Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jerusalem 11 - Gathering pods


Chapter 10 hereChapter 12 here

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I

Life on board was a drudge although the pods themselves were state of the art.  The nuclear plant at the rear, separated by the buffer from the living area was an adjunct to many things - their light source, the plastic hydroponic reservoirs, the recycled air and, waste and so on.

Theoretically, these craft had twenty years of power, twenty months of primary foodstuffs in dried form, given a four person crew, plus what could be grown and a bit less in the recycling.  The human psyche imprisoned in a steel tube plus the danger level from the enemy were of far more concern.

The pods were of a reasonable length, eighteen metres, twelve people could be carried at a pinch but three or four were just perfect - the decor inside was pleasing and much seating space was given over to stores.

The journey was to take two and a half weeks for Hugh’s party and a week longer for the PM’s.  The third party was a week longer than that, which was going to stretch their resources to the limit and that's why further preparations had been made for them.

Hugh and Emma had opted for the coldest and most inhospitable of the islands but also the least approachable.  There was supposedly wildlife of the edible kind but the most important aspect was the fresh water supply - it was a rainswept place, by all accounts, with periods of sunshine and not a bad summer.

The others had opted for the tropical and equatorial idyll respectively and good luck to them, Hugh thought.  If he and his crew could get the land tilled, even if it was largely rocky, the fertilizer and rain would do the rest, most enemies would be dissuaded from landing at that place and they'd supplement that with armaments.

Treaties with foreign powers, in which Janine had played a major part had them protected for now.  The usurpers in the former UK could still not move whilst they were establishing themselves and even if they had no actual need to observe treaties in the new realpolitik, still they had this curious notion of needing to be legit, until they could find the international justification for obliterating the islands.

So they were all living on borrowed time in the world of global politics.

.o0o.

Life settled down in all the pods, there were gastric issues in three of them, there was the drudgery, the occasional bout of lovemaking, there was the point when the Santa Cordova pods finally branched off and that had a note of finality to it which chilled those who'd been aware.

They remained under water during the day and occasionally surfaced at night to clear the air and dump weighted effluent bags over the side.  Food seemed to be fine, they'd dropped into torpor for the most part, conserving oxygen, conserving food and conserving energy.

.o0o.

Three days later, the PM's pod had come alongside Hugh's, it was daytime and so they couldn't surface but this was the moment they all waved goodbye to each other and then the PM's party branched off, leaving four pods huddled close together, pushing onwards, onwards, to their new home.

Soon after, they dropped back into the torpor and the day above became night.

.o0o.

Approaching Gran Antides, they could feel by the sudden buffeting that there was some severe weather above, which necessitated postponement for two days.

They held their position against the currents and bided their time.

.o0o.

When the weather above seemed to settle down sufficiently for them to attempt the run at the beach, three pods, under Laurence, headed for shore, while Hugh's and Emma's pod, with Sophie, held back as a failsafe.

Hugh’s scanner showed them surfacing a hundred metres from the low shallow beach, so for anyone onshore, it must have looked like whales beaching themselves.  They all trusted there'd be no one onshore but in this they were not in luck.

They saw two long canoes in the shallows nearby and feared the worst.

Their hatches opened, they climbed out in combat gear, with weaponry, jumped down into the shallow water, the sea bed quite steep and dropping off to great depths, behind the pods, quite quickly and they waded, almost climbed, towards the beach.  From behind trees, a dozen or so natives appeared and began brandishing spears.  The only place Laurence could imagine they were from was one of the little African nations thousands of kilometeres away but why they'd bother with this island and how they'd got ashore were questions to be answered later.

Laurence felt that a short demonstration of their relative positions of strength was required and as they approached the line of natives on the beach, he let off a burst of flame which torched a patch of scrub sticking up out of the sand, these bushy outcrops all over the place.

That made the natives far more reasonable and through a series of gestures, Laurence managed to sit their opposite numbers down on the beach and thus began the dialogue.  The warriors responded that it was their island but this was not necessarily a spanner in the works – perhaps they could all cohabit, if the warriors thought they were running the show.

One of their number was lording it over the others, so Laurence, standing out of politeness, addressed him with great respect. This flattered the man for about twenty seconds but then something clearly went wrong because he became agitated and seemed to indicate that Laurence should either bow down or sit down or whatever - no one could be sure. 

It was getting nasty, both sides rose and readied their weapons, which were ludicrously ill-matched – the warriors with spears and the crew with flamethrowers and M1911s.  Nevertheless, a quickly thrown spear could kill just as well as any modern weapon, if it missed the flak jackets and hit a soft part of the anatomy.

The leader now completely lost his rag and thrust his spear straight at Laurence’s chest, which saw the man engulfed in a burst of flame, he dropped his spear and ran screaming for the water, plunging himself under, rolling over and over in agony. 

Laurence, a tall man, stood regally upright and the other warriors immediately laid down their spears and bowed before him, the ex-leader’s screams still continuing long and loud in the shallows.

This was as good a result as could have been expected and the show was over. The whites, together with the warriors, the injured ex-leader hobbling some distance behind, disappeared past the palm trees and into the forested area.

Hugh, Emma and Sophie had observed all and now settled back to spend an anxious twenty four hours awaiting the reappearance of Laurence and colleagues.

Sophie had been watching and now saw a different lot of warriors swarming all over the pods, which were sealed against the elements and weren’t in any danger of damage. 

Another canoe stood by and it now became clear to Hugh that this was no indigenous population but a reconnaissance party. Perhaps the island could be divided into two kingdoms, Emma surmised or perhaps they could live peaceably together – the reappearance of Laurence and the crew would throw light on that.

Sophie saw that the dispirited warriors had given up, had rejoined their canoes and were paddling fast in the direction of the point, some half kilometre to the south. The overall numbers of warriors would need to be determined.

The day dragged on and there was no sign of the crew, not that it had been scheduled anyway.

The evening fell and all was pitch black through the scanners.

.o0o.

Next morning was a little blowy, the waves about half a metre in height but the pods were still too large and heavy to be washed from their position. 

About 11:00, the crew finally appeared, they reached the pods, seemingly in no great hurry to get away, so that augured well. 

'It's probably going to be determined when we reach the shore,' reported Laurence.  'What do you want us to do if they're hostile again?  They were fairly reasonable when we sat down in their encampment but I don't know, sir - they seem quite excitable.  I doubt we're going to be able to negotiate with these and there's another aspect of it.'

'Yes, I know.  We can't have them reporting that we're here.'

As this sunk in, Emma was horrified. ‘No, you can’t kill them, Hugh, they don’t understand the weapons we’re carrying.’

Sophie chipped in. ‘Hugh, you have to be damned sure they’re bent on our destruction and have the capacity to do it.  They can’t destroy the pods anyway, can they? Couldn’t we slip away and find another island?’

‘Which island?’

‘I don’t know – some island near or far.’

‘There's no other island within the sphere of influence of the remaining friendly nations.  It truly was thought out some time ago.’

‘Well, we can detain them or at the most, cripple them.  Can’t we just give them a display of strength?’

Janine cut in on the communicator. 'Emma, Sophie, this island is covered by treaty with two nations, the next we could have gone to is 1700 km away and there is no protection there whatever.  This is the only island which was possible.'

Laurence commented. 'There are 12 of us and 100 of them.  We could partition the island and put up defences against them but that's costly and nervewracking plus there is the problem if one or more leave the island to go back for the others.  We can't afford to have our position known.

If we could communicate this to them, it might cause them to be friendly or it could play into their hands.  And what if they lived a normal life, making fires, making much noise?  This island is meant to be uninhabited.  We were going to keep our fires as coals in the ground, only during the day we were going to make defensive screens to fool any who stumbled upon us.  All that goes by the board with these people.'

'Seems to me,' said Nick, 'that we're in an endtime scenario.  We didn't expect them to be here, we only survive if we remain inconspicuous.'

Mandy spoke. 'Why can't it be as it was on the other island?'

'For a start,' answered Hugh, 'we have nothing to offer them.  The PM paid big and provided defences for the natives.'

'So, we can provide defences here.'

'Yes but doesn't it depend on their nature?  This lot are anything but benign, whereas our islanders were quite benign, even laid back -'

'You want to murder them, don't you?' cut in Mandy.

'Hell no, Mandy.  But we have an enormous problem, all the same.'

'I think you plan to kill them.'

Janine cut in, annoyed. 'What are you trying to do, Mandy?  Do you wish to die?  Our only hope is not to be known about - our only hope.  Maybe we can incarcerate them, execute the ringleaders and allow the docile ones to stay but their prime directive was to reconnoitre and report back.  When they don't, a search party is sent out.  We're in a hideous situation of us versus them.

Hugh had been listening.  'Right, Laurence, land again and get them to parlay on the beach this time - don't go into the island with them.  Take it as it comes.'

'Understood.'

They togged up again, took their weapons and opened the hatches, dropped into the sea, now waist deep and struggled to the shore, weapons held overhead.

As they climbed the slope, they were met by a fusilade of spears, one which went straight through Sergeant Booth's face and he dropped where he stood.  Adam ran to him, saw that he was quite bereft of life, Laurence called for the retreat, they waded  frantically for the pods, spears raining down upon them and already four natives were at the body of Sergeant Booth, a sudden blow and his head was severed, they jammed a spear into it and ran up and down the beach, triumphantly, the head held aloft and blood splashing over the native carrying it.

Hugh looked at Emma and made her view the scanner at what was going on.  She turned away and Sophie took a look, also turning away.  'They know no better, Hugh.'

'You have no feelings for Sergeant Booth?'

She didn't answer.  Laurence's voice came through.  'Two canoes coming around the point, sir.'

On all channels, in each pod, Hugh's voice could be heard.  'People, if the natives were amenable before, they're certainly not now and that head they're carrying around in triumph has tipped the balance.

Scenario 1:  We still try to befriend them, with our man's head bleeding from a spear.

Scenario 2:  We capture and incarcerate them in a giant compound of some form, large enough to be humanitarian and allow them to grow crops plus we'll put some wildlife in there.  We execute the rabble rousers. We create an instant race war situation for perpetuity on this island.

Scenario 3:  We obliterate them quickly and without warning, so that they never see it coming.  It ends within a second.

'Well done, Adolph Hitler,' said Sophie.  'you're as bad as the rest.'

'We're military, this is a military scenario -'

'You're not military,' snarled Sophie, 'you're playacting at it.'

'Actually, he was at one time, Sophie,' said Janine through the communicator.

Hugh continued.  'We have an island to set up, they've shown their intentions, you wouldn't be safe in your beds and that's no way to begin a colony.  The best way, I agree, would have been to make an accommodation with them to share the island but even then, they'd make fires and show they inhabited the island.  They'd bring families.

We're talking now of survival, for us.  For them it also is but not in as short a time frame.  No one's actually scouring the islands, looking for them because it's already known where they were.

We have some hard decisions to make in the next few minutes.'

Sophie looked at him with loathing, a situation Emma was not wholly averse to.

‘So Albus and Belus really are the enemy?’

‘I don't know what you're talking about, Sophie, so let's say you give us a fourth alternative.  Besides, Belus, if you're meaning Emma, agrees with you.'

'I want to agree with Sophie.  It's difficult.’

‘Et tu, Belus.’

‘It's my decision,' said Hugh. 'If you all wish to try me for war crimes later and execute me, so be it.’

‘We can’t do that,’ said Sophie.  ‘If they die, we’re guilty in not stopping you.’

Sanders cut in. ‘Sir, they’re running for the canoes, four canoes - we have to decide now.’

‘Remain on standby, Laurence.’

‘Sir.’

‘Hugh,’ said Sophie, ‘Sanders has you under duress to make a quick decision on people’s lives -’

‘No one has me under any duress to make a quick decision to kill people and I mooted this before the alarm.  These are not women and children but warriors.  They're humans, yes but they are warriors too.’

‘Most would be against you, Hugh,’ said Emma.

‘So let’s quickly check.  I want to know, individually, how each of you stands.  We're reducing it to scenarios 2 and 3.   You have one minute to decide.’

There was a hurried conversation in the four pods, which could be heard through the static.

Hugh began to canvass the opinion.

II

There was weeping coming from Sophie.

‘Laurence?’

‘Two for Scenario 3, one for Scenario 2.’

‘Sam?’

‘‘Two for Scenario 3, one for Scenario 2.’

‘Mandy?’

‘Both for Scenario 2.’

‘4-all.  Sophie - for Scenario 2, yes?  OK, I'm for 3.  Emma?’

'No choice, Hugh.  May I one day find redemption for what I've done.'

'You'll burn in hell first,' muttered Sophie.

‘Two are heading out to sea,’ reported Adam, ‘in a loop to the south and they’re averaging about eight knots but we can still reach them at this moment, sir.  The other two canoes are way behind.’

‘All right, Sam, target the furthest and we’ll target the nearer of the two out at sea.  Adam, of the two inshore, you target the one further out.  Mandy, target the nearer to the shore.  Fire all pods.’

Three affirmatives came through and four tracker missiles were released. They felt the explosions buffet them and it was all over in a few moments. 

The scene was grim through their scanners.  There appeared to have been no survivors and in a way, that was a blessing but they had to know.   Instead, there was only what remained of a hundred natives, in varying stages of bloodiness.

‘Adam, go to sea to the furthest point any canoe went and then backtrack, looking for survivors.’

‘Right, sir.  What if there are?’

'We don't have the means to pick them up.  They'll have to make their own way to shore - the current's running this way, which would get them here more quickly.  Sorry.'

III

The landing of the stores was hampered, of course, by the remains of warriors washing ashore, creating a barrier and it was only late afternoon when they finally set up the temporary redoubt in the hills.

The mood was sombre, on a day which should have been one of great joy. They were mainly service personnel but nevertheless, it took a strong stomach to carry on.

The first move, before anything else, was to get the pods safe.  They'd noticed, on their first circumnavigation, that on the north-west tip, there were three caves visible at low tide but not at high tide and they were immediately selected - two pods in one cave, one each in the other two.  For now they'd float them in backwards, halfway to a high tide, which point was about an hour away, the water would rise and hopefully not crush the pods - not having any tiles to break helped here - and that meant they'd need the low tide to see the situation.

Temporary shelters were constructed next up on the high, forested ground, food stores were completed and the first official meal on the island was had, they battened down in their residences.  Hugh was billeted with Emma.  Sophie was billeted with Laurence; her state and his feeling of guilt over the natives was not a good start for them.

The three NCOs returned from six hours in the pods, reporting the pods would not float out to sea.

Outside, the sounds of their new home were eerie.  There were bird noises, which augured well, and once or twice Sophie thought she heard the soft tread of some other creature but this could have been her imagination.

Gradually, they all dropped off, exhausted.

IV

March 2011

Time had passed and the atmosphere was not warm, though the first smells of spring had wafted through.  The atmosphere between them was also far from friendly, though they remained professional, apart from Sophie.

She pointed out to Adam, who had mentioned it, that if professional meant being mass murderers, then she was happy not to be professional.

The bits of the dead had long been collected and placed in a number of graves at the far end of the island – a grisly business that had taken three days and five tides.  The remaining fragments of the canoes had also been brought in and either formed part of a memorial to the dead warriors or were taken up as firewood. 

Adam had looked over the island from the highest point, a bit behind where they were stationed and had later described it to Emma and Hugh.  It was shaped like a banana, the longitudinal axis running roughly north-south, about three kilometres long, thicker near the south, which gave a buffer against the elements. The widest point, near the southern bulge, was half a kilometre across.

The concave side with the sand was to the east.  The crescent shaped coast here was idyllic, the beach wide and flat, the seabed low and the bay shallow – too shallow to moor a boat. 

Further out, it dipped sharply and there was blue water half a kilometre out.

The southern bulge was highly dangerous, as it induced the eastern flowing currents from the other side to sweep around into the lower end of the bay, after which they dissipated somewhat, except on bad days.

The western coast was a true western coast, as they knew – rocky, sheer, craggy and treacherous – not the spot for a swim. 

A ridge ran north-south, set just in from the western side, high and rocky to the north and petering out half a kilometre from the round, southern bulge. 

The greatest care had been taken to build racks strong enough to hold a pod.  Then, at close to high tide, the pods were floated in and the end of the racks secured.  If they'd need to head out at low tide, then the supporting stumps could be pulled out and the pods would crash to the water a few metres below - not perfect but it would work. 

They'd put a machine gun post at an angle in the cliff beside the ascending track and it covered the entrance to the double pods.  This was by far the highest priority, for Hugh and he initially had a 24/7 manning of the machine gun but as it was obviously impractical to both build and run this, he had one at the turret on the low tide and they took their chances on the high.

They had to cut a scrub concealed series of steps up to the ridgetop, assisted by a rope which could be thrown down from above and the compound was a hundred and twenty metres further in towards the bay.  It wasn’t so much of a compound as a series of small haciendas attached to the side of the rock and balanced on ledges below.

There was no direct way from the east coast to their settlement, except by a series of rope stepladder walkways they could throw down the cliff if they wanted to go in that direction but it was too open and impressionable and was now offlimits.

Other than that, the only access was via the ridge, where they now built a series of ‘natural gates’ or naturally occurring defensive barriers.

By ‘built’ a better word would have been ‘relocated’. All of this was a lot of backbreaking work but no one considered it not worth the effort.  For example, each gate was a rock and it was on rails from their side of the pathway. Closed, it couldn't be passed and it would need athleticism to climb over.

A series of outer defences were prepared to cascade down on any enemy, the plan being to conserve the modern weaponry to deploy against enemies who also employed modern weaponry.  Native enemies, from now on, would be tackled more primitively, a la Robinson Crusoe.  

With care, the pod weaponry could still be used in near pristine condition for up to five years.  The constant maintenance of all their weaponry and escape vehicles was a matter of the highest priority and was under the direct control of Lt. Brothers, answerable only to Hugh and the Island Council of Hugh, Laurence and Emma, responsible for discipline, judicial questions and the maintenance of spirituality, i.e. as chaplains. 

The provision and maintenance of escape packages of food and medicines was the responsibility of Sophie and had equally high priority.  The plan was to subsist as soon as possible on local produce and game and to store the long life packaged food in the pods. 

Escape regimens were practised regularly, like fire drills, and were Captain Sander’s personal responsibility. They had to be able to have all twelve into the pods within ten minutes of an alarm, ready to depart. What to do once the number grew above twelve was going to be a matter of discussion and planning, sometime in the future.

V

The Prime Minister stood on the broad, sloping beach of Western Tearoa and took in the eastern shore of the roughly circular island, stretching round the corner in both directions.

In front of him was a row of inviting, swaying palm trees.  Interesting that Hugh had chosen the forbidding rockiness and cooler climate of Gran Antides, when this paradise had been available.

Surrounding this island was a reef and beyond that, a shelf and a deep drop which caused lethal currents to eddy and swirl, forming a line of breakers beyond.  Treacherous waters, dangerous fishing but the island, he’d been reliably informed, was teeming with wildlife of many varieties.

The only access to this island was either through the narrow gap in the reef on the north-west side, with the vortex current running inwards or outwards, depending on the state of the tide, or else by helicopter.  Above-water craft would be broken up before they even came within range.

The PM could see the land rise beyond the palms and it was rainforest jungle, a canopy for their new civilization to be.  There was no high mountain or ridge here, only a steady rise towards a peak, slightly offset from the centre.

The settlement was to be in the centre, on a slight rise. 

As far as he could judge, the island was about fourteen kilometres in length.  More than big enough. He nodded approvingly and trudged through the soft, squeaky sand, up the beach towards his new home.

They'd already set up the initial quarters, with the lion’s work being done by the lower ranks, and in five days, they were all living halfway decently and dining on the first local game. 

There’d been no welcoming party, such as on Gran Antides and the fabric of the settlement followed roughly the same pattern; hardly surprising, since the blueprint and standing orders were specific as to how to proceed.

Perhaps the only differences were in the topography, the climate and in the pet names for the various huts and areas.  The island was tropical and a little larger than Gran Antides but also flatter and with more beach.

VI

If Western Tearoa was balmy and Gran Antides forbidding, conditions on Santa Cordova could only have been described as hot. They were close to the tropics, close to a continent which blocked the major weather and current patterns and the foliage was lush.

It needed to be.

Topographically, Santa Cordova was small and inaccessible by small boat and thus had remained uninhabited all these years. The variety of wildlife and natural vegetation was inconceivable.

Major General Hamilton’s administration was in full swing, roughly along the same lines as on the other two islands.

Theirs was a long, thin strip of land, more susceptible to weather fluctuations but in their favour was the north-south aspect and the westerly ridge which shut out the worst of the elements.

Not highly forested, theirs was to be a largely marine diet from the shallows off the eastern shore. As with the other islands, and this had been a key factor in their selection in the first place, access was treacherous and all in all, Hugh’s Gran Antides was the most accessible of the three.

Standing on the raised walkway outside his own version of Moran’s in the evening hush, Major General Hamilton had been puzzled by Hugh’s choice.  He could see the logic of the PM’s choice of Western Tearoa – inaccessibility, wildlife and the tropical idyll everyone imagines. 

He could see the charms of his own island.  But Hugh’s windswept rock, well out of the tropical balm?  Perhaps it was Hugh’s perverse logic that if they themselves were puzzled by his choice, so would be any search-and-destroy party.

VII

On Gran Antides, they held a thanksgiving service, despite being already sick to death of the military rations, supplemented by the birds and fish. 

The construction work took advantage of every ledge, every crevice, every concealed passage through the rocks and used island timber and vines.

Concealment was the catchword and from no angle were they visible - Laurence took a pod out and circumnavigated, one of the stones looked too contrived and so the backbreaking work of shifting it a metre in the direction of camp, taking out the rails they'd put in, filling the holes and starting over - all of it could mean their lives one day.

There were strict rules, reinforced by military stringency, that no one, no one, was to use the eastern side lowlands and southern forest, especially not the beach. Any advance force from the outside must see no signs of life, except for the old signs of native settlement.  The elements had returned the eastern beach to its former pristine condition and that's how they'd planned it would remain.

Slowly, a network of walkways was built, suspended between rock and trees, leading to tree huts at varying levels down the hill, all interconnected.  It was taking on the look of a compound.  The piece-de-resistance was the dining room come living area, which they called Moran's and this was kept in pristine condition by rota.

Thus they awaited the coming of the supply submarine and new supplies.  This was one rogue sub sent out by the PM from Beddoes Island, intended to visit twice – once any moment now and the final time six months after that.  That sub would then sail to Capetown and be handed over to their military.

There were strategic check points at intervals along the island, beginning at the beach and ending at the pods in the cave. At a semaphore signal, two near empty pods, manned only by NCOs, would make their way out to the sub.  Laurence and Hugh would wait in the cave.

VIII

April, 2011

The scheduled sub arrived, the shuttle went out and escorted him back to the cave; CPO Carl Eisner stepped out at the cave entrance to be warmly greeted by Hugh and Laurence.    Hugh had reserved the Dewar’s for this moment and Eisner bent the rules for the occasion.

‘Beddoe’s gone, as predicted,’ reported Eisner, as the men unloaded and then took off for more supplies. ‘There were casualties – many of the islanders refused to go and didn’t understand about the tsunami.  Terrible to say it but it lent verisimilitude to the idea of it being inhabited to the last.  Trouble was, the waves also took out many atolls and islands throughout the region; those people were not prepared for it.’

Eisner’s men were now unloading the metal slats and earthen vats they’d use for fermenting the wine.

Hugh nodded and the CPO continued. ‘New government in the old country - as bad as the first, if not worse. They’re global now, under the auspices of the United Economic Authority, as they’re called. Actually, they’re seeking out and destroying pockets of insurgency around the globe.

You’re clearly on the list and your arsenal is well nigh useless against them but still, it’s best to keep it as a security blanket for the ORs.

The Arab nations have mobilized and are standing against the UEA, citing it as a Zionist conspiracy. The UEA’s appointed the young Israeli, Moshe ben Ibrahim, as their spokesman, can’t believe his name, and most are listening to him – good looking cove, really, most of what he says seems to make sense until you think it through thoroughly.

The next month will be the interesting one. The voucher system for goods and services has replaced paper money but it’s high tech now – an implant now includes all your microdata –’

‘Do you have one?’

‘Do I hell – it’s a tracking device as well and that’s the last thing we need.’

‘How do you eat?’

‘I have to admit, it’s difficult.  The sustainable development thing and the registration of the world’s children has all known food sources tied up but rogue elements still grow produce in communes and get a high price, barter-wise, usually weapons and alcohol.  We get ours from the Arabs actually.  For how long, we don’t know.’

‘So, steady as she goes, you might say.’

‘Yes, sir and I wish you all the very best for the next six months. Do you want me to bring the sub up to the cave next time?’

‘No, we’ll run it the same way – I don’t want any attention drawn to the cave.’

At this point they were unloading the vines in pots for replanting and there were a hell of a lot of them.

‘Right, if that’s everything you need, we’ll be getting away.’   With that, CPO Eisner stepped back into the shuttle pod and was gone. The team was already lifting the packages up the dumb waiter system they’d rigged up and two hours later, it was done.

The critical issue now was planting the vines, it was a little past the best date for starting but it was OK, they’d need to tease and plant, prune, tend, look out for disease and so on.

They started on what they knew – the outside planting on the south facing slopes, between trees but not covered – it would get sunshine.  The soil was fine there and that now went ahead.

In the evenings, they went back over the literature, which was clippings and printouts Hugh had taken from Wikipedia and other places.  He would read from these and then they could take it in turn to borrow the notes and copy if they wished.

‘Pinot Noir’: Needs a cool climate to fully develop its flavours - prone to botrytis, so avoid damp conditions.

‘Regent’: Has good disease resistance and makes good-quality wine. It is high yielding and sweet.

‘Chardonnay’: This early ripening, highly scented, dark golden grape is excellent as a dessert or for wine.

‘Schiava Grossa’ (syn. ‘Black Hamburg’ and ‘Trollinger’): A superbly flavoured, heavy yielding black cultivar, ideal for an unheated greenhouse.

In their natural woodland habitat, grape vines are vigorous and reliable climbers that ramble and scramble through trees without any pruning or training – and produce a crop of fruit every year! It is, however, true to say that to get the best crop (and more importantly confine their growth) a pruning regime of some description is sensible

In effect Spur Pruning is little more than ‘taming’ the natural habit of the vine, and is perfect for grapes grown over pergolas, along fences or wires – and most certainly for grapes grown under protection.

.o0o.

They were pretty knackered after the day’s planting but appreciated the break from sex as a diversion.  And there was more than just interest in this – many considered the wine to be close to a lifeline.

Hugh’s notes were read and read again, evening discussions threw the topics back and forth, someone would make a point no one else had and in this way the winter gradually came upon them.

The 80 outer vines were in at last, each about 8 feet from the other and from a security perspective, probably not visible from the sea, except from directly off the point with a telescope or binoculars.  They were allowing the vines to climb trees on the south side.

They now needed to get the natural barriers up anywhere the vines would be visible at ground level.

IX

May, 2011

Husbanding of the wildlife was a slow task and it put meat at a premium - it was only shot and cooked twice a week, as a sort of festive occasion. The young bull and cow the sub had brought in were doing their business - a budding dairy industry was in the offing and that, coupled with the free range chickens, provided the necessary protein.

Clothing was taking on more and more of an eastern flavour, as old garments were replaced by new and footwear was also replaced but now the chill was distinctly biting and they estimated it might even get down in the region of zero during the next month, so they were busy building, sealing walls and roofs.

They worked long hours, they got the place looking as homely as possible but as the hours reduced and it was pretty much as it was going to be, thoughts turned to other things and that involved partnerships.

The loss of Sergeant Booth had unbalanced the group - Susannah had lost her partner.  It was still not a major issue but it was going to become one.  Sophie was the problem though - she was not happy with Laurence, she blamed him for the ‘murders’, as she put it and Hugh couldn't blame her - she'd witnessed similar when she'd been in the clutches of The Seven - but Laurence couldn't be expected to take that on board.

‘She’s a handful,’ said Laurence, on the walkway near Moran's.

‘She shouldn't be - she should be an adult and pull her weight.  It’s started to worry me - if you don’t mind, Laurence, I’ll have a word.’

‘Well, on the grounds that you two know her best – please do.’

Nick and Mandy were currently the most stable.  Both fairly easy going with each other and with the other islanders, they were the type which communities need – neither prudish nor excessive, enjoying a joke but not particularly the life of the party.

Sam and Janine were still in the early stages and that one needed to be allowed to find its own level.

Adam and Lisa were a strong unit but Adam was a bit inclined – and this was only Hugh’s opinion – not to embrace the island life - he was not greatly enamoured of either Hugh's leadership style nor his breeding.  They didn’t exactly live the hermit life, those two but when the dusk fell, they were usually to be found back in their hut, whereas the others tended to be in Moran’s. 

Hugh asked Laurence to have a quiet word to see what the problem was, if any.

So it was a fairly volatile mix and Hugh’s cavalier approach to administration did not universally endear him.  If they’d had a crisis, it might have been different but  Laurence’s and his administration had eliminated just such crises of a day to day nature. 

As for Laurence and Hugh himself, it was working a treat.  Hugh deferred to Laurence over many matters, always sought his advice and each had their prescribed areas they ran.  For Laurence's part, Hugh might have been cavalier in general but with him, he was assiduous and he genuinely appreciated that.

They spent time together.

IX

The others all saw it too and felt far more secure, with Emma the third in the triumvirate, bringing her perspective and perspicacity to the table.  Everyone was au fait with her past doings in Paris and all in all, it was true to say that it could scarcely have worked better.

Therefore, Hugh was forgiven his eccentricities but the down side was Sophie Magdalena.

.o0o.

‘Sophie, let’s go for a walk.’

‘No.’

They were standing on the walkway from Moran’s, at the northern end, looking down to the fields in the south and Hugh had a quandary.

‘All right, I’ll ask it – why not?’

‘You might rape me.’

‘I’d say there’s a good chance.  So tell me the things you’re annoyed about.’

‘Why tell you?  Who are you?  Laurence is in charge of this island, not you.’ 

He looked to the sky. ‘You don’t think, Sophie, that things are difficult enough without this hostility?’

‘You really think you can arrange things, don’t you?  That you can arrange people’s lives.’

‘No, I can’t even organize my own.’

‘Words, words, words - Hugh and his words.’

‘Will this go on for long?’

‘Get fucked.’  She stormed off to her hut.  He looked down from the walkway as Laurence emerged from Moran’s.

‘How did it go?’

‘I think you heard the last part.  I think we have some trouble in that direction.’

‘What’s it all about?’

‘She’s like a spoilt child, Laurence – she can’t get what she wants and so she behaves badly.  She doesn’t even know what she wants – at least she doesn’t think it out carefully.  She’s a strong, athletic girl too and could do some damage.  I know what she wants and neither of us can give it to her.’

‘And you gave her to me.’

‘You don’t have feelings, Laurence?’

‘Let’s just say they haven’t had time to blossom yet.’

‘If it continues to be a problem, we’ll need to make new arrangements.’

X

June, 2011

They all had their favourite places to wind down.

Most of them frequented Louis Quatorze, a room they'd constructed, set back against the cliff face just down from Moran's, on the right and it was basically a glorified sunroom, made of the indigenous type of tea-tree - a very strong, twisted branch which made a great low wall. 

At one point in the day, the room was flooded with light from the south-east - Emma adored sitting there until the sun went behind the trees, then she’d go to the grotto – a cleft in the rock in which multicoloured rain action had wrought patterns in the rock face and in which, at a certain time of the mid afternoon, the sunlight suddenly burst out.

The sun lasted there about twenty minutes before slipping away and this signalled the second half of the day and a different mood. Of late, there’d been less direct sun. 

One got to the grotto via a path, just outside Moran's, which went right and made it's way between the rock faces at that point of the island.  They'd plans to continue the path through to the north-west cliff face and that was an ongoing project.

Sophie herself loved to walk down to the glade where they had their crops, through two rock gateways she'd scramble over and she'd sit there, playing with daisies and soaking up what sun there was.

Laurence liked to stand on the walkway outside Moran’s, gazing down on the series of  walkways interconnecting the treehuts and late afternoon, when they all took something to drink, that's where he'd spend an hour or more. 

This evening, Hugh took his leave of Laurence, went into Moran’s, took the half bottle of wine and another glass, leaving the other wine for Laurence and went to Emma in their hut.  He poured hers, topped his up and sat on the bed near her.

Sipping on her drink, she looked at him hard and asked, 'Why have you stopped asking me about the past, about what happened?'

'We've been too busy, also I don't know what to ask because I don't remember any more of it.  Also, it might cause tension between us.  I have a feeling you were contemplating leaving me before my injury and frankly, I don't wish that to arise again.'

Her mouth went dry. He had this way of innocuously dropping things into the conversation - things she didn't know he knew or had thought through - and they would usually take the wind out of her sails. 

'O - OK, Bebe,' she put her drink down beside the bed, turned over and faced him. 'let me say that I wasn't completely right in the way I thought of you.  It was a bit me but it was more that I missed what we'd had, how it had been.  You and I were so close, so very close and I loved that.  If you like, I became maybe a bit dependent on you ... emotionally, I mean.  You did too ... on me.

Then the work we did in the north of England pulled us apart.  You became engrossed in all the troubles which were coming fast, I'd sit out in the other room and try to solve them myself.  And then you put me in prison.'

'I what?!'

'It was interrogation, Hugh, I'd been a bit ... careless.  I knew you had no choice, I admit that now, otherwise it would have been a worse interrogation by the enemy but it put a barrier between us which we never overcame. We tried - we had a lovely time in Thailand - but there was another matter.'

'Yes?'

She paused, unsure how to put it.

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