It took an effort not to stare out at the impenetrable mist drifting around the ship. Sometimes it seemed as if the Maximum was dead in the water, still as if anchored, and that fog was passing them by. Wherever it came from to wherever it was going.
Such thoughts Shades kept losing his himself in as he tried hard to focus on the monotonous swirl of grey that only slightly parted before them as he manned the helm. In spite of the fact that they had encountered nothing thus far, the three of them unanimously decided to have someone at the wheel at all times, just in case. Even though there was only a hint of a breeze, so it was slow going anyway, visibility was nearly nonexistent.
As if anything could appear out of the murk.
Anything, even the ancient sailors’ fabled Edge of the World. Here There Be Dragons… Those words seemed to sum up these dreary doldrums, a little too aptly for his taste.
In spite of the lack of speed, for him it was still alarmingly limited visibility after an entire voyage thus far being able to see for miles in all directions. It made him feel somehow claustrophobic in spite of the seemingly endless ocean he had to keep telling himself still lay out there beyond that wall of haze, just waiting for the fog to lift.
He was sure his friends felt the same, but the most perturbing part of the whole affair was simply waking up this morning to just find it like this. Though initially alarmed, they talked about it over breakfast, at first concluding that the fog would burn off as the sun rose. Yet even the time it took to prepare and eat breakfast failed to even put a dent in it. He tried to tell himself it was just his imagination, but he was increasingly certain that it had actually grown dimmer as the hours dragged on.
At times like this he was inclined to wonder if the Sixth Dimension was more shadow than substance, a composite reflection of its peoples’ dreams and nightmares. A world sitting on the ragged edge of reality, always threatening to fall into the depths of existence. Never ceased to wonder at how this was a world of roads less traveled. Maps and signs and other references to mysterious places he never got to follow up on…
Then again, it was hard not to be fascinated, based on what the places he had been were like.
More than anything, though, he tried not to think about how this ship— originally from Earth— came to be in this world, tried not to ponder the Bermuda Triangle tale that was the logbook sitting in the compartment underneath him. He could tell it was starting to get to his companions, each in their own way. Though Max napped on the couch, Bandit curled up on the plush deck carpet alongside him, his sleep was uneasy, and he wondered if that creepy fog hadn’t somehow seeped into his dreams. Even Justin was uncommonly quiet and pensive, often staring out into that opaque vista, lost in thoughts he didn’t share with anyone else, for once.
After so many sunny days in the Kona Islands, Justin Black found this weather most oppressive. Though conditions for the last few days of their voyage were mostly cloudy with spots of rain, yesterday was bright and sunny, with a solid wind to speed them on their way. Now he just sat at the lounge table, staring out the window, recalling the last time in his life he had spent so long out at sea.
This weather set him thinking back to those dim days before he was stranded in the Triangle State. His oldest, murkiest recollections of traveling the high seas aboard a passenger liner called the Skerry. Truth be told, his memories of those days were few and far between, and even though his mind was almost overflowing with them during his last delirious days in Tranz-D, most of it faded away quickly with his departure from that nightmare. About all that was left was a meandering of dim passages, rows of doors, an old man named Morgan.
And a girl named Eleanor.
It was hard not to feel as lost as his past was in the mists of time as he stared out into nothingness and felt as if he was going nowhere. He had long since reconciled himself to the zero probability of ever finding out who his parents were, but now that he was free of the Triangle State, he found he wanted to catch up with that ship. Anytime he happened to think of it, he hoped to spot it at the next port they stopped at, and right now a part of him just kept expecting it to come drifting in out of the fog.
Like a ghost ship out of some old seafaring tale…
“Hey, Justin?” Shades piped up again, breaking the palpable silence that dominated the cabin all day. “Snap out of it.”
“Shut up!” Justin snapped, even as he wondered why he was so edgy in what by now should be familiar and comfortable surroundings. “Where do you get off…”
He trailed off as he saw what Shades was staring at out the starboard windows. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, and that Shades was just asking for a second opinion, as he saw what appeared to be the ghostly outline of another ship out there. He jumped in spite of himself as Shades started the engines and turned around for a closer look.
“Wake up, Max,” Justin said. “I think you should see this.”
Max started awake, as if rescued from some dread reverie, blinking for a moment as he sat up. Wincing as he moved his injured arm a little too quickly. Though they had stayed on the island of Kon Kalona for a couple weeks after their battle with the outlaw Erix, the doctor told him it would still take another two or three weeks to fully heal, and was still set in a sling. Even as he swung his feet out and stood up, he had the feeling he was forgetting something, this atmosphere inspired such a dark mood to nod off into, but he woke up so abruptly—
After such a hasty summons from that uneasy sleep, it was his companions’ silence that caught his attention. Both Justin and Shades appeared to be searching for something in that fog he now realized he sort of hoped would be gone by the time he woke up, and he wondered what they hoped to find in this pea-soup. Bandit was already awake and looking about, though apparently had no more idea than Max what exactly was supposed to happen, but also sensing that same suspense.
At first, Shades thought perhaps he was only seeing things after all, after staring out into that swirling mist for so long, but Justin also seemed to have spotted something as well, so he kept looking. Max wasn’t really sure what his friends were so intense about, so he decided to wait and see, rather than break their concentration. Yet after passing through still more of that interminable mist, even going slow so as to avoid overlooking anything, both of them were starting to wonder if that hazy silhouette of a ship was just a mirage, nothing more than a trick of the fog.
Just when Shades was about to give up, having killed the engines to conserve fuel, as the Maximum coasted to a halt, they all saw it.
It was hard to tell if their ship was still moving, or if the other was drifting in the current, but the other ship at least appeared to sail in out of the fog. The bow thrusting out of the ever-shifting mists, on a direct course to cross their path. Shades sat there watching the rest of the hull materialize one foot at a time, and it wasn’t until Justin gripped his arm in alarm that it occurred to him to restart the engines and change course to avoid a collision. As he veered aside, then pulled alongside the other vessel, noting right off that she was at least twice as long as the Maximum, as they still couldn’t see the rear of the ship as they coasted side by side, thin wisps of fog streaming between them.
The three of them just sat there for a long moment, each lost in their own observations.
Now that he was awake, Max simply watched the unknown vessel, recalling his parents’ tales of haunted places. Likely the same accounts this fog reminded him of to begin with, and the most probable cause of his restless sleep earlier. Yet he could recall nothing about this particular vessel, nor anything even vaguely resembling it.
What’re the odds? Shades wondered.
To him, it looked a lot like pictures he had seen of turn-of-the-century ships from back on Earth. There was certainly nothing about its design or trappings that looked like it was made in his lifetime, he reflected, wondering if he was the first to notice that there wasn’t a single light on. Nobody’s home… Then the thought crossed his mind that perhaps this was just someone else that got stranded in this fogbank.
“Anybody home?” he enquired absently.
Max started, and Justin slowly turned his head.
“Let’s check it out,” Shades said, this time more firmly. Though he had no more clue than his friends what was up with this ship, it shared the same waters as they did, so it seemed a wise idea to investigate.
“We probably should.” Now that Max thought about it, he couldn’t come up with a single reason to be afraid of it. After all, it was just a ship. As mysterious as it seemed at first, he realized that, in this dense fog, even their own ship would probably spook other crews, just appearing out of nowhere like that.
As if thinking along the same lines, Justin commented, “I’m not so sure there’s anyone onboard to be scared by us. Just drifting like that…” As if the thought just occurred to him, he glanced over near the bow, noting the name. “The Sweet Lady, huh?...”
What looked like part of a pennant or banner on deck hung draped across the bow, but the words were still visible.
“Let’s go,” said Max. He felt he should know the name from somewhere. Something from his parents’ journey? Not a ghost ship, though. An old friend, perhaps.
“And if there’s anyone onboard, they might need our help or something,” Shades pointed out. Which was looking like a distinct possibility, given that the Sweet Lady didn’t seem to be running under her own power, possibly disabled.
“Maybe,” Justin mused, “and if there’s nobody aboard, we can take whatever we want.”
“Perhaps,” Shades replied, deciding that it might be a good precaution, he added, “but one of us should stay behind with the ship, just in case, and I nominate you, Justin.”
“Yeah,” Max seconded, “that sounds like a good idea. We can even use the radios.”
“If no one responds, we can make a boarding exercise out of it,” Shades elaborated, bringing out equipment they kept close at hand anymore, glad that Max’s agreement out-maneuvered Justin without an argument. “If we keep running into people like Striker and Erix, we’ve got to get our act together…”
Getting their gear together seemed to take the edge off the uneasiness this fog so easily invoked, and it wasn’t until they stepped out on deck that it crept back in. Tendrils of mist previously locked out of the cabin now flowed around them, as well as a faint chill on the damp air. Now that they had made up their minds to investigate the derelict that drifted in with this mysterious fog that itself rolled in while they were asleep.
In the several minutes their preparations took, there was no response from the ship, and the deck still looked as deserted as it initially appeared to be, though the haze made it harder to tell on the far end of the deck. Not a soul about. The three of them took turns calling out, announcing their presence and offering assistance if it was needed.
No response. A silence broken only by the lapping of the waves against their hulls.
Since no one answered their hailing, they looked amongst themselves, concluding that on some level they had already decided to board. So the discussion turned to how to go about it. Though easily twice her length, the Sweet Lady’s deck wasn’t much higher than the Maximum’s, so they bound the two vessels together with mooring lines.
That having been taken care of, all that was left was to actually come aboard.
Chapter notes: out of the fog...