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By Sarah Hapgood

Noah acted fast though, too fast for them. He went towards the music pavilion and hid in the bushes nearby, like a peeping Tom in a public park. For once, Mieps's highly-tuned sense of detection worked against the Indigo-ites. He had sensed Noah's malignant presence nearby and had gone to hunt him down, thrashing a the dense bushes with a stick. Tamaz, never one to miss out on anything if he could help it, had followed him.

"Go back!" Mieps hissed "Do as I say, I can handle this alone".

Noah came flying out of the bushes, dragging what looked like the netting from a tennis court behind him. He punched Mieps in the fact, catching him so by surprise that Mieps lost his balance and fell over. He regained himself quickly and flew at Noah with his fists, but Noah batted him away again with insulting ease.

Tamaz was furious by all this, and tried to help Mieps, even though Mieps, dripping blood from around his eye, screamed at him to run away. Tamaz's rare act of charity was to be his undoing. Noah rammed a handkerchief soaked with chloroform into his mouth, and then flung the netting over him. Increasingly drowsy, Tamaz tried to escape but only succeeded in getting himself increasingly tangled in the netting.

When Tamaz returned to consciousness he found himself lying on a sofa in the saloon on Noah's yacht. He was alone in the room. Apart from a bad taste in his mouth, he felt fine, albeit rather indignant at his rough handling. He got up from the sofa and went straight to the window. To his pleasent surprise he found the boat was still in exactly the same place, on the opposite side of the river to the music pavilion. As such he got even more indignant because no one had resuced him yet! In fact there seemed to be no one nearby but two swans gliding past on the mirror-like surface of the river.

He paced around the room, looking at a collection of portraits on the walls, all depicting a rather unsavoury-looking crowd, mostly androgynous people with malicious expressions and bad skin. The door opened, and a woman with hunched shoulders walked in. She was middle-aged, dark-haired and extremely nervy, with the sort of agitated gestures that included constantly pushing her hair behind her ears.

"Who are you?" Tamaz demanded, brusquely.

"I'm Noah's wife", said the woman, almost apologetically "Ailsha".

"Why the fuck has he brought me here?" said Tamaz "Doesn't he realise the trouble he's bringing on himself?"

"I don't know why he wants you here", the woman bleated "I certainly don't want you here, you ... Thing!"

"You're a fucking Thing too!" said Tamaz, bearing down on her "I've got two sexes, you haven't got any!"

Noah came in, and the woman scuttled out past him, like a crab.

"O.K", said Tamaz "So what's the big idea then?"

"What do you think of your new home?" said Noah, his lips looking blood-red in his white face.

Tamaz was extremely confident that the others would be along to rescue him at any moment, so he was prepared to play along with Noah and his little game. He began to saunter around the room.

"Who are these ugly bunch of jerks then?" he said, indicating the row of portraits "Not your ancestors are they? They look like you".

"I bought those pictures from an auction at the Winter Palace", said Noah "They are Ghoomers".

"Bullshit", said Tamaz "There were no Ghoomers at the Winter Palace!"

"But there were, at one time", said Noah "Many years ago, when the vampires first got supremacy they fell in with some Ghoomers, to try and create a breeding strain with them. It didn't work because, as usual, the vampires were too greedy. Their appetites got the better of them, and they murdered the Ghoomers".

"I don't understand", said Tamaz, thrown off-guard for the first time "Why do you want to keep pictures of them?"

"Because I admire certain traits that the Ghoomers possessed", said Noah "In many ways their attitude was the right one. Survival of the fittest, no room for weakness of any kind, pursuit and determination at all times, and of course, most importantly of all, an amazing ability to breeed. Whole litters at a time. That's why I've brought you here, Tamaz. You've proved to be an exceptional brood-mare".

"You want to breed Ghoomers?" said Tamaz.

"Why not?" said Noah "Inter-raced with humans, it would be an unbeatable combination, and humans on their own can't re-populate the world anywhere near fast enough".

"You want to breed from me?" said Tamaz, faintly.

"You've been asking for it, you little bitch!" said Noah, viciously "All the time I've been watching you, you've been setting yourself up as the ultimate tart, well now's your chance to prove it. After all, you're everybody's plaything aren't you? Joby's, Kieran's, the other Ghoomer's ..."

"I'm Joby's plaything actually", said Tamaz, haughtily "I just let the little blonde guy have me occasionally".

"And now you can show me what I've been missing", said Noah "I have some Ghoomer traits of my own, I enjoy breaking people in".

He went to the door and conferred a moment with a sulky Ailsha, who was hovering nearby outside. He came back with a black satin garment over his arm.

"But I won't have you just any old how", he said "You have to be female. Put this on".

He held out the slinky dress to Tamaz, who was uncomfortably reminded of Father Dalman insisting on the same thing. "Play girlie for me, Tamaz", he used to say "Be a woman".

"Wear it yourself, you kinky bastard!" Tamaz screamed, hurling the dress back at him.

He took advantage of Noah's temporary satin blindness to kick him in the balls, punch him in the stomach and then smote him on the back with his fists. He then ran out of the saloon, shoving a shocked Ailsha out of the way. He clambered clumsily up the steps to the deck and bumped into Joby at the top.

"What took you so long to get here?!" Tamaz wept.

"It took us ages to get across the river", said Joby "Noah's got this town sewn up. No one'd let us have a boat and the bridges are miles apart. Are you alright? Has he done anything to you?"

"Joby", Tamaz burst into tears "I'm o.k. But he wanted to breed from me".

"Jesus Christ", Joby muttered, and hugged Tamaz close "It's alright. We're here. You're safe".

Tamaz became aware that some of the other Indigo-ites had now appeared on deck, as well as Governor Kredd.

"Is he going to be alright?" Kredd asked.

"He will be when we get him home", said Kieran.

"Mieps!" Tamaz exclaimed "Is he ...? Where is he?"

"In hospital", said Joby "S'alright, don't be alarmed. Just cuts and bruises, but we said he should stay in overnight, just to make sure".

"He's furious at you", said Kieran, teasingly "Because you didn't do as you were told, and run off when he said you should".

"He's insisted I give you a hiding in fact", said Julian, who came aboard after Ransey, clutching his horse-whip.

"But you're not going to, are you?" said Tamaz, uncertainly.

"I shall restrain myself on this occasion", said Julain, stroking his hair fondly "The whip's in case Noah gives us any further trouble!"

"I think we should go below and arrest Noah now", said Adam to Kredd "I promised Lo-Lo we would do that immediately!"

Noah was arrested for kidnapping and attempted sexual assault and taken to the Town Constable's office. The Indigo-ites didn't believe for one minute that this was the end of their dealings with him, but they were simply relieved to have Tamaz back in one piece.

Ransey arranged for them to have dinner at the hotel to celebrate. On the way they popped into the hospital to see Mieps, who was sitting up in bed wearing a hospital-issue pyjama jacket, and chucking all the fruit that he didn't consider good enough out of the bowl by his bed. Tamaz was nervous about being near him, convinced he was going to get beaten, but Mieps was gruffly tender with him.

Kieran and Joby went out into the corridor to give them some time alone together, and occupied themselves by counting the telegraph poles along the bleak, flat, empty landscape at the back of the building. They then collected Tamaz and went to the hotel to join the others.

In the bar after the meal, Tamaz sat on one of the sofas, flanked by Lonts and Toppy. All of them were consuming chocolates at a breathtaking speed. Toppy, who had been mixing wine and beer all through dinner and so was now feeling Daring, was blatantly ogling Tamaz's small cleavage so much it was a wonder he didn't fall down it!

"Can't we do something about him?" said Tamaz to Lonts.

"You mustn't be unkind to Toppy, Tamaz", said Lonts "He saved your life that time. If it hadn't been for him you would have been pulled into the swamp, and life would be just terrible now".

"But all he does is stare", said Tamaz "It gets on my nerves. He never does anything else!"

"I can", said Toppy, recklessly.

"Well go on then, surprise us", said Tamaz "Do something".

"Let's go for a swim", said Toppy "Now".

"In the river?" said Lonts.

"No, here", said Toppy "In the ornamental pond out the back there".

"I don't think you're supposed to swim in that, Toppy", said Lonts "I think it's just for show".

"Don't discourage him", said Tamaz "He might never get this spark again. We have to make the most of it".

On the other side of the bar Adam and Julian had been playing backgammon, whilst both being uncomfortably aware that they were being ogled by two elderly women, rich refugees from the City earthquake who had since settled in Krindei.

"I feel like I'm about to be picked up at an over-sixties tea-dance!" said Julian "Can't I swap places with you? I keep catching the eye of the noisy gnome-like one".

"You can hardly expect sympathy from me", said Adam, looking round furtively "That means I'll get the fat, frumpy one who never smiles!"

"She's just shy, my dear", said Julian "You'll have to coax her out of her shell".

"Don't be absurd", said Adam "As soon as I got her out I wouldn't know what to do with her, so I'd be trying to stuff her back in again! Uh-oh, where are the perishers going?"

Lonts, Tamaz and Toppy were trying to surreptitiously sneak out of the room, although it is doubtful Lonts or Tamaz could have done anything without attracting attention! Julian cleared his throat with a conspicuous "ahem!" and they all started guiltily.

"We're just going for a little walk", said Lonts "We're not doing anything".

"I find that very hard to believe!" said Julian.

"Don't leave the vicinity of the hotel", said Adam "We don't know yet if any of Noah's men are plotting a revenge. They've been suspiciously quiet so far".

"We're not going far", said Toppy.

The three younger ones left the room, and the two women boldly came over to join Adam and Julian. Adam recognised the gnome-like woman from the Festival a couple of years ago. He wondered what had happened to her longsuffering husband, and then felt he'd rather not find out!

"My name's Elvira", she said, or rather twanged "And this is my oldest friend, Rosemary".

Adam longed to ask if she meant 'oldest' as in duration of friendship or age. That, combined with the whole absurd situation, induced a lamentable fit of the giggles in him which he desperately tried to stifle.

"My name's Julian", said Julian, suavely, shaking hands with them both "And this is my oldest friend, Adam, who unfortunately is a halfwit!"

Elvira put on her chained spectacles to get a better look at Adam, as though inspecting an odd exhibit in a museum.

"We thought you boys might like to join us in a drink", she said, and indicated with an imperious wave of her hand for a waiter to stagger over with an ice-bucket containing one of the hotel's best wines. Glasses also appeared and the wine was poured out.

"Ain't you joining us?" Elvira asked, as Adam put his hand over his glass.

"I'm afraid alcohol disagrees with me", he said.

"How so?" said Elvira, with the bluntness of a precocious child.

"Once he starts he can't stop", said Julian.

"But surely just one iddy-biddy little glass won't do any harm?" said Elvira.

"If he had one iddy-biddy little glass", said Julian "Before you know it I'd be having to sling him over my shoulder and carry him home!"

Adam was alarmed to see that this thought excited the two women considerably, so much so that the silent Rosemary poured herself the glass which had been intended for him.

"Say, Rosemary", said Elvira "That'll be your 4th glass this evening".

"Fifth actually", said Rosemary, gruffly.

"You boozed-up old broad!" said Julian.

Adam thought this might see the women depart in high dudgeon, but Julian's rather acerbic sense of humour was evidently to their tastes because they both laughed uproariously. In fact in terms of socialising all 3 were well-matched. They all enjoyed boozing and cruel jokes. Adam began to fear he might end up the party-pooper, the wet blanket of the gathering, and he wished he was back in the tent with Lonts.

Lonts though had distractions of his own. He, Tamaz and Toppy had all stripped off completely and were now in the ornamental pond, which was about 4 feet deep. Lonts, being older and larger than the other 2 by some way, felt like a fully-grown bear watching 2 bear-cubs scrapping.

Tamaz and Toppy were engaged in some vigorous foreplay. Toppy wanted to kiss Tamaz, but Tamaz was determined to make him work for it, and kept batting him away. This could have gone on for the rest of the evening, until some of the others came out and ordered them home.

"Are you going to be much longer?" said Tamaz, drowsily.

"N-not ... m-much ... l-longer", said Toppy, pumping away on top of him "I-I ... t-think ... I'm ... n-nearly ... t-there!"

As soon as he became a spent force, Toppy rolled off and flopped back onto his bed-roll. Outside the tent he could vaguely hear the voices of the others. It took him some time to recover from the onslaught on himself, both physically and mentally. Gradually he once more became aware of Tamaz's presence, and felt guilty that he had treated him so brusquely, like a rubber doll.

"I should have said something to him at the end", he thought "Like I love you or something". Although he was bewildered by how he could have managed to remember that at the point of orgasm, perhaps it came with practice. He had dimly been aware of Tamaz pushing him away slightly, so that Toppy wouldn't ejaculate inside him.

"Tamaz", he said, gently "Thank you".

Tamaz didn't reply. Exhausted by the numerous events of the day, he had fallen into a deep sleep.

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