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The Westward was no ship: it was a city. A city with water beneath, and sky above.

Jessop had waited since midnight to secure his place at the rails on Two Deck. Now, as dawn silvered the sky, the weight of the crowd crushed his chest against the double band of steel and he wished he had stayed inside.

The ship's siren interrupted his thoughts and suddenly there was a roar from those around, and from those on the levels below and above. Half a mile away, another crowd roared from the harbourside. Balloons and streamers filled the air, firecrackers tapped, boats large and small sounded their hooters and bells. The Westward had started its journey into the unknown.

After an hour the gap between ship and shore had barely grown. After another, the combined efforts of the Westward's engines and its fleet of tugs had made a more noticeable difference. By nightfall the coast would have fallen a mere six or seven miles back.

Jessop did not understand why everyone was so jubilant. After ten years of construction — in the open sea, for no harbour was wide enough or deep enough — the Westward was embarking on its first and only voyage. In about ninety days the emigrants would have travelled farther west than any human being before them, all in the hope — the expectation — that new lands would be found. What if there was only water? What if they came to that boundary rejected by modern science: the edge of the world? What of the 50,000 souls aboard then?

He broke free of the crowd and entered a gloomy passageway, lit by lightstrips and the occasional oil lamp. It was in this dark labyrinth that the ordinary people lived. The upper levels were devoted to horticulture and officers, the lowest to the thousands upon thousands of cattle, pigs, horses, sheep and fowl the emigrants had brought with them. The beasts would no doubt be blind through lack of light by the end of the voyage, but in the meantime they would feed the people and, once there, they would form the bloodstock for future generations.

Jessop would be working with the livestock later in the day, but first he wanted to see Patria, his new wife. They had been introduced a week ago and were married on the day before departure in a mass ceremony on the open deck of the Westward, along with four hundred other couples. No single people had been allowed on this voyage — even those already married by a magus in one of the popular folk ceremonies had to be officially remarried under the eyes of a priest, if they wished to secure their passage.

He found her at her workplace at a medical point. Their eyes met and he felt a surge of passion and he believed then that the workings of chance may have gone in his favour this time. Their bond was yet to be consummated, but there would be plenty of time in the weeks ahead. She came to him, grinning, and then self-consciousness stole over the two as they kissed briefly, nose and chin. Jessop looked away, struggling to contain himself. Now, as he tried to work out when they would next be together, he found it inconceivable that he had spent the previous evening ashore, searching the streets of Highchapel for his first wife, Catherin.


The memory of that afternoon's ceremony had been fresh in his mind. Four hundred couples, smiling and glum, excited and nervous, had gathered on the rear deck in the aisles between glass expanses of horticultural frame. It was the largest open space on the ship, but still the marriages had been carried out, morning and afternoon, for three days. The race arena in Highchapel would have held a greater number of couples, but the ship had been deemed more appropriate.

A trio of priests had given perfunctory blessing, their voices amplified and distorted. The couples had stood, kneeled, sang, as commanded, and all the time a steady drizzle fell. When Jessop filed out, clutching the hand of his new wife, he felt little for her apart from a vague curiosity. He knew that the disenchantment which had bothered him all day was not her fault: it had been a response to the indecent scale and anonymity of the wedding itself. Later, he would also reflect that it had been a manifestation of his fear of the unknown: his pre-departure nerves.

It was this fear, he felt sure, which had driven him ashore that evening, as Patria returned to her work. Jessop should have been working, too, but in all the last-minute chaos and confusion it was easy to slip onto one of the numerous returning supply vessels for a final evening in Highchapel.

He passed through the web of alleyways at the heart of the docklands with ease, for he had once worked in a slaughterhouse in this same district. He had, in fact, lived all his life within a day's travel of Highchapel but when the opportunity came to escape, it had been an easy decision to make.

He came out onto a main street and stumbled on the cobbles as a motortricycle spluttered past, hooting at him for crossing its path. Gaslights illumined the street with a feeble yellow sheen, and the clatter of a piano spilled out from a nearby bar. Tricycles, motorcars, horse-drawn carts and bicycles passed before him in a steady stream. Men, women and children walked on either side of the road, or stood to sell their wares or their bodies.

Jessop hurried on. Now that he was here, he realised why he had come: to find Catherin, to persuade her to come aboard with him. He did not know if it was the right thing to do, but he did not know that it was wrong, either.

They had met when he was eighteen and she was twenty. It was at a party in a storeroom at the slaughterhouse. Dance music had come from a wind-up gramophone and there was a half-barrel of punch to dip, and another in the chill. Sawdust had filled the air as dancing feet kicked, scuffed, stomped. Catherin had given the little half-smile that he came quickly to adore and then slumped against him, toppled by the punch and the exertion. After that they spent much of the party lying together, clinging to each other, as headless pigs hung above them and sawdust and blood mingled on the floor.

A year later they were married and a year after that they had parted. There had been no one else involved, no rows or violence or lack of love. "Sometimes you can love another too much," Catherin had tried to explain, on the last occasion they were together. "So much that every tiny imperfection is magnified, every little hurt made more intense. Sometimes it can all be too much to bear." The lack of tears following that statement had been worse than her crying would have been: it indicated a finality Jessop had denied until then. He did not understand. He would never understand. He went back to the butcher's shop where he had found work and he managed to live his life, but still he could not understand, and until he understood he could never forgive.

And yet on his last night in Albany he walked the streets of Highchapel trying to find her. "Catherin. My ... wife. Have you seen her?" But in the bar that had been their local, in their church and their park and the school where they would have sent their children, no one knew for certain what had become of her. "I fear she may have married again," said the preacher who had once been a close friend of Jessop. "She dresses in widow grey and teaches in the poor-house," said another former friend. "She died of the pox," was the worst. And all wished him well on his voyage.

Finally — by chance or design he did not know — he found himself in the narrow street where they had made their home together. He walked slowly until he stood before the white-edged step separating street from house. He knocked and then almost ran when the bolt slid and the door swung inwards. A middle-aged woman looked out at him and demanded to know what he wanted. He stammered and hesitated and, before he could ask what this stranger was doing in the house he had once rented, the door had been slammed in his face.

But as he rode out to the Westward again, midnight approaching and sleep an impossibility, his dejection was transformed into a new sense of purpose. The ship was a black wedge against the night. A yellow glow spilled over from the upper decks and spots of light from portholes speckled its surface, more real than the stars above and their jumping reflections in the sea. And Jessop felt something he had not felt in many years: hope.


On the third day of the voyage — a grey strip of land was still visible by field-glass — Jessop and Patria consummated their marriage. It was an abrupt and self-conscious coupling, sandwiched between shifts and exhaustion. The next day they had more time together, and so they had their first row.

The lovemaking — and the arguments — became more skilful with familiarity and Jessop vowed that he would work at this relationship until it was right. He sensed a similar determination in Patria and so, despite the rows, he felt a sense of achievement in his new marriage. He had never felt like this with Catherin, when it had all seemed so easy.

The days turned into weeks, and then one month, two months, three. When the Westward passed the point beyond which no man had travelled there was a day of celebration. It was a day when priests and street magi alike gave their blessings and drank each other's toasts. Jessop slaughtered a dozen pigs specially for his deck-sector and they were roasted for most of the day over open charcoal braziers. Rationing was forgotten as drink and food appeared from a variety of illicit sources, and at the end of it all Jessop and Patria fell into their bed happier than they had been in many days.

The next morning, Jessop sensed that something was wrong even as he descended the levels into the poorly-lit depths of Eleven Deck. "They've got the shakes," said Cole, as soon as Jessop arrived. Cole was an ex-convict from the Dry Lands by Tyndeford who boasted about lying his way onto the Westward, but he was a true stockman and he would not say something like that unless he was certain.

"How many? How long?"

"Two definite," said Cole, leading Jessop along the narrow aisle between packed livestock pens. "Ten maybes."

The heat and stench were stifling, as always, and Jessop tried to convince himself that it was only in his imagination that he could detect the sweet-diarrhoea smell of bovine neural influenza, or "the shakes", as Cole had called it.

The ten maybes were all definite, and by the time an isolation bay had been established there were another dozen or more possible cases of the disease. Quarantine precautions had been stringent for all livestock brought onto the ship but, as Cole kept pointing out, "All it takes is one."

Jessop did not argue with Patria for a week, because during that time he worked, ate and — during occasional lulls — slept in the livestock levels. Eventually the outbreak was contained, but it was to be the first of many such incidents. "You're not alone," Patria told him, as they lay together after his return to their tiny room. "The growers are struggling with the gales and salt-spray, up above. We've been treating a cropsman who was struck by a sheet of glass which just lifted up in the winds. They're not meant to let on what a hard time they're having, but he still told us. We'll be living on fish before we're through."

Rationing became more harsh as livestock, crops and emigrants alike suffered illness and accident. Patria's medical post was kept busy with increasing incidences of consumption and dysentery and, eventually, the first cases of malnutrition.

As conditions grew harder a subtle revolution spread through the great ship. There were no uprisings or riots, it was more insidious than that. Gradually the priests and the officers came to realise that their authority — unquestionable at one point — had simply evaporated. Life continued, in a more or less orderly manner, but not at the behest of those in power. People persevered because they had no alternative.

Rumours spread, unchecked. A scout ship had found land, people said, or the fleet had found a rich shoal of fish to trawl. Once it was said that the ship had reached the edge of the world and was endlessly falling, and from his place in the bowels of the Westward, Jessop could have believed that to be true.

As the priests and officers lost their influence, so those figures of the anti-culture, the magi and the itinerant street-preachers, rose in prominence. Perhaps it was their influence which subdued the hostility, preventing the uprisings and riots which at one time seemed inevitable.

And so it was that, upon finishing his shift one night, Jessop went with Cole and some others to a dimly-lit room somewhere in the mid-levels, instead of returning to his exhausted and irritable wife. The walls of the room had been daubed in red, green and gold, and a single cast-iron brazier gave off acrid smoke which clung to the high ceiling. The magus sat at the centre of the room, puffing at a herb-pipe and chuckling amiably at the chatter of a small group gathered around him. By the door a man sold beer at the extraordinary prices which had become commonplace in the latter weeks of the voyage. Jessop sipped slowly and settled himself wearily on crossed legs.

They talked and argued for a time, and Jessop soon grew bored. Dancing broke out sporadically and, at one point, a brief fist fight. Then, "Can we play the game?" asked Cole, as the evening grew old.

The magus wore a studiously innocent look.

"The game," urged Cole. "The Calling of Futures." To Jessop he added, "We always end up with the game. If we didn't it'd be like church with no prayers."

Still the magus looked uneasy, but as others joined Cole's plea he rose and silenced the gathering with a gesture. "It is no game," he said, in a soft voice that would carry forever. "It is the expression of the Gods, no less. And also, it is Their gift."

"He'll play, he'll play!" hissed Cole, under his breath.

The magus looked around the room. "When the futures are called," he said, "the Gods may choose to grant the wish of one who is here tonight."

"He means you'll get laid," translated Cole.

"He who harbours the strongest desire will be the winner, and have his wish met," continued the magus, and Jessop thought of landfall, of new beginnings, of the good times he had shared with Patria. "But we must remember that others may share the burden of that desire: a price must be paid."

"So do we start?" yelled a raucous woman from the back.

The magus smiled. "We start," he said, "and only the Gods can finish."

A circle formed, and within its boundary the magus started to hop and pace, squatting occasionally to make chalk markings on the greasy floor. Cole sat in the circle and Jessop sat at his shoulder, remembering the street Callings of his childhood for which he had always been punished severely.

Eventually, the magus started to work his way around the room, gathering bets which he chalked on the floor. Then he resumed his pacing and hopping, chanting quietly in the Ancient Voice. After a time in which many side-bets were laid, he delved into a calfskin bag at his waist and straightened suddenly, so that his hands were flung upwards and a shower of bones and stones and other assorted artefacts went up in the air, clattered against the iron ceiling, and scattered across the floor.

The magus scurried around, totting up the clusters and orientations of the objects. Most had landed in the chalked segment nearest to Cole and Jessop, and all of the bones in this area lay with their painted ends pointing towards the two men. The magus glanced across at them and Cole cursed quietly. As the magus collected up his artefacts and handed out the winnings, Cole explained that it was good because they were ahead on the first throw, and so the Gods favoured them, but bad because he had placed his bets on a woman in the neighbouring segment who he was sure the magus planned to seduce. "The Gods is good," he said. "But it's the money that matters."

After the third throw the Calling of Futures had to be abandoned because everyone was betting on the segment in front of Jessop. It was as if the bones had his name on them. After the first throw the magus had moved people away so that only Cole and Jessop remained in that part of the circle. After the second there was only Jessop. And as the magus jerked upright for the third time it was as if those artefacts which would not naturally have landed in that segment were now falling in a curved path, drawn there by magnetism or some local distortion of gravity.

"We have a winner," said the magus, as he squatted before Jessop. "And so quickly ... "

Jessop did not know what to make of it. He felt that he should have left, or that he should never have come here with Cole and his fellow stockmen. He felt that it must be some kind of joke, or a dream, or worse.

"You must want something very badly indeed," said the magus, in a conversational tone. Around them, the party had returned to the drinking and flirting and argument of any Westward gathering.

"My marriage has flaws," said Jessop, struggling to think. The colours of the room seemed to be swirling now, muddying his mind. "Sometimes we're both too weak. But it can be so good ... When we land, and start to build ... there's so much that I want!"

When we land. He saw the understanding in the magus' expression and then he seized on the possibility that there could sometimes be an element of truth to this Calling ritual. Perhaps he had acted as a channel for the desperation of the 50,000 souls on the Westward: when we land — the desire of the masses.


Following the Calling of Futures, he had, for a time, believed that things would improve. For a few days his new belief had revitalised his marriage and Patria even appeared pleased to see him when their shifts allowed them time together. But soon reality overcame his false hopes and the rows returned with a new ferocity. When Patria became violent he at last gave up hope and removed his few possessions from their room. After a night in a corridor he took to sleeping in one of the informal dormitories that had become established for the victims of failed Westward marriages, despite the disapproval of the priests and the officers.

It was then that a new obsession consumed him for three painful weeks. Perhaps the Calling had been true, but his greatest desire had been hidden even from himself! He had believed that he had put Catherin behind him, along with the rest of his past in Albany. But the more he thought of it, the more convinced he became that this was the desire that had so influenced the bones and stones and patches of animal hide of the magus: the wish that Catherin should be with him on the Westward, that the new beginning he would make after landfall should be with his first and — he now saw — only love. He wondered if somehow the magus' manipulations had worked backwards in time so that when he had searched the streets of Highchapel on the night before departure Catherin had already been aboard.

He began to look for her. At first his search was chaotic — from market hall to tiny chapel, from the stinking passageways of Twelve to the wind- and rain-swept upper deck — but after a few days he learnt to pace himself, to use his sense of logic. He tried the administrative nexi of each deck in succession, firstly because her clerical experience would make these likely workplaces, and then because an appropriate offer of black market meat bought him a search of every register on the ship.

He began his quest with great optimism, convinced of his interpretation of the night his future was called. Eventually he resigned himself to a long search. Catherin's name was not on any of the registers but then it was said that the ship's population had been swollen by as many as 10,000 stowaways. He was not deterred. The magus had said that people must pay for the granting of his wish: now was the time for Jessop to pay in labour and lost sleep, and also the time for others to pay as he set them on fruitless quests through files and ledgers and eventually physically searching the corridors of the Westward.

His face became known throughout the great ship, his story often repeated. "You're the one they tell about?" asked an excited woman somewhere in the heart of Seven Deck. "The Seeker of Catherin?" She was the first of many. But, unable to help, she had returned to her task of scraping algae from the ceiling and collecting it in her cooking pot.

And still, Catherin was not found.

"You need some help," Cole told him at one stage, tapping the side of his head. Jessop seized on that. He needed guidance. He took a day off from his search for Catherin to seek out the magus. He took another day to look for the room where the Calling had taken place: Cole was no use but surely someone must recognise his description ... But his efforts met only with failure and pity.

And then one night, Jessop found himself crouching in a crowded, bustling passageway, almost asleep on his feet. He would find her. He had to find her.

It took some time for the excitement to break through, and the chaos around him to make sense.

"We've — !" But the woman's words were smothered by the roar of the Westward's siren, the first time it had been sounded since leaving Highchapel.

And then, in response to Jessop's blank look, she repeated her words. "We've found land! We've reached the new landfall!"


It took the Westward and all its tugs nearly two days to come to a halt. In that time two things became apparent. Firstly, it was no mere atoll the scout ships had found: it was a continent, maybe even as big as the one they had left behind.

The second discovery was that the continent was already settled.

On the afternoon before the great ship finally came to a halt, the first envoys came out from the new land. With little ceremony they were hustled aboard for long deliberations in the top deck quarters of the officers and senior priesthood.

Those who saw the foreign envoys reported favourably that they were human beings just like the emigrants, that they wore clothes remarkably similar to the fashions of Albany, that they even spoke in a compatible language.

And naturally rumours were propagated and spread at the greatest speed. Surveillance of the distant skyline through field-glasses merely fuelled the gossip: though indistinct, it all looked so familiar.

"They's saying the world's not flat!" said Cole, as he and Jessop led one of the surviving cows to slaughter. "Not flat, I'm telling you!" Indeed they were: some said the world was a great cylinder and they had sailed all the way round. Others spoke of parallel evolution towards the optimum societal form. The religious spoke of parallel Creations.

But Jessop knew these rumours to be false. If the Westward had chased its own tail, as heretics claimed, then it would have come to the cotton and spice ports of the Orient and the foreign envoys would have skins the colour of soil and a native tongue that was indecipherable. And even the most basic understanding of evolution ruled out any such precise parallels in far apart continents.

He thought, at first, that the officers had tricked them and turned the ship back at the first signs of mutiny. But he knew people who worked in the horticultural levels, who had spent every night since departure out under the stars, and they swore that the ship had never erred by more than a few degrees from a steady westward course.

And yet they had arrived at what appeared to be an Alban port, or a facsimile of one, at least. When he bought a look through a set of field-glasses, Jessop could see the port clearly, the skyline broken in the southern half by a great cathedral spire. And then he recognised it and he understood.


He climbed down to the boat and hid himself under a tarpaulin. Eventually, the engine tone changed and he knew that the latest set of envoys was returning to the port. When the boat finally bumped against the harbour wall, he strained his hearing to be sure that it was being tied fast and would not venture out again that day. He did not dare look.

He crawled free under cover of darkness, glanced each way along the quay, then scrambled up onto the concrete road, his first solid land in over eight months. He lost himself quickly in the maze of little streets behind the docks.

Frightened by a sudden voice, he ran for several minutes before he realised that it had merely been a prostitute looking for work.

He looked at the sky and at the road and bar signs, trying to work out the orientation of the city. Everything seemed to be reversed, somehow askew. It was as if he had stepped into a mirror whose reflection was not true, as if he had returned to the past only not quite so ... He thought of all the effort and suffering invested in the Westward's voyage, all now come to nought so that he should have his wish.

He stopped these thoughts. He did not know for certain. He could not feel responsible yet.

He passed a small chapel, a school, a bar with a canvas sign that flapped in the breeze. And then, eventually, he came to a narrow street, with terraces on either side, the houses fronting directly onto the pavement.

He stopped before a doorstep, its edge painted white. He wiped his knuckles on the seat of his trousers, breathed deeply, and knocked.

She took a long time to come to the door, but when she did she smiled her little half-smile, and stepped back into the warm light of the room. "My love," she said, after a slight pause. "I've been waiting."



What initially got me hooked on this idea was the concept of a ship that had to be built "in the open sea, for no harbour was wide enough or deep enough". This came directly from looking at the best way to build space stations and starships: we wouldn't build them on a planetary surface because they'd be so expensive to launch; build them in open space instead. Taking this further, of course the ship would be a colonisation ship, heading off into the unknown, just like a generation star ship heading off to a distant star system. But what if you turned up in this distant star system only to find a planet that's a slightly wonky mirror image of the one you left?

This is another segue story: a transition from one reality to another. It's also an intriguing blending of what is clearly fantasy fiction (they have magi, and believe in games that can magically control the future) with a scientific, industrial setting: they have gas lamps and motor vehicles. It has a distinct steampunk feel to it, although it was written long before the current upsurge of that genre. More than anything, though, it's a simple love story about longing to put right the mistakes of the past. Even if the world itself must change in order to achieve this.

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