Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jerusalem 23 - Trouble Aboard


Chapter 22 hereChapter 24 here

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I

In the cockpit, Sophie sat in the flight engineer's place, the other two were in their places but were turned around to face her.

'No devices,'  Jannick stated the obvious.

She nodded.  'So maybe this ship was not for rendition at all.'

'Oh, it was.  I've said that.  I saw these guys, like zombies, put on and taken off but I never looked.'

'How many on board?'

'Dozens.  They were never going to speak of anything in their rooms.  They were zonked.  I think the bug was either planted in your room for you two or else you planted it yourself.  Or maybe you had it with you.'

'I'll stay here with Letti,' said Sophie, 'and you go and ask Sam about it.  Check my bags, check anything you like.  Ask him where we've been for months.  Go and do it please.'

He looked at her, climbed from his seat and went to Sam.  Within a minute and a half, Sam had poked his head in through the hatch.  She told him, 'Let the Captain search anywhere he likes, in your bags, in mine.  He has to be satisfied.'

He nodded and the two of them went back.  Sophie looked at Letti and spoke of Europe, of her work, of her own past doings, of many things.

The Captain returned and sat in his place again.  'Negative.  All right, Mrs. Hoddle, what's your explanation?'

'I don't think it's anything to do with general surveillance, the surveillance state needing to know everything down to our shoe sizes.  I think it's quite personal, something to do with my baby.  This person may have made a mistake or else it's something I don't understand.'

'Tell us again how you found the bug.'

'It was under the sill where it curves over and down.  The small spike goes into the surface.  I recognize the type of device and it would have picked up conversation over half the bunk but if my head had been at the other end, it wouldn't have picked up conversation clearly.'

'So, the person knew your head was up that end.'

'Yes.  It seems that way to me.'

'Why bug you though?'

'It's not my movements but maybe whether I was asleep.  I think it was either that or to listen in to what my thinking was on this person.'

'Why you?  Why not your husband?'

'Because this person knew who I was and may or may not have known about my husband.  I suspect that this person is from my past, maybe settling old scores, from when I was dealing with a Section called Sophie-Fleury.  They do like to tie off loose ends, they're quite maniacal about that, even when the need has long passed.  They're mad.'

'Which brings us to the question -'

'Either of you two could still be that person although I don't recognize either of you.  I did recognize Margarita.  Jan I don't know.  I have to go back to Emma now.'

'Right, Mrs. Hoddle.  Until later.'

II

Things had sorted themselves out but the main questions had not been answered.  In one of their daily thinkathons, Emma asked, ‘Do you trust Sarah now?  She saved our lives, as far as she knew and she was quite resourceful when the gun didn’t go off.’

‘We can’t know.  We have to assume negative.  We have to assume another move, controlled by whoever it is … let’s call that person … well, what shall we call him or her?’

‘Le Lutin – the goblin.’

‘Fine.  Why doesn’t le Lutin move?  What is he waiting for?’

‘For our guard to drop.  For Sarah to work her way back in to us, the girl who saved us.  For some reason, she needs to … aha.’

‘Aha what?’

‘She needs to seduce you, Sarah but there are two things against that – she looks awful and you now have eyes only for me.  Le Lutin will know there's no chance of that seduction.’

‘So he or she will have to try something more direct.  Let’s leave that for now.  You know Neil Hodgekiss.’

‘The artist with Patricia.  Yes.’

‘Let’s start up Sophie-Fleury one last time.’  To her look, he continued, ‘It’s not so long ago that people would have altogether forgotten.  Plus, the LeFebvres have a connection with Finistere.’

‘And?’

‘The prevailing winds blow from the south-west.  Anything floating from Finistere would hit London and the south of England.’

‘Bombs?

‘No – pamphlets, flyers, propaganda with a bit of humour.  Far more effective – good for people’s spirits to know they hadn’t killed us off, the word would spread on the grapevine, morale would be boosted and so on.’

‘Not our dirigible?’

‘No, children’s balloons filled with hydrogen, with a message to each one.  Even if they weren’t shot down, they’d lose gas and settle somewhere up country.  Some might even get to France.  We could make sure they did.

Emma was grinning.

'On one side of each leaflet would be something satirical and outrageous, maybe a Charlie Hebdo-like cartoon but on the back would be a succinct but serious message in French and English, detailing the betrayal of the French, listing private addresses of key officials, in case anyone cared to bomb those houses – that sort of thing.

A second wave of balloons would carry quotes from Gandhi and the like, from Churchill and perhaps from Jeanne la Pucelle and on the back would be advice on how to covertly resist, that no one was to break cover.  The art work would be done in WW2 style, with dashing overtones.'

III

The atmosphere, of course, was simply poisonous.  Sam tried to explain to Sophie that although running knives through traitors' hearts was all in a day's work for her and perfectly logical, most people hadn't yet reached that level of consciousness and might find it all a bit nauseating.

'She was going to kill my baby, Sam.'

'Yes and well done for what you did to protect Emma but you should also perhaps see how people like the Entmussens might now be terrified of you and what you'll do next.  What if you suddenly decide that one of them is a possible threat?'

She looked at him evenly.  'What do you want me to do, Sam?'

'I haven't a clue.  I do accept you were right on that Margarita and there was enough in her cabin later to incriminate her but what if she was not the sole culprit?'

He was about to continue when a hue and cry out in the main room had Sam running for the door.  Sophie actually held back and watched Emma. It was Letti out there, as white as a sheet, she broke down in front of them, bending over and wringing her hands between her knees.  'He's dead, he's dead.'

There was silence and then both Jan and Sam ran for the cockpit.  Slumped in a seat was the Captain, quite dead but with no signs of violence.  The two men stood in the small space behind the seats and observed, then they ventured forward and looked around the front of the seats.  There was absolutely nothing immediately evident as the cause of death.

They went back to the main floor and Sam went to his room, to emerge with a small bag.  He opened it, explaining that he was a doctor and that he always kept a small bag of things closeby for medical situations - for his family, that was.  He asked Sophie, who'd now come out, bearing Emma, to go to the cockpit and get the medical kit, which she now did.

When she came back, he extracted some tablets, Mrs. Entmussen went for water and the girl was given a sedative.

'Right,' said Sam. 'I'm going to do an examination of the body, in the space behind the cockpit.  If Jan and Mrs. Entmussen would be in attendance, all you others might remain behind to look after the girl, though she'll probably be out for an hour or more.

IV

The French couple met with them in the latter’s room and the discussion centred around what was possible and what was not. 

Neil had come up with some outrageous portraits – the Committee for London region [still Westminster in the eyes of most of the former UK] in all their irreverent glory, not unlike the old Spitting Image caricatures.  Getting these onto flyers though was going to be the issue.  They could all handwrite dozens of messages each to attach to the balloons but these caricatures needed a printing mechanism.

Emma came up with the idea.  ‘We put the sketches into a bundle and give them, with a note inside, in French, to the people who bring us food.  They have their own network which will eventually get through.  The people in Finistere, if the Lefebvres agree, can do the rest.  We don’t really need to do much more from this end and it’s probably better we don’t.’

M. et Mme. Lefebvre wanted the two of them to understand that what could be achieved was too little, too late.  Of course they were going to help but the question of payment was no longer an issue – the question of survival was.  In Finistere, apparently, it was still not completely dislocated but in Paris, the scene was bedlam.

A young friend of their daughter, both now dead, had got out of Paris and had told a grim tale.  ‘M. Jensen, Madame,’ explained Mme. Lefebvre, ‘half the people are still in their homes, as if that affords them sanctuary and half are out on the roads and in the streets. 

‘Cars are bumper to bumper on all major routes and approach roads – nothing is moving, each vehicle carries the worldly belongings of that household, the now useless Euros are stuffed into pockets, gloveboxes and under the seats in plastic packets.

Everyone is stationary, car horns blare, people get out of their cars and loudly berate someone else.  Quite often it comes to blows – a businessman in shirt sleeves has his fists raised and an ugly snarl on his face while another man in business shirt gesticulates.

A large crowd decides that running, stampeding seems to be the right behaviour; they trample down garden beds and wildly run, run; grandmothers with grandchildren wander, dazed; many people just sit on the embankments, some with heads in hands and they just wait, getting hungrier and hungrier.  Rubbish bins have long since been ransacked.

My daughter’s young man told me one man pulled a shotgun from his car and shot another, then the other’s wife, ran after his children and gunned them down.  No one tried to stop him. He threw the gun away and walked down the road.’

Hugh nodded.  ‘This is what Sarah and others said of London.  People are frightened, they’ve taken leave of their senses.  The new government planned to bring in these changes slowly and tighten the grip bit by bit but humans being humans, they panicked first.  Yes, we know this and this is why we must have this leaflet drop.  We must get the tone right – not mocking people’s distress and yet bitterly mocking those that have brought it about.’

‘Do you think it’s the end, M. Jensen?’

‘Emma heard something quite worrying at the last food delivery although it might not have fully registered.  They’re halfway through rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem but they’re building it in the wrong place.  At least, what they think is in there is not.  It’s most significant and we were briefly involved in the story.’

‘Pardon?’  asked Emma.

‘We were with Gabriella in stopping the Prince, if you recall.  It was only temporary and bought the world a bit more time.  If he gets to Jerusalem in any official capacity, it’s curtains.’

‘But M. Jensen,’ exclaimed Mme. Lefebvre, ‘if you mean your own Prince, he’s already there, brokering a peace.’

‘Ah,’ said Hugh.

‘Explain, Hugh.’  He looked at the other two, nodded and then began.

‘Rebuilding the Temple of Solomon involved razing to the ground the usurping golden "Dome of the Rock" and Al-Aqsa Mosque.  All Jews know and many others do too that since Bar Kochba's revolt in A.D. 135, Judaism has asserted that only the Messiah is capable of rebuilding the Temple.  So they’ve been waiting for a Messiah who could rebuild it.

The ‘Christian’ Right in America, actually in the hands of the enemy, started to call for measures to allow Israel to fulfil its destiny, which, together with the Jewish lobby in the U.S., influenced congress to produce a feasibility study, beginning with the joint administration of the Haram esh-Sharif site, something the Muslims were set against.

Dr. Ernest L. Martin said that the Jewish Temples never were built on the present "Temple Mount" but were actually located a fourth of a mile south over Gihon Spring.  Josephus, Eleazar and Jesus himself all seem to indicate that no sign of the Second Temple would remain. Also, descriptions of Haram esh-Sharif seemed to indicate that the current site was, in fact, Fort Antonia.

Early Church Fathers and pilgrims spoke of a large rock outcropping as the Praetorium.  Archaeologists have confirmed that the original City of David was built on the southeastern ridge of Jerusalem.  Ancient Jewish law required that a live spring be located within the Temple for ritual purification, Davidic "living water".  Aristeas viewed the Temple in about 285 B.C. and stated quite categorically that the Temple was located over an inexhaustible spring that welled up within the interior part of the Temple. 

Tacitus, in about A.D.105, stated that "the Temple at Jerusalem had within its precincts a natural spring of water."  No natural springs have ever been found within the Haram esh-Sharif.  Sir Charles Warren examined all beneath the Haram, and found no archaeological remains identified with the Second Temple.

‘You’re right into this, aren’t you?’ smiled Emma.  ‘Go on, it’s interesting.’

‘Well, as Jay Gary pointed out, in The Temple Time Bomb, in 2001, ‘If the Temple never was located at the supposed Temple Mount then a major obstacle dividing Israelis and Palestinians could be put to rest. He also pointed out that Dr. Martin died of a heart attack in 2002.

Now, as it’s not in the interests of the enemy provocateurs to promote Arab-Israeli harmony, this story about the real location of the Temple has been largely suppressed.  Therefore, while a big hue and cry about the Temple on the Mount was going on, the foundation stone of the new temple, the real one, far smaller, in the correct place, has already been laid and foundation work is proceeding apace.

Meanwhile, the Prince has joined with the American President in permitting the cornerstone of the faux Temple to be laid - it doesn’t much matter where the Temple was built, as long as the Jews believe it is in the right place - this has caused the middle-east to erupt and it’s war.  Countries like Iran are now going hell for leather to build the nuclear device.

As for the secrets beneath the Temple Mount, whatever they are - the crucial kingmaking codes, the ark and tablets – they’re already elsewhere.  So, there’s a coming conflagration over a dispute which never need have existed and that suits the book of the enemy.

The Arabs see it all as the end times.’

‘And is it?’  asked Emma.

‘Looks like it to me although there’ve been terrible times in the past where it all looked over.  This does seem to fulfil the criteria though.’

‘How?’

‘Child against parent, dysfunction in all things, mass movement of people, no one believing in G-d, zombyishness across the world, small pockets of resistance sought out and eliminated, general promiscuity, false prophets, false messiahs and so on.  It’s the closest history has got where everyone’s involved in it.  Traitors everywhere.’

‘Traitors?’

‘Everywhere – within your own family, your own marriage even.  Nobody caring any more, drawn away, no values, connection, commitment to another human.  If we can stay with our own partners, it will be a miracle.’

Mme. Lefebvre shuffled a little and asked, ‘Where are we going?  I mean, what are we to do in the weeks, months and years ahead?’

She hadn’t specifically asked anyone so Emma answered.  ‘I have no idea.  Keep up this fight, send these balloons.’

Hugh said, ‘It’s a very strange feeling.  It might just be bad times we’re going through but surely it’s gone a bit too far for that now.  Look at us.  We’ll be executed in a grizzly way, in public, for being against all this.  This much hasn’t altered for some years now.’  He told them of the island being blown up and how it was done over and over.  ‘So, there’s madness at work.  I just think this balloon idea, though it wouldn’t actually achieve a lot, wouldn’t do any physical damage, would give a huge psychological boost to the long-suffering.’

‘To what end?’  asked M. Lefebvre.

Emma spoke.  ‘We have to do something.  Not hideaway here until the end of our lives.  This was ever our way – to do what we could.’

M. Lefebvre nodded.  ‘They’ll do the balloons.  I shall write the letter.  Now, if you’ll excuse us, Chantèe is a little tired.’

V

The six of them were in the main space and Sam took the floor. 

'Poison. No way, without analysis, to know for sure and I'm not a coroner.  If I knew no better, I'd say arsenic trioxide, having seen it before but the reaction seemed a bit different.  Now, this is fanciful but toxicology was one of my sub-majors and I read of natron, with either realgar or orpiment producing a 'fiery poison'.'

'Ptolemy,' murmured Sophie.

'Pardon, Sophe?'

'Ptolemy - ancient poison - Egyptian.  Used by the Seven to execute traitors - it burns you up inside.  I'd say that that person is definitely after Emma or myself, that he or she knows the Captain found something and so had to act.  This has all the marks of the Seven and it is meant to make me frightened.  It does.'

They all looked at her and couldn't conceive of her being frightened of very much. 

She felt she owed them more.  'In me are personalities.  It's been so long that I have them under control but with the right catalyst, the right drug administered to me, the worst would come out and even I don't know who or what the target would be.  These people want these personalities to take over but I don't want.  So I'm frightened because I don't know what the catalyst would be - a drug, a word, some music - I don't know.  There are two enemies - the one inside me and it wants me to destroy someone I can't now destroy because he's no longer with us ... and then there is an actual person on this ship, sitting here with us right now, whose plan is to eliminate my child.  There are reasons which he or she knows and I know.  If I say I must be kept alive to have another child, a starchild, then he or she might not believe it or accept it.  So even though the death of the Captain was of the Seven, this assassin might not be.’

'Seven?'  asked Mr. Entmussen.

'Yes.  This person knows that of which I speak - the others on the ship do not.'

They hardly dared look at each other, the glances were surreptitious and now Letti was stirring.  Mrs. Entmussen went for water and the girl revived and looked around, worried by their scrutiny.

'Tell us about it,' suggested Sam and that triggered another bout of howling, with Mrs. Entmussen putting her arm around the girl.

Letti gathered herself and sobbed. 'I went into the cockpit and there he was.  That's all.'

And that was all.  There was not much further forward they could go.  They could only retire to their cabins and talk about it but Letti now only had Jan to speak with and he hardly wanted to go up to the cockpit again, so he took her to his room.

Back in their room, Sophie spun around to Sam and whispered, 'I know who it is now.  I'm sure.'

Sam didn't even question that.  'What will you do, what will I do?'

'I'm going to eliminate the problem.'

'Sophie, if you mean you're going to kill another person, without firm evidence -'

'I have the evidence.  I mean that the killer dropped it and I picked it up.'

'Then you're in danger.'

VI

Jean-Claude and Geneviève were standing on the flat area behind the wheelhouse of the fishing boat, not even concerned about being seen any more.  The only militia was renegade and their being recognized or not had no bearing on the matter. 

It wasn't particularly rough out here, almost past Le Touquet but there was a running swell and they were against it, which made the ride a bit up and down.  The wash occasionally sprayed up over their feet but the gunwhale was sufficiently high to protect them from most of it.

Suddenly she grabbed his arm and pointed but whatever it had been had now gone.  They felt a slight bump against the hull, then again and then it floated out behind them - a body - face downwards.

Now another came past ... and one the other side ... now a child's doll floated past, face upwards, a blank expression on the face. 

They were both nauseated at the thought of how this had come about.  Was it the authorities, a mass execution or had people just gone around killing one another?

Another body floated past and another and then there was a lull.  They were going past Dieppe soon and then came a bit of a trek until they rounded the point of Le Havre and made for their destination - Trouville-sur-Mer.

The boat suddenly made a lurch to starboard and then to port, they could hear someone curse from inside and then came another thud, and another and another.  They craned their necks over the side and wished they hadn't, for the sea was awash with bodies and parts of a boat.  Part of a child's torso - a young girl's, floated past and the expression on her face was not one of surprise but one of fear - she'd seen this coming.

Jean-Claude reached for her arm and led her inside, through the hatch and down into the bunk room, where they sat on one bunk, occasionally hearing the thud on one side of the boat or the other.

They were coming home.

VII

Though Emma and Hugh were active people, they were now active, you might say, in ever decreasing circles.  The balloon project had been sent off and now they could only wait.  There was nothing else to do really except survive.

There was one other thing actually.

Hugh picked up on it when Emma spoke of chatting downstairs during the routine check of the sacs by the others on the upper tier – this was after breakfast and there were five at the table.  That would have put the time at around 1000.

These checks had been carried out upstairs this day by Hugh, with Neil, Chloe, two other ladies called Patricia and Susan and M. Lefebvre.  It not being audible due to the placement of the sacs in the blimp, the one at the far end would pass the message on to the one beside him and so on, back to Hugh.

There'd been nothing untoward, the checks had been completed, nothing had been leaking, the systems were working, Emma had been in the chat for an hour downstairs at the table and all had seemed well. 

Except, when Emma mentioned this chat and who’d been present, she couldn’t have had it, at least not with one person supposedly at the table.

'Are you saying I lied, Bebe?'

'I'm saying that if it was as you say, my love, and I have no reason to doubt you, and given that my own eyes are still functioning, then one of those people at your table was also up top with me.'

Emma stared at him.  'Well obviously she wasn't with you.'

'But she was.  She was checking one of the Sacs, we were all assigned a Sac each to check.'

'I'd like you to do something.  Ask Neil who was attending Sac 3 while he was on Sac 4.  Ask him and see what he says.  Don't ask that specifically, as that would draw attention to it and the woman in question would get wind of it.  Ask in general terms – like who was on what Sac, as there seems some anomaly, say, with Sac 6.  That gives you a reason to ask him. See what Neil says and do not speak the name from that moment onwards.'

Emma stared at him again, got up and went outside, finding Neil in his room.

.o0o.'

When she returned, she sat on the bed and just stared at the floor.  'C'est impossible, Bebe.  C'est impossible.'  He came up close and indicated that they lie on the bed, heads away from the wall and he'd speak into her ear.

'What did you ask Neil?' he whispered.

She whispered into his ear, 'Who was on which sac, what time roughly these checks happened and if anyone left the post during that time.'

'OK love, let's try to find a rational explanation.  When did you chat – be as exact as you can.'

'I chatted from around 1000 until around 1100.'

'She was definitely by her Sac about fifteen minutes after we started, because we did a count, from N6 back, plus Neil says she never left.'

'All right Bebe, if she did this, then did she think we'd never discuss it?  If she was capable of this, she could be anywhere she chooses.'

'She either doesn’t care about being noticed made or she made an error or she was giving us a message.'

'Signalling that we have no power in this matter.'

'Yes.'

She went over to Jean-Baptiste who had now woken, sat him on her knee and began a ditty from her girlhood:

Dans la forêt lointaine
On entend le coucou
Du haut de son grand chêne
Il répond au hibou :
‘Coucou, coucou’
On entend le coucou.

The 'coucou' had Jean-Baptiste intrigued and he tried to mouth the word.  She repeated it, Hugh sat watching with amusement and when Emma sang it a third time, he tried to join in softly, especially on the coucou.

She looked over at him, he leaned over and kissed her lips, Jean-Baptiste gurgled with approval, Emma sighed and grinned as best she could.

VIII

In bed, Sam finally asked her.  'How?'

'There'll be poison in one of the bowls of porridge. There will be no variation in the type of killing because this is a ritual matter. You can help by watching closely which dishes go to whom and which implements are where.  The poison can be on the implements as well as in the soup.  It could be on one particular bowl.  'If it is not done at breakfast, then I'll have to force the issue.  It would be nice if breakfast was the end of it because then I wouldn't have to kill again.'

'You speak so casually.'

She took his face in both her hands, looked into his eyes and whispered, 'Sam, you're such a lovely man.  I speak casually because I must be calm and note everything.  On my calmness depends the life of my child and possibly of you and me.  Yes, I speak casually.'

'What precisely would you like me to do during breakfast, apart from watch?'

'This.'  She moved up closer to whisper to him.

IX

When Hugh came back from the bathroom, there, in the centre of their room, was Gabriella, Emma was sitting on the bed, with Jean-Baptiste on her knee. 

'I would like you to come to me now,' said Gabriella.  An extraordinary request from an angel but he did as bidden. 'Look please, into my eyes.'

He did so, murmuring, 'Very beautiful eyes too.'

She smiled enigmatically, smiled and told him, 'That's how you must look into the eyes of the one who will try to kill your child.  It is your only defence but it will suffice.'

'Will you confirm for me if I have the right one.'

'You both have the right one.  You had the wisdom to work it out for yourselves, the two of you working together.  Does that register with you?  Good. I could remain here to protect you but if I did so, she would hide within herself and wait.  She knows there is not the time and this matter requires resolution by her quickly.  You now have the wherewithal, you are strong in each other, working together, so be vigilant.  If you cease to work as one, even for one moment, one short space in time, you will be vanquished and lose your child.' 

'Wait,' begged Emma. 'Does she know what we say, what we think?  Have we any defences at all?'

'Albus, Belus, I am an evolved form and so is she.  All of us have, as I say, limitations and one of those limitations is the ability to perceive.  In her case, to know that you know something is not a thing she can know.'

Hugh felt that speaking with angels could get you tied up quite quickly.  He asked, 'But you knew we knew about her?'

'Yes.  I am a different to her.  She has not this gift handed down to her.  I have it only because it was handed to me, for a purpose.'

'Many would say,' cut in Emma, 'that there is no such thing as you.'

'That is so.  To the unbeliever, I do not exist. It's time I departed for now. I shall return.  I promise this.'

She faded.  Emma sighed and then smiled at him.  'Interesting life we have, Bebe.'  Jean-Baptiste was looking at both of them from the bunk, unsure what to make of it all but knowing he liked that fair lady.

X

Before breakfast, Sophie was quite fatalistic, taking the view that if she succeeded, then her child would be safe - her future child as well.  If she didn't, then she wasn't unhappy about that because it might mean that the star child would never be born.

It puzzled her why the enemy was seemingly fighting itself over this.

.o0o.

There were eight places at the dining table positioned lengthways from the galley towards the centre of the floor area – if you were looking at the galley from the middle of the floor, the door was to the left of this table.

Sophie numbered the places in her head to help her sort out who was getting what and in which place.

Ordinarily, the Captain would have been at the end of the table nearest the centre of the ship where she was now standing, in Sophie’s numbering system, N5.  Mr. Entmussen would be at the far end where he was now, closest to the galley at N1, Sophie would be at N2 clockwise from him, Sam at N3, Margarita would have been at N4, The Captain at N5, Letti at N6, Jan at N7 and Mrs. Rasmussen at N8.  As the main chef was Mrs. E and Letti the carrier/waitress, this seemed a logical arrangement.

Sam today, for some reason, was out of place at N8, indulging in some jolly conversation and observing the whole serving process. 

Letti put the first four bowls of porridge in their place.  'All right, Sam,' she said, going round and sitting in N3, 'Mrs. Entmussen can bring the last two.'

Once everyone was seated, watching each other nervously, Letti took her spoon and was about to scoop a mouthful when Sophie leaned across and stayed her hand.  'That's the salted porridge and you like unsalted.'

'No it's not - Mrs. E knows I like unsalted.'

'I'm telling you it's salted.  Have mine, it's unsalted.'  With that she swapped porridges.

'I want mine please,' said Letti, evenly.

'Yours was salted, Letti,' said Sam from the other side of the table.  'I saw the unsalted go to Mr. E.' 

'Oh, for goodness sake, all of you.  Look -' and with that, Sophie swapped Letti's new porridge with Mr. E and Letti got her original porridge back.  'All right, everybody happy?'

'Perfectly, thank you,' smiled Letti.

'Now, may we all please have our breakfast in peace?'

'I'm off my breakfast after all that,' muttered Mr. Entmussen. 'I'm going to lie down for a while.'  He folded his napkin and putting it on the table, began to rise but Sophie suddenly pushed his shoulder down again, to Mrs. Entmussen's protestations, Sam sprang up and pushed his other shoulder down, commanding, 'Eat, Mr. E.  You're hungry.'

'I'm going to lie down,' said the man, attempting to rise again but Sophie pushed him back down once more.  It had turned nasty and Mrs. E was utterly shocked at this treatment of a frail, well-mannered old man.

Jan jumped up and came up to him, Mrs. E thought sanity was about tobe restored. They would get theirs, these two ruffians.  Instead, Jan repeated, 'Eat, Mr. E, eat.  'No?  Then let me help you.' 

While Sam and Sophie held the violently struggling Mr Entmussen in place, his wife tried to get to him but bodies surrounded the man, she pummelled Jan from the side, trying to drag him away, Sophie grabbed the man's hair and yanked it back, Jan now took a spoon of the porridge and fed it in.  He spat it out, so Sam took another spoonful and this time, Letti jumped on the table, spilling all the plates, reached out and held Mr. Entmussen's nose, the man really was struggling violently, Sam put the porridge in his mouth, Letti held his mouth closed until it was swallowed, the whole thing was repeated, Mrs. Entmussen screaming, they all let go and stepped back, Entmussen jumped up, crashed into the galley wall, stumbled for the galley to scoop cup after cup of water from the drum into his mouth, then choking and clutching at his throat, took three steps into the main room, sagged down to his knees and fell sideways.

He was quite dead, as Sam soon confirmed. 

His hysterical wife, having been restrained by Jan, was now released, she fell to her knees by his body and wept over him for half an hour, before they led her away to her room and held her while Sam sedated her.

XI

It wasn't safe in the family home in Vicenze nor in any shack or pad Massimo owned in the vicinity but it became obvious, within a few hours, no one else was going to put them up. 

They'd picked up the remnants of his family, including his ageing mother, they'd picked up Anya's mother and while the women and children waited in the back room of a nearby motor garage, he had contacted all those he'd known and trusted.  Either they had moved on or else they weren't showing themselves.  Mobile phones had long ceased working, raps on the door were to no avail.

There was nothing for it but to go back to his home and load the shotgun he kept out of harm's way, for just such an occasion as this.  Not being a hard man, not being a brute, despite his height, he viewed this development with distaste.

However, they had food and there was his own well from where to draw water for some time.

It was obvious on all the faces that this was their last resort, their last resting place.  For his mother, this was fine but for hers, this was living and dying someone else's life.  Pretty enough in its own way but where was it going?  What was there actually to do which hadn't been done a thousand times before?

This had elements of waiting for the end and yet, as they'd seen in the journey east, there were dangers and there was the unexpected at each point along the way.  He'd used up all his favours and Anya felt, maybe even his nine lives.

This was it.  This, here, where they were incarcerated.

XII

They were sitting by Mrs. Entmussen's bunk, with her still out like a light and Letti Sophie asked Letti if she still had any doubts.

‘Not since I saw the devices.’

'The problem was,’ said Sophie, ‘you all thought me mad.  Let me ask you - if Gabriella hadn't appeared in front of you, Letti and in front of you, Jan, would you have believed me?'

'No,' answered Letti simply. 'Even until Mr. E died I didn't accept it but I thought, what harm anyway in making him eat porridge, especially if that made Sophie look like a dangerous nut later.  That's why I went along with it.'

'I recognized the type,' said Jan. 'In my work, insurance assessor, we have to judge types - we become amateur psychologists really. Dangerous but we get better with experience.  The best assessors are judged by results and I've done all right. 

This man was not too difficult.  He was exceedingly quiet in public but being next to my room, I heard some of what went on there and in there, he was a different person.  His wife has had a rough time, I'd say and yet she's still under his spell. 

Everyone was thinking Sophie was the killer, a psychopath and in some ways she is but a logical one.  Her bad reputation gave Entmussen his idea.  I began to watch him from the corner of my eye and he was definitely intrigued about the possibilities of Sophie.

I started paying attention to his wife, complimenting her, speaking with her and I saw him turn sour over me but he'd never have tackled me about it - he took it out on his wife.  I began to think then he might do her some violence but he was too cautious not to do that - any marks would be sheeted home to him and with Sam a doctor ...

Sophie was by far the better option.  It was only later I realized she was the only option - he had to get her restrained or even killed because his only mission, as you told us, Sophie, was to kill your child.

I thought he'd try for poison because it had already been done once and when Sam actually came to me, I was already in the vicinity of that idea.  Like Letti, I didn't think it would hurt to make him eat porridge, even if it soured relations later - in a way it was a payback for the way he’d treated her. 

That appearance of Gabriella almost changed my mind - it seemed just a bit too much, as if the three of you were forcing my hand and yet, where on earth had she come from? 

And when she faded away, how did she do that?  I searched the ship afterwards and she was simply not there.  That's when I believed and that's when I started to feel most uneasy.  That's when I knew Entmussen had to be stopped.'

'What a monster,' shuddered Letti.  'And the Captain?'

'Had the goods on Entmussen, I'm sure.  You've gathered, by now, that I heard snippets of conversation and I'm afraid the good Captain was doing a bit of the old chantage on Entmussen, not a wise thing with a man like him.'

'Mr. E was always good to me,' said Letti.

'Men would be, Letti.'  She looked at him curiously.  'Mrs. Entmussen though - poor woman.  We have to explain all this when she comes to, she has to live with being daily at the scene of his death, with no possibility of getting off the ship.'

'I think we have to let her off the ship,' said Letti.

'What, to die on a barren rock?  If the elements don't get her, the starvation will.  That would be inhuman.'

'Meaning we have to fly the ship somewhere and put ourselves in danger,' said Sophie.  'Let's be honest - where could we take her?'

No one had any answers.

XIII

Word finally filtered back to Hugh and Emma via their supply lads, concerning the leaflets.

They’d been fairly accurate in that about half of the leaflets had been lost or confiscated but sufficient had fallen to create a stir and the effect on the regional governments was mixed.

Messages were exchanged and a detail was sent north to deal with the nuisances but in general, it was way too late, even for the authorities.

There was no electronic communication any more, no way for unrest to spread beyond its immediate area, no way that people in one part of the land could communicate with people in another but anyone in uniform was ambushed and blown up – forces of law and order had long gone and troops were now refusing to obey.

Emma suddenly asked him, apropos of nothing in particular or so it seemed, 'Tell me what you know about the Temple.’

He paused. 'The Temple?' She nodded.  'The Jewish Temple?'

'Yes.'

'The third one?'

'Yes.'

'Why?'

'I'd like to know.  She went into listening posture on the bed, just as he had done so long ago and now it was his turn to sigh and raise his eyes to the roof.

‘OK ... right.  Jewish scripture says that the Temple can’t be rebuilt until the Messiah is imminent. Now, jumping over to Christian scripture, it says that someone will pretend to be that person, he’ll undertake the rebuilding, then he’ll desecrate it. That’s the signal. You’d say they could rebuild it at any time, right? Israel’s in charge of Jerusalem.’ She nodded. ‘Not a hope. The moment any Jews go up on that mount and touch that mosque, the entire Muslim world erupts.

In the past the Roman Emperor Julian wanted to rebuild it and got someone called Alypius of Antioch to do it, along with the governor of the province. Guess what happened?’ She shook her head. ‘Every time they tried to rebuild, balls of fire broke out near the foundations and burnt the workmen. It got so bad that they had to give the idea up. Not only that but Julian himself was killed elsewhere. Explain that.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Well, I’ll do it for you. It just happened to be the Galilean Earthquake of 363 at the time, hence the flames.’

‘Well, there you are.’

‘Yep but why did the attempt happen at exactly the time of the earthquake and why an earthquake at that time anyway? No one asks that question. Every attempt has failed, even when there was no actual opposition.’

‘Oui, I see where your going. Every time something happens which has a religious explanation, there’s also a natural explanation.’

‘In the end though, the sheer weight of incidents begins to count for something in people’s minds. Tell me about Jeanne la Pucelle – did she have those visions?’

‘Well, yes.’

‘Ah, so you accept visions when Jeanne has them because you’re a good French girl [thank heavens for small mercies]. Did those visions come from G-d and the second question – how did she command an army as she did and confound her accusers at her trial with such wisdom? How old was she?’

Emma just looked at him. ‘There has to be an answer to you. I just can’t find it.’

‘Why does there have to be an answer? I don’t mean, my love, that you have no right or anything like that. You have every right. No, what I mean is – why the necessity for an answer when the explanation is right there?  There's a principle called KISS - keep it simple, also known as Occam's Razor.’

‘I know Occam's Razor.’  She trailed away, then rallied. ‘I just don’t believe it.’

‘So, it’s a psychological thing. Not based on any hard evidence, you just don’t wish to believe. Period. You can’t accept other dimensions, you can’t accept anything abnormal, especially if it looks and sounds ‘religious’ although you know Gabriella is real?’

‘Hugh, you’re pressurizing me.’

‘Am I? Then I’d best stop right now.’

‘Some terrible things in history have been done in the name of religion.’

‘Yes, you’ve got straight to the truth. ‘In the name of …’ That’s the key. I can slaughter twenty people, crying out, ‘Allah is great!’ holding a Koran in my hand. Does that make me a Muslim?’

‘All right, Hugh. Enough. I know what’s next – that’s how the enemy misrepresented us too.’

‘I didn’t say a word.’


‘You can be intensely annoying.’


Chapter 22 hereChapter 24 here

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