by Michael Arram
Reggie Mayer stood buttoning his battledress trousers, all the while staring at the four strange boys Lance had claimed as his brothers. The four not only had Lance’s hair colour, they also had a look of him about their faces. What they did not have was his transcendent beauty. All but one of them were average-looking guys, the exception being the smallest and apparently youngest, whose appearance kept confusing Reggie’s perceptions. If Lance had not claimed the boy as a brother, Reggie might have been convinced he was a sister. His face was on the borderline between femininity and masculinity, although his body in its tight, dark clothing made him seem basically boyish. He was the only one of the four who was eyeing up Reggie.
It was this boy who broke the silence. ‘Lance, can I have a hug?’
Lance held out his arms and the boy quickly leapt into them, being clasped hard. Lance kissed his hair. ‘How’s my Yuri?’
‘Excited, my brother,’ the boy whispered back.
Lance looked at the biggest of the remaining three, a tall, muscled specimen who seemed far more the military type than any of the members of the SIS army-cadet group. The impression was enhanced by the black tee-shirt, camo trousers and heavy boots he was wearing. His hair had been given a tight buzz cut.
‘Did you choose that form, Mike? Suits you.’
The young man Lance called Mike grunted. ‘Partly we were assigned them, and partly they just happened. You know how it is. We were told they didn’t want us to operate under your handicap.’
‘Scuse me,’ interjected Reggie, ‘but who are these guys?’
Mike gave him an indifferent once-over. ‘This the famous Mayer boy?’
‘Am I famous? Where?’ Reggie was even more deeply puzzled.
Lance, careless as usual of his nudity, was only then getting dressed. ‘Reggie, these are my brothers … but not in the human sense. I call them brothers as we were all five born together. They’re the elders of my order: Mike, Gabe, Rafe and Yuri …’
‘Michael, Gabriel, Rafael and Uriel,’ responded Reggie in awe, ‘the great archangels.’
‘That’s them. But try not to let that get in the way. Once in human form, they’re guys like me. Actually, at the moment not like me at all, now I think about it. You people have no powers … you’ve been totally humanised! What the hell is going on? And why are ya here?’
Rudolf Elphberg sat at his new desk in the Ostberg Palace. He surveyed with some equanimity the bustle around him, as aides unpacked, workmen continued installing trunking and desks, and IT types set up hardware. He didn’t let it disturb him.
He got up and wove his way through the chaos to a first-floor window and stared complacently down on Modenehemstrasse. The familiar red trams clanged and sparked while his people bustled along the pavements on their daily business. Rudi was home, and no more than a few blocks away was his adored family. If it hadn’t been for the circumstances of the move back from Belgium, he would have been blissfully happy.
A Polish aide, an artillery captain, was at his shoulder coughing politely. He spoke in English, still the language of NATO officers. ‘Your royal highness, your eleven o’clock appointment has arrived. I do not suppose you will wish to meet him here. I believe it is quiet in the upstairs gallery.’
‘Show him up, Benedikt. I’ll be there as soon as I’ve finished my coffee. I’m meeting the general staff after lunch. Is it at the Life Guards?’
Rudi was in his Rothenian general’s undress uniform and so was his eleven o’clock appointment, whom he found at a gallery window looking across the roofs south to the Radhausplaz.
‘Good to see you back home, Rudi. We’ve missed you.’ Edward Cornish was beaming all over his handsome face. The two old friends exchanged a warm embrace and a firm handclasp.
‘Of course, I wish it were in better circumstances,’ Rudi responded, ‘but the Chios debacle has taken care of that. It was at just the wrong time. The Flemings and Walloons have begun shooting each other over who should have Brussels. There’s no way the former Belgium could host us any longer, any more than the EU commission, which is also nomadic at the moment. The French didn’t help with their sauve qui peut. They’ve ousted the EU from Strasbourg and seceded from NATO. Without the USA, they saw no point in it. So I’ve brought the rump of the Alliance home with me.’
‘How effective is it after the American and French pull-out, sir?’
‘That’s to be seen. The Americans didn’t have the resources to retaliate after Chios, and their fall from world-power status has been painfully demonstrated. They can only sit in their backyard with a shotgun. So we’re on our own. I can still make something of what’s left to NATO, given goodwill – which I’m hoping the Turkic Confederation’s seizure of Athens and Istanbul will produce. But will the remaining Balkan states rally to us? I guess time will tell. Other than that, I can count on only the central powers: Germany, the Czechs and Poland, principally. NATO’s moved towards the sunrise.
‘Now tell me, Ed. How’s the army reorganisation going?’
Ed grinned. ‘You were so ahead of the game, Rudi. The armoured regiments have been re-equipped … and, God! did that cause problems. It's a good thing our guys are Rothenians and adapt well. The reserve has been reorganised and put on a war footing. Enlistment in the National Guard is at a high level. Alfensberh is a hive of soldiers and officers on retraining courses. They’ve built a whole new teaching wing. Our people understand deep down what’s coming. I wonder if that’s because of the presence of the One in the Residenz.’
‘My people have a burden to shoulder, and their sense of duty before God and Man has always been the very highest. I feel more hopeful just being here once more.’
‘That may be the influence of Maxxie, in more ways than one. Lance says he’s so happy to have his dad back home, and I’ll bet it goes both ways.’
‘It certainly does. Leo and Maxxie both sneaked into bed with us last night, and somehow we all slept. Even Ossie stayed down for once.’ Princess Osra Maria Elphberg was the latest addition to the Rothenian royal family.
‘Are you going to resume your throne, Rudi? It’s the question on everyone’s mind.’
The former king shook his head. ‘Maxim II will remain king of Rothenia, as is right and proper, for – if I understand this correctly – he can fairly claim to be king of a lot more than this land. My role has found me, and it’s not the rule of any one country but the defence of the West … or what’s left of it.’
The SIS cadets stared at the new arrivals in their encampment and the four brothers stared back, though it was difficult to tell what they were thinking.
Damien charged up. ‘Whass goin’ on, mate? Who’re these guys? Y’know, they look a bit …’
‘Yeah, yeah, Daimey. Tell you about it afterwards. I gotta problem – angel stuff. These are … well, guests for a while. I need somewhere for them to put up. Not one of the authorities who sent them thought through the practicalities, like room and board. Probably even forgot they have to eat.’
‘Er … okay. First things first, then I wanna know the full story, right? So … er, they’re last-minute exchange students from – would England work?’
‘They can speak any language convincingly.’
‘England it is. Are they all Atwoods? Never mind. Fatso, c’mere!’ Private Mattie Oscott meandered over. ‘I needs yer to take one of these kids and talk your parents into hosting him for a week. This is the cover story.’
Mattie gawped at the four as it was explained to him. He especially stared at Yuri, who smiled shyly back.
Damien observed the connection. ‘Looks like yer’ll be happy wiv the little one. Get on wiv the handij call.’
Then he decided, ‘I can take one meself. I’ll have one of them twins.’ He pointed at Rafe.
The boy gave Damien a somewhat disdainful look in return, followed by a troubled glance at Gabe, who was indeed more or less identical. The two brothers sought each other’s hand.
‘Now then, Reggie lives in the US compound so he’s out of it. Iss locked down tight at the moment. You got room for annuver guy, Lance?’
‘I’ll take Gabe, though he’ll have to sleep on my sofa. That leaves Mike.’
‘Mike, he the big one?’ Damien scanned the group and made a snap decision. ‘Marky. You got plenty of room in the Chancellery. Can you find a bed for this guy?’
Corporal His Excellency the Count Marek von Lauern regarded the newcomer, who gazed back blankly. ‘Has he got papers? He’ll have to get past security if father says it is alright.’
Lance shot a questioning look at Mike. ‘Have you got a passport or anything to prove who you are?’
Mike shrugged. ‘They said you’d handle all that.’
‘Oh! They did, did they? They’re unspeakable. It’s that bloody Tobias, again! Marky, you got any ideas?’
Marky frowned. ‘I can probably bluff him past the gates, if I alert my tatta to say he’s expected.’
Damien grinned. ‘Sorted then. Any problem and we’ll leave it to my dads to find extra space. Now then, mate. These guys have a cover story? This a Mendamero Men thing? Ultras to be left out of it?’
Lance nodded. ‘For the moment, I guess, till I work out what the Great Council is up to. M-M Conference tonight at your place, and my four brothers had better be there too.’
‘Can you make it to the stream? You said you wanted water. You may find it will solve your immediate problems.’
Theo Lobowicz struggled to his elbows and tried to turn, but that caused him an agony which flooded his eyes with tears and brought a sob to his throat. His legs, he could now see, were red and raw, with a lot of flesh missing. His right flank was leaking blood, which sparkled in red droplets where it had dripped on the bright green grass. He needed a trauma ward, not a drink of water. Fear of being a paraplegic half throttled him. His legs simply would not work. His cruising days were done for sure.
‘Problem?’ asked the cool, polite voice.
‘Can’t … can’t move.’
‘Pain, I suppose. How very tedious for you. The worst of it is there is no death here, so unless you move yourself the pain will just go on and on, getting worse and worse.’
‘Is this Hell?’
The boy snickered. ‘What do you take me for? Are you going to do this small thing, yes or no?’
Theo began struggling to pull himself towards the rushing water some metres away. He grabbed handfuls of grass and tried to use his upper-body strength to haul himself onwards. Halfway there, he passed out.
He came round with the delightful sensation of cool water on his lips. He opened his eyes to discover the boy in front of him, dribbling water into his mouth from cupped hands. The drink helped a lot. Somehow it made him feel stronger and cleared his eyes.
Getting his first proper glimpse of the boy, Theo decided he was about sixteen, perhaps, his naked body perfectly proportioned and tawny of skin. His hair was thick and golden, his face beautiful beyond anything reasonable.
‘Who are you?’ the injured marine asked wonderingly.
‘My dear friend Malik-rammu calls me “The Nameless One”, but his sort are so theatrical. I have a name, given me long ago in Jerusalem. You may call me Tobias. Now see if you can make your way to the water.’
Theo struggled on, though the scraping on his wounds of the stones at the stream bank caused him to whimper. At last he was able to put his head down in the running water and drink his fill. The sparkling water was delicious, like no other he had ever tasted, as well as rich and nourishing. He pulled himself deeper into the stream and sighed with relief as the coolness embraced his tortured body. Pushing himself upright in defiance of the pain, he was astonished to realise it was no longer there. When the water clouded red by his injuries cleared he gasped, for he saw his damaged legs were whole and flawless. His vigour had returned; he stood, the water droplets sparkling in the sunshine as they fell from him. ‘What is this place? Am I dead?’
The boy was sitting on a boulder dabbling his elegant feet in the water. He seemed mildly amused by the miracle. ‘That all depends really, Mr Lobowicz, and if I sound threatening I mean to, for I need your co-operation. Your knowing Lance Atwood makes you especially useful to me. Also you are gay and, I may say, very well-endowed. All in all, a fine specimen, and you like sex with younger teens too.’
‘What? You want me to do you? Now? Here!’
‘Not quite. Actually, I want to talk.’
Mattie Oscott got an amiable consent for a last-minute guest. His parents were so easy-going he doubted they would have said anything even if he hadn’t asked. They would have just put out an extra bowl at the breakfast table.
The bus dropped Yuri and him at the end of his road in the Third District of Strelzen. ‘It’s er … this way, er … guy.’
The smaller boy, still smiling, trotted obediently after Mattie, who dropped his backpack inside the front door. ‘Mom! Dad!’
A tall, bespectacled man appeared on the stairs. ‘Hey, son! Good time at the camp? Is this Yuri? Glad to meet you. Sorry, I didn’t get the details. You’re an exchange student, right?’
Mattie intervened when he noticed Yuri getting increasingly bewildered. ‘Yeah. He and some of his mates arrived on a … er, sports exchange at SIS. Then somewhere along the line the numbers got mixed up, so volunteer hosts had to be found at short notice. Thanks for helping, dad.’
‘No problem, son. He’ll have to share your room though. I ‘spect his bags will be here later, right?’
‘Yeah, yeah. I’ll be taking him for an … er, orientation meeting at Daimey’s after dinner. This way, Yuri.’
The younger boy followed without a word, but with a glowing smile at Professor Oscott. He perched on the sofa, watching quietly while his host sorted the room.
Mattie was already finding the boy hard going. Eventually he sat on his bed and looked his guest over. There was something very attractive in the boy’s slim body and pretty, elfin face. Despite being attractive, however, it was also confusing.
Mattie was not gay, so far as he knew. He had finally managed to lose his virginity successfully a few months before. It had been no huge achievement, since he was drunk and the lucky girl was Olga Massenovic, the Year 12 tart. He couldn’t recall much pleasure in the occasion. Still, it marked a line in his life which had to be crossed, especially as his friends all had such active sex lives.
Mattie was not given much to envy, being a phlegmatic, patient young man. Nor did he have any illusion about his physical charms. He was stocky to the point of plumpness and, though he had a pleasant, open face, was not the sort of lad who inspired much interest on the part of females. He had neither the looks nor the verbal facility to project charm.
He was therefore disturbed to find a sexual frisson surfacing in his dealings with Yuri. Try as he might, he couldn’t stop thinking of his guest as a her. Yuri’s face was very like that of an old-time movie star he had encountered, Audrey Hepburn. What was more, the slimness of the boy’s body might equally apply to the mammarily-challenged super-models he tended to fantasise about. He kept on veering between thinking of Yuri as a boy, in whom he should have no interest, and as a girl, for whom he could very easily have the hots.
‘Wanna have something to eat? Drink maybe?’
Yuri thought about it. ‘I believe I may be hungry,’ he tentatively decided. His voice was light and high, like a pre-adolescent boy’s.
Glad of the distraction, Mattie went down to the kitchen and made some ham sandwiches, then some cheese ones, in case Yuri was a vegetarian. You never knew with angels, though Lance at least was big into red meat. He brought fruit juice up with him as well. ‘That okay?’
Yuri pondered the ham, sniffed at it, and eventually took a cautious nibble. Smiling, he wolfed down the ham and cheese both, then took great pleasure in disposing of half a litre of cranberry juice. ‘Very nice, thank you.’ Then he solemnly added, ‘You are a kind person.’
Mattie was touched and encouraged by the opening of communication. ‘So tell me a bit about yourself. Are you an angel like Lance?’
Yuri seemed puzzled. ‘Not really … the Satan is head of all the angelic orders, chief minister of the Court of Heaven. Even my brothers and I rank far below him.’
‘Wow! Lance has never said any of that. But he told Reggie you were all brothers.’
‘Only in the one sense that we were created at the same moment. He, however, was created to be our sovereign, and we his vassals. He is the prince of all angels.’
Yuri suddenly began to look internal. Mattie noticed. ‘Is there a problem?’
‘I have … an anxiety.’
‘Something is weighing on my lower body. I feel … painfully full.’
‘Oh! You mean you need to pee? I remember Lance having trouble with that at first. The toilet’s across from my room.’
Yuri asked plaintively, ‘What do I do?’
‘Well, ya gotta let it out, I guess.’
‘Can you help me?’
‘Er … well, okay. But it’s usually something ya do in private. Understand?’
Yuri was already on the move, and Mattie followed him into the loo. The boy looked lost, so Mattie cautiously manoeuvred him to the toilet bowl, unbelted his black, skinny jeans, and with guilty excitement peeled his clothes down to his knees. He wore no underpants. Mattie stared at the slim pale legs revealed.
The boy was still confused. ‘What do I do now?’
‘Well, ya hold your dick and pee away into the bowl. It makes an interesting sound.’
Mattie finally dared to look directly at Yuri’s groin and, though stunned, made himself say, ‘Or in your case, ya sit down on the seat and do it.’
Theophane Antonescu was at work in her garden when she heard the calling of children’s voices down the lane towards the village. Leaning on her hoe to take a breather before looking over the fence, she stood, momentarily astounded.
There were three children approaching her cottage. She recognised two of them at once: her grandchildren Andrei and Maria. They were ill-clothed and looked haggard, although they seemed cheerful. They were walking hand-in-hand with a handsome boy of about Andrei’s age, whose bright blond hair shone like gold in the morning sunlight.
As Maria caught sight of her grandmother, she let go of the strange boy’s hand and began running up the lane. Theophane gathered the little girl in her arms, appalled at how thin and malnourished the child appeared. When she looked back down the lane, only Andrei was there. As he reached her, she hugged him to her side, asking who the other boy had been.
‘Oh, that was the king! He brought us here for you to take care of us. Look! He put my tooth back and kissed away all my bruises! He’s our friend.’