Actions

Work Header

Rule Britannia

Work Text:


Part 1: Rule Britannia

Suicide was not an option. Much as Doyle wished it, it could not be so easy.

Doyle had known from the beginning that Commander Cowley of CI5 did not issue cyanide tablets, and that he did not have toxic gas inserted into the tooth by a dentist who could be bribed and who would not talk. It had been considered; it had been debated in Cowley’s office, for he had given his agents full opportunity to air their views on the matter. It had been decided that such triggers to death could too easily go wrong; and could, themselves, attract the interest of government officials even if just by giving evidence of organized conspiracy. The resistance’s greatest strength lay in its covert nature.

Instead of instituting such precautions, Cowley had simply made it clear that none of his agents must be taken by the Autarchy. Each of them must be above suspicion.

Despite his hatred of the Autarch’s government, Doyle had never been in trouble with the law. He had sung Hail the Autarch at school every morning and Rule Britannia every evening before classes let out. He had hidden his burning hated, which at first had been the blind fury of a child, and which later had become the relentless bitterness of a man.

But he had held this hatred secretly, and made a success of his life - insofar as any life in this hellish nation of Britannia, because where is success without freedom? Doyle hated the bland acceptance he saw around him, as if it meant nothing to be subject to the worst dictator since William the Bastard took England at Hastings. As if a thousand years of English lawmaking and progress and civilization could be wiped away in one generation - in one bloodbath lasting, what, a year? Doyle had been a child, and had understand it as a child understands. A time of meaningless pain. After that, he had been an orphan.

The Autocrat had killed his parents. Doyle had clung to the memory, because it had given his life meaning and had given him a purpose. The word his father had told him, freedom - the concept now lost, since nothing was free. Certainly not speech or thought.

He had had nothing but but pride and his memories and the first glimmer of a skyrocketing career when Cowley had found him, and showed him he was not the only man who resented the Autocracy and wanted to do something about it. Now, when he saw the hollow men in the shops allowing the Autarch’s men to take their goods without paying, or when he saw the Guardsmen of the Autocracy bullying some innocent in the street, or walking off with a reluctant woman, he could do more that hate them for their meekness. He could promise them, in his heart, a better future.

His career, then, had soared. He did it within the relative safety of the Autarch’s laws, performing only in plays sanctioned by the censors, but he performed them honestly and with clarity and the pubic responded to the hints he gave, not even knowing what they were seeing. A glimpse of - not hope - but of unrepressed truths.

That, he did legally. His other acts, the things he did at Cowley’s instigation, the acts of open rebellion and sabotage and assembly and communication - they were punishable by death. As was being caught trying to leave the country, or selling an unapproved book, or writing one.

In eight years of working for George Cowley, and six years of packed houses, he had never been arrested, or detained, or questioned by the Autarch’s Guardsmen. If they studied him - and they must have, as they did every man who was able to acquire any kind of tenuous fame - it was from a distance.

Until tonight, when the Guardsmen had come to his door, finding him half asleep after a late party. They had just started on the second week of Troilus and Cressida, a production powerful enough to strip the paint off the ceiling. They did not of course deviate from the original text as Shakespeare had written it, but Doyle himself sometimes subtly twisted the sense. To his mind, the Greeks represented intellectual freedom, highly eroticised; the Trojans, repression and corruption.

Every performance left Doyle high and high-strung, turning him into a flying bullet. Sex was the best remedy, but his attempts to seduce the Assistant Stage Manager had come to nothing (so far) and he had succumbed to the lure of brandy and drunken reminiscence over productions gone by. Eventually he’d landed alone and unconscious in his own bed.

They had broken the door down, waking him to the sound of splintering wood and heavy boots. They had grabbed him under the arms and lifted him from the bed. They were large men, as Guardsmen always were, their uniforms trimmed with green, their eyes cold under the steel helmets. They had handcuffed him without ceremony and had taken him in a van, without explanation, to the Halls of Criminal Justice.

It was a well-known fact that no one taken to the Halls by the Guardsmen ever left alive. What happened to persons unlucky enough to be taken there was unknown.

Doyle was about to find out.

He mentally cursed himself for doing whatever it had been that had brought suspicion on himself. He knew he had never said anything careless, or taken unnecessary risks; he was by nature a careful man, and Cowley as well as circumstances had taught him to be even more so. Had he trusted the wrong informant? Talked in his sleep? More likely he had somehow simply pissed off the wrong half-wit in middle-management authority, and petty spite had taken its toll. Maybe a fan who hadn’t received an autograph. Doyle did not always remember to be tactful, and it was his experience that those with a little power were quicker to take offense than those with a lot of it.

The men in jack-boots took him through long corridors of gleaming tiles, the gold-and-green designs engraved under the ceiling the only relief from the whiteness that surrounded them. The Guardsmen wore green and black. Doyle himself was in loose shirt and jeans, the outfit he had worn to the party after the performance. He had fallen asleep without undressing, which was lucky - they were unlikely to have waited for him to put on clothes if he had been naked.

As it was, he was barefoot.

So his feet made no sound on the polished white floor, but the boots of the Guardsmen echoed ominously.

Four Guardsmen had come to arrest one middle-sized actor: they must think him a very important criminal. Why?

Which he was, as an agent of Cowley, but they couldn’t know that, could they? Christ! Who or what had given him away?

He was fingerprinted, laser-scanned, and hologrammed. A lock of hair was taken for his DNA, and a blood sample from his finger for God knew what. He tried not to sweat, and succeeded. He’d be their coolest prisoner since the Frost-Giant’s Daughter.

No one had directly addressed him. They pushed him without finesse in the directions they wanted him to go. They seemed to be going a rather long way. Doyle knew the Halls of Justice were large, but these labyrinthine corridors seemed longer than he thought could be possible. Perhaps they were underground. He could imagine the whole of England riddled with subterranean dungeons, into which the unlucky disappeared.

After a while the beautiful filigree gold-and-green design of the upper walls gave way to a plain green stripe. Doyle could see himself reflected in the tiles of the walls, when he stared at them. The Guardsmen did not look from side to side. They did not even look at him. They marched, and he was marched along with them, willy-nilly, his bare feet tired and sore.

The place had something of the antiseptic look of a hospital, but it was too clean, too uncluttered, and there was no one about except them.

They stopped at an unmarked windowless door, which was unlocked with a palm-scan by one of the Guardsmen. They took him inside. The door shut behind them.

The room was perhaps twenty feet by twenty feet, walls and floor unrelieved, all shiny white tiles. Fluorescent lights in the ceiling offered no relief to the eye, and the only colour was that of the Guardsmen, green and black, their boots as reflective as the tiles. Their spurs were silver, polished to a glitter even greater than the leather of the boots.

They thrust Doyle to the ground against the wall furthest from the door, and put his wrists in manacles. Sitting against the wall, his hands at shoulder height, he had a little movement. Not enough leeway to stand. Not enough to lie down, should he want to. He could not reach the floor with his hands. The floor was cold and hard and he had no doubt it would be appallingly uncomfortable after a while.

As soon as he thought that, he realized the stupidity of it. They were about to come and torture him with the most formidable cruelty known to mankind, and he thought a cold floor was uncomfortable?

Soon he would be beyond caring. Soon he would be dead, like so many before him.

His parents too had died at the hands of the Autarch, but not in a cold prison cell. They had died in open guerilla warfare, shouting defiance. As I too have been defiant, thought Doyle. He may have failed in the end, but he had fought as fullheartedly as they.

There was a narrow channel around the room where the wall met the floor, leading to a drain in a corner. He supposed that was for if and when he wet himself. Or, worse, to drain his blood. He wondered how long it would all last. The Hierarchy of the Autarch had unlimited technology - capabilities such as the average man could not even imagine, since it was forbidden for any but the Autarch’s servants to use electronics. It was said that the medical experts could keep a dying man alive for days.

Morbid thoughts. He was not going to sweat in front of these men, not any of them. Ordinary civilians might be in fear of the Guardsmen, but the Guardsmen were only the visible lower end of the Hierarchy. The Autarch’s job-boys, the constables on the street, the runners of errands and carriers of messages. Whoever was about to come to interrogate Doyle would be their superior, perhaps by a lot - depending on what level of importance they thought he had.

Which must be high, or he would not be here. The unimportant were questioned in their own homes, or in the street, or in the Guardsmen’s local offices. Not in the depths of the Halls of Justice, where anything might happen.

He thought of the ranks - Centurion, Governor, Minister, and then the Barons surrounding the Autarch. Centurions were the supervisors of the Guardsmen. Barons could be Knights or Earls; no one was sure what the difference was, though Cowley suspected it was no more than a matter of seniority. Each rank was held by one of twelve men, their positions designated by colour, like a diabolical flower garden of power: blue, indigo, emerald, burgundy, yellow, amber, crimson, orange, turquoise, fuchsia, lavender and violet.

The Guardsmen took up their positions, two to each side of the door. Standing at attention, they looked like the toy soldiers Doyle had seen once in a performance of The Nutcracker. It had been wildly illegal, of course, licenses were not issued to produce Tchaikovsky and had not been since the Ascension of the Autarch. This did not mean Tchaikovsky was never performed or never heard. The element of risk made it a heady experience, like parachuting, like mountain-climbing without ropes.

So far as Doyle knew, there was no way to tell by looking what colouring or rank a Guardsman owed duty to. He wondered, in an objective sort of way, whether it would be better to be the prisoner of a high-ranking official - the Violet Earl, say - or whether it would be to his advantage to be in the hands of the lower levels, perhaps the Indigo Centurion. He knew nothing to choose among, with the colours. One sector was as nasty as the next. He remembered again not to sweat. He might feel clammy, but it was better to appear collected. How long could he make the pose last?

He was an actor. He could therefore make this the performance of his life. Yes, his last one: it had damn well better be good. There would be nothing after the curtain call. I will not yield.

He found after a while that he was able to doze, in spite of the fact that he could not lower his arms, and despite the chill hard tiles of the floor. Conserve his strength, that was the thing. Gather his courage - he’d learned a few things from Cowley. He’d learned other things from his work with Cowley, and other things too from his life on the stage.

He was more than a match for any blown-up self-important stooge of the Autarch, however fancy the designer uniform he might wear. A man like that wouldn’t have any brains to speak of: it’d be a dark day in August when Doyle couldn’t outthink one of the Autarchy. Elitist, fascist fools, every one of them.

He went over his lines. Not likely they’d let him go so he could do Achilles on stage tonight, but he might as well act as if he thought they might. Boredom was dangerous. Thinking of what was about to come was dangerous, and would sap his will. Better to think of Achilles, throwing away everything in his life for the sake of his love for Patroclus. If not Achilles, nothing. Doyle thought that Ulysses and Pandarus had all the best lines, but he relished Achilles, and himself as Achilles, slight-framed demigod with dignity and passion. He had wanted to play Thersites, but the director had talked him out of it.

“Truth is, we’ve no one else who can play Achilles with the right degree of sensuality,” Archie had said, with desperate sincerity. “We need you, Doyle. We need a performance that will have the women melting and the men getting hard. See, Achilles in this play is a god-hero who’s chucked it all for love of a mortal, and he’s the most desirable thing around. Forget Troilus and Cressida, they’re nothing but symbols, the real action here is between Hector - the bloke what kills Patroclus - and Achilles, who goes over the top because of it. You can give it the right passion, the right je ne sais quois....”

Manipulated, flattered, unable to resist, Doyle had taken the role, and had thrown in his own political twist. He was now glad he wasn’t stuck with the role of Thersites, whom Killgrew made more unappetizing every day. Archie called him Gollum.

A train of thought.... being invisible would be handy just now. Except they could probably find him, the way his teeth were chattering.

He wondered how much time had past. When, or whether, something would happen.

The door opened, and his interrogator came in. Doyle straightened his back agains the wall. The man wore the Cloak of the Autarchy, armoured at the shoulders, making him appear larger than a normal man. This was a sign of high rank. Doyle tried to remember which one. And green... emerald, he was in the hands of one of the Emerald clan.

The man nodded to a Guardsman, and two stepped forward to remove his cloak, moving in unison. Under the cloak was a great-coat of cloth so dark a green that it appeared black. Its trim was brightly-coloured - Doyle tried to remember the signs of rank. There were ways to tell where a man stood in the Hierarchy by looking at his insignia. Usually these symbols were unknown outside the ranks of the Autarch’s Halls, on the theory that no one outside needed to know anything but how to obey any member of the Autarchy from Guardsman up. Inside, it was different: a tangle of intricate ranks and privileges. Doyle had tried to learn the outward signs, and what they meant. He struggled with a confusion of memories. The flat-topped peaked hat, with nuclear green insignia, what did that mean? The placement of brass buttons on the double-breasted coat? The emerald-green trim on the top of the high, shining boots, or the matching gloves on his hands?

The man removed his hat. He tossed it to a Guardsman without looking at him. He hooked his thumbs in his belt and stared at Doyle. Doyle slowly, coolly raised his eyes as if he were Hamlet facing Claudius - which he had been, just three nights ago.

Doyle studied the man with bland arrogance. He might as well get a good look at the man who was shortly going to kill him. Waving dark hair, cut close to the scalp. Irregular dark eyebrows. Striking blue eyes, heavily set off by long lashes. A straight nose. Wide mouth, with just the hint of a sneer.

Doyle felt a mild shock: he had expected that a lord of the Autarchy, whatever his rank, would be ugly and old. This man was neither. He would catch the eye if he were a merchant, a bricklayer, a gravedigger.

The man unbuttoned his greatcoat with one gloved hand. A Guardsman moved swiftly and smoothly to take it from him, easing it off his wide shoulders. I’d cast him as Coriolanus, thought Doyle, a little wildly. Or Hotspur or Iago or Angelo or a very dark, dangerous Oberon. Under the greatcoat the Emerald Lord wore a high-collared military jacket, green with dark trim. A sword hung at his side. His trousers were tight and cut straight, his boots jet black, set off by symbolic spurs. In one ear was the glitter of a gold earring - possibly real gold, given his obvious rank. Doyle was not sure, since he had never seen real gold. Slowly the man removed the tight gloves. They peeled back from his skin with a smoothness that was almost sensual. They were not cotton, as Doyle had at first guessed, but dyed kid. He tossed the gloves to the Guardsman and said, “Bring me a chair.”

It was the first words he had spoken. He had not said them loudly, but in the silence of the room the effect was of projection over distance. His voice was rich, tinged with a familiar accent.

There must have been a chair nearby, since the Guardsman who went out the door for it was back in a moment. He put the chair in the centre of the room. It was black, and appeared to be made of wood. The paint shone.

The interrogator put a black-booted foot on the seat of the chair, leaning on his knee, his eyes now fixed on Doyle and not leaving him. He said, “I am Bodie, Emerald Baron.”

It was the first time Doyle had been addressed directly since they had taken him from his flat, where he had been sleeping so soundly, dreaming, if at all, of nothing more nightmarish than missed cues and forgotten lines.

The man’s voice was not unpleasant. It was almost melodious. He might have been introducing himself at a cocktail party.

“I am Doyle,” said Doyle. He was sure the Baron knew this, but he had no intention of showing foolish or sullen defiance in keeping his mouth shut. Would an innocent man be silent? More likely he would want to explain himself, having nothing to explain.

“You have no other name?”

“It’s the name I use,” said Doyle. “My stage name.”

“What do your lovers call you?”

“I have no lovers.”

The man’s foot left the seat of the chair. He straightened, appearing extremely tall. He drew his sword with a precision so smooth that it was hardly a motion at all. Doyle swallowed.

“I beg your pardon?” said the Emerald Baron.

“I have no lovers,” repeated Doyle. It was almost true. He had failed to seduce the Assistant Stage Manager, and he had stopped sleeping with the man who played Guildenstern after they’d had that row at Easter.

Flick. The tip of the sword touched Doyle, and he felt a brief, acute flash of pain; the point had made its mark. “You sleep alone?”

“Sometimes. Not always.”

“What do the people you sleep with call you?”

“Ray.”

“What name do you prefer?”

Doyle thought, Four-Five, I’d rather be Four-Five. It was a stupid thought because he shouldn’t let himself be distracted by thoughts of Cowley or the Resistance or any acts of rebellion. For the purposes of this interrogation he was an actor, pure and simple, not man who secretly served a highly organized group of rebel insurgents. Not a follower of George Cowley. “Doyle,” he said.

The man nodded. He put his hand on the back of the chair for a moment as he turned towards the doorway. “Leave us,” he said.

The Guardsmen filed out silently, with a nod of respect to the Baron as they went. The door closed with finality behind the last one.

“Now,” said Bodie simply, “there is just you and me.” He walked around the chair, his hand still lightly touching its back. Doyle remembered a play in which he had used a chair as a set piece like that - but he couldn’t remember its name. What the hell was it? Myra had been in it, and that boy with the annoying laugh.

The Baron said, “Do you know why you are here?”

“No,” said Doyle.

Bodie turned the chair so its back was towards Doyle. He sat astride it, the toes of his boots against the floor. He held his sword erect, as if saluting with it. Extending it lightly, he flicked the cloth of Doyle’s shirt over his shoulder. He had judged the distance exactly; his arm’s reach, and the length of the blade. The blade didn’t touch him, but it left a cut in the cloth of the shirt. Doyle tried not to sweat. The cold precision of the move was calculated to frighten.

“You have no idea?”

“The Guardsmen wouldn’t say,” said Doyle. “I asked, but they wouldn’t tell me anything.” He thought he had the right note of anger and nervousness, just like an innocent man.

“No,” said Bodie. “They do not talk. They follow orders, and they do not talk. You, however, will talk.”

“I’m good at that,” said Doyle ironically. The Baron raised his eyebrows, and Doyle elaborated. “I can recite you dialogue from any one of several dozen plays. I know all the designated classics and some of the secondary canon. Give me a role, and I play it.” The sword flicked again: the other shoulder, another rent in the cloth, oddly symmetrical. He’s toying with me, thought Doyle, fighting the perspiration. If the only way he could fight back was by failing to show fear, then he would fail to show fear. He would not cringe. He would not move. He would not talk....

No. That was a lie. He would not profit by lying to himself. No one could stay in these prisons and not talk.

He knew that, had known it from the beginning of his criminal association with Cowley and CI5 - of course he had, that was why he was there. To fight for a Britannia that was not ruled by a cruel elite, where subjects had no rights and freedom lay in degrees of slavery. He had joined CI5 to fight a system that allowed rooms like this, and men like this, and victims like this. When he talked, if he talked, they would get the others, too. Cowley and Susan and Ruth; McCabe and poor mad Tommy; Charlie, whose work as a cleaner took him into more houses and more secret hidey-holes than anyone else in CI5 managed to get to, for only the Servants of the Autarch were able to hire cleaners. Murphy and Turner and even the others, the undercover men who seldom were seen. Cowley had trusted him as liaison - with Stuart and Martin and Willis. Oh dear God, he knew all the names, all the identities, all their locations. Or if not all, nearly all. He knew far, far too much.

And he did not even have the option of suicide.

So this, his last performance, given in a torn costume under bad lights to an audience of one, would have to be magnificently convincing.

“What is your current role?” asked Bodie.

“We’re doing a series of three plays - Hamlet, the Scottish play, and Troilus and Cressida. Rotating three nights a week. Last night I was Macbeth. Tonight I will play - I was supposed to play Achilles.”

“Greek,” said Bodie, without inflection. To perform a foreign play was a crime punishable by death.

“As English as you or me,” said Doyle. “Shakespeare of Stratford. Nothing questionable about that.”

Bodie’s sword flicked. Doyle flinched. Another rent in the cloth. He’s trying to test my nerve, thought Doyle. He wondered how much nerve he had. Enough?

All he would need. He would not betray Cowley, or Fisher, or Stuart, or... anyone. Can a man will himself to die?

“Why did you become an actor?” asked Bodie. His voice, like his eyes, seemed made of velvet. He had beautiful eyes, cold as the northern sky in summer. It would have been nice to hear that voice on stage, instead of in a white interrogation room.

It seemed an odd thing to ask a man suspected of rebellious collusion, but it was not for Doyle to anticipate questions. Or to jump to conclusions about what this Bodie might know, or think. “I wanted to escape,” said Doyle, remembering. “I lived in an orphanage in Derby, used to dream of better places, pretend I was other people - people I could read about in books. People like Hamlet, Othello, Antony. People who could make a difference in the world, people whose decisions meant something. I pretended I could protect the kids around me. I pretended I could protect myself from them. The women who ran the orphanage were kind, but sometimes men came and took kids away. We never saw them again. We never knew what happened. With plays - I knew the endings. I knew what happened.”

“You had talent?”

Doyle shrugged, which made the chains tinkle. “I had drive. It was enough. I helped out backstage at first, then got myself a role as a walk-on. Then some director thought I had presence. That did it. Next thing I knew, I was Brutus.” Stabbing an Emperor. He didn’t finish the thought aloud.

“What parts?” asked Bodie. “What theatres?”

There were only so many theatres in England, now - half a dozen in London, perhaps another half dozen throughout the country. What had once been a proud tradition was beaten into the ground, and few could make their living acting. It meant treading a fine line between poverty and the heavy hand of the censors. Doyle had been lucky.

It went on and on. When Doyle paused for breath, or in fatigue, or to hunt for words or thoughts, Bodie prompted him - sometime with a word, sometimes with a touch of the swordspoint to the cloth of his shirt or the skin of his arm. He was not yet bleeding, but there were marks - not accidental - where the thin lines of blood made scarlet contrast to his skin, pale under the fluorescent lights. Yet no cut was deep enough to drip blood onto the white tiles of the floor.

He was asked about, and told about, his ambitions in the theatre, his favourite roles, the route of his career to stardom. He talked about the fans, the publicity, the pressures of the spotlights. He talked about his interpretation of Hamlet, of Iago, of Lear’s Fool. Bodie found still more questions to ask him. The mellifluous questions came quick and sharp whenever his voice faltered. Once, he forgot who had directed him in King Lear, and the sword flicked again and he could feel - or almost feel - its cold touch. Then he realized it had pricked him deeply, so that a drop of blood stood bright on his cheek for a moment. There was no cruelty in Bodie’s eyes. There was interest, and attention. Doyle could not read the rest of it. This was a man as good as Doyle was himself at hiding his real thoughts. As good as Doyle hoped he was. His eyes were compelling. A man with eyes like that could hold an audience, could keep it in his power till the curtain came down. Bodie should have been an actor.

An actor: what else was he, playing Imperial Prosecutor to a captive audience of one? Doyle wondered what thoughts Bodie had, what he thought of Doyle’s life and revelations. Anything? Nothing? Doyle had the impession of keen intelligence, kept banked under ice.
He wondered if it were morning yet. He had no way of knowing. Fatigue made his eyes close, briefly, and he felt the kiss of the sword.

“Who do you sleep with?” asked Bodie sharply, and Doyle briefly closed his eyes again. Oh-ho: so it was going to be that kind of interrogation. He knew it would be: there were no other kinds. People were people, even in the Autarchy. Because he was a celebrity, people wanted his body, in one way or another. Even if they didn’t want to touch, they wanted to read about it. Or talk about it. Even an Emerald Baron. “No one,” he said.

The sword flicked, and he felt it that time, against his hip. The denim jeans still gave him some protection, but not enough. Soon it would be possible to see the skin through the cuts in the cloth.

“I was sleeping with Lily Bolger,” he said. “Lady Macbeth. But she got fed up with me and told me to take a hike.”

“When?”

“A few days ago.”

The sword bit, that time. “Exactly when?”

Ouch. “Tuesday.”

“Since then?”

“No one.”

Flick. The Emerald Baron didn’t like that answer. “Before that?”

“No one.” Flick. “No one for several days.”

“Before that?”

“The Fairy Queen.”

“Titania?”

"Oh, Christ, I can tell you never met Titania. No, Oberon. I wouldn’t have touched Titania if you paid me.”

“You sleep with men?”

“Sometimes.” Flick. “Well, quite a bit, actually.” Flick. “Don’t mind. Depends on the man.” This was the sort of material they adored in the tabloids. All this vicarious sex - so the unhappily married and the unhappily single could look at someone having fun, and take none of the risks themselves.

The sword flickered upward. He could seldom see the blade, could see it only as a streak of light, which left in its wake the sting of puncture, or the rush of cold air that meant his clothing was cut a little more. He wanted to hug his arms around himself, to feel the warmth. With his arms chained, he couldn’t do it.

The sword-tip paused under his chin, not quite touching. The eyes, half shut, were still as sharp and cold as the steel. “Do you talk to your lovers about the Autarch?”

“No.”

The sword flashed away, reflecting a streak of light across the ceiling. The sleeve fell off Doyle’s left arm, a tracery of cut cotton.

“Do they mention him to you?”

“No.” Flick; near the groin, this time. Nerve, thought Doyle. He wants to break my nerve. “We have other things to talk about.”

“What?”

“Roles. Music. Plays. Sex. Drink. Books. You, know, the usual things one discusses with
one’s lovers.”

The sword touched his cheek gently, and moved away. Then it touched his right thigh. He felt a stab of pain. There was another cut in the cloth when the point lifted. He wondered if his cheek were cut - a lifetime of worry about his looks, about how to hide cuts and bruises and scars and flaws from the intensity of stage lighting. Make-up would usually do it. His expressive face gave him an easy time of it, its assymetry saving him from aspirations of beauty. He was not pretty, but he was striking, and sexy, and that was better. Beauty was cheap. The only career you could base on beauty was whoring.

Not that it mattered now. Bodie could cut him into lace and his looks wouldn’t matter, he would be dead, without an audience. Tonight, Patroclus could mourn Achilles, rather than the other way around.

The sword whistled in the air. “How would I know what you might discuss with your lovers? What plays?”

“Licensed plays. Permitted plays. British plays.”

“Names. Say the names.”

This was easy. Only British plays; only British plays with a certain cachet. He’d performed in most of them, had read and seen all the others. “Arms and the Man. Anything by Shakespeare. Congreve. Marlowe....” The list tripped off his tongue while his mind studied Bodie’s face. The muscles at the side of his mouth moved, and Doyle found himself wondering what the Emerald Baron would look like if he smiled. An artist might be able to guess; Doyle couldn’t. He wondered what would make this man smile.

He tried to picture meeting him at a cocktail party, or an after-show celebration. Sharing a beer with him in a pub. Aside from the fact that servants of the Autarch didn’t go into pubs - not the same ones the masses went to, anyway. Too dangerous. They were not loved. Even a Guardsman or a Centurion or a Baron can die.

“What books? Permitted books?”

“I don’t know how to get any other kind.” This was a major lie, but it did not earn him the motion of the sword. Instead Bodie leaned forward and, grim-faced, took the collar of Doyle’s shirt in his fist, and tore. The cloth was already cut in dozens of places. It came off his body like an old rag. Bodie tossed it away. Then he moved forward, to squat beside his prisoner.

“You read, then?”

“Whenever I can. It’s part of being in the theatre.” Bodie did not react. “It’s part of being
British. Part of being educated. Part of being a thinking man.”

“Ah,” said Bodie. He stood up again. He seemed impossibly tall. Doyle let his head drop. “You can’t understand plays,” he said, “if you never read. Do you read?”

“I have never seen a play,” said Bodie.

Doyle looked up at him, with heavy eyes. “May I have a drink?” he asked.

“No.”

The sword flicked again, and he felt it across his belly. Not a cut, though the point left a pink mark in the flesh, as the jeans fell open. Bodie reached down contemptuously, and pulled the tattered denim from his body. He threw it aside.

Doyle sat naked on the floor, shivering. Undressed and exposed, he felt absurdly sexless - something he had never felt since puberty.

Nerve. It was a battle of nerves, and the bastard wouldn’t even let him have a drink. Well, fuck him.

The questions continued. Books, plays, thoughts, names, questions in wild non sequiturs that made his head spin. Movies? Yes, he’d seen a movie once, back when there were still a few cinemas in London. The movie had been Gone With the Wind. “Wasn’t a crime to watch, then,” said Doyle. “Besides, wasn’t Leslie Howard English?”

The breeze of the sword’s passing touched his face - a flick to the soft skin under his arm drew a drop of blood. “One actor does not make a movie lawful.” And without missing a beat, “Vivien Leigh was English. Where do you report?”

“To my director.”

“The director of CI5?”

The first mention of it. “What’s that?”

“Who gives you your orders?”

“The director.”

“Of CI5?”

“No, of the bloody play. Archie Rutter, in this case.”

Questions came faster now. The Emerald Baron paced. Doyle lost track of time and of his answers and even of his thinking processes. He was hungry and thirsty and needed to pee. He was tired and frightened and very, very cold. The Baron was able to walk around in his warm jacket and his warm trousers; Doyle hated him for that more than for anything else.

Questions, minute after minute and hour after hour. After while he suspected the same questions were coming back like part of a cycle, whipping through the air like the flicking of the sword-blade. Or perhaps the deja-vu was the result of fatigue and brainwashing and the hypnotic effect of the swordblade and of Bodie’s eyes: beautiful, hard, remote. Sometimes Doyle was too tired to know what he had said, or remember what he had said the first time. Fighting the fear, fighting the fatigue, fighting the thirst and pain and hunger, he concentrated on not saying or even thinking Cowley’s name.

You couldn’t pretend the Emerald Baron was ugly. If evil character showed in the face, then something had gone wrong here. Aside from the expressionless coldness, the intimidation, the rigidity of his stance, there was nothing unpleasant about him. This was the kind of man you might try to pick up on the subway, or invite backstage after the show. Looking for a way to get to know him better.

He wondered what the Emerald Baron would look like when someone cut off his clothes with a sharpened sword. Presentable, one might think. Sometimes the hard, cold ones were fierce in bed - not letting themselves go at other times, storing it all up for their opportunity for release. Would the Baron be like that? Or would be be casual, letting it happen, allowing himself to be pleasured while giving nothing of himself, keeping himself hidden away.
He was good at this, no question. But so was Cowley. And Doyle had learned a thing or two from Cowley, who could even now best him in a clash of wills, but he was learning Cowley’s trick and sometimes a well-sustained bluff is better than a tactical advantage. Cowley had got to the top - the top of the underworld, if you wanted to call it that - with just such tactics.
He’d never known anyone like Cowley. But he shouldn’t be thinking about Cowley. In his fatigue, in his anger, he might let something slip.

He concentrated on looking at the Emerald Baron. Bodie.

Young - younger than you’d think a man of his rank could be. Younger than Doyle, perhaps. How could a man become a Baron so young?

How did a man become a Baron at all? Perhaps you were born a baron, perhaps there were infant barons running around, all colours of the rainbow.

Unlikely. Popular understanding was that one became a Baron as one achieved any other rank in the Autarchy: by being a vicious bastard and hurting, torturing and killing many people. Doyle saw no reason to doubt it. This Bodie, he thought, would be capable of anything.

Doyle could not imagine the precise nature of the crimes against humanity this man must have perpetuated - and must be planning for himself any time now. The pain to which the swordplay was only a prelude. Hard to believe that azure eyes could be so cruel; that the flexible, expressive mouth could indicate only heartless frigidity. Had he never smiled? Laughed? Kissed? He wondered whether, given the chance, he could soften the hard expression, bring bliss to the rigid frame.

Not that he would be given the chance. Pity, that. He was a right bastard but he was a sexy bastard, if you liked them tough, and he would be a challenge. Doyle like a challenge.
“If you’ve never seen a play,” said Doyle, “you must have missed me in Hamlet.” His lip was cracking; he could feel the blood. There was blood speckled over him, now, here and there. His skin was sore, as if sunburned, but he was so cold. He could not tell if the cold made the sting worse, or anaesthetized him.

“I did,” said Bodie.

“The critics liked it. The women liked it. My director, however, was dissatisfied. More fire, he said. We need more passion, more heat. My Hamlet was scary, attractive but cold. Like you.”

“Thank you.”

“Not at all. I am a keen observer of human nature. Do you always wear gloves?”

“No. Raise your hand.”

Doyle could not raise it far because of the chain, but obligingly, he did so, palm forward, fingers outstretched. The sword did its dance and a trickle of blood ran from the tendon between his thumb and his index finger; then between the index and second fingers. He could not move his hand away because of the chain, and the sword being faster than the eye. The blood began to drip along the back of his hand as he watched, in four parallel rivulets of red.
Doyle bit his lip, fighting the inclination to scream, or cry. It would look histrionic. He wondered how far his nerve would last. At some point, the real pain would start.

He felt a rush of anger with himself, that he’d allowed himself to think of this monster as something attractive, something sexy, something human. How low could he fall?

He could hardly feel the pain from the touch of the blade between his fingers. He could feel it, in an undifferentiated way, all over his body. He turned his head impatiently. How long had he been here? How much longer would he be here, before the irrevocable moment of death?
He didn’t want to die.

The questions battered at him and he modulated his voice, which had become reedy, into something more befitting. He was rattled with fatigue and fear. Names, places, people he had known.... “Cowley,” he said, and then realized, to his horror, that he had said it aloud.

“Who is Cowley?” asked the vigilant Baron.

“My cat.” The sword moved, and Doyle could tell from the flinch of his nerves that it had touched him, but he could not tell where and no longer called.

“You don’t have a cat.”

“A cat I used to have. A ginger cat, a Tom....”

Bodie came close. Once again, Doyle was staring at the emerald braid of the boot-tops, seeing his face reflected in the shining leather below it. What kind of wax must he use to get them like that? He had a mental image of a hundred little slaves shining boots just to keep the Emerald Baron in gleaming footwear.

Bloody hell.

He blinked against tears. Discouragement; despair. He knew he was about to die; did he have to die betraying the man he admired most? And his agents, the group of men Doyle admired most? And all the ideals that had given meaning to his life?

Of course: no one could keep secrets from the Autocracy, once in their hands. Did he have to make it easy for them? Couldn’t he be a hard case? A tough nut to crack? Perhaps if he bit through his tongue, lost the ability to speak - did he have the courage? Was it even physically or psychologically possible?

“Cowley,” said Bodie.

I didn’t say the name, thought Doyle. I didn’t say it. I wish I was dead, now.

Bodie put his kid-gloved fingers under Doyle’s chin and raised it. “Doyle? Ray? Will you tell me about Cowley?”

“No,” whispered Doyle, and knew he was lost.

“I think you will, sunshine,” said Bodie softly.

He released Doyle’s chin. There was no movement of the sword. Instead he began, slowly, to take off his gloves.

“I have nothing to tell about,” said Doyle. “Just some mangy old cat I took in.” If the pose of innocence had failed him, he still had defiance. He was still Doyle - and Achilles, and Hamlet, and Macbeth. Most of all he was Four-Five of CI5, he was Cowley’s man, and in the end, freedom would triumph.

“You’re wrong,” said Bodie. “There are many things you have yet to tell me.”

Doyle looked into his eyes, a defiant glare that was ignored. He wished that the man who was shortly to kill him wasn’t so damned attractive. He wished he didn’t have a good voice, and eyes an actor would trade his soul for, if an actor might have a soul.

The Emerald Baron knelt at Doyle’s side, like Lucifer at the gates of hell. His bare fingers tightened on Doyle’s jaw, opening his mouth as he pulled Doyle’s head towards him. Bodie took something from his breast pocket, inside the jacket; Doyle could not see what it was, but he felt Bodie’s fingers reach into his mouth, and he felt a rush of sensation as something exploded in gold and silver on his tongue.

He had never tasted anything so delicious. It was not merely sensual taste, it went far beyond that, like the most beautiful song, or a child’s affectionate kiss, or the hottest sex.
He wanted - needed - more of this ambrosia. He eagerly sucked Bodie’s fingers for the last drop, feeling a whimper deep inside him that this was all there was. He was no longer cold or frightened or angry. He was flying through a beautiful space, though his body had not moved. Something seemed to have exploded in or on his cock, too, ice or water or liquid fire, or possibly Bodie’s beautiful touch. He was hard and thought he could stay that way for hours. He heard Bodie’s rich chuckle in his ear and he whimpered again, this time aloud, straining his body against the air. Somehow Bodie’s fingers had left his mouth and he tried to reach for them again with his lips and tongue. Sight receded and returned. He thought Bodie had gone far away, but he had not moved. He heard his own head hit the wall, hard, and he felt Bodie’s warm hand on his scalp, protecting him from the impact.

“Now, Ray,” Bodie whispered, “you are ready to talk to me.”

 

Part 2: Britannia Rules the Waves

Doyle awoke, lying on his own bed.

He did not know if it was day or night, or what week it was. Normally aware of time, normally attuned to knowing exactly how many minutes or hours it was to his next appearance on stage, but he felt sluggish and out of tune with reality. His watch said eleven o’clock.

It was not a hangover. He tried to remember what he had been ingesting, but nothing came to mind. He looked at his ceiling, with the brown stains on it. His posters of great actors in great roles, even the forbidden Casablanca. His coffee-maker and the burner that served as his stove, when he could get fuel for it.

Shit. Had he been on another bender? He hadn’t done that since taking up with George Cowley.
No, that wasn’t it. He wouldn’t do that now, and besides, he had other purposes. So....
He pulled up the blind and looked out on a sunny day. Morning. He’d lost a day then.

Or two?

Not possible.

He let his gaze go around the room. He noticed something odd about his door. He went to it, opened it. The doorknob didn’t work. The lock was broken. Had thieves broken in? Broken in while he was asleep, bashing him on the head? Maybe he’d better find a doctor.
Doctors were hard to find, and most of them illegal.

Memory came back in a flash: not crooks, but the law. Not criminals, but the Guardsmen of the Autarch. They had broken into his home and dragged him to the Halls of Criminal Justice for Interrogation, on the orders of the Emerald Baron.

He tried to remember. No one who entered the Halls of Criminal Justice ever left them alive - unless it was a member of the Autarchy.

The Emerald Baron. Doyle suddenly remembered him with glittering vividness, including the way he smelled and the pitch of his voice - smell and sound both beautiful, and the look of him too, with bent eyebrow and mellow sharp eyes and fingers like a juggler’s on the sword-hilt as he flicked it.

Christ! Why was he remembering a servant of the Autarch with pleasure? A man who had refused him water or food, who had hounded him and tortured him? Who had....
He couldn’t remember what else.

Why was the memory one of pleasure, not anger and pain? And mildly erotic. Yet Bodie had not touched him, except with the tip of his sword.

He tried to pin down the memories more closely, and failed. Drugs. They must have used drugs. He’d been mind-wiped, meddled with, fucked in the brain.

And maybe elsewhere. The sense that the encounter had been erotic was nebulous, but unshakeable. Had he been raped? Surely he would know. He remembered frantically sucking on Bodie’s fingers, and loving it.

He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the picture of Michael Praed as Robin Hood which hung on the back of his door.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

He went back to his bed and shoved his bedside table aside, roughly enough that his pile of books toppled - Maugham, Wodehouse, Kipling. He yanked back the torn bit of linoleum and reached under it.

The r/t was still there. The Guardsmen had not searched his rooms. Good.
He pushed the switch. “Four-five to Alpha One. Four-Five.”

“I hear you, Four-Five,” said a friendly female voice. Betty, probably, or Julia. No, Betty, who was more likely to be there during the day. Julia had a day job, though he didn’t know what it was. “His high-and-mighty-ship is busy right now, is it an emergency?”

“You’d better believe it, sweetheart, or I wouldn’t be calling. Tell the big cheese I was taken.”

“Taken?”

“By the Autarchy.”

There was a short silence. “What do you mean?”

“Taken, you dolt!” Doyle exploded in anger, which had nothing to do with Betty. “I’ve been a prisoner in the Halls of Criminal Justice. Now let me talk to Alpha One.”

She said, “No one survives the Halls of Criminal Justice.”

“You think I don’t know that?” He was sweating. “Just put him on, darling. Please.”
She took a deep breath. “Ray? You all right?”

“I don’t know,” said Doyle. “I don’t know how to tell any more.”

Betty must have told Cowley what Doyle had said, because he came onto the r/t quickly. “Doyle! Are you there? Betty says you were taken.”

“Yeah.”

“They let you live.”

“I don’t know why. I’m not sure what happened.”

“What did you say?”

“I don’t know.” But a memory came back, a shaming and damnable memory. “I said your name.”
There was short silence. Then: “You’d better come in.”

“All right,” said Doyle shortly, and cut the connection.

For the safety of all concerned, it had been established early on that agents did not, unless and until necessary, physically come to Cowley. Sometime he came to them. More often they talked through the untraceable technology of the r/t, or the more uncertain telephone system. Cowley and his technicians thought they had mastered the art of detecting the Autarchy’s phone-taps, but they could not be sure.

Only a few agents had been to Cowley’s headquarters. Only a few had been there without blindfolds, and could go there again at any time. Four-five was one of those few.
He put the r/t back under the linoleum and put his table back on top of it. He stacked up his books again, with The Magus on top of the stack. He went to wash and shave - his mouth felt odd, not as if he had been drinking, but more as if he had been using a particularly potent brand of toothpaste. He washed out his mouth and looked at himself in the mirror. He did not look like a man who had been worked over by the Autarchy Inquisition. He looked more like the actor Doyle, ready to go on stage as Achilles.

Achilles. Christ. He wrote a note and paid a runner to take it to Archie. He assured him that he was alive, and would be on stage tonight, and he’d explain later. Archie was probably beside himself. Archie was probably afraid it might happen again.
Could Doyle promise it wouldn’t?

We went out as if going for a stroll, pulling the door shut behind him, making plans to get another lock. Locks were expensive luxuries, and it didn’t fill him with confidence to know that the Guardsmen had kicked his door open as if it had not existed.

He went to the shopping centre on the Strand, the one with six entrances and four levels. Once, it had been part of the University of London and related buildings. Now it was a collection of boutiques and bazaars, department stores and specialty shops and fast food, where designer clothes in home-grown fabrics were displayed to the aroma of chip shops and other luxuries. Most people could not afford fuel in their homes, and this was a good place for hot food.

He went past the tea shop and the music shop to the further lift. He pushed the button for the bottom level, and then, once the doors shut, put his hand against the invisible sensor pad. “Four-five,” he said.

The lift lurched, and went obediently below the lowest level.
When he stepped out, he was in CI5.

CI5 was all lights and shadows, a place run in cleanliness and covert efficiency. Anson was the man on the door. “Heard you were dead,” he said, signing Doyle in.

“No. I was arrested by the Autarch’s men.”

“Same thing.”

“I used to think so.”

“Now?”

“I’m alive. Can’t think why.”

“Thought for a bit there I’d get the girls to myself.”

“Too bad.”

“Seriously, Doyle...”

“I missed a performance!” said Doyle. He had never done that before.

“Did you talk?”

“I have to talk to the Cow,” said Doyle, evading the question. He went down the hall quickly, trying not to think. It was for Cowley to think. He would tell him everything he knew, everything he remembered.

He went to Cowley’s door and knocked. “Come in,” said the Controller in his Scot’s-accented voice, and Doyle went in. Cowley stood, removing his glasses to see him better.
“Ach, lad, you look all right. They didn’t hurt you?”

“No, sir. The Baron used a sword, but....” He looked at his hands, looked at the tendon between his index finger and the one next to it. He could see a faint red cut. “I seem to be all right.” He frowned, remembering something else. “My clothes.”

“What about them?”

“He cut them off.” Doyle sat in the chair. “I was wearing these jeans, this shirt. He used his sword and cut them bit by but until they fell off me....”

“Perhaps they gave you drugs, and you imagined it.”

“No. That was afterwards. That was...” He tried to imagine possibilities. He knew his clothes had been shredded. But now he was wearing them. The same ones, including the coffee stain from the theatre party beforehand. He stared at his leg, and noticed for the first time the irregularities in the cloth that had not been there before. Tiny irregularities, but many of them. And in the shirt as well. “Bloody hell!” he said. “It was mended.”

“Not replaced?”

“No, why would they replace my clothes? Mended.”

“Why would they mend them?” asked the Scotsman.

The actor and the revolutionary stared at each other in mutual confusion. Then Cowley called for McCabe, asked him to take a blood sample from Doyle and have it analyzed at once. McCabe took the blood quickly in a small syringe, and disappeared with his full test tube. Doyle rubbed his arm, feeling like a pin cushion, tired of being pricked: the Guardsmen with their samples, the Emerald Baron with his sword, over and over. And now McCabe, who was supposed to be on his side.

“Tell me about it from the beginning,” said Cowley, switching on his tape recorder. He went over to his cupboard, and took out two glasses and a bottle. “Some scotch will help you with it.”

“Perhaps I shouldn’t, sir. I’m recovering from whatever drugs they gave me, and I go on stage in a few hours.”

Cowley shrugged. “Help yourself, if you wish.”

Doyle thought why not, and poured himself a shot. “Prosit,” he said.

Cowley settled back in the chair. “Tell me everything you remember.”

“I was asleep,” said Doyle, playing it through his memory like a script to be presented to an audience. The breaking in, the arrest, the being dragged to the Halls of Criminal Justice. Cowley asked questions, let him free-associate, let him go back over points he skipped or points which made no sense. As he spoke, his memory awakened. The details of the questions, some of them over and over. The dark serge of the Emerald Baron’s cloak. The sound of his breathing in the large, empty room. The thump of his boots on the floor. The feel of the cold floor against Doyle’s bare legs, the taste of fear in his mouth, the trickle of sweat down his cold back.

All those questions.

And finally, the fingers in his mouth and the explosion of taste, followed by nothing. Waking up, against all expectation: at home, and safe and alive. Unfollowed and intact.

“Can’t fathom it,” said Cowley. He clicked off the tape recorder. “Of hundreds of poor souls taken by the Autarchy, you are the first to emerge. We shall try to draw a map from your specifications.”

“I didn’t see much,” said Doyle, hesitantly.

“No, lad, but you’re the only person outside the Autarchy who has seen anything of it at all!”

“Sir,” said Doyle awkwardly, “aren’t you missing something? Shouldn’t you be evacuating? Moving quickly, before they come here and kill everyone in your establishment?”

Cowley regarded him with a certain sorrow. “Is that your advice?”

“Yes, sir. I said your name. Under drugs, I must have said more.”

“You don’t know that.”

“There are several good reasons to think so. One: that is what the drug was for. Two: I was already disoriented and in a weakened condition. Three: They let me live.”

“I fail to follow your logic,” said Cowley. “I would argue on the contrary that if you had talked they would have no reason to let you live. That’s three. Two: you were perhaps too disoriented and confused, particularly after ingesting the drug, to make any sense even if you did talk. And, one, you don’t know it was a drug to make you talk.”

“He said-”

“You think an Emerald Baron would hesitate to lie to you?”

“No, but.... What do you think the drug was, then?”

“An aphrodisiac.”

“But....”

“You said it gave you erotic feelings, which you remembered afterwards.”

“But why?”

“Doyle! More than a thousand people stare at you in lust every evening, and you wonder why someone might give you a dose of love-potion?”

“He doesn’t even go to plays,” said Doyle.

“Ah, of course. And we have already established that members of the Autarchy never lie.”

“It makes no sense. He could have...” Doyle’s voice trailed off.

“I have never known a man whose body is more coveted than yours,” said Cowley. “It is one reason you are of such use to me. You go on stage and you mesmerize them with your charisma. You can use it, and you do. Preferably on my behalf.” He pushed a button on his intercom.

“Betty! You’ve cued up the video-screen?”

“Yes, sir.”

Another button, and the view-screen on the side wall was activated. It was a chemical analysis. Doyle read rapidly, trying to understand it. A blood sample - his own. The foreign chemicals, or traces of foreign chemicals, that had been in it. “What are those things?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” said Cowley. “My experts clearly don’t know. You are the recipient of an expensive and rare designer drug, such as the Autarchy likes to experiment with. An aphrodisiac would not be outside the realm of likelihood.”

“You can’t be sure,” said Doyle, again.

“Nor can you be sure I am wrong.” Cowley pushed a button on the remote, changing his viewscreen to a man’s face; and another, and another. “Shall we see what kind of man would use such a thing on you?” Cowley rapidly flipped through a slide-show of aging, grim faces. He stopped at one that was quite different.

Dark hair. Blue eyes. Irregular eyebrows. A flexible, beautiful mouth.

“That’s him!” said Doyle, and the video zoomed in on the face, focussing. “Bodie.”

“The Emerald Baron,” said Cowley. “His other names, if they exist, are unknown, as are his origins. He first appeared in the hierarchy four years ago, a rising star of the ranks. He must have started with some position like lavatory-scrubber, but he suddenly appeared at the rank of Knight and then of Baron, having access to the Autarch’s ear and to all the rooms of the Palace.”

“Bodie,” said Doyle, staring at the face.

“Your man.”

“Why?” said Doyle. “Why’d he let me go?”

“I think he will be in touch with you again.”

“Why do you think that?”

“He imprisons you, interrogates you without torturing you, and lets you go. He gives you your clothes back, mended. He wipes the record - he must have, otherwise you would be dead, or still in prison. He cuts the interrogation short - do you think, if he had been serious about learning all our secrets, that he wouldn’t have known everything he wanted to know? Instead he sends you home. No. Fear of rebels might be his excuse, but it wasn’t his reason.”

“You think he wants me.”

“Aye. I’d bet money on it.”

“You don’t think I talked.”

“I believe you said my name. I believe he ignored it. I don’t think that is what he cared about. I think he was more interested in cutting off your clothes with that emerald sword of his.”

Doyle looked again at the screen. The blue eyes seemed vivid and mysterious even in the still photograph. “I don’t believe it.”

“Is there another reason, lad, the Autarchy didn’t come to destroy us before you had even left their hands?”

“I don’t know.”

“He’ll come calling on you, Four-five. You can count on it.”

Doyle shifted uneasily. “Do we know anything else about him?”

“He is known to be incorruptible.”

“Nonsense,” said Doyle. “There’s only one man alive who is incorruptible, and that’s you.”

“True,” said Cowley. “Your job, therefore, will be to find his Achilles heel - and corrupt him.”

 

With or without an iffy heel, Achilles that night gave the performance of his life.

It might not have been great Shakespeare. It may or may not have been great theatre. But it glittered and shone with passion and promise; doomed Hector, heartbroken Achilles, scheming Ulysses - so like Cowley in spirit that Doyle wanted to laugh.

He had always played the role with a sexual, sensuous edge - he truly believed that was how Shakespeare would have wanted it. He had always done it so, but this time it had an added edge, because Cowley thought the Emerald Baron would be in the audience.

It was nonsense, of course. Barons did not go to plays. If a Baron should want to see a play, which is not a thing a Baron would, he (or she or it) would snap their fingers and the actors, set, props and stage would promptly go where they were bidden to perform for an audience of one.
Bodie had never seen a play. Why would he want to start now? He had a country to run. The work of a playwright who had died more than four hundred years ago, writing about kings and generals and demi-gods who had lived, if they lived at all, more than four thousand years ago - well, it was hardly relevant for the reigning elite of modern England.

He will not come, thought Doyle. And part of him wished he would. His pulse beat faster at the thought that the Emerald Baron, his Emerald Baron, might be there in the audience, watching his movements - his own flash of the sword, there, just as Bodie had done it last night; his leap to the floor from the dais, the smouldering glance he gave Hector, so much more intense than his kisses for Patroclus. His cry of agony on learning of Patroclus’ death. His oath of vengeance: Hector the great must die. The culmination of his relationship with Hector, not in sex, but death. My half-supp’d sword that frankly would have fed, Pleas’d with this dainty bait, thus goes to bed.

Bodie, watching him. The flick of the sword - his, now, not Bodie’s - with the motion of the wrist he had learned from Bodie through those hours of interrogation. He was a survivor, like Achilles.

He played to Bodie tonight, not to the fat woman in the balcony, but to his dark interlocutor. As Cowley wished, he would seduce his enemy and bring him to his knees. He had enslaved many a heart, some of people he would never know, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unknowingly.
He was Achilles, and an actor is a kind of modern demi-god.

He played with all his passion, letting out the hatred and fear and lust and longing that had been banked since last night - a lifetime ago. He played to the man who wore layers of dark serge with emerald trim, and kid gloves, and who had a melodious voice.
You’re mine, Bodie, he thought. Because I am going to destroy you as Achilles destroyed Hector, and bring your empire down with you.

After the performance he was filled with energy, as if the audience had fed him.

He went to his dressing room, pausing on the way to speak to Kelly, who was still arranging props for tomorrow. “I’ll be in my room, luv. Don’t let anyone in, all right?”

“Not anyone?” she asked, ironic. Doyle knew that she knew him well; recognized the signs. On a night like this, he usually wanted sex, and certain persons, or categories of persons, were allowed access to his dressing room. Some nights, he truly wanted to be alone, but this was not one of those nights.

He didn’t answer. He was tempted to say, “Only the servants of the Autarchy,” but he didn’t bother. If one of the Hierarchy wanted to come to his dressing room, no props girl was likely to keep him out. The Autarch’s minions went wherever they wished, and no one tried to stop them.

In his dressing room, Doyle washed off the make-up. He did not change out of his golden kilt, because he liked the way it felt, and the leather straps of the sandals around his calves. Achilles’ mother was a goddess, his lover a soldier, his enemy a prince. Sometimes after a performance, Doyle felt slightly more than human himself.

He looked in the mirror at his washed face, wondering at himself. He wanted Bodie to come to his room. He wanted revenge. He wanted to get his hands on this slave of the Autarch who made slaves of them all, and to bend his heart and break it.

Sex had come easily to Ray Doyle, and often. He had loved, he supposed, in the past; when he was young, and still thought happiness attainable. He had loved and lost and thought it better not to love again. Sex was easy and cheap and satisfying, as long as you didn’t let them get too close. And it was a useful way to get information for Cowley. Stars of the stage are expected to be promiscuous; they are not expected to be spies.

So his heart, such as it was, was given to his work: to roles as mutable as his love life. And to Cowley and the quest for freedom, for which he would lay his life on the line. If any human being meant anything to him on a personal level, it was the incorruptible, clever, cold, incomparable and sexless Cowley.

And one other: not cold, not sexless, probably not incorruptible. His interrogator, his enemy, his own Emerald Baron. He could not articulate his feelings of fascination, hatred and lust. He did not even know if the feelings were his own, or engendered by the drug or by Autarch hypnosis.

He only knew they were there in his heart, and he burned with them.

He sat, staring into his own eyes in the mirror, waiting for a man who almost certainly would
not come.

Then the door opened and shut, and Bodie was there.

It was not a large dressing room, and the presence of armoured cloak and great-coat and heavy jacket over a man of more-than-small stature filled the room like an elephant in a playpen. Doyle himself was slight and powerful, and almost naked. He liked the contrast, which, this time, was in his favour.

He stood. “What, comes the General to speak with me?

Bodie nodded. “I wanted--” He stopped abruptly.

“I hoped you would come,” said Doyle.

Bodie stood with his back to the door, his face pale. “I have seen a play,” he said.

“You have seen my performance,” corrected Doyle.

“Achilles.”

“Good lawful English fare,” said Doyle. “Think of Priam as Charles the First.”

“What?”

Doyle shrugged. “Or not, if you don’t want to.” He stood, leaning his rump against the dressing-table, his arms crossed over his bare chest. “So you came to give your regards to the star? You could have brought flowers.”

“I never saw anything like it,” said Bodie.

Doyle considered. “You might try She Stoops to Conquer over at the Tivoli. Or Jumpers at the Princess. The lead is a cow, but that needn’t bother you. We haven’t run out of British plays yet, and if necessary, we’ll call ourselves Shakespeare and write a few more.”

“Call yourself -?”

“I forget,” said Doyle sweetly. “The Autarchy has no sense of humour. Want a drink?”

“No, thank you.”

“You don’t drink? So that’s why you wouldn’t offer me anything yesterday.”

Bodie made a gesture with his hand. Doyle took a sip of his own drink - stage tea - and, carefully putting down the crystal glass, stepped closer to the Baron. “Aren’t you hot in that?”

“I am hot,” admitted Bodie.

“Take it off, then,” said Doyle. He was using Achilles’ voice, but projecting for the intimacy of a small room and a small audience. He kept his sexual presence turned up high. It was easy. It was intoxicating.

The Baron unclasped the enamelled, armoured collar of his cloak, and pushed it off his shoulders. It fell to the floor.

Doyle took a step forward, and started to unbutton the greatcoat. “Are you nervous?” he said.

“Yes,” said Bodie. “I don’t know why.”

“Because you are about to make love to a star.”

“Am I?”

“Yes.”

“That is not why....”

“Not why you came to my dressing room? Liar,” said Doyle congenially. He stroked a hand down the cloth of the greatcoat, feeling the layers of decoration and design. “You came because you wanted me.”

“No,” said Bodie, but he did not push Doyle away.

“Oh? Then why did you come?” Smiling innocently, Doyle smoothed back the lapels of the greatcoat, and started to work on the frogs of the jacket. He let the enforced proximity of the small room overwhelm them; his leg touching Bodie’s leg, his breath close to his neck. Assuming the Baron could feel anything under all those damn clothes.

“Because... I admired your acting.”

“Good. That’s the first step,” said Doyle. He loosened the top buttons of Bodie’s white shirt, finding skin at last. He bent his head and tapped at the skin with the tip of his tongue. Bodie gasped. “Do you like that?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know,” said Bodie, in agony.

“No? Maybe we should try a little more, to be sure.” Doyle worked on the shirt buttons. He let his bare leg slip between Bodie’s thighs.

Bodie said, “We do not....”

“What, you don’t fuck?”

“No.”

“You mean, you don’t fuck men?”

“No one.”

“Well, how do you breed new little autarchists, then?”

“I don’t mean, no one does. I mean, I don’t.” Bodie moved uncomfortably as Doyle kissed his right nipple. “That feels--”

“Good?”

“Yes,” said Bodie, with the utmost uncertainty.

“Good.” Doyle continued lapping it, and started to suck. Then he stepped back and said. “You telling me you’re some sort of priest?”

“I am not sworn to chastity, no. But--”

“Are you a virgin?”

Bodie opened his mouth, saying nothing.

“With men?” Bodie nodded quickly. “With women?” Bodie nodded again.

“That’s good,” said Doyle. “I like virgins. I eat them as an after-show snack.” He straightened Bodie’s greatcoat around his shoulders, hiding the open shirt and the open jacket and the reddened nipple that he had quickly grown fond of. “Do you have transportation?” he said.

“My car.”

“Good. Let’s go to my place.”

Doyle had not been in a car since childhood, and he had never been in one of the new breed of cars such as were owned by members of the Autarchy. He marvelled at the plush upholstery - in emerald, of course - and the glow of the electronic controls. The vehicle moved so smoothly it was like flying, but it was almost entirely silent.

As were it occupants. Doyle traced patterns on the palm of Bodie’s hand, letting his leg touch Bodie’s, saying nothing. Let him anticipate. Did he know what he was anticipating? Like enough. He’d certainly seen all of Doyle’s body, not so long ago. And almost as much on stage.
Bodie stopped the vehicle, on Doyle’s instructions, outside his place. They walked up the stairs. Doyle pushed open the door. “They broke the lock when they took me,” he said, in a casual way that was the most difficult acting he had done all day: it was hard not to let his bitterness show.

He pushed the door shut. “Take off your clothes,” he said to Bodie.

The buttons were still mostly unbuttoned. Bodie pushed off the clothes, his eyes not leaving Doyle, who watched him. He struggled with the boots - it was clear that he never had to undress himself - and Doyle moved smoothly to one knee and pulled at it, then the other. He stayed kneeling as he watched Bodie push down his trousers, and he helped to pull them over his feet. Then he rubbed his cheek against Bodie’s cock and rubbed his hands over his buttocks, and whispered, “You like this? Tell me you like it.”

“I like it more than anything,” said Bodie, his voice low and breathless.

Doyle stood, moving back from him, feeling Bodie’s eyes following him with burning intensity. “What do you want?”

“I don’t know.”

“You must have some idea. Or don’t they show the sex ed videos to little autarchs in school?”

“I saw them,” admitted Bodie. “I just don’t know. I never did any of it.”

“Not through insufficient equipment,” said Doyle, running his hands over Bodie’s cock. “They’re mad to have let you slip through their fingers.” He bent down and played with Bodie’s foreskin with his tongue. Bodie touched his head with a gentle, tentative caress, running fingers through his hair.

Doyle said, “Let me fuck you.”

“Yes,” said Bodie.

It was like hiring a whore or keeping a slave. He lay as Doyle shoved him onto the bed, and lifted his legs so his knees were to his shoulders, and watched as Doyle rubbed lotion on himself and on Bodie’s arse, and sucked at the tip of his cock to keep him interested, though it was hardly necessary. Then he used his hands on Bodie’s cock as he pushed into him, murmuring platitudes and encouragement as if he were talking to a horse. Bodie devoured him with his eyes and cried out in joy and let him do whatever he wanted, thrusting and cursing and pounding into him with increasing power and even hysteria. It was a dream come true. He was fucking the autarchy.

He came in a daze of sensations, and dropped onto the bed beside Bodie.

“Ray?” said Bodie. His voice trembled.

“Yeah?” said Doyle. He reached over and put a hand on Bodie’s shoulder. He wasn’t sure why he did it, but Bodie put a hand warmly on top of his.

Bodie said, “That is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me.” He didn’t say I love you but his eyes said it for him.

“It was good,” agreed Doyle, and pretended to fall asleep.

He pretended to be asleep still when Bodie got up, and dressed, and went down the stairs to return to the Palace.

Alone in a tumbled bed, Doyle thought about his conquest.

Who, now, was the victim?

 

Part 3: Britons never, never

To be the lover of a servant of the Autarch was a new experience, and Doyle revelled in it. It gave him a sense of power, that a man of limitless power wished to please him, in bed and out. It gave him a sense of worth, to be able to get information about the Autarchy for Cowley. In his more optimistic moods, he thought he would be able to bring down the government. He pictured Bodie telling him, in all innocence, the details of the Autarch’s one fatal weakness.

Then he would go to the Autarch’s Palace, and kill him.

It was a fine little fantasy, but Doyle was enough of a cynic to realize it wouldn’t happen that way. For one thing, it was clear that Bodie was not a talker. His love was non-verbal and strong.

They both had busy schedules. Doyle worked at night, in the theatre; Bodie worked at all times, according to the needs of the Autarch. Sometimes, when he had a night free, he would come to Doyle’s flat and learn the mysteries of sex. He was, Doyle had to admit, a quick pupil, with intuitive understanding.

“It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in love,” explained Bodie. “It was that the ways to learn about sex among my people usually involved the sexual use of those without the means to refuse - servants, prisoners, slaves. I was not interested.”

“You grew up in the Autarchy, then?” asked Doyle.

“Yes, of course. How else could I be Emerald Baron?”

“Dunno. No one knows how these things work.”

“Even among us,” said Bodie drily. “I know how I did it. My parents were servants of the Autarch in the early days. They died; I was raised as a servant of the Autarch, in the Palace. I had many options as to my education.”

“So what did you do? Go to Autarch training school? University?”

“Do they still exist? No. I dropped out at fourteen.”

“Go on! And they say education is the route to advancement.”

Bodie grinned. He never smiled much. At first he had smiled hardly at all. Then as time went by and he became more comfortable with Doyle, less desperate, less urgent in his needs, he had learned to relax and to let a certain natural humour shine through. Doyle liked those moments. He knew they denoted weakness.

“I already knew anything they could teach me.”

“Except sex.”

“That wasn’t on the curriculum. I took to working in the Autarch’s office - whatever jobs they’d give me. I proved that I was good at them, and quick, and discreet. I advanced. I earned the Autarch’s personal notice. He made me Baron.”

“Why the Emerald clan?”

“My parents served the Emeralds.”

“Couldn’t you have gone to something different, then?”

“Why would I?” asked Bodie. He lay his head back on the pillow, resting on his palms. “There are concepts of loyalty involved, at least in principle. But if the Autarch told me to change clan, it would be done. There are no rules beyond his will. If he had said I would be a Black, I would be a Black.”

“Never heard of them,” said Doyle.

“They are the invisible clan.”

“It’s a whole other world,” said Doyle.

“Uh-huh.” Bodie looked around the room. “I feel that way when I come here. All these papers and books and furniture and bits of... of things.”

“Things?”

“And no space.”

“It’s a matter of wealth,” said Doyle. “If you have money, you have space.”

Bodie shook his head. “But I have no money.”

“You’re rich!”

“I have nothing that does not belong to the Autarch.”

Doyle groaned, and lay his head on Bodie’s shoulder. “You have the total use of millions of pounds and the service of any person you speak to and beautiful clothes and I’m sure your living quarters are gorgeous, being in a Palace and all. I call that wealth.”

“I never thought of it like that,” said Bodie.

“You can eat precisely what you want to eat. You have access to fuel and - oh, Christ, I don’t know, technology such as I’ve never seen. Don’t you?”

“I suppose so,” said Bodie. “But it doesn’t belong to me.”

“You have a telephone? A computer dedicated to your own use? A vid-player? A car?”
“Yes, but --”

“But they really belong to the bloody Autarch. I know. Do you mean to say you think the Autarch might repossess your car?”

“No,” said Bodie. “No, I really don’t think so.”

“See?” said Doyle. He rolled over, trying to get more contact with Bodie’s warm skin. Bodie was a delightful lover in many ways; inventive, too. Even caring. A pity he was a servant of the system.

“Ray?”

“Hmm?” Doyle was nuzzling and kissing and nibbling his ear.

“It is forbidden to talk about the bloody Autarch.”

“What?”

“It is disrespectful.”

“Oh, Christ, it’s just an actor’s way of talking. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Didn’t you?”

“No!” said Doyle, indignant. He thought of a few worse epithets he could have used for the Autarch, but didn’t say them aloud.

Bodie ran his hands in widening circles over Doyle’s body. “I find it amazing that you have escaped the law so long. Mouthy wretch.”

“I am, aren’t I?” said Doyle happily. “Is that why you had me arrested?”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Bodie.

“I’d like to know.”

A shadow passed over Bodie’s face: for a moment it was the Emerald Baron of the interrogation room, then it was Bodie again.

“No,” he said, and Doyle knew that he would not change his mind.

 

In November, after a performance of Troilus, a Guardsman came to the theatre, and waited at Doyle’s dressing room.

For one terrible moment, seeing him, Doyle feared another arrest.

Instead the man saluted and said, “The Emerald Baron extends an invitation to you to visit him this evening. I am instructed to drive you, if it is your will.”

As if an actor, however illustrious, could refuse the direct command - or invitation - of a Baron. Might as well refuse the Autarch himself.

“Let me get washed and changed first,” said Doyle. Surprisingly, the man stood by, and waited, while cast and crew walked around him as they went about their duties, looking at him with nervous eyes. They didn’t have Doyle’s reasons to be nervous.

At least this would leave him something to tell Cowley about.

The sleek and smooth-running car was the same one as before, or something identical. It took less than ten minutes to get to the Autarch’s Palace, past Trafalgar Square and through the elegant wrought-iron arched gates. Then through an avenue of trees; then into what at first seemed a garage but then appeared to be a tunnel or lift. Then the doors at the other end opened a moment later, he was facing a long corridor.

“Christ!” he muttered, and looked at the Guardsman, who simply got out and held his door open for him.

The Guardsman saluted. “The second door on the right,” he said. “His Excellency’s quarters.”
Like a man in a dream, Doyle walked along the corridor alone. The tiled floor was not white, but a pattern of teak and mahogany. The tracery on the upper part of the walls was not gold, but carved wood. The wallpaper was rich and beautiful to the eye, relieved by arched and mullioned windows from time to time. Doyle walked slowly, savouring it. He’d never seen such a place, not even on a stage.

The corridor was wider than most city streets.

He got to the second door on the right, and, after a moment’s hesitation, tapped his knuckles against the wood.

“Come in,” said Bodie’s voice.

He entered, and shut the door behind him.

Bodie was standing by his fireplace, staring at the fire. He looked up, and said, “I thought you should come to my place, for a change.”

“I’m here,” said Doyle obediently. “They aren’t going to behead me or anything, are they? I thought only the Autarchs’ servants got to be here.”

Bodie shook his head, and left the fire, crossing the room towards Doyle. It was a huge room, like a ballroom in proportions, or bigger. There were two doors, leading God knows where. A large canopied bed, the canopy in Emerald and gold, the curtains drawn around it. There was a table, mahogany with brass trim - Doyle knew that Cowley, with his taste in antiques, would have given his soul for it. Two chairs at the table, and a portable computer monitor on it. The computer casing was in emerald, with a fine neon band around the screen.
Otherwise, space. All there was in this room, was space.

“Don’t you own anything?” said Doyle, but Bodie was holding him tight, and kissing him, and Doyle let him do it, falling into the embrace, letting it take over his thinking processes. He should be careful: Bodie was doing this more and more, getting to his senses and weakening his defenses. He should never foret who he was dealing with: one of the most powerful authorities in England. Dedicated, workaholic servant-of-the-Autarch Bodie.

Bodie ran his hands down Doyle’s arms. “Welcome to my home, such as it is. No, I don’t own much of anything, I told you.” He smiled one of those rare, warm smiles. “Welcome to my bed.”

“Isn’t this forbidden?”

Bodie looked alarmed. “What?”

“Having a peon in your place.”

“No, of course not. We have no restrictions. We can invite anyone in.”

“But only the servants of the Autarch can come to the Palace.”

“Or those who are invited. What, do you think I’ll get my wrists slapped for inviting you?”

“Not exactly. I was actually fearing I’d get my hands cut off. Or even more valuable parts.”

Bodie shook his head. “What a fearsome reputation we have. No, you are safe.”

“Even if the Autarch walked in?”

“He doesn’t usually.”

“Don’t evade my point.”

“If the Autarch walked in now, and saw you in my arms, and saw me kissing you like this, he would simply conclude that you were my current sex toy.”

“It’s true, isn’t it?”

“No,” said Bodie. “The other way around, actually.” He smiled again.

On Bodie’s turf, Doyle felt different:vulnerable. It was all very well to be the sexually irresistible Doyle of the stage, a channel for Shakespeare’s enthralling words, a symbol to those who heard him. Or to be Four-five, Cowley’s man, milking a sucker for his information. Or to be himself, Ray Doyle, actor, spy, simple bloke trying to keep himself alive and do something to restore freedom to his world.

In Bodie’s room, he was a man in a dangerous place that was not his home. This was foreign ground, as alien as a spaceship and as cold as the Arctic. Despite the fire. Peons lived without heat most of the time, because they couldn’t afford it. Bodie, who could afford anything that existed on earth, was living in the chill of winter, possibly because of all the damn clothes he was expected to wear, although right now he was in plain black trousers and pullover, looking quite like a normal man. Well, perhaps more handsome than normal. Doyle would be the first to admit that the Emerald Baron was good looking.

“And how,” said Bodie in a low voice, “can your sex slave please you tonight?”

It gave Doyle the confidence he needed,filling him in a surge, leaving him touching Bodie’s face with firm, exploring fingers. “As I would buy thee, view thee limb by limb.”

“Limb by limb,” said Bodie, “I will be yours.”

Doyle slept the night in Bodie’s warm sheets and his warm arms. He felt a certain triumph, waking in the morning, seeing the luxury around him. He was in the Palace. How far was he from the Autarch’s person? He wondered about his role as an assassin. They would need, of course, a map of the place. How much could he manage, from a view of one corridor? How did the car entrances work?

He was warm and secure in his enemy-lovers’ bed. Bodie wanted him here. Such misplaced trust boded well.

The curtain ripped open. “Well, sleepyhead,” said Bodie cheerfully. “You decided to wake up.”
Doyle squinted up at him. “How’s it so bright?”

“Daylight.”

“Sunlight?” Doyel groaned. “We don’t have that much in the real world.”

“Means morning.” Bodie wandered away to the table, and wandered back. He was wearing a black kimono with emerald insignia. In his hand was a mug, steaming a rich-smelling. “Here, this will get you up.”

Doyle sat, settling the pillows behind him. “What is it?”

“Coffee.”

“Fuck! Really?”

“Careful, the handle’s hot.”

Doyle carefully took the handle, and sniffed. “Real coffee? I thought that was illegal.”

“Not if it’s British coffee.”

“Thought you couldn’t grow coffee beans in England.” He took a tentative sip of the burning liquid. His eyes widened. “It’s good.”

“Uh-huh. Amazing what technology can do.”

Doyle sipped again, and ran a hand through his hair. “Shouldn’t you be at work? What time is it?”

“Almost eleven. I’ve been at work since eight. I came back in hopes that you might want to fool around.”

“Is that why you woke me?”

“No. I let you sleep. I’ve been working at my desk for an hour.”

Doyle took another sip of coffee. “Funny way to treat your sex slave.”

“I told you - I’m the slave.”

“Then get into this bed,” said Doyle, and, smiling, Bodie did so, untying the belt of the kimono and reaching his arm around Doyle’s waist.

Doyle said, “You like role reversal?”

“I like loving you.” Bodie pushed the blankets aside, kissing Doyle’s belly, risking burns from the mug of coffee held over his head. “I never loved anyone before.” He looked up at Doyle. “Know you don’t believe me.”

“Sure I do. You really were a virgin.”

“I didn’t mean that. I mean, I never felt this way.”

“You loved the Autarch, didn’t you?”

“That was duty. Conditioning.”

“Impersonal, you mean?”

“Yes... impersonal. With you, it’s something I never knew before.”

“Is that why you let me live? After the interrogation?”

Bodie was surprised. “No.” He rolled back on the pillowless side of the capacious bed. “No, that wasn’t it.”

“You surprise me, sometimes,” said Doyle.

“Do I?” Bodie looked thoughtful. Doyle thought, with a slight surprise, how very beautiful he was. The thought disconcerted him. Damn! He knew by now what Bodie looked like.
Because he had felt himself weakening, he said quickly, “So how’d you get your training in sadism?”

“Sadism?”

“The euphemism is interrogation technique,” explained Doyle.

“I’m not denying it,” said Bodie bitterly. “Of course I’m a sadist, trained in an exacting school. I know precisely how to hurt and frighten people.”

“But you didn’t hurt me,” said Doyle. He said it as if he had just received a revelation. Those pricks of the sword had been nothing, mere show, had barely hurt his skin. It must take more skill to do that than to cut deeply.

“No, I didn’t hurt you,” said Bodie. For a moment, their eyes held, revealing more than was comfortable for either of them. Doyle looked away first.

To cover his thoughts he said quickly, “Are you playing hookey from your duties?”

“Of course not,” said Bodie, moving in again. Lips and hands and motion took their fill. In this venue, Bodie was in control, but at the same time, he managed to pull the sting from his authority. It occurred to Doyle as a sort of academic abstration, that he was coming to need this relationship as much as Bodie did.

He pushed the thought aside. It wasn’t true, anyway.

A while later there was an imperious knock on the door.

“Enter,” said Bodie, his breath unrecovered and his voice hoarse from the explosive orgasm he had just experience. Doyle wondered if they had heard him halfway down the hall. It occurred to him for the first time to wonder if the room was under surveillance, and if that was why Bodie slept in a canopied bed with curtains.

The Emerald Guardsman in the room said, “Lord Baron, the Autarch requests your attendance immediately.”

Bodie rolled out of bed in a quick and fluid moment, reaching the door of the wardrobe with one hand, pulling on his shirt and underwear. “Thank you, Jason. Will you take Doyle home?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Wait outside while he dresses.”

“Yes, sir.”

Bodie kissed Doyle as he buckled his belt on. Bodie the man was being transformed to the authoritative Baron before his eyes. He wondered how much they were alike. “I bought you a moment of privacy. I love you. May I come to you tonight?”

“Greedy,” said Doyle, with satisfaction. Bodie affectionately swatted him, and he laughed. “To
me, for me, with me, I don’t care.”

“Like I said,” replied Bodie, “Mouthy.”

He fastened on his jacket, and almost forgot to stop smiling as he went through the door.

 

Doyle went to the embankment and looked at the Thames. He strolled westwards, and down some steps, and inserted a key into a stone, and pushed the hidden door open, and went through, pushing it shut behind him. This was the back door to CI5 headquarters.

Inside, the grubby dampness was gone. Fisher said, “Hear you got to visit the Palace.”

“You have big ears. How’d Cowley find out? I was about to report to him.”

“We have our ways. What’s it like in there?”

“Beautiful and big,” said Doyle. Like Bodie’s cock, he thought, and felt himself blushing at the thought. Where had that come from? He was starting to be obsessive about this job. Why?
Because he might have died at Bodie’s hands.

What difference did that make?

He went to Cowley’s office, and made his verbal report. Everything of note about the decor, the layout, the details of the Palace. He did not know how the carports worked. He did not know what the computer in Bodie’s room was linked to. He had not seen a television, but there might have been more items than he had seen, secreted behind the walls. Marble walls, two windows, with emerald brocade curtains and windows that opened outwards to sunlight, and a courtyard. He described the room, and drew a map of it. And the corridor, and the courtyard, insofar as he had seen it.

“There seemed to be no difficulty getting me in and out,” said Doyle. “We were not challenged or questioned.”

“Aye, but you had Bodie’s car. That would be security enough.”

“Too bad it’s not at my beck and call,” said Doyle.

“Don’t worry, lad, we’re ahead of where we were. If we can get more before he tires of you, it’s more than enough.”

The thought of Bodie tiring of him hit him with a jolt. Of course it would happen. Already the affair had been going on longer than he’d expected - two months. He’d expected nothing, two nights perhaps, a little slumming on the part of the elite going a long way.
He didn’t want it to end.

There was so much information he could still get from Bodie. So many opportunities to strike at the Autarchy.

“Doyle?” said Cowley.

“Sir?”

“See if you can get him to talk about the drug he gave you. If we had a few clues, we could perhaps synthesize it ourselves. It would be very useful.”

“I’ll do my best,” said Doyle. “I wish he’d talk more in bed.”

“You distract him too much,” said Cowley drily.

“That gets him there. Can’t have it both ways,” pointed out Doyle.

In the intermission of the Scottish play on Friday, sipping the cold tea which he liked to refresh himself between acts, Doyle found himself thinking about Bodie in a new way. Bodie, the enemy. And himself.

He had loved before, of course. He had loved his parents - killed in the Takeover, taken by the Autarchy with millions of others. He had never learned their fate.

He had loved Marian, whom he had known as a teenager. She had loved him too, for a bit, but eventually had been frightened by his rebellious ways. She had called him a tearaway and a hooligan, and left him for a boy who worked in an electronics shop. That was when electronics shops still existed.

He had fallen in love again, when he had discovered the stage. He had fallen in love with all the great plays and all the great playwrights, with the smell and the feel and the possibilities of the stage. He had fallen in love with his fellow-actors and actresses and his directors and even, once, with a lighting designer. The more life was disrupted, the more he loved the stage. On stage, he could escape the Autarchy’s harsh rule in the realms of fantasy, and bring people there with him, watching him mesmerized night after night.

On stage, he could be heroic, desirable, remembered. On stage, he could make a difference.
Then he had met George Cowley, and learned another way he could make a difference.

He had made no secret, in the early days, of his hatred of the Autarchy. As time went by, he learned when and how to keep his mouth shut - a valuable lesson, even with friends and lovers. Especially with lovers, who, when they became ex-lovers, could be bitter and vengeful. He had learned that lesson, too.

As the years went by, he had become more and more sufficient unto himself. There had been plenty of sex with theatre-groupies and fans and colleagues and chance acquaintances. The better his roles, the more plentiful the sexual opportunities. Acting, he found, was like making love to an audience, and they wanted to reciprocate.
Fine.

Then more and more, the affairs meant less and less. He could not remember when he had last truly loved someone. It had no doubt ended in anger and frustration, if not bitterness and disillusionment. By the time there had been the Fairy Queen - by the time there had been Bodie - he was as insulated against feeling as the most careless whore.

And what had be been doing, but whoring for Cowley?

All in a good cause, but... it was getting more and more difficult to see Bodie as the enemy.

At the same time, Bodie seemed to be increasingly forgetting or discounting the difference in their status and their politics.

Bodie said, in bed, with Doyle lying on top of him and Doyle’s breath against his neck, “You are everything to me. You will never know what it means to me, to have human contact like this. I have never had this before.”

“We’re an odd sort of couple,” said Doyle.

“Why d’you say that?” Bodie played affectionately with his hair.

“Well... I’m an actor, you’re a plutocrat.”

“I’m not a plutocrat,” Bodie objected. “And it isn’t as if I were ever given a choice. I was brought up as a slave to the Autocracy. I remain a slave to the Autocrat. It’s what I do, it isn’t what I am.”

“And that’s a solipsism if ever I heard one,” said Doyle. “You’re rich, I’m poor. You’re dumb, I’m smart.” He got thumped for that, as he expected, and he laughed, kissing Bodie’s skin as he did, tickling him. “You serve the Autocracy as a slave, and I would never be a slave. I
hate the autocracy.”

He had not said it out loud for years. And this time, he said it to - Bodie had just admitted it - to the Autocrat’s loyal slave. Bodie could kill him on the spot, and justly. Or he could take him back to the Halls of Criminal Justice. Or...

Why had he said it? Was he testing Bodie?

Bodie’s hand ran through his hair, warmly and affectionately. Bodie said, “I understand,” and moved his head for a deep, rewarding kiss.

Doyle was at CI5 headquarters, revising the files. Since being assigned to Bodie, his other work for Cowley had slacked off, largely because Cowley did not want Bodie to suspect anything. Bodie was the biggest fish they had whiffed so far.

So Doyle’s task now was to reel him in, and keep the bait fresh.

Two months, and counting. The affair showed no sign of growing stale for Bodie. Doyle wasn’t sure what it was doing to him. He felt uneasy about it, as if something had gone wrong, but he could not place it. He did not address the issue directly in one of the debriefings, but left it till an afternoon where he and Cowley, in the CI5 rest room, were playing chess. He mentioned it casually, and made a botch of it.

“You don’t think he suspects your involvement with CI5?” said Cowley sharply.

“No, sir. Since my interrogation, there has been no indication.”

“No awkward questions?”

“None.” Since he had told Cowley about every conversation he and Bodie had shared, excepting only the bits about sex, and not all of them, this was the answer they both expected.
“So what disturbs you?”

“I don’t know,” said Doyle.

“Think about it,” said Cowley. “I trust your instincts. If you think something is wrong, something is wrong.” He moved his knight. “Check.”

Doyle hastily moved his king. “I’ll do my best.”

Cowley’s r/t buzzed. He activated it for dialogue. “Alpha One.”

It was Bodie’s voice. “George Cowley,” he said. “Please come to your office.” The r/t went dead.

“What the hell?” said Doyle.

Cowley said, “Who was that?” sharply.

“Bodie.”

“The Emerald Baron - with an r/t?”

Doyle did not answer. He was already on his way to Cowley’s office. His heart was thumping. If the Autarchy had infiltrated CI5 technology....

If that had happened, they would all be under arrest.

He opened the door to Cowley’s office, and stopped. Cowley bumped into him from behind.

Bodie was sitting at Cowley’s desk, in full Emerald regalia. He stood. “Forgive me, gentlemen,” he said, and stood aside for Cowley to take his own chair. “Your first impulse perhaps is to kill me. I hope you will wait till you hear what I have to say.”

Cowley sat in his chair. “Close the door, Doyle. Sir, I am George Cowley of CI5, the organisation dedicated to overthrowing the Autcracy. You, I take it, are the Emerald Baron, Bodie.”

“I imagine,” said Bodie drily, “that Doyle has been reporting to you about me.”

“Indeed he has. Please sit.”

Doyle held a chair for Bodie, who sat. Doyle took another chair beside him.

“How did you get in?” asked Cowley.

“I have known for two months of the location of this headquarters. No doubt Doyle - your agent Four-five - gave you a complete account of that night.”

“Insofar as he remembered it. I believe he recalled little after the administration of a certain drug.”

“Under the influence of that drug,” said Bodie, “ he told me everything he knows about you, and about CI5, and the people in it. I had hoped,” he added wistfully, “to met the lovely Betty, but she was not at her desk when I came by.”

Doyle snorted. Bodie grinned at him.

“Well?” said Cowley.

“Knowing what Doyle knew, I was able to infiltrate your systems. I was able to get an electronic palm-print to open the locks. I was able to design a pass, and electronic credentials, to get me into your office with apparent legitimacy. Only you can expose me as an interloper.”

“You will appreciate,” said Cowley, “that we don’t often have people here in a get-up the likes of yours.”

“My costume” said Bodie. “We must all dress for the parts we play.”

“Oh?” said Doyle. “Is this a farce or a tragedy?”

“An adventure,” said Bodie. He hesitated, looking for something in Doyle’s face and not finding it. “Possibly even a romance.”

“What do you want?” asked Cowley.

“I want to join you.”

Doyle laughed out loud. Bodie ignored him.

“A servant of the Autarchy? Joining an organisation dedicated to your own downfall?” Cowley shook his head. “You will understand, Baron, that we find this difficult to believe.”

“Yes,” said Bodie. “I can’t expect you to believe me easily, though you may reflect that your continued freedom and safety over the past two months is a mark in my favour. If I were your enemy, the Autarchy would have destroyed you utterly within days.”

“Hours,” said Doyle, who had seen how quickly they had acted in the purge which had destroyed both his parents, and his uncle as well.

“Why?” asked Cowley, scowling.

“Why come to you? Because there is no one else. Because I respect you. Because I can help you.”

“Why do you want to?” asked Doyle bluntly.

“Not just to impress you, if that’s what you were wondering.”

“Go on,” said Cowley.

“Everyone needs something to believe in. I grew up with the Autarchy, and grew unhappy with it - with its ethics, with its methods. I was taught to believe that the greatest good was social order. I came to believe that the greatest good was freedom. I did what I could... in ways small enough to shame me. I could not oppose the Autarch, I would simply be killed, with no advantage.

“Until I met Doyle.

“I gave him the drug, and he told me everything I needed to know about CI5, including access codes and names. In a few hours, I had everything I wanted.

“I deleted this information from the data banks. I erased all records of Doyle’s arrest. I spent the rest of the night mending his clothes, and then I took him home.”

“Personally?” asked Cowley.

“Of course, personally. How could I explain it to another servant of the Autarch? Or even to a Guardsmen? They are sworn to obey me and the clans they serve, but they are treacherous and greedy. Yes, I did it myself. I have no regrets. Your Doyle is safe, and I wish to do more for CI5. I wish to serve you instead of the Autarch.”

Doyle chewed his lip.

Cowley said, “You expect us to trust you?”

“I will prove my good faith in any way you choose. I will take the drug. I will swear on a Bible, if you use them.”

“Why now?” said Cowley. “Why decide to defect now?”

“Because the opportunity seems to have fallen into my lap.”

“And?”

“Because he is beautiful.”

Cowley’s face was a study in disgust. “You are betraying your echelon on a sexual whim?”

“Believe what you like,” snapped Bodie. But he added, “Not a whim, no. I think I can be of great help to you. You may accept my help, or kill me now -- if you do not trust me, you dare not let me live.”

“Not a whim,” said Cowley.

“How far do you demand I reveal myself?”

“All the way,” said Cowley.

“You would not ask this of one of your other agents.”

“Of course not. My other agents do not come to me wearing the cloak of the Autarch.”

Bodie took a deep breath. “It is very clear to me that the only person in this world whom I truly love holds me in contempt and hatred. I must earn his love. I must make him see the man behind the position. He hates me because I serve the Autarch. I hate myself for the same reason. It gives us a lot in common, and I hope he sees it.”

Cowley looked at Doyle, but Doyle was staring rather hard at Bodie.

“He allows me in his bed,” said Bodie, “only because he thinks I can give him information. I want him to want me there for other reasons. That is as frank as it is possible to be.... It is because he is beautiful, and it is not a whim.” He shrugged. “I might be of great use to your organisation. In any case, I have put my life at risk for CI5, on the gamble that you can’t afford to pass up my considerable assets.” He pulled the sword from the scabbard at his side, and lay it on Cowley’s desk. “I am at your mercy and at your convenience. Choose wisely. Choose quickly. Take me or kill me. Which?”

There was a brief, deep silence.

“Doyle?” said Cowley.

He spoke to Bodie, not Cowley. “Wasn’t contempt. Not ever. Hatred.... yeah, I hated you.”

“Do you still?”

Doyle said to Cowley, “Trust him.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Cowley. “To prove you don’t hate him? Because he feeds your vanity?”

“Because every man should have the opportunity to help us fight the Autarch, if that is what they wish.”

“And?”

“And because he didn’t hurt me when he could have. And he didn’t betray CI5. And because he came here alone.”

“A traitor to one cause can be a traitor to another,” said Cowley. “Is he a mole for us, or for them?”

“For us,” said Doyle. “They kill their moles.”

“It’s a risk.”

“Some risks are worth taking.”

“Aye,” said Cowley. “My thinking exactly. I welcome you in CI5, Bodie, and I leave you to Doyle’s care. I will give you an r/t; you will answer to Three-seven.”

“Thank you,” said Bodie. He looked at Doyle. “Will you answer my question?”

“Which one?”

“About hate. Do you hate me still?”

“I don’t know,” said Doyle.

 

He gave Bodie a tour of headquarters, taking a certain thrill in it. It had never occurred to him that Bodie might turn - in the whole history of the Autarchy, no such thing had happened. But there is always a first.

It occurred to him that Bodie’s defection freed him from having to sleep with the man for information. He wasn’t sure that was really want he wanted. In fact, now he thought about it, he knew it wasn’t what he wanted. Whether he hated him or loved him, he liked the way Bodie could make his body feel, in a narrow bed on a cold night. Or in the splendour of a Palace four-poster.

After the tour, he left Bodie to a debriefing with McCabe and Cowley. “I’m off to the theatre,” he said, over hot tea, in the rest room. Bodie, with his broad armoured shoulders shining in green enamel, seemed to fill the room overwhelmingly. There was no one else there. Doyle moved forward to kiss him, but Bodie held him off with one hand.

“No,” he said. “You don’t have to now.”

Doyle shrugged. “I was hoping to see you tonight. After the performance.”

“Acting does it, doesn’t it?” said Bodie. “Makes you hungry.”

Doyle wandered away from him, with his own cup of tea. “Yeah. Usually.”

“You don’t need to do it, now,” said Bodie.

“Suppose I want to?”

“Why do you want a man you hate?”

“Don’t hate you. Not now.”

“Do you love me?”

Doyle couldn’t answer.

“I don’t want your tolerance,” said Bodie. “Come back when you love me. I’m tired of half measures.”

Doyle looked at him sharply, shock. “Bloody hell - you’re cutting me off!”

“Got it in one,” said Bodie. “Why so surprised, sunshine? No one says ‘no’ to the star of Macbeth?”

“It isn’t that.”

“What, then?”

“Dunno. It doesn’t make sense to me. You throw away your whole life for my sake - then turn me down.”

“We aren’t lovers, Doyle. We’re colleagues now. Partners in an endeavour that is larger than any individuals. We can destroy the Autarchy in the end - it can be done - but it is dangerous and difficult. I know you know this. We may either, or both, end up in an interrogation room with a Baron of nastier intent than mine. Can we work together, do you think?”

“Of course,” said Doyle. He hesitated, then clapped Bodie on an armoured shoulder where, of course, he could not feel it. “Been doing it for years. It’s dangerous, yes. But worth it.”

 

Over the next weeks, Doyle wondered at the nature of love. Wondered how people learned to recognize it when it happened, and why he didn’t seem to have the mechanisms other people had, emotionally, to be sure. He had known, once. He couldn’t remember what that certainty had felt like.

He could remember only too well what sex with Bodie had felt like. It didn’t help that now he was seeing him frequently, working with him, sometimes in proximity as he assisted Cowley in the endless interrogations whereby Bodie told everything he knew, bit by bit, of the way the government worked and who worked it and how.

Doyle was astounded by the pettiness of the rivalries between the factions - the clans - and the casualness with which enemies were terminated. Cowley was astounded by nothing at all. “The Amber clan are my particular enemies,” said Bodie, “Due to historical differences. I don’t even know where the feud began. They have been trying to find dirt on me for years. This has not been possible. I have a hold over them - that makes the Amber Baron eager to eliminate me. The checks and balances can be complex.”

“Wheels within wheels,” said Cowley.

Listening between the sentences, Doyle was getting a fuller picture of the man he had taken on as his own project. Some of his information was impersonal, about the decisions of the Autarch, who loved his pet jaguar and certain specialised drugs. Some of the information was very personal indeed. The account, for example, of hideous tortures which Bodie had been forced to carry out. “It was part of my training,” he said. “And part of my duties as Baron. I had to hide the nightmares which followed. It was one of the reasons I always slept alone.”

“You never had nightmares when you were with me,” said Doyle.

“No,” agreed Bodie.

Later he said, “It sickened me. I had to do something about it. I had to.”

Doyle had already seen his hard work. And now, making time on a daily basis to deliver information to Cowley, he was working himself harder than ever - still at the Autarch’s fingertips when needed, still carrying out all a Barons’ duties except, Doyle hoped, the torture chamber. He thought that now, Bodie could no longer weather it. The whiff of freedom was too close.

One night when he was not needed by the Autarch, Bodie went to see Macbeth. He did not come backstage afterwards, but the next day, at CI5, he said, “It was magnificent. I didn’t know words could have such power.”

“Never mind Shakespeare,” said Doyle, teasing. “Did you like me?”

“I didn’t see you,” said Bodie. “All I saw was the king of Scotland.”

 

On nights when the Autarch needed Bodie, but there was information to pass, Bodie would send (as before) his elegant car to collect Doyle after the play, and they would go in silence to the Palace. Doyle knew now where the carports were, and he could have drawn a labelled map of the many corridors and their numbers, the locations of windows, the positioning of air conditioning vents and electronic cables. He knew the Palace as well as its architects. So did Cowley.

He would go, accompanied by a Emerald Guardsman, and would be taken to Bodie’s bare rooms. He knew now that not all nobles had rooms of austere bareness. Most, in fact, filled their rooms with art and antiques and novelties. Only Bodie had the spare self-denial of a soldier.

In the spirit of self-denial, he did not take Doyle to bed on these occasions, not even to make it look good. He would pass on his information and Doyle would leave, after a suitable interval. He would give Doyle a magazine or book to read.

On one occasion, he gave Doyle something he had never seen: a book published in America.

“It’s in English,” said Doyle, amazed, flipping through the pages.

“Yes. They speak English there, more or less.”

“How did you get it?”

“A Baron can get anything he wants, no matter how perverted.”

“But you aren’t....”

“I was curious,” said Bodie, simply. Then he smiled. “Not a bad book, actually. You can borrow it, if you like.”

So Doyle borrowed it. It was called The Godwulf Manuscript. He liked the sense of freedom it gave him, the sense of appreciation of justice and a way with words. He read it twice. When he gave it back, he said, “Why’d you choose that one?”

“The title. I thought it sounded English, and maybe scholarly. Wouldn’t get me into so much trouble - I could always claim I’d made a mistake when I ordered it.”

“You’re a Machiavelli, you know that?” said Doyle.

“A what?”

“He was Italian. Very twisty.”

Bodie looked pleased, though somewhat distrustful.

Two days later, back in Bodie’s rooms, Doyle looked up from his book (the letters of Lord Chesterton, this time - good English fare) and watched Bodie pacing the room. He was drafting a policy statement on some matter to do with fuel distribution. He was trying to influence the Autarch to liberality in such a way that his credibility would not be compromised. Doyle didn’t envy him the task.

Then he found he was staring. Then he realized why.

Bodie was wearing, for once, the trousers and boots and shirt without the multiple coats of an Emerald Baron. And with the effort of writing by hand, his sleeves had been rolled up -well, one of them was rolled, the other was pushed unceremoniously past his shoulder, so the ruck-up cloth was tight on his bicep. When he walked, Doyle could see the muscle in his hip, and the cleft in his buttocks, and the bulge at his crotch. Not to mention the motion of his shoulders and the tendons on the back of his hand as he sat writing, and the turn of his neck, the tilt of his head, writing.

He couldn’t stand it. He tossed away Lord Chesterton and said, “Bodie.”

“Mmm?” Bodie was taking particular care over a phrase. He wrote, and blotted it. His inkwell was shaped brass tracery.

“Take me to bed. Now. Please.”

Bodie smiled sweetly. “Eager for it, are you?”

“Yes.”

“Go home with Banquo, then.”

“Banquo doesn’t....” he said, and stopped.

“You may not want him, but his thoughts of you are far from pure. Trust me.”

“Want you,” said Doyle. “Only you.”

Bodie raised an eyebrow. “Only me now, because I’m here and visible? Or in general?”

“Damn you, Bodie!”

“Do you love me then?”

“Bodie -”

“Do you? Say it and I’m yours.”

“You’re blackmailing me.”

“Merely stating my conditions.”

“I can’t lie to you.”

“No. You can’t tell the truth, either.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Bodie picked up his pen again, and dipped it in ink. He didn’t answer.

“Damn you,” said Doyle. “What are you trying to prove? You’ll drive me mad. You know how strongly I feel about you, whatever it is. Cowley knows. Everyone knows but you.”

“I know what you feel,” said Bodie. “I know what you need to realize. I know what you need to hear yourself say.”

There was a loud rap on the door. Bodie said, “Who is it?” He nodded at Doyle, who slipped behind the bed curtains, and pulled them close, leaving only a crack so he could see what transpired.

The answer to Bodie’s question was unintelligible to Doyle, but Bodie heard it and said, “Come in.”

The Amber Baron walked in. He was followed by Bodie’s Guardsman. They closed the door behind them.

Bodie said, “Is there a summons?”

“Not for you,” said the Amber Baron. He was smirking. “I am here to arrest you, Emerald Baron, for treason to the Autarch.”

Bodie stood. “What treason?”

“Consorting with low persons in underground organisations.”

"I deny it,” said Bodie. “Has the Autarch laid charges?”

“Oh no,” said Amber kindly. “We didn’t tell him. We have a few uses for you ourselves. What will you give us, to keep your dirty secrets?”

“Nothing,” said Bodie.

“Will you betray your new low-life chums to save your life?”

“Don’t know what you are talking about,” said Bodie.

“Come to my rooms,” said Amber. He nodded at the Emerald Guardsman, who took a weapon and pointed it at Bodie. It was a black handle with a muzzle, like an old-fashioned gun. It looked lethal.

“You betrayed me,” said Bodie.

“You betrayed all of us,” said the Guardsman.

Amber took Bodie’s cloak, and wrapped it, without benefit of jacket or greatcoat, over Bodie’s shoulders. Two men of power in armoured cloaks faced each other like chessmen.
Bodie went, with dignity, out of his own room at gunpoint, with the Amber Baron’s hand on his Emerald shoulder, guiding him.

 

It took Doyle only moments to dress in Bodie’s Emerald jacket and greatcoat; to strap on the sword, surprisingly heavy, and to cover his curls, as best he could, with the emerald-trimmed hat. The great-coat covered his jeans to the ankles, and with luck the shadows would obscure the reality of his scuffed brown boots. He scrambled in Bodie’s wardrobe till he found green gloves, and pulled them on. They were looser than they were on Bodie, but effective. He put on his best Greek-warrior stance and glared into the mirror at himself.

Damn frightening.

Without giving himself time for cold feet, he went out the door, shutting it behind him. He strode confidently down the corridor, knowing exactly how many doors to pass, exactly where to turn. He strode to the corner and, oh shit, oh bloody fucking bad luck, there were three Guardsmen in the corridor and he’d have to brazen it out.

He ignored them as he walked by. They snapped to attention, saluting.

He used the entry code to access the car storage, and the same codes to open the car door, and getting in, he dialled the starter mode and closed his eyes. He had never driven a car in his life. He had watched Bodie drive a car - and he suspected that even if he remembered what Bodie did, that Bodie’s style of driving might be idiosyncratic at best. The Guardsman drove much more smoothly.

No matter. He must drive, therefore he would drive.

The car reached ground level and was disgorged from its tube. He careened between the trees of Pall Mall, side-ended through the arch, and went through Trafalgar Square to the Strand without diminishing speed. He didn’t know how to diminish speed. It didn’t matter. He stopped on a dime, leapt out of the car, and ran into the shopping mall. People moved away as he walked. They would glance at him, and quickly away, in fear, or hatred. Christ! Did Bodie get treated like this wherever he went? No wonder the Autarchy seldom came among the population. He had no doubt that if he were alone, and vulnerable, he would be torn to pieces.

He stepped into the lift and, pulling off his glove, pressed the identity plate. He felt the lift move. He put his hand against the doors, willing the lift to hurry, willing the doors to open.

He ran down the hall and into Cowley’s office. “They took Bodie,” he said.

Cowley stood. Fisher was stopped in mid-sentence. “Who did?” asked Cowley.

“The Amber Baron.”

“I see,” said Cowley.

“We have to rescue him!”

Cowley raised his eyebrows. “From the Halls of Criminal Justice? Not likely, lad.”

“From the Autarch’s Palace.”

“You’re mad!”

“We have to,” said Doyle. “We can’t let them make him talk. He knows about us now.”

“He won’t talk,” said Cowley.

“If they give him that damn drug -”

“No,” said Cowley.

“What do you mean?” A chill ran down Doyle’s back at the expression in Cowley’s eyes.

“I mean that unlike you, Bodie has been primed for suicide. He has a cyanide capsule in his
tooth. Before he allows them to give him the drug, he will kill himself.”

Doyle went cold as stone. “Bodie let you do this?”

“Let me?” said Cowley. “God, no, man, he didn’t let me. He suggested it.”

 

Part 4: Never shall be slaves.

For Bodie, suicide was an option.

Doyle ran to the car and took off at top speed - the only one he knew how to reach. The arrogance suited his mood. Damn Cowley! How dare he let Bodie blackmail him into such an arrangement?

“He gave me no alternative, “ Cowley had said. “He refused to give us any information at all unless I cooperated in this. He pointed out that if he were to be taken, he could destroy our organisation, just as it would have destroyed CI5 if you had fallen into the hands of any members of the Autarchy but himself.”

So now Bodie was in the hands of the Amber Baron. Damn him! Stubborn, stupid fool - surely he could see what a bad idea that was? To become so absurdly vulnerable to his own convictions?

“As he saw it,” said Cowley, “it’s a choice between his life, and CI5. Which to him, was no choice at all.”

“That’s right!” Doyle had shouted at him. “No choice at all - he’s the best man CI5 ever had, and I don’t just mean for his information either, I mean for his courage and his ethics - with a background like his - he’s worth ten of CI5, including you and me.”

“I share your sorrow,” said Cowley, which Doyle knew was only partly true. “But it’s too late now, if the Amber Baron has him.”

“No, it isn’t,” said Doyle, and started to run.

Doyle left the car in its port and went down the long corridors with dangerous precision. He’d studied these halls, he knew every one of them from the charts and the maps. He knew exactly where the Amber Baron lived. Time was his enemy; it would take less than a second for Bodie to eject the capsule from his tooth, and only a minute or two to die a terrible death, his secrets intact.

He ignored the Guardsmen who saluted as he passed, the strangers in various colours whom he almost trampled, pushing out of his way, regardless of their rank. He was Macbeth and Coriolanus and Henry V and Caesar. He was every role of power he had ever played and every spirit of vengeance. Achilles facing Hector on the death of Patroclus: In fellest manner
execute your arms.....Know what it is to meet Achilles angry.

He pounded on the door.

It opened.

The Guardsman standing there wore, incongruously, an Amber jacket, though all his other trimmings were Emerald, including his helmet. Jason the traitor.

Doyle punched him in the face.

The Guardsman fell, his nose bloody. He did not try to get up.

“Judas,” said Doyle. He looked around the room. It was cluttered with baroque furniture, clocks, statues, art, overstuffed chairs, a Victrola, a hologram of Nelson. The Amber Baron turned to stare at him. On the floor, manacled, Bodie lay in a motionless heap.

“Is he dead?” snapped Doyle.

“I don’t know,” said the Amber Baron. “Who are you?” He was perhaps twenty years older than Bodie, his body puffy and soft.

“I am the Emerald Baron, what does it look like?”

“He’s the Emerald Baron,” said Jason, standing and nodding towards Bodie.

Doyle slammed the door shut behind him. “Fool!” he said. “That used to be the Emerald Baron. Doesn’t matter what it is now. You think the Autarch doesn’t know what you do? What everyone is doing? He appointed me Baron of the clan the moment you took Bodie, and sent me to look into it.” He held the man’s eyes like an eagle does to a mouse. “He is not pleased.”

“The Baron was a traitor,” said the Guardsman.

Doyle pulled his sword sharply and held it to Jason’s throat. “Was, he just? He was following the orders of the Autarch, something you knew nothing about. And you presumed to judge him!”

“He was spying for us?” asked the Baron.

Doyle saw - thought he saw - the faint motion of breath in Bodie’s chest. The twitch of a finger - he was alive. Alive!

“That’s not possible!” wailed Jason, his voice trailing off as Doyle moved the blade.

“For the sake of the Autarch,” said Doyle, “I pass judgement on you for your betrayal of your lord, your master and your friend.” He hated to kill, but it was necessary. To heave the enemy alive was to endanger Bodie. To leave the enemy alive was to endanger CI5. He cut the Guardsman’s throat, feeling pain in his own as he did so. Strike, fellows, strike! Now Tory sink down.

Jason’s body fell to the ground. “So die all men who betray others,” said Doyle. He looked at the Amber Baron.

The Amber Baron licked his lips. “Sir! I did not know....”

“Is he dead?”

“I don’t think so. I was questioning him....”

“How?”

“With a whip.”

“Has he talked?”

“Only curses.”

“A brave man.”

“Ye - es,” said the Amber Baron, as if it hurt his throat to say it.

“And an honourable one.”

“Sir.”

“Say it.”

“An honourable one.” It seemed safe to believe that the Amber Baron was humouring a madman.
Doyle advanced on him.

The Amber Baron pulled his sword. “Who are you?” he asked.

Doyle smiled. He was starting to enjoy himself, now he knew Bodie was alive. Hurting, but alive.

The Amber Baron took refuge behind a table. Doyle followed. They circled.

Doyle said, “Where you are concerned, I am the angel of death.”

“Rubbish,” said the Amber Baron. “I don’t believe the Autarch sent you at all.”

“Ring the bell and get the prize,” get Doyle.

“You aren’t the Emerald Baron. Who are you?”

“Four-five of CI5,” said Doyle. “Cowley’s man. Bodie’s friend. You people don’t know about friendship, do you?”

The Baron lunged. Amber sword struck against Emerald. Damn! Doyle was more out of shape than he’d thought.

There is a difference between fighting on stage to make it look good, and fighting for your life on enemy territory.

He jumped on the table, trying to get past the Baron’s blade. The table broke and he jumped off. Flick. Whack.

“I know who you are,” said the Baron. “You’re his whore from the theatre.”

“I’m his truest friend,” said Doyle, “and he my greatest love.”

The Baron struck the sword from his hand. It clattered onto the floor, skidding.
Damn.

Accustomed to hand to hand combat, Doyle rolled under the desk and over the sofa on the other side.

“You will die,” said the Baron. “You will die slowly.”

“I don’t think so,” said Doyle. He grabbed a metal statuette and threw it. The Baron dodged. He reached for a heavy bust, and his hand went through it. Disconcerted, he fell back. What was it? Magic? Illusion? No, no, he had heard of such a thing.... a hologram.

But he was too slow, and the Baron kicked his legs out from under him. As he fell, he saw the Baron’s sword raised for the kill.

It had been, on the whole, a good life.

But he could not leave Bodie.

He rolled away from the blow, and the blade hit the floor by his ear.

He saw Bodie rise behind the Amber Baron, Emerald sword in his hand. He saw his sure and practised thrust. He saw the Baron fall, as Bodie withdrew the blade from his body.

Doyle said breathlessly, “Go seek thy fortune, Baron.... Come, tie his body to my horse’s tail. Bodie, you all right?”

“Yeah. You?” He held out his free hand, to pull Doyle up. Doyle accepted the help, and stood.

“I’m fine. Listen, I borrowed your stuff. Here.” He took of the cap, began unbuttoning the greatcoat.

Bodie said, “Doyle.... thank you.”

Doyle looked into those bleak, deep azure eyes. “No thanks necessary. I did it because--”

“You don’t have to say it,” said Bodie quickly.

“...I love you.”

“I know,” said Bodie. “I heard you tell the Baron while I was picking the locks on my manacles. I knew it as soon as you came through the door - what other fool would risk his neck to save me?”

“Somebody has to,” said Doyle.

“Come on,” said Bodie. He took the great coat and put it on, wincing at its weight as it covered his torn shirt and raw back. “Let’s go back to my rooms and clean up. Let’s not let some Amber Guardsman find us here with the bodies.”

“I love you,” said Doyle. “Love you more than anything else on earth.”

“I know,” said Bodie, looking most absurdly pleased, despite his painful back. “Are you going to go on saying it?”

“I was rather hoping you might say it back to me,” said Doyle, embarrassed.

“Forever, if you’ll let me,” said Bodie.

- - -