IDIOT'S DELIGHT V
The characters here are under copyright (c) by Lois MacMasters Bujold and are taken from her many Vorkosigan novels. The story is my own invention. It and all other elements not borrowed from Ms. Bujold are copyright (c) 2005 by Khasidi Katugraha
This is labeled "Chapter V" but it is really the second half of the last chapter. It took me so long to write the whole thing that I decided to put out the first half before the whole thing was finished.
This is the first story I have written and I would love to get some feedback, especially if you are already a fan of the Vorkosigan series. If you have criticisms, I would also like to read those. Mostly, I just want to know if anyone is reading this.
In the end, Ethan and Terrence decided that it would be impossible to steal out of Sevarin City with two children and enough camping gear to get started on the frontier. Someone would be sure to notice. It was Janos, Ethan's half brother, who came up with the idea of simply announcing that they were going to do what they had been going to do anyway, go on a camping cruise. Ethan arranged to borrow Kilby Martin's catboat, a huge old barge that couldn't point up at all, but was as safe as sitting on your own front porch and had an incredible payload capacity. They had to keep the fact that Ethan and Janos's family trimaran was moored in shallow water out on Dragon Head in a seldom-visited cove leeward of Bailey's Strand. After he had lowered the mast Janos told Ethan that it couldn't be seen at all from the windward side. The problem was, how were they going to spirit Terrence out to the rendezvous?
Ethan had worked two days more after Terrence had arrived. He had abused his position shamefully, ordering formula and cloth diapers through the Rep Center as if he were one of the clients to whom this service was offered as part of the birthing package offered to new fathers. Ethan doubted that anyone would notice the order until the end-of-year accounting, if ever. He had picked them up using MacKenzie's horse, Henry, and MacKenzie's trap. The clerk at Boyland Supply had raised his eyebrows at the huge quantity of diapers and formula, but Ethan had passed it off saying, "The partner and I decided we'd get them all out of the way at once. Everyone says we're crazy, but my brother says he'll help out in the beginning."
"It's yer funeral" The clerk replied and shrugged.
So Ethan had cloth diapers and a year's supply of powdered formula for three infants. The trap was piled high but he had timed things so that when he reached the dock it was already getting dusky and there were few people about. Janos had brought the Barthos alongside the pier and the two of them were able to stow the cartons without drawing attention. Ethan drove the tired horse back up the hill to Singing Heron Lane, unhitched him and put the trap back in MacKenzie's shed. He released Henry and the horse wandered out to nibble the grass on the edges of the road. Ethan wondered idly whether someone had been splicing dog genes into horse sperm when Henry was generated. "Thanks, Billy!" He shouted as he crossed the street back to his house, "I owe you a case!"
Billy Mackenzie stuck his nose out the door. He was a fat old man whose chest hair seemed to poke out of all the openings of his T-shirt. "Hey, no problem, Ethan. You get everything done?"
"Yeah, all set" Ethan replied. "You think I could borrow Henry and the trap again on Thursday to take the kids and our gear down to the waterfront? We're going on a camping cruise down to Bindle. Maybe even get out to Tred if the wind'll take us there in Kilby's Barthos."
"Ha ha! That old tub only goes two ways and both of 'em are to l'ooward. You can go with the wind frontwards and with the wind sidewards! You go anywhere in that thing, make sure you got someone waiting at the other end to bring you home!"
"Aw, it's not that bad," Ethan replied. "Anyways, thanks for Henry and the trap." Ethan ducked to avoid Henry who had ambled over to snuffle green saliva all over his ear.
"Like I said, it's no problem. Hell, you're actually doing me a favor. Henry don't get enough exercise and that's a fact. All he does is eat his head off and look for pretty boys to kiss."
"Hah! I guess they don't have to be that pretty, either!" Ethan shot back, pushing the amorous Henry off and giving him a final pat. He went back to his own house. I'm really going to miss Billy, he thought. He must be eighty but he's still the worst flirt in town. I'll even miss Henry.
Entering the house, Ethan was met with a sweetly domestic scene. Terrence was lying on his back on the floor while the two boys took turns doing "tricks." The tricks all seemed to involve landing either feet first or head first on Terrence's belly. Terrence had been holding up pretty well, but he looked up when Ethan came in with obvious relief.
The boys were revved up and when Ethan came in they leapt at him like young tiger cubs, trying to climb his legs. "Whoa, whoa, boys, you're going to pull my pants off if your not careful." He grabbed a grubby little boy in each arm and picked them both up. "Oh my God, you guys are getting so heavy! I can't believe it!" He gave them each a kiss. "I'm not going to be able to do that much longer. Oof!"
The boys slid down and he sent them off to get cleaned up for dinner. He was home. This. It was what he had always wanted, a cozy little house, kids running around like nuts, and a partner to share it all with. It really was a dream come true. Only problem was it was only going to last one more day. Tomorrow. . . Well, tomorrow could take care of itself, right now he was home, he could smell dinner cooking, and, by damn, he just wasn't going to worry about it.
"I'd better see about dinner," said Terrence, climbing off the floor but looking a bit indecisive.
Something had changed between them since yesterday morning when Terrence had kind of broken down. Ethan would have liked a hug or something but Terrence wasn't much of a hugger. Well, what the hell, Ethan thought, I am. He intercepted his partner on the way into to kitchen and wrapped his arms around him. "You miss me?"
"Yeah, actually, I did. I missed you today, and I missed you the whole time I was gone." Terrence murmured into his shoulder. Something really had changed. Terrence seemed to be molded against him with his body relaxed and comfortable in Ethan's arms. It almost felt as if Terrence was about to fall asleep against his chest. But then he shook himself "You feel good," was all he said. Then he separated himself from Ethan and headed off into the kitchen.
"Maybe, . . ." Ethan whispered to himself, staring after his friend, "Maybe this can work."
After supper Ethan and Terrence cleared the table. "Okay, Phil and Vic," Ethan had said, "I brought strawberries for dessert. Why don't you two get in your jams while Tadeh and I catch these dishes, okay?"
The boys had gone tearing off in happy anticipation of their bribe. Ethan put the kettle on the stove for coffee while Terrence started clearing. There was a knock on the door. The kids, who loved to answer the door, came tearing out from their bedroom. Terrence's eyes met Ethan's.
"Go to the back yard. You can slip out through the fence if you need to. Boys, this is important. Don't say that Tadeh is back. Tadeh is in some trouble and we can't let anybody find him. Do you understand?"
Terrence was already out the back door and Terrence couldn't hold off any longer. He went to the front door and opened it, wiping off his hands with the dishtowel as he went. It was Billy carrying a container in his hands.
"Hey there, Terrence! I saw them strawberries you was bringing home and I thought they might go good with a little ice cream. You think?"
The boys didn't know what was going on, but they could sense their parents' anxiety and so they had locked themselves onto the backs of Ethan's legs for safety. But they knew Billy, and Phil poked his head around the side to see better.
"What do you know? You got kobolds growing out of your legs! Hey there, kobold, I'll give you some ice cream if you don't eat me up!" said Billy, poking Phil gently in the belly.
Phil giggled. "I'm not a kobold. I'm Phil, uncle Billy."
"What! You're not a kobold! I suppose you're going to tell me that that other barnacle stuck to you poor dad's legs ain't no kobold neither!"
"Well, if you tell me so, I have to believe you, but he sure looks like a kobold to me! One thing's certain, though, this here ice-cream is gonna turn into mush if I don't find someone to eat it pretty darn quick and, what I say is, better it melts in our bellies than in the box."
Before Ethan knew what was happening, he was following Billy and the two boys into the kitchen. The old man glanced around the kitchen.
"Is that chicken pie you been eating? Ethan, you are nothing short of amazing, I mean to tell you! Here you come home late after doing errands with my Henry and then you manage to whip together a meal fit for a king, feed your kids and have the dishes half done an hour and a quarter later. I swear I don't know how you do it!" The old man glanced at Ethan from under his bushy eyebrows. "Hah! You going to stand there gawking like a scallywag while me and these two kobolds eat ice-cream and strawberries off of the tabletop or you going to get out some bowls and spoons?"
"What? Oh, yeah, of course, bowls and spoons." Ethan responded idiotically.
"Was you expecting company?" asked Billy as he sat down.
"Uh, no. I don't think so."
"Well, its just, you had this fourth placemat so I was wondering. I just barged in here like I own the place, but if you got someone coming, or anything. . ." Billy left the sentence hanging suggestively.
"Oh! Uh, no! No, it's just, well, I was just about to send the boys over to see if you wanted to join us!"
Only one of Billy's eyebrows went up this time. "Well, that was kind of you. Very kind. I do get lonely, I must say. I don't know what I did for company before you folks settled in. I guess it was silly of me, but I was kind of thinking that you might have been expecting Terrence back. . ."
Say something! Ethan thought to himself. He looked around in panic. The silence was stretching out just a little bit too long.
"He's not here!" Phil announced.
Ethan swallowed. He could actually feel his heart being pushed back down his throat.
"Whose not here, honeybunch?" Billy asked.
"Who you were talking about. Tadeh! He's not here."
Before Billy could respond, Vic, peaceable, loving Vic, launched himself with murderous intent on his brother. "Shut up, Phil. Shut up! We're not supposed to say. Shut up!" He had Phil on the floor and was punching at him rather ineffectually.
The mobility of Billy's eyebrows was truly astonishing. They seemed to disappear right up into his hair and he looked straight at Ethan. "Ah, I see," he said, picking the berserker child off of his victim and handing him over to Ethan. "Let's get these rascals calmed down and then maybe you and I should have a little chat."
Phil was weeping on the floor, and Vic had dissolved into a screaming and completely intractable bundle of wiry resistance. Ethan, arms were full of hysterical little boy, couldn't think of anything he would like less than to have a little chat with Billy who seemed to be sucking information straight out of the air. He stroked Vic's back and made soothing noises. The boys subsided, sobbing and hiccupping.
"I di, di, didn't. . .I didn't t-t-tell! Phil wept.
"Sh, Shh," Billy soothed him. "Of course you didn't, sweetheart. Nothing to worry about. You're fine. Everyone's fine."
Ethan wasn't doing so well with Vic. The problem was that Ethan himself was not fine, in fact he was terrified. The consequences of Terrence being discovered here appalled him. And Vic was picking up on his fear. He wasn't making any noise, but Ethan could see his own terror reflected back in the little boy's eyes. Billy had found them out. He had been an idiot to let Terrence stay. He should have sent him away immediately to wait on the Orestes. He shouldn't even have let the boys know he was here. What if Billy reported them? His only comfort was that at the moment all anyone knew was that Terrence had stolen three uterine replicators from one of the Rep Centers. If they ever found out that he was using them to grow female babies there wouldn't be a corner on Athos in which they could hide. Terrence might even face execution, the boys would be repossessed. Ethan seemed to be looking down and down into a black abyss, to be falling in with no escape.
He was called back to himself by the rigidity of the child in his arms. Vic's eyes looked wide and vacant. Oh my God, he thought, what am I doing to my son?
"Billy, quick, trade with me," he said, and dumped Vic into Billy's arms. He picked up Phil who was feeling comfortable in Billy's arms and started wailing again at the abrupt transition. "Look Billy, I can't explain, but I have to separate myself from Vic for a few minutes until I can calm down. Can you just sit here and hold him?" Billy might be an old busy body, but Ethan knew that his heart was solid gold. Taking a last agonized look at Vic, rigid and gasping in Billy's arms, he turned and resolutely walked away. He knew he could not help until he had recovered himself. Until then, Vic would be experiencing all of Ethan's own anxiety and fear with all the undefended immediacy and terror of a child's nightmare.
At the back door he met Terrence coming in. "Let's go back out for a couple of minutes. Billy's holding Vic. I've been scaring him to death."
"Yeah, you kind of scared me, too. Lately, I don't seem to be able to filter you out too well or something. What happened?"
"Phil started to talk, I had a sort of panic attack, Vic tried to murder Phil, and then I tried to comfort Vic. My comforting scared the poor little guy practically to death. He couldn't catch his breath so I left him with Billy to give him some distance from me so we could both recover."
"I take it Billy knows?"
"I take it he does, too. Nothing overt has been said, but he could see that the table had been set for four; and, when Phil informed him that you weren't here, that pretty much confirmed his suspicions."
Phil looked up from Ethan's shoulder where he had been drowsing in post-hysterical lethargy. "I didn't tell, Tadeh."
"I know you didn't, honey. You were just fine." Terrence said. "How about if you and Vic and have a story now?" He turned to Ethan, "Well, let's go do it, Babe."
Ethan followed him into the house with Phil still drowsing on his shoulder. Suddenly he felt better, "He called me 'Babe,'" One corner of his mouth pulled upward just a speck, "Terrence called me 'Babe!'"
"So, Billy, how are you?" Terrence asked as he came into the kitchen.
Billy looked up and said mildly, "Ah, I see. You are back. Glad to hear it. Didn't think much of you walking out on Ethan like that. He's a good man. You won't find anyone better. Wish I'd found someone like him back in the day. You keep acting like an idiot, you'll find that you're one lonely bachelor."
Vic, who looked almost comatose when Terrence had walked in, roused himself enough to whine that he wanted Tadeh to hold him, so Terrence hoisted the child up out of Billy's arms. Vic seemed to be made without bones tonight and molded himself against Terrence's shoulder and stuck his thumb in his mouth. "I know it, Billy. I know it," said Terrence sitting down across from Billy in Ethan's chair. Billy turned down the lamp. A dusky silence descended which neither man seemed to feel a need to break.
Eventually Billy remarked, "So, it seems you are in some sort of difficulty. Care to tell me what's going on?"
Terrence looked alarmed for a moment but then his expression changed to one of amusement. "Well, if you really want me to. But it looks to me as if you'd gotten the whole thing figured out pretty well already. You know the police are after me, you know I stole three uterine replicators from the South Province Rep Center. Your calculations are slightly off on the birthday, however; the girls won't be born for another month."
"What. . .? How'd you do that?"
Terrence suddenly thought he could see what Billy must have looked like 50 pounds thinner and 60 years younger. If he'd had a straw hat, Terrence could just see him as a young man tearing it off his head and throwing it on the ground in consternation.
"Little Vic does that, too!" Billy said. "He's always reacting to what I ain't said yet. But he's never done me that good . What is it, some kind of family trait?"
"Something like that, Billy. You should have met my wife, Janine."
"Your wife!" Billy's eyebrows went up and his eyes widened in his old face. "Wife! Hah! I should have known! Well that explains a lot."
Now it was Terrence who was looking surprised.
"Well," Billy continued, "Don't look so shocked. You ain't the only immigrant that ever landed on this rock! I was twenty-six years old when me and Johnny Barley came here. I wasn't too keen on it neither, but Johnny's family had kicked him out when they found out about me and him. The two of us tried out spacing but we didn't really like it. Then we got here and soon after Johnny got the fever and died. I wished I could have died, too; but I didn't. Went off and become a miner. Yup, I took my part doing the dirty in the dark, as they say. It's not a bad thing, actually, when your heart is broke. You can sort of lose track of yourself and all the hurt goes with it when you do that stuff. You can't do it forever, though. The orgies and them drugs, they'll kill you after a while. I thought that's where you might have went when you disappeared like that. Only thing was, I couldn't figure out why. So now I guess I know that, too. Oh, I ain't shocked. Thing I can't figure out is, what's a woman loving man doing here?"
The fire in the stove popped and a log shifted. The contrast between the two men was startling. Billy sat back in his chair, old and fat. His clothes were rather messily patched at the elbows and the cuff of one of his trouser legs was coming undone. Terrence sat across from him, small and compact, his clothes were neat and his blonde hair was brushed. A vital energy radiated from his wiry body. But between the two was an underlying sympathy. In Terrence's arms Vic rested in the complete relaxation of childhood. Heat radiated from the boys body and he had begun to sweat slightly as the tension of his earlier fright dissipated under the sense of security imparted to him by the feeling of his father's body under him and his father's hands on his back.
"I wanted Janine back." Terrence said, into the silence. "I wanted her back and I didn't care who got hurt. I couldn't have her, I knew that, but I thought, if I could have her children, I would somehow have her. I didn't see, I couldn't see that children are their own people. With children you have to go on. They don't give you back what is lost."
"Ah," was all Billy had to say, but it seemed that it was all that needed to be said and Terrence felt compelled to continue.
"So, I started three embryos in uterine replicators at the Rep Center. Three girls, because they would be more like Janine. I felt completely rational and I carried out my plan perfectly. It wasn't until I made my getaway and set up my hiding place that the insanity of everything I had been doing since I arrived on Athos struck me. I sat there day after day. I had brought rations, so I didn't have to worry about food or even cook. All I did was sit, wander about, and tend the replicators. Finally, I was just sitting, not eating and not sleeping much. The only thing that would rouse me was the need to tend the replicators. But they don't require much in the way of upkeep. You just have to change the filters and the nutrient solutions from time to time. One day I just sat from morning until dark without moving. I had to piss really badly, but I didn't get up. My body was in agony from needing to piss and I was thirsty, but I didn't really care. When night came, I kept sitting there. There were no moons that night so it was really dark. The only light came from the phosphorescence of the water. It seemed to me that a woman walked up out of the sea and sat next to me. I thought it was Janine but when I tried to speak she said, 'Dead man, why are you killing my children?' Finally, I managed to croak out, 'Janine?" But she said, I am not Janine, Janine is in your mirror. You will not walk until you break it.'"
Terrence paused in his story and looked up. Ethan was listening, barely visible in the shadow of the doorway. The intensity of the silence deepened. Finally, Terrence resumed his narrative. "She stood up and turned back and looked to the sea. It was so real. She had seaweed in her hair and I could smell it. Without looking at me she said, 'You are the mother of your children," and she walked back into the sea.
"I don't know how long after that it was, but dawn came. It was cold and foggy and I realized that I had pissed myself sometime in the night. My pants were wet and I began to shiver. It took a great effort, though, to get myself to stand up; and, when I did, I almost fell over. I had to force myself to eat and drink. It was at that point that I realized that I had been insane for quite a long time. I checked the replicators and a feeling of panic came over me. These fetuses were rapidly coming to term. They would soon be babies with all that that entailed. I knew I had to make a decision. I could open the replicators and terminate the lives within them. After that, I supposed, I could kill myself, too. My only other choice was to find help. I knew. . . I'm sorry Ethan. . . I knew that you would help. I knew that you would help me."
Silence extended for a moment; then Ethan strode into the room and snapped on the light. "Quite right!" he said driving back the mood in the kitchen like a knight on his horse. "You were quite right to come back. Of course I will help you!" His tone softened, "I am glad you finally know that."
The Catboat, Barthos, rounded Dragon's Head and sailed into the cove where the Orestes lay at anchor. It had been necessary for Ethan to plot a course north of Vasel rather than to come the more direct southerly route because Barthos was not a weatherly craft. It was late and they had sailed all day. Ethan's eye followed the track of the moon as it sparkled across the summer sea. His jacket was wet with condensation and in the bright moonlight he could see beads of dew that had condensed on the boys' sleeping bags where they slept on cushions in the bottom of the cockpit. Terrence shivered in his sleep but Ethan couldn't leave the tiller to fetch him a tarp or a blanket. He had insisted on staying up with Ethan, even though Ethan had told him that he should sleep. Well, they were almost there now. Ethan shook his partner awake. "Terrence, rouse up! I need you to help me set the anchor."
They glided into the cove. On Ethan's signal, Terrence let go the anchor. They rounded to their mooring and dropped the big sail. Time to sleep! In the morning they would transfer their supplies and tomorrow evening they would set sail toward Tred and then on to Rudgrod. According to Terrence, the uterine replicators could run unattended for another 10 days. Ethan sent a brief prayer skyward that there would be no storms. He felt badly about abandoning his friend Kilby's catboat so far from it's berth, but he had left a letter that Billy MacKenzie was going to post next week telling Kilby where it was along with some money to hire some kid to come pick it up. Kilby wouldn't understand, but Ethan couldn't help that. This plan was stupid from start to finish. Ethan knew that. But maybe, if they could buy some time, some kind of plan could be worked out. In the meantime, Ethan was exhausted. It was time to sleep.
He slid into his sleeping bag and snuggled down on the cushions next to the boys in the bottom of the cockpit. Terrence wiggled in on the opposite side and leaned across the sleeping children. "G'night, babe," He said, aiming a kiss that missed and landed on Ethan's eyebrow.
"G'night." Ethan replied.
The last thing he had done before he left home had been to send a message from his office. It had been fairly cryptic. And what could the recipient do, even if she were to receive it and were able to decipher it? Mount a rescue operation from space? Ethan's chuckle was slightly sardonic and his eyes closed. There was no use worrying about what-ifs. Right now, he had to worry about the survival of his family in the wilderness. And that was a big enough challenge for anybody. The sound of the small waves lapping at Barthos's hull soothed his ears. It was the sound of his childhood. In the soft moonlight the small boat rode at her mooring and rocked his little family to sleep.