16. The Dead Sea

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The regimen of ship chores and fresh air on the open deck must have done something to revive Naomi's spirits

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The regimen of ship chores and fresh air on the open deck must have done something to revive Naomi's spirits. After only a week at sea, she moved with new vigour. She held herself like she had skin and muscles and the holes where her eyes should be seemed full and focussed. It was as if her potential closeness to finding Bernie had energised her. She was a new skeleton.

Geoff, on the other hand, was starting to fade. In an ideal world, which he'd never lived in (which no one had ever lived in except perhaps the super-rich, although even they developed their own forms of suffering), Geoff would nap for at least half the day. Maybe he liked cats so much because he shared their love of sleep.

Geoff had never seen a cat who had been forced to go on a long adventure through the underworld with a minimum amount of rest in cramped quarters and no naps at all. He imagined the cat would look and feel something like he what he had become.

There was Susan of course, but he was in another field, more like the soul of a dark and mysterious - and frankly quite insulting sometimes - small-time crook in the oversized skeleton of a cat. The thuggish feline seemed more in control, more at ease in the underworld, and much more resilient than either of them. Geoff couldn't imagine Susan napping, only scheming with his eyes closed so as to focus better on his evil plans.

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Geoff woke from a dreamless sleep and looked out the porthole window above his bunk. He knew almost immediately that something was wrong. The killer whales that had been swimming alongside them since they reached the deep water were gone. It had been interesting to watch them break through the waves and splash back down, somehow keeping most of their blubber intact, but missing great swathes of their black skin, wobbling like ominous zeppelins of jelly as they twisted and turned in what seemed like slow motion above the water. Now the water was still. Naomi's bunk was empty. Geoff stood and stretched and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim light of the cabin. He could hear a dull commotion filtering down from the deck.

He looked out the small round window again and strained to see any ripple on the water or white splash that might indicate one of the great whales. But there was nothing. Geoff made his way topside and walked a lap of the mid-deck, but there was still no sight of Naomi. A crowd was gathering near the front of the ship. Geoff moved closer to them and found captain Eugene bent down over a long bronze telescope with a gang of skeleton hands watching her expectantly. He recognised Naomi from behind, standing in the crowd.

"They don't look friendly to me," said Eugene. "They've raised no flag in response to ours. And there are not many good reasons to be docked at the foot of a sky ladder".

A sky ladder nearby meant they were not far from their destination; they were even closer than he'd thought to discovering if Jamieson's theory was correct - if their mystery cat thief was making a break for the surface world with Bernie.

The sun beat down on the deck of The Radical Notion. Geoff shaded his eyes with his hand and squinted at the horizon. He couldn't see the ladder, but he could make out the shape of the boat in question.

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