A Boy's World
I had gone over to the warehouse to check on the younger kids, and was walking along the Strip, heading back to Dagwynn's, where Jeffy and Kevin were swimming with the other boys. A car pulled up beside me.
"Hey, kid," the driver said. He was a nice-looking young man, maybe twenty or twenty-two, with sandy hair and blue eyes.
"Yeah?" I said, moving closer.
"How's it hangin'?" he asked.
"Hard and lonely," I said.
"Well, I think I can take care of that," he said, smiling warmly. "Come on!"
I pulled the door open and slipped into the passenger seat. Suddenly, a bad feeling started nagging at the back of my mind. I closed the door and we moved on down the Strip, southward. At Thurber, his car lifted and we sailed westward, rising high above dark neighborhoods.
"My name's Jerome," he said finally, breaking the silence. "What's yours?"
"Mike," I said, the standard answer.
"Been on the Strip long?"
"A while," I said.
Minutes later, we began descending into a part of the city I'd never seen before. Rows of nice, large houses filled block after block, most of which looked the same to me; I wondered how he knew which was his.
The car settled in front of a house with bright lights flooding the front apron and we glided into the garage. As the big door closed, another young man came out of an inner door to greet us. He moved to Jerome's side and hugged and kissed him as he climbed from the car. I stood and moved to the front of the car.
"Mike, this is Todd," Jerome said. "Todd, Mike."
Todd moved close, smiling, and shook my hand warmly. "Nice to meet you, Mike," he said. "Come on, let's go inside." He lead Jerome and I to the inner door and we entered an expansive kitchen.
My stomach tightened and I had a sudden urge to run, but I ignored it. As the door closed behind us, Todd pulled his shirt up over his head and dropped it carelessly on the floor. His body was beautifully muscled, with broad shoulders and a trim waist. I could see his muscles rippling as he walked confidently into the adjoining living room. His skin was smooth and creamy, with many light freckles across his shoulders.
I was already shirtless, with only short cut offs and flip-flops. My flesh was beginning to respond to this gorgeous young man, though my stomach was knotted. A firm hand rested on my shoulder and squeezed as Jerome stepped around me; he too, was now shirtless and pushing his pants down his strong legs.
Todd knelt on the floor and spread an oversized, white towel on the thick carpet. He moved onto it and motioned me over. As I stood in front of him, Todd unfastened my cut offs and slowly unzipped them. He let them slide slowly down my legs, almost gasping as my eight-incher popped out before his face.
"Wow, nice one!" Jerome remarked. He knelt beside my legs and went right to sucking me. Todd bent down and licked around my balls. As Jerome continued to suck me, Todd moved around behind me and licked deep in my cleft. Over the next twenty minutes, I gave each of them a good dose of my most precious commodity and received from each of them in my backside.
As Jerome was fucking me, Todd handed him a small, glass jar of something, which I thought was more of the lubricant he'd spread on himself and inside me before entering me. I felt him smear it on my back, well above my butt.
As he finished gushing in me, I was beginning to feel strange; the room seemed to have come unhinged from its foundations; the walls were sliding around and breathing. A lamp in the corner erupted with gold up the walls and across the ceiling; it gushed silver beneath it. The table it was standing on began to run with wood-grained blood. The carpet bubbled with fluorescent green and pink waves. I recognized the feelings of kaffra.
"What did you do?" I asked, rolling onto my back. The ceiling rippled with bright red and silver.
Todd went for my shorts, his hair a blue fire, his skin purple and yellow, and pulled my chit from the pocket. His fuscia-pink eyes popped as he saw the readout. "Jack pot!" he exclaimed. "Five million!" He tapped mine to his.
"Where'd you get all that?" Jerome asked.
I was silent, my ears were roaring and his face was flaming silver and black. "Wh-y-y?" I slurred. He said something, but I couldn't hear; colors swirled together and flared around me. I felt them lift me by my armpits and ankles. Lights of many colors moved passed me, it grew darker and then I was back in their car. I think we traveled for several minutes; even in the dark, colors swirled across the roof of the car and stars slid around through the windows.
I felt their hands on me again; I think we were out in the desert somewhere. They dragged me from the car and tossed me against a bush. In the dim light of the car, I could see something like a man's balls above my face, dangling from a thick, stubby branch. It might have been an actual man, but there were far too many balls, at least a dozen pairs! They pulsed a deep purple with halos of gold. I tried to move away, but one fell and smudged my cheek on the way to the ground. I knew my condition would get worse. Jeffy said his dad had sometimes been under the influence of koffra for weeks at a time, seemingly from a single strong dose. I would not survive that! Not out here!
The car glided away and I was alone; another pod landed on my chest and lay there; I could feel its noxious pollen invading my skin.
I felt for my shorts and found them low about my hips. I fumbled about for the pocket and managed to find my chit; I was surprised they had put it back in my pocket. I felt along its edges until I found the tiny notch. Mom always cautioned me never to press into the notch unless I was in real trouble. I pressed my fingernail into the notch and the emergency beacon started beeping softly.
That was all I could do; I could barely move, I couldn't see anything clearly except the brilliant colors that swirled around me. I couldn't hear and my hands and feet were beginning to tingle like crazy. Even with my eyes closed, the raging colors were getting stronger, brighter, more frantic.
I awoke, staring at a white ceiling. As my eyes focused, I recognized Dagwynn's room. Justin's face moved slowly above me, looking down at my body. I tried to move, but my skin was suddenly on fire, seeming to crack like charred paper, and pain filled my mind. I tried to relax, but even the bed beneath me hurt.
"Dagwynn!" Justin called. "Dagwynn, he's awake!" He looked down at me and smiled. "We were so worried about you! How do you feel?"
"Crispy," I said, feeling my lips crack as I said it.
"Yeah, you really are!" he said. "I've been putting cream on you to heal your skin, but it's working slow."
"How long?" I asked.
"You were out there for nearly a whole day before we found you," he said. "That was nine days ago."
Dagwynn and the other boys rushed into the room and gathered around me. Their smiling faces were a welcome sight; their bare bodies and dripping hair told me they'd been swimming. Jeffy and Kevin were missing; I assumed they must be over at the barn, but something in Dagwynn's face told me something was wrong. Suddenly, I missed them terribly and became desperate to see them.
I looked down and saw my skin was unnaturally brown, like tree bark. I raised up, in spite of the pain, fighting it, until I was sitting up. My skin cracked and patches sluffed off, leaving smooth, ivory skin beneath. I started peeling it off my belly and thighs, even my soft, tortured dick! The more I peeled off, the better I felt! Ryan grabbed a trash basket and the others began peeling me too, dropping the dead skin into the basket. By the time it was all off me, I was whiter than when I'd first arrived on Mandalay 2.
Suddenly, I was feeling much better. I swung my legs to the floor and stood up. Robby and Justin peeled dead skin from my backside. I grabbed my shorts, which were slung over the back of a chair, and pulled them on.
"I gotta find Jeffy," I said. "He must be worried sick!"
"Oh..." Dagwynn paused. "Uh..."
The longer he hesitated, the more urgent was my need to find Jeffy. I rushed for the door, not even bothering to slip on my flip-flops.
"Wait!" Dagwynn called after me. "They're not there!"
I stopped in the living room. "What do you mean?" I asked.
"They're gone," he said, his voice cracking slightly. "They're all gone."
I ran from the house, my eyes tearing up as the possibility of life without Jeffy tried to paralyze my mind. I couldn't accept it; I wouldn't! My heart pounded. Adrenalin pumped through my muscles, terror gripped my belly. I raced along Rainy Way, crossed Seascape Reef and the Strip without waiting for the lights to change. I rounded the corner at the Golden River and my bare feet threw up gravel from the alley. I didn't slow down until I burst into the door of the barn. It was empty.
The new bathroom, kitchen and nursery were completed, but sat unused; the place was quiet as a tomb. I raced up the stairs and found the second-level loft empty. Bare beds and a few blankets lay where I remembered them, but kids and clothes were gone. I climbed up to the third level and found the same thing. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I ran out the back door and found the alley empty; the warehouse across the street closed up and silent.
"They're all gone," Dagwynn said, catching up to me and panting hard. His arms surrounded me and I buried my face in his bare chest.
"Wha-t... ha-app-en-ed?" I sobbed.
"The Red Catholics," he said. "They took all the kids."
"Well," he began, "from what I heard, you showed them up. You showed them that they'd been derelict in their duty to the city."
"What?" I looked up into his face and saw his kind, blue eyes tearing up.
"They knew these boys were homeless, they knew there was prostitution on the Strip, and they even knew some of these kids were starving to death, but they hadn't done anything about it! And then you came, with your heart as big as the sky, and when you got a little money, you started doing good things for all the people around you. They saw the changes you made and that got them moving. They cleaned everything up - the whole Strip - all the kids - everything! They're ALL gone!"
"Where?" I asked.
"Many were taken off world," he said, "to orphanages and schools, where they'll be adopted out."
"Jeffy?" I asked. "And Kevin?"
"I'm not sure," Dagwynn said. "All the boys I used to talk to are gone, even Jimmy Legs and Tony!" We turned and started walking back to his house. "I suppose I should have made them stay with us," Dagwynn went on. "But it was crowded and they didn't want to leave the other kids alone at the barn... They all came to be with you, you know. After we found you, every single one came by to be with you - even Tony! Jeffy and Kevin wouldn't hardly leave you; they stayed with you until they could hardly keep their eyes open, and then were back at dawn!"
As we came back to the Strip, I happened to look to my left and saw up the block, that Mack's was gone! It was not just closed, but the entire kiosk was gone. Only a small foundation was left on the sidewalk where it had stood; a small barricade stood over capped-off pipes, even the tables, which seemed to grow out of the concrete like mushrooms, had been sawed off and taken away.
"What happened there?" I asked, nodding at the missing landmark.
"Mack raised a fuss when all the kids were taken," Dagwynn said. "That was most of his business, you know. So he quit and said he was moving to Nov Elgin, and the city removed his kiosk."
"All this because of me?" I was incredulous.
"Big Boy's Pizza closed, too - same thing!" he said. We walked on in silence.
"I gotta find them," I said finally. The sadness and loneliness was crushing my heart. "I don't think I can live without them."
Dagwynn raised his wristcomm and spoke, "Rick."
"Yeah," Rick responded a moment later.
"Rick, any idea how we can find Jeffy and Kevin?" Dagwynn asked.
"Uh..." he thought for a moment. "Maybe... I know this one cleric, his name is Everett; I think he gets back today from off world. He might be able to help."
"Cleric Everett?" Dagwynn confirmed. "OK, thanks, I'll check it out." The connection ended. "Well, let's go get my car and go to the cathedral!" he said.
The six of us piled out of Dagwynn's car and walked toward the massive, gothic structure, its white marble gleaming brilliantly in the mid-day sun. We were a motley mob of shirtless boys, obvious products of the licentious life-style of the Strip.
Rick's sleek little car glided up and parked beside Dagwynn's. He stepped out and joined us, grinning cheerfully. "I called Everett," he said. "He just got back from Baltimora. He says he has some very good things for us." He looked at me and slipped an arm around my shoulders. "How are you?"
"I'm OK," I said, trying to smile through my tears. "I gotta find Jeffy and Kevin; I gotta get them back."
"I know," he said. "I think Everett will be able to help."
"Rick!" came a shout from the cathedral. We looked up to see two teenaged boys in long, red robes, running down the steps toward us.
"Michael?" Rick called, unsure.
The taller boy ran at Rick and threw his arms around his shoulders. Tears rolled down both their faces and, for the first time, I saw Rick cry! I was shocked; it never even occurred to me that he could cry! I studied the tall boy's face and his identity finally came to me.
"Oh, I remember you," I said. "You're Michael!"
"Logan," the other boy corrected.
"What?" I looked at him.
"His name is Logan," the boy said.
"No, my name is Logan," I said. "His name is Michael. And you are?"
"Shane," the boy said. "But when I lived here, I was..."
"TJ!" Dagwynn said. "How've you been?"
"Much better!" TJ said.
A young, blond man, also in bright red robes, came to stand beside TJ.
"Everett," Rick croaked. "Thank you... for bringing them back."
"You're Everett?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "And you're Logan?" I nodded as we shook hands.
"I need to find Jeffy and Kevin," I said. "Do you know where they are?"
"Of course," he replied. "I couldn't let my brothers bust up your family! They're waiting for you on board."
"On board?" I asked.
Great gray and white ships lay like beached leviathans across the broad tarmac that spanned the valley floor. Starliners, freighters, corsairs, schooners and yachts of all sizes rested on cushions of light. Around the perimeter, saucer-shaped terminals glided, coming to every ship, refueling, restocking, taking passengers and cargo off, or bringing passengers and cargo to each.
I rode in Everett's car with him; TJ was in the back. Dagwynn and his boys followed in his car and Rick and Michael brought up the rear in Rick's car. Because of the ship traffic, our movements were restricted around the space port; we followed a wide, yellow line between rows of parked ships, our path occasionally running parallel to trains of cargo containers or service trucks.
Ahead, I saw a large ship, a sleek, white corsair, emblazoned with the Red Catholic seal, a red flame above a blue pool. A cargo door was opened in the side of it and Everett guided his car right inside. As soon as Rick and Dagwynn set their cars down beside Everett's, the big door began closing and force fields flashed across the opening. Even before the door was closed, I could see the ship lifting from the tarmac, the surrounding landscape falling away.
"Come on," Everett said, and opened his door. "Let's go up to the forward lounge."
Before I could even get out of the car, Jeffy and Kevin ran at me and leaped into my arms. Suddenly, tears filled my eyes as I hugged and kissed them both. "Oh, I thought I'd lost you!" I whimpered.
"We thought you were gonna die!" Jeffy said.
"No, from a little sunburn?" I said. "I'm already healed! Look, I have new skin, thanks to you guys and your magic cream!"
"Hahaha - magic cream!" Jeffy chuckled. It was wonderful to see him smile again.
"Logan!" came another cry, and Nick and Nathan, both stark naked, launched themselves at me. I hugged and kissed them too, and then Danya, Bobby and Josh, and all the other kids from the barn. Zander, Jamie and Chaz were there, too. They all greeted me affectionately.
"I'm surprised to see all of you in Red Catholic robes!" I said, grinning.
"Oh, these are great!" Danya exclaimed, pulling his open to expose his lean, naked body. The others nodded agreement and also flashed delicious expanses of smooth, bare flesh.
"You see?" Everett said, smiling. "Being a Red has its perks! I tried to get those two to wear the robes too," he indicated the twins, "but they were afraid you wouldn't recognize them with clothes!"
I laughed and gave them each another kiss; they grinned sheepishly. "Where are we going, anyway?" I asked.
"Come on," Everett said. "I have a couple more surprises for you."
We followed him to a pod that took us up four decks and then forward, to the bow of the ship. When the doors opened, we stepped out into a spacious lounge, with broad ports that looked into space. Clouds of luminance, like patches of tangled webs and streaks of color, stippled with brilliant stars, were already moving around us; the constellations were sliding and morphing, but this time, it wasn't my crazy eyes, we were really moving through them.
Jimmy Legs, Jake and Kyle sat on a plush sofa, with drinks in their hands, hypnotized by the sights of interstellar travel. Tony and his gang of four boys sat on adjacent chairs, also enjoying the view. Several other boys that I recognized from the Strip were there, too, some from Zander's house, some friends of Chaz, and others I didn't really know. Jennica and Larissa were there as well, and several other girls from the Strip.
"OK, everybody gather around," Everett called. He brought a pad from the folds of his robe. "Logan, let me see your chit." He took my chit and swiped it across the top of his pad. "I've just transferred back to you all the money that was stolen from you - all five million - and also copies from the Earth Registry, giving you full ownership and all rights to the star system your grandfather bought."
"Oh my God!" I exclaimed. "I thought all that was gone forever!"
"By the way," Everett went on, "according to the records, he named it after you - Logania! Rick said the guys that murdered your parents also stole the records, and he asked me if I could do anything. I checked with the Earth Registry and found all your grandfather's records in tact. You are your grandfather's only heir, correct?"
"Yes, that's right," I said.
"An advance ship of our's went to Logania and arrested the one survivor of their group," Everett said. "It seems they also murdered each other, and the survivor will be spending the rest of his life in prison."
"Wow!" I said. "That's way more than I could have hoped for! I love justice! Oh, and speaking of justice, what happened to the guys that stole my money?"
"They're in jail," Everett said. "In addition to grand theft, they're facing two counts of rape of an under-aged youth, kidnapping, assault, attempted murder - they'll be paying for a long time!"
"Are they Nirkads?" Jeffy asked.
"No," Everett said. "Just assholes!"
"Are we going to Logania now?" Dagwynn asked.
"Yes, it's not far," Everett said. "We should be there in a couple hours."
"Because I can't leave my Grandma home alone."
"Don't worry," Everett said. "We've already contacted her and told her you're with us. A cleric will stay with her, in addition to the bots you bought to take care of the house. She'll be fine until you get back. In fact, we offered to bring her with us, but she said she wanted to think about it first. I think she wants to see what you think about it before she decides."
"How did you do all this?" Jeffy asked.
"Actually, I had Logan's money and documents when I got back from Baltimora," Everett said. "I was just about to go get him, when Rick called and told me he was on his way to me. That's why I had my brothers gather all of you together, from our operation on the Strip; I knew Logan would need help with his new system. And you," he pointed at Jeffy, "I have information about your parents."
Jeffy suddenly clung hard to my arm. I could see tears welling up in his eyes. "I killed them!" he squeaked, and his lips began to twist.
"No, you didn't!" Everett said. "Michael told me you blamed yourself, so I looked into the police records. They say the fire started in the kitchen, with a defective element in the back of the oven; your microwave generator was switched off. They also had a few thousand credits in their accounts, so if you'll show me your chit, I'll transfer them to you. You are their only heir, correct?"
Jeffy nodded, smiling and much relieved to know it wasn't his fault. He wiped the tears from his eyes and handed Everett his chit.
"Well, I see someone has been very generous to you," Everett said. He swiped Jeffy's chit and handed it back.
"Logan takes care of me," he said. Over the last couple weeks, I had given everybody in the barn many thousands of credits, just for their own peace of mind, and Jeffy and Kevin especially; I made sure they each had at least fifty thousand.
"By the way," Everett continued, "you also now own what's left of your parents' house, if you should decide to rebuild and live there, or sell it, or whatever..."
Jeffy nodded. "Thank you," he whispered.
"And I have something for you," Everett said, moving to Rick. "Your uncle was a Nirkad and died with them. We made a deal with your cousins to give you all his holdings. Your cousins will still have their territories and holdings, but will inherit nothing from your uncle. Show me your chit." Everett swiped Rick's chit along the top of his pad. "You now own half of Mandalay 2, all the other planets and moons in the system, all mining operations and mineral rights - and that now includes Zeddediah McDuff's former holdings - as well as several properties in and around Mandalay City, including the Golden River Casino and the entire Capital Mall."
Rick stood silently for a long moment and I thought he might faint. Finally, he wobbled back and slumped into a chair. Michael knelt beside him, smiling, and took his hand.
"Congratulations, Rick!" I said. "You're the richest man on the planet!"
"On several planets!" Dagwynn corrected.
"Care to invest in a new system?" I asked, grinning.
"Haha!" Rick chuckled, a little breathless.
"We've already made some improvements to the primary planet," Everett said. "Your grandfather named it Janice, after your mother. We've taken the liberty of constructing a small settlement in a very nice area. There is housing and supplies enough to last all of you at least a year."
"Not all hotdogs, I hope!" Tony exclaimed.
Everett chuckled. "No, not all! And not clap-trap apartments, either! In fact, there are five ships traveling with us, in trail, and they are carrying many more materials for real houses, offices, shops and other buildings, and of course, a new cathedral for a new order."
"I don't know what to say!" I admitted. "This is all too much!"
"No kidding!" Rick chimed.
"Take your time," Everett said. "There's no rush to do anything and I and my brothers will always be there to help in any way we can! It's the least we can do for the one who showed us some of our own failings!"
Ryan knelt at my knees, looked humbly into my eyes and asked, "When we go back to Mandalay, can I have your airbike?"
The seven-hundred-foot corsair screamed out of the sky and settled to a feather-soft landing in the midst of a grassy field, scattering a herd of large, hump-backed animals. The ship didn't actually touch the ground, but hovered on a broad cushion of blue light.
Tall, billowing trees and thickets of trees dotted miles of open, gently rolling pasture. Streams meandered across the planes from the rocky escarpments in the east, and a tranquil, turquoise ocean spread out to the west.
"Wow, it looks beautiful!" I remarked, as I watched our descent from the wide, forward ports.
"We are right on the equator, here," Everett said. "The climate is warm and mild, and it rains a little every day; perfect for any resort!"
"Is it safe?" Dagwynn asked.
"Oh yes," Everett replied. "The atmosphere is a little richer in oxygen than Mandalay 2, but not as hot; there's lots of life here, but the survey teams didn't report anything dangerous. Let's go take a look!"
We followed Everett back down to the big cargo hold and the cars we'd left there. Upon exiting the pod, I saw the big door was already opened and bots were unloading huge cargo containers.
Rather than getting into Everett's car again, I walked to the cargo door and down the ramp. Fresh, clean air greeted me with a dozen sweet scents and the salt of the sea. Bright sunshine shown on my shoulders, warming my skin, but, unlike Mandalay, it didn't burn. I stepped down onto my planet. 'MY planet!' I thought. Jeffy and Kevin came to my side and stepped down into the soft, green grass with me. "My world!" I said. "Our world!" I slipped an arm around each of them. "We're home!"
To my right, I could see clusters of buildings, like giant, white mushrooms, along a bluff overlooking a broad, sandy beach. I looked around and saw all the other kids standing behind me.
"Everett!" I called; he was standing behind the crowd, "send word to every Red Catholic order in the galaxy. All the kids on every planet, who are orphans or outcasts, or alone, like us: they're all welcome to come here! We want them all!"
"That could be a billion or more!" Everett said.
"This looks like a pretty big planet," I said.
Suddenly, something came over all of us; I could feel it, an excitement, a swelling of power in my heart. With all we'd been through, loosing our families, one way or another, being alone on the streets, groped and slobbered on by strangers, used and abused - after all that, finally, victory was ours! I grabbed Jeffy's and Kevin's hands and raised them into the air. I saw others follow suit. Together, we shouted, "YEAH-AH-AH-AH!" and all of us ran across the grassy field, toward the beach, our new home.
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