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Hillyard and Ransey relieved Joby and Finia from watch-duty at midnight. When Joby went into his cabin he found the others were still awake. In fact Adam was standing in his robe, folding nappies and talking to Kieran, who lay on his bunk.
"Ransey was telling me earlier about your great theory, Jobe", said Kieran.
"Oh yeah?" said Joby.
"Didn't I say at the beginning of this voyage that we should re-name this ship The Fornicator!" Kieran exclaimed.
"Alright, have a good laugh", said Joby "But I happen to think there's some truth in it".
"Which part of the ship is the aphrodisiac do you think?" said Adam, laughingly "The wonderful heads, with the blocked loo and cracked wash-basin? The hold, with its lingering traces of the fragrant and debonair Uddle?"
"The love boat, that's us!" said Kieran.
"Belt up about it", said Joby irritably, as he stripped down to his shirt and socks "Or you'll set pond-life off. He'll be wanting us to have an orgy".
"No I won't, Joby", said Lonts, from his bunk "It's far too cold for that".
"That's the most sensible remark I've heard", said Adam.
At three in the morning Julian came into the cabin to fetch Lonts, in order to share watch-duty with him. Lonts was irritated that he'd been picked to do the worst shift of all, and that he had to share it with Julian, who still terrified him. It also meant he would have to miss his early hours cuddle with Adam, and he wondered if Julian had chosen it for that reason.
When Lonts protested blearily, Julian got irritated and so he shut up instantly. Adam helped him out of his nappy and into his warm clothes. Lonts looked so dejected by the prospect of the shift ahead that Adam felt sorry for him.
"Nothing will happen", he said, soothingly.
"Julian scares me", Lonts pouted.
"Nonsense. If he starts on you just threaten to tell me. That should halt him in his tracks".
"You'd better get into bed", said Lonts, once he was dressed "It's so cold in here I can see your breath".
Lonts left the cabin, to go and join Julian who was already up on deck. As he passed the door of the cabin next to them he heard Ransey and Hillyard talking in heated whispers.
"I'm not turning myself into a fucking monk just to keep you happy", Hillyard snapped.
It was so unusual to hear those two bickering, that Lonts was tempted to go in and find out what was wrong, but he didn't want to give Julian a sense of grievance by keeping him waiting any longer.
The forward deck at this hour was a grim place. Even to Lonts, who had been reared in the coldest inhabited place on earth, the chill was breath-taking. Julian was stamping up and down by one of the air-vents.
"We'll never get any body-heat just standing around", he said.
"Why don't we just go back to bed then?" said Lonts.
"We are here to make sure no ice-packs come near us", said Julian, with forced patience "Because if that happens we could get trapped in an ice-sheet. I take it you don't want that anymore than the rest of us?"
Lonts hated it when Julian put on his sarcastic voice, and he immediately wanted to cry. He wished Adam was here to put Julian in his place. Julian handed him a pole, one of a matching pair they currently used to push away ice from the boat.
A miserable half-hour ensued, in which they both stood on either side of the boat, prodding at ice-packs in the dark with the poles.
"I don't know how you lot coped in Kiskev with this darkness and cold all the time", said Julian, taking a moment to bring the hip-flask over to Lonts.
"Same as we coped at the Castle that winter", said Lonts, sullenly "We just do. You were nice to me up there. Said I had valuable experience".
"Well why are you being so rotten to me now then?" said Lonts, tearfully.
"I'm not. Just because I don't slobber over you constantly like Adam, doesn't mean I'm being rotten to you. Now take a drink of this and keep a sharp eye out. There seems to be more on your side than mine".
Lonts took a swig of brandy from the flask and then passed it back to Julian, who pocketed it and returned to his side of the deck. Lonts stood for a long time, gazing out at the ice-floes, with only an occasional cough from Julian to break the creaking silence. The view reminded him of the tundra around Kiskev during the height of winter. Great expanses of silvery-blue ice stretching towards the horizon. Standing here now he had a great urge to run across the ice, sullying its smoothness with his feet, as he had done in the village.
"Julian!" Lonts called out "Something seems to be knocking the boat from the side".
"I can hear it", came the reply. Julian's voice was muffled by his scarf.
"Alright my boy, I'm coming over", said Julian, holding up a gloved hand in a placating fashion.
Before he could cross the deck though a monstrous shape loomed up out of nowhere. In the darkness it was hard to decipher anything but a huge black blur, like a full-sized man who had got himself completely covered in seaweed. It stretched out two arms and made to grab at Lonts, who screamed and prodded at it aggressively with his pole. Julian meanwhile pulled his revolver out of his coat pocket and fired it at the featureless lump that appeared to be the creature's head. It gave out an agonised scream and fell away from the side of the boat. Julian fired another couple of shots into it for good measure and it slid under the pack-ice.
Adam fussed around them in the saloon, helping Lonts out of the clothes he had messed during all the excitement, whilst Julian drank three neat whisky's in a row. Kieran came into the saloon, carrying the plumber's bag in which Adam kept Lonts's nappies.
"There seems to be a lot of these exotic sea-creatures in these parts", he said, darkly.
"Well of all the things I was expecting to see out there, I wasn't expecting that!" said Julian "God alone knows what it was, like something out of an old b-movie sci-fi. Perhaps it was. I should've looked for the zipper down its back!"
"We don't stand a fucking chance round here", said Joby, morosely "Freezing weather, ice-floes, and weird things straight out of Dr Who trying to get on the ship. We'll be lucky if we ever set foot on land again".
Julian slammed his glass down on the table and marched across the room. He grabbed Joby by his shirt and hauled him out into the gangway.
"I don't want to hear you talking like that you little shit!" he screamed, ramming Joby against the wall "Talk like that doesn't help any of us".
"Can't a bloke speak his mind round here anymore?" Joby cried, feeling his back ache where he had hit the wall.
"No you can't!" Julian roared "If you say anything like that again you'll feel my belt, is that clear?"
"In your fucking dreams!" Joby screamed back.
"Leave him!" Kieran yelled, grabbing at Julian's arms.
Julian shook him off and went into his cabin, where he slammed the door shut against him. Finia went to follow him in, but Kieran stopped him.
"I want to speak to him", he said.
"You can't keep me out of my own cabin", said Finia.
"You can wait here for five focking minutes", said Kieran, and he pushed him aside.
"What do you want?" said Julian warily, as Kieran entered the room alone.
"Nothing gives you the right to speak to Joby like that".
"I have every right. The way he was carrying on he could've started a massed panic".
"Don't be crazy. Everyone knows what Joby's like, it's his way of coping".
"Then he'll have to find another way", Julian spat.
"You arrogant bastard!"
Kieran flew at him and succeeded in slapping him so hard across the face that Julian lost his balance and fell onto his bunk. This was no mean feat considering Kieran was about a foot shorter than him.
"Get out!" Julian screamed "Think yourself lucky I don't chain you to the air-vent, like I did Uddle".
Kieran fell on him and slapped him several times in the face.
"You can dish it out but you can't take it back!" he cried.
Julian was trying too hard to get a grip on him to reply, but Kieran's small skinny frame was like trying to grasp an eel. Eventually he managed to get hold of a fistful of his hair and pulled him away from him.
"I can take it actually", said Julian "And I've taken it from far bigger bastards than you. Maybe I didn't retaliate because I don't like picking on men half my size!"
Kieran dangled from his hand, feeling like a mouse who had been picked up by his tail.
"Now calm down!" Julian roared.
Kieran was wise enough to know that it would pay him to stop struggling. Julian released his grip.
"You nearly pulled me focking hair out by its roots", Kieran panted.
"You've got plenty let, you don't need to worry", Julian stood up and adjusted his clothing "You're a good little fighter, credit where it's due. Not exactly Queensberry rules. Although it must be said you fight like an hysterical woman after too any gins. Did you learn it off your mother?"
"Alright, alright, I take that back", Julian held up his hands to ward him off "That was uncalled for. And I should know better than to insult an Irishman's mother".
"Yes you should", Kieran couldn't resist a smile "Particularly as my Mother hardly ever drank, and would never in her life have struck anyone".
"She wouldn't have been too pleased with you just now then, would she?" Julian pushed a chair towards him and indicated for him to sit down "Now, care to tell me in a coherent, reasonable manner why I've upset you so much?"
"I just saw red that's all", Kieran sat down "I hated the way you spoke to Joby. He's been pushed around enough in his life".
"Very commendable", said Julian.
"God, you lot are so focking smug".
"You're not just born with a silver spoon in your mouths, but an insane belief in your own importance too".
"Look, before this turns into an attack on the British class system, I would like to say in my defence that I was considerably shaken by what Lonts and I had seen out there. And if you'd seen it too you would understand", said Julian, wearily "I was not prepared to then listen to Joby giving one of his The End Of The World Is Nigh speeches. You both seem to forget that, in spite of my accident of birth, I am only human too".
"So am I", Kieran sighed "And like you I'm frightened".
Julian turned to him questioningly.
"I know how you're feeling", said Kieran "That hideous awareness of being responsible for the welfare of everyone else. No one knows it better than me".
"I think we need to call it quits for tonight", Julian smiled, warmly.
"You're right", Kieran rose to his feet just as Adam came into the room.
"What's been going on in here?" he said.
"I've been knocking Julian about", said Kieran "But fortunately he's been a perfect gent about it".
"Which I'm sure is far more than you deserve", said Adam.
Kieran kissed him on his way out of the room.
"You have my sympathy", Julian sighed, once Kieran had gone "How you used to cope with those two on your own I really don't know".
"Neither do I", Adam laughed.
"He's a vicious little brute isn't he? Kieran, I mean. Flew at me like a wildcat".
"Will you be alright now, Jules?" said Adam, sounding concerned "You've had quite a night of it".
"I'll be fine", said Julian, reassuringly "Come and see me before breakfast, and then I'll know the world can't be all bad".
"I will", Adam hugged him "Thank you".
"For what? Taking care of myself ... or saving Lonts's life?"
"Both. And you know it".
"Addy, what are you doing?"
Kieran stood in the doorway of the galley later that morning, watching as Adam painted faces on a row of hard-boiled eggs.
"Silly I know", Adam giggled "But it's all so cold and dark and grim outside that I thought these might cheer everyone up".
"It's not Easter is it?" said Kieran, confused.
"We've had Easter, some time back. Care to tell me what you're looking so depressed about?"
"Nothing", Kieran sat down next to him at the table "Sometimes it all catches up with me. Crazy after all these years, but it's true. For me and Joby, we've been here almost as long as we were in our own time".
"And a helluva lot's happened", said Adam, carrying on with his painting "I'm very proud of you, Pats. Don't look so shocked, it's true. Nothing in our own time could've prepared you for what you've had to face here. You or Joby. When I think what a pair of oikish little scruffs you were too!"
"Still are", said Kieran "Perhaps you'll do the decent thing and adopt us one day".
"I did that the day we crossed into Henang, little did I know it at the time. Fate can create the most bizarre of relationships".
"If a cusp was to open tomorrow, and we all somehow got transposed back to our time. Would we all stay together, do you think?"
"I sincerely hope so. We'd probably need each other even more. No one else would know exactly what we'd seen and been through. And we couldn't leave Hillyard, Ransey and Finia to fend for themselves in a strange time!"
"God, it's depressing out there", said Joby, strolling into the room, looking like a wet fish in his oilskins "Talk about bleak! What are you two finding so funny?"
"You", said Adam, chortling "You hardly seem to have changed at all in the past seventeen years".
"Yes I have!" said Joby, defensively "I feel about a million years older for a start. Why the hell did we have to come down here? I feel like we're never gonna get out again. Didn't we have enough of the cold and dark during that awful winter at the Castle? And as for those strange creatures ... you two are laughing at me again".
"Only 'cos we love you, Joby", said Kieran, slipping an arm round his waist.
"Have a boiled-egg", said Adam.
"Adam", Ransey shouted from the doorway "Lonts is having a bit of a turn. You'd better come and deal with him. He's in the saloon".
'A bit of a turn' was putting it mildly. Lonts was having an all-out fit. Delayed reaction from the extraordinary events of last night was causing him to convulse violently. It took some considerable time for Adam and Ransey to calm him, and then only after practically holding him down.
"I don't understand it", said Ransey, pushing his hair out of his eyes "He's been through far worse than this".
"There is no logic to these things, Ransey", said Adam "We just have to help him the best way we can".
He was relieved when Lonts had calmed sufficiently for Ransey to leave Adam alone with him.
"I'm fine now, Adam", said Lonts, catching his breath.
"I know you are".
"You do?" Lonts sounded pleasantly surprised "I expect the others would think I was still mad".
"I know how easy it is to go from one mood to another so sharply", said Adam "We all have to get things out of our system from time to time, and you had to get last night out of yours".
"Adam!" Lonts flung his arms round Adam's neck "You're the only one who understands me".
"Hold on tight to me", Adam whispered "And don't ever let go. Promise me?"
"I am standing up to you on this one, Jules", said Adam, later that afternoon "Lo-Lo's been through enough".
"He will never get last night out of his system if you refuse to let him do watch-duty again", said Julian "It's only like falling off a horse ..."
"It's nothing like falling off a bloody horse", said Adam "He was in a bad way this morning, Jules".
"We all have worries", Julian exclaimed "Mine is the welfare of everyone on this ship, including Lonts. And he will never learn to face his demons if you keep wrapping him in cotton-wool".
"But he's only a little boy!" Adam protested.
"Not sho much the little boy when he'sh clambering into your bunk ish he?" Julian stopped short. Not because of the content of what he had said, but because his lisp was showing markedly. To Julian this was as mortifying as dropping his pants in a public restaurant. His lisp was his biggest weakness. Normally he hid it so well that it was barely noticeable, but in times of extreme stress it reared itself like a many-headed hydra. Most people would have coped with it long ago, but Julian had long held it against himself as a symbol of extreme weakness.
"Damn it Adam!" he cried "Leave me alone. If you want me to help with that boy, then you musht give me shome lee-way!"
"Two notches down", said Ransey, directing Joby at the wheel the following day. The dreaded ice-floes were still very much in evidence, and a great quantity of seaweed had been found wrapped round the bulwarks, which shouldn't have been there by rights.
"Are we really coming out of it, do you think?" said Joby, excitedly "The Horn of Wonder I mean?"
"We won't do, if you don't concentrate", Ransey snapped.
"What the fock is Hillyard burning down there?" said Kieran, as plumes of black smoke wafted out of the funnel "The furniture? We've got enough of a job seeing where we're going in this gloom as it is. Somebody should go down there and read the Clean Air Act to him".
"It doesn't exist in this time", said Joby.
"More's the pity".
"You're not even supposed to be up here", said Ransey "You're laundry, so you shouldn't be on the poop-deck".
"But I've been banned from doing any laundry!" said Kieran "Julian's imposed water restrictions as of today, remember?"
"Well you're getting in the way, clear off", said Ransey "You're distracting Joby".
Kieran tutted and went back down to the forward deck.
"Concentrate on what you're doing", Ransey directed Joby "I believe we're almost out of the woods, or at least round the Horn of Wonder anyway".
"Oh God, I hope so", said Joby, with much feeling.
Julian replaced the stopper in the voice-tube and stared at it for a moment in quiet satisfaction. He then turned slowly to face Adam, who was standing beside his desk.
"We've done it, Ada", he whispered "We've crossed the Horn of Wonder".
"Are you serious?" Adam barely dared ask.
"Ransey says we're about to pass an outcrop of land that looks remarkably like Zilligot Point, the south-western tip of the Land Mass. Of course, it doesn't mean we've seen the back of the ice-floes by any means but ..."
"We've done it?"
"We've done it".
Adam screamed and flung himself at Julian. They both fell onto the bed and kissed vigorously. Julian slapped Adam's rump in satisfaction, and Adam gave a moan of pleasure.
"It's not all plain sailing from now on though is it, Jules?" said Adam, eventually.
"Maybe not", said Julian "But we'll be close to land, and it should get more hospitable, particularly the further north we go".
At supper that evening Joby brought in a tray for them both, adorned with a streak of the seaweed as a joke carnation. A note next to it read "IN SPITE OF THIS AND SO MANY OTHER PROBLEMS, WE'VE COME THROUGH SO FAR, AND WILL ALWAYS DO SO. HERE'S TO A COUPLE OF SWELLS". It was signed by all six others.
"I wonder who thought of the couple of swells bit", said Adam, blushing with pleasure.
"Who cares?" said Julian "I love it!"
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