreciation of this. ‘Yet you seem to have an issue away from me, as if I fade somehow. I’m remembering some of my early days and I’d noticed it there too, please don’t feel it’s just you. When I’m here, when I’m with you, it’s fine but if for some reason we are apart, then temptation gets to you.’

She was stunned, she could not gainsay that. Then she thought of what to say. ‘That’s exactly what we said on Beddoes but we didn’t get to finish the talk. You see, on that last night, Janine came to you -’

‘Issue about islands.’

‘I don’t care, Hugh, that’s the whole issue,’ and she was angry – he didn’t like that, he was even a bit frightened. ‘That’s always been you, it’s always been helping out this woman or that and I won’t take it – it’s not your job, your job is me. You think it’s normal to jump into bed with a woman who comes to you to talk?’

He was about to defend what he’d done but then realized that he must have had form this way and instead he asked, ‘Is this really the central issue?’

‘Yes and I hate it. I don’t want you in any other woman’s bed, I don’t want any other woman in yours, no matter how tragic her story. Is this being selfish? Is it being unreasonable?’

‘No, it’s quite right, Nikki.’

She quietened down at that. ‘One day I’ll tell you all of it and you’ll know why I’m so upset.’

‘Yes of course.’

.o0o.

Laurence found Hugh in Moran’s in the morning. Hugh got in first.

‘Sophie threatens the stability of the island. I don’t think she’s malevolent – just completely out of sorts. We have to think of a solution.’

‘Tell me when you come up with one.’

Laurence went back to the hut and almost immediately had a tiff with her or rather, she was spoiling for a fight, spoiling for a reason, she stormed out and, having a soft spot for Sergeant Davidson, fronted him and asked point blank if he’d have her as a partner.

Either she’d been hanging around and knew that Mandy and he were on their last legs as a couple or else she was clairvoyant but Davidson thought, ‘Why not?’

Sophie moved in with Nick and Mandy moved in with Laurence.

Nicholas’ solid touch was neither romantic nor sensual and that suited Sophie down to the ground at this point. She could marry this man but then, in time, she’d have to produce progeny – she knew that – and she didn’t want, not with him.

She analysed it and analysed it. Why did she always shrink away?

Very slowly, a seed, the germ of an idea, implanted itself in her brain. That was it – it was because there was another she felt she wanted, someone she felt more in need of.

Hugh?

Slowly, it dawned on her that it wasn’t a man at all. A name popped into the frame – Nikki. She shut the idea out and pushed Nick away from her as well.

Celibate Sophie, that was the only way.

.o0o.

Laurence had turned in for the night and Mandy had already fallen asleep. He gazed down at her and knew he loved Sophie more, now that she was gone, of course.

Sophie was strange, dangerous, perhaps a man hater, she hadn’t shown any particular devotion towards him, especially following the business of the canoes. The girl beside him, with the mousy, short hair and the cherub face, was much more orthodox.

Laurence Sanders was not a stupid man. Lacking a little in humour, he made up for that with warmth, devotion to duty and a willingness to help anyone with a problem, to lend his ear to anyone’s cares and concerns.

No, Sophie had to be expunged from the mind. He kissed Mandy on the cheek and forehead, then ventured one to her lips. She stirred, took in what he was doing, smiled to herself and fell back to sleep.

.o0o.

‘We have Sophie trouble,’ Hugh told Nikki in Louis Quatorze.

‘I could hear some of it. Do you have your list with you, let’s have a look.’

He lay on the bed and placed it between them:

1 Hugh Jensen [54]
2 Nicolette Jensen-Vasseur [39]

3 Captain Laurence Sanders [41]
4 WNCO Mandy Davis [26]

5 Lieutenant Adam Brothers [32]
6 WNCO Lisa Benson [29]

7 Sergeant Sam Hoddle [34]
8 Janine Falworth [38]

9 Sergeant Nicholas Davidson [29]
10 Sophie Magdalena [28]

11 Staff-Sergeant Raymond Booth [31]
12 WNCO Susannah Hennessy [25]

All right, do you have scissors or do you want to keep this sheet as it is?’

‘Well, we do need a record.’

‘Could you get me some A4 paper, scissors, glue and a pen please.’

He went off to Moran’s to do that, returned, she folded the A4 paper in half then cut it, then carefully cut the names one by one from the original sheet and it was pretty obvious what she was up to, that she had done this many times before and was on top of it.

.o0o.

‘Right, it’s dry, let’s look and will you let me explain this list, putting your own comments in as we go?

1 Hugh Jensen [54]
2 Nicolette Jensen-Vasseur [39]

3 Captain Laurence Sanders [41]
4 Janine Falworth [38]

5 Lieutenant Adam Brothers [32]
6 WNCO Lisa Benson [29]

7 Staff-Sergeant Raymond Booth [41]
8 WNCO Mandy Davis [26]

9 Sergeant Sam Hoddle [34]
10 Sophie Magdalena [28]

11 Sergeant Nicholas Davidson [29]
12 WNCO Susannah Hennessy [25] ’

She coughed. ‘Drink Bebe, drink.’ He rushed off to get them and returned.

‘There is a thing I’ve heard you call it before – a pecking order, we have similar. The Prime Minister wanted and Laurence wants that we are at the head of the list. We are also an example of the age difference being all right at times.

Now, Laurence must be N2 man on the list, no matter who his partner is. The island demands it, you demand it. I demand it. End of story as you say. So, who is his partner? Not Mandy. Mandy is an ambitious woman and wants the top man as her partner but she can’t have that, she can have third and he is not bad at all – it’s ridiculous that Susannah is with him because she’s a vivacious, fun loving girl, ideally suited to Nick and Raymond is someone that Mandy can get to do as she wishes, yet he’s highly respected for his ‘staffery’.’

He laughed. ‘Staff-Sergeant is a parade ground role, a position of authority with NCOs.’

‘Yes, well he is the wisest, most grizzly, the bravest and he takes no nonsense then. Mandy needs that. That one is going to be difficult to sell though because Susannah … er, how can I say … gives good service and he will miss that, anyone would. However, the carrot for him is promotion up the list – we’ll make a big deal of that.’

‘Go on, little arranger.’

‘You used to call me that in the old days, that’s nice. Adam must be next after Laurence because he is a Lieutenant and I know your ranks. This is going to be a problem for Mandy but not for Raymond because he respects rank. Adam was a soft target for Lisa – he’s a tall young man, with a slight stoop, Lisa is not as tall but not small or delicate either. She has affection for Adam and for an unambitious woman like her, that is quite enough. They match and should not be touched but at the same time, there is something strange about Adam. You’re not everybody’s cup of tea as leader but you haven’t done a bad job. And yet he is quite hostile towards you. There’s something artificiel about that. Anyway, let’s move on.’

‘Yes?’

‘The solution to Mandy is to promote her. Find something she’s done and promote her. What can you make her?’

‘I should know these things but can’t remember. Let me get Laurence, he’d like to be part of this and it would be diplomatic. Hang on.’

.o0o.

Laurence came in – he’d been in his favourite spot outside of Moran’s – and as operations had moved to the table in Quatorze, here he was. He greeted Nikki and sat.

‘Now Laurence,’ said Hugh, ‘we think we’ve solved your issue with Sophie and at the same time, we think we’ve solved the others too. We think we have a good plan here but we’re at the point where we badly need your input. Mandy is an ambitious woman and she will only accept certain things. Adam must be after you in the pecking order and Raymond after that – you’d agree?’ He nodded. ‘All right, look at this list Nikki’s made and the thing we’re trying to solve now is how to get Mandy to accept fourth position with a Staff Sergeant.’

‘Well that’s easy, Hugh, you should know … ah, a thousand apologies, I was forgetting. All right, we bump Ray up to RSM and make Mandy Colour Sergeant, call her CSM and put her in charge of stores. She’s that already. She’ll jump at that.’

‘And would you jump at your own partner we’ve paired you with?’

Laurence looked at the list again.

‘It’s a very good list if we could pull it off. I’d like Sophie, despite what I said before but this want is vying with the 2IC in me on this island. I can’t fault the list.’

Nikki continued, as Laurence had the list in his hand, ‘Sam and Nick are both lovely people, Sam likes a the female too much but doctors are biological,’ said Nikki. ‘So:

9 Sergeant Sam Hoddle [34]
10 Sophie Magdalena [28]

11 Sergeant Nicholas Davidson [29]
12 WNCO Susannah Hennessy [25] ’

Laurence looked over it again. ‘You know, I think it might just work. We’ll make it formal, hand over the patches, that sort of thing but how will we sell it to them?’

‘Ah, that’s my job,’ put in Hugh. ‘We present it as a fait accompli, in the softest language possible, that it’s all for the greater good, that we want people happy etc. and a mood will develop at the meeting. If it’s a good mood, then we’re home and hosed. If not, then we adjust. If everyone starts objecting, we put on the pained act and ‘really people, we must resolve this’ and see how it goes.’

‘I learn more about you Hugh every day. Tricky customer.’

‘I was thinking that too,’ said Nikki. ‘Laurence, could you get that set up because that’s more your field than mine – where will you have the meeting?’

‘Oh, Moran’s of course. A few refreshments and all that. I’ll get onto it. Could you, Mme Jensen-Vasseur, prepare a large sheet with the names? That would first of all look better and it would also look like this fait accompli. There’s something about being ‘assigned’ in the military and you only start to think why after the meeting.’

‘Should be lively,’ said Hugh with a smile. ‘I like lively.’

.o0o.

‘You know, Beautiful One,’ said Hugh some minutes later, ‘I was horrified to see my age on that list.’

‘I wasn’t, I want to feel safe and as long as everything’s working …’

‘You say all the right things.’ She looked at him sharply.

.o0o.

The buzz went around that something big was in the offing – no one had seen Laurence this animated in a long while and as the patriarch and matriarch understood full well, that carried far more weight on this island than their own authority.

.o0o.

By drinks time – 16:00 – the crew were assembled and the chart was on a big board but had been folded over the top. Everyone was in full regalia and the refreshments had been sorted.

Hugh almost immediately deferred to Laurence – Laurence was going to carry the can for this.

Laurence did have a fine speaking voice, he was the epitome of ‘rightness’ wanting everything to be fine, whereas Hugh felt he himself sounded like a used car salesman, though he’d advised Laurence on some of the language to use.

Laurence did the preliminaries, going through the next stage building plans, speaking of chores, spare time, sport and then casually mentioned that ‘initial pairs’ were what they’d come to the island with, etc. etc. etc.

Nikki was most impressed and most people were. Hugh watched from the corner of his eye.

Laurence went on to mention Nikki, to allay the concerns of the ladies, that a command unit cannot dictate people’s lives but please – Laurence now entreated from the bowels of the Good Lord, please give this a fair hearing – it may have been laying it on a bit thick here but no matter.

Then Janine, whom Laurence had already taken into his confidence seeing the hand of the Jensens in here, ceremonially pulled the sheet back in position. There were gasps all round as they perused it. Nikki had done a superb job and the ladies were happier now.

Nikki observed that obviously the Jensens, Laurence and Janine were fine with it, Nick being with Susannah was a coup and now a smile broke out on Susannah’s face, Nick noticing that with relief. Good – 6 down out of 12. Adam and Lisa were clearly happy, Adam especially with his acknowledgement as third man on the island but Nikki felt he was trying to find something to criticize all the same. His face was now deep in study. 8 out of 12. Ray was fine, the old warhorse was loyal and happy. 9 out of 12.

Hallelujah – now Sam spoke out and said it was one of the best things he’d seen and though it was not perfect perhaps, it was damned good and there was 10 out of 12.

Which brought everyone to the two they knew would be the most trouble. Laurence said, ‘Mandy?’

‘I notice my rank is not WNCO but Colour Sergeant. How did that happen?’

‘You’ll find out in a minute, Mandy, but it is tied in with Ray’s promotion too.’

‘So, my future prospects are tied to a man?’

Ouch, there was murmuring and not good murmuring. No one was going to say anything, no one. Mandy looked about and knew she’d been railroaded, despite the promotion. ‘What’s it involve on this island?’

‘Mainly Moran’s but also the emergency supplies, with Sophie under you for that, the company store in other words.’

She looked at it hard. She thought about Raymond and her plans and ideas – he was actually the most malleable of any on that list, he’d be delighted. ‘All right,’ she said, ‘provided Ray wants – and he’ll have to propose properly after this – I’m in.’

The sighs of relief were audible, highly so, and now everyone looked at Sophie.

‘Last on the list as usual, I see.’ She stood up and made to go out.

‘Not last on my list, Sophie, first on my list.’ It was Sam to the rescue again. Sophie went over to him, placed a hand behind his head, then kissed him.

Then she walked out and went to her field. Hugh looked at Nikki, she shook her head – no, don’t – Sam got up and walked after Sophie, some distance behind.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said Laurence, ‘it’s time for the two promotions if you please.’

.o0o.

‘I admire you, Sam. After Hugh, you’re the one I would want but it was so humiliating the way they did it.’

‘I don’t worry about rankings – I’m the island doctor, I take care of babies and health, I like life … and you don’t worry me at all with your behaviour. I liked you before but now I think I might be in love with you.’

She smiled. ‘Ah Sam, it’s too perfect a solution for Nikki and Hugh – I know what this was about and I’m desperately hurt about it, about them.’

‘When were you planning on standing on your own two feet, being Sophie instead?’

‘You know nothing of me.’

‘Yes I do, I’m the island doctor here, I was the island doctor back there, one of them anyway. You came up in discussion as someone we needed to keep a close eye on. We approached the Prime Minister.’

‘Who said I was a crazy woman, a fruitcake.’

‘Who said you were a lovely person inside, a woman much abused. I started thinking then it might be nice with you but you were up with all the bigwigs and I couldn’t see my chance.’

‘I’m not ready for some devoted man.’

‘You really don’t know me if you think I’m a wide-eyed devotee. I’m going up to Moran’s for a drink, then over to the pods. There’s a cliff there as you know, I like to sit there and look out to sea.’

He got up and trudged back up to the path, with her watching him all the way. She was going to say her piece to Nikki and Hugh in no uncertain terms, but first she was going to see just how much Sam really wanted her. He had actually broken through. She suspected Sam knew that.

.o0o.

After supper, Hugh went outside Moran’s to Laurence’s favourite place and of course the man was already there.

‘Laurence, leave it to us and to Sam, each in our own way. It will be unorthodox, because she’s unorthodox, just give us our shot at it.’

‘You speak as if I’m the commander.’

‘You are, militarily. We are the retired patriarch and matriarch. Both of us are well aware that they look up to you the most and we wouldn’t have it any other way.’

‘Best butter, Hugh.’

‘Reality, Laurence. Horses for courses, we think we can pull this off for Sam.’

‘Go ahead. Keep me in the loop please.’

.o0o.

Sophie was out of sorts, she was sitting, knees scrunched up to her face, on the walkway and any time someone went by, she shot out a foot to trip them.

Nicolette came down the walkway and told her to get up. Didn’t ask, didn’t beg, but told her in no uncertain terms. ‘Get up, Sophie and come with me. Now.’

And she did. They went back to Sophie’s hut and Hugh was there. Before Sophie could hit him or do something worse, he’d kissed her lips and then scarpered.

She was even amused that Hugh had scarpered like that, she felt good inside.

‘Come in, come in, welcome to my humble abode. This is when I go to bed. I’ve had my wash. I’ll wait in bed.’

Sophie did hers and climbed in, Nikki immediately pounced and smothered the other in kisses.

‘Where’s Hugh sleeping?’

‘Who cares?’

‘Don’t overdo it, Nikki, you’ve done it very, very well so far. All right, all right, you win for now, you always win, Nikki. But I’m extracting this whole night out of you first, you realize.’

Nicolette smiled and kissed her again.

II

June, 2011

They’d been blessed with a water supply, which had been the original idea anyway, a major reason this island had been chosen.

They were on the edge of a rain belt, the strong tidal currents made landing a dangerous undertaking and all in all, it was unsuitable for habitation except for these two phenomena – the jagged hills and the rain.

But where there’s rain, if there’s also soil, there can be produce. Trouble was, they could not show signs of habitation, which meant they could only cook in smokeless bush ovens by daylight, use no night light and then there was the cropping to consider.

They’d brought two dozen 20ft x 20ft shadecloths, they’d cut them irregularly and they covered the foliage around the field as naturally as possible. The garden beds in tiers below the canopies were producing – a great deal of effort had been put into nitrogenization.

A difficult one was the wildlife. There were rabbits but not all that many and they didn’t wish to take too many in one year. Birds were a different matter – they seemed to be attracted by the canopies and it was almost heartless to gun them down when they were so trusting, particularly for Nikki who remembered Eden and how Hugh had loved the birds.

They had to eat though and fishing in the open eastern waters was out, for security reasons, any fishing had to be done by rods and line from the caves on the northern side, where the catch was occasional. Therefore fish was more a delicacy for the Friday.

Laurence had a book and it said that in winter, the birds would come and stay if there were seeds, which take the place of worms, they had seed but were loathe to waste it on the birds but as it would be well after the last crop, there might well be enough seed to spare.

The whole thing needed husbanding most carefully because other newcomers to islands had died out before now. It was no idle warning.

Planter boxes with each crop were also set up near Moran’s and this would become subsistence food if the worst came to the worst.

They’d been working a little each day to break through to the north-west cliff face and Nikki now saw a point not far from the Grotto which would serve admirably as a sort of outdoor Chapel for any who wished, this Chapel being reached via hewn steps from the Grotto.

III

Things had most certainly settled down. Laurence had acknowledged that it had been a masterstroke by Nikki … and by Hugh too … with Sophie, the last piece had fallen into place for now, just for now mind, they were working like workhorses and living well too.

The constant daily work kept animosities at bay, the island was big enough for people to find their own space and it could almost be said that people were getting close to contented with their routines and as the first crops had been put with the meat, putting paid to those damned dry rations, that allowed the ships stores to be more rationed and finally put away in rock fissures they’d widened for that purpose.

.o0o.

One Sunday morning, Sophie went for a wander up to the cliff, below which were the pods, as she usually did to find Sam when she wasn’t with him in the field or on her own there. Today he wasn’t there but Susannah was, legs dangling over the edge.

‘What are you doing here?’ asked Sophie. ‘Where’s Nick?’

‘They’re building the Pool. If you want me to go -’

‘No no, sit, you were here first.’

‘Sit with me.’

Sophie did. ‘Come back to my old hut.’

‘Why?’

‘I don’t know, something different,’ said Sophie. ‘To talk perhaps.’

Susannah was intrigued so they made their way back there. Inside, Sophie made the error of going for the kiss.

‘Oh no you don’t,’ gasped Susannah, jumping up and backing away, ‘I’m straight.’

‘Yeah, so am I. What a waste, eh?’

‘Sophie, you truly are off your rocker, you know that? Don’t say things like that – you – you frighten me.’

.o0o.

About two hours later, Sam and Nick had heard that the girls were in Sophie’s old hut and made their way there, Nick went to knock and go in but got an eyeful of it, the full Monty, turned and pushed Sam back up the walkway.

Laughter issued from the hut.

‘Oh shit,’ said Sam, who’d caught just an eyeful, ‘not good, not good at all. Let’s go and find the patriarch, don’t mention it to Laurence just yet.’

.o0o.

The patriarch immediately consulted the matriarch who moved swiftly down the walkway and then across to Sophie’s old hut. She went straight in. In French, she said, ‘Stop this now. If you don’t, you’ll never be in my bed again.’

Sophie withdrew her hand and so did Susannah. Sophie got up, took her robe, not even bothering to put it on and followed Nicolette back to Moran’s, not back to the hut.

‘You’re threatening everything we’ve worked for, what have we done to you?’

‘You’ve abandoned me.’

‘That is insane and you know it. It’s me you’re talking to, Sophie, not some victim of your merde, I know it all, I’ve heard it all, I’ve even said it all.’ Nikki was incensed in a way she had not been since Section days and it was not a pleasant thing to experience, even Sophie was a bit cowed by it.

‘I – I’m sorry, Nikki. I’m sorry.’

She got up and almost fled to the field.

.o0o.

Susannah was in their own hut with her Nick.

‘Well, are you going to explain?’

‘I can’t, Nick, it’s the first time I’ve ever … you know.’

‘It’s disgusting -’

‘Oh, that’s good coming from you – I’ve seen you and your porn and there were two women in ours.’

‘All right, but I don’t like it with my own woman … what’s it like anyway?’

‘We can do it if you want. Sometimes.’ He waited. ‘All right, it’s bigger than the male member for a start, so think that one through for yourself, Nick. Plus a woman knows how to, much more instinctively. No, I won’t do it again, but it wasn’t unpleasant.’ She stroked his hair. ‘Nick, I came to you because you’re more adventurous, more fun, you enjoy life. I’d like you to be less adoring and respectful, take some liberties, try things.’

‘Noted. But Sue, tell me, honestly – why did you actually do it, why did you go along with it?’

‘I don’t know – I think she played on my womanhood. I don’t know. She has this way. Everyone on the island thinks she’s a right pain but you ask anyone if she should she go – and who would say yes? Everyone begrudgingly loves her.’

He understood.

IV

‘We’ve been trying for a child for a long time now, Bebe.’

‘Yes.’

‘You’re obviously fertile, I’m told by all the tests that I am, I’m now off the pill. What if I couldn’t? What if something was wrong with me?’

‘Then we wouldn’t.’ He suddenly cried out, ‘That was a memory, I remember that.’

‘We could adopt.’

‘We have to get my plaster off first, OK?’

‘Oui, oui,’ she laughed, ‘first things first. Oh my goodness, Bebe, this is freaky. How much do you remember of this?’

‘Just that. We were alone.’

‘We were.’

‘Nikki, this is spooky – perhaps it’s coming back to me.’

‘The nice parts might come back first.’

V

July, 2011

They’d broken through to the north-western cliff face and had built a recreation area, wedged between two ridges, with a flattish space in between, under the open sky. In a rough rectangle, narrower at one end, the area resembled a badminton court. Much hewing and hacking had levelled the surface but the advantage was that they were enclosed in a sort of flattened dip – an indentation in the surrounding rock and this afforded them a windbreak.

This and the fact that everyone quite enjoyed the occasional hit, led them to believe that the space was intended for the noble game of badminton. Sophie had come up with a brilliantly creative name for the court – ‘The Court’ – and henceforth that’s what the area was known as.

By midday, the whole company were having a little tournament – Laurence Sanders was the man to beat. The great thing on this court was that there was no prevailing breeze – no good or bad end – just the sky, a bit of sun and fresh air.

VI

At a little after 10:00, local time, a one megaton nuclear device was dropped on Santa Cordova and that island effectively ceased to exist.

All islands within 20km lost their vegetation and wildlife but otherwise, the topography remained as it had been.

VII

Mid-July, 2011

In the Grotto, Nick and Susannah were soaking up the sunlight, Sam burst in and announced, over his panting, ‘Visitors – war party – not natives – look European – guns.’

Then he ran to Moran’s.

Hugh emerged from Louis Quatorze and Sam brought him up to speed. ‘About fifteen of them, armed, standard issue but not from the old country – maybe Eastern Europe, rubberized dinghy in the bay. Initial assessment – we can take them. Hope we can stay incognito.’

‘Friendly?’

‘Hard to say. Maybe an exploratory party, maybe after us. Wouldn’t automatically open fire but then the complications begin if we open dialogue. Also, they may have it in mind to annex the island for themselves. Last thought – they might be allies.’

‘Hmmmm, we’ll stay low for now.’

.o0o.

The remainder of the morning was spent, weapons cocked, barely breathing, as the visitors’ search party split and explored in different directions. Adam took Lisa with him back over the top and down to the pods.

At the control post, this was the scenario Hugh had dreaded – the not-yet-an-enemy scenario. With a full-on enemy it was easy – the team had their combat procedures down pat.

Hugh was already considering opening negotiations. Sophie was the only choice as advance party, the only one bold enough, who cared least about the consequences. She’d be able to ferret out information about the situation soon enough.

The more he reflected, the more he felt that contact was necessary. Nick went to get her and when they returned, Hugh put the scenario to her.

She immediately agreed to do it. And she was going to do it her own way. Sam was poised, ready to sprint over to the pods and tell Adam and Lisa to take a pod each to seek and destroy the dinghy and the mothership, also clearly a sub, as they could vaguely make out from up here.

It began.

The walkways had long since been retracted and so it would be heavy going for Sophie to make her way down that way to the soldiers. Their behaviour was to be the litmus test and no one was in any doubt that a pogrom was going to follow anything untoward directed her way. The problem was if they acted like gentlemen and simply offered to take the beautiful castaway off the island. What would she do then and how were they going to swallow that she alone had survived in this wilderness?

.o0o

She now came in obliquely from the southern end, she was almost over to them and still they weren’t aware of her proximity. That was a bad sign because a professional group would be alert.

Even Hugh wasn’t prepared for what happened next. A very grubby stowaway made her way, staggering and stumbling, through the undergrowth, towards them. Hugh had to smile at her outrageous act – surely her perfect hair would be too much for them to accept.

With a cry, they swarmed around her, babbling excitedly in their obviously eastern European dialect and to Hugh’s shock and theirs, she responded in their language. To his further shock but making his mission all the clearer, they were not gentlemen, even though they didn’t exactly touch her.

Yet.

Their commanding officer swaggered over but still this was no signal for attack.

Slowly, the situation got nastier as they crowded in on her, the officer went over and sat, bored, on a tree stump and lit up a cigarette. He took out a radio device and communicated with someone.

Not good.

Some of the men grabbed Sophie roughly now and forced her into a bending position. The leader shut off his mobile and came over to her. Hugh put up his hand ready to give the order to fire and then to give the order to Sam to take out the sub.

Suddenly they let her up – something she’d said but he could see their lust was only building. They were unhappy to let her go but now the leader came up, pulled her face towards his own unshaven visage and roughly squeezed it. She nodded her agreement and then swarmed up into the rock crevice, one of the ensigns right behind her.

The men sat around on the ground, bored, lighting up cigarettes. Hugh now interpreted the leader’s mobile phone message as a call for the other parties to converge and this they did, from two opposite directions.

Laurence caught sight of Sophie clambering up the hill and she was in a hurry. Where the ensign had got to, he couldn’t see. Even before she reached them, she made a signal to fire – Sophie, who had earlier been distraught about missiles taking out native proas.

Hugh lightly blocked Laurence’s forearm, as he wanted to get all the parties to the one point first and also wanted to hear what she had to say.

Mandy and Janine were down the walkway now, helping her up the last few metres and when she finally made the control platform, she was gasping. ‘Quick – Hugh – fire – kill them – real enemy – it’s them – fire – submarine will kill us.’ He gave Sam the order.

Her worst fears seemed to be realized as the most enormous explosion rent the island’s peace out on the bay but surely they wouldn’t take out their own crew as well? Then there was a second explosion, adding to the cacophony of the first. Susannah ran down from Louis Quatorze, the only viewpoint onto the bay.

‘Sam and Janine took them out. Mother ship gone. Bodies everywhere,’ but already Hugh had given the signal and the entire bewildered party below, now making for the beach to see what had happened, was taken out in twenty seconds of rapid fire. Sophie had her breath back and now debriefed Hugh and Laurence, the others went and did the necessaries.

‘Leader contacted mother ship, asked them to prepare for a missile to the Citadel area – I think only a guess as we’re invisible from out there – didn’t trust my story of having a girlfriend up in the rocks – I promised to bring her down if they promised not to rape me – they agreed – did they think me an idiot? They sent an ensign with me.’

‘Where is he?’

‘It was quick, Hugh – he hardly felt anything, I swear.’

‘Level of threat?’

‘The worst. They were looking for insurgents – not to destroy but to capture. That’s the worst. I got the idea this was a spec landing, they didn’t exactly know we were here – it was their job to patiently check out island after island. Capture the ones they wanted, kill the others, destroy the island.’

‘There are reconnaissance drones for that.’

‘Not if, as they expected, we had covered our tracks – they’re very patient people.’

He nodded. She went on. ‘I have no regrets, no remorse and I don’t want you to either.’

‘I don’t.’

‘You don’t know the depravity they were softening me up with. What morons. Did they really think some half-naked girl was going to throw herself upon them?’

‘The male psyche has a nodding acquaintance with ego.’

‘Don’t I know it.’

‘OK, level of extant danger?’

‘Only if they managed to communicate with home. That’s the big unknown.’

‘Another problem is the loss of their ship. There’ll be another party sent out. I don’t like it.’

‘Me either,’ said Laurence. ‘We need to remove all trace.’

‘Yes but it’ll waste ammunition in the process.’

‘Major threat, Hugh.’

VIII

At 14:00, local time, a one megaton nuclear device fell on Western Tearoa and created an indentation in the earth’s crust, where once there had been an island.

After the severe tidal effects had died away, the prevailing currents were altered for some days but other than that, things went back to normal.

IX

They managed to recover some useful gear and foodstuffs from the wrecks but the most shocking discovery was that the sub they’d blown apart had been their old supply sub, handed over to the South Africans.

.o0o.

They dragged the two halves of the mother ship over the edge of the shelf and expended another precious explosive device to send her to the bottom.

All bits of crew and of debris were collected over the next three days and an exploratory along the line of the current had picked up some more bits drifting away from the island, these they netted and towed back.

The remains were buried, that’s about all they could reasonably do. Only time would tell if they’d remained incognito.

Hugh and Laurence felt that they should all be at the ready, in their hearts that was, to depart the island at a moment’s notice – the world’s events were catching up with them.

They’d been granted a short idyll from the horror the rest of humanity was undergoing but time now seemed short. What to do – flit from island to island, with ever-diminishing resources? Remain here and face the consequences – to eventually be either captured or obliterated?

X

End of July, 2011

Hugh spent more time in the new Chapel with Nikki.

Nikki and Sophie had had more than a passing acquaintance with death, the images in the mind of those dead bodies and pieces of bodies had to have had an effect and that effect seemed to be the gradual inuring of them against the horror of killing the enemy. This is what Nikki wanted most to protect against – to maintain a conscience and a keen sense of the horror at atrocities like this … but it was ebbing away.

If that was the downside, the upside was that Sophie had blossomed with Sam and in her occasional bouts with them in bed. Sam had seen the usefulness of those bouts and it gave him a break.

XI

Early August, 2011

No one expected the trouble nor would have credited its source.

One night, Janine just disappeared and when it was reported by Laurence next morning, a hunt ensued but Nikki tumbled to it early and told Hugh, who agreed – Janine had been sidelined, railroaded, had no specific job except as Laurence’s wife, when once she’d been PA to the man she looked up to and admired the most.

It was as clear as day and now it was necessary to find her and stop her doing anything precipitate.

‘I know what she wants,’ said Hugh.

‘I do too and you’re not going to give it to her. Lonely women are not your concern This is exactly what we spoke of. I really will leave you, Hugh.’

.o0o.

It didn’t take long. Sam had slithered down the rope to the pods, had seen her there, she’d gazed at him and looked away again, he’d scrambled back up the rope ladder and reported it to Hugh in Moran’s.

‘I’m not allowed to go down there to her – tell her to come up, Sam.’

They went to the cliff face and Sam scrambled down there.

.o0o.

Some fifteen minutes later, he was back up to the top. ‘She’s not coming. I think she wants you down there.’

‘I know exactly what Janine wants but she’s with Laurence now. I’m waiting for half an hour and then going back to Nikki.’

‘Well, I’m not going down there again.’

‘Fine Sam – catch you later.’

Chapter 3-8 hereChapter 3-10 here

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