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
October 4, morning: Max and Paul
I was woken the next morning by a tumultuous clap of thunder. Rain was pounding against the windows.
"It's still there," Paul whispered, when I woke him. "I can feel it."
His eyes looked up at me, unfocused. Below, I could hear the restaurant and the kitchen starting work, dishes clattering, someone whistling, and delicious smells came up to our room.
"Yes." I kissed his forehead. "Does it hurt?"
"No. Not quite..."
"I'll take it out now. Try to relax."
I could see it, peeping out between his buttocks as he lay on his side, one leg raised. There was a catch on the side which collapsed it; I used this, and drew it out of him with no trouble. He groaned.
"I'll help you to the shower."
"No. No, I'm okay."
We stood in the shower, and he was still out of it. I washed him gently, and he just stood there, watching me dully, groaning as my hands moved over him. I dried him and helped him dress, and gradually he began to revive.
"Fuck," he said, "What's happened to me? I feel - I feel really weird."
I felt a little guilty at what I had done. Up to now, we had simply been playing with sex, and at no point had he ever seemed distressed or deeply affected. It had been light and happy and delightful, and we had laughed a lot. But this was serious. I had forced open the gates of his sexuality and pushed him hard, almost harder than he could bear. It was not just play, and I could see it in his face.
I sat on the edge of the bed and pulled him onto my lap. His body was almost limp; his arms fell round me, and he sighed, collapsing into my embrace.
"What was it like?" I said.
"I didn't sleep properly all night. I couldn't get into a position where it wasn't getting me, and every time I moved... I dunno how many times I came. It never let up. Even just after I came, it would start... It made me cry once or twice, a bit."
"Why didn't you take it out?"
"I - I didn't want to disappoint you."
"Disappoint me? Son, it's not like that. I'll never be disappointed if you want to stop something. Never. This is for fun, right? The moment it's no longer fun, stop, okay?"
"Yeah. I understand, now. I never thought it could get to be too much, you know?"
"Like I said, you have learn to give in to it. To let it happen."
He lay against me, soft and languid. I had read about this, but I was not prepared for my own response: the incredible feelings of tenderness and protectiveness that Paul's satiety aroused in me. I would have been happy to sit there, just holding him, all day. But breakfast was calling us. It was important to get some food into him.
"Come on," I said. "Let's eat."
"Yeah. I'm famished."
Where the open side of the restaurant has been the day before there were now wide glass doors, closed against the weather. Outside the path was awash, and the rain pounded on the surface of the lake. The atmosphere inside was warm and humid. Emek hailed us with a cheerful "Good morning" and a leer.
"Bathys left some more tags for you," he said.
He handed them over: WE, watersports enema, and TB, toys buttplug. I fixed them on Paul's collar, as Emek giggled.
"Quite a night, it seems!" he said. "Are you still wearing that thing, Prince?"
Paul blushed; but he answered easily enough.
"God, no! I'd die!"
Emek guffawed and went to get our breakfast. We sat side by side on a bench, and Paul cuddled up to me firmly. I wanted to hold him, too; I needed his touch.
"You could, though," I said.
"Wear it all day."
I felt him shiver.
"Not yet," I said. "When you're ready. I guess you've probably had enough sex for a bit."
"What's so funny?"
"I was just thinking of Ms Robson, back upstairs. She'd have a fit."
I thought of his thin-lipped guardian, and her homilies about boys "spoiling themselves", and laughed.
"Bathys is changing us, isn't it?" I said. "Changing you. Changing me, too..."
Emek brought our breakfast. While he was setting it out, I saw Will and David appear, and waved them over.
"Join us, boys! How are you?"
As if it was not obvious how they were, completely obvious; you could see it in David's creamy look of satisfaction, and the protective arm Will had across his shoulders. They sat opposite us.
"We're fine," said David. "We're absolutely fine."
"Present for you," said Emek, passing behind him.
He dropped something into David's hand: two tags. He grinned, and started to fix them to his collar.
"There's a kind of tradition already," I said. "Will does that."
"Oh, God!" said Will, staring at the tags. "Does he really have to..."
"I don't mind," said David. "It's one in the eye for fucking Zlatovic and his slimy chums. I'm still alive! And I'm still enjoying myself. Put them on, Sir Will!"
FIR: fellatio, insertor and receptor. And AP: anal passive. Will fixed them on his collar with shaking hands. I looked at them quizzically.
"See, Prince?" said David. "You haven't got that one yet, have you?"
"Working on it."
"That's the first time I ever had sex voluntarily. I was a virgin!"
"Oh Lord," said Will. "Don't rub it in..."
"But I want you all to know that Sir Will had had sex before. With men and women! So it wasn't me that corrupted him!"
"You don't think he's maybe been - inappropriately sexualised, do you?" I said. "Aren't you concerned that his sexual development has been distorted?"
"Oh no," said David. "There was nothing distorted about his sexual development, believe me. He - er - rose to the occasion magnificently!"
Will groaned and buried his face in his hands as we fell about.
"Oh God," he said. "I can't help feeling..."
"Will," said David, and he was suddenly very serious. "Look at me... This is the best day of my life. For years they've been chasing me, every night, I've dreamt of them every fucking night, dreamt of their hands and their dicks and their sneering faces and their fucking guns, and my sisters screaming, and the way my mother fell when she was shot, the way her knees collapsed, and then she fell over, and died... Over and over again. Last night, I didn't. I'm free of them! Because of what we did..."
"I'm living my life, and making my decisions, and I've fucking earned the right! And don't you dare insult me ever again by saying that I don't know what I'm doing!"
They stared at each other for a long moment. It was electric.
"All right," said Will quietly. "I won't."
Paul and I gripped each others' hands under the table. I think we both felt we were intruding.
"Right!" said David. "If that's settled... What are we doing today?"
"I think - I think I'm going back to bed," said Paul. "D'you mind, Dad? I'm really tired."
I hugged him.
"Off you go, son. I'll mess around here and maybe come up myself later."
He gave the others a wave and disappeared. David looked at me questioningly.
"Didn't sleep too well, eh?"
"No. We were, well, experimenting. You can see his tags. It was a, er, thing which goes inside you. It massages your prostate. It's very stimulating."
Will looked scandalised.
"Do you really think that..."
"Well, Will. He's a fourteen-year-old boy, and the thing gave him at least five orgasms, probably more. You've been fourteen - what do you think? Would you have enjoyed that?"
"Surely that can't be appropriate."
"On the contrary. It was very educational."
"Educational? What on earth do you mean?"
"You have to learn to take pleasure, Will. I suspect that you and I are too old to learn that completely, but the kids will. That's part of what Bathys will give them. You and I, we'll have to wait till our next cycles to experience that. I can see you're horrified, and if we were upstairs, I guess you'd be quite right. But here, it's different. We expect our boys to be sexual beings, and that'll include us, when our time comes. They need to be encouraged to enjoy it."
"It can't be natural to..."
"You forget what it's like to be fourteen. The natural state of a fourteen-year-old boy is more-or-less permanent rut. It's not surprising, after all; most hunter-gatherer males are dead before they're thirty. What do you expect?"
"I find this all very difficult to take."
"I'll give you a copy of Lord Artur's Leading Boys to Sexual Pleasure. It's very informative..."
At that moment, Bathys interrupted me.
"Your grace, priority message from Lord Derek to you and Lord Michael. Drop everything and come to Hillside at once, please."
For a moment I sat frozen. I'd never had a priority message before. Then I stood.
"I'm sorry, I'll have to go. Emek? Please tell Paul I had to go to Hillside urgently - I'll come back later..."
I rushed out of the restaurant. The rain had stopped now, and Bathys had a flitter waiting for me.
The thought occurred to me as I hurtled into the north-east that there could be something wrong with the capsule; if that was it, Bathys was in the most serious possible trouble. But it wasn't it, as it turned out. For me, personally, however, it was almost as bad.
October 4, morning: Jenna
It was strange, so strange, being a woman in Bathys, I reflected, as I left for work that morning. I stepped out of my house in Southwall, and the streets were still mostly empty.
Even among the grownups we women were a tiny minority: less than ten percent out of around two thousand. And around us were the ten thousand boys.
It was a crazy, wild situation. The sexual dynamics were all to hell, to start with: none of the men had any interest in me sexually. Upstairs I'd often found them maddening, because it wasn't men that interested me. But somehow, the absence of that tension was unnerving. As an engineer, it seemed to me as if the strain had gone off an important cable; it felt unbalanced, unsafe.
I waved to Paco as I passed his cafe. Usually I had breakfast there; I'd been living in Bathys for six months, now, and I had my habits. The place was becoming my home. But today, I wanted to stop in at Martha's.
It was a male society, more than any I had been in. The King, the Lords, they were men, and that was fixed, a given; not so much a glass ceiling as an impenetrable crystal sphere. But the Knights, the men of my Order, they were in the same boat as me. Bathys was not a mobile society. Surprisingly, this didn't bother me much. I had never been ambitious in that way.
But despite the overwhelmingly male orientation of the world I found myself in, it wouldn't be right to call it sexist, not in the ordinary sense. Certainly, compared to the society I'd left, the society upstairs, it wasn't. As a female engineer, I'd been a mad eccentricity there, and most men had had no idea how to cope with me. In one place I'd worked, I'd been allowed to do very little apart from make the coffee. There was none of that stuff here. Here, I was second in charge of the Capsule Team, and everyone acknowledged me as the Old Man's right hand.
The Old Man, we called him, and with respect, respect given happily, and by none more than by me; to all of us, Derek was a kind of hero, someone whose achievements were without equal. I'd been working with him when Max Donner's call had arrived, and I gladly followed him into the project. Which engineer wouldn't jump at a chance to help build this incredible structure? But it wasn't only that, of course. Three years before, we had discovered each other; we knew each other. Because I, like him, was a lover of boys.
That, I suppose, was the reason why the Knights treated me as one of themselves. In our society, the great division was not between men and women; it was between all of us, the grownups, and the boys, the boys who surrounded us on all sides, and whom we desired. Of course, some of the men went with each other, and I thought it quite possible that I might do the same. But that was not our primary inclination.
As I crossed the esplanade in front of the Southwall Centre, I felt the air chill. I knew the signs and started to run; I just managed to burst through the glass doors before the heavens opened, and the thunder peeled. I stumbled up the steps into Martha's cafe, panting.
"Hello, me dear! Nice to see you! Have you come for breakfast?"
"Yes, please, Martha. A nice big pile of crispy bacon and some toast, please. And coffee. Hello, Dick!"
Martha's husband gave me a cheery wave from behind the counter. Their little boy, Alan, looked at me shyly from the other side of the room, and when I smiled at him, he approached me solemnly and, without a word, slipped onto my lap.
"You're the only one he does that for, apart from me and Dick," said Martha, bringing my food. "You like Lady Jenna, don't you, me dear?"
"Yes," he whispered, and hugged me.
"Would you like some of my bacon?" I said.
"Yes, please, Lady Jenna."
He helped himself, picking a piece up with his fingers and nibbling it. Martha brought her own coffee and sat down.
"So? How is everything?"
"I can't fool you, can I, Martha?"
"Well, no, I suppose you can't. Tell me about it."
"It should be heaven, shouldn't it? Surrounded by boys on every side. Not just like this little one, but the others, the ones I could really see... Teenagers. But..."
"It's not working?"
"I don't know where to start, Martha, that's the truth. You know how their orientation's been arranged - it's primarily towards the men. If I want to get to know someone, well, I have to push. I have to take the initiative, and I'm not used to that." I spread my hands. "I don't know how. It's pathetic, isn't it?"
"How old are you, Jenna?"
"You look younger than that. Forgive me, dear, but has there ever been anyone? At all?"
"Yes. Yes, there was. His name was Heinrich; when we were working on the Alpine Redoubt. He was Swiss, and we were together for two and a half years. I was going to marry him, but... He wasn't it, Martha. I'm a boylover, really. It wouldn't have worked."
"But it's only a man you've been with."
"Yes. I've done that, it's what I know. It may not be what I want, but it's what I know. I'm a child of my time. I can't do it all. I need to be - wanted, Martha, I need to be pursued..."
"And they don't. The boys don't."
"You could wait for the resolution to be repealed, and take your pick."
"You know I hate the availability rules," I said. "I always have. I could never do that."
"No, me dear, nor you could. Well." She looked at me. "It doesn't have to be all or nothing, does it? You do a little, then he does a little, and so on. It's a dance. You learn to respond to each others' movements. Isn't that it?"
"I don't know where to start."
"You will, when it happens. Remember, there's all the time in the world."
"I like you, Lady Jenna," said Alan. "Don't be sad."
"I like you too, lovey. But I want someone bigger to like as well."
"Later I'll be bigger. I really do like you."
I kissed his head. He made me want to cry.
I finished my meal, and went along the Centre to our office. By now, things were moving and several members of the team were already there.
Murray looked up from his screen, and smiled. He was a big man, several years older than me; his ham-like hands moved over his keyboard, pulling the reports. We had worked together for more than four years, now, through the frenzy of the building, and we had become more than colleagues; we were friends, close friends. But no more than that.
"Nothing much. A minor force-field anomaly in the upper shell. Bathys has already corrected it." He stretched. "Face it, Jenna. There's nothing to do. There never is. Why don't we go for a swim?"
"It's pissing with rain," I said. "Know what? I think I'll go and have a look."
"Have a look? Why? It's trivial."
"Something to do, I guess."
"Okay. Well, have fun..."
I left the office. At the back of the Centre there was a robot port, which gave entry to the other world of Bathys, the huge network of tunnels, the robot roads we called them, where the robots came and went, keeping Bathys functioning. There were robot ports everywhere, inconspicuous or hidden; round the back of a stone outcrop, hidden in a little grove of tree, round the end of a corridor where no one went. You were rarely more than a few hundreds yards from a port, wherever you were; but most people scarcely knew they existed.
Walking back to the port, I noticed a boy, fifteen years old or so, coming out of the disk shop. There was something mischievous and amused about his expression which appealed to me, and I paused for moment to watch him. His tunic was rumpled, his hair unkempt; he walked with an intent, wolfish gait, and you could just tell that he was totally a creature of his place, totally at home. He was a boy of Bathys; I stared at him. He was what all this was about... I shook myself.
The port was behind a wide metallic door, and was fairly obvious. Bathys let me in. On the other side there was, as usual, a largish room.
"Send me a beetle, Bathys."
The little car arrived, and I got in.
"Okay, take me to the anomaly. Where is it?"
"Upper shell, radius 88, 19.4 miles, Jenna."
The beetle took off, charging down the round, brightly-lit tunnels. Occasionally I passed a small group of robots, or a transport carrying something. The sides of the tunnels were laced with ducts and cabling; these were the veins and arteries of Bathys, the way it worked.
It took maybe half an hour to get there. Along the way we switched to the capsule network, where the tunnels were U-shaped with the glittering, grey material of the capsule itself above me. Here the lights were dimmer, and faintly I could feel the shimmering effect of the multi-modality force field. Fianlly, we slowed to a stop.
"Is this it?"
Of course, it was a tunnel like any other, slightly curved overhead, and curving away as well, behind me and in front. It was silent, totally silent in a way that made you realise that you seldom heard silence like this: dead and still. I put my hand on the inside of the capsule. As I expected, is was cold, hard and cold; there was more than a yard of hyper-valency c-steel between me and the heat and pressure of the rocks which surrounded us. I could feel the force-field too, more strongly now: a faint prickling sensation.
"What was the anomaly?"
"A beating effect in the fifteenth formant, Jenna. The frequency of one of the inductors was off."
"By how much?"
"Less than 0.001 percent."
Murray was right; it was totally trivial. I couldn't imagine why I was there.
"Take me to the dome."
I spoke on impulse. The dome of the Great Cavern was a couple of hundred yards inside the capsule in this region, two hundred yards of solid rock; there was another network of tunnels on the outside of it, and connecting tunnels at intervals. Bathys took my beetle to one of these, and we slid down to the dome.
"Find me a hatch, please, Bathys."
She stopped the beetle next to it; a small room off the side of the tunnel, and in its floor the round hatch, about two yards across, that opened through the dome into the Great Cavern below. I buckled myself to a safety strap, twirled the securing wheel to open it, and lay flat on the floor to look through.
As always, the view was staggering; I was looking down, down more than a mile onto the Farmlands below, their tiny fields and houses. Faintly, the sounds came up to me: the breath of the wind, tiny lowings of cattle, the clatter of flitters. A flock of birds, from here I couldn't see what species, wheeled beneath me and sped off towards the lake. I lay there for a long time, entranced.
Then my eyes were drawn eastwards, toward the Eastern Hills. And there, oddly, I saw activity. There were transports soaring, a plume of smoke, a cloud of dust, and rhythmic noises, things hammering and crashing and the screech of cirular saws came to me, quiet and tinny with distance. In the middle of it all I could see a structure, on the top of a hill: a tower, incomplete, but already be two or three hundred yards high.
I'd heard a rumour that one of the Lords had taken up residence in the Eastern Hills. But what on earth was he doing there?
October 4, afternoon: Don
I lay on the bed in misery, my face turned away from Derek. He tried to talk to me, but I refused to reply. He had taken advantage of my grief, it seemed to me, and I hated him. In the end he sighed, and left the room. I stared at the ceiling, despairing.
After a while, I heard voices outside in the street, and the front door opened.
"What's all this about, Derek? We came as quickly as we could."
I recognised the King's voice, but I couldn't make out Derek's reply. I got up and tried to wipe the tears out of my eyes, and my anger rose again, cold and bitter. Normally I was a serious and rather placid kind of person, and part of me was astonished at the ferocity of my feelings.
"My God. What do we do?"
"Play it by ear," said another voice. "It's all we can do."
"Come on," said the King. "What's his name?"
"Don," said Derek. "He's - he's very angry."
And the door opened, and they came in, Derek and the King, another man and a boy. My eyes riveted on the King, seething.
"Don, I - I don't know what to say."
This was him! It was this man who was responsible for what had happened to me. Him! He was the man, my enemy. The urge to hurt him, to damage him, was almost overwhelming.
"Say? What the fuck use is anything you've got to say?"
My voice was low and flat. The truth was, I was finding hard not to fly at him.
"All right. I'll say nothing, Don. You say it."
"Right! The chief kidnapper, come to gloat, that's it, isn't it? Another of your bumboys, locked away down here till the end of time, and hey! Great! One who hates it here, you can really rub my nose in it, can't you? Yeah!"
By now I was gibbering, almost incoherent with fury, screaming at him.
"It'll be great to watch me writhe and cry, and if I get above myself, well, you can just zap me, can't you? Or the three of you can just strap me till you've got me under control, then I suppose you can rape me, and yeah! I'm a virgin, too! Gonna be quite a day for you, isn't it, Max Gangster Donner? You and your consiglieri? Well, better me than some poor bloody little kid like Rhys! Or maybe you like them even younger than him?"
I ran down, panting.
"Don, it isn't like that. I just want to help..."
"Help! You had me dragged me down here, I shouted and shouted but they took no notice, I'll never see my parents again, never ever again, never see my girl again... You want to help? You want to help? Just let me go! If you can't do that, then your help isn't worth shit!"
"I can't let you go, Don, you know that."
"Right. That's it, isn't it? No escape, and no rescue. Just stuck in your little fascist shit-heap kingdom for good, being raped and zapped for thousands and thousands of years, and all the time my Mum and Dad think I'm dead..."
To my dismay, I was crying again, now, crying at the thought of my parents.
"No one's going to zap you..."
"Lie! He did, Derek did, just half an hour ago!"
"I didn't," said Derek. "That was Bathys, Don. If you attack..."
"Yeah, that's so cute, isn't it? If we get above ourselves... 'Bend over the table, kid, or else...'"
"No! No one's going to do that to you, Don!"
I could see the look of horror on his face; I realised that I was hurting him, and I was glad. A kind of cruel joy arose in me. This was the only power I had, and I would use it to the full.
"Another lie! I've read that book, I know. Once you've done it, you're anyone's, aren't you?"
I pointed at the boy; I didn't know who he was, but it was enough that he had come with the King.
"If you've done it with him, they'll be queuing round the block, won't they? He'll be the whole Kingdom's fuckboy! I heard your speech at the party, we must all love each other, but it's all lies, isn't it? Lies and hypocrisy!"
He gripped his forehead for a moment. It was a gesture of defeat, and I rejoiced.
"I can't dispute with you, Don. We've done you a wrong, and it can't be reversed. All I can say is that anything we can do to make things better, we will."
"Oh, excuse me while I throw up," I sneered. "There's fuck-all you can do to help me, and you know it. Even if you wanted to, which I don't believe."
"I don't see that you have much to complain about," said the boy, suddenly.
He startled me, and for the first time I looked at him squarely; he was obviously Indian, about thirteen years old and a slight figure, dressed in a neat white tunic.
"Eh? What the fuck do you know, kid?"
His intervention unbalanced me, and I felt suddenly unsure.
"What do I know? Well, you say your parents are alive. So are mine, at least as far as I know. You see, they sold me."
"Sold you?" I whispered.
"Yes. They were deeply in debt. Without money the whole family would have been ruined; it's hard to blame them. They only had sons, and they would not sell the eldest, so they sold me. To a brothel. After a while, I ran away. Then I was captured by a street gang. What happened to me after that I won't say. But you spoke about being a virgin. Believe me, I am no virgin."
He spoke in a precise Indian accent, marking the lilting words with neat little gestures, and it's hard to describe how his words horrified me.
"You will not see your parents again, which is a misfortune. But such misfortunes happen. At least you parted on good terms; frankly, I envy you."
"But - but how about them?"
"Yes. Well, they will mourn for you very deeply, and then, if they are wise people, they will get on with the rest of their lives. Have they any other children?"
"One was born two years ago, on Venus. I shall never even see him."
"Then they will love him all the more. They will be happy, in time. As for your girl, that is a misfortune as well. But teenagers are separated all the time. You will get over it, and so will she." He waved it away. "As I said, I can't see that you have much to complain about. These things happen, and they have happened to you. To be honest, I do not think you know the meaning of suffering. Not compared to me, or Rhys (since you mentioned him) or any of the other boys. For them, Bathys is heaven."
"I don't want it! I just want to be with my parents!"
He looked at me directly.
"So you say. But all I see is whining little kid, throwing a tantrum. You can't be with them, and that's that. Get over it."
It was intolerable to me that the validity of my feelings should be challenged in this way. I flared up.
"You little runt! What the fuck business is it of yours?"
"These men run Bathys. They're not asking you to like them, or forgive them, but they can help you if anyone can. But you aren't interested in making things better, not really. You just want to hurt the King, like a two-year-old kicking his mother's shins. It's disgusting! You seem to have no pride in yourself."
"Enough, Amit!" said the other man, putting his hand on his shoulder.
Suddenly I couldn't bear to be with them another moment. I pushed past them roughly, and out onto the street.
"That's right!" I heard the boy's mocking voice. "Run away and cry!"
And I was running, my feet clattering on the flags, running as hard as I could through the village, past the houses, and out into the country. The path stopped, but I kept on running, further and further, wanting only to get as far away from them all as could.
I must have run a couple of miles before I came stumbling to a stop, winded and panting, and flung myself onto the ground. For a long time I lay face down, crying my heart out, thinking of my parents. There were no electronic communications with Venus, and I had lived for their letters, one on each six-monthly tender. For years I had waited week by week to see them again, and now, now it would never happen. There would be no end, and I could see no point in my life. I thought of my mother, her tenderness and love, and my father and his brisk, exciting intelligence, his kind smile, and of things we had all done together; and it was bitter.
But no one can cry for ever; in the end you have to stop. I turned and looked into the sky, bright now, and clear. I was on a steep grassy slope with occasional rocky outcrops, dotted with rhododendron bushes and little clumps of conifers and silver birches. The sun fell into the little space where I found myself, and the green smell of the drying grass rose around me. Everywhere there were birds singing.
I had no idea where I was, and I didn't care. It was a beautiful spot; in fact, everywhere I had been been on our journey through Bathys had been beautiful, and in other circumstances I would have loved it. I was a country boy; we had lived deep in the West Country, where my father grew up before me, and I had hated London, its chaos and filth and noise, and its masses of heedless people.
I lay, not moving, scarcely even thinking. Whenever my thoughts turned to what had happened to me, I remembered the Indian boy's scornful words, and I shied away, ashamed. But I couldn't think about what to do next; it seemed almost a betrayal of my parents, of the past. I stared up into the sky, and listened to the birds.
Much later, I heard a little noise. Not twenty feet away from me, a little group of fallow deer were grazing. They must have been aware of me, but they seemed completely unafraid. Fascinated, I sat up quietly; one of the smaller ones wandered over to me and eyed me, staying just out of arm's reach.
"Hello," said a voice.
He came to me out of the trees, the Indian boy, and I didn't know what to say to him. My eyes fell.
"They sent me to find you," he said.
He sat easily on the ground, cross-legged. The deer flicked its little tail and trotted back to its friends.
"I was cruel to you. Michael said, you had nothing left except your anger, and I had taken it away from you. I - I'm sorry."
I couldn't meet his eyes; I looked at the ground, picking at the soil with one trembling hand.
"You were right, though," I said, after a long pause. "I did want to hurt the King."
"You don't need to," he said. "Just you being here... Bathys is his creation, and he wants it to be a paradise for us, that's his vision, he wants us to love it. He's devastated. In a way, you being here spoils everything. It's ruined the great dream of his life. Believe me, you have your revenge."
I thought for a moment.
"I'm afraid I can't feel sorry for him."
"No. I don't see why you should," he said. "What they did to you was dreadful."
"But - but the things you said..."
"The way you were thinking was not constructive," he said. "I'm afraid I am a rather manipulative person. Also, you need to be fair, because what happened was an accident."
"If they go out dragging thousands of kids off, something like it was bound happen. They shouldn't have done it. It was wrong to start with!"
"Ten thousand kids were saved from awful lives, Don. I know many of their stories. Mine is nothing in comparison to some. Have you spoken to Rhys? You have to ask: doesn't that justify what they did? To save me and Rhys and thousands of others?"
"What you said about - about what happened to you. Was that true?"
"Yes. And I didn't tell you the worst parts."
His eyes fell, and I realised what it had cost him to tell me his history.
"Coming here is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me," he went on. "I love this place, Don, it is my life. I may not seem it, but I am a fanatic for Bathys. That's why I'm going ask you to help the King. No one can stop you hating him, but we cannot afford to have him disabled like this. He is too important."
"Help him? How?"
"By permitting him to help you."
He was sitting facing me, and as I looked into his eyes I had a thought that surprised me: that he was the most beautiful human being I had ever seen.