The first story of Bathys
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
On the trip back to Southwall, I explained to Paul about the meeting this evening, and asked him to come with me. It was a serious breach of precedent, but I was in no mood to compromise, and I needed him there. Somewhat nervously, he agreed. He went with the other boys to The Flats to dress, and I went home to shower and change.
"Every citizen has answered," said Bathys, in response to my query. "Seventeen members of gathering teams cannot attend, and one other person is caring for two boys on the surface who are awaiting their descent tomorrow. One person is tending one of the Ukrainian boys, who is sick. Four people at Easton, including Sir Desmond, are caring for young boys. Lady Lys begs to be excused. The rest will come."
"Thank Lady Lys for her message. Tell her she need never come unless she wishes."
So Ian would be there. Well, perhaps it was for the best.
I poured myself a beer (Easton brew - the first I had ever tasted, and I was surprised at how good it was) and arranged some stuff for the meeting. Soon I heard Paul call.
He looked staggering: tight white trousers, a white shirt with long sleeves and embroidered cuffs, an embroidered waistcoat; and in his hair his golden fillet.
"The Prince has his coronet!" I said, flicking it. "You look fabulous, son."
"I hate it when they call me that. Don't you start."
He was quite serious.
"Hey. Come out here and sit down... Now. Let's look back. You found something important which no one was doing, and although no one had told you to, you did it. You helped people and took their troubles as your own. People started to look to you, and you were kind and good to them, and organised them properly, and protected them when they were attacked, even if it meant getting hurt yourself. And you went on and on, even when you were exhausted and frightened, and no one seemed to care."
I hugged him.
"You were brave, and determined, and kind, and strong. I'll never forget what you did, and I'll always be proud of you. You acted like a Prince, son. And people sense that. Don't scorn it."
I just held him, and I could feel him weeping.
"It was awful, Dad. I didn't want to do that stuff, but I had to, didn't I? And I was having to keep the kids cheerful and so on, and all the time I just wanted someone to hug me, and look after me... I felt so lonely..."
"I said, you acted like a Prince. C'mon, dry your eyes, and let's go and sort these people out. We need to get them to believe in the dream again, son, to believe in Bathys. Because what Kev said this morning, it really shocked me. If that's how the kids feel, and if the grownups feel like Martin, Bathys will fail. We need to stop that. Will you help?"
"Course! But what can I do?"
"When I say, just tell them what happened. That's all."
I kissed him, and then we walked through the evening cool to the Southwall Centre. Already people were starting to arrive, and the auditorium was filling up when we entered. Normally it was used as a cinema, but today a table had been placed in the centre of the stage in front of the screen, where I would sit with Lord Andrew, our administrator, who would act as secretary. I handed Paul over to Michael, and saw them take seats in the front row, as I waited in the wings.
I walked in and stood by the table.
"The First Plenary Council of the Realm of Bathys. Please sit."
I waited till they were still, all two thousand of them.
"First item: statement by his grace, the King."
And I rose, and was about to start, when a voice called: "Point of order, your grace."
"There is a boy present. Surely that is not appropriate?"
"Paul is here to answer questions. He will not take part in the debate, or vote. However, it is novel, so I will gladly submit his presence to a vote. Lord Andrew?"
"The motion is on a point of order, so there will be no discussion. The motion is that Paul Donner should attend the meeting, but not vote. As many as are of that opinion, show. The contrary show. The motion is passed, three citizens dissenting. Your grace."
I started with the particular, telling the story of João and Joaquim, and then of the Ukrainian boys, and I called on Paul to come onto the stage.
"Why were so many boys there that morning?"
"We knew that the Ukrainians were coming and there would be 115 of them. I brought as many of our boys as I could, to help."
"Why did you not rely on the Absorption Team to do this?"
"They almost never send anyone. If we didn't go, there would have been 115 boys there with no one to help, I thought. In fact, that morning Sir Martin did actually show up."
"And anyone else?"
"No, your grace."
I led him through the story.
"And how many times did Sir Martin and Sir Tom and his men strap you?"
"I couldn't say, your grace. At least thirty-two, cos I counted thirty-two marks later. They zapped us, too."
There was a murmur of horror. I led him through the rest of the story, the flight of the boys and Lord Igor's intervention, and I had Igor tell his story. Then I asked Martin:
"Were you satisfied with your actions?"
"It did not go well, but that was not my fault. The Ukrainians were completely recalcitrant, hysterical and unreasonable, and your son's actions just made things worse."
"Had he not persuaded the boys to go and be processed?"
"Possibly, but we had to assert our authority! We couldn't let this anarchy persist. It was not for your son, a boy, to direct things. In my view, it was essential that the Ukrainians, and the other boys too, should understand that what is required of them is obedience, nothing more and nothing less."
I could feel the meeting move to my side, and when I told the story of the three Nigerian boys, even more so. The sheer absurdity of Bathys' behaviour, and the callous actions of Oliver and Tom, shocked them, as did the total absence of any participation of the Absorption Team.
Then I questioned Paul about everything he and his friends had been doing to help the boys, collecting them, clothing them, comforting them, finding them somewhere to live, showing them round. At the end, to my delight, there was a ripple of applause as Paul sat down.
"So what do we learn from this? First, that the Absorption Team have not been doing their job. They have left it to a small group of untrained boys, exhausted, unhelped and in many cases terrified boys, whom they made it their business to torment and abuse. Second, that the Reception Team have been grossly remiss in doing theirs, and cruel and brutal into the bargain. My Lords, Knights and Ladies, these things are intolerable, and I will not allow them to continue for a moment. That is why I have decided to merge these two teams. The new team will be called the Welcome Team, and it will be personally supervised by Lord Darren, who will be the Doorkeeper of Bathys. Its remit is not to terrorise and terrify and abandon, but to care, to comfort and to heal.
"Third, that the extraordinary limitations of Bathys' understanding of certain things must be addressed, and quickly. It's not hard to think of situations where this could be a matter of life and death. Yes, Lord Ben?"
"We acknowledge this, your grace. We know what to do; there is a whole library of new modules relating to the assessment of human behaviour ready to be inserted. We simply haven't had time to do it."
"I understand your problems, Lord Ben. Please keep me posted."
"The usage limitations date back to an earlier testing phase. They should have been removed long ago. My sincere apologies, your grace. They will be removed tomorrow."
"Very well. The fourth matter is more general, but more important. It is this. At this stage in our development, the gathering of our boys, and their integration into our society, is the most important task we have. They are all, all of them, deeply hurt and traumatised, and in need of help, care and comfort. There is no project, no project at all in the whole of this Realm, that has more importance than this! Nothing! It is the duty of every citizen do anything that is needed to further these ends. When there is something that is needed by the Welcome Team, it must be provided at once. If there is a task to be performed, you must drop anything, and do it. Do I make myself clear? Do I need to spell this out any further? I demand your total cooperation in this!
"It's question of attitude. I have been astonished that citizens have not been running to help when these problems arise. Instead they have been chopping logic, pulling rank, quoting regulations and getting out their straps!
"Which brings me to my fifth point: the use of straps. I have to tell you frankly, my Lords, Knights and Ladies, that I have been shocked by this. Am I speaking to an audience of boylovers, of those who love boys? It would appear not! It would appear that we are a society of people whose delight is to beat and torment and zap boys, to leave them lying sobbing on the floor, to shout and scream at them and insult them! A society of boy haters, in short! The strap was instituted as a response to the obvious fact that the boys will outnumber the grownups here by five to one. It is supposed to be used lightly, and sparingly, and only when needed. As for the electrobolt, it is the absolute, final resort, to be used in extremis! In extremis! Neither is to be used at the drop of a hat, at the first appearance of some momentary annoyance!
"And so we move to the last, and most terrifying problem. We have heard Sir Martin's view of the relationship between boys and grownups in our society. For another rehearsal of it, let me refer to Bathys' note of what he said in his office this afternoon. Bathys, play extract 1."
And we heard Martin say it:
The boys don't seem to understand or accept their role down here, and in my view we need to impress it on them very firmly indeed. They are here to provide sexual entertainment. Far too many of them are getting away with every kind of insubordination by whining about their past misfortunes. Those twins, for example, are two of the worst of your son's henchmen, and I have had to chastise them repeatedly...
"You might care to look at the backs of the boys in question. Bathys, show it."
The pictures she projected were huge and terrifying, and the meeting gasped.
"Those are the misfortunes they were whining about! Those! Those! That is what we are dealing with, and I happen to know, furthermore, that their father raped them every day. 'Here to provide sexual entertainment', we're told? What is happening to us?
"Well, I'll tell you what's happening to our boys. I can tell you what, because as it happens one of those very same boys told me, earlier today, and that's when I decided to call this meeting. I have prepared a transcription, for those unfamiliar with Cockney speech, and we'll show it as it's played. Do it, Bathys."
So, you call him the Prince, eh?
Yeah, because he's our Prince, King, he looks after us, and makes sure we look after each other. Because in Bathys, no one bothers with us kids, do they? You've got to look after yourself here, the grownups either strap you or just ignore you, and no one gives a fuck. I can't count the times I've seen the Prince strapped, and just for trying to help! Okay, there's a few, like Sir Desmond and Martha and Dick and Lord Igor, but most of them, they aren't worth shit. And that sodding computer, she'll scarcely give us the time of day because we're kids. So it's all up to us, isn't it? If it weren't for the Prince, these little African kids, they'd still be sitting on the fucking grass outside Reception, freezing to death, wouldn't they? And God knows what would've happened to those Ukrainians. Fact is, because they can't have us for sex yet, the grownups just aren't interested, that's about the size of it, I reckon. Once there's two thousand of us, and it's allowed, they'll be all over us, like fucking wasps in summer.
"Do you hear that, my Lords, Knights and Ladies? Do you hear what that kid, whipped and raped by his own father, has to say about us? Do you hear? Are - you - not - ashamed? Look at it! 'In Bathys, no one bothers with us kids.' 'The grownups either strap you or just ignore you.' 'They'll be all over us, like fucking wasps in summer.'
"Is that why we entered into this monumental enterprise? Is that what we laboured to achieve? Take what that child said in conjunction with the philosophy of domination we heard before, and what do we have here? For all its beauty, it will be a concentration camp where, for thousands upon thousands of years, a collection of miserable children will be tormented and tortured and raped, and will be reborn to suffer, again and again, far from the sight of man.
"It is not to be endured! I, the King of Bathys, say to you: I will not allow this to happen! We, the Lords of Bathys, dreamed a dream, and it was not this. In case you have forgotten it, I was told it again today, by my son, by Paul."
It's meant to be a place where boys and grownups love each other. For thousands of years we'll be here, and we'll be boys over and over again, and they're meant to love us, and look after us, and we'll learn to love them too. And we'll have fun, and adventures, and sometimes it'll be dangerous, and sometimes our favourite grownups, they'll be kids too. And we'll swim, and climb the cliffs, and fly in our flitters, and crawl through the labyrinth, there'll be games, and books and videos and things, and we'll learn all sorts of things, maybe learn to write our own books and play music, and we'll camp and lie out in the country in the night, and come back, and all the time, the grownups will love us. Not just sex, but there's nothing wrong with sex. I know, I've done it and I want to do it some more, and there's nothing to be afraid of, that's what they have to teach us. And it'll go on and on and on, getting to know and love each other, and how it'll end, who knows? But it'll be the best thing ever, in the whole, whole world. That's how it'll be, if the grownups just learn - to love us.
When Paul's voice faded away, there was silence for a long while, and many people were crying.
"Yes," I went on, "That's what we thought. That's the vision we had, and worked for and built and argued for. That's what we worked over during those days and nights on that windy hillside in Scotland. That was it. And that alone justifies what we did, and what we are doing. And that, it seems, is what we have lost sight of.
"Because, if we cannot, as Paul said, learn to love our boys, we are not builders, we are not, are Lord Ian called us, visionaries. We are simply the worst band of criminals ever to blight the world. That's it, pure and simple.
"I don't excuse anyone in this hall in the loss of that vision. No one at all. Not the Lords, who should have seen what was happening. Not my dear, dear friend, Lord Michael, who had the knowledge of what would happen, but not the wisdom to share it."
I looked at Michael, and he lowered his gaze.
"Not even our beloved Lady Martha, who knew what was happening but preferred not to worry me. Least of all, least of all, my Lords, Knights and Ladies, do I exonerate myself. For I, as your King, I am the guardian of the vision, and if it fails, that is my responsibility. It is my duty to know, and my duty to act, and I let myself be distracted, and I failed to think. I, too, failed the vision.
"The fact is, there is only one person in this hall who truly held to our vision, and that's a boy who learnt it less than a month ago. Only he has kept it pure and clean. 'They're meant to love us, and look after us, and we'll learn to love them too. It'll be the best thing ever, in the whole, whole world. That's how it'll be, if the grownups just learn - to love us.' That's what he said. And I'm asking you: what is your vision? To love the boys, and have them love you too? Or to demand obedience, nothing more or less, and treat them as sexual entertainment, and have them hate you through the ages?
"That's our choice. The vision of Paul, who the kids call the Prince, or the vision we are slipping into. The vision of love or the vision of hate. And I tell you frankly, my Lords, Knights and Ladies, I would rather this whole enterprise foundered, along with every wonder that we have achieved, than that we should choose the second. Because the second, let us not disguise it, the second is a vision of hell."
I paused for a moment.
"We don't have to do it. We had our vision, and it was our vision, and we worked for it and suffered for it and we have risked everything for it, down to our very lives! And that vision was strong enough and bright enough to capture the mind of a thirteen-year-old, strong enough to lead him to fight for it, against straps and insults and disdain and indifference, to hunger and thirst for it, and to bring the other kids with him. That's what that boy did, and can we do less?"
At that point, the entire hall erupted in cheers. They seemed to go on for minutes on end, and finally I held up my arms, and there was silence. I could see Michael in the front row, his face wet with tears, and Paul holding him round his waist.
"Then let us proceed. And let us remember every day, and every hour and every minute, that what we are doing is for our boys, as much as it is for us, or more.
"My Lords, Knights and Ladies, long ago we decided that we would take to ourselves the right to teach our boys the way to physical love. It was not an ignoble ambition, and in his recital of our vision, didn't Paul list it too? He said, 'There's nothing to be afraid of, that's what they have to teach us'.
"But I have to say that I cannot at this moment see that we are worthy of such a task, of such a privilege. I am not talking here of acts which both sides willingly undertake and freely choose. Those, I feel, we can allow ourselves. I speak of the ambition that we should be able, lovingly and gently, to take a boy where he has no wish at that moment to go, because it is for his good. Until we are certain that we have recaptured our vision in its full glory, until we can see it round us in this Realm, until we can be sure that we act in love and from love, and that love holds us steady, we should forswear that ambition. Therefore, I ask your assent to this motion: That no Lord, Knight or Lady may, for the present, engage in any sexual act with a boy without his full and untramelled consent.
"Let me say before we vote, that I hold to that ambition as strongly as I ever did. I will present a motion to return to it, as soon as I think we are worthy. But till then, I ask your assent. Lord Andrew."
He read the motion, and called for the vote; and that was when Ian rose to oppose me, and he did it, of course, both with skill and grace.
"Your grace, Lord Andrew, I have to oppose. And this is not, possibly to his surprise, because I disagree with the main point of his grace's most eloquent speech. On the contrary, I agree most emphatically. If we cannot address our boys with love, then our project has no moral basis, and we have no business to be here. Gratuitous cruelty is always crass and unseemly, and if we brutalise the boys we have brought here, we dishonour ourselves, and our actions, and our dream. In all this, his grace has my emphatic support.
"But this motion is not germane to the problem. On the contrary, by retreating from our carefully-considered position, we are selling the pass, we are conceding that our position is wrong, and leaving ourselves without a coherent moral position. For we are not wrong. The ambition of which his grace speaks, to lead a boy to experiences we know to be good, that ambition is an honourable one, and in no way a contradiction of the rest of what his grace has said. On the contrary, it is my conviction that by using sex, we carry the boys forward on precisely that path to love, by which they can learn to love us, and we can learn to love them, just as his grace's son has said. And I will continue to witness to that truth, which is at the heart of that bright dream which his grace summons us to return to."
And with that, he sat down. I decided it would be best not to contend with him. We had both, in fact, laid out our positions clearly, and the choice was clear.
So Andrew called a vote, and it was passed with eight voices against. I waited with resignation for Ian to exercise his veto, which, as a Lord, was his right. He chose not to do so; and I wondered why. But the reasons for Ian's actions are never clear; he is always thinking two or three moves ahead.
But before the meeting could close, I saw Michael rise.
"Your grace, Lord Andrew. This evening, we have heard a lot about the boy who's sitting next to me. As you know, the boys of our Realm call him 'The Prince', and it has become clear in everything the King has said why this is so. My Lords, Knights and Ladies, such things do not happen by accident; they reflect a deep and authentic instinct. That is why I move that this title should now be made official. I move that Paul Donner, the King's son, while remaining in all respects a member of the Order of Boys, should have the style and title 'The Prince of Bathys', and shall be called upon by the Council to speak on behalf of his Order."
And as both Paul and I sat flabbergasted, Andrew called for a vote, and Michael's motion was passed, with just one dissenting voice: that of Sir Martin; by then, Ian had left.
We walked back to my house together, Paul and I, our arms round each other. We didn't say much; it was too great a moment for that. Around us, the warm Bathys night scratched with crickets, and an owl passed overhead, silent in its hunt. Far, far away across the grasslands, we heard an elephant trumpet.
Waiting on my doorstep I was surprised to find a little brown form: Amit, dressed now, in a neat white tunic and sash, with bare feet.
"Aren't you chilly out here, son? Come inside, let's get you something to drink."
"Thank you, your grace, that is most kind."
"Your English has improved, in so short a time."
"Although I could not speak well before, I could read very well. Now, I have watched many disks, and the other boys are very helpful, and so my speech has catched up. What happened? I mean, at the meeting?"
"Amit, do you know my son, the Prince of Bathys?"
"Da-a-a-ad! Must you?"
"Of course," said Amit, puzzled.
"Well, now he is really that. They gave him that title. Officially."
"Oh! That is wonderful, very good."
"Amit," said Paul, "Please don't tell the others, please, it'll be bad enough with the grownups knowing, please!"
Amit smiled and hugged him.
"Of course they must know. Don't you understand? They'll be pleased. Pleased also, that the grownups have listened to what they said."
"You're quite right, you know," I said. I hadn't thought of that. "Son, I hope you listen carefully to what this man says. He thinks."
"I know," said Paul. "He always has sensible ideas. And he's brave. But he's always polite, even to nasty people."
"There is no point in being rude," said Amit. "It is better to smile, say 'yes, sir', and wait. It helps that I am so pretty."
The detached way in which he said this almost made me shiver. Truly, my son had a formidable ally with this child.
"You shouldn't reveal such secrets, Amit. I'm surprised at you."
"Oh, your grace, it's okay with the Prince and you. Besides, now you will be inclined to trust me more, yes?"
He was twelve years old! Twelve!
"Did you really come here just to talk politics, Amit?"
"No, not really. I - I hoped that Lord Michael might be here."
"He will be, soon. Why?"
He drew a breath, and then looked at me directly.
"I like him. I would like to see him again."
Slowly I smiled, and then ruffled his hair.
"You have good taste. He is a good man. But beware! He's as clever as you, my little Machiavelli! There's more to him than meets the eye."
"I wish I knew what you two were talking about," said Paul, crossly.
Amit and I both laughed.
"You will never understand, son," I said. "And it's better that way, don't you think, Amit?"
"Yes, your grace, probably. You see, your highness..."
"My highness?" screamed Paul. "My highness? Haven't you ever looked at me? We might as well call you 'your fatness'!"
They both fell on the sofa, shrieking with laughter, and at that moment, Michael came in.
"Aha!" he shouted. "Fun at last!"
And he dived on top of them, tickling and wrestling. I went out to the kitchen to get us both a large drink, and juice for the boys, and when I came back, both of them were sitting on his lap. I sat down, and Paul transferred himself to me, snuggling against me, his arms round my body.
"You need to watch that one, Michael," I said. "He was just telling me how it is better not to be rude, but to smile and be polite, and wait. It helps that he is so pretty, he says."
Amit stared at me in fury and betrayal, and over his shoulder, I could see Michael's face, eyes wide with delight.
"Ah ha!" I said. "Little monster, you told me I would be inclined to trust you more, but you forgot to ask yourself whether you should trust me at all!"
"Your grace, I..."
"So you've learnt a valuable lesson. I'm doing you a favour. Actually, more than one, because I happen to know that Lord Michael prefers clever people to stupid ones, and he will be impressed. So why am I doing you a favour?"
"Your grace, I - I do not know. Why are you?"
"Because I owe Lord Michael a favour, for embarrassing him in front of the meeting, and this will do, because you're right, of course; you are very pretty. But I shouldn't have told you that. Damn!"
"I will repay you anyhow, your grace. I am a generous person, you know, and I pay my debts, too. All kinds. What do you want?"
"Ah. Well, at the moment I have no need of a favour, and I'm not going to just waste it. Later... later I will tell you."
Michael, Amit and I burst out laughing, and Paul looked at us in annoyance.
"I haven't a clue what you're talking about! I guess I must be one of those stupid people Lord Michael doesn't like!"
"No," said Amit, suddenly serious. "We are clever in different ways, that's all. I am clever in little things, and you are clever in big things, Prince. That's why I draw up rotas, and you say things like, these men have been frightened of boys for so long, they've forgotten how to love them. And I am clever with what people think and you are clever with what they feel, so you can sit with a frightened boy who speaks almost no English and whisper in his ear, and in ten minutes, he's smiling. I've seen you do it again and again. That's why you are the Prince, and I just help you."
"My God," I said to Michael, after a pause. "We lucked out with these two, didn't we? Did he really say that about these men being frightened of boys, Amit?"
"Yes. That was about Martin."
"That is so completely right," said Michael. "I know his history. He used to be a teacher, you know? And he was so absolutely scared that anyone would guess..."
"I'm sad for him," said Paul, and I hugged him.
"I am not," said Amit. "If he thinks he has a sad life, let him try being Kev, that is all. Or Dimitri, or João. Any of those kids, and he called them all whiners."
"He said it all again this evening," said Michael. "But it did no good. The King simply overwhelmed the meeting. I have to say this, Max. I never thought you could do that. I was delighted; pleased and proud. Tonight you became a King, my friend."
"It was awesome," said Paul. "Because I could tell you understood everything, and then I knew everything I'd been thinking about Bathys and what we should do, it all came from you, really. And then they all cheered, and I, I was so happy, and surprised, because I didn't think any of them understood what Bathys is meant to be about."
"They do, Prince," said Michael. "When we were upstairs building Bathys, we talked about it all the time, endlessly. They all have it, the vision. But the trouble is what you said. Now they see it happening, and especially as the boys start to arrive, they're scared. They're absolutely terrified, because all their lives they've been terrified of having anything to do with boys, and now there they are, and they... they don't know what to do. And some cope by attacking you, and some by trying to control you, like Martin, but most of them just daren't have anything to do with you, and that's why they seem to be ignoring you."
"Yes," said Paul quietly. "It's sad. Very very sad."
"And when Kev said that the men would be all over you like wasps in summer, he was completely wrong. Completely. Most of them won't dare even to talk to you, never mind that."
"So that - that resolution that Dad made?"
"Why did I do that, son?"
"Oh, I see. Really, it was to protect them, not us."
"Yes. You're right, Amit, he isn't stupid. Not where it counts." Paul punched me. "Ow! Yes, that resolution gives them an excuse to back off, without feeling they've failed. It will make a breathing space, which is good in another way, because for the next few months it's going to be frantic, with all the new boys."
"You'll have to be very gentle with the grownups," said Michael. "It sounds odd, but that's the truth. Don't make them jump; if you like them, say so quite simply, but don't be too forward; just let them know, and give them space, and time. There's lots of time."
"I like you, quite simply," said Amit.
"Aha!" said Michael. "But I, I am a psychologist, so I'm different. I prefer complexity. I expect to be bamboozled, you bewitching child, but beware! Because I never give up, and I never let go!"
"Don't you?" Amit wriggled out of his arms, and in a moment he was by the door. "Good night!" he sang, and was gone.
For a moment, Michael's face was a picture, and then Paul and I burst out laughing.
"Oh, fuck!" said Michael. "What did I say? Have I put him off?"
His face showed real pain. Paul and I looked at each other solemnly.
"Maybe you have," I said. "I think he's easily put off."
"He may never speak to you again," said Paul.
"Sad." I sighed.
"Could have been great," said Paul.
"You bastards!" shouted Michael. "Fuck off and die!"
We laughed at him.
"Michael, you idiot, he's besotted with you," I said. "But he's - well, you've seen. You - actually, you deserve each other."
"Yeah, I guess."
I looked slowly at him, and thought of various things that I knew about him, things he had told me, the plans he had.
"My friend, I hope you are going to be very careful with that one."
"Believe it, Max, I will be. But now... I think it's time for bed."
"Yeah, I have to be at the Reception Centre tomorrow morning," said Paul. "Those two German kids."
"I think I'll be there too," I said.
"And me," said Michael. "Okay, I'll go. I know what you two have in mind..."
"Yeah," said Paul. "Our own business."
"Oh, come here."
And he hugged us both, hard.
"The two most important people in Bathys," he murmured. "You did well today, guys. Very well indeed."
And he was gone. Paul giggled.
"Know where I think Amit is?" he said.
"In Michael's bed. Waiting."
We both fell about.
A NIGHT IN SOUTHWALL
We took showers, but separately: I had no wish to crowd him; and then we went to bed. I opened the windows, and the warm night of Bathys flowed around us. The dome was bright with stars, and the sounds of a hundred little creatures came to us.
Paul nestled up close to me.
"Are you going upstairs tomorrow?" he whispered.
"No. I'm going to take a couple of days down here. I want to look around for a bit, and have fun."
"Will you take me with you?"
"Everywhere. If you want."
I felt his hand touch my face, and it was so small, so terrifyingly small, that I shivered. And then his lips touched mine, a touch as light as a morning breeze. It was enough; he had risked enough. My hand slid round behind his head and pressed him to me, and our mouths opened, and he hummed, his hands fluttering all over me.
"Oh Dad, please!"
"Don't worry, now, love, don't worry."
"I've missed you so much, and..."
I kissed him again, and then rolled him on his front and licked him between his shoulders, and slowly lower and lower, while he luxuriated. His body tasted of the smell of Bathys, the green fresh smell of its new, bright air and the tart freshwater of the lake, his lake. And I licked over the small of his back, so narrow there was scarcely room for both my hands, and the exquisite globes of his arse.
Gently I parted them, and I was licking, licking between them, lower and lower, until suddenly he gasped.
"Oh, Dad, that's incredible! Oh, Dad..."
I did it some more, a lot, and pressed, pressed, and he opened, so tautly, so finely, and my tongue was in him, just a little, pressing, deeper, deeper, and his gasps were moans now, and he was writhing beneath me. And after a long time I turned him over and swallowed him in one lunge, and instantly he came, at first with silent tension, his back arched, and then he screamed, and collapsed, pulsing in my mouth, and I tasted his exquisite juice.
We held each other as slowly he relaxed; he rolled on top of me, his face close to mine, and his slight pressure, all down my body, his legs between mine, were almost too much to bear.
"Could you feel the strap marks?" he said. "On my bum?"
"Yes, love. That's all I could think of when we went to see Martin. I nearly hit him."
"You've never strapped me."
"No. And I won't."
His whisper was so quiet I could scarcely hear it.
"I wouldn't mind... if you did."
Instantly alert, I struggled not to move, not to make any sign.
"Do you really mean that?" I whispered.
"Yeah. If you do it... if you do it like you love me."
"Not tonight, okay? But one day... if we're in that sort of mood..."
Slowly he moved out of my arms, folded himself downwards. And then he was kneeling between my legs, and gently, but with confidence (he had done this before, after all) his hands were on my desperate erection, moving, moving up and down. And then, astonishingly, I felt his tongue, licking round the head, and there was no hesitation now, now his mouth was round me, I could feel his tongue moving on me, and I was moving deeper, I could feel the soft movement of the back of his mouth. In and out, he was working like at expert, and I was rising and rising; I tried to warn him, but the words would not come out; and then I came. I must have filled his tiny mouth with a day's fascination and arousal and love, and I could feel him swallow, and his hands were on the sides of my waist as he bent...
He was in my arms again, the sheets thrown back, his head on my chest, and like that we slept, naked; and Bathys held us. I had never slept better.
KARL AND PETER
Paul woke me with a cup of coffee, and sat on the bed, his hand on my leg. He smiled at me.
"At least I didn't swallow Lord Ian's stuff. Is there a tag for swallowing?"
"No." I blushed. "But there is for the other thing I did."
"Licking my bum? Didn't it taste, well, yucky?"
"No, just like the rest of you," I said. "Delicious, in other words."
"So, you do all the work and I get the tag? Doesn't seem fair..."
"You don't mind having a tag for that?"
"I don't mind tags," he said. "Not now. I'm a Bathys boy now. I've got more tags than anyone! No else has got a red tag!"
"Some other boys have got tags?"
"Oh, yes. That Ukrainian boy, Dimitri, you'll see him today, he speaks German, he's got a FIR."
"Who from?" I said. "Come on, let's have the gossip!"
"You'll never believe it, it was Big Tim, who looks after the games arcade. He's old! But he's very nice, and Dimitri really loves him, and when Big Tim's reborn, Dimitri will be eighteen and he's going to look after him. It's sweet, really."
My son told me this quite simply, and yet there it was: a thing so wild and extraordinary that just seven miles above our head, they would not even believe it possible. Bathys was alive! I felt energised and excited.
"Come on, let's have breakfast and get going. Do you suppose Amit will have a tag today?" I said, crawling out of bed.
"Maybe. But... well, Amit's not as hard as he looks, you know."
We went into the kitchen and I made some toast and fried some bacon substitute; it was acceptable, but nothing like the real thing, and I longed for the farms to get going. And sure enough, there on the table a robot had left another tag, and I fixed it for him: RP, rimming passive. I explained it to him.
"So if I did it to you, it'd be RAP?"
"Yup. But you don't have to."
"Course not. I've never done anything with you I didn't want to. If I ask you to do something, it's cos I really want to."
"You're so lovely."
We finished and washed up, and then we were off, flying across the moors to the Reception Centre. Paul knew the way well, now, and pointed out interesting things to me; eagles, hares, the place where he thought there was a nest of pterosaurs. And when we got there, to my surprise there were nearly a hundred people waiting, boys and grownups, and as we landed, we got a cheer.
Paul ran to talk to a naked mousey-haired boy of about sixteen, with two tags, who I assumed must be Dimitri, and they were soon in earnest discussion with Darren. I found Michael, standing by himself.
"Happy this morning?" I said.
"Oh, Max, my friend. You'll never guess..."
"Amit was in your bed."
"Yes," he said. "How did you know? And before you ask: no, nothing happened. Nothing sexual, that is. I saw him there, and crawled in beside him, ready to tease him a bit, and he just grabbed me as if he was dying and started to cry. And I held him, and he just cried and cried, it must have been for two or three hours, and I heard it all, how his parents rejected him, and living on the streets, scavenging for food, and all the terrible things - awful, unbelievable things - that happened to him, and other things he saw. And then the last two weeks here, how helpless he'd felt, and lonely, and how he didn't dare let himself go, because he and Paul were relying on each other and they both had to be strong. It went on and on, until finally he cried himself to sleep."
"Oh, Michael, how dreadful."
"No! No, it wasn't! It was - I've never felt so honoured in my life. That tough little cookie chose me, he trusted me enough to let it all go, and to allow me to comfort him..."
I hugged him, feeling happy.
"Where is he?"
"He went off to see about clothes for the Germans and find them somewhere to stay, and work on his rotas for the Chinese influx. But he kissed me first... He's amazing, Max, isn't he? And isn't he the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?"
I laughed at my lovestruck friend, and hugged him again. Then Darren clapped his hands for silence.
"I want to say thank you to everyone who turned out today to give their support. It's very much appreciated. However, this number of people may be a bit intimidating. May I ask everyone to leave, except Paul and Dimitri, plus one grownup speaker of German, if there is one here? Lord Artur, thank you, that's ideal. Please stay also, your grace, if you wish. However, next week we are expecting a party of more than five hundred Chinese boys, all on one day, and I expect it will take at least eight hours to process them all. We shall definitely need help, so please give your names to the Welcome Team office if you can come. Thank you."
Everyone began to drift away, and I arranged to meet Michael later. Soon it was just the six of us waiting on the grass.
It was quite, quite different this time. When the lift arrived, it was Paul and Dimitri who were waiting for the two frightened thirteen-year-olds, and they led them straight outside into the sunlight, and let them gaze over the wide land of Bathys, across the grasslands of the West, explaining that this was now all theirs. Then I came forwards and welcomed them, and Dimitri explained what was going to happen now. Then they went back into the centre, and by now they were chatting excitedly, and their session in the showers with Paul and Dimitri became quite rowdy and uproarious. Then Darren gave them their collars, and they admired them and compared them to the other boys; then they were taken into the other room, and registered, with Artur explaining in German what was happening. And I sat down with them in the grass outside, and in very simple terms explained who was who, and who they should obey, and the rule they must follow, of not hurting others, and they accepted this happily.
After which Paul showed them how to fly their flitters, and off they went to Southwall with him and Dimitri. It was wonderful, and I was now confident that the Chinese would be handled well.
I congratulated Darren and went back to Southwall. Later I met Paul and the two Germans, Peter and Karl, at Martha's for lunch.
"He gone to see his friend," said Peter, slowly.
"Yes, Dimitri say not hungry," said Karl. "Not hungry for eating!"
"Not hungry for eating food!" said Peter.
And all three boys fell about, laughing. I could see that Karl and Peter were going to be no problem at all, and lunch was delightful, the three boys already rolling around, laughing at private jokes and teasing me.
"Did you see Dimitri's tags?" said Paul, when the two Germans were making a trip to the toilet.
"No, I missed them. What are they?"
"FIR, he had that before. This morning he had P1 - what's that? I didn't have a chance to ask him."
"Ah. Well, P1 is 'pain - level 1'. Probably something like, Tim spanked his bum. As part of having sex. For fun."
"Oh." Paul blushed. "I said, didn't I?"
"Yes, so you did. But - well, son, a strap is P2 or P3, depending how much and how hard. I'm - well, I'm not sure about doing that. Let's wait, shall we? There's lots of other things to do, and plenty of time."
"You're going upstairs."
"Yes, but not for two days."
"You - you may not come back."
He wasn't crying; just very serious. He had assessed the chances, and he was not a fool. I hesitated; but he was my son. Moreover, he was the Prince.
"Love, I'll be careful, believe me. But you're right: you can never know what might, just might happen. That's why, whatever we do for these two days, I want it to be just right, not something that could turn out wrong. If we had time, we could try anything, and if it didn't work, just say, oh well, let's not do that again. But not now. Do you see?"
"Okay. You always think about me, don't you? I love you so much..."
"You sad?" said Peter, slipping onto his chair.
"In two days, my father is going," said Paul. "Up. Upstairs." He pointed. "To bring more boys. It is dangerous."
"How many boys you get, Mr King?"
"You don't say 'Mr King'," said Paul. "Say 'your grace'."
"It doesn't matter, son," I said.
"Yes, it does. You shouldn't forget things like that. Amit was telling the twins, and he's right. It won't matter later, but now it does. With all the new boys coming."
"Sorry, I not understand," said Peter. "How many boys you bring, your - your grace?"
"Ten thousand, Peter. Already we have a hundred and fifty. So nine thousand, eight hundred and fifty."
My heart sank as I wrote the numbers for him with my finger. 9,850! My God!
"Many. That is good," said Karl. "May God - blesses your doing, your - grace."
"You see why it's important, son?"
"Yeah," he whispered. "Course I do, Dad."
At that moment we were joined by the twins, J & J, Amit, and several Ukrainians, and in the chaos, Paul and I were able to slip away.
A SHORT HOLIDAY
I made those two days special for him. We went to Lakeport and took a boat, and went far away, far across the bright water, and gazed at the great waterfall, shining many coloured in the morning sun. We walked the farmland lanes, and visited our friends in Easton; we ventured into the eaves of the forest, lying still among the trees as a troop of little dinosaurs grubbed for insects. And to Paul's joy, we stood and watched the elephants at the edge of the lake, squirting themselves with mud, and listened to their low rumbles of pleasure. And we went to the cinema, and I chose special clothes for him, a thick brocade tunic and soft red leather shoes, and took him to the fish restaurant in the open air on the quayside in Lakeport, where the diners saw us, and stood and clapped.
It was just a taste, a scratch of what Bathys had to offer, but for me, they were the best two days of my life so far. And we spent time together in bed, and around it, and explored each others' bodies and the ways of pleasure, in which I was almost as much a beginner as he. And later that first night I did indeed take him over my knee, and began gently to spank him, and his wild laughter was mixed with shrieks of astonishment. It was uproarious and outlandish and very, very important, and while it was going on he entered an orgasm so intense that for a few seconds he passed out. Oh yes, he earned that P1 tag which he had at his collar when we came to the Reception Centre in the end, to say our goodbyes.
Michael was there with Amit, who was still without tags, and I admired my friend's kindness and skill, for they seemed very happy together. As I had arranged with him, I spoke for a short while with Amit, while he spoke to Paul.
"So, young man, did I do you a favour?"
"Y-yes, your grace, you certainly did."
"Well, the time has come to pay. Are you prepared?"
"I said I would."
"I want you to help my son. You are his right-hand man, and your good sense will stop him doing silly things with his big ideas, and wearing himself out. Will you do that?"
"Yes, your grace, but I do that already."
"But now you are doing it at the King's command. Do we understand each other?"
"Yes, your grace, I think we do."
"Kid, you are good friends with him, aren't you? Have you - have you taken your friendship into the field of sex?"
I saw him blush, and on his brown skin it was delightful.
"N-no, your grace. I - I have been scared to - to intrude."
"Don't be. If it happens, and you both want it, that is fine, and to be expected. I will not be offended or annoyed."
"Thank you, your grace."
"Let the spirit of Bathys work in you, son. It may help later, in - in other circumstances. Michael is saying the same thing to Paul - no, don't say anything, Amit, my dear boy. Take care of yourself; you are very precious, and very important."
We joined them; and then, awfully, I said my goodbyes to my son. Apart from quick trips down, with scarcely time for more that a few embraces and a brief chat, it would be more than six months before I saw him again.
"P1?" said Michael, as we were going up in the lift. "Max, I'm utterly astonished. I mean, you know about me. But you? I would never have guessed... Wow."
"It wasn't much like what you're thinking, probably. Bathys can be so dogmatically literal, can't she? A few playful smacks, and..."
"Don't give me that. I saw his bum! Shocking! Disgraceful, your grace!"
"All the same, honest to God, it was completely playful; he was laughing fit to bust throughout."
"Okay, okay, Max. I'm only teasing."
"So, and you?"
"Very, very gentle. And slow, and lovely. Just now, I didn't want to risk..."
"Oh, boy, do I understand!"
"Last night, we were lying in bed, chatting, with him curled up against me as usual, and I felt his hand - just touching my dick, that's all, just lying on it. It - oh, Max, if I ever had any doubts about what we're doing, that finished them. I'm ready, now."
"Yes. Come on, my Lord. Let's get going!"
And for the next few months, I was scarcely even at Glencoram for more than a few hours. I flew from city to city, snatching sleep in flight, showering hurriedly before dashing to meetings, aching with jet lag, bloated with disgusting food taken whenever there was a moment, and tired, tired to exhaustion all the time. That month, it was Guatemala City, Johannesburg, Cairo, Marseilles; then Bogota, Saigon, Tokyo. Gangsters, urban guerillas, left-wing rebels, drug barons, Communist Party fraudsters, the yakuza; my main asset was my reputation, and I spent it lavishly - after all, I would have no need of it after this.
And the kids arrived. They arrived; the lift was going all round the clock, now, night as well as day, and as soon as they came off the flitters or the scramliners, we sent them down. By the end of the second month the count was more than two thousand.
It was going smoothly, now. Later I heard how they had done things for the 507 Chinese kids, the week after I left. There were more than fifty of the earlier arrivals waiting; Lord Chang, and even Lord Yuexing, prised out of his workshops, with around thirty Chinese Knights and Ladies, helped. And all the kids were brought out into Bathys, and a encampment of tents was ready for them, with clothes and food, and people to hold and comfort them. Paul organised them into groups, and there were football games and flitter races, sing-song sessions and mass lessons in English, while our medics made the rounds, checking out problems. But to start with, all the kids wanted to do was sleep. And bit by bit they were all processed and registered, and taken to Southwall or Easton to be housed. It was a complete success, and set the style for all the major arrivals to come.
The large transfers continued, but parallel to that was another operation, using small groups, who flitted from place to place, picking here two, there three or five or ten; sometimes only one. Forgotten street dwellers, kids in vile families, loners, wretched, abused, disdained litle rejects whom no one wanted. But we did; and the dangers these little teams went through, dangers to their freedom and even their lives, were enormous.
However, it was not these small-scale operations which worried me the most; for the most part, no one even noticed them, and they were easily disguised as the activities of kidnappers and psychopaths. No, it was the large transfers, which, every time, exposed our whole project to the chance of disaster. Someone, somewhere, sometime, was going to notice what was happening, would become aware of the pattern. It was only a matter of time; we had to balance the utmost speed with endless caution. It was agonising. We lived on adrenaline, and as the numbers clicked up we told each other, more in hope than certainty: no, not yet, they haven't noticed yet...
Manila, Colombo, Bombay; Bangkok, Teheran, Khartoum. Gangsters, separatists, organised pimps, religious screwballs. I was getting a tour round the most unpleasant tribes that humanity had to offer; truly, although I was aware that such people existed, I was not prepared for the spiritual assault of actually meeting them. They were horrible. But that month, the third month, was a good one: nearly two thousand new boys, and now, down below, there were more than four thousand, and Bathys was coming alive; the beach by the lake with hundreds of little naked bodies, brown, black and white, the Southwall Centre thronged, The Flats alive day and night with activity and the sound of excited voices.
And then there was Dublin, and there, for the first time, someone noticed something: a journalist, who found that the ragged boy who sold bootleg cigarettes on his street corner was not there. He investigated, and found four of his friends missing too. Five gone in one night! Was there a story here? Fortunately he did not know of the other 31 kids who disappeared at the same time, or he might have pushed a little harder. As it was, he wrote a piece for his paper, and I was obliged to act. I found that through various companies I owned some 60% of the paper in question, and I was able to arrange for him to do a series of reports from Mars. It would take a year for him to get there and back, and he was agreeably surprised, and quite deceived. But it was a perilous exposure; and, unknown to us, someone else, on the other side of the Atlantic, had seen.
The fourth month, and a major failure: a big group from Moscow fell through completely. Dealing with their mafiosi was never easy; they did not stay bought, and their word could not be relied on. We substituted kids from other places. And still Michael and I moved on: Hong Kong, Rio, Calcutta, Mexico City, Dar es Salaam. More gangsters, drug traffickers, party hacks, military rulers; and Sidney, where I met possibly the nastiest bunch we had to deal with: a bona fide ring of boy abusers. We took only forty-six there, but it was well worth it; the stories they had to tell were beyond belief, and integrating them proved one of our toughest challenges. And there, too, someone noticed; someone who was not in on the deal became annoyed when his favourite little victim disappeared, and started snooping around. On that occasion, with very little regret, I had to order his liquidation. But that month was a disappointment: barely twelve hundred new boys, and the clock was ticking, now. We did not know it, but our opponent in America was narrowing the gap. He did not yet know who we were, or where we were based, but with remarkable accuracy, he knew where we had been.
In month five, however, we transported more than in any other. Bucharest, Munich, Naples; gangsters, political crazies, the camorra. And then, in one epic week, 1216 were taken down, from Buenos Aires, Karachi, Beijing and Kabul. The Welcome Team was stretched beyond bearing, more and more people were obliged to drop everything and help. At the end of that week I learned that Paul had been ordered to rest; Amit had dragged a doctor up to their Flat and had his friend almost forcibly restrained. By then I was in Jakarta, and could not come; all I could do was to send a message to be taken down to him, a message which came to have the oddest possible fate, as we shall see.
Istanbul, Jakarta, Athens: Military cliques, drugrunners. But now we had moved nearly eight thousand boys down the lift, and we were in reach of our goal. And at this moment, we realised how close our enemy was; he was a keen and enterprising member of the CIA, and he had nearly persuaded his superiors to listen to him. Appalled, some of the Gathering Team urged me to stop, to call the operation a success, and end it. I thought hard, but decided there was still time to push ahead. And so we did.
The next month, and another failure, albeit a minor one. One of our small teams, attempting to pick up four boys in Prague, found themselves surrounded by police; one of the boys had tipped them off. They flung themselves over an embankment into the river, and escaped, although one was wounded. As we shall see, of the boys we had selected, those four were the only ones whom we failed to take.
But still the large operations continued: Paris, Lagos, Baghdad, Lisbon; gangsters, military dictatorships, islamic extremists; Berlin, Tel Aviv, Warsaw: gangsters and religious nutcases. Then it was Toronto, and near disaster. We were to collect forty-two there, and the agents we had used, whom we thought to be a local group of gangsters, turned out to be an arm of the most powerful criminal organisation in North America. They had their contacts, and they knew much of what our enemy was up to, and he was very close. His superiors were now backing him fully, and the entire strength of his organisation was at his disposal; he was breathing down our necks. The Toronto gang had no idea of what we were doing, but they knew it was big, and they wanted in. The kids they had were bait, and they captured our entire team of eight. With no other option, I flew to Toronto and negotiated with their boss, face to face. It was tough, and outrageously expensive, but by now money was absolutely no object at all; in the end I bought their freedom, and got the kids. We fled back across the Atlantic, our enemy snapping at our heels. But still he had not quite put the pieces together.
At the end of that frantic week, we had nearly nine thousand, and I was facing almost open mutiny. But I was determined to push on until the last moment. They were sure to find us in the end, I explained; we must not be alarmed by this, it was inevitable. It was simply a question of making the best use of what time we had. And at that moment, the Moscow deal which had fallen through before suddenly came together, and my team could not resist. The scramliner took off, and, miraculously, returned with 218 boys we thought we would never see. Then we went to Madrid; but already I was pulling the teams back, because the end was in sight, and we would need every member.
The last of the small teams to return astonishly brought with them twenty kids from Jamaica. And now it was time for our most daring operation of all. We had so far avoided going to the United States because their security is so tight; but now our cover was blown, and our enemy knew almost everything about who we were, and that we were based in Scotland. So flagrantly, almost openly, we launched our swoops on New York City and Washington DC. The scramliners we needed had been waiting for days at the scramports, apparently being serviced, and had not been identified with our operations. We had our contacts with organised crime; we knew they had been penetrated, but our enemy hoped to follow us, and so he allowed us to proceed. In desperate haste, the 618 kids were snatched from the lion's mouth and rushed to the scramports; in the case of New York, our pursuers were actually charging across the tarmac as I and four others were herding the kids up the steps. And then the scramliners took off, and their engines, top of the line experimental ones, left them far behind.
THE DOOR IS CLOSED
While the American kids were still over the Atlantic we started our last operation. In the early hours of that wild, final day, we hit five cities in Britain at once: London, Manchester, Cardiff, Newcastle, Glasgow. It had to be last, and it had to be simultaneous; it simply could not be hidden. And nor was it: the alarm went up, five police forces turned out; and at the same time, the whole operation, dates, numbers, the enormous size of it, was published in the United States. Summa was named. I was named. So were eighteen of the twenty-seven Lords. Glencoram was named, and so was 'Primrose'. The jig was up. The only things of which they were still entirely ignorant was the real name of the project, and what it actually was.
Our ground transports screamed up the highways. The Americans had barely finished going down the lift when the Glaswegians followed them. The kids from Newcastle and Manchester, too; and then, after a hideous wait, the Welsh kids as well. It was just London, and a single transport. But now the armed forces were after them as well; highways were blocked; they had to make detours. An hour went past as they hurtled through southern Scotland, and now we knew that airborne troops were on their way to Glencoram itself. It was a race, and I could feel my people wanting me to give them up. But it was forty-five boys, and a team of twelve; I would not let them go, not after all this. I sent everyone down the lift, except Damon and myself. We changed into Bathys-style clothes with relief, and waited.
And finally, wonderfully, the transport hurtled up the drive, with the pursuers barely a mile behind. Just as the transport halted, they opened fire. Shells crashed into the building. In an agony of haste, our crew hustled the kids inside.
"You grace," said one of the crew, "We have a problem here..."
At the same moment I saw a young man, perhaps 20 or so, his face bruised, his clothes dishevelled and his arms cuffed behind his back, being led with the others.
"Who the fuck is he?" I yelled.
"We couldn't get him away from the kids. He's a careworker at the children's home we went to, he fought and fought and in the end we just had to take him..."
"Jesus! Of all the... Well, we can't leave him here! We'll have to take him. Get him downstairs and see he doesn't cause any trouble!"
We hurried our charges, the young man included, down the basement steps. One load into the lift. A second. I broke out our weapons, and gave one to Damon; we took up position at the ground floor windows, as masonry fell around us; and then, soldiers were storming across the hillside. I fired a burst, and saw one fall. Damon fired too. For crucial minutes they regrouped as we fired over their heads; and then they were onto us. I flung my weapon away and hurled myself down the steps, Damon at my heels, and the lift stood, its door open, with sixteen kids, our captive and one of the London team crammed inside.
"Go, your grace!" yelled Damon, standing at the top of the steps.
He fired a burst along the corridor, and then screamed; he was hit, and tumbled sideways towards me. Suddenly, as sometimes happens at the last resort, I found a huge burst of energy. I grabbed his shoulders and dragged him bodily into the lift, as our enemies charged along the corridor.
"Down! Down!" I shouted.
Someone hit the button, and they were firing at the outer door as we dropped away, the kids screaming around us.
"What the fuck is happening!" shouted the man.
I panted, surrounded by screaming kids, and Damon groaned; his leg was shattered, and blood was pouring out. There were twenty of us, in a lift built for eleven, and I could do nothing at all for Damon as it dropped, and finally, agonisingly, came to a halt.
The door opened, and instantly we were flung into an organised maelstrom. I could see ten kids being showered all at once, another ten waiting, and others being led outside; dozens of Knights, Ladies and naked boys were helping. In the centre of it all, Darren was standing on a chair, yelling directions. Clearly they understood the urgency of what was happening; the problem was, we had no idea if this facility would be available soon.
"Wounded man over here!" I yelled, and at once a team of stretcher bearers appeared, and Damon was carried off.
"Darren! Get three Knights over here!"
They appeared like magic.
"Get this man processed as a Knight," I said. "Be sure to tell Artur - as a Knight!"
"What? Your grace!" said one of them.
"Just do it!"
The Londoners were being stripped, now - we had had no time to do it upstairs - with a dozen or more boys, directed by Paul, helping them, trying to calm them down. Boys, still damp, were lining up for registration, and the Knights were moving down the lines, installing their collars where they stood. Everyone knew what to do. Any interference from me would just make things worse. I saw the three men fall on the Knight-to-be, and strip him.
"Bathys? Activate the ground-level communications shield!"
"I took the liberty of doing so twenty-seven minutes ago, your grace."
"Excellent! Can you monitor the men upstairs?"
"To a degree, your grace. As yet, they appear not to be aware of the communications shield. They have moved into the house and are searching it intensively. A team is attempting to break through the lift doors."
That would not be easy; they were an inch thick of solid c-steel.
"Keep me informed of everything you learn."
"Yes, your grace."
"How long to finish this lot?" I shouted to Darren.
"Forty-five minutes, your grace."
I had no need to hurry him; it would do no good. I seized a moment of calm to swing Paul round; beaming, he kissed me, and returned to his work. For a few moments I watched him coax a tiny six-year-old out of the rags he wore, and help him to put the hood over his eyes, making him treat it like a game. I was astonished that in the midst of all this haste he could show such patience, such concentration.
"A senior officer has arrived, your grace. They are preparing to blow the door with a hyperex charge," said Bathys.
"Thank you, Bathys."
I moved to the registration room and found that there were now six stations there in place of the one we had originally, and as I watched, six kids were helped down, and another six mounted. I walked to the front door, and found outside a mass of people; people caring for the new arrivals, tents set up, rows of flitters and transports, and the detritus of months of activity.
"Move back from the door!" I shouted. "Move back at least two hundred yards!"
The people started to obey.
"Move the kids back, boys," I said. "It may not be safe here."
"Yes, your grace," said one with a broad smile, and I recognised Karl, looking after an eight-year-old black American kid, who was sitting on the ground, weeping.
"Hey, Karl? How's it going, kid?"
"Wonderful, your grace! Did we win?"
"We're winning, there's no doubt. You just go over there, and you'll see the end of it."
"This is Brent. He's from Washington."
"You tell Brent that I'll make sure to talk to him later, and take him over by those trees, okay? Do it now, Karl."
He caught my seriousness.
"Okay, your grace."
"They are blowing the door, your grace... They report that the door has been successfully blown," said Bathys.
Damn. This was all going too quickly. I ran back inside.
"How long, Darren?"
"Twenty-five minutes, your grace."
"Bathys? Start the final sequence. Code word: endeavour."
"Acknowledged. Final sequence started; thirty minutes to termination."
I ran outside again.
"Will the Lords of the Council please assemble here!"
I saw them start to come forwards. And they were all there, apart from Darren, and Artur, who was working in the registration room. Even Ian was there, I noticed. He came to me, smiling.
"Cutting it a bit fine, aren't you, Max?"
"Always, Ian. Always. Surely you approve of that?"
"Well, yes. I suppose I do. That's quite a good way of putting it."
"They are ignoring the warnings," said Bathys. "The officer has ordered them to drop a hyperex mine down the shaft."
"Could be nasty," said Ian.
He was right, but I ignored him, and ran back into the centre.
"Darren!" I yelled. "Hand over to someone and come out here, please! You too, Artur! Quickly, please!"
They were with me, and out of the door.
"They are manhandling the mine out of a transport and into the house," said Bathys.
I gathered the Lords round me.
"The moment has arrived. My Lords, I propose to proceed. Does anyone dissent?"
There was silence.
"Very well. Please stand over there with the others. Except you, Darren, you stay with me, please. I've no idea what will happen... How much longer?"
"Ten minutes," said Darren.
As he spoke, another five new kids came out of the door, with some of the other boys guiding them. With them was the young man I had brought, still firmly held by the three Knights.
"Over by those trees, boys," I shouted. "Take the man to Lord Michael."
"That means eight minutes, Max."
"Everyone who's not needed in here, outside!" I yelled into the centre.
About twenty boys and Knights filed out. I grabbed Paul.
"Stay with us, Prince," I said. "Who are you, Knight?"
"George. I'm part of the Welcome Team."
"Just right. Please stay here with us. Everyone else, please go over there, beyond those trees."
"They are moving the mine into the basement," said Bathys. "They are still ignoring the warning."
Six more kids emerged, with their helpers.
"Four more minutes," said Darren.
"Sir George, Prince Paul," I said, "Now witness for your Orders what happens. Bathys: prime the Great Key of Bathys. Code word: pandora."
"Acknowledged. Great Key primed."
And there it was; it appeared through the wall, a red plate as large as a palm. I ran back inside the Centre. The last six kids were still lying on the registration units; I watched, trying to still the agonised thumping of my heart.
"They have positioned the mine at the top of the shaft," said Bathys. "They are trying to prime it."
"Done!" shouted the Knight at the console.
The kids' bonds snapped open, and they were hauled off the tables.
"Out of here!" I yelled. "Out! Run! Now!"
They picked up the kids bodily, and we dashed through the doors, through and out.
"Stand round behind the walls! Stand well back!"
The last Knight came hurtling out of the door and rolled to one side.
"Lord Darren, Doorkeeper of Bathys: close the Door!" I said.
He stepped to the wall, and pressed the red plate hard. There was a loud click.
"Run!" I shouted.
We scattered to the sides, and I pushed Paul to the ground and lay on top of him. For a moment there was silence, and then we heard it: a low, deep rumble, getting louder and louder, to an ear-splitting roar, a vibration that shook your guts, and then, with a final thundering explosion, it burst through the doors of the centre, an avalanche of rocks and debris fifty yards long, and you could feel their scorching, searing heat.
The lift shaft, the way to the world, had been collapsed; the fields which held back its walls had been released, and with a pressure of thousands of pounds per square inch, they had sealed us in, and the world out. Between us and our pursuers there were now seven miles of red-hot rock.
"The Door is closed," said Bathys. "The mine detonated before they could drop it. Several soldiers were killed. Final sequence will terminate in two minutes. They are still ignoring the warnings."
"Come closer," I yelled.
Dozens of robots came to spray water on the rocks. The people gathered round, giving them a wide berth.
And high, high above, the nucleonic bomb detonated, fusing the ground above us into glass, a mile across and twenty yards deep. Where we stood, we could not even feel it.
"Final sequence has terminated," said Bathys.
"The creation of Bathys has been completed," I shouted. "The Door has been closed. The Statute of Bathys is now in effect; I declare that the Realm of Bathys stands alone under her own Statute, answering to no one but her own people."
"Yes!" shouted Paul.
I turned to him and swept him into my arms and kissed him, as everyone cheered and danced. Then I hefted him onto my shoulder and yelled.
"We won!" I shouted, and Paul joined in. "We won! We won!"
"How many?" someone yelled. "How many in the end?"
"Ten thousand, two hundred and thirty-six! We missed only four!"
There was a huge cheer. I could not tell how many of the citizens of Bathys were there, but it looked like thousands.
"We'll leave a day to welcome our new citizens," I said. "Then, tomorrow evening, we'll celebrate. Celebrate the birthday of Bathys! On the beach! Everyone come!"
A thought came to me suddenly.
"I want everyone to write on a piece of paper one thing upstairs that they're glad to leave behind. One thing. Tell everyone to do it. Make sure the kids do it too, help them out if they can't write. One thing!"
"You won't be going upstairs again soon?" asked Paul.
"Son, none of us will ever go upstairs again. And no one will ever come here. We're seven miles down and it's all rock, and they don't even know we're here. Bathys is our life, now. There's no way in and there's no way out."
This last was not quite true, in fact, but it would do for now.
It was the beginning of the afternoon when Paul and I set off back to my house. It had been a wild morning; we had given our bemused and furious captive into Igor's care, and we had toured the Southwall Centre, where throngs of people, boys and grownups, had cheered and mobbed us, and had an uproarious lunch at Martha's. Darren, exhausted, had gone home to sleep, Michael had disappeared with Amit; and now, at long last, we were alone.
We moved slowly, easily, just relaxing in the sun.
"You forgot my birthday," said Paul.
"Oh, my God! I'm sorry, son..."
"It's okay. I guess you had one or two other things on your mind." He laughed. "As if it matters. At least you're back."
"Yes. Eleven years to go, for this cycle," he said. "It's still hard to believe... We're really here for ever?"
For a while we walked in silence, scuffing along the sandy path, Paul naked by my side. We weren't touching each other; it wasn't necessary. A pair of parrots in a nearby tree squawked at us ironically.
"We can do what we like," I said. "And it's completely up to us. We can have a great time, or a miserable time. We can be good to each other, or vile. It's entirely up to us. I suppose, in theory, it's more up to me than anyone, seeing that I'm the King."
"So now what?" said Paul. "What are you planning? For Bathys?"
"What am I planning?"
I laughed, and I sensed it was a different kind of laugh, a holiday laugh, the kind I had not laughed since I was a child myself.
"Son, I haven't got any plans for Bathys. I haven't got any plans for anything. All my life I've worked to plans, short plans, long plans, usually dozens of plans at once. For the last five years it's been the biggest plan ever. But now, for the first time, I haven't got any plans at all. Bathys can look after herself."
"But... but you're the King!"
"So what? What should I do? Organise an army and invade somewhere? There isn't anywhere. Encourage industry? All the industry we could possibly need is there already. Set up a social security system, organise a market economy, start a business? None of these things make any sense when there's more of everything than anyone could possibly want, free. Son, the fact is there's nothing for me to do. Anything that needs to be done, people will do, you'll find. At the moment, that's integrating the kids into Bathys. I honestly can't think of anything else."
"So... so what's the King for?"
"To keep an eye on things. Occasionally, if it isn't working right, if people aren't relating well, if crazy ideas spring up, just to steer things a bit. That's about it. There are some problems which could arise, but only slowly, over the years. That's what I'm for. That, and, well, just to be someone for people to revolve around, a kind of centre. People need that. But in the meantime: I can do what I like. So can you. If we choose to do nothing, just loaf around the house, that'll be fine. Or lie on a grassy hill and watch the lake. There's time enough, if we wanted, to spend twenty years just watching a single tree grow, watching the twigs slowly become branches, the leaves grow and fall each year, see how gradually it comes to lean one way or another; think about it, try to find out what it's like to be a tree. Actually, there is something I've wanted to concentrate on for some years now."
"Me? Are we going to have sex again? I've... All these months, I've wanted..."
"Yes, my valiant son, we'll have sex. Every kind of sex, and whenever we want. And now you're fourteen, I don't feel so... We'll find out about everything we like, and everything we don't. We'll try all the highways and byways. There's so much. But that isn't all. Um... I think, maybe, we both do need a plan. To start with. We can't help it, really, and it'll help us to start to get to know each other. How about this. Suppose we build a house?"
"Yes! Most of the Lords have a special house. Terry's is on an island in the lake. Derek's is near Hillside, he wants to make things, wooden carvings, it's nice. Hamid lives on a farm, Danosh's place is deep under the Centre, no windows even, Ortan's is in a wood on the edge of the hills. Michael's... I'll tell you about that later. So, where shall we build a house? The King's House. The Prince's as well, if you like..."
"Dad! Of course I like. That'll be marvellous, just so great... I know, let's go and look all over Bathys, and find the perfect place, stay anywhere we like for a while..."
We passed through the wooden gate to my garden. I'd always wanted a garden. Of course, the Chairman of Summa had gardens without number, magnificent ones, but I wanted one I could touch myself, where I could bury my fingers in its earth and bring forth flowers and vegetables, vegetables I could eat. This one was a start; small, hedged, shaded by trees, the grass now shaggy after months of neglect, as summer in Bathys wound to its close.
"Yes, you're getting it! Of course, we'll want to stop and go and see our friends, too. And have a swim. Or climb a hill. Go down into the caves..."
We turned towards each other, and embraced; and after a while, I could feel him crying. I didn't have to ask him why.
"You helped to build Bathys, son. It wasn't just me, it wasn't just the grownups. You helped too, and your friends. That's really important."
"I - All the time, I never knew if you'd come back, that was the worst bit. I just worked harder and harder, trying not to think about it... I asked Darren in the end, I had to know, and he told me. That... that if you were killed outside Bathys, you really would be dead. You wouldn't be reborn."
"Yes, he was right. But that's all over now. We're through it, kid."
I lent down to kiss him, and he was onto me, all his arms and legs gripping me, his mouth thrust into mine, giving strange little cries. He seemed almost deranged, frantic to have me, to grip me with his whole body. I sank to the ground, amazed and even frightened at his behaviour. He lay full on me, still gripping, and now writhing and humping, and in a moment he was into his orgasm, stiffening against me like a board, and then relaxing, panting, as I stroked his hair and his naked back, and the pain flowed out of him. He was weeping again, now, but quietly, easily, and I murmured comforting things to him, and round us the birds sang.
Finally he was quiet. I picked him up and carried him into the house, sat him down in the kitchen and got apple juice for both of us to drink.
"Yeah. I'm - I'm sorry about that."
"Sorry? Sorry that you took comfort from me? Son, I couldn't want for anything better."
He looked at me with an odd kind of intensity.
"I want to do everything with you. I want you to fuck me, and - and do every kind of thing. I want to do things... I want everyone to know, to know that it's you I did things with, I want a new tag today, so that when we go to Igor's this evening everyone will see, and know that as soon as you came back..."
"Oh my love." I felt my eyes watering. "I can't fuck you. Not yet, it would injure you. You have to work up to that."
I went round to him and hugged him to me.
"Come on. Let's go to my bedroom."
I led him there, and then he undressed me, garment by garment, stopping for us to hug and caress many times. We took a shower together, and as the cascading water poured over us, I felt all the tensions of the previous six months flow out of me, and the glory of what we had accomplished rose up in me again. We washed each other, not hesitating to explore where and how we liked, and it was delightful, this casual intimacy, this relaxed enjoyment of each other. This was what it was all for! This! A man and a boy together, loving each other, without fear, and proud. This!
It was a relaxed and giggly boy that I led back into the bedroom.
"So, you want to do something new? I wonder... Well, you be sure to tell me if I do anything you don't like, okay?"
"I don't mind what you do. Nothing you do could be bad."
I smiled, and led him to the bed. Then, apprehensively, I got some things from the cupboard. He said anything, but was he up for this? At any rate, it wouldn't hurt him, but it would test him, for sure, and test our trust, in a way. Yes; it was worth doing.
"Lie on the bed. On your back."
He did it. He was completely hard, and his eyes were blurred and sultry. He had grown over the last half year, and I had never seen anything remotely as arousing in my life.
And then, slowly, watching him carefully all the while, I put the leather bands round his wrists, and buckled them tightly. And I attached the cords, and tied my son's hands above his head, tied them to the head bedposts, and all the while, he never stopped smiling at me. Then I did the same with his ankles, spreading his legs wide apart; and there he was, open before me.
"There. Totally at my mercy! I can do whatever I like, and nothing you can say..."
I stopped, because without my touching him in any way, my son was coming again. His body arched and stiffened, and then he was frantically humping into the air, his dick throbbing and jerking and spurting. I kissed him, catching his breath, and my hand found one of his tiny nipples and pinched it sharply. He writhed beneath me, and he seemed to come and come, for half a minute or more; and then he relaxed.
"Yeah," he whispered. "You gonna untie me now?"
"Oh, no, kid. I untie you when I want, not when you want, okay?"
He was still whispering, as if in awe of what had happened. And for while I sat beside him, stroking his hair and kissing him, and he never stopped smiling. And then, gently, I began to kiss him all over, all over his body, kissing and gently biting his nipples, on and on, until he was begging me, begging to be allowed to come, and then I took his exquisite dick in my mouth, and gave him what he wanted. And all that afternoon I continued, taking him through tears and laughter, letting him glimpse the nature of surrender, and pulling orgasm after orgasm out of that slight body, until in the end he was almost on the edge of it all the time. And then I stretched full length upon him, and pressed myself against him, and flooded him with my own love, covering him with it, and then lay hard down on him, pressing him, and he came himself for the last time.
And then at last, I untied him, and still in his wrist and ankle bands he curled himself over my chest as I lay on my back, and so we slept, till Bathys woke us. We had arranged to go to Igor's house for eight o'clock.
We showered, and it was a friendly and giggly affair, and fortunately the clothes he had worn on the night of the Council were still there, and the robots had cleaned them. We found the new tag Bathys had left him.
"B2? What's that?"
"Bondage, level 2. Will that do as something to boast about?"
"Yeah! I don't know anyone who's got that! Hey! I think I'll keep these wrist things on as well. And the ankle ones. What do you think? The others will be amazed!"
So was I, in fact. I swallowed hard; I wasn't entirely sure I wanted this, but if he could carry it off, so would I. He had the right to it.
"Michael will certainly be interested," I said. "He's, well, very keen on that sort of thing."
"What sort of thing?"
"Well, you know. Tying people up, pain and so on on. And other things, really wild stuff."
"Wow. Really? Lord Michael? But - but he's really nice!"
"Nice? Well, usually. He can be pretty tough if he has to be, I can tell you, I've seen quite a bit of that over the last few months. But he is good, and I'm absolutely certain he would never really harm a boy. And he wouldn't do something the boy really didn't want to do. All the same, it worries me a bit, really, because I'm not sure that Amit..."
Paul laughed, and blushed.
"I - I think it's okay. The thing about Amit is, well, usually he likes to be this tough little kid, right? But when he has sex, he isn't like that, he, well, he doesn't push at all, you know what I mean? He really wants you to just, well, do things to him. So it's sort of the same kind of thing, isn't it? So I think if Lord Michael just waits and is careful, it'll be okay. Because Amit doesn't show that side of himself to anyone, really, except Lord Michael and, well, me."
I hugged him. I was delighted that he had obviously been engaged sexually with his lieutenant.
"If - if he has a tag this evening, you mustn't tease him about it," said Paul. "Anything else, but not that. Cos he really feels awkward about it..."
"That's okay. I won't."
We called some flitters and set off. Igor's house had only just been finished; it overlooked the beach, a villa in the Spanish style, with whitewashed walls and wide arches giving onto a huge tiled patio, where he obviously planned to entertain the kids and pick up on their problems.
We found Igor presiding over a barbecue, with a couple of robots fetching and carrying and arranging things. Darren, accompanied by the twins, was already there, and I was delighted to see that both of them were now wearing MAP tags; also Martha, with João and Joaquim. Our involuntary guest, still wearing the clothes he was captured in, was sitting disconsolately on a wall, nursing a glass of beer.
"Igor! I didn't have time to thank you for everything..."
"Oh Max." He kissed me. "It's been a frantic few months, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Let me introduce you to Will Darnley."
Will nodded abruptly.
"Are you in charge of this - this thing?"
"Well, yes. You could say so. My name's Max Donner - maybe you've heard of me."
"Shit! You? The richest man in the world, running a gang of paedophile perverts?"
"Yes, I originated the vision of Bathys, I brought together the team that built her, and I paid for everything. Now I am called the King."
"And apparently you have kidnapped more than ten thousand boys," he said. "Torn them away from their families and those who care for them, and dragged them to this - this hole in the ground, to cater for your disgusting appetites..."
The others were gathering round. This was not quite how I had anticipated celebrating this evening, but it seemed to be necessary.
"Not one single child who was brought here, with one possible exception, came from anything better than misery, Will."
"No! I looked after my kids! I did everything I could for them!"
"Yes, it seems that you did. But I'd respect you more if you were honest with me. The fact is that the home they came from was a hell-hole, yourself excepted. Do you deny it?"
"I won't deny it was pretty awful," said Will, after a strained pause. "But nothing could be worse than being here at your mercy!"
"Now, ang about!" said Kev. "We was torn from our family if you like, if you mean our fuckin rapist fahver an is fuckin rapist friends. Best thing that ever appened to us! You dunno what yer talkin about!"
"Son, you were brutally treated by your father, and that's dreadful. It's a crime, and people like that should be in jail. But because of that, you can't see things straight. The fact is that now you've been handed over to this fellow" - and he gestured at Darren - "who's abusing and molesting you, and you can't even see that it's wrong! He's a pervert, kid, and he's exploiting you!"
"No, e ain't," said Jess. "We've been all over, pal, we've been in omes, an we've met people like you before, social workers an shrinks, the ole lot, an they was all fuckin useless. None of em stopped our dad from beatin us an fuckin us every soddin day, an none of em done what Lord Darren done, which is just old us an - an listen to us, even when we - we cried." Jess blushed brilliant red, but ploughed on. "E ain't done nuffin wiv us what we didn't want, nuffin at all, an what we did was brilliant, an we'd do more too, only e won't. Not yet. You ain't got no idea, comin in ere wiv all your stupid ideas. You ask the Prince, e'll say the same."
"That's me," said Paul, with some pride, I thought. "I'm Paul, the King's my father, that's why I'm here. And I got my tags by having sex with him."
"With your own father!" said Will. "That's monstrous! Donner, you brought your son, your own son, here to abuse him and subject him to your lust, to make him your catamite..."
"You not insult the Prince!" yelled João, jumping in front of Paul, with Joaquim at his side. "You be polite to the Prince, you hear me, stupid man?"
"Son, I'm not insulting anyone," said Will, starting back. "I'm on your side! I want to try to protect this young man..."
"I don't need your protection, Sir Will," said Paul, calmly. "And I'm not making excuses for anything. Do you see these tags? This one means my father and me wanked each other. This one means that he sucked my dick, and I sucked his, too, and I swallowed as well, but you don't get a tag for that..."
"Dear God! Child..."
"This one means he licked my arsehole. That was really nice, when his tongue went right in me it was incredible! You ought to try that, really, I'm sure there are lots of boys here who'll do that for you..."
"Stop! Boy, can't you see..."
"Oh, no, I'm proud of the next one, I'm sure you'll like this, this was when he spanked my arse, that was really intense, cos it really quite hurt, but I was giggling so much it didn't metter, and I think that was the hardest I've come ever. And this one - this was this afternoon, that was when he tied me to the bed, with these bands, see? My ankles too, see? I was completely helpless, and then he licked me and bit my nipples and sucked me, and he made me come about six times like that..."
"In God's name! I've never heard..."
"You don't get it, Sir Will," Paul went on. "You're here now, and there's no way out, and here we're proud of things like that. It doesn't matter what you think, because we'll go on thinking like that, so I guess, well, you'd better get used to it. And I think you will, in the end."
"Why on earth should you think any such thing?"
"Because your dick's hard, Sir Will. I notice things like that."
Will turned vermilion, turned his back and nearly ran to the other side of the patio. I put my finger over my lips and nipped their laughter in the bud.
"And how did you know your little recital would have that effect, scamp?" said Michael quietly, coming up behind us.
"The way he looked at the twins. You can't mistake it," said Paul, loudly. "I'm surprised they let him have anything to do with boys! Pervert!"
"I never touched one of them!" Will yelled across the patio, almost in tears. "Never! I never..."
"No," said Paul. "You looked after them, you tried to protect them, in the end you were even ready to fight for them and die for them. But touch them? Oh, no, no, no..."
"It would have been monstrous! It would be a betrayal..."
"No!" said Paul. "No, it wouldn't! If they'd wanted it, if it made them happy, if that's what they really and truly wanted, it would have been great. It would have been... well, part of loving them. Do you really think that I've been betrayed, or the twins?"
"Yes! The people you trust the most have exploited you for their own desires. I never..."
"No! Why can't you believe us when we say no? Why do you think you know better than us, Sir Will?"
He turned away from us.
"Leave him be," said Michael quietly. "He has admitted his own desires, and that's a lot of progress. The best thing now would be for him to visit his own boys, who trust him and are worried about him, and I expect Igor will arrange that for him tomorrow."
"I'll go and talk to him," said Amit.
I noticed that he did indeed have a tag: MAP: masturbation, active and passive; and I rejoiced.
"Amit, you did me a great favour in caring for the Prince," I said. "It seems you are to be relied on."
"Or that I serve only myself if I pay my debts," he said. "You'll have to decide which, your grace."
Michael and I laughed at him. He bowed triumphantly, and scampered off to talk to Will.
Paul hugged Michael tightly, and raised his face for a kiss.
"Wow! What's that for?"
"Because Amit is my very best friend, and it's so good that you are making him happy."
"No happier than he's making me, Prince. Do you believe that?"
"Yes, actually I do. I - I know Amit, and I trust you, my Lord."
"Thanks. That means a lot. Look, you guys, can you come over here a bit, I need a chat with you."
He drew us over to the side where a little wall made an almost private spot. I noticed that Igor had designed several of these into his patio.
Michael flipped Paul's new tag.
"What you said to Will about this... Is that pretty much what happened?"
"Yeah," said Paul. "Dad said you'd be interested in that!"
"Yes. I know about that stuff, I've done it before, and I understand it. It's very important to me. Did your Dad tell you about my house?"
"No. He said he would, but he didn't."
"It's a castle. It's deep in the forest, right in the north, and it's huge. And it's designed with my - my interests in mind."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, there are places where people can be kept. Dungeons, you could say. Other places too, places where people can be - can be restrained and hurt. Lots of things. Does that shock you, little Prince?"
Paul was staring at him, astonished.
"I - I've never heard of anything like that. But - but I suppose it's the same as anything else. If people want to do it, and say yes..."
"They do have to say yes, but the rules are a bit different there. There, you can say in advance that you agree to something, and you wouldn't be allowed to say 'no' later. You might say, I'll stay for six months..."
"Oh, wow. That is truly wild..."
"Or a year, or even till I'm reborn. Or even, for the whole of my next cycle..."
Paul's eyes opened wide, but he said nothing.
"That's not allowed anywhere else," said Michael. "Only at the Castle. You feel the attraction? Of course you do. But the thing is, guys, the moment you start on things like tying up and spanking, you're beginning to point in that direction. It's to do with surrender and submission, and control... Do you see what I mean?"
"Yes," I said. "I felt it. That someone I loved very much was putting himself completely at my mercy, completely under my control..."
"Yeah," said Paul. "It was incredible. But... but I couldn't see doing that with anyone else, at your Castle. For six months! Wow. I could only do that with Dad."
"You can't be made to do periods of submission with anyone you don't want to. As for that, you could both come. It won't be just me and dozens of boy slaves, you know. I expect some of the other Lords and Knights will be there. Everyone has fantasies to work through, and that way I can keep an eye on what they do. But that's for the future. I just wanted you to be sure you understand what you're playing with when you do this stuff, and be careful with each other. Don't push, either of you, and take it slow. You've got all the time in the world, okay?"
We both nodded agreement.
"There's one other thing," said Michael. "Periods of submission are a Castle thing, and I'll be keeping careful watch of who does them, and how. But those are tags, Paul. Your Dad's claim will be over in a few days, and you'll be available for those things. To be spanked, and tied up, by any Lord or Knight or Lady who wants."
Paul's face fell.
"But - but the resolution!"
"It'll be revoked. Cancelled, I mean. Ask your Dad."
I hated what this was doing to Paul, hated that his happiness should be damaged in this way, on this day of all days. I was furious with Michael; but I couldn't lie to my son, to the Prince.
"He's right, son. In a few months. Once things have settled down and people aren't so wound up about things - they'll expect it. They'll demand it in the end, and they'll do it even if I say no."
"Everyone knows you," said Michael. "Everyone will want to say they've done things with the Prince. For a while you'll be very, very much in demand."
"Why are you saying these things now, Michael?" I said, angrily. "For God's sake! Why..."
"Because Paul needs to think about this, and prepare himself."
Paul stepped away from us, and his eyes were blazing, his body frozen and taut.
"No!" said Paul, "After all this... Everything we've done, I'll still... You fuckers! You bastards, you've been planning this, you've just been stringing us all along, you've been using me to trick the others!" His eyes flamed, and his hands clenched. "And I bloody trusted you with Amit! Bastard!"
Michael grabbed him by the shoulders.
"Prince! Hang on. Now don't lose it, kid! Look! Look at me, and think hard!" Paul stared at him wildly. "How many grownups do you know here?"
"I - I dunno. Hundreds! Fucking hundreds by now, hundreds of them, all..."
"Paul! Concentrate, now! How many of them, really, are bad people, people you wouldn't trust, cruel people? How many, Paul?"
"I... I dunno. Maybe two or three?"
"Okay. So out of the two thousand grownups, there are maybe ten or a dozen like that. Am I right? Am I right, Paul?"
"Yeah - I - I guess you're right."
"See? Not so bad, is it? The rest will just want to play around a bit, have fun, and they'd never dream of doing something you really didn't like, would they? Would they, Paul? Be honest, now, don't cling to your anger, kid, be honest with me!"
For a moment Paul looked as if he would explode again. But then he took a deep breath, and his body slumped.
"No... no, I suppose they wouldn't."
Michael swept him into his arms.
"Did you see that, Max? Your son is quite a person. Okay, Paul. That leaves the dozen bastards, and I suppose you might get taken by three or four of them. And if they try to do bad things with you, if they try to overstep the mark, what will happen?"
"Bathys will stop them," said Paul.
"Too straight she will. And once she's done that once or twice, that'll be the end of that. So you haven't got much reason to be frightened, have you?"
"I still don't like it. I don't want to do that stuff with anyone with anyone except my Dad."
"Well, let's see. You did it with Lord Ian, just to show you were annoyed with him, and I don't think you even like him. And you did it with Amit, because he's your friend. Don't you think you could do it with other people, just because you like them? To show affection and friendship? Just think about that, Paul."
"Some of them I don't like much. Lots of them I don't even know."
"No," said Michael. "But sex is the glue of Bathys. We all of us have to learn how to be more generous with it, how to give. Besides, it's good practice for you."
"For when you come to the Castle. You'll need to learn to have sex, not because you want to, but just because you are told to. You need to learn not just to do that, but to like it."
I saw that for some reason this remark excited Paul a lot.
"Actually," Michael went on, "There are really four reasons why I wanted to talk about this now, no matter how cross it made Max. The first was what I said: you need to get used to the idea. Another is that there's a part of me, a big part, which enjoys watching a beautiful boy writhe..."
"For God's sake, Michael!" I burst out.
"If you tell me you don't feel it too, I won't believe you, Max," he said.
And he was right, damn him, because the conversation had aroused me enormously. Paul, meanwhile, was staring at him in amazement, his eyes blazing.
"And the third reason is this. You and I, my little friend, we have to work out what on earth we can do to help Amit with this."
"I'll speak to him, my lord. I think it'll be all right in the end. Why don't you claim him?"
"I will. If he wants me to. But not until the resolution is revoked. Then we'll have six months longer to sort things out."
He sighed, and slowly Paul began to smile. Michael noticed. He took Paul by both shoulders and looked into his face for a long moment.
"Be very careful what you say, boy," he said quietly, and he was smiling too. "Or you'll feel my strap. I mean it."
"Yeah," said Paul derisively, and looking Michael squarely in the eye, "Not as much fun sharing him round as it is to get a bit of me, is it, my lord?"
"That does it!" shouted Michael, in mock anger. "Bathys? How much for flat disobedience and outrageous impertinence?"
"For a fourteen-year-old boy, a maximum of five strokes at full strength, ten medium or twenty light would be appropriate, my lord."
"Right. But... perhaps not in front of Sir Will, not just yet. I shall come to his grace's house tomorrow, at midday. Be there, boy. But for now, buzz off and plot with the twins. I want to speak to the King."
"My Lord..." said Paul, somewhat taken aback.
"You asked for it, kid," said Michael, lifting Paul's head. "Now it's gonna happen."
"So what? I've been strapped by heaps of people."
"But not like this, I think. I am an expert, and I will make you hurt more than you could believe possible. Now scram, beautiful."
Paul smiled at him ironically, and went to talk to Igor, I noticed.
"Michael, I can't imagine what the hell's got into you!" I said.
"I didn't mention the fourth reason I brought this up, Max. The fourth reason is you. You've done damn well with adapting, especially for someone who had never had anything to do with boys sexually until we started all this, and I've been delighted and not a little surprised by you. But you're really going to have to face this, the moment that the resolution is revoked. You have to get your mind round it, Max, for your sake and his. We all have to take this on board if Bathys is going to work at all, and the kids need to be supported and helped and encouraged to learn to enjoy themselves. Because they can, and will. Paul above all, because they all follow him, and in fact he'll love it, he's that kind of kid. It'll take a while, but in the end there'll be no stopping him, and you have to encourage him to take that route, and not to run away. Do you understand me?"
"Are you really going to strap him?"
"But why, Michael? Why are you putting my son through this? Just for a little back-chat..."
"Max, you're being dense. That isn't what happened at all."
"What? What did happen, then?"
"What happened was that I asked if I could strap him, and he emphatically said yes. Then just now he dared me to do my worst. Think about it."
I ran over it in my mind.
"My God, you're right, Michael!"
"Yes. He practically challenged me, and I took the challenge, that's all. Tomorrow... tomorrow will be a little demonstration, for him and for you as well, Max. You are going to be astonished, because I'm getting to know that kid now..."