The ship of Zheng He stood like a monument, surrounded by the sunken ships around it in an area wide enough to be a city. To Rayna, it reminded her of a place that she had heard of called Chernobyl. To the Swordsman, it reminded him of stories that he had heard only in whispers and hushed conversations about a place called Gunkanjima.
They stayed out of the shadows most of the time, and when the sun got too hot to bear, they only dared to step within the outer edges of the shadows of the enormous ships all around them. There were things that hid in the shelter and cold of darkness, and these things were usually either hungry, rabid, or both rabid and hungry. Only the harsh heat of the desert kept them from roaming about while there was daylight.
So the two kept close to the light, never wandering too far into the dark, no matter how comfortable it felt to be out of the sun.
‘How long more d’you think till we reach?’ Rayna looked up at her companion. ‘You look like a guy who’s used to walking around. Me, I’m more of a scooter kind of person. It’s different – difficult to tell how fast you’re going without a speedometer, see.’
The Swordsman nodded. ‘It may be an hour before we arrive at our destination,’ he said, ‘If we keep this pace. The sun is still high and bright, so there may still be time for your explorations.’
‘Sweet,’ she said, and they kept on walking, pushing their dust scooters along beside them. It would have been easier, of course, to simply travel over to Zheng He’s ship on their scooters; but with the limited fuel that they had with them, it just seemed unwise to ride the scooters while nothing was chasing them.
‘Place gives me the creeps,’ Rayna laughed a little as she said, but could not help but feel a chill run down her spine and an icy-cold feeling from building in her guts. ‘I mean, I know I said we’ve been looking for this place in ages,’ she continued on, ‘But that was while paps and the rest of ’em were still around, y’know? The more the merrier, makes up for more noise and less creepiness. I mean, I’m not saying that we should go back – I’m in this all the way to the end; but just… Yeah. This place is seriously creeping me out.’
‘I can understand that,’ the Swordsman said, and that was all. His mind was far away – not thinking about Zheng He’s ship, or the fuel for their airship that they still have not found, and not even the airship named the HMS Clarent. His mind wandered off to New Britain, and he thought about the things that he had heard about it, wondering how much of those things were true, and how many of them were mere myths.
When he thought he felt a tingle by his ear, the Swordsman stopped and looked back the way where they had come from. Rayna, sensing his rest, also stopped to look back at him.
‘Anything?’ she asked.
He looked up into the sky and saw nothing but an immense brightness. There were not even clouds in sight. He took a sniff of the air and wondered if he had only imagined what he had felt.
‘I don’t think so,’ he said, but remained still.
Rayna walked over to where he stood, giving him a concerned look. ‘Trouble of any sort?’ she pressed. ‘I mean, even if it’s just a gut feeling. You can tell me.’
‘Trouble,’ the Swordsman repeated, as though trying the word out. ‘Yes, trouble indeed. I sense it coming, but I cannot find proof that it is. I believe we should be on our guard, just to be safe.’
‘Better to be safe than sorry,’ Rayna agreed. ‘It reminds me of Pascal’s wager.’
Now the Swordsman looked at her inquisitively. ‘Pascal’s wager?’
‘Yep,’ she said, ‘A man from a time long ago. He had this idea, see, that regardless of what you think, it’s always a better choice to believe in God. Coz’ if you spend your life believing in Him and in the end He doesn’t exist, you’ve lost a little part of your short life to silly superstitions, nothing more. But if you spend your life living as though He doesn’t exist, and at the end of the road find out that He does… There’ll be hell to pay. I mean literally.’
He thought about this for a moment, but before he could say anything, Rayna had already began talking again.
‘So it applies to us, see,’ she said, looking back where the Swordsman had been looking earlier. ‘We can go on being careful, believing that there’s trouble coming our way; and if there isn’t anything to worry about, then whoopee-do, we’ve just slowed ourselves down a little, no big deal. But then, if we shrug off the feeling, and it turns out that there had been trouble all along that’s been racing towards us like a dead freight…’
She stopped there. There was a pause, and then the Swordsman just looked at her and said, ‘I understand.’
Far behind them, emerging from the cargo hold of the HMS Clarent and into the open desert, Damien and Sonny held their weapons ready, their minds on high alert.
They were out for blood.