Original novel by Yoshihara Rieko
Illustrations by Michihara Katsumi
Japanese translation and scanning by Shabriri
Spanish translation by San and Shiromori

Ai no Kusabi Chapter 3

Together Again – Again

Ceres, N15:30 Hours--------

The wind that blew across Cuzco Avenue was so cold that it cut the skin. A man was walking alone with a calm air, holding a cigarette between his lips. His way of walking lacked the typical indolence of the Slum, but the more noteworthy thing about him was the vitality that he radiated, a strong and straight spirit that pulsed in his thin back.

Ceres’ inhabitants, used to their murky and stale atmosphere, perceived clearly the different nature of that man. In spite of it, everyone that crossed with him lowered their gaze and moved out of his path. The scene was particularly strange, but perhaps because it was usual, or perhaps because it bothered him not at all, the man continued walking with confidence, not hesitating for an instant.

The sunned district known by the nickname of Blue Chip had become the meeting place of numerous gangs.

There were guys standing on the corners, and couples touching each other without concern for the looks of others. On the other hand, some were insulted with the dirtiest and most violent words that came to mind, ready to throw themselves the ones against the others.

Each one of them seemed to come to this place seeking something, but among them, the atmosphere was cold, as if it didn’t matter to one what could occur to the others.

For example, the yells that could be heard on the other side of a wall awoke no interest. Was nobody even going to even look up? That place’s environment was full of such sinister elements.

Even so, the man, ignoring all of this, kept walking at the same speed.

That day, the Soraya bar brimmed with a strange and eager breath.

The sound of the vulgar laughter and the shameless babble of the clients had silenced completely.

The common room was full of absorbed looks borne on suffocating and sweaty faces.

In the centre of the surrounding multitude a card game was played, a classical game in which computers remained on the fringes and it was concentration and a sixth sense that determined the winner. But there was a slight difference from the games played in Midas’ casinos. As they had no money or honour to risk, they played with their own bodies.

It was a 'Love Game', in which, for each play, a kiss was bet, though perhaps it would be more correct to say that it was virtually a sex show disguised as a game.

The lowest prize was a kiss, but play by play, clearly the stakes had to get higher. The rules obliged that the loser paid off the debt right there, in front of everybody.

Knowing that, both the audience and the players were equally excited.

The ones who now caught the interest of the crowd were Riki and Luke, who were disputing a game of Gigolo.

Nobody turned down a challenge to that game. Even frowning with displeasure, they had no alternative but to sit down at the table. It was not a game that could be refused.

Speaking the phrase "Let’s play Gigolo" was equivalent to proclaiming in front of everyone, “I want to do it with you". If the challenged refused, not only did he risk that everybody would make fun of him, calling him a coward, but from that moment on, he would be labelled as impotent. And in a way, in the Slum, that was a humiliation equivalent to death, so that to win the game was the only way to get revenge on the one who challenged, leaving him to make an absolute fool of himself.

This public sex-play was only celebrated in that place. Above all it was a game, and as such it was considered bad form to bear a grudge once the game ended, although as one would expect, there remained some tension on both sides. Even so, they continued challenging, sometimes to obtain the person desired but unavailable due to being paired already, other times to bring down the guy who he could not stand.

None of his companions were surprised when Luke challenged Riki to a game of Gigolo. Perhaps not even Riki.

It actually mattered very little to Riki if they called him impotent, but he felt that he had to settle this matter with Luke once and for all, or the situation between them would never be resolved. And what better way was there to ensure that there would be no subsequent consequences than to fix it by means of a card game?

If he lost, he would see what to do. Being exposed to ridicule in public was nothing in comparison to all the humiliation he had had to bear during those three years of training as Iason's pet. Besides, when one had been challenged to Gigolo once, regardless of the result, he was not obligated to sit down at the table with the same opponent, unless he desired a rematch.

The game consisted of three matches, and ended if the challenger lost or obtained the desired sexual contact with the opponent. Usually, the majority thought that it was best to bet directly and without preamble for sexual relations. The same person could only be challenged once. There were three matches, but if the challenger lost, the play ended. Thus, if one did not aspire from the beginning to the highest prize, the challenge was not worth making. When Luke began by betting a kiss, all present grumbled in disagreement. 'It seems that he is very confident...' they thought to themselves.

And then, Riki lost.

Something like shock came over the crowd, and some nervous whistles were heard. Luke smiled, satisfied, and told Riki to approach.

Their tongues entangled in so torrid and intense a kiss that almost everyone who was standing around swallowed sonorously. And while he left Riki breathless with such a kiss, Luke pressed his thigh against Riki’s groin and groped his hind quarters.

Riki lowered his gaze slightly, but he never closed his eyes.

It would be a lie to say that this clearly provocative action had no effect on his groin. The so called 'male mechanism' was like an independent life-form, immune to a human being’s self-control. Riki had experienced it too many times already. No! ... A fleeting thought crossed his mind: perhaps it would be exactly those experiences that would help him not to lose himself now.

Riki was not sure if his ability to keep calm even while standing in the middle of excited murmuring was a cause for laughter or sadness.

Luke sought the highest prize, so he returned to deal the cards. The multitude of onlookers that observed them, almost forgetting to breathe, fervently desired Luke’s victory. They wanted to know how Riki’s moans would sound, as cold and dispassionate as he looked. Just imagining the scene, their groins began to tingle.

After turning over the last of his cards, Luke smiled. Without showing the smallest trace of emotion on his face, Riki changed two cards.

"Jack and two pairs of sevens," said Luke.

Riki showed his cards in silence, one by one. All eyes concentrated on his hands, but as soon as they saw the three Kings that Riki had in his hand, they all sighed in disappointment. Nevertheless, the ironic smile did not disappear from Luke’s face. It was not self-mocking, but neither did it seem like reluctance to admit his failure was the cause of his twisted lips.

Riki frowned slightly, and got up out of the chair unconcernedly. The crowd of spectators dissolved with comments of frustration, and the atmosphere changed all of a sudden.

The abrupt change lasted only a moment when a man approached, making his way among the dispersing crowd. Not trying to hide the scar that the weak lighting revealed on his left cheek, he called Riki’s name with a powerful voice.

Riki startled and turned. "… Kat… tze," he stammered, confused.

"I have to speak with you. Can you come out for a moment?" Katze’s tone was calm, as if he and Riki were the only ones present in that time and place. Riki remained silent. His eyes wavered as if they could not decide what reaction to show in the face of so unexpected a reunion.

"I’ll wait for you outside." Having said this, Katze turned and moved away towards the exit.

Riki let out a small sigh, but when he tried to take the first step, he felt as if his feet had turned into blocks of lead.

Certain that Riki would come without fail, Katze curved the corner of his mouth in a strange grimace as he made out Riki’s figure approaching.

"… It’s been four years…" he commented.

"I see that you knew very well where to find me… Who told you?"

"You’ve really changed a lot in these four years. I barely recognize you. Once you were an impetuous and tremendously arrogant child..."

“Get to the point. I don’t believe you came here to speak with me about the past."

Riki knew that Katze barely left that basement. There had to be a very good reason to drag him out of his hideout, and make him come to his old home without even bothering to hide the scar on his cheek.

"Is there some place where we can sit down to talk calmly?"

"Of course. Let’s go to my house."

Maintaining a reasonable distance between each other, they abandoned Blue Chip without exchanging another word. On foot, it took something like ten minutes to cover the distance that separated Cuzco Avenue from the neighbourhood where Riki lived. Due to the season, the night fell with unexpected rapidity, and by the time they arrived at their destination, it was late night already.

"Well, what did you want to talk about?" Riki asked as soon as he entered the room.

Katze did not take a seat but, leaning against the wall, calmly lit a cigarette and began to speak slowly. "You know Kyrie, don’t you, the one with odd eyes?"

"I’ll tell you straight out that whatever mess that idiot got himself involved in, it’s not my problem."

"It’s really a dilemma then... This boy acts like your most devout admirer. He’s following in your tracks in several things. He was even seen in the Lusas market."

"Would it cause you complications if he found out that I used to work for you as a messenger?"

"No… what I worry is that if he continues beating the bushes around there like a fool, the boy will end up rousting a snake. One who makes the mistake of sticking his neck out too far where it doesn’t belong won’t be able to pull it back again."

"Well! Now I’m stunned. So you came all the way here just to tell me that? If Kyrie knew that, he’d cry."

In a gesture of sharp cynicism, Riki shrugged his shoulders exaggeratedly.

"Come on, Katze, you already bored me with that speech four years ago. And... Iason also mentioned something very similar. He told me, ‘Has Katze perhaps not taught you? Excessive curiosity can be deadly.' I was so disturbed to find that there was a relation between you and him that I couldn’t speak… I never imagined that you were capable of selling me out like that."

"Your case and that of Kyrie are completely different. First of all, your destiny had been determined from the beginning."

"… What do you mean by that?" The low tone of Riki’s voice contrasted with the penetrating look of his eyes.

"As you know, the city of Tanagura has a public face and another secret one, and I imagine that you also have some idea as to who it is who directs that hidden face, haven’t you? Well, one day I met with Iason at the black auction of Gauche, and he told me the story of a very unusual Mongrel. He described him to me as a kid of extraordinary arrogance, strange black hair and eyes, and I immediately knew that he was speaking of you. But Iason didn’t ask me if I knew you or not. He only gave me an order: 'Hire him,' he told me. He knew perfectly that I’m the only one to whom the Mongrels of the Slum turn to sell their stolen merchandise. And me, I couldn’t help myself... But anyway... I suppose that whatever I say now will sound like an excuse."

"Are you so afraid of Iason?"

"Yes. With a simple glance, he can make my legs tremble."

Riki understood him. It was an irrefutable truth, and only the ones who had had a close relationship with Iason could testify to it.

"Well, what do you want me to do about this situation? Give a lecture to Kyrie? Something like 'Don’t go around sticking your nose where it isn’t wanted or it’ll be bad for you'? It won’t do any good. He’ll just laugh in my face. That’s just the way he is. Besides, if in beating the bushes, he rousts a snake, he’ll well deserve it, won’t he? You don’t learn what true pain is by pinching your hand. You have to advance, to trip, to break an arm... I was that way before, and maybe you were, too."

"… Have you heard something about me?"

"No… Well, the only thing I heard was that you were lucky to end up with just a scar on your face."

Then, unexpectedly, Katze’s face drew into a wide smile, and biting those lips that arched in a smooth curve, he tried in vain to restrain a chuckle. It was the first time that Riki saw Katze externalise a human emotion.

"So... I was lucky, huh? Well... thinking about it, perhaps I truly was," whispered Katze, and then, lowering his eyes, he sighed deeply.

"Some time ago, Riki, I was the private Furniture of a Blondie."


After an instant of confusion, Riki drove his eyes into those of Katze, as if he were trying to discover in them something that explained so unexpected and abrupt a confession.

Furniture… In each house in Eos lived a boy belonging to the community known by this designation. All those living furniture had short hair, tight uniforms, and a bracelet for personal identification. Of course their purpose was not merely to be decorative figures, but their appearance was no less worthy of envy than the most luxurious and extravagant pieces of furniture. Their work consisted of managing all domestic tasks, and the care of pets. Being that this last duty was a possible source of problems, it was the habit to castrate the Furniture, so to prevent any type of inappropriate conduct. Riki knew Katze as the Black Market’s broker. There was nothing in this man’s poker face that would lead anyone to even suspect his past as Furniture in Eos.

"All of the Furniture in Eos are Mongrels from the Slum. Did you know that?"

Riki shook his head awkwardly.

"Well, then I guess you didn’t know either that the Breeding Center in Ceres, Guardian, is directed from the shadows by Tanagura..."

"Wh... what?!" Katze’s voice trailed off on the last syllable, and Riki interrupted. However, Katze’s slow tone didn’t alter in the slightest bit.

"I know it’s hard to believe, but think about it for a minute. Why only in Ceres do they insist on natural childbirth? To make us believe that they’re doing us a favour, respecting our nature as human beings? That doesn’t make any sense. What’s more, the probability of male versus female birth is about fifty-fifty. There’s no reason to explain the radical decrease of female births except that someone is secretly manipulating it. Especially since this has remained the case form generation to generation. Tanagura... is controlling the population. And control is one area in which they are experts.”

“The Slum and us Mongrels are necessary in order to encourage the superiority complex of the citizens of Midas. We are an example of the fate that awaits those who disobey and who, forgetting that love and passion are prohibited emotions, aspire to live their lives in rose. Nevertheless, the number of Mongrels must neither increase nor decrease drastically. ‘Don’t kill them, but don’t let them live’. This is the sort of balance they have to maintain, as well as ensuring that the women don’t reproduce uncontrollably. After all the Slum was irrevocably condemned from the day it was born.”

Riki looked at him, stunned, his eyes wide, and his face had become as pale as a sheet of paper.

“When I knew that I had been selected to become Furniture in Eos, inside I felt proud and triumphant. And I was very sure of the beauty of my face and my body, and I boasted to myself that I had an above average intelligence. Nothing good awaited those who left the Guardian. After all, a Mongrel will always be a Mongrel. Opportunities like the one that had opened before me were very rare. I was so happy that I wanted to shout with all my might: “I got it!” … In the end, I guess I was nothing more than a child who knew nothing about life.”

“Our first night in Tanagura we were taken to the Medical Center. There, they informed us for the first time just what becoming Furniture implied. It was a terrible shock… My mind was a complete blank. I thought that maybe even this was better than living a miserable life in the Slum. Anyway, since we had been selected from among many, and we were already there, we couldn’t say ‘no’. Either we would adapt to the new situation or we wouldn’t be able to go forward. For my part, Riki, I didn’t believe that a chance to leave the Slum could come without having to pay a price in return. So, if it was necessary, I didn’t mind licking the feet or the assholes of the Pets. And if I was capable of that, it mattered much less to me to supplant my own companions in order to ascend. It’s not so surprising if you think that I, as a ‘man’, had no use at all. The only dream allowed me was to rise above that category. Not ever did it occur to me to join those other useless ones who spent all their time in malicious gossip or feeling sorry for themselves. I would have to be crazy.”

“Thanks to that, I spent five whole years watching Midas from on high as the private Furniture of a Blondie. Honestly, I felt wonderful, and I seemed to have forgotten the meaning of the word ‘fear’. Maybe because of that I was regrettably caught by that demon impulse. Even though the three golden rules of the Furniture are ‘see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing’, once you taste curiosity, there’s no stopping.”

"Curiosity about...?" prodded Riki, his voice low.

Katze just barely parted his lips, and the answer slipped from between his teeth. “About the relationship between Tanagura and Guardian…”

“It came to my ears by pure chance, but it caught my interest immediately since it had to do with my own people. From then, I spent half a year gathering information through the terminal in my room. It didn’t seem suspicious because, for the Furniture, the terminals are a necessity. What’s more, Pets, pure pride personified with the brains of mosquitoes, don’t concern themselves with anything but sex, so I didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing.”

“Not knowing the identification password wasn’t an obstacle to opening a breach in the system whenever I felt like it. However, I could only access the databases during a limited period, so I couldn’t get all the information at one time… Stopping myself just at the point of being caught by the detection and localization sensors produced an electrifying feeling in me. It was like the illusion of a hard on.”

“Of course, I knew perfectly well that obtaining this information wasn’t going to change anything in the Slum… but I couldn’t resist that tingling sensation. You understand, right Riki? I, mere Furniture, someone who could not even be called a ‘man’, was stealing the secret of Tanagura without anyone even being aware of it. I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. When they found me out, I shoved their own incompetence in their noses by revealing everything that I had discovered... But in that moment, a sarcastic smile appeared on Iason’s face. Looking at him, I guessed...”

“ ‘You didn’t think that you were able to evade the localizers for so long,’ he told me... and I felt my spine freeze. He knew everything. He had known from the start. He was amusing himself at my expense, only waiting to see when I would make a mistake. Do you understand, Riki? That’s how that man acts. Maybe I was lucky to end up with only a scar on my face, but in exchange, I was condemned to spend the rest of my life in the Black Market. I… don’t want Kyrie to make the same mistake as me.”

Katze spoke apathetically not even the slightest fervours interrupting the flow of his words. For how long had he kept that story to himself that he could speak of his own past in the same tone as if it had happened to somebody else? As he asked himself that, Riki felt his chest burn with shock, and he lowered his gaze.

“Well then, tell Kyrie yourself. I… don’t want to have anything to do with that guy.”

“That would be butting in where I’m not wanted, and I’d only end up tightening the noose around Kyrie’s neck.”

“Why? You who have so much in common with Iason could convince him much better than someone like me. And anyway, I told you I don’t give a damn what happens to that guy.”

“ … “

“Three years, Katze… You were Furniture, so you should understand better than anyone. For starters, Iason is involved with Kyrie’s actions somehow. Knowing that, you still suggest that I step in? Now that I’m free, I don’t want to have anything more to do with that guy, so please stop insisting. I’ve had enough.”

Katze let out a heavy sigh, and set to lighting another cigarette. The violet smoke rose sluggishly, but, as if it had lost its way in the silence that had come suddenly between the two speakers, it wavered uncertainly in the air, dissolved, and disappeared.


When Riki woke suddenly out of his reverie, outside it had started to rain. He couldn’t say when it had begun, but the night air had become cold and humid…

Riki let himself fall into the narrow cot, and fixed his eyes on the ceiling, speckled with nocturnal insects. However, that intense and concentrated gaze, fixed on a single point, lost itself far away from that room and from the real world.

He could still hear Katze’s voice resonating in his ears. It wasn’t anything he had said about Kyrie. It was the few words he had said before walking away.

“Riki, don’t think that the mere act of having removed your ring means that it’s all over with. Iason isn’t that benevolent.”

The comment did not seem to be a sharp parting remark. On the contrary, it was the memory of the pain reflected in Katze’s eyes, much more than his words, that tightened little by little around Riki’s heart like a vice.

“…What were you trying to tell me, Katze...?"

His anxiety was such that Riki could barely sleep a wink throughout the entire night.


The pale and limpid shine of the stars illuminated the nocturnal sky. Even the shadows cast by the two moons floating in the firmament cut neatly into the landscape.

Walking as if he wanted to crush the intensity of that atmosphere underfoot, Guy appeared on the scene with Kyrie. There was not a soul to be seen about. It was one of those sad and desolate nights in which only the sound of their own footsteps ran desperately after them, trying to reach them.

"Come on… What does it cost you to meet pleasantly with me? That doesn’t mean that you have to commit to anything definite. It’s just a simple interview, and that’s all. How could that hurt?" These were the words that Kyrie used to convince a reluctant Guy who stood up from his seat, and accompanied him.

Driven by Kyrie, the Air-Car made its way through the strident flood of Midas’ neons, and penetrated into Tanagura, sliding along the alleys between its buildings. Just then, Guy felt suddenly struck by a wave of repentance. It was not the anxiety of not knowing where he was being driven, but something deep down that seemed to reject outright the enormous difference between Tanagura’s harmony, and the chaos reigning in the Slum. For someone used to Ceres’ languidness and Midas’ shrillness, the almost mystic serenity Tanagura of gave him a strange feeling of uneasiness.

Guy bit his lips. He could no longer turn back, now. Guy’s feet seemed to become heavier and heavier with each step. Kyrie stopped, impatient, and pressured him with a look. Resigned, Guy let out a deep sigh.

An eerie and strange anxiety in the heart… It was what he experienced when he was penetrated by the icy gaze of Iason, but...

"Well, finally the fly has fallen into the web."

Guy gave a start upon hearing these significant words from the Blondie’s mouth.

"Good work… I have here what was promised."

Kyrie took what Iason offered him, and unworried, put it in a breast pocket.

"Don’t take it badly, Guy. There was no human way to convince you, so you left me no other option."

Guy felt as if something deep in his head became weak, flabby... mutating into a strange form.

"Eh... hey... what... joke is this...?" asked Guy with a severe tone, but faltering and nervous on account of the shock. It was as if something prevented him from reacting. Only his heart beat with so much violence that it seemed to leave his chest.

"He said that he desired you at any cost. It’s not bad business for either of us, don’t you think?"

"… When it comes to getting money, don’t you have the barest objection to selling your own companions?"

“Come on, Guy, don’t be sentimental. It’s a matter of taking advantage of an opportunity, nothing more. If one doesn’t want to go on being scum for one’s whole life, one must be willing to put all the meat in the roaster. I won’t hesitate to make use of anything that can help me in my pledge. I’m fed up with the Slum. It makes me sick."

Listening to the fervent speech of Kyrie, admitting that to escape from the Slum he was capable of anything, even of forgetting the ties that bound him to his own companions, Guy had a vision: superimposed on Kyrie’s silhouette, he seemed to see the image of the old Riki appear before him.

… Ah... so that was it…

Guy felt he understood, for the first time, the reason why Riki always felt so much aversion towards Kyrie.

"Isn’t it true that you yourself wondered whether you should accept or not? Having the fortune to be an Elite's Pet, or ending your days in the Slum, covered with dirt... Not everyone has the luck to be allowed to choose like you. In time, you’ll come to thank me, you’ll see."

" … "

"At least here they’ll treat you like a king." Kyrie said, without a trace of any emotion in his voice.

Guy was unable to spit a single insult. It all seemed unreal, as if he were trapped inside a nightmare... and his bewilderment surpassed the rage that so despicable a treason produced in him.

"Well... I’ll take my leave."

Iason assented with a glance, and Kyrie went without looking back even a single time.

"Your capacity for resignation surprised me. I expected some sort of scandal or tantrum..." Iason smiled lightly with a disappointed air.

Unable to find an adequate answer, Guy looked away.

“Though, it is true that cries and pleas are totally useless at this point."

"… How much money did Kyrie sell me for?"

The amount that Iason quoted with amazing tranquility surpassed Guy’s prediction by a zero. He remained paralyzed for an instant, and then smiled ironically. "Not bad! So Kyrie made a good deal. And after paying that pile of cash, what is it that you plan to do with me?"

"Everything is just as Kyrie informed you."

"If you mean that obvious joke about me becoming your Pet, I request that you give up the idea."

"Why? Do you perhaps disagree?"

"I’m sorry, but I’m not so conceited as to believe that story. There has to be some other reason for him to have chosen me and not someone else..."

Iason, the corners of his lips barely curving, gave him a glacial smile...

Guy kept silent with a bad-tempered air.

In that room, luxuriously decorated to the most negligible detail, seated face to face with a Blondie of Tanagura... Guy couldn’t keep from feeling that it was all a macabre joke. If a person’s future depended on of his effort, nobody would have been scum by his own will. Nevertheless, the reality was like a world of darkness in which every exit was firmly closed: the Slum, stuck up to the neck in stagnant darkness, while pain curled in its extremities, plunging it into the most absolute desperation.

Guy had asked himself if he too wouldn’t have ended up rotting in that place. He lacked the devastating and fascinating personality of Riki, didn’t have the value to abandon the Slum, and much less be capable of using others as a springboard to improve his own position. So the fact of being here in this place couldn’t be more incomprehensible to Guy... Still, he was done illusions, imagining that tomorrow, when opened his eyes, he would laugh to see that it had all been a stupid dream.

Kyrie, for his part, after having taken despicable advantage of Guy’s trust in him, deceiving him and selling him to Iason, hurried to return in the Slum.

It would be a lie to say that the guilty feeling didn’t chafe at his heart, but, on the other hand, he couldn’t keep the corners of his lips from curving, drawing a subtle smile. Beyond the normal excitement due to the big sum of money he had just obtained, something dark stirred in the depths of Kyrie’s soul.

Kyrie was aware that the jealousy he felt toward Guy was stronger than was reasonable. It wasn’t simply that he envied his luck. What irritated him the most was that Guy caught everyone’s attention, Riki’s and now Iason’s.

"Hmph! Suck on that!" It was Riki and not Guy whom Kyrie had in mind spitting that phrase. What would Riki’s face look like when Kyrie told him what he’d done to Guy? He himself was dying from the desire to tear that mask of superiority from Riki’s face... Exalted by these twisted thoughts, Kyrie floored the accelerator pedal.


For days, the clouds seemed to monopolize the sky. The oppressive and dense atmosphere weighed like a stone slab on the people’s spirit, but at less they could be glad that it hadn’t begun to rain yet. Although it was almost midday already, Midas still slept deeply. Its face, stripped of its garish nocturnal makeup, showed, in a different way than Ceres, the lines of old age.

In a corner of the almost deserted Orange Road, Riki smoked a cigarette, leaning against the wall. It was not that he felt like smoking so much that he used the tobacco as a means to escape, to calm the nerves that now dominated him. As if he hadn’t made up his mind yet, his gaze strayed occasionally to that place, and then a halo of bitterness hardened the expression in his black eyes.

There it was, the dull old pharmacy, and under it, Katze’s hide-out.

Should I go? Should I give up and leave? The number of cigarette butts spread at his feet seemed to be a testament to the fluctuation of his thoughts between both possibilities. For four full days, Guy had not appeared in any of the meeting places. Neither, it seemed, had he passed by his home. No matter who he asked, everyone shook their heads dryly.

… Could it be that…?
… No, that was impossible…

The absurd idea dissipated as fast as it surfaced, but the unsettling remains of it refused to abandon his mind. He recalled that suspicious Kyrie’s tale about Pets. And… what if Guy had been brought before Iason by force? This doubt would not leave Riki’s thoughts. He could ask Katze. Perhaps Katze would know something…

Drawn by this belief, he’d brought himself here. Nevertheless, come the moment of truth, he turned back, influenced perhaps by the tension that was still between them after their last encounter. And, in that instant, someone touched him on the shoulder, and Riki turned, startled.

"Hi! What are you doing around here?" It was Kyrie.

Riki frowned. Nevertheless, Kyrie wasn’t deterred in the slightest by the gesture. On the contrary, he spoke with so smarmy a voice that he gave Riki chills. "Would you like to go for a drink over there? My treat."

"I haven’t fallen so low yet as to need a brat to invite me."

"Come on, don't be like that... I just want you to come with me for a while, just to have a drink."

Paying him no attention, Riki prepared to go, but Kyrie, almost pushing him, blocked his way and whispered him: "What if, along with the drink, I offered you some tasty information about Guy as an aperitif?"

Riki looked at him startled. Kyrie smiled maliciously, seeing that he had obtained the expected reaction. They glared at each other silently, faces close together, the eyes of one fixed on those of the other. The ace was in Kyrie's hands. Riki threw the cigarette to the floor, and venting his irrepressible rage, pulverized it with the ball of his foot.

"Come on, let's go," said to Kyrie with an arrogant gesture of his chin. Riki did not have any choice but to follow him in silence.

Kyrie continued walking, not telling him where he was taking them, but it was clear that he had never intended to invite him to a bar. He did not look back once until they left the Orange Road, and then they stopped in front of a expensive car with a brilliant silver body. 'Get in,' Kyrie indicated to Riki with his eyes.

Riki stooped, and slid unworriedly into the seat. A small panel switch was located on the right side of a squarish H-shaped handle. Kyrie's finger lightly touched one of the keys on its 3x3 keypad and the car elevated smoothly into the air.

Some moments later...

"Hey! What are you trying to do?" Irritated, Riki glared at Kyrie's profile. For a while now, the car had advanced slowly, going in circles and in no particular direction.

"For once I wanted us to speak calmly, unrushed. I don't think you'll die from having a confidential conversation with me while we take a drive."

"Listen, I have no time for your little games."

"Oh… Are you that worried about Guy?" Kyrie's tone of voice was loaded with sarcasm. Riki ground the teeth with rage. "… Where’s Guy?"

Kyrie's answer was ready and clear: "He's in Tanagura. In Eos, to be precise."

Riki felt the blood abandon his face, leaving it cold and pale.

"Right about now he should be enjoying a foam bath after having satiated himself eating the most delicious delicacies. How enviable, being a Blondie's pet... and on top of that, to be personally and directly chosen by him. What a social ascent for Guy, huh?"

"Guy told you that… he went of his own will?"

"Do you think anyone likes living in the Slum? Do you think that there's someone so stupid as to reject a bargain like that?"

"After all, everyone thinks about himself before anybody else, doesn't he?"

Riki didn't reply. He recalled those three years with Iason, a time filled by low passions and masochism. He didn't want anybody to know about it. Therefore he hadn't been able to seriously advise Guy against the Blondie. It disgusted him to have to confess that his body was stained by those caresses, so intense that they disintegrated every trace of pride or reason. That tickling when Iason toyed with his nipples, that ardent, almost unbearable sting that crept and pulled in between his legs, even the pain produced by that ring biting into his flesh gave him a sharp and lascivious excitement, but, above all, it was in that moment in which he was penetrated to his depths that he experienced such an extreme ecstasy that he felt as if his whole body would explode into a thousand pieces.

Was Guy perhaps living day after day that same mixture of delirium and humiliation?

As soon as this idea touched his mind, Riki felt a strong and violent pain, like a thorn driven into his urethra. 'What is this sensation? Do I... desire him? Desire that Iason possess me again?' Riki bit his lips in a desperate attempt to swallow the foamy bile that rose suddenly in his throat at that wounding displeasure.

Kyrie didn't lose any of that, and caught each of Riki's reactions. If just telling him that Guy was in Eos had caused the perpetual mask of indifference to fall in such a way, what face would he show if knew the whole truth...? Kyrie trembled. An uncontrollable ardour seemed to rise from the inside of his body. He wanted to scratch deeper, until he found and extracted the naked soul of the real Riki.

Switching on the automatic pilot, Kyrie slowly changed position. Fascinated by those tense lips and that frown with its air of displeasure that was cut into the profile of Riki's face, he drew his mouth close to Riki's ear, and, humming, whispered these words:

"What would you do if I told you that I sold Guy?" The effect of that phrase fully surpassed Kyrie's expectations. If rage could have taken a visible form, Riki's head would have been crowned by an undulating blaze. The intensity of his fury was so oppressive that just being at his side made it difficult to breathe. The touch of his skin seemed quite capable of producing serious burns. It made Kyrie's hair stand on end. It wasn't fear, but something more like a thrill of ardent anxiety that spread through his groin.

So this was the true nature of Riki? That Riki who was almost a legend known as the "Leader of Bison"? Kyrie blushed without being aware of it. He felt as if desire, a desire such as he had never felt before for anybody, poured torrentially from his body towards Riki.

"Why would a Tanaguran Super-Elite take a fancy to someone like Guy? As for me, I couldn't care less. What's important is that I wanted to guarantee my relationship with Iason, and opportunities like this can't be let slip. Don't you think so?" Kyrie spoke without stopping and very quickly. He was aware that, moved by the excitement that invaded him, he was pushing Riki too much, but, far from holding himself back, he resolved that he didn't care if he ended up earning Riki's most absolute hatred and contempt. He wanted to draw out as long as possible that fascinating, deadly masochistic pleasure at putting such ardour in Riki's eyes and spirit by having thrown the truth in his face.

"To tell you the truth, maybe Guy was only waiting for someone to give him a little push."

Listening to Kyrie vomiting out this phrase in such an indifferent tone was the last straw for Riki.

In that instant, without any warning, an open hand full of fury struck Kyrie's cheek forcefully. It was a blow without a single word of mediation. Kyrie cleaned the blood off his lip with the back of his hand and looked at Riki with sparkling eyes.

"If it weren't Guy, you wouldn't have reacted like that. Am I wrong? Is he that good? I don't see what's so great about him. The matter of you two being Pairing Partners is water under the bridge, right? Lately, between you two, they say you don't even have the 's' left in 'sex'. So then, why the hell do you get angry that way? I don't regret it a bit. If to escape the sad destiny waiting for me in the Slum, I have to sell my own companions, then I'll do it and that's it. I don't plan to stay in that gutter telling stories, or die either! Besides, you think you're so noble now, but in the past you did, if not the same thing, then something like it, didn't you? I'm talking about when they called you 'Riki the Dark'..."

Riki's eyes were illuminated with a strange brilliance that stung Kyrie suddenly. He, being afraid of getting another slap, shrank back almost instinctively, but Riki only retorted with a single phrase, in a low and intimidating tone, "Let me out."

Clumsily, Kyrie turned ahead. The hand with which he held the transmission gear seemed heavy as lead, but even so it went on changing speeds while turning left slowly. Lowering in a smooth slope, the car landed at last. The door opened slowly, emitting a light moan. Immediately, a puff of icy air penetrated suddenly inside and straight through the skin.

Descending without even turning back, Riki spat out these words, "I don't want to see your idiot face ever again. If you want to remain in one piece, don't be coming to me and reminding me of your miserable life."

‘At least it was better than the cold indifference he always treated me with,’ Kyrie shouted silently.

After separating from Kyrie, Riki’s steps led unhesitatingly towards Katze’s den. He put the card he never imagined he’d use again into the corresponding opening, and typed the key.


That characteristic chime, light but sinister, sounded the same as always. Katze did not show any surprise at Riki’s unexpected visit. He only greeted him with the same gesture from back when Riki worked for him.

"At least you could ask me why I’ve come..." With a self-assured air, Riki took a seat and, whispering between his teeth, continued, "Or is that you’re already up-to-date on the matter that brought me here?”

" … "

"Then we can get to the point. Tell me why Iason himself took a sudden fancy to Guy? And why the farce of using Kyrie as the intermediary?"

"Why don’t you ask him yourself? I can fix you a meeting with him, if you want." Katze’s tone was cold and distant, very different from when he had been in the Slum visiting Riki. The man in that room was again the sharp and unmistakable broker of the Black Market.

"Don’t make jokes like that with such a serious expression."

"Then why did you come? Isn’t it because, at least in part, you had that intention?"

Then came a moment of silence.

With a tone that seemed to want to snatch control from that silence, Riki faced Katze. "To see Iason? Why? To beg him to return Guy to me? Humiliating myself like that, he’ll only despise me and make fun of me to my face. Besides, I’m no more than one of his former Pets. Just my wanting a meeting with him doesn’t mean that Iason would be willing to come. He won’t lower himself that way."

‘He would come without fail’. Katze’s lips were on the verge of forming that phrase, but he restrained himself, and lowered his gaze. Katze knew that Iason was waiting for Riki to decide of his own will to contact him. Guy was no more than bait, a lure of sufficient attraction for Riki to bite. Therefore, because of that Guy had not suffered any damage.

Katze did not understand why Iason had ignored the regulations, and returned Riki to the Slum, but from the beginning he’d doubted that Iason’s intention had been to set Riki completely free. He was convinced that, to Iason, Riki was not a mere Pet. Three years were unprecedented and too long a duration to keep a pet over the age of fifteen. Even more, people commented that Riki was never forced to have sexual contact with anyone other than Iason himself. The Elite, the other face of the glorious history of Tanagura... Only the well-informed knew about their fame as sex machines. Katze, being a witness to how Riki had been able to transform Iason – who was a singular example of coldness, equilibrium and cunning – to such an extent, could not help feeling, beyond all logic, a certain envy and admiration, but also and perhaps in greater measure, a deep pity for the Mongrel.

Nevertheless, not even because of that did he manage to gather the courage to show Riki all his cards. Katze, after all, valued his own life more than anything else. Even when it was a life condemned to be spent confined to the shadows. The sensation of Iason’s hand drawing that cruel path on the skin of his face was still deeply-rooted in his heart. That injury on Katze’s face was a testimony of his loyalty toward Iason, like a lesson that punished his past inexperience.

"I don’t believe Iason really desires Guy. If that were so, he would have no scruples about employing any means to obtain his objective. That he opted to pay that exorbitant sum to Kyrie for his services makes me think that there has to be some other purpose in all this. The fact is that Guy is too old to become his pet. Neither does it seem logical to use a Mongrel from the Slum as a stud. But, well, supposing that on a whim Iason decided to have him at his side for a time, that period would be at most half a year. Then his destiny would probably be to be sold through some secret means... or used in the shows of the Black Market and the like. Until he ends up losing his mind. Then that would be the end of him."

"Is that... a threat?"

"A threat? Don’t misunderstand me, Riki. I wouldn’t gain anything by threatening you. I’m simply giving you my honest opinion in this matter. That’s why you came, isn’t it?"

"What you told me before... to meet with Iason. It sounded as if you were inciting me to see him. You know something, don’t you? If that’s so, tell me, please. What does Iason intend to do with Guy?"

"… What does Iason intend to do with Guy? The only person who can decide that is you, Riki. Remember your own experience with Iason, and do what you think you should." Without even changing the tone of his voice, Katze spoke, looking directly into Riki’s eyes. Nevertheless, a feeling of discomfort persisted like a puddle of thick and stagnant mud in his heart. In the end, he acted the same as Kyrie. The thought made him want to grind his teeth to contain the feeling of rage and impotence that invaded his whole being.

Riki remained silent. Dazed, not knowing what to do, he bit his lips, incapable of articulating a word. ‘I want to go back with Guy to the Slum, even if I have to drag him!’ More than a desire, it was the shout of desperation of a cornered animal. It could be said that there was only one person able to distress Riki in such a way, and that was Guy.

But, on the other hand, his past at Iason’s side that stubbornly refused to fall into oblivion was like a dam stopping the flow of Riki’s actions. Everything that could be called “feeling” had been rolled under by time, giving rise to an entity that lay curled in the depths of his heart, in such a way that he was no longer capable even of distinguishing what was pleasure and what pain.

Those three years with Iason in which, in spite of being a man, he could not act as such… Recalling them caused him to be submerged in a sort of illusion in which the virulence of an intense and persistent sexual desire seemed to tear his anus and puncture his spine. It was as if someone wanted to make fun of him, showing him that he would never be able to banish the past from his memory. And then there was that dullness, the one that he experienced when he masturbated to try to drown that pressing desire. Riki could not deny the obvious. Within and without his body rested so large an appetite that neither reason nor self-control sufficed to dominate it. With that bomb of unknown nature in his pocket, he was by no means able to approach Iason. In spite of all the worry that felt for Guy, that was a line he wasn’t willing to cross.

The wave of contradictory feelings pressured Riki incessantly in the following days. He bit his lips, burdened by that dilemma, without being able to find a point of contact. His thoughts fluctuated from one side to another and days elapsed without him managing to make a decision. Night after night, he drank without stopping in a solitary bar where there was no risk of bumping into familiar faces. When one is conscious that, however much one drinks no beverage will manage to get one drunk, the drink itself is bitter. Even so, he could not avoid drinking until he became dazed or he slept.

That night…

Riki returned with hesitant steps to his apartment, and immediately sank into bed. His body felt totally numb, and he did not have the energy to move, no less to take off his clothes.

It was as if the inside of his head and his eyelids weighed like lead. Soon he was deeply asleep. How much time elapsed since then, Riki could not have specified.

Suddenly, he felt his throat get dry, and half-opened his eyes. A film coated the inside of his mouth, and the saliva didn’t flow. Then, the impression that his body burned deep inside took possession of him. While he muttered curses to himself with low voice, he pulled his hair several times with a languid air. Nevertheless, he continued to feel as if half his brain were dead.

Riki crawled as best he could to the edge of the bed and, almost falling, got up.

Dragging his feet, he walked with slow and swaying steps. Instead of going to the kitchen, he went directly to the bathroom. Through the door, the sound of the shower was heard. Its intensity grew and grew, as if Riki harboured the hope that the flowing of the water would have flushed out all the alcohol that flooded his body.

It was a long time before the noise of the shower ceased suddenly. Riki got out, shaking the water drops from his hair with violent swipes. Aside from that, he had only wrapped himself in his bathrobe so that his feet and chest were still wet. Without worrying about it, Riki directed his steps toward the kitchen. He diluted some concentrated juice with a glass of mineral water and drank it in one gulp, hurrying to the last drop. As if, with it, he had managed to recover at last, Riki looked toward the ceiling and let out a sigh.

When he went to go back into the room that served as his living room, Riki stopped dead, startled. The light that he did not recall lighting shone, filling the room. But it was not only that. Submerged in that light, a silent figure observed Riki attentively.

Riki’s paralysed lips held back a sigh, and only his eyes, wide as saucers, shone with an unusual violence. On the other end of that stiff and motionless gaze, the sage beauty that was Iason gave him a serene smile.

"Long time... eh, Riki? Pardon me, but I took the liberty of waiting inside. You were so deeply asleep that it seemed a pity to wake you. I intended to wait until day... but the truth is that, although the expression on your face when you were asleep was charming, the sleepy look you rose from bed with was also memorable."

The low tone of that voice that he had not heard since a year ago penetrated his ears. Riki trembled without noticing it. "Get… out of here!!" howled Riki, instinctively adopting a defensive position. He did not intend to reproach Iason for having broken into his house, nor to investigate the reason why Iason felt motivated to do such thing. Though Riki knew very well that Iason was not going to withdraw only because he had ordered him to, Riki had not been able to hold himself back. With this unequivocal phrase, Riki wanted to make well clear the distance between him and Iason.

"Are you sure you want me to go? Did you not have a matter about Guy to discuss with me?" With all naturalness, Iason dropped his best card.

"Would you mind not looking at me as if you want to throw yourself for my throat? You are frightening me... It has already been ten days. The truth is that I was expectant, trusting you would not delay in coming to make a demand of me, but it seems that, in some way, I was mistaken in my forecast."

Riki felt it as small tremors shook his tight fists. Hidden behind that provocative tone, writhing at its ease, there was something evil that got on his nerves.

By contrast, Iason, seated with his back conveniently supported by the back of the sofa, seemed calm and relaxed, declaring by his quiet manners an unbreakable confidence in himself, and an impregnable dignity and majesty. To Riki that silence was like a cutting pain in his stomach.

"What do you want me to tell you? Do you expect me to prostate myself at your feet and beg you? I doubt you’ve come just to wake me up and get me to rescue Guy, have you? Katze tried to corner me with threats to force me to meet you... And now that tone of yours… sounds like you chose Guy as bait to get me to bite the hook." To bite out each one of those words, Riki struck the knot of bitterness and resentment he kept concealed in his heart. That knot had grown to such an extent that it was impossible to try to drown it in alcohol.

"As I understand, this is about your old Pairing Partner, is it not?" The coldness of Iason’s tone rubbed Riki’s tense nerves the wrong way. "What do you want me to do with him?”

"To do? W-what... does that mean?” Riki realized that his voice had become hoarse. He had the impression that his soul and his body were trapped by Iason’s icy gaze.

"I could train him just as I did with you. Or perhaps, using drugs, I could turn him into a being so lascivious that he could not bear to go a minute without having sex. There is also a way to make of him a docile sex doll through a small adjustment to his brain. Depending on if I sell him in the Black Market or through more legal channels, there are different processes."

“That’s... a joke..."

The forced smile that he had managed with great difficulty tightened and was distorted.

Nevertheless Iason, without altering his manner at all, said in a cold and final way: "Whether I change Guy into a depraved monster or not depends on your attitude."

The indignation at such unfair blackmail made Riki see red. The suffocating sensation of the blood rushing violently in his veins drowned him, preventing him from speaking. Concentrating in his gaze all the ardent rage that consumed him, Riki locked eyes on Iason.

Without being at all upset, Iason counterattacked with so icy and unemotional a gaze that it chilled the bones. Only an uncomfortable silence marked methodically the passing of time.

Suddenly, Iason got up from the sofa with a smooth motion. Affected, Riki’s eyes followed fearfully. That symbolized clearly the difference between their two situations.

With slow but sure steps, Iason advanced in Riki’s direction. One step, two steps…

Just then, it was as if the heaviness of the atmosphere grew to become suffocating. Riki threw himself backwards instinctively. "Don’t come near me!"

This low, sharp shout tore suddenly through the tension of the room.

"What is it? What are you so afraid of? This is not like you."

" … "

"Insolence and arrogance, those were the strong points of your personality, were they not?" Iason reduced the distance that still separated them deliberately and slowly.

Riki felt his hair stand on end. The impulse to back away took possession of him, sprouting from the depths of his being and extending through his whole body to the very tips of his fingers. On the edge of yielding to this desire, Riki attempted desperately to hold his ground. Lowering his guard now would signify that he was a Pet again.

"What are you going to do, Riki?"

Very, very close to one another already, Iason’s gaze fell on Riki like a shaft of frosty light. Riki swallowed loudly.

"Well? Do you abandon him to his fate, or do you decide to pay for his rescue?"

“… And where do I get the money? You know I don’t have a damned cent!"

"If you don’t have money, you can pay me with your body."

Suddenly, Riki felt as if a hand had grabbed his private parts, and he held his breath.

"If you come back to my side, I will return Guy safe and sound. What do you say?"

"… Enough already! This joke’s in bad taste..." moaned Riki in low voice.

"Besides, what guarantee do I have that you still haven’t done anything to Guy? It’s been ten days. Who would believe that you’ve just been feeding him all this time? I’m not that naive."

"I see. Does that mean that I have to do something to Guy in order to convince you that I’m serious? In that case, accordingly, Guy will suffer the consequences..."

"If you do anything strange to Guy, I’ll tell everything I know from beginning to end. In fact, I have substantial information in sufficient quantity to make the fat fish of the Confederacies’ noses twitch with excitement. Or maybe you believed that, during those three years, I only dedicated myself to licking the soles of your feet, Iason?"

After listening to this harangue, an unexpected smile showed on Iason’s lips. "It seems that your true character surfaces in the end. Not even an idiot would dare to speak to a Blondie that way. Hearing you after a whole year makes the pleasure even more intense. By the way, a long time ago there was someone, a single person who dared so much… but a simple caress on his face sufficed to make him docile and obedient again. Well, what do you want me to do? Oh, I know. First of all, I could show you some x-rated scenes of Guy in a show in the Black Market. As a partner, we can choose him a sexaroid famous for its 'great calibre'. How do you like that idea?"

Riki bit his lips. After all, he realized too late the futility of that last desperate show. That didn’t work with Iason. "What do you want, now? Iason, do you know what you’re saying? I… I’m already twenty years old. According to what your people consider common sense, at this age I ‘m worth less than an old rag. I’m no longer of any use to you, so why do you use such dirty tricks to force me to come back? An Elite like you could chose anyone you wanted, from the best among the Academy’s thoroughbreds to the number one in Midas’ brothels. Enough already… It’s been three years, Iason... About time you should be fed up with a Mongrel from the Slum like me, isn’t it?"

"Therefore I set you free for a year. I removed the ring, and I permitted you to do as you would in the Slum without any supervision. Well, I believe that you have amused yourself enough already, and, little by little, my patience has also reached its limit."

"…What are you talking about?"

"I am simply resolving a misunderstanding. I removed your ring, but I never cancelled your registration. You were, and still are my Pet, and of course, you will continue to be in the future, for always."


"Three years, Riki. All that time and insistence were necessary to domesticate you. At this point, you are already irreplaceable to me. Admit it; from the beginning you were the one to arouse me. You should assume that responsibility and all of its consequences. You are not an accessory. You are my Pet. I always treated you as such. Is that not so? That you are over twenty is irrelevant. You are my valuable male, slender and flexible, lascivious and hostile. Did you truly believe that I could rid myself of you?"

After making this speech in a serene tone, Iason smiled with his habitual elegance. Riki remained frozen, completely petrified and astounded. His pale lips trembled as if he was going to say something, but his tongue tangled and was unable to articulate anything intelligible. Even so, he struggled like a contortionist to get free when Iason, as though it were his legitimate right, held him tightly by the hips. After being freed from the Blondie’s hug, Riki backed away with clumsy steps.

"Come, Riki," ordered Iason with the dignity and majesty that his position as owner offered.

Riki, with his back leaning against the wall, shook his head violently.

"Why me? Having thousands of guys that would kill to be your Pet, why the damned hell does it have to be me?" It sounded as if someone had crushed his neck to extract that desperate shout from the depths of his throat. It was the torn lament of the one who, seeing himself cornered, did not have anywhere to run.

"I believe I said that already. I want you to accept your responsibility for having provoked me... This is the first time I’ve found someone who, instead of adulating me, dares even to challenge me and to publicly sling mud at my Blondie pride. That characteristic of yours is irresistibly stimulating. So much so that it produces a sharp tickle in the depths of my brain. You are adorable, so pretty and tender that I would to pull out that heart, so strong and full of life, and press it beating against my cheek."

His serenity was so sinister that a cold sweat began to flow from Riki’s armpits. Invaded by the impression that a mute anxiety was born in the tips of his toes and extended to the rest of his body, his throat shook with small spasms.

Slowly, Iason stretched out his right arm. Ignoring his shoulders and his arms, the Blondie’s hand went first toward the Mongrel’s nape and caressed it lightly from the bottom to the top.

Despite the year that had elapsed, Riki’s body was still trained to answer to those powerful caresses, and thus, when the fingers that outlined the nape of his neck slid, descending toward his shoulder, Riki felt as though all the pores of his skin contracted forcefully. Iason introduced his hand under the bathrobe then, and massaged Riki’s chest.

Instantly, an indescribable trembling shook Riki’s body. He confirmed with horror that the voracious appetite he had repressed during a whole year was empowered now in his whole being.

Thump, thump, thump...

The heat of the violent beating of his heart constricted his chest, and at the same time, generated an excitement of a different nature.

With only a light touch to one of his nipples, a lascivious fire flared deep in his gut. There was already nothing to do. Riki bit his lips and lowered his eyes. His own flesh had sufficiently experienced the futility of opposing the Blondie’s embrace.

The front of the bathrobe came untied, and it fell at Riki’s feet. Iason held the hard naked buttocks between his hands, and without even coming yet to the area covered with a thatch of hair, he saw how the symbol of Riki’s masculinity rose, arched and swollen.

Iason took Riki’s virile member decisively and, as if verifying its texture after so much time, manipulated it very carefully, pressing it hard some times, and caressing it smoothly at others. And then, exercising his right as owner, he proceeded to fit the ring in that place. With the special touch of that object biting into his skin sweetly, for a brief instant, Riki felt immersed in an illusion in which all seemed to fall silently to pieces around him. But, were that and the sensations of carnal pleasure any different? Excited by Iason’s skilful caresses, a furious sexual desire seemed to come from his hole, and dragged his hips back.

Without noticing, Riki wrinkled his brow deeply. He had the impression that the Pet poison imbued in his body meandered all over his being, accumulating itself even above the sighs that, for a moment, ceased unceremoniously.

Iason held both balls in their sack, and pressing a little, rubbed them hard, crushing them together. Immediately Riki felt an intense burning on the end of his penis, and let a light moan escape.

Then, Iason’s fingers deviated a little until they reached Riki’s hole. Writhing, Riki bent his knees to accommodate the cant of his hips. It was an almost imperceptible, smooth touch, but it made the Mongrel’s sexual desire flow through all his veins. That part that had been taught to be extremely sensitive, moved, seeking Iason’s caresses, and Riki, grimacing in an obscene gesture, began to moan piteously.

"Do it... to me…" Excited so much by that tickling, unable to restrain himself, Riki let those words escape. Made desperate by the stabs of fire consuming his guts, Riki no longer cared for anything. His only desire was that Iason scratched in that place with all his force. But…

"Did you say something?"

Riki murmured an unintelligible curse at the coldness in Iason’s tone. Even so, the appetite was so pressing that, not even biting his lips could repress it.

"…Fuck," He spat while he slowly raised his head and nailed Iason with a hard look.

It was not a provocation. It was Riki’s request, expressed clearly and directly, but it was a crude expression rather like the slang of the Slum.

The gaze fixed on Iason was damp and wavering, shaken by a certain kind of desperation. Joined with Riki’s impotence before his own nature as a Pet, it left him completely defenceless, incapable of resisting the Blondie’s embrace.

"That’s it… That’s the way I like it."

Slightly assenting, Iason penetrated the Mongrel with barely any effort. Like a deadly weapon that swept away all trace of Riki’s self control, it dug deeply between the fleshy folds.

"Ha... a... ah... a... nn ..."

It was the ardent sound of the panting breaths that, one after another, struck Riki’s lips. Moving his hips almost unconsciously, he clung to Iason, digging his nails stingingly into his shoulder. Impossible to forget, the electrifying boiling that rose in him swept out from his body, licking his skin...

His mind was dull, and his ears heard no sound. Riki held his breath while he waited for that intense high in which his whole body would contract in an ardent final explosion…

In that instant, what was expelled from Riki with his gushing semen? Perhaps it was a feeling of lingering affection towards his freedom, or perhaps the awareness that his bleak future was in the hands of Iason.

A body familiar with poison should harbour at least some kind of immunity. Nevertheless, after a whole year of abstinence, the only thing that remained was a trembling and clumsy body, slave to that violent excitement that manipulated him at whim like a puppet.

With only a slight twisting of the finger that Iason kept deeply inserted to the base in that place, the tendons in both thighs tensed themselves until they were completely stiff. An ardent excitement pressed his crotch, and swirls of a delicious boiling whipped his hips mercilessly.

Riki felt the desire to cry with neither shame nor honour. Nevertheless, as proof that the anxiety of pleasure has no limits, Riki’s anus, twitching with ecstasy avidly devoured Iason’s finger.

This was the only bond that clearly existed between them. They did not know how to define it, but it was ardent and too intense a wedge as to be catalogued under the simple name of "habit".

Now, with his chest feeling stuffed full, and his face rubbing against the wall, Riki found himself panting with a hoarse voice.

Each time Iason’s virile member, hard and ferociously arched back, was driven against Riki’s abdomen it generated a brutal discharge of powerful sensations that resounded in some unknown zone of his brain. He had the impression of asphyxiating, and even his pitiful shrieks froze on his lips. Nevertheless, Riki’s manhood was erect, ribbed in tension, and gave off that characteristic smell.

With the Iason deep inside him, Riki was dragged unceasingly to one explosion after another until a moment came in which it was too much to remain standing. His hips seemed to break into thousand pieces, and his legs were paralysed and semi-convulsed.

When one abuses pleasure, it transforms itself into a pure state of suffering.

Riki felt as if a yellow mist clouded his vision, and, completely exhausted, he bowed his head until it hung defenceless on his neck.

Shortly after, Iason parted from him. So quickly did the Blondie withdraw the only bond that united them in flesh that Riki collapsed heavily on the ground like a cloth dummy that had lost its axis.

The atmosphere of the room remained murky and absolutely static, and that smell remained stagnant and pervasive.

How many times had they done it? Riki could not even recall... Until he’d come his last, Iason had assured him in a whisper... And just as he’d said, there remained now not a single drop of milk.

Riki’s tousled hair adhered to his sweaty forehead. The lower half of his body was numb and unfeeling. Breathing heavily, he contemplated Iason with a lost look.

"Tomorrow or the day after I will return Guy to you. Take the best advantage you can of your last moments in the Slum." After dressing, Iason pronounced these words in a cold and serene tone. Immediately afterwards, he turned to go without looking back, but when he arrived at the door, he stopped all of a sudden. "By now I don’t think it’s necessary to tell you, but to avoid subsequent complications when you return to Eos I want you perfectly clean of all the bad habits of the Slum. I will not tolerate any behaviour which would tarnish that ring you wear between your legs. Do you understand, Riki?"

After having set the rules to Riki in this way, Iason abandoned the room. In the wee hours of the morning there was nobody in the whole colony to give a distrustful look to the alien figure of Iason. Only the sound of his steps echoed, melancholy, on each corner until it was absorbed little by little by the darkness.

Leaving behind the miserable alley, Iason continued to Kings Road. Immediately, as if it had been awaiting that very moment, a car appeared suddenly, and sliding to Iason’s side, stopped next to him. The door opened in complete silence, and Iason entered without confidently.

"I made you wait for me, didn’t I, Katze?"

"… Not at all."

Those were the first and last words they exchanged during the trip. Katze, looking inexpressively ahead, accelerated suddenly. Rocked by the smooth, barely perceptible vibration of the car, Iason recalled the moments that he just lived with Riki. Something similar to a bitter smile came spontaneously to his lips at the thought that the Mongrel’s eyes had the same hardness that was in their first encounter.

To see Riki stubbornly defending tooth and nail the liberty he’d obtained at last, Iason couldn’t help but feel touched, and realised how much he loved him, really. Perhaps it had been not fair to obtain that confirmation that they should be separated from each other for a whole year? Riki shone so excitingly that the desire to possess him took over his being.

The feel of his arms and legs in tension, the heat of his trembling body... all of it remained still under the skin of his hands. As if trying to retain that pleasant sensation, Iason closed his fists slowly but firmly. Making Riki cry and pant and melt into a confused sea of sighs turned out to be a lot easier than Iason had predicted initially. In the moment in which Riki insistently demanded his caresses, Iason knew without a doubt that that empty year had been in no way vain.

Riki had fallen completely in his arms, prey to an uncontrollable desire.

Just as Iason had full conviction of it, he felt his own sexual desire rising until it reached the highest point. In front of Riki, a Blondie descended to the level of a vulgar sexaroid…

For Iason, seeing himself able to accept this mockery coloured with masochism was charged with worrying mystery. On the other hand, he also knew that it did not matter how many times he did it with Riki; he could never reach that encircling feeling of full satisfaction. The impediment was not that insurmountable wall existing between a body of flesh and blood and an artificial one. It was something... a hidden rough thirst in a corner of his heart that he could feel even during their intimate encounters when both were united in one flesh...

Iason had never imagined that the absence of a spiritual connection between the both of them would turn out to be exasperating to such an extent. If, instead of brutally taking Riki’s body, he had confessed to him only a tiny part of what he felt for him, would that spiritual connection perhaps have been born between them? Iason curved his lips, mocking himself for having let himself be drawn to such a delirious idea. At this point, there was no reason to think that something was going to change. The hard and pure reality was that the only thing keeping Riki chained to his side was the Pet ring. That being the case, to him there seemed no other alternative remaining than that he, as the owner, submit Riki to his will.

But, occasionally, a suffocating despair assaulted him. He had a macabre dream in which his body melted, wrapped in a muddy and ardent sexual passion. It was impossible for him to pretend that nothing happened, and to tranquilly ignore that unknown chaos that overflowed his capacity for reason and took over his spirit.

The raw feeling towards Riki and his Blondie pride had crossed, disgusted, intertwined with each other, and at some moment, without his being aware of it, the borderline that separated them had blurred to nothing.

Iason did not think he had fallen into apostasy, but according to the commandments of Jupiter, the god, owner and master of Tanagura, he could no longer avoid being branded a heretic.

In short, master and Pet... Was that twisted bond the only thing that could keep Riki and Iason linked?

Iason let a heavy sigh escape him. The expression on his face reflected so much melancholy that, if Katze were to contemplate it, he would never have believed his own eyes.


The first light of dawn brought with them Sunday morning. Ceres’ atmosphere was frosty, as if the cold air of the night remained, still frozen and static. It had the appearance of fine ice crystals, so fragile that they threatened to smash to pieces with only the light brush of a finger. The diurnal light was gleaming sickly, and the shadows which fell, dyeing the Colony, were becoming weaker and weaker.

Only the stillness of the sleeping world chiselled slowly the passing of time.

Just as Guy suddenly came back crooning unworriedly, the atmosphere became humid and began to melt with Ceres’ structure.

Certainly, he did not understand at all what had happened. “You can go back to Ceres.” Those had been the words Iason pronounced with his habitual indifferent tone as soon as he met with him that morning. When Guy left Eos, the air-taxi that Iason arranged was already waiting for him. The dull driver, after reporting to Guy that his fees had been credited in advance, left him in the neighbourhood of Ceres, and immediately moved away, fast and furious.

Of course, Guy had no way of knowing anything about the secret agreement between Iason and Riki. Naturally, confusion and doubt remained in his soul, but for the first time since that insanity began, his lips could let a sigh of relief escape. The fact was that, since he had been carried to Eos, he had felt as if he wasn’t in his element, and each day that passed in that place was stifling.

The room had been efficiently organized and very spacious. The bed had been really comfortable… but even so, he had not been able to become accustomed to all those luxuries. Although it had been only ten days, that way of life, consisting of passing the whole blessed day looking at the ceiling without having anyone that send him to do anything, exasperated Guy terribly. No, even more was the despair and the anxiety of not knowing what Iason’s true intentions were.

As a reaction to all this, the characteristic smell of the Slum filled his heart with a strange nostalgia.

He went straight to visit Riki. He somehow longed fervently to see Riki rather than go back to the bleakness of his room. As soon as he pressed the intercom button, the door opened, not sliding exactly, but with a familiar cadence.

"Hello…" With a certain clumsiness produced by a mixture of embarrassment and slight anxiety, Guy was the first one to speak, so quickly that his gaze collided with Riki’s.

With an ambiguous expression on his face, similar to a sorrowful smile, Riki assented in silence.

"Can I come in?"

"… I don’t see why not," Riki encouraged him, laughing with a sound of reluctance.

When Guy went to enter, he discovered a notorious 'sign' on Riki’s neck and stopped startled.

"What’s the matter? Are you coming in or not?"

"Oh! Y-yes..." Guy could not keep his voice from trembling. It was as if all the happiness that had filled him until that moment dissipated all of a sudden.

Following Riki inside, Guy had the impression that grief slowed down his steps. It was a different sensation to that which he’d experienced getting out of the car in which Kyrie had carried him to Tanagura. It could be described as a deep discomfort, similar to an intense itching in the pit of his stomach, and he had been racking his brains trying to find a credible excuse to justify his absence in the Slum for ten days to Riki. How stupid he had been! Guy felt as if the inside of his mouth had become rough as sandpaper.

On the other hand, discovering so unexpectedly that Riki seemed to have a lover made a small squeak travel through his body as much as his soul.

Each of them immersed in their thoughts, Riki and Guy were silent and their gazes were low.

Just then, an unimportant question was the adequate thing. "Where were you these past ten days?" But the remorse that Riki felt for Guy and the stinging of the injuries that the savage sexual encounter had left him during the previous night kept him from relaxing, and his face appeared stiffer than ever. A murky, dark, and oppressive charge weighed on the backs of both of them.

In spite of the fact that they hadn’t seen each other in ten days, after clumsily exchanging a few words, the conversation languished and finally ended. Transformed by resentment, the only thing that remained between them was the discomfort caused by the complete disappearance of the bond they’d once shared.


That day, Katze found himself in an underpass called Chalaza. It was a direct route, not more than a meter and a half wide, which extended from the casino situated in the centre of Midas to Ceres. Along this passageway, driving at full speed, was a magnetic capsule-shaped vehicle whose surface showed not the slightest indication of any crack or break.

Of course, it was clear that, driving at such depth and with a return journey like a switchback, this vehicle was not for public transport. On the contrary, it was a secret route that only a handful of chosen knew about. One could say without fear of exaggeration that, below ground, this was the only pipeline that connected the two contrary regions, as if it was a symbol of the dark existence that both, as well as Katze, the shadow traveller, shared...

The passageway resisted defeat by the darkness, soaked in cold air. Every ten meters were placed orange lights which, like open holes stabbing into the blackness, successively absorbed the capsule.

Suddenly the succession of light and shadowed spaces ceased, and the capsule stopped in the established place. A door closed behind it, emitting a light moan. The capsule rotated on itself, sliding to give room to turn, while red lights situated at both sides of the framework sparkled intermittently.

Finally the lights softened and, instantly, the gravitational belt loosened. The capsule elevated for some five seconds more, and then stopped again.

The entire time, Katze kept his eyes closed until the thick, black door in front of him opened. Everything was controlled by computer so, aside from the vehicle’s rising or descending, there was nothing more to be bothered with. Even so, after descending Katze remained there, standing with a gloomy expression on his face. His feet heavy as lead when he left the capsule. Anyone would realize with only a glance that he had not come to this place for his own sake. Far from it, the repulsion he felt accumulated even in the air he exhaled.

He had arrived to the far west of Ceres.

A smooth-sloped narrow walkway led to the infancy centre, Guardian.

Katze breathed deeply, and looking ahead, began to walk. However much he made an effort to keep his calm and avoid slipping the mask of artificial inexpressiveness from his face, while he walked his every nerve was tense. Neither was Katze totally alien to the deep emotion that one feels returning to one’s old home.

Although, in fact, the walkway by which he went was out of the way and far from the view of the public, occasionally the sound of sharp voices reached his ears, crying or laughing happily. For Katze, it wasn’t hard to draw in his mind the scene of children on the patio brimming with energy and vitality.

Although the memories were faded like an old black and white movie, the ardent pain that brief flashback caused him was, as expected, impossible to describe with words. If one were still living as Furniture, surely trying to imagine where the last days of one’s life would run out, the memory of the time passed in Guardian would be bittersweet.

Nevertheless, now that he knew in such great detail the public face and the hidden one of Tanagura, to be submerged in sentimentalism was an idea that did not seduce him at all. Katze knew very well what was hidden under the feet of those children who rejoiced with their shrill voices. As the broker of the Black Market – better said, as the right-hand man of Iason Mink – it was impossible not to be up-to-date on it.

He remembered having bitten his lips, inflamed by an uncontrollable rage. Suddenly, an unpleasant sensation like a fit of nausea made him look away more than once.

Inside those cold and gloomy laboratories 'they' were born. And without even being named, not permitted to become aware of their own existence, they disappeared one after another into the darkness. Even now, Katze seemed to hear their frightening laments on the other side of that wall and the repugnance that this produced in him made his hair stand on end. He knew perfectly that, at this point, there was no point in being tormented, but he could not become accustomed to that horrible sensation, as if a repulsive entity dragged itself meanderingly over his scalp. Something like a chill contracted in his long-lost member, and climbed up his spine.

Katze shuddered lightly.

There was still time left before the agreed upon hour. Nervous and uncomfortable, he tsked, and buried himself deeply in the sofa.

In spite of the fact that it was something he did often, the wait in that bland room irritated him more than usual. His mouth was thick and dry, and suddenly he felt the desire to smoke. He extracted a cigarette from his prized pack and lit it.

He took a deep drag, so that the smoke went deep down into his lungs, and then proceeded to lazily expel it little by little.

The tobacco with the intense natural fragrance of Shiila, mixed with a bit of a stimulant called Amka, acted in Katze as a sort of sedative.

When half the cigarette had already dispelled in violet smoke, two men entered the room at last. One of them, about thirty years old, tall and with a moustache, greeted Katze as soon as their eyes met.

It was Judd Cooger. Leader of the family that, generation after generation, had governed Guardian, he was, so to speak, the man that sat at the top of Ceres. Of course, he was also a devout and loyal servant of Tanagura.

The one who accompanied him was still a boy. Since the first time Katze saw him some time ago, before they were formally introduced, Katze realized that this youth had to be a son of Judd. Except for his eyes which were angled sharply as knives, his features were as pronounced as Judd’s. At their first encounter, he had spoken his name as if he were spitting it in Katze’s face: Manon Sohl, legitimate son of Cooger.

In Ceres, there were very few who could presume to have a name and a surname. It could be said that they were a privileged class. Their main right consisted of being able to marry a woman, and to have descendants to thus preserve the family lineage.

Nevertheless, the existence of that blood bond and the need they had to protect it in time became a harmful weak point. Tanagura did not hesitate to make the most of it. For these poor unhappy ones who wanted to protect their lineage at any cost, the bait that Tanagura dangled before their eyes was so tempting that they could not reject it.

The longing to satisfy mundane desires plays on a person’s character until it annihilates it completely, and especially vulnerable are those who feel important for having been favoured with a few privileges. All of this added to the degeneration of Ceres into one more feud with Tanagura.

This did not mean that they were pleased by their actions without feeling the least remorse, but Tanagura provided them secretly with aid and assistance. This was considered justification to continue maintaining the wounded corpse hidden under the bed. Once the forbidden fruit is eaten, the only possible road is to perdition. They were aware that a part of their bodies was decomposing little by little, but they had chosen to live with their backs to that reality.

"Let me see those dossiers," urged Katze as soon as he saw the two men take a seat. His tone of voice sounded cold and indifferent.

Judd handed them over in silence.

Katze turned the pages unhurriedly, skimming over photographs of the faces and the diverse descriptions that figured in each dossier. The data on IQ, personality, intense psychological testing, etc. was explained with such exhaustiveness that, more than just the result of an individual’s evaluation, it seemed a living sample of the laboratory’s analysis.

Katze set apart a few of those dossiers and lined them up on the table. Then, from among these, he finally chose the ones that would become Furniture. All matters concerning Ceres were a field in which Katze had no rivals. He had become someone of great influence, somewhat unprecedented for a Mongrel from the Slum.

But no one who managed to make a place for himself in the business of the underworld attributed it to a stroke of luck, and the fact was that each and every one of them knew only too well that Tanagura – better said Iason – never mixed personal feelings in matters of business; he held strictly to the meritocracy principle – that is to say the best position for the best man.

Because of it, and although Iason had given him the place he now occupied, Katze was very aware that that did not mean he enjoyed the Blondie’s full confidence. Katze thought that Iason acted that way to be able to command eternal loyalty of his subordinate.

‘When you sin, sin big.’ That was the only way to survive.

For too long, Katze witnessed a hell which he managed escape to begin shouting now 'Justice! Honesty!' with his fist raised.

"The tenth day, bring them to the same old place," Katze transmitted these instructions in brief and concise form.

"Understood." Judd’s tone was a lot more courteous than Katze’s. Regardless of the difference of age between them, there was no doubt who was above and who beneath. Although the two were faithful servants of Tanagura, the great difference was in the simple fact that Katze spoke in the name of Tanagura and Judd in the name of Ceres. It did not matter what the situation had been in the past; if his position with respect to another was inverted, Judd would be the first to adapt to the new situation. If he managed to remain in his place at the head of Guardian up until now, it was completely thanks to that flexibility that characterized him.

Nevertheless, the impetuous Manon didn’t seem willing to tolerate the servile behaviour of his father by any means, and gave him a look full of reproach.

Aware of Katze’s past as Furniture in Eos, Manon could only feel contempt towards the man in front of him. Why should a member of the Cooger family have to be a step beneath that upstart, and let him look down his nose at him? Manon did not realize that such a question was nothing more than the reflection of the vain pride felt by someone who knows nothing of the world he inhabits. Perhaps he was sincerely convinced that, just for carrying the Cooger name, everyone born in the Slum should prostrate themselves at his feet.

To top it all, Katze had not even deigned to look at him a single time. Above all, that was the humiliation that Manon could not bear. "Tsk, see the ex-Furniture, pretending to be so important..." spat out Manon on the sly. It was not a matter of a muffled whisper. His intention was for Katze to hear it clearly, and be humiliated. Nevertheless, Katze utterly ignored him.

Manon could not believe that guy had the audacity to not even give him a fleeting glance. He became stiff with rage.

On the other hand, Judd was pale as marble. "I’m truly sorry. I beg your pardon for the nonsense this spoiled, ignorant brat spouts. Later, I’ll scold him severely so that it won’t be repeated again in the future," Judd excused himself in a sincere tone, his head lowered.

This got on Manon’s nerves even more. "But father! Why do we have to butter this guy up? Isn’t he just ex-Furniture?”

“Idiot!” Judd shouted as he gave Manon a resounding punch to the jaw. In any case, this was perhaps the first time that such a situation had arisen between the two of them. For an instant, an uncomfortable silence fell, twisting between the both of them. The father wore an expression of disgust for the bitter taste that raising his fist against his son had left in his mouth, and Manon’s lips trembled, more from fury than surprise. Searching for a vent for this maelstrom of rage, Manon’s eyes, filled with all the poison he could muster, settled their withering gaze on Katze’s face.

“Listen, don’t think you’ve won. I won’t bow my head to someone like you just because my father says so.”

“Can’t you just shut up, Manon?”

Maybe it was only a trick of his mind, but it seemed to Manon that his father’s voice trembled in speaking that phrase. Even so, burning with anger as he was, he kept his eyes fixed on Katze unblinkingly.

“Your Tanaguran representative papers won’t last forever. Laugh while you can. When I officially inherit the name Cooger, I’ll make you into a brothel toilet. They say that since ex-Furniture don’t have ‘that’, they have really tight assholes. Isn’t that so? When the time comes, I’ll be the first one to use you. Just wait, and you’ll see how much pleasure I’ll give you.”

Judd sank to the sofa, temples throbbing with nerves, incapable of saying a thing to restrain his son.

“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? Or did they cut it off along with your balls?” Manon taunted blatantly. Perhaps it exasperated him that not even the crudest and most violent insults affected Katze in the least.

“It’s because I’m too old to start fighting with an ignorant brat like you,” Katze said in a steady tone.

“Who do you think you’re talking to? I’m Manon Sohl!”

“So what? I’m afraid you’re a bit confused, kid. You and me, we’re both just Mongrels from the Slum.”

“… What foolishness are you talking? I’m –”

“Special? In a way, maybe. The fact is, the Cooger family leads the group of parasites that survive by sucking the lifeblood out of Guardian.”

A blue vein showed in Manon’s temple. He was so furious that he couldn’t speak.

“Moreover, you seem to think that you’ll inherit the directorship of Guardian for free, without doing anything to deserve it as if you’d fallen from the sky, but the real world isn’t so generous. You’re stuck on being the first born son of Judd Cooger. That doesn’t mean that everything your father possesses will one day be in your hands. To me and the people I represent, it doesn’t matter one whit if we deal with you or another. It’s Tanagura that decides. You might be someone of a certain importance within Guardian, but a Mongrel will always be a Mongrel, and if you think that you can deal with Tanagura as an equal, you’re sadly mistaken, kid. Right now, I’m the one who represents Tanagura. Mark that point in your mind so that you don’t forget it. And if you still want to figure last on the list of the Cooger family name, the first thing you have to do is make very sure who you can sit on. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to control your tongue a little. Isn’t that right, director?”

Though it disgusted him to do it, being asked his approval, Judd inclined his head deeply.

That artificial dimness made Manon’s vision go red with blood, and full of fury, he felt his body go rigid again. To him, that servile attitude from his father was like a dagger in the back. Fists clenched, and trembling with rage, he gave his father such a look of reproach that it seemed as if he would spit in his face. And then his eyes, full of hate, pinned Katze.

The silence of the three men fought desperately until, suddenly, as though tearing up the sinister oppression of that atmosphere, Manon got to his feet. Judd said nothing to stop him. With his shoulders straight, and without looking back, Manon strode from the room.

“Are you satisfied?” Judd asked Katze. His tone was much less formal than it had been up until that moment, even though it carried a certain amount of dejection.

“What are you complaining about, director? It was your son who started the discussion. It was humanly impossible for me to stand such insults with a smile on my face. Or is it that it hurt your pride to hear certain truths spoken, for instance the fact that you’re a parasite?” Katze’s tone was also much more intense than before.

With Manon no longer present, the accumulated tension seemed to have diminished all of a sudden.

“No… By now, I don’t think I need to keep up appearances in front of you. What’s more, it was I who irrationally accounted for my son being there. One of these days, I’ll have to have a serious talk with Manon.”

“I’ll be frank with you. I don’t believe he’s capable of being your successor. I saw how his bedevilled temper ruined this meeting today. Youth is no excuse, and certainly not before Tanagura, though it’s true that if my place had been taken by another, he might not have become so enraged.”

“In time, my son will understand… or I should say, he will have to understand. Even though he lives with his back turned on reality, once he inherits the Cooger name it will be his duty to show it every once in a while.”

‘How far does he intend to propagate his own blood?’ For the first time, Katze asked himself that question seriously. ‘Do blood ties mean inheriting something so daunting…?’ Judd had not hesitated in saying, quite tranquilly, that the price of obtaining the leadership of Guardian was to know the Dark Side of Eden.

Katze mocked himself in realising that, contrary to his bitterness of a moment ago, he now felt a certain pity towards Manon. After all, were they not all wolves of the same litter?

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