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By Sarah Hapgood

“Oh Bardy, you’re still awake”, said Bengo.

“Try not to sound so disappointed!” snapped Bardin.

“No no it’s just that you could do with some sleep”, said Bengo.

“I could also do with that mug of cocoa you’re hovering with”, said Bardin, pulling himself up so that he was reclining against his pillow.

“I can hear something”, said Hillyard, who was sitting in one of the chairs, having just had a brief turn up on deck “In the far distance”.

“Sounds like thunder”, said Adam, dispensing cocoa to the others.

Mieps pushed one of the windows open further. The only sound that could be heard at first was the water lapping against the sides of the boat. Then it gradually became more apparent, a booming sound in the very far distance.

“Is that thunder?” said Bardin “It doesn’t quite sound like it”.

He put down his cocoa and crawled out of bed.

“Oh no, Bardy, don’t go messing around”, said Bengo.

“i’m just going up on deck for a moment”, said Bardin, pulling on his dressing-gown.

He scampered up the steps to the main deck, pursued by some of the others and the dogs. On the main deck the end of Julian’s cigar stood out in the gloom like a tiny speck of torchlight.

“That’s definitely not thunder”, said Bardin, going over to the bulwark “The rythm’s all wrong”.

“It’s gunfire”, said Ransey “But it’s a long way off”.

“About a hundred miles i would say”, said Julian “The sound is travelling further because it’s night-time and there’s nothing in the way to stop it”.

Bardin looked across to the mainland. All he could see was the huge, dark, featureless shape of the land rising out of the water, like a mammoth black whale. There were no lights anywhere to be seen. No hint of civilisation, or even the roving light of a lone traveller.

“It’s to the north”, said Bardin.

“Well that’s alright”, said Julian “We weren’t planning on heading up that way”.

“I’m not sure anymore”, said Bardin, in a vague, dreamy voice.

“Bardin, go to bed”, said Julian, firmly “Nobody can think straight when they’re that tired”.

Before breakfast the next morning, Bardin was standing by the window in his cabin. The distant gunfire had ceased about an hour before dawn. It had left him feeling confused and uncertain. All the decision-making of the day before seemed to have gone by the board.

“Bardin”, came Kieran’s soft voice “Are you alright?”

“No”, said Bardin, frankly “I thought I had it all sorted out and now I’m not so sure”.

“You want to go northwards?” said Kieran, coming over to stand close to him.

“I’m not sure ‘want’ is the way I’d put it”, said Bardin “I can’t say I was looking forward to the Horn again either, but I was tempted by the thought of seeing Zilligot Bay again after all these year. But now … I can’t make a fucking decision!”

“It’s a rock and a hard place”, said Kieran “both are fraught with dangers”.

“There’s no point playing safe anyway”, said Bardin “After all, that’s why we left the islands, because we couldn’t face the thought of sitting out there for years, wondering what the hell was going on. But how the hell am I going to sell going north to the others?”

“They’re not exactly lacking in courage, Bardin”, said Kieran.

“Damnit!” Bardin punched the top of an armchair “I can’t make a fucking decision! And I have to. I have to say to the others this is what we’re doing, and do it”.

“But we’re not going out to fight anymore”, said Kieran “Merely to observe”.

“If we come under attack we’ll have to fight again”, said Bardin.

“We’ve done it before”, said Kieran “I really want to find out who’s behind all this. Someone is. But they’re hiding their face from me”.

“Could it be Angel?”

“No, it’s not his style. Someone though is whipping people up to kill each other. And it doesn’t take much. Destruction can snowball”.

“Hate is infectious”, said Bardin.

“Exactly”, said Kieran “It takes a strong person to stand against it, and say no you’re not drawing me in. From what we can piece together, it started in the City. People were killed, it is thought by the Ministry, but no one’s sure. The anger this caused then spiralled outwards, and waves of destruction then kept spreading. Until now it seems to be sucking in the entire world, like a huge sink-hole sucking everything in”.

“But we don’t even know if the Ministry really did begin all this”, said Bardin.

“No, it could’ve been them”, said Kieran “It could equally have been someone passing it off as them … to achieve exactly what has been achieved”.

“Kieran!” Joby barked from the doorway “What are you doing in here?”

“Talking to Bardin”, said Kieran.

“Go and help Hillyard feed the animals”, Joby ordered.

Kieran left the room without a murmur.

“Don’t let him fill your head with nonsense”, Joby said to Bardin “He’s up to something. He always is”.

“He’s helping me to focus”, said Bardin.

“Well as long as it’s on what YOU want to do”, said Joby “And not on what HE wants you to do. He’s a sly little bugger”.

“I haven’t a clue what I want to do”, said Bardin “Except to find out what the hell is going on. To try and somehow get to the truth”.

“Well take your time about it”, said Joby “We can easily stop here for a couple of days”.

“I’ve had an idea”, said Bardin, suddenly seized with lightbulb moment “I’ll put it to the others at breakfast, but as a sort of psychology test-cum-game”.

“That don’t sound very fair to me”, said Joby, dubiously “Be easier to have a general vote surely?”

“If we have a vote they’ll piss about analysing and arguing about it forever”, said Bardin “This way’s better I promise you”.

Joby had his reservations about that, but frankly he was happy to try anything other than sitting around in this mooring chewing over everything endlessly.

When everyone was seated in the dining-room as breakfast was about to begin, Bardin strode to the head of the table and rapped on it.

“On the count of three”, he said “I want everyone to shout out which comes first into their head, North or South”.

He rapped on the table three times.

“North!” Hoowie yelped, closely followed by Adam who said “South”.

“North was out of the gate first”, said Bardin “We head north after breakfast”.

“That wasn’t really fair, Bardin”, Mutton Broth protested “You didn’t really give us a chance to think about it”.

“That was the whole point of the exercise”, Bardin snapped “If I’d given you a chance to think about it, we’d still be here when the Sun burnt out!”

“Aren’t we running out of new places to see northwards?” said Tamaz.

“Look, just shut up”, said Bardin, taking his seat.

“Huh, anything that goes wrong from now on”, said Hoowie “I’m gonna get the blame for it for saying North”.

“As befits your role as communal whipping-boy”, said Bardin.

“I thought that was you these days”, Hoowie retaliated.

“Eat your porridge”, said Bardin.

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