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By Sarah Hapgood

On leaving the vicinity of the City they went in a south-easterly direction towards Catarine’s lighthouse. On reaching there though, they found no trace of the inhabitants. Catarine had left the lighthouse logbook on the kitchen table. On looking through, Adam found the last entry, dated a couple of months before, “TODAY MY HUSBAND DIED OF A HEART-ATTACK, BROUGHT ON BY TRYING TO LUG A PARAFFIN STOVE UP THE TOWER STEPS. MAY THE GOOD LORD HAVE MERCY ON HIS POOR SOUL”.

There was nothing after this rather strange, sad little message, nothing at all. And on searching the lighthouse they found no clue as to what had happened subsequently to Catarine and her son, Remus. Their little boat was missing from its mooring, so the Indigo-ites could only assume that they had departed. The absence of some of their clothes from the lighthouse store-cupboards, and outdoor gear from the porch only seemed to confirm this.

All of this only fuelled Brother Umbert’s already depressed state. It was impossible to monitor his drinking, not without locking up and banning alcohol completely, and Bardin absolutely refused to make the others suffer because of him.

One day, things came to a head in the dining-room, when Bardin’s patience with him snapped once more and he told Umbert, in no uncertain terms, to pull himself together. In a rage Umbert lunged at him. The others clowns (who were present) rushed to defend Bardin. But Bardin stood his ground, not even taking a step backwards or flinching. Bardin immediately ordered them to leave the room. Bengo protested, but Bardin was insistent.

“You’ve got nerves of steel, Bardin”, said Umbert, once they were alone “I’ll give you that”.

“Be afraid of you?” said Bardin “I’ve been knocked around too much over the years for that. As a clown I either had to dodge punches or absorb them somehow. I also don’t have much time for people who allow themselves to wallow in a ditch”.

“I have nothing”, said Umbert “Don’t you understand? I belong nowhere!”

“Neither do we”, said Bardin “We’ve been trawling round this world for a long time now, trying to find somewhere we can call our own. And now it looks like we’ll have to go back to the house up north for the time being. A house that may be in a now depopulated continent”.

“Why don’t you go back to ’The Old Continent’?” asked Umbert.

“Because for the moment we’re in quarantine”, said Bardin “For all I know we may be carrying that terrible disease, and I can’t run the risk of us carrying it to ’The Old Continent’. I don’t want to be responsible for wiping out the entire population of the world! We’ve got to let a suitable length of time pass until we’re sure we’re free of infection, and can go back there”.

Ransey and Hillyard were standing at the narrow barred window in what had once been Catarine’s bedroom, near the top of the tower. The wind howled around the structure, and far below them waves crashed violently against the rocks.

“The talk is that we go back to the house” Ransey was saying “Until we’re sure we’re free of infection”.

“So I’d heard”, said Hillyard “Ranz, you don’t regret that last night back in the City do you?”

“The only thing I regret about it”, said Ransey “Is that we left it until the last night”.

Hillyard’s heart, which had been going like the clappers, now felt as if it would burst out of his chest.

“What about Finia though?” he asked.

“Finia got peace of mind several years ago”, said Ransey “And he’s determined not to let go of it”.

“I don’t blame him”, said Hillyard “Not after his start in life. Poor little bastard”.

“All he wants is security”, said Ransey “To be safe amongst us all. He doesn’t ask anymore than that”.

“So we can share a room when we get to the house?” said Hillyard.

“That won’t bother Finia” said Ransey “It’s what Julian will say that bothers me. You know what a sarcastic sod he can be”.

“Oh don’t worry about him”, said Hillyard “If he starts we’ll get Adam to sort him out”.

“Come on”, said Ransey “Let’s go back to the ship. I don’t see any point in hanging around here. Godforsaken place. I’m sick of being at the ends of the earth!”

It was a dismal journey all the way back up the long coastline of ’The New Continent’. The weather was foul, and they ran into numerous storms. Brother Umbert now spoke very little, and his gloomy presence did little to ease the atmosphere aboard the galleon, most particularly as he and Digby were sleeping on camp-beds in the dining-room, so it was quite hard to avoid him.

Occasionally he calmed down, and Kieran could talk to him rationally. Umbert said that, in his younger days, he had experimented with mind-altering drugs, and that for a time the things he had experienced whilst in this state, had led him to question not just his beliefs, but the essence of reality itself.

“I had a vision that one day I would be surrounded by nothing-ness”, he said “And that seems to have been what has happened. There is nothing left in the world”.

“You need to be shown that that isn’t the case”, said Kieran “If we take you to ‘The Old Continent’, you will see that populations are flourishing”.

But, of course, this couldn’t happen until they could all be certain they were free of infection, and there were times that Kieran doubted Umbert’s sanity would hold out that long.

Adam came up on deck late one night, to find Bardin staring up into the deep midnight blue of the night sky.

“You shouldn’t be up here all alone, old love”, said Adam.

“Do you remember that message we found scrawled on the wall at the demon castle at Aspiriola?” said Bardin.

“Are demons aliens?” said Adam “Something like that anyway”.

“Are they do you think?” said Bardin “Is that where that terrible disease came from? Out there, from the ether? Is that why The Chain Islands were so odd?”

“Well they certainly didn’t fit into any of the known laws of physics”, said Adam “And as for the disease, well it seems to be true that it scarcely matters where it first came from, the important thing is to stop if spreading any further. We have to keep it confined to this continent”.

“And so we head into self-imposed quarantine”, said Bardin “For how long I wonder?”

“Let’s go below for the time being”, said Adam, and as they walked across the deck to the quarterdeck steps he remarked “You look deliciously cute in your dinky little duffel-coat, Bardin!”


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