A Bathys Serial
by Nial Thorne
Usual warnings. Reading further constitutes an unambiguous gesture of assent to the statement: I am not a minor person, nor in the company of a minor person. The story and the Bathys scenario are copyright © 2002 Nial Thorne. You may copy this for your own private use; all other rights reserved.
Comments very welcome at Nial_Thorne@hotmail.com
Max and Paul
"I wonder how Will and David are getting on?" said Paul.
It was another warm, sunny day, and we were having a late breakfast. We had not felt inclined to get up early, and there did not seem to be any particular reason why we should. I found myself wondering if anyone would ever get anything done in Bathys, or if ours would be a civilisation on permanent bedrest.
"I don't know," I said. "I think they very definitely like each other, but Will... Well, we'll see. Do you like them?"
"I like David a lot. Do you suppose they're gay?"
"Will is, or at any rate he fancies boys. He told me. As for David... I think so. Anyhow, he will be in the end, or at any rate bi, like all the boys, of course."
"Like all the boys? Why?"
I was surprised. I had simply assumed he knew.
"The programming. Didn't you know? It's part of the initial processing, when you lay on that table thing in the Reception Centre, remember? It did all sorts of things, the registration, the rebirth cycle... And it changed people. Who they want. It made all the boys mostly attracted to men and boys. Partly girls and women too, but mostly men."
"You - you changed us? Changed us all? Made us all - fancy men?"
He was shocked, badly shocked, and I cursed myself for springing this on him in this way.
"You weren't changed much. You were gay anyhow."
"But... but all those others? All - all my friends? They were all changed and made to fancy men?"
"When we planned the Gathering, we concentrated on boys who were likely to be gay anyhow, from what we could see. But, yes, most people adjusted, if only just a bit."
"I - I think that's just horrible! That's one of the most horrible things I've ever heard!"
Damn! Damn and double damn. Why had I not discussed this with him carefully, months before?
"Why? What's so horrible about it?"
"You - you're making them into someone else! Taking away who they are and forcing them to be what you want, just so - just so you can have sex with them!"
"Hang on, son, hang on. Okay, you don't like it. Now. I want you to listen, because we've thought a lot about this..."
"I don't care! It's always the same. It keeps on happening! Bathys is just so great in lots of ways, but then - but then suddenly something like this comes up... Like the availability stuff, and the straps and so on. And I go along with it, and - and because the kids all trust me, you just use me to get them to accept it! You don't care what I think, you don't ask me, you just tell me. Only this time, you didn't even tell me! And now - now of course it's too late. We've all been programmed, just to suit you, just because you want us for sex. That's all we are to you!"
He was leaning across the table, his eyes blazing. He'd held his anger in check the day before, but now it was out. He was beside himself with fury.
"Okay, son, you've had your say. Now it's my turn. Will you listen? Will you give me a chance to explain?"
He buried his face in his hands.
"Say whatever you damn like."
"Is it so bad for a boy to have sex with a man?"
"No! Not if they want to. Really want to. But all those straight boys - they didn't want to!"
"No, they didn't, the straight ones. They couldn't. But now - now they can. What's so bad in removing their inability to do that? It enlarges what they're able to do, it gives them more choices. What's so bad about that?"
"They used to fancy girls and women. Now they won't!"
"No, that's not it. They'll still fancy them, just men more, most of them. And people still won't be all the same, because it's only the underlying basis which is changed. Some will still fancy men, or fancy girls, more or less than others, because of the way they've been brought up and everything else that's happened to them. Is it really so bad, to make all the boys bisexual?"
"What will it do to someone, to suddenly change them like that? It could really mess them up. How will they cope? Teenagers, kids, suddenly..."
"It isn't as sudden as that. It starts after about a week, and it takes a month or so. And you might not even notice until something happens to trigger it. Have you noticed?"
"You were changed. You were entirely gay, but you were changed to be bisexual. You could go with a girl, now. Have you noticed?"
"A girl? Course I haven't noticed. There aren't any girls!"
"No, but there are women, about two hundred of them. Martha, for example, she's fifty-six. In four years time, she'll be a six-year-old girl. In twenty-one years, when you're sixteen on your second cycle, she'll be - she'll be twenty-three. See?"
He just stared at me.
"I haven't noticed either," I went on. "I was a bit bisexual, you know, but most of the men were made entirely gay; just a few exceptions, like Dick."
"But - but you just did this so that you could have sex with us!"
"And you could have sex with us, for that matter, or with each other. Bathys has its social system, which is its own. The programming is what makes it work. It's necessary, that's just how it is. And no, we didn't ask you. We've been over this before: we took the decisions for you, because you're children, and it's the job of adults to decide for you. That's what adults do. It's our responsibility to make sure you have good lives, and in Bathys that means the programming."
"That's all you want from us. Sex. You'll do anything for that and you don't give a fuck about anything else about us!"
"That's not fair. Do you really think that sex is all I care about with you? Or Michael with Amit? Do you really think that? C'mon, Paul, be fair with me!"
We stared at each other for a long moment. Then his eyes fell.
"Okay, that was unfair. But I still don't like it."
"No. I understand. But there's nothing you or I can do about it now. I'm asking you to set your anger aside, son. I've seen you do that before, and I know you can."
He looked up at me, and silently, tears began to run down his cheeks.
"It's so nice here. I just wish - I just wish there weren't these things I hate as well. Am I wrong to think that?"
I held out my arms, and he came to me.
"No, of course not. It's your job to remind us of these things. You're the Prince, you speak for your Order. But - well, son, nothing is free. There's always a price to be paid."
He gripped me hard.
"Shall we go to Lakeport, then?" I said. "We could have lunch at Emek's and maybe go out in a boat... I tell you what. Shall we invite Will and David to have supper with us there? I don't suppose they've been to Lakeport yet."
"That'd be nice."
"Course," he said. "Just because I disagree with you, it doesn't mean I love you any less."
My boy was growing up. I was so proud of him I thought I would burst. But what he had said had made me think, as well. We had taken a lot on ourselves when we gathered our little nation together, and, if I was honest, I had to admit that we had shown more than a little arrogance. I was actually fairly well convinced that with the programming we had not overstepped the mark; but how could I be sure that was so with everything? What on earth would I do, if we had been wrong, if we had, in fact, made some dreadful miscalculation? Because, whatever we had done, there was now absolutely no way back.
Igor and Karl
The moment I invited him in, Karl changed completely.
"I can't believe I've done this! I can't believe it!"
He was delighted with himself, almost bouncing up and down with glee. His accent had grown stronger, mingled German and American, and for some reason that enchanted me too.
"Can't believe you did what?"
"Came to see you! I've never done this before. Never! And now... Now we can have sex!"
I just stared at him, open-mouthed, so completely astonished that I couldn't speak. All that day I'd been worrying and wondering, what could I say to him? How could I... I mustn't hurt him. I mustn't scare him... And now - to my horror, I found myself laughing.
"What's so funny?" he said, and I could see he was annoyed.
"Now... now we can have sex!" I managed to get a grip. This wouldn't do. "Oh, Karl, I'm sorry. There's nothing funny about it at all. But don't you - don't you think we should take it a bit slower? I mean..."
"Why? I want to have sex, and so do you, don't you?"
Of course I did. And I couldn't deny it, not after he had risked so much.
"Yes. I do, very much. But - Karl, I've - I've never had sex before. I'm thirty-five, and I'm a virgin. So I'm a bit..."
"Never? You've never? Not with anyone?"
"No. Not with anyone."
"But - but that is marvellous! I will be your first! Come on!"
He was grinning, laughing, dancing with delight.
"Come on - where?"
"Karl - please... Karl - I'm, well, I'm a bit shy. And scared..."
Suddenly his face was all gentleness, and he took my hand.
"Don't worry. You know - this is the first time for me, too."
"Really? I thought..."
"Oh, not the first time I have sex. No, I am having sex since I was six, in the brothel. That is eight years now, nearly nine. Don't worry, I am expert! But - this is the first time I have sex just because I want to. Every other time, they made me. It was not always bad, but I never chose. This time, I have sex just because I like you and I want to. Do you understand?"
"Oh, Karl... Not even with the other boys?"
"No. It was not allowed. And here - well, I am not interesting in other boys, not much. Only men. And now - only you. So come along! I know what to do, and you will like it..."
Excited and terrified, I allowed him to pull me into the bedroom. And there, for the first time in my life, I kissed a boy; he kissed me full on the mouth. He was only two or three inches shorter than me, and the way we fitted together seemed almost miraculous to me. And he ran his hands into my hair, and hummed.
"Curly hair..." he whispered. "That's so sexy. Hold me, my Lord. Put your arms round me."
I had been standing there, paralysed, but I did what he said, and I could feel the long muscles of his back, bent to reach me, and lower, the incredible curves of his buttocks. The shape of his body moving in my arms filled a gap in me that I didn't know even existed.
We kissed, it seemed for hours, and then he stood away from me. I was wearing a just a loose robe bound with a sash, and smiling, he began to undo it; and then it fell away, and I was naked.
"Oh my God!" he said. "I thought, you're such a little guy, that..."
My dick is huge. I had always regarded it as one of nature's jokes: huge but unemployed, taunting me with its useless size.
"I'm sorry..." I said, fatuously.
He laughed, and then, in a single fluid movement, pulled his own tunic over his head. He was slender but wiry, hairless as were all the boys; his nipples seemed quite large. And his dick, perfect, uncircumcised, was hard; I could see the head, glistening. He kicked off his sandals and took my hand.
"Just lie down. Have you been thinking about me all day?"
"Well, yes," I said, obeying him.
"This one won't last long, then. Now..."
He parted my legs and knelt between them, and then - then I felt his hands on me, one of them cupping my balls and the other on my dick. I gasped, and he laughed.
"I'm going to give you a blowjob, my Lord. I'm going to suck your dick right into my mouth, and the first time you come with another person, you'll be deep, deep inside me..."
He bent over, and inhaled me. I felt my dick pass between his lips and over his tongue, and then, without any trouble at all, I slid down his throat. Instantly I was overwhelmed; the feeling was so beyond anything I had ever known that I lost every kind of control. I screamed out loud, and then I was coming, grabbing his head and holding him, coming, shooting again and again into his throat, thrusting into him with all my strength.
His lips shiny, he looked up at me and grinned.
"I'm... I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to..."
"Why are you sorry, my Lord?" he said, lying down beside me.
"I didn't mean to be so rough."
"That wasn't rough. Anyhow, sex is rough. Sometimes. And sometimes it isn't."
"I didn't mean to finish so soon."
"But I meant you to," he said. "Now you've done that... we can start, my Lord."
"You needn't call me that," I said. "After all, we're..."
"I want to. Remember, I'm just a little whore from Hamburg, and now... now I'm having sex with a Lord!"
"You aren't a whore. No one made you do this, you're doing because you like it. You're not a whore, Karl."
He rolled over onto me and kissed me frantically, gripping the sides of my head; then pulled away and grinned. And the next moment, his mouth was on one of my nipples. The sensation was so wild and unexpected that I screamed again.
"Oh God! Karl..."
He roamed over me, biting and licking, and I was swamped by unbelievable feelings, feelings I had never even imagined. My hands found his head, my fingers running into the fine hair as I squirmed and writhed.
"No!" he said. "No, put your hands above your head, my Lord. Yes..."
He hadn't touched my dick even once. He was licking up the inside of my thighs, and then - then I burst again, covering myself, splashing across his face. He knelt between my legs, wiping my come off himself, off me, and licking his hands. I stared at him dreamily.
"Better that time. Now - now you are ready, my Lord."
His face was wicked as he reached for me and gently started to rub me. Soon, his actions and the expression on his face were enough, and once again I was hard. I was astonished at my stamina.
"What - what are doing?"
"Just wait, my Lord..."
He continued with his work, and now he was just stroking me, dribbling spit onto my dick, not touching me in any other way. I was not so keyed up now, and I could feel it would take a long time to bring me to the point in this way. He looked at me and grinned.
"Frustrating, my Lord?"
"Nice? Then try this!"
All at once he had straddled me, and before I could understand what was happening, he had my dick inside himself. In one searing blast of feeling, he sunk me right into his depths, right to the very bottom. We groaned together.
"Oh my God, Karl, how did you do that? Oh, God!"
He just grinned at me.
"You're big, my Lord. Really big. I can feel you right up inside me... Oh, that's good. So good..."
And then he began to move over me, slowly up and down. I could feel his insides rippling over me, the tightness of the sphincter itself and the hot, delicious greasiness of his channel, and the world shrank, it shrank to just my dick, and the vision, the vision of his slender body straining over me, his head flung back, and his moans of delight. Slowly he moved, full length, and then faster, and I could feel myself rising, but then he stopped, stopped completely, and all I could feel were the ripples of the contractions inside him, his muscles massaging me as he leered down at me, and then laughed, laughed at my frustration. And then he was moving again, faster, and before I was anywhere near my climax he spasmed himself, yelled out, yelled my name, and shot, shot his juices over me again and again.
But he didn't stop, not even for a moment, didn't even interrupt his rhythm, and the sight of him, of his ecstasy made me start to move myself, I couldn't help it, I was thrusting up into him, buffeting against his movements.
"Yes! Now, my Lord. Now!"
He lifted himself off me, and now he was on his back, his legs up. I didn't need to be told what to do; I couldn't bear to be out of him. Tentatively I moved my dick into him, and it went in smoothly, without resistance, and then he grabbed me and forced me into his depths.
"Now fuck me! Fuck me hard, my Lord!"
I moved in him once, twice; and then my control broke again, and I was surging into him, bearing down on him in long strokes, yelling, gripping his shoulders and staring down into his face.
"Harder! Faster! Don't stop now till you come! Make me come again!"
I was pounding him, pounding without mercy, faster and faster, and I could feel myself rising. Something made me change to shorter strokes, moving faster and faster inside him, and then his mouth opened soundlessly and his eyes closed, and inside him I could feel, I could actually feel the pulses of his ejaculation; and that was enough. I hauled him into my arms, and I was back on my heels, holding him, kissing him, and I felt my juice run up into him, again and again, rippling out of me.
And then we lay together, facing each other, embracing.
For a while we said nothing; and then I could feel that, very gently, he was weeping.
"What's the matter, Karl?"
"Nothing... It's just - well, I've done those things so many times. So many, many times. I was very special whore, you know? Very expensive. People waited weeks and months to have me, I was always busy, sometimes three, four times a night. You do it since you are little, you don't know anything else, and I hated it. But I kept thinking, somehow I knew, in the end it would be all right. Then those men came, Bathys people, and they took Peter and me, and now I'm here, so I was right. And I think, sex is sex, I can have sex, and Lord Igor, I'm very fond of him, so we can have sex, it will be a gift to him, and that will be good..."
"And - and it wasn't? Oh, Karl..."
I was devastated, because for me it had been an epiphany, an opening into heaven, the beginning of a new life.
"You don't understand! It wasn't like that at all. It wasn't like those times I had sex, not like them at all. It was completely different! It was - it was wonderful, so wonderful, to have sex with someone, someone you really like..."
"Oh my darling boy."
For a long time I held him, and in the end he was quiet.
"I don't know how you survived," I said.
"How? I hoped. I never stopped hoping. Peter and me - we used to tell stories together, of how it would be, and we'd hope together. That was how we did it. Hope."
Dick and Martha
We were fifty-six now, Martha and me, and we went back a long way. Right back to high school, in fact, back to that West Country market town, when Martha was the brilliant star of all our lives, the one person that everything revolved around. Beautiful, bewitching Martha Maxwell; there wasn't a boy who didn't love her, it seemed to me, or a girl who didn't follow her lead in everything. She could have had anyone, anyone at all, she could have taken her pick from the brightest and the most admired, and everyone expected her to do just that.
But, to my unending astonishment, she chose me. I wasn't special in any way; not particularly bright, not strong, not noticeably handsome, certainly not rich. All these years later, I still find it hard to believe; and yet, we've been faithful to each other, in our way, we rely on each other in every part of our lives. Rediscovering her in each cycle, in a hundred different ways, has been what Bathys has been all about, to me.
Right back then, when we first started going out, walking together through the little lanes and snug villages of Dorset and Somerset, I remember asking her once, why she'd done it, why out of all the others, she'd picked me.
"Lots of reasons, my love," she said. "And one of them is that you can ask a question like that, and honestly not know the answer."
And we became a team, a team in everything. There was sex, of course there was; there's always been that, and it turned out that there we were matched as well as we were in everything else, and each cycle it's been the same. But there were other things, too. She was my guiding star, and she shone, shone to everyone, and I was content to stand by her side and reflect the light.
"I dunno why you put up with me sometimes," I said. "I'm such a dull dog compared to you."
"That's what everyone else may think," she said. "But I know better. I know I'd be nothing without you to hold me up."
But fairly early on, when we were still laying the foundations of our life together, we ran into the two big problems, the problems which through the years we shared. She always wanted kids, always wanted a house full of them; and we found out, once we tried, that it wasn't to be, that as if to balance all her other gifts, she'd been denied just that one, the one she wanted most of all: the gift of motherhood. There were treatments, of course, but they were so expensive they were far beyond our reach; what were we, after all? All we had came from the little cafe we kept.
We could adopt, we thought, and that's when the other thing came out, the thing I had hidden; but the psych assessments discovered it, sure enough. I'd denied it to myself, mostly, but I knew: I wanted boys. The psychologist was cool enough when he told us, but I could sense his distaste. And that was that. No one like me would ever be allowed to adopt. I was lucky to avoid preventative detention, as it was called.
I offered her a divorce, of course. That's the only time she ever lost her temper with me, calling me a fool and a coward. God had made me the way I was; it was up to me to make something good out of it, not to run away from it. And nor would she run away from it, she said; and that was it. My woman threw away her great dream, to stay with me.
The years passed, and we worked, and our life together was good. And in fact, children came to us; it seemed as if we couldn't keep them away, the kids of the neighbourhood, nephews and nieces. All of them came to rely on Martha, and our cafe was full of them, morning and night. It wasn't that she took them away from their parents, rather that she helped them along, and sent them back to their homes stronger and more loving. And I played my part, too, because when it came to boys, I could sometimes see things that she didn't.
And, in due course, some of them became my lovers, too. Martha didn't object to this; she understood, really before I did, how they fitted into me, and how they in no way threatened the things that she and I shared. It was strange, but we understood it, and understood each other. Together we grew stronger and closer through it all.
Later, much later, when we had come to expect that our lives would start to run slower, the Lords of Bathys came to us. It was, in fact, Michael who appeared in our cafe that afternoon, and to start with, we refused to go with him, refused his mysterious invitation. In the end he was forced to do what they had done for no one else, and tell us what it was all about. And we said yes.
Once again, Martha shone. In the debates at Glencoram she showed them, and everyone was surprised but Michael and me. And now - now, in our base in the restaurant at the Centre, the whole of Bathys came to us, the endless stream of boys, yes, and of grownups too, who needed her help, her understanding. She had become the mother of the whole Realm, its unacknowledged queen.
But I knew that even that wouldn't be enough. I knew that her dream was about to awake again; it was just a question of when. In this, at least, I understood her better than she did herself. And when Alan appeared, I knew that this was it.
It was Desmond who brought him, and we were surprised, because he was good with the little kids. In his house in Easton there were usually five or six of them, and he and his own boy, a rangey French sixteen-year-old called Phillippe, helped them along. Alan was eight, and that was older then most of Desmond's little charges, but Paul and Amit at the Flats didn't know what to do with him. Nor did Desmond, although he tried his best.
We were in the middle of the Gathering at the time, a frantic period, but somehow Martha always had time. Alan stood in the restaurant, and whenever anyone went near him, he shrieked. He didn't say anything; his face had no expression at all; he just screamed and screamed.
Well, it took Martha a day; a day of gently talking to him, coaxing him, and later, giving him things to eat and drink, and just sitting, saying nothing, being with him. And by the evening, he was in her lap, clamping himself to her, as if he was drowning.
Igor told us his story later. Alan was from Australia, from Sidney, and the things that had happened to him, even by the standards of the other boys, were beyond belief. We saw them, some of them, when at the end of the day, she persuaded him to take off his clothes. We saw, among other things, that what Igor had said was true: that there would be no puberty for Alan in this cycle.
Because we took him home with us, of course, back to our house in Southwall. There wasn't anything else we could do; no one else but Martha could get through to him. But she coaxed him out of his filthy clothes, and got him to take a bath, and filled him with food - all the time at Easton, he hadn't had a bite. And then she put him to bed.
"Kiss," she said, leaning over him. "Goodnight, my dear."
"Goodnight," he whispered. His first word; and then, seeing me by the door: "Are you going to whip me now, master?"
Martha stayed silent.
"No one will ever whip you again, little darling," I said quietly.
"Thank you," he said; and then he started to cry.
Martha held him until he was quiet, and we crept downstairs.
She came into my arms, the Martha that no one ever saw but me. And she wept as well.
"We'll have to keep him," she said.
"Of course we will. He's our son."
The expression on her face was the one that for so many years I had longed to see. I wasn't surprised. And in any case, I already knew that Alan wouldn't be the last.
Don and Rhys
When I awoke the next day it was still nearly dark, although the sky was starting to show red. Both of us were lying curled on our sides and I had an arm flung over Rhys's body; I could feel the gentle movements of his breathing. For a moment I couldn't make out why I had woken, but then I heard it again: a series of little squeaks and whistles, answered by a strange grunting sound.
Moving slightly, I was able to look over Rhys's head, and I could just make them out: no more than a slightly darker shade of grey in the twilight. There was a rustle of leaves, and I could see a movement. It was difficult to tell them apart, but there seemed to be several of them. Whatever they were, they were moving close to the ground, and they didn't seem to be very big. I relaxed a little.
I'd been straining to see them for half an hour or more when Rhys stirred slightly. I slipped my hand over his mouth and gripped him tightly, and I felt him wriggle.
"Keep very quiet," I breathed in his ear. "There's something in the wood."
I felt him stiffen, but he made no sound. Very, very slowly we moved apart and lay side by side.
"What are they?" he whispered in my ear.
"Dunno. Let's wait. It's getting brighter."
The movement was clearer now, and I could see that there were six or seven of them, some larger and a couple of smaller ones, and they were definitely scuffing through the dead leaves and litter of the wood.
"They must know we're here," Rhys whispered. "Are they dangerous?"
"Don't think so. They're quite small."
"I - I can't make them out. What are they? Are they snakes?"
There was something snakey there, I could see it; several long snakey things, curling and writhing in the air. But that didn't seem to be all of it; I could hear legs moving as well; and then I got it.
"Those must be their tails. They've got huge long tails!"
Rhys gripped my arm; and then, quite suddenly, the sun started to appear, and we could see them in the red horizontal light of dawn.
Seven creatures, not twenty feet away from us; two were obviously only youngsters, and the others - their bodies no more than eighteen inches long, with strong, muscly back legs, long necks and tails - tails easily two feet long, waving in the air, as their noses rooted in the litter. For a moment I couldn't make it out, but then I realised - their bodies and legs were covered in feathers, grey feathers fading to white below, and their sides and backs were striped with green.
"They're - they're birds!"
"No, they aren't," I said. "Look - they've got little arms. They're - Rhys, they're dinosaurs! They must be!"
"Dinosaurs? They can't be! Dinosaurs are huge!"
He let his voice rise, squeaking with excitement, and the little group of creatures put their heads up and looked at us, frozen, birdlike, sideways with one eye each. One of them had a lizard, still twisting, in its mouth. They stared at us for a minute; then they obviously decided that we were nothing to worry about and went back to their breakfast. The one with the lizard threw back its head and swallowed it, whole; I could see it sliding down its neck.
"Oh, wow!" said Rhys, quietly, as we slowly got to our feet.
"They are dinosaurs," I said, racking my memory. "Not all dinosaurs were big. Look!"
One of the little ones was coming towards us. I was expecting it to jump with both feet, like a kangaroo, but it didn't; it scuttled quickly, running on its toes from side to side, but always getting closer. Rhys started to back away.
"Don't worry," I said. "It won't hurt us. It's just a pup! A chick, whatever..."
The little thing looked at me quizzically and squeaked. And then Rhys was back by my side; he had the remains of yesterday's stew, and he knelt, holding out a bit of meat.
Amazed, I watched as the whatever-it-was took the morsel in its long three-fingered hands, turning it over as it examined it, first with one eye and then the other. Then it ate it. I caught a flash of a long jaw and many teeth, and then it was gone.
"Hey! You like that, do you?" Rhys cooed, holding out another bit. "Here!... I'm going to call you Fred."
"Fred?" I said, incredulously. "Fred the Dinosaur?"
"Yeah? Why not?"
"You don't even know if it's a girl or a boy!"
"Bathys will know. What is it, Bathys?"
"It is a Batheos-compsognathus longipes, Rhys, a male juvenile."
"A what?" I said. "What was that?"
"That is its species. You can call it compsognathus for short."
We both laughed, and at that, with a chorus of squeaks and hoots, the little group of creatures took flight, running away from us into the woods, and in a moment they were gone; all except Fred, who stood his ground, looking up at Rhys expectantly.
"Oh God!" I said. "Go on, Fred! Go with Mummy and Daddy! We can't look after you!"
"Why not?" said Rhys. "Fred's coming with me, aren't you, boy?"
Fred gave a long whistle, and then, to my astonishment, leapt into Rhys's arms. He stood there, his eyes open with delight, as Fred gripped him with his clawed hands, and curled his tail round the boy's arm.
It seemed as if Rhys had found himself a friend.
The rest of the day that I met Angus and Kostas I spent almost in a daze, a kind of suspended animation, not thinking and not feeling. It was as if inside myself I was so delicate, so finely balanced, that one careless touch would bring everything crashing to the ground. I moved through the day in a dream.
Somehow, the others must have sensed this, because they didn't press me at all. Food appeared, and we had lunch; they chatted lightly, but didn't involve me at all, beyond asking me if I wanted this or that. I can't remember what we had, except that it was fishy. At Lakeport, most things are.
After lunch, they spread blankets outside in the sun, and we lay down for a siesta. This wasn't something I had ever done before, but it suited Kostas, and Angus went along with it good-naturedly. They'd be out on the lake till late, they said, so they needed a snooze. Without saying anything, they put a blanket for me, and I lay down as well.
But I didn't feel tired. Instead, I just lay on my back and stared at the sky. To my surprise, there were actual clouds there now, and I followed their slow movement, shading my eyes with one hand, not thinking, not feeling, until the others stirred and got up.
They started to get things ready for the trip, carrying them along one of the jetties, and when Angus handed me a basket of tackle, I took it out without protest. Their boat was no more than twenty feet long and painted in bright, happy colours, and they helped me to get down into it. I sat in the bows as they arranged things behind me; then the electric motor whined, and we moved off.
I had never been in a boat before, but I'd always wanted to; and now I was here, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. The lake was as flat as a sheet of glass that day, and we seemed to move over the surface, the water hissing and clucking under the bows beneath me. Out here, the sun seemed hotter, and I squinted over the lake's surface to the rolling green country coming down to the shore. To our left the lake stretched far, far away, into the mist of distance, and beyond it the mountains reared, impossibly steep and high. We passed a group of islands, high and rocky at the coasts; I could see the little white houses on their flanks.
"Where are we going?"
It was the first thing I'd said since before lunch.
"Round the other islands. It's a good place for bream."
As the boat moved on, a deep feeling of peace and quietness fell on me. Maybe they felt it too, because no one spoke, and I enjoyed the slow, quiet movement.
After perhaps half an hour, I could see more islands, first one, then more, then a whole shoal of them. The boat slowed, and I turned round to watch my shipmates. Angus was at the tiller, and Kostas was standing, scanning the water. We rounded the end of an island, and they were on all sides now, low and grassy, some of them covered with trees and bushes.
Something must have told them they had found what they were looking for, because the boat came to a stop. Kostas was now wearing no more than a pair of shorts. He was tanned dark brown from head to foot, fit and muscled, and as he bent into the bottom of the boat I found myself thinking how free he looked, how wild, and I wondered how it would be to be like him, a creature completely in tune with his surroundings, happy and carefree.
He straightened, and he had the net in his hands. I didn't really see how he did it, but he whirled it round and flung it, and it fell neatly out across the surface of the water and sank. I was fascinated by his skill. And then he was pulling it in, and I found myself beside him, helping him pull, and we pulled together; and then the little haul of silver, writhing fishes were in the bottom of the boat. I helped him to tip them into the tanks there. And he looked up at me, and we smiled at each other.
It was marvellous. And the rest of the day was the same, although we only got one other haul, and this time it was Angus who threw the net. We toured all round the islands, and I think they were only partly bothering with the fish; they just liked to be out on the lake. I did, too.
So, when we finally got back to Lakeport, the sun was already beginning to move down the sky, and we moored next to the jetty, tired and happy.
"This is the nasty bit," said Kostas, and he showed me how to pull the fish out of the tanks one by one, and kill them with a blow. As he said, it wasn't very enjoyable, but we soon had it done. We loaded the fish into trays, and Angus called robots to take them away.
"Some of them go to the restaurants here," he said. "The rest to Southwall and the other villages."
"Don't they pay you?"
"That isn't how it works here," he said with a smile. "You don't need money. Everything you want is free. I just like fishing, that's all."
They kept three fish for our supper; so we ate the fish we had caught that day, and there's no better way to eat than that.
"You'll stay with us tonight?" said Angus.
For a moment I misgave, and a flicker of feeling ran through me.
"Your own room. No one will touch you, Jack."
"O - okay."
"But have a shower first. Spare my sheets!"
I smiled at him. But I stayed there that night, in that little white room overlooking the harbour, and exhausted as I was, I don't think I've ever slept better.
The next morning when I woke, the house was empty. I pulled on my clothes - still rather fishy, but somehow I didn't mind - and staggered into the kitchen. They'd left a note: they'd let me sleep, they said, and they'd gone to look for crayfish. They'd see me later, if I was still around; help myself to breakfast.
Bathys told me it was nearer lunch, in fact, and I was starving. I found some cereal and milk, and made some coffee. After that, at a loss, I went outside into the bright morning light and sat on the edge of the jetty. The lake glittered in front of me and the sun shone on the row of white houses on the waterfront, and I was content, just sitting.
I looked round, and I knew him. For a moment I couldn't place him; but then the name came: Paul. The Prince, they called him; and I didn't know what to say.
"Hi - er - Prince."
"Are you a fisherman?"
"No - no, I just came down here yesterday. But I met these two guys, and they took me out in their boat, and we caught some fish. Some bream," I added, feeling very professional.
He sat down on the jetty beside me.
"Thought so. You - er - well, you smell of it."
I looked at him, and he was smiling at me. I smiled back.
"You just met them?"
I was silent for a moment. The Prince was looking at me closely. He was smaller than me, and maybe a year younger, but there was a kind of self-assurance about him, and a sense of acceptance, and for some reason it was impossible to lie to him.
"Well, I took a swing at one of them, and Bathys zapped me." I blushed. "But they were very nice..."
We said nothing for a while, and that was okay.
"So? Are you going to tell me why you took a swing at him?"
"Because he's a faggot."
Still I was feeling nothing; I felt nothing as I said this. I just said it.
"But you still went with them?"
"Yeah. They were nice to me. I dunno why, but they were."
For a while he said nothing; they he lay on his back, and shaded his eyes.
"I suppose faggots haven't always been nice to you."
"No, they haven't."
Still he said nothing; but I found myself telling him. How they put me in the home when I was nine. How the bigs boys forced me to suck them and how they fucked me; on and on, day after day... Until, finally, I was old enough and big enough, and then, one day, I nearly killed one of them. And how I found that stopped them; and so, whenever I had to, I did it again. By the end, I was in tears.
He didn't move.
"Why did they put you in the home?"
I couldn't speak; instead, right from my depths, there came a huge wail of pain and grief and loss. It went on and on, completely out of my control, and by the end, he was holding me, and I was holding him, sobbing.
"Why?" he whispered.
"My mum and dad - they found me. Found me... with another boy..."
"They said I was the devil's spawn and no son of theirs. And they just took me to the home, and dumped me there. I was nine."
"They did that? The bastards! How could they do that to their own kid?"
I looked at him in astonishment. Never once had that thought croseed my mind, never once in the six years since it happened.
"They thought I was a faggot."
"And that makes it okay? That makes it okay, does it, what they did? Dumping their own kid, all alone in that place?"
Suddenly it welled up in me, the anger, like a flaming torch, a volcanic eruption, blood red and overwhelming, and now, at last, I knew what it was.
"NO! NO! No, it doesn't!"
He held me fiercely as I screamed and sobbed in anguish. It went on and on, and he gripped me, saying nothing, until finally it stopped.
"Are those your friends?"
I looked, and Kostas and Angus were out on the other jetty, walking back to the waterfront, carrying a dozen or more crayfish pots. They waved at me, and I was so pleased to see them that I smiled, even though my face was running with tears.
"Yes. They're... they're very nice to me."
"That's good. What's your name?"
"I must be off now, Jack, my Dad's waiting. But I'll come and see you soon. Do something for me."
Casually, he used his tunic to wipe my face, and for some reason I didn't mind.
"Tell them what you told me," he said.
"I - I don't see how I can."
"You can. You can, now."
And later that night, I found that he was right.