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Joby woke up and felt awful. Heavy drinking at lunchtime is one of those things which feels like a good idea at the time, but you soon live to regret it. He sat up on the camp-bed and peered blearily out of the entrance of the cave. They had been fortunate in finding a handful of caves at one of the little lakeside beaches. With their usual resourcefulness the Indigo-ites had quickly appropriated these as a sort of quirky annexe to the galleon. The plan was that if the contingent from Lebicca came out looking for them they could (with great reluctance) abandon the galleon and burrow deep into the caves.
“I’ve made you some coffee”, Adam’s normally soft voice seemed to ring unnaturally loudly in Joby’s ear.
“Whasser time?” said Joby.
“About 6 o’clock”, said Adam.
“In the evening?” said Joby.
“One presumes so”, said Adam, facetiously.
“Where’s Kieran?” Joby barked.
“Helping Hillyard to feed the horses”, said Adam.
“Oh don’t look at me like that!” Joby groaned.
“Well I am a trifle concerned about you, old love. I don’t like to see you slipping into this heavy drinking during the day. It won’t really help you to cope you know. Take it from an old fool who knows”.
“I can’t help it. It’s the only thing that calms me down. Stops me getting agitated”.
“Yes I remember saying that as well”, said Adam, kneeling on the gritty floor of the cave “You and I have been with Patsy right from the very beginning. You know ads well as I that this is far from the first time that he’s faced danger”.
“Yeah, and as usual he can’t seem to grasp the seriousness of it!” Joby exclaimed “He’s like the clowns, he thinks he can blag his way out of anything!”
“It’s interesting isn’t it?” said Adam “After everything that has ever happened to us he still can’t seem to realise just how evil some people can be”.
“No, that’s left to us to have that privilege”, said Joby, bitterly.
“Joby”, said Adam “I need your support, old love. I really do. I can’t cope if you go off the rails on top of everything else“.
“Sorry, Ad”, said Joby “I hadn’t realised how much I was drinking”.
“I see I shall just have to keep a close watch on you”, Adam smiled “I rather think Julian would like to do that, but Hoowie would get jealous”.
“Silly sod”, said Joby, but at least he laughed at it “How far back do you think these caves go?”
“Hopefully a very long way”, said Adam “If needs be”.
Early the following morning Ransey was taking a shower up on deck, which was a simple matter of chucking a couple of buckets of cold water over himself. Whilst he was thus occupied, Bengo tried on his spectacles.
“Gee, your eyes are bad, Ransey!” he exclaimed.
“I’m aware of that”, said Ransey.
“I wonder if they make me look intelligent”, said Bengo, peering around him.
“They make you look like a gonk”, said Hoowie, who was still suffering from periodic fits of sulkiness.
Bengo peered up at the rocks above the caves, and noticed 3 people standing at the very top. For one bizarre moment he thought Ransey’s glasses had turned into magic spectacles. He took them off and looked again. The people were still standing there. With his own eyesight he could see that they had a monkish appearance, wearing long flowing robes, like the ghosts Kieran had once seen over at the old monastery.
“But nobody else saw these people?” said Bardin, when Bengo ran him to earth at the end of the dining-room table.
“I know, Bardy”, said Bengo, feeling more and more flustered under his partner’s interrogatory tone “That’s why I think they were ghosts, like the ones Kieran saw. I turned away for just one moment, to speak to Ransey,, and when I looked back again, they had disappeared“.
“And they gestured at you, you say?” said Bardin.
“Yes, it was sort of as though they were telling us to move away”, said Bengo.
“I think he’s telling the truth”, said Rumble.
“Of course I’m telling the truth!” Bengo exploded “I don’t lie1 I’m no good at it!”
“OK calm down”, said Bardin “Well there’s not much we can do abut it at the moment, except keep an eye out for them in the future”.
Bengo was most miffed about what he regarded as Rumble’s extraordinary high-handedness. He had acted like Bardin’s partner, his second-in-command, and that was intolerable to Bengo. He didn’t have much time to linger over his latest sense of grievance though, as Ransey announced that a storm seemed to be closing in on them. Over the next few hours the gathering clouds brought on gusts of wind and swirling rain.
Bardin didn’t like the look of it at all, and said that it would be a good idea if they moved the animals and their most essential belongings over to the caves.
“I don’t get it”, Hillyard complained to Adam “First he turns the ship into a giant birds’ nest, and now we have to abandon it! We’ve been through storms before and not abandoned ship. What’s he playing at?”
“Bardin wouldn’t order something like this merely on a whim, old love”, said Adam “Ransey thinks this storm could be a biggy. The caves do seem to be the safest place of refuge for the time being”.
Hillyard had to eat his words. Bardin’s plans turned out to show great foresight. The gathering storm turned out to be a hurricane, which raged for 48 hours bringing torrential rain in its wake. The caves weren’t the most cheerful or comfortable of places to sit it out, but they were the safest.
When the wind slowly faded, they were still left with the torrential rain. It was impossible to see or hear anything much with that going on, but occasionally they thought they could hear a strange sort of roaring noise in the far distance. It sounded vaguely like a wild animal, but they couldn’t even be certain of this for sure.
They occupied themselves (aside from eating, sleeping and tending the animals and the fires) by speculating. Speculating what was happening in Lebicca, and - more worryingly - what was happening on the island.
“The fact is”, said Joby, who was rolled up in a blanket for warmth “We can’t stay here forever, at some point we have to decide where we go next”.
“We’re a bit snookered at the moment though”, said Hillyard “We can’t sail back past the island until we can be sure the coast is clear, and yet we have no idea what’s going on there”.
“We have to rely on the Governor to tell us”, said Adam.
“That’s if he’ll be able to”, said Joby, darkly.
“Oh this is dreadful stuff”, said Adam, stirring the stew in despair “I wouldn’t serve it to the dogs!”
“It’s not that bad”, said Joby, snatching the wooden spoon from him “Just a bit congealed that’s all, needs a good stir”.
“What on earth has got into you this morning?” said Adam “You’re being all positive. Last night we were getting your usual prognostications of doom!”
“I spose I’m getting used to living here that‘s all”, said Joby “It’s starting to feel homely”.
“The caves are?” said Adam, looking around him in disbelief.
“They’re safe”, said Joby “Any Lebicca government inspectors come looking for us we can have a shoot-out with ’em, scare them off … or kill ’em”.
“I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that!” said Adam, feeling quite shaken by Joby’s ruthlessness, although he had witnessed it before.
“Ad”, said Hillyard “The rain’s stopped for a moment. Me, Ransey and Umbert are going to go over and inspect the ship”.
“Thought we’d see if we can pick up any news on the wireless set too”, said Ransey.
“Excellent idea”, said Adam.
“Hillyard!” Ransey hollered from the ship’s dining-room “We’re picking up something!”
“Only in bits”, said Umbert, who was sharing the headset with Ransey “There’s been a massive storm, only we can’t figure out where the worst of it has been”.
There were frustrating snippets of news, odd words here and there. “Nearly a 1000 people killed … survivors clinging to rooftops … cataclysmic …”
And then it went dead again.
“We’ll keep trying”, said Ransey “Come back here at regular intervals. We clearly got the tail-end here of something much bigger and more devastating”.
“This is like being on a bleedin’ Easter egg hunt”, said Joby, as he and Bengo prowled around at the back of the caves, looking for eggs by torchlight.
“Fortunately the hens don’t usually roam very far”, said Bengo.
He paused by a thick stalagmite and ran a hand approvingly round it.
“Who does this remind you of?” he giggled.
“Not Kieran that’s for sure!” said Joby.
“I hope I don’t go and tread on an egg by mistake”, said Bengo “It’ll give Bardy yet another excuse to have a go at me”.
“What’s he getting his knickers in a twist about now?” said Joby.
“I think he’s not sure what to do next“, said Bengo “He’s desperate to know what’s going on on the island, but he knows if we mis-cue it and go over there at the wrong time it could be disastrous”.
“We’ve just gotta sit tight I spose”, said Joby “I know it’s not our style, but we don’t seem to have much choice”.
Bengo gave a start.
“Oh God”, he said “There are bats in this cave, I can hear them moving about”.
“We’re disturbing ‘em that’s why”, said Joby.
“Not as much as they’re disturbing me!” said Bengo.
He gave another start when Bardin loomed up out of the gloom.
“What’s the matter with you?” he barked at Bengo.
“Oh for God’s sake, Bardy! Sometimes I wonder why you don’t just jump up out of a trapdoor in a puff of smoke and have done with it!”
“Try and get a grip on yourself”, said Bardin, sternly “You’re no good to me keep jumping out of your skin every 5 minutes! I’ve come to tell you that the others are back from the ship”.
“Did they pick up anything on the wireless?” said Joby.
“There’s been some huge storm”, said Bardin “We must have been on the tail-end of it here. It’s caused a helluva lot of destruction, hundreds of people dead”.
“Oh no”, said Bengo “Whereabouts?”
“That’s just the trouble, we don’t know”, said Bardin “The bulletins are quite garbled but it must be in this part of the world”.
“I hope it’s not the Village of Stairs”, said Bengo.
“Well it might be”, Bardin sighed “I think we should go and make some tea”.
At twilight Bengo wandered out to one of the rocky entrances to the cave, and found Bardin standing there in the watery gloom, with a lighted cigarillo in his hand.
“Bardy”, Bengo exclaimed “What’s going on? You’ve never smoked!”
“No, and I don’t think I’ll start either”, said Bardin “It tastes disgusting. Julian gave it me, he thought it might help to calm me down and concentrate. I might as well give the rest of it back to him though”.
He put it out carefully and put the remains in his pocket.
“There’s more rain coming in”, said Bengo, looking up apprehensively at the darkening skies.
“I’m worried about the island”, said Bardin “I’ve got a feeling in my bones something isn’t right. I think some of us should take the skiff and go on a discreet patrol. If we leave Kieran at home we should be able to pull it off. Pretend we’re nomadic lobster fishermen or something”.
“Am I coming with you?” said Bengo, who was still annoyed at what he saw as Rumble’s arrogance earlier.
“Yes”, said Bardin.
That one simple word filled Bengo with joy. Toppy bustled out to them, bristling with self-importance.
“I’ve set your bed-roll out Captain”, he said.
“Oh thanks”, said Bardin “Do Bengo’s as well”.
Toppy looked rather miffed at this, but it was ingrained in his nature to obey orders. He went off with the air of a disgruntled butler who had been asked to scrub out the dog-kennel.
“We might have to take him with us too”, said Bardin.
“What for?” said Bengo, crossly “In case we need some ironing doing?!”
“He’s the second-best marksman we’ve got, after Ransey”, said Bardin “We might need to take both of them … just in case”.
“Well why don’t we take Tamaz” said Bengo “With his power …”
“I’m leaving Tamaz here”, said Bardin “To guard the cave. Any government inspectors who come snooping around here might find they get more than they bargained for!”
The skiff party set off at daybreak the following morning. Bardin had elected to take Bengo, Ransey, Hillyard, Toppy and Mieps with him. He would have liked to have taken Julian as well, but he didn’t want to have any argy-bargy about taking Hoowie.
“I wish you were coming though”, he said to Joby, as they parted on the rocks “You’d be a calming influence, but I think it’s best you stay here and keep an eye on Kieran”.
“Not to mention Tamaz”, said Joby, and he kissed Bardin on the mouth.
“Toppy goes but I don’t”, Hoowie shouted from nearby.
“Shut up!” said Bardin.
When he and Bengo got down to the skiff he muttered to his partner: “remind me to whip his arse as soon as we get home”. Bengo giggled in reply. He felt as though he was waiting in the wings just before a big show. The same butterflies in the stomach, the same urgent prayer that nothing disastrous would happen.
The first thing they noticed as they neared the island was the eerie silence everywhere. There was simply no sound of anything, not even the birds. The next thing they noticed were the remains of a large air-buggy. It had been broken clean in half. One half was still on land, the other was lying partially submerged in the lake.
Bengo and Hillyard, who had been doing the bulk of the rowing, paused in their labours to look at it in wonderment.
“Alright”, said Bardin “Let’s get on the island and see what’s what”.
The storm had wrecked disastrous havoc on the island. Roofs had been torn off, one building had had one wall completely ripped away leaving the inside exposed, like a doll’s house with its front open. Some of lower-lying houses had clearly been flooded out. But more startling than anything else was the fact that there was no one about.
“We’ll head up to the Governor’s House”, said Bardin “As we go, shout out, in case there’s anybody about to hear us”.
The path they were on was covered in some sort of pond algae.
“Stinks to high heaven”, said Ransey, stooping down to touch it.
At the Governor’s House the main door had been broken in from the outside. In the hallway an ornamental dress sword was lying broken in half. They had a terrible fear that the Governor had probably tried (ineffectually) to defend himself with it. There were dried bloodstains on the hilt.
The house was searched from top to bottom, including the cellar which was cut into the rock of the island. There was no sign of anyone. In the Governor’s library he had left a couple of scrapbooks on a side table.
“We’ll take these”, said Ransey “You never know , they might tell us something useful. We can return them to him. When we see him. I’m sure he’ll understand”.
As they prepared to leave the house, Bardin pinned a notice to the wall of the living-room.
‘WE WILL BE RETURNING IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE. IF THERE IS ANYONE HERE AND YOU NEED OUR HELP, LEAVE A MESSAGE HERE’.
“We should all have gone!” Hoowie complained, kicking a boulder in frustration “We can’t stay holed up in a cave for the rest of eternity!”
“Do stop kicking the furniture, old love”, said Adam.
“Yeah, it’s in a ropey enough state as it is”, said Joby “And stop talking rubbish. Us all going to the island in the galleon would be like putting all our eggs in one basket”.
Julian came into the cave from outside, where he had been smoking.
“Jules”, said Adam “Could you take Hoowie into another part of the caves dear, and keep him calmed down?”
“Come along, you”, said Julian, twisting Hoowie’s arm behind his back and preparing to frogmarch him away.
Tamaz let out a manic yodelling and ran into the caves.
“The skiff’s in sight!” he shouted.
Everyone else dropped what they were doing, and ran out o the rocks at the entrance to the cave. As the skiff slowly approached in the gathering gloom of the evening, some of them waded into the water as far as they could go.
“Thank God you’re back”, said Hoowie, embracing Bengo as soon as he had made landfall.
“Look at my hands”, said Bengo, showing the blisters he had got rowing.
“Don’t worry”, said Adam “Finia will sort that out for you”.
“Bardy’s been magnificent today”, said Bengo, as he, Hoowie and Finia went into the cave “I’m so proud of him”.
“Yeah never mind all that”, said Hoowie “What’s happened on the island?”
“Is it badly damaged?” said Finia.
“Devastation”, said Bengo,, as Finia began to massage his hands with cream “Total devastation. And everybody’s disappeared. It’s like the City on ’The New Continent’ all over again”.
“But how?” said Hoowie “A storm wouldn’t kill everyone surely?”
“If the storm had killed them we would have seen bodies”, said Bengo “But there was nothing. They’ve gone somewhere, or been taken somewhere. God knows what’s happened!”
Everyone waited with bated breath to hear what Bardin’s plans were. All he said though was that they would re-inspect the island in a couple of days time and then take it from there.
“I know what’s up with him”, said Julian, as he talked with Ransey at one of the entrances to the caves later that evening “He’s go t it into his head that we’re abandoning them, even though there’s no one left there to abandon”.
“Most of the time I admire Bardin”, said Ransey “I admire his show-must-go-on attitude. But just occasionally he starts to act like Kieran, thinks he’s got to save people”.
“Well he’s going to have to snap out of it soon”, said Julian “Or we’ll have to take the law into our own hands”.
“Whoah!” said Ransey “I’m not being party to a mutiny” [particularly if it means reinstating you as Captain, thought].
“Who said anything about mutinies?” said Julian “All I meant was that after the next inspection of the island, and if he still can’t make his mind up, we make it up for him. We switch the engines on and just leave”.
“Can you imagine the fuss he’ll make?” said Ransey.
“A fleeting fuss”, said Julian, with a confidence that Ransey certainly didn’t share.
“There’s no one here, Bardy”, said Bengo, as gently as he could “We’ve searched all over the island again, and there’s no one left here”.
Bardin was staring fixedly at the notice he had left on the wall. The space he had left at the bottom of the page remained empty. Bengo could feel his partner’s acute disappointment.
“I don’t understand”, said Bardin, sorrowfully.
“Bardy”, said Bengo “We have to leave the area. The others are getting restless”.
“I see”, said Bardin.
“I overheard Julian and Ransey talking this morning”, said Bengo “And what they say is right. Something, God knows what, severed that Lebiccan air-buggy completely in half. And whatever did that could do the same to the galleon”.
“So where do we go then?” said Bardin “Have they any ideas?”
“Back the way we came”, said Bengo “Eve if it means we have to see the Fat Controller again!”
Bardin looked punch-drunk, all the stuffing knocked out of him. Bengo put his arm around him and gently, but firmly, led him out of the Governor’s House.
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