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Machin, Governor of Yzel and Chief Warden of the surrounding national park, had managed to keep his job by promising Kieran some years before that he would never allow anymore illegal hunting on his land. Since Kieran's abdication and subsequent disappearance he had quietly gone back to his old ways. Once more his hunting-parties, usually involving fat businessmen pursuing heavily-doped animals, were the last word for those who wanted "excitement", but not so much that they ever remotely risked any danger to themselves.
On this occasion Machin had taken a large party out to the southern tip of the national park for a stopover safari. There, surrounded by every convenience and comfort presently known to man, they could pretend they were pioneers hitting the trail. Machin was incensed therefore when an unexpected air-buggy suddenly trespassed on his land early one spring evening. His anger had to be kicked grudgingly into unexpected delight when President Gorth emerged from the vehicle, followed by his predecessor. He of the cheekbones and vegetarian persuasion.
Suddenly Machin found that the locked cage, which was originally going to be used to incarcerate captured doped lions, was commandeered instead for Tamaz, who was hurled into it bodily by Julian. A tent was hastily found for Gorth, and Kieran was put into a larger-sized one with the rest of his party. Machin felt he didn't have to pander to Kieran anymore, although he still felt uneasy under his gaze, and he obviously had a lot of influence over Gorth, which boded ill for Machin's future.
Meanwhile Adam was taken to the tent which served as the "field hospital". Pretentious this may have been, since it was there solely to serve as a first-aid post to men whose only affliction was likely to be sunburn or hangovers, but at least it stood them in good stead this time. Adam was put to bed and connected to an oxygen cylinder. He became so bad-tempered about this that Julian ordered all visitors away, and said no one would come to see him again until the morning.
Kieran and Gorth spent a depressing half-hour listening to Machin's wireless. No one in the City was taking the existence of the Ghoomers seriously, and had even dismissed it all as mass hysteria ... brought on by the comet of course. Gorth was not best pleased to hear that he was unpopular again. Members of the public interviewed on an evening current affairs programme condemned his "doing a Kieran" act, and one man even concluded that they had a President who "couldn't put a foot right".
"Oh cheer up Gorth", Kieran sighed "This time next year the sun will be shining out of your port-hole, you'll see".
"How do you make that out?" said Gorth, incredulously.
"Come here, I'll show you".
Kieran led him to the doorway of Machin's tent. From here they could look directly across to the cage, where Tamaz was sitting sullenly on the floor. The boy looked up instinctively in Kieran's direction.
"He can breed", said Kieran, taking Gorth back into the privacy of the tent "He told Ransey so. You have got the chance of a next generation where that boy's concerned".
"Yes", said Gorth "A generation of Ghoomers, hermaphrodites like him".
"It's better than the alternative", said Kieran "Which would be either nothing at all, or the Ghoomers taking over entirely. This way it can be on our terms. And if he does reproduce, the children, hermaphrodites though they might be, can be brought up away from the evil influences of the other Ghoomers. I don't believe anyone is born evil. I think some people become that way through circumstance and environment. Evil producing evil. Like a dog can become mad if its mistreated. And so it's the same with them".
"But what if he's the only Ghoomer we can get control of?" said Gorth "That would mean the next generation would be descended solely from him".
"There's a theory that the entire human race is descended from one woman who walked the plains of Africa", said Kieran "It all has to start somewhere".
"You mean we could be right at the start of it?" said Gorth, excitedly "Instead of being witnesses to the end of the world, we could be witnesses to the beginning?"
"And you could be the one who makes it happen", said Kieran.
"Me?" Gorth gulped "I'll have to .... with THAT?"
"There's artificial insemination, Gorth", Kieran laughed "Don't worry, we won't have to book you into the honeymoon suite".
"But why not you? The legendary sperm of the Vanquisher of Evil".
"That's had to work overtime for the sake of this world ever since I crossed over", said Kieran "Enough's enough. It's not in the public domain anymore, not as far as I'm concerned".
As darkness came on lamps were lit around the camp, and four of the businessmen entertained everyone else by performing a barber-shop style quartet. It was an extremely restful way to conclude the day. So much so that Joby fell asleep whilst listening to them, with his head propped against Lonts's shoulder.
Julian picked his way across the camp, snarling at Ransey as he passed. He was peeved because Ransey was the only one who possessed proper clothes, and the rest of them were still stuck in their night attire.
"Time you were in bed, Lonts", he said, when he came upon Lonts and Joby sitting propped against a tree.
"Go away", said Lonts, crossly "I'm not a baby, I don't have to go to bed just because you say so".
"Adam would tell you exactly the same thing".
"How do you know?"
"I just do. He asked me to look after you whilst he was stuck in the sick bay".
"Oh what are you yelling at?" said Joby, sitting up blearily "I was asleep then".
"Julian's bossing me around", said Lonts "He thinks he's Adam, and he's not!"
"Don't start mixing it, Lonts", said Joby, tiredly "Anyway aren't you exhausted too?"
"A little", said Lonts, who was in fact very tired indeed "I'll go to the tent, but it's to see Hillyard, not to keep Julian happy".
Lonts swept off imperiously. Julian let out a sigh of exasperation.
"Take no notice of him", said Joby "Can't be easy for you, having to try and find a workable relationship with him. I mean, he's not just an awkward stepson, he's your romantic rival too".
"Don't remind me", Julian sat down next to him "Hillyard said to me recently that Lonts is a lot easier to manage now than he was in the early days when you first knew him. All I can say is that he must have been downright impossible then".
"Why do you think we had to keep tying him up?" said Joby "If he wasn't bolting everywhere, he was trying to brain us with pokers! It didn't help that we didn't really know how to handle him. I remember once, when we were travelling to the Freak Colony, he asked me if I wanted to kiss him. I nearly had a nervous breakdown about it! It's a lot easier now, I'm glad to say".
"Would you like to kiss me?" said Julian, suddenly "Oh come on Joby, don't look so poleaxed. You were only too keen the other night, or was that the gin talking?"
"And partly to get Kieran jealous?"
"P-Partly", Joby stammered "Partly a lot of things really. Why do you want me?"
They leaned towards each other and sought each other's mouths. They both had the irrational feeling that they were getting forbidden fruit, which made it all the more electrifying.
"Meet me round the back of the conveniences", Julian whispered, and Joby nodded consent.
"Oh that's real romantic that is", Kieran exclaimed "I thought you might have had more style than that, Julian".
"How long have you been standing there?" said Julian, sounding scandalised.
"Long enough to get the gist of this sordid little scene", said Kieran.
"Sordid?" said Julian "How dare you!"
"Joby, go to the tent", said Kieran "If you want to be treated like a tart, I'll do just that".
"You are right over the line, you know that?" said Joby, jabbing his finger at Kieran.
"Wrong, you are!" said Kieran.
Joby flapped his hands in dismay and trudged back to the tent. He passed Gorth, who was asleep in a deckchair outside his own canvas abode. Joby suddenly envied him his bachelor life.
"Why's everyone coming home in such a bad mood?" said Hillyard, who was sipping cocoa in his bath-robe outside their communal shelter.
"Lonts hates Julian", said Joby "And I hate Kieran. I'm not that keen on you either".
"You love me really", said Hillyard "You're mad about me, crazy about my body".
"Yea, it makes a good draught excluder", said Joby, retreating under canvas.
Adam lay impatiently in his hospital camp-bed, listening to the sounds of the camp-site waking up to another day. The doctor had already looked at him, and said he would be fine, provided he didn't get stressed out about anything, as he had recently. Adam had replied tartly that it was pretty hard not to get stressed out when you were fleeing through the snow in fear of your life.
"Well there's no need for a repeat of that", the doctor had replied, casually "There have been no sightings of any so-called Ghoomers outside the Thet Mountain area, and the sightings in that region haven't been as frequent as they were".
"I sometimes think the outside world isn't going to believe in the Ghoomers until they march round the Ministry square", said Adam.
"Your breakfast will be here shortly", said the doctor, as though talking to a fractious octogenarian in an old people's home "You'll feel better after eating".
Joby appeared bearing a breakfast tray after the doctor had left. Adam greeted him rapturously.
"Egg and bacon", said Joby, proudly placing the tray on Adam's knees "You haven't had that in a while, and it's nice to see so much sunshine about isn't it? I didn't think I'd ever feel warm again after this past winter, but it's lovely out there. Lonts wanted to come in straightaway, but I thought you'd like your breakfast in peace without him clambering all over you. Why are you looking at me like that? Have I suddenly grown mould on my face or something?"
"No I'm just relieved you're not covered in bruises after last night's confrontation", said Adam.
"You're heard about that?" said Joby, in astonishment.
"I'm not completely out of earshot of the jungle drums in here", said Adam "Julian's been up to his old tricks again from the sound of things".
"It was just as much my fault", said Joby, sitting down on the edge of the bed "I wasn't exactly kicking him in the teeth".
"You fickle little hussy", said Adam "After you and Patsy had made things up too".
"He was fucking furious with me", said Joby "God, I was so embarrassed back at the tent when he started on me. Of course I had to laugh about it, but I could've killed him ..."
"Hang on, you're missing out the best bit. What did Patsy do?"
"He pushed me over the back of the chair and whacked me on the backside with a rolled-up copy of the 'Huntsman's Helper'".
"I miss all the best entertainment being stuck in here", said Adam "I'm surprised you let him, Joby".
"I didn't have much choice!" said Joby "He'd chucked my robe over my head so I spent most of the time trying to fight me way out again. And all the time he was bawling at me like Ian Paisley on speed! I was muffled up so I couldn't make out what he was saying. When I finally got out again he says 'I hope you've taken in everything I've said dog's breath'. Well I hadn't heard a word of it! I wasn't going to say so though in case he started again. So I just nodded".
"Oh Joby you poor thing", Adam giggled "You must've been so embarrassed".
"Only 'cos it was in front of Lonts. He thought it was a scream, laughed his ruddy head off. And Hillyard said it was all worth it just to get a prolonged look at my bum".
"You're a right little exhibitionist on the quiet", said Adam "I'm very proud of you".
"Are you?" Joby exclaimed.
"You took it a lot better than I would've done".
"Thought you'd be used to it from your schooldays, and some of the antics you get up to with Julian", said Joby.
"Maybe, but I wouldn't have been too pleased if he'd done it in public like Patsy did".
"Oh it was quite funny really, and it didn't hurt in the slightest", said Joby "Being the bad boy makes up for him and Hillyard's smug antics, and Hillyard thinks I'm some kind of sex god, getting up to all this cheekiness with you and Julian".
"I'm going to start feeling sorry for Patsy at this rate", said Adam.
"I wonder why Julian's never got his end away with Hillyard", said Joby "Funny that, considering what they're both like".
"Perhaps they just don't fancy each other", Adam shrugged "Julian's never shown much interest in Hillyard in that way, which is probably a merciful relief, as the pair of them are nothing but trouble".
"How's the invalid?" said Kieran, appearing in the doorway.
"Good morning Patsy", said Adam, cheerily.
"I thought I'd come and see how me best friend was getting on", Kieran walked up to the side of the bed and sat down "Or me only friend I should say".
"I'm surprised you've got any the way you carry on", said Joby.
"Sometimes it's like being back at Henang, listening to you two", said Adam "There you did nothing but quarrel all day. It was a blessing when you both fell asleep at night. Can't you make a tiny effort to get on?"
"Joby's a tart", said Kieran.
"And he's a sanctimonious boring git", Joby replied "When we built that cottage I thought it'd be fun living with him, like the old days. But oh no, I find I'm living with St Francis of Assisi instead".
"Yes alright, give it a rest!" Adam exclaimed.
"Adam!" Lonts yelled from the doorway. He bounded over to the bed and flung himself at the older man, kissing his face all over.
"It's wonderful to see you Lo-Lo", Adam laughed, helplessly "But I'll need those respirators again if you don't climb off my chest".
"I'm so glad to see you're alright, Adam", said Lonts "I couldn't bear it if you died and I got left with Julian".
"I would never inflict that fate on you", said Adam "It'd be far too cruel, and I adore you too much".
Kieran left the tent abruptly and stalked in the direction of the perimeter fence, which bordered the area where most of the more dangerous animals roamed.
"What's the matter with you now?" said Joby, as he caught up with him "You've only got yourself to blame you know, if Lonts is better company than you. I even find him better company than you a lot of the time".
"You're just being cruel now, Joby", Kieran muttered.
"Oh you're no bleedin' fun at all", Joby walked away and paced down the line of the perimeter fence. Kieran followed him closely, inspecting his fingers anxiously and trying desperately to think of something to say that wasn't self-righteous, saintly, long-suffering, smacking of martyrdom, accusatory or boring.
Joby halted suddenly and Kieran cannoned into the back of him.
"I think it's all your mother's fault", said Joby.
"What's my mother got to do with it?" said Kieran.
"Well she always made out you was something special, spoilt you rotten".
"That was just her way", said Kieran "It wasn't easy for her bringing me up alone and trying to run a business. Anyway I didn't turn out to be so-o-o awful ... did I?"
"Not always. I just wish you'd lighten up a bit occasionally".
"I will, I promise. Now I'm no longer President ..."
"You've been saying that for years", said Joby "And then as soon as we get the cottage you go all peculiar on me".
"That was because of the comet", said Kieran "I was convinced it was the end of the world. It will be different now though, Joby".
"How? Haven't you got to help Gorth with his 'make him popular somehow' campaign?"
"That'll just be something to do whilst the dust clears in our region, and we get the Ghoomers under control", said Kieran "Are you going to stay angry with me for long?"
"No, I'm just fed up that's all", said Joby, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his robe "There can't be many refugees who've been left with as little as we have. All I've got is this old dressing-gown, and it's not even mine, not really. I nicked it from that hotel in Husgalonghi".
"We'll get all our things back soon", Kieran tentatively slipped his arm through Joby's.
"I'm not sure I wanna forgive you yet", said Joby "Not after what you did to me last night".
"I happen to think you deserve better than a quick hand-job round the back of a public convenience", said Kieran "And if I over-reacted it's because it brought back bad memories, with Amy and all that. Anyway, I don't want you getting mixed up with Julian. He's great for looking after Adam and helping him with Lonts, but where carnal matters are concerned I don't trust him as far as I could throw him".
"He wouldn't have hurt me".
"You don't know that, Joby".
"Are you serious?" said Joby "but he told me once ..."
"Never mind what he told you. That man would lie like the very devil if he thought he was going to get something out of it".
"But Adam trusts him with Lonts".
"Julian knows it'd be more than his life's worth to push his luck with Lonts", said Kieran "He's come up against Adam's temper once before, remember? You're too trusting Joby, you always were".
That day Gorth announced that the Ministry were going to send a contingent out to collect them and begin formalising tactics to control the Ghoomers. Quite what the Ghoomers were currently up to was anyone's guess, as they were conspicuously absent from any news bulletins. This very absence made everyone uneasy. If the Ghoomers disappeared back underground then it would be very difficult indeed to round them up.
"Just one more night here", said Gorth "And then back to the safety of the City. We can leave the Elite Squad to deal with the Ghoomers".
Everyone badly wanted to believe it would be as simple as this, but the very simplicity of it made them feel uneasy. When night fell most of them retreated to bed, but sleep was hard to attain. Joby went out to the lavatory at one point and was disturbed to meet Julian there, someone whom he had successfully managed to avoid being alone with all day. He flinched when Julian put his hand on Joby's neck.
"Don't", said Joby, sidestepping awkwardly.
"Blowing cold now are we?" said Julian "I don't think I can put up with your little idiocies for much longer. I might be forced to simply take".
"Oh in your dreams", said Joby.
"Only trying a little talk to get you excited", Julian smiled, patting Joby's neck roughly "Has Adam been saying things to you about me?"
"No, it was Kieran. I don't wanna upset him anymore".
"Whyever not? From what I've heard of last night's activities Tinkerbell in wronged spouse mode can be quite exciting".
"Once was quite enough thanks", said Joby "And I want me and him to have it quiet for a while".
"Perhaps one day I'll have to get you drunk again".
"I don't think so".
"We'll see", he kissed Joby on the lips and left.
Julian walked around the camp for a little while, trying to find something to distract him. Tamaz was pacing up and down his cage like a panther. On seeing Julian he stopped and shrank back against the bars behind him. The sudden hunted look in the boy's eyes was more than enough to satisfy Julian. Terror could be such a turn-on.
"I'd better go and let you get some rest", said Kieran "You must be sick of visitors today".
"I wish you'd climb in here with me", said Adam, tugging at his friend's hand "I get so horribly lonely in the sick bay all by myself".
"Yes, but you need the peace and quiet me ole darlin'", said Kieran "Anyway I'd better keep an eye on Joby. If I turn me back for five minutes more he might be shagging Hillyard or something".
"You sound a bit more like your old self".
"I was a prat earlier wasn't I?" said Kieran "I try very hard not to get jealous of Lonts, but I can't help feeling sometimes that he's the boy I once was to you".
"I see you both as two entirely separate entities", Adam squeezed Kieran's hand "Two gorgeous men I am very privileged to call my own".
Kieran kissed him lingeringly and then left the sick bay without another word. Adam coughed and turned onto his side, intending to settle down for the night. The doctor had left a lamp burning low on the table, and Adam gazed at its flame meditatively. He was nearly jolted out of his skin when he saw a shape emerge from the shadows.
"Calm down", said Julian "I came in through the other door. Didn't want to risk bumping into Tinkerbell, in case he took a copy of the 'Horse and Hound' to me or something".
"Go away Jules, I'm tired", said Adam, as he rolled over to face in the opposite direction "And you've got that look on your face that says you've been up to no good. I've seen it many times before".
"I don't think you really want me to leave", said Julian "I think you want me to spend the night here with you. You can't really order me to leave anymore than you ever could".
"Always so damn sure of yourself".
"I could sort out that foul chest of yours in no time at all if you'd only let me", said Julian "The doc said earlier a lot of it was due to stress. Endless worrying about your cute boys in other words".
"Strange", said Adam "I put it down to too many cigars and sleeping in damp places myself. And how on earth can the great Julian halt the decline of my chest?"
Julian rolled Adam onto his back and pinned his arms to his sides.
"Let me take care of you", he said "If Wolf Castle if out of bounds for good I'll get us a place in the City. You'll still see your cute boys but you'll ..."
"Do everything you say", Adam concluded for him.
"You have never been happier than when obeying me", said Julian "I lift all that hideous responsibility from your shoulders".
"God knows how many times I fantasised about you doing that years ago", Adam whispered "I used to dream of opening my door and finding you standing there".
"And how bitterly I regret never doing that".
"No, it all worked out right in the end. I'd have adored you too much, and you'd have gone back to ill-treating me. And I'd never have known the others. But I do want you here now. I just don't want to hear about you tormenting someone else. Don't tangle with Joby. Please stay away from him".
"You're afraid I'll hurt him?"
"You have no idea what goes on inside his mind", said Adam "He's so intense, Jules. I know that if he lost Patsy, he might well kill himself".
"Yes and I don't want that on my conscience", said Julian.
"This is how I imagine my last night will be", Adam smiled, sadly "Will you sit with me then?"
"It won't come to that", said Julian, firmly.
"Promise me, Jules. You've been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Even when we were apart I never stopped thinking of you, and think of the huge chance of fate that threw us together again. I want you to be with me at the end".
"Stop it Adam!" said Julian, tearfully "Joby's not the only one who's intense. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you".
"I'm sorry, Jules", Adam cupped his friend's face gently in his hands "I do understand. Really I do".
"Then stop talking in such a fatalistic way. You've got a ropey chest that's all. You always were such a great drama queen".
"I know. Still at least we don't have those hideous quarrels anymore", said Adam "The ones that used to go on half the night, or even until dawn sometimes".
"I'm fully tempted to have a repeat performance", said Julian "After you putting me through the emotional wringer just now, with all your fatalistic talk of dying. Move over and make some room for me".
Julian peeled off his robe and clambered onto the bed alongside him.
"I didn't say all that just to upset you, Jules", said Adam.
"Good. Because if I found out you did I'd give you a sound thrashing and no mistake".
"You've always resented being gay haven't you, Jules?" said Adam "I think perhaps you should really have been one of those chauvinistic businessmen with a rich but downtrodden wife, and a mistress for each day of the week".
"Very possibly", said Julian "But I wouldn't have known you then. And what makes you say I resent it anyway?"
"The fact that at times you seem to hate men so much".
"No I don't. It's just I enjoy being rotten to some men, they bring it out of me. You used to be the same from what I remember. Now go to sleep", Julian slapped Adam's rump.
Adam spent the night with Julian lying close to his back, and he was more than a little annoyed when daylight came and they had to move apart once more.
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