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Feeling inordinately depressed Kieran dragged himself to the telegraph office, accompanied by Ransey. For the next three hours they were preoccupied with sending and receiving messages, mainly to the people who had sent the first one. The Ministry were obviously not talking to anyone at present. All he could gauge was that the situation in the City was dire. There was massive rioting and looting, and the t.v network (such as it was) had been shut down.
Kieran knew that Toondor Lanpin wasn't fit to take in a massive influx of refugees and contacted Governor Brinslee to see if he would accommodate any in Port West.
"I've also asked the Governor of Krindei to step in", he said to Ransey "He's nuts about Lady Red, so he should be happy to put up her and the other City women".
"I hope Red's sober enough to mobilise them", said Ransey.
"Oh Red's got the constitution of a camel when it comes to booze", said Kieran.
"Come on, it's time you went home and got some sleep", said Ransey "You're looking depressed. I always know you're tired when you're looking depressed".
"We can manage here", said Keler, the telegraph operator, currently dressed in his pyjamas and dressing-gown "I'll send a runner to you if there are any developments".
They walked home through the chilly dawn. There were several lamps burning in the windows that they passed.
"It seems this news has made everyone restless", said Kieran "Even though it's all happening on the other side of the world".
Back at the waterfront they found Glynis pacing about on the deck of her barge. When she saw Kieran she fell on him emotionally.
"I know we've had our differences in the past", she cried "But I don't want you to go to the City, Kieran. I really don't".
"We haven't had differences", said Kieran "It's Joby who caused all the problems".
Glynis kissed him enthusiastically. It was the first time Kieran had kissed a woman full on the mouth since he'd last seen his wife, and he inwardly marvelled at the softness of her skin.
"You keep doing things like that", he said, softly "And we'll give Joby something to worry about! It'd serve him damn well right too!"
Ransey had been gazing studiously at his feet whilst all this went on.
"Get some rest, Glynis", said Kieran, gently "I promise I won't leave without keeping you informed".
Below deck on the Indigo was like a beehive. Everyone was awake. Lonts was standing in the corridor, with his dressing-gown on over his nappy. He made as though to speak when he saw Kieran, but Julian appeared outside his cabin door.
"Kieran, come in here a moment", he said "Tamaz would like to talk to you".
"Is it important?" Kieran sighed.
"He seems to think it is".
In Julian's cabin Tamaz was looking even more vague and disorientated than normal. In fact he looked like an absentminded old lady who had mislaid her reading-glasses.
"Come along, Tamaz", said Julian, shortly "You made a big fuss about wanting to speak to Kieran, well here he is".
"What is it, Tamaz?" said Kieran.
"They'll blame us both, Kieran", Tamaz mumbled, chewing on a strand of his hair "Ghoomer creatures are in the sewers. I heard the others talking, and I worked it out. It all sounds like the Ghoomer beasts, the half-animal creatures they mate with. I d-don't know anything else".
"O.K", said Kieran, sadly.
"They'll, the City dwellers, they'll blame me because I'm a Ghoomer", said Tamaz, insistently "And they could blame you because ... because you're not the President anymore, and because you let me live".
"I'll face all that when it comes to it", said Kieran, squeezing Tamaz's arm.
"Get back onto your bedding now, Tamaz", said Julian.
Kieran prepared to leave the room and then stopped short by a chair on which his rucksack rested.
"What's my bag doing in here?" he asked.
"Adam and I feel that you should stay out of sight until all this is over", said Julian "What Tamaz said is quite true. You could get the blame for whatever all this is about. We'd like you to hide out of sight".
"Where?" Kieran barked.
"Somewhere in town", said Julian "Perhaps Fradie's place".
"Never!" Kieran shrieked "I'm not hiding in some dismal bedsit like a fugitive, whilst you all enjoy yourselves acting like war correspondents. I'm staying here!"
"Kieran", said Julian, firmly "I wasn't making a request".
"On your bike!" Kierna shouted, and stormed across the corridor into his own cabin, where he found Joby pacing about in his dressing-gown.
"I suppose you were in on this", Kieran roared, grabbing his friend by his robe and screaming hysterically "I'm not hiding out of sight. I'm not!"
"Alright, alright", said Joby.
He cradled Kieran in his arms, and Kieran cried, partly from exhaustion, and partly from frustration because of who he was.
"If things get hairy", said Joby, tentatively "If anyone comes after you ... for whatever reason, I'll take you into the mountains. You'll be safe there".
Kieran was enraptured with this idea.
"Just you and me", he said "You and me sleeping out in the open together".
"Yeah", said Joby, looking awkward "Just the three of us".
"And who's the other one gonna be?" said Kieran, pulling away from him "Don't tell me! It's Tamaz isn't it?"
"He's in danger too", said Joby "We have to take care of him".
"I'll come too", said Lonts, bursting into the room "I was listening at the door. And if I come, Adam'll come".
"Oh why don't we invite the entire waterfront whilst we're at it!" said Joby.
"I have to come", said Lonts "Kieran's always been kind to me. Always. When we travelled in the litter he was the only one who was nice to me. THE ONLY ONE!"
"Lonts, that was years ago", said Joby, in exasperation "This is just typical of you. You brood over things for years and drag 'em all back up again whenever you feel like it. I bet you were all like it in Kiskev. I spect you used to sit around for hours getting rat-arsed on moonshine and going on about how old Ivanovich cheated you out of a pound of reindeer meat in AD 864!"
"Don't be silly, Joby", said Lonts, crossly "We had no one by that name in our village".
Joby felt like beating his head against the wall in despair.
"You're back then", said Hillyard, mooching into the room.
"We're all going to run away", said Lonts.
"Sounds a good idea", said Hillyard.
"Before all this gets out of hand, I think Kieran needs some rest", said Joby, and he pulled his friend behind the blanket which acted as a wall-divider.
"Whatever happens, Joby", Kieran whispered "Toondor Lanpin mustn't get mixed up in the City's problems".
"I don't think any of us here need telling that twice", said Joby.
More news came in the following day. Things were bad in the City, but Codlik and his ministers were still in-situ and apparently confident enough to stay that way. The tedious ins-and-outs and general stupidity that had led to the rioting was extremely boring to anyone other than those directly involved. In short, Codlik had decided to sort out the City University. He felt it wasn't producing men of high enough calibre and demanded a complete overhaul, under the guidance of the sinisterly-named Department of Perfection. Tutors who failed to comply with the new curriculum were to be sacked. Unfortunately the victims of the this purge included an old and much-loved professor of religious studies, who had been one of Kieran's most dedicated admirers. Within a week of being fired this venerable old man had died from a heart-attack. Inevitably he was now regarded as a martyr, a victim of Codlik's regime, and it was because of him the rioting had started.
"This is it", said Kieran "This is exactly the problem. Why don't those that don't agree with Codlik's views simply come here to Toondor Lanpin? The home of free-spirits!"
At this time though the renegade students who had initiated the rioting wanted only thing, to depose Codlik and reinstate Kieran, whether he liked it or not. Kieran sent an urgent message to the ringleader demanding that he stop the rioting immediately. "Come to Toondor Lanpin", he said, having an uncomfortable feeling he sounded like a tourist brochure "We are always in need of men of education. Start a new life here where you won't be hassled. Get away now before anymore deaths are caused".
The rebel ringleader wasn't having any of that. He despised bland, "caring" Codlik with all his heart and wanted him out of office. The problem was, that like all City dwellers, he felt civilisation could only continue there. He sent a farcical message back: "No, I'm coming to get you!"
Kieran reacted by planning a trip into the mountains with Joby, leaving firm instructions with the Town Constable to now arrest the ring-leader the moment he set foot in the Free State of Toondor Lanpin. Kieran flatly refused to take Tamaz on his impromptu camping-trip and arranged for him to stay with Jonner across the river until the renegades were safely under lock and key. Hillyard was despatched with him to make sure Tamaz behaved himself. Before leaving the town Kieran sent a message to Codlik along the lines of "for God's sake sort out your sewers before it's too late!"
"Why do you keep doing that, Kiel?" said Joby, who was trying to wrest open a tin of corned beef.
"Keep doing what?" said Kieran, eating a mush of boiled vegetables off a tin plate, whilst sitting on a rock.
"Staring at me!" Joby exclaimed "Everytime I look up your eyes are boring into me. It's giving me the willies. It feels like you can read my mind".
"I can", said Kieran, bluntly "And what's the betting you're missing Tamaz, your lovely girlfriend! You were thinking about him weren't you? Come on, admit it!"
"I'm just concerned about him that's all", Joby snapped.
Kieran slammed his plate down and stamped off across the rocks at the base of the mountains.
"Oh where are you going now?" Joby sighed, following him.
"Now listen!" Joby yelled, when he finally caught up with him "I might be concerned about him, but it's you I'm with".
He pulled Kieran close to him.
"Nothing and no one on this Earth means more to me than you", he said, stroking his hair.
"I'm sorry, Jobe", said Kieran, softly "It's not you, I just feel such a wimp that's all. Some Vanquisher of Evil! Here I am, hiding out in the mountains!"
"So what?" said Joby "Christ was allowed time in the wilderness wasn't he?"
"Yes, 40 days and nights", said Kieran "Not the rest of his bloody life, and that's what I've settled on meself!"
"Because that's the way it should be", said Joby "Good God, Kiel! You fought Angel, you destroyed Gabriel's evil, you took Vanod's body back into Hell, you killed the Gorgon, and you rehabilitated Tamaz! How much more do you think you have to do? Toondor Lanpin is your future now. You have to create a haven for free spirits. That's your job now. Your active service is over. No one's got any right to ask anymore of you. The City is finished, listen to me! I believe I'm right in what I'm saying. The civilisation that the City represents is dying, it's over! But it won't come to an end overnight. It might limp on for years, decades, but that's not our concern. WE are the future, down here! And you have to be a part of it".
"But doing what though?" said Kieran, helplessly "What am I supposed to be doing?"
"You've just got to exist", said Joby "Take care of yourself and live. Too many icons have died young. The system defeated them. You mustn't let that happen to you. You've got to live a long time. I never realised that before, but you have to. Perhaps that's what I'm for, to make sure of it, I don't know ..."
"You're here to keep me sane", said Kieran, touching Joby's heart.
That night, as they slept under the stars, Joby watched the full moon scudding across the sky. Many times since crossing over he had drawn comfort from looking at the moon, from the thought that whatever happened on Earth, it would always be there looking down on them.
"Kiel", he nudged his friend, who lay rolled up in a blanket next to him "KIEL!"
"What?" said Kieran, raising himself on his elbow.
"I-I thought for a moment you'd died", said Joby "You were lying so still".
"People tend to when they're asleep!" said Kieran, pushing his blanket away irritably "I'm going to make some tea".
He slammed a billy-can onto the embers of the camp-fire.
"Joby", he snapped "Where are me fags?"
"In your shoes", said Joby "Where you left 'em".
"I wouldn't have put it past you to have chucked 'em away", said Kieran.
"I'll chuck 'em on the fire you keep that attitude up!" said Joby.
"Now don't you get bumptious with me", said Kieran "I've had enough to put up with from you lately. Adam had the right idea where you're concerned. I should've done it ages ago".
"Bollocks", said Joby "I have the whip-hand. Stands to reason, I'm taller than you".
"I'm older than you!" Kieran retorted.
"Only by three poxy months!" said Joby.
"Why don't we just accept we take it in turns?" Kieran laughed, genially.
"Whatever you say", Joby smiled.
They drank their tea in the growing light of dawn, and then Joby noticed a light above the causeway in the distance. It was the flare that the others had agreed they would send up as a signal that the crisis in the City was over. Joby pulled out the binoculars and then handed them to Kieran saying "Looks like we can go home now".
They damped down the fire, repacked their bags and set off back across the marshes to the causeway. When they got there they found Lonts and Toppy standing by a hired pony and trap.
"Are you two here alone?" said Joby.
"And why not!" Lonts bellowed "Julian said we could come out and get you. Anyway, I'm not a baby!"
Which clearly meant he thought Toppy was. He took Kieran and Joby's rucksacks from them and hurled them in Toppy's direction, who buckled so much under their impact he fell onto his back. Kieran helped him to his feet. Lonts was obviously relishing having Toppy at his mercy, and Toppy seemed to be doing his utmost to be as masochistic as possible in his desire to please Lonts, who was behaving like Attila the Hun.
"So what's the news then?" said Kieran.
"Oh it's all really boring", said Lonts "Codlik went on television last night ..."
"It's working again then?" said Joby.
"The Ministry have got the station going again", said Lonts "Although we had to go out to Persephone's cow-shed to watch it. Anyway Codlik broadcast from the streets, which looked in a really bad mess, but he said everything was under control. And the ring-leaders are in prison awaiting trial. In the City Assizes, where I was! Codlik said it was never his intention to upset anyone, or impose his values on them, that he believed in live and let live".
"Shame he didn't put that message across stronger at times", said Kieran.
"Adam said he's probably a very nice person at heart, just naive", said Lonts "But nowhere near as bossy as you used to be, Kieran".
"I wasn't bossy!" Kieran protested "When was I ever bossy?"
"All those times we could hear you yelling yer head off from one end of the H.Q to the other", said Joby, dryly.
"I'm deeply hurt by that", said Kieran.
"Don't be, Kieran", said Lonts "Julian says Codlik's as thick as two short planks, and doesn't know his arse from his elbow most of the time. But he says he more telegenic (is that the right word?) than all the other Ministry men, and people are often just satisfied in good looks with a president. It's all the intelligent people behind the scenes who do all the real work. That's what Julian said anyway".
"Well now I know what everyone's been thinking of me all these years", said Kieran "It makes me wonder why I ever bothered at all!"
"Right", said Lonts, purposefully "Everyone get in the cart, and I'll take you back to town".
"You're driving?" said Joby, swallowing heavily.
"I have done this sort of thing before", said Lonts "In Kiskev I drove sleighs out on the tundra. They're just like carts, except they don't have wheels".
"Neither will this have by the time you've finished with it I expect", said Joby.
"Get in the cart, Toppy!" Lonts bellowed at the quivering wreck.
To Joby's astonishment they got back to Toondor Lanpin in one piece, which was all the more surprising considering Lonts could have out-raced Ben Hur quite easily.
"It'd be nicer if the horses had bells on", Lonts yelled "Like we put on the dogs. But I suppose no one has any style down here!"
Back at the waterfront they found the Indigo had moved. One of their neighbours, a long twelve-berth barge, had gone off to another mooring, leaving a space for them at the far end of the jetty. Julian had given no reason for this whim, other than a desire for more privacy. Kieran was worried that Glynis's feelings might be hurt by this, only to have Julian bark that he was tired of having to worry about her!
"I am Captain", he said "I am Caesar. What I say goes".
Tamaz's cage had been left behind though in its old position, as the Tearfuls' children had taken a shine to it and used it as a glorified Wendy house. Immediately they were ensconced in their new position Julian had ordered a mammoth cleaning operation, in which the Indigo was to be scrubbed, polished and inspected from top to bottom. On no account, he decreed, was Tamaz to be fetched back from Jonner's until this was completed.
"I don't want him shrieking and running about all over the place whilst serious work is in progress", he said.
Snarling, Joby had been put to work cleaning the poop-deck. He had wanted to collect Tamaz immediately, but could see Julian's logic in leaving it until the work was completed.
"Although why are we doing all this now?" he said, when Julian joined him up there.
"Because it needs it", said Julian, with admirable simplicity "According to Woll apparently we live in inhuman conditions. That's what he said to Natalie anyway".
"No we don't", said Joby "We've known a lot worse than this".
"Yes, but he hasn't", said Julian, re-lighting his cigar "And a ship reflects her captain. I've let standards slip atrociously round here".
"Too busy enjoying yourself that's why", said Adam, who was walking around with a tray of coffees "And you don't even have the generosity to share out your cigars".
"You've already lost half a lung", said Julian "Do you want to lose the rest too?"
"Your coffee", said Adam, handing him a cup "Although why I'm doing this when I'm supposed to be First Mate I don't know. I'm more like the bloody tea-boy!"
"Have you given Kieran his message?" said Julian.
"Yes", Adam laughed "I think he wanted to turn round and head back to the hills!"
"What message?" said Joby.
"Oh Toondor Lanpin's got an honoured guest", said Adam "Lady Red flew in early this morning and is staying at Myrtle's hotel".
"But I thought the crisis in the City was over?" said Joby.
"It is", said Julian "But this is obviously next on Red's tour of inspection".
"She sent a message to us a short while ago", said Adam "Wanting Patsy to join her for dinner. She already knows he's barred from Myrtle's, so he's meeting her at Persephone's instead".
"What does she wanna see him for?" said Joby, nervously.
"A little light snack I expect", said Julian "An aperitif before dinner to whet her appetite!"
"She was most insistent", said Adam, mischievously "And Red is a woman one simply cannot refuse".
"Wasn't I invited?" said Joby.
"She's not going to want you along is she!" said Julian "Not when I expect she wants to reminisce about old times. After all, we only have their word for it that their coupling was a disaster. Only those two know exactly what went on in her room at No-Name. They might have said all that just to spare your feelings".
"You can't wind me up so don't try", Joby grunted.
"Oh cheer up", said Julian "You're getting your big doll back later to play with. That should comfort you whilst Kieran's out dating a voluptuous redhead. Should be quite a night to remember!"
It was a busy evening at Persephone's bar, but even in the crush Kieran could see Lady Red immediately, and she spotted him with equal speed. As she came charging forward to greet him, he felt his customary feeling of panic that she was about to wet-nurse him to death! Lady Red's bosom should really rate as the eighth wonder of the world, he thought. It was a truly astonishing piece of architecture, a man could curl up and go to sleep on it, or spend a month living on it.
Red greeted him with all her old verve and spirit, and yet Kieran could see she looked very tired and that this wasn't just the result of travelling, it was deeply ingrained in her. She was exhausted. Over their first bottle of wine they mainly exchanged tokens of gossip. Kieran got the overwhelming impression that Red was glad to be away from the City.
"I know what you're thinking", she said "I look tired and I know it. I've just spent the past two years racketing around the world and I've had enough, and I'm sick unto death of the City. It can be a cruel place. The men there are so callous and insensitive at times, and the press ... you don't know what it's like, Kieran".
"Oh I think I do", Kieran smiled, ruefully.
"Some of the things they've said about me", she said, sounding deeply hurt "Obsessed with my weight for one thing. Practically every day there was an article saying I was too fat".
"They haven't got much imagination", said Kieran "They were always saying I was too thin!"
"I don't know how you stuck it for as long as you did".
"Why do you think I'm so determined not to go back!"
"So am I", said Red.
"Are you going back to No-Name then?"
"No, I'm putting Dolores in charge there, she knows what's what. I'm retiring from public life. I've got my eye on a little house on the edge of town here, it's a simple white clapboard effort".
"I know the one you mean", said Kieran "It's been empty for a while. Nice wee place, I always thought it looked cosy. But Red, in all honesty, I can't see you settling for the quiet life. You're like Julian, you need people to order about".
"It's time for a change", said Red, quietly.
"Red", said Kieran, sounding worried "Are you ill?"
"Don't talk about it", said Red, briskly "It's not very intersting, and I think we should have another bottle of wine".
"Suits me", said Kieran, feeling a horrid weight of gloom descend on him. Ever since he had known her Red had been an incredible tour-de-force of life, so much so that grown men had been known to literally scramble out of her path for their own safety. She had even been known on occasion to leave Julian spluttering and speechless, which was quite some achievement.
"Someone I did like in the City", she was now saying, over a fresh bottle "Was the old chap whose death caused all the rioting".
"Yes, he was a good man", said Kieran "I only met him a couple of times when I was President. A gentle old creature, the University was his entire life. He'd have been horrified by the recent scenes in the streets".
"He was pretty horrified by Codlik's regime too, inept as it is", said Red "I got quite matey with him during the times I was actually in the City. He'd orginally planned to set up a fund for the University on his death, but he was so appalled by Codlik's ideas on education that he changed his mind. Instead, he's ordered one to be set up to build a new school here".
"Red, are you sure?" said Kieran, trying desperately not to raise his hopes.
"Pretty much so", Red smiled "He made me executor of his will. I've got all the legal stuff back at the hotel. You can look it over tomorrow, but I thought you'd rather hear me putting it in human-speak instead. He was fascinated by Toondor Lanpin, the Free State, and believed the future lay here. He felt the City was a spent force".
"We've been saying much the same thing lately", said Kieran, excitedly "Isn't that amazing? Perhaps I tuned into him".
"There's more", said Red "He's set up an allowance for you too. To be paid monthly. I think he might have realised you'd blow it all in one go if you were given it in a lump sum! So he arranged for a set amount each month to be paid into an account at the bank here ... for someone who's just come into a legacy you don't look too happy!"
"It was very generous of him", said Kieran, numbly.
"Well he had no one else to give it to", said Red, bluntly.
"I wish he'd done something else with it".
"Julian once told me you sometimes take saintliness too far!"
"No it's not saintliness, Red", said Kieran "And the last thing I want to do is seem ungrateful, but I find it a bit depressing. The thought of it going in there every month, regular as clockwork. Like drawing a wage! I haven't done that in years! Still, I'll give it to Adam to buy some grub with. If I don't Joby'll gamble it away downstairs as soon as it arrives, and money has been a worry lately so it'll be nice to have some security ... I suppose".
"You haven't asked how much it is", said Red, in exasperation.
"Well he was a tutor so I can't believe he had that much", Kieran shrugged.
"He was an old man who lived for his work and as far as I could see had no vices, not ones that cost a great deal of money anyway. He'd accumulated a terrific amount over the years", said Red "Kieran, you could buy a new Indigo every month with what he's left you, and still dine out on steak every night".
"That'd be no good for me, I'm a vegetarian", said Kieran "I-is it really that much?"
"Yes", said Red, simply.
"It's going to take a while to sink in", Kieran sighed "It's just ... well I don't know what to say".
"How about 'I'll have another drink'", said Red "I'm sure you won't find that too difficult!"
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