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“Will you look at that!” said Hillyard, up on the front deck “That’s a sight to gladden the heart as much as Bardin’s legs”.
The river had widened out into an enormous lake, bordered with lush forests, and peppered with waterfalls. It was a stunning sight to behold.
“He’s suggested we anchor in the middle here for the rest of the day”, said Ransey “Get our bearings of the locals, and take it all in”.
“So much for all that gloomy nonsense that we would be stuck on another interminable river”, Adam was saying down in the galley.
“Oh come off it”, said Joby “You were worrying about that as much as the rest of us. Are you alright?”
“Yes, just a bit tired that’s all”, said Adam “I haven’t been sleeping well lately. Plagued by nightmares”.
“Then go and have a kip”, said Joby “I’ll bring you some lunch later. Oh don’t start bellyaching, the place ent gonna fall apart if you’re not in it for a few hours. You’d be no damn use if you suddenly became ill. You wouldn’t be able to wallop Bardin for a start, and that’d put the mockers on everything”.
“Did you manage to get some sleep after all?” sadi Julian, sitting astride a chair in the saloon.
“A bit”, said Adam, from the communal bed “Enough to make a difference anyway. Doctor Joby basically told me I would be useless to everyone if I didn’t”.
“Hah”, Julian laughed “I can imagine Joby as a doctor. He would have that dour bedside manner I always associate with them”.
“I think we all need some TLC at the moment”, said Adam “How’s Hoowie, after his little meltdown yesterday?”
“He’s alright”, said Julian “Still continuing in his fruitless quest to get taken seriously by Bardin, who still refuses to recognise any of his finer qualities”.
“Well”, said Adam “I do try and tell him sometimes that Hoowie’s had a stunning effect on you. You don’t have that insufferably arrogant swagger anymore. I wanted to constantly apologise to people for you”.
“Was I that bad?”
“Awful. You used to march through places with your hands in your pockets as though you had contempt for everyone”.
“Different world”, said Julian “Perhaps I’m also just more relaxed. I can lounge around here and just be Father Superior. Bardin does all the hard work of running the pace”.
“It’s a good use of all that surplus energy of his”, said Adam “I don’t know what he’d do if he wasn’t marching round the place. I find it impossible to imagine anyone else as Captain”.
Joby came into the room, carrying a tray. He placed it down on Adam’s lap.
“What is it?” said Adam, suspiciously.
“Peanut butter souffle”, said Joby “Don’t look at it like that! If you don’t want it, Lonts’ll have it. He can’t get enough of it”.
A tranquil night was spent in the middle of the lake, although the night-watch reported that they felt as if they were being observed from amongst the trees on the shore.
“Intense silence”, Rumble said to Bardin “Could’ve heard a pin drop”.
“Hm, the whole area’s like that”, said Bardin “I’d love to know how many were left in the world at large. I guess it’s going to be a while before we can figure that one out. We know there’s someone still at large in the distance. We heard them”.
“God knows who or what they are though”, said Rumble.
“It’s a sore temptation to stay here for a while”, said Bardin, with a heavy sigh “But I suppose that wouldn’t get on with taking stock of the world”.
Even so, they sailed slowly up the lake in a Northerly direction. Anyone on deck was ordered to keep a sharp eye out for any sign of life whatsoever on the shore.
Below deck, Bardin wandered along the length of the ship until he reached Kieran’s cabin. He found him sitting on the sofa, with a book unopened on his lap, staring into space.
“Can I come in?” Bardin asked “Or are you contemplating?”
“No, come in”, said Kieran “I was feeling a bit lonely anyway”.
“I’m amazed anyone can feel lonely on this ship”, said Bardin “Though I guess it’s one of those sort of afternoons. You can feel the tension from the surrounding area topside. It’s almost electric”.
Kieran got up to pour them both some whisky.
“It’s one of the spooky areas”, he said “Which seem empty, but you feel as if you’re being watched by a thousand eyes”.
“That’s exactly it”, said Bardin “I’m starting to wonder if the whole damn world’s going to be like that. It’s a depressing thought, that Hannah’s Sanctuary might be the only bright spot. Between you and me, that feels intimidating. We could have years upon years of sailing through areas like this”.
“Do you want to turn back? Go back to Hannah’s?”
“No, my curiosity’s too strong for that. We agreed when we were back there that we can’t sit there, constantly wondering what’s outside the gate, so to speak. But it’s hitting me. We’ve got to face an entire journey of this”.
“You’re looking very thoughtful, Joby”, said Adam, in the galley “You’ve been sitting there staring into space for quite some time. Can you tell me about it, or is it a deadly secret?”
“Nah”, said Joby “Was just thinking about our tie in Henang Prison”.
“What on earth made you think of that? I shudder to think how far back all that was”.
“Dunno, just came into my head, like these things do sometimes”, Joby shrugged “Funny old time”.
“Yes, almost as funny as this one when you come to think about it. I used to get so jealous of you and Patsy holding hands in bed!”
“You poor old sod. I used to get jealous ‘cos you were clearly after him”.
“Well I would have been after you as well, but you were always such a crotchety little thing!”
“If only we could’ve seen how things would turn out. But we seem to have come full-circle, back to the dark times this world was in when we first arrived”.
“Even now isn’t as bad as back then was. At least the ladies are here now”.
“What’s left of ‘em. What’s left of anyone”.
“Oh c’mon, this really won’t do, Joby”, said Adam “This is going to be a very difficult adventure as it is, without giving into nihilism on top”.
“Yeah alright, I can have a melancholy moment can’t I?”
“As long as you don’t make a habit of it”.
Ransey burst into the galley, gesturing at Adam.
“Come on”, he said “I’ve got Jane on the wireless. She wants to talk to you”.
“Ooh”, Adam ran into the wireless room next door, and snatched up the headphones.
“Hey there Adam, is that you” came a giggly voice from the other end of the line.
“Jane, how wonderful to hear you”, said Adam “I hope everyone’s alright”.
“Yes we are, here”, said Jane “We’ve acquired a couple more refugees, from south of that awful river we were stuck on forever, and they’ve been giving us some news you might find useful”.
“I’m all ears”, said Adam, aware that they could be cut off at any moment.
“They spent some time in Somba, that gloomy village which lived up to its name”, said Jane “And it sounds like it’s got a lot worse. The forest has got completely overgrown, cutting out most of the sunlight, and the place is rife with the most ghastly superstitions. They even found the body of a little girl, ready for burial, CHAINED to her coffin”.
“Oh hell”, said Adam “Well it always was a dreary place”.
“I wouldn’t normally bother you with this depressing stuff”, said Jane “Only we rather get the impression that this kind of thing is breaking out in a lot of places”.
“Inevitable, I suppose”, Adam sighted “People turn to superstition in troubled times. I’ll have a chat with Kieran about it …”
The line abruptly went dead. Adam sighed and replaced the headphones on the hook.
“Anything useful?” asked Ransey, from the doorway.
“Possibly”, said Adam.
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