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"I have called this meeting to allocate tasks", said Julian, standing in the middle of the saloon a few hours later "A ship cannot be run efficiently if no man knows his correct place".
"His correct place?" Joby exclaimed "I knew it was a mistake putting you in charge. You're turning into Captain Bligh already".
"Yes, and do remember what happened to him, Jules", said Adam "He got put into a skiff and told to find his own way home".
"And do remember that he succeeded", said Julian.
"So what are these tasks then?" said Hillyard.
"And whatever jobs they are, we don't have to do 'em if we don't want to", said Joby.
"I wouldn't be so sure about that", said Adam "Jules has probably spent the afternoon drawing up a punishment manifesto".
"Yeah, I bet he enjoyed that", said Joby.
"Firstly", said Julian, firmly "Ransey is going to be our helmsman, as he is the only one of us who remotely has a scientific or mathematical brain. But I don't want all our eggs in one basket, as there are bound to be times when he'll need a deputy. Now from what I remember, Joby worked very well under Ransey's wing during our circus days, so he can be trained thus. He will also be stand-in chef, so I hope both jobs don't fall vacant at once".
"Oh", said Joby, slightly mollified by being trusted to deputise in two such momentous tasks.
"Adam is my first mate as you all know", Julian continued, causing quite a few suggestive sniggers "He will also be chief cook and bottle washer, as the kitchen is the second best place in which Adam excels".
The suggestive sniggers became outright roars.
"Jules", said Adam, in mild admonishment.
"Finia will be in charge of First Aid", said Julian "This may not sound a lot at the moment, but believe me if we have a seasickness epidemic it will. He's also my personal help-mate as always. I think as Captain I'm entitled to that privilege. Now Hillyard, I've put in charge of heavy cleaning duties, and deputising for Uddle if he should fall victim to the dread lurgey".
"That's not fair!" Hillyard leapt to his feet "You're doing this out of sheer spite, giving me all the filthy jobs".
"What nonsense", said Julian "I chose you because you are the beefiest and therefore best suited for heavy duties. If anything you should be flattered".
Hillyard sat down again without a word.
"Now Kieran I had to think long and hard over", said Julian "Adam informs me that his best attribute when travelling is making fires, which I'm not sure is quite sure what is needed here. Then I thought of ship's padre, but as he's the only one who's religious I can't see that keeping him fully occupied, short of the odd burial at sea perhaps".
"God forbid", said Adam.
"So I've put him in charge of the laundry".
"Wonderful", said Kieran, unenthusiastically.
"We'll put a tub up on deck for you, and Finia can educate you as to any complicated bits", said Julian.
"Great", Kieran muttered.
"And that's it I think", said Julian.
"No it's not!" Lonts roared "You've done it again, all of you! You haven't given me anything to do. I think you're all mean".
"You're here to cheer us all up", said Adam, placatingly.
"It's not fair", Lonts exclaimed "I can work as hard as anyone, and yet you all treat me like a baby".
"Light cleaning duties", said Julian, hurriedly "A spot of dusting and so forth".
"He can make the beds", said Joby, brightly.
"Exactly. And help Adam with the washing-up", said Julian.
"And a very sexy scullery maid he will make too", said Adam.
Lonts wrapped his arms around Adam's neck and began to kiss him vigorously.
"That's if you can fit it in around your snogging sessions", said Julian, tartly.
Things got off to a shaky start that evening though. Adam and Joby had been in the galley preparing dinner, when Hillyard walked in with a bucket of water, which was filthy from where he had been scrubbing down the steps and gangway.
"You needn't think you're pouring it down my sink", said Adam, when Hillyard had tried to empty it.
"YOUR sink?" Hillyard exclaimed "Since when has it been YOUR sink?"
"It's my galley, so it's only natural that it's my sink", said Adam "Chuck it over the side, that's where it'll end up anyway".
"You're doing this to get at me aren't you?" said Hillyard "You've been snappy with me ever since Joby went and blabbed on me. You are one jealous sod, you know that?"
"Hillyard, we don't need this", said Joby "Take your bucket topside, please".
"Alright, for you I'll do it", said Hillyard "But he'd better change his tune, and smartish".
"I don't need lecturing by Julian's catamite", Adam snapped.
"His catamite?" said Hillyard "You bastard!"
"Hillyard!" Joby yelled "Topside. NOW!"
Hillyard left the galley without another word.
"You were bloody lucky you didn't end up with that water all over you, Adam", said Joby.
"I know", Adam sighed "Commonsense was never my strong point".
"And what's a catamite when it's at home?"
"In the Middle Ages a king or a squire would often keep a young boy solely for sexual purposes. That's a catamite".
"No wonder he got upset", said Joby "You're being daft, you know".
"Yes I am", said Adam.
Finia appeared in the doorway.
"Adam, Julian wants to see you in his cabin", he said.
"Oh dear", said Adam "O.K Finia, I'll be along. He must've heard the rumpus".
"You're not afraid of Julian are you?" said Joby, after Finia had gone.
"I am when he's in head-prefect mode", Adam confessed "He can still reduce me to tears when he wants to".
"I'm glad someone's got some control over you", said Joby.
"This is not a good start, Adam", said Julian, sternly "Over the course of the past couple of days you have threatened to toss one crew member overboard, and have nearly inspired violence in another".
"I'm sorry, Jules", said Adam.
"It's not good enough", said Julian "You and I are already resented by the likes of Joby and Hillyard because we aren't peasants like them. We can't risk antagonising them too much".
"If I cook a nice meal tonight, that might help", said Adam "The way to a man's heart and all that".
"What the hell am I going to do with you?" Julian tutted.
"I'll apologise to Hillyard".
"You most certainly will", said Julian, fiercely.
"Oh Jules, you're not going to make me apologise in front of everyone though are you?"
"Who do you take me for?" said Julian "Mr Barrett of Wimpole Street! I'm not your father, you know".
"I really will try and be better in future".
"I should damn well hope so", said Julian, pulling him close and patting his bottom "You'd better get on with the dinner then".
Hillyard flopped into one of the chairs in the saloon. He was filthy from all his cleaning, and Lonts dusted round him.
"Hilly", said Adam, walking into the room "Can you forgive me?"
"Course I can", Hillyard sighed, tiredly "I hope Julian hasn't been giving you a hard time".
"No more than usual", said Adam, dryly.
"You've got nothing to worry about from me. He's nuts about you".
"There's no need to explain to me, old love. I know how difficult things can be for you, and we do have a long voyage ahead of us".
"And I need someone to masturbate into, right?"
"Take no notice of me, I know you're only trying to help".
"Nobody's noticed how nice I've made the living-room have they?" Lonts suddenly blurted out.
"Gorgeous Lo-Lo", said Adam "It's all simply wonderful".
For several days life on-board the Indigo was as perfect as it was likely to get. The weather had stayed hot and sunny, the sea was relatively placid, and everyone settled into their tasks without too much trouble.
"I haven't seen Patsy so relaxed in years", said Adam, when he and Julian were laying together late one afternoon "Possibly not since we crossed over. Even on the island he had to worry about what Gabriel was getting up to. But here, he told me all he has to concern himself with is 'the focking laundry and keeping an eye on Joby'".
"I should think the latter is a full-time occupation", said Julian "He's had a lot of responsibility in his life for someone who's still a few years off forty".
"About as much as any man is likely to get", said Adam.
He stretched luxuriously beneath the single sheet, and Julian flicked one of his nipple-rings. They were rudely jolted by the brass speaking-tube whistling over Julian's bunk, which connected his cabin to the poop-deck directly above.
"It never fails", Julian sighed "As soon as you and I have a quiet hour together, Ransey decides to start honking down that thing. Jealous old cow".
"You'd better answer it, Jules", said Adam "It might be something important".
"I doubt it. He's probably spotted a seagull or something".
Nevertheless Julian sat up and uncapped the brass tube. He took great pleasure in whistling back up it very sharply.
"Say that again", he said, when Ransey had had a chance to recover himself and speak.
"I'll be right up", he answered, re-capping the tube.
"What is it?" said Adam.
"Another boat's appeared".
"Good grief, that's the first one we've seen since leaving the Lixix waters".
"Yes, and Ransey seems to have the impression it's heading straight for us".
"Oh no", Adam sighed. He followed Julian out of the cabin, without either of them bothering to get dressed.
The forward deck was a hive of activity. Kieran was rubbing sheets against a scrubbing-board, Lonts was peeling potatoes, and Finia was trimming Hillyard's hair. Up on the poop-deck, a naked Ransey was staring at the approaching yacht through a pair of binoculars.
"Quite a swish-looking vessel", he said, handing the binoculars to Julian "A pleasure yacht by the looks of things".
"And she's moving at a quite a lick too. Faster than this dear old tub could manage", said Julian "Right, well as we've got company, we'd better all dressed. And that includes you, Ransey".
Julian went back down the steps to the forward deck.
"Hillyard, fetch Lurch up from his lair, and get him to stand by with his heaviest shovel".
"Surely you don't think they're going to ambush us?" said Hillyard.
"We must be prepared for all eventualities", said Julian "Have him waiting at the foot of the quarterdeck steps, out of sight. Lonts, you'd better go and wait in your cabin until we know how upright and decent they are".
"But that's not fair", Lonts began.
"Do as he says Lonts, or I shall spank you", said Adam.
"You'd better go down too Finia, particularly in that get-up", said Julian, referring to Finia's pink bikini "We'll call you both back up as soon as we can be sure of them".
"It's taking ages", Lonts pouted, as he and Finia sat on Kieran's bunk listening to the footfalls and low voices overhead "We can't stay in here until that other boat moves off".
"Julian's only thinking of us", said Finia "We don't know who this lot are yet, they could be white slave traders".
"You'd be safe then wouldn't you?"
They waited apprehensively for a few more minutes, and then Kieran walked into the cabin.
"It's alright", he said "All quite safe. Uddle's disappointed, I think he was hoping for a showdown".
"Who are they then?" said Finia.
"The Governor of Lixix and his crew, out on a small fishing-holiday".
"Why were they heading straight for us?"
"No sinister reasons. They just gauged we might be somewhere in the area and decided to look out for us", said Kieran "It's more irritating than anything".
"Seems we still have a way to go before we shake off civilisation", said Finia.
"Adam says this is the last interruption", said Kieran "I only hope he's right. Anyway, he and Julian have been invited for dinner tonight on the Governor's yacht".
"Why not you?"
"Oh I'm nothing these days", Kieran laughed, wryly "And strict protocol dictates that only the Captain and his First Officer get invited. I think they'd rather die than inviting the laundry-hand!"
"No peasants, no blacks, no Eskimo's, no Irish", said Joby, watching as Adam and Julian prepared to cross the gang-plank which now bridged the two vessels "Or at least that's what it feels like anyway".
"And certainly no accountants", said Ransey.
"I think Adam would gladly swap places with you", said Kieran "He said he left the City to get away from do's like this".
"I told him to make the most of it", said Hillyard "It's probably the last posh nosh he's gonna get in a year or two".
As he got older Adam always found himself getting more and more nervous at gatherings outside the family. As Kieran's Consort he had excelled at state occasions, but his increasing chest problems, and the trials and tribulations of the past few years, had left him with a hankering for the quiet life which bordered on obsessional.
"I sometimes think I'd like to be like one of those old spinsters you used to see in plays", he once said to Julian "Who lived in small bedsits with only a cat for company, and the furthest they ever went was to collect their pension".
"With Lonts substituting as the cat I take it?" said Julian, tartly "I can just see you sitting by the fire every evening, stroking him and feeding him titbits!"
Even so, Julian was very protective of Adam at times like this, and they held hands firmly as they boarded the gleaming white yacht, with its bunting strung up from stem to stern. They entered a red-carpeted corridor which seemed to stretch to infinity, bordered around the walls by a gleaming brass hand-rail which was being polished by a young officer in spotless white tropical uniform.
"I feel like a little boy again", Adam whispered "That Christmas holiday when we were ten and you took me to stay with your fearsome family".
"I know what you mean. A ten-mile hike to the dining-room, and nobody bothering to turn out to say welcome home! Still, I didn't let anyone eat you then and I won't let them now", said Julian, squeezing his friend's hand.
They were eventually greeted by a very genial First Officer who led them into the Governor's private dining-room, and informed then regretfully that he wished he was staying to eat with them too, but they were having a small crisis with a member of staff who had locked himself in his cabin and was refusing to come out.
"What's wrong with him?" said Adam.
"Nothing serious I don't think", said the First Officer "Probably find it's love worries".
"If it's that trivial, then I seriously hope he'll be carpeted for causing so much inconvenience", said Julian.
"The Governor will be in shortly", said the First Officer, making his way to the door "He's been trying to mediate with him for the past hour. Nice to meet you".
"Julian's guide to personnel problems!" Adam giggled, after the First Officer had gone.
"Well why on earth are they trying to mediate with him?" Julian exclaimed "Just leave the silly wretch in there until he gets hungry and decides to come out I say".
"Perhaps they're worried he'll do something silly".
"No great loss I would've thought".
Julian began to walk around the small circular dining-table, which was set for three people. He picked up a fork and carried it over to the porthole.
"Disgraceful", he said "Finia would have a fit if he could see this. There's crud stuck between the prongs!"
The Governor walked in. He was a smooth-voiced, well-educated man, and the few brief times Adam had met him before, during Kieran's presidency, he had liked him. But he was already irked by the evening and simply wanted to return to the Indigo.
Rengee apologised for his delay, but when Adam asked after the troubled member of staff, he seemed reluctant to discuss it, merely saying that the boy concerned was very young, as though that explained everything. Over lamb cutlets and salmon mousse, he enthused at great length about Gorth's forthcoming trip to Lixix in the spring, when he would be probably be accompanied by Tamaz.
"You have our sympathy", said Julian "I hope you've taken out a second mortgage then, as Tamaz will undoubtedly attempt to eat you out of house and home".
This wasn't a good move. Under his cultured exterior Rengee was a sentimental man, and a few days before Tamaz had appeared on television to talk "movingly" of his love for his children, who in truth he rarely saw, except via two-way mirror. The way Tamaz had spoken though the viewer could have been forgiven for thinking the Ministry Headquarters was one huge kiddie's play-pen, with his four little darlings constantly vying for his attention. With Kieran's absence threatening to become very protracted, the less cynical members of the public were desperate to believe in the idea of a new First Family.
Adam found it all a bit wearying. He felt like a man who had gladly retired, but whose old work colleagues still insisted on boring him witless with countless snippets of office trivia. The Indigo beckoned even more seductively, and he was just wondering if he could attempt a passable "funny turn", when the First Officer came in and whispered something to Rengee.
Before they realised it Adam and Julian found themselves being showered with apologies, as the evening would have to be brought to a close.
"Perhaps the poor lad has done something silly after all", said Adam, as they retraced their steps along the red-carpeted corridor.
"Not our problem", said Julian "This time tomorrow there should be an adequate expanse of ocean separating us from them".
The two vessels spent the night anchored alongside one another. Both were quiet, although the occupants of the Indigo couldn't help but be curious as to what was going on aboard the Governor's vessel, in spite of Kieran's comment that the less they knew the less they could get involved.
Ransey, never a heavy sleeper, was woken at around four a.m by a sharp cry coming from the yacht. He sat up in his bunk and listened intently for any further noises, but the silence after that was deafening. He reasoned that it was probably someone having a nightmare, and lay back down again.
First thing the following morning he went up onto the poop-deck to plot the day's course, and then took the map below to show Julian. He had left Lonts standing by the main funnel, watching some teenage boys (junior members of the crew) playing deck hockey on the Governor's yacht. As soon as Ransey had gone below they had ran up to the bulwark and started taunting Lonts, sending over cruel catcalls of "retard", "mental case", and "soft brain!"
Lonts was hurt and confused by the shouts. He had never met any of these boys before and couldn't understand why they should suddenly turn on him in this way. Some of the shouts reminded him of the evil taunts Krik had flung at him during the grim days when they had shared neighbouring cells at the City Assizes. Lonts began to cry silently, tears rolling down his cheeks.
Suddenly, to his horror, the boys were running across the gang-plank, and were now surrounding him. First they contented themselves by pushing him from one to the other, and the more he shouted at them to stop the more excited they became.
"Nah, it's no good", said the boy who seemed to be the ringleader "The only worthwhile Kiskevian is a dead one. Let's chuck him over the side".
"No!" Lonts roared.
Two of them seized him and hurled him bodily over the bulwark. He hit the water with a terrific smack and plunged under it. It felt as though his whole head had become filled with the salty deep, and he frantically began to doggy-paddle his way back to the surface. It seemed to take so long that it felt as though he would never break the surface again.
When he finally did he saw Hillyard leaning over the bulwark yelling at him. He chucked a life-belt down to him, and then lowered a rope-ladder over the side. Lonts climbed it, shaking with terror and indignation. Hillyard pulled him up over the side and hugged him close. Lonts noticed that the boys had gone back to the yacht and disappeared out of sight. He didn't care, he simply never wanted to see them again.
Adam was now sobbing and going into overdrive all over him, squeezing him so tightly it was as if he wanted to wring him out.
"Adam, do stop acting like an old woman and take the boy below and get him dried off", Julian barked.
Adam obeyed instantly, and led a dripping Lonts down to the cabins. Julian meanwhile instantly began instigating departure procedures.
"Ransey, raise the anchor. We're leaving here now", he said "Hillyard, go down to Lurch and tell him to begin chucking wood on the furnace as though his life depended on it. Which it does".
"We still wouldn't be able to out-run that yacht", said Kieran.
"Maybe not", said Julian, testily "But we can still make it plain to them that we no longer desire their company. Now I suggest you stop preaching and find something useful to do".
Kieran gave him the finger behind his back.
"I'm fine now, Joby", said Lonts, sitting in the saloon half-an-hour later. Adam had towelled him dry, and cleared him up where he had peed himself in all the undesired excitement. He had now left Lonts swathed in towels whilst he went to cook breakfast.
"Are you sure?" said Joby.
"Yes", Lonts nodded "Try not to mention it too much or Adam'll keep getting upset, and it's bad for him".
"I know, but you must have been terrified", Joby shuddered, as he imagined what plunging into the ocean depths would be like.
"It was. I thought you might all think I'd drowned and go off and leave me".
"Not much chance of that. Adam would've had us all skin-diving to look for you!"
"Those boys were horrible", said Lonts, quietly "They kept shouting 'retard' at me. I hate that word. People think you're stupid or mad. You lot all used to think I was mad".
"We know better now".
"I'm not stupid either", said Lonts "I just don't catch on as quickly as everyone else sometimes".
"You don't have to explain yourself to me after all these years", said Joby "I'm very proud of you".
"Yes. I couldn't think of anyone I'd rather have as my little brother. Or not so little in your case!"
"Joby", Lonts grinned.
"Fancy a game of draughts over breakfast?"
"Make it a tournament", said Lonts, excitedly "Best of three".
"Alright, but don't throw a tantrum if you lose".
"I won't. It's you who gets upset. You start bashing me over the head with the board!"
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