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By Sarah Hapgood

Joby ran through the Ministry Headquarters, rebuffing all who wanted to speak to him. They had only just returned from Stokva, and yet Joby wasn't interested in looking at anything about the home which he hadn't seen now for several months. He reached Adam's room and was almost hysterical with relief to find the said man alone in there. Lonts had gone down to the wash-house with Finia to refresh some of the best bouquets he had been sent whilst in hospital.

"Joby!" Adam flung himself at him "I heard an air-buggy go over but I thought it might be too soon to be you. So you've come home at long last, you inconsiderate boy".

"For God's sake Adam, you make me sound like a runaway teenager", said Joby, crying and laughing at the same time.

"You don't know how relieved I was this morning when the papers reported sightings of the Gorgon in Marlsblad", said Adam "Where's Patsy? Has he been ambushed by Gorth?"

"Hillyard's putting him to bed", said Joby, picking an orange out of the fruit-bowl, more for something to occupy himself with whilst he spoke than any great urge to eat it "I thought I'd better come straight here and warn you about Kieran. He's not well".

"What exactly is wrong?"

"I'm not completely sure, but it seems to me he's had some kind of nervous breakdown", said Joby "We saw a strange Thing on Albatross Island. I can't describe it very well what it was. Looked like the Grim Reaper to me. Kieran said it was a demon. He went peculiar from then on. Kept rabbiting on about how he'd lost his power, and all sorts of crazy rubbish. It sounds funny when I say it all, but I've been worried sick about him. He's been talking about his mother a lot, he's got it into his head he's let her down. Let all of us down. Thinks he's a failure. And he keeps on at me to flog him! I've seen him go peculiar before, but this is weirder than anything else. One morning I caught him standing on the beach like King Canute, said there was a worm in the sea".

"You should've sent a message to me", said Adam, squeezing Joby's shoulders in a comforting manner "Hillyard and Ransey would've got to you a lot sooner then".

"I didn't have time", said Joby "I had to watch him constantly. I didn't know what the soft git was going to do next".

"How is he today?"

"Weird", Joby began to cry "Doesn't say much, just keeps making these loud groaning noises. It's horrible, like something out of an old Roger Corman film, I can't stand it".

"We'll get to the bottom of it", said Adam "Don't fear".

"Joby!" yelled Lonts, bursting into the room like a tidal-wave.

"Good God Lonts, you're getting fat", said Joby, wiping away his tears with the back of his hand.

"Oh Joby I'm not", said Lonts.

"Yes you are. Must have been all that hospital stodge".

"Do you want to see my operation scar?"

"Go on then".

Lonts lowered his head so that Joby could inspect it.

"They had to take loads of pictures of my brain before they could do anything", said Lonts, proudly.

"That must have been like splitting the atom", said Joby.

"You two chat to each other whilst I go and see Pats", said Adam.

"Make Kieran better, Adam", said Lonts "I could hear him making strange noises when I walked past his room just now. Everyone's really worried about him".

As Adam approached the presidential suite the sound of Kieran's groaning chilled his blood. He sounded like a frustrated soul in torment, as he imagined the soul of a person trapped in a permanent vegetative state might sound. The guards on duty outside the doors looked immeasurably relieved when Adam hove into view, and they let him pass without a word.

"I'm glad you're here", said Hillyard, who was in Kieran's study "Do something Adam, I'm scared we're losing him".

"Nonsense", said Adam "Patsy doesn't give up that easily. This is just a temporary blip. You can clear off now. I'll handle it".

Adam went through into the curtained niche where Kieran and Joby had their bed. Kieran lay flat on his back, his eyes open to the ceiling. Every so often his facial muscles contorted with effort and he let out another loud groan.

"You look like an advert for constipation tablets", said Adam, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

"Adam", said Kieran breathlessly, swivelling his blue eyes round to look at him.

"The one and only", said Adam "What on earth is all this about Patsy? I've never known you carry on in such an extraordinary way before".

"I'm in pain", Kieran whispered "I've lost my power. I can't help anyone anymore".

"Really", Adam sounded unimpressed "And lying here groaning like a walrus is going to help someone is it? And I don't understand what you mean by losing your power. You never believed you had it in the first place! You simply coasted along and hoped the evil bastards would fall for the legend as much as everyone else".

"It's all been a big con hasn't it?"

"Well if it has it's been a very effective one. The vampires believed it, as did the evil that dominated Gabriel".

"I saw the Devil on Albatross Island", said Kieran.

"Oh that's who it was was it?"

"I thought we'd succeeded in burying him when we took Vanod's body into Hell, but it hasn't worked! It will never work. He knows now that all he has to do is bide his time and the world will end, and he'll finally get to be in charge, leading his revolting band of Ghoomers into forming a new hideously depraved race".

"Perhaps", said Adam "But he hasn't got the world yet. You abdicate Pats, and leave this lot to worry about the Age of Capricorn. You have Joby to look after".

"Is Lonts alright?"

"Fine. Thumps around the Ministry as though he's never been near a hospital in his life".

"When you came in just now", said Kieran "You reminded me of ... Her".

"I know who you mean", said Adam "I've seen her too. She came to me whilst I was keeping vigil at the hospital. Whoever she is she's a potent force for good, and she's on our side. We might just succeed yet".

Adam cradled Kieran in his arms for several minutes. Kieran relaxed against his body, and breathed in the soft essence of the man.

"Now let's have no more nonsense", Adam whispered "For one thing your mother would have been thrilled to bits by what you've achieved, and for another, let's have no more pleadings to be thrashed. It'll only get Julian out of control. You know what he's like, and you're so skinny and fragile I don't think you'd survive one of his specials".

"I'm tougher than I look", said Kieran "I've always said that".

"Perhaps now you might start believing it too", said Adam.

When Kieran filed his official abdication, he made sure that he met with little opposition. His attitude helped, as it brooked no argument. During his absence Gorth had made sure that the Ministry had got used to him being in charge, and as far as the Ministry were concerned they only wanted a President who would not go off on crusades. They wanted someone who would be there all the time, ready to sign papers whenever necessary.

They didn't bargain for the reaction of the public. From the outpouring of dismay and disbelief that greeted his announcement, Kieran began to think that he'd died instead. No one it seemed wanted to go back to the old-style Orwellian image of Ministry life. They had got used to Kieran and his family being there as some kind of inspirational soap opera. Flowers and gifts arrived daily bearing messages begging him to re-consider. The Ministry were appalled and filled with foreboding by this huge display of public emotion.

Kieran though was resolute. Flying in the face of public opinion he ordered celebrations for his retirement and Gorth's accession. The public, never ones to pass up an excuse for a party, threw themselves into it all, but the celebrations were bitter-sweet. On one occasion Kieran took Joby out for a carriage ride around the City. The crowd went wild, as though they'd never seen them before. Kieran and Joby meanwhile lounged in the carriage drinking beer, as though they were tourists enjoying a carriage ride along Blackpool prom.

"Are you determined to show up all Gorth's inadequacies before he even gets into power?" said Joby, as the crowd's cheering rang in his ears.

"Don't know what you mean", said Kieran, waving with his beer-free hand.

"Yes you do", said Joby "He couldn't manage a public relations exercise like this, not without looking a complete prat".

"That's his problem", said Kieran "Serves him bloody well right for being so rotten to Adam whilst we were away. I can't forgive him for that. Not on top of everything Adam was going through".

Back at the Ministry once more Kieran started sorting through their things and packing them into tea-chests. He had just uearthed a stack of old photographs when Adam walked in.

"Oh I know", Adam dabbed his eyes with a handkerchief "I've been going through some old mementoes too. It's such an emotional experience isn't it? Where's Joby gone?"

"Went off in a huff to watch some telly", said Kieran "I think he's worried that if I get much more adulation I'll change me mind and stay. Not much chance of that. The way Gorth's been lately he deserves every bit of beaurocracy he's going to get. Hey, will you look at this!"

He showed Adam an old photograph of himself and Lonts, taken during their circus days, sitting astride a white horse. Both of them were wearing gold satin pants.

"The Swinging Spangle Sisters", Kieran laughed.

"You must let me have it Pats", said Adam.

"With pleasure".

"I shall treasure it. How gorgeous you both look, and so suntanned".

"Funny really", said Kieran "I always look back with pleasure on those days, and yet it was all pretty horrific really. What Gabriel was doing I mean".

"And that awful wagon", said Adam "We even had to pull the bloody thing by hand at one point! You're right. It was a traumatic time, and yet I have fond memories of it. Perhaps it was having the backdrop of Gabriel's Terror that made the good times even more acute. All that danger surrounding us on all sides, and yet I get nostalgic about it all".

"Haven't you got any packing to do Adam?" said Joby, walking into the room.

"I'm allowed time off for good behaviour", said Adam.

"I thought you were watching telly", said Kieran.

"Got bored with it", said Joby "Nothing but endless eulogies about you. It's quite sickening. They didn't have a good word to say about you last week".

"Just human nature I'm afraid", Kieran shrugged.

"If you say so", said Joby "I'll just be glad when we're out of here".

"You are about to discharge your last official duty Kieran", said Ransey, appearing with a wad of files "When you've signed that lot, that's it. All over".

He placed the files on Kieran's desk. Kieran opened the top one and laughed.

"I'm going out with a bang and no mistake", he said "Me last act as President is to sanction the rounding up of all stray dogs, to be put in the official pound! That was Lonts who first got me onto that one".

Kieran signed the papers rapidly and handed the files back to Ransey.

"Right that's it", said Kieran, rubbing his hands enthusiastically "Now the boozing can start in earnest!"

At sunset fireworks were released over the City skies, and wine and beer were served free on the streets. For those that could remember it was all very reminiscent of the night of Kieran's accession. When the City was still filled with the bones of Gabriel's victims, and yet the joy of Kieran's rise to power was so strong.

Kieran ignored the stiff festivities laid on in the official reception rooms. His anger over Gorth's attitude towards Adam during his absence was as acute as ever. Kieran couldn't forgive him. So instead he threw a huge dinner-party for the domestic staff and the guards, and then retired to his room for a private party with his family.

"Lonts has a little present for you Patsy", said Adam, propelling the boy forward, who was hanging his head shyly.

"What have you got for me Lonts?" said Kieran.

Lonts pulled out a potted sunflower from behind his back, and looked sheepishly happy when Kieran went into raptures about it.

"Where did you get that from?" said Joby, sharply "I hope it wasn't my garden".

"From the market", said Adam, indignantly "We went down there first thing, didn't we Lonts?"

"So early the money-pickers were still about", said Lonts.

"The who?" said Kieran.

"The money-pickers", said Adam "Men who earn their living by picking up dropped coins out of the gutters and from the roads. They tend to go out at dawn when it's quiet. Apparently they manage to scrape up enough to be able to exist from it. Although they get very possessive of their own pitches".

"How little I've really known about this place", said Kieran, sadly "Now I'm going there seem to to have been a lot of things I could've done".

"You gave it your best shot Pats", said Adam "And you did everyone proud. All those people out there can't be wrong".

Bouquets and gifts continued to arrive in a steady stream all evening. Although getting steadily more and more inebriated Kieran attempted to read all the messages. Adam meanwhile was in the unenviable position of finding himself to be the only sober member of the party. He was annoyed when he discovered Lonts sitting slumped between Hillyard and Julian on the sofa. Both had been filling his glass with brandy until it was a wonder the boy was still conscious.

"Don't nag, Adam", said Julian "After all that the boy's been through lately he deserves to let his hair down. What there is of it at the moment".

"It's growing back very quickly", said Lonts, crossly.

"Julian's right", said Hillyard, topping up Lonts's glass "Let him enjoy himself".

"I don't like him having more than one", said Adam.

"I really don't understand you", said Julian, tipsily "If he was mine I'd get him drunk every night. Think of the fun you'd have! Such beauty as his shouldn't be sullied by too much wholesome living".

"You lucky old bastard Ad", Hillyard boomed "He's gorgeous".

"At this rate I'll be spending all night changing his nappy and holding his head over the toilet-bowl", said Adam.

"Come and put your arms round me you prickly creature", Julian pulled Adam towards him "And stop treating that boy as though he's six-years-old. Such a waste when you do. He has the sort of looks that have inspired gay geniuses all down the centuries, and you have him all to yourself".

"Right that's it", said Adam, angrily disentangling himself from Julian's grasp "I'm taking Lonts to bed".

"Lucky bastard", said Hillyard, mournfully.

"You always were a party pooper Adam", said Julian.

"Well perhaps if you'd behave yourself I wouldn't be", said Adam.

"I'm glad we're not going to be living at Wolf Castle as well", said Joby.

"Except at Christmas", said Kieran "We'll be staying there then".

"And we can all have an orgy then", said Lonts "Nothing to stop us".

"Say goodnight, Lo-Lo", said Adam, yanking the boy off the sofa.

"Here's to Christmas", said Julian, and he clinked glasses with Hillyard.

"I hope the others aren't too hungover", said Kieran the next morning, as he watched the last of the tea-chests being removed from the room.

"I hope Adam and Julian don't bitch at each other throughout the journey", said Joby "Well, do you have any regrets?"

"No", Kieran smiled, once they were alone again "I just hope I did my best that's all".

"You've been a terrific President", said Joby "You'd have made a good one in our time too. I can imagine you as President of the Irish Republic. You'd keep the worst nutters in the Catholic Church in order".

"I might have been just as bad as them", said Kieran "All those endless debates about the pro's and cons of abortion! At least that's something I've been spared. Anyway, I couldn't have done any of this alone Joby".

"You've been the best", said Joby, softly "They won't forget you in a hurry".

"I just wish I'd left a cleaner slate", said Kieran "After all, the Gorgon's still at large, as are the Ghoomers, and the Slime Man. Oh God, sometimes when I look at it like that I don't seem to have done anything at all".

"And then think what it would have been like for everyone if you hadn't been in power. The vampires would still be around for a start", said Joby, looking round him "I won't be sorry to see the back of this place. I've never liked this room. It's too masculine".

"I know what you mean", said Kieran "Not very homely. All dark wood and heavy silence, and everything functional. Sometimes it reminded me of a vestry. The cottage will be much better".

"Come on then, let's go to it".

The guards opened the doors. Kieran thanked them for watching over him so diligently over the years. By the time he'd finished they were in tears. He and Joby took a final look around the room. Then they linked hands and left.

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