The Old Man, as Adam was now affectionately known by most of the Colonists, especially by the younger generations, paused to get his breath back just a few yards from the summit of Lookout Hill. His mind went back to when he had been the first to climb the rocky peak, together with Mechanics and also, because his military training told him never to go into the unknown in less than threes, with Chemistry too. There had been no path then of course, they had just picked their way carefully between the rocks; but over the years, by dint of much hard labour, a reasonably good, smooth path had been made, the jungle cut back and on several dangerous or particularly steep sections, hand rails had been fitted. The sky was just as blue, the sun was just as hot and the prevailing breeze coming off the ocean and carrying with it the scents of the jungle below was just as refreshing as it had been on that first climb nearly – was it really – nearly thirty years ago! He knew he had left Tokyo on a Boeing 777 a couple of days before his thirtieth birthday, which was why he was very happy to have been recalled home, even though the actual reason was deadly serious. So if the Colony’s scribes had managed to keep accurate records, although they were never quite sure about the leap years, then tomorrow would be his sixtieth birthday! Sixty years, thirty of them spent in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a small island which, by their own amateurish surveying and hand drawn maps, couldn’t be more than about ten miles by eight at its biggest. Thirty years! A great deal had happened in those thirty years. So many challenges, so many awful frustrations, so much damn hard work, so much sorrow, so much pain, so much heart ache; but also so many excitements, so much joy and also great deal of totally unexpected pleasure!
Having got his breath back, Adam walked the remaining short distance across the relatively level rocky summit, past the huge beacon fire, still there, though long since neglected and collapsing in on itself, past the aircraft food container fixed to a post, in which was a whistle, which had belonged to Athletics, a flint and steel and a bag of kindling for the fire, which had only been lit a very few times and now would probably never be lit again, to ease himself into the lookout’s seat. It was probably the third or fourth seat that had been constructed there over the years. It had been manned, or to be strictly accurate, almost entirely ‘womanned’ and ‘girled’, for 24 hours a day, every single day, for the first twenty years, until the Mother Colony Council finally voted, unanimously, to accept the fact that they really were never going to be contacted by anyone from the outside world. Having said that, there was something very special about the place, and Adam wasn’t the only one who liked to make the effort to come up here on occasions to enjoy the view, which even after all these years was still spectacular; but also, in a strange way that he couldn’t begin to understand for himself let alone explain to anyone else, it was a link to the rest of the world, which they knew was out there and indeed was all around them, even though it was almost certainly a dead, desolate wasteland. Perhaps, just perhaps, one day, over the horizon, would appear the one thing they had all longed for, for so many long years, but which by now had almost faded from their memories – a ship!
There had in fact been two, the ocean going yacht which had been driven onto the reef with full sails set but no one on board shortly after they had landed, and then, many years later, the one they had made for themselves, although to call it a ship or even a boat was an exaggeration. It was a dugout canoe, which Adam had helped to make. Indeed, it was Adam who had said that it should have outriggers for stability. They had fitted one on each side and it had seemed stable enough. It had on board Marjorie’s son Michael Brownone, Bountyfull’s son Benny Brownthree, poor Judith’s son Jude Brownfour (how terrible that she didn’t survive his birth), Chaplain Wendy’s son William Brownsix, Belinda’s daughter Beatrice Brownten, both of Marjorie’s daughters May Browntwelve and Maxine Brownthirteen and Biology, eight in total, all volunteers. It had set off in the year NC (New Calendar) 20. They had long before abandoned the old calendar, with its odd length months, and had begun to count years from the first January after IT and their landing on the island. They were as certain as they could be that the prevailing currents and winds would carry them a long distance, and Jackie, chief stewardess who had been on the 777’s flight deck when IT had happened, remembered hearing Captain Richards comment that they would shortly be passing over a small group of islands. After a lot of agonising and realising how limited their future was on Homeland, as they called their island, the Colony Council had voted to send out an expedition to see what, if anything, was over that tantalising horizon, while being fully aware of the fact that any other islands that there might be close by, could well lie in the opposite direction! But there were enough volunteers to mount the expedition and off they had gone, with every one of the Homeland Colonists crowded onto Lookout Hill to watch the explorers set off. Many tears had been shed, by both groups and over the next few weeks and months many doubts had been expressed as to the wisdom of the whole idea. And then, almost a year later, the whistle was heard for the first time in earnest from the lookouts on duty, who, in their excitement, also lit the beacon fire. Adam realised what a state the explorers must have been in and so, with Yorrick Brownfive and two of the strongest women to help him, he took the yacht’s tender out to meet the canoe and took it in tow. Nearly two hours later the dugout was brought with great difficulty against the current through one of the gaps in the reef which Homeland was surrounded by and drew up on the beach, the four tender rowers tired out and the canoe paddlers utterly spent. They were greeted like heroes, as in fact they were and carefully carried to the hospital which had been set up in the 777’s cabin, the wrecked aircraft being so solidly wedged into the rocks below the low cliff on that end of the island where it had come to rest, that nothing had made it move more than a few inches over all these years. They were given food and hot tea of the Colonist’s own making, from a leafy bush which grew abundantly on the far side of the island, and allowed to sleep the sleep of the utterly exhausted. The story they told was a terrible one, of finding just two smallish islands, one larger than the other, and several tiny islets; of starvation, thirst, accidents, sickness and death and of the eventual decision to try to return to the Mother Colony. Of the original eight, just five had survived to try to return, of whom just four, Michael Brownone, May Browntwelve, Maxine Brownthirteen and Biology got back, and it was couple of weeks before they had recovered well enough to be really active in the life of the Colony once more. As Adam sat there, looking out over the ocean where three of his sons, Benny, Jude, William and one of his daughters, Beatrice, had died, he well remembered it all with sorrow and a certain amount of bitterness too, as he had been all for the idea, and he relived again the gloom that had settled on the Colony following the tragic return of the remaining explorers. He was lost in his sad thoughts when Head appeared, being helped, indeed half carried, by her two daughters, May and Maxine. Head, or to use her real name, Marjorie, was still a strikingly handsome women, despite being in her early sixties and with a mind still as sharp as a razor.
“Good morning Adam”, she called out, her voice still strong and warm, bringing him with a jolt back to the present, “I thought I saw you start off up the Lookout Hill path after breakfast and so I thought I’d join you. It’s been a long time since I’ve been up here, and I wouldn’t have made it this morning if it wasn’t for our two fine gells.” The English Public School accent that had caught Adam’s ear when he had first met Marjorie, her staff and all the ‘gells’ in Haneda, Tokyo’s International Airport, all those many years ago, was still there, and it still brought a smile to his lips. “It really is a beautiful view isn’t?” She added.
“Yes indeed,” Adam replied, “And I never get tired of it. It brings back so many memories, beginning of course with that”. He nodded towards the wreck of the 777, the top of which was just visible above the low cliff which it had come to rest against, nearly two miles away.
“Ah yes,” she said, “that”. There was a long silence. “It so nearly became our coffin, but thanks to the skill of dear Captain Richards it has contributed significantly to our salvation. And indeed still does.” The four of them looked down over their end of the Colony, which was laid out below them, and the reef beyond, which had been so vital for their survival, in silence, each one lost in their own thoughts; their two daughters, who knew nothing of the world other than the Colony; Marjorie, whose brilliant career as Head of one of the finest girls Public Schools in England when still only in her early thirties was cut short in such a terrible way, and Adam, with an equally brilliant career in British Military Intelligence, cut equally short. Adam’s mind went back, not just to the unimaginable horror of IT, but much further still, to his first recollections of his father, General Sir Quentin Adam Brown, KCB, DSO, MC, as he was when he retired. This was the man who had inspired Adam to enter his chosen career, a career which had led him to travel the world, eventually to China, when IT had happened so terribly, all those long years ago.
Adam was an only child, his mother Helen having had a difficult confinement which left her unable to have more children, much to both her and Quentin’s sadness. But there were cousins and friends always around, so Adam grew up to be a normal, well balanced boy, able to cope with prep school, then Eton where he joined the OTC, and then Oxford, where he read Oriental Studies, majoring on Cantonese, minor Chinese dialects, Chinese History and Chinese philosophy. Having got his degree, he then ‘signed up’, was sent to Sandhurst and then commissioned into his father’s old infantry regiment, the King’s Own Buffs. Like many young officers, he was moved several times to get the one thing which can only be got that way, experience. He served for a spell in the SAS, learnt jungle warfare skills and became an extremely fit, tough, determined, resourceful young man. He was also, quietly and with no official notification except at the very highest level, recruited into the British Military Intelligence Service, his service record being carefully ‘laundered’, to remove any reference to his intimate knowledge of China, its languages, its history and its philosophy. Then came his latest and last promotion, to the rank of Major and his last series of postings, to undertake the command of contingents of British soldiers performing guard duties at British Embassies, firstly in Buenos Aires, Argentina; then in Manilla, the Philippines; and then finally and, as it turned out, most significantly, in the heavily guarded and high fenced Embassy compound in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China. This then was the background which had prepared Adam, at least, as far as anyone could have been be prepared, for IT.
Marjorie Jameson was the eldest of four siblings, two boys and two girls. As such she inevitably became ‘mother’ to her younger brothers and sister, as their actual mother was very active politically, involved in various charities and good works and also lived a very full social life. From ‘mothering’ the youngsters, Marjorie began to teach them – to read and to write and to learn about the natural world which they experienced all around them every day from the family home, Jameson Hall, just outside the small market town of Cranbrook, in the beautiful Weald of Kent. Marjorie became a Rainbow, then a Brownie, then a Guide and finally a Ranger, before she went to Shireminster, the prestigious girls Public School and finally on to Cambridge, to read the Classics, French, Psychology and Educational Science. She was very gifted, a natural teacher, inspirer and leader of the young and was soon seen to have headship potential. By her early thirty’s, after experience in two minor Public Schools, she was back as Head of her Alma Mater. It has been Marjorie’s idea to take as many as was possible of the school’s staff and pupils on an educational visit to Tokyo, Japan for two weeks, immediately after school broke up for the Summer holidays in England, and then on to San Francisco, America, for another two weeks. All of those who went had been required to make pen-pals during the previous year, so that on arrival, first at Tokyo and then at San Francisco, everyone could stay with their respective pen-pal until the final day, when they would all gather together again to prepare for their flight home, no doubt laden with gifts from their hosts and presents that they would have bought for their family members back in England. That then had been Marjorie’s preparation, albeit not a particularly good one, for IT.
China has always been seen by Westerners to be rather mysterious, hiding itself behind a wall of oriental inscrutability. Although several Chinese leaders have from time to time seemed to have wanted to open the country’s borders and engage with the rest of the world, not long into the new millennium a new, dynamic and forceful leader came to the fore, determined to make China a world leader, if not the world leader. Things began to change dramatically, both internally (especially the economy) and also on the world scene, politically – and not for the better. The South China Sea became a focus of attention and incidents of blatant interference with the free passage of cargo ships occurred. North Korea seemed to be encouraged to take a more belligerent stance towards its southern neighbour and military exercises involving ‘live fire’ became increasingly common. There were those who feared for the worse; one wrong move and disaster could ensue. The Chinese leader seemed determined to play a hard game of Chicken, especially with America, and not to blink first! Then there was a war, but thank goodness it was just a trade war, began as much by a blunt speaking American President as by an ambitious Chinese one. It was into this febrile atmosphere that Adam took up his posting in Beijing. He had a contingent of experienced Royal Marines under his command, all of whom had served in their roles before, so Adam had confidence in them and in their ability to maintain the safety and security of the British Embassy, even though it was one of Britain’s largest. It was situated on Guanghua Road, in the Chaoyang District of the city, between Romania’s Embassy to the north and Mongolia’s and Viet Nam’s to the south. It was not what Adam would have chosen as an ideal location! He soon settled in to his new role and, as accommodation was rather short in the Embassy compound, he chose not to take up quarters there, but in a reasonably placed and reasonably priced hotel just a few blocks away, over-looking the beautiful Spring Gardens. He knew on his first day there that while he was at the embassy his room had been very thoroughly gone through for anything that would have been of interest to the Chinese, but he had fully expected that and so never kept anything related to his work in his rooms, only personal things, and even some of those were very carefully chosen by him to create the impression he wanted to give; that of a young, not very bright or experienced British Army officer, serving his time in Beijing before he could move on to a more congenial posting. He enjoyed the walk to the embassy every morning and back every evening, and by keeping his ears open and by not responding to anything that he saw or heard on his walks, he began to learn much and yet was thought of by the locals as one of those foreign devils who thought that all he had to do was to speak loudly in his own language and everyone would understand him! Even the Chinese People’s Liberation Army guards who shadowed Adam’s men around the outer perimeter of the Embassy compound had no idea that his badly pronounced and usually ungrammatical Chinese was just a front and he actually fully understood every word and subtlety of expression as they spoke. On occasions he accompanied the British Ambassador to various Chinese offices for official business and again, Adam’s ears were always alert to every word he could catch. On a couple of visits to one particular office, the Chinese official with whom the Ambassador had to speak showed his disdain for the foreigners by openly making rude asides in Chinese to his subordinates, hoping to see some reaction from Adam, who simply smiled and nodded, as if he had been complimented! A few months after taking up his post, Adam started to notice small things which began to make him feel slightly uneasy. The Chinese guards became a bit more belligerent than usual; traffic police would hold up embassy transport at busy road junctions for far longer than was necessary; the embassy post came later and later in the day and sometimes was a day late; locals who were employed as cooks and cleaners just didn’t turn up for work and no explanation or replacement was offered. One day, on his regular briefing morning meeting with the Ambassador to learn of anything in the way of personnel movements or other matters that he needed to be aware of, Adam shared his concerns with him. The Ambassador too had slight misgivings, but was not overly concerned.
“They are quite volatile people sometimes”, was his response, “and almost anything could have upset them. But they’ll soon settle down again, you see.” But instead, if anything, the atmosphere grew even gloomier. Then, a week later, on a day in the Chinese calendar which Adam knew was associated with an early fourteenth century Ming dynasty merchant who had earned a reputation during a period of increased trade with the western world of outsmarting those whom he dealt with by using decidedly unethical business practices, there was a demonstration in Beijing aimed against several western business corporations, who were being very successful with their latest electronic products in the Chinese market. An office was stormed, several showrooms had their windows smashed and goods were stolen. Chinese state-controlled news media blamed it all on aggressive western marketing methods and tension increased. That same evening, as Adam walked back to his hotel, a convoy of Dongfeng military lorries and saloon cars swept past him, in the back of one of which he saw the Chinese current world chess champion. In two others were several very high ranking People’s Liberation Army officers, including the Chief of the Joint Staff, known to be a hawk, who had recently taken over from General Li Zuocheng, thought to have been a moderate. In another was a very much respected Shinto priest, Ming Jie Zhang, whom Adam recognised from a photograph and an article he had been reading in a recent copy of The People’s daily. Adam read it every morning so he could brief the Ambassador on anything of particular interest. Next morning, the Ambassador held a briefing with all his department heads, including Adam, to tell them that satellite pictures from America were showing greatly increased activity on all Chinese military bases, especially ICBM units and long range bomber airfields. Later that morning Adam escorted the Ambassador to a Government Office for a routine meeting, and, while the Ambassador was engaged, Adam waited in an ante-room, through which several officials passed. One carried a large folder with Chinese characters on the front, not in Cantonese, but in a dialect which was very seldom used except for quasi-religious purposes, which said, “Utmost secret”, “Operation Divine Retribution” and a date, just two days hence! As soon as he and the Ambassador were in their official car driving back to the embassy, Adam said what he had seen and what he feared. The Ambassador in return said that he had received intelligence that morning from another of the European Embassies in the city that something very serious was afoot and they should be prepared for the worst. Adam knew that he must return to England and to his chief immediately, to tell him what he knew. All of the usual means of communication were totally compromised of course, even if his message did actually reach London, so he had to go himself. He didn’t tell the Ambassador, who was not aware of Adam’s duel role, but immediately returned to the relative privacy of his hotel room and booked a telephone call home to his mother back in England, which of course he knew would be listened to.