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Surviving The Evacuation, Book 17: There We Stood: Surviving The Evacuation, #17

Surviving The Evacuation, Book 17: There We Stood: Surviving The Evacuation, #17

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Surviving The Evacuation, Book 17: There We Stood: Surviving The Evacuation, #17

ratings:
5/5 (1 rating)
Length:
474 pages
9 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 18, 2020
ISBN:
9781393316275
Format:
Book

Description

As one year ends, and our old world fades into memory, a new future is born.

On a frozen archipelago, where it is too cold to farm, a few thousand survivors from across the Atlantic have found a refuge. The arduous process of turning a sanctuary into a home begins once more for these weary travellers who've been chased from Britain, from Ireland, from France and Denmark. But their work is not yet done. The missing Marines cannot be left behind. The French and Ukrainians cannot be abandoned. The cartel can never be forgotten.

As soldiers once again become civilians, the dangers of malnutrition replace the everyday spectre of starvation. Potential mutiny supersedes being overrun by the undead. Boredom replaces fear. Slowly, they relax, allowing themselves to enjoy the simple pleasure of music and plays, of weddings and births, of life without the imminent prospect of death. But all is not what it seems in the snowy wastes surrounding their town.

While Europe is a zombie-filled radioactive wasteland, there are other continents. Other oceans. Other survivors. Other communities, just like their own, who will fight to keep what they've the clawed from the grip of the apocalyptic nightmare.

Set in Northern Europe, Eastern Canada, and the tumultuous seas between, as one year ends, and a new civilisation dawns.

Publisher:
Released:
Jan 18, 2020
ISBN:
9781393316275
Format:
Book

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Surviving The Evacuation, Book 17 - Frank Tayell

Future

Part 1:

One Candle, Alone, to Light the Darkness

Europe

Day 270, 8th December

Prologue - Who Are We?

The Faroe Islands

To begin, let me apologise for my appalling handwriting. Even though the cast is on my other arm, I shall place the blame squarely there for making it look as if a spider’s danced an inky jig across the page. It’s a while since I last recorded an entry for my journals. Back on Anglesey, in fact, which seems a million years ago, but it was only November 21st when my plane left Wales behind. Now, two and a half weeks later it seems a world away, but I’m only half an ocean and a quarter of a sea distant. Specifically, in the city of Torshavn, on the Faroe Islands.

My brother found a nice house for us all. Compact without being small. Cosy. Warm. Grass-roofed. High-ceilinged. A home for a family, and so very different from our sprawling, knocked-through terrace on Anglesey. In its turn, Torshavn is ever so different from Holyhead. But it was back on Anglesey when I first considered the Faroe Islands as a potential home for humanity. The sub-Arctic temperatures, which will make farming next to impossible, crossed it off my list. Being shot will make anyone reassess their life, of course, but it made me reconsider how we live, and how we’ll transition from survival into that new way of life. Electricity is key, and it was the hydroelectric plant which brought us here.

Sholto, Siobhan, and a squad of Marines were our advance-party, and discovered the town and the countryside beyond almost entirely free of the undead. However, these islands are not unoccupied. When Sholto and Siobhan went to the bridge linking this island with its neighbour to the east, they found a barricade, and they found people. A treaty of sorts has been negotiated with the locals. We can remain here, as long as we remain in Torshavn, and as long as we leave by the first of March. In return, we’ll get electricity and running water, though, so far, it has only been restored to under half of the town.

We don’t know much about the locals. Sholto and Siobhan met three of them, Gunnar, Rigmor, and Rannvieg. Those three claim there are others, and they send all decisions up to the Løgting, the ancient name of the Faroese’s equally ancient parliament. How many more locals survived here? Are they all from Faroe? We don’t know. In addition to the bridge, a recently completed tunnel connects this island with its eastern neighbour. The tunnel is sealed and we’ve been forbidden from using it. Is this because the locals are using it for food storage? Again, we don’t know. They gathered most supplies from the homes in this town, but did they do the same across the entire island, and on the other islands in the archipelago? As we are confined to the town, again, we don’t know.

Added to this uncertainty is that some Irish survivors, once from Malin Head, arrived here before us. These are people from the community Siobhan and Colm left. After Kim and I met Siobhan, we travelled north with their group, to Malin Head, and found it empty. Our assumption at the time was that they had sailed west, towards the U.S. Now we know differently. The community in Malin Head came here, to Faroe. There was a confrontation. The Faroese soldier, Gunnar Niclasen, lost his leg, and the Irish were expelled. The Faroese don’t know of our, albeit tenuous, connection to Malin Head. Nor am I certain how best to address it when it becomes known to them. Deal with one problem at a time, I suppose, and we have more than enough to be getting along with.

Food, though, is not one of them. Not immediately. We are virtually out of old world supplies, but the fishing is remarkably good, at least for now. So, for now, this week, we won’t starve. And who is we? Today, it is those of us who arrived aboard the super-yacht The New World. Tomorrow, our numbers will include those thousands aboard the Ocean Queen. Aside from a small crew on the HMS Courageous, and a skeleton guard aboard the barely afloat submarine, Vehement, and the USS Harper’s Ferry down in Kenmare Bay, that is it. That is us. Except this is an answer to where we are rather than who we are.

Identity is less fraught an issue now than it once was, but it is just as difficult to answer. We were survivors from North America who made their way across the Atlantic by ship. We were US Marines, sailors, and civilians who made their way north from Cape Verde. We were English, Irish, Welsh, and Scot, French and Australian, and everywhere in between. Some were stranded when the outbreak hit, some were at the homes we’d known all our lives. Some gathered on Anglesey, some in the ancient fortress of the Tower of London. Now, we are learning to forget such immaterial differences and become something different. Something new. What that will be, what we will call ourselves, is of far less importance than where it is. At least until the first of March, it will be here. After that, I don’t know.

We’ll have to scout the coastlines within reach, but there aren’t many left. Admiral Janet Gunderson brought the USS Harper’s Ferry up from Cape Verde where she’d recruited tourists and locals to bolster her ranks. On their journey north, they searched every harbour within reach. Sophia Augusto and the other survivors of the convoy that set out across the Atlantic before the nuclear war certainly can’t recommend anywhere on the American side of the ocean. We’ve satellite images of corners of Europe, and of the US, and, again, none suggest a glimmer of where we might find a new home. Nor can Captain Flora Fielding. We met her in Calais, but she spent the year since the outbreak on Ascension Island, and brought us knowledge of the southern Atlantic. The Falklands were overrun. South Africa is as much a desolate ruin as everywhere else.

To this we can add our own recent sea voyage from Calais to Denmark, in which we found no survivors. Rather, we found no one friendly. All of which sounds grim. Perhaps unnecessarily so. We’ve found people here on Faroe, and though we didn’t receive the most friendly of welcomes, it is warmer inside than it was on the ship.

After the plane crashed in France, we discovered survivors in the French town of Creil. In turn, they were found by a group of Ukrainians. They number over twenty thousand and, along with Sergeant Khan, Private Kessler, and Scott Higson, are on their way to an old military base in the Pyrenees. No, by now, they should have reached it. We’ll look for them. We’ll find them. Somehow. In their survival lies hope we’ll find other friendly faces, and the risk we’ll find more nests of evil like Calais, occupied by people as vile as the cartel. Originally, before the outbreak, they were called the Rosewood Cartel, and they were the murderous muscle behind the apocalypse the politicians wrought. After the outbreak, in France, they turned Calais into a slave camp, found tanks left behind by the French Army, and used those to storm north, as far as one of Kempton’s redoubts in Denmark. They were defeated. Which isn’t to say they are all dead, but any handful that survived are no threat to us. However, there will be others like that on this planet, and the next such threat might not be as easy to recognise.

Once more, I’ve made it all sound rather grimmer than it is. We’ve a home until March with electricity and water. We’ve nearly three months to think and recover, and to negotiate a more permanent arrangement with the locals. It’s a lot more than we’ve had in the recent past.

Compared to aboard ship, we’ve plenty of space. One thing that’s missing, and I didn’t notice until an hour ago, is a garden. My arm isn’t painful, as long as I don’t jar it, but the weight of the cast makes sleeping difficult, and sleeping in a bed impossible. I wanted to watch the stars while my feet were planted firmly on unmoving ground. At the front, the house lets out onto the pavement. We don’t have a curfew, but with so few of us in the town, and despite the glaring streetlights, there is a sense of danger that grows the closer I get to the front door. At the back is a small oblong of paved yard with a narrow fence dividing it from our neighbour’s equally small rectangle of outdoors. A yard is not a garden and little better than a car park, and so not a place to look upwards and consider the infinite possibilities of the universe. I considered climbing up to the grass roof for a brief bit of stargazing, except the cast makes climbing a ladder a near impossibility with a neck-breaking probability. Plus, it’s freezing out there, and getting so late it’s almost better to define it as early.

The Ocean Queen will disembark its passengers later this morning. Tomorrow will be the joint wedding and a welcome party, which is an excuse for us to invite the Faroese, and so impress upon them that we are normal enough people. There are two key areas I want to push. The first, to allow us to search and secure the entire island. The second, access to the tunnels linking this island with the east. Being out of the weather, a tunnel would be ideal for hydroponics. I suspect that’s what the locals are already using it for, so perhaps we can trade seeds and labour for already grown food. Regardless, we’ll need to bolster our seed stock prior to any serious attempts at farming. I’m uncertain whether that can be here, but I’m just as uncertain whether it can be anywhere else. The weather is increasingly erratic, and I don’t know what will happen to the fish stocks after this year’s predator-free breeding boom. A year to build up our seed stock, to learn how to farm, to plan, that’s what I want from the Faroese. In return, we will offer them a berth if and when we leave here.

As to where, if it’s not here, our next and final destination might be, it has to be somewhere with oil. My own preference is for the Mediterranean. Some among the admiral’s crew still wish to return to America, but everything we know tells us that place is as bad as Europe. Worse, even. Nevertheless, the Amundsen will head west after the wedding. Sholto will be aboard the old icebreaker, along with a small crew and larger shore party. They will inspect Iceland, Greenland, and then the northern coast of Labrador before circling Newfoundland and returning here. They will find nothing but ice, I’m sure of it. But it is worth confirming that now, while we have the luxury of time. When they return, another expedition will begin, to the United States. Another will go to the Mediterranean, via the Bay of Biscay, where, hopefully, we will make contact with Scott Higson and the French and Ukrainian survivors.

The Courageous is also on its way to Torshavn. I’m not alone in thinking it’s unwise to have all our ships here, but it is simpler to refuel from shore than at sea. Again, it is the admiral’s decision. Once refuelled, the Courageous will head south, back to Kenmare Bay, to collect the skeleton crew left aboard the immobile Harper’s Ferry, and the barely-afloat HMS Vehement. Mister Mills should have scuttled his submarine weeks ago, and yet he has not. That, though, is something I can do nothing about.

There is a lot of work ahead of us. A lot of planning. Preparing. Whether this is a beginning, an end, neither, or both, the next year is fast approaching, and tomorrow is approaching far faster. And so I must, despite everything, attempt to get a little sleep.

Day 271, 9th December

Chapter 1 - Homecoming

The Faroe Islands

What a day it’s been. Exhausting doesn’t begin to describe it, but today was a success. The Ocean Queen eased into the harbour around eight a.m., which is… gosh, only twelve hours ago. I assumed it was later. Yes, an exhausting day, and tomorrow we have the wedding, so I will keep this entry brief.

Our little household was awake before six. Compared to everyone else, we slept in. But before seven, everyone was in position. Mary O’Leary was at the school. Sholto, Siobhan, and the squad with whom they’d arrived on Faroe were patrolling our internal perimeter. The deaf soldier from London, Tuck, had drafted another ten… another ten… I’m not sure what to call them. I was going to write sailors, but they weren’t a year ago. Nor were they soldiers, and I hope we have no need for those in the future. I can’t call them Londoners, because they’re mixed in with our people, or people who were with Kim in Dundalk. It is a puzzle, and it is getting late, so for now, let’s just call them people. They joined Sholto’s patrols, watching for the undead and making sure the new arrivals didn’t stray too far from the electrified part of town. Aisha and Felicity were running the kitchens at the indoor sports facility. Norm was aboard the motor launch, The Golden Pelican, acting as a pilot to guide the ship in, while the rest of us were shore-side, watching, mouths agape.

I didn’t appreciate the sheer size of the Ocean Queen. The best description I can muster is of three apartment blocks stacked together, on their sides, and with as much apparent buoyancy. I assume magic keeps it afloat, because it surely can’t be physics. But it does float. This morning, it did move, gracelessly bulldozing the waves as it inched its way into the harbour. Despite the clear skies and calm wind, mine wasn’t the only breath held as the ship brushed the seawall, following Norm Jennings and his launch through the barely-deep-enough and not-really-wide-enough channel to the jetty. A jetty it was far, far, far too tall for.

Yesterday, Mary had kept the children occupied by having them make pennants: single-colour flags affixed to whatever sticks could be found around the school. They’d begun waving as soon as the ship approached, but their arms were beyond tired before we began the engineering struggle of raising a gantry to the lowest of the cruise-ship’s access doors. I was getting tired myself. I’d already clocked up the longest I’d been on my feet since I’d been shot. Conscious of the hundreds watching from the deck towering above us, I ignored the pain in my shoulder, made worse by the weight of the partially cement cast, and concentrated on keeping my smile from becoming a grimace. But, in the end, the gantry reached. The door opened. The admiral appeared, and the children began waving again with an energy they managed to sustain almost until the admiral had stepped onto firm concrete.

There was no flag to raise, lower, or salute. No anthem played, let alone was sung. That’s what I’d wanted. I was overruled. But Admiral Janet Gunderson is our leader. Elected only by those who escaped the conflagration in Belfast, but elected nonetheless, and accepted by everyone else. Does it matter that we didn’t have a more formal ceremony? Perhaps not.

Welcome to Faroe, Kim said.

Thank you, Admiral Gunderson said. And thank you, she added, addressing the children, who took that as their cue to finally let their tired arms droop. What a wonderful welcome. The admiral turned to Kim. Is everything ready?

Just as we discussed, Kim said.

Have you seen the locals this morning? the admiral asked.

Not yet, Kim said.

We won’t wait for them, the admiral said. Let’s bring everyone ashore.

And I wish it had been as easy as that.

Chief Watts had followed the admiral ashore, and stood by the gantry, a frustrated look on his face. The one-time submariner shook his head. Clearly, he couldn’t connect the shore-side system to the ship’s radio.

It’s a good thing we have a plan-B, the admiral said. She took out her sat-phone, dialled, then spoke into the receiver. Patch the call ship-wide. A wall of feedback blasted from the ship’s address system, loud enough to scare the lone pair of curious seagulls that had arrived with the ship. With another smile, the admiral handed me the phone. Mr Wright, we’re all ears.

Welcome to Faroe, I said. After a disconcerting delay, my words echoed across the floating behemoth. There’ll be a more formal welcome tomorrow, after the wedding. Today, we’re going to bring you ashore in groups of fifty, take you to a welcome centre for a meal and a housing allocation, and then you can get settled in. Because we’re saving the warm welcome for tomorrow, I’ll remind you of this, here and now. We’re not on Anglesey anymore. There are zombies on this island. We’ve roped off the electrified part of the town. Stay within the ropes. Don’t go out alone. Don’t go out unarmed. We don’t want tragedy to spoil this triumph. Now, in your groups, we’ll bring you ashore. Welcome to Faroe, let’s see what kind of home we can make here.

It wasn’t the most rousing of speeches, but it was simply a verbal vehicle in which to frame the warning. And it had to be made by me. Rather, it couldn’t be the admiral, leaving few others to fill the role. If that means I become defined as the killjoy civil servant, so be it.

The children came ashore first, and there weren’t many of them. The expectant mothers came next, and there weren’t many more. With them came their families. In total, they numbered just over five hundred who, in groups of fifty at a time, were led to the school. The rest of the adults came next, again in groups of fifty, and they were led, one group at a time, to the sports centre.

We’ve separated the children and the expectant due to food. For once, there’s plenty of it, but it’s mostly fish. After all this time, I don’t think many would argue against the children and expectant getting what little else we have, but seeing others receiving marginally more varied rations could still foster resentment.

Colm came ashore in the third group. When I spotted him, I stepped forward.

Welcome to Faroe, I said, talking as I limped, beginning the slightly more detailed welcome speech I’d hastily written, copied for everyone else, and mostly memorised for myself. This way, please. Follow the red line we’ve painted on the road. Red leads to the sports centre. We’re using that as a general meeting place as it’s one of the few buildings large enough for all of us. Green goes to the school. The children are billeted in houses around it. Blue will take you to the hotel we’re using as our administrative hub. We didn’t want to use the Faroese’s parliament building. It’s a little awkward since, of course, these are the homes of people who now live on the other island. Please do remember that. Keep everything as tidy as you can until we’ve reached a more permanent arrangement with the locals. Everyone still with me? Great.

I walked slowly, partly because I was feeling the effects of an already long morning standing still, but also to let them take in this odd little town. I knew a few of their names, and a few more faces, and to most of those I gave a smile and a nod, though not to Markus, loitering near the rear. Colm was a few steps behind, not looking at Markus, but that crook must have realised the Irishman was his own personal police escort.

This way, then, I said, and continued limping up the road. Behind me, the sound of footsteps was drowned by the muffled growl of plastic suitcase wheels carving tracks through the partially flooded road.

Half the town has power, I said. And water should come out of the taps in your billet, but we’ve not checked every faucet. If there’s a problem with the plumbing, or the wiring, report it up at the sports centre. There are just about enough rooms for everyone to get one of their own, but you might have to share a house. We’re assuming that, since you disembarked together, you don’t mind sharing a roof. If you do, you’ll have to swap among yourselves. Things will get a little easier after we’ve secured, and restored power to, the rest of the town. Until then, we’ve got to make do.

You mean go without, Markus said.

After his unwitting involvement in the murder and mayhem in Belfast leading to that citywide inferno, I’d honestly thought he’d keep his head down and his mouth shut. Neither the admiral nor Colm had agreed, hence why Markus had his escort.

We’ve made do with worse, Colm said loudly. A lot worse. You said there’s a meal waiting for us?

There is, I said. That’s why we’ve staggered disembarkation. We’ve only been here a few hours longer than you. The meal will be fish. We did find some old-world supplies. Not many, and we’ll share it all out tomorrow, after the wedding. But after that, we’re back to fish and birds.

That’s better than going hungry, Colm said.

It is, I said.

You haven’t searched every house, then? Markus asked.

Most, but not all, I said. We’ll organise some systematic searches in the next few days, and I’ll put your name at the top of the list of volunteers. But that’ll be after the wedding. For now, stay in the part of the town with power. You’ll know where that is by the lights, and by the ropes we’ve strung across the roads. We’ll have more announcements tomorrow, after the wedding. There will be work, hunting, fishing, cleaning, patrolling, the usual, but there won’t be so much we can’t enjoy a few weeks of rest.

And then what? Markus chimed in.

That depends on the Faroese, I said. And on what the expeditions discover. The first will depart the morning after the wedding. Less than forty-eight hours from now, heading to Iceland, Greenland, and Canada. Three more voyages are planned, with the goal of all being completed before the end of January. And here we are. This is the sports centre. So I’ll say welcome once more, before bidding you adieu, for now.

Colm hung back as the others entered.

Do you think Markus will be a problem? I asked the one-time Belfast boxer who’d come second in the on-ship ballot to choose a new leader.

Not one I can’t handle, Colm said. It’s the quiet folk you’ve got to watch, but I can handle them, too. Oh, but it’s good to have solid ground beneath my feet again.

You’ve picked out some police officers?

Twenty I trust, Colm said. Plus the volunteers patrolling against the undead.

Twenty? You think you’ll need that many?

I hope not, he said. Time always tells, but it tests the unprepared hand. Whatever the trials ahead of us are, we’ll be facing them on a full stomach.

I’ll let you get some food, I said, taking his hint and letting him enter. I didn’t follow, though I did linger outside in the empty car park, enjoying the fresh air. An act in which I was caught when Kim walked out through the sports hall’s main doors.

Was there a problem? I asked.

A problem? No, Kim said. Why do you ask?

Because I caught up with you, I said. I thought you’d be on your way back to the harbour by now.

I was having a nice chat with some people I’ve not seen in a while, she said as we headed together back to the dock. Didn’t you talk with your group?

I gave them the speech, I said.

And I bet you did it in your gravely serious voice, she said, taking my unbroken arm. You need to relax, Bill. Everything is going well. And before you point out dark shadows are gathering, they always are after midday. We’re alive, the ship’s arrived, and there’s a hot meal for everyone. Things have often been a lot worse than that.

While we escorted people from the harbour to the sports centre, the morning became the afternoon. The wind returned. The clouds gathered. The town filled with people, then lights, then noise as CD players and TVs came on, playing whatever discs could be found. Torshavn came alive, but I was approaching dead-tired when I got to the harbour and found no one else waiting to disembark. I wanted to go home, to bed, but went to the hotel instead, and was surprised to find the admiral already there.

The medical exams are over? I asked.

There isn’t much I can do here I couldn’t do aboard ship, she said. I only had a few patients on my list.

Any I need to worry about? I asked.

Only yourself, she said, ushering me into the office behind the reception desk. Take a seat. No, on the desk. Thanks.

My arm’s fine, I said.

When did a doctor ever listen to a patient? she said. I’d like to take a look at the hospital’s operating theatres, but with night already approaching, I’ll have to fit it in before tomorrow’s ceremony. Jacket off, please. Here, let me help.

She gave me little choice, but I was getting used to military doctors for whom, more so than a civilian medic, a request was really an order.

Why do you want to see the operating theatres? I asked.

Patient confidentiality prevents me from giving you the specifics, but I’d like to be prepared. This is a solid cast. Very solid.

I think there’s some cement in the mix, I said.

Is there much pain?

Discomfort more than actual pain, I said.

Roll your fingers, left to right. Now right to left. Grip my hand. Tighter. Thank you. How are you sleeping?

As well as ever, I said.

Honestly?

I’m up a few times each night, I said. But I’m jumping at odd noises, not because of the arm.

Are you sleeping in a bed?

A chair, mostly.

I see. I’ll leave the cast on for now, but will replace it later this week. You’re not a priority, but I’d like to check how the arm is setting. We want you fully mobile before the first of March.

The chances of me ever being properly mobile ended on a staircase in Whitehall, I said, tapping my leg.

Any news of the Faroese? she asked.

No, I said. Thaddeus has taken a drive up to the bridge to let them know you’ve arrived.

But you think they’re watching? she asked.

I do. Possibly from the tunnel, if nowhere else.

I stationed another four guards at the entrance, she said. The Faroese secured it very well, didn’t they? Cement, and cinder-block, with no obvious door on this side.

I’m sure there is one, I said. And I’m sure they know you’ve arrived, but it gives us an excuse to send my brother up to the bridge to maintain the dialogue.

I have an idea on that very topic, she said. We’re having our meeting here?

At five, I said. Over an early dinner.

Good. Then, unless there is anything else, I am going to spend my time in the bath.

Night comes early in winter, and earlier still this far north. I spent the hours between nightfall and evening walking the town, being friendly. Or as friendly as I can manage while I’m slowly freezing, but chattering teeth look close to a smile.

By four, like most of the new arrivals, I’d retreated to the warmth of inside. In my case, it was to the hotel rather than our new home. I found a chair in the lounge that was nearly out of the way of the programmers, Mirabelle, Ken, and Dee-Dee, who were unpacking screens and cables brought from the cruise ship.

Though I was the first of our nascent cabinet to arrive, everyone else was there long before the appointed hour, summoned by the prospect of food as much as curiosity.

There was a miscalculation in the kitchens, they apologise, Nilda said as she pushed the food trolley into the hotel’s dining room where the meeting was being held. Present were Chester and Nilda, Kim and myself, Sholto, Mary, George; Leon, Siobhan, the admiral, and Captain Annabeth Devine, the admiral’s deputy from the USS Harper’s Ferry who’d been in command of Elysium during these last few weeks.

From outside, there was a clatter and curse as a computer was dropped.

Doesn’t look like they’ve miscalculated on quantity, Chester said, handing out the bowls. Not sure what else matters.

We’re missing a few people, I said.

Heather and Lorraine send their apologies, but they want to get ready for tomorrow, Nilda said.

They’re getting married, too? Kim asked. How many couples is that now?

Counting Reg and Gloria, that’s eight, Nilda said. Though there’s room for more. I’m not looking at anyone in particular, I’m just stating a bald fact.

George opened his mouth, but Mary spoke first. And is everything ready for the ceremony, dear? she asked.

For how brief it’ll be, it’s an awful lot of work, Nilda said. "No white dresses. Not that there aren’t any in Faroe, but I didn’t want anyone wearing the dress of one of our guests. The same goes for the local costume, of which we found quite a few sets. It’ll be whatever suits and gowns can be found to fit. Thankfully, I’ve persuaded the children it would be too complicated passing the crown around, so those old jewels are being left out of the ceremony. There’ll be no procession, except at the end. The couples will come out, together. A bit of music, a few sonnets, the vows, and that’s the extent of the formalities."

And that’s when the fun starts, Chester added.

We’re holding the ceremony at the sports centre? the admiral asked.

Outside if the weather remains fine, inside if it starts to rain, Nilda said. There’ll be photographs afterward, not that we have any way of developing them, but taking them will be an opportunity to get the Faroese on their own, and there’ll be another chance during the music and dancing. We’ve been practicing.

Not sure one lesson yesterday counts as practice, Chester said.

We’ll all be as rusty as each other, Nilda said firmly.

And food? the admiral said. That’s my biggest concern.

All eyes went to the partially charred contents of the bowls in front of them.

There was an accident with a tray, Nilda said. We miscounted somehow, and if anyone was going short, it had to be us, not the last people off the ship. We had to whip something up, but there was some confusion between Celsius and Fahrenheit, and… well, here we are.

But everyone else has eaten? the admiral asked.

They have, Kim said. And there’s a couple of soup tureens on the bubble in the sports centre, there for anyone to come and claim a bowl. Tomorrow, we’ll put on breakfast between nine and eleven. More soup, it looks like. The main meal will be after the ceremony. One course, but filling. The main event, though, will be the buffet which’ll go out after the dancing.

And after tomorrow? the admiral asked.

We’ll keep the meals centralised for this week, Kim said. After that, I’d like everyone to cook for themselves, but communally. I was thinking we’d use the restaurants, and let each group decide on a rota for cooking and cleaning, and hope the better chefs make themselves known. That’s the logistics. As regards the menus, it will be fish, birds, and seaweed. Giselle is positive it’s edible. She made Pierre eat some to prove it. Oh, and if you see any of the children wearing strands of seaweed like a scarf, Pierre’s pantomime of dying after tasting it is the reason why. Hydroponics might produce a few leaves in a month, perhaps a few radishes. We should be able to trade with the locals, just as soon as we can figure out what they want. I don’t think this is the season for any bird to lay eggs, but we can’t go looking for nests until the locals allow us out beyond the town. So, for now, it’ll be fish, bird, and seaweed.

With any old-world supplies we find going into a central store? the admiral asked.

As we discussed, yes, Kim said. Colm will maintain a guard on it. Once we’ve searched everywhere, we’ll see what we’ve got, and how far it’ll stretch.

Thank you, the admiral said. "Malnutrition is a concern. As is frustration with the diet, and what that might lead to. To counter it, tomorrow, I’m going to propose the Faroese join us in a joint expedition northward aboard the Amundsen."

I thought that ship was going west, Chester said.

"The New World will go west, the admiral said. If the ice is too thick for her, it would be too thick for the Ocean Queen. The Amundsen will go north, to Norway or wherever else the locals can recommend. Three days to travel north, one day for looting, three days back, and she’ll return before The New World reaches Canada. The prospect of a varied diet will fill the mind, if not the stomach. Before The New World has rounded Newfoundland, the Amundsen will have set sail for the Bay of Biscay."

Where it’ll look for the people of Creil? Chester asked.

Yes and no, the admiral said. "The Amundsen will inspect Biarritz and Bilbao, and the coast between. If there is a safe, deep harbour, the Courageous will search those cities and that section of coast. The Amundsen will continue south to Gibraltar, and then head into the Mediterranean with the intention of looking for fresh fruit. As for the Courageous, she will arrive in harbour tomorrow evening. We will detach three of the Vulcan cannons, and distribute one to each ship."

Is this so the Faroese know we have the warship and its weapons? Mary O’Leary asked.

In part, the admiral said. "And in part because we have so little ammunition. We’re down to under a thousand rounds in total, not counting whatever shotgun shells and handgun ammo clink in the depths of our pockets. Those cannons are almost the extent of our armoury. Removing them is as much out of fear that if we were to lose the Courageous, we’d lose them all. Captain Fielding will then head south, to Ireland, to Kenmare Bay where the Harper’s Ferry is rusting, and where Mister Mills and the Vehement still sit. The colonel will travel with the ship, to persuade Mister Mills to scuttle his boat."

I glanced over at Leon who showed no surprise at this news.

And then head to the Bay of Biscay? Chester asked.

"Only if the Amundsen finds something worth the voyage, the admiral said. But not until The New World is on its return. Kenmare Bay is closer to Newfoundland than Faroe. If a rescue is needed, the Courageous will make the trip. On its return, The New World will then set out for New England. My intention is, by the end of January, to have selected the best alternative site for our new home from between the Bay of Biscay, the Mediterranean, and the Northeastern Americas. If the Faroese will not extend the deadline, we won’t beg, and we won’t delay. This spring, we need to plant. We need to spend February preparing the ground. Either that’s here, or it’s not. Personally, I have faith that we can reach an accommodation with the Faroese, but we will plan for the alternative. That brings me to one last thing. Nilda, I’d like you to command The New World on its voyage west."

Me? she asked. Clearly this was news to her, and to Chester. Why me? All I know about ships I’ve learned in the last few weeks.

"Chief

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