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By Sarah Hapgood

“Did Hoowie not join you today?” said Beatrix, when Bardin organised a group of them to go over and explore the tunnels.

“No, he’d be a menace”, said Bardin “So we left him at home”.

“I can’t imagine he could ever be a menace”, said Beatrix.

“I find it hard to imagine him NOT being one!” said Bardin.

“He could’ve taken my place if he liked”, said a sulky Bengo.

“Don’t be absurd”, said Bardin.

“What do you think you’ll find?” said Beatrix.

“Nothing probably”, said Joby “This whole exercise is so that Bardin can satisfy his curiosity”.

“Bengo, take this lamp”, said Bardin, handing a lantern to his partner.

“’Bengo, take this lamp’”, Bengo mimicked “’Bengo, stand on your cue-spot’”.

“Would you like to join us, Bea?” asked Kieran.

“No, I’ve never felt tempted to explore the caves any further”, said Beatrix.

“I don’t blame yer!” said Joby.

“My husband thinks they could go on for about 20 miles”, said Beatrix.

“Oh no”, said Bengo “Bardy will want to explore every inch of it!”

“Well we won’t let him”, said Joby “We look at a couple of tunnels and then THAT’S IT! We come back again”.

“I shall go in front”, said Ransey, hoiking Bardin out of the way “Hillyard, you bring up the rear”.

“He’s used to that!” said Joby.

“Do be careful”, said Beatrix “I’ve never felt easy about these tunnels. It would be so easy to get lost in them. They’re like a maze I expect”.

“We shall take every precaution”, said Bardin.

They walked for a short distance until they came to a fork in the path.

“Straight ahead seems to just go on into darkness”, said Ransey, holding his lantern aloft “And the tunnel gets narrower. But this side …”

He swung the lantern round. This time the path was more of a stub, ending in a wooden door.

“OK, well we’ve got to try it”, said Bardin.

There was no handle on the door. Instead they pressed against it to ease it open. To Joby’s disgust the door didn’t stay conveniently shut, but swung inwards. On the other side of it the tunnel continued on into forbidding darkness.

“But look at this”, said Bardin.

The walls of the tunnel were covered, from floor to ceiling, in tiny chalk marks. The markings were the numbers ‘1’ and ‘0’ in different configurations.

“Binary codes”, said Kieran “That’s what they are”.

“Can you make out what they mean?” said Bardin.

“Jayz, no!” Kieran laughed “You’d need some scientific expert for that2.

“Ransey, can you make it out?” said Hillyard.

“I’m an accountant!” said Ransey.

“Well these are numbers aren’t they!” said Hillyard.

“Scarcely the kind of numbers I’m used to working with”, said Ransey “This isn’t exactly standard bookkeeping now is it!”

“They go on forever”, said Bengo, peering along the walls.

“It don’t make any sense”, said Joby “Why scrawl them all along here?”

Bengo suddenly gave a yelp.

“What is it?” said Bardin.

“I saw something”, said Bengo “Further down the corridor. It moved. Horrible”.

“Well what was it?” said Bardin.

“I want to get out of here”, said Bengo, breathlessly.

“OK, come on, let’s go”, said Ransey.

“So now I’ve proved myself to be a true out-and-out coward”, said Bengo, miserably.

“Of course you haven’t”, said Adam, attending to him in the galley.

“I have, Adam”, said Bengo “You should’ve head me. I’m surprised I didn’t cry and pee my pants, I was so pathetic! Bardy’s hardly spoken to me since we’ve got back”.

“’Cos he’s been too busy running around telling everybody what we found, that’s why!” said Joby.

“You are not a coward, Bengo”, said Adam “I’ll always remember what remarkable courage you showed on the Demon Isle”.

“Well I didn’t show it today”, said Bengo.

“You’d better not be going into some kind of meltdown”, said Joby “’Cos we don’t need that. I can tell you that for free!”

“It’s just”, Bengo sniffed “Whatever that thing was spooked the crap out of me. It reminded me of some of the creatures we saw on the Demon Isle in fact”.

“Well what was it exactly?” said Adam.

“I don’t know, I just saw it fleetingly”, said Bengo “Like a dwarf or a goblin. And that makes no sense I know. It was sort of short and bug-eyed. Luminous big eyes”.

“Sounds like a Reptile Man”, said Joby “Gawd, it’s years since we’ve come across one of those“.

“It would make sense actually”, said Adam “It’s the sort of cold, dark place they tend to favour”.

Bardin came into the room, shedding his duffel-coat along the way.

“Bengo”, he said “What are you sitting there like that for?”

“I’ve given him a tot of brandy”, said Adam “He’s had a bit of a shock”.

“He’ll be alright”, said Bardin “No harm’s been done”.

“It sounds like he saw a Reptile Man”, said Adam.

“A sort of horrible, slimy goblin-thing”, said Bengo.

“Well it seems like you scared it as much as it scared you”, said Bardin.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that!” said Bengo “I think it scuttled away because it didn’t want to be seen, not because it was afraid”.

“I’ve never heard Bea or any of the others claiming to see it”, said Adam “So it must b prone to lying low”.

“Huh”, Bardin gave a contemptuous snort “As if that lot’d notice anything!”

“You’re a little unfair on them, Bardin”, said Adam.

“They’re just so lacking in curiosity”, said Bardin “We found that door and tunnel almost immediately today, and yet they’ve lived there for 2 years without seeing it! Sometimes I wonder what they do with themselves all day long”.

“They try and survive I suppose”, said Adam “And I can understand why they wouldn’t be tempted to go poking around in the depths of the cave”.

“Ugh!” said Bengo “And to think they’ve been living alongside that creature all this time!”

Joby gave a shudder.

“I can’t imagine they’ll thank us for discovering that one!” he said “Reminds me of Gollum from The Lord Of The Rings. My precious, my precious”.

“Who was Gollum?” said Bengo.

“A creature very like the one you saw”, said Joby.

“Let’s get on with preparing the dinner”, said Adam.

“Can’t I have the rest of the day off?” said Joby “I’ve been in a damp, cold, horrible cave all afternoon”.

“Well then working in a nice, cosy galley should warm you up”, said Adam.

“It’ll be good for you too, Bengo”, said Baridn “Stop you going into a hysterical fit”.

“If anyone’s gonna send me into an hysterical fit, it’s you!” said Bengo.

The worsening winter weather, combined with the discovery of the reptilian creature in the cave, gave the Indigo-ites more concerns about the Cave4. Bardin said they might have to face the prospect of giving them sanctuary, although how they would shoe-horn them in was another matter. The other clowns threw a scene at this prospect, which Bardin slapped down with his customary clown-tamer iron hand.

“If you don’t like it, then leave”, he said.

He went to his cabin and told Bengo about his forceful performance.

“Useless bunch of gits”, said Bardin “If it wasn’t for me they’d spend all day sitting on their arses, playing cards. Of no use to anyone”.

“Here!” Hoowie burst in “What have you said to ‘em, Bardin? Shag’s in tears!”

Bengo burst out laughing.

“Oh you two have always been cruel to ‘em”, said Hoowie.

“Huh”, said Bengo “That’s conveniently forgetting all the times they were cruel to us!”

“You really scared him, Bardin”, said Hoowie “He’s actually whimpering!”

“That doesn’t take much”, said Bardin “Shag and Mutton Broth both spook at everything. And don’t come in here trying to cause trouble!”

“I wasn’t”, said Hoowie, indignantly “I was imparting information”.

“Captain!” Toppy shouted “It’s snowing!”

“Well so what?” said Bengo “It’s always chuffing snowing”.

“The Captain asked me to alert him the next time it did”, said Toppy.

“OK I think we do need to get the Cave4 over here”, said Bardin “Hoowie, make yourself useful, go and tell the other clowns we’ll get their things together if they object!”

After some thought Bardin designated Kieran and Joby’s cabin to Beatrix and Kitty. It was cold, but at least they’d have some privacy. Anton and Wesley were to do doss down on the floor of the big saloon. Whilst the moving process was going on, Julian summoned Adam and Joby to his cabin.

“I’m concerned about the close proximity of Cat Woman and Tinkerbell”, he said.

“Scarcely close, Jules”, said Adam “They’ll be at opposite ends of the ship”.

“You know what I mean”, said Julian “We’re all going to be holed up on here whilst the bad weather lasts, which could be quite some time yet. Those two religious whack jobs could endlessly rub each other up the wrong way. It would destroy the equilibrium of the ship”.

“They’re not talking to each other at the moment”, said Joby.

“And if that were to change?” said Julian, darkly.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, Julian”, said Adam “They’re not going to start carrying out religious jihads on each other!”

“All I’m saying is we don’t want them getting embroiled into heated arguments, morning, noon and night”, said Julian “Joby, you need to keep a closer eye on Kieran”.

“I’d love to”, said Joby “But I keep being dragged into the galley to do work!”

“I can’t do without Joby, Julian”, said Adam “I rely on him, and anyway, Patsy spends a lot of time helping Hillyard down in the hold. I can’t see Kitty prowling around down there”.

“I wouldn’t put it past her”, said Julian “All I’m saying is, Joby keep an eye on him, and if he starts getting all Crusader-like slap him down. It’s the only way. Oh and one last thing, all talk of religion is strictly banned at mealtimes. Tell Bardin to make sure that rule is strictly enforced!”

“This is misery”, said Joby, as he and Adam wandered back to the galley.

“It’s only for a little while, old love”, said Adam.

“You don’t know that. Here!” Joby pulled him roughly into the galley and shut the door “Who’s to say we’ll ever be free of ’em? I mean, even when the spring comes, we can’t just put ’em ashore and say ’you’re back on your own again’. I don’t think we’ve thought this one through. They might wanna stay with us … for good!”

“Yes, because we’re so alluring aren’t we?” said Adam “Just what everybody wants, to live with a bunch of excitable fruitcakes on an old ship!”

“Well even living with us is an improvement on that Reptile-infested cave!” said Joby “You mark my words …”

“I shall do no such thing”, said Adam “I think you should spend the next hour-or-so knocking Patsy into shape”.

“Oh, alright then”, said Joby, brightening.

“In fact, I shall lock you in together”, said Adam “Think how pleased Julian will be when he hears that you’re bringing Patsy to heal already”.

“Never mind him”, said Joby “I’LL be pretty pleased too!”

“I can’t believe he’s locked us in here”, Kieran laughed, alone with Joby in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin.

“I can”, said Joby.

“I wonder where he’s hidden the key”, said Kieran.

“I’m sure he’ll think of somewhere about his person”, said Joby.

“I can’t believe you manhandled him!”

“Oh Adam enjoys a bit of rough-handling at times”.

“Yes, but from Julian, not us”, said Kieran.

“This is all to stop you fighting with Cat Woman”, said Joby.

“No chance of that”, said Kieran “She goes out of her way to avoid me. I don’t even get withering looks. She keeps her eyes lowered when I’ around, like a nun”.

“You’ve gotta promise us not to intimidate or rile her”, said Joby.

“And is she going to promise not to intimidate or rile me?!” Kieran exclaimed.

“Kieran! Just do as you are told!”

“I thought the whole purpose of this little exercise”, said Kieran, mischievously “Was for you to MAKE me do as I’m told”.

Adam unlocked the cabin door a couple of hours later, as the daylight was fading. He peered in and found Joby and Kieran lying on the sofa, wrapped in blankets and fast asleep. All that could be seen of Kieran was a fan of blonde hair sticking out of the end of the blanket. He stood watching them silently for a moment, oblivious to the cocktail party-style hullabaloo now coming from the dining-room.

“Can we go in there?” said Bardin, appearing suddenly with Bengo “Or are we still locked out of our own cabin?”

Adam clamped a hand over Bardin’s mouth.

“You are so gobby”, he said “They’re fast asleep”.

“Yes, in our cabin!” said Bardin, when Adam released him “Which we’re locked out of!”

“Oh shut up, Bardy!” said Bengo “We don’t mind, Adam. We can go in the galley”.

“In the galley?” said Bardin “What for?”

“So I can park you by the stove, you gobby sod!” said Bengo.

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