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"Do I look alluring?" said Adam, standing naked in front of a full-length mirror.
"You could lure Santa out of his grotto", said Julian, pacing restlessly around the trolley that room-service had sent up "There's no chance the others are going to get suspicious and come bursting in is there, Adam?"
"No I told them Lady Red had donated us some jewellery so that we could pay for a meal here".
"Does that mean Red knows about this little scheme?"
"I had to let her in on it, Jules", said Adam, going over to the sofa and sitting down.
"We've no chance of keeping it quiet then!" Julian exclaimed "You go and confide in a woman for God's sake, and a Mouth Almighty like Red to boot!"
"If we had just disappeared for the evening without telling anyone Patsy would have got very suspicious", said Adam "You agreed with me that this would be the best way of doing it, the best way of pleasantly surprising them".
"Now we're here I'm not happy about using you as the bait".
"But I've got you to come and defend my honour", said Adam, folding his knees up against his chest.
Julian gave another inspection of Ransey's spare revolver, and a curved machete which Lady Red had loaned them, after honing the blade to a razor sharpness.
"Of course it might not work", Julian sighed "The creature might not appear. That scruffy room-steward denied any knowledge of Hillyard's rape".
"Well he would", said Adam "Anyway, reading between the lines of what he had to say about that infamous party, no one can remember anything".
"The creature might not come to this room though", said Julian "It could appear to anyone in this hotel, this town even".
"You'd better make me even more enticing then, hadn't you?"
"Shows how worried I am", said Julian, securing Adam's wrist to the bars at the head of the bed "You're lying there face-down, and I don't feel the slightest bit aroused. How does that feel?"
"Well I'm not going to say wonderful", Adam muttered into the pillow "I'm as nervous as hell. I do hope your reflexes haven't slowed too much with old age, Jules. I want that creature despatched before he has a chance to get too carried away".
"It must be some creature to be able to sustain an erection, going by the size Tamaz said it was", said Julian "It's like those men you see in porn mags. Cocks so long they have to wear them strapped to their leg. Can't afford an erection in case they pass out".
"Don't remind me", Adam groaned "Oh God, I wish it was all over".
Julian lay down next to him on the bed for a while. To comfort him he kissed and caressed him, only to find himself getting aroused after all and momentarily forgetting why they were there.
"I'll walk around the room for a bit", he said, briskly "If I carry on touching you like that the Wang Man won't get a look-in!"
"Dim the lights, Jules", said Adam "No one our age can look sexy when the room's lit up like a football stadium".
Julian turned down the lamps and paced the room. He checked the barrel on the revolver for the umpteenth time, and then picked up the sword and brandished it like a Samurai warrior.
"For heaven's sake", Adam crooked his head round to peer at Julian "He's not going to come anywhere near us if you strike threatening poses like that!"
"I suppose I should make myself scarce", said Julian "Hide in the wardrobe or something".
"I don't think crowds bother him, Jules. For all we know there might have been a dozen witnesses to Hilly's rape last night".
"But they were all our of their hands", said Julian "I'll check the corridor again, although we don't even know how he's going to come into the building".
He picked up the revolver and went to the door. He opened it and peered out into the shadowy depths of the second floor corridor. It was empty of people. Although it was barely midnight tomorrow's newspapers lay outside some of the doors, along with boots and shoes that had been neatly polished. The clock in the room chimed the midnight hour behind him.
Julian turned to ask if Adam wasn't feeling too uncomfortable, and immediately felt something soft but substantial hit the back of his head. He grabbed the door-jamb in a desperate effort to stop himself falling, but the carpet (whose naff pattern he had commented on earlier that evening) rushed up to greet him. In the very very distance he was dimly aware of a terrified Adam calling his name.
It was the sound of gunshots that eventually brought him round, and he came slowly to consciousness to find his head resting against Phyllis's comforting bosom.
"Adam", he gasped, his mouth feeling painfully dry. There was a deeply dull ache in his head.
"He's safe", said Phyllis, soothingly "We're all here".
Julian struggled to sit up. He found that he and Phyllis were crouched on the threshold of the room. Both the room and the corridor were now bathed in light, and everywhere he looked there seemed to be a forest of legs.
The Wang Man was lying only a foot or so away from him, and Lady Red was standing in its blood, the hem of her white silk dress trailing in the thick, glutinous substance, and the revolver hanging from her hip. It took him a moment to realise but the creature's grotesque head was lying separate from its body. Kieran stood nearby with the sword.
"Lady Red shot the creature using little iron bullets", Phyllis explained, calmly "And then Kieran decapitated it".
"Adam?" said Julian, with great concern.
The forest of legs drew to one side, and he saw Adam sitting on the edge of the bed with a sheet wrapped round his shoulders.
"I'm fine, Jules", he said.
"ADAM!" Lonts burst into the room, yelling at the top of his rather considerable voice "I had to wait downstairs with Toppy and Finia, no one would let me come up until it was all over. But I could have helped. I'd have castrated that monster".
"It would have been like sawing through a roll of carpet", said Julian, looking at the hideous remains of the creature.
"I'm going to be sick", said Adam, weakly.
Lonts grabbed the fruit bowl off the trolley, tipped its contents unceremoniously on the floor, and then placed the bowl in Adam's lap. Adam made full use of it.
"Cover the creature up", said Julian "I can see Hillyard at the end of the corridor. He mustn't get a good look at it, it'll do him in".
Ransey tugged down one of the curtains and flung it over the corpse. Hillyard hobbled into the room, leaning on an ivory-topped walking-stick that Lady Red had loaned him.
"You should be resting", said Julian.
"And you shouldn't be doing daft things like this at your age", said Hillyard, sternly.
"I know", said Julian, facetiously "But Adam and I have always been open to new ideas to spice up our sex life!"
The entire hotel got out of bed again and went down to the foyer, where Governor Cedd had ordered brandies to be served all round. Governor Cedd then stood and watched Lady Red in awed admiration. If she had asked him for the deeds of the hotel he would have handed them over without a murmur of protest. Lady Red though was only interested in the next stage of the journey, getting to the City.
"We'll help you in any way we can", said Kieran "God knows what would have happened this evening if you hadn't thought of the iron bullets".
"I'm just glad Adam had the sense to tell me what he was about", said Lady Red "If he hadn't then there wouldn't have been much I could have done".
"It was a foolish thing that I did", said Julian, candidly "Sticking my head out of the door like that without checking round me first".
"You look exhausted", said Lady Red "But then you all do, quite frankly".
Adam in particular could barely stay awake, leaning against Lonts's shoulder in a tired stupor.
"We'll talk some more tomorrow Red, make plans", said Julian "In the meantime, home all!"
The Indigo-ites returned to the boat in one of the open-topped carriages that served as taxi-cabs in Krindei. They all piled into the same one and returned to the Indigo like a mass of stuffed toys jumbled together in a cardboard box. At the gangway they spilled out and thundered aboard the boat. Tamaz was concealed behind his blankets, and was beginning to seem more and more like an eccentric lodger that they had wearily resigned themselves to being lumbered with for some time to come.
"We must think of something to about his children", said Adam, standing in the middle of their cabin, undressing by the hiss of the hurricane lamp.
"I have", said Kieran, who was already in bed "How about we persuade the Ministry to take them to Wolf Castle? Anything's gotta be better for them than being locked up in an underground bunker. And Thetislog's out of the way, and there's plenty of room for them to run about up there".
"Perfect for kids", said Joby "Think of all that garden".
"I used to roll about on the lawns, they could do the same", said Lonts, as though generously bestowing permission.
"I suppose it's pointless to assume that Tamaz might be interested in our scheme?" Adam sighed.
"He's probably forgotten he's got kids", said Joby.
Late the following morning Kieran and Joby went round to Lady Red's yacht to try and arrange a meeting to decide when they should proceed on to the City. Lady Red was still sleeping, but Dolores offered to show them over the ship, and a very pleasant hour was passed in this way.
"It was built by Red's predecessor in the old boatyard at Toondor Lanpin", said Dolores, as they explored the vessel which was about twice the size of the Indigo and crammed to the gunnels with Lady Red's personal staff and the crew "I expect it's all a bit old by modern standards".
"Very well maintained", said Kieran.
"And clean and tidy", said Joby, appreciatively "Not like ours. I've forgotten what the colour of the saloon carpet was originally!"
"Your boat's had a bit more wear and tear", Dolores laughed.
They came to the galley where they found Phyllis wiping down the work-tops. She looked elated on seeing Kieran and Joby, and then not quite so elated when she realised that none of the other Indigo-ites were with them. She was too nice a woman not to keep her disappointment concealed as much as she could though, and she greeted them warmly.
"I don't wish to betray a confidence", Dolores whispered, once they were back in the gangway "But Phyllis is rather smitten with Julian. She went to a great deal of trouble to persuade Red to let her come on this trip, and I think that was largely because she wanted to see Julian again".
"We'd give him to her free of charge", said Joby "Except she'd only be disappointed".
"What's the big attraction then?" said Kieran.
"Well he is rather handsome", said Dolores, girlishly "Quite impossibly so when you consider his age".
"Why are women always attracted to bastards?" said Joby "It's not even as if he's particularly charming to talk to".
"With those looks he doesn't need to be", said Dolores, leading the way down the corridor.
"I'll never understand women", Joby muttered "Why can't they show a bit of taste and discernment?"
"What, like men do you mean?" Kieran exclaimed.
"He's earthy", said Dolores, turning round in a conspiratorial way "Doesn't mess about when it comes to intimacy. Gets straight down to it".
"So do I, given half a chance", said Joby, indignantly "But I don't notice anyone going potty over me".
"You've got honesty and integrity", said Dolores "Women appreciate that in a man".
"Maybe, but it don't mean they wanna go to bed with him!" said Joby.
"Perhaps women don't fancy men who keep complaining all the time", said Kieran, shortly.
"I think you're lovely, Joby", said Dolores "You all are".
"Who's your favourite then? Go on, tell us".
"Don't push your luck, Joby", said Kieran, in a warning voice.
"Oh belt up", said Joby.
"I suppose it depends in what area", said Dolores, giving it a lot of thought "We women like to look at different aspects of a man and judge him accordingly".
"Sex appeal", said Joby, bluntly.
"Well again one has to break it down", said Dolores, enjoying herself immensely "For beauty it has to be Lonts, wit and charm: Adam, sensitivity and understanding: Kieran".
"But sexual attraction in itself", said Joby, insistently.
"Depends what one's after", said Dolores "Do you want me to be blunt about it?"
"Please", said Joby, hoarsely.
"For a fit, rideable body, then it has to be Bengo", said Dolores "For little boy lost: Lonts. For the hint of cruelty and danger: Julian. For sex without responsibility: Hillyard. For a hint of mystic other-worldly eroticism: Kieran. I'll just pop in and see if Red's conscious yet".
She opened one of the cabin doors and went inside hastily.
"Bloody mystic, other-worldly eroticism", Joby sneered, in disgust "Shows how much she knows! Obviously needs to see you trying to keep it up for longer than two seconds at a time! You with a hard-on is about as common as sightings of the Loch Ness monster!"
"Well at least I get mentioned", said Kieran "Unlike some".
Joby cuffed him gently round the ear, and Kieran giggled.
"Women talk such rubbish sometimes", Joby continued "Lonts and his little boy lost act for God's sake. What's sexy about him having a tantrum and screaming the place down like some red-faced toddler? And if they had to put up with Julian's so-called cruelty and danger they'd be in floods of tears all the time, either that or suing him for gross misconduct and assault. And what about all that garbage about Bengo having a rideable body? He always looks like an over-grown ferret to me!"
"Never mind Jobe, I think you're sexy", said Kieran, laughing helplessly.
"No I'm Honest John aren't I!" Joby spat "Full of boring integrity, that's me. I'm the one they come and bawl all over in-between bouts of sado-masochism with the likes of Julian".
Kieran kissed him on the lips to silence him, and they were thus engaged when Dolores opened the door.
"She'll see you now", she said, smiling shyly.
Lady Red was so full of confidence and self-regard that she was quite prepared to receive men in her room immediately on waking, without insisting on cleaning her teeth or running a brush through her hair first, as most women would have done. As such, her flame-red tresses tumbled about her face in thick, sweaty strands, like luscious strands of ribbon, and the lace in the front panel of her silk nightdress was ripped across the bosom, from where she had yanked it straight impatiently as she sat up in bed. Her freckly breasts struggled to stay within the garment, looking like two shapeless blancmanges that had started to floppily disintegrate as soon as they had been turfed out of the mould.
"You seem to be having quite an effect on my staff", she said, reaching for a glass of hot water and a slice of lemon, which Dolores had placed on her bedside table "First I have silly Phyllis mooning over that high-handed geriatric, and now Dolores is simpering over you two".
"Red!" said Dolores, imploringly "Take no notice of her".
"It doesn't bother me", said Joby "Anything's worth it to hear Julian being called a high-handed geriatric!"
"You should drink a glass of this every morning", said Lady Red, taking another substantial gulp "Works wonders for clearing the system out".
Dolores had to severely restrain herself from mentioning Red's cellulite problem at this point.
Kieran and Joby sprawled on Red's bunk, like young boys paying a Sunday morning visit to their mother in bed. They all discussed the advent of the women's arrival into the City, and Kieran was dismayed to find that he was taking on more and more of the responsibility. He felt a line had to be drawn somewhere, and when Red started going on about the women immediately getting highly-paid jobs, he decided to call a halt.
"To get jobs they have to go through the proper channels just like everyone else", he said.
"But that's unfair", Red spluttered "They won't have had the same opportunities".
"I know and I'm sorry", said Kieran, firmly "But there is an unemployment problem in the City, and if jobs were immediately allocated to newcomers, no matter who they were, it would cause a lot of bad feeling. The ladies have to take their chance in the maelstrom just like everyone else".
"That is completely unfair", Red protested "The women are new to this world".
"So were we when we first crossed over", said Kieran "And we had to fumble our way round blindly, scratching a living where we could".
"But you were the Vanquisher of Evil, that gave you an advantage", said Red.
"And you lot are women", said Kieran, slyly "That gives you an even bigger advantage".
"Are you just going to abandon us to starve?"
Kieran felt this wasn't a problem Lady Red was going to have to face in a hurry, but he forbore to say so.
"It's surprising how resourceful human beings become when they need to get food", he said instead.
"You have obviously never faced genuine hardship or you wouldn't make such a comment", said Red, with mind-blowing conceit.
Joby inhaled sharply, and Kieran shared his unspoken urge to enumerate the many many times when they had faced Genuine Hardship. The travelling by litter in freezing temperatures, nearly starving to death and dehydrating on the marshes near the Loud House, nearly starving to death and dehydrating to death in the desert, being forced to eat water-mammal in the caves in the Uncharted Area, the months they had spent living six to a wagon, with no idea where their next meal was coming from or how long their drinking water would hold out. The times beyond number that they had been homeless, possessing only the clothes they stood up in, and at the mercy of strangers for their very lives.
"We do know what genuine hardship is", said Kieran, quietly "And what hunger is".
"I remember that time in the desert when Adam had to persuade me to accept death", said Joby "We really thought we'd copped it then".
"And we're almost back to square one now", Kieran sighed "All we have is the Indigo, poor battered old biddy that she is, and she's home to ten of us. Sometimes we get tired of keep picking up the threads and starting all over again".
"But surely the Ministry helps you?" said Red.
"I'm sure it'll help you", said Kieran "But the rest of us have to find our own way".
"We'll do it", said Joby "We always have before. After all, we can always put Lonts on the game!"
"Or Toppy", said Kieran, mischievously.
"Well you may accept such off-hand treatment from the Ministry", said Red "But I can assure you we won't".
"Then the best of luck", said Joby, bluntly.
Hillyard was sitting on a bench in the white, cobbled square at the very centre of Krindei. The whiteness of the buildings in the harsh noon-day sun hurt his eyes but he was too dejected to get up and find somewhere else to move to. The affluent Krindei-ites were glancing at him disdainfully as they passed. He knew he looked a mess, and deep down it bothered him, but he was too lacking in spiritual energy to sort himself out. The ebony-topped walking-stick was propped against the bench next to him, and he found himself trying to ease the discomfort in his buttocks by lifting his cheeks in an alternating fashion.
He saw Julian walking towards him across the square, dressed in black silk pyjamas and shades. Julian looked the epitome of health and suave handsomeness, much more so (Hillyard thought) than any man in his mid-fifties had a right to. Hillyard watched him sourly, feeling a strong urge to knock him through one of the nearby shop-fronts.
"Fuck off, Julian", he said, as the other man drew near "I'm having a moment to myself".
"Well it doesn't seem to be doing you much good", Julian sat down next to him on the bench.
"The last person I wanna see at the moment is you", Hillyard growled.
"I can't say I'm surprised, looking at the state of you. Here am I, with my dazzling good looks and sophisticated charm, taking the time to generously chat to a syphilitic old tramp".
"The blood tests were negative, you bastard!" Hillyard bellowed, to the fascination of a few passers-by.
"You don't seem to be celebrating".
"Oh just bugger off will you!"
"You're letting yourself go to seed. When was the last time you combed your hair? And look at this", Julian fingered Hillyard's grubby shirt disdainfully "It must have every stain under the sun on it".
"I've been through enough", said Hillyard, fumbling for his walking-stick "I don't have to put up with you as well".
He hobbled laboriously across the square. Julian walked beside him, making a conscientious effort to restrict his normal long-legged strides to Hillyard's crippled pace. He felt like a care assistant escorting a bad-tempered old man to the lavatory.
"Gives us some idea of what we can expect in our declining years doesn't it?" Julian boomed.
As Julian was eighteen years older than him, Hillyard didn't trust himself to answer this rather insensitive comment.
"I can find my own way home, you know", he spat, eventually.
"But I care about you", said Julian "I want to make sure you don't take a fall or something".
Hillyard instantly goaded himself into a higher gear, propelling himself forward as speedily as he could, whilst Julian sauntered along beside him in an insultingly leisurely way.
"I'd slow down if I was you", said Julian, as the Indigo came into sight "You don't want to dislodge something, and goodness knows what might be stuck up there after all these years!"
Hillyard climbed the gangplank, and went across the forward deck to the topside doors. Adam heard the clunk of his walking-stick on the steps and came out of the galley to see how he was.
"Hilly, what on earth's wrong old love?" he said, noticing that Hillyard was quietly sobbing.
"It's him!" he said, shaking his stick at Julian, who had appeared on the steps "He's a monster, an unfeeling, inhuman monster. He's a smug, conceited bastard".
He went into Julian's cabin, which he had been sleeping in since Ransey and Finia's wedding, and slopped cold water into the wash-bowl from the jug. He stripped off his filthy shirt and tossed it onto Finia's old bunk.
"I can't be doing that much harm", said Julian, stripping off his black silk pyjamas, which had got dappled with perspiration "If I've got you taking care of yourself again. You couldn't have carried on hobbling around as you were. You'd have been picked up for vagrancy".
"There he goes again, Adam!" Hillyard cried, shaking a wet hand at Julian "I hate him, I fucking hate him. I'm not normally a violent man, but I really feel like laying him out!"
"Calm down now, Hilly", said Adam "Don't let get to you, he does it on purpose. He's a bully, a nasty, spoilt brat. When he's behaving like that he needs a bloody good spanking".
Hillyard began to laugh, gently at first and then more heartily.
"Oh what a great thought!" he said "Reminds me of when you got him across your knee that time in Toondor Lanpin. One of the funniest things I've ever seen".
"As you're feeling so much better", said Julian, snidely "You can take Tamaz's food-pail down to him".
He pulled the necklace of keys from over his head and handed them to Hillyard.
"Cheer up, Jules", Adam giggled, after Hillyard had left the cabin "That's the first time I've heard Hilly laugh properly since the attack. You've performed a wonderful service".
"I'm so pleased I amuse the crew", Julian snapped "How dare you talk to me like that in front of him, or anyone? I told you, many many years ago, that I wear the pants in this relationship, and don't you forget it".
"You're not wearing them at the moment, Jules", said Adam, glancing down at Julian's naked form.
Julian fumbled for the buttons on Adam's shorts and tugged them down roughly over his legs. Adam made to step out of them, but Julian ordered him to stay exactly as he was, with them around his ankles. He wanted him helpless and humbled whilst he sucked him off, and Adam was more than happy to oblige. Being tamed by Julian had always been his favourite game, and having his pants pulled down so roughly had always been tremendously exciting. Julian knelt on the floor, and Adam locked his fingers in his fair hair, pushing Julian's face into his pelvis, and yet still feeling like the helpless acolyte.
As he lay on Julian's bunk a while later, watching him root around on his desk for a cheroot, he thought wistfully of the days a few months ahead, when they would be living in dry dock at Magnolia Cove.
"Are you looking forward to retirement, Jules?" he asked.
"I'm not sure", said Julian, finding a cheroot and lighting it "It's going to feel strange for a while, after all this time of telling everyone what to do. I shall probably end up like one of those retired old generals who went down the pub of a Sunday lunchtime and bored everyone shitless with tales of their past glories".
"I can't see that somehow", Adam stretched "Anyway you'll still be telling us all what to do".
"I certainly will, as far as you're concerned", Julian sat on the edge of the bunk "You always did need watching like a hawk, you're so daft".
A peel of female laughter rang out from the saloon.
"Are one of the women on-board then?" said Julian.
"It's Phyllis", said Adam "She persuaded Red to let her come and visit us. She came back with Pats and Joby. I rather think she was hoping to see a little of you".
"If I went in there now she would see a lot of me!" said Julian, glancing down at his penis, flaky with dried sperm.
"I think she's got a bit of a crush on you".
"Yes I normally have this devastating effect on people".
"You will let her down gently, won't you Jules?" said Adam "Don't do it in your usual charming way".
"I shall be the essence of chivalry", said Julian "Anyway I don't get any pleasure whatsoever out of bullying women, not unless they're Lady Red of course, but then they're honorary men so it doesn't really count".
"She certainly isn't built like an honorary man".
"Good grief I know, every much the womanly shape", said Julian, in faint horror "I swear she never wears any underclothes. Everytime she moves I can see bits of her flying about wildly at random. I'm surprised she doesn't swing those tits of hers round her neck to keep them out of the way!"
Lonts ran into the room, looking wild-eyed. As he opened the door a mass of chaotic noises erupted into the room.
"Lo-Lo, what is it?" said Adam, sitting up.
"There's a load of strange men on the quayside", Lonts exclaimed.
"Ooh-er", said Julian.
"They look really weird", said Lonts "So Bengo and me pulled the gangplank in. We don't trust them".
"Good thinking", said Julian, reaching for his clothes and beginning to dress "Ask Phyllis to come and wait in here, until we're sure who these jerks are. Then you and Toppy go and shut yourselves in the galley".
"We're not dogs, Julian", Lonts protested.
"Don't argue with me, now run along", said Julian.
He finished dressing, picked up his horse-whip and went to do battle with the intruders.
"No wonder you said Lonts thought they were weird", said Kieran, standing on the forward deck "It's the men from the Ministry, complete with film crew".
"Governor Cedd must've tipped them off", said Adam "Although I suppose he didn't have any choice really, not with a story as important as the women on his territory. I can't remember hearing an air-buggy go over though".
"They probably landed near the oil-fields", said Kieran "We wouldn't have heard them from here".
Lady Red's yacht was silent, with everybody secreted below deck, biding their time until Kieran gave word that it was safe to meet the Ministry.
Two members of the three-man ruling party (one had to stay behind in the City to mind the shop) stepped forward, as though confidentally expecting to be invited on-board. Julian reluctantly ordered the gangplank to be put out again. The first, a balding man with an unnerving perpetual grin on his face, made to come aboard, but when the second, an obese man weighing in at thirty stones, tried to do the same, Julian called a halt.
"You're too big a risk, literally", he shouted "I don't want you putting a hole in our deck!"
The fat man began to splutter about prejudice and fatism, all of which was completely lost on Julian who still refused to let him come aboard.
"I'm afraid you won't be able to get away with such behaviour in the City", said the balding man, who still grinned even though his tone was sorrowful "We've brought in some new laws whilst you've been away, and I'm afraid elusions to anything of a personal nature are strictly taboo".
"Anything?" said Joby, in disbelief "What do you talk about then?"
"The weather probably", said Kieran "Whose brilliant idea was this then?"
"It was democratically decided upon", said Acting-President Codlik.
"That must've been a first for the Ministry", said Joby.
"It all sounds a bit Stalinest to me", said Kieran.
"It does rather", said Adam "They'll be bringing in scientific management and five-year plans next".
"We simply want to make life as perfect as possible", said Codlik.
"You're in for a helluva disappointment then", said Joby.
"Definitely Stalinest", said Adam "Reminds me of those old propaganda films the Communists used to put out in the 1950s. How idyllic life was in Russia, as long as one conformed to the rules and the image".
"What happened if they didn't?" said Codlik.
"They were shot", said Adam, bluntly.
"I can assure you the Ministry has no plans to start shooting oddballs and eccentrics", said Codlik.
"You say that now", said Joby, darkly.
"Why don't we invite Lady Red and Dolores over?" said Ransey.
"Oh yes, the females", said Codlik, perking up and grinning in an even more frightening fashion.
"The females?" Joby exclaimed "They're humans, not insects!"
"W-What do you call them then?" said Codlik.
"Don't you know?" said Joby.
"I wasn't sure what we should be calling them for the best", said Codlik "The last thing we wish to do is cause offence to them in any way".
"You must live your lives in a state of perpetual terror at the Ministry these days", said Julian "I'm surprised you dare set foot outside in case you upset someone!"
"Wouldn't be such a bad idea", Joby grunted.
"We call them women", said Kieran, simply "I think it sounds a bit less clinical and a bit more personal than females".
"Nah, we're not allowed to get personal, remember?" Hillyard laughed, leaning heavily on his stick.
"I'll nip round and fetch them", said Ransey.
A chaotic few minutes ensued in which chairs were brought up from the saloon. The film crew (waiting patiently for an exclusive interview with Lady Red) were whiling away the time hurling questions and insults at Tamaz, who sat cowering on the floor of his cage, with a blanket over his head. The chief aspect of their curiosity seemed to be what Tamaz was going to wear in the condemned cell.
"I want them to stop", said Kieran, firmly "Or I'll get the Town Constable to have them moved. If they want a statement I'll give them one. Tamaz isn't going to be in a condemned cell".
Codlik felt he should protest, but his heart wasn't in it. None of the three-man ruling committee wanted to execute anyone, not even a self-confessed murderer like Tamaz. It would be bad for their caring image.
An almighty diversion was created by Lady Red emerging from her yacht, followed by Dolores and Ransey. Red looked magnificent in low-cut emerald-green satin, like a galleon in full sail. By a very effective contrast Dolores looked slim, crisp, cool and elegant in a white shirt, matching pleated skirt and white canvas deck-shoes. She looked like the captain of a ladies cricket team.
The film crew fell unnaturally silent as Red and Dolores approached, as though they knew they were witnessing an amazing historical phenomenon. Red was unfazed by the attention, until she neared the fat man, who shuffled up to her using breathless, crab-like movements. He was trying to introduce himself, but Red skirted him warily, as though she was being pursued by a runaway sofa.
"I've come to see where Phyllis is", she said, when she and Dolores had finally reached the sanctuary of the Indigo.
"Oh goodness, I'd better go an fetch her", said Adam "She's still shut in Julian's cabin".
"Indeed", said Red, her voice laden with suspicion.
"For her own safety", said Julian "I haven't been keeping her locked up against her will!"
Phyllis emerged, full of apologies to Lady Red, who inclined her head regally in acceptance. They all sat down on the chairs, with as much ease as people who had known each other all their lives. All except Codlik that is, who still hadn't been properly introduced.
"Isn't he allowed up then?" said Red, waving a large, painted fan in the direction of the fat man on the quayside.
"I'm not sure the ship can support him", said Julian.
"In that case I'm surprised you let me up", said Red, who could never resist an opportunity to rile Julian.
"Don't try it on, Red", said Julian "He's twice the size of you".
"Literally I suspect", said Adam.
"I really don't think we should be discussing size in this way", said Codlik, nervously.
Red looked at him as if he'd suddenly become visible for the first time. Adam felt that if she'd had a lorgnette she would have peered at him through it in an a withering fashion.
"You are not at the Ministry now", Julian spat "And personally I have no time for this sizeism nonsense. It can't be put on a par with racism or sexism. Gender and skin colour are things you are born with, they shouldn't be held against you for that reason. Whereas people choose whether they get fat or not".
"Quite so", said Red, turning away from Codlik, as though he held absolutely no further interest for her "I once lost five stones through sheer willpower, but the booze ensured I put it all back on again".
"You didn't look right anyway", said Dolores "Everyone said how old and gaunt you looked".
She could have added how Red had made everyone's lives a misery whilst she'd been slim and teetotal, and it was a relief to one and all when the boozing had recommenced and the pounds had started inching back up again.
"This sizeism stuff never applies to thin people I notice", said Kieran.
"Here we go", Joby groaned.
"There is such a thing as being TOO thin you know", said Red, looking significantly at Kieran's whip-thin arms.
"You talk about fat people being able to lose weight", said Kieran "Well I can tell you I've tried putting it on, and I can't. When we were still living in the City I even had the quack put me on a high-calorie diet, but it didn't work. I was guzzling six chocolate bars a day and to no avail".
"It didn't work 'cos you didn't eat 'em", said Joby "You'd take a bite out of each one, and leave 'em scattered all over the house. Lonts was the only one who put on weight on your diet. He used to follow you around, picking them up like a vacuum-cleaner!"
There was an obvious pause after this, as though everyone was expecting Lonts to react in his usual fashion.
"Where is he?" said Hillyard, eventually.
"Oh heavens, I forgot. I shut him and Toppy in the galley", said Adam "They must still be in there".
"Along with Bengo by the looks of things", said Hillyard, looking round him.
"Bring them up, Ada", said Julian.
Adam went below and was dismayed to find that Lonts, Bengo and Toppy were all completely drunk, having consumed a full bottle of rum that had been left on the draining-board. They were now in the middle of a game of strip poker, which Toppy was obviously winning, as he was the only one still in possession of his vest.
"Julian is not going to be pleased about this", said Adam, holding up the empty bottle.
Toppy screamed in terror at the mention of Julian's name and hid behind Lonts. Julian chose that moment to appear.
"Red's invited us to her yacht for dinner", he said, whilst taking in the little scene "Well well, looks like it's going to be spankings all round later, doesn't it? In the meantime, try and sober yourselves up. Red has insisted she wants all of us there, so try not to be too much of an embarrassment".
Dinner was extremely enjoyable, even with Codlik's presence aboard Lady Red's yacht. His attempts to start a serious discussion about female integration into society were thwarted by everyone else's determination to have a good time instead. Codlik hated to admit it, but as far as Kieran and his crew were concerned the female re-integration had already been achieved, and with much success. They were relaxed in the women's company, something Codlik felt he could never be. They were women after all, and he would constantly be on his guard against being incorrect with them. Lady Red, Dolores, and the other women of the yacht, didn't give a damn about him and tended to switch off completely when he started pontificating.
For coffee, cigars and brandy they went into the main sitting-room. Here again Codlik was disapproving. Smoking had been outlawed in all public places in the City, as had drinking in the streets. Codlik was astute enough to realise he was being regarded as a bore, but felt a missionary zeal not to be thwarted so easily.
Kieran meanwhile had been enveloped in perfume as the women of Lady Red's private staff joined them. They made a great fuss of seeing him again, but Kieran was astounded to see that Little Blonde, who he had thought was no older than thirteen, was now heavily pregnant. The irony was that, wearing a gingham smock, she looked even more childlike than ever.
"We believe women are best suited for child-birth in their teens", said Lady Red, who was looking at Little Blonde with much fondness "Their bodies are best adapted for it at that age".
"That's true", said Joby "I read it somewhere, back in our time".
Kieran felt like arguing from a moral tone, but feared he might end up being ignored like Codlik if he did. In any case, Little Blonde, or Peyla, as she was really called, looked extremely happy and well-cared for. At one point she, Lonts and Toppy stripped one of the sofas of all its silk cushions and had mock fights with them. Lonts picked Peyla up under her armpits and twirled her round, as he often did to Toppy.
"Be careful, Lo-Lo", said Adam.
"I won't hurt her, Adam", said Lonts.
"I know, but she's in a delicate condition".
"I think it's time Peyla got some rest anyway", said Lady Red, and she called the said girl over so that she could place her hands gently on her swollen belly, as though warming them by a fire "You're not in any discomfort at all?"
"No Ma'am", said Peyla.
"Rest and sleep well", Red kissed her tenderly.
The party broke up soon after with most of them giving each other emotional goodnights, except Codlik, who had been immensely disturbed by Peyla's condition, and wondered how the City would cope if it suddenly had a mass outbreak of pregnancies.
"You worry too much", said Joby "If everybody would just relax we'd all sort this out together with no trouble at all".
The Indigo-ites went back to their boat, feeling like tourists on the first night of their holiday. They crammed a few titbits gleaned from Lady Red's table through the bars of Tamaz's cage, and then went below.
When Julian went into his cabin he found Toppy fast asleep in the top bunk, with Hillyard equally in slumber below. Bengo was sitting up in Julian's bunk.
"Aren't you on the wrong side of the room?" said Julian.
"Tell me to move then", said Bengo.
Julian found he didn't want to. He was slightly tipsy, but not so drunk he couldn't appreciate the sight of Bengo's firm, young body, and his abundant chocolate-coloured hair. He slid in beside him, and Bengo rolled down into his arms.
At daybreak Julian woke up and found his erection pressing into Bengo's back. He adjusted himself and took the drowsy boy without saying a word. Bengo gave a soft murmur, and complied with the greatest of pleasure.
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