Sunday serialisation – A Bump in the Knight, 2.1

 In Knight & Deigh, confirmed bachelor and businessman Hannice Knight suffered a back injury that left him without the use of his legs. Sophie Deigh, physiotherapist and recent widow, devoted herself to supporting him.

On his father’s death, Hannice inherited a global business and great wealth. Then, together with Sophie, he embarked on a series of activities designed to give him some of the excitement and the freedoms that he felt he had missed out on, by being tied to his father’s business for two decades.

As Hannice’s body recovered, he became ever closer to Sophie, and found himself drifting into a relationship with her that neither had anticipated or intended, and for which neither was fully prepared.

This book follows Hannice’s new adventures as he tries to juggle business, hedonism, marriage and ultimately parenthood.

But all doesn’t go quite as he had planned…

Beginning on 14 January 2018, I am publishing Knight & Deigh here as a serial; one part each Sunday.

A Bump in the Knight. Chapter two, part one

Sophie woke me at 4.30am on Thursday, and not in the nice way we had only recently discovered, either.

“Come on, sleepy-head,” she said, “we have an early flight to catch.”

“But I’m not packed.”

“Yes, you are. Your suitcase is in the boot of the limo. So is mine.”

“Where’s my passport?”

“I have it.”

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see soon enough.”

“Do we need a visa for wherever it is?”

“All sorted.”

“So you’ve done everything, then.”

“Almost. I’ll let Bly drive us to the airport, and I’ll leave the pilot to fly the plane.”

Bly drove us to Heathrow Terminal 4. All the way, I was trying to prise from Sophie where we were going, but she had the tickets and passports and wouldn’t hand them over before we were ready to check in for our flight. After Bly dropped us off, Sophie directed a porter to take our bags to the Qatar Airways Premium desk, where we checked in for our flight to Cochin, in southern India.

We checked in and made our way to the airline’s premium lounge to await the call. Just after our flight was called, when we were assembled in the departure area, another notice came that indicated the presence of unattended baggage in the gate adjacent to ours. Parts of the airport were cleared. They couldn’t evacuate us easily, as we’d already passed through all the security checks and were in possession of boarding passes. We stood in what I assumed was supposed to be a queue; although ‘flash mob’ might be a closer description; for a period approaching thirty minutes, before the airport security declared it was safe for us to board.

The flight was in two halves: the longer, from London to Doha in Qatar, took almost seven hours, followed by a slightly shorter leg of a bit over four hours from Doha to Cochin. Oh yes; and a seven-hour wait on Doha airport in between. Both flights were good, with excellent food and service, but reminded me why I always say that I love travel but hate travelling. We finally arrived in India just after 8:30 in the morning. I was tired, weary in fact, but as excited as a kid at Christmas. I had never been to India, but it was one of the countries I was most keen to visit.

We finally arrived and had our first taste of India. Sophie had arranged e-tourist visas for us and imagined that we would merely need to present these at the immigration desk to be allowed in. One thing I found about the people of India, is that they have a passion for officialdom, administration and procedures.

There was a special office where we had, individually, to present our visas and passports, and where we were photographed and fingerprinted before the stamp was placed in our passports. Apart from the fingerprinting machine, which stubbornly refused to work unless it was cleaned, degreased and sanitised between each use, of which there were four per person, and even then not reliably, everything went smoothly and amicably and we were soon on our way.

After we’d been through the immigration formalities, collected our bags and cleared customs, we were met by a man from the outfit Sophie had used to put the trip together. He took us outside, gave us a brief introduction to what was planned for the next few weeks and introduced us to Shafi, the driver whom he had allocated to us for the duration of our stay in the State of Kerala. We thus embarked on a hectic three-week tour of the area, visiting various points from mountainous Munnar to coastal Kovalam, almost 200km further south. During the time we were there, we saw natural and cultural sights and events that gave us a real flavour of the region. We saw tea processed, literally from bush to cup; we had boat-rides in the backwaters and elephant rides through spice plantations, and we stayed in hotels where we were treated like royalty. The amazing thing about that, was that we didn’t get any special treatment because of who we were, either because of our relative wealth or because of our nationality. Every guest was treated as we were. According to Shafi, they believe that the tourists are like royalty because tourists provide employment and money; without tourists, the region and its people would be much poorer. I never knew whether we had struck lucky with Shafi, or whether he was typical of tourist drivers. Either way, he was always punctual, well presented, polite, friendly and a veritable goldmine of information. As far as we were concerned, he was a good driver, a good guide and a good friend.

Without a doubt, the highlight of our honeymoon was the three nights we spent on a houseboat in the backwaters. It came as a surprise to both of us, when we boarded the houseboat, to find that its population had instantly doubled. When we got underway, the houseboat’s complement consisted of one driver, one cook and two guests – us. And it was luxurious to the extent that we were both speechless when we boarded. I don’t know what we expected, but it wasn’t this. Our bedroom, though a little smaller, could hold its own in at least a four-star hotel. We spent four days pootling along in the backwaters, feasting on the delicious fare produced by our cook, much of it based on freshly caught fish and seafood purchased from fishermen in canoes as we went along. We saw village life and wildlife from an angle not normally available. Through it all, our cook and our driver were going about their business quietly and efficiently. We spent most of our time on the upper deck, coming down only when called for meals or to go to bed, and seeing our cook when he brought mid-morning coffee and afternoon tea. It was the most peaceful, serene experience I had ever had, and I would recommend it to anyone.

Three nights was enough, though. By the fourth day, it was beginning to become a bit samey, and we were both just starting to exhibit technology withdrawal symptoms – there was no WiFi and no 4G or 3G, either – not even a mobile signal. What we did have, and what greatly contributed to the atmosphere, was Indian (mostly Bollywood) music during the day, and Indian satellite TV in the evening.

Needless to say, Sophie and I became ever closer during that part of the trip. Being in close proximity 24/7, with no escape, may be problematic for some couples. For us, it couldn’t have been further from that. The entire honeymoon, throwing us together into a culture that was totally foreign to us both, strengthened our relationship in a way and to an extent that was more than either of us could have hoped for.

The Dreamer — part 52

a tale in weekly parts

The story so far

Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future in the body of a white male. Now known as Bernie, he settled into a high-tech life. But it didn't end there! Not by any means. Any change to the 'past' after her/his translation would (and did) rewrite the future - his present.

And then it became more complicated…

Episode 52

“Sorry?”

“Can I have a word please, Miss?”

“Sure, Officer. Not a problem, I hope?”

“No, Miss. Just a few general questions. There’s been a lot of talk recently about women, particularly young women, having to deal with sexual harassment—”

“And worse.”

“Exactly. What we’re trying to find out, is whether women—”

“Particularly young, attractive women?”

“Particularly young, attractive women, yes. The question is, do you have to deal with a lot of this stuff? In other words, do you, as a—”

“As an attractive young woman?”

“As an attractive young woman, do you find New Singapore to be a safe place for you to live and work?”

“It’s difficult for me to give an accurate, objective answer to that, Officer.”

“We don’t want an objective answer. We can get that from the official stats. We want to know how you feel about it.”

“Just me?”

“Goodness, no. Some of my fellow officers are interviewing young women to collect their views.” Bernard reached into his pocket and took out a small clicker device. “Can I let you have this? Wear it like an activity bracelet.”

“What’s it for?”

“It’s a data collector. If you can, I’d like you to click its button once every time you feel intimidated, discriminated against or otherwise inconvenienced verbally due to your gender. If there is any physical issue, click it twice for things like inappropriate touching, even of the sort you might normally brush off or ignore, more if it is some kind of assault, sexual or otherwise.”

“And how long do I do this for?”

“It depends on how the study goes.”

“How will the data be collected? And what about privacy?”

“Every click is transmitted to our monitoring station and recorded by time and location. Multiple-clicks will be notified to the issuing officer; in your case, me; within two or three seconds of it being clicked. Privacy’s not a problem. The system won’t have your name, and your location will only be recorded when you click it. Even then, there’s no name against it.”

“But if I click it at home, it’ll know where I live.”

“If you have reason to click it at home, you’ll probably want us to know where you live.”

“Okay. So should I click it more times—”

“Depending on how you perceive the severity of the attack, yes.”

“And you will know straight away?”

“Within a couple of seconds, I will know how many clicks and your exact location.”

“So you can come to my aid if you’re close enough?”

“Or send the closest car if I’m not.”

“That sounds good. What if I press it a lot, just for fun?”

“I don’t believe you will, but if you do, you’ll be dropped from the study.”

“Okay, I’ll do it.”

“Great. I’ll be here at about this time every day if you have any problems.”

“What about other times? Can I call the station?”

“Best not.” Bernard reached into his pocket and produced a card. “Call me on this number.”

“Okay, Officer… Chowdhry—”

“Please. Call me Bernard.”

“Fine, Bernard. I’ll call you if I need you. I’m Mia, by the way, Mia Harper.”

Bernard walked off and, when he was out of Mia’s sight, returned to the AI and sought out Julian. He rested there in total darkness and relative silence for some time before sensing Julian’s presence.

“What’s the plan, pal?” Julian asked.

Bernard outlined what he had set up. “If all else fails, I should know within a couple of seconds when her attacker arrives.”

“And then what?”

“Haven’t thought that far ahead.”

“Okay. What you’ve done so far is good. Through your projected persona, you’ve established contact with Mia without risk of compromising her moral integrity, and you’re having her keep in touch with you in a way that she believes is for the common good. That’s excellent. But when the guy turns up to rape her, which will be somewhere not out in the open, by the way, your persona will need to be able to disable him. He may be armed.”

“Brainstorm tells me I can disrupt any energy weapon.”

“But what if he has a projectile weapon?”

“Or a blade. I don’t know if my projected persona can generate enough physical power to deal with that.”

“I think you’re probably about ready to take on MC101, Bernice.”

“What’s MC101?”

“Follow me.”

A new scene opened up in front of the pair. It was a town in the old west. Bernice and Julian were standing against the bar of a saloon. Looking into the mirror behind the bar, Bernice recognised Julian’s persona as the form he took on her first appearance in Canada. She also recognised herself. “Hey, I’m me,” she whispered to Julian.

“Thought you’d appreciate it,” he responded with a smile, “now, look outside.”

Bernice looked through the saloon’s one window, but it was too soiled to be able to see anything. “I need to go outside to see what’s what. You coming?”

“No. You can do this. In fact, it’s important you do it alone.”

“Do what?”

“Some bad guys are about to ride in. Three of them. The sheriff will face them off and tell them to leave. One of them will shoot and kill the lawman. You must make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“And how, pray, am I supposed to do that?”

“Look into your connection. What weapons do you see?”

“Weapons? I ain’t got no weapons.”

“You don’t? None at all? Nothing to stop a bullet?”

“Hell, yeah! I’ll try that. AI says I can stop it in its tracks.”

“No good if it’s fired at point-blank range, though.”

“Which it’s likely to be if the target is Mia.”

“Precisely.”

“A-ha! MC101 you say? Does MC by any chance stand for mind control.”

“At this time, I can neither confirm nor deny that.”

“So it does. And what you’re telling me is that I have the power to control human minds.”

“You may very well think that, Bernice. I couldn’t possibly comment.”

“Right. I’ll try it.” Bernice started to walk towards the saloon door. Halfway there, she stopped and turned. “How exactly do I do that?”

“When the need arises, Bernice, you’ll know. You’ll know exactly what you need to do.”

Bernice continued out. Looking along the dusty road out of town, she saw three men approaching at speed on horseback. Each was carrying a rifle. Bernice looked back and saw the town’s sheriff standing defiantly, legs apart and a rifle in his hands. She looked around but saw no hidden backup gunmen although the majority of the men in town sported one or a pair of handguns in holsters hanging from their waists. The three men rode on. As they approached and she could see them more clearly, it became apparent that they were sporting more weaponry than she had realised. They each had the rifle in one hand, while the other was holding their horses’ reins; Each horse had an additional rifle in a holder attached to the saddle, and each rider wore a double holster, a sidearm on each hip, and an ammunition belt draped over each shoulder. The sheriff shouted something that Bernice couldn’t quite make out but which, judging by the way all the pedestrians disappeared into the nearest building, was clearly an instruction to clear the streets. As the three horsemen came closer, and in spite of the sheriff’s obvious objections, Bernice walked into the middle of the street and faced down the intruders.

“Out of our way, Lady,” the leader of the three said, “we ain’t got no quarrel with you, and your master won’t be too happy if we damage his property.”

As it happened, that was just about the best thing the man could have said. By stating plainly that he assumed Bernice to be a slave, he managed to hit the one spot that was guaranteed to put her in a combative mood. Using a power not dissimilar in effect to post-hypnotic suggestion, she first spooked the horses, causing them to rear violently. This threw the men off their backs, whereupon the horses ran off past the sheriff. Angered by this, but not knowing its cause, the three bandits jumped to their feet, recovered the rifles they had dropped and took aim for the sheriff. Bernice’s next action was to cause each of the men to see directly in front of him the thing he feared most. Almost predictably, two of the men saw herds of wild beasts charging towards them. Their leader saw a man in an advanced state of leprosy. In any event, the three turned tail and ran out of the town, chased by bullets from the sheriff’s rifle, before a hastily assembled posse rounded them up and deposited them in the cells.

The sheriff went into the saloon looking for Bernice, partly to find out what, exactly, she had done, but mostly to thank her for undoubtedly saving his life. Of course, by the time he arrived, Bernice and Julian were long gone.

FLATUS 1.1


Waist of Space, part one of the Unlikelihood series (posted in 32 weekly episodes on this blog between August 2015 and April 2016), followed Commanders Tarquin Stuart-Lane and Meredith Winstanley; hapless heroes of the Royal Space Regiment; who were sent on a mission to the Moon from which they were not expected to return. There they met with a group of aliens, descendants from the occupants of one of a number of ships sent from the planet Borbor many generations earlier, who had forged a living of sorts under the surface of the moon. These aliens, Borborygmi, were matchstick thin and stood in excess of three metres in height.

It became apparent, not only that the Borborygmi remaining on their home planet were testing a new kind of spacegoing vessel: one that, incredibly, had the ability to be in many places at the same time, but also that the group on our moon had received a full backup of the plans on their computer when the vessel passed close-by during its maiden test-flight.

Part two, FLATUS, follows our dynamic duo as they help the Borbor diaspora to build their own multi-locatable craft (and the Royal Space Regiment to build one, too).

Will the ships be built and if so, will the drives work? If the Borborygmi's pinching of their forebears' plans amounts to plagiarism, what term can be used to describe the RSR's pinching of the pinched plans (and, for that matter, my borrowing of ideas from, inter alia, Douglas Adams and the Monty Python crew)? What are the possible effects of having potentially three such vessels in finite space at one time? Will the apparent ineptitude of key personnel inadvertently result in disaster, or will it unwittingly avert it?

Confused? I am!

FLATUS — Fantastically Large Assembly for Travel at Unbelievable Speeds

The most unlikely spacecraft never built?


FLATUS. Chapter one, scene one

Flatulon Grumpblast, Explorer Grade 3 and Head Anemologist of the Sol 3A exploring team of the Borbor Expeditionary Diaspora eased himself, with some difficulty, out of the modified bus that had carried him to the Royal Space Regiment’s design and construction facility just outside Swindon. Accompanying Flatulon were his perhaps excessively inquisitive wife, Methanie, who revels in the vaunted title of GDEA (Grand Demander of Explanations and Answers), and their son, trainee Drone Artivon. Together with the seven best-qualified of their peers, they struggled out of the bus that had carried them to the facility, all of them resplendent in their spanking new full-body inflatable splints with which they had been fitted to support their fragile bone-structure in Earth’s gravity, it being something over six times greater than that of the moon, where they had been for the past twenty-odd generations. Their own planet’s gravity, at 1.307 m/s², is only 80% of the moon’s. Aren’t you glad I told you that? I know I am.

Though a great help in supporting their feeble limbs, the inflatable splints did have the disadvantage of turning Matchstick Man into Michelin Man. I leave you to imagine the difficulties that caused in mobility. Remember that in addition to their feeble bone structure, their musculature had also evolved to deal with, compared to conditions on Earth, extremely low gravity.

As Human/Borborygmi Liaison Officer, Tarquin Stuart-Lane accompanied the Borborygmi on their journey to the facility, and was on hand to give any help they might need but, as you will recall, nothing they wanted. It is probably worth mentioning that Tarquin did not bring Hotay, the Regimental mascot donkey with him. Remember that fact, it may be important later on. No promises, but it might be.

Entering the vast, cavernous building that was officially labelled the FLATUS assembly hall, the Borborygmi started chatting amongst themselves. This was Tarquin’s favourite part of his job; he had always been partial to steel drum band music. The newcomers, however, noticed that Tarquin was taking no heed of anything they were playing; sorry, I meant saying, of course. Artivon let flow a volley of what sounded to Tarquin like the most elegant rendition of Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre that he had ever heard. This was followed by a brief burst of the chorus of Habañera from Bizet’s Carmen.

Moved by the beauty of the music, Tarquin started applauding furiously, with cries of “Bravo!”

The Borborygmi engaged their translation devices. Of course they have them. How did you think they communicated with English-speaking humans. Honestly! Anyway, they engaged them and started to speak.

“What are you clapping and shouting about?” Flatulon asked.

“Mull of Kintyre followed by Habañera. Genius.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Sorry. Forgot. Your speech just sounds so musical to our ears.”

“Is he being disrespectful to us?” Methanie asked, “Cos if he is, I’ll want to know about it. There’ll be an enquiry and I’ll get to the bottom of it. And he’ll be dealt with according to our laws and customs as handed down by the ancients. And what’s more—”

“It’s okay, Mum,” Artivon interrupted, “You know how when they speak, and we haven’t got our translators turned on, it sounds like the agony cries of a wounded malfini [a predatory bird similar to a Haitian Buzzard]?”

“Yes, it does, doesn’t it?” his mother chuckled, “a particularly badly wounded one at that!”

“Well,” Artivon continued, “at least we sound to them like something nice.”

“What do you mean, something nice?”

“From what I’ve learned, music is something they like.”

“Okay, clever clogs. If you’ve learned so much,” his father said, “what is this music you’re talking about?”

“It’s vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion, but that’s not important right now. What matters is they like it. Our language, untranslated, is pleasing to them and soothes them.”

“Leave that thought with me, Son. I’m sure we can find a way to use that to our advantage.”

“Okay, Dad,” Artivon said.

Turning to Tarquin, Flatulon addressed him through the translator. “This is just an empty space. What are we supposed to do here? How can we design and build FLATUS? We need materials, computational devices, benches, assembly lines and, for goodness’ sake, robots. Do you hear what I’m saying, human? We need robots. Lots of them.”

“Calm down,” Tarquin replied, “it’s only a commercial—”

“What do you mean ‘only a commercial’?” Methanie demanded of Tarquin. “What does he mean, ‘only a commercial’?” she demanded of her husband and anyone else in earshot which, given Methanie’s voice, was probably a good proportion of the population of the greater Swindon area.

“Let him finish dear,” Flatulon replied.

“What do you mean ‘let him finish’?” Methanie demanded of her partner.

“Shutup, wife.”

“What do you mean ‘shut up, wife’?”

“Just do it!”

“Yes, dear. Sorry, dear. Carry on, human.”

“As I was saying,” Tarquin continued, “it’s only a commercial space so far. It will be fitted out with everything you need. First, though, we need to design the layout that you need to build your flat thingy.”

“Not flat thingy,” one of the scientists in the Borbor crew said (we haven’t dreamed up a name for him or her yet, but give me time), “FLATUS — Fantastically Large Assembly for Travel at Unbelievable Speeds.”

“Oh, is that what it stands for?”

“No,” Methanie said, “it stands for four lemons and two uncooked squashes.”

“Blimey. That’s an odd name, what?”

“Just how thick are you?” Methanie asked him.

“Well, not for me to say, actually, but I do have something of a reputation,” Tarquin replied.

“Can we swap you for a smarter one?”

“Don’t know. Above my pay grade and all that. Have to ask Merry. She’s the smartest person I know.”

This level of banter continued briefly until the scientist (let’s call him Norman; Norman the Nameless) interrupted and insisted that they start looking at possible layouts for the space they’d been allocated.

“I’ll ask Reggie to recommend someone. I know he had B&Q in to design his new kitchen. Perhaps they can do it.”

“Who’s Reggie?” GDEO Methanie insisted on knowing.

“Oh, Reggie. He’s Rear Admiral Alasdair Farquharson.”

“So why do you call him Reggie?”

“Long story. I’ll save it for later when we have more time.”

“Ooh, impressive. Do I detect a note of urgency?”

“Urgency, moi? Heaven forbid. I just have to get back to Hotay before his dinner time, otherwise he gets all uppity and makes a lot of unpleasant noises.”

“And when is his dinner time?”

“Whenever he chooses.”

“So how do you know when you have to get back?”

“I don’t. Don’t you see? That’s what makes the job of looking after him so exciting.”

“Design!” Norman the Nameless shouted.

“No. I’ve only just been given the job.”

“I said design, moron, not resign!”

“Design more on what? How can we design more? We haven’t designed anything yet. Need to get B&Q in.”

Flatulon looked at him coldly and said in a tone that displayed a significant calm he didn’t feel. “We are not getting B&Q in to do this design. Are we clear on that?”

“Okay, yah. Fine. Magnet? Wren? No. I know. IKEA.”

“Not IKEA either.”

“Gosh, you’re high maintenance, aren’t you? Who do you suppose we should have do the design, eh?”

“Look around you. What do you see?”

“Borborygmi dressed as Michelin men.”

“Well done. And why do you suppose we are here?”

“Because you want to build your four lemons thingy.”

“Because we want to build FLATUS.”

“Yah, that too.”

“Now. Don’t rush yourself. Spend some time thinking about this one; it’s quite hard but very important. Are you ready?”

“For what?”

“Are you ready for the question I’m about to ask you?”

“Okay, yah. Right-o.”

“Here it comes. Remember, don’t rush your answer; give it some careful thought. Who do you suppose is most likely to know what we need to build FLATUS, in terms of layout, equipment, computational devices and robots?”

“Gosh. That is a hard one. You see, I thought B&Q as they did such a nice job for Reggie.”

“On his kitchen.”

“Yah.”

“Shall I let you into a little secret?”

“Ooh, I’ll say. I do love secrets.”

“Well, here’s one. We aren’t building a kitchen.”

“You’re not? What about lunch, and coffee, and tea, and—”

“There will be a small kitchen in the corner, and we’ll even let you decide who designs that—”

“B&Q?”

“If you like.”

“Magnet?”

“Why not, if you prefer them.”

“IKEA?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“We’ve seen their catalogue. Not impressed.”

“Okay. If you’re sure.”

“Shall we talk about the rest of the space?”

“There’s an awful lot of it; Goes on forever, they tell me.”

“Not the rest of space, idiot human, the rest of this space, this building.”

“Ah, with you. Okay.”

“Don’t you have a donkey to look after?” Methanie asked pointedly.

“Oh cripes, yes. It might be his dinner time. I’d best go. Tell you what, people… sorry, shouldn’t call you people, should I? What should I call you?”

“We’ll accept ‘people’,” Methanie said, “and put it down to your abject ignorance.”

“Very kind of you,” Tarquin replied, missing the point completely, “I’ll go off now and, if Hotay’s not ready for his dinner, I’ll come straight back.”

“No need for that, human,” Methanie said in her most conciliatory tone, “we’ll see you tomorrow. Where are we to sleep?”

“Oh, cripes. Hadn’t given that a thought.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll be okay on the floor here. Just make sure you arrange something by tomorrow.”

“Right, yah, will do, sure.”

Tarquin turned and started to leave the building. As he did, the Borborygmi turned their translators off and, without meaning to do so, treated him to an impromptu recital of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 In D. Tarquin closed the door behind him as he sang the stirring words ‘make thee mightier yet‘. He marched to the RSR bus, his chest puffed out and his head held high, having no idea that the Borborygmi were entertaining similar pride at their significant achievement in getting rid of him, if only for the rest of the day.

When Tarquin eventually arrived back at his barracks, he found that Hotay had already been fed. Outside the donkey’s stable sat a young corporal munching on a chocolate bar. His uniform was soiled, as though he’d been working the fields, and his general appearance was closer to that of a country yokel than a corporal in the Royal Space Regiment. His hands were in his trouser pockets and he was chewing something.

“And who, may I ask, might you be?” Tarquin asked, haughtily.

“I might be Rear Admiral Farquharson,” the corporal replied naughtily, still chewing, “but as you can plainly see, I’m not the Admiral.”

“I’m not the Admiral, SIR!”

The corporal laughed in a most insubordinate manner. “Neither am I. I’m Corporal Formme. Sir.”

“I can see that. You’re not a spectre, are you?”

“That’d be corporeal, not corporal. And I’ve got two ems. And an e. Sir,” the lad said, rolling his eyes in that sarcastic way that Tarquin was so accustomed to seeing, though it never ceased to annoy him.

“And what’s your job, Corporal Form?”

“Groom to the Regimental ass, sir. And it’s two m’s and an e, sir.”

“I prefer donkey.”

“I wasn’t talking about Hotay. Sir.”

“Carry on, non-commissioned officer,” Tarquin said angrily and emphasising the ‘non’. He walked away, his anger evident to… well, only to himself, truth be told.

“Before you go, Sir,” the young man said.

Tarquin turned to face the corporal and shot him a look that from some could seem, angry, from some cutting, from some threatening, but from Tarquin rather pathetic. “What is it?” he said.

“Note for you, Sir. From Commodore Winstanley.”

“From Commodore Winstanley? What’s Merry want?”

“Not for me to say, Sir, though I have a few ideas.” The corporal leered. Really, he did. As if a mere corporal could possibly be of interest to a Commodore. Unless, of course, that corporal could aspire to the position of CFP.

“Hope you have more luck than I did,” Tarquin said, dejectedly, remembering his numerous, and ongoing efforts to win the affections of the object of his own.

“The Commodore wants to see you in her office at 08:15, Sir.”

“When?” No point in offering times based on the military-style twenty-four-hour clock to Tarquin. Anything that goes beyond his ability to count on his own appendages was a mystery to him. Twenty-one was his absolute limit – twenty-three at a push, but that’s it.

“Quarter past eight in the morning, Sir.”

“Hmmph.”