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Governor Cedd invited Kieran and Joby for lunch the following day, and had it served up in his private suite. It promised to be a difficult occasion, not helped by Cedd dishing up what seemed to be half a roasted cow. Kieran looked at the two gargantuan slices on his plate, and nearly gagged at the sight and smell of them. Fortunately Joby was on hand to demand that Kieran's plate be taken away and replaced with a clean one, which the steward made a great fuss of, wiping with a towel before setting it down.
"You'd better eat your carrots though, Kiel", said Joby, scooping vegetables onto his friend's plate "Or you'll end up with eyesight like mine!"
When Cedd joined them he prattled on at great length about what the authorities would do to Tamaz when they got him back to the City. He implored Kieran (not the first time) to re-introduce the death penalty, as this would "show the futility of murder and encourage human beings to love one another". All said without a trace of irony.
"You miss the point", said Kieran "I don't believe anything would deter the likes of Tamaz. If he was going to be killed then it should have been done in Yzel, when we had finished with him as a hostage. It was my idea to use him as a brood-mare for the human race, which is where all the trouble comes from. Gorth would still be alive today if I hadn't done that. It's my fault and I must take the consequences, which is why I'm going to tell the Ministry that I'm taking Tamaz into my custody".
"But you'll be saddled with him like a ball and chain around your foot for the rest of your life!" Cedd protested.
"Then so be it", said Kieran, simply.
"Surely it would be better to make him answer to a higher authority?" asked Cedd.
"Too much of a cop-out!" said Kieran "Humans have to take responsibility for themselves. We can't shove everything onto God".
What could have been a potentially very tense conversation was diverted in a most extraordinary way. A steward came in to say that "an astonishing creature" had appeared in the lobby downstairs. They all looked at one another in puzzlement, and made their way to the top of the stairs which led down to the entrance foyer.
There Lady Red was devastating everybody in sight. Kieran's jaw wasn't the only one to drop at the sight of the flame-haired Astonishing Creature, who wore a fair amount of leopardskin, in spite of the heat, and was followed by Dolores, leading two leopard-cubs on leashes.
"Red", Kieran sidled towards her in amazement "What are you doing here?"
"Kieran!" Lady Red boomed. She picked him up effortlessly and clasped him to her bosom. After what seemed like an age (and imminent death from suffocation) Kieran was released and put back on his feet.
"What are you doing here?" Kieran repeated, breathlessly.
"We followed you up the Beyond", said Lady Red "We got into Toondor Lanpin a couple of days after you'd left and thought, oh hang it, let's go in pursuit. We're all here. Monene, Phyllis, Pendor..."
"But I haven't had a chance to pave the way for you", said Kieran.
"Much better if we just turn up, I thought", said Lady Red "Once the initial shock is over, they'll all get used to it".
"I doubt that", said Joby.
Everyone in the hotel turned out to watch this astonishing spectacle, and Governor Cedd looked as though he'd been hit over the head with several sandbags.
"If only we'd known you were tailing us", said Kieran "We'd have hung on for you".
"That doesn't matter", said Lady Red "We got here in the end, that's the main thing".
"No one in our area has ever been beyond the Beyond", said Dolores "We all found it so exciting".
Kieran introduced them to Governor Cedd, who immediately began stammering that he could have a suite ready for them within the hour. As if to illustrate his point the hotel manager hovered at his elbow, ready to spill unctuousness.
"We've got our yacht", said Lady Red "Anyway, I want to see the Indigo again".
This sounded so much like a royal command that Kieran felt he could hardly refuse, even if he had wanted to.
Lady Red walked with him back along the waterfront, seemingly oblivious to the uproar that was going on all around. At the Indigo Adam jumped around on the forward deck in wild excitement, followed by Bengo, Lonts and Toppy. It looked as though they were putting on some tribal dance to welcome the women.
"I feel we should hang out the bunting", said Adam.
"I see that wretched creature is still with you", said Lady Red.
"Oh yes, we've still got Julian", said Adam, dryly.
Lady Red let out a whoop of thunderous laughter.
"All joking aside", she said, calming down eventually "What are you intending to do with that thing?"
She waved her hand airily in the direction of the cage.
"Keep him as a pet", said Julian "For old time's sake".
Lonts and Toppy were despatched below to bring up some alcohol and clean glasses, and Lady Red and Dolores were entertained on the forward deck by them all. Except Ransey and Finia, who had gone out for the afternoon, and Hillyard, who still hadn't returned from the party.
"He doesn't normally stay out for this long", said Joby "I hope he's alright".
"He can take care of himself", said Julian, dismissively.
It was an afternoon of uproar and excitement. Pendor, Phyllis, Monene and a handful of others came over from Lady Red's yacht to join in the carousing, bringing their own booze with them. At four o'clock Ransey and Finia returned in an open-top horse-drawn carriage. Finia wore a circlet of flowers on top of his favourite wig, which was somewhat of a giveaway.
"We got a special licence", said Ransey, apologetically.
"We did want to invite everyone", said Finia "But the trouble was..."
"No need to say anymore, old love", said Adam.
They'd had to do it underhand, because Julian would never have stopped chafing long enough to make it bearable otherwise.
"The first wedding in the family and no one gets invited", said Joby, in disgust.
"There's nothing to say we can't have a celebration now", said Ransey "I'm surprised no one caught me sponging my best trousers down this morning".
"Please be happy for me", said Finia, standing close to Julian "This is the best way. We didn't want a lot of fuss".
"I'm happy if you're happy", said Julian "I've nothing against Ransey personally, it's just that perhaps I don't think anyone's good enough for you".
Finia stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek.
"As long as I still see you everyday that's all that matters", said Julian.
Toasts were drunk to the happy couple. Tamaz watched resentfully from his cage. A sizeable crowd watched with rapt curiosity from the quayside and other boats. Lady Red pulled a spotless white handkerchief out of her cleavage and dabbed at her eyes. Adam squeezed Julian's hand comfortingly.
In the midst of it all Hillyard returned.
"I thought I could detect a distinct aroma of tom-cat", said Julian.
Hillyard looked terrible. There were dark rings under his eyes and, disturbingly, he had bruised lips. He couldn't have felt more out of place at the nuptial celebrations if he'd had leprosy.
"Adam", he said, his voice small and faint "I need to talk to you. Please".
"Come below", said Adam, and he indicated for Julian to follow them.
"I wonder what that's all about", said Joby, sounding worried "He didn't look right at all".
"Oh God, I hope it's nothing too serious", said Kieran, concerned "Doubtless we'll find out in due course".
"That must have been some party, Hilly", said Adam, once they were in Julian's cabin "You've been gone for eighteen hours, and you come back looking like death".
"I'm glad Bengo got home alright", said Hillyard "I'm also glad he left the party when he did".
"Are you going to tell us what happened then?" said Julian, leaning against his desk.
"Take your time, Hilly", said Adam, feeling as though a hand had gripped his heart. That something was very wrong was only too apparent.
"It started off just like any old party", said Hillyard "Just a bunch of hotel staff having a knees-up. If I'd known how it was gonna turn out I'd have never let Bengo anywhere near the place, you've gotta believe me".
"Bengo is perfectly alright", said Adam, firmly "It's you I'm concerned about".
"After Bengo had gone things started getting heavy", said Hillyard "It didn't bother me, I wanted to let me hair down, especially after being on the Beyond for so long. They all started messing around. It was going on everywhere you looked, and I couldn't get enough of it. We were stock-piling each other, stroking the arse of the one in front of the queue. I thought oh what the hell ..."
"And I bet you flew without a safety-net didn't you?" said Adam.
"No chance of doing anything else", said Hillyard "No one gave you time to fiddle with a condom".
"You get checked over by a doctor before we leave port then", said Julian "You haven't had a syphilis vaccine in nearly two years for one thing".
"What happened next?" said Adam.
"It all started to go blurry from then on", said Hillyard "There were pills popping all over the place, I haven't got a clue what was being taken. There must have been a whole wedge of time that's just vanished for me. Next thing I'm fully aware of I'm blindfolded and tied face-down on a mattress. I can't see what the hell's going on".
"Hilly", said Adam, gently "Were you raped?"
"I dunno what by", said Hillyard, emotionally "I've never known pain like it. I felt like I was being torn in half, that the top of my head was coming off. Help me, Adam!"
"Anyway I can", said Adam "Are you bleeding?"
"Lie on Julian's bunk and I'll sort you out", said Adam.
"I'll send one of the others for a doctor", said Julian.
"No!" Hillyard yelled.
"Hilly, we must", said Adam "There might be any amount of internal damage, remember what happened to Noni? It was rectal bleeding that killed him".
"I can't bear anyone else knowing, not a stranger anyway".
"Doctors aren't there to pass moral judgements", said Julian "Or at least they shouldn't be anyway. Adam's right, we have to assess the full extent of the damage".
"And there'll have to be blood tests", said Adam "I hope to God nothing's been passed on to you, but we can't be sure until it's all checked out".
"You know how quickly a disease would spread amongst us lot", said Julian "About the only one who'd stay clean would be Toppy!"
"Go and fetch the doctor, Jules", said Adam, wearily.
"I'm on my way", said Julian, and he left the room.
"An Elder in the camp where I grew up said I'd probably come to a bad end", said Hillyard "He was right, wasn't he?"
"Nonsense", said Adam "The doc'll check you out and ..."
"Then Trantin might have been right after all", said Hillyard "Perhaps that stupid biography of me was a prediction really. Say I was given syphilis".
"Then we would look after you".
"Yeah? When I keep having recurring bouts of it? When me teeth and hair fall out, and I start losing me mind?"
"Sex has always been a dangerous game, old love", said Adam "And you always did like to play Russian roulette with it".
"Joby always said that in your time I'd have been dead long ago", said Hillyard "Is that true?"
"Who's to say?" said Adam "But to be perfectly blunt, with your habit of going unprotected, it would have been a strong possibility. AIDS was a terrible, terrible thing. It reduced people to mere shadows, skeletons, and like syphilis it was no respecter of anyone".
"Are you gonna tell the Town Constable?" said Hillyard "I'd rather you didn't. It'd cause a huge scandal, with it happening at the Governor's place and all. And then we'd never get out of here".
"I think we're going to have to leave that up to Patsy", said Adam "Don't think about that just yet. You lie quietly until the doc gets here".
"What's going on?" said Joby, hovering with Kieran in the gangway "Why's the doctor been summoned?"
"Hillyard's been raped", said Adam, quietly.
Kieran and Joby stared back at him blankly for a moment, as though they'd never heard of it before.
"The poor bastard", said Joby, putting his hand to his mouth.
"Last night?" said Kieran "At the party?"
"He was drugged, blindfolded and strapped down, from what I can gather", said Adam "Unfortunately the pills didn't blot out the pain of it. From what he's told me I can only say we're lucky to have him back alive".
"Too true. I remember only too well what happened to Vanod", said Kieran "Will you let us in to see him? We'll try and help however much we can".
"You can help best by going back up to the party and keeping it going", said Adam "Don't argue with me, Hillyard's said it's what he wants. It is Ransey and Finia's wedding reception after all, and Hilly's already annoyed enough that he missed out on being best man. There'll be enough time for chewing over it all tomorrow".
"Come on, Kiel", Joby tugged him away.
"Quite extraordinary", the doctor whispered to Adam, tearing off his surgical gloves "I've never seen anal penetration quite like that. Without wishing to sound too facetious I hope I never meet the guy who did it, not on a dark night anyway!"
"Will he be alright?" said Adam, looking over at the bunk where Hillyard lay with his face buried in the pillow.
"He'll be in considerable discomfort for a while, but it will pass", said the doctor "He needs to take things very easily, not strain himself in the slightest, which obviously means a very light diet for a few days, not much in the way of solids".
"Obviously", said Adam "When can we expect the results of the blood test?"
"A couple of days, if that", said the doctor "Between ourselves the authorities here will do their best to help you, they won't want this turning into a full-blown scandal. It was fortunate for them he didn't die".
"Well I'm so glad they weren't inconvenienced too much", said Adam, crossly "Murder trials can be so tedious, can't they!"
"It's all too easy for a party to get out of hand", said the doctor, listening to the sounds of merry-making coming from the deck "What everyone thinks of as just enjoying themselves can turn nasty very rapidly".
"I don't suppose that creep's ever been to a party in his life", said Hillyard, after the doctor had gone "His idea of fun is probably visiting a mortuary!"
"Well at least forensics may be able to get something from the traces of semen in you", said Adam "The sooner we catch this nutter the better for everyone. There's no knowing who he may turn to next".
"And the next one might be much less deserving than me", Hillyard muttered.
"I would never think that!"
"It doesn't matter. Life goes on and one, and I'm nothing if not tough and able to cope", said Hillyard, in a flat, mocking monotone "I bet everyone's thinking 'well it must be like waving a broom-handle in a cave by now anyway'".
"I doubt that they are, particularly considering you were drugged and tied down", said Adam "Did you get any impression of this guy at all, apart from the obvious ones I mean?"
"His skin was very cold, icy almost", said Hillyard "And smooth. I couldn't feel any hairs on him. And I think he might have been asthmatic or had some kind of chest problem. You used to rattle a bit like that sometimes ... What's the matter? Come on, tell me, I should be good for another shock about now!"
"Wang Man, Hilly".
For one brief, terrible moment Hillyard looked as though he was going to scream. Adam moved as though he was getting ready to restrain him. Hillyard gave a low moan instead.
"Why?" he whispered "I don't understand".
"We need to talk this over with Patsy", said Adam "And round up everyone we can trace who was at that party last night. Bengo will be able to help with that. One of them went to a lot of trouble to offer you up as a human sacrifice, and he must have let the creature into the hotel".
"Tamaz can help too", said Hillyard, trying to fight down his hysteria.
"The doc left some sleeping pills. I think you should take a couple", said Adam "You need oblivion for a few hours".
He sat by Hillyard for the night, which was just as well as Hillyard woke up just before dawn, as the pills were wearing off, and suffered an accumulative overload of stress, misery and disgust. Adam held him tightly and stroked his hair.
"We'll get this creature", he whispered "I promise you".
Julian had spent the night in the armchair in the saloon, with Toppy occupying the sofa. Bengo had taken Adam's bunk, leaving Ransey and Finia to have a cabin to themselves for their wedding-night.
At around ten o'clock the following morning Julian stuffed some fruit into a pail and took it up on deck to feed Tamaz. Up there he found Ransey teaching Toppy how to shoot, with an array of empty tins lined up on the bulwark.
"This trembles in my hands", said Toppy, handing a revolver back to Ransey.
"It will, it's a powerful little piece", said Ransey.
Julian went mad on seeing this, screaming at Ransey that he didn't want Toppy learning how to be an assassin.
"It's no big deal", Ransey protested "All young boys are fascinated by guns, that's why it's important they're taught how to respect them".
"Come on Jules, be reasonable", said Adam, who had followed him up to get some air. He was pale and had dark rings under his eyes, from his night-long vigil "You were taught how to shoot at his age".
Toppy looked distraught by Julian's displeasure and ran below. Ransey gave Julian a sour look and followed him.
"I know I'm being unreasonable, you don't have to say it", said Julian, holding up his hands "I'm sorry, but I just want Toppy to ... to stay as he is. He's the only one of us that's completely pure, unsullied by life. I-I just wanted him to stay that way. It's different for you, Adam. Lonts will never age, not mentally. He'll always be child-like".
"These are dangerous waters, Jules".
"I know, but I don't want Toppy to get soured in any way. Older, cynical, in the slightest part bitter".
"It's not fair to expect him to stay frozen in aspic".
"I know that too", Julian sighed "But I don't want to souring to happen before it's necessary. Please understand".
"I do", said Adam "I've just spent the night comforting Hillyard. I've seen souring in all its glory!"
"I'd better go and feed the beast", Julian indicated the pail.
"I do understand, Jules", Adam squeezed his arm "It's exactly how I felt before Lonts and I became lover. I fought the whole idea for so long".
"Toppy and I aren't going to become lovers", Julian exclaimed "You think I'm such a depraved, sad old queen that I go lusting after fifteen-year-old virgins?"
"I didn't mean to imply that, Jules".
"Oh leave me alone".
Julian shook him off and proceeded towards the raft. He climbed down onto it and unlocked the cage door. Tamaz stood with his back to the bars, pulling his t-shirt down over his hips in a deliberately coy manner.
"Have you overheard about what happened last night?" Julian barked.
"The women turned up", Tamaz mumbled.
"Apart from that".
"Hillyard was attacked. Sexually assaulted".
A very rare look of anxiety crossed Tamaz's face. After all, Hillyard had been the only person in a very long time to show him any concern or affection.
"Is he alright?" he asked.
"As well as can be expected under the circumstances", said Julian, shortly "The thing is, we think that creature you summoned was the one who did it. I want to know what you know about it".
"It must have gone for Hillyard because it couldn't get me", Tamaz stammered "I've worked it out you see. It can't get me whilst I'm in this cage, because the whole thing's made of iron. When I first saw it it was in a cage made from steel. But iron repels it".
"It earths demons?"
"Then you'd better start being grateful to us that you're locked up in here", said Julian "And to show your gratitude you can help us get this creature once and for all".
"You need to lay a trap for it", said Tamaz "A sacrifice, something to entice it into the open. It's sexual demon. That's where it gets it's strength. If you play your cards right it can also be its undoing".
Julian examined the area around the topside doors, and found that the hinges were made of iron. That was what prevented the creature from getting in when Joby saw it all those months ago.
"What are you doing, Jules?" Adam paused on his way out of the galley, carrying a pot of tea.
"Tamaz has been telling me how to catch the Wang Man", said Julian "I'm going after it".
"Not alone you're not".
"I mean it, Jules".
"Looks like it's down to us two then doesn't it?" said Julian.
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