Chapter Eight

In the shadow of the cruise ship

"I thought you said this thing had some sort of auto stabilising-function?" Beren yelled to Captain Julie over the din of the Conquer-All's engines.

"It does, this is it," Julie responded, gesturing to the gigantic vessel in front of them.

"What? Being in this mammoth vehicle's undertow?"

"Exactly! If we ride the undertow right in the centre of the cruise ship's drag then we won't rock around so much. This is the guaranteed solution against motion sickness. Problem solved!"

Beren looked up in horror. The stern of the Conquer-All cruise ship stared imposingly back at them, intimidating the Saharan with its sheer bulk. On the deck of the cruise ship, passengers could peer down mockingly at the Saharan, upon which the patrons looked no larger than bits of litter on the sea.

"Are you saying that we are going to remain like this, stifled in this ship's shadow for the entire journey to Fre- I mean London," Beren antagonised, throwing his hands up in the air. "Are you absolutely crazy? This gargantuan thing, this island of a boat, is moving no faster than a snail's crawl. It would take us literally years to get to London if all we can do is follow in the footsteps of this giant. We simply can't be expected to just hang around with such a big oaf until it actually achieves the level of acceleration required to counter the latent energy of the ocean's currents and dispel the centripetal forces of astounding mass anchoring this vessel which contradicts the buoyancy of the water so that the levels of energy required to generate movement of this thing would be the equivalent of the earth's molten core being channelled through a pin sized hole building up such huge amount of pressure that its release would be sufficient to knock the earth out of orbit and sent it in a gravitational path straight towards the sun."

Beren concluded his rant to a response of blank stares.

"We are in the need for speed peoples!" Beren cried. "We can't just spend our holiday wallowing in the wake of this self-proclaimed land mass. Let's get a move on!"

Julie hesitated.

"This is the fastest we can go. Unless you want to row the boat yourself that is."

"What are you talking about? This boat has a sail. It must also have some sort of motorised mechanism. How about powering that up, hoisting the sails and overtaking this man-made mountain."

"The sail is not designed to be relied upon when travelling on the open water. The engines are, well, lacklustre. The way we have always travelled on the Saharan has been to rely upon the suction of such larger vessels as the Conquer-All. In a boat the size of ours we simply cannot be expected to harness the power necessary to tackle the oceans."

"Nonsense! I don't believe a word of that. With a properly hoisted sail it doesn't matter what the size of the boat is. This boat can go anywhere. It may not be the most comfortable ride because, well let's face it, this boat is barely bigger than the size of a leaf, but it is entirely plausible for the engine you have to conquer the Conquer-All. Why, you could probably overtake it by just drifting alone."

"We could, but I'm the Captain of this ship and I will steer it the way I want," Julie huffed.

"You can hardly call this thing a ship," Beren grumbled to himself, finally showing cracks in his resolve.

And with that the matter was sorted. As much as Beren tried to convince Captain Julie to step out of the Conquer-All's wake, she stubbornly refused. She simply would not entertain the notion of venturing away from the cruise ship. Beren eventually gave up fighting with Julie and retreated to the other side of the deck in a huff. There was another issue with the boat that Beren had not fully investigated before embarking on the journey. All the living quarters on the boat were located downstairs in the hull of the boat. The captain's office provided a means of shelter on the deck of the boat but besides that enclosed space, the rest of the deck was entirely open. The downstairs areas in the boat were precisely that – down the stairs and could only be accessed accordingly. Beren refused to undignify himself by crawling downstairs for his daily activities. For the entire journey, Beren would have to spend the time on the deck or where his wheelchair allowed. Chantel tried to offer as much assistance as she could by bringing up food from the kitchen and lugging warm water up the stairs for Beren to shower with. There were some matters though with which Chantel could not render any assistance.

The thing that mortified Beren the most was when he needed to attend to his bodily functions. Without a toilet located on board the deck of the boat, Beren was left with the only other option of disposing his waste over the side of the boat. For certain bodily functions this was a relatively discrete process that could be averted from prying eyes. In other instances, Beren was subjected to the humiliating process of perching himself on the edge of the boat, buttocks dangling over the side and excreting faeces into the water. Chantel and Julie were sensitive enough to make themselves scarce during such a process. Chantel had delicately offered to be of assistance, although she knew that Beren's pride would not allow her to be present throughout the ordeal. However, five stories above Beren and bearing full witness to the humiliating process was the entire population of the Conquer-All. Some of these witnesses did not hesitate to subject Beren to further ridicule by calling out horrible insults and pointing and laughing. The exposure of having such a private moment open for all and sundry to see was debilitating. Throughout the day, Beren suppressed whatever urge he had to purge and clenched his butt cheeks in fierce determination not to become a laughing stock for the already spoilt passengers of the decadent Conquer-All. He delayed his bodily functions until late in the night where he could hide behind a blanket of darkness and there were few witnesses to behold his humiliation. This change in his body clock of course had ramifications upon Beren's other sleeping and eating patterns and he became irritable and reclusive.

By the third day of the journey, Beren had become intolerable. Incensed by the laborious progress they were making, annoyed by Julie's insistence to cling to the Conquer-All and resentful of the embarrassment caused by his inability to access toilet facilities, Beren retreated entirely. Like a nocturnal animal, he slept during the day and was only awake at night. Being prone to isolation, Beren cordoned off a section of the deck by forming a barricade of boxes, food wrappings and old blankets to form a crude abode. He became a hermit, sinking deeper and deeper into a malaise exacerbated by aggravation towards Julie and his discomfort being on the boat. With his behaviour becoming increasingly erratic, Chantel eventually gave up making any attempt to draw Beren out of his shell. Causing even greater consternation to Beren was Chantel's growing relationship with Julie. All during the day he could hear the two laughing and talking. It wasn't long before Beren and Chantel had sunk into a pattern of behaviour where they barely saw each other. Before going to bed in her downstairs cabin each night Chantel would leave dinner, breakfast and lunch above the deck along with sufficient supplies of water for Beren to shower with. Despite such conciliatory attempts, Beren viewed Chantel's blossoming bond with Julie as an act of betrayal and he spurned her company by simply ignoring her. The tension on the boat lingered like an omnipresent cloud of smog in the air. So they continued on their journey with painstaking lethargy.

As Beren shrank away from society on the boat, Chantel and Julie grew closer. As she had on the previous journey with Beren, Chantel delighted in hearing of Julie's tales of adventure across the oceans in the Saharan. She learned that it was rare for Julie to have company on such journeys. She had travelled the leg between the London and Cape Town metropolises countless times before but such journeys were usually cargo runs for non-perishables such as shoes and clothes. Julie could take her time on such ventures. Chantel wondered how one single person coped with the loneliness of being on the boat by themselves. She wondered how the boredom of the boat, with its cramped living quarters and limited chances to escape would not drive anyone crazy. As irrational as it seemed to Chantel, Julie enjoyed the solitude. She derived a sense of solace from the monotonous sound of the sea lapping at the boat's casing. Out on the open water there were no complications; there was only the overriding purpose to get from A to B in the journey. All other things were irrelevant. Julie explained to Chantel that it was useless trying to understand her relationship with the sea. Captain Julie, as Julie constantly reminded Chantel, was from a seafaring family. The need to be near water ran as plainly in Julie's blood as air in her lungs. It was natural for her to be out on the ocean. She was not perturbed by the water's endless depths or the apparent lack of limits to such a great body of liquid, only attracted by the infinite expanse of the horizon.

As much as Chantel, in deference to Beren, initially tried to appear standoffish to Julie she found it difficult to withstand Julie's charisma. Despite spending so much time alone on the sea, Julie displayed a natural easygoingness and down-to-earth attitude that made it easy for her to relate to people. Chantel could easily bask in Julie's company, sharing jokes and banter, while being drawn to her witty reflections on life. Being away from civilisation for such extended periods of time had made Julie all the more open in her approach when dealing with people. She was not encumbered by social niceties or generic responses. She could relate as innocently to Chantel as a child would. Like a child, Julie was altogether too honest and knew nothing of how to stifle her opinions and temper her behaviour. Although she had omitted to disclose a few important details about the Saharan, this was a deliberate technique she had developed for the purpose of closing the deal. She had the natural air of a salesperson who could draw people towards her and maintain their trust while at the same time employing a selective surreptitiousness that ensured any secrets about herself she did not want disclosed, would stay as locked up as a treasure chest at the bottom of the ocean. She was a lady of mystery without appearing to be so and for this reason Chantel trusted her entirely and Beren did not trust her at all.

On the fifth day Beren made his move. By this time the Saharan, tethered with invisible ropes to the Conquer-All, was only halfway to the port city of Lagos and still making painstaking progress. After four nights spent on the boat, Beren could stand it no longer. During the middle of the night he decided to take the journey into his own hands. Beren discovered that Julie was not wrong when she said that the Saharan could practically steer itself. In defiance of the Captain, Beren commandeered the boat while Chantel and Julie were asleep and raced it full steam ahead in front of the Conquer-All. The bewildered passengers of the Conquer-All bemusedly observed the wheelchair bound Beren tackling with the sail for what seemed like an eternity before he finally managed to hoist it up in a position that captured what little wind there was that night. They regretted the fact that with the Saharan eluding the Conquer-All they would be deprived of the derisive entertainment gleaned from watching a cripple struggle with his regular routine each night. They relished their comfortable position in the salubrious surrounds of the Conquer-All, where they had no need to lift a finger whilst being waited on for the entire journey. They watched the moon glinting off Beren's butt cheeks for the last time as the Saharan sailed away, with Beren giving the Conquer-All's voyeurs the finger and a mooning that was ironically apt for the circumstances.

Chantel awoke the next morning to the sound of Julie's and Beren's voices shouting full blast at each other.

"How dare you, you, you little squid! Don't you know that I am the Captain of this boat! I steer this ship the way that I decide! What makes you think that you can just, just…kidnap this boat and take it where you want? This is my property!"

"Oh, your property, everything belongs to you. Of course it does. It's easy for you to live on this floating prison. It's easy for you to retreat downstairs where no one can see you. You don't have to deal with hundreds of gawking clowns who have nothing else to do but amuse themselves at my expense. Do you think its fun to have to shit into the water every day? To have my ass cheeks flapping in the breeze for everyone to see? Do you think I enjoy being laughed and pointed at? I am not an animal goddammit and if you think I'm going to stay trapped on this boat just to become a laughing stock then you better think again. I cannot, will not be caged like that. I would rather tie a life vest to my wheelchair and paddle to Lagos than be stuck in those conditions. Look at how I'm living! Look at that hovel that I have to sleep in. This is torture. Are you a torturer? Is that what this place is all about? Then you should have bloody told us before we stepped foot on this jail of a boat. You should have said, hi come on a journey with me where I imprison you for months on end on the sea and I make you endure excruciating conditions – I'm Captain Torturer, a real sadist at heart. I just love seeing people suffer."

Julie recoiled in horror. Chantel wasn't sure if Julie had previously been merely indifferent to Beren's suffering or was simply oblivious to the detrimental effect the mockery was having on Beren's psyche. Regardless, it was evident that Julie clearly resented to being labelled a torturer.

"It's still no excuse," Julie stammered. "My ship means my rules and you've broken them clear and simple. Obviously this is not really working out. I'll take you as far as Lagos, but from there on you guys are on your own. You'll put my vessel in danger if you keep trying to run away in the middle of the night like that…more danger than we might already be in." Julie muttered under her breath.

"Perfect!" Beren agreed. "With the Saharan travelling at a somewhat reasonable speed now, we'll be at Lagos by the night after next. I think we can both be civil to each other until then and once we reach the port, Chantel and I will be only too happy to part ways, won't we Chantel?"

Chantel hesitated.

"There's one other thing I didn't mention before about why we were staying so close to the Conquer-All," Julie reluctantly added.

Looking off into the distance, Julie then said the words that made Chantel's blood curl and body tense.

"At least when we were in the shadow of the Conquer-All, the pirates would not come near us," Julie remarked. "Now, we are exposed…for anyone to pounce on us."

As Julie's last words trailed off, Beren and Chantel exchanged panicked glances. They had not even thought of the possibility that the Conquer-All might be protecting them from the terror of the savages. Pirates in these waters were renowned for being ruthless vagabonds who would pillage and plunder anyone they came across. Suddenly the realisation of the danger they were in bore down upon them like an avalanche.