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Adam said they had gone underground like Alice disappearing down the rabbit-hole, except they weren't lucky enough to find bottles and cakes saying Drink Me and Eat Me. And by the end of the first day's travelling in this eerie subterranean world such thoughts were uppermost in their minds.
They had followed a narrow tunnel for some distance, which eventually widened out into a voluminous cavern. If hunger hadn't been such a fixation they would have found the scene that confronted them astonishingly beautiful. A vast underground lake filled most of the area, the whole of it lit up by silvery stalactites and stalagmites. These were covered by silver crystals, and the whole thing was quite simply breathtaking, like a scene in a Christmas pantomime experienced whilst on speed. A myriad of tunnels opened out from the shore of the lake, and it was impossible to tell where any of them led.
Several hours had passed since they had left the balloon, so they decided to take a few hours rest by the lakeside. The beauty and serenity of this underground world did nothing to soothe their spirits though. It was hard to wax lyrical about the surrounding area when they were exhausted, hungry, and desperate to get home. And all that faced them for supper was water (which had to be boiled first), and a few rubbery remnants of the cooked rabbits.
To try and relax themselves they went for a swim in the lake, and finally managed to get rid of the last of the mud slide from about their bodies. Adam scrubbed Joby's back with his nail-brush.
"You don't have to do it so bloody hard", Joby complained "I don't get turned on by pain. Unlike most of the rest of you".
"We enjoy inflicting it too", said Adam, and scrubbed a bit harder.
"I don't know how you can even think about sex at a time like this", said Ransey, stepping onto the shore.
"I didn't know we were thinking about it", said Adam "Were you Joby?"
"Too busy hanging onto what's left of me skin", said Joby "Anyway that's typical of Ransey, he's got a one-track mind".
"There's something wrong with him", said Adam, as Ransey climbed back up towards the camp-fire "I hope he's not going to crack up on us".
"He never has before".
"The trouble is he hasn't been the same since Angel died", said Adam "Although I don't think it was killing Angel so much that got to him, as Angel's cruel deceit".
"I know", said Joby "Poor bastard. I think you should go and talk to him. Things are bad enough without having to worry about him going barmy on us. I just want to get home. I'm fed up with being scared and worried".
"There's no need to be", Adam hugged him "Everything will be alright. I've always looked after you haven't I?"
"You've been terrific Ad", said Joby "Ever since we crossed over. You've stopped me from going to pieces loads of times, and with Kieran too".
"I'll let you in on a little secret. It's a lot easier looking after you than Patsy. You're much more amenable to a dose of commonsense for one thing. That doesn't mean I haven't felt like paddling your butt occasionally, but you don't drive me to complete distraction like he has done in the past".
"He's done it to me enough times too", said Joby "Particularly when he gets his mind fixed on something and then you can't get him away from it".
"Even Patsy at his most missionary-like is easier to handle than Ransey though", Adam sighed "Come to think of it Lonts in a full-scale tantrum is easier to handle. Ransey can't be soothed with a few soft kisses, which makes it all rather difficult".
"You'll be able to talk to him if anyone can", said Joby "I think he needs to talk to someone. And soon".
Adam agreed. When he got back to the fire he found Ransey had already dressed and had even fastened his woollen toga about him. This made Adam feel at a distinct disadvantage, seeing as he himself was naked and sopping wet.
"Do you know how old I am Adam?" said Ransey, unexpectedly "I'm forty-three-years-old".
"You look very well on it old love".
"I'm being serious".
"So am I".
"It's not easy being a forty-three-year-old virgin".
"I'm sure it's not".
"I don't embarrass you when I say that?" said Ransey.
"Not in the slightest", said Adam "It's encouraging to hear you being so candid. You have all our understanding Ransey. We realise it's not easy for you. And we all know what frustration can be like".
"That's just it", said Ransey "It never bothered me that much in my younger days. I used to think that what you've never had you never miss. Life could give you other compensations. And then I started living with you lot, and suddenly its SEX, morning, noon and night".
"Oh we're not that bad surely?"
"Yes you are! And you're the worst! I sometimes think you can't communicate without kissing".
"Is this a roundabout way of saying you've had enough of us?" said Adam.
"No, no it's not", Ransey shook his head dejectedly "I don't mean that at all. I just wish I could shake off these feelings. I'm forty-three and I've never had a woman".
"I'm fifty-two and I've never had a woman".
"It's a bit different for you!" Ransey exclaimed "You're so bloody attractive. You always were. I'll never forget when we were on Gabriel's yacht, and I looked at your legs. They disturbed me. And now you stand here with your dick hanging out".
"Ransey, are you making a pass at me?" said Adam, incredulously.
"No I'm sorry. You're still a fella at the end of the day", said Ransey "That block will never go. I know it did for Joby eventually, but I'm not like him. But sometimes ... this is nothing to do with the Golden Woman you understand. Or who I thought was the Golden Woman anyway. She was a night vision, a lustful vision of my dreams. The fact is Adam, I think I'm in love with you".
"Ransey", Adam gasped, feeling as though the ground had been pulled out from under his feet "I think I'm going to say something stupid like 'this is so sudden!' B-But what about Finia?"
"He's lovely", said Ransey "I'm very glad he's around. Sometimes I just like looking at him, but he doesn't really want me. He's after something else entirely".
"I have to confess I don't really understand how you feel about me", said Adam "I take it it's not brotherly love?"
"No, but it's not sexual either".
"Now I'm thoroughly confused".
"I feel like you're my wife".
"Men were allowed to have sexual feelings about their wives", said Adam "It wasn't unknown".
"I feel like we have a marriage, you and I", said Ransey "We're partners. The heads of the family. We look after everyone else. I don't want to go to bed with you, even though you can disturb me at times. I just want to be with you".
"Thank you for being so honest, it can't have been at all easy", said Adam "I'm relieved you don't want sex. I really don't think Julian would tolerate yet another man in my life".
"It's a marriage that you have with him isn't it?"
"We do have a lot of marital attributes", said Adam "Shared memories, intimacy, looking after Lonts and Finia. The feeling of being locked together. What exactly is it you want of me?"
"Nothing", said Ransey "I want us to carry on as we are. Looking after everyone, but perhaps we could work together more. Now we know how we feel".
"But what makes you think you love me?"
"I admire your strength, your patience, the way you seem to have an unlimited supply of love for everyone".
"It helps enormously if you get a lot in return. Have you been getting confused by these feelings?"
"They've been disturbing my equilibrium, as the saying goes", said Ransey "I was so scared they would be just sexual and I couldn't have coped with that".
"You don't need a lover Ransey", said Adam "You just want a very close friend. You've spent too much of your life alone".
"That's right. I suppose I'm a bit like how Kieran and Joby were before they hit the sack".
"One big difference though", said Adam "Even long before they were lovers those two were very physical together, that's why I always knew it would happen with them one day. But somehow I don't think you want hugs and kisses and shared pillows".
"I'm afraid that acting like an excited red setter isn't my scene", said Ransey "I'd need a course of psychiatric treatment just to give someone a peck on the cheek! But I would like someone who's always there, who I can share my thoughts with".
"I hope I don't let you down", said Adam "I've never had a close intimate friendship that was completely non-tactile. I might find it a bit disconcerting. Perhaps I can only truly express myself by touching".
"I'll tell you something Adam. You've done alright with me so far".
After finishing the last of the cold rabbit, they decided to fan out around the rim of the lake and search for anything that could pass for food.
"Even insects or grubs can be nutritious", said Hillyard, in a stricken tone of voice which implied he'd rather suffer slow starvation than resort to that.
"I hope you're not serious", said Julian, once he and Adam were out of earshot of the others "You mean to tell me that that dried-up old walnut in spectacles has been lusting after you?"
"I knew you'd misconstrue it", said Adam "Ransey doesn't lust after me, not strongly. He wants a non-physical marriage with me".
"He must be raving mad", said Julian "A relationship with you that didn't contain any sex? And what do you feel about it?"
"A bit disturbed to tell the truth", said Adam "Like a bride being told by her husband that their marriage is to be one in name only".
"You surely don't fancy him?"
"No I don't. Quite frankly I'm appalled by the thought of anything like that with Ransey. I know it's wrong of me to think this way, but I just don't understand celibates, it's all too peculiar for words. I'm glad I cured Joby of it. And before you say anything, no I can't see me providing the same de-flowering process for Ransey. A part of me always fancied Joby, he's cute for one thing. Whereas Ransey ... there's a layer of ice in his heart that puts me right off".
"He's not bad-looking", said Julian, grudgingly "Particularly now the sun's tanned his skin and bleached his hair. But you know what the problem is don't you?"
"Our dear Ransey, in spite of his vivid wet dreams and tormented frustrations, is not really very highly-sexed".
"Oh I agree, he thinks he is. He likes to imagine himself as a red-hot lover if women were around, but conveniently they're not", said Julian "But if he really was highly-sexed he'd have tried doing something about it by now, women or no women. He couldn't have resisted little Finia for a start. It's only us lot keep pawing each other that torments him, because it reminds him of what he's not capable of. I'm sure his feelings for you are genuine, and he'd probably feel exactly the same about a woman. But he'd be the sort who'd rather worship her from afar than do anything so vulgar as consummate it".
"Yes, I think I see what you mean".
"He wants to worship you too. A bit like having some spotty little brat at school leaving love-notes in your locker. But that's not for you is it dear heart? You need sex, red and raw in tooth and claw. You need the exquisite agony of a good screw".
"Shut up Jules, you're getting me excited".
"Lying face-down across the bed. Your face screwed up in pain with each savage thrust".
"Not much room for non-tactile devotion there".
"You are an animal Jules".
"I know", Julian smiled "And that is why you love me. As for Ransey, he's got a schoolboy crush on you that's all".
"Well I hope it soon passes then".
"It won't", said Julian "Not if it's taken this long to come to fruition. It could go on for years. Cheer up. Do you want me to talk dirty to you again, bring a smile to your face?"
Further along the lake Joby had made a momentous discovery. Namely a launch moored to the side, complete with an old-fashioned outboard motor. He jumped onto it and ascertained that it was in a rusty but working condition.
"Does it go Joby?" said Lonts, standing on a rock nearby.
"Go?" said Joby, delirious with excitement "Of course it goes pond-life!"
"I was only asking Joby, and don't call me that, it's not kind".
"Oh get in, and I'll give you a lift back to base".
It took them several goes with the starter-cable but eventually the motor spluttered into life. The puttering noise of it echoed amongst the rocks, alerting everyone as to what they had found. Within a short time they were all on board and purring up the lake into the caves beyond. No one was interested in trying to work out who it belonged to. The excitement of it had momentarily made them forget their hunger. Except Hillyard that is, who poured doom on the whole venture.
"We have got nothing left to eat at all", he said "Not a scrap. At least if we'd stayed overground I could've shot some more rabbits".
"I don't know what you're worried about", said Joby "You could live of your fat for about a year".
Hillyard responded by grabbing Joby's neck roughly and kissing him very vigorously on the lips. The others, apart from Ransey, thought it was hilarious, particularly Lonts, who squealed and clapped his hands.
They were distracted soon after by their first sighting of a life-form since going underground, namely a young water-cow which was sighted clambering over the rocks at the side, its black skin glistening in the crystal-light. Seeing it as a way of getting some supper, Hillyard raised his rifle and shot it dead.
A fire was lit on the rocks with the last of the kindling they had brought down from Overland, as they now called it, and the water-cow was roasted over it. Kieran stared at the chunks of rubbery meat in horror. It was a bad time to be a vegetarian.
"You haven't any choice Kiel", said Joby, having rapidly polished off his portion "It's either that or starve, and you haven't got any reserves of fat. It doesn't taste too bad, a bit of gravy and some onions and it'd be just like old school-dinners".
"Is that meant to discourage me?" said Kieran.
Hillyard held out a chunk of the cooked meat. Kieran took it and chewed on it slowly, trying to fight down his revulsion as he did so.
"Think of it as an encouraging sign", said Hillyard "If this creature was about, then there must be other life-forms somewhere too".
"I wonder what one of those monkeys would taste like", said Joby.
"I've just had an idea", said Lonts, who was being helped into his nappy by Adam.
"I don't think the world's quite ready for it old love".
"It's a good one Adam", said Lonts.
"What is it then Lonts?" said Kieran "I need distracting from me supper".
"We should all have sex together", said Lonts, robustly "All except Ransey of course, as he doesn't like it".
"I did just hear that boy correctly didn't I?" said Julian.
"I'm afraid you did", Adam sighed, as he put the final safety-pin in Lonts's nappy.
"Well I think it's sensible", said Lonts "I don't know what you've got against it Adam, seeing as you've already had sex with everyone here, except Ransey, no one's had sex with him".
"I haven't had sex with everyone here", Adam protested.
"You've had a fair old stab at it", said Joby.
"Not with me he hasn't", said Hillyard.
"He made a pass at you at the Winter Palace", said Joby.
"I remember that", said Kieran "He behaved badly that night. Went on about how cuddly Hillyard was, and then dragged me away when I started to get too friendly with you".
"You've never told me any of this Adam", said Julian.
"I was high on cannibis cake that night", said Adam "I'd have probably fancied the butcher's dog".
"Cheers, thanks", said Hillyard.
"You know I didn't mean it that way", said Adam "I think the sooner Lonts goes to sleep the better. And anyway if I'm going to take part in an orgy I'd rather it was somewhere a bit more comfortable than this!"
"You've told them haven't you?" Ransey hissed, cornering Adam a short while later.
"Ransey, you're hurting my arm", said Adam, crossly "And no I haven't told anybody, except Julian".
"Julian? He's the worst one you could've told!"
"Stop being so dramatic. Julian's not going to say anything, and would it matter so much if he did?"
"Why did Lonts come out with all that just now?" said Ransey.
"You know what he's like", said Adam "He has these fits. Usually it's pretending he's the President. This is just another phase. It's got nothing to do with what you said to me. He doesn't know about that".
"What's going on here?" said Kieran, walking over to them "Ransey, why are you manhandling one of my consorts?"
"Things are just getting to me that's all", said Ransey, releasing Adam's arm.
"Mm, so it seems", said Kieran "Care to tell me why you're targeting Adam so fiercely?"
"Aren't I allowed to have any secrets of my own?" said Ransey.
"Not when they involve Adam, no".
"Ransey told me earlier that he has ..." Adam stumbled awkwardly over the words "He has special feelings for me".
"I see", said Kieran "I sometimes think that where you're concerned Adam I must be one of the most cuckolded presidents in history".
"Oh Patsy!" Adam sighed in dismay.
"It's not like that", said Ransey "It's not sexual. I just want Adam as a special friend".
"Then why the great secrecy?" said Kieran "No one would laugh anyway. You could've told Hillyard for a start. He's been through enough on this trip to understand".
"What about Joby?" Ransey mumbled.
"He won't laugh either".
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because I'll beat the shit out of him if he does", said Kieran "Now we've got enough to worry about at the moment Ransey, and I don't want you carrying on like some prima donna".
"Message understood", said Ransey sourly, and he walked back to the camp.
"Are you going to carry on telling me off now?" said Adam, hopefully.
"Haven't you had enough of that from him?" said Kieran.
"There is no comparison my little Irish blonde bombshell".
"I'm finding all that confessions of Ransey's innermost feelings a bit creepy".
"Not half as creepy as I'm finding it", said Adam "Julian says it's just a schoolboy-style crush, but quite frankly I find that unnerving coming from a forty-three-year-old man".
"If he is worrying you then I'll warn him off", said Kieran "Or better still get Julian to do it".
"See how it goes", said Adam "But it might yet come to that. I'm not that clear what he wants from me".
"Nothing physical from what I can gather", said Kieran.
"I think he despises the sins of the flesh really", said Adam "But unfortunately I don't know any other way. Even Joby in his mixed-up days wasn't a problem compared to this. At least he didn't make my skin creep. I wasn't afraid of him. Although if I'd known him then as well as I do now I'd have tossed him in the bracken in the woods round Kiskev and had my wicked way with him. What a delicious thought!"
"I suppose I'm safe in saying you don't get such urges towards Ransey?"
"Patsy, be serious. It'd be like making a pass at Hitler!"
"Ransey chills you that much?"
"To be honest I think he has ever since the Waxworks Resort, when we found out he'd once been a hired gunman", said Adam "But now he's thoroughly scaring me. The crazy thing is I don't feel under any physical threat. I don't think he's going to suddenly violate me or anything. It's much weirder than that, I can't explain it. He wants a relationship like you and Joby had in the early days".
"But I used to get very physical with Joby, even then", said Kieran "We shared beds, we hugged, we kissed. But Ransey seems to be disgusted by even that".
"You've got to help me Patsy", said Adam, suddenly sounding afraid "I'm not saying he's going to do anything, but he does scare me".
"I'll make sure you're not alone with him for a start", said Kieran "I'll explain it to Joby too, and I expect he'll be only too glad to help".
"Perhaps Lonts's idea isn't such a bad one after all".
"I must admit, it appealed to me", Kieran smiled "Although Joby says he can't imagine getting down to it with the baby present".
"Lo-Lo would be happy with a game of polar bears", said Adam "But even that might be enough to send Ransey heading for the hills".
"Shame to feel like this", said Kieran "He's been a good friend to us over the years. We mustn't turn away from him just because he's going through an emotional crisis".
"I know, perhaps it's just this trip doing it to him", said Adam "Perhaps it's being underground here. After all, look what happened to Hillyard at the Catacombs. Perhaps Ransey's afraid of something and he's clinging to the nearest person for security, a bit like a baby with a sleep blanket".
"The way it all is at the moment we all feel like that", said Kieran "It's all like some horrific nightmare, a feeling of being trapped in a Chinese puzzle and we can't get out. Sometimes I think the Almighty's playing a hideous game with us. Good grief Adam, I can read your mind, and your thoughts are disturbing me!"
"The tales we heard in our time?" said Adam "Men going crazy with guns and slaughtering their families whilst they slept?"
"We'll keep the guns away from him", said Kieran "He's been uneasy with them since killing Angel so it shouldn't be too much of a problem".
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