The Unity Chronicles


Kerguelen

Unity Standard Time: 21:21, 21st of May U14. South Indian Ocean, Earth.

Captain Samuels made a habit of being suspicious of his passengers, particularly when they paid him not to be. For a start, nobody travelled by surface ships any more unless they had to; air and nearspace shuttles were very affordable, even if certain risks were involved when you paid virtually nothing. But you get what you paid for, which was why he asked no questions of the young lady in his hold.

She was a pretty thing: half-Japanese or something similar, no older than thirty, short black hair that matched her dark eyes, and a figure that some of the models in his calendar would have killed for. Sweet, too, and very polite. She had been almost apologetic when she had hired him to carry her along with him for a portion of his voyage. It had made it almost too easy to haggle a better fee.

Apparently she was there as part of an outdoors club, undergoing a challenge to get from coordinates on the open water to a point on the African coast using only a small motor-driven dinghy, a chart and a compass. Easy enough, Samuels thought, but he supposed it might be a challenge to beginners.

"Good morning, Captain" a bright voice said from behind him. He turned to see the young woman standing in the cabin doorway, eyes bright as her beatific smile. He grunted in response, his default reaction to that much cheerfulness in one place.

"Hardly mornin', young miss. Sun won't be up another five an' half hours yet."

"I thought you nautical types were more literal than that."

He made no comment to the phrase *nautical types*. In truth, Samuels had only been sailing for a few years, after his wife and job had both seen fit to depart his company in the same weekend. He missed Perth, but got back whenever he could; it was on his most recent stopover there that he had been approached by the young lady now standing before him.

"Best get your gear," he told her. "We'll be at your coordinates in a few minutes."

She went to turn back towards the stern where the dinghy was stowed, but stopped, her gaze locked on something behind him.

"What's the glow over there?" she asked, pointing. "I didn't think there was any land out here." Samuels turned to check what she was indicating.

"You need to study those charts of yours. That's Kerguelen, once known as Desolation Islands. Middle of nowhere, soon to be centre of the universe." He didn't need to elaborate; everyone knew about the headquarters of Unity being constructed at great expense on the remote island, even if they did not know where it was.

He helped her get settled in the tiny craft, her kit bag nestled snugly between her feet. She thanked him with a sweet, disarming smile, and he mumbled something modest before waving North-Westerly.

"Africa's that way."

She waited until the ship had shrunk to a speck, its lights fading to a star to merge with the constellations draped down to the horizon. She then turned the boat towards the smudge of light to the South-West, and started out on her way to Kerguelen.

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