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They went back to the Town House. At first they had considered the monastery because of its remoteness and isolated position, and had then decided against it for those very same reasons. It was safer to be in the centre of town. No one felt too inclined to go to Woll's either. It was too much like going back to living with your parents after having had a place of your own! The Town House at least was all theirs. No one else lived in it but them. There were no servants to watch them and gossip about them, and no Codlik to lecture them on good behaviour.
Once they were back here though, a week before Christmas, they were hit with the unavoidable question of "What do we do now?" In spite of all their best efforts, the FFF were winning. Even though Hillyard had made considerable headway in buying up large chunks of Krindei, and even though Noah had been proven to be an unscrupulous thug with an unsavoury admiration for Ghoomers, the FFF were still winning! Still managing to turn the tables to their own advantage.
Kieran went for lengthy walks around the town, enjoying the anonymity which the December river-fogs gave him. His last (and in his opinion, most valued) piece of Ministry power had been taken from him. He had saved Tamaz using it once before, he couldn't do so now. Legal ways of defending themselves were now out of the question. They had to rely on their own initiative. Kieran knew he could count on a lot of goodwill in Toondor Lanpin, especially from the women (Myrtle had even sent round a hamper of fruit to them as a mark of her support), and if necessary they would support him and his own with bloodshed, but he was desperate for it not to come to that.
News of all the Krindei incidents had reached Codlik, and he sent well-meaning but rather waspish telegraph messages to them, urging them to go back to Woll's for their own safety. Adam sent replies back thanking him for his concern, but adding that they couldn't leave Toondor Lanpin at the present time.
Joby often joined Kieran on his foggy rambles, but Tamaz was ordered to stay in the house at all times. One afternoon Hillyard found Tamaz sobbing in the pantry, extremely drunk after having consumed most of their beer supply. He pleaded not to be sent to prison, and Hillyard suggested he take him up to bed instead. He carried him upstairs, removed his top clothing, and then tucked him under the eiderdown. Hillyard sat in the armchair by the bed until he was certain Tamaz was asleep, and then went out to find Kieran and Joby.
At 20-past-11 that night Tamaz woke up to find himself alone in the room. He was nervous that the others weren't home yet. He wrapped himself in a quilt and went out onto the landing. The house had its distinctive late-night feel, and it was always comforting to know you were never alone in it. From the top of the stairs, Tamaz could see the dining-room door standing slightly ajar. A lamp was still burning in there, and he could hear the clowns talking softly. He went up the next flight of stairs and found Julian lying in bed, reading.
"Hello Freaky", he said "Can't you sleep?"
"Where are Joby and Kieran and Hillyard?" said Tamaz "I woke up and they're still not back".
"Probably still in the 'Mermaid' or at Persephone's", said Julian, closing his book and putting it on the bedside table "Don't worry, they'll be home soon. Why don't you slip in here until they get back?"
Tamaz let the quilt slip from his shoulders to the floor, and then climbed in next to Julian.
"W-what if everyone in this town decided to support the FFF?" said Tamaz "And told Kieran he had to turn me over to them. What would you do?"
"We would all run away", said Julain, putting his arm round him "The world is a big place. Look at all the places the Ministry never got wind of. I'm sure the FFF would be no better".
"But you'd have to spend the rest of your lives running", said Tamaz.
"So what else is new?" said Julian "Do you really think we'd have a better life knowing you were in some shit-hole of a prison, being mauled by a bunch of seedy troglodytes? We stick together, all of us".
"He's asleep upstairs with Julian", said Hillyard, returning to the first floor landing, where Kieran and Joby were sitting side-by-side on the wooden settle there "Probably best not to move him".
"You're right", said Kieran, rising to his feet "Come on, Joby. It's been a long day, and I'm shattered!"
Joby was dismayed to see that Hillyard showed every sign of wanting to follow them into their room. He too was exhausted, and didn't feel like spending the next few hours fending off Hillyard's advances.
"But Tamaz is in my place", Hillyard protested "I have to sleep somewhere!"
"Try the sofa then", said Joby.
"Toppy sleeps on it these days", said Hillyard.
"The floor in Mieps's room then", said Kieran "If it's good enough for ex-Presidents like Codlik it's good enough for you!"
Hillyard muttered curses, but dragged spare blankets and pillows out of the linen chest.
"I keep hoping", said Joby, when he and Kieran were lying together in the dark "That the FFF'll be happy with Krindei, and leave the rest of us alone. But human nature don't work that way does it? So much for a bleedin' new era of peace and prosperity! No one told us it would be under Nazi conditions!"
"It won't be", said Kieran, propping up on his elbow to look down at him "This is just a final test that God is sending us to test whether we really want the New Era or not. Don't tut and roll your eyes like that!"
"I will!" said Joby "You've said yourself that God doesn't test people, He's not vindictive like that, and now here you are going on about tests!"
"That isn't quite how I meant it", said Kieran "I meant that for the New Era to work all the eejits like the FFF have to be winkled out of the woodwork once and for all. We can't all get stuck into it, only to have them secretly grow in power and disrupt us in a few years time. If this New Era is to work, everyone has to prove themselves worthy of it, and the only way they can do that is by fighting to attain it. If they're worthy of it they won't let the FFF get in the way of things".
"Yeah but how to destroy 'em?" said Joby, despondently "That's the question. They seem to know all the moves".
"Leave it to me", said Kieran "I'll think of something".
"It shouldn't be left up to you!" Joby exclaimed "God, I haven't felt this helpless since Gabriel had us prisoner!"
"Ach now, that's no way to talk", said Kieran "Hey, what's this?"
He groped under Joby's pillow and pulled out a pair of Tamaz's drawers, a particularly fetching pair, made largely of coffee-coloured lace.
"They get everywhere", Joby groaned.
"These are me favourites too!" Kieran laughed.
The door creaked open a little and Tamaz crept stealthily into the room. He got onto the bed and slipped in between them.
"I heard your voice", he said "Where have you been til now?"
"Well we had a drink at Persephone's", said Kieran "Then we walked around a bit, and then we went to the 'Mermaid', where they were having a wee sing-song. A right racket it was too!"
"That piano of theirs needs re-tuning", said Joby "Actually I think it needs dumping. I'd chuck it on the scrap-heap if I was them".
"I think about one chord in 3 worked", said Kieran "Now you're here that means poor old Hillyard will have to sleep on Mieps's floor for nothing!"
"Good!" said Joby.
A horrendous hammering broke out below, followed by a deep and ominous thump-thump-thump, as though someone was trying to knock away the entire front structure of the house. Joby jumped out of bed and twitched back the curtain at the window.
"It's them isn't it?" said Kieran "It's the FFF".
"Shit, they're trying to push the front door down!" said Joby "The street outside's full of 'em!"
Tamaz let out a squeal of terror. Kieran got out of bed and pulled on an old nightshirt that he used in place of a dressing-gown.
"Tamaz", he said, firmly "You go back upstairs to Julian's room".
"And what fucking good's that gonna do?" said Tamaz, frightened and angry "Those wankers are going to get me, and one extra shitty little flight of stairs isn't going to stop them!"
"GO UPSTAIRS!" Kieran bellowed.
Out on the landing Julian and Ransey were checking guns. Adam directed Lonts to go upstairs with Tamaz and to try and keep him calm.
"We'd better go and see what they want", said Julian "Before they tear the front door off its hinges".
Joby ran down the stairs yelling "Bastards! Bastards! BASTARDS!" at the top of his voice.
"Bengo", said Julian, when they all reached the bottom of the stairs "Open the front door".
"Me?" said Bengo, queasily.
"Open it, but stay behind it", said Julian "The rest of us will be the reception committee".
Bengo slid open the bolts and then grasped the big brass handle in his hand. Julian and Ransey waited pensively with their guns raised.
"Be prepared for the fact that they might open fire immediately", Ransey whispered.
"Thank you", said Julian, caustically "But that morale-boosting thought had already crossed my mind!"
As the doors opened Noah was revealed to be at the head of his group, standing on the top doorstep. He was carrying a gun.
"We do not wish to cause unnecessary bloodshed", he said "But I have to inform you that as from now, this entire town is under our law. We do not wish you harm, provided you hand over the Ghoomer freak".
"What do you want him for?" said Julian.
"We intend to take his ovaries", said Noah, which wasn't quite what they were expecting to hear "We are going to put them into a female human carrier and breed from him. Ghoomers can repopulate the world quicker. And under our care they will be civilised".
"And what happens to Tamaz after he's been de-ovaried?" said Julian.
"He will be killed", said Noah, succintly "Wild, uncivilised creatures such as him have no place in the new Foundation society. I strongly advise you to hand him over. If you don't we shall be obliged to storm this house and use force, which would be regrettable for you".
Kieran stepped up close to him, so close that they could almost have touched one another without using their hands. Noah jabbed his revolver into Kieran's belly.
"Over my dead body", Kieran whispered, feeling the nozzle of the revolver pressing into him "If you wish to take him you will have to kill me first. Now. Here. In front of the entire town".
Because the entire town had gathered now, alerted by all the noise. Kieran though could only think of one thing, and that was that Noah was mad enough and determined enough to kill him. That he, Kieran, could die like this, shot on his own doorstep in front of the entire town. It was hardly the dignified death-bed scene that most people hope for. But one thought went thorugh his head persistently. If Noah did kill him, then Noah would not survive either. He would be torn to pieces by the crowd. Torn to pieces ... such a bizarre thing to do to a human being when you stopped to think about it. The mysterious Pope Joan was said to have been Torn To Pieces by the crowd, when she unexpectedly went into labour during a procession.
"If you kill me", said Kieran, softly "Then you will not survive the night either. You will not see another sunrise. That I swear".
All Kieran's years in the public eye now paid off. He knew full well what he must look like to the people (literally) in the street. Standing there in the doorway with his bony arms sticking out of his baggy nightshirt, his fair hair all in a mess.
Suddenly Persephone came up behind Noah and jammed a rusted scythe from her outhouse into his shoulder. It didn't kill him, he merely looked round in a dazed kind of pain. Persephone seemed even more shocked by it than he was. She let go of the scythe and fell back against the railings. The most obvious thing now was that no one had tried to stop her, not any of Noah's supporters had tried to apprehend the woman marching towards him with an old but still very sharp implement.
"Finish him off", Julian hissed to Ransey "Finish him off or we'll never be free of him".
"No, it's make a martyr of him!" Kieran protested.
"Rather a dead martyr revered by a few misguided nutters", said Julian "Than a psychotic dangerous madman at large for years to come!"
"That was the last time", said Ransey, after having shot Noah between the eyes "I know I've said it before, but I mean it".
Ransey went up to Kieran and cuffed him round the back of the head.
"And don't you ever do that to me again!" he said.
"Hillyard", said Julian "Run to the hospital and fetch someone to take the body away".
Hillyard went as he was, in his bath-robe. Julian turned to face the remaining FFF.
"Looks rather as though you should all come in and have a drink", he said.
Kieran and Joby went upstairs, obstensibly to fetch Lonts and Tamaz, but they halted on the first-floor landing, and flopped tiredly onto the carved wooden settle there. Below them the hall was filling up with a mass of humanity, everyone talking at once. It was open house time, and the noise was deafening.
"I never seem to have a hankie on me when it's needed", said Joby "I'll go and fetch you some bog-roll".
"No, it's o.k", Kieran wiped his teary face on the hem of his nightshirt "I'll be fine in a minute".
"Ransey was right", said Joby "You shouldn't have done that. I don't think my heart's started beating again yet!"
"I had to do it!" said Kieran "I kept thinking of how broken you would have been if anything had happened to Tamaz".
"I wouldn't have been in the best of spirits if anything had happened to you either!" said Joby "Is it over now, Kiel? All the FFF rubbish, I mean".
"I expect so", said Kieran "Although I've learnt never to take anything for granted. We've seen too many people killed, Joby".
"You could argue the likes of Noah ask for it", said Joby "They insist on taking on the world and telling everyone what to do, well they can't expect everyone else to just let 'em get away with it".
"I'm ashamed to say I wasn't thinkng of the world at the time", said Kieran, quietly "Just you, and all you've ever been to me, and how I'll do anything, anything, to make you happy. That, plus the fact that life without Tamaz would seem very flat!"
"How the hell do people cope when someone they love gets killed?" said Joby "Killed at the hands of some evil, unscrupulous thug, I mean. How do they go on?"
"I don't know", said Kieran "The human spirit is an amazing thing, it's programmed first and foremost for survival and endurance, and at the moment that's all I can say".
They went up to the next floor, where they found Lonts and Tamaz both hiding under Julian's bed, along with Julian's brandy decanter.
"What's going on?" said Lonts, shakily "We heard a gunshot".
"Noah's dead", said Joby, crouching down on his haunches "Ransey shot him".
"There's a lot of noise downstairs", said Tamaz, his eyes seemed to have got larger and darker with excess crying.
"Most of the town's here", said Joby.
"Including the remaining FFF", said Kieran "But don't be alarmed. We don't think they mean us any harm anymore".
"You don't think!" said Lonts, indignantly "That's not good enough, Kieran! Even now with Noah dead ..."
"I think that's why Julian's invited them in here", said Kieran "If we had just sent them away or had 'em arrested, they would have enough grievances against us to last into the next century! As it is ... well we can try and persuade them of a better way".
"Come out from under there", said Joby, wearily "Anyone'd think there was an air-raid going on!"
"We felt safer under here", said Lonts, sliding out.
Both he and Tamaz emerged. Kieran took Julian's vastly depleted brandy decanter from them. A lot of hugging and kissing between the 4 of them ensued.
"I can't go downstairs like this", said Lonts, looking down at his nappy under his bath-robe "Joby, you'll have to help me off with it".
"You haven't done anything in it have you?" said Joby, warily.
"No!" said Lonts.
Kieran grabbed one of Hillyard's t-shirts from the back of a chair and helped Tamaz into it.
"All safe's now", said Kieran "If it wasn't I wouldn't take you down there".
Aside from the FFF, the living-room seemed to be full of the Little Theatre crowd. They had been having an after-show party, in honour of one of the chorus-girls, whose birthday it was. They had heard about the trouble at the Town House, and had gone there instantly.
"I don't understand you people at all", said one of the older chorus-girls, a brassy-looking blonde who didn't bear close scrutiny during daylight hours, but who looked quite passable after midnight (and a few drinks). She was sitting on the arm of one of the chairs, tipsily berating one of the FFF "What do you wanna go shutting us ladies in camps for?" she went on "We had enough of being shut away out of sight in the old days, having to hide in the tunnels everytime the Ministry visited the town. And now you wanna go locking us away again! It's not on I say".
"It was Noah's idea", said the man, helplessly "It was his scheme to repopulate the world".
"If you ask me it's repopulating itself quite quickly enough without your help!" she said.
"Yes, but Noah felt it should be under controlled conditions", said the FFF man "To make sure we were breeding a race worthy of the New Era".
"Made up of Ghoomers?" said the woman, dubiously.
"He also had economic reasons for his beliefs", said the FFF man, more insistently "There was a real fear that women would take men's jobs. It seemed more balanced to keep women doing what nature intended them to do".
"And the rest of us have to work all the time?" said Zooks, shocked "Whether we like it or not?"
"Codlik used to witter on about full employment when he was President", said Julian.
"Such a lot of nonsense", said the elderly chorus-girl "The idea that everyone wants to work! Some don't, and why should they? Give the jobs to the people that want them, I say. What's the point of forcing a job on someone if they don't really want it? It only means it won't get done properly. I wouldn't want to be treated by a doctor who didn't really want to be a doctor! It wouldn't instil me with much confidence!"
"It seemed clearer Noah's way", said the FFF man "More balanced. More fair".
"Whipping out Tamaz's ovaries and then slaughtering him?" said Julian "You have a unique view of fairness I must say!"
"The Ghoomer plan was all Noah's idea", said the FFF man "None of the rest of us shared the same enthusiasm for it. I think to be honest, he had an obsession with Ghoomers. He read everything he could about them, he collected those awful pictures. And he was definitely obsessed with Tamaz. He used to say 'I want to yank his bloomers down and see his tail for myself'".
The elderly chorus-girl gave a shudder.
"I think to some men, dubious men", she said "An hermaphrodite would be the ideal partner!"
"Joby, you're a dubious man!" said Julian, much to the chorus-girl's embarrassment.
"Yeah", said Joby, with great indifference. He was sitting in the corner with Tamaz. He had heard all the comments about how strange he must be to love an hermaphrodite before (mostly from Glynis), and he wasn't interested in hearing them again, not on this evening of all evenings.
The party though was a great success. The Indigo-ites kept open house all night, and no one in the town seemed to sleep. The men of the FFF drank, and said that some of their ideas hadn't been Too Bad, and they they had simply wanted to belong somehwere, and the Foundation had answered that need. Inevitably, many were nervous of women, and had rather liked all Noah's ideas about compulsory impregnating, and of keeping women solely for breeding purposes. They were like sad, aggressive little boys, who had been kept in military detention since birth, and who were consequently jealous and resentful of the diversions enjoyed by those in the outside world.
Adam preferred talking to Hawkefish, who was letting off more steam about his new scriptwriter (a middle-aged balding man with a beard who had also come to the party).
"He wanted to do a play based loosely on the home-life of you people", said Hawkefish "Wanted to call it 'Queers', as apparently that is accepted Ministry-speak, being in his words 'fashionable and yet approving at the same time'".
"Has he got far with it?" said Adam "And can we sue him?"
"He's abandoned it for the time being", said Hawkefish "Says you aren't fun-loving enough. He wanted to show a bunch of homosexual men endlessly partying and having orgies".
"Lo-Lo would approve!" Adam snorted with laughter.
"His remarks were that people had had enough of worthy dramas trying to depict 'queers' as responsible, ordinary adults", said Hawkefish "And he wanted to emphasise the decadent side of 'queers'. I do loathe these trendy do-gooders when they're trying to be daring! Anyway dear boy, you lot have failed badly in his estimation".
"We don't live first and foremost as homosexuals I suppose", said Adam "I mean, I don't wake up in the morning and think 'oh what a hoot, I'm a roaring queer, what outrageous thing shall I do first?!' I normally have to listen to Lo-Lo grumbling that he's hungry and he wants his breakfast! But then again, I suppose plays about elderly gay men cooking meals and washing nappies wouldn't be terribly enthralling. I can't see them queuing round the block for it anyway".
"They wouldn't queue round the block for anything he's written!" Hawkefish exclaimed, with understandable bitchiness "Anyway dear boy, I've been presented with another of his little masterpieces. I shall bring it round sometime, and ask Bardin to look it over. I value his professional opinion".
"How is Zooks shaping up these days?" said Adam.
"He's competent", said Hawkefish "But a dreadful whinger. Give us interminable lectures on how traumatic a clown's inner life can be, and says that his career has categorically not been worth the sacrifices he has had to make for it".
"Oh dear", said Adam, thinking that Hawkefish had fairly prone to this kind of thing himself from time to time.
"Take no notice, dear boy", said Hawkefish "It is all posturing. The peril of our profession is that it is sometimes impossible to tell when one's feelings are real, or when one is still acting! I rather get the impression Zooks is trying to live up to the image of the tragic, lonely clown, that is when he's not playing the role of the extravagent, hedonistic actor of course!"
At 10-to-4 Toppy went into the kitchen to begin preparing fish-cakes for breakfast. The Town Constable had also joined the gathering by now, and was sitting at the table in hopeful anticipation of the food, when Hillyard burst into through the back door, with fresh alcohol supplies from Persephone's bar.
"Good job you're not a stickler for the licensing hours!" said Hillyard to the Constable, who wouldn't have had a chance to say anything anyway, as Hillyard moved smartly into the living-room.
"Let us celebrate!" he cried "Toondor Lanpin is the centre of the Universe, the capital of the world!"
Adam though was fast beginning to wish everyone would go home. He was exhausted by the night's events, and understandably out of sorts because, as usual, he was the only one in the entire gathering who couldn't drink. At around the time Toppy was cooking the breakfast, Adam had got sandwiched in the corner between Madame Simone and Lady Lucasta, and he wasn't feeling energetic enough to keep up with their conversation.
"Why didn't you come and rescue me?" he snapped at Julian, when he had finally managed to escape across the room.
"Why on earth should I?" said Julian "They're a harmless pair of old biddies".
"No they're not, they're a thoroughly poisonous pair of old biddies!" said Adam "And it's no wonder that you get on so well with them!"
"It never fails", said Julian "Ever since I can remember you've always managed to pick a fight with me at a party. You should never be allowed to go to them, they don't agree with you! What have they said to upset you?"
"They were listing the weirdest things that their male punters request when they go to see them", said Adam "And they say the weirdest by a long way are the infantalists, the men who want to be treated like babies. You know, they dress up in romper-suits and suck lollipops, that kind of thing".
"Well I admit it's not quite our cup of tea", said Julian "But I don't see how it merits hysteria!"
"Damnit Jules", said Adam "They were trying to make out that Lo-Lo is an infantalist! It's common knowledge he has to wear a nappy in bed, and they're trying to suggest he does it for some bizarre sexual kick. I tried explaining to them that he can't always control his bowels, but they wouldn't have it. Lucasta then said how come he also sucks his thumb and carries a toy bear around with him? Who the hell do they think they are, Freud's aunties?! I could've knocked Lucasta through the glass of the French windows! It's so unfair. Lo-Lo is extremely sensitive about all this sort of thing. He hates being treated like a baby".
"Calm down", said Julian "It's no big deal. You have to make allowances for them. They spend their lives pandering to people's sexual needs, they're bound to see everything in a sexual context. Try and be placid, Simone's coming over".
Madame Simone smiled at Adam as she approached, her wide mouth seeming to split her face in half as she grinned.
"We seem to have had a misunderstanding, Adam", she said "I do hope you haven't taken offence at anything I've said. Just my sense of humour I'm afraid".
"I don't mind you winding me up", said Adam "After all, I get enough of it from Jules! But I won't listen to Lo-Lo being trashed like that".
"I wasn't trashing him", said Simone, calmly "I was trying in my own way to praise you for the way you've looked after him. The Adult Babies who come to me would appreciate a 'Mother' like you".
"I doubt it!" said Adam, shortly.
"Oh they would", said Simone "A lot of them relish a firm hand".
"Then perhaps Jules could do it!" Adam snapped.
"No, no", said Simone, serenely "He doesn't have the motherly touch. The 'Mothers' must not be frightening, only nuturing. They are not standard dominatrixes. The babies want to be treated as babies".
"Then why do you thrash them with belts?" said Adam "I've not heard of many mothers doing that, not to babies anyway".
"They have to be punished when they're naughty", said Simone "Like you punish Lonts".
"I haven't had to do that for some time now", said Adam "These days it usually enough just to threaten to take Snowy away! The days when I had to wallop him are gone".
"Good job too", said Julian "These days it'd be like trying to spank a grizzly bear! It'd probably give me heart-failure to even have to attempt it! What Adam is stressing is that Lonts isn't a baby, in spite of the fact that we still get the occasional admiring fan of his referring to him as Baby Lonts!"
"He's very fatherly in fact", said Adam "He makes a magnificent father-figure to the younger ones. And before you say anything Simone, no he doesn't chastise them, and no he isn't after a job!"
Adam made his excuses and went upstairs to bed soon after. Julian followed him a few minutes later, and found him bad-temperedly undressing in his room.
"What's the matter with you now?" said Julian.
"There was a couple making love in Ransey and Finia's room", said Adam, indignantly "I had to chase them out. The damn cheek of it!"
"These things happen at parties", said Julian, sitting down on the edge of the bed "If you weren't such a bad-tempered old fogey at the moment, you'd remember that!"
"Oh dear, I am going on a bit aren't I?" Adam smiled, sheepishly.
"Hm, yes", said Julian "We should've invited Jonner to the do, he would be bound to have had some hash on him you could have taken".
"I'm surprised he didn't come", said Adam, getting into bed "There were some here from over the river, so the news has obviously spread over there".
"Perhaps the candle of genius is burning too bright tonight!" said Julian "And he couldn't tear himself away from his easel!"
"Jules!" Adam laughed and flopped back against his pillow "It's just been a long and rather traumatic night that's all. I don't mean to sound old and churlish. Deep inside I feel younger than I did when we crossed over".
"Hardly surprising", said Julian "You had a much harder life then. Living rough up in the cold wastelands of the north would make anyone feel old!"
"I could have done with you there", said Adam "To help me through it".
"I would have infuriated you", said Julian.
"I don't care!" said Adam "Everyone's talking about the New Era, and I feel rather left out of it. The worst thing about getting old is that when people discuss the future, you realise they don't necessarily include you in it".
"Don't be absurd", said Julian "We're good for another 30 years yet!"
"I hope so", said Adam "As long as I can still kiss your face I will be fine".
"Or anywhere else that takes your fancy!" said Julian.
"God, my mouth feels like the bottom of a parrot's cage!" said Joby, when he woke up.
Dusty sunbeams were struggling through a gap in his bedroom curtains. He sat up and groped for his wrist-watch on the bedside table. It said 20-past-2. Kieran and Tamaz were nowhere in sight. Instead of their spindly frames next to him, there was Lonts's broad shoulders poking out of the top of the quilt. He was sleeping on his side, with his back to Joby.
"What is it, Joby?" he asked, irritably, after Joby had shaken him awake "I was asleep".
"Where are Kieran and Tamaz?" said Joby.
"Somewhere else in the house I expect", said Lonts.
"Well, what are you doing in here?" said Joby.
"Julian's in my bed, next to Adam", said Lonts "So I came in here".
"It's like musical beds in this house!" Joby slung his legs to the side, and reached for his bath-robe "Was I really that drunk last night that you and me had it away?"
"Don't be stupid, Joby", said Lonts, pulling the quilt back around his shoulders "Anyway, would it have mattered if we had?"
"I spose not", Joby got to his feet gingerly and walked into the bed-post.
"Where are you going?" said Lonts, drowsily.
"To find out where Kieran and Tamaz are", said Joby.
The hallway downstairs was lit by yet more dusty sunshine coming through the fanlight above the door. On the mat lay a copy of the local newspaper, a special edition of hwich had been hurriedly printed to commemorate the momentous times.
"'THE NEW ERA HAS BEGUN!'" ran the headline, with a sub-heading underneath which read "'DRAMATIC SCENES LAST NIGHT AT THE VANQUISHER'S HOUSE'".
Joby put the newspaper on the hall table, and went into the living-room to look for the Vanquisher. Hillyard was lying on the sofa, still in his bath-robe. Someone had left a sandwich on the top of the piano, and it was completely stiff and hard.
"Wassermarra, mate?" Hillyard asked, groggily.
"Have you seen Kieran?" said Joby.
"Across the hall, with the clowns", said Hillyard "At least I think so anyway".
Kieran was indeed with the clowns, sleeping with them on their mattress. After coming back out of the dining-room, Joby found Tamaz approaching him from the kitchen, incongruously wearing an oilskin jacket over his drawers. He was eating a hunk of bread, spread with strawberry jam.
"What's this in aid of?" said Joby, indicating the oilskin.
"It was cold in the kitchen", said Tamaz "The fire went out, Toppy's re-lighting it. Joby ... is it really the end of those jerks?"
"I really hope so", said Joby "Noah was the driving-force behind 'em, so now he's gone hopefully there's an end to it. Most importantly, everyone in this town realises what life would be like if they had taken over, so with any luck they won't let it happen".
Tamaz put his arms round Joby's neck, and the beginning of the New Era was sealed with a kiss between Ghoomer and human.
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