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By Sarah Hapgood

Up on the main deck, Bardin had sent Tamaz up the main mast to scan the countryside.

“Nothing but scrubland”, Tamaz shouted down “For as far as I can see. Not even any trees”.

“Roads or pathways?” said Bardin, squinting up at him.

“Can’t see any”, said Tamaz “There’s just nothing”.

“OK, come down”, said Bardin.

Tamaz shimmied down with the agility of a monkey.

“Now what then?” he said, when his feet had touched the deck again.

“There’s nowhere convenient to dock round here”, said Ransey, approaching.

“Doesn’t look as if there’s much worth stopping for anyway”, said Bardin “We’ll head further south”.

“Are we going round the Horn of Wonder again?” said Tamaz.

“Only if we can’t find anything between here and there”, said Bardin “Don’t look like that, we’ve done it before”.

“Your maps don’t seem to be much use”, said Tamaz “There’s never anything on them!”

“There is sometimes!” said Bardin, defensively “What would you know anyway? I’d be amazed if you could read them!”

“I can read them alright if there’s nothing on them!” said Tamaz.

“Alright, that’s enough”, said Ransey.

“Well the maps ARE useless”, said Tamaz “We always just end up following our noses anyway”.

“Tamaz!” said Ransey, in a voice that brooked no argument.

They sailed further south, until they came to a beautiful natural breakwater, partially encircling a lagoon. It was decided that this would be a good place to anchor for the night.

“Umbert”, said Bardin, up on the main deck “Get on the wireless, and see if you can send a message to Lord Robert. Tell him where we are”.

“Righto”, said Umbert.

“Are you sure about that?” Julian asked Bardin “We might be giving ourselves away”.

“It’s a risk”, said Bardin “But I’ve weighed it all up, and I’d rather keep in touch with Fire Island, if we can”.

“We’d better do something to distract us tonight”, said Bengo “Or HE [Bardin] will hole himself up in our cabin with his blasted maps. I could wring Tamaz’s neck for saying that”.

“Freaky can be a little pot-stirrer sometimes”, said Adam.

“He’s always a little pot-stirrer, particularly where Bardy’s concerned”, said Bengo “I’m getting really worried about him, Bardin I mean. He’s getting himself into a state, I know the signs. All sort of obsessive and brooding”.

“Come and sleep in the saloon tonight”, said Adam “We’ll have a mellow little party, all of us, except those on nightwatch of course. Then at least you won’t have to listen to him brooding all by yourself”.

Bardin was seated by the empty fireplace in his cabin. The maps were strewn all around his chair, like crumbled bedsheets. He sat in pain, rubbing his flat belly. He felt sick in his stomach, laid low by anxiety and worry.

“Oh Bardy”, said Bengo, appearing with a cup of tea “You’re not feeling very well are you?”

“It’s like having first night nerves, stage fright, only a hundred times worse”, said Bardin “I can see how people get stomach ulcers now”.

“Ooh”, Bengo put the cup on the arm of the chair and then sat down on the hearth-rug “Is it because we don’t know what’s happening on the mainland?”

“Partly”, said Bardin, sipping the tea “And partly because I haven’t a clue what I’m doing. I like to have SOME direction, some idea which direction we’re going in. I haven’t any!”

“Bloody Tamaz teasing you about the maps”, said Bengo “The little rat”.

“He’s right though”, Bardin sighed “The maps are next to useless. They’re never usually much good, but they’re going to be hopeless at telling us where the worst trouble-spots are. I feel we should head south, as that might be away from the main firing-line, but what if we find NOTHING? Do we keep going until we end up going back round the Horn of Wonder to Zilligot Bay?”

“Well we’ve done it before”, Bengo pointed out.

“Yes, but … oh for fuck’s sake”, said Bardin “I feel so utterly incompetent, so bloody wretched. There’s never any let-up from any of this. The worry is always there. Even if by some miracle I manage to forget it for a few moments it still comes back and gets me. What the hell is going on with the world? What’s the matter with everybody? I’ve never known it as bad as this”.

“Kieran reckons it’s some kind of massive collective fear”, said Bengo “Which is causing people to act like total cunts … and something is feeding on that”.

“There’s no one pulling people together”, said Bardin “No one with power and influence talking sense”.

“Even if they tried”, said Bengo “I spect the trouble is everyone’s heard it all before. The world feels tired. You talk about having no direction, the whole world seems to have no direction if you ask me. Where the fuck’s it all going?”

“It needs someone like Kieran again”, said Bardin.

“Joby says they’d tear him to pieces, the way things are”, said Bengo.

“Mm, we can’t risk that”, said Bardin “Not unless we get SOME glimmer of commonsense somewhere, which isn’t looking very likely at the moment”.

The heavy humid evening seemed to match the heavy mood below deck. The initial euphoria of leaving Fire Island and to be travelling once again had evaporated, leaving only anxiety and a crippling lack of confidence in the immediate future in its wake.

“The mainland is a huge place, as we all know”, said Julian “It’s hard to believe that every square inch of it is a mass of nihilistic carnage”.

“Let alone that it often changes without warning anyway”, said Hillyard.

“Even if we find a quiet patch though”, said Bardin, who was being uncharacteristically downbeat “We’ll be constantly having to watch our boundaries”.

“We do that wherever we are anyway!” said Joby.

They were all piled on the communal bed in the saloon. There was a small nightwatch party up on deck, but otherwise everyone had decided to pile in here for the night. It was a rather fuggy atmosphere to say the least.

“It feels like we’re in a war situation”, said Adam “We have no idea what’s going on, there seems to be no sense to the madness, and we have no idea when it will end”.

“At least in a war situation we might have some idea who the enemy were though”, said Joby “Here there don’t seem to be sides”.

“No clear definition of good and evil”, said Adam “This is rather up your street, Patsy”.

“Sometimes people are manipulated by Evil without knowing it”, said Kieran, drowsily “It doesn’t make them evil themselves, just … well just gullible I suppose. Easily manipulated. Wanting to be led”.

“It’s like an age-old philosophical question”, said Julian “If you are manipulated to do evil does that make you evil yourself?”

“No”, said Kieran “But people should use the brains God gave them to think for themselves more, and make their own minds up”.

“What if you’re up against the mob though?” said Joby “How do you stand firm when everyone else is being manipulated by the Evil, without bringing trouble on yourself?”

“Oh for God’s sake don’t ask Kieran that!” said Julian “He’ll probably say you should martyr yourself!”

“I was going to say”, said Kieran “That you should bide your time until you get a chance to turn the tide. Evil ALWAYS destroys itself in the end. The thing is timing, to sense when you can get a chance to turn the tables. Evil never stands firm forever. Unfortunately, the problem is the damage it does in the meantime. It seems to me that the human race has to go through these periodic bursts of insanity. Almost like a cleansing by fire”.

“And sadly that hasn’t changed in all these centuries”, said Adam “It was the same in our time. People raged about it back then, kept going on about when would the human race come to its senses? It never has”.

“Well this is all a bit depressing”, said Ransey “If you lot keep this up I shall go up on deck to join the night-watch”.

“Have some more rum”, said Julian “I’ll go up there in a minute. I need a cigar before I turn in for the night”.

Adam took Joby to the galley to make some cocoa.

“i’m a bit worried about Bardin”, Adam confided “I don’t like to see him so down-in-the-mouth. It’s not like him”. “Oh I dunno”, said Joby “He can have a melancholy streak at times. Typical clown. They’re all depressed little bastards deep down”.

“Bengo isn’t”, said Adam.

“Yeah well he’s too thick to be depressed ent he”, said Joby.

“Oh now that’s terribly unfair on Bengo”, said Adam “It’s just that his brain works in a different way to most people’s!”

“You can say that again!” said Joby.

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