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Kieran had been called into the chart-room at dawn, and informed of the facts. They had reached the last co-ordinates given by the "Coronola", only to find it was nowhere in sight. It had drifted again, and drifted some distance, as there was no sign of it whatsoever on the far horizon. The Captain handed him the final message, which had come in only an hour before at three-fifty a.m. It said simply "I AM DEAD".
"What the blazes does that mean?" Kieran exclaimed.
"I'm reluctant to hazard guesses at this stage Your Grace", said the Captain "It is impossible to speculate when we have so little to go on".
"That's very true", said Kieran "Well, this is your ship, Captain. Your domain. What would be your preferable course of action now?"
"To get back on our original course and head for Port West as intended".
"You don't wish to pursue the 'Coronola' then?" said Kieran.
"At this present time that is an impossible option. We can't trace where she has gone. She's disappeared completely from our sensors. She's like a ghost ship. She's vanished back from whence she came. There is a whole vast area of ocean out there, and the 'Coronola' could be in any part of it. Besides, you have a schedule to adhere to. You will be expected in Port West on a certain day at a certain time, and it is my duty to ensure you get there. In the cold light of day I think we can't rule out the possibility that someone may have performed a very elaborate hoax on us".
"I hope they got some satisfaction out of it then", said Kieran "As it was a hell of a lot of trouble to go to for very little result".
"Your Grace", said the Captain, as Kieran went to leave the room "May I suggest that you don't mention any of this to anyone in your party? If it is a hoax, then we don't wish to go causing undue alarm".
"You're afraid aren't you?" said Kieran, softly "Tell me all that is bothering you".
"Solely the unknown at this stage Your Grace. Which is why I want everyone else to act as normal as possible. Even a hardheaded old sea-dog such as myself gets superstitious after many years at sea. It's all too easy for a ship, or a particular voyage, to get branded as 'unlucky'. And then before you know it nothing is going right. That's why I believe it's best not to give in to these feelings. Try and create a holiday atmosphere on-board, Your Grace".
"Banish the blue devils", said Kieran "That was an old drinking phrase from my time".
"And a more apt one than you realise", the Captain whispered, after Kieran had left.
Adam had lain awake for the rest of the night, too nervous to go back to sleep, even with Lonts lying right next to him. Joby had called in to see him very early, mainly to let off steam because Kieran had come back from his mysterious dawn errand to the chart-room, but refused to say what it was all about. He was now going over some turgid business matters with Ransey, and making it clear to Joby that no amount of emotional pressure would make him spill the beans.
"I don't like the atmosphere on this boat", said Adam, whilst Lonts was in the shower "It feels like there's too much electricity crackling in the air. And I feel decidedly dopey. I must have an ulcer forming by now, after all last night's worries".
"Why don't you go and have a swim in the pool on deck?" said Joby "It'd do you good. I'll give Lonts his breakfast".
"Joby, you are a little treasure", said Adam "Don't ever let Patsy tell you differently. I'll dry Lonts off first and put a clean nappy on him, then you won't have any hassle".
This didn't turn out to be the case. Lonts's bad night was being followed by a bad morning. He seemed to be turning in on himself, and had started up the wordless muttering that Joby remembered of old with depressing clarity. After Adam had gone up aloft, and whilst Joby was preoccupied with ordering breakfast from the cabin-steward, Lonts took advantage of the situation to disappear.
Not wishing to cause undue alarm (or more honestly, he didn't want Adam to know) Joby set out to search for him by himself, reasoning that a six-foot boy in a nappy shouldn't be too hard to locate. Joby eventually found him trying to climb into one of the life-boats.
"What do you think you're doing?" Joby yelled, pulling him down by his nappy "The Captain'll go ape if he catches you messing around with the life-boats. They're practically sacred as far as he's concerned. Were you intending to abandon ship or something?"
"No, I was hiding", Lonts wept.
"Caln, Gimmit", Lonts mumbled "All the evil people".
"Pull yourself together", said Joby, sternly "You're acting bloody silly".
"I'm sorry Joby".
"You will be if Adam finds out".
"D-Don't tell him Joby, please! Can't it be one of our little secrets?"
"Yea, if you promise to behave yourself, and come and sit quietly with me".
Lonts replied by gently taking Joby's hand.
"Now let's get you below", said Joby "I'm sure you don't want everybody looking at you in your Baby Dumpling kit".
Finia was laughing and Gimmit was sulking. Gimmit had gone to Finia's cabin in the hope of having sex, and had been rebuffed disdainfully. Hurt and confused, Gimmit reacted by storming out of the cabin, shrieking that he was fed up with being used. Finia had pursued him mockingly, and stood laughing in his doorway as Gimmit ran up the stairs to the decks, cannoning into Joby and Lonts on the way.
"What was all that about Joby?" said Lonts.
"Something sordid and unpleasant I expect", Joby grunted.
"Fucking hell", Finia drawled, as they drew level with him "What the well-dressed infant is wearing. Is that to stop your nuts sagging Lonts?"
Suddenly, to Lonts's great surprise, Joby spun round and punched Finia so hard on the nose that the eunuch fell back through his doorway onto the cabin-floor.
"I've been wanting to do that for years", said Joby "He's had it coming to him for a long time".
"What is that you're drinking?" said Julian, having finally located Adam, after an extensive search, in the small bar on the main deck.
"Iced water", said Adam, sipping from a pint-glass "Why?"
"Just making sure. One of the stewards said he saw you come in here wearing a pained and hunted look. I thought that could only mean one thing. After all, a man doesn't wear a pained and hunted look if he's going to have a glass of water".
"He does if he's hot and thirsty", Adam snapped "Just sod off Julian. I'm not up to being baited today".
"Then I really had better stay here and watch what you drink hadn't I?"
"I resent that remark, Julian. How many more years do I have to stay teetotal to convince you I'm not going to start hitting the bottle at the slightest provocation?"
"A piss-artist never reforms".
"Is that a fact? Well, have this one on me then", Adam upended the glass over Julian's head. Julian shrieked as several ice-cubes plummeted down his neck at once.
"I'll get you, you bastard!" he cried, but Adam didn't hang around for him to make good his threat.
Joby and Lonts were eating breakfast in Adam's cabin when he hurtled in and slammed the door shut, just as Julian impacted on the other side of it. Adam held the door-handle firmly, and yelled at him to calm down.
"I'm glad it's not my door he's kicking in", said Joby.
Julian finally got in, and threw Adam against the wall, whilst at the same time attempting to yank Adam's shorts down.
"Jules!" Adam cried, breathlessly "Not in front of the children dear".
"Leave him alone", Lonts screamed, and rammed his fork into Julian's posterior.
"You little bastard!" Julian exclaimed "I can see whose influence you're under".
"Oh calm down Jules", Adam laughed "I think we're all getting a little bit worked up here".
"Joby punched Finia", said Lonts, proudly "It was really funny".
"That's just marvellous that is", Julian cried, in dismay "You little bastard Joby, why did you do such a childish thing?"
"Because it was very satisfying", said Joby "I wish I'd done it years ago now. I feel so much better for it".
A game of water cricket had been organised in the pool that afternoon. Trixie chose to sit it out, and lolled under his parasol, feeding his dogs on the bite-sized sandwiches that had been set up for tea. He found the game far from amusing, as he got the distinct impression that Hillyard and Joby were trying to splash him as much as possible. The rest of the time they yelled at Lonts, who was making a pretty inattentive fist at being fielder.
Fed up with his regular soakings Trixie finally conceded defeat, and went to change seats. As he was doing so he became aware that somebody was standing on the other side of the pool whom he hadn't seen before. A tall, dark-haired figure wearing a cassock and a crucifix. Nobody had mentioned a priest being on-board, although Trixie knew it shouldn't come as any great surprise where Kieran was concerned. The sun was directly behind the man, glaring around his head like a very harsh halo. It made it impossible to see his face.
"Half time!" Hillyard yelled.
"It's called tea actually", said Joby, scrabbling onto the side of the pool like a wet fish on a slab. He was lying about a foot from the priest, but seemed to be completely unaware of his presence "You were fucking useless Lonts. I don't know what you find to think about half the time".
"I'm sorry Joby", said Lonts, climbing out behind him. He did notice the priest. He reacted by screaming in terror, and falling to the ground in a dead faint. Blood was pouring from his nose, and it was some seconds before anyone had realised what had happened.
"Shit, what's the matter with him now?" said Joby.
"It was the priest", said Trixie "The priest gave him a scare".
"What priest?" said Hillyard.
"Never mind all that now", said Joby, leaning over Lonts "We'd better get him to the M.O, and fetch Adam whilst we're at it".
Lonts lay on the leather couch in the M.O's office, with Adam and Kieran sitting in chairs on either side of him. Lonts was conscious again, but horribly afraid. He was in a room which had glass-fronted cupboards lining the walls, and as far as he could see these cupboards contained endless boxes and bottles of pills.
"It was a hysterical nose-bleed that's all", the M.O was saying "Not uncommon for someone as acutely highly-strung as he is".
"He's never had one before", Adam protested.
"Yes well, it's all a sign that he's getting worse", said the M.O, sternly. Mental disorders weren't really his line at all, even though attacks of depression and cabin-fever weren't unknown on the high seas. His attitude to any kind of mental weakness was brisk, naive and at times downright intolerant. When a desperately homesick and unhappy steward on a different ship had once complained to him of being bored, the M.O had replied that in his considered opinion only boring people got bored. The young steward had killed himself soon after by hurling himself into the depths of the ocean.
"The boy will continue to be a trial", the M.O went on "Until you break the vicious cycle he's in by giving him some radical treatment".
"What kind of radical treatment?" said Kieran, suspiciously.
"Electro convulsive therapy".
"That went out with leeches and Burke and Hare!" Kieran exclaimed "What bloody good would that do?"
"It would shock him out of the state he's in. Kick-start the brain into a normal cycle, as it were. That's what he needs".
"You're not going to do that to me!" Lonts wept. He jumped off the couch and ran blindly into one of the cupboard doors "That's what they did to Krik. They electrocuted him. But he was evil. I'm not evil. Tell him Adam. Tell him!"
"Lonts", Adam tried to gently pull him away from the cupboard "Nobody's going to do anything of the kind to you".
"But he just said ..."
"He was talking out of his arse".
"Well really!" the M.O protested.
"Leave us alone with Lonts", said Kieran "We can obviously cope with him better than you".
"Well really!" the M.O said again.
"I've been hearing tales about you", said Kieran "I'll be looking into your past record very closely. So don't test my patience any more than you have done already. Leave us".
The M.O left without another word.
"Now he's gone", said Kieran "Why don't you tell me what it is you saw Lonts?"
"It was too horrible", Lonts shook his head vigorously.
"Lonts", said Adam "Lie down and ..."
"I'm not lying on there again", Lonts looked at the leather couch as though it was alive "Mad people lie on couches".
"Alright then", said Adam "Sit on my lap. Patsy wants to talk to you".
"Who was it you saw Lonts?" said Kieran, gently "I can't help you if you don't tell me. Was it Caln?"
"Trixie was burbling about a priest", said Adam.
"He said I had no right to live", said Lonts "I could hear him saying it in my head. He said everyone else in Kiskev had died, including him, and I had no right to still be here. He said he'd come for me!"
"So you saw the priest, the missionary?" said Kieran "The one who caused all the trouble in Kiskev?"
"He's come back from the dead Kieran", Lonts wailed "He's come back to collect me. Please don't let him take me. Please!"
"He's not going to", Adam pressed Lonts's face into his hair, and stroked him soothingly.
"All these pills in the room Adam", Lonts mumbled "I can't stand looking at them".
"I feel like eating something frivolous", said Kieran, getting to his feet "Let's all go to the galley and have a pig-out".
"I hope this means you're turning over a new leaf Patsy", said Adam, as the three of them sat round a large creamy gateau in a quiet part of the galley "Perhaps Lonts and I should start up a 'Fatten Up Patsy' campaign".
"Flash of inspiration", said Kieran "I felt we needed to bail out of the situation somehow. And I know what a sweet tooth Lonts has".
"Exactly", said Adam "See how easily he's mollified. How could that prize idiot of a quack go suggesting things like ECT? There's absolutely no need for any of that. There is usually only one of four things Lonts needs. A cuddle, a clean nappy, something sugary like this, or a smacked butt. That M.O's a prize wanker".
"Calm down", said Kieran "Or it'll be you who'll need therapy at this rate".
"As doubtless Julian would say, that should keep him busy for a while!" said Adam.
"This cream's really thick", said Lonts "Like butter".
"It's proper cream that's why", said Kieran "Not something squirty from a can that evaporates when it hits fresh air, like we had in our time".
"Real cream should be yellow", said Adam, contemplatively "Devonshire cream. Except we can't have Devonshire cream anymore, not when there's no Devonshire".
"You're as bad as Joby at going off on a tangent", Kieran laughed.
"Is that so?" Adam stuck a dollop of cream on the end of Kieran's nose, which made Lonts laugh wildly.
Kieran tried getting at the cream with the tip of his tongue, but had to concede defeat and wipe if off with his hand. He saw the priest at once, standing near a rack on which a row of tea-towels were drying. He dropped his fork with a clatter on the floor.
"That's him!" Lonts cried "Can you see him too Kieran? Can you?"
"Yes", said Kieran.
"So can I", said Adam "It's Isaac".
Kieran called a meeting of his own set at once, and they met in his stateroom. Julian, Gimmit, Trixie and Finia were unanimously all offended at being left out and in the dark, but Kieran wasn't concerned about their feelings.
"Well it certainly adds an interesting slant to everything", said Ransey, pacing around them with his coffee-cup in his hand "So Isaac was the Kiskev Missionary. Are you sure he perished in the flames Lonts?"
"Yes I'm certain of it Ransey", said Lonts, who was being impressively calm for once "When I escaped I stood at the edge of the forest and watched them all. He was in the middle of the fire, leading the singing. Until he stopped when he died".
"Weird", said Hillyard, lolling back on chaise-longue "That means ... well I don't know what it means. Was he a ghost when we knew him? But he killed himself. We gave him a burial at sea".
"He looked real enough when we saw him in the galley", said Kieran "Solid and alive, just as he did when we knew him. Except he vanished on the spot".
"Like a vampire", said Adam "Except I don't believe Isaac is a vampire".
"This is like a conversation in an old people's home", said Joby "All meandering round in circles, repeating ourselves, and not getting anywhere".
"Alright smart-arse", said Adam "What's your suggestion?"
"I haven't got one", said Joby "Except to say that we should just accept what we've seen and proceed cautiously".
"Not bad advice Joby", said Ransey "You'd have made a good assassin. Two golden rules, accept and be cautious".
There was a loud hammering on the door.
"Oh who's this?" said Adam, irritably.
"Answer the door Joby", said Kieran "And send whoever it is away".
Joby gave him a look of disgust, annoyed at being ordered about, but opened the door anyway. Trixie was waiting outside, with an expression of anxious indignation on his face.
"What do you want?" said Joby, stepping out into the corridor and pulling the door up behind him.
"What are you talking about in there?" said Trixie, trying to peer over his shoulder.
"Never you mind!"
"I have a right to know", said Trixie "We all have a right to know. I think it's beastly the way you're keeping things from us. There are strange things happening on this ship, and we should all be in on any discussions there are afoot".
"It's family business", said Joby "You're not family. You're a guest".
"If there are vampires on-board this ship we all have a right to know".
"Nobody said there were vampires on-board. If there is anything worth knowing you'll be informed".
"I'm increasingly aware of how right Vanod was about you lot", said Trixie, rather sniffily.
"Well you don't have to stay with us", said Joby "As soon as we get to Port West you can go entirely your own way".
"We'll see what happens in Port West shall we?" said Trixie, cryptically "It is a place of many possibilities after all. Many possibilities".
The forty days were up. As Kieran put it to Joby he had a "date with Angel" that evening. Later that night Kieran went up onto the main deck, anxious to prevent Angel contaminating as much of the ship as possible. It was a still moonlit night. The sea was restful, its blackness illuminated by a silvery lunar glow.
Kieran felt nervous as he paced the deck, waiting for Angel to appear. He wasn't sure if he could trust the vampire, and knew he was putting himself at a huge risk by meeting him alone. Joby had been indignant about this, but Kieran knew if he was going to get any trust going in this relationship, he had to meet Angel on a one-to-one basis. Now he sat on a cushioned chair on the deck, feeling very alone. Much as he had when he had stood at the top of the Skirra Fludd lighthouse and looked out over the Grey Sea.
"What the ...?" he exclaimed, as he felt Angel's furry talons touch his hair.
Angel was sitting by him in the next chair. He looked relatively normal, and was even wearing clothes. It was only his hands, and his furry feet poking out from the bottoms of his trousers, which gave him away. That plus his eyes. That startling luminous blue, which had never dimmed with disease or time.
"Angel, what are you thinking of?" said Kieran, shrinking back in his chair "Unclean!"
"I'm cured", said Angel, simply.
"Oh? Just like that?"
"Yea. The plague broke soon after I last spoke to you. I had a feeling it would. That's why I suggested leaving it for forty days. I had a bad time I can tell you. I was too weak to go and look for meat. I thought shit! I could be stuck with this forever, as I can't die, see. So I took meself off into the this kind of limbo land where vampires can go to rest sometimes. I just lay there for a while. And then it broke. And now I'm fine. So you're quite safe. Now the danger's past I can see you on a more regular basis".
"How nice", said Kieran, dubiously.
"Listen shitface", said Angel "Oh sorry, I know you don't like that one. But listen, I can help you. I'm a vampire, but I'm on your side. You're going to need me if you're going to take on Caln. I can track his movements better than you can, figure out what he's up to next".
"I suppose you can".
"You've got big trouble where he's concerned. He's raising the dead left, right and centre. Gabriel would have been proud of him, except this lot are no mere zombies".
"I had noticed", said Kieran, thinking of Isaac.
"He's bringing them all out of the woodwork, and each one of them has some significance for you lot", said Angel "Up to now I never thought Caln was particularly clever. We vampires are soldiers of fortune after all, we go which way the wind blows, but he's got some formidable battle strategies this time, I can tell you that".
"Yes, but he didn't start any of it alone did he?" said Kieran "He had Vanod helping him".
"Vanod is still helping him".
"You mean he's been raised up too?" said Kieran "Gabriel's not back as well is he?"
"What does Caln want?"
"Isn't it obvious? To restore the vampires to power, and he can't do that whilst you and your lot are in the way".
"Then why aren't you helping him?"
"Didn't you listen to anything I said to you at the Loud House?" said Angel "I don't happen to think it's much fun being addicted to eating people, but whilst I'm here that's what I have to do. I also have another reason for helping you".
"And that is?"
"Caln and Vanod's most ambitious plan is to release the Devil from the Skirra Fludd rock. If they do that it won't just be a case of all the monsters falling out of the cupboard, but all the evil bastards too. And that includes the likes of Tomce and Krik. I'll do whatever I bloody well can to stop that happening. I'll meet you again in Port West I expect. There'll be rich pickings there".
"Now hang on a minute", said Kieran "You're just going to go off killing again?"
"What else can I do?" Angel shrugged.
"How little can you survive on if necessary?"
"If pushed, a few gobfuls of human blood a day, as long as I supplement it with animal flesh. Not brilliant, the equivalent of you lot being on bread and water I suppose. It'd keep me going, but that's all".
"Would my blood be any good?"
"Yours?" Angel exclaimed "Well it wouldn't contaminate me anymore, particularly as we're now on the same side".
"Then take some of my blood Angel", said Kieran "If it'll reduce your urge to kill, then I'll be a donor, as it were".
"You really piss me off when you're trying to be saintly, you know that?"
"Maybe, but it's a good offer I'm making you".
"Not that good, there's hardly anything to you".
"My blood's good, and I'll try and keep it rich for you. I'm not offering you my flesh".
Kieran leaned back in the chair and pulled up his shirt, exposing his flat white stomach. He grabbed Angel round the back of his neck and pulled him downwards, frightened he would lose his nerve if they delayed too long. Hungry as he was Angel didn't need any further prompting. He bared his two pointed front teeth, and sank them into the smooth skin. Kieran hadn't been prepared for the pain. It was excruciating, like being put under the surgeon's knife without benefit of anaesthetic. Slowly the pain passed. For a brief while there was a surge of euphoria, and then a panic set in, as he worried that he might not be able to control Angel. The vampire's appetite was fevered and intense, and Kieran had to slap him sharply round the ears before he could rouse him out of his intoxicated stupor.
When Angel looked up it gave Kieran quite a turn to see his own blood plastered around the vampire's mouth.
"It gets easier for you", Angel gasped, panting heavily "In the end it's just like having a love-bite. I wish you'd put a bit of weight on though. Give me something to get me teeth into!"
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