Chapter 1

“It seemed a good idea at the time, but when I thought about it later, I realised that a new colony is not going to have openings for butlers, at any level of society. You don’t normally find butlers in a colonial setting.” John was feeling downhearted as he spoke to his two loves about the prospect of emigrating to the new human colony.

Catherine Dawes, the eighteen-year-old, was as always very practical in her outlook. She suggested, “Can’t you get a job as a military man, my love? Every society needs an army to defend it.”

John grimaced at the thought, despite Catherine’s intended encouragement. “Nice thought, but you forget that I have a damaged leg, Catherine dear. I can do most things, but nothing really strenuous. I couldn’t pass an army medical, for instance.”

Elizabeth Frobisher (the former Felicity Frobisher and undercover policewoman), contributed, “We could manage on my salary, darling. The colony is bound to need police, one way or another, and I am fully trained. I am sure they will be desperate to get trained personnel for all sorts of jobs. Perhaps they might need a military policeman?”

John agreed. “I am sure you are right, Elizabeth, but I doubt they have reached that stage of development. I would certainly feel uncomfortable with an arrangement such as you suggest. I would feel like a fraud, having to depend on my wife to be the breadwinner of the family.”

Catherine was not to be put off. “You don’t have to be macho, darling. We can at least ask, can’t we? Let’s find out the facts first, before we make any decisions.”

John was dubious, but willing to explore his options. “All right. That is a good idea, Catherine. I am being too pessimistic. Who do we ask? Is there any suitable website we could look at?”

Elizabeth disabused them of that notion. “There is no public acknowledgment of the new colony and its needs as yet, though knowledge is spreading. The police and army have been briefed, but in strict confidence. There is an unwarranted fear of letting the public know about alien spacecraft helping to set up a human colony. There might be a backlash about dealing with aliens of any kind, we were told, so we can’t talk about it in public for now, so no website either.”

John saw no sense in that. “If they want people to go to the colony, how are folk to know anything about what colonists they want, and how to get there?”

Elizabeth replied, “The colonists are being pre-selected as volunteers for a new ‘colony’, after being asked and told as little as possible, then shipped out to the new planet. The core group in the colony is an administration unit set up to guide the progress of the colony, led by an appointed Governor and some top people. The word is that these leaders were part of the team that first met the alien spaceships and so both groups the employees and the appointees, are known to each other.”

“Well, at least that bit makes sense,” commented John. “Do we have any idea of the size of the colony to date, and details of its location?”

“Not really,” said Elizabeth. “They don’t feed us news reports. The military are running the show at the moment, and you know what the military are like with information.” She put her hand to her mouth, “Ooops, sorry, John. For a moment, I forgot you were in the army! – but you will know what I mean.”

“True enough. The army doesn’t tell anyone anything, if they can avoid it. The disastrous battles in the First World War were failures due in no small part to not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing. The troops on the ground knew nothing of the bigger picture, in case they were captured and spilled the beans; so instead they went out in ignorance and were slaughtered in their thousands.

Can you believe that the Generals were unaware of the inevitable devastation that would be caused by machine guns, until the Germans mowed down great swathes of Allied troops? That is despite the effect of machine guns being evident 50 years before, in the American Civil War?

The British Army ignored the American Civil War regarding learning about developments in warfare, because, in their minds, ‘that was a colonial internecine affair, so not relevant to the British Army’s operations.’ It was a stupid military myopia that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths in Europe,” John raged at the generals. “They made no preparation for facing machine guns; none at all. The men were even told to walk forward from their positions; not to run! As if they were facing inaccurate rifle fire. The machine guns sprayed massive and indiscriminate fire that killed everything in front of them.”

He went on, “These idiots in charge were still in a mindset of cavalry charges and foot soldiers marching forward in blocks, side by side, as had been done for hundreds of years. They never thought of changing the way they operated. The Victorian period with all its upheaval by advancements in invention and technology seems to have passed the generals by, entirely.” He paused for breath.

Elizabeth intervened, “John, you need to calm down, and stop fighting yesterday’s wars, just like the generals did!”

He let his breath out slowly, to calm himself. “Yeah, you are right. I and my colleagues were taught self-reliance and looking after your buddy; and we trained for ALL eventualities in war.”

“All eventualities?” Elizabeth queried.

“I am afraid so. Everything from nuclear weapons to biological and chemical warfare; jungle warfare; mountain warfare; you name it, we trained for it. We were trained also in what we could do to ameliorate the effects of each of these. We got training in how to resist questioning if captured. Curiously, one of the toughest things about being able to resist was sleep deprivation. If you are shaken awake every time you drop off into sleep, you end up confused as to the time, and what is happening to you. The only way to resist is to have your spiel prepared – the story you want to hand them – and stick to it, saying the same thing over and over again, to the point where you almost believe it yourself.

At the end of one of these training sessions, where we were tested on our resilience, I was asked how long I had been held for and questioned. I thought it had been around 36 hours, and to my surprise the trainers told me it had been about eight hours. I had lost all sense of time.

That shows how difficult it can be. We were not intended to be completely reticent about answering questions, but just to resist for as long as possible, so that any data we revealed would be useless by the time the enemy gets hold of it. Modern warfare changes so rapidly that intelligence quickly goes out of date.”

Catherine was sympathetic, “Oh, that sounds terrible, John. It must have been a frightening experience.”

“Not completely frightening, as we knew it wasn’t real; or we thought so, but they spring it on you without warning, just like the real thing. Masked men with guns grab you, throw you into a land rover or some such vehicle, and then don’t answer your questions. It is not so much them actually refusing; mostly your questions are ignored, as if you weren’t there.

They keep you blindfolded and tied up for most of the time, and are very reluctant to let you go to the loo. That is a part of the pressure on you: the need for the toilet. They insist THEY are the only ones asking the questions, accusing us of being spies and threatening to kill us for that. It was amazingly realistic at the time.”

“You are probably better off being out of the army, darling.”

“Not at all, my love. I loved being a soldier, especially in the SAS. It is such an elite unit that you know you are working with the best soldiers in the world. We took great pride in that. All the other countries that have special forces units have modelled themselves on the SAS ethos. The Australians are a good example.

In the SAS, when you are in the field, it is all first names or nicknames, including your officer or NCO, for operational efficiency. You all work closely on the same level, and will support each other, and every man has specialist training to fit in with the squadron requirements, with some overlaps such as communications knowledge. Each 4-man Patrol is led by a corporal; the patrol in turn is part of a 16-man troop, which are then part of an SAS squadron.”

“Well, you are out of it now, John, so put it all behind you, just like the butler position you held at our house.” Catherine demanded. “This is all new for us, especially me, and we should look at our future in that light.”

John stared at the teenager. “Christ, you are on the ball, Catherine. You are a clever lass, despite your youth.”

Catherine stared back at him fiercely, declaring, “John, I am a grown woman now, not a youngster, so don’t patronise me, and don’t use the Lord’s name as a swear word. I know what life is about – at least the basics – and I am prepared to adjust to whatever we have to do to be together.”

John came back with, “I was not trying to patronise you, Catherine. It was meant to be a compliment, so don’t get on your high horse about it. I apologise for my language; I accept that it was uncalled for.”

Elizabeth was fishing out her phone, ignoring their chattering. She keyed in her departmental boss’s number, and got through quickly. Identifying herself, she asked him, “Sir, I am thinking of emigrating to the Earth colony in space. Do you know how one goes about it?”

He exhibited surprise at the question.

“Constable, I am surprised that you would be thinking of abandoning us. What have we done to chase you off?”

“Nothing, sir. I have a serious boyfriend now – he wants to marry me – and we are looking for something that allows us to be together. Undercover work doesn’t do it for us, so I would be leaving that side of my career for the moment. I think this colony has things going for it that we might like to explore.”

“Oh, I see. That puts a different complexion on the matter. What they are looking for in the colony is not very clear from your point of view. Primarily they want farmers; young people prepared to live and work on the land and start a family. I don’t know if they are recruiting a police force, but I expect something like that will be needed before long. Your fella doesn’t happen to be a farmer, does he?”

“No, sir. He is an ex-soldier, looking at other careers.”

“Hmm ... I have no idea of possibilities in that line. I think I shall get a number for you to call, and you can ask your questions of someone more knowledgeable. Can you hold, or shall I ring you back?”

“I can wait, sir. My man is having an argument with a friend at the moment, and I don’t want to be involved in it!”

“Very wise. Right. I shouldn’t be long.”

True to his word, he was only silent for about twenty seconds before he was back. “Constable, this is the number to ring. It gets you right through to the army people on Ascension Island, believe it or not.”

He read out the number, and she copied it into her police notepad, then read it back to him. He agreed she had it right, and rang off.

She looked at the other two, and decided to ignore them for the time being. She rang the number, and it was quickly answered. “Ascension Island. Can I help you?”

“I am looking for information about emigrating to the new colony. I am a policewoman and my fella is an ex-soldier. We also have another girl with us who is knowledgeable about astronomy. We wondered if there might be openings in the colony?”

“Madam, this call is being recorded for later attention. Please give me your name and phone number, and someone will get back to you later.”

Elizabeth gave out her name and phone number, and the man at the other end repeated it to confirm the number, and then the call was concluded. She looked up at the other two, and found they had stopped arguing and were looking at her curiously.

“What?” She asked.

John wanted to know, “Who were you talking to, and about what?”

Catherine jumped in, “There you go again, John. Just because she is a woman, you assume she is not competent.”

He turned on her. “No, I wasn’t doing any such thing. If it sounded like that, I am sorry. You just have to get used to my way of talking. I am not in butler mode any more, so what you get is just me the soldier, Catherine my love.”

Elizabeth stopped them. “Enough of that, you two. You sound like an old married couple already. I was just making enquiries about the colony. My boss gave me a number to try, and I spoke to someone on Ascension Island. They will ring me back sometime. That is all.”

“Oh,” said John. That’s fine, Elizabeth. Sorry if I seemed bossy. You are an efficient person, and I recognise that. I just like to know what is going on. It was always important in the SAS, to keep informed.”

Catherine added, “John, sorry if I was being Bolshie. It was not intentional, and I still love you.”

Elizabeth’s phone rang, and she answered, “Frobisher.”

She listened then said, “Yes. We are a trio: one man and two women. We hope to marry in the colony, but we wanted to discover what careers we could pursue. I am a trained policewoman, and John is a former soldier who left through an injury. Catherine is 18 and not currently in a career.”

She listened again, before commenting, “I don’t think we want to be farmers. Security forces are more in our line.” There was another hiatus on the line, then she listened.

“Okay, I can get John to speak with her, if she is that important. You can get him on this number, most of the time. When is she likely to be able to speak to him? Eh? That quickly? From another planet? Wow!”

She closed her phone, looking amazed. Catherine furrowed her brows. “What is it, Elizabeth? What has you disturbed?”

“Something I thought impossible, Catherine. Apparently, someone on the planet where the colony is, can phone here almost immediately, without a major time lag!”

Catherine twigged to that observation immediately. “I’ll say! That is indeed impossible with current technology. Sending a signal to the orbit of Jupiter takes over half an hour, and the same back, so a phone conversation would be interminable. If you can phone someone in another solar system without much delay, there must be some new technology in action. I am guessing that some alien technology must be involved, if such a phone system really works and we don’t know about it.”

Elizabeth nodded understandingly. “I see what you mean. I’ll ask about it when I am talking to them later, or if John is doing the talking. John, dear? Are you listening to what we are saying?”

John was with them. “I get you, girl. Some secret invention in operation, probably. I certainly hadn’t heard of anything like that being possible, not that the British army thinks in terms of interplanetary communication.”

Catherine asked, “Thinking about tonight’s dinner, does anyone want to go out for it. My treat. We can go to a MacDonald’s for a burger, or a restaurant for a decent feed.”

Elizabeth was ambivalent. “I’d rather wait until we get this call, then we will be in a better position to plan our meal.”

John said with a smile, “I can go along with whatever you girls want, depending on whether you are taking care of your lovely figures or not.”

Catherine rounded on him. “John, stop being daft. A burger and chips has probably just as many calories as a full restaurant meal. We can always make you a salad, if you are concerned about your own figure, dear.”

John reacted, “Ouch! I should have kept my mouth shut. You have no objections to me admiring your figures, though, do you? I will even admire your figures when you are eight months pregnant, I assure you.”

Elizabeth smiled back at him. “No, that is acceptable, my man. Just let us girls be the judge of what is good for us, eh?”

“Yes, dear. I know my place in this triple marriage: at the bottom of the heap.” He nearly got a cheeky reply to that, but at this moment, Elizabeth’s phone rang. She switched it to speaker phone and answered, “Elizabeth Frobisher.”

“Miss Frobisher? I understand you are a policewoman?”

“Yes, ma’am. Fully trained British constable. I was recently on undercover duties, but that has finished.”

“Your man? Your husband to be? Who is he?”

“John Hawkins Freeman, ex- S.A.S., more recently a butler working for Jeeves and Company.”

“Ah, yes. Can I speak to him? My name is Mrs Diane Kempe.”

“Certainly. I shall put him on.” She handed the phone to John. “All yours, John. Mrs Kempe.”

“Ma’am?”

“John Hawkins Freeman?”

Yes, ma’am.”

I see. You were a sergeant in the SAS, I believe?”

“How do you know that, ma’am? Such information is not public.”

“It is, to a former Colonel in the US Special Forces.”

“And who would that be? Anyone I know?”

“Me, Sergeant.”

“Really? I thought that women were not recruited into that service.”

“Think again, sergeant. I was special. I still have contacts in the right places. You have a leg injury, I understand.”

“Yes, Colonel. Plate inserted below the knee, as well as a few other minor ailments, therefore not able to pass the medical again; so I was retired.”

“Can you walk without a limp?”

“Yes, provided I don’t walk for more than a mile or two. Then it gets sore and tiring. Why the third degree, colonel?”

“I may have a job for you. I am head of the Security Services for Home Colony. That means I run everything from the police force to the army, such as it is: all security forces of any kind comes under my remit.”

“My God, that is a position of power, ma’am!”

“It is, but it is more a title than a lever. Our security force is tiny. We don’t need a formal army, nor tanks, nor aircraft, nor submarines, nor aircraft carriers. Our friends The Personalia are our protectors, you see. No-one is going to invade us, ever.”

“I follow you, but then you don’t need me, do you?”

“You underestimate your training, sergeant. Special Forces personnel are welcome in my command. It is more for training new recruits than having to fight anyone, but we prepare for any eventuality, as you will understand.”

“Yes, ma’am. I am with you.”

“Excellent. Your fiancée: Felicity Frobisher, sorry, Elizabeth Frobisher: how do you rate her as a policewoman?”

“I don’t know, ma’am. I have not seen her in professional action, only as an undercover cop, and that is different. As a person, I think she has guts, and could cope with whatever gets thrown at her – including me!”

“Interesting. Your other lady? What can you tell me about her?”

“Catherine Dawes. She is with me now, and I don’t know how much she is aware of regarding her own background, but she has to learn it some time. She is eighteen. Her father is a retired criminal, and her mother is well aware of it.

The mother was once the wife of another criminal, and her two sons by that marriage are studying in the US, possibly contemplating a career in crime as well. Catherine is not criminally inclined, I am happy to say, and contemplates a life with me and Elizabeth.”

“Ah. A triplet family then?”

“That is our intention. We have been advised that such a family unit would be welcome in your colony, ma’am.”

“That is so. My fellow wife seems to be happily married to my husband.”

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