Two days passed, and our astral voyages continued to be fruitless. The greyness about the spheres was bigger than ever, now, and the white spheres were definitely in a minority. It was all becoming very depressing, especially because we had used up all the available Fog Juice ingredients and couldn't make any more. Our experiments in trying to extract it from the wood of the top deck proved a stupid waste of time, and the less said about the plan to extract it from our own blood the better, so we eventually agreed to buy more of everything we needed as soon as we reached Honolulu.
By the time the island was in sight, the captain was about ready to have a nervous breakdown. At this point the majority of the crew had made some attempt to assassinate me and they were all crammed into the tiny brig, squashed up like sardines but unnervingly uncomplaining about it, and there were just eight of us left to run the ship. The workload was fast becoming back-breaking.
"LAND HO," called Sweaty Bill from the crow's nest, then he had to run all the way down the rigging and to the ship's wheel to steer us into port, because we couldn't spare the personnel to have the crow's nest and the wheel manned at the same time.
"Arr, finally," said the captain from the ship's bow, peering at the approaching island with his telescope. "We'll get to the bottom o' this mysterious plague o' let's-kill-Jim-disease and I can have a normal crew again." He turned to me. "Now, ye promise and swear that ye didn't do anything to provoke any of 'em?"
"I promise and swear by the bracing sea air," I said, quoting the standard pirate oath.
"Ye didn't call Irritable Pete a Welshman? Ye know how that just sets him off..."
"I did not call Irritable Pete or anyone else a Welshman."
He shook his head. "Can't understand it," he muttered. "Oh well. The doctors'll know what to do."
At that point Rose came up. "We keep trying to tell you," she said. "The doctors can't do anything. The crew have been taken over by Bulstrode, and if we're to save them we have to find the Warri -"
"I swear if ye say what I think ye're goin' to say I will not be 'eld responsible for my actions. I'll tell ye what. If the doctors give me the same shite then I'll take ye seriously, but in the meantime I'm just goin' to dismiss your ravings as somethin' to do with menstruation."
I tried not to make eye contact with Rose as the captain took another look at Honolulu. "Aye, looks like we'll be landin' pretty soon..." he said, then stopped suddenly, a frown folding the skin of his forehead over the telescope's eyepiece. "Jim," he said, dread entering his voice. "Do ye see somethin' a bit strange goin' on in Honolulu?"
I took the offered spyglass and peered through it at the approaching city. I couldn't deny it, there was something very strange about it. It was two o'clock in the afternoon, but I couldn't see any movement at all. No boats were coming in or out of port. There was no traffic noise coming from the city streets, because there were no moving cars.
There were pedestrians, though. A gigantic crowd of individuals lined up on the beaches and piers, facing out to sea, each standing completely straight and immobile in a manner which was becoming all too familiar. It looked like the entire population of Honolulu were there to greet us, people of all races, colours and creeds standing shoulder to shoulder, which could have been somewhat uplifting if it wasn't so horrible.
"I see them," I reported. "I'm very, very intimidated right now."
"What the 'ell's goin' on?" remarked Captain Bancroft. "Say, ye don't think this might be anythin' to do with what's been 'appenin' to the crew?"
"Maybe it's some kind of convention for insane zombies who want me to die," I said, with a little spite. "Maybe the crew have been practising."
"No, of course not."
"Listen," said Rose, who had just hauled up Angst-Ridden Shaun's boom box from the sleeping quarters. She turned it on, but no sound came forth. "This radio is tuned to Hawaii's most popular radio station. It's completely dead air. I also turned on the TV in the galley and there was nothing on but newsreaders sitting staring into space."
"Well, maybe Hawaiian people prefer more passiveness in the media," said Bancroft, clutching at straws.
"Bulstrode can only control one person at a time," Rose informed us. "Everyone else he's tainted just... switches off, waiting."
"I'm not convinced this isn't some big jape bein' played on me," muttered the captain. "It's not that far off from me birthday. I'm sure we'll come into port and all them Hawaiians will pull out streamers and cake from behind their backs."
"They're pulling something out from behind their backs," I said, using the spyglass again. Sure enough, every single Hawaiian in Honolulu had just produced from nowhere a weapon. Looking around, I was quite certain of it. Some of them had assault rifles, some of them had bows and arrows, some of them just had big whips with spikes on the end, but all of them were armed in some way. I noticed with some alarm a few rows of primary school-age children carrying napalm launchers in their little hands. All the waiting citizens seemed to be staring right at the ship. Maybe it was my imagination, as this couldn't have been possible from that distance, but they all seemed to be staring specifically at me.
"You know what," I said, "I don't think it'd be a good idea to land in this port."
"And 'ow do ye suggest that we find ourselves a doctor without landin'?"
"Well, let me put it this way," I said, with increasing speed, because the ship had just passed into lethal sniping range. "If we did land in port and did find a doctor who wasn't also being a zombie, we would probably have a lot more work for him than we anticipated."
"Oh, alright, ye big sissy," said Bancroft, but his heart wasn't in it, and I could tell he was watching the crowd with equal concern. "Run up the quarantine flag, and they'll 'ave to send a doctor out."
One of the few remaining unturned crewmen, I think it was Fashionable Russell, did as he was told, and soon the pirate quarantine flag - a yellow Jolly Roger with a thermometer in its mouth - was flying. We watched the coastline closely - we were close enough to make out what was going on without the spyglass, now - but there didn't seem to be any inclination to send anyone out to our aid. If anything, the mute stares seemed to become slightly contemptuous.
"Right, that didn't work. In that case, bring out the megaphone. I'm gonna try and talk to 'em."
"I have a better idea," said Rose as someone went off to grab the bullhorn. "Why don't we just turn around and go and do something else? Like for instance quest for the Water-bearer and -"
"We 'ave to drop anchor somewhere soon," said Bancroft through clenched teeth. "Aside from the 'ole mysterious plague thing, we're criminally short on grog and down to our last crate of chew bars. We're resupplying at Honolulu whether we, or they, like it or not. Ah, thanks, matey," he added as the megaphone was pressed into his hand.
The ship sailed ever closer, and now we could clearly detect the smell of gunpowder and the sound of thousands of people doing nothing very conspicuously. "Now 'ear this," went the captain into his megaphone, his amplified voice echoing off unpleasantly into the total silence. "We're a big tough pirate crew and we intend to land in your lovely port and plunder it for grog and chew bars. That means you're supposed to be running around and screaming at this point." He paused to gauge the crowd reaction. It wasn't very good.
"I really think it would be a good idea to get away from this place, now," insisted Rose.
"Okay, I've 'ad just about enough of this," growled Bancroft, throwing down his bullhorn. "There's somethin' completely stupid goin' on around 'ere and I'm not movin' from this spot until someone explains the situation in simple terms that I can understa -"
And then he had to stop talking, because the bullet that then lodged itself in his brain destroyed his ability to say things. Everyone else on board who had any sense at all dived behind the nearest solid object. Sadly this did not include Sweaty Bill and Fashionable Russell who were shredded by the hailstorm of bullets that followed.
From what I could see, every single armed person gathered on Honolulu's coast was firing upon us. There was no apparent organisation to the attack, no strategy at all, just row upon row of people with weapons aimed directly at us, firing regardless of whatever was in the way. I saw that there were a lot of people in front who had simply been gunned down by whoever was behind them, but still they pointed their guns and fired in their death throes.
"I thought you said he could only control one at a time!" I shouted towards Rose.
"He must be able to give them simple instructions for when he's not around!" she shouted back.
I cast a look around the ship as bullets rattled into the wood like hordes of angry kamikaze bees. I was behind some old metal grog drums, which were fortunately empty; sitting behind a full barrel of grog that was being agitated with bullets was a highway to immolation city. Rose I could see behind the main mast, flat against the wood but safe for the moment. Penfold was up near the ship's wheel, protected by the balustrade. Of the rest of the crew, only two more remained alive - Cheerful Lance, who was somewhat recklessly among the gunpowder barrels, and Miserable Quentin, ducking behind one of the cannons that were mounted on deck.
The ship was still drifting closer to our assassins, but a wind was blowing back the way we came. If we could just get the ship turned around, we'd be speeding off into the sunset and thumbing our noses at the frustrated Hawaiian zombies.
"Penfold!" I yelled.
"SPIN THE WHEEL!!!"
"RINSE THE WHAT?!!"
Spin the wheel, I communicated through gesture.
What? He gestured back.
That wheel that is next to you. Give it a spin, I signed.
This wheel here? he pointed.
Yes, that one, hurry up.
He got into a half crouch to get closer to the wheel, but a bullet parted his hairdo and caused him to drop to the floor again. He glanced around for a second, looking for inspiration, then started extending his leg towards the wheel. Finally, by stretching himself as far as it could go, he was able to give one of the little handles a violent nudge, but the wheel didn't exactly start spinning like a firework.
Again, I gestured.
It won't go any further, Sweaty Bill's corpse is in the way.
I gestured something completely obscene.
There's no need for that, he replied.
The ship kept inching closer. At this rate, it was going to run aground in a matter of minutes, and then we'd be sitting ducks to Bulstrode's horde. There had to be some way to turn this damn crate around without having to risk standing up and occupying the same space as ten million billion bullets. I cast another look around, taking in the positions of the crew and what resources were close to hand for each of them. The small child of my brain started gathering up the wet sand of information into the badly-formed sandcastle of an idea. It wasn't a very firm sandcastle and chances were good it would fall apart as soon as it came out of the bucket, but at that point it was our only chance.
I took a deep breath and prepared for some extremely complex sign language. Lance, I gestured, to get Lance's attention. I need you to roll one of those gunpowder barrels over to Quentin.
You... want me to make Quentin a sandwich? he gestured back, clearly not au fait with the nuances of unspoken communication.
No I do not want you to make Quentin a sandwich, why the hell would I want you to make Quentin a sandwich? Look. I'll make it simpler for you. Gunpowder. Explosion. I mimed 'explosion' in the traditional manner. Roll over. I did the 'roly-poly' hand movement. To Quentin. I pointed.
Is that some kind of new hand jive? asked Lance.
JUST ROLL THE DAMN BARREL TO QUENTIN, I mimed frantically. With each wasted second we were closer to the sandbank.
Oh. ROLL the barrel to QUENTIN. You should have said. He carefully pushed one of the barrels, marked with the skull and crossbones to denote gunpowder, onto its side, and sent it trundling across the deck with a well-aimed kick. Quentin saw it arrive with an expression of confusion.
What's goin' on? he mimed in a pirate accent. Is Lance makin' me a sandwich or what?
Put the gunpowder in the cannon, I tried. All of it.
All of it? But that's...
I know perfectly well what will happen. Trust me.
Trust ye like ye said trust ye on that occasion ye asked me to smell the cheese then punched me in the face?
Oh, come on, that was funny.
I needed stitches, you know.
When you're quite finished, went Rose. Get on with the plan. Whatever it is.
All the gunpowder in the cannon, I reminded. Quentin had sense enough to do as he was told. He ripped open the barrel and emptied it into the firing chamber until it was overflowing. Looking back, I admire how he was able to do all this while lying on the floor. Now I suppose ye'll be wantin' me to light it, he signed.
Obediently he produced a book of matches from his beard, lit one on his sideburn, and held it to the fuse wire that jutted from the cannon's posterior. Then the flame took hold, and he rapidly got away from the blast radius. Again, it was amazing how quickly he did this by dragging himself along the floor.
It was a big explosion. The noise rang throughout the Pacific, sending ripples through the ocean as far as fifty miles away and causing dolphins everywhere to pause their derisive human impressions and wonder what that noise was. I like to think that Bulstrode, somewhere deep in Fogworld, heard that noise amplified twofold for each of the zombified Hawaiians who heard it. When I could finally bring myself to remove my arms from around my head, the first thing I saw was the smoking cannon peeled open like a banana, and Honolulu getting further away with every second.
"What was the big idea behind that?" said Rose, coming out from cover now the shooting had stopped.
"Fire a big enough explosion on one side of the ship," I explained, "sends the ship spinning around just enough for the sails to catch the wind. We sail away. Good times are had by all."
"We have to go into Fogworld right now," she said, brushing off my genius plan to my considerable annoyance.
Down in the brig, a horde of zombified pirates in the brig glared with hate at the black-clad figure who stood there observing them with apparent interest. Again, I won't explain how I knew this.
It was as we'd feared. The white pearls of Fogworld were almost completely grey. Only a few pockets of whiteness remained, surrounded on all sides, saved for the moment only by Bulstrode's not having gotten around to them yet. In the centre of it all was Bulstrode's hateful red globe, around which all the grey spheres orbited like tiny children around a demonic god. And of course there were the golden realms of Rose and mine. They had always stuck out, but now even more so. Looking around, in fact, two other golden spheres were clearly visible, making a total of four.
"Whose would they be?" Rose asked me.
"One of them must be Penfold's," I said. "No idea about the other one."
"You're certain Penfold drank Fog Juice?"
"Saw him with my own eyes. Just a sip, but I guess that's all you need."
"We can't risk landing anywhere, now," she said mournfully. "Looks like ninety percent of the Earth's population have been taken over. We'd get the same reception everywhere we went as we did in Honolulu. So what do we do now?
"And don't say astral sex."
"Never mind, then."