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
A DEBATE ON THE BEACH
Will came almost running towards us, dragging a weeping Amit by the wrist.
"Donner! This child says he has bedded my kids down with the others, without any kind of adult supervision at all! What the fuck do you..."
"Let go of him, Darnley!" said Michael. "Let go of him at once!"
Startled, Will released Amit, who immediately buried his head in Michael, hugging him.
"If you mistreat this child again," said Michael, "You will most profoundly regret it. Do I make myself clear?"
"Look, I only..."
"Do I make myself perfectly clear, Sir Will?"
"Er... Yes. Yes, I suppose you do. But my kids..."
"Your kids will be fine," I said. "They'll be at the Southwall Flats, which are five-boy units, each will have his own bedroom, and though I don't know I expect that Amit has put one experienced English-speaker in with each group of four. Is that right, Amit?"
"Yes, your grace," said Amit, still sniffing, but his lilting diction as precise as ever. "However, we mixed them up with the Welsh boys, since the Welsh are younger and needed some older new boys with them to help them along. We got them some clothes and took them all to Martha's and then some of them went to the games arcade and some others went to the beach. Then they all met up to have some supper, and after that they went to bed, because they were tired. In fact, mostly it wasn't me doing it today, but the twins, since I was with Lord Michael, but the Prince and I planned it all yesterday. However, I checked up on them before we came here, and they were quite happy, your grace."
"You see, Sir Will? I have complete confidence in Amit and Paul and their friends, who work under Lord Darren's direction. There is nothing to be concerned about."
"They can't be allowed to run wild! Some of them are very disturbed. They need adult control!"
"No, they don't. If any of them tries to harm another kid, Bathys will stop him. Apart from that, just like all the other kids, they can do what they like. I'm sure they're no more disturbed than lots of the others."
"I insist on being allowed to see them!"
"Of course you can. Go to The Flats tomorrow and see them all you want. Apparently they're concerned about you and they'll want to be reassured that you're okay. Igor can show you the way. But don't expect to control them or tell them what to do, Will, that won't be permitted."
He seemed to shrink before our eyes, his bravado collapsing in the face of his exhaustion.
"Donner, I can't begin to describe my horror at what's going on here, or the situation that I and my kids find ourselves in..."
People were beginning to pay attention to him again, and it would not help. I laid an arm across his shoulders, and surprisingly he did not resist.
"Come with me, son. Let's go for a walk along the beach."
Michael winked at me as we left the patio. A paved path, flanked by bushes, wound down towards the lake. It was dark, now; in a few seconds we were beyond the reach of the glow from Igor's house, and our way was lit only by the moon and stars. Small, night-time scamperings and scratchings came from the bushes, and soon the beach opened out before us, and we could hear the quiet lapping of the lake. A few hundred yards away, a small group of boys were plunging and jumping in the water, the moonlight flashing off their bodies.
"Those boys! Bathing by night. Isn't that dangerous? Why do you allow that?"
"Did you recognise Lord Igor? His real name is Igor Andreievich Tverdovsky..."
"What? My God!" Will was genuinely startled. "The 'Free Kids' man? Him?"
"Yes. Well, here he's been able to work out his ideas. Our boys will do just whatever they want. Okay, so it's dangerous. They'll learn. There are worse things than danger; fear, for one. We all had to learn this lesson, Will. We've really worked at all this, you know. Lord Michael's real name is Michael Egremont, by the way."
"It's the same in the other fields, people you probably wouldn't know, but all in the front line."
"It doesn't alter the fact that what you're doing here is monstrous," said Will.
"Okay. Let's look at that. What, exactly, do you disapprove of?"
"Isn't it obvious? Intergenerational sex. How can you justify..."
"Hang on, hang on," I interrupted. "Let's establish a few premises here, okay? Do you accept that in general human beings should be allowed to have sex with anyone who agrees to it?"
"Yes. I've never accepted what our society says about homosexual sex, for example. But kids..."
"Wait. If we agree to that, then it isn't up to me to justify intergenerational sex, is it? It's up to you to show why it should be an exception to the general rule. Am I right?"
"I - I guess so."
"Okay, go ahead," I said. "I'm all ears."
"It could be damaging physically."
"Forget that," I said. "Bathys wouldn't allow anything that would damage a kid. You can count on that."
"All the same, there's the possibility of disease. That could be just as bad."
"Very little chance. The registration process deals with chronic infections, bacterial and viral. It's quite a well-known process; just very expensive."
"It could distort their psychological development. That could be even worse, surely you can acknowledge that?"
"Distort it in what way?"
"Give them an unhealthy interest and fascination with sex, long before it's appropriate," he said.
"Your argument is circular, Will. You're saying it's bad for kids to have sex, because it makes them want to have sex, and sex is bad for them. It doesn't add up."
"But society has its norms! If the kids fall outside those, there's every kind of problem. You should see the troubles some of the kids I've dealt with have had through being sexualised at an inappropriate age..."
"In upstairs society, I'd agree with you," I said. "You wouldn't believe the self-serving and dishonest claptrap I've heard from certain people upstairs, trying to justify having sex with kids. It doesn't disguise the fact that they're prepared to put a kid at every kind of risk, because of that society's attitudes. But here we're not in that society. This is Bathys, and our social structure validates kids having sex, with each other and with adults, and supports and protects kids who do that. There is no inappropriate age for kids to have sex here."
"But a kid isn't able to make sensible decisions about having sex. It's outside their experience. Sex is a very emotional experience, a kid can easily be traumatised by an encounter with adult sexuality..."
"A kid can be traumatised by any kind of contact with an adult, especially if the adult is cruel, stupid, self-centred, exploitative or whatever. I dispute that sex is special in that way. You may not believe me, but nearly all the adults here would rather die than cause harm to a boy. Problems will arise, I admit it, and in fact we have had some already, but we can and will correct them. I would say that much of the trauma you are talking about is in fact the result of societal disapproval, whether expressed directly, or indirectly through the psyche of the adult involved."
"You can't deny the emotional content of sex!" he said.
"Sex is a pleasurable activity. It can be used in all sorts of ways: for fun, for friendship, for personal exploration, for group bonding, and, yes, as an important vehicle for emotional involvement, for love. Kids in our society will need to be taught these things, and if the adults are responsible, they won't require major emotional involvements with their child partners until they're ready for them. There's nothing wrong with having sex just because it's fun, and our kids will be taught this. The idea that sex is only valid as part of a deep emotional relationship is indeed oppressive to young children, and we won't do that."
"I find that very shocking. You are devaluing sex."
"I emphatically deny that," I said. "On the contrary, we are broadening it to include the full ambit of human relationships and life together. As Michael said, 'Sex is the glue of Bathys'. What you are doing is to say: sex is only valid if it is part of an intense adult emotional relationship; since a child can't engage in such a relationship without harm, it's illegitimate to have sex with a child. It's backwards, Will, can't you see that? Most adults don't accept the major premise, not really. They pay lip-service to it, but most of them ignore it in practice...."
"But kids lack power when they're dealing with adults. It's not an even playing field, Donner, it, well, it isn't fair."
"Yes. I don't dispute that, but it applies to lots of other things apart from sex. We acknowledge that, and to some extent even encourage it. Sex is something you learn, and the best people to teach it are the people who have done it. Kids will learn about sex from adults; they'll be led into it by adults. The parameters are tightly controlled and will be enforced by Bathys, but we don't skirt round this. You'll discover the details soon, I'm sure, and I expect you'll find them pretty shocking to start with. But we've thought about this, and we know what we're about."
"The majority of the kids must be primarily heterosexual. You're distorting their sexuality. It could cause them endless problems later."
"Actually, 100% of them are bisexual," I said, "Although somewhat biased towards attraction to adult males."
"What? That can't be true! How could you find out..."
"No, no. That's the registration process again. Everyone's sexuality is adjusted. Mine, too, for that matter. And yours."
"God! Donner, that's awful! Turning them all..."
"I don't see why you object. We're just expanding their sexual field of choice."
"Your own son! You put him in that machine, and let it..."
"As a matter of fact, Paul was homosexual to start with, as were quite a few of the boys. He was adjusted the other way, to allow him to relate to women. There are also women here who love boys."
He stared at me, astonished.
"You were adjusted? I thought that in any case you were attracted to boys."
"I was somewhat bisexual," I said. "In common with most of the other adults, my sexual attraction towards adult members of the opposite sex was suppressed."
"And this doesn't bother you?"
"No. It was pretty minimal, anyhow, and I'm quite easy with the change. The adjustments were needed to articulate our social system."
Tom was quite for a while.
"The fact is that I simply feel that what you are doing here is quite wrong."
"An emotional response, Will, and a completely understandable one. Look, let me tell you something. The reason I brought you here is quite simply that you fought for your kids. Most of the scum I dealt with to get these boys were quite happy to sell them for ready cash. Not you. After that I couldn't leave you upstairs, to be killed by the nucleonic charge. You were worth more than that."
"Couldn't you just let us go, Donner? Me and my kids? I swear to God I'd never..."
"I can't, Will. There's no way out. Between us and the outside there's seven miles of red-hot rock, at pressures of tons per square inch. That explosion this morning was the liftshaft collapsing. And at the top the nucleonic charge has capped it with twenty yards of glass or thereabouts. We're all here for keeps."
"Oh my God. So we'll just be here, buried, until one by one we die, the kids last..."
"It's not like that. Look, Will, you'd better prepare for a shock. When we die - well, it's not the end. Not in Bathys."
"What? Oh, no. Not fucking holy-roller religion as well!"
"Oh, no, no. Nothing but science. Bionics and psychometric registration. A new body, genetically identical to this one, and the transfer of your entire psyche. You're reborn, as we say, as a six-year-old. Over the years, your memories come back slowly..."
"What?" he whispered. "You're surely joking."
"Honest to God, Will, I'm not."
He stared at me, staggered by what I had said.
"I've heard of the possibility. But I'd never imagined..."
"You have thousands of years ahead of you. And the kids are the same, except they only reach about twenty-five before they're reborn, and they don't grow up much after about sixteen..."
"You're robbing them of their manhood!"
"Or, if you prefer, we're giving them the gift of eternal youth."
"Well, not really, of course. Everything comes to an end. But we reckon Bathys should last for about a quarter of a million years, barring unforeseen disasters."
"But... Just the same people, for all that time!"
"Not quite. I said there are women here. Occasionally Bathys will allow the birth of a child. The plan is for the population to double over the next hundred thousand years or so. Nearly all the new kids will be boys."
For a long time he said nothing, as we walked slowly along the beach, the sand scuffing beneath our feet.
"Hallo!" said a voice out of the darkness. "Who's that?"
"It's me, Karl," I said. "The King. How's Brent doing?"
"That's him over there in the water!"
"Isn't he tired?"
"No - he had a sleep this afternoon, your grace, cos he was - was jetlagged, yes?"
I could see his naked, wet body dancing before me now, outlined in the moonlight.
"Aren't you tired yourself?"
"Yes, your grace, but I am looking after a new kid. There's nothing more important than that, is there? The Prince says, don't worry, when it's over we can all sleep for a month!"
"How are you, Karl? And how's Peter?"
"I'm fine, and so's he, but I don't see him so much now, now he has a man, yes? So I see him when he comes back to our Flat. Not often!"
He pealed with laughter.
"Who's the man?"
"He's called Laurie, very nice, he works in the clothes shop in the Centre, you know?"
"Yes, I do, he's a very nice guy, very funny. I like him," I said.
"Excuse, your grace, must go back in the lake, cos Brent's all alone."
"Yes, kid, off you go. Kiss Brent for me!"
He waved and ran off into the starlit water. With his blond hair and vivacity and his carefulness for his little charge, he reminded me strongly of Paul.
"Enchanting!" I heard Will whisper, as we turned to walk back.
"Will, do you mind a personal question?" I said. "When you were fighting our Gathering Team, I know it was for all your kids. But - well, was there someone in particular who you had in mind?"
For a long while he said nothing, and I wondered if I had gone too far. Finally he gave a long sigh.
"Yes, damn you, of course there was. His name's David, he's fourteen now. And what he's been through in his life you would scarcely believe, and it's left him very - very damaged. And - and when those men invaded the home, it was - it was just unbearable to think that on top of all that he should be kidnapped, and awful to think of losing him. Just so, so awful..."
"I'm sorry, son, it must have been frightful for you."
"All the way in the transport, all I could think of was, what are they going to do to him, what's going to happen to that broken kid now..."
He was weeping freely, now, and greatly daring, I put an arm across his shoulders and held him to me.
"Okay, Will, now look. Tomorrow you can go and see him, and your other kids, and you'll see that honestly they're being treated okay. And the other kids here, they'll understand, they've all been there. You heard about the twins and their monstrous father. You've met Amit, and I can tell you, his story in the slums of Bombay is worse, if anything. Karl and his friend Peter were rescued from a boy-brothel in Hamburg, and Brent, the little kid in the water, he's eight, and as far as anyone can make out, he's been living by himself on the streets of Washington, DC, for the last four years..."
"What on earth can I do?"
"Practical suggestions? Get Bathys to find you a house in Southwall, that's the main town. Get yourself some clothes. Learn how to fly a flitter. Get in touch with your kids, reassure them that you're okay, see if there's anything you can do to help them in practical ways. Ask Bathys for anything you need or they need. And above all, make some time to be with David, because you've probably been denying yourself that, am I right?"
"God, yes! I didn't dare..."
I laughed drily.
"Yeah. I've been there. Well, now you can dare. No one will think the worse of you, and if he'd rather not be around you, you can find that out soon enough. Just don't crowd him, don't tell him what to do, let him realise that he can do just anything he wants, and he can have everything wants, for nothing. If he wants to fill his Flat with stuff, no one will care. If he wants to charge around in his flitter or lie in the sand and do absolutely nothing for months, it's all the same. If he wants to live by himself, there are houses empty in the country. The only thing he can't do is hurt other people."
"I - I understand. I've - I've never spoken to anyone about these things before. I really don't know what to say now, I'm sorry."
"Get some sleep, man, you must be dead on your feet."
"What am I supposed to call you?"
What is must have cost him to ask that question! I was liking Will more and more.
"Officially, 'your grace', Sir Will. But I'm quite happy with 'Max'. Just don't let Amit hear you, he's a stickler for protocol!"
"I - I was rather unkind to him."
"Yes. Well, I suggest an apology. If I can give you two tips about life in Bathys, they are: don't underestimate my son, the Prince. He knows everyone and everything that happens, and the boys all worship him. And stay on the right side of the beautiful and perilous Amit; he has more deviousness, intelligence and connivance in his little finger than in ten grown men put together, and he is totally ruthless in his loyalty to the Prince and the well-being of the boys."
"It's - it's such an odd way to talk of kids."
I said nothing more, and soon we were back on the patio. I saw that everyone had left except Michael and Amit. Igor and Paul were tidying things up.
"Amit," said Will, walking up to him. "I was rude and unkind to you. I apologise. It was completely inappropriate and unfair."
"That is very good of you, Sir Will," said Amit, haughtily. "I accept, of course. I realise that you have been under some strain."
"Thank you," said Will, and he was about turn away when Amit smiled up at him.
"Kiss me, Sir Will," he said, stretching up. "On the lips."
Will turned brilliant red, and then lent down and did it. If he had been kissing a red-hot plate it could not have been quicker or with less pressure.
"Slower. And open your mouth," said Amit, with a smile.
Moving like a marionette on strings, Will obeyed. The moment their mouths touched, Amit flung his arms round Will's neck and stuck to him like a leech. The kiss seemed to go on for minutes, and Michael stared at me, his eyes wide with astonishment. When Amit let him go, Will staggered back, gasping.
"Good night, Sir Will!" Amit sang out. "And you, my Lord Michael - don't ever take me for granted!"
"Jesus! As if I would!" said Michael, following him to the door.
A LATE-NIGHT CHAT
Igor, Paul and I collapsed, laughing.
"Oh, my God!" said Will.
"Come and sit down, you poor fool," I said. "You look as if you're going to faint!"
Igor brought us some coffee and we sat round a rough wooden table to drink it. It was quiet now, and through the scratching of the crickets we could hear, very quietly, the sound of the lake, and a light breeze brought us the smell of its waters.
"Well, Sir Will," I said, "You seemed to take your punishment like a man!"
"That - that was the first time I ever kissed a boy on the lips," said Will, burying his face in his hands. "I'm not sure I can take much more tonight..."
Paul sat on the bench next to him and cuddled up close, leaning face on against his side and throwing his arms round him.
"Put your arm round me, Sir Will. That's better. Squeeze tight."
"What - what are you doing?"
"I'm giving you a cuddle, because I think you need one. And I need one too, so just hold me, okay? Is this nice?"
"Yes," said Will, and tears were running down his cheeks, "It's very nice."
"The Prince Paul treatment," said Igor, with a smile. "If anyone runs this place day-to-day, Will, it's Paul and Amit and their friends. The last few months - it's been amazing."
"What do you mean?" I said, with interest.
"Any problems that come up, they're in there. All kinds of things. Like that pissing off the balconies business."
"Some of the kids at The Flats got in the habit of pissing off the balconies," said Igor. "Of course the robots kept everything clean, but it could be a bit nasty and once or twice people got pissed on. We don't really do rules in Bathys, as you know, but in the end the Prince and the others called a meeting of the kids about it. I went, and it was amazing, a day-long discussion about rules and living together and responsibilities. They organised interpreters and everything, and Amit was in the chair. In the end they decided on a 'general recommendation' that people shouldn't piss off the balconies except when it was really necessary..."
"Did it work?" I asked, intrigued.
"Yup. Pissing off the balconies has stopped. Then we have other people who act antisocially in various ways - getting drunk and rowdy is a favourite. If you're one of those, the Prince comes to see you, and he sits and chats, and cuddles up, like he's doing to Will, and pretty soon you find you're breaking down in tears and telling him your life story, and somehow you find that things don't look so bad. If there are real problems, he'll arrange for you to see a doctor, or me, or Martha, or he'll arrange for you to move somewhere else, or whatever. If you act hard, he comes along with Amit, who ties you in semantic knots, or J & J, who growl and hiss at you and curse in Portuguese (I know some of the kids think they're witches), or the twins who crack their knuckles and look menacing. It always works in the end. He's even done it with some of the grownups. The kids call it 'being Princed'."
I laughed out loud with delight.
"Then there were the Bucharest boys. There were about twenty of them, fifteen and sixteen-year-olds, and for some reason they decided to move to Easton."
I saw Paul shift uneasily.
"That's where a lot of the little kids are, Will," Igor went on. "It's a quiet place and there are enough adults to look after them a bit. Anyhow, they started to throw their weight around with the little kids, muscling in on their games, teasing them, pinching their football, you know the kind of thing, and of course Bathys didn't intervene because no one was being physically hurt. So the Prince and the gang went there, and they couldn't make any impression on the Bucharest boys at all, and in the end they had to get adult help. So Desmond threatened to strap them, and they backed off. And to help them save face, the Prince knelt down and sucked their leader off, in front of everyone..."
"You did that?" I shouted. "Son, you're wonderful!"
"It was necessary," said Paul, hugging Will even more tightly. "And - it wasn't so bad. Only - only he wasn't very clean. Ew! I had a word with him about that later."
"So now he's Paul's devoted slave, and there's no more problem with them. And after that Amit had endless discussions with Lord Ben about changing Bathys's protocols on what 'hurting' means, and they're going to try out some changes soon."
"Are you ready to kiss me too, now, Sir Will?" said Paul.
"Yes, Prince," he whispered.
And Paul rested his hands lightly on Will's shoulders and kissed him, and this time it was very gentle and very tender; and when they parted, Will was weeping again.
Quietly, Paul and I left the patio, and after hugging Igor briefly, we went home.
NIGHT AND THE MORNING AFTER
"My dear, darling, adorable, incomparable son!"
I picked Paul up and swung him round and round. During the flight back from Igor's it had started to rain, and we were completely soaked, laughing and swooping through the warm downpour. Now his white cotton clothes stuck to his body from neck to ankles. He might as well have been naked.
"You aren't cross with me for what I did with poor Ion?"
"Course not. Like you said, it was necessary. I'm just so astonished about everything that Igor said! Sorting all those problems out, helping all those hurt kids..."
I held the door open for him and we went inside.
"Igor and Darren were helping me all the time. So were Amit and the others. We've all been helping each other - we've got really close."
"Just wonderful. And the way you treated Will! You and Amit! That was so excellent."
"I dunno what you said to him, but it seemed to have worked."
"I like Will," I said. "He really cares about his kids. And there's one special one, he said..."
"Yeah!... Dad, can't we find someone for Igor? Because at the moment - well, it's me he really wants, and... Course, he's nice about it, but... Well, he's a really nice person and cos it's me I can't really talk to him about it."
"Okay. Hm. Trouble is, I don't know many of the boys yet."
"Dad... What are you going to do to me tonight?"
"Only what you want, lovey."
"Cos what I'd really like to do is just lie in bed naked with you and hold tight and feel you holding me and go to sleep. Cos I'm so tired, and I've been tired for so long..."
So I picked him up and took him into my bedroom, and we both stripped and fell into bed, me on my back and Paul curled over me. At once he gave a great sigh, and fell asleep; and despite everything we had done together, it was, in many ways, our most perfect moment so far.
Bathys woke us both the next morning with a reminder that Igor and Will would be arriving in half an hour. We showered together and made a cup of coffee. He was still naked, and clearly distracted by something; and then I remembered.
"Worried about Michael's visit?"
"Yeah." His face was serious. "It's my fault, I asked for it. Now - now I'm really frightened."
"I'm sure if I called him we could stop it."
"I don't think so," said Paul. "I think he'll insist. I think he wants to teach me something. That if you say 'yes' it really happens and you can't get out of it. For his Castle. Later. And he tried to make me as frightened as he could. Next thing he'll invite me to visit his Castle and then dare me to agree to stay for a week, or something..."
And he was undoubtedly right; that was just what Michael was trying to do.
"Will you go?"
"Not yet. Not till I've had some time with you, and done some more things with you, and then we can go together, maybe. But - but I'm not sure. I don't mind him trying to - trying to make me do things, it's sort of nice that he thinks I'm so sexy, but I don't have to agree, do I?"
"You don't have to agree to doing his Castle stuff. It certainly isn't for everyone. On the other hand once the resolution ends he'll surely be waiting to spank your bum and have you suck his dick."
Paul smiled slowly.
"I guess I don't mind that. If it was only him I wouldn't mind. I like him. But I'm not going to let him see me frightened!"
I ruffled his hair.
BREAKFAST AT MARTHA'S
Igor's voice called out from the door, and in a moment he and Will were in the kitchen.
"I've arranged for all Will's kids to be at Martha's for breakfast," said Igor. "I thought we'd go there - it's easier than touring about fifteen of The Flats."
"Okay," I said.
"You aren't coming like that, are you, Paul?" said Will.
"Well, I haven't got any clean clothes here, so I'll have to. Don't worry, though, lots of the kids go naked."
"I hope you aren't going to force my kids to..."
"Your kids can wear whatever they choose, just like all the others," I said. "Today I expect they'll all be wearing the clothes the twins got for them. Come on, let's go."
"I'm sorry," said Will, as we walked through Southwall. "It's all so confusing..."
"Take it easy," I said. "It'll all work out. We've had years to think about this, and you've just been dumped in it... See any houses here you'd like?"
He laughed drily.
"No money. How does someone earn their living in your little Kingdom?"
"You don't need money. Whatever you want, you can have. Look, this is the Southwall Centre." We were walking across its esplanade. "It's a kind of shopping mall, if you like. If you see something you want in any of these shops, just help yourself. When you've finished with it, the robots will recycle it. Same with the house - tell Bathys what you want and she'll find something for you... Through here - this is Martha's place, you met her yesterday, didn't you?"
It was fairly empty this early in the morning, but spread out over several tables were a group of about forty boys, and even from here I could hear their excited British accents. All were wearing simple white tunics, and seemed to be in high spirits, eating voraciously. Kev and Jess were in among them, and Martha and Dick were carrying trays heaped with food, back-chatting the kids and hugging them.
The moment one of them saw Will, they dropped everything and rushed to greet him.
"Are you okay, Mr Darnley? Did they hurt you? Where've been?"
"I'm okay, kids, I'm okay. But how about you? Have they been looking after you?"
"Yeah," said one, "We've all got rooms, and we went to the beach and it's great! And you can eat whatever you want, and it's free! And then we went to the games arcade..."
"Yeah, and you can fly flitters! I want to fly to an island!"
"I want to go in a boat! I've never been in a boat."
"I want to see a dinosaur!"
The kids frog-marched Will to a nearby table and gathered round, as Martha brought him some breakfast. There wasn't any doubt how glad they were to meet him again. I stood with Igor, my arm across Paul's shoulders and viewed the scene, until Kev spotted us.
"Ey, kids! Look! It's the King of Bathys, and the Prince!"
Silence fell, and they all turned to stare at us.
"You the King?" said one.
"Yes, son, that's me. Who are you?"
"Don Maxwell." He was about fifteen, dark-haired, and he looked at us suspiciously. "Is it really true that we can do what we like and everything's free? Because this kid said..."
"Yup, he's right, Don. Just so long as you don't hurt any of the other kids."
"Someone said we had to have sex with the men here."
"You don't have to, but you can. No one will stop you having sex with whoever you want. Bathys is a place where boys and grownups have sex."
"Do you have sex with boys, King?"
"I do with the Prince."
"Why aren't you wearing any clothes, Prince? Doesn't he allow you to?"
"Course he does. I didn't feel like it today, that's all..."
"Do we have to wear these dorky clothes, then?"
The question and answer session went on for some time, but I noticed one kid slightly holding back from the others; black-haired, about fourteen, terrifyingly thin, and with a face which seemed to reveal a heart-breaking sadness.
"How about you, son? Who are you? Got any questions?"
"I'm David," he said quietly, with an accent I couldn't quite place. "Can we stay here? Because... I don't ever want to go back."
"Me neither!" said another kid, and there was a chorus of agreement.
"Yeah," said Don, "Not back to that sodding home. The only nice person there was Mr Darnley, and he's here!"
"Sure, you can stay here," I said. "In fact, you have to, because there's no way out. So Mr Darnley will be here too."
"Thank you," said David, in a voice I could scarcely hear, and sat down.
"Here," said Don, kindly. "You sit next to Mr Darnley. Everyone knows you're his special kid. C'mon."
So much for Will's careful discretion! Don moved aside and let David sit next to Will, and to my delight I saw Will put an arm round him, and a tiny smile appeared on the boy's face.
Paul nudged me, and I took the hint.
"Okay, Sir Will, we'll leave you to it. Anything you want, just talk to Kev or Jess. Get in touch with me or come and see me whenever you like. If you have any questions, ask Bathys or the twins, or get a copy of A Guide to Bathys. See you later..."
THE ANGER OF AMIT
As we were walking back to my house (Igor had stayed with the kids), Bathys spoke to me.
"Your grace, your claim of the Prince has now expired. Please remove his red tag."
We looked at each other. It was a strange moment, filled with a kind of sadness; but also there was happiness, that we had passed a milestone in our new life together.
"Will you let me claim you again?" I said.
"Thank you, love..." I took the tag off. "What shall we do with this?"
"Let me have it." He clasped it in his hand. "The first. I shall keep them all. In the end... in the end I hope there are thousands. Thousands and thousands."
We smiled at each other, and I realised that there was no reason why that should not be exactly how it would be. Somehow that made the moment better.
"I'd better go and find something to wear for this evening," he said, finally. "Something really good... And I need to go to The Flats. I'll come back to your house. But I'll try to be a bit late, cos I don't want Michael to think I'm frightened..."
"If you're late he'll probably add some strokes, you know," I said worriedly.
"Yeah. That's why. I want him to think I - I don't care."
"Oh, son." I grabbed him and hugged him, and he responded frantically. Whatever he said, he was clearly terrified. "It'll soon be over..."
He gave me a wry smile and scampered away.
There were various things to do about the party that evening, and I had to choose something to wear for myself. I checked on the condition of Damon, and found that that he was doing well. I tried to busy myself, but it was not easy. The fact is, I was horrified at what was going to happen, but also filled with a guilty fascination, and the knowledge that these feelings precisely reflected Paul's own was incredibly arousing.
At about half past eleven, Michael called me.
"Max? Are you alone?"
"Yes. Paul had some things to do. He'll be back here shortly."
"He'll be late, of course. My God, what a player he is! Okay, I'll be round. We need a chat."
Ten minutes later, he was there, and to my astonishment, Amit was with him, wearing a plain white tunic. His face was almost ashen with fear, and he had clearly been crying. Michael, on the other hand, was in one of his terrifying leather creations, his strap dangling menacingly at his waist.
"Michael! What on earth..."
"He insisted. We had a major row - didn't we, little one? - when he heard from the twins what was going on, and I learnt - really learnt, this time - that Amit Sharma is not a person to take for granted. But he, I hope, will learn that I am someone to be trusted, in everything I do. I hope also, Max, that you will too."
"I wouldn't have thought that I was the main person you had to convince."
"You're talking about Paul? No, actually, he's the one who really does trust me, or he wouldn't have agreed to this. And at the moment I suppose he's scared to pieces, but still determined to face it to the end."
"If I didn't trust you, Michael, I would have forbidden it. You forget that I'm the King."
"Yes, I suppose that's true. I'm sorry, Max. Do you see, lovely? The King trusts me."
"His grace, my Lord, presumably has reason to. I, for my part, am not convinced that I have reason to trust either you or him. On the other hand, the Prince has been my comrade for half a year and I would trust him with my life, and the thought of seeing him thrashed by the man who claims to love me is not pleasant."
I saw Michael wince.
"That was harsh, kid," I said.
"If I was discourteous, I apologise. But you should know this." His face seemed to crumple. "I act as if I were strong, and cynical and devious, and I make a joke of everything. But now I am speaking seriously, your grace, when I say that I cannot bear to see people suffer. This is something that comes from my life. I do not think, with all respect, that the chairman of the Summa Corporation understands what the life of a boy whore in Bombay is like."
He was stripping himself emotionally naked, and I felt such shame at that moment that I could scarcely face him.
"Oh, dear child," said Michael. "What we're doing, Paul and me, is nothing to do with what happened to you, or the things you saw. This is something between two people who understand what they are doing, and want to do it. Let me make a prediction. Paul will be late. He will be late in order to give me an excuse to increase his so-called punishment. Because this is voluntary, Amit. He is doing this of his own free will."
"If I doubted that," I said, "I would not let it happen."
"I can't convince you," said Michael. "All I can ask you is to wait, and watch. I think I'm entitled to ask that, and see what you say. Is that fair?"
"Yes, my Lord," Amit whispered, after a long pause. "It is fair."
And at that moment there was a knock on the door, and, carrying a large bag, Paul entered.
Like Amit, he was wearing a plain white tunic, and his face was set.
"I'm sorry I'm late."
For a long moment, Michael looked at him.
"I expressly instructed you to be here at twelve. Bathys, what punishment is appropriate for this compounded disobedience?"
"An increase to a maximum of ten strokes at full strength, twenty medium or forty light, my Lord."
A strange sound of horror and pain came from Amit.
"Amit!" said Paul, noticing him. "What..."
"Amit is here to observe. Please don't talk with him now," said Michael. "Come here, Prince."
Paul moved towards him.
"Are you frightened, kid?"
For a moment Paul seemed about to deny it.
"Yes, my Lord. Very frightened."
"That's not surprising, but you have no cause for concern. You are completely safe. I won't injure you. Now. Take off your clothes."
Paul obeyed, and was soon standing naked before us all.
"Max, get some cords. Now, Prince. Put your hands behind your back..."
In a few moments, Michael had bound them together.
"Now, I want you to lean over this table. That's it. Max, please use the cords to tie his ankles to the legs, well apart..."
"Just do it, Max! Did you think you were just going to enjoy this little scene vicariously? No chance! Help us!"
Trembling, I knelt and did it, running my hands down Paul's legs in a way I hoped was reassuring; and I noticed, to my astonishment, that he was completely hard.
"Go round there and hold his shoulders, Max. Hold him down."
I did it. I pressed my own son's shoulders down to the table, and I could feel the tension, the fear in him. Almost afraid myself of what Michael would say, I stroked his hair, trying to calm him; he lay before me, his body flat on the table, his legs spread.
"Amit! Come here!" said Michael.
"Put your hands on Paul's. Let him feel that you are here, supporting him. Yes. That's good, little one. Now, Paul. This is a decision for you, kid. Would it be good for you to take your father in your mouth? Would you want that?"
"Hush, Max. This is for him. Well, Paul?"
"Y - yes, my Lord," whispered Paul, and I could hear him swallow. "Yes, please."
"Do it Max, and shut up, okay?"
I raised my tunic, and I was hard, hard as stone, yearning. Seething with confusion I moved myself forwards, and gently Paul's mouth closed round me.
"Good," said Michael.
And he began to stroke his hands over Paul's back, and the taut globes of his arse, to run them down his legs, up the inside of his thighs and along his sides, and in a few moments Paul was responding, moaning and writhing...
"Now," said Michael quietly.
And he stepped back, and struck just one, gentle, blow with his strap across both of Paul's buttocks. I could feel the jerk in his breath, the sudden pressure, and it was almost too much to bear. But now Michael was caressing him again, long, light touches, along the length of his body, and again he struck, as gently as before. And now he had parted Paul's cheeks, and blowing, just blowing onto him, and again another blow, and there was no doubt that Paul was rising now, his body was writhing and humping, and the blows were coming faster, but still they were light, scarcely more than taps. I could feel Paul's cries as I couldn't restrain myself from moving within his mouth, pushing into him more and more firmly, while now Michael was striking just a little harder now, and faster, one side, then the other, and both, and then - then, quite suddenly, Paul was coming, his body was stiffening as it always did, and then convulsing, and all the while Michael was strapping him, on his legs now and the inside of his thighs, faster still, but more gently now. And then I came too, and I could feel him swallowing between his cries, Amit gripping his hands...
And then it was over, and I withdrew, kneeling to cuddle to his head, weeping, as Michael untied his ankles, and between us we carried him to the sofa, and there we all fell together, Amit as well, hugging each other, overwhelmed by the power of what had happened.
For maybe ten minutes we lay there, and Paul was in my arms, facing me, his own arms grasping me tightly, and Amit was holding us both, and Michael was lying back, his arm around us all, stroking Amit's hair. And then I felt Paul move.
"Amit," he said. "Do Lord Michael now."
"Come on. Kneel down, it'll be okay. I'll help."
Slowly, Amit untangled himself, and, to my utter astonishment, he did it. He knelt before Michael, and obviously he had done this before, because his fingers moved with assurance over the leathers, and then Michael's dick stood out. I had never seen it before, and it was enormous. And slowly the boy began to move his hands over it, knowing what to do; and then Paul sat on the floor in front of his friend, his legs on either side of him, and lent over, and took his dick in his mouth. And as I watched, Amit brought Michael skillfully to a climax, and the man bellowed his ecstasy, covering the two boys with his juices, and then Amit, too, came, and it was quite unlike Paul, because he shrieked and convulsed, completely out of control.
Michael lent over and scooped Amit into his arms, grasping him firmly and stroking his back. And Michael was weeping; and Paul again was in my arms, but holding Amit also. And so we held each other, and it was a time beyond perfection.
"So, little Prince? So? Did I astonish you?"
Finally we had come back to ourselves, and I had asked Bathys to fetch us some food. Then Michael had picked Paul up, and was hugging him, kissing his face again and again.
"Yes! Yes, my Lord, yes! Ooof!"
Michael put him down and he ran to me, and I hugged him. Meanwhile, Michael gently lifted Amit to sit on the table and stood before him.
"And you, my beloved and lovely boy? Do you trust me a little more?"
"My Lord, I was wrong not to trust you. I apologise, and I apologise for being angry with you."
"No! No, you were not wrong. As you said, you had no reason to trust me at all. Why should you, until I showed you why you should? You're a sharp and careful person, Amit. Never lose that." He turned to us. "Let me tell you something about this boy, your grace. Everyone thinks of him as a devious little wheeler-dealer and a tough number. But in truth the things that make Amit Sharma tick are compassion and justice. He will do anything to protect someone who is in pain or in trouble. And he is always fair, and always just, even when it hurts himself. Even though I love him, and he loves me, he couldn't allow me to hurt the Prince without protest, and the anger he showed me was without limit. I have never in my life seen anyone so beside himself with fury. Yet, when he is shown that there is no cause, he admits it, because that is fair. I tell you, there's no one in the world I love and admire more than that little person."
He kissed Amit lightly on the lips, and, slightly embarrassed by their intimacy, I carried Paul into the kitchen, where a robot was laying out our lunch.
"It appears to me that what took place was, in fact, a sexual transaction," said Bathys.
"You are correct, Bathys," I said.
"Nevertheless, the Prince appeared to show signs of considerable distress."
Michael laughed from the doorway.
"Well, Prince?" he said. "How distressed would you say you were? Watch what you say, now."
Paul drew a deep breath. He realised what was about to happen.
"Bathys, I was not distressed. Not in the way you mean."
"Very well. The robot will update your tags, Prince. Please stand still."
And when the robot had finished, I could see that Paul's P1 tag now read P2, and another had been added: +2. Michael laughed at him.
"P2! I don't think anyone else has got that, have they, Bathys?"
"No, my Lord. Paul is the first. There are seventeen P1's."
"That's sex with two adult partners," said Michael. "Well, at least when they come to tan your bum, you can take them two at a time!"
"My Lord..." said Amit.
"Oh, don't worry, Amit," said Paul. "Lord Michael is just trying to wind me up. Very few people will want to tan my bum at all."
"I will!" said Michael. "I might want to do it every day!"
"You are my friend," said Paul, very seriously. "If I ask you not to, you won't. And the same applies to almost everyone else."
"That's the point, Amit," said Michael, as we sat to eat. "Paul is quite right."
"I don't really understand what happened today," I said. "It seems so strange..."
"Pain is a sensation," said Michael. "If you use it right, and know what you're doing, it doesn't have to be an unpleasant one. You can use it to feed sexual arousal, and make it stronger. Fear's the same in some ways. It's an emotion, and you can use that too. The sensation of being restrained, of being at another's mercy, that's arousing to some people, and I already knew that the Prince is one of these. It was just a question of using all these things to arouse him more. Different things work for different people. Some people are aroused by being embarrassed, for example. Others by being dominated, being controlled by another, being forced to submit."
"Whatever you did, it worked for me!" said Paul. "But really, it didn't hurt much. It was much worse when Sir Martin and Sir Tom strapped me."
"You expected to be screaming with pain? Not this time, son. Not for a long while yet, I think."
"Even so, I hope you don't expect to treat me in the same way, my Lord," said Amit.
"I love you, kid," said Michael. "That isn't conditional on you agreeing to anything at all."
"Actually, Amit," said Paul, looking at him closely, "There are some things... Um. I'll talk to you later."
"All the same," said Amit, "The availability rules disturb me. Obviously the resolution will be repealed before long, even if his grace opposes it. My Lord - my Lord, it frightens me..."
"The availability rules will not force a boy to do something that distresses him. We've been into that. What they will do is to encourage him to accept that sex is an ordinary thing to do, something that can be used for a variety of purposes, and he ought not to say 'no' to it for trivial reasons. I admit, it may be a bit tough on you guys until you've learnt this lesson, and the grownups have learnt to use the rules sensibly. But it'll be okay in the end, I guarantee it, and you'll have all kinds of support from us as it happens. I can promise you, little love, that nothing will happen to you which is beyond your ability to cope with. I won't let it. And nor will Bathys."
"It is hard not to feel trapped and threatened," said Amit.
"We will help you through it," said Michael. "In a year, you won't even remember what was frightening you. And in any case, if you agree, I shall claim you once the resolution is revoked. That'll give you another six months' grace."
"Thank you, my Lord." He gave a small smile. "That will be very good. But I'm disturbed by all the boys who have a horror of sex for very good reasons, and are about to be forced."
"No!" I said. "They won't be! They're only available for things they've already done voluntarily with someone."
"That is true," said Amit.
"People who have such feelings can be helped," said Michael. "And they will be. We have excellent therapists here. They will be helped to learn how to enjoy sex again. It's important. Everyone needs to take part in this; it's going to be a crucial component of our society."
"I wish I felt easier about it. I dread it. I dread the moment when it will finally happen."
Michael hugged him, looking at me over his shoulder, and I saw that Paul was looking at me, and with some impatience. Suddenly I realised what he wanted.
"Amit," I said. "If you like, it'll be me. And Paul will be there too."
He turned to look at me solemnly, and Michael smiled.
"I promise you," I said, "It'll be very gentle, and very quiet. You will not be hurt. On the contrary, both of us - together - we'll make sure you are happy."
"Thank you, your grace. That is - that is reassuring."
"How could it be different?" I said. "I'm your friend. And you have lots of friends, little one."
That afternoon I took Paul with me on a journey I had been planning for some time, and this seemed to be the right moment. Our flitters crossed the grassland together, and after about half an hour, I could see the wood coming closer: Creetossu, we called it, circled by a bend in the River Ganymede, its silver birches marching right down to the water's edge.
"The entrance is round the other side," I called to him. "Follow me."
It took a few minutes to follow the river round the wood, and then we landed on a huge meadow, alive with bees and butterflies. A small group of wallabies watched us carefully, and nearby the Ganymede slid slowly past. It was quiet, open but somehow private, and as we walked to the eaves of Creetossu, I could see that autumn was now upon us, and the leaves were falling. Autumn to me had always seemed a melancholy time, but now it was different: the long tumults of that momentous summer were over, and I thought of harvest time, of fruitfulness and of finally coming home.
There we found the opening of a wide avenue through the woods, grassy and shaded. A path, paved with huge flags, ran up the centre, and on it we walked in silence for maybe half an hour. The avenue gently curved its way through the trees, until the meadow behind us was lost from view, and around us the wood was quiet, with just the soft sound of the breeze in the trees.
Finally, we rounded a corner into a wide clearing in the wood, and our destination appeared. Beyond a grassy space, drifted now with fallen leaves and beech mast, there it was: a low building of native granite, with two huge doors. And one was of silver, embossed with the crescent moon; the other of gold, displaying the flaming, noonday sun.
"What is this place?"
Paul had taken my hand, and his voice was a whisper.
"This is Igoni," I said. "This is the house of Lord Chang and Lord Juan. And here, when our cycles are over, we will come to return to Bathys; and here we will be reborn."
"Yes. I almost knew. It's a sad place... No, that's not right. It's just a quiet place. Somehow it seems as if - well, as if nothing ever happens here."
Igoni has indeed a strange feeling, a feeling that there life pauses, and you seem to find a different perspective, to view yourself almost from the outside. In fact, it is not quite that nothing happens; more, that standing before those doors, everything else that happens is nothing, and only this remains: the ending of a cycle, which is the death of a body, and rebirth. In their presence, nothing else matters. In autumn, the leaves fall from the trees, and they grow again in spring; and that is all.
The building stood silent and apparently deserted. Only a flock of white doves, circling round the clearing and settling in the surrounding trees, disturbed its isolation and stillness, the clattering of their wings echoing off the granite walls. It was the realm of Chang and Juan, and I would not force an intrusion.
"Come this way," I said. "There's something else to see."
Before the doors of Igoni there has always stood a single tree, a cedar of Lebanon, and it was already there that day: just a sapling, slender and red, but already taller than a man. And from there steps cut into the ground, wide enough for three people to walk abreast, and we followed them, down and down, until they broadened out into a huge round cavern. Its roof was domed and white, and it was perhaps four hundred yards across, paved with white marble and lit with a cool, bright light. In the centre lay a broad pool with a white parapet and a fountain, and the endless fall of this single jet of water was the only sound. When we reached the pool, we found it was full of carp, beautiful and strange, moving slowly through an underwater forest of dark green fronds. And all round edge of the cavern, ten deep, were thousands of silver doors, each a yard square.
"What are those things?"
"Come and see."
We walked across the marble floor, our steps echoing quietly. When we reached the wall, I could see that each door was marked with a name: ION PETRESCU. ANDREI PETROVSKY. ANTHONY PICKLES.
"What are they?"
"Everyone has one. Let's find ours."
They were arranged alphabetically, we found. We walked round the edge of the cavern; it seemed to take an age; and finally, there they were. Mine was on the floor: MAXIMILIAN DONNER; and his immediately above: PAUL DONNER.
"You put your palm in the middle," I said. "It reads your DNA, and knows you. Look."
I knelt and did it. My door swung noiselessly open, and there it was, like a tunnel into the wall, a yard square and three yards deep, lined with steel.
"It's empty!" said Paul. "What is it?"
"These are the Vaults," I said. "Here you can put the things which you want to keep for your next cycle. Leave them here, and here they'll wait till you return."
He opened his, and, of course, it was as empty as mine. It is strange, now, to think of my Vault being empty; long ago, it got so full that I had to throw much of its contents away. That is its discipline. Anything you leave out of your Vault ceases to be yours.
"I know," he said, with a strange smile, and he pulled something out of his pocket, and showed me: the red tag I had removed from his collar. "I'll leave it here."
And he placed the tag carefully right in the centre of his Vault, where, I suppose, it still is.
"That's so right," he said, and looked at me. "Kiss me."
So I lent over and kissed him, right there in the Chamber of Vaults, his arms around my neck. And as I did so, the strange, bright melancholy of the cavern faded away, and I realised that this was not a sad place, but a place of joy, of excitement and change and continuity. It was a place to celebrate: the centre of our great secret, of our long truce with death.
"Bathys?" I said. "Are there speakers here?"
"Yes, your grace."
"Then play some music. Yes! Brandenburg no. 2. Play it till someone tells you to change it."
"Yes, your grace."
"C'mon!" I said, as the music started. "Let's run all the way round it!"
And we did, laughing and chasing each other, past the twelve thousand silver doors, and then up the stairs into the pale afternoon sunlight. And we lay on the grass, panting and still laughing, reaching out our hands to touch each other.
When, finally, we stood up and brushed ourselves off, we found we were no longer alone at Igoni. Two people were waiting there, as I had arranged: Lord Darren, and Sir George, the man who had stood by us when the Door was closed. Paul gave me an odd look.
"Darren, George," I said. "I asked you to come here for a purpose. We are representatives of the Four Orders of Bathys: the King, the Order of Lords, the Order of Knights and Ladies, and the Order of Boys. And I have something to tell you which must never be discussed except by us four, and never anywhere else but here, at Igoni."
I paused, and all three of them stared at me.
"You are the Doorkeeper, Darren, and we four witnessed the closure of the Door. And what I have to say is this: there is a way out."
"What?" said Darren. "But, your grace..."
"It's narrow, and dangerous, and only one person can use it," I said. "But it exists, and if it is needed, Bathys will tell you how to find it. However, Bathys is instructed to allow its use only by one of us four, and only in an emergency; that is, when the survival of Bathys itself is at stake. Bathys is forbidden to discuss it and is ordered to deny its existence, in any other circumstances."
"Who else knows about this?" said Darren.
"No one. Just Bathys and me. All the work was done by robots under Bathys' control. I need you all to swear to keep it secret."
Stunned, they all swore. The doves of Igoni cooed and purred around us. But I knew what that other way was like; I only hoped it never had to be used.
A SPEECH AND AN OATH
We were back at my house now, preparing for the evening's party, and Paul had insisted on changing by himself in my room. I had already dressed; I felt that this was an occasion when the King must look like a king, so I was wearing a long, golden robe, open at the front, and under it a fine cotton surtunic, through which the red of my tunic showed clearly. And Paul had persuaded me to wear an actual crown, a circle of gold an inch high. I felt absurd, but he was satisfied.
I shook the door knob again.
"Come on, for pity's sake, son!"
"Okay. Here I come. Shut your eyes."
I did as I was told, and he entered the room.
"Okay. Now look."
I opened my eyes; and then stared, dumbstruck. His whole body had been painted with swirling golden patterns. Around his waist was a golden belt, maybe three inches wide, and nipped tightly; tucked under it was one end of a long folded bolt of golden cloth which was flung over his left shoulder, and hung down his back, flaring, almost to the ground. A large golden ring looped into his collar held it in place, wide bands of gold were fastened tightly round his wrists and ankles, his hair, brushed out into a mop of curls, bore his golden fillet as usual, and in each of his ears he had five or six huge golden rings of different sizes. On his feet were golden sandals. And that was all. The fringe of golden cloth beneath his belt just barely covered his dick, which was revealed whenever he walked or moved.
I had never in my life seen anything so erotic and wild.
"What do you think?"
"My - my God almighty! Where did you find it?"
"Lord Komo designed it for me specially. Is it sexy?"
"Sexy? My God! They'll be drooling wherever you go! I - I didn't even know you had your ears pierced!"
"I had it done weeks ago. To get ready. I knew something like this would happen."
"Can I hold you?"
He smiled, and I felt him move in my arms, the long muscles of his back curling, and he sighed.
"My beautiful golden Prince."
"That's it," he said in my ear. "Tonight I want to be the Prince. The only Prince. The Prince of Bathys. Your son. I want them all to - to be horny for me, and the boys to get stirred up and think about things."
"You've made up your eyes."
"Yes, Lord Komo showed me how."
"I'm going to stay right beside you, and everyone will look and know that we're together, that the King and the Prince are together. Amit talked to me about it, it's important that people see this, he says."
"He's right. As usual. Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn't be better off with him running Bathys instead of me!"
"No. Amit needs someone to work for. He'd be useless by himself. That's the way he is. That's why he'll be perfect for Lord Michael in the end..."
"Come on, kid, let's go and sock it to them. Have you got your note?"
"Yup. Look, there's a pocket in the belt. Lord Komo is good at things like that."
It was dark now, and from miles away we could see the party already in progress on the beach, lit by flares and a huge bonfire. We had to be among the last to arrive; there seemed to be thousands of people there already, ferocious music of the current genre known as 'plotz' was playing and a lot of people were dancing, while others seemed to have decided to celebrate in the water, naked or clothed. We left our flitter next to dozens of others a few hundred yards out, and walked.
Someone noticed us and started a cry, and the thousands of revellers immediately took it up. The crowd parted and the music stopped, and I realised that if I did not get my speech over straight away, the party would come to a halt. I moved between the ranks of cheering people to the stage where a mixed band of boys and Knights had been playing, with Paul walking behind me and to one side.
One of the musicians handed me a microphone, and I looked out over the cheering, rejoicing mass of people. Finally I persuaded them to be quiet.
"Welcome to the Realm of Bathys, everyone! Welcome to the party!"
There was an enormous cheer. I proceeded, interrupted by cheers every few words.
"Today is the first of October," I said. "Every year on this day, we will celebrate Bathys Day! A joyful Bathys Day to you all! And this day, the first of October, will be the first day of the year. Today is the start of Year 1 of the Bathys Era! Happy New Year!
"Of course, today we have a party. But in a way, every day in Bathys is a party. We are here to celebrate ourselves! We are here to enjoy ourselves, and to enjoy each other, to enjoy each others' beauty, to be proud of being beautiful!
"Look at my son, the Prince! Isn't he beautiful? Tell me, how can it be possible to be ashamed of being beautiful like that? How can it be possible to be ashamed of admiring such a sight?
"I hear you agree with me! Well, let me say this as well. What could be better or more honourable than to enjoy such beauty in every way possible? Lord Komo, who designed his clothes, he enjoyed that beauty in one way. And there will be music, and pictures, and sculpture, and poetry, enjoying and worshipping the beauty of boys, and those things will be the glory of Bathys!
"And there is another way, and that will be glorious, too. Because we will enjoy each others' beauty using sex, as well. What could be more natural than that? How can we be ashamed of that? I, I your King, I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed that I have sex with the Prince, my son, and he wears my tags!"
At this point the cheers were so loud that I had to pause for several minutes.
"That is one of the purposes of Bathys, and it's a good one. But it's not the only one, not even the main one. No! The main purpose of Bathys is that we should learn to love each other. I'm not ashamed to say that already I love many people here, both boys and grownups. That's why we're here, so that grownups and boys can learn to love each other. Using sex, yes, many times, but in other ways as well. And we'll be here for hundreds and thousands of years, learning to know each other in so many ways.
"Let each of us make it his ambition, as the centuries pass, to learn to love more and more people, more and more deeply, in more and more ways, so that our country becomes a nexus of love, working more and more tightly together! Who can say what power will be released from this work?
"But none of this can happen, if we let the past rule us, if we let shame and pain and anger and grief control what we do. Now is the time to let all that go! Now is the time to free yourself, and to discard all that, the rubbish of a world that is no longer ours! Did you bring your notes?"
"Then sometime tonight, when you feel the time is right, throw your note into the fire! Tell your friends if you wish, shout it out if you wish, and let - it - go!
"That's all I have to say..." I became conscious of Paul pulling my sleeve, and I realised what he wanted. "But - the Prince has something to say as well."
I handed the microphone to Paul, and another gigantic cheer swept the crowd.
"I - I didn't tell the King what I'm going to say, otherwise I'm sure he'd have stopped me. Maybe I'll feel his strap!"
A huge laugh greeted that, and a group of boys started to chant "P2 - P2 - P2..."
"Hey, my P2 wasn't the King! That was the terrible Lord Michael!" yelled Paul, pointing at where Michael was standing, Amit by his side. "You wanna watch out for that one, kids!"
Michael shook his fist dramatically at Paul, and the laughter rose still higher.
"Actually, though, yeah, there's something I want to say. Cos I was never badly abused like lots of you kids were. I was just a lonely kid who lived by himself, who loved his Dad, but couldn't get near him. But my Dad - my Dad had a vision, a vision of a place where boys and grownups could love each other and not be ashamed of it. And he worked and worked, and used up all his money, and even risked being killed or locked up in prison for ever, to build Bathys and collect the grownups and gather up the boys, and they're all boys who were far worse off than me, and bring them all here, where we can love each other and enjoy everything and live for thousands of years. And he brought me here, and he taught me that vision. I was the first of the boys, and as they all arrived, I've seen the vision grow, and now, now there's nothing I wouldn't do for him! I love and admire my father, the King, more than I can say!"
There was another huge cheer here. But Paul hadn't finished. To my astonishment, he flung his strange golden cloak out behind him, and knelt, actually knelt down before me, in front of everyone.
"Your grace! I swear by - by Bathys herself that through all the years I will always love and serve you, as my father, my lover and my King!"
I was thunderstruck. And yet, many things have happened in Bathys, and we have taken many roads over the years, but one thing at least has remained constant: the unconditional, immovable loyalty of my son. He has kept his oath.
After that, it was impossible to speak any more. I helped him to his feet and embraced him, embraced him and kissed him long, and the crowd went wild. Then, as I did outside the Reception Centre, I hoisted him onto my shoulder, and like that we scrambled off the stage. But now, instead of parting for us, the partygoers gathered round, just to touch him, to touch him and me, and their faces were friendly and welcoming; and in many cases frankly lustful. I managed to blunder myself up to Michael, and there I humped Paul back down onto the ground.
"That was exceptionally well done, Paul," yelled Michael, as the music resumed. "Was it the King's idea?"
Michael was wearing leathers again, but Amit had a neat white suit in the Indian style, buttoned right up to the neck, and even a small white cap. He looked cool, remote and utterly adorable.
"Nope," I said; and then I noticed Amit's face. "It was Amit, of course."
Michael started to laugh, and hugged the boy to him.
"All the boys respect the Prince," said Amit. "It was important that they know from the start that the King and the Prince are at one."
"Didn't Paul speak well?" I said. "Jesus! What a chairman of Summa he would have made!"
"Narrow escape, kid," said Michael.
"I know," said Paul. "I've always known. Look," and he dug into his belt pocket. "Here's my note."
He passed it to me, and I read it out.
"The Summa Corporation. Oh, son. Oh, my dear son..."
"It's always been my enemy. Right since the day I was born."
"As it was mine," I said. "Well, it scarcely exists any more. Not after all this."
"What did you put?" said Michael.
I unfolded mine and read it.
"Separation from my son."
Paul hugged me frantically, and I could feel his sobs.
"Hiding myself," said Michael.
"Can't have been easy," I said. "How about you, Amit?"
"Sunil T. Bhattia."
"Who's he?" I asked.
"I shall not say. It's enough that I am burning his name today. But if he were here, I would gladly burn him too."
The look on Amit's face made it plain that he was not exaggerating. The thought came to me: that child can hate. A chill ran up my spine.
"I should say that it's fortunate for him, too, that you are in Bathys," I said. "Let's go and burn them now."
We forced our way through the dancing, rejoicing crowd to the bonfire. It was huge, and so hot we could get nowhere near it; people were screwing up their notes and flinging them in, many shouting out what they had written. I saw Kev and Jess approach, and together they threw their note.
"Our fuckin fahver!" they yelled, and all of us cheered.
"Wonderful speech," said Ian, coming up to me. "Total bullshit, but wonderful. You're becoming quite the orator, Max."
"Are you going to play my little game?" I asked.
"As a matter of fact, I shall. Not all your ideas are tosh, thank God."
"What have you put?"
He passed it to me, and I read: Moral imbecility. I passed it back, and he tossed it into the flames.
"So," I said. "What are you going to get up to, Ian?"
"Nothing," he said. "Not yet. Believe it or not, I just want to have fun for a bit. I approve of Bathys, Max, and I want to enjoy it, and get to know it. Besides, every civilisation needs a golden age, doesn't it? Are you ever going to repeal that resolution, by the way?"
"Oh yes. As soon as the Knights want me to, really want me to, I'll propose a repeal. I'd give it a couple of months. Why did you think I did it, anyhow?"
Ian looked at me closely.
"Hm. I see. Perhaps I have underestimated you, your grace."
"It's generally a mistake to underestimate someone who made himself the richest man in the world."
"Point very well taken. I'll see you soon, Max. Have fun."
He tipped his glass to me, and moved away into the crowd. The tumultuous plotz music had now wound to an end, and Lord Loro was introducing a singing and drumming group from Johannesburg. They were good, very good, even though some of them seemed scarcely tall enough to reach the tops of their drums.
"My God!" said a voice. "Just look at that!"
I turned to see Will, gazing at a stupendous simulated aurora all across the northern half of the sky. For a while we just stood and stared at Komo's incredible creation, the vast curtains of slowly undulating light. Will, to my surprise was wearing Bathys clothes, a neat blue tunic with a red sash.
"What's going on out there? In the lake?" he asked.
I could see a group of naked boys diving and jumping in the glittering water about a hundred yards out, and then I recognised the glistening grey shapes pouring themselves among them.
"They're playing with the porpoises," I said. "Swimming with porpoises under the light of the aurora."
"Oh, God, Max, I can't help it," he said. "I love it here..."
I hugged him.
"Found a house yet?"
"Yes, no problem. It's small, but lovely, about a hundred yards from the main street in Southwall. And - do you know, David came to see me there? He actually sought me out. When I think what he's been through, for him to trust me..."
"I'm sure you've earned it. What has he been through, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Do you know what he put on his note? The birch. That sodding school used it all the time. In the last two years he's been birched eight times. The last time was twenty strokes, and he's only fourteen, can you believe it?"
"Absconding, and attempting suicide."
"What? They birch you for attempting suicide?"
"Wasting medical service resources, they call it. His entire family was killed in the civil war in Croatia, and he was raped, along with his sisters. He was eleven, then. Can you understand why I daren't touch him?"
"Just - just love him, Will. Just love him. He'll let you know when it's time. Where is he?"
"Getting us drinks. Here he comes."
I was amused to see that David's clothes were almost identical to Will's. I gave him a smile.
"How's it going, David?"
To my surprise, he smiled back. It was very tentative, but it was there.
"It's marvellous, your - your grace. I've never been to a party before."
"How's the Flat?"
"I'm staying with Don and Jack from my school, and a Welsh boy who's only eight so we all have to look after him, and a boy from Dublin called Liam. They're all very nice. Your grace, please don't send us back..."
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Paul and Amit talking excitedly to Kurt and the twins, and Darren standing behind them.
"No chance, kid. Didn't you get it, when I said it before? There's no way out. That explosion at the Reception Centre, it sealed us in. All part of the plan."
Slowly, his smile returned.
"So - so I'm here with Sir Will - forever?"
"That's it. Make you happy?"
"The greatest. The best thing that ever happened." He moved closer to me. "What you said. In your speech? Boys and grownups having sex? Is that... is that..."
I turned to him and put my hands on his shoulders. His face left no doubt about how he felt about it.
"It's true, kid." I spoke quietly; the music covered our words. "But if you want it, you'll have to show him the way. He's frightened to death of hurting you. If you want my advice, wait for a few days before starting anything, though. Just tag along with him and show him you really like him. He can scarcely believe it's true."
He really was lovely.
"It's the fireworks I'm waiting for," said Igor, coming up to us. "I don't know, I've always had a thing for them."
"Yes!" yelled Paul. "Fireworks? I love fireworks!"
"I have never seen them," said Amit.
"Nor have I," said Kurt.
"You haven't, kid?" said Igor.
"No, my Lord. I am living in a brothel in Hamburg since I was six."
Igor looked at him, and suddenly it was as if he'd been hit by a brick; he just froze.
"My - my lord?" said Kurt.
I felt Paul grip my arm.
"Well, er, what's your name, son?"
"I am Kurt."
"I tell you what, Kurt," said Igor, recovering himself. "The fireworks are coming from one of the little islands. Let's go right down by the lake, and we'll have a brilliant view."
"Okay. Thank you, my Lord."
He blushed a brilliant scarlet; you could see it even in the light of the flares, and as they moved away, Paul and Amit gave a triumphant shout, and Michael laughed.
I burst out laughing, and at that moment the sea erupted into a tempest of white stars. I pulled my son back against me and crossed my hands over his chest as Handel surged from the loudspeakers, and the sky blossomed, red, green, yellow clouds of twinkling sparks, huge expanding domes of white and blue fire and falling cataracts of light; and explosions shook the very beach beneath our feet. It was cataclysmic.
And I held my son tight, my son and my lover, surrounded by my beloved friends, as all around me my citizens rejoiced, and my dream came to life and took flight in their hearts and in their lives. It comes to very few to experience complete success or unqualified happiness; but it came to me. It was the supreme moment of my life.
And that is the story of the achievement of Bathys, and the foundation of our little civilisation. I am not entirely certain why I am writing it; after all, there has certainly never been a civilisation more tightly documented than ours, since buried in Bathys' memory banks are not only the records of everything that has happened and everything we have done, but even the very memories of every one of her citizens.
However, I am, after all, the King, and my thoughts on these things may have some interest in themselves. And this will not be the last of these annals; I am gathering more together, both by me and by others, and possibly these thoughts may help us, as we move still further into our future. And after all, Bathys cannot be eternal, and when, who knows how long from now, the Great Cavern lies empty, cold and dark, and even the memory banks have fallen void, perhaps people from upstairs will finally happen upon the dead shell of our land, and these few notes may be among the things that they find. I hope they do not think too badly of us, and what we have been.
But before I place this narrative in my Vault, there are a few things which logically it would be right to add.
After the closing of the Door, we continued to monitor to some degree what went on upstairs, as we have done ever since, although I admit that our attention has been somewhat fitful; but Bathys keeps records, in case they are needed. We know at any rate of the rise and fall of empires and religions, we know of war and of peace.
The nucleonic blast at Glencoram obliterated all trace of what had happened there. Many investigations were made, but they never came remotely near to discovering what we had been about. The best bet was that 'Primrose' had been a vast conspiracy of international slave traders, and that we had all been consumed, together with our thousands of unfortunate victims. For the most part, people simply assigned what had happened to the category of the mysterious and inexplicable. The world moved on.
The collapse of Summa caused some considerable disruption for a while. What remnants there were I had left to a variety of children's charities worldwide, and although for many years my death was disputed, in the end these wishes were, for the most part, honoured, since they provided a disposition of sorts. Even these broken shreds of Summa's wealth, however, were quite considerable; larger than the total incomes of many countries. In all, the effects were good, and in some cases spectacularly so.
Nearly every piece of evidence about our activities was second hand, and derived from the various gangs of psychopaths and villains whom we had dealt with during the Gathering; not surprisingly, the authorities were inclined to treat it all with considerable scepticism. The single exception, by the oddest chance, was the letter I had written to Paul from Jakarta, when he fell ill during the Gathering. This is what it said.
My love, my Prince, my dear son:
I will always honour and love you for all you have done for this operation. But you will do no good for it at all, if your health is destroyed. This is your King speaking: you will obey the doctors, and rest as long as they say you need. And have faith. Everything is going well.
Your father, who longs to be with you.
Despite the many and bizarre explanations dragged out of this by experts and pundits, it does not seem to me inappropriate as a final note from Bathys to the world she left behind.
At the time that the Door was closed, Paul was, as we have seen, fourteen, and I was forty-three. Of the remaining eleven years of his first cycle he, or I, or both of us, will write on another occasion, perhaps; they were, heaven knows, significant enough, for us and for Bathys as a whole. At all events, I went finally to Igoni for his rebirth, and returned with the adorable scrap of boy that is the six-year-old Paul, chattering, inquisitive, screaming with energy. I was determined this time to do it right, and I think I did, although I was by now fifty-four.
But I had lots of help; for example, Paul had time to get to know the twenty-five-year-old Amit, before he, too, started his second cycle, and after that the two boys were, as before, inseparable. To see them working together on the earnest projects of boyhood was a joy. Was he the same? Were they both the same? On this topic there is much to be said, perhaps. However, the years went by, and as gradually their memories started to return, so in part their old selves returned as well, but curiously changed, and that itself was a wonder that first time. Though these changes are now, of course, far more familiar, to me the wonder has never disappeared.
By now my own first cycle was drawing to its close. It is hard to recall, now, the apprehension with which I approached this change. In those days we were all of us infested with our native fear of death, and it was hard, even though our minds knew it to be so, for our emotions to grasp that this would not be the end. I discussed this endlessly with Michael; but he was two years older than me, so it was he who had to face it first.
And then the six and seven-year-old Michael was another wonder, not because he was different, but because he was so very much the same. I would take him, Paul and Amit together down to the beach, and play in the water with all three of them; I guided them in all their first explorations of Bathys, and these were some of the most delightful times I can remember. But before long they were going out into Bathys more and more by themselves, and exploring and conquering their world in ways which grownups can never really match. Scuff-kneed, filthy, clothes torn, tired, happy or sad, I would welcome them back, and it was all, all perfect.
So as my son grew, and as his memories began to return, his interest in sexual contact with others was gradually renewed. Of course, as a Bathys boy, knowledge of sex, and to some small extent, even involvement in it were never entirely absent from his life. But like most grownups, when it came to such young kids, I did not feel at ease with more than the occasional gentle caress, and to start with, most of his encounters were with other boys. Nevertheless, by the time he was twelve he had already acquired a few tags from me, and was now participating with enthusiasm and a total lack of inhibition which was invigorating, if occasionally, to his amusement, somewhat tiring.
At all events, I was now sixty, and one day it came to me, as it had to others, that the time had arrived. We were living in Southwall then, and over supper that evening I told him.
"Tomorrow, I shall go to Igoni."
"You're going to be reborn?"
His smile was broad and gleeful. It was clear he was delighted with the news.
"Yes, son. It's time. Time to move on... You seem quite happy with the idea."
"You're frightened?" he asked.
I sighed. There was no point in denying it.
"Yes. I know it's stupid, but I am."
He came and sat on my lap, something he had not done for a while; he was, after all, twelve years old. He put his arms round my neck and kissed me on the lips.
"Don't be," he said. "It's going to be so good! You'll be six, and I'll look after you, and take you everywhere, and we can go to the lake and swim together, and go to the forest and the caves and everything. And I'll show you how to fly a flitter, and how to climb trees, and teach you how to swim, and we can go and stalk dinosaurs and badgers and things together, and chase pterosaurs and eagles... There's a place in the forest where... It'll be so, so good, Dad! I really want to do those things with you..."
"But I won't remember."
"It doesn't matter. You'll find it doesn't matter. Anyhow, you start to remember almost at once, only you don't realise it, and now I remember lots and lots of things. I remember sitting here with you, and you explaining about rebirth, and that was the first day I was in Bathys. I remember coming down the lift for the first time... So many things. And, having sex with you, when I was older."
"It's hard to think of not having sex with you."
"Who says we won't? We'll both be boys, won't we? I know you were frightened to do things with me this cycle when I was little, but you were old. But I'm just a kid, and I won't mind at all." He gave me a dirty grin. "I can't wait."
I laughed at him. His enthusiasm was infectious, and reassuring.
"C'mon," he said. "Let's go to bed. It'll be a while before you have a grownup dick again."
"You'll have to get your tags from other people now."
"Yeah, so what. You know that you're the one I love. And when you're sixteen, I'll still only be twenty. There's no point in worrying about it - in any cae, I'm available for these things now," he said, flicking his tags.
"I know. I'm just being stupid. After all, all this was my idea in the first place!"
So I called some of my friends and told them what was happening, and then we went to bed. And Paul astonished me with his aggression and adventurousness, and when, finally, he laid his head on my chest and went to sleep, I was too tired to think any more, and did the same. Truly, this body was worn out; but it had given me good service that night.
The next morning I got up early, and spent some time deciding what to put in my Vault. Paul got up too, and we showered together, which was as lovely as ever; and from the night's exertions he had another tag to show, and for some reason that made me proud.
And then, finally, I called a transport and we set out.
"I think we'll go and live in Easton for a year or two," he said, as we flew over the grasslands. "There's a Knight there, Sir Jan, he's nice, and he says he'll help to look after you. After that we can move back to the King's House, or to Southwall."
"That - that sounds like sense," I said distractedly. "Paul, when I'm a kid, don't call me Dad. Or 'your grace'. It would sound silly. And tell other people: no 'your grace' till I'm fourteen, okay?"
"And don't stop having sex with grownups just because of me. If you want someone to claim you, just go ahead. I won't be able to do that till I'm fourteen."
"Dad. No one will ever claim me except you," he said.
And in truth, that is how it has been. Of course, there are other things than claiming, and some of them are stronger and wilder, as we have seen already. But that was with Michael, and anything Paul does with Michael I don't mind at all.
The transport swooped down onto the meadow next to Creetossu. It was a bright spring day, and if possible the wood looked more beautiful than when we had visited it for the first time, so long before. He took my hand as we walked along the path, but I was feeling more and more apprehensive, more and more frightened and lonely.
When we arrived at Igoni itself, I was surprised, because there must have been several thousand people there, waiting for us. And they cheered me as I stumbled down the steps to the Chamber of Vaults, feeling desperately old and tired, and Darren, now a man of forty or so, helped me down, while Paul carried my bag of things.
My Vault, of course, was as empty as before, and I unloaded the things into it. So little to be worth passing forward! A few papers, notes and thoughts, some of my working data disks; photographs of my parents and of Paul when he was a baby, and, for fairness's sake, one of Jeannette. A stone from the hillside at Glencoram and few other things I like: carvings by Derek, some pottery, a few of Komo's pictures, a book of Christian's poetry, signed by him, and that was it. And then the toiling climb back up, and the fear, the fear now gripping me, almost paralysing me. Paul and Darren held me, and comforted me, but I was alone, now, as my body told me that I had to be, when face to face with death.
I stood before the silver door, and faced the crowd.
"Thank you all for coming," I whispered. "Thank you - for - for everything."
Once again they cheered me; they cheered their King. And someone started to sing the strange, haunting tune we had begun to call The Song of Bathys, although it was much older than that, and suddenly Igoni was echoing with it, and I found myself moved to tears. I loved them all. When the song had finished, I hugged Paul one last time, and turned away. The door opened, and I went in; and it quietly closed behind me.
It was a small stone chamber, the granite walls dimly lit; and at its centre was a simple bed.
"Good morning, your grace."
The voice was quiet, and I was surprised, because it was the voice of a man.
"Are you Bathys?"
"In a sense. I am the registration and rebirth modules. I am largely separate from the rest of Bathys, and my AI is of a higher calibre, since I am dealing with memory data. Are you frightened, your grace?"
"To be honest, yes, I am."
"That is an understandable reaction for one who has never been reborn. I can assure you, however, that the process is completely painless."
"What do I do?"
"Lie on the bed. When you are ready, close your eyes, and say 'proceed'. When you open your eyes, you will be in your new body. You will feel nothing, and there will be no interruption of consciousness. For a few seconds, you will retain all your memories; people find this reassuring. After that, your memories will be veiled. However, if you concentrate firmly on something, you will remember it. Most people opt to retain the identity and the appearance of their primary partner."
Not seeing what else I could do, I laid myself down on the bed, and even that was a struggle now. I sighed. What a time it had been! Well, I had made it count, no one could dispute that. But still my body refused to accept that I faced anything other than extinction. Did I really believe I would be reborn? What if it all went wrong? What if...
"Be reassured, your grace. Several thousand people have already been reborn without the slightest problem. The system works."
"Are you reading my mind?"
"Not exactly. I am processing your new memories as they are recorded. Shall we proceed?"
"I suppose we'd better."
"In my view, your grace, you have passed an astonishingly useful and productive cycle. You have no need for any regrets at all."
"Thank you." I sighed, and closed my eyes.
And I opened my eyes, and I was still me, but lying in a different bed, in a different room. The sunlight flooded in through the open door, and looking down at me was my son, my dear, dear son, and I spoke to him.
For a moment, I was astonished at my piping voice, and the lightness of my body, my limbs. For a moment, as Paul looked into my eyes, I knew he saw the whole of me there, and I was able to reach up, and grip his arm. But then, like a curtain closing, the past disappeared from view, and I was left with something strange and fleeting, the memory of a memory, like grasping for a word which will not come; and then, not even that.
All that was left was the name and face of this beautiful, curly-haired boy, who seemed so big to me; and I knew he was my friend, my protector, my hero.
"Paul!" I said again, and laughed.
And he laughed too, and picked me up under the arms, and held me to himself, and kissed me.
"Max, you're beautiful!" he said and put me down. "Come on!"
He laid his hand on my shoulder and led me out through the great golden door. And there, all the people in the world were waiting, it seemed to me, and I had no idea who they were, or why they were cheering. He looked down at me as we stood in the doorway, and smiled.
"Let's go!" he said.
The crowd parted for us, and I skipped along the path, happy and trusting in the morning sunshine, hand in hand with my wonderful, wonderful friend. The grass was flecked with daisies, and white doves wheeled over our heads.
There was a whole huge beautiful world waiting to be discovered.
I met our King one day in the woods.
Leaves opening green for another spring,
Birds chattering, busy with love,
The breath of Bathys stirred my hair;
Our King, a boy, pissing on a tree.
Strange sight; and I remembered,
So long ago now, that tree has grown
>From seed to dotage since the scene:
Winter rain across the moors in Scotland,
Muddy tracks and cold, damp barracks,
And the man, suited, mouth thin, stance hard,
Eyes steel, the power of the world in his hand:
That boy! He turned to me and smiled,
Eyes now telling the tale I hoped for;
His happy nakedness sang of spring,
And took my hand. Memory; time.
THE 27 LORDS OF BATHYS
|Harry||geology; Great Cavern topology|
|Derek||engineering, Great Cavern|
|Yuexing||engineering, caverns and services|
|Danosh||power, nucleonics plant|
|Ben||systems, central computer|
|Darren||grid and systems, communications|
|Hamid||hydroponics and nutrition|
|Christian||sociology, public relations, literature|
|Dan||design, landscape gardener|
|Komo||visual arts, sky display|
|Andrew||administration, accounts, economics|