tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 91

No Future Ch. 91

bybradley_stoke©

XCI
War
Gabrielle
2041


Like most men—even bisexual men—Ghazi wasn't someone who'd willingly display his true emotions, especially not those such as sorrow, misery and distress. This time, however, Gabrielle was in a position she'd never been in before and one for which she was not remotely suited and that was to provide comfort to a man who'd lost his emotional self-control.

"Amritsar. Jalandhar. Jaipur," Ghazi moaned. "These are places I've known and visited. My sister lives—or rather lived—in Amritsar. And now they've gone. Incinerated. Annihilated. Nothing left but radioactive waste."

And then he released yet more tears on a pillow already damp with proof od his grief and despair.

Gabrielle placed a comforting hand on his bare back, but recognised the need for restraint. Ghazi was no longer in the mood for sex that was his original excuse for seeking her company. What he wanted from her was nothing more than sympathetic companionship which somehow meant more to him when it came from a woman who wasn't Indian or Pakistani, who wasn't Muslim or Hindu, but who understood at least something about what such differences in culture and religion might mean.

It wouldn't do for Gabrielle to remind Ghazi that Ajit, her senior farm manager, was also in a state of abject despair although his concerns were more for the people of Rawalpindi, Gujranwala and Lahore. It wouldn't do to bring up the subject that her long-term policy of recruiting from the dispossessed of the Indian subcontinent had now left her business functioning at rather less than half its normal capacity at a time of the year when harvests needed to be collected and mid-year tax accounts collated.

Gabrielle was as distressed as anyone by the news film that showed only too vividly what happened when nuclear warheads were used in anger rather than for show. Although she was awed by the magnificent beauty of the unfolding mushroom clouds as they rose above the cities of the Punjab, the Rajasthan and Kashmir, she was uncomfortably aware that the same awe-inspiring splendour consisted in part of the incinerated ruins of human lives, centuries of history and the hopes and dreams of the abruptly deceased.

Gabrielle had been so sure over the last few weeks that this was a catastrophe that would never happen. Surely, the very purpose of nuclear weapons was to make the prospect of all-out war inconceivable. Only the very stupid or the psychotically insane would contemplate actually unleashing such formidable weapons. The news pundits had been vying with one another to predict the moment of climb-down, capitulation and compromise. In the meantime, people who were unsure where Pakistan was in relation to India had now become familiar with the names of places and politicians they couldn't hope to spell correctly. Nobody had expected the nations of the relatively prosperous Indian subcontinent to wreck everything that had been achieved in nearly a century of independence.

One consequence of India's growing self-confidence was that the European, American or Oriental powers no longer had the influence to restrain the sparring nations. After all, India was a member of the Group of Five leading Economic Powers including China, America, Japan and the European Union. No one, including the Permanent Members of the United Nations, had the means to persuade India to take a more temperate stance with regards to its equally obdurate neighbour.

As the crescendo of retaliation and counter-retaliation became inexorably more serious over the passing week, Gabrielle had already forgotten what it was that either India or Pakistan had originally been demanding of the other. The conflict had taken on its own remorseless logic and any kind of compromise had become ever more unlikely. The mood progressed from sound and fury that would eventually extinguish itself to alarm and resignation about the near-certainty of a suicidal exchange of nuclear warheads. The predictions became less about which nation would stand back first as to which one would be so foolish as to be first to press the red button.

There was an uneasy stand-off as each day went by and yet another prediction of imminent disaster was confounded by an absence of nuclear conflagration, while at the same time the bombardment by more conventional but still highly destructive weapons continued to rain on the cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Srinagar and Islamabad. Armies were gathered at the borders. Aircraft carriers were floating on the seas around Karachi and Ahmedabad. Armed drones were flying over the mountains, plains and forests. The rhetoric became ever more uncompromising.

And then—when Gabrielle got so used to the unfolding crisis that she'd forgotten what it was like to live in a time when imminent nuclear war was nothing more than a theoretical scenario—there came the first explosion of a nuclear device by one lethally armed nation on another in all human history. Those punters who'd taken the grim bet at the bookmakers that it would be India who'd be the more lunatic of the two belligerent nations were well-rewarded. The response as the city of Rawalpindi dissolved into nuclear heat and radioactive dust was predictable. Pakistan's reply was cautious in terms of the republic's military capability but it was devastating to the citizens of Jaipur who might have assumed that their city's survival was guaranteed by its sublime beauty and historical significance. But all such considerations and many others became meaningless as the day went on and more and more of the subcontinent's magnificence was reduced to nuclear waste whose legacy was likely to last longer in terms of lethal half-lives than the histories of either Islam or Hinduism.

Normal life in Britain or, indeed, in every country in the world was suspended while every few minutes came rumours and later confirmation of another nuclear explosion and then yet another and not long after, still another. If the Second World War had been covered in such blow-by-blow detail, then it could scarcely have been more compelling television news. Gabrielle was unable to concentrate on any one thing for more than a moment until her attention was drawn towards the mobile feed on her phone or the high-definition images on the television. Although the news presentation, even on Fox News UK, was coherent and informative, Gabrielle couldn't retain more than a staccato pattern in her head as atrocity followed by catastrophe followed by humanitarian crisis. There was too much to assimilate. It was far too apocalyptic in its scale and implications for her to put it into any kind of context.

This was just too much news for one day.

All these ancient cities whose history was more venerable than most European civilisations; all those lives lost in the most appalling suffering; all those mushroom clouds sprouting over the Punjab, Gujarat and the Kashmir: all of this was far far too much for Gabrielle to take in. She preferred her life-defining epic international events to happen at a more readily comprehensible pace. Barely had she grasped that Rawalpindi was now a city that more resembled the caldera of an active volcano than a home for millions of Pakistanis, than she had to assimilate the news that the desert surrounding Jaipur was now more hospitable than the city itself.

"This isn't right," Ghazi moaned. "It's not right at all."

Gabrielle could only agree, but what else could she do?

She was also aware that unlike most wars in the last century, she and other British citizens couldn't just view a war between India and Pakistan as just another regrettable foreign conflict which, even if British soldiers were involved, was mostly just another televisual diversion.

This was a war whose radioactive pollution would be carried across the globe by the prevailing winds and where—although those neighbouring countries unfortunate enough to be in the path would be the ones to suffer the most from the fallout—very soon there would be nowhere on the planet that wouldn't see a lethal increase in cancer and other radioactive ailments. And there was also scientific speculation that this would lead to an unusually cold winter as a result of all the Punjabi dust and Kashmiri soil ejected in tiny particles into the planet's outer atmosphere and then smeared evenly over every single square kilometre of the planet.

Radiation and bad weather was indiscriminate and random. It was the chill wind of post-conflict readjustment that Gabrielle dreaded most. After all, her most loyal lover, her most senior managers and the greatest proportion of her employees all came from the blighted regions that would now for the rest of her life be associated with a single devastating event. No one from now on could contemplate Jaipur, Lahore or Srinagar without reflecting on its demise, any more than they could Hiroshima, Dresden or the World Trade Center.

It was more than lives lost. It was a permanent scar on human history.

How would Gabrielle's agricultural business survive this crisis? Would her staff work harder given that they no longer had a home in the East to which they could return? Or would they be so despondent that nothing useful could be done? How long would it take Ghazi to recover from his despair? This was itself indicative of the intermittent depression he'd suffered from ever since the day he'd been badly beaten up in Oxford

"Do you want me to turn the TV off?" Gabrielle suggested as Ghazi's gaze was drawn to the image replayed over and over again as the dust and debris of the once little known city of Jalandhar ascended into the brilliant blue sky. "Isn't this all a bit too much, don't you think?"

"It's certainly too much," Ghazi admitted as his tear-stained face reluctantly dragged its gaze away from the huge flat screen that dominated the living room wall. "It's more than too much. It's a lifetime's worth of too much. But I fear that if I don't watch what's happening I'll miss something and that will be the something that I'll forever regret not seeing..."

"Like what?"

"Like the bombing of New Delhi," suggested Ghazi. "Like the end of Indian democracy. Like an atrocity that will somehow make even the destruction of Jaipur seem like a footnote. I don't know. This is history. And, what's worse, it's my history."

Gabrielle resisted the temptation of reminding Ghazi of how many generations it had been since anyone in his family had lived in India or anywhere outside of Europe and America. But she couldn't just sit here and watch Ghazi weep over the unfolding tragedy, however naked he was,

"I'll phone Ajit," she said. "I'll find out how he is."

Ghazi nodded. "You do that," he said. "Tell him that I feel his pain, even if he is Pakistani."

"I appreciate your call," said Ajit when he picked up the phone. "My wife is overwhelmed by grief. The boys don't really understand what's going on, but they can't be dragged away from the television."

"Is there anything I can do?" Gabrielle asked.

"Nothing," said Ajit, and then thinking better of it: "My wife... She needs company. Many of her relatives in Pakistan, you understand. There may be funerals. I just don't know..."

Gabrielle inwardly groaned but she knew what she needed to say. "These are special circumstances. You can take as much time off work as you feel you need to..."

"But the farm..." Ajit protested half-heartedly.

"Don't worry about that," said Gabrielle. "We might just have to write off the harvest this year. Especially given the likelihood of radioactive dust..."

"It will affect all farmers in Britain equally," said Ajit.

Gabrielle appreciated Ajit's comforting words, but she knew as Ajit also did that with a workforce absent in mourning, radioactive dust falling from the sky and the likelihood of an unusually cold winter, the immediate commercial prospects could not be especially good.

"Whatever happens to me and my business is as nothing compared to what's happened over in your home country," she said diplomatically.

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