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They found a halting place just as the first snows of the winter came on. It was near what they presumed was an old power station, which although an ugly, lakeside monstrosity, did give them some cover as they anchored in the lea of it. There was (so far) no sign of the Sisters on this side of the lake, and for a few days they concerned themselves largely with establishing themselves and getting their bearings. The temperatures plummeted literally overnight, and the ground in the area became rock-hard.
There was speculation about how close to Christmas it might be, and this brought on nostalgic memories of past Christmasses, most particularly the one they had spent at the Town House in Toondor Lanpin. Distance lends enchantment, and it was easy to forget that they had had problems then too (illness, Codlik, strange happenings in the town, Angel turning up), and to remember only the family atmosphere.
“I doubt we can ever live somewhere like that again”, said Adam, in the galley.
“What? In a house, like a normal human beings?” said Joby.
“Frankly yes”, said Adam “We’ve moved on too far for all that. The only way we could do that is somewhere like the Quarantine House on the ’New Continent’”.
“That gloomy old pile?” said Joby “You’ll be suggesting The Big House next! I’d rather stay here”.
“Good, because it looks like that’s what we’re going to be doing”, said Adam.
Lonts burst into the room, trailed by Toppy.
“We’re going to make some paper chains for Christmas decorations”, Lonts boomed.
“Out of what?” said Joby, suspiciously.
“Oh don’t be silly, Joby”, said Adam “There’s plenty of old paper lying around in the hold. I think it’s a good idea, Lo-Lo”.
“We’ll put some up in your cabin, Joby”, said Lonts “Make it look really festive”.
“It’ll take more ’en paper chains to make our cabin look festive”, said Joby.
“Particularly with your cheerful little face in it”, said Adam.
“I was thinking of Kieran and his I-Don’t-Believe-In-Comfort attitude”, said Joby “Comfort is for atheists probably. It’s like living with one of those old monks who slept on beds of nails!”
“Kieran won’t object to the decorations will he?” said Toppy, concerned.
“Don’t care whether he objects or not”, said Joby “He can put up with it”.
Lonts and Toppy spent the rest of the day making ropes of paper chains out of any scraps of old paper they could find, helped on and off in a lethargic fashion by Tamaz. They took some in to decorate Joby and Kieran’s cabin before breakfast the next morning.
“Not there”, said Joby “That’s where the lamp goes. That’d be a bleedin’ fire hazard”.
“What if we festooned it along the side of your bunk?” said Toppy.
“Not there either”, said Joby “I’ll catch me foot init getting in and out of bed. Just hang some around the ceiling … if you must”.
“And then it could fall down in the night and give you a nasty scare”, said Kieran, teasingly.
“That was scarcely a constructive remark”, said Joby.
“Hey-up”, said Hillyard, from the doorway “Any idea what mood Bardin’s in today?”
“Well Bardin doesn’t really have good moods and bad moods”, said Kieran “Just some days he’s less snappy than others”.
“Only me and Ranz want to go and see if we can get into that old power-station or whatever it is”, said Hillyard “We’ve spoken to Mieps and she’s up for it. I wondered if he was going to raise any objection”.
“I doubt it”, said Kieran “Bardin’s such a nosy devil, I can’t believe he’s gong to object”.
“And if he does”, said Joby “We’ll leave him behind”.
In the end it was decided that Hillyard, Ransey, Mieps, Joby, Kieran, Bardin and Bengo were to be the group who went over to the old power station. Joby expressed surprise that Adam was letting both him AND Bengo go over.
“I shall sit by the stove and have a few quiet moments to myself”, Adam explained “Go knows I get precious few. And when you get back from that ugly-looking place you might appreciate your own home a bit more”.
“I do appreciate it!” said Joby “When people aren’t having a go at me in it!”
“What the hell is it?” said Bardin, standing of the edge of what appeared to be a sunken trough, and peering down into its black, murky depths “It seems to be filled with some kind of black slime”.
“Bardin, stand farther back from it”, said Ransey.
“Yes Bardin”, said Bengo, yanking him back by the sleeve of his duffel-coat.
“You’re the damn clumsy one not me”, said Bardin.
“Everybody, stand back from it”, Ransey ordered.
They were all standing in the central foyer of the “power station”. It was cavernous, with a pitched roof, stretching a couple of floors above them. The room was constructed out of slabs of concrete. Down the centre of it ran a deeply-dug pit filled with a gelatinous black liquid. They had had no trouble getting into the building, as the big main double doors weren’t secured in any way. When they spoke their voices echoed around the concrete cavern.
“I don’t like this place at all”, said Joby “It’s giving me really bad vibes”.
“Yeah well it’s not exactly a little home-from-home is it”, said Hillyard “I don’t think we’ll be moving in here somehow”.
“Can you sense anything, Kieran?” asked Ransey.
“Only that it’s not good”, said Kieran, who had been quiet since entering the building “But I’m trying not to let me imagination run away with me”.
For once, Ransey looked as though he’d quite like Kieran to let his imagination run wild. They all moved cautiously down the room. Suddenly a huge concrete slab in the back wall slid open, revealing a pitch-black space beyond. Nothing came out to greet them though. There was no sound, and nothing to see, beyond this impenetrable blackness.
“I don’t think we should go any further”, said Mieps.
Bardin glanced at Bengo, who was looking drained of all colour.
“I agree”, said Bardin “Let’s go back to the ship”.
“Whatever that place is it’s pretty bad”, said Kieran, when they had reached the main deck “But this could work in our favour”.
“How?” said Joby.
“It might keep other people away from the area”, said Kieran “We might be left alone here”.
“Yeah, with that place next door!” said Joby.
“We’ll have it under observation”, said Ransey “Well stay here, but no chances will be taken”.
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