The Nexus

by David Clarke

Chapter 7


It took us a while to ferry everything up to the hut, but we got there in the end. And then we had to move it all down the tunnel to the barrier, and that took a while as well: Stefan had decided to move almost everything, including the tents and sleeping bags. I couldn't understand why, since we had bunks and a dormitory to sleep in, but he simply said that we couldn't foresee what might be waiting for us through the next door, and I suppose there was some truth in that.

Eventually we got everything piled up outside the barrier, and then Oli started to get undressed so that he could go through and open it up for us. And Alain stripped off as well, saying that he wasn't going to let his little yokel go inside on his own, just in case there was any danger. But there didn't seem to be, because only half a minute after the two of them disappeared into the barrier there was a humming sound and it disappeared. They came back to where we were waiting and Alain got dressed again, though we weren't too surprised to see that Oli didn't bother.

"Well," he said, "I'd only have to undress again to go through the barrier downstairs, so it doesn't seem worth it."

Eventually we got everything stowed away, either in the office or upstairs in the dormitory area. Finally we went back to the corridor, where we turned the mopeds round to face back towards home, topped up the tanks with fuel from the black jerry-can and then put the can down in the corridor, leaving the mopeds in the tunnel beyond the barrier. Stefan reactivated the barrier and we headed back to the office, and once we were safely inside we reactivated the second barrier too.

We went to the kitchen to see what sort of equipment they might have and discovered a big walk-in freezer containing several large joints of meat and a number of racks of frozen vegetables, so at least it seemed unlikely that we would starve. Then we picked out somewhere to sleep. The officers' rooms only had one bunk in, but we got around that problem by carrying in a second bunk and setting them up next to each other. It didn't leave a lot of room for anything else, but that didn't worry us too much.

Alain and Oli did the same thing with a room on the opposite side of the dormitory, and as soon as their room was ready Oli grabbed Alain's arm and pulled him towards the shower room.

"Come on, Alain - let's go and play in the magic rain!" he cried.

"All right, but let me get undressed first!" demanded Alain, pulling his arm free and throwing his clothes off. Oli, of course, still wasn't wearing any.

"You know, that's not a bad idea after lugging all that stuff about," I said. "What do you reckon, Stefi - fancy a shower?"

"Why not?" he said, and we trotted back to our room, stripped off, grabbed some shampoo, soap and a towel each and headed for the shower room.

I'd never shared a shower before... well, obviously I'd been in a shower at the same time as other boys on Games Days at school, but somehow this wasn't quite the same. For a start, in the showers at school none of the other boys decided to wash me all over while I stood still under the showerhead. But that's what Stefan did now, soaping me all over (and I do mean all over) and then shampooing my hair for me. It was an astoundingly sensuous experience, and when he thought my penis needed washing yet again, just to make absolutely sure it was clean, I don't know how I managed not to spurt. Of course, then I got to do it to him, and his control wasn't quite as good as mine, because he did spurt, although once that had happened he took hold of mine again, and this time he didn't stop until I'd lost control, too.

After that we just stood quietly, with Stefan standing behind me and holding me gently while we allowed the water to course down our bodies. We watched Alain and Oli, who were wrestling all over the floor, chasing each other and apparently trying to pull each other's genitals off. Finally I told them that they probably ought to have a proper wash and then get out before the hot water ran out, although if (as I suspected) the power system here was some sort of geothermal set-up, then probably the hot water wouldn't run out at all.

Stefan and I got out and dried each other and then went to our room to make sure that the mattresses weren't too uncomfortable, and although the double bunk was a fair bit smaller than the bed in Orschwiller, and a bit harder, too, I thought we'd be able to sleep on it fairly comfortably. Or not sleep, if we thought of anything else to do instead.

Just to practice that for a bit we had another cuddle (after all, we were probably a bit too spent to do anything overtly sexual for a while), and we found that we were able to do that without any problem. And it felt nice just relaxing in each other's arms, so much so that neither of us felt like doing anything else for quite a long time. In fact it wasn't until Alain and Oli came looking for us that we bothered getting off the bed at all.

They were both dressed, though Oli was only wearing his little blue dress again, so 'dressed' is a relative term. Still, having the pair of them actually wearing clothes and looking at me and Stefan, who were wearing nothing except our necklaces, felt a bit strange - though I realised that in fact I didn't really mind, because, after all, the four of us were becoming something close to a family by now.

"Are we going to eat soon?" asked Alain. "I mean, we're growing boys and we need feeding regularly."

"In that case I'm obviously going to have to teach you how to cook," I said, getting up and pulling on my boxers, shorts and shirt. I didn't think I needed any footwear - neither Alain nor Oli was wearing anything on his feet.

I led them to the kitchen and examined the cooking equipment. The cookers appeared to be large but otherwise fairly normal ones with a separate ceramic hob (in fact there were three of these), but the controls didn't seem to be calibrated in either centigrade or Fahrenheit - instead the dial simply had ten equally spaced marks on it. Oh, well, I thought, most of our ready meals carry gas mark as well as centigrade, so I'll use the gas mark and adjust up a bit and we'll see what happens...

I suppose I should say that I like cooking. I know that's unusual for a boy of my age, but I've been helping my mother in the kitchen since I was very young, and so I know quite a lot about it. Not that I'd ever expected to find myself cooking for four boys in an abandoned military base, but I supposed that if I could cook in my mother's kitchen I could cook here, too, even if the controls were a bit strange.

In addition to the freezer, there were also storage cupboards here that held plenty of dried food, including enough rice to keep us going for years. But for now I simply settled for some more of our ready meals, heated up on one of the hobs, and while it wasn't quite the same as home-made it was good enough to keep Alain quiet.

Once we had eaten we went back to the office and started checking through the computer's primary menu. We thought we'd found what we were looking for fairly quickly, as there was a description of what the computer called the Nexus Room, together with an explanation of where some of the doors went. But fairly soon we realised that it wasn't the room of doors that we knew about, because there seemed to be only fifteen doors listed, and in the end it dawned on us that all the references in the piece to 'The Hub' were talking about what our dead friend called Hub One. And as that wasn't this one, obviously the Nexus Room wasn't our room of doors, either.

There didn't seem to be a lot of point in reading about a lot of worlds reached from a completely different room, and so we flipped back and tried looking elsewhere, only to get bogged down in a lot of technical language about the mechanics of moving from world to world. We couldn't understand any of it, and so we tried somewhere else... and so on, for most of the afternoon.

But then we found a sub-menu headed 'Timeline', which we thought might at least tell us a bit about how long the tunnels had been here, and so we opened that - and now finally we learned something about how the tunnels had come to be built in the first place.

It wasn't quite as straightforward as it might have been because the calendar used bore little resemblance to ours: for a start the first year mentioned was 2694, and we thought that nothing we'd seen so far could possibly date from seven hundred years into the future - at least, not unless every science fiction book, film and TV programme we had ever seen was hopelessly off-beam. Which meant that this had to be a different method of counting years.

Similarly the months were weird: they had a lot more than thirty days, for a start, and the names bore no resemblance to the months we use. We had just about worked out from Dead Guy's diary that some months had around forty-five days, though whether this was true of every month we had no idea. And of course that left five or six days unaccounted for - assuming, that is, that every tunnel led to a version of Earth with a year of 365 and a bit days...

Okay, so we were guessing. But we were still able to get a broad picture...

Roughly eighty years ago someone had accidentally discovered a place where it was possible to move from one version of reality, or one version of history if you prefer, to another. In fact he probably wasn't the first, but any poor sods who had stumbled through the open portal before him hadn't managed to find their way back again. It had happened while he was walking in the Black Forest, which was not that far away on the other side of the River Rhine, and we weren't too surprised to learn that he'd walked into a thick bank of mist, and when he walked out the other side he found himself in a place where everyone spoke a version of Greek - apparently in that world the Roman Empire had never existed and Greece had been the dominant Mediterranean power throughout the Classical era..

Fortunately this man was a seasoned walker and so had plenty of equipment with him, including a decent compass and good quality detailed maps, and that meant that he was able to pinpoint the place where he had crossed over. And he was a scientist, too, so when he got back he started a proper investigation. The timeline didn't give us a lot of detail, but apparently he was able to identify certain factors that contributed to the phenomenon, including magnetic fields, temperature conditions and some sort of particle in the air, and so although the original portal was unstable and vanished after a couple of days, he had managed to gather enough information to start a series of experiments to recreate the portal artificially.

It eventually became clear that it was not possible to do this in the laboratory: it could only be done in the same geographical location. Later still the scientists came to the conclusion that the portals couldn't be opened just anywhere: it had to be in a place where the basic geography was the same in both worlds. You couldn't open a portal in mid-air, for example. So they went back to the slopes of the Feldberg in the Black Forest, where the original portal had been found, and they built a laboratory near to the exact spot and began experimenting.

There were a few links here that led to a lot of technical stuff that neither of us could understand, so we stuck to the main narrative and learned that eventually an artificial portal had been established. Later still the scientists had developed a device for locating possible weak points between dimensions where a portal might be established, and had soon discovered four or five such points in the same general area: they came to the conclusion that this part of the Black Forest was on the dimensional equivalent of a fault line between two tectonic plates, except that here it was different worlds that were very close together instead of different chunks of the earth.

We skipped forward a bit and found that the artificial portals were easily disrupted by strong winds or other severe weather, and so the scientists hit on the idea of establishing the Nexus Room underground and initially having the actual outlets flat on the surface - so originally it was the trapdoor into each hut that was the point at which the dimension changed. Once the portal was established, the small ladder room was dug out in the new dimension and the portal was re-established at the door from it into the tunnel, and from that point on the portal was completely underground and so protected from the elements.

The whole underground complex, apart from the ladder rooms, existed only in the original world, the one whose scientists had discovered about the portals in the first place. The huts had been added to protect the portals, and each hut had a defence mechanism of a mist generator, which was supposed to prevent the hut being found at all by anyone who didn't know it was there (and they also sited other mist generators here and there in the mountains, so that a single patch of mist would not look too unusual), an electronic lock, and a concealed switch to open the trapdoor, which was itself supposed to be more or less undetectable.

I presumed that the same defences were in use around our Nexus Room, but the mist generators were obviously not all working properly, the lock system had failed completely, and not all the trapdoors were as undetectable as all that. After all, I'd found one when I wasn't even looking for it.

Apparently after a while the motivation for finding new portals switched from pure exploration to a search for minerals. There was never any intention to conquer the new worlds by military means, even though this would doubtless have been easy in the case of worlds such as Alain and Oli's: instead small parties were sent through to explore and to try to find out about natural resources. These parties tried to blend in with the local population: advance scouts found out about clothing, language and customs, and then the explorers did their best to remain unobtrusive wherever possible.

I was interested by the language issue: we knew the database held a vast number of languages, and I wondered how this had been built up. I knew that in my own world explorers discovering hitherto unknown tribes in places like the upper reaches of the Amazon had been able to use computers to help them build up a model of the local language, but I was under the impression that this was a long and difficult operation. Presumably this world had found a much faster method, which meant that the explorers would have been able to learn to communicate in the local languages.

Some thirty years after the original discovery the first Nexus room controlled the entrance to eleven other worlds, and it was at that point that the researchers, who had been casting up and down the dimensional fault line for four or five years, discovered a second weak spot up here in the Vosges, and work had begun on building a second Nexus room and an associated military post - for although the creators of the Hub had no intention of invading any new world, it was always possible that they might stumble into a world whose own inhabitants might instead want to invade theirs....

And at that point, with the story of the building of the place we were now sitting in, we broke off for the night. Of course I have given only the bare bones of the story here: we'd spent a long time following links into related areas, and there had also been quite a lot about the politics of the Hub World that we had read but which didn't seem really relevant to the main story. So now it was about ten in the evening and we'd have been thinking about going to bed even if Alain hadn't come to find us at that point.

"Have you been sitting here ever since we ate?" he asked. "Gods, that must be boring, just looking at a load of little squiggles. Me and Oli have been exploring a bit and we've found a new room with some big machines in - come and have a look!"

So we followed him up to the dormitory, and this time he took us through the third dormitory and down a flight of stairs at the far end of it, and here we found what had to be a laundry, with a long row of industrial-sized washing machines, something that I assumed was a press of some sort and one other machine whose purpose eluded me. Next to the laundry was a clothing store-room containing, so far as we could tell, mainly military uniforms in a dark green colour, although a search in a far corner also revealed a supply of underwear and a rack of sheets, pillow-cases and towels.

"What sort of magic to these things do, then?" asked Oli, once we had returned to the laundry.

"They clean your clothes," I said. "You put your dirty clothes into one of the machines and press a button, and some time later they come out clean."

"Wow, that's a really sensible bit of magic!" cried Oli, pulling his dress off. "I was afraid I was going to have to spend ages bashing this about in a trough, like we did on the farm - except we didn't do it very often there, because it took a lot of effort and most of us didn't have anything else to wear while it was drying. Show me how it works, then!" And he thrust the dress into my hands.

I examined the nearest machine. On the one at home there's an on-off switch, a selector dial to choose which washing cycle you want, another little button to indicate whether it's a full load or a half load, and there's a little drawer divided into compartments where you put the washing powder, the softener and other stuff like bleach. This machine had none of these except the on-off switch and a second switch that had two settings, a small white circle and a second circle of cyan, magenta and yellow. There were tubes running into the machine from a central hopper overhead, and I guessed this would contain washing powder and so on.

Okay, this looks simple enough, I thought. I opened the lid and dropped Oli's dress into the machine, closed the lid, moved the switch to point at the coloured circle and pressed the on switch. And the machine began to make normal washing-machine-type noises.

While we were waiting we went and had a search through the store-room to see if there was anything that would fit us, but we were not too surprised to find that it was adult sizes only. Still, at least we would be able to change the sheets on our bunks every day if we wanted to.

Stefan found a cupboard containing caps, like a sort of military baseball cap but with a much smaller visor, and we found that several of these were small enough to fit. Stefan said he had a uniform cap that was a bit like this back at his school, though this one had a yellow and black roundel on instead of a German eagle. Alain found one that fitted Oli, who of course was wearing nothing else at the moment, and somehow Oli in an army cap and nothing else looked even more alluring than Oli wearing nothing at all.

"He looks good, doesn't he?" commented Alain, echoing my thoughts. "Don't you think our little Oli is really beautiful?"

Of course, the word 'beau' is generally translated as 'handsome' when applied to males, but I was pretty sure that Alain actually meant 'beautiful', because he was right. Not in the same way as Stefan, who was truly handsome in an unmistakably masculine way, but Oli was undeniably cute, all the same.

Oli posed for a moment, then made a rude noise and ran off with Alain in pursuit.

"I am glad we brought them with us," commented Stefan. "It is clear that they like each other very much. I would not have liked to think of such a beautiful boy sacrificed for the harvest."

"Hey, you're not supposed to look at other boys," I protested, hypocritically. "You're only supposed to look at me."

"Do not be stupid. You are my friend, and I would not exchange you for anyone. And I have said before that you are handsome, even though you do not believe it of yourself. But Olivier is good to look at - and I know that you think this, because I have seen you looking at him."

"Okay, you're right," I admitted. "Actually, I don't think Alain is bad-looking, either - but I still think you're the best-looking of all of us."

"Then I will forgive you for looking at Olivier. So... perhaps we should go to bed and cuddle some more?"

"I think that's a brilliant idea. We'd better wait and make sure Oli's dress comes out okay, though."

The machine seemed a lot faster than the one at home, where even a half-load can take three-quarters of an hour. When we got back to the machine we found that eight of the little row of ten lights below the on-off switch were already lit, and the whole cycle took less than half an hour - and when the dress emerged it was not only clean, but dry, too.

"Hey, Oli!" I yelled, and a few seconds later Alain came back down the stairs - apparently they had been up in the third dormitory - carrying Oli on his shoulders.

"Wow, it's warm!" commented Oli, taking his dress from me. "Help me do it up, Alain!"

He removed the army cap, pulled the dress over his head and allowed Alain to finish doing up the zip at the back. I knew Oli was capable of doing it up and undoing it himself, but it was obvious that he liked letting Alain help him, too. Then he put the cap back on, twirled and grinned at us.

"How do I look?" he asked, coquettishly.

"Well, it would be better if the hat was the same colour as the dress," commented Stefan.

"I don't think it matters," said Alain. "He looks good whatever he wears."

"That's true," I agreed. "Anyway - I think we ought to go to bed. It's late."

So we headed back to the first dormitory and then we all went to the washroom to clean our teeth - it was a habit we were trying to get Oli and Alain into - and then Oli asked if we could go to his room to say goodnight to him. We hadn't done that before, but I saw no reason not to, so Stefan and I went to Oli's room. He and Alain got undressed, and then Oli sat on the side of the bed.

"I just wanted to say how much fun it is being with you," he said. "Since we left the farm it's been the best time of my life: I've seen all these magic machines and stuff, and I've done things I would never have done at home if I'd lived to be fifty - like driving a magic carriage and playing in the warm rain... and I've got a big brother now, and I suppose you two are like cousins, or something. So even if something went wrong and I ended up getting sacrificed after all, I wouldn't mind half as much now, because I've had a chance to do loads of amazing stuff first."

"Nobody's going to sacrifice you ever, little yokel," declared Alain, sitting up next to him and hugging him hard. "Nobody hurts my little brother unless they want me to beat them to death."

"So I wanted to say thank you for letting me come with you," Oli went on. "And to show you how happy I am about it." And he stood up, and before I realised what he was going to do he threw his arms round me and kissed me on the cheek. And then he did the same thing to Stefan.

"All right, you can go now," said Alain. "The only person he's going to kiss from now on is me."

"Right. Goodnight, then," said Stefan, who had recovered faster than me. "Come on, Jake."

He grabbed my wrist and pulled me out of the room, and I recovered enough to call 'Goodnight!' over my shoulder just before Stefan closed their door for them.

"You know," he said as we crossed the dormitory to our room, "that is the first time that anyone except for my mother has ever kissed me."

"Me, too," I said, touching my cheek. "I liked it, though."

"I thought that you would. So, perhaps we should try it together?"

I hadn't expected that at all - I mean, sex was one thing, but kissing was something else entirely, suggesting an emotional relationship rather than a mere physical one.

"Okay, if you like," I said, trying to sound nonchalant and probably failing miserably.

As soon as we were back in our room I threw my clothes off and got into bed, and Stefan closed the door, undressed a little more slowly, turned the light off and then got in next to me. And for a long time we cuddled and practised kissing, first on the cheek and then on the lips, and it felt wonderful - in fact I felt the same way as Oli did: if I had to die next day at least I'd do so having experienced the best evening of my life first.

"I have been thinking," Stefan said as we settled down to sleep, "I should return home soon... but I do not wish to. This is a great adventure, and you are a friend such as I have never had before. And so I will stay here with you for as long a time as you wish - even if we do not return home for many weeks."

I'd been thinking about that, too, and feeling more than a little guilty about it: probably Jean-Marie's school would be in trouble for losing one of its visitors, and my parents would be really worried... maybe they'd even stop fighting for a while to worry about me instead. But to be honest I felt much the way Stefan did: if I went home now I'd be going back to recriminations for getting lost, to staying with a blatantly straight French boy who had already made it clear that he'd much sooner spend time with his girlfriend, to a school in England where nobody really noticed that I existed at all, and to parents on the brink of divorce. And given the choice between that and spending time with a beautiful boy with whom I was rapidly falling in love and with two other boys who not only knew that I existed but who obviously liked me, and having a really exciting adventure, too... well, there was only ever going to be one outcome.

"I feel the same," I said. "And I'm not going to rush away and leave all this until we've found out more about it and explored some more worlds - at least, not if you're going to be with me, I'm not."

"Good," he said. "Then it is decided that we stay here." And he kissed me once more and rolled over to go to sleep.

I would have been quite happy to stay in bed the next morning - in fact the prospect of an entire day just cuddling with Stefan would have been completely acceptable, had it not been for the fact that I was hungry. So I slipped out of bed, being careful not to wake Stefan up, and after a quick visit to the washroom I went to the kitchen. I was wary of using anything that wasn't frozen: I didn't know how long Dead Guy had actually been dead, but we knew that he had been the last person alive in the place, and so it was a safe bet that anything not frozen or tinned would be long past its sell-by date.

However, I'd managed to pack a couple of boxes of cereal and some long-life milk and orange juice, so at least I was able to eat a decent breakfast without searching through the freezer. Once I'd eaten I did have a quick look (I didn't want to stay in the freezer for very long because I was only wearing my boxers) and found some sausages, some bacon and a number of frozen loaves of bread, so once the cereal ran out we would have an alternative breakfast available - provided I wasn't going to let my religion raise too many objections, that is.

I laid out three more places with bowls, spoons and glasses and went to wake the others up. Stefan was already stirring, but the other two were still fast asleep in each other's arms, and they looked so cute that I didn't have the heart to wake them. Stefan went and washed and then ate breakfast, and afterwards he went back to our room and emerged fully dressed, including shoes and socks.

"You, too,' he instructed me. "And from now on we carry a flashlight with us at all times. We know there is a power problem here, and if the lights go out we do not want to be searching in the dark for our shoes: we need to be ready to go to the tunnel without delay. We have been lazy until now, and that is not how I was taught."

I supposed that made sense, and so I went and got dressed, too, and once I was ready Stefan and I went back down to the office, where Stefan put one of our flashlights into his bag and set a battery-powered camping lamp on the desk beside the computer keyboard.

"Now if the power fails we will be ready," he said. "So - shall we continue to read?"

So we continued following the timeline from the point we had reached the previous evening. The building of our Nexus Room and Hub had begun between forty and forty-five years ago, and once the Nexus Room was complete, with the first five portals established, exploration had begun in earnest. And, just as had happened with the original Nexus Room, the explorers found a wide range of different worlds, including one in which there were no people at all because, as far as the explorers could tell, Man had never evolved. This world was of course perfect from the point of view of mineral extraction, and quite a lot of time and energy went into that project. Other worlds were more advanced, and in the case of the most advanced ones no attempt was made to investigate too deeply, since it was felt that it would not be wise to give a more advanced culture any hint that the Nexus existed.

So exploration from both Nexus points continued slowly, with long delays caused by the need to divert resources into mining on the primitive world and also by the fact that getting the co-ordinates to a new world was still a very slow process: years went by between the opening of one gateway and the next.

And at that point we were interrupted by the arrival of Alain and Oli.

"We thought you'd be being boring down here again," said Alain. "We're going to do some more exploring!"

"Wait a moment," said Stefan. "We know there are problems with the power supply here, so if you are going anywhere I want you to be properly equipped. So you should put some shoes on - yes, you too, Olivier - and you should carry a bag with a flashlight in."

He handed Alain my small bag, first showing him how to turn the torch on and off.

"Cool! Another magic toy!" declared Oli.

"This one's not a toy," I said. "The magic doesn't last for very long, so you mustn't use it unless you have to. Don't turn it on unless the lights go out."

"If that does happen, come to meet us here," added Stefan. "We will wait for you here, and then we can all leave together. I do not want to lose you."

They went back upstairs and returned five minutes later: Alain had put on a shirt, and both boys were wearing shoes, though Oli's very boyish trainers looked a bit odd with his blue dress. Alain had my bag on his back.

"Good. If you find anything interesting, come and tell us," said Stefan. "And if you go through the barrier, you must turn it back on once you are outside it. I am certain that Olivier will not object to remove his clothes to do this..."

"Don't touch any buttons or anything," I added. "And be careful!"

They left us to our reading, and we got back to the narrative. The one thing that was lacking from our point of view was any indication of which door went to which world. I was sure that this information would be on the computer somewhere, but none of the links we followed helped us.

Eventually the Vosges Hub was completed and the Nexus Room was fully built, with twenty tunnels provided, even though at this stage not all of them had been opened at the surface end. Gradually more and more portals were opened and exploration continued... and then, a little over a year ago (though we were guessing a bit here, since we still didn't know what 'this' year was in the local calendar), everything went wrong.

The disaster occurred at the Black Forest Nexus when the fifteenth portal was opened, first because it led into a world controlled by a hostile people, and worse, because the native people quickly found out about the portal and seized it. And after that exploration at the other portals was stopped to concentrate on trying to regain the portal and defend the first Nexus Room.

The building of the barriers started during this period, first at the original Hub, in order to prevent the enemy from taking the computers and research facilities, and second at Hub Two, in order to ensure that if the worst happened at least the second half of the operation could survive.

And that was as far as the official timeline went. We knew from Dead Guy's diary that things had apparently gone badly since, though it would appear that the enemy hadn't reached this place, and that - at least at the time of the last diary entry - there was no evidence they had actually penetrated Hub One, either.

There was a link that told us a bit more about the enemy, though. Dead Guy had called them 'Greys' and we'd assumed that this referred to the colour of their uniforms, but it turned out we were wrong: it referred to the colour of their skin. Theirs was a world with a completely different history and even pre-history, because the explorers believed that the dominant species in that world had evolved from reptiles instead of mammals.

Next we spent a while searching elsewhere, still hoping to find a proper record of which door led where. But after a further hour or so we were no wiser, and at that point I thought we deserved a break.

"Come on," I said, "let's leave this for a bit and go and do something more fun."

"What would you have us do?"

"I don't know. Let's go back upstairs and see if we can think of something."

I wondered if we should leave a note for Alain and Oli, but since neither of them could read that seemed a bit pointless - and no doubt when they found we weren't in the office they would come upstairs to look for us.

"Do you have any playing cards?" Stefan asked, once we were back in our room.


"That is unfortunate. When I went to my first Jungvolk camp a comrade showed me a card game that was fun to play. The person who lost each round had to remove an item of clothing until someone was naked."

"And did you lose?"

"Naturally not. I am a good player of card games."

"Then perhaps it's a good thing I haven't got any cards. But... if you like we could play a strip game. It would be a game of skill, though, so probably you would not want to risk it."

"I do not think I could be beaten at any game of skill."

"We'll find out. See, there's a stop-watch on my watch. I'll start it and then try to stop it at exactly five seconds, and then you start it again and try to stop it at exactly ten seconds, and we'll see whose reactions are best. If I get closer to the exact time than you, you have to take something off."

"And you think your reactions are better than are mine? Do not forget that I am a superman."

"And I'm a subhuman - yes, I know. And that's going to make you look even sillier when you lose. Okay, ready? Then I'll start."

I'd practised this a few times in the past - it was a good way of sharpening my reactions. On the other hand, I'd never played a strip version against another person, though I saw no reason why that should cause me any problem. I stopped the watch at 4.96 seconds and handed it to Stefan, whose first attempt was, as I had expected, not too good: he stopped the watch at 10.34.

"Hah!" I jeered. So who's the superman now? Take something off, Stefi."

I won the first three rounds, but then he got the hang of it, and the remaining games were a lot closer - too close, in fact, because I lost the next four goes. Then I won again, and after that we stayed neck and neck - but I still lost the vital round.

"Come, Jake, remove that underwear," demanded Stefan, grinning at me. "And, no, you cannot count your glasses as clothing. Now - when I played this game at Jungvolk camp we continued to play another ten rounds, and each time the naked boy lost he was given a penalty to perform. Perhaps ten rounds is too many as we are just two - shall we say five more rounds?"

Somehow the idea of Stefan giving me forfeits struck me as really interesting, so immediately I had another go - and for some reason my co-ordination completely disappeared: I lost the next four rounds, although I did manage to win the final round, just to demonstrate that I wasn't completely hopeless.

"Four penalties," said Stefan, grinning at me. "I wonder what I can think of to give you to do?"

So did I, and I was hoping he'd think of something interesting. To prod him along a bit I said, "I don't care what you give me - you won't be able to think of anything so bad I can't do it, anyway."

"Well, the first penalty is easy," he said. "You lost four times after you were naked, so your first penalty is that you have to stay naked for four hours. So you will still be naked when Alain and Oli return, so they will be able to laugh at you for losing. I will keep your clothes, in case there is a power problem, but you may wear nothing except the neck chain you are wearing now."

We'd agreed not to count the necklaces, so all I was wearing now, apart from my specs, was Stefan's swastika.

"That's easy," I said. "I have nothing to be ashamed of, so I don't care if you lot see me naked. What else?"

"Get into bed. You have to cuddle with me for half an hour."

"That's not a penalty," I said. "That's a reward."

"Then we shall not count it as a penalty. I will try to think of three more penalties while we cuddle."

That suited me just fine, so we got into bed and snuggled up close, and it felt as wonderful as it usually did.

"It is hard to think of any penalty, because you like doing everything the same as I do," commented Stefan.

"That's okay, you can just keep them until you do think of something," I offered.

After a bit we started fondling each other, and then we started rubbing each other, and once we had thrown the bedding out of the way we kept at it until I made Stefan spurt onto himself. It took him a bit longer to make me do it too, but not much.

"I have thought of a penalty," he said. "You have to taste my sperm."

I was slightly unsure about that, but I supposed that if I ever got around to sucking him I'd have to find out what it tasted like then, and so I scooped a little up on my forefinger and put it in my mouth. And it was fine - it didn't really taste of anything much.

"Do you like it?" he asked.

I shrugged. "It's okay," I said.

"Now try your own."

There wasn't much, but I tried a little of mine and found that it was definitely tasteless.

"And now find a tissue to clean us with."

I did that, and then we went to the shower room and had a leisurely shower, washing each other down. And after that I said I thought I'd go and sort us out something to eat.

"Do you wish me to help you?" he asked.

"No, it's okay. I want to teach Alain to cook a bit later, so he and Oli can look after the meals while we're working on the computer, but I'll be fine for now. Go and have a rest - I'll call you when it's ready."

I went to the kitchen and pulled some bits and pieces out of the freezer so that I could cook a decent meal the following day, and then I went through the remaining ready meals and selected a couple of alleged curries - I say 'alleged' because my experience of French curries suggests that they bear no resemblance to a decent British supermarket curry, and even less to one served in a proper Indian restaurant. I heated them through and then called Stefan to come and join me, and we were just finishing off when Alain and Oli returned.

"Why hasn't Jake got any clothes on?" was Oli's first question.

"Because we played a stripping game and he lost," Stefan told him. "And he is not allowed any clothes for another three hours, either."

"How long is that?"

"Long enough," I said.

"Good - I like looking at him undressed," said Oli. "But... what's a stripping game?"

"Oh, we used to play those back home," said Alain. "Cards, mostly. And whoever lost had to wank the rest of the gang off before he was allowed to get dressed again. It was a really good laugh."

"Oh. Well... can we all play next time?" asked Oli.

"Yes, that'd be fun," agreed Alain.

"I wouldn't mind," I said. "Sit down, you two, and I'll find you something to eat. Where have you been, anyway?"

"We've found out where the other doors go," said Alain. "We followed a couple of them, and they both went back to the room with all the doors in. The one next to our door upstairs goes to the door with these squiggles on the door," and he drew a one and a four with his finger on the table, "and the middle one downstairs comes out at the door with this sign on," and here he drew us a one and a zero. "So we think the other two doors probably go back there, too. And we followed one other corridor from the room with the doors just to see what happens if you follow it past the door that leads to the ladder - and it just ends in a wall."

"That is useful to know," said Stefan. "It means that if there was any problem with our door we know that the others go back to the Nexus Room too."

I heated them up a couple of ready meals and they ate them enthusiastically - it might not have been much of a curry to my taste, but it was new to them and they liked it. Afterwards I asked Alain to stay for a bit so that I could start to explain how the cooker worked. Oli said he'd go and have a rest - they had walked quite a long way during the morning, after all - and Stefan said he'd go and get back to work on the computer. Once they had gone I explained the basics, although since Alain would not be able to read the instructions on the packets I quickly realised that he wouldn't be able to do a lot of cooking until we moved on to using raw ingredients. Nonetheless, I was able to give him a quick tour of the storerooms so that he could go and fetch anything I asked for once I started cooking in earnest.

"You're lucky it's not me in charge of your penalties," he commented as we finished the tour.

"Really? What would you make me do, then?"

"Probably what I was going to make you do back in Columbarier: I'd just order you to bend over and then give you one. Or maybe I'd make you suck after all."

"No, you wouldn't. You've already said you're not going to make me do that, even if I wouldn't mind too much if you did."

"Ah, but... see, Oli still wants to do it for me, and I've decided that if I do decide to let him I'm going to do it for him first. And I've never done it, either, so I don't know how. So I was thinking that maybe if you did it to me, perhaps we could work out the best way to do it, and then I'll be able to make sure Oli really enjoys it when I do it for him. I mean, you know I won't ask you to do it if you really don't want to, but you did say you wouldn't mind trying..."

"I wouldn't mind, not really - so it's a pity you're not in charge of my penalties, isn't it?" And I grinned at him.

"Then... could we play a game - just you and me?"

"If you want. But if you lose, maybe I'll make you bend over instead."

He looked uncertain at that. Obviously I wouldn't have actually fucked him - I mean, I'm not sure I'll ever want to do that. Being fucked, perhaps; fucking... well, I'm not sure. But it made him hesitate briefly.

But then he said, "I don't care - you won't beat me, anyway. So what are we going to play?"

I didn't think it would be fair to try playing the stop-watch game with him, so I shrugged. "Have you got any cards?" I asked.

"No. We only had one pack and I left it with the boys when I left. But there is something else we could try. Have you got a coin?"

I hadn't even realised that coins existed in Alain's world, but apparently they did, because he opened his pouch (even though he was now wearing a pair of shorts with pockets, he had still tied his pouch to his belt) and took out a copper disc about two centimetres across. The nearest I had to it in size was a one-Euro piece, and he looked it over, nodded approvingly and took me back about five metres from the kitchen wall.

"Now we throw our coins towards the wall," he said, "and the closest one to the wall wins. It's very simple."

I soon found out that it was a lot less simple if you'd never tried this before: we had five 'practice' throws and Alain won them all. And I didn't do a lot better when it came to the real competition, either, though at least I won one throw before Alain completed the five victories he needed.

"So now you have to do what I say, all right?" he said.

"Okay. So what do I have to do?" I asked.

"Well, the first thing you have to do is to come with me."

He led me through to the third dormitory and into one of the officers' rooms on the far side, and once we were inside he closed the door.

"And now... now you have to swear to tell me the truth."

I hadn't been expecting that - after all, if he asked the right questions I could incriminate myself quite seriously here. But I'd promised to obey him, and so I swore I'd answer all his questions truthfully.

"Good. First question, then: if I ask you to suck it for me, will you really not hate me for it afterwards?"

"Of course I won't! We're friends, aren't we? And I agreed to play the game with you, too."

"And do you really and honestly not mind trying?"

"I really don't mind, I promise."



"Why are you prepared to do something like that for me?"

"Well... I mean, we're friends, and I like you..."

"The truth, remember?"

"That is the truth... and... well... "

"Well what? I order you to tell me."

"Well... look, you swear not to say anything?"

"Of course."

"Well... it's just... well, I want to know how to do it so that I can do it for Stefan, okay?"

"Ah. Yes, that makes sense. You really like him, don't you?"

"Yes, I do."

"That's all right, because he likes you, too."

"How do you know?"

"I can tell. Look, Jake, I've been around a bit - don't forget I'm nearly sixteen. I can tell what people think about each other, and Stefan likes you a lot. So you wouldn't have to do that to make him like you."

"I know that. That's not why I want to do it: I want to do it because I like him a lot and want to make him feel good."

"Oh. That's fine, then. So... how are we going to do this?"

"You haven't actually told me what you want me to do yet," I pointed out.

"You know perfectly well... all right, if you want to do it properly: Jake, I order you to suck my prick."

"Okay. I mean, I don't know what to do exactly, but if you sit on the edge of the bunk I'll try."

He got undressed - completely, including his shoes and socks - and sat on the edge of the bunk with his legs spread, and it was already getting hard even before I knelt in front of him (and as soon as I knelt down I stood up again and put a folded blanket on the floor to kneel on - that floor was hard), and by the time I was ready to start it was as hard as it could get. Yes, I thought, we're about the same size... well, okay, maybe he is a centimetre or so longer, but then he is about two and a half years older than I am... and he's still got absolutely no hair, either.

And this time it didn't smell at all: since we'd got here Alain had been showering once or twice a day, so there was nothing to put me off. I leaned forward, closed my lips around it about halfway down the shaft, and started to suck.

"That's sort of interesting, but I don't think it's going to get me there," he said, after thirty seconds or so. "Try licking it at the same time."

So I did that, and he liked it, but he still didn't think it would make him come.

"Let me put the whole thing in your mouth," he said. "You're only using about half of it at the moment."

So I lowered my head some more, and then the end of his penis hit the back of my throat and I thought I was going to puke. I slid it out quickly.

"Yes, I think that might do it," he said, not realising why I had jerked away from him. "Slide your lips up and down it, like you would do with your fingers if you were wanking me."

So I slipped it into my mouth again, this time sliding it in slowly and making sure I stopped before it hit the back of my throat again. Then I slipped it equally slowly out.

"That's nice," he said. "Can you squeeze your lips a bit more? Yes... hey, keep your teeth out of the way! That's better... and lick as well, like you were doing before... yes, that's really good. And can you go a little bit faster?"

We experimented with speed and pressure and the use of the tongue for a while until he thought it was as good as it could get, and then he just told me to keep going like that.

I have to admit that I didn't mind doing this at all: it was interesting, and I liked making him wriggle about and thrust against me. I would probably have been a bit worried about actually making him spurt in my mouth, even though I knew that he had hardly any, but now that I'd tasted Stefan's and my own I knew that the taste was nothing to worry about.

"I'm nearly there," he reported, eventually. "Keep going... squeeze harder, Jake... yes... yes! Oh, fuck, yes!"

I slowed down a little and then stopped, though I kept it in my mouth until he told me I could take it out.

"That mate of mine was right," he said, once he had got his breath back. "It really does feel good. Thanks, Jake. I hope it wasn't too bad for you."

"It wasn't bad at all," I said. "In fact I liked doing it. It was fun."

"Oh, yes, so you did," he said as I moved away: now he could see that I had an erection. "I suppose it really can't have been bad, then. Good - I guess that means you won't mind doing it again?"

"What, now?"

"Obviously not. Perhaps this evening - after all, we need to practice at least once more before we do it with Oli and Stefan, don't we?"

"Okay, then," I agreed.

"Good. Now lie on the bed and I'll wank you off."

I hadn't been expecting that, but he insisted I had earned a reward and so I did as he told me. And he was good at it, too. Of course, he'd told us he'd done this with his friends back in Columbarier, so he was rather more experienced than Stefan had been the first time he did it to me, and he used that experience to draw it out for a while before finally allowing me to spurt.

"Not bad, Jake," he said, looking at the little splashes on my stomach. "Maybe I'll be able to do it like that soon."

He used a corner of the blanket I'd been kneeling on to wipe me down, and then he got dressed. And of course I still couldn't, and now that I'd just spurted I felt a bit weird and I'd have liked to be able to dress, but Stefan still had my clothes.

"I know what you mean," said Alain, when I explained how I felt. "It feels strange just afterwards, doesn't it? If you want to wrap the blanket round yourself for a bit I won't say anything to Stefan."

"No, I think that would be cheating. And if I was really a slave I'd never be allowed to cover myself, would I? I mean, when you and your mates caught me in Columbarier - if I'd just been an ordinary country boy, you could have kept me as a slave for as long as you wanted, couldn't you? Supposing I was an orphan - which I am, sort of, at least as far as your world is concerned - and nobody would have bothered looking for me, you could have kept me chained up in your cellar for ages, making me suck, fucking me whenever you wanted, making me clean the place up, and only feeding me if I was completely obedient and worked hard. Is that what would have happened if I'd been on my own, or would you have done that to me and Oli both?"

"No, I don't think so. I mean, it is sort of exciting, thinking about having a helpless slave we could fuck whenever we wanted. But we wouldn't have done that to you. We were all orphans, me and the boys, and we knew what it was like to be on your own. We couldn't have ever treated another kid like that. We would have had a bit of fun and then let you go."

"See, that's why I don't mind doing this with you," I said. "You're okay, Alain. Anyway... I think I'll go and see if I can persuade Stefan to let me have my clothes back."

Stefan was in front of the computer, though he hadn't found anything useful, and he was glad to have an excuse to leave it and do something else, such as teasing me some more. But he did give me my clothes back as soon as the four hours were up, though he also immediately challenged me to another round of the stop-watch game.

"Not today, I don't think," I said. "Maybe tomorrow."

"That is because you know that you shall lose," he said.

"No, it's because I don't want to see Alain and Oli laughing at you after I thrash you."

"You wish that you could. But if you wish we will not play again until tomorrow. Perhaps next time you lose I will make you stay naked for eight hours."

After supper I asked Alain to stay and help me sort out the next day's food, because we were running short of milk and I thought it would be sensible to switch to cooked breakfasts instead of cereal (I was hopeful that God would forgive this shameful descent into the eating or pork products!), and after we had decided what to use next day we slipped back to the third dormitory and I sucked him again. This time he got me to use my hands as well, stroking him all over and caressing his balls as I sucked him, and he said that this felt even better than the first time.

"Thank you, Jake," he said, afterwards. "I think maybe now I am ready to offer to do that for Oli. And if he likes it, perhaps I'll let him do it for me, too."

And I felt good; too: as I headed back to the room I shared with Stefan I was thinking that I was ready to do it for him. Maybe next time I lost the stop-watch game, which would probably be next day, I would offer it as an alternative to being kept naked for eight hours. I was sure that if Stefan enjoyed it as much as Alain had done he would want me to go on doing it for him even after my penalties had finished, and I didn't think I'd mind that in the slightest. And maybe he would even want to try doing it for me...

Unfortunately, things didn't work out like that at all.