As I dashed from the Public, my intellect was far too occluded by storm clouds of rage and embarrassment to lay any rational plan; I sought nothing more cunning than to keep the two Gypsy Jokers within range of my sight. Indeed, I did not even think this thought with any clarity until I realized that I was in fact tracking them, up out of the little canyon, through the woods, around the margin of a lake, and then into the narrow streets of a residential arrondissement of rambling wooden houses, This vecino, though not exactly bustling, still was crowded enough to screen the tracker from the sight of the prey, especially since the two Gypsy Jokers simply ambled along with never a look backwards, entirely unaware that I was following.
The practical task of following the two miscreants at a more or less constant distance of some fifty meters soon assumed a mantric quality which began to calm my spirit and clarify my mind, These two arch urchins were, after all, not quite so clever as they thought, for there they were, no doubt, making their way back to their lair, and I need do nothil1g more arcane than follow them home to reach my goal.
Alas, even as I was beginning to congratulate myself on my acumen, my simple plan was laid low by an equally simple flaw that I had entirely failed to consider, a false assumption generated by my own indigency, to wit, that my quarries, like myself, lacked the wherewithal to travel by Rapide.
But after no more than half an hour of this stealthy pursuit, my quarries, as if they had been tantalizing me all along, strolled quite cavalierly into a Rapide station whose entrance was crafted in the form of a tree, and by the time I had followed them within, were long since gone, somewhere, no doubt, under the rainbow, leaving me once more to play the fool.
For want of any further course of action, I stood there ill the empty Rapide station trying to gather my wits about me. For want of any other coherent cerebral content, my mind's ear began to cycle through the taunting doggerel with which the Gypsy Jokers had answered my entirely straightforward inquiries. "Where are the Gypsy Jokers to be found? Over the river and through the woods, where the sun never sets and the moon never shines, first star on the left and straight on till morning, somewhere under the rainbow ..."
Could this be something more than meaningless blather? Indeed was this not Edoku, where the only practical means of reciting the lay of the land was just such a skein of imagery? Vraiment, there were as many venues as not where the sun never set and the moon never shone, and as for rivers, woods, ersatz stars, and places of perpetual morning, they were all as common on this planet as Bittersweet Jungle on Glade ...
But the rainbow ... Since Edoku was entirely lacking in natural meteorology, such an effect, if it existed here, would be the result of artifice, and, given the penchant of the Edojin for abolishing the natural cycle of the elements, would like as not be a permanent rather than a transient phenomenon. Moreover, given the penchant of the Edojin for novelty, there might be only one such feature on the entire planet ...
It would be easy enough to find out. Merely insert my chip into the slot of the nearest Bubble, order up the list of "Scenic Meteorology," and --
For want of the smallest quantum of credit on my chip, or even a few coins of ruegelt to exchange for same, my brilliant chain of deduction led only to the most exquisite state of frustration!
At this karmic nexus, fate, or may hap mere random chance, chose to cross my path with a catalytic agent sufficient unto transmuting my state of forlorn impotence into a reckless, not to say courageous, determination to at long last become an active agent of my own destiny with the single practical means at my disposal, the ring of tantric power that I wore upon my finger.
A man with skin tinted pale white and dressed all in green velvet had entered the station and was in the process of seating himself in a nearby Bubble. The specificity of his person, however, was entirely without relevance, for it was the generality of his gender which impelled my action -- was this not a male of the species, and had not the time finally come to test the power over same of the ring that my father had placed upon my finger, to see if Moussa was the true daughter of Shasta and Leonardo?
Thumbing the Touch ring on and screwing up my courage, I accosted the fellow, who greeted the approach of a rather obvious mendicant with a moue of distaste. "Pardon me, good sir, if I may have a --"
"Ruegelt for Children of Fortune arimasen! Raus, urchin!"
This reaction had not been exactly unanticipated; au contraire, it allowed me to lay a gentle hand on the juncture of neck and clavicle in the form of a polite gesture of restraint, as I laughed goodnaturedly and said: "you mistake my intent. I seek not alms, only your aid in settling a wager, and it will cost you not a single credit."
"A ... wager ...?" he stammered, gazing up at me with an altered expression, which seemed not to be entirely the result of my words, seeing as how a red flush was now clearly visible under his alabaster skin.
"Just so," I said, now allowing my thumb to brush upwards and contact a more sensitive point near the juncture of jaw and throat, "the object of the wager is whether or not a rainbow exists in Great Edoku."
"Je ... je ... wakarimasen ... know not ..." he blithered, not taking his eyes from mine, and beginning to gape somewhat foolishly. I, on the other hand, took a quick sidelong glance at the crotch of his pantaloons, and verified in the firmest terms possible that this first test of my father's cunning invention was thusfar proceeding nominally.
"Ah, but this knows, ne?" I said, leaning over his seated figure, removing my hand from his shoulder, and chancing to brush the back of it against his thigh in the process of laying the palm of it on the screen of the Bubble; en passant, I could feel his whole body twitch. "It would cost you nothing to insert your chip and inquire, and I, alas, am suffering, shall we say, a temporary embarrassment of funds ..."
He regarded me with a face upon which I could clearly read the conflict between the cynical intellect and the natural man. On the one hand, he must now realize that he had been accosted by a mendicant of some kind after all, but on the other hand, his lingam was informing him that he had been smitten by an instant and primal lust for same, which, as far as he knew, this innocent young creature had done nothing to provoke. It but required a slight act of boldness to consolidate my position; Leonardo's puissance as a mage of personal enhancement devices was about to be confirmed.
I put on the best expression of innocent childish implorement that I could muster under the circumstances. "Oh, please!" I cooed like a babe, touching an imploring palm to his cheek as a child might do in the act of begging a sweet from a favorite uncle.
I could feel him breaking into a light sweat. He squirmed on the seat of the' Bubble. Was it my imagining that he stifled an incipient moan? "P-p-porque no?" he sighed throatily, in a voice entirely inappropriate to converse with a favorite niece. With a somewhat trembling hand, as if all too cognizant of the imagery of the gesture, he inserted his chip into the slot. "Scenic M-meteorology ..." he commanded.
The screen began to scroll. "Alpine mist ... blue clouds ... fog banks ... hurricane ... neige ... rainbow ..."
Elated by the tentative confirmation of my deductions, emboldened further by the fruit of my first act of courage, flush with the success of my first employment of the Touch, determined to see how far I could push my luck, and not without a certain honest girlish pleasure, I cried "I win!" and threw my arms around his neck in a hug.
When he moaned aloud and returned the embrace with a force and passion that had nothing to do with childish glee, the die was cast.
Much later in life, perusal of certain obscure historical texts revealed to my bemusement that certain ancient Terrestrial cultures held bizarre beliefs concerning the granting of sexual favors which the modern mind must find entirely outre, if not mentally diseased. In these cultures, it was actually held that amatory pleasures were to be withheld by the femme of the species as a commodity to be traded for a contract of marriage under which the homme was required to provide economic sustenance. Naturellement, such artificially created scarcity provided a strong sellers' market for tantric performance such as present practitioners of the art could not imagine in their wildest dreams, But the paradoxical result was that the tantric performer was held in low esteem, for by and large, these "putains" enjoyed a clientele of such uncritical avidity for simple sexual release that the mere granting of crude sexual favors was sufficient, by and large, to command a living wage, and diligent study and true artistry were almost entirely unnecessary to the successful "whore."
While the young girl who then proceeded to finger the vertebrae of the fellow's neck like a flute, eliciting a music of sighs, groans, and mutters, lacked the benefits of this historical perspective, I did have the instinctual understanding that the electronic enhancement of my tantric energies, combined with the immediacy of his desire, would be sufficient to overcome my lack of serious study and artistic accomplishment relative to what was available in the palaces of pleasure of Edoku, much as the rude finger food of the Sparkies, available on the spot at the moment of impulse, was sufficient to satisfy the whim of sophisticated Edojin, who, under circumstances of more formal and critical consideration, would have eschewed it for haute cuisine.
"1 would love to see the rainbow," I told him forthrightly to his panting face. "It is, in fact, at present my heart's desire. A few credits of your largesse would be sufficient to grant it, ne?"
Under the circumstances, the inquiring cock of his eyebrow was a mere nicety, a formality which I answered in kind. "In return for which, I would be most willing to grant your present heart's desire," I said. "Not to say that of your lingam," I added, lightly Touching the organ in question.
When, bewitched and bedazzled, and cognizant of same, he still managed a certain expression of niggardly uncertainty, I told him, "I sense that you are a man of honor. Should you look me in the eye afterward and declare in honesty that the experience was not worth the few coins of ruegelt I require, I will cheerfully forgo my fee."
With that, mingy uncertainty was reconciled with the natural man. "Well spoken!" he declared. "A secluded bower desu, only short walk away. Vamanos!"
To this bucolic boudoir we forthwith repaired, doffed only the minimum necessary garments to effect the union of lingam and yoni, and forthrightly consummated our transaction. Once I had him in my full embrace so that I was easily and openly able to finger the full range of his spinal chakras and even more intimate plexes of his kundalinic neuroanatomy, he was speedily transported to and held at such sustained and heightened levels of bliss that I was confident that I would secure the credits I sought unless I was in the arms of an utter villain and churl.
Moreover, I found myself experiencing pleasures entirely divorced from anticipated pecuniary gain. For one thing, a man who has been granted the ecstasy of such full kundalinic arousal becomes a more tireless and unselfish lover, for an- other, the premiere performance always has a certain spiritual piquancy for a tantric artist, and perhaps best of all, for the first time in my young life, I could bask in the moral satisfaction of providing fair value given for value received, of doing an actual job of work, and doing it well.
Vraiment, such sincerity and powerful if not entirely polished craft did not go without its just reward, which is to say that after I had pleasured him to the sweet razor-edge of exhaustion, he readily and in good faith agreed to return to the Rapide station and send me on my way via his largesse.
And so, thanks to my father's providence, my own pluck, and the first piece of honest labor I had performed in my life, a few minutes later I emerged from a Rapide station concealed within a large stone statue aping a piece of rude primitive art to stand beneath the rainbow's grand and palely shining spectral arch.
The immediate vecino in which I found myself was an arrondissement of fanciful towers set in an alpine meadow between two entirely contrasting ranges of mountains. On my right hand, jagged desert buttes broiled and flashed in the noonday sun while a mighty cataract poured over the edge of the highest cliff to crash against a rocky riverbed in immense billows of mist and foam. On my left hand were green, wooded, rolling hills sprinkled with manses and houses, reminding me, somehow, of the Hightowns of Nouvelle Orlean at early twilight, with the lights of men outshining the sparse stars, and even a bank of fog hovering over the distant ridgeline.
Overarching the intervening afternoon valley was the immense preternaturally brilliant rainbow, which seemed to arise from the mists at the foot of the cataract and bridge the sky to the fogbank behind the wooded hills.
The architecture of the large urbanized area beneath the rainbow was in its way no less extravagant than the style of the landscape in which it had been set. The cityscape was dominated by scores of tall, flowing, indeed somehow organically shaped, towers of multicolored glasses, all fusing and melting and whirling into each other, as if the rainbow itself were mirrored ill a slick of oil poured over mounds of gelati. The ground floors of these buildings were given over to all manner of restaurants, tavernas, boutiques, cafes, and the like, all open to the vie of the streets, which were paved not with stone nor yet gold, but a mosslike grass that was an arabesque of intermingled greens, reds, blues, and yellows.
These streets, moreover, were fairly choked with pedestrian traffic, the usual Edojin throngs in their tinted skills, bizarre coiffures, and extravagant garments, but more to the point, a liberal sprinkling of finger-food hawkers, wandering musicians, trinket peddlers, und so weiter, accoutred with items of the Cloth of Many Colors of the Gypsy Jokers.
Having come this far on impulse and boldness, I was now impelled towards a certain caution, or at any rate it seemed most politic not to call undue attention to myself until I had reconnoitered the territory and formulated a plan of action. Judging from my single experience with the manners of the tribe towards Children of Fortune of my lowly station, it would avail me nothing to simply accost the nearest Gypsy Joker and demand an audience with Pater Pan, nor would I likely gain anything but the rudest rejection if I managed to locate their encampment and grandly announce my availability as a member of the tribe and paramour of its domo. Even fresh from my triumph at the Rapide station, and basking in not-undeserved self-congratulation at my own cleverness, I knew I needed a strategem somewhat more subtle than that.
Fortunately, it was not long before the need to visit a Public arose, and upon being reminded of this biological imperative operating with inevitable regularity in my own quotidian existence even when my attention was focused on far weightier and loftier matters, I realized that this Pater Pan, in carnation of the eternal Child of Fortune and perfect master of the Gypsy Jokers or not, would also sooner or later need to relieve himself even as mortal men.
My next step, therefore, was first to locate the nearest Public and deal with the biological necessities, and then to utilize the lore and gossip current in the society thereof to locate those Public Service Stations most commonly frequented by the Gypsy Jokers.
The former required nothing more arcane than inquiring of the first person in a gray smock that I saw, who straightaway directed me to the usual blockhouse, which had been concealed in plain sight all along behind a tall hedge of brilliant blue flowers screening off an alcove set between two nearby buildings. The latter was merely a matter of informing the denizens thereof that I was new to the vecino, planned to tarry awhile, and therefore would be pleased to be informed of the various locations of the Publics therein.
Vraiment, the matter proved even easier than I had hoped, for the greeners of this vecino, having for the most part been drawn thither by the mystique of the Gypsy Jokers, spoke of little else, for indeed there was little else to speak of.
For one thing, the Gypsy Jokers were the only organized tribe in the area, a monopoly they enforced not so much by threats of force implied or otherwise as by their puissant mastery of all the arts of gathering ruegelt save thievery; they were simply too good at all they did for competing tribes to survive.
As for tribes of pickpockets and pilferers such as the Way- faring Strangers, these avoided the vecino entirely, for the cunning Pater Pan had endeared the Gypsy Jokers to the local Edojin by a lucrative stratagem. Whether engaged in the peddling of food or crafts, street theater, ruespieling, or any of the other main Gypsy Joker enterprises, all members of the tribe kept a sharp watch for thieves and pickpockets at work, and upon spying same, used secret voice and hand signals to form up a posse of apprehension out of their own numbers. Since such a posse was empowered to confiscate everything in the possession of a thief caught in the act down to his clothing, it was the Gypsy Jokers, famed among the locals for honesty, who paradoxically reaped the only gain from what isolated acts of pilferage might occur within their sphere of operation.
Naturellement, the local greeners could think of little else but gaining entree to the Gypsy Jokers, and in the matter of recruitment as well, Pater Pan had evolved a method which combined moral justice with financial gain. A Gypsy Joker was required to be a person of pluck, resource, and wit, ne, and what required more of these qualities than the securing of ruegelt by a lone Child of Fortune in a vecino where the competition for same was the Gypsy Jokers themselves? Therefore, anyone might gain membership in the Gypsy Jokers by the simple expedient of appearing before Pater Pan and donating one hundred coins of ruegelt to the tribe as a fee of admission.
Verdad, the accumulation of such a vast fortune was far easier said than done, and, moreover, the bizarre notion of forking over same to a fellow who clearly felt no pecuniary pain struck me as an outrageous imposition, and one with which I certainly had no intention of trafficking.
Nevertheless, one aspect of this dastardly ploy fell ill quite neatly with my own chosen strategy: Pater Pan made fairly regular appearances at a Public located behind the waterfall, ostensibly for the purpose of bathing his worthy person, but in point of practical fact in order to make himself readily available to the fortunate and foolish few able and willing to cross his palm with ruegelt.
The Public behind the waterfall proved, naturellement, no different from the many others that I had previously frequented, save that it remained continually crowded with greeners who seemed to throng it for no more practical purpose than to catch a glimpse of the Great One or at least members of his entourage. For in the four days that I lounged therein awaiting his advent with an impatience that stepwise transmuted itself into an entirely unjustified personal pique against him for his tardiness, I encountered no one possessed of any sum remotely approaching the required entrance fee, and, I learned, even as I had surmised, the acceptance of one of our lowly number into the Gypsy Jokers was an event of such rarity that each such occurrence assumed the aura of legend.
Nevertheless, while patience had never been my dominant virtue, if there was one art in which Nouvelle Orlean had provided me with a useful education it was that of lying in ambush for the masculine prey of my choosing to cross my path, for all he knew at random, and so I persevered in my stalk.
Eventually, inevitably, my quarry approached the water hole, accompanied, as I was to learn was his custom, by several female members of his pride, accoutred with items of the Cloth of Many Colors and mooning expressions continually cast in his direction.
This comparatively drab entourage, however, scarcely impinged upon the sphere of my attention, for Pater Pan himself lit up my sky the moment I laid eyes on him, a phenomenon which I was to learn was hardly uncommon to the sisters of my gender, and one which he himself did nothing to discourage.
Strange to say under the circumstances, it was his garb which first drew my attention, for Pater Pan affected a costume which even on Edoku drew the eye in amazement, and which on a lesser being would have made him a ludicrous figure.
This was the Traje de Luces of Public Service Station lore, and upon actually seeing it worn by this noble creature, I could understand why no words could describe the effect justly. Pater Pan wore a loose blouson of the Cloth of Many Colors, open like a sleeved cloak over his bare chest, and crowned with a thespic high collar, a garment composed of hundreds of assorted patches of old cloth, yet somehow a royal robe rather than a ragamuffin's rags when worn by this lordly specimen. Similarly, the tight breeches which seemed expertly tailored to hug every curve and bulge of his lower anatomy were the same random patchwork of colors and textures.
Naturellement, only a noble and daunting visage could rescue such an apparition from the realm of farce; this Pater Pan possessed, and just as clearly, he knew it. His hair was golden yellow and worn in a carefully groomed shoulder-length mane, and he affected a beard of the same color and style to complete the haloing nimbus. All that was visible of his facial features was an aquiline nose, full sensuous lips, high forehead, noble brow, and piercing yet merry blue eyes; artfully outlined by the golden mane and partially concealed by the beard, this face seemed at once youthful and ancient, in truth quite literally ageless.
Ah, he was perfect, a persona artfully self-crafted to express a proud perfection of the masculine spirit within, and oh, did every step and gesture declare that this work of art was his own most avid aficionado!
Indeed it was this very air of utterly self-assured narcissism which both caused my knees to tremble and rescued me from mere paralyzed gaping; he was beautiful, he was king of this particular little world, and I wanted him. On the other hand, he also seemed a paragon of ego, a challenge to every female within range of his charisma, the fellow all-too-obviously knew it, and therefore I must have him as my conquest.
Only some time later did I learn that the projection of precisely this determination into the spirit of the generality of my gender was his most puissant erotic tactic.
Be that as it may, while every other female in the Public was foolishly engaged in watching this brilliant cock parade and preen, Moussa Shasta Leonardo retained the wit to consider strategy.
In this regard, my experience in the Rapide station admirably served to engorge my confidence, for I now had proven by practical application of same that the claims made by my father for the tantric puissance of the ring on my finger owed little to hyperbole; all I had to do was get my hands on him and science would put even such a man as this in my power.
Pater Pan, so it was said, customarily abluted himself as part of these visitations; this Public being so habitually crowded, the ten shower stalls at the far end of the room were usually well occupied, and queuing was common, though no doubt lesser beings would vacate at the pleasure of the monarch.
However, fate, or destiny, or mere random chance, once more favored me with a minor smile of patronage. Perusing the bare shanks visible below the doors of the shower stalls, I saw that two of them, side by side, were now empty.
Seizing this opportunity, I entered the one on the right, doffed all my clothing, hung it on the hooks provided, turned on the overhead shower, took up the bar of soap from its alcove, and waited. If my luck held, and my quarry was not so haughty as to eject a bather from an occupied stall for sake of status when another was empty, Pater Pan would soon be naked in the stall beside me. The partitions between the stalls ended at knee height; it would be a simple matter to drop my soap so that it slithered into the adjacent stall, and then, in the innocent act of groping ...
So it is written, so it was done. Within less than ten minutes, I heard the adjacent shower stall door open, then swing shut, and by perusing the patchwork-clad legs below the partition, I knew that it was he. A moment later I was presented with the sight of trim shanks lightly dusted with golden hair, a delightful sight to my eyes, though the feet depending therefrom were no more objects of esthetic refinement than those of any other male of my previous or future acquaintance.
I waited for the sounds of his ablutions and was treated as well to the wordless off-key singing so common to the bathing male of our species when he believes no critical ear is at hand. Then I activated the Touch, lathered my bar of soap to the required degree of slickness, reached down below the partition, shouted "Merde!" and shot the soap beneath it and into his stall with a squeeze of my hand.
Forthwith, I squatted down for sake of clear vision of my target, but began groping about at arm's length in the manner of someone trying to retrieve the errant soap by blind touch alone.
While neither the foot nor the calf is exactly an erogenous zone rich in surface connections to the kundalinic neurology, there is a nerve trunk running behind the tendon of the heel up the leg and into the groin, and this I "chanced" to grasp quite firmly in the act of attempting to recover my soap.
I could feel a tremor ripple up his leg as I did so and heard a grunt of surprise with certain subtle undertones which led me to believe that the stimulus had indeed penetrated to the target area.
"Pardon," I said, not removing my hand, "I was looking for my soap."
"That's no soap, muchacha," said a rich masculine voice with the considerable savoir faire necessary under the circumstances to affect a certain jocular tone, but not enough to suppress a husky quaver. Nor did he pull his foot from my grasp.
"Vraiment?" I said archly, running my hand gropingly up the inner surface of his calf, past his knee, and a few inches up his thigh, which was as far as my arm would reach. "1 know it's in there somewhere."
At this, he let forth an honest sensual moan, and forthwith contrived to bend his knees, leaning forward and downward into my Touch, so that my hand slid up his thigh to brush against his cojones and lingam.
"Quelle chose!" I squealed in great mock consternation while feeling the slickly hard object as if to verify my perception. "That's not a piece of soap either!"
At this, he fairly shouted in ecstasy, and 1 released my grip and withdrew my arm, sensing that further such ministrations might bring matters to a premature conclusion.
There was a long moment of silence as we both stood there separated by the partition with only our calves and feet visible to each other.
"A saucy wench indeed!" the male voice said in a tone that seemed to convey a somewhat false composure. "Who are you?"
"Cabeza de caga!" I shouted in equally insincere outrage and wounded innocence. "Who am I? Who are you to take such liberties with a fresh young virgin?"
From the other side of the partition came a strangled gurgling sound halfway between a cough and a laugh. "You really don't know the who of the what you just grabbed?" he said somewhat guardedly.
"Do you imagine me to be possessed of such arcane powers that I can deduce your identity from the sight of your feet and the size of your lingam?"
"To judge from certain other powers you seem to possess, it wouldn't surprise me, lady fair ..." he mused. "Well, know then that you've just had the high honor of giving the goose to Pater Pan, my ah, fresh young virgin!" he added grandly.
"Who?" I replied, as if the name had not quite registered.
"Pater Pan," he replied with some vexation.
"Bien," I said diffidently. "And you have been favored however inadvertently with the touch of Moussa Shasta Leonardo."
"You speak as if that makes it a fair trade," he complained.
"Is it not?"
"Merde!" he muttered. "1 am Pater Pan, girl."
"You speak as if that statement bore some cosmic significance."
"You put me not on? You really don't know who I am?" he said, the tone of his voice betraying a melange of outraged ego and charmed bemusement at such unaccustomed ignorance.
"For sure!" he said much more genially. "But perhaps we should continue this seance face to face and belly to belly ..."
"Porque no?" I said after some hesitation. "I have no pressing affairs for the next hour or so, and if your company amuses me half so much as it does yourself, the time will be well spent."
With that, the discourse temporarily ended, as we toweled ourselves dry, donned our clothing, exited our respective shower stalls, and then met face to face. He looked me up and down appraisingly for a moment and then favored me with a lordly smile of measured approval.
I for my part ran my eyes up and down his patchwork-clad body while contriving to fix an expression of suppressed mirth on my face: "Drole," I finally said dryly.
"Drole?" he exclaimed. "Is that all you have to say upon first confrontation with the full magnificence of my being?"
"Surely you are not unaware of the jocular effect of your ... ah, costume!"
He eyed me narrowly. I regarded him in kind. Then we both laughed and the congruent expressions, while hardly changing in content, became something shared, as if our spirits had touched and at any rate found each other equally outrageous.
"Perhaps this duet should continue without an audience?" he suggested, discovering via sidelong glances that in fact everyone in the Public, and in particular the feminine entourage with which he had entered, was now regarding this scene with avid, though in the case of the female Gypsy Jokers, not quite amused, attention.
"Indeed," I agreed, clasping his hand and causing his eyes to widen in lustful amazement. "I find such shyness in a man not without a certain boyish charm."
Thus did we make our exit, hand in hand, and his beginning to grow quite sweaty, to a certain buzz and mutter which I for my part could not refrain from taking as applause for what under the circumstances I considered my own masterly performance.
The Public was hidden behind the great cataract which tumbled from the lip of the desert butte high above, and close by was a cave in the face of the cliff into which Pater Pan led me. This proved to be the entrance to a lift tube which took us to the top of the butte. The landscape above bore no sane geographical relationship to the appearance of the plateau as seen from below.
Indeed the top of the butte was not a plateau at all but a great shallow bowl or "natural" amphitheater hidden from below by a ringwall of rock so as not to spoil the effect of a stark desert landscape when viewed from afar. For in fact here was a lush green garden, a landscape of tiny rolling green hills and secluded dimpled little dells, many with small ponds at their bottoms interconnected by a tracery of burbling brooks that flowed in winding paths around the hills and through the valleys. The hillcrests, moreover, were planted with copses of low trees heavy with a profuse variety of colorful and fragrant blooms, so that each little valley was a secluded perfumed boudoir, complete with private bathing pool. What lay underfoot was not so much lawn as something green with more the texture of a deep-pile animal pelt than vegetation, the air was the temperature of the body's heat, though gentled by breezes, and the gravity gradient was such that we fairly drifted along on the tips of our toes.
There was no mistaking the nature of the pleasures for which such a garden had been crafted, nor, therefore, was there any mistaking the forthright purpose of the man who had brought me there.
Nevertheless, I was determined to retain the initiative, and so, as soon as we had secluded ourselves in a dell by one of the crystal pools, I straightaway made my own bold suggestion. "Since our baths were interrupted, let us now continue our ablutions." And so saying, without waiting for his assent, I removed my clothes and displayed my nakedness for his delectation.
He stood there fully clothed for a moment as I regarded him with an impatient expression, hands on hips. "Well?" I demanded. "What is it that you see which has turned you to stone?"
"Yo no se, " he said with a shake of his head, "but somehow I doubt it is any fresh young virgin."
So saying, he began to remove his clothing, and then followed me into the pool, into which I had leapt before he could complete his disrobing.
The water too proved to be heated to hot blood's temperature, and in this frank and heady brew, there was a minimum of coy thrashing and splashing before we found each other embracing. Once our lips had met in a kiss and our bodies had touched, the niceties of the chase were fairly concluded, and when I searched out his lingam and treated it to an open and electronically enhanced caress of lingering duration, he trembled, and moaned, and writhed in my grasp, and then snatched me up in his arms, carried me out of the water in a headlong stumble, threw me on the spongy ground, and proceeded to essay a mighty proof indeed of his considerable manly virtues.
Vraiment, he was tender and indefatigable, surely as schooled in the finer points of the tantric arts and the chakras of sensual pleasure as my mother herself, and never before or since have I known such a demon lover.
Yet even while given over entirely to the pleasures his puissance afforded, I was never transported so far beyond guile as to eschew my determination to display for him the unique ecstasies available to him via the graces of Moussa Shasta Leonardo and to be found in the arms of no other lover.
I ran my fingers up and down the cordillera of his spine, flashing tantric lightning from peak to peak. I Touched secret places in the root of him, I felt him lingering on the knife edge of ecstasy as I did so, as if by act of will or the iron control of a perfect master, he might remain there forever. This hubric self-control I allowed him to exercise for a goodly while to my own considerable pleasure, and then, as if to demonstrate who was the mistress of tantric power and who the acolyte, I suddenly thrust my preternaturally puissant finger into the very seat of kundalinic intimacy, and he uttered an orgasmic howl fit to rouse the dead if such might be sleeping in a nearby bower.
Nor were our exercises then at all concluded, for, aroused to an egoless state of tantric communion on the one hand, and a contest of loverly wills which had everything to do with ego on the other, we proceeded through countless tantric configurations, half a dozen cusps at the least, each determined to master the other via the giving of a surfeit of pleasure, not to say outlasting the rival in a contest of sheer endurance.
Pater for his part seemed possessed of a stamina and skill far beyond anything I had previously imagined possible to the masculine anatomy, and at length I was fairly trembling with a surfeit of ecstasy and panting with fatigue. Nevertheless, mighty though he was far beyond my fleshly power to outlast, I was possessed of an entirely unsporting advantage which no mother's son could in the end overmaster; utterly spent physically, I needed move no more than my finger to have him crying out once more.
And so at length, at great length, vraiment at entirely admirable length, it was the great Pater Pan who rolled over on his back, heaving and puffing, and cried: "Enough! What are you doing to me, girl?"
"Surrendering my virginity," I giggled. "Has anything out of the ordinary happened?" I said archly. "I am entirely inexperienced in these matters. Is it not always thus for a virile fellow like yourself with all the lovers you are so obviously accustomed to having throw themselves at your feet?"
"If you are an inexperienced virgin, then I am the Queen of the May," Pater said, raising the upper half of his body into a seated position, hunching forward, and regarding me with a certain post- coital skepticism which his hormonal metabolism had not previously permitted. "Jive me not, Moussa Shasta Leonardo, who are you, what is the nature of your game ... and what sparks this strange power?"
Still playing the naif as closely as possible, I took this as a mere suggestion to exchange name tales, a natural nicety under the circumstances, and presented him with a somewhat edited version, which is to say that I styled Leonardo in a general way as a mage of electronic arts, without feeling the need to mention the subject of personal enhancement devices.
After I had finished, Pater Pan seemed to chew it over in silence for a moment, as if sensing that I had not been entirely forthcoming. "So your mother is a tantric healer and performer?" he finally said. "Then you admit that your profession of naivete in these matters was less than the whole and nothing but truth?"
I laughed. I shrugged. "Naturellement, I was jesting," I owned." As you have had occasion to experience, I have actually had no little schooling in my mother's science."
"For sure," said Pater Pan appraisingly, "for a girl of your age and relative unsophistication, you seem to have a decent enough knowledge of the lay of the man."
"A decent enough knowledge!" I exclaimed in outrage. "Is that the best you have to say for my tantric performance after what you have just experienced?"
He laughed, but only briefly. Then he fixed me with those piercing blue eyes and spoke in a tone of voice that somehow convinced me of his veracity despite the absolutely outrageous import of his words.
"While I am not the sort of creepy-crawlie who scribes a running tally, by conservative estimate, I have granted my favors to some several thousand women on at least a hundred planets over a span of several centuries. Sure, and these have ranged from babes admittedly snatched from their cradles to veritable hagdom, and have included courtesans of great renown, tantric maestras and low putains, bumbling virgins, and every form of feminine life between, and on worlds of every level of sensual sophistication from crabbed puritanism to a hedonic excess that would make Edoku seem like a rest home for celibates. Therefore, while my overwhelming modesty may forbid me to judge my own prowess as a cocksman, when it comes to judging feminine performance, I am The Man, the greatest living connoisseur in all the worlds of men."
At this grossly overblown yet somehow sincere and almost believable boast, I was entirely at a loss for words. Pater Pan, au contraire, as I was to learn, never suffered this affliction, and was always more than willing and able to step into a conversational breach.
"Therefore," he went on, "I put you not down when I declare that in my expert critical opinion, while your actual level of tantric artistry is comfortably above the mean, your chops and moves can in no way adequately account for what I just experienced, which was probably the numero uno erotic experience of my entire long life."
Well how was a girl to take that? On the one hand, this puffed-up creature was relegating my personal performance to a level little above mediocrity , and on the other hand he was declaring that I had pleased him like no other lover! In truth, of course, it was the artistry of Leonardo to which he paid his extravagant homage, but I was hardly in a position or mood to admit to that!
Once more, however, Pater Pan's loquacity was more than equal to the task of discounting my silence. "So what I want to know is how in the flaming heart of a million suns such a thing can be possible!" he exclaimed. "What is this magic? How did you do it? And more to the point, perhaps, can you do it again?"
At this, I found my tongue and regained the composure of a certain mastery of the strategic situation." As to the latter," I said slyly, "that is for you to discover if you can charm or bargain me into the attempt. As for the former, surely an innocent naif such as myself, possessed, as you declare, of no overwhelming erotic artistry, is entitled to retain her one poor little secret in the presence of such a puissant mythic personage as the great Pater Pan."
"So now you admit that you knew who I was all along!" I shrugged. "1 have heard some ridiculous and hyperbolic tales which only a fool would credit," I admitted. "But I would rather hear your name tale from your own noble mouth. Have I not told you mine?"
Pater Pan smiled, gave a lofty toss of his golden-maned head. "The full tale of my name would take years to recount," he said grandly.
"No doubt," I replied dryly, "but surely a fellow who by his own admission has had congress with several thousand women has in the course of time and necessity evolved a suitably condensed version for just such occasions as this."
"Vraiment," Pater admitted. "If you are willing to content yourself with a pale shadow of the full magnificence ..."
"This I am grudgingly willing to endure," I told him. "Proceed, kudasai."
"I am Pater Pan. famed throughout the worlds of men, or at least wherever Children of Fortune walk the Yellow Brick Road of freedom," he declared grandly, "and this is both my chosen freenom and my identity entire, for long ago, before the Second Starfaring Age was born, before the Ark's first Spark, before the Age of Space itself, truth be told before the memory of this avatar who now speaks began, my paternom and maternom I tossed into the void with all the maya-bound ties chaining my eternal spirit to the Great Wheel.
"So say that my mother was an Arkie and a Rom, a Hippie Queen and a Princess of the Night, and say that my father was an Indian brave or Bodhidharma or Chaka Zulu or the Fliegende Hollander himself, maya, maya, for the spirit of Pater Pan was born before yours truly crawled blinking from some mortal mother's womb and will live on when this second Starfaring Age is nothing but a dim legend of the prehistoric past.
"Vraiment, I chose not the freenom Pater Pan in homage to the name of the spirit, rather did the spirit of the name choose me to carry its torch forward into our Age, for Pater Pan was born before the first ape climbed down from our ancestral trees to wander the plains of Earth. I was the very song which drew that dim creature out\",f the forest of ignorance to take his first halting steps on the Yellow Brick Road to sapience, and thus was born the Child of our species' Fortune, who from that day unto this has danced the camino real to the Pied Pipes of Pater Pan.
"Yes, before the singer was the song, to which we wandered from apes into men, and I was the horny billy-goat music leading us onward by the compass of our desires, and the Pied Piper urging the Children onward from the dusty streets of Hamelin town into the Magic Mountain of eternal Oz, and so too was I the Minstrel of Aquarius who slew the timebound rule of chairmen of the board and kings.
"When the Children's Crusade of the Ages of the Night set forth in quest of Jerusalem's Holy Grail, they marched to my spirit's song. And I was the Piper of Pan in the garden of the Flower Children that bloomed to my music in a golden Summer of Love.
"When the Arkies embarked upon their wanderings in the endless stellar night, Pater Pan was the Spark that rode their great slow arkologies with them, holding aloft the torch in the darkness of the long light-years and frozen centuries between the stars.
"And when the mages of our species wrested the secret of the Jump from the forgotten lore of We Who Have Gone Before and our Second Starfaring Age began, then did the King of the Gypsies and the Prince of the Jokers sally forth from his long sleep under the Magic Mountain to carry the Spark of the Ark forward wherever Children of Fortune wander the Yellow Brick Road out among the far-flung worlds of men!"
Golden, godlike, blue eyes mirroring the azure depths of the sky, declaiming in a mighty voice that seemed to speak not from him but through him, this marvelous creature seized up his patchwork blouson, whirled it over his head, and draped it grandly about his naked shoulders.
"Voila, the mystery of the Cloth of Many Colors, the Traje de Luces, the Pied banner of the eternal Piper! he shouted in a leonine roar. "Each ragged patch is a piece of transient cloth! Each fragment of the whole is a moment, a face, a piece of time, a smile, a laugh, a companion along the Way! Each in its turn frays and unravels and is replaced by another! Each single patch adorns the banner which has cloaked the spirit of Pater Pan for a million years for a time and then is gone! Not one single thread of the original garment which never was remains! Yet that which is the Traje de Luces itself lives on and on and on!"
He crouched down and regarded me face-to-face, and in that moment I knew not whether I regarded a creature out of legend or a man. "C'est moi," he said in a voice that suddenly seemed a good deal less grand. "This Cloth of Many Colors is me, girl. The eternal spirit and the natural man. An old patch of cloth, and the glorious whole entire, the singer who passes, and the song which goes forever on."
He shrugged, he smiled, he seemed to shrink back into himself like a great flower subsiding backwards in time into the modest bud from which it was born.
"Thus," he said quite conversationally, "the name tale of Pater Pan."
Needless to say, I had never before heard a name tale like that! And certainly not one declaimed in such a thespic manner, as if the quotidian man of flesh and blood whom I had shortly before held in my arms had become an actor upon a stage assuming the mantle of a character far greater than himself, vraiment greater than any mortal man, speaking words that another and at the very least more literarily puissant spirit declaimed through him.
On the other hand, even in my state of charisma-drunken awe, I could perceive that Pater Pan had told me nothing about the man of flesh and blood at all and had cloaked the nakedness of this obfuscation in a tapestry of grandiose rhetoric and extravagant poetry no less devoted to confusion and flash than the blouson of Cloth of Many Colors now draped around his lordly corpus like a royal robe. Blarney indeed, but what wonderful blarney it was, how grander than what- ever the unadorned truth of any merely human pedigree could be!
Moreover, even then it seemed to me that some spirit great and true did in fact speak through this marvelous mountebank of a man, for while I could hardly credit the words which boasted of a millennial lifespan at the eternal center of history humain entire, my heart was filled with the higher and less coherent truth of the music of the song.
For as Pater Pan had declared, before the singer was the song, and if the man who sat beside me had long since chosen to subsume his mere pedigree into the higher truth of metaphor, to become the legend of which he sang, who was I to say that mundane veracity was truer to the spirit thereof than literature's noble lies?
May hap I speak thusly not as the young girl who was, but as the teller of tales who is, possessed of both the will to declaim the supremacy of my own chosen fictional art over the truth of mere accuracy, and the mature theoretical basis to put such wisdom into the mind of the girl I then was.
But if this is so, it only serves to speak my meaning the stronger, for the inner truth of the matter is that this was the moment when the heroine of the story took the first step on the road to the becoming of the teller of the tale, which is to say that for the first time in her young life, Moussa Shasta Leonardo had heard the music of a spirit that transported her ambitions beyond the song of self.
Not that I was any less determined to make this man my patron and my lover, to rescue myself from indigence by gaining entry to his tribe; but now pecuniary calculations had merged with the ding an sich, for now my desire was to truly partake of the spirit of what now seemed a noble and glorious enterprise, to become a true Gypsy Joker with the song of the tribe in my heart.
As if possessed of the power to read my spirit, or in more likely point of fact, possessed of the long experience to fully comprehend the effect on such as myself of the performance of his name tale, Pater Pan reverted to his earlier, less daunting, and at the same time more practically minded persona.
"And so," he said, "now that you have impressed me with your secret powers as a lover, and I have impressed you with my noble name tale, what be the down and dirty, girl, what is it that you really want?"
"Why to be with you as you surely must know by now!" I declared with an innocent openness of spirit. "To become a Gypsy Joker! With all my heart!"
Pater laughed. "When it comes to my phallic favors, pas problem, since this much I grant gratuit to all who please me, as you surely must know by now you have," he said. "When it comes to becoming a Gypsy Joker, this you can achieve by crossing my palm with one hundred pieces of ruegelt."
"What?" I shouted, brought crashing down from the clouds of the spirit into the muck of mendacious maya by the outrage of such a demand. "Quelle chose! What kind of man are you to speak thusly to a lover? How dare you --"
"Peace!" Pater Pan declared, holding up his hand and smiling the entirely inappropriate smile of sweet reason. "Surely for a woman such as yourself, possessed of secret tantric powers sufficient to win the exhausted admiration of even the mighty Pater Pan, a mere hundred pieces of ruegelt is nada, a mere token, the earnings of a lazy afternoon ..."
The thrust, as it were, of this discourse brought back all my previous guile. If he insisted on bringing down our congress to the level of the marketplace, then I too could descend to the logic thereof, and we would see which of us would prevail.
"It is your considered expert opinion that I could easily enough earn one hundred pieces of ruegelt in the performance of the tantric arts?" I said in a wondering and innocent tone that, au contraire, emanated in this moment from any- thing but a guileless naif.
"For sure!" my victim declared. "you need only summon up half the pluck you've already shown, and offer up your services on the bourse of the streets. A few discreet caresses gratuit to establish your bona fides and hook the mark, then set your price, and voila!"
"Perhaps you are right," I allowed. "But I am a complete naif in matters of value given for value received. How much ruegelt do you believe I could demand?"
Pater Pan shrugged. "Quien sabe?" he said. "The horniness of the patron, the fullness of his purse, the generosity of his spirit, these are all as relevant as the absolute value of the wares, ne. But always set an initial price of some extravagance, for never will you receive an offer higher than your own best boast. "
"Might I ask two hundred?" I inquired.
"Two hundred!" Pater exclaimed. "you will do no volume trade at such a price. Of course, there are always a few who will be willing to meet it, since your performance is somewhat extraordinaire, as I have just had occasion to learn ..."
"Indeed you have," I said slyly, coiling for the pounce. "I bow to your wisdom, oh Great Spirit of the Bourse. Henceforth I shall set a price of two hundred pieces of ruegelt ..." I paused as if considering the matter. "Henceforth ...?" I mused. "Vraiment, why not right now?"
I held out a demanding palm. "Two hundred pieces of ruegelt, bitte, for the services you have just enjoyed and praised so highly, mon cher!"
Pater Pan's eyes widened in astonishment, his jaw fell open. "What?" he exclaimed. "Pay? Me? You demand two hundred pieces of ruegelt for enjoying the embraces of Pater Pan? Which you yourself have schemed to obtain? What kind of woman are you to speak thusly to a lover?"
And then, hearing his own words mirroring my previous protest of outrage, he broke into raucous and not disapproving laughter.
"A true Gypsy Joker, ne?" I giggled.
He regarded me in arch silence for a moment. Then he shook his head ruefully, but not without the warmest of smiles." A true Gypsy Joker for sure!" he said. "But surely you will not demand two hundred from the domo of your own tribe?"
"From the domo of my own tribe, I would demand nothing at all," I told him. "Vraiment, it was not I who intruded pecuniary considerations into any transaction between us, ne. So let not our love be sullied by the passage of filthy lucre from hand to hand. Consider that my price, even as yours, is one hundred pieces of ruegelt."
I cupped my hands as if to receive just such a sum. "Imagine that you are now counting out the coins ..."
With a laugh, he pantomimed the donation that I required, and with a laugh, I returned the phantom coins to his own outstretched hands.
We giggled. We kissed. We embraced.
Thus by this phantom commerce of the bourse and true commerce of kindred spirits was our bargain sealed. Thus did my life as a Gypsy Joker justly and triumphantly begin.