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Adam had dreaded confronting Joby with this new turnabout. In his heart of hearts he knew that he was the last man who'd attempt anything like sexual assault on anyone. Joby looked totally incredulous on being told about Finia's claim, and then promptly burst into tears.
"I wanna talk to him", he cried "I wanna know why he's saying these things".
"I don't think that's a good idea at the moment", said Adam.
"Why are you talking to me as though I'm guilty?"
"I'm not, you silly cretin. What do you think I'm going to do? Turn you over to the Constable at Husgalonghi!"
"I'm not guilty".
"You are not on trial for God's sake. Stop carrying on so".
"I was just talking to him, and he came onto me, and I ran out the room".
"He told me last night that's exactly what happened", said Kieran.
"I wanna talk to him!"
"Joby, stop wailing like a siren", said Adam "Or I shall have to slap you again".
"I'll go and talk to Finia", said Kieran.
"And what good is that going to do?" Adam snapped.
"I don't know. but it can't do any further harm", Kieran exclaimed, and then paused on his way out of the room to add "And don't think I don't know what you were up to last night either!"
Kieran found Hillyard and Ransey both standing outside their bedroom doors like figures in a dysfunctional weather clock.
"Are we moving on today or what?" said Hillyard.
"I don't know", said Kieran, as he passed by "Try asking Adam".
He finally located Finia's room on the second floor. From the state of the dressing-table just inside the door he felt he probably could have located it on scent alone. The wide marble surface was coated in cosmetic bottles of every description, mostly unstoppered and dribbling some pungent liquid. Lined up along the opposite wall was a row of stands supporting wigs in a wide variety of different colours and styles.
Finia had heard him come in and was sitting up in bed nervously, uncertain what to expect. Kieran barely recognised him from the creature with exotic plumage that he had seen yesterday. Bereft of his frock, make-up and wig Finia looked like any other mildly attractive young boy. In fact if anything he looked slightly more butch than most, but that was mainly due to his shaven head. At that moment he looked exactly what he was, a blank canvas waiting to be painted on.
"The ladies in Ancient Egypt used to do that", said Kieran "They shaved their heads so that their black Cleopatra wigs fitted better. Also I think it was cooler to do that than suffer with their own hair all the time in the heat. Quite sensible really, although a bit of a fright for the old man if he wasn't expecting it".
Finia stared at him in bewilderment. Kieran went and sat down on the foot of the bed.
"Well", said Kieran "I've heard Joby's side, now it's time to hear yours".
"You're against me", Finia shouted "You've got no intention of believing me. I'm a eunuch after all. There's no law protecting eunuchs from rape. It's open season on eunuchs".
"I just want you to tell me what happened".
"What's the point? You won't believe me".
"You haven't told me anything yet!"
"We were in the dining-room last night", Finia began "And at first I thought he was just being kind to me, sympathetic. I was telling him about all the problems, all the hassle eunuchs get from men. And before I knew it he was pushing me over the table and ..."
Suddenly Finia threw back the bedclothes and strode naked over to the washstand. Kieran hastily averted his eyes, but not fast enough. The sight of Finia's mutilated body made him feel uncomfortable. The boy had no breasts and no penis. Kieran remembered Artuul, who had been possessed of both. Since living in the fifth millennium he had tried to accept his new way of life completely, and that included accepting the physical oddities that now abounded. But sometimes it was difficult. In his colourful finery Finia had an identity. But the person that was now rooting amongst his paint-pots didn't seem to have any. He was completely androgynous, sexless, without feature.
"I don't believe that's what happened", said Kieran, quietly "You see, I know Joby, probably better than I know meself. I know he's a man, and like all men he could be capable of rape if he tried. He can be intense, but not what you're saying".
Finia didn't comment. He had started applying eye make-up hastily, as though it was as vital as oxygen.
"What were you hoping to get out of this?" said Kieran.
"I was angry", said the boy "Do you have any idea ...?"
"Angry about what?"
"I told Joby why I lived right out here. Did he tell you about it?"
"Yes. You had a terrifying experience in Husgalonghi".
"So I live out here with Julian. Oh Julian's very good to me, don't get me wrong", said Finia, making great sweeps across his cheekbones with a stick of rouge "But it's not what I want. I want a daddy, someone to take care of me completely. When you lot turned up out of the blue I couldn't believe my luck. I thought one of you five had to be him, The One".
"And when you found you were disappointed you decided to get your own back, is that it?"
Kieran walked over to him. He stared intently into his eyes, as though trying to read his mind. Finia didn't find it a comfortable experience.
"If Gabriel succeeds the President as our leader", said Finia "Us eunuchs are all going to be wiped out. It'll be the biggest purge since the Massacre of the Women. You can't let that happen".
"If it's within my power I won't let it", said Kieran "Although if you try anything like that on Joby again, I might make an exception for you".
"I hear you're going to Mundaba Heights", said Finia "It's a dangerous place. It's Gabriel's funhouse. If you don't defeat him you could come out of the place just like me. Men have you know".
By lunchtime Finia had resurrected himself sufficiently to serve them a meal on the verandah. Now wearing a tiger-print dress and a flowing back wig, he looked nothing like the bald-headed featureless android Kieran had seen earlier. With the wig, make-up and dress came a return of the flirtatious personality of yesterday, as though he'd got that out of a bottle as well. Even so, he was more cautious, uncertain exactly what the temperature of the water was around him.
Julian didn't appear for lunch, and Adam found himself sorely tried by having to cope with the others on his own. Both Ransey and Hillyard had arrived at the table drunk because, as Hillyard put it, "there's naff all else to do around here". Joby was sunk deep into a fit of the glums, and even Kieran was being surprisingly uncommunicative. He had revealed little of his talk with Finia, other than to say that Joby was absolved from all blame.
"What got into you then Jobe?" Hillyard snorted with laughter, as Finia placed a coffee-pot in the centre of the table and then left them alone "Been here so long now you thought that Thing was really a woman, is that it?"
"What the fuck would you know?" Joby snarled.
"About as much as you from the sounds of things. Somehow I didn't think it was a good idea for Kieran to go and wake you up from your celibacy, now no one's safe. And you said I had no self-control!"
Joby lunged across the table, grabbed Hillyard's shirt and tried to pull him towards him. Plates and cutlery slid off the table in all directions. Adam shook them both apart and pushed them back into their respective seats.
"I'm fed up with all of you!" he yelled, and disappeared through the bamboo doors back into the house.
"Piss off Joby, you've gone and upset Adam now".
"I'm sorry", said Joby, helplessly, following Kieran into the lower part of the garden beyond the plank bridge "It's bloody Hillyard, he winds me up".
"Only 'cos you let him, you pillock. You should just laugh at him when he starts on you like that".
"Yea well me sense of humour wasn't in good nick. Nor would yours be if you'd been accused of rape".
"I had cleared all that up for you!" Kieran shouted "Oh this focking place! It's like a focking hothouse. I don't need you upsetting Adam. The more he thinks we're nothing but a bunch of tiresome kids, the more he'll go seeking out Julian's company".
"He doesn't want Julian. Not now".
"Oh no? So what was he doing in Julian's room last night then?"
"You've probably got your telepathic wires crossed", said Joby "You don't always get it right. Often you only pick up half the story".
"I'm fed up with being here. I want to move on. I want to get to Gabriel's and get it all over with. He knows I'm here. He's waiting for me, I can sense it".
"You'd better not go any further", said Joby, as they came up to the wooden boundary fence at the end of Julian's garden.
"Why, are we in focking prison or something?"
Kieran went to climb over the fence, but Joby grabbed his vest and hauled him back down.
"Where the hell do you think you're going?"
"I am not under house-arrest", Kieran exclaimed "I want to go for a walk. By myself".
"Don't be fucking stupid. We're in the middle of the jungle, not back home. You can't just go off for a stroll on your own. What's the matter with you?"
"Leave me alone!" Kieran yelled.
He swung his arm out to hit Joby across the face, but Joby ducked in time and caught hold of Kieran's wrist. He securely hooked his arm up behind his back, out of harm's way.
"Come on", said Joby, firmly "You're behaving like a complete twat. I'm taking you back to the house. You obviously need some of this energy getting rid of".
"I wonder what Adam's up to", said Kieran, as they both lay under the mosquito net in their bedroom a while later.
Joby had been resting his head in the small of Kieran's back. Suddenly he sat up and slapped Kieran hard across the buttocks.
"What was that for?"
"'Cos it's bloody rude to mention your other lover when you're with this one", said Joby, settling back down into his former position.
"Idle speculation that's all", Kieran protested "I mention you when I'm with him. We're doing alright for sex on this trip. That's something anyway. Considering we might not be doing it for much longer".
"You shouldn't listen to that stupid eunuch", said Joby.
"It's more than likely though. Once we're up there Gabriel could do anything to us. He might be manipulating us now. Perhaps that's why Finia made that terrible accusation against you".
"Oh come off it. If Gabriel's manipulating us, he can't be very happy with his handiwork so far. Considering, as you just said, we've all been bonking ourselves senseless on this trip. Apart from Ransey".
"I still think Gabriel is behind the scenes somewhere. I mean, we're all acting peculiar aren't we?"
"No more than usual".
"But I tried to hit you in the garden".
"Well it wouldn't have been the first time!"
"You and Hillyard fighting. Me distrusting Adam".
"None of that's got anything to do with Gabriel", said Joby "It's this house I think. Stuck right out here with Julian running everything. Bound to make things a bit odd".
"You'll be blaming the weather next".
"Hasn't all been bad so far on this trip has it?" said Joby, sliding up the bed until he was sharing the pillow with Kieran "Some good has come out of it. You and me for instance".
"A great deal of good", said Kieran. He rubbed his nipples against Joby's and kissed him softly.
"I've worked our that if you set off first thing tomorrow you should reach Mundaba Heights by the afternoon of the following day", said Julian, flicking through various sheets of paper on which he had drawn neat little maps "I've done one of the locale around the Heights as I know it, which isn't saying much, as I went there by air-buggy. And one map of Gabriel's rooms. You never know, you might find that useful".
"Oh thank goodness", said Adam, leaning over the table "The coffee-pot didn't get broken in the fracas".
"Adam!" Julian snapped "Pay attention. I'm not doing this just for the good of my health. That coffee will be cold by now anyway".
"So it is. Anyway I was listening all the time. You were going on about Gabriel's house".
"I thought you'd be interested".
"I am old love, but as we're going to be sleeping out in the open tomorrow night, I'd rather know about some of the strange characters that are roaming about in the jungle here".
"You already know about that. They're zombies".
"And they're controlled by Gabriel?"
"Quite. And they have a craving for human flesh".
"I think this is where we came in", Adam sighed.
"Well I thought we'd got rid of all that when the vampires were destroyed".
"These aren't like the vampires", said Julian "The vampires controlled everything, whereas the zombies are automatons. Gabriel uses them like guard dogs, to patrol this area of the jungle at night. Over the past few years local people have got wise to what's going on here and tend to avoid the place. Trouble is, it's made the zombies ever more desperate. You lot were lucky the other night. Very lucky indeed".
"Quite frankly he didn't put up much of a fight. Not like in the horror flicks where they advance on you mercilessly, and nothing short of a nuclear explosion will stop them".
"That suggests Gabriel was controlling him all along".
"Just to scare us?"
"To scare all of you, except Kieran. He wants Kieran, I'm certain of it. Simply because it's no benefit to Gabriel if your little Tinkerbell turns tail and runs home. To Gabriel it would mean his rival was still at large in the world. He wants Kieran up at Mundaba Heights. But he doesn't want the rest of you. He knows by now that Kieran'll be determined to vanquish him, but he wants him up there alone".
"And he wants the rest of us out of the way or destroyed?"
"He wants you all to abandon Kieran".
"How many of these creatures are there at large?"
"A fair old number. Gabriel's got the whole area pretty effectively covered".
"But Jules, how the hell do you live out here with all this going on?"
"Because we're all safe indoors. Gabriel's programmed the minds of these creatures. The craving for human flesh was put there simply to give them an insatiable desire to kill people. After all, it's no good having a killing machine that doesn't want to kill. But I'm not the only one who has a house in the jungle by any means. Others have too. Gabriel won't win the hearts of his future people by having zombies knocking down doors and attacking them in their own homes, so they can't enter buildings, not unless invited anyway, rather like the traditional vampires of old fiction. Gabriel's a subtle bastard on the quiet. By keeping us confined to barracks during the dark hours he has us completely under his thumb".
"Does that apply to Husgalonghi too?" said Adam "I noticed there was like an unofficial curfew on the place, although it was midnight not sunset".
"As far as I know the zombies never enter the town, so I don't know what accounts for that, unless it's simply fear".
"I'm surprised, as you've incurred his wrath, that he's never set them to attack you here".
"Why should he?" said Julian "When he know I'm alive and miserable instead. Far greater revenge. After all, I should think he's guessed why I chose to hole myself up here in this living death, where the most exciting part of my life is tending my garden!"
"There are other excitements in life other than sex", Adam protested.
"Huh! Would you want to be incapable? Could you stand being surrounded by your little brats, and not be able to do anything about it?"
"No, I wouldn't like it", said Adam "I'd probably become a recluse like you. And if we continue to incur his wrath, it might happen to me".
"Well you'll have to come and live here then won't you?" said Julian "We could end up like two batty old spinster sisters constantly sniping at each other".
"At least that'd give us some stimulus. Except one of us would probably poison the other at some point".
"You saw the zombie at the old shrine didn't you?"
"Yes", said Adam "Gabriel controls them through that doesn't he? If we destroyed the shrine we could destroy the zombies".
"Don't get carried away, you sound as guileless as your brats sometimes. Do you think no one else hasn't thought of that? Gabriel has areas all over the jungle from which he controls these creatures. The shrine is only one of many".
"So the gist of it is he sent that zombie the other night to scare the rest of us away", said Adam, leaning back in his chair wearily "And thus leave Patsy to head up to Mundaba Heights alone. Only it hasn't worked, but it won't stop him trying. Why doesn't he simply kill us in that case?"
"I think Gabriel only kills when he's incensed enough to have a personal grudge against someone. So far he just sees you as a menace. As time goes on though he might get angry enough to try it. You're going to have to be careful. Very careful".
"Oh I'm a big boy now".
"I know that", Julian smirked "God, this really is my punishment isn't it? All those times I took you for granted, or ran out on you halfway through, well I'm paying for it now. I want you like hell and there's nothing I can do about it. I feel like the glutton in the Greek Myths, who was punished in Hades by always having delicious food placed just out of his grasp. Still, revenge is sweet as they say. It must give you tremendous satisfaction to see me suffering like this".
"No", said Adam, quietly "No, it doesn't".
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