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By Sarah Hapgood

They heard a gasp go up from the base-room and hurried back there. They found the others standing around, looking stunned, as they watched what appeared to be a small glass ball filled with a blue liquid - like a floating coloured marble - bobbing around the room. This strange object seemed to have a mind of its own, as it gave the impression that it was inspecting each of them in turn.

“Bloody hell”, said Joby, breaking the spell of silence “What is it?”

Bardin came to, as though out of a hypnotic trance, and put out a hand to touch it. The glass ball backed away in alarm and hovered uncertainly near the window. It was then that Bardin noticed that a light had appeared in the distant tower-like building.

“Is it communicating with them?” said Bardin.

“I dunno”, said Joby “I’ve never seen anything like it before, not even back in our time”.

The ball zoomed back towards Bardin.

“It seems to like you, Bardin”, said Hillyard.

“Edge away from it, Bardy”, said Bengo, gently pulling Bardin towards him.

“Yes alright …” Bardin began, testily.

He was forestalled by a sound from deep within the bowels of the house. A muffled dragging sound.

“Shit, we’re getting the complete works tonight”, Hillyard whispered.

“Alright, I really think it’s time we left”, said Kieran, in a soft voice, though shooting Bardin a commanding look at the same time.

Fortunately, Bardin agreed. Unfortunately Bardin picked that moment to have one of his rare moments of commonsense.

“What shall we do about the fire?” he said, pointing at the pitiful peat smoking in the grate “We can’t leave it unattended”.

“WHAT?” Bardin exploded “Have you taken leave of your senses once and for all? The bloody fire?! Let it burn the friggin’ place down for all I care!”

Ransey grabbed hold of Bengo’s jumper and hauled him from the room.

“Trust me to mis-time it”, said Bengo, miserably, when he was back in the galley half-an-hour later “You can rely on me. Pratfalls at the wrong time, drop me trousers at the wrong time”.

“Don’t beat yourself up, old love”, said Adam “These things happen”.

“Yeah, stop going on”, said Joby, somewhat more robustly “And let’s have some bleedin’ cocoa!”

“I’ll put some milk on the stove”, said Adam “So you think that strange little glass thing was some kind of sensing device?”

“The way it was moving seemed to suggest that”, said Joby “It was moving intelligently, if you know what I mean, not at random”.

“How very odd”, said Adam “The situation gets even more bizarre”.

“But we don’t know if it has any connection with the far-away tower”, said Bengo “Everybody’s assuming it does, but we’ve got no proof of that. Shouldn’t somebody go and tell Julian what’s happened? I don’t expect Bardy’s thought to do it”.

“Hillyard’s doing it”, said Joby.

“Good”, said Adam “Julian’s cabin at this time of night is always far too depraved for my peace of mind!”

Even so, he got lured in when he was on his way to bed a short while later. Julian’s cabin door was open, and he heard Hoowie say “I hope that little glass eye thing, or whatever it was, don’t come down here and spy on us”.

“So do I”, Adam couldn’t resist replying “The poor little thing would end up traumatised!”

“Are you still up?” said Julian.

“How can you stand it, Hoowie?” said Adam, batting away some cigar-smoke “It’s like a scented fog-bank in here”.

“He doesn’t mind it at all”, said Julian.

“He don’t have much choice!” said Hillyard, wandering in.

“At least open the window a little”, said Adam.

“And catch our deaths?” said Julian “Go to bed, you mad old fairy. How would you like it if I came into your cabin and started reorganising things?”

“You do when you stay with us”, said Hillyard.

It was a strange atmosphere the following morning, as if everybody was waiting for Bardin to make a momentous decision, and knowing they probably wouldn’t like it when he did. In the galley Adam, Joby and Bengo went in for much speculation whilst they made pasta together.

“I can’t see us going anywhere fast at the moment”, said Joby “We’re iced in here. And if he seriously comes out with any plans to travel overland to the tower I’ll personally shove a lighted candle up his bum!”

He jumped when Bardin burst into the room, dumped three dirty coffee-mugs on the table and marched out again.

“Thank you dear!” Adam shouted after him.

“Oh that’s Bardy for you”, Bengo groaned “Sometimes he’s not fit to be allowed in civilised company!”

“Have you got any tea on the go in here?” Kieran appeared.

“There’s always tea on the go in here”, said Joby, as though this was something to be deplored.

“Jayz, I’m having trouble keeping me trousers up”, said Kieran, pulling them back up over his non-existent hips.

“You can’t afford to be losing weight”, said Joby “What’s going on here?”

“Calm down, Joby”, said Adam “Patsy hasn’t got his old anorexia back”.

“I eat everything that’s put in front of me”, Kieran protested.

“Even when it’s not fit for human consumption”, Bengo laughed, and then caught Joby glaring stonily at him.

“Sorry”, he mumbled.

“Get on with your work”, Joby ordered.

“Patsy just burns off a lot working in the hold, don’t you, old love?” said Adam “And there’s not many calories in his vegetarian meals, that’s the trouble”.

“He could do with a good rare steak”, said Joby.

“I focking well could not!” said Kieran “Damnit Joby, I told you a long time ago I was never going to let the anorexia get a hold of me again, and I damn well meant it!”

He slapped the table with his hands at the end of this speech, and his trousers fell down.

“It’s normally me that’d happen to!” said Bengo.

“I was hoping I’d get to see your knickers at some point”, said Joby.

He walked round the table, gathered Kieran in his arms, and kissed him full on the lips.

“Thank heavens for that”, said Adam “I was beginning to wonder if we were back in Henang, the way you two were squabbling! Bengo, would you like to take some tea in for Bardin?”

“Not really”, said Bengo, in dismay “Do have to? Can’t I stay in here with you?”

“Look I’m relying on you to find out what’s gnawing at Bardin at the moment”, said Adam “He’s hatching something, and I want to know what it is, and you’re the best one to find out”.

“I’m not sure about that”, said Bengo, miserably dragging himself down from his stool.

He found Bardin in their cabin, biting his nails. Which wasn’t a reassuring sign. Bengo bluntly came out and told him what Adam had said.

“Can’t they let it drop?” Bardin exclaimed “No I am not threatening to go along the ice road to the tower. Not really. Yes I am curious, but a trip like that needs careful thought”.

“Oh”, said Bengo.

“I suppose everybody thinks I’m not capable of careful thought!” said Bardin.

“Probably”, said Bengo “Well you have to admit you can be quite rash sometimes, Bardy”.

“Would I actually get away with being rash this time?” Bardin barked.

“No”, said Bengo “We’d lock you in the hold!”

Bardin clearly brooded on the ice road and the tower over the next few weeks though. They only went up to the house in daylight hours (mainly to exercise some of the animals), but at those times he could be found standing at the back of the building, staring out thoughtfully.

The winter seemed interminable. They were completely ice-bound for what seemed like an eternity. There was a substantial period of time where they saw no daylight at all. Sometimes it felt as though the world had come to an end.

“Sometimes I think it bleedin’ well has!” said Joby, drinking whisky on the sofa in his cabin “Come to an end I mean. How would we know? I can’t remember the last time we got anything on the wireless”.

“Mm”, said Kieran “There’s no one left except u, the Cyanide Sisters, the demons at the old power station, and the nutcase with the roving glass eye at the tower!”

“Yeah thanks Kiel, that ent exactly helping!” said Joby.

“Sorry”, said Kieran “I’d like to do a blessing of the house, but I know what you think of me blessings”.

“I don’t object”, said Joby “I’m just nervous about you exposing yourself to whatever’s up there”.

“I’ll take Umbert up with me as spiritual back-up”, said Kieran “And only do it in daylight hours, and whatever else you suggest. You said yourself, only the other day, that if we could rid that place of its odd atmosphere then it would be a good place for us to put down roots”.

“Me and my big mouth”, said Joby.

“Hillyard wants to get a still going up there”, said Kieran.

“How many times have we heard that one?” said Joby “He’ll more ’en likely blow himself up in the process!”

“I think we’ve got to resign ourselves to the fact that we’re going to be here for a while”, said Kieran.

“I don’t mind being here for the summer”, said Joby “As long as we can move on before we get frozen in again next winter”.

Bardin could be heard shouting at some longsuffering minion out in the corridor.

“When you’re doing this blessing”, said Joby “Could you do a ritual sacrifice of a clown at the same time?!”

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