“Jack! Dear, how nice you could come!”
Penny Trump greeted me like her favourite nephew, although of course we’d never met. I’d seen her on the TV before The Problems, and here she was, back again, apparently unchanged; the blond hair mounted on top of her head glinted artificially in the studio lights and her wide mouth grinned at me.
“Hello, Susan! Well... David?”
A man with a clipboard and glasses hanging on a cord round his neck bustled up.
“Okay, our audience today, as every day, is people at home in the afternoon: mums, in other words, and grans, and aunties. Record now, quick check, and put it out at four o’clock. Nothing too serious, Jack, if you don’t mind, we want to have a look at the clothes and a wee chat, that’s all. So, what have we got? Love the cloak—what else? Oh, my goodness! Oh, yes! Well, how about this: Penny intro to camera, and then she calls Jack in; Jack comes in wearing the cloak, looking dashing, and we take it from there, and bring the other guest in later. Okay?”
“Okay,” we said.
People were hurrying around, sorting things; Penny took her place on one end of the sofa, under the lights. I waited nervously to one side; I still wasn’t sure where I was going with this interview.
“In the studio today we have Jack Marchmont, the boy who we’ve seen and heard quite a lot of in the last couple of weeks, and we’re going to be talking about the new Standard Clothing for children. Come in, Jack!”
I walked into the shot, trying to swish the cloak a bit, and allowed Penny to kiss me.
“So nice you could get here, dear.”
“Nice of you to invite me, Penny.”
“So this is the Standard Clothing! How about that cloak?” she said to the camera.
“Yes, well, it’s quite wet and blowy here today, so I was glad of that coming across the car-park. It’s warm and fairly heavy, you can see, nice lining...”
“Oh, my! Is everyone’s the same?”
“No, there are different colours. Same for the other clothes, in fact...”
“Well, slip the cloak off and let’s have a look.”
I took the cloak off and draped it over the back of a chair.
“My goodness! That’s amazing! You look like—I don’t know, like something burning!”
“Well, I have three of these—so I picked the wildest one for you, Penny,” I said. “This is called a lifesuit.”
“And everyone’s is different?”
“I don’t think they could be, could they? But there seem to be lots of varieties.”
“What’s it made of? Is it warm? It looks pretty tight.”
“Apparently it’s made of something called ‘tegumil’, and it is quite warm. But the material lets out the sweat so you don’t get all sticky. Yeah, it’s pretty tight, but the material’s strange—look, when I bend my arm, there are no wrinkles. Same round my tummy, see? It’s almost like a second skin.”
“And how—I mean, I don’t want to pry, but how do you...”
“You can’t see it in the pattern, but there’s an opening—it starts here and goes all the way, well, down and up my back. It’s held with velcro. So I can...”
“Enough! Too much information!”
“You asked, Penny!”
She laughed. I felt it was going well.
“How about the boots, then? Are there other shoes?”
“Yup, there are some things like trainers, and some sandals.”
“Come over here and sit down, dear.”
She led the way to a sofa, and we sat at opposite ends.
“So, what do you think of the clothes overall?”
“Well, when I heard about them before, I thought, oh, they’ll just be like school uniforms—you know, jackets and grey trousers and stuff. But they’re not like that at all. I think they look good—and they feel good, too.”
“But will they fit with the other clothes you have?”
“Well, that’s just it, Penny. These are the only clothes I’m allowed to wear now.”
“Oh yes! That’s right, isn’t it? How about underwear and so on?”
“It comes with underwear, trunks. It’s nice too—all different colours and patterns.”
“But—how about at home?” said Penny. “Won’t you want a break from wearing a lifesuit all the time?”
“There’s also some tunics—we can wear them too—they’re quite loose. They’ll be good for the summer and at home, maybe. Or you could just wear the trunks—they’re okay to wear by themselves. They’re made of tegumil too.”
“All the same, I bet you’ll wish you could slip on a pair of jeans sometimes!”
“Well, maybe, but that’s too bad. It’s not allowed. And the implant—remember from yesterday? If I wear anything except the Standard Clothes, it pricks me.”
“Really? That’s pretty fierce. Are you happy with that?”
“I understand all the reasons for it. But to be honest, I still hate it.”
“What reasons could there be?”
“Well, I came here by car today. That’s the first time I’ve been away from home since The Problems started. And anyone can see, the country’s been wrecked, you just see it, factories and homes burnt and trashed, people living in tents, really it’s been open war in some places.”
“Terrible, Jack, yes, I know.”
“And the reason for that is the factions and religions and races and so on, tearing people apart till they start fighting and killing each other. I think we’ve gone mad in a way. So, we have to start again, and that means starting with us kids, doesn’t it? We’re the future. That’s why they’re excluding religion and factions from the schools and saying that we must all dress alike.”
“Even at home?” said Penny. “Don’t the parents have any rights?”
“Well, the trouble is that ‘parents’ includes all those people who’ve been trashing the country and burning people alive and so on. Can we allow the crazies to pass their craziness on to their kids?”
“It’s hard on you.”
“I said, I don’t like that part. But the clothes themselves—they’re fine. Coming soon to a school near you, kids!”
“We’ll take a break,” said Penny.
“Wonderful, Jack,” said David. “That was great.”
“Why the fuck didn’t anyone tell me the sodding clothes were compulsory?” barked Penny. “It makes me look like an idiot!”
“No it doesn’t, dear,” said David. “Most people won’t know either. It’s okay—discovery time. Right, take five, people. After that we carry on with Jack and the minister.”
“Is there a toilet?” I said.
“Sure, Jack—over there,” said David, pointing.
Never having done this before, I went into one of the cubicles. I eased the seam apart fairly easily; the seam of the trunks was right behind, and I realised that with a little practice I could probably open them both at once. My dick was semi-hard—I’d been aroused for pretty much the whole day—but finally I managed to piss. The seams closed without trouble.
And when I got back to the studio, Penny was sitting at one end of the sofa, with Max Margrave in the middle. I sat down with some trepidation. He gave me a smile.
“We meet at last,” he said.
“Sit down, Jack—let’s hit it now, people!” David called out. “Cue Penny!”
“Welcome back. Jack and I have been joined now by Max Margrave, the Minister for Children. Max, are you pleased with the Standard Clothing?”
“Very much so. I think Jack looks tremendous, don’t you? I think one thing that he didn’t mention, by the way, is that it’s been hard for parents finding clothes and shoes for their kids during The Problems. This is a way to help them out, and make sure that kids from poor backgrounds are as well dressed as the others. That’s important.”
“Will kids think the clothes are cool, Jack?”
“When it comes to clothes, cool is about being better than un-cool,” I said. “If everyone’s wearing the same, that won’t work. Kids will have to find something else to do cool and un-cool about.”
Margrave and Penny laughed. I wasn’t sure what was funny.
“Max, don’t you think that Jack has a point, when he says he doesn’t like the clothes being compulsory?”
“Of course he has a point. I said before, we’re making an imposition on the kids. But we think it’s necessary, for just the reasons which Jack mentioned. We’re asking the kids to accept this restriction on their freedom, so that we can begin to build a sane society. And as compensation for that we’re trying to make the Standard Clothing good and exciting to wear. That’s the deal.”
“What do you say to that, Jack? Fair deal?”
“Well, I like the clothes, so I suppose in a sense I have to accept Mr Margrave’s deal. But I didn’t enter it voluntarily. And the implant makes me dislike it it even more, and that wasn’t part of the deal. If the Government wants people like me to support them and trust them, they need to think hard about this. If you trick people, and lie to them, they don’t trust you. It’s not rocket science.”
“We really messed up, Jack. General Baxter said that, and I say the same: it was a total cock-up. You have to decide whether you believe us on that.”
“I believe you, and I believe General Baxter and—and the other person who was mixed up in this. But in a way it doesn’t matter. If ordinary people can’t rely on what the Government says, they won’t care much why that’s happened.”
“Point very much taken,” said Margrave. “We’re new to this too, you know.”
“The idea of being tagged like criminals is pretty hard to take,” I said. “The implant keeps track of me every single second. This morning it zapped me when I was playing with my brother. He threw some clothes at me and they landed on my head. It’s checking me every single second. I understand the reasons, but—but it’s very hard to cope with.”
“Well, we’re still thinking about the implant,” said Margrave. “But you said yourself, Jack: if we don’t have the implants, how can we make sure the kids stick to the rules? I know it’s hard, but remember, the implant will stop working on your twentieth birthday. How old are you?”
“I’ll be fourteen on Monday.”
“So, it’s just for six years. And ‘zapped’ is an exaggeration. It’s just a tiny pinprick, you can scarcely notice it.”
“I think lots of parents will be worried that their position is being undermined by this,” said Penny. “Shouldn’t it be their right to decide what their kids wear?”
“Parents are very important to the development of a child. But that doesn’t mean they can do what they like. A child is a trust. Let’s face it, too many people have been misusing that trust, just as Jack said. Religious bigotry, racism, hysteria about sex, xenophobia—every sort of craziness, these things have nearly wrecked our country, and we will not allow them to be passed on. We can’t compromise on that. In the worst cases, we will have to take the kids away from crazy parents.”
“I can understand that, but surely, normal decent parents...”
“We see decent parents as particularly providing support and comfort and love to their kids. That’s one thing they need, especially when the Government makes demands on them, as we will. Kids go to school as well, and that’s another thing they need. And we want to provide yet another, a third leg of the tripod. That’s what we call the child’s mentor. We’re going to provide an adult mentor for every child from twelve up—that’s more than four million of them. They’ll provide challenge and excitement. They’ll give the child a sane attitude to sex and love and lead them through their first relationships. And we’ll give the mentors the means to enforce discipline and control, when needed.”
“Won’t that just undermine the position of parents even more?”
“No, because the child still needs someone they can go home to, who’ll love them without any conditions, and look after them.”
“Who will the mentors be?”
It was clear to me that Penny had been primed with questions about this. As for me: the moment I heard what he said, I knew who my mentor would be, had to be.
“People who we know are sane, basically. Mentors will be selected by the schools and the local children’s administration. And many of them, of course, will actually be parents; good parents are just the kind of person we want as mentors. It all fits together.”
“So, Jack, what do you think of that idea?” said Penny.
“It’s good, in principle. The crucial bit is finding the millions of good mentors, isn’t it? And checking up on them afterwards.”
“You mean, to make sure they aren’t paedophiles?”
“No, I wasn’t thinking of that,” I said. “I was thinking of people who turn out to be cruel, or lazy, or just no good at being a mentor. Or when a mentor and a child don’t hit it off.”
“But you must be worried about paedophiles, Jack.”
“Well, over the last year I’ve watched dozens of kids being burnt alive to save them from paedophiles. That makes me suspicious of people who go on about this. It’s people who are cruel to kids that we want to stop, whether it’s cruel about sex or any other kind of cruel.”
“You’re absolutely right, Jack,” said Margrave. “We’ll be setting up systems to find mentors and to check up on them, and for kids to complain if there are problems. That’s what we’re working on now.”
“We’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the weeks ahead,” said Penny. “But for today—Max Margrave and Jack Marchmont—thanks.”
“Thank you, everyone!” called David. “Thank you, Minister. And thank you, Jack—you were brilliant.”
“Yes, you were, Jack,” said Margrave. “There’s a mind in there, isn’t there? I see you’re keeping Ewan busy.”
“Yesterday was rough. But that wasn’t my fault.”
“No. Nor his.”
“I know,” I said.
He looked at me hard.
“I’m glad you accept that. Come over here a moment.”
He led me to one side, and spoke quietly.
“Ewan Hart is one of the best men I know, and it’s impossible to imagine that he would act dishonourably. We need him desperately, Jack, this Government and the country need him. I understand that you were hurt yesterday, and I’m sorry, the more so in that some of my own people were involved. But I hope you’ll be able to step round your anger and learn to help him. Because we need you too, and together you’ll be a truly formidable team. Do you understand me?”
“We’ve already got over yesterday. We—we’re making progress.”
“Good. That’s good. That’s very admirable of you, Jack.”
“No, I—I like him. Very much. Now I hope that maybe, well, I don’t know, but maybe he might want to be my mentor.”
“Even better. Thanks again, Jack. I may see you later this evening. David? Penny? Thanks—I’m off now.”
“That was pretty good,” said Susan.
“Was it? Sorry,” I said.
“Oh, Jack. It’s impossible to dislike you, no matter how much I try. Come on, I have to deliver you back to Ewan’s office. What did Max want?”
“To tell me to get over myself and stop acting all hurt. Though he put it more nicely than that, of course.”
“Max Margrave is a brilliant man and he genuinely cares about kids and making sure they grow up right, and everything he does is directed towards that. He and his wife have ten fostered and adopted kids—he really means it. He’s also the most ruthless political infighter I’ve ever met. Watch him.”
“Watch him? Susan, tomorrow morning I’m going back to Chedley. I’m just a schoolboy. I don’t suppose I’ll ever meet him again.”
“Yeah, right. Just a schoolboy. Sorry, Jack, too late... C’mon, do your cloak thing and we’ll get you back.”
Sincerely puzzled by what she might mean, I followed her down in the lift and across the car-park, back to the Council block and up to Ewan’s office.
“Here he is, Ewan,” said Susan. “Another bloody triumph, of course.”
“How’s Peter these days, Susan?”
“Nice. But not you.”
“Tsk, tsk. Go and do something. And come back in—twenty minutes when they broadcast it. Bring whoever you think is relevant.”
Susan shut the door and left us together.
“Max Margrave was on the show,” I said.
“Thought he might be. Did he talk about mentors?”
“Yup. He had definitely primed Penny Trump with some questions.”
“I expect so. It wasn’t as traumatic an interview as the last one, then?”
“No. It was okay. Ewan, can I ask you something?”
“I know it’s a lot to ask, but—I mean, when it happens—would you possibly consider if maybe you could—could be my mentor?”
“Only I can’t think of anyone I’d like to do it as much as you, and if it was anyone else I’d always regret I hadn’t asked you. I know it’s a lot to ask, but...”
“Hush. Come here, little one.”
Once again he was sitting on the edge of the table. I moved between his legs and he lent forward and gently kissed me.
“It’s so wonderful that you asked me. I was going to arrange that I got you anyhow, because I just know I could be good for you. But you asked. I’ve never been so flattered in my life. And—of course I will. That’s if I can persuade the authorities that I’m a fit person to be a mentor, and I think I can.”
“Thank you,” I whispered.
“It won’t always be easy, being with me,” he said. “I’ll push you and drive you and make you hurt, and test you to breaking point and beyond. Sometimes you’ll feel used and angry and humiliated and sometimes you’ll hate me. But other times you’ll be happier than you can imagine, and I will always protect you and always love you and you will always be safe. Sure you want to do this?”
“If I went with someone else, maybe it would be easier. But I would always regret that I was too scared to ask for what I really wanted. And needed.”
“I’m going to kiss you again.”
“Yes. Kiss me.”
He did, and it was fierce. He was kissing me as he would kiss an adult, and I loved it. I abandoned myself to him; my feelings of resistance and rebellion simply fell away. Looking back, I think that was when my submission began.
“Margrave ticked me off,” I said, when we came up for air. “He told me to overcome my anger and learn to help you, because the Government and the country need you.”
“I doubt if he meant it as a tick-off. Just a reminder to take the wider view.”
“It wasn’t needed,” I said. “I’m over it.”
He smiled at me and swept my hair back.
“So lovely. So bright. So unselfish. So strong and brave. How can I deserve you?”
“If it’s true that the Government and the country need you, then you deserve me at the very least.”
“Susan warned me off Margrave slightly. She said he was a ruthless in-fighter and I should watch him.”
“Well, she’s right, but Max is also my closest political ally. I think Susan was perhaps worried that you might fall under his spell and this might qualify your loyalty to me.”
“I said I was just a schoolboy and I’d probably never meet him again, and she said: ‘Yeah, right. Just a schoolboy. Sorry Jack, too late.’ I’m not sure what she meant.”
“She meant that you’re my protégé and that you also have a role in your own right, through your TV appearances and your connections with Max and Tom Baxter. You’ll be on TV on children’s issues for ever and ever. You’re involved, whether you like it or not.”
“I don’t know how those fit together. I mean, if you’re my mentor and I’m a known critic of the Government.”
“We’ll talk about that later.”
“Susan has mixed feelings about me. Because you were together before.”
“You haven’t quarrelled, have you?”
“No, really not. I think she kind of likes me. But she doesn’t see why she should make things easy for me. She’s quite mischievous. Actually, I like her. She’s funny.”
“Susan can be a pain, but she’s completely loyal and she works incredibly hard. Now just for a moment, shut up.”
He kissed me again, and the world stopped...
We separated just in time. The door opened and about eight people came in. Chairs were organised in a semicircle round the TV; I moved to the back and tried to keep out of the way. This was a work occasion.
The programme started, and I noticed that several people, including Susan, were taking notes.
“Is it all there, Susan?” said Ewan during the break.
“She asked Jack how he goes to the loo. That’s gone.”
“Yeah, doesn’t fit with Auntie Penny’s persona,” said Bill.
“How do you go to the loo, Jack?” someone asked, rather nastily, I thought.
“You want a demonstration?” I said.
Everyone laughed again, and the second half of the program started.
When it had finished, they took it apart, line by line, looking at not only what it said, but what effects it would have on people’s underlying feelings as well as their outward opinions. It was fascinating. I said nothing, but listened carefully.
“Okay,” said Ewan at the end. “Do we want some more posters from this? Derek?”
“Yup, I think there’s one or two. Thing is, Jack’s statements were quite balanced—kinda, I can see why they want this, but I hate it, and we can balance that with Margrave saying, yup, it’s nasty but it’s needed.”
“Okay, make a list by five o’clock, I need to get them cleared by Jack’s uncle. Better go now. Oh, and Derek: that picture of Harcourt was dreadful—it made him look like a vampire. Everyone knows he doesn’t look like that; they’ll just think we’re being crude. That’s Jack’s comment, by the way. Any other general points?”
“We need to think carefully about Jack in the future,” said Bill, “about his relationship with this project. I mean, he’s standing right there. His independence is under threat. I know you and he are close, Ewan, and we need to think about this carefully.”
“Yup, I agree, and so does he,” said Ewan. “But I think we’d better talk about this first when he isn’t here. Agreed?”
“Okay, I think that’s it for now. Thanks everyone.”
Once they had all gone, Ewan arranged for a soldier from the entry foyer to escort me to the hotel on the site where we would be staying. He would join me later. He kissed me again, and I left.
HOTEL 1, its nameboard announced it. It was quite large, but only on three floors. I found myself in a largish room with a double bed and a bathroom—apparently where Ewan stayed when he was working at the Centre, because it was full of his things. I took my bag into the bathroom, stripped off my lifesuit and got under the shower. It was the first hot shower I’d had for months, and I luxuriated. The desire to beat off fell on me again, but for some reason I resisted it; I wanted to stay on edge that evening.
Among the things in the bathroom were a tub of hair gel and a hair dryer, and I used both. Then I put on some trunks and my golden lifesuit, and my boots.
The vision in the mirror was stunning, and quite different from the morning. The new lifesuit was completely without any feature; it was simply gold from my neck downwards. I decided not to wear my belt with it. I had just finished admiring myself when Ewan arrived.
“Oh, wow. Come here, golden boy...”
He folded me in his arms, and mine went round his body. He had to lean over to kiss me, and he put a hand on my forehead to bend my head back. The sense of being controlled, of abandoning myself, was overwhelming.
We separated, and looked at each other.
“Something’s happened to me,” I said.
“Divided feelings, remember? You told me.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“That’s all gone away,” I said. “I just—I don’t know how to describe it. I just want you to take charge, that’s it. I resented you so much to start with, that you could make me feel that way. Now I don’t. Now I know what I want. Does that make sense?”
“Yes. It’s a difficult transition. Take your time.”
“Susan said that if you really felt that it was to my benefit, you’d force me. Give me no choice.”
“She was just trying to scare you off. Naughty girl. She and I never had that kind of relationship.”
“It didn’t scare me off. It scared me, but not off, if you see what I mean.”
“But I’m not going to force you, not in the way she thinks. I’m going to wait till you’re assigned to me as your mentor. After that...
“Yes?” I said.
“The mentor rules, you’ll be amazed by them. They’ll give me everything I could need. And that’s the moment when we’ll go public. When I’ll be announced as a minister, and you as my pupil. That’s when the ambiguity of your status will be resolved.”
“You’ll prohibit me from speaking against Government policy?”
“Course not. But people will see that you are attached to the Government, even when you make criticisms. That in itself will make an important statement about what this Government is like and how it conducts its business... I’d better change myself. I—I’ll take my things into the bathroom.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I—I’m shy.”
And I sat there with a Cheshire cat grin as he showered and changed, thinking that Ewan Hart, minister in the Government, actually felt shy in front of me.
He emerged wearing a grey business suit, a white shirt and tie. It was nothing grand, but it seemed astonishingly exotic on him, and powerfully attractive. I couldn’t keep my hands off him. And as we walked down the stairs to the hotel restaurant, I found myself laughing and laughing, jumping up and down like an eight-year-old and laughing.
“What on earth’s the joke?”
“Nothing. I’m just happy. I’m so happy!”
“How good. How very good that is to hear.”