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Kieran was getting nervous. The sun had long since gone down, and now there was only minimal daylight left. He paced the forward deck, occasionally stopping to wave his flashlight at the shore, more as an order for the scouting-party to hurry up and return than anything else. The sea-mist had started to creep up again, and he didn't want Joby and the others to be marooned on the peninsula until tomorrow.
Adam and Finia were down in the saloon playing cards. Kieran had sneaked down a few minutes earlier to grab a bottle of whisky to help keep him warm. He had snarled at Finia that it wouldn't hurt him to act as lookout for a change, only to be told haughtily that he was "indoor staff, not outdoor".
The fog was gathering apace now and Kieran was really starting to get worried. A noise behind him caused him to halt in his relentless pacing though. It sounded as though someone was scrabbling about inside one of the large air-vents that stuck up through the floor of the deck. He watched in disbelief as Uddle clambered awkwardly out of the gaping aperture, clutching a knife between his teeth like a pirate.
"Uddle, what the fock are you doing?" he asked.
"Had to get out somehow, didn't I?" said Uddle, jumping down heavily onto the deck "Particularly after Julian goes and bolts the hatch on me".
"What do you want?" said Kieran, nervously.
"You've got nice hair, you don't wanna hide it", Uddle plucked off the hat with ear-flaps that Kieran wore in cold weather, and threw it to the ground. He then toyed with Kieran's hair using the end of his knife "Nice colour. Yellow, like Adam's".
"You're going to be in deep shit, Uddle".
Uddle bared his teeth in his customary grin.
"No one can say I don't have good taste", he said.
"Do you normally seduce people at knife-point?" Kieran gulped, wishing that he could hear the sound of the skiff returning.
"I'm gonna take you below with me", said Uddle "With the knife in me hand no one's gonna stop me. I'll keep you below, all to myself. You can be my hostage. The others'll give me anything I want, just to stop me hurting you".
"What exactly is it that you want then?"
"You. Adam. That Kiskevian boy. Mr Julian".
"Greedy git aren't you?" said Kieran "Do you want us all at once, or do we form an orderly queue?"
"I've heard you talking", Uddle ran his tongue over his lips "You like to be punished, don't you?"
"Mind your own business".
"Tell me who does it to you", Uddle thrust the knife at him menacingly "Answer me!"
"Adam sometimes", Kieran stammered "Not as often as we used to, because I don't feel as guilty about everything as I used to".
"What did he do to you?"
"Nothing outrageous, just a few light spanks".
"What about Joby?"
"He doesn't do that to Joby".
"Do you do it to Joby?"
"He doesn't like that kind of thing".
"WRONG!" Uddle giggled, triumphantly "I heard you two talking once in your cabin. You said he was your sex-toy".
"That was just a laugh", said Kieran, watching the knife intently. It seemed to swing closer to him each time he spoke "For God's sake Uddle, I can't talk to you with that damn thing waving at me".
"You're the Vanquisher of Evil".
"So they say".
"Your spunk is special".
"I wouldn't know".
"That fight you had with Angel at the Skirra Fludd lighthouse..."
Oh not that again! Kieran groaned inwardly. Why did all the nutters always want to hear about that!
"He beat me up", said Kieran, wearily "And I beat him up. That what you want to hear about is it? How I crushed his balls in my hands? How I bit his nipples? How he dragged me around by me hair?"
Shit, this idiot was practically jacking off as he spoke! Still, at least it played for time, and Kieran would have given him his entire life-story if it meant he could stall going into the hold with him.
"Of course, for real perversion you may care to hear about the time Father Gabriel took me prisoner at Mundaba Heights", Kieran went on, watching the knife intently "He kept me tied up on a long chain with handcuffs. And he beat up poor old Joby's feet with a big stick".
Finia slammed Uddle over the head with the big frying-pan from the galley. Uddle didn't pass out, but he did drop the knife as he sank to his knees. Kieran hastily retrieved it.
"Are you o.k?" asked Finia.
"Very glad to see you", said Kieran "What are we going to do with this wanker?"
"I'll hold him at knife-point down below until the others get back".
"Can you manage that?"
"Just watch me", Finia treated Uddle to a hefty whack on the posterior with the frying-pan and ordered him to crawl across the deck to the steps.
Uddle whimpered as Finia hit him again, but he nonetheless obeyed.
"We're hopeless apart Joby, you and me", said Kieran "Wherever we are, something awful happens to one of us".
"You can say that again", Joby sat down next to him on the bunk and put his arm round his shoulders "If it was left to me I'd put that jerk ashore and leave him to fend for himself".
"We can't", Kieran blew his nose on Joby's handkerchief "You said yourself there's nothing there".
"It'd serve him fucking well right!" Joby exclaimed "We surely can't keep him on here with us, not after this. What if he does it to the baby next time?"
"I expect Lonts would've grabbed the bloody knife and filleted him like a fish", said Kieran "I'm the wimp who stands there negotiating with him!"
"Don't be so hard on yourself. The experience you had this evening would see a lot of people in therapy for years".
"He was disgusting", Kieran spat, in a far more venomous tone than he would normally have used "He took everything we do together and twisted it to make it seem degrading and dirty. All our little jokes, our bits of fun. I hate people like that. Like dirty old men in raincoats who suck their teeth whilst looking at porn mags in shops".
"He'll get sorted, believe me", said Joby "We can't just leave him in the hold after this. If Finia hadn't come along when he did ..."
"I'd have been taken hostage", said Kieran "And God forbid what he'd have done then".
"You let me sort this one out, Kiel", said Joby, quietly "Just leave it to me".
"As you seem to like the air-vent so much Uddle, we thought you'd like to spend the night holding it", said Julian, as they all assembled on deck in the darkness "Perhaps a night in the freezing fog will help to cool your ardour".
Ransey held his revolver at Uddle, whilst Hillyard lassoed the said man to the air-vent with thick hemp and tied his hands together, so that he was effectively embracing it.
"What will we do with him tomorrow?" said Adam "He's blatantly unsafe to be let loose".
"Let's see how he survives the night first", said Julian.
"Are you up to something, Jules?"
"Me?" said Julian, in mock innocence "I'm not up to anything, dear heart".
As Captain, Julian was entitled to Ransey's spare revolver, and at night he kept it in the top drawer of his cabin. He took no notice when Finia slipped out of his bunk and quietly drew the weapon from the drawer, although once the eunuch had left the room he noiselessly sprinted after him and watched the proceedings anxiously just out of sight.
Joby had stayed up drinking in the galley, and he joined Finia at the foot of the steps. Together they went topside, and closed the doors after them.
"Can you swim, Uddle?" said Joby, once they were on deck.
Uddle, clad only in his grimy vest and trousers, was shivering so much with the cold that he couldn't answer.
"I hope for your sake you can", Joby went on "Because you've got to swim from here to the Peninsula. That's gonna be your home from now on".
Trying to hide his nervousness Joby untied him, and ordered him to the side. Uddle jumped overboard, disappeared below the water for a while, and then resurfaced some distance from the ship. He was now swimming with astonishing ease towards the coast, seemingly oblivious to the bitter cold of the waters.
"Shit, he looks capable of getting there and swimming all the way back again", Joby muttered "I should've finished him off whilst I had the chance".
"He'd be pushing his luck", said Finia "There's no way he'd manage to get back here, not in this cold".
"I hope you're right".
"Is there much to sustain life on the Peninsula?"
"Not unless he feels like eating grass", said Joby "And according to the maps there's not a settlement of any kind within a thousand miles".
They waited impatiently in the cold, with the spotlight trained on the coast. It seemed like an age before Uddle's dim form could be glimpsed clambering ashore. He seemed to lumber around uncertainly for a while, but then made for the ruins of the lighthouse.
"Wouldn't surprise me if he was dead of hypothermia by the morning", said Finia, blowing out the wick on the spotlight.
"I do hope we've seen the last of him", said Joby.
But even as he spoke he had a feeling that this would prove not to be the case.
Early the next morning Julian carried out a tour of inspection of the ship, although this was really an excuse to gauge how morale was after the night's activities. Everyone was subdued but at the same time relieved that Uddle had been put ashore, so much so that Hillyard didn't mind taking over the stoker's duties.
"We all thought Uddle was just a sad jerk", said Joby "But essentially harmless. I'd never have felt comfortable if he'd stayed after this though. He was gonna use Kiel to get at the rest of us".
"Well he's gone now", said Julian, briskly "So get started on the breakfast".
Julian beat a hasty retreat into his cabin, where Adam was sitting by the fire, still wearing his robe.
"Much as I love having your delightful company in here, Ada", said Julian, removing his overcoat "I really do think you should get out amongst the crew and cast your soothing presence around them. You are infinitely better at the personnel department level than I am".
"Yes I shall", said Adam "I must see Patsy especially. I feel I've neglected him over this whole sordid business".
"He seems fine actually. It's Joby who keep relentlessly chewing over it, rather like you with the brandy in the coffee incident".
"Some of us don't like reminding of our worst frailties".
"Oh stop being so dramatic", Julian pulled him to his feet and kissed him. He indicated a tube of jelly which lay on his wash-stand "Would you like a little something to warm the cockles of your heart before you go? Why don't you tell me exactly what you want?"
"A good fuck in the butt", Adam giggled, entering into the spirit of the game.
"That is just the sort of remark I've come to expect from an evil-minded boy like you, Adam Jensen", said Julian, with mock severity "It is not a healthy attitude. Such pre-occupations should not be allowed to go unpunished. Would you like me to punish you?"
"Yes, it's what I need".
"What you need is it? A rather anaemic response considering the great privilege I am about to bestow on you. I think you obviously need goading into action".
Julian slipped Adam's robe from his shoulders. He kissed his lips and then his ear, breathing heavily over it in a way that was guaranteed to drive Adam into a state of high-octane anticipation.
"I am a worthless drunk", Adam whispered, now goading Julian into action in return "No use to anyone".
"I don't like it when you say such things about yourself. It upsets me greatly".
"But I am, Jules", said Adam, breathlessly.
"No you're not", said Julian "Say that you are a beautiful, loving person. Say it now".
"I can't. I don't believe it. I need to be convinced. Spank me. Convince me I'm worth the trouble. Please spank me".
Julian pushed him forward over the desk, sending various objects scattering to the floor. He then brought his hand down hard several times on Adam's buttocks. Adam felt the heat spread through his body, prickling his skin. He was then buggered most thoroughly, in a way that left him in no doubt that he was well worth all the trouble in the world.
"There's nothing to read on this bloody boat but pornography and medical dictionaries", said Joby, after rummaging unsuccessfully through the bookcase in the saloon.
"Have you read the books you brought with you?" said Kieran, sitting down on the sofa next to you.
"More than once", Joby groaned.
"Well perhaps if you look hard enough you might find a story in some of the porn books", Kieran laughed.
"Doubt it. Makes me wish I kept a diary, like Ransey does".
"Nothing to stop you starting one. Might be a good idea in fact. Therapy. Help you to work last night out of your system".
"No, I'm no good at anything like that", said Joby "Reminds me too much of those essays you had to write at school. 'What I did in the holidays', that kind of thing. I could never think of anything to write. All I did was get up late, watch a lot of crap on the telly, and hide from me Mum when she came home from work. Everybody else always seemed to have a more interesting time of it than me".
"I didn't. I was always getting sent out to buy pints of milk for me Mam. Our guests drank gallons of bloody tea, I'm surprised it didn't come out of their ears. Why don't we go down to the hold and see how Hillyard's getting on in his new job?"
"Doing just fine I would've thought", said Joby "It's the only place on this boat where you can get completely warm".
They found Hillyard sorting out some of Uddle's things. He presented them with a couple of bottles of whisky, but said that other than that there was nothing worth keeping.
"Not unless you fancy wearing his silk drawers", said Hillyard, holding up a large pair that had seen better days.
"Not after he's been in 'em", said Joby "Probably all sorts of diseases lurking in there".
"I'll burn 'em then", said Hillyard, bundling them into the furnace "Other than that just some porn mags, and I don't think they should be touched without a pair of rubber gloves on!"
"Looks like he's been drawing dicks all over this one", said Kieran, holding up a defaced copy of 'Big Boys', which bore crudely-etched cartoons of phallic objects, executed in ball-point pen.
"Anybody in there we know?" said Joby.
"Artuul I expect", Kieran giggled.
"Wouldn't surprise me", said Joby "I'm surprised when he fucked you Hillyard, his cock didn't burst out of your mouth".
"Charming", said Hillyard.
"I know", said Kieran "Joby lacks the finer social graces at times".
"Oi!" Ransey yelled down the air-vent from the forward deck "Iceberg sighted!"
It was blue, that was the most surprising thing. Blue and, as Adam described it, shaped like the Sydney Opera House.
"Incredible", Kieran breathed "We really are at the ends of the earth".
Ice-packs floated menacingly in the ocean, making the crew of the Indigo feel as though they were treading warily through a minefield.
"We are", said Ransey, when someone made this analogy "We're going to have to take this dead slow, and that also means someone on watch at all times".
The Indigo was like a toy-ship, belting black smoke from its red funnel, as it inched its way through the ice-field. The red was the only splash of vivid colour in a scene dominated by whites, blues and greys, glinting weakly in the meagre twilight.
Julian sat in his cabin later that afternoon, and ran his pencil lazily over the route they were following. It looked endless, as though they would be tramping round the Horn of Wonder for eternity. Above them sat the huge bulk of the Land Mass, below was just ice and the South Pole. He idly wondered if there were any secret communities to be found at the Pole, ones with women in perhaps, gone undetected all these years by the Ministry and the rest of the known world. He knew damn well they had no chance of finding out. They might just be able to cope with ice-packs and the odd iceberg, but they certainly weren't equipped for Polar expeditions across the Antarctic.
The cabin door opened and Hillyard walked in, carrying a small bucket of coal.
"This should keep you going for the night", he said, dropping the bucket with a heavy thud on the carpet "We must try and keep the fires lit now, otherwise we'll never shake off the cold".
"You make a much better stoker than the last one", said Julian "I never felt at ease when he came into the room".
"I don't think any of us did".
"Where's Adam?" said Julian, fractiously "I haven't seen him all afternoon".
"Getting the dinner ready".
"Fine", Julian stood up and paced the room restlessly "Have we got enough fuel?"
"Doing alright. Should see us out, especially as we're gonna be taking it slow for a while".
"Fine", Julian said again "Shut the cabin door, and stay on this side of it".
"I've got work to do".
"Shut the bloody door!"
Hillyard rolled his eyes, but shut the door anyway.
"What's the matter, Julian?" he said, teasingly "Have you spent all afternoon in here, waiting for one of us to come in so you could roger us?"
Julian stepped across to him and put his hand on his neck.
"You can't tell me that you can afford to be fussy", he said.
"Smug bastard", said Hillyard.
"Just say the word and I'll open the door for you".
"Good job for you I'm not into playing games then".
"By games, you mean playing hard to get?" said Julian "But I know you too well for that. As you once said to me, you're a strict straight up in the dark kind of fellow. So, would you like me to put the oil-lamp out?"
"That won't be necessary", said Hillyard.
"Say you fancy me, Hillyard. I just want to hear you say it, just once".
"Yeah, I fancy you. But as everyone knows, I fancy anything that moves".
"Good boy, you're intent on not giving anything away to me aren't you?" Julian fumbled with the buttons on Hillyard's trousers "Do you pretend I'm Lonts? Come on, you can tell me".
"Why? Do YOU pretend I'M Lonts?"
Ransey had walked in on them. He had gone down to Julian's cabin to fetch the nightwatchman's roster. He had knocked first but had gone in without waiting for a reply. Julian had been close to climaxing inside Hillyard at the time, and had barely noticed Ransey standing there. He certainly wasn't in the mood for considering Ransey's feelings.
"He's a bastard, Adam!" Ransey had shouted in the saloon immediately afterwards "He's not worthy of you".
"Ransey, if you're getting upset on my account, I'd rather you didn't", said Adam, wearily. Having cooked and served dinner for eight men that evening he wasn't in the mood for emotional showdowns "We all know about Julian and Hillyard's arrangement".
"Don't you care? Doesn't it hurt you?"
"No! It doesn't! And what the hell is all this about?"
"It's about ..." Ransey stood there helplessly "It's about the fact that you lot seem to think about nothing but sex. You're like dogs".
"Knock it on the head, Ransey!" Adam bellowed.
Ransey stormed out of the saloon, colliding with Kieran in the doorway.
"Did you hear all that, Patsy?" Adam asked.
"I should think everyone did", said Kieran, pouring himself a brandy "I know it's not easy for him, but I wish he could accept us".
"I'd find it easier to have sympathy for him if Jules and Hilly had been at it in here, but they were in Julian's cabin. Ransey was in the wrong for walking in uninvited. I expect he knows it too, that's why he's so angry".
"And you're not jealous at all?" said Kieran mischievously, sitting on the arm of Adam's chair.
"When I've got you looking at me like that?" Adam laughed "And Lo-Lo in our cabin? How could I begrudge what Julian gets up to with Hillyard? I've come round to thinking it's a good arrangement. Very grown-up and civilised. The French would have understood it perfectly".
"Ransey obviously wouldn't have been French in our time", said Kieran.
"I suppose you're going to say English aren't you?"
"You horny little bastards? I wouldn't dare!" Kieran laughed "With his streak of puritanism, I expect Ransey would've been American".
Adam sighed languorously and stretched in his chair. He found it nigh-on impossible to get jealous. He had spent all day buzzing from the aftermath of his session with Julian that morning. His buttocks had blazed like a furnace for some time afterwards, and he had carried that around with him like a well-cherished secret. The fact that he knew Julian would always be close by him, anytime he needed him, was a luxury that no amount of money could buy.
"I know what you're thinking of", said Kieran, and he slid onto his lap to kiss him better.
"Oh Patsy, you heavenly creature!"
Joby walked into the galley to find Ransey sitting at the table with his head in his hands.
"I don't think Finia should be taking the watch alone", said Joby "It's eerie up there. I'll go up with him".
"I'll make you up a flask of coffee to take with you", Ransey sniffed violently, but Joby chose not to notice. Ransey's problems made him feel uncomfortable. They were too close to what his own used to be like.
"I almost didn't recognise Finia in plain clothes", Joby chatted on, breezily "He says he's put his frocks away until we've rounded the Horn. He looks completely different in a shirt, trousers and cap. It's like having a stranger on-board. Shows what a difference clothes can make to someone".
"Only outwardly", said Ransey, putting a pan of water on to boil "I've made a fool of myself again".
"I'm always doing that".
"It's because I care about Adam you see. I don't want him hurt. I couldn't bear it. And when I see Julian being unfaithful to him with Hillyard..."
"I wouldn't worry about that", said Joby, bluntly "At the moment Adam's having a good snog with Kieran".
"You're all hopeless", Ransey cried.
"No, just trying to find a way of making it all work".
"I don't know what it's like to be sexually attracted to someone".
"Not even Adam?"
"I think he's beautiful, but I don't want sex with him. Can you understand what it's like for me?"
"I'm not sure I can", said Joby, uncomfortably "I've always got attracted to people too easily, that's my problem. Life would've been a lot easier for me in the early days if I'd been like you, and hadn't felt attracted to Kieran".
"I-I hadn't thought of it like that. I suppose you think I'm weird?"
"I feel sorry for you", said Joby "You're missing out on a lot".
"I know I am", said Ransey, glumly.
"Perhaps you should be Captain", said Joby "That'd make it up to you wouldn't it?"
"No, Julian's got a weapon I haven't got. You'd rather have a captain with charisma, than a super-efficient bastard like me. No one's going to follow me to the ends of the earth are they?"
"I wouldn't follow Julian", Joby protested.
Ransey didn't say anything, but he smiled as though he knew something about Joby that Joby himself didn't. Joby had to admit he was right. Earlier that day Julian had given him and Finia a mild reprimand for sorting out Uddle between them. He had said he understood their actions, knew it was what they felt they had to do, and had eavesdropped to make sure all was safe, but had still wished they hadn't taken such a big risk off their own bat.
Joby, to his own dismay, had found himself getting aroused by this lecture and he couldn't understand why. Normally he would've been annoyed by Julian's high-handedness. Instead he found himself mesmerised by Julian's grey eyes as he spoke, and the way his long slender fingers were playing with the paper-cutter on his desk.
"Are you o.k Joby?" asked Ransey, suddenly.
"Yeah", said Joby, distractedly "I'm beginning to think there's something in the water. This whole voyage has been a hotch-potch of relationships. A bonking merry-go-round".
"It's always like that!" said Ransey.
"No, it seems to have been more intense than usual. All that craziness with me getting worked up about Hillyard - I mean I'd have more sense normally! Adam and Lonts at it like rattlesnakes every night".
"They probably were at home too. We just wouldn't know".
"Uddle and his sordid little ways", Joby continued.
"I think you're reading too much into it", said Ransey "Relationships are usually complicated between us lot, and being cooped up on this thing's only going to make it worse. At least at the Castle it was easier to get our own space occasionally. For a start, you and Hillyard got together before we came aboard here, so the boat's got nothing to do with that".
"I expect you're right", Joby sighed "It is just the lack of space that's doing it, but ..."
"Well it sounds crazy, but I've been finding myself ... well getting aroused even more easily than normal".
"You've certainly been getting more emotional".
"But that's part of it".
Joby sat down, looking as though he'd been struck by lightning. He remembered the time he'd practically raped Kieran, his hysterical reaction to Hillyard's antics, the time he'd spanked Lonts (admittedly he had occasion to smack him at other times, but never with so much zest), and this morning he'd been appalled to find himself wanting to be taken forcibly by Julian. Perhaps Ransey was right, perhaps it would've all happened like that anyway, wherever they were. Taken over the course of several months, did these incidents add up to anything? Probably not, but ...
"You're not seriously suggesting there's something about the ship that's causing us to act even more potty than normal?" said Ransey "If so, why haven't I been getting aroused left, right and centre too?"
"I don't know", said Joby, distractedly. But somehow he was now curious and eager to see how it would all turn out!
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