Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jerusalem 12 - Gran Antides


Chapter 11 hereChapter 13 here

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I

Emma thought how to put it quickly and lightly, so it would pass almost unnoticed.

'I was leading on one of the enemy - a man named Chris Jones - and I thought I was playing him but ...'

'He was playing you.'

'No one likes to admit that, especially to her man.'

'Yes but I make errors all the time.  There's no shame in that - only in not learning from them.'

She rested her palm on his face.  'Yes Bebe.  You see, I'm not perfect, not like ... Nikki.'

'Nikki?'  He saw the colour leave her face and added, 'I don't need to know, truly.'

'Yes you do, Bebe.  Yes you do.  It would be unforgivable for you not to know.'  She gathered herself, reached for her drink and took a sip, then rested the glass back on the floor, turning back to him.  'I had been married to a man named Michel.  I was carrying his baby.'

'Oh, Emma.'

'He betrayed our Section, he betrayed me and he betrayed our child.  He is no more and I don't wish to discuss that, unless you make me.'

'No, of course not.  Let's stop now.'

'I have to tell you, now I've begun.  You had your own tragedies, two of them actually.  In the first, you were with a person not unlike Sophie and she and you were going to marry.  Her name was Ksenia and she carried your child.  She was shot the day of the wedding, at the chapel, in the carpark.  By our enemies.

You then fell for the head of our Section, Genevieve who we called Mademoiselle.  You loved her but she took too long to decide on you.  That was unfortunate because our friend, one of our Section and Mademoiselle's right hand person - she and you had an afternoon where nobody, even now, knows what really happened.

Before any of us knew it, she and you were the full thing and planning to marry.  It shocked everyone for three reasons - one, how quickly you'd fallen for Nikki when you had been so for Mademoiselle; two, how she, knowing everything about you and Mademoiselle, just went in and took you ... and Hugh, she was a man-eater, a player with men, skilled in the love arts - and here she was, totally head over heels over you.  As I say, something happened and none of us ever understood it.'

He got up at this point, went round to where the bottle was, poured her another in her proferred glass, poured himself one, set it down and lay back on the bed.  'Go on, Fayette.  It's weird in the extreme to hear this.  Go on.'

She took a sip and set her glass down again.  'Well, there was a safehouse we were in - you, her, a man named Paul and me.  You were getting married to her. It sounds unbelievable - it was unbelievable - but a missile hit our house and with it - Nikki and Paul - instantly.

I had my baby still, Michel had gone, you took me and we escaped, with the help of our supporters we found our way, in the end, to an island and there were Jean-Claude and Mademoiselle.  You and I became ... partners.  You had a boat built and we sailed to England.'

'Really?'

'Well, until a submarine picked us up.'

'A submarine?'  He was incredulous.

'I know.  When it's said like that, it's just ... bizarre.  But it happened, Bebe, it happened and here we are.'

‘This Nicolette, did I ... love her?'

It was clearly an effort for her to say it and he noted that.  'Yes, Bebe, you loved her to distraction, just as she did you.  You two were besotted.'  A tear trickled down her cheek.  'None of us understood why but you were very strong for each other.'

'I hope I love you just as much.'

She didn't answer at first and he picked up the vibes very quickly. 'Look Hugh, both of us saw a life together.  I loved Michel, you loved Nikki but I also loved you.  You came to love me ... after Nikki.  We became inseparable, you and me.'

'After Nikki?'

'The enemy.  Missile to the safehouse - I've just told you that.'

'Yes, yes, of course.  I then went with you?'

'Yes.  You looked after me until we were safe, then we came together more – more permanently.'

'Did I do anything with Sophie?'

'No, I've told you that already.  I always knew the possibility was there though and when you went north to rescue that Julia - none of us ever found out but that complicated your feelings also.  The truth is that I let you go, I changed my vote from me going north, so you would not be left with Sophie'

'Ah.' 

‘No, I need to explain this more.  We’d rescued Sophie, as I’ve told you – the two of us and Mademoiselle Genevieve.  We always suspected and Sophie confirms this, that she might still have had an alien personality still in her, a killer.  So this was one reason but the main reason was not to lose you to her.

I’m now going to say something to you now and you’re not to be offended.’

‘Right.’

‘I knew there was some danger with Julia too, for the same reasons but she was very much a killer and you suspected that, you were on your guard.  So I thought that she was the less ... less ...’

‘Lesser of two evils.’

‘Well yes.  But you made love to her too.’  She sighed. ‘Not completely, I know that but feelings became involved.  But to me it was a girl’s infatuation and I think, on balance, it was better that way than with Sophie.  Sophie is trouble for me because she has the power of our sex.  You’re hopeless with that.’

‘Yes but now I’m also warned.  You’re right to say it.’

She breathed a sigh of relief.

.o0o.

Laurence found Hugh in Moran’s in the morning.  

Hugh got in first. 'I know - 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.’ 

He 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 suddenly popped up into the frame: Emma.  She shut the idea out and pushed the stocky Nicholas away from her as well. 

Celibate Sophie, that was the only way.

...

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 devoted - that much he knew - and in the opinion of the other men, was quite a catch. 

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.  Hugh saw him as the perfect leader and also a bridge to that part of the crew who didn’t particularly like him.

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 asleep. 

...

Adam had been quite a soft target for Lisa - a tall, spare young man, with a slight stoop. Lisa felt affection for Adam and for an unambitious woman like her, that was quite enough to be going on with.

...

Sam had had eyes for Susannah from the start but he’d had Janine and Janine had not put a put wrong.  

Susannah had been too willing to sit back and let her natural charm bring the man to her and in this social setting, you didn’t leave things to chance, especially if the other woman was playing for keeps. 

The question was - was she just going to sit back and take it?  Was she hell!  Something was going to give here.

Didn’t Hugh Jensen realize, in his blissful ignorance, that there was one girl unattached?  OK, sorry about Raymond Booth but she hadn’t planned to be with him anyway - Sammy was more her type.

How had she missed out? 

It ran through her mind and she couldn’t see a way out of it but the moment anything presented itself, she was going to be in.  Hugh Jensen needed to be careful of his precious security because a lone girl was a dangerous girl.

And what was wrong with her anyway?  She was curvaceous and free spirited, kind, loved company and she was cuddly – they all said so.  And pretty too, let’s not forget pretty. She was the bombshell.

So how had she missed out?

II

July, 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 which needed to be cut irregularly, these were set up under and between trees and then covered with foliage as naturally as possible.

Then garden beds in tiers were laid below that, with soil from various parts of the island brought to these twenty garden beds - that was to be the sum total of their produce.  A great deal of effort had been put into nitrogenization and planting crops they'd brought which would take the climate.

The biggest issue was the wine.  With 120 plants in pots, the fruits more than they could drink in a season, they had the south-facing slope, they’d pretty well missed the March planting and anyway, they weren’t sure of this island yet, they might have to leave at a moment’s notice, it was decided to leave the planting until October or so.

Another 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 Emma 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 and 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 Emma 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

August, 2011

Things had most certainly settled down. 

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 the first crops to put with the meat, which allowed the ships stores to be more rationed and finally put away in rock fissures they'd widened for that purpose.

Tending the grapes was the big job – it took all of them, as part of their routines, assiduous care.  Each was responsible for his or her vines although the wine, if there ever was any, was to be pooled.  Hugh and Laurence were the inspectors-general of the vines and a couple of things were quietly said to one or two about it being time to prune this vine or that.

One Sunday morning, Sophie went for a wander up to the cliff, below which were the pods, just for a change and there was Susannah, legs dangling over the edge.

‘What are you doing here?’ she asked.

'I thought I'd come here for a change.  If you want me to go.'

'No, sit with me.'  Sophie did.  ‘I don’t have a partner, Sophie. You have a partner, Hugh has a partner, every bloody person on this island has a partner -’

‘What makes you think I have a partner?’

‘You’ve got Nick Davidson.’

‘Who told you that?’

‘Don’t play games, Sophie, I’m not in the mood.’

‘I don’t need Nick Davidson – he wants too much from me.’

‘And?’

‘You were never pack raped twice a day, so you wouldn’t understand.’

‘You need a doctor.’

‘I need a lover.’

‘You and me both.’

‘All right then, neither of us have partners and I can’t help thinking you’re one hell of a pretty girl, young Susannah.’

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

‘Yeah, so am I. What a waste, eh?’

‘Sophie, you’re truly off your brain, do you know that?  Don’t say things like that - you - you frighten me.’

‘Let’s walk back together then.’

They clambered back over the ridge to avoid the path, dropped down onto the Grotto path again then, in one of those moments which had genuinely not been planned, Sophie caught her foot on a projecting tree root, tumbled over and Susannah, close behind her, came crashing down as well.

Like a tigress, Sophie rolled on top of her and went straight for her neck but the equally powerful Susannah fought her off, sprang up and backed up to the cliff face, white as a sheet. 

Sophie sat serenely in the middle of the track, nursing her ankle and smiling up at Susannah. She got up and continued back to the Citadel without a word, Susannah following behind - at some distance. 

When they arrived, Sophie swung round.  ‘I’m moving all my things into your hut.  You can live there with me or you can vacate to Sergeant Davidson’s hut.’

‘He hasn’t asked me, Sophie – you can’t just arrange things this way.’

‘OK, I’ll put my bedding on the walkway and sleep there.’

‘Why?’

‘Look, you need a man, I don’t. I want you but you’re a shrinking violet.  I want Emma but Hugh has her.  There are no spare huts.  I’ll kip on the walkway.’

‘Hugh Jensen will be furious.’

‘I hope so.’

‘Why will Hugh be furious?’ asked Hugh.

Susannah had gone scarlet and had no intention of being caught in a three way situation with her superior officer, so she excused herself and scurried away.

Sophie looked at him defiantly, as if he'd done or said something she needed to be defiant about. 

He sighed with weariness.  ‘OK, let’s hear it.’

‘Hear what, Hugh?’

‘The grievance.  Say what you want, Sophie and let's see if we can accommodate you.’

‘I want Emma.’

'You what?'

‘I want her – to live with her, in her hut, to make love to her.’

‘Well you can’t.  I do those things with her and I’m not moving in with Sergeant Davidson.’

‘Have you considered Susannah?  She’s a nice girl.’

‘Sophie, please.’

‘I’m a nice girl too.  I’m unattached.’

‘You’re off your bloody rocker.’

Sophie looked hard at him and her eyes narrowed.  If he'd remembered her past, he'd have been more careful in his choice of words.

‘What will you do with me, Hugh?  Will you incarcerate me, shoot me; how will you handle this first crisis in your administration?’

‘Careful, girl, Emma told me what I did with her in the old country.’  That temporarily shut her up.  ‘Suppose we work this out, Sophie.  Suppose … suppose … suppose you just say what you bloody well want!’   He was angry and that calmed her down.

She grinned.   ‘I want you, Hugh.’

‘You don’t have the first idea what you want, do you?’

‘You don’t have the first idea what you want either, do you?’  He raised an eyebrow. ‘Where’s Emma now?’ she demanded.

‘In the Grotto.’

‘And we’re here and your hut is there.’ She indicated with a nod.

‘If we make love, you and I, it will be for better reasons than this.’

‘Not as much fun though, is it?’

‘You’ve got the wrong man this time, girl.’

Sergeants Davidson and Hoddle, plus WNCO Benson appeared from below, on their tortuous way up the walkways. Sophie turned on her heel and stalked back to her hut, to reappear a few minutes later with all her bedding.

‘What the -?’ Davidson was wide eyed.

‘I’m screwing Susannah from now on, Nick.  I don’t need a guy any more.’

At Sophie's outburst, Nick Davidson looked enquiringly at Hugh, who shook his head, turned and went to the Grotto to see Emma. 

She was propped up with cushions, reading a soppy novel about some British teacher who’d gone to Russia on a fool’s mission over a girl.  She paused, looked up expectantly at Hugh and then noticed his bewilderment.

‘Explain.’

‘She wants to take you from me.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Sophie.  She wants me to move out of our hut so she can move in and make love to you, live with you - marry you, presumably.  She’s moved all her bedding from Nick’s hut and threatens to sleep on the walkway if she doesn’t get her way.’

No more words were necessary. ‘Come back with me to our hut, Hugh.’

The moment they got inside, she sexually assaulted him and made sure her groans, wails and ‘more, Hugh, more’ reached Sophie’s ears the second hut down from them. 

Trouble was, everyone in Moran’s also heard it.   'You're doing my reputation a power of good,' he chuckled.

'That was the idea.'

.o0o.

In Moran’s, at supper, there were knowing glances all around, the men suppressing grins.

At the conclusion of the meal, Emma asked Sophie to remain behind and waited for the others to go.  Then she addressed the other in a soft, low purr.  ‘You keep away from my husband and stop giving us such a hard time.  I mean it, Sophie.   Just shut it, right.’

Sophie glowered at her for a moment and then turned to leave.  Emma said, ‘I haven’t finished yet.  She stepped up to the woman, took her in her arms and kissed her.

Sophie walked away when it was done, quite confused, slap bang into Hugh, who'd seen it, he also wrapped his arms round her and kissed her.  ‘Just for comparison, you understand,’ he smiled.

She looked hard at him, then went back to Nick Davidson’s hut, collecting her bedding on the way. 

IV

September, 2011

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

‘Yes.’

‘We're both obviously fertile.’

'History says so, the parts I can remember or was told.'

‘There’s one other alternative.  Sophie can be a surrogate mum.’

‘No.’

‘Then just make love to her and let her have a baby, if I can’t.’

‘Are you right in the head?  It doesn’t work that way. Let’s go to The Court.’

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, with the exception of Susannah and Sophie, 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.

.o0o.

Lunch time came around; they all trooped down to Moran’s and kicked in with the preparations, Susannah and Sophie reappeared, the former dishevelled, Sophie in good spirits and more than a little triumphant. 

Hugh was deeply suspicious.

After lunch, they disappeared again and now he was really suspicious. He wandered down towards Sophie’s hut.  She was at home, very much at home, engaged in a deep gynaecological examination of Susannah, no holds barred.

Hugh immediately turned to leave.

‘Come and join us, Hugh.  Three’s company.’

He went back up the walkway, as fast as he was able, their laughter echoing after him.

.o0o.

All through the supper – the only meal they all took together, they looked across at Hugh and smirked. Emma picked up on it and one or two of the men did too.

Later, she taxed him about it.  ‘So why didn’t you join them?’

‘Don’t like groups.’ 

‘Were you shocked?’

‘Tell me about it.  It’s not so pleasant to see it in the flesh.  What upsets me even more is her attitude.’

‘Sophie or the other girl?’

‘Sophie.’

Emma saw Sophie go past the doorway, heading for Morans’ and asked Hugh to get her.  She came through to Emma and Hugh went to Moran’s.

Emma asked her over to the bed, placed a kiss on her lips and said, ‘I want to find happiness for you.  I want you calmer, happier.  We really have to think what to do, don’t we?’

Sophie was impressed.  Emma had a magnetic voice when she wanted something and this was not the Emma back on the island - this was a far calmer woman who knew what she had planned and had got it.    Sophie could never have found it in her heart to try to split them, it was never on.   ‘You’re so good to me.  I think I might love you.’

‘As we both love you.’

V

September, 2011

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.

VI

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

Then he ran to Moran’s.

Hugh emerged from Louis Quatorze and Sam put him straight.  ‘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.’

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. Laurence 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 Janine 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 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?

She was now almost down 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 gave 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 tried to prevent the missiles taking out the 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.’

Her worst fears seemed to be realized as the most enormous explosion rent the island’s peace out on the bay and they braced themselves for the end. 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, 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, as 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.’

'There are reconnaissance drones for that.'

'Not if, as they expected, we had covered our tracks.   This was the way - 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,’ put in Laurence.  ‘We need to remove all trace.’

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

VII

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.

VIII

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 supply sub. It had been commandeered and the black box might help untangle the story. 

They dragged the carcass of the mother ship over the edge of the shelf and expended an 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 them back. That’s about all they could reasonably do.

Only time would tell if they’d remained incognito.  Hugh felt that they should all be at the ready, in their hearts, 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 – that they would eventually be either captured or obliterated?

Hugh spent more time in the new Chapel with Emma.

Though most were service personnel, though Hugh, Emma 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 Emma wanted most to guard against - to maintain a conscience and a sense of the horror at atrocities like this.

She didn't want them all to descend into the dog-eat-dog world they'd escaped from so far.  They still had to feel but she noticed a slight loosening, even now.  It was in her suggestion about farming Hugh out to Sophie, something she'd not in a million years have suggested in years past.  Of course she was testing him but even so, to run the risk he'd acquiesce - she didn't like this change in herself and she'd noticed changes in the others too, each in his or her own way.

As the patriarch and matriarch, it had to start with them.

IX

Sophie had settled down more now and the way her reputation had been boosted, the way they all accorded her respect and wanted her company was a filip at the right time.

Hugh ran into her here and there and usually planted a kiss and held her.  He’d often talk to her for some time and though she was definitely happier, it was going to be temporary – there were things a woman needed and she didn’t have them.  She’d had her chances, with both Laurence and Nick but she’d now lost those chances and didn’t seem to regret that.

It became apparent that she was happiest in the company of Emma and Hugh and both of them had begun to discuss it out of earshot, usually at night.

One night, Emma couldn't believe herself but she returned to the topic. ‘That idea about Sophie, Hugh, about a baby – have you thought about it?’  She listened to the words coming from her mouth, she knew she didn't need to test him anymore and that going on about it now constituted pressure but she couldn't stop.  Exactly what was driving her puzzled her - was it altruism, concern for Sophie or was it something else?

‘No.  Listen, Emma, I’m not that detached.  There’s nothing noble in this, it’s very simple.  If I make love to her, I’ll want her the whole time and I’ll get involved.  These things can’t be arranged as on a chess board.  Not to mention her.  If you slept with her, loved her, she’d become so emotionally dependent I’d never get you back.  We’re married, Emma, neither of us are saints and we would feel the pressure terribly.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning that I want her.  I wouldn’t be able to stop.  Women have ways of holding onto what they want and sometimes those ways are not pretty.  Emma, I might seem someone who’d do it with anything in a skirt but it’s not like that.  I can only do it if there were feelings first –’

‘You’re explaining this to me?’

‘Well there it is.’

‘That wouldn't happen if I made the rules.’

‘What rules?  If she were my woman and she let me make love to you … what rules?’

She thought on it and suggested, ‘Let’s make love.’ 

X

No one expected the next source of trouble.

One night, Janine just disappeared and when it was reported by Sam next morning, a hunt ensued but Emma tumbled to it early and told Hugh, who agreed - Janine had been sidelined, railroaded, Sam had been good enough to take her on and she knew it, no longer PA to the man she looked up to and admired the most but instead, as Emma now filled him in, she was officially below and subject to two people she had been over in earlier days.

She it was who had seen them given those jobs, she it was who had worked behind the scenes and saved their bacon more than once.  Now she was constantly bypassed, not asked her opinion and when she had withdrawn into herself, people, frankly, had not really noticed.  Sam hadn’t noticed – lovely guy, funny guy but not all that well up with things of the heart, except in his capacity as the island’s doctor. 

As a naturally quiet person, they'd just put it down to Janine’s nature and the general fear of the future each of them shared.  It was necessary to find her and stop her doing anything precipitate.

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 gone back up by the rope ladder and reported it to Hugh in Moran's.

He went through their cutting to the clifftop, threw down the rope and soon he was in the cave with the pods.  The problem was that the tide was coming in and though the tops of the pods were always dry in that cave, even though there was always air, the peculiarities of the cave entrance meant they'd not be able to get out and onto the rope ladder until the tide had ebbed again six hours later.

Now someone was bound to come down and check but they'd have to be outside the pods to call back and they couldn't remain outside the pods - they'd have to go inside one, just for safety's sake. 

Janine was near immobile, in some sort of shock and that was another reason to get her back into the pod - the rations and water inside.  Against that, there was her natural pragmatism, her natural sense of the good of the group, although someone who's gone over the edge might well have lost all that, at least temporarily.

It was dicey.

She put him out of his misery over that part at least.  'I'm not going to do anything silly, Hugh.  I just wanted to be by myself.'

'Well, as you can see, we're now stuck and as you know, we need to be here during the tide.'

'I know.'

'Hugh?'  It was Sam's voice, from the rope ladder.

'We're in one of the pods, Sam,' he called back. 'It's OK - we have food and water.  Come back when the tide goes down, all right?  We’ve needed this talk for a long time.  Tell Emma all is fine.'

'You sure?'

'Go, Sam.'

And he was gone.

Janine looked at him and said, quietly, 'How do you know it's safe?  How do you know I haven't lost my mind?  I think I have.'

'You're under severe pressure and we didn't see it in time.’ 

He asked if she was hungry and she was, they broke open some snacks and put them in mugs, found the water drum and poured a little in, it expanded in under a minute, she took two forks from the drawer and they ate in silence.

They left the mugs, rather than waste water - they'd take them up to wash in five and a half hours or so.  The front seats were reclined and both of them now lay down, ready to talk.  She appreciated that.  Apart from the light coming through from the hatch, the gloom was sufficient to hide her facial expressions.


'You must think I've lost my reason, Hugh.'


Chapter 11 hereChapter 13 here

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