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By Sarah Hapgood

The "Coronola" had appeared silently alongside, like a dark brooding phantom in the fog. Its rigging creaked eerily in the gloom, and it was so close to them that it overshadowed them in an intimidating fashion. Meanwhile the Captain was having further problems on the "Killarney". All the electrical equipment, including the gauge and even the engines, were malfunctioning. And whilst everyone else tried to search for rational explanations, it seemed that only he knew the truth. It was all due to the close proximity of the "Coronola".

Searchlights were trained on the side of the old ship, and illuminated it in an eerie glow. A peculiar green slime had coated the masts, rigging and outbuildings. The decks were also coated with it.

"Are you going to send a boarding-party to investigate?" Kieran asked the Captain in the chart-room.

"Not tonight", the Captain replied "Not in the dark. Wait 'til daylight".

"But surely ...?" Kieran protested "The First Officer tells me he's picked up the sound of some kind of dull thumping noise coming from the interior of the ship".

"So?" said the Captain, sharply.

"So it means somebody could still be alive on there!"

"Then a few hours wait won't hurt them any".

"Yes it could", said Kieran "I have to say that your attitude over this is downright extraordinary".

"Now you listen to me", the Captain glared at Kieran across the chart-room table "I don't know what that is on there, but I'm not risking the lives of any of my men to find out".

"Fine", said Kieran "That's just fine. Then we'll have a look for ourselves. I take it you've no objection to that?"

"With all due respect to your position Your Grace, but I am Captain of this ship, and whilst you are on-board here you come under my jurisdiction. If you or any of your party attempts to board the 'Coronola' before daybreak I will have you arrested and put in the hold. And I'll answer for my actions when we reach Port West. In the meantime I'd very much appreciate it if you went calmly to your cabin and set a good example to the other passengers. When - if - a boarding-party is sent across tomorrow then I will make sure you are informed. But I beg you, I need calmness. The ship's engines are malfunctioning, and it would be only too easy to generate an atmosphere of panic".

"Put like that, I see what you mean", said Kieran "Please keep me informed of all developments though".

"I must admit I'm like the Captain", said Joby, pouring large measures of brandy into two glasses "I'd rather look it over in daylight as well. I dread to think what we might find on there".

"Deep-frozen corpses I expect", said Adam, sipping coffee in the chair opposite.

"But those thumping noises the sensors picked up", said Kieran, pacing around the stateroom "It could be someone trying to get help. Perhaps they're trapped. A delay of a few hours could kill them".

"I have a gut feeling", said Adam "That it might not be in our best interests to find them alive. There is something very weird about that ship, and anyone still alive on it is bound to be very weird too. They'll be better encountered in daylight or not at all".

The three of them sat talking until very late. The level in the brandy decanter dropped markedly.

"I mean", said Adam "Gone are the days when we three can just go barging into places willy-nilly, just to see what's going on".

"I don't see why not", said Kieran, lolling back on the sofa in a drunken drowsiness "We play it too damn safe these days. Got too cautious in our old age. It's not good enough. The Captain asked us to set an example tonight, and I went along with it. But we set an example tomorrow too, of a different kind. Us three have to head that boarding-party".

"Probably find we are the boarding-party", said Joby, who was undressing for bed "The others are as nervous as hell about that ship. Don't build the navy with any backbone these days obviously".

"Alright then, it'll just be us", said Kieran "Like it was in the old days. The three of us exploring the unknown".

"Three idiotic louts in places we shouldn't be", Adam laughed "I'm getting quite nostalgic already".

"We leave Lonts behind though, and we don't go opening any trapdoors", said Joby, having finished putting on his night things of tee-shirt and robe, secured round the waist by his silk neck-tie.

"Oh doesn't he look sweet!" said Kieran, nearly rolling off the sofa "Like a little boy all ready for bed".

"I am a little boy all ready for bed", Joby grunted.

"Shall I get Patsy safely onto the bed before I go?" said Adam, draining his coffee-cup.

"Yea", said Joby "Another thing that's quite like old time!"

Adam picked up Kieran and placed him gently on the bed, before removing his clothes.

"Now you behave yourself", he said, kissing him lightly "Stay in this cabin tonight, and don't go giving blood to Angel, or trying to board the 'Coronola' or something daft like that".

"He won't", said Joby "He's not up to it for one thing".

"Oh I'll be good", said Kieran "That's all I focking am lately. Good. I'll have to change all that, or I'll never get that spanking you promised me earlier".

When Adam went to collect Lonts from Ransey's room he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun. When Ransey realised who it was though he lowered it again.

"A bit nervous aren't you?" said Adam, trying to calm his beating heart.

"Yea I'm sorry", Ransey ran his fingers through his hair in a gesture of exhaustion "It's just that you walked in a bit sudden, and I've been hearing things. Something moving about in the corridor, a sort of scuffling and grunting noise like a wild animal".

"It's not like you to be spooked easily".

"No, it must be the close proximity of that other ship. Bizarre it reappearing again after all these years. I wonder what happened to them all?"

"Perhaps we might find out in the morning", Adam walked over to the bed where Lonts lay in a heavy sleep "He hasn't been any trouble has he?"

"None at all. But that might be because I cheated. I'll probably get kicked out of the Grand Order of Babysitters, but I poured about a gallon of whisky in his cocoa".

"It's an improvement on clubbing him over the head, which is what I sometimes feel like doing. Are you going to be alright in here alone?"

"Yes", said Ransey, irritably "I just let that noise get to me that's all. It was probably one of Trixie's dogs".

"More than likely".

Adam got Lonts into their cabin, undressed him and put his nappy on him with the boy barely being aware of what was going on. Adam envied him his deep sleep, as he lay next to him restlessly. He himself was too keyed up to sleep, and everytime he did show signs of dropping off he was jolted back into wakefulness by some distant noise coming from another part of the ship, such as a door slamming or the murmur of a voice.

At around three a.m he was thoroughly unnerved by the sound of a tin whistle. Not only was it a bizarre thing to hear at such an hour, but it reminded Adam uncomfortably of the whistles he used to hear from out on the Kiskev tundra. The siren call of the vampire. Soon afterwards he heard something scuffling past his door, which sounded, like Ransey had said, all too much like a wild animal.

He got out of bed and opened the small peephole in the door. By now the scuffling noise was very close by, and Adam vaguely caught the outline of a dark shape just below his line of vision. He closed the peephole again. From then on nothing on earth would have got him to open his door until daybreak.

At the first light of day a boarding-party climbed onto the "Coronola". Adam left Lonts in the charge of a disgruntled Hillyard, and joined the party with Kieran and Joby.

"The green slime's mildew", said the First Officer, standing on the deck of the old ship.

"That's a relief", said Kieran, shivering in the grey light "I was beginning to think it had something to do with green blood".

The first horrific sight came upon them very soon. Lying in the doorway of the wheelhouse was a wolfhound, the ship's mascot. It had been frozen solid, its fur matted with the cold. Its lips were drawn back in a ghastly grimace, which was all too easy to construe as a look of sheer terror.

This was only a foretaste of what was to come. In the rooms below deck the entire crew sat or lay, captured for posterity in their cold death-throes. Each and everyone of them had their lips pulled back in a sickening grin. To some death must have been very sudden indeed. One man had been frozen for all time in the process of climbing off his bunk.

"They all look like strychnine smiles", said Joby, as he looked around the captain's cabin.

"Yes they do", said Kieran "Could some kind of poisonous gas have escaped from somewhere? Death looks to have been very sudden indeed".

"We can talk better away from here", said the First Officer "Whatever happened it's not good to be exposed to the air here for too long. We'll collect what papers we can find and hope they tell us something. There is nothing more we can do for these poor wretches".

"It's hard to believe we just saw all that", said Joby, accepting a glass of gin from the Captain "Those hideous pale faces staring up out of the gloom".

"The poisoned gas theory seems to make sense though", said Adam, pacing around the chart-room and wishing he could join in the gin binge "It would account for most things, the suddenness, the gargoylish expressions".

"It doesn't account for the messages received the other night", said Kieran "Could they have got delayed somehow, and kickstarted into being sent when they broke free of the ocean? Perhaps whoever sent them did it years ago, and we've only just got them, like old radio signals bounced back from outer space".

"But what did he mean by 'I am dead'?" said Adam.

"Does the log-book say anything?" Joby asked the Captain, who had been delicately turning over the pages of the old ledger.

"Very little", the Captain replied "Many pages have been torn out, including the last few. Those that remain give no indication at all as to what happened. It's all most frustrating. And remember there's also the matter of those strange knocking sounds we picked up. The mystery remains very much unsolved".

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