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"I saw three ships coming sailing in on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day, I saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas Day in the mo-o-rning", Adam looked around him to make sure no one had overheard his impromptu carol singing, and then continued his exploration of the small saloon on-board the tugboat.
With all eight of them in it at once it would be a tight fit, but it was comfortable enough. Plenty of dark wood and brass rails to give it an elegant look, and a bay window that looked out of the rear of the vessel. He could hear the others thumping around on the poop-deck overhead, and running down the narrow wooden stairs to the galley and cabins below. It was Christmas Day, and they were due to set off from the City Harbour at any moment.
Adam had felt homesick at their front door. The little house had looked so sad with its stripped beds and empty cupboards that he had felt a real pang of regret at leaving. Now he was on the tugboat "Indigo" though he was feeling more positive. It was compact, neat and welcoming. Hell, he'd had to make a home out of far less impressive places!
Ransey had chosen Christmas Day to set off, believing that they would get less attention that way. The press would be on holiday, and anyway it was also the first birthday of the hermaphrodite children, so doubtless everyone would be out bombarding the Ministry with gifts and cards. He couldn't have been more wrong. The Harbour was packed with onlookers, and they had had to run the gauntlet of them before disappearing up the gangplank.
"You wouldn't believe it", said Julian, walking into the saloon, with snow on his coat "Now the vicar's turned up! One would think he'd have something better to do on Christmas morning!"
"Monene?" said Adam "He hasn't got his sidekick with him has he? Only Lonts tends to get very agitated when Ketts is around".
"No sign of him", said Julian "And Monene looks as though he's about to give us his blessing. I vote we tie a rope round him and smash him against the side, in place of a champagne bottle".
"Julian don't be cruel".
"Do you want to deprive me of one of my greatest pleasures?"
Adam laughed and helped him out of his coat.
"Have you seen that troglodyte who will be making up our entire crew?" Julian went on.
"I had the misfortune to get a glimpse of his bum cleavage as he disappeared below", said Adam "As he will be spending most of his time in the dark stoking the boiler, you can't really expect wit and sophistication".
"It is human isn't it? I mean, I really can't be sure from the brief look I had of him. Is Ransey cheese-paring by hiring us sub-standard staff?"
"I think you'll find most stokers are like him".
"Let's just hope he's harmless then. I can see I shall have to keep an eye on Finia when he's around. Same goes for you and your little darling".
"I'm sure Ransey wouldn't have hired anyone dodgy".
"Quite the golden boy at the moment isn't he?" said Julian.
"Don't be silly", Adam slapped his hand playfully "You know I would never look at anyone but you".
"You keep your eyes shut do you?" said Julian "Your bare-faced lying is quite remarkable sometimes".
"I had a good teacher didn't I!" said Adam, tartly.
Julian smacked Adam's rump in reply.
"This is a nine-berth vessel", said Joby, standing in the narrow corridor on the quarterdeck "A nine-berth vessel, you pillock!"
"Yes", said Ransey, patiently "And there are nine of us, including the stoker. So what's the problem?"
"Divided into three cabins", said Joby "Three cabins with three bunks in".
"I still don't see the problem".
"Well", Joby flapped his arms in distress "How do we divide up then? I like to share with Kieran, and Lonts has to share with Adam. And how the hell do we get any privacy?"
"You'll just have to use your initiative won't you?" said Ransey.
"I don't mind how we divide", said Julian, coming down the steps "As long as I don't have to share with Lurch from the furnace".
"It's not a problem, Joby", said Kieran "You and me can share a bunk, we usually do. Perhaps in the same cabin as Adam and Lonts. That'll leave Julian and Finia to share, as I don't think it's a good idea for Finia to be in the same room as the stoker".
"Why not?" said Joby.
"What are your brains made out of sometimes, Joby?" Kieran exclaimed "Mushy peas? Finia is the next best thing to a woman we've got around here, and an attractive one at that. And the stoker's an unknown quantity. I'd like a wall between those two at night".
"Great", said Hillyard, unenthusiastically "That means me and Ransey get the pleasure of his company".
"Makes you fear for the stoker doesn't it!" said Joby.
The stoker didn't join them for dinner. He merely grunted when the invitation was proffered, and took his plate down to the boiler-room in the hold. They were still officially in the chilly City waters, and there was frost on the deck as soon as darkness fell. But it was warm in the saloon, and the oil-lamps cast a cheering glow over everything.
"Does the stoker have a name?" said Adam, picking his way over a mass of dirty plates and empty bottles to his chair "I mean, we can't spend the rest of the trip referring to him as The Stoker. It makes him sound like a Dickensian ghost-story".
"He looks like something out of a Dickensian ghost-story", said Joby.
"He's called Uddle", said Ransey.
"Uddle!" Julian exclaimed "You're not serious?"
"That's what he told me", Ransey shrugged "And that's what it says on his work-permit".
"Who'd like a cuddle with Uddle!" Adam laughed.
"Not me, that's for sure", said Julian "Tomorrow we'd better draw up some sort of a system".
"I was going to suggest that", Ransey snapped.
"Who's gonna be skipper then?" said Hillyard "Kieran?"
"Me?" Kieran exclaimed "No way! I thought Adam would be, he normally is".
"Don't be ridiculous", said Julian "We can't have the housewife in charge".
"Well it certainly isn't going to be you", said Adam "We'd have a mutiny within hours".
"I am the eldest", said Julian.
"Only by a few months", said Adam.
"We'd better decide soon", said Joby "Or we'll end up with Lonts in charge at this rate!"
"Kieran should appoint someone really", said Ransey "He's had the most experience of delegation".
"I think it should be a joint effort", said Kieran "Between Adam and Julian".
"Are you mad?" said Joby "Julian!"
"Adam will curb the worst of Julian's excesses", said Kieran "We can trust Adam, he won't let him turn into Captain Bligh. And Julian will help Adam share the load. You can't expect Adam to do everything. One of the reasons for this whole trip was because he's not one hundred per cent in good health. And I expect he'll end up doing a lot of the cooking, plus looking after Lonts and washing his nappies".
"Just as I thought", Joby groaned "Daddy Bear and Mummy Bear in charge!"
The following morning Joby went along to the galley to find Hillyard frying eggs over the gas-stove. It was bitterly cold on the tugboat, but there was the pleasant prospect that in a few day's time they would be nearing much more tropical waters.
"So, you survived a night with Uddle then?" said Joby.
"I was so tired I hardly noticed he was there", said Hillyard "There's some tea in the pot".
"Cheers", Joby poured the tea into two chipped enamel mugs and passed one to Hillyard.
"You look as though you had far rougher night than me", said Hillyard "Not seasick are you?"
"Sea's like a millpond", said Joby.
"Icy millpond", said Hillyard "So what's been keeping you awake then?"
"Bloody Lonts, that's who".
"He's alright, isn't he? Did he have a bad night?"
"No, he had a wonderful night", Joby snapped "Just before dawn he climbs out of his bunk and gets into Adam's. The next thing I know there's a popping of nappy pins and they're both going at it like rattlesnakes! No flamin' consideration for me or Kieran, lying there on the other side of the bleedin' room".
"They must've thought you was asleep".
"What difference does that make? I wouldn't go screwing Kieran when there were others in the room, whether they was asleep or not! I tell you, if this goes on every morning, I'm gonna be a nervous wreck by the New Year".
"I'll rig up some kind of screen for you", said Hillyard "A curtain or a blanket on a line perhaps. Give you all some privacy. You won't be able to see 'em then".
"I could still hear 'em", said Joby "Lonts is a noisy little bastard. The way he growls and yaps whilst he's at it you'd think he was a rottweiler on heat! I'd be terrified if I was Adam, in case he suddenly tore me throat out or something!"
"You'll get used to it", said Hillyard "I expect you'll end up sleeping through it from now on, now you've got used to a new bed. What does Kieran say about it?"
"He hasn't noticed", said Joby "He'd sleep through a shipwreck!"
Within three days they had sailed into the warm waters near Lixix. They had gone from icy decks and frost on the bulwarks to shorts and sunbathing. The day before they were due to arrive at Lixix, Joby sat up on the main deck and watched the sun glistening on the blue water. Hillyard was fishing nearby, Ransey was at the wheel, and Lonts was sunbathing naked on the poop-deck.
Joby was still annoyed with Lonts. In spite of the blanket on a line that Hillyard had arranged down the middle of the cabin, Joby could still hear Lonts and Adam making out in the small hours of the morning. Every morning. Joby had jokingly dropped hints to Adam about it, but all Adam had said was "Lo-Lo's a little tiger in bed isn't he?" A comment which had made Kieran laugh, and infuriated Joby even more.
"Joby! Joby!" Lonts's voice cut across his thoughts.
"Bog off", Joby shouted back.
"Can you help me put some sun-block on?" said Lonts.
"Put it on yourself".
"I can't reach all over my back. Please Joby, I'd do the same for you".
Joby growled through his teeth and thumped up onto the poop-deck.
"Can you do it all over?" said Lonts, who was lying face-down on a towel.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" said Joby, snatching the bottle of lotion from him "Cleopatra? I'm not one of your slaves you know".
"Why are you so cross with me all the time?" said Lonts "I haven't been unkind to you".
"Sleep deprivation!" Joby roared, slapping a dollop of lotion onto Lont's back "That's what you've done to me. That's a form of psychological torture that is. The sort of thing the Nazi's used to do. I haven't had a decent night's kip since I've been on this boat, and it's all your fault".
"Screwing Adam, that's how! Or him screwing him. Can't you have at least one night off, eh? Or do it in the afternoon for a change? It's ridiculous the way you two carry on".
"But we love each other", Lonts protested "We wouldn't complain if you and Kieran did anything".
"We don't want an audience", said Joby "And I certainly don't want some whiny little brat listening in whilst I'm at it".
"Then perhaps we should all do it at the same time?"
Joby angrily slapped a dollop onto Lonts's buttocks and then smacked his sun-burnt skin very hard as he rubbed it in. Lonts began to cry, gradually building up into very low sobs. Suddenly he stood up and ran down the steps from the poop-deck, cannoning into Adam and Kieran at the bottom.
"It's not fair!" Lonts screamed, rubbing his bottom "I haven't done anything wrong and he starts spanking me".
"Joby did?" said Kieran, in surprise.
"I didn't make it up", said Lonts "He did".
"I believe you", said Kieran "Perhaps it's the heat getting to him".
"It's not fair!" Lonts went on "He hurt me".
"Alright Lo-Lo", said Adam, soothingly "Come down to the galley with me and I'll find us something nice to eat".
Lonts sniffed in reply.
"I've had about as much as I can take of him", said Joby, rubbing lotion into his own shoulders "Spoilt little sod".
"Well there was no need to start beating the bejasus out of him", said Kieran "He gets enough of that from Julian".
"Big overgrown baby", Joby muttered "You wouldn't think he was thirty".
"He can hardly help the way he is", said Kieran, angrily "And I expected better of you".
"Don't start lecturing me!"
"Would you rather he was dead?" Kieran snapped "'Cos that's the alternative".
"Of course I don't", said Joby "I love him, it's just ..."
"You get jealous", said Kieran "You get jealous of him and Adam together".
"Oh that's rich, coming from you!" Joby snarled.
"Right c'mon", Kieran yanked him to his feet.
"Where are we going?"
"Down below. I want to deal with you in private".
"W-What are you going to do?" said Joby, looking terrified.
"You'll find out".
Kieran half-dragged him down to the quarterdeck, and into their cabin.
"Right", he said, kicking the door shut behind him "Get undressed".
"Why?" said Joby, suspiciously.
"Why do you think you great eejit!" Kieran exclaimed.
Joby began to peel off his t-shirt and shorts. He did it as slowly as he could, all the while staring at Kieran silently.
"Now it's your turn", he said, once he was naked.
Kieran did the same, only much faster. They then stood facing each other, both quietly daring the other to make the first move. Kieran stepped forward tentatively, but Joby grabbed him and wrestled him onto the bunk.
"I'm having this one", said Joby, rolling him over and rogering him without any further ado.
"Now do you think I'm such a push-over?" he said, pushing Kieran's face into the pillow.
Kieran re-surfaced as though he'd been dunked in a water-barrel, gulping to catch his breath. He felt Joby climax inside him, and the bunk creaked as he rolled off. Kieran pulled himself up with a great effort and looked at him.
"I hope you're pleased with yourself", said Kieran "Great macho display that was, wasn't it?"
Joby had thrown his arms over his face, and he squinted at Kieran over the top of them. Suddenly he sat up and blew a raspberry. Kieran burst out laughing, pushed him onto his side and swatted his bottom.
"I let you have that one".
"Oh yeah, course you did", said Joby, sarcastically "A puny little runt like you couldn't have stopped me".
"This puny little runt happens to be your lord and master, your protector and saviour", said Kieran "You are my sex-toy".
"Whatever you say", Joby laughed.
Kieran leant forward and nibbled his ear, then he whispered "And I'm glad to be of service to you. Anytime you want to use my body again, just do so. I quite enjoy being taken by surprise".
"Same for me too", said Joby.
"Ah now there's a challenge we've set each other for the future", Kieran giggled.
Adam walked into the saloon at seven o'clock that evening to find Kieran standing there, stark-naked, swigging from a bottle of whisky.
"This trip just keeps getting better and better", said Adam.
"Just call this the Good Ship Fornicator", Kieran winked.
"I take it you've given Joby a good seeing-to?"
"More like the other way round. How's Lonts?"
"He's stopped yelling", said Adam "But I have a feeling Joby isn't going to be forgiven in a hurry".
Adam picked Kieran up, and Kieran hooked his legs around Adam's waist.
"I think I've died and gone to Heaven", said Adam "A ship full of gorgeous men at my disposal".
"Does that include Uddle?" said Kieran, dropping the whisky bottle on the carpet, where it landed with a soft thud.
"Oh he's the sexiest of the lot", Adam laughed, mischievously "All that dirt and sweat, long greasy hair and stubble on his face. Quite irresistible".
"Don't let Julian hear you talk like that", said Kieran "Or you'll be in trouble".
"Yes I know", Adam sighed, as if in contented anticipation "Won't I be the lucky boy! Talk dirty to me, tell me what Joby was like".
"Fast and vigorous", Kieran leered, opening his blue eyes as wide as they would go "It was sensational".
They flopped onto the sofa, and Kieran coiled his legs round Adam's neck.
"He was determined to let me have it", he went on "And he did!"
Adam reached his fingers into Kieran's anus. He jerked them back out again when Julian walked into the room.
"Don't stop on my account", he said, flinging a book he had been carrying onto the chair "It all looks rather more engaging than the so-called titillation I've been spending the afternoon reading in my cabin".
"What sort of titillation?" said Kieran, peering at him through his hair.
"A lot of nonsense about bathing each other in chocolate sauce, and doing suggestive things with strawberries", said Julian "About as sexy as doing the weekly shop. Makes you seriously wonder if the author has ever got turned on in his life!"
"The chocolate sauce sounds up Joby's street", said Kieran "Perhaps I should borrow the book for him. Not that he needs much in the way of ideas at the moment".
"Oh there speaks a well-fucked man", Julian sighed "And you certainly look it too. Go and put some clothes on. It's bad enough that Lonts is running around in the nude, without you as well. I don't think my heart-rate can take much more".
Kieran left the room, and Adam lay back on the sofa and performed some gentle yogic exercises with his legs.
"Oh don't you start!" said Julian.
Adam crawled off the sofa and crept across the carpet to him. He reached Julian's chair, grabbed his hand and sucked on his fingers.
"Why don't we just take this boat out onto the high seas and waft into oblivion on a huge joint orgasm?" said Julian.
"We might just do that yet", said Adam.
"Stop fidgeting!" Joby bellowed "I don't know how Adam thought me settling you for the night was gonna put you in a better temper".
"You're pinning it on far too tight", said Lonts, squirming as Joby fastened the pins on his nappy "I'll have trouble taking it off again".
"That's the idea", said Joby, putting the final pin in place.
When he had finished they both stood up in the middle of the cabin.
"Now hop into your bunk", said Joby, patting the blanket on the upper bunk.
"No", said Lonts, stubbornly folding his arms.
"I'm not going to bed just because you say so", said Lonts "I'm not a baby".
"Get into bed", said Joby, through gritted teeth "Before I do something even worse than what I did this afternoon".
"You can't make me", said Lonts, triumphantly "I'm taller than you".
"Lonts, you ... get into bed!"
Lonts pulled open the cabin door and proceeded to skip up and down the narrow gangway outside, humming a little tune as he did so. Everytime he neared Joby he stuck his tongue out at him.
"Lonts, you little sod, stop messing me about!"
"No", said Lonts.
He came to a standstill when Uddle emerged from the hatch in the floor, like some particularly repulsive sea-monster arising from the deep. When he saw Lonts's nappy his face split into a gargoylish grin, made up partly of lust and partly of amusement. Lonts whimpered in embarrassment and ran back into the cabin. Joby followed him, after giving Uddle a look of acute distrust first.
"He was laughing at me, Joby", Lonts wailed, tearfully.
"Ignore him", said Joby "He was bound to see you in it sooner or later. At least it's got it over with".
"I hate this thing", said Lonts, plucking at his nappy "Hate it. Hate it!"
Joby hugged him close and made soothing noises.
"I shouldn't have played you up, should I?" said Lonts "That must be my punishment. You're not going to tell the others are you?"
"No", said Joby "Although the noise you were making thumping about I'm surprised they didn't hear you".
"I'm sorry, Joby".
"And I'm sorry I walloped you earlier, so we're quits now aren't we?"
"Quits", said Lonts.
"Tomorrow we'll be in Lixix", said Ransey, once he and Hillyard had finished dropping anchor. They were standing in a pool of moonlight on the deck. Heavy silence hung all around, apart from the sound of the waves lapping at the side of the vessel.
"And then where?" said Hillyard.
"I guess we'll have to take a vote on that one. Either carry on down, hugging the coast, or out onto the high seas. And then see where we end up".
"The high seas sounds best", said Hillyard "As long as it doesn't remind me too much of that time we spent on Gabriel's yacht".
"Shouldn't do", said Ransey "Much bigger boat for one thing, and we'll be better supplied, and we won't have to worry about where Gabriel's lurking, and we should have some idea of where we are".
"Alright, you've sold it to me", said Hillyard "Although there's a heck of a lot of sea out there".
"Heck of a lot of opportunity for adventure too", said Ransey.
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