"Aren't you finished yet?" His heart was cold, shrivelled by what he'd heard Takamatsu say the moment before. Again. He'd lost someone again. Was he never to have anything of his own?

            "-a minute, " Takamatsu panted.

            Hurry up, Takamatsu. Get off me, get out- run back to Luzar- just let me jerk off and get to sleep.

            Takamatsu. Luzar. He'd never thought either of them any threat. Quiet pedantic Luzar- Magic's shadow, burying himself and his ambition in his lab. And Takamatsu- always after him, his lust a reliable constant, unwanted but dependable. He'd thought himself lucky to have him at hand when these needs had begun to torment him; he could never have done all this with someone he took seriously. He shouldn't have let it show. Even Takamatsu had his vanity . Maybe that was why he'd always pretended not to enjoy himself... Well, too late now for regrets.

            "Hurry up. "

            "Patience. I'm not finished with you yet."

            "What?" A faint hope penetrated his heartsickness. Was Takamatsu finally going to stop pretending?

            "Go over and lie down again." There was a flat commanding note in his voice. What was going on? Had he lost Takamatsu or found him?

            "What are you going to do?" as Takamatsu bound his hands again, but giving play to his arms, not stretching them tightly up as before.

            "It's what you're going to do. You're going to talk to me." He turned Servis over on his side and lay down beside him, one arm cradling his head, the other his cock. The way Jan used to- he spoke to stop the familiar pain in his chest.

            "What am I going to say?"

            "Tell me what a slut you are."

            So he was into this one. Boring. "I'm a slut."

            "Go on ."

            "I'm a whore. I fuck men and I like it."

            "Details. Tell me about Magic."

            His heart stopped. "What?"

            "When did you start with him? In bed, when you were a kid? In the bath?"

            "In the bath." How did he know? Even Luzar couldn't know. Unless- This - was more serious than he'd thought. "When he washed my back sometimes he'd finger my cock. I was only five or so."

            "Did you like it?"

            "I liked it. Then, a few years later, sometimes he'd put his finger up me and wiggle it. He said it was a game. 'I put my finger in here and your willy stands up.' I liked it," he said without prompting. He had. Soapy and wet, it hadn't hurt and it felt wonderful. He'd taught the game to Harlem and they played it endlessly thereafter.

            "Then what?"

            OK. He could take this. "One day, when I was ten, he'd yelled at us and sent us to our room. He was really mad. I waited till I thought he was finished before I went for my bath, but he was still there, sitting in the tub. I couldn't leave." When he'd told Jan about this, Jan had been holding him and it hadn't hurt so much then; but now he needed all the help he could get. He twisted his hips so Takamatsu's hand was in the right place. If he thought the memory was turning him on- good, yes, his hand started to move. God, what a scuzzbag. Contempt gave him energy. "When I was finished washing, I went over to the bath. He was watching me. I said, 'I'm sorry, nii-san.' He said it was ok, and then he got up. He was huge. I couldn't look. He made me bend over and hold on to the edge of the tub. Then he did it to me. It didn't hurt."

            It had been agony. It didn't hurt now, was what he meant. It didn't hurt much. Takamatsu's clumsy hand was no help, too gentle, not knowing the right places. Wimp. Let him know.

            "I hope this is turning you on, because it isn't doing a thing for me."

            "I'm not trying to turn you on. This is a punishment, Servis. Jan's dead; he'll never hold you again." He caught his breath at the sudden pain of that, so unexpected. "It's me in your bed now, it's me holding your cock. You killed Jan, you murdering slut, and this is what you get for it."

            He shoved the back of his fist against his mouth to stop the cry that came from him. It hurt, it hurt- no-one else had ever said it. He bucked, trying to get away, to curl up in a ball around the hideous pain in his chest, but Takamatsu's legs held him tight, his hands suddenly rough and violent on his cock. He twisted, fighting him, but Takamatsu's hands were all over him and he came suddenly in a dizzying release; and lay, shaky and sweaty and a little sick, against the hot stranger's body behind him.

            "I underestimated you." It came out as a dry whisper. "You're worse than I thought."

            "I haven't finished. Confession is good for the soul, Servis. You're going to confess to me."


            "Jan and Magic. Tell me."

            He was dizzy with shock. Takamatsu knew. How could he know?

            Something within him gave way. Capitulation was such a relief. But that it should be Takamatsu, of all people... His body was nerveless, soft, completely without resistance. He barely had the energy to speak.

            "One of his aides came, at evening break, saying Magic wanted to see him. We thought- they'd found out about him going AWOL, in town, one night when I'd had to be at home... He didn't come back till lights out- said Magic had been furious, set him doing kitchen fatigues then and there. He came to my bed afterwards and told me. Magic- wanted him. Had him." Tears slid down his face. "He said- wait, he'll get over it. He said, it's only because I'm yours. He can't- stand-- anyone-" He bit his fist to stop the sobs.

            "Go on." There was no comfort in the voice, and it steadied him.

            "He can't stand anyone- having- anything- that he doesn't." He took a deep gulping breath. "So I didn't say anything."

            "Go on."

            "There isn't any more."

            "Don't lie. You were jealous. Jan enjoyed it, didn't he? Went back when he didn't have to-"


            "More opportunities for the Commander's bum boy than for his baby brother's lover, right?"

            Takamatsu was peeling his skin off, piece by piece. Stop, he thought vaguely, I'm sorry, I won't do it again...

            "No- it wasn't like that," as he'd told himself a million times. "It wasn't that. It was-" He tried to turn over. "Hold me, Takamatsu. Please. This hurts. I can do it if you hold me."

            "I'm holding you now. This way. Go on."

            "I want to see your face."

            "Go on, Servis. It wasn't that way. What was it?"

            He'd have to do it Takamatsu's way. It was strange, scary, not having any control any more; not knowing, if he came apart, whether Takamatsu could put him back together again. Faint nausea filled his mouth and throat.

            "I don't know." His voice sounded small and quenched. He tried to give it more volume. "There was something. He hated it, I know he did, he hated hurting me, but there was something between him and Magic- and he- wouldn't-" he forced his voice through his closing-throat- "tell me- what- Christ, Takamatsu, this hurts, can't we stop?"

            "Who's a snivelling wimp now, Servis?"

            "I am. Do you want me to beg?'

            "No. Let's get it finished. Tell the end."

            "I can't."

            "I will if you don't. You won't like hearing it from me."

            "Go ahead. I can't." He was guessing. He couldn't know.

            "You were jealous. It was serious, with Magic. You were glad when your orders came, sending you out to the front. You were practically walking on air. I thought you were crazy, at the time. And Jan was depressed. Don't you remember how quiet he was, those last few weeks? He didn't want to go. He didn't want to leave Magic."

            He knew. Damn, those observant eyes, of course he'd seen.

            "Alright," he said, cold with terror and defeat. "I was happy. And Jan was- torn. But it wasn't because he wanted to be with Magic. He hated Magic. He never said so, but I knew. Sometimes I thought- he might try to kill him." And I'd have helped. At least we'd have died together.

            "So he was obsessed with Magic. Love, hate, whatever you want to call it. Then what? You got into battle-"

            "It was a nightmare. Someone had screwed up. There was a whole fucking army waiting in what was supposed to be evacuated territory. Takamatsu, they cut us to pieces- we fought and ran and fought and ran again, and I kept seeing our friends falling, and I couldn't stop to go back for them." He was talking through his tears. I don't want to remember this, I don't- "But Jan was still alive, by my side all the way through, until there was just the two of us hiding out in this ravine. And I thought Jan's alive, as long as Jan's alive it's ok. But then a patrol found us and they were going to shoot us right there- and I couldn't think, there was only one thing I could think to do, and I did it. And Jan died." He stopped, breath sobbing in his chest.

            "You still haven't said it."

            No escape. He had to say it. Or Takamatsu would. His stomach twisted.

            "And I think- maybe- I meant- to do it."

            He waited for the sky to fall. But all he heard was Takamatsu's detached voice.

            "You think?" with no sarcasm, merely a neutral inquiry. He started to shake.

            "I don't know. I don't know. But if I'd wanted to control it- if I'd really wanted to- And surely I couldn't ever have hurt Jan unless I meant to?"

            "Why not? Suppose it's a reflex function, like closing your eyes when you sneeze. You can learn to control some reflexes, but not the first time, and not if it's a strong reflex. What did it feel like, when you used it?"

            He'd been afraid of Takamatsu's pity, or even worse, of his comfort; this objective scientific speculation was the last thing he'd expected. He wasn't sure it was any better. Was he just an object under a microscope?

            "Like- like- some release, something going out. Like coming, but more- more me."

            "Can you still see when it's happening?"

            "Jesus, Takamatsu, why are you asking?"

            "I want to know."

            "Is that why you're dissecting me alive?"

            "Can you still see?"

            "I don't know."

            "Think. Remember."

            "I can't remember. I don't want to remember. Stop this, Takamatsu. You don't know what you're doing to me."

            "Don't I?"

            He lay very still, his face in his arms. After a moment he said, "You hate me, don't you. It's because I always said no to you before, right?"

            "I don't hate you."

            "Then why the hell are you doing this to me?"

            "I don't know. You tell me. I wanted to be your friend, I wanted to be your lover, I wanted"- he hesitated- "to help you; but you didn't want any of it. The only thing you ever wanted me to do was hurt you. So I hurt you. If that's the only way you'll let me say I care about you, then that's the way I have to say it. It's not the way I'd have chosen."

            Servis turned fretfully away. "You make me sick sometimes, you know that? When you go all syrupy and sentimental. You remind me of Magic. I know what's under it. You know you like hurting people. Like that laxative you gave Jan, saying it was a vitamin drink; and the epsom salts in poor Remy's water bottle; and-"

            "It doesn't hurt people to be taken down a peg or two. They ask for it. Anyway, you're different. You aren't people."

            "And who takes you down a peg?"

            "You do. What you do to my self-respect is outlawed under the Geneva Convention- the part that forbids abuse of prisoners."

            And what could he say to that? He didn't want Takamatsu's love. (But you don't want Luzar to have it either.) He was silent.

            "I answered your question. Now answer mine."

            "What?" He was tired, and his soul felt bruised and bewildered and numb.

            "Same as yours. Why are you doing this to- no, never mind. You just told me. Why are you doing this to you? It can't just be as punishment for something you're not even sure you did."

            "Some of it. I did kill Jan. I can't stand to think- maybe I meant to." There had been a dream once. Jan had come back, angry and accusing, to seek his life in return for his own. Servis had been unable to move for terror, frozen by the hatred in those black eyes. In the dream he'd begged for his life, and woken bitterly ashamed and very much afraid of what the dream might mean. It had always seemed like proof to him. "And sometimes- I think- there can be only so much pain, and if I can get to the end of it I'll be somewhere where no-one can hurt me ever again."

            "Servis, why don't you just go away?"


            "Go away. Leave the army. Leave, for god's sake, your family. You can't do them any good, and they'll kill you."

            "I can't go." But his heart was suddenly caught by the word: away. Free. He clapped a lid on it. "Harlem would miss me."

            "Harlem's tough. He'll survive."

            "He's not as tough as you think. It's just the way he handles it."

            "He's as tough as he needs to be. You know one twin is always bigger, stronger, healthier than the other. One child always gets enough, even in the uterus, and the other goes short. That's what happened to you and Harlem, and it's still going on. He feeds off of you."

            "That's not true."

            "Alright, I won't insist. But Harlem has his own resources. He can live without you. As long as you're here, you aren't living at all. Do you want to be nothing but the Commander's crippled brother for the rest of your life?"

            "Is that what I am?'

            "It's what you're being presented as. 'Poor Servis'- how often have you heard that phrase recently? And you're not poor Servis. You're a cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch, and there's damned little that's pitiful about you."

            Unexpectedly he found himself smiling. "I can see why you want to get rid of me."

            "I don't. Oddly enough, I'd miss you."

            "You have Luzar." He felt Takamatsu stiffen. Touché.

            "Luzar-sama is my sensei. It's different."

            "You're not encouraging him to run away from Magic, I bet."

            "He doesn't have to. He's got his work; and yes, to save you saying it, he's got me. You jealous?"

            The sudden challenge took him by surprise. He opened his mouth to deny it, but said instead, "You were my friend first."

            "I'm still your friend, as much as you'll let me be."

            There was a silence. "If I ask you back here, will you come?" He tried to make it a neutral question, not to sound like a child begging 'don't leave me'.

            "Yes. And I'll bring my own first aid cream. You're half right. If I'm doing this in the first place, I should take some responsibility."

            "How about clothesline?"

            "How about I take care of precautions, you take care of props?

            "Doctor Takamatsu." He smiled up at him. "Deal."

            "I have to go." He sat up.

            "No. Stay." He reached out for him, and realized his hands were still bound. Takamatsu untied him, then slid the shirt off his bruised arms.

            "Where are your pyjamas?"

            "I never wear any."

            "OK. Put on your bathrobe, then. You can walk me to the door."

            "You won't stay?"

            "I have an early day to-morrow."

            In the lab. "Just till I fall asleep?" Maybe tomorrow he'd hate Takamatsu for making him beg, but right now he just wanted him there.

            "How long will it take you?" There was a quirky smile in the black eyes.

            "Not long. Really."


            He got into bed while Takamatsu finished dressing and came and lay beside him on top of the covers. He decided that if Takamatsu tried to kiss him he'd let him. But he didn't try. So of course he found himself wanting to kiss Takamatsu. Suddenly he felt exhausted. What was the matter with him these days? Why was everything so complicated and difficult now? It had never been this way when Jan was alive.

            Tears ran silently down his cheeks and into his hair. Takamatsu's arm came around him, a light touch. Jan's dead. He'll never hold you again. He cried harder, wishing- wishing- and was asleep before he knew it.


            Takamatsu got up, silently, and switched off lights, leaving only the little night light burning. He was tired. That was all he could think of. Tomorrow he'd decide what had happened, dubious victory or honourable defeat or- please, no- just another skirmish in an unending war. Not unending. The first virtue of a scientist is patience. There had to be change. There had been a change. He just didn't know what it was.

            Eleven o'clock. A little late to be prowling around the Commander's house. I hope he's in bed- not likely- or at a staff meeting or something, I hope Harlem's out for the night, I hope-  Just as he reached the bottom of the stairs, the living room door opened and the Commander walked out, followed by Luzar-sama.

            "Good God- Takamatsu, isn't it?" the Commander said.

            "Yes, sir." He bowed to him. "Luzar-sama." He bowed again.

            "I see my graceless brother couldn't be bothered showing you out," Luzar remarked.

            "He said I knew the way. I'm sorry to be so late, sir," he said to Magic. "We got talking and lost track of the time."

            "No matter," the Commander said. "Good-night, Takamatsu. See him out, Luzar."

            "Yes, nii-san."

            "Good-night, sir," he said to Magic's retreating back. Odd. Suspecting was one thing, knowing quite another. He hoped his face hadn't shown anything. He followed Luzar, subdued, towards the front hallway.

            "No books?" Luzar asked casually.

            'They were the wrong ones. I have them already.' He opened his mouth to say it and stopped.

            "No books, sir. That's not what I came for." He must reek of sex; Luzar could probably smell it on him.

            "So where is Servis?"


            "Ah." A pause. "For what it's worth, Takamatsu-kun, I'm glad he has you for a friend."

            "You wouldn't say that if you knew what we'd been doing." He spoke very low.

            "I can guess. It's nothing new, with him."

            "This is."

            Luzar's eyes flicked over, and he stopped.

            "Do you have a moment, sir? There's something I should tell you." His loyalty was to Luzar-sama. It didn't matter if Servis hated him afterwards for what he was about to do.

            "Not here. You never know who's about." He turned and walked back to the living room. "Do you drink? There's brandy- no, I spoke too soon. Harlem must have finished it at noon. Well, let's borrow some of Magic's Courvoisier. Everybody else does."

            Takamatsu blinked at the idea of making free with the Commander's liquor, but it wasn't often that he got to taste a good cognac these days. He took his glass obediently.

            "The conservatory. It's at the side of the house and underneath my own room. Also it's hard to walk quietly on the tiles."

            They went in among the large plants sitting in Chinese ornamental pots, the azaleas on every windowsill and a row of bonsai ranged on steps next to the French doors. Luzar nodded him to a white wickerwork chair and sat down in the one beside it. He waited for his cue to speak, holding the brandy snifter between his hands.

            "Kanpai, Takamatsu-kun."


            He took a small sip, rolling it on his tongue.

            "Who taught you to drink brandy?" Luzar asked unexpectedly.

            "My father. He likes to think of himself as a connoisseur."

            "He probably is. So. You were going to tell me?"

            He told him. Everything. How it had started, what he'd done in the past, what he'd done to-day. He spoke flatly, clearly, giving a scientific précis: enough details, but not too many.

            "I see," said Luzar. "I thought we were just on different schedules, that I never met him in the bathroom anymore." He drank more brandy, and looked Takamatsu over.

            "Do you want me to do something about this?"

            "Is there anything you can do, sir?"

            "There are things I can do- tell Magic, tell the army psychiatrist. If you mean, is there anything I can do to help Servis, no, probably not. Diversion of pain is a useful scientific principle. There's no reason why he shouldn't use it if he wants to."

            That one hadn't occurred to him, but it made sense.

            "My brother isn't insane, Takamatsu-kun. No, that statement is imprecise. Servis isn't insane. And he's an adult, capable of making his own decisions. And since he wouldn't want me to interfere, it would be impertinent of me to do so. I think the best thing I can do is pretend this conversation hasn't happened. That's my feeling. What's yours? Don't be afraid to disagree. It's your job to convince me, if you think differently."

            "I feel the same, sir, basically. I think it's something we have to settle between us. I just wanted you to know what I'm doing- in case."

            "Maybe we should talk about that 'in case.' I'm not responsible for what happens to my brother, but I am responsible for you. You're bound to two of us now, very closely. Even if Magic doesn't find out about you and Servis, it's probably only a matter of time before he starts taking notice of your existence. It may even have begun tonight. Do you know the implications of that?"

            He can't stand anyone having anything that he doesn't. "He'll want- his cut. His ten per cent."

            Luzar was still a moment. Had he been too flippant?

            "It'll be fascinating to see where you've got to by the time you're thirty, Takamatsu-kun, supposing you live that long. Brinkmanship is a very risky game, but of course you know that already. What a brilliant way of putting it. You could have said, his pound of flesh, because that's what it will come to. Are you prepared for that?"

            "I'll survive. He won't be interested in me for long. I'm a boring young biologist, used to looking at the world through a microscope and only really enthusiastic about microbes."

            "He'll never believe it. You have the most knowing eyes."

            "Microbes that can be used in germ warfare, capable of devastating whole populations, and thinking I've found my ticket to endless funding for research. I can tell him all the stages of mutated bubonic plague, or enzymic elephantiasis, or- what's another one that puts you off dinner- leprosy, of course. I'll do a fast read-up on tropical diseases..."

            Luzar was smiling quietly. "Don't get carried away. He's not a fool, you know. But I think that might do very nicely." He sipped his brandy. "You're taking this very well. But it won't be pleasant while it lasts."

            "I know."


            "One of his aides came from my home town. He used to cry on my shoulder when he couldn't take it any more. I heard a lot of things I probably shouldn't have."

            "Which one was that?"


            "Millefeuilles? Isn't he the one who was invalided out last year, sent to the--Swiss base, was it?"

            "Yes sir. Stomach problems. I heard from him a while ago. He seems much better."

            "Stress, presumably."

            "Yes sir."

            "He'd have been a good five years older than you. Hometown feeling must run strong in your part of the world."

            "Yes sir."

            "Give, Takamatsu."

            He sighed. "I ran a little sideline in-- pharmaceuticals, in high school. My father's not exactly openhanded with my allowance. All natural ingredients, of course; you could have put them together with a boy's chemistry set. Natural tranquilizers, natural mood elevators, natural aphrodisiacs..."

            "There are no aphrodisiacs, Takamatsu-kun."

            "True, sir. Sexuality is a function of the mind. And a young man who thinks some pill has made him a cross between a ram and a stud horse will find his potency increased."

            "I see." He was smiling again. "Why didn't your natural medications cure Millefeuille's stomach problems?"

            "He didn't have them when he first came to me. He wanted tranquilizers and sympathy and- forgive the expression, sir- a fuck buddy." There must be a politer term for it, but his brandy-fuddled mind refused to supply it. He remembered, belatedly, that he hadn't stopped for dinner before coming to the house. He put his glass down. "But then he wanted to- to do as he had been done by. And it was my final year- all those enemas" he said apologetically, "they were ruining my system. So I put him out of my misery."

            Luzar closed his eyes. "My brother is unregenerately anal-fixated. I see I needn't warn you what horrors to expect. I'm sorry, Takamatsu-kun. It happens, in our family. Which reminds me- these are for you." He reached into his pocket and handed over two small envelopes marked M and G respectively. Takamatsu took them with a curious contentment. "If it's any consolation, you won't have to worry about anything like that from me."

            "Mendel's law," he said, muzzily. "One white, one black, and two khaki."

            "Hm? Ohh. I see. What would it be? one homo, one hetero, and two bi's?"

            One monster, one normal, and two- polymorphous perverse. But he didn't say it.

            "It's lucky you work with me."

            "Just my luck." He did say it. And bitterly. Oh god, the brandy. Luzar-sama sat very still.

            "What does that mean?"

            "Nothing, sir. I'm drunk. I didn't have any dinner. I should be going. I'm sorry, sir." He gazed down at the two envelopes in his hand and was horrified when tears ran over his eyes.

            "My fault, Takamatsu-kun. You've had a very tiring day. Go home and get some sleep. Sleep in, for once. You don't have to be at the lab ahead of me."

            "Yes sir." He should do something- fall on his knees, declare his devotion, beg, tempt, cajole- don't you want to get in first, be one up on Magic, look, here I am, take me, I'm yours. He didn't dare. The cool untouchableness that drew him irresistibly in Servis abashed him in Servis' older brother. He felt very young and definitely grubby. I'm drunk, he thought sadly, this will all look completely different in the morning.


            He stood and gave Takamatsu an arm up. He was still a lit stunned by the implications of that sudden outburst. Could Takamatsu want-? And I thought he was safe from me. I never thought- this- might happen.

            If it was happening. If it wasn't just lateness and brandy and his recent weakness combining to give him hallucinations. He wasn't the sort of man people fall in love with. And Takamatsu, of all people, who was clearly far more sophisticated sexually than he would ever be. No: it was all highly improbable. Except for that look he had given him this afternoon, that knowing, intent...

            He switched out lights as they went, shepherding his student before him. The living room was very dark. Last chance.

            "Just your luck?" he said in soft enquiry. Takamatsu stopped suddenly and Luzar came up against his back.

            "Why should they have it all their own way?" Takamatsu whispered desperately. "The others- they do what they please with whoever they please. I know you want to be different from them- who wouldn't?- but- but-" He could see the dark eyes, dimly, and the face twisted with emotion.

            "How far can I trust you, Takamatsu-kun?"

            "As far as you like. Yes, I know, I'd say that anyway, but as far as you like."

            "You aren't just trying to put together a matched set? You've had Servis, Magic will have you one of these fine days, why not add me to the collection while I'm available and then-"

            "Only a damned Ganma would think something like that!" Takamatsu's violence was none the less for being barely audible. Luzar took hold of him.

            "I'm sorry. You're right. I'm no different from the others.  Doesn't that change your mind?"

            "No," the young man said, emphatically, and put both arms around him.

            "Takamatsu. You know enough about my family. Can't you guess why I'm not very big on male love?"

            Takamatsu buried his head in his shoulder. "Everything- everything- he takes everything and leaves nothing for anyone else," he muttered. "It isn't fair. It isn't fair."

            "I don't want to have someone else to be afraid of losing to him."

            "You didn't lose her to him," Takamatsu said.

            As simple as that. It was true. Somehow he thought he had. His fingers stroked the coarse black hair as his mind tried to assimilate the new point of view.

            "Takamatsu." He lifted his face and kissed him briefly on the lips. It was different from kissing Magic. "We can't talk about any of this tonight. It will have to wait. And tomorrow--"

            "We have to go back to being ourselves. I know, sir."

            "Lunch," he said, and Takamatsu's tense shoulders relaxed. There was a sudden bang in the front hallway and they loosed each other reflexively, moving in that direction.

            "Why are all the lights off?" Harlem's loud voice was demanding belligerently.

            "Because it's after midnight, maybe? And as you can see, the hall lights are on."

            "Hell, the whole house is dark. What's wrong with everyone here? I'm living with a bunch of old men."

            "Also two babies, who go to sleep early. Be quiet or you'll wake them."

            "What is this? The Ganmadan Geriatric Home and Baby Hotel? I demand equal time for adults!"

            Magic's voice, hushed but furious, came from the top of the stairs. "Harlem! Be quiet! You'll wake Shin-chan."

            "Good. It's time for his midnight feeding,'' Harlem bellowed back.

            Magic came striding down the stairs. "I said, shut up. You can walk up these stairs, quietly, or you can be carried up unconscious. Choose fast." His eyes were a transparent shade of shifting blue. Luzar sucked in his breath silently. But Harlem, after a look at Magic and a muttered 'Shit' went silently up the stairs. Magic turned to them, still irritated.

            "You're still here? What have you been doing?"

            "Talking, nii-san."

            "What about, for god's sake?"

            "Tropical diseases. There's a new strain of bubonia just surfaced in Africa, apparently a mutation: it has certain characteristics of a virus-"

            "It attacks the central nervous system," Takamatsu supplied eagerly, "not the lymphs.

            "-and is invariably fatal in three days. This could become a pandemic."

            "If we could get an infected specimen and isolate it-"

            "Somehow not killing ourselves in the process,'' Luzar inserted testily.

            "No, but, Sensei, it is possible-"

            "Enough," Magic said.  “You two are-- Never mind. Good-night again, Takamatsu. Luzar, turn the lights out when you come up."

            "Yes, nii-san." He escorted Takamatsu to the door. "Goodnight, Takamatsu-kun."

            "Good-night, Sensei." Their eyes met very very briefly, then he was gone.

            He locked and bolted the heavy door, switched off the electric candelabra on either side, and turned to go up the dark stairs. What a day. It seemed an age since the morning. And tomorrow, they'd start analyzing the new samples- he had to get some from Shin-chan: what could he legitimately want them for? Effects of- effects of- effects of chemical deposits from tap water? That might do. All those chemicals they use in the purification system-- I'm a little worried they might be building up in the children's systems-- Magic would probably start the whole household using bottled water; well, and not a bad thing, either... If it was constant cross-generationally- with genetic surgery, maybe some day there might be daughters. No, on second thought, not unless they were his own. Pity he and Takamatsu couldn't have a child. The idea made him laugh. You're maundering, Luzar, he told himself, get to bed. But with genetic engineering- you couldn't, from two sperm- unless you could clone and- splice? He stopped in the middle of the stairs, his mind absorbed in the idea, then turned and went back down. A midnight snack was what he wanted, and a pencil and a piece of paper to start making notes, because in fact it might just be possible...



August '95