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By Sarah Hapgood

"Not exactly the best atmosphere in which to start a round-the-world voyage", said Ransey, standing at the wheel later that afternoon as the Indigo ploughed through the waves with ease "I've never known such a frost with everyone, and I haven't got a clue what's going on. You know though don't you?"

Finia didn't say anything. He was sitting on a pile of rope, drinking from a cup of chocolate. He looked even more waiflike than usual, wearing only one of Julian's shirts.

"Oh c'mon tell me", Ransey groaned "I feel like murder's about to be committed at any moment".

"I don't understand it", Finia shrugged "If it's what I think it is I don't understand why anyone's taking it at all seriously. It means nothing on either side".

"Means what to whom? I wish someone'd give a straight answer".

"From what I can gather Joby's found out that Julian's been screwing Hillyard for years now. But it means nothing. I don't know what all the fuss is about. Julian never treats is anymore seriously than a wanking session, but suddenly Joby's carrying on as though he's been betrayed, and none of must let Adam know because he gets so jealous, and Kieran's frightened he's losing his grip on Joby ... I'd stay out of it if I was you".

"I wish I could", said Ransey "I'm getting too old for it all. I sometimes think things would be a lot easier in this family if Julian and Hillyard were castrated like you!"

"The joke is though everyone else is taking it so deadly seriously, except those two!" said Finia "As I said, stay out of it. Just enjoy the voyage. We've earned a bit of peace".

"Yeah, but it doesn't look as though we're going to get it", said Ransey "You could cut the atmosphere with a knife round here".

"Enjoy the sun on the water", said Finia, and he drained his cup "Keep your head down until the storm blow's over. Something both you and I have had to do a lot of in our lives. They'll get over it".

"I'm just glad I'm not the only celibate observer round here", said Ransey "If it wasn't for you, I'd be going insane with it all".

"It's just sex, nothing else", said Finia "A bodily function, like shatting yourself, and yet they all make such a fuss of it. Crazy nonsense, all of it".

"There are crates of supplies to be unpacked and stored correctly", said Julian, sitting in his cabin a short while later "None of us has the faintest idea where we're going, or a system of organisation, and you seem to think it's more important for me to go round apologising to everyone for my sex life! I thought you had more sense Finia, I really did".

"It's no good having a well-organised ship if morale's all shot to pieces", said Finia, sitting on his bunk "And it's all your fault that it is".

"My fault?" Julian exclaimed "How can it be my fault? It's Hillyard who decided to make the three a.m confession, not me. I could wring his neck. When Adam hears about, and that's only a matter of time now, you can expect a dramatic scene of Maria Callas proportions!"

"Then you should've told him about it a long time ago shouldn't you?"

"Don't get smart with me, it doesn't suit you".

"And don't get offensive with me, because I don't have to take it".

"Yes you're right, I shouldn't have said that. It's just that I'm so bloody annoyed about it all. It doesn't merit the attention it's getting".

"It seems to me that you're chiefly worried because of how Adam'll react".

"Spot on".

"But you don't have to be", said Finia "He's got no right to get upset. You have to play second fiddle to Lonts all the time, as well as his regular sessions with Kieran and Joby, and yet you reckon he's going to go into overdrive because of some very casual arrangement you have with Hillyard".

"Where Adam is concerned, dear heart, reason doesn't come into it", said Julian "This is going to put me right back in his estimation, right back by about thirty-five years".

"That's crazy", said Finia "You can't keep paying over and over again for all that, not when he treats you like a doormat".

Julian sat down on his bunk and rubbed his hair wearily.

"Oh why do we do it, Finia?" he sighed "So terrified of the great demon loneliness snapping at our heels that we put ourselves through all this".

"You just answered your own question".

The door opened and Adam strode in breathlessly. He looked more confused than upset or angry.

"Is it true?" he said, shutting the door behind him.

"Dear dear. Looks as though the brown runny stuff has just hit the fan", said Julian.

"I finally got it out of Patsy".

"Before you go any further", said Finia, getting to his feet "I would like to say that I don't think you have any right to have a go at Julian, not when you've got enough lovers to open your own bordello! He went with Hillyard because you were all too often otherwise engaged, and it's as simple as that".

Finia slammed out of the cabin.

"Fiery little thing isn't he?" said Adam.

"You don't know the half of it sometimes", Julian smiled.

"But I wasn't coming to have a go at you", Adam protested.

"You weren't?" said Julian, in astonishment.

"I'm just a bit hurt that you felt you couldn't tell me yourself".

"There was very little to tell. Just a few rather clammy handshakes in the dark".

"Oh Jules", Adam knelt on the floor and buried his face in Julian's knees "I've let you down so badly. I must have done if you felt you couldn't confide in me".

"Your temper can be rather daunting, Adam", Julian kissed his hair "Once seen in all its glory, never forgotten".

"Lo-Lo's very confused by it all. He seems to think you and Hillyard are going to jump ship at the next port of call and run off together".

"He's hoping is he?"

"I adore you", Adam began to cry "I forget how much I frightened you all those years ago".

"All in the past, my little shrew".

"I'm so afraid for Pats and Joby. I would have never expected Joby to react quite so wildly as this".

"A Joby scorned and all that".

"But he hasn't been!" said Adam "He's just being so impossible. How can he hurt Patsy this way? Just because of some one-off with Hillyard he now feels he's entitled to hang onto him like a limpet".

"One pays a high price for sex with Joby. I can see why you've been warning me off all these years".

"Joby can be so bloody thoughtless sometimes, it makes me so angry".

"Well you'd better sort him out then, hadn't you?"

The coastline of Lixix was reduced to being a faint line of sludge on the distant horizon. They were so far out that they couldn't even see the many lights of the town. By this time tomorrow they wouldn't be able to see anything at all. Back on land this would've been a welcome thought, now though, with all the world's oceans stretching before them, it seemed a trifle daunting.

"You shouldn't be smoking that, Adam", said Joby, when Adam had finished dragging him to the far end of the boat.

"Whyever not?" said Adam, drawing on a cheroot that he had filched from Julian's cabin "And if you say because it won't do my chest any good, I can assure you it won't be anything compared to the trouble you're causing".

Joby didn't know what to say so he leaned against the bulwark and rested his chin morosely on his hand. Adam gave a moan of exasperation and tossed his cheroot into the sea. He then suddenly lunged at Joby, grabbed him around the throat and tipped him up over the bulwark until his feet were flying in the air. Joby was only too aware of the ocean depths swirling about a few feet beneath his head.

"Adam", he gasped "What are you doing? You'll drop me".

"I'm teaching you a lesson", said Adam "Stop this nonsense over Hillyard or I'll turn you into fish food".

"You wouldn't! Please!"

Adam pulled him back onto the deck. Joby stood there panting for some time, uncertain whether to laugh or cry.

"Some fucking friend you are", he exclaimed, eventually "Threatening to drown me!"

"Almost as good a friend as you. Carrying on like a woman scorned after one night of groping with Hillyard, and there's poor old Patsy eating his heart out. You really are very absurd when it comes to sex, Joby".

"Bastard", Joby shivered when he remembered the ocean getting ready to greet him "I won't forgive you for that".

"Of course you will", said Adam "What an outrageous idea".

"You could've lost your grip, and then I'd have fell".

"Nonsense, I had you very firmly round the throat. Now go and apologise to Patsy, and promise on your grandmother's grave not to be such a silly boy again".

Joby called in at the heads on his way. His throat was sore from where Adam had gripped it, and he wanted to inspect it for damage in the mirror above the basin. There was a slight inflammation on his skin, but otherwise nothing too serious. He was more shocked by his eye, as he realised that at some point the stitches would have to come out, and they were moving further and further away from any hospitals.

"Ah Joby", Julian had walked in holding a tumbler of whisky, with which he obviously wanted to dilute with water from the pump-action basin "Your neck looks very sore, what's happened?"

"Your boyfriend got a firm grip on me that's what happened", Joby retorted "He was gonna chuck me over the side! Or he was at least threatening to anyway".

"Adam's powers of persuasion aren't of the subtlest kind at times. Here", Julian held out the tumbler "You look as though you could do with this".

"Thanks", Joby took it and drained it in one gulp, which caused his eyes to water "He scared me shitless. Even after all these years he can still manage that".

"I know what you mean", said Julian, ruefully "A very long time ago he once fetched me such a punch that for a brief moment I thought he'd taken my nose clean off my face!"

"Yeah, he's always been a bit too free with his punches. I don't know how you've put up with him sometimes".

"Well that's a turn-up for the books", Julian exclaimed "Normally, where you lot are concerned, it's a case of how does Adam put up with me!"

"Both me and Kieran know how difficult he can be", said Joby "I sometimes think you're the only one who can control him".

"Yes, perhaps it's him who's Captain Bligh, not me".

"I'm a bit worried about my stitches", said Joby "Nobody seems to have thought how we're gonna get 'em out".

"Finia will do it".

"Since when has Finia been a trained nurse?"

"He's picked up a few things along the way. When he was in the brothel he had to do a lot of First Aid, as the owners didn't want the outside world knowing a lot of their business. He'll sort you out".

Kieran heard the cabin door open and hurriedly stubbed out his cigarette in the ash-tray. He was brushing aside the smoke when Joby pulled back the makeshift curtain in the middle of the room.

"I'm sorry", said Joby "I've been a prat".

"Thank God for Julian I say", said Kieran "Or I might be facing the very real prospect of you ditching me for Hillyard. He showed you what you'd be up against".

"No, I'd have come to me senses sooner or later".

"You did think of dropping me for Hillyard though didn't you?"

"I don't know what I was thinking of", said Joby "I was just fantasising. It's a habit I've never got out of. Ugly people are prone to it. 'Cos we know everyone despises us really".

"What the hell am I supposed to say to that?" Kieran exclaimed.

"That you think I'm an idiot, but you understand".

"Come here", Kieran cuddled him.

"Everyone must be laughing at me, Kiel", Joby cried into his shoulder.

"They'd better not be", said Kieran, vehemently.

"I see the likes of Julian and Hillyard, and I want to be like them".

"God knows why!"

"Because they just take what they want and don't give a damn".

"And much good it does them in the end".

Julian was very late getting up the next morning. By the time he awoke the boat was speeding along full steam ahead, and the coastline of Lixix was but a memory.

He went up onto the forward deck, where he was surprised to find Hillyard on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor. Ransey was behind the wheel on the poop-deck, and Adam was leaning against the bulwark, with a mild breeze ruffling his short fair hair and lifting his shirt against his skin.

"Is this some punishment you've set Hillyard?" said Julian "Do we need to get out the cat-o-nine tails?"

"He decided he wanted to clean the deck", Adam shrugged "I wasn't going to argue, at least it'll keep his hands occupied".

"Hm", said Julian "I think I'm going to have to take total charge around here, you cause far too much trouble. You can be my first mate, in every sense of the word!"

"What have I done wrong now?"

"Threatening to hurl Joby overboard?"

"Well I had to shake some sense into him somehow!" said Adam "Anyway, I wouldn't have let go of him, bless his heart".

"It's a good job I'm here", said Julian "Or I dread to think what other stunts you'd be pulling. Am I first in command from now on or not?"

"Alright", Adam sighed "But you needn't think you can get away with anything".

"As I've always said, you're never happiest than when obeying me".

"I can't believe everyone else is going to share the same joy at your masterful behaviour".

"Oh shut up and give us a kiss".

When they came up for air again Adam noticed that Ransey was fiddling about with a sextant.

"It must be noon", said Adam "Apparently he says he will have to use that everyday at this time".

"I don't see why", said Julian "We might as well just keep going in a straight line, if all we're going to do is keep circumnavigating the globe".

"I don't think it's as simple as that, Jules", Adam laughed.

Lonts brought a folding-table up onto the deck, and set it for lunch. They all ate under the blistering sun whilst Ransey talked at great length about the vast amounts of ocean ahead.

"We don't need reminding", said Hillyard, apprehensively "I don't like reminding of how much water there is on this planet".

"Just think of it as having a year out of normal life", said Kieran "It should take that long, and that's what we need. A year of our lives where no one can get at us".

"Who knows? We might find another desert island", said Joby.

"If we do, I vote we stay on it this time", said Adam.

Uddle finished clearing his plate, and then began to lick it vigorously.

"Have you let anyone at home, Uddle?" said Julian, watching him with ill-concealed disgust.

"Nope", Uddle shook his head.

"No one who would be devastated if you never went back?" said Adam.

"Overjoyed I should think", said Joby.

Uddle grinned disconcertingly at him, his teeth winking through his stubble like lights in a forest glade. Joby shuddered, as though Uddle had tried to touch him up.

"A year away from all the madness", Kieran stood up and stretched himself like a cat "The City, and Tamaz, and Gorth, and the Ministry, who won't let us have our home back. We're out of it at last".

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