"I really don't know why we had to come to this seedy little dive", said Julian, looking around him with distaste.
"It's the only bar in town that's got a television set", said Adam "Anyway it's not that bad".
"It's a dump!" Julian exclaimed "Full of tarts and perverts".
"We should fit in well then!"
"I don't find that sort of comment very amusing".
"It was just a joke", Adam protested "You are becoming such an old prude, Jules. Which is the biggest joke of all, when I think of some of the things you've got up to in your time, and still would if the offers were made".
"Now you listen to me", Julian snapped "I don't want any insults off you this evening. I came out to enjoy your delightful company. We are on holiday and I can't think of anyone I'd rather be on holiday with. But I don't expect you to get at me quite so viciously all the time. And when I said that we'd do anything you wanted this evening I didn't expect you to suggest coming here!"
"Oh cheer up", Adam pinched his arm playfully "Tomorrow I'll buy you a bucket and spade and take you down to the beach".
"We could have gone down there this evening", said Julian "Watched the sunset together".
"We still can, it's not going to go dark for another couple of hours yet. It'll all be over by then".
"What will for heaven's sake? I don't even know what it is that you want to watch so badly".
Julian glanced across at the television, which was currently showing a football match with the volume turned down. This was because everyone in the known world was unanimously convinced that the inept commentator should be taken out and buried in cement.
"Gorth's giving a speech this evening", said Adam "Addressing the nation as it were. I wanted to hear it".
"You'll be the only one who does then. Even his own ministers don't want to listen to him".
"That's why I think it'll be something important. Perhaps his abdication".
"I doubt anyone'd notice", said Julian, tartly "Why can't he go on holiday as well, and stop hassling everyone? It's August for crying out loud. In our time parliament wouldn't even have been sitting! And I don't notice Tinkerbell hanging around to listen to his successor's great announcement. Oh no, he's got more sense. He's out enjoying himself".
"I think he's probably afraid that if Gorth does resign, he'll get pressured to re-assume the presidency", said Adam.
"Only if Gorth nominates him surely? And even if that were to happen, no one can force him to be President".
"No, but they could put a lot of pressure on him. It's the last thing I want. He's been doing so well these past few months. Eating normally for one thing".
"I know, he'll get up to seven stones at this rate", said Julian "We'll have to kick his arse to get him through the living-room door!"
"If only the Ministry would stop dragging their feet and give us Wolf Castle back. I don't see why on earth they need to still be hanging onto it. There can't be much left to look at in the Blast area. I'm beginning to think we'll never see our home again".
"That's the trouble isn't it?" said Julian "When they said we could have it back in the summer, they didn't specify which year!"
The popular seaside resort of Magnolia Cove was the closest coastal town to the City, and at this time of year was usually packed with urbanites anxious to escape the intense heat of the City streets. Adam had nicknamed the place "Big Boy's Toysville", and the Cove certainly tried its best to stop any of its visitors becoming bored. Nonetheless the noise and colour of the town itself didn't distract from its beautiful setting, tucked as it was into the crook of coastline which hugged the Harbour Woods. Even the world's main electricity generating station, which squatted in the middle of the huge mud flats to the west, tried its best to blend into the scenery.
Kieran, Joby and Lonts were walking round the Pleasure Dome on the pier. The hypnotic whirl of colour and noise seemed to all merge together in one psychedelic mass, creating a surreal effect.
"Shows my Gran was always right", said Joby, peering out from under the brim of his billed cap "All men are big kids at heart".
"Ah come off it", said Kieran "If there was a bunch of women here they'd all be wanting to have a go on this stuff too. It's just they always felt they had to be sensible around us".
They paused in front of the "Dunking Belle", a contraption which dropped a breasted eunuch wearing a bikini into a tub of water everytime a punter hit the bell overhead with a ball. So far the eunuch had been dunked successfully several times in a row, and was looking increasingly brassed off about it.
"We could run a place like this", said Joby "We could have Ransey working the ticket office, or manning the shooting gallery. Adam could do body-painting on the eunuchs, Finia a spot of exotic dancing..."
"You could do the dodgems", said Kieran "From what I remember of your driving it'd be quite appropriate".
"There was nothing wrong with my driving", said Joby.
"That why you're car always had a dent in it then?" Kieran teased.
"What could I do?" said Lonts.
"That's easy", said Joby "You could be the Dunking Belle".
"We'd make our fortunes overnight", said Kieran "Lonts in a skimpy pair of briefs, getting sopping wet".
"That wouldn't be any fun", said Lonts "Joby'd have all the go's".
"That's certainly true", Kieran laughed.
They paused outside a building which proudly proclaimed on the board outside that it had film tapes of Real Women. To illustrate this fact they had pasted up a poster of what looked like the genuine article. She wore only a spangled garter belt, and had thrown her arms in the air as though receiving salvation.
"She looks pretty authentic", said Kieran "I haven't been here so long I've forgotten what they look like".
"I've been had that way before though", said Joby "Do you remember that reel of film I bought in Bandorra? I paid a fortune for it. Turned out to be some heavyweight old frump who took an age to get her kit off".
"We haven't got to go in have we?" said Lonts "Those films are so boring".
"You don't have to come in", said Joby "I'm sure we can find a dog-hook to tie you to".
"Joby!" said Kieran, sternly.
"You're not leaving me out here alone!" Lonts wailed.
"Looking like you do?" said Kieran "Adam'd never let us hear the end of it".
Lonts certainly did look gorgeous. Although now thirty, he still looked as lovely as he had done in his teens. The only sign of ageing was a slight tiredness around his eyes. Today he looked sensational. His skin was bronzed all over, and offset by his white shorts and unbuttoned shirt.
"You look more gormless than ever to me", Joby grunted, unimpressed.
"Take no notice of Joby", said Kieran "He's jealous because you've got a lovely sun-tan, and his back's red and peeling".
"Itches too", said Joby "Reminds me of that blistering I got on the day of the Blast. I hope I'm not going down with skin cancer".
"If anyone's likely to get that it'll be me", said Kieran "Being fair-haired and fair-skinned. Prime target you see. Come on, let's all grab a cold beer".
They went into a small, circular bar and ordered three beers at the counter. On the other side of the room they spotted Finia sitting with Governor Brinslee. Finia looked dusky in a bronze corseted dress with a full skirt.
"Does Brinslee ever spend any time in Port West these days?" said Joby "Last winter he was in the City, for the birth of Tamaz's children, and now he's here".
"Getting very close to Finia by the looks of things", said Kieran "That's every night this week he's taken him out. Rumour has it he wants Finia to be his consort. He's been a lonely man since Domino died".
"It's true", said Lonts "Adam says we're not to mention Brinslee's name in Julian's presence. He's terrified of losing Finia".
"I can't wait to tell him about our evening then", Joby chuckled "Particularly as Brinslee's looking so gobsmacked by Finia".
"Good luck to him I say, Finia I mean", said Kieran "From child prostitute to governor's consort. They'll be making films about him in years to come".
"Adam says Julian'll be unbearable if Finia leaves", said Lonts.
"Not much he can do about it", said Joby "He can hardly lock Finia in his room".
"I wouldn't put it past him", said Kieran.
"Oh God look out, it's Champagne Charlotte", said Joby.
Hillyard hove into view, incongruously wearing a pink feather boa around his neck and carrying a half-empty bottle of wine.
"I like the new look", said Joby, flicking the feather boa "Have you been raiding Finia's wardrobe?"
"This?" Hillyard looked at the feather boa in bewilderment "I didn't know I still had it on! No wonder I've been getting some suggestive looks. I thought they were admiring my sun-tan!"
"You look as though you've been enjoying yourself", said Kieran.
"Oh just some bar that's got eunuch strippers in", said Hillyard, airily "Lonts, you look good enough to eat".
"You didn't say that earlier this evening", said Lonts.
"He wasn't drunk then", said Joby "How many have you had, Hillyard?"
"Dunno, I wasn't counting".
"You're a mess".
"Joby, the man's on holiday, he's entitled to get pie-eyed if he wants to", said Kieran "Even so, perhaps we should get him home".
"I think you should give me a helping hand", said Hillyard, coiling his arm round Kieran's shoulders.
"Gladly", said Kieran "But try to bear in mind that however drunk you may be, Joby is still here".
"Joby: the conscience of the family! What do I do with this?" said Hillyard, holding up the wine-bottle.
Joby took it off him and placed it on the bar-top. They then walked back onto the pier and strolled past the various booths and amusements.
"A sex-therapist!" Hillyard exclaimed, stopping outside one tent "Will answer all our problems and queries, according to this. Perhaps I should pop in and talk to him".
"You don't need a sex therapist", said Joby "Just a vet with a big pair of scissors!"
They peered through a gap in the canvas and were startled to see a transvestite inside who was about the size of a small mountain. He was swathed in enough netting to curtain a chain of tea-shops.
"You'd better not go in there, Kieran", said Joby "He might think you're think his lunch".
"Is he the sex therapist?" said Kieran, in astonishment.
"Strongly advocates group therapy", said Hillyard, reading laboriously from an advertising poster outside "Gang bangs in other words, I suppose".
"He looks like he could have one of those all by himself", said Joby.
"I keep saying we should have an orgy", said Lonts.
"Oh what a nightmare", said Kieran "Hillyard drunk, and Lonts getting randy. I'll be glad when we re-locate Adam".
"I think it's very accurate what you say about me needing a vet, Joby", Hillyard boomed "After all, I'm hung like a horse aren't I?"
"Just behave yourself, Hilly", said Kieran.
"I was just saying ..."
"That's all very well, but don't go offering to show us".
"Don't know what you're worried about", said Joby "The entire population must've seen what he's got by now!"
"I resent that remark", said Hillyard, imperiously "When we lived on the island I was celibate ..."
"For eighteen months, yes we know", said Kieran "We know everything there is to know about you, Hillyard. Now let's get you back to the camp-site".
The noise volume in the 'Ship' had risen markedly at the conclusion of Gorth's speech. There was a general feeling of puzzled disbelief around, as though war had been declared and no one could understand why.
"I think it might have been better if he'd abdicated", said Julian, as the grumbles of unrest grew all around them in the bar.
"What is he playing at?" said Adam "Is he hoping that by announcing it now, in the middle of the holiday season, that no one'll notice?"
Gorth, the life-long celibate, had announced his bizarre intention to marry Tamaz in the autumn. It was the last thing that anyone had expected. Tamaz's stock had been high at the beginning of the year. As the propagator of the four hermaphrodite children, the saviours of the human race, the general public had been prepared to overlook his Ghoomer origins. Since then though public opinion had swung sharply against him. Details of his insatiable lust for spending had been leaked to the media at the end of the winter, and it couldn't have come at a worse time, with the populace fed up and broke after the severity of a protracted freeze. There was also the fact that Tamaz didn't show the slightest interest in his own offspring. The four children were kept confined to a secret underground chamber at the Ministry Headquarters, and as far as anyone knew, Tamaz never went near them from one week to the next. As to all outward appearances Tamaz was essentially female, his/her attitude was understood even less. The public wanted to believe in an idealised image of mother and four babies. Not spendthrift hedonist and four emotionally-deprived incarcerated children.
"It's all a publicity stunt", said Julian "I'm certain of it".
"But how come?" said Adam "Tamaz is even less popular than Gorth these days".
"Perhaps they feel two wrongs might must make a right", Julian shrugged "Perhaps they think the public might warm to a whole new dynasty at the Headquarters. A new first family. After all, it never did Kieran's popularity any harm".
"It's all perfectly sordid", said Adam.
"Nonsense, just a marriage of convenience that's all", said Julian "A business transaction".
"It's grotesque", said Adam "Gorth, a man whose juices are even more dried up than Ransey's, marrying Tamaz, a bloody Ghoomer! Someone descended from a race of callous, sadistic parasites. Someone, who you said yourself, should be treated with contempt".
"It's none of our business", said Julian, draining his glass and then slapping Adam's bare knee "Let's go home. I find the whole subject of Gorth's future sex life quite distasteful".
"Have you heard the news?" Ransey boomed, from the doorway of the bar.
"Gorth's good news?" said Julian "Yes we have. If Gorth's settling down, there's hope for you yet".
"Don't you two start, please!" said Adam, wearily.
There were sounds of a kerfuffle coming from the street outside. Adam and Julian went out onto the prom, where a sizeable crowd had gathered round Kieran and his friends. Lonts looked terrified, but fortunately Hillyard had sobered up slightly and was holding onto his wrist to stop him bolting.
"What's going on here?" Ransey barked, clearing his way through the mob "Come on, clear off the lot of you. Give Kieran some space".
"We want him back in the City", yelled one man, clutching a beer bottle for dear life "We're not putting up with that fucking Ghoomer as President's Consort".
"You're quite happy to accept his kids though", said Joby, belligerently.
"Needs must", said another guy "But that thick-lipped tart's already costing the honest tax-payer a fortune, just to keep him and his sty furnished, and once he's Consort there'll be no stopping him".
"None of it's got anything to do with me", said Kieran "I stopped being President years ago. If you've got a problem, take it to the Ministry".
"He doesn't have kids as far as I can see", said the man with beer-bottle "More like a litter".
"Yeah that's right", said another "A litter of piglets from an ugly old sow!"
"You ungrateful bunch of tossers", said Joby "Last Christmas you couldn't get enough of Tamaz and his kids, and now hark at you!"
Ransey got hold of Kieran's arm and began to tug him away from the crowd.
"It's got nothing to do with me", Kieran shouted, as he followed Ransey away "I know no more than you do. If you have a problem take it to the Ministry. I don't have any influence there any more".
They got back to their camp-site eventually. Each tent in the Magnolia Cove resort was widely-spaced to give men an illusion of freedom and privacy. The tents were scattered all through the woods, each one with its own individual stand-pipe and brick stove. Kieran's was situated on the edge of the woods, overlooking the mud flats that ran out to the power station on the horizon.
"Bastards", said Joby "We can't even have a holiday in peace. I hope none of 'em decides to come out here and continue the argument".
"They'll get a bullet up their arse if they do", said Ransey, who was checking his holster "Trespassers will be shot".
Joby went into the large communal tent, where he found Lonts dragging everyone's bed-rolls into the centre.
"And what the fuck are you playing at, pond-life?" he exclaimed.
"I've told you time and again not to call me that, Joby", said Lonts "It's very unkind".
"But what are you doing?"
"Re-creating the litter".
"Oh what are you talking about?" Joby sighed.
"You remember when we travelled in the litter up north, before Kieran became President".
"That was years ago! What's it got to do with now?"
"We felt safe when we all slept in that, didn't we?"
"I seem to remember we slept in it to keep warm mainly", said Joby "It's not a problem we've got here".
"No but we can huddle round Kieran and protect him", said Lonts.
"There's nothing to protect him from", said Joby, testily "You get dafter you do".
"One day Joby I'll drop dead and you'll really regret every unkind thing you ever said to me", Lonts retorted.
"Don't talk like that", said Joby "Adam wouldn't like it".
"I think my hangover's coming on already", said Hillyard, walking into the tent "It doesn't even have the decency to let me get some kip first".
"I don't want today's little incident to ruin our holiday", said Kieran, following him in "We've got another fortnight in this place and we shall enjoy it. Is that clear? We're not going back to the City before the end of the month, even if Gorth shoots himself!"
"It'd be the first intelligent thing he's ever done if he did", said Hillyard.
"And I certainly don't want any talk like that", said Kieran "For the sake of a peaceful life we need Gorth to start acquiring some popularity, otherwise that mob out there will never leave us alone".
"Are you coming to bed, Jules?" said Adam, as he walked around outside, picking up stray items of clothing.
"I thought I'd sit up and wait for Finia to come home", said Julian, tossing another piece of wood on the fire "I want to talk to him".
"He could stay out all night, old love", said Adam, gently "Brinslee's staying in that posh hotel on the front".
"I know where Brinslee's staying", said Julian, with forced patience "And if I have to sit up all night then that is what I'll do".
"You'll get awfully cold".
"I'll be fine. Don't fuss".
"Jules, you've got to accept it you know", said Adam "I know you're very fond of Finia, but this is perhaps the best offer he's ever going to get. If he becomes governor's consort he'll live in Government House at Port West, have servants to cater to his every whim, and Brinslee's a generous man, he'll give him everything he wants".
"Maybe so", said Julian, with a vehemence that took Adam by surprise "But luxury isn't what Finia wants".
"Rubbish, he wouldn't be human if he didn't".
"Finia wants a daddy, more than anything else. I should know, I've heard him say it often enough".
"Then who's to say Brinslee's not daddy material?" said Adam "He'll make sure Finia's well looked after, and he certainly won't abuse him in any way. Brinslee hasn't got it in him. I don't know why you can't be pleased for him".
"Bugger off to bed, Adam!" Julian roared.
"Addy, what are you playing at?" said Kieran, meeting him on the other side of the tent door "You seemed to be deliberately getting his goat".
"Exactly", said Adam "If Julian doesn't get wild enough to do something soon he's going to lose Finia, and for all our sakes we'd better pray that doesn't happen. Julian's taken that boy too much for granted, such as assuming he'd always be around. It's his worst failing with people. Thinks we'll put up with all his crap forevermore. He might be about to get a shock".
Finia didn't come home until twenty-to-four in the morning. Julian had dozed outside, occasionally waking up to feed the fire. When Finia appeared daylight was already starting to appear.
"Did Brinslee leave you to walk home alone?" said Julian, in a scandalised voice "I'll kill him when I see him!"
"I haven't been with Brinslee all this time", said Finia, stumbling awkwardly around the fire "And I can take care of myself, thank you very much".
"Not in that condition you can't", said Julian "You're completely rat-arsed! I don't know what's got into you lately, I really don't. You used to be such a quiet, conscientious little thing. And now here you are, staying out all night and coming home drunk".
"Firstly", Finia boomed, holding up a warning finger "I am not A Thing. I may not have a cock, I may have once been a tart, and I may be black, but I am not A Thing!"
"I didn't mean anything like that", said Julian, wrapping a blanket round Finia's bare shoulders "You're deliberately putting words in my mouth".
"I am doing no such thing", Finia shook his head "I am merely stating what you think of me. Because in your eyes there are obviously two sorts of people in this world. Human beings, and people like Finia. Sub-human".
"I have never thought anything of the kind", Julian protested "Why are you saying these things to me? I thought we were friends. And since when have I ever given you the impression that I thought you were sub-human?"
"All the time", Finia flung his arms wide and nearly over-balanced himself.
"Nonsense", Julian barked "I'm going to get cross with you if you keep coming out with rubbish like that. I've always had the greatest respect for you, ever since I got you out of that hell-hole in Husgalonghi. I've always admired your courage for one thing. You're one of the most courageous people I've ever met. And I wouldn't say that if I thought you were sub-human would I?"
"You rescued me from that whore-house and put me to work as your servant", said Finia, jabbing him in the chest.
"If was what you wanted! I was quite happy to have you as a house-guest for as long as you needed it, but oh no, you insisted you had to earn your keep".
"I thought you'd send me away if I didn't", Finia began to blub "I wanted to say with you, I felt safe with you. But I thought if I stayed as a guest I'd soon out-stay my welcome, whereas if I made myself indispensable to you, you wouldn't send me away".
"Then don't turn round seventeen years later and accuse me of feudalism!" Julian sat him down in one of the chairs "Where have you been all this time, if you haven't been with Brinslee?"
"I went to the eunuch strip bar".
"What on earth for?"
"To see about a job", said Finia, sniffing violently "I was pretty good at seductive dancing when we were in the circus. I know I'm not as young as I was then, but I'm sure I could still do it. They offered me a job waiting on tables instead. If you're not under twenty-five these days they don't want to know about you taking your clothes off. I was so depressed afterwards I got drunk".
"Finia, what the bloody hell are you doing looking for a job? Brinslee's offered to make you his Consort!"
"Huh! I spent my childhood as a whore, I don't want to spend my old age as one too, however well paid it might be. And that's all a governor's consort is, a highly-paid whore. Someone to look decorative at functions, and then warm the governor's bed at night. And Brinslee revolts me in that way. He's got a body like a badly-arranged stack of buggy tyres".
"Even so, why were you looking for a job in a strip joint?" said Julian "Has working for me suddenly become so awful?"
"Unbearable", Finia mumbled.
"I see", Julian sighed "Well I'll make you a hot drink and you can tell me why I'm suddenly so monstrous, after all these years".
Julian began to busy himself with the kettle. Whilst he was so engaged, Finia shrugged off the blanket, rose to his feet and began to sway drunkenly to some music only discernible within his own head. He plucked at the hooks that fastened the back of his dress, and then dropped the garment to his feet.
"Finia!" Julian hissed "What do you think you're doing?"
"Don't know and don't care", said Finia, and he began to pluck at the waistband of his cotton and lace drawers.
"Stop it!" Julian bellowed, and he picked up the dress "It's too chilly out here to go doing your strip routine. Now show me how you get back into this contraption".
"Spread it on the floor and I'll step into it", said Finia, miserably.
Julian helped him back into the dress, and then struggled to do up a couple of the hooks at the back.
"I suppose you're going to say let's pretend this conversation never happened", said Finia.
"That would be rather foolish of me", said Julian "I'm not the fastest on the uptake when it comes to human emotions. Ask Adam, he knows that better than anyone. But I finally realise what it is you want".
"And it's not sex", Finia sniffed "I just come on like that because that's the only way I know. I can only judge guys by how interested they are in my body. And before you say anything, I'm not interested in a celibate affair either. Otherwise I'd be looking to Ransey for help".
"I should've filed for your adoption papers years ago", said Julian, wryly "It's just that when you said you wanted a daddy, I didn't know you meant it literally! Anyway, in defence of myself for a moment, I thought that was what I'd always been to you. I've always thought of you as ... well as my daughter I suppose, is more accurate than son. Perhaps I just never showed it well enough".
"You don't show real emotion easily, I know that", said Finia.
"Come here", Julian sat down on the chair and pulled Finia onto his lap. He held him close for some time and stroked his back, where his dress still gaped open.
"Daddy", Finia murmured.
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