Author's Note: Slang used will be explained at the end.
The next morning Julius wondered if it had all been a dream. The room was empty except for him. Golden sunshine shone through the windows. But the droplets of emerald syrup on the table and the marble floor told him otherwise. He remembered how he had wished upon a star before the strange green creature appeared. Was it at all possible that his wish had somehow been answered? Who could he turn to?
He switched on the quantum computer that lay on an oaken table and it floated into the air before him, displaying which of his online friends were active. None of them were.
Still seeking reassurance, he played a clip of the previous Christmas Eve.
His father had been alive back then. They had been standing by the Christmas tree. The old man already had a haggard look. How had Julius failed to notice? The lights of the Christmas Tree were jewel bright and the Jovian lamp shone overhead. Julius was asking about the story of the ChristKind.
"There is a reason why people find comfort in believing in the supernatural, Julius," said the old man in his calming voice.
But at that moment the Jovian light floated away and the Mars lamp drifted overhead, glimmering with its baleful light. Hein appeared on the scene. This was before his ruby addiction. He stalked into view, his coordination unimpaired, still able to glare with focused eyes.
"Who said the housemaid could go on holiday?" he snapped, "the butler cannot handle things. Everything is at sixes and sevens!"
"I gave her permission, Hein," said their father, raising an eyebrow. "She is with her parents."
Hein sneered. "These flunkeys are spoiled."
"I bet they're glad you're not the master," said Julius, laughing.
Their father chuckled and patted him on the back. Hein scowled.
At that moment, Anja of the old staff arrived. She had been in charge of managing the GEBs. Milking them, harvesting them, or subduing them, whichever applied. She was a sinuous young woman with fiery red hair, a bold, heavily freckled face and bright green eyes.
"A happy Christmas Eve to my favourite boy. This was a particularly fine specimen." She patted Julius on the arm and handed him a small crystal sphere. In the crystal a brightly pink butterfly was encased. A GEB /plant hybrid. As Julius recalled they were the part of a genetically engineered plant that broke away to spread its pollen. When they were ready, a cloud of jewel bright butterflies would rise from the plants. Julius' younger self hugged her – and she gave Hein a cold look over his shoulder. He curled his lip at her in return.
"Aha, the pink butterfly is a symbol of liberation," said his father.
Hein rolled his eyes. "GEBs, hybrid plants, they're useless things. Fit only for the reaping in the end."
Anja scratched her freckled nose, giving Hein that cold stare she was so good at. It had never seemed to bother Hein, but Julius would never have wanted her green eyes fixed on him with that expression.
It was Julius who retorted at that point: "How can you call them useless, Hein? Look at the beauty of Anja's harvest last Autumn. All the colours of the rainbow."
Anja put her arm round his shoulder a fond expression playing around her lips.
"That's what we want. A colourful home," said their father.
Then the clip ended. Julius pondered. A colourful home… Anja knew about genetically modified creatures. And Anja had not tried to contact him since Hein had fired her, which had been soon after he became the master. He had been naïve to assume that everything would remain the same and that the servants would always have a home here. How would she react if he were to try and contact her for advice? Frankly it seemed that seeing her again would be too awkward. He picked up the crystal sphere containing the butterfly from its place on the mantelpiece and turned it over in his hands. The bright pink GEB seedling was preserved within for all eternity. A symbol of liberty.
He noticed that Ingrid in the Black Forest was now online. He pocked the crystal and turned to the computer.
Good morning Ingrid, he typed into the computer, how's it going?
Good morning Julius, replied Ingrid, ah nothing's new. How are you, my sweet? And how is the horrible Hein?
Something really strange happened last night, Julius typed, a new friend visited me in secret. Hein would not allow him near the estate, so he climbed up onto my balcony in the dead of night while Hein was in a ruby stupor.
Awwww, that's adorable :D Ingrid replied.
It won't be adorable if Hein ever catches him here, Julius typed, Hein hates him because of the family into which he was born. Because of who he is.
More fool Hein, typed Ingrid.
There was so little to do on the estate nowadays that Julius wished Romeo would return to break the monotony. He decided he might as well go to the copse for the day.
The rich burgundy carpet on the landing now had a neglected, dusty appearance. The domestic staff were all gone. Of the old staff only Otto the groundskeeper remained.
It was Otto's gravelly voice Julius could hear as he traipsed down the oaken staircase.
"Indeed Master? You really believe the green creature would trespass?"
"I am certain of it," growled Hein's voice, "whatever manner of pestilence he is, I will be prepared."
In the Welcome Hall again, Julius could see Hein and Otto discussing poring over a strange spherical object on the marble table. It resembled an orb of obsidian, with a ruby set into the very center. Some kind of laser shooting device Julius supposed.
Hein picked up the sphere and caressed it, almost lovingly. "Think what this model can do. The Evil Eye model is the deadliest and most precise laser that we can buy in this back water wasteland. A weapon virulent and mighty in the dealing of death to green vermin."
Julius was disgusted by the cheeriness in his brother's voice. Hein was only ever happy when around weapons. Regardless, he must not spoil Hein's present good mood.
He gritted his teeth and then spoke in as light a tone as he could manage, "top of the morning brother and Otto."
"Good morning, Julius," said Otto scratching his beard, "the Master and I were discussing how we can all be of help in defending the estate against strange intruders. I can show you how to help, also. Outside. There are possible entry routes. Vigilance is the key."
"Oh yes, Julius, go with Otto, you're to be on your guard too," said Hein not looking up. He was still cradling the Evil Eye in his arms. "If the rumours are all true… green monsters… werewolves… I would gladly strike back at them. Then monster blood will flow. Any such filth caught in the glare of the Evil Eye will wither and die."
Julius was glad to leave the Welcome Hall with Otto and go out into the grounds.
"Strange times, boy," rumbled Otto, his bushy white beard quivering, "the estate is beset by monsters. And yet it never was so when the true Master was with us."
Behind Hein's back, Otto reserved the title 'Master' for their departed father and never for Hein. Julius felt a rush of affection for the old man and slipped his hand into his gnarled and leathery one.
"The rumours are bizarre," said Julius, "we both know that this is a dark age for the estate."
"Dark times indeed, m'boy," said Otto. They were near the nocturna copse now. The blue-green foliage was still. Then the rectangular leaves rustled. A startlingly green head popped out from the top of the tree. Julius gaped. The startlingly handsome face with its strong manly jaw, those staring dark eyes. Romeo was here. In broad daylight too. Had he no sense? Didn't he listen?
Julius was about to yell a warning when Otto shook his head. His watery blue eyes had a thoughtful expression.
"If Hein did not favour the rubies, he would know of our emerald guest. Wouldn't he? You already do, boy. I've been hearing that you two are great friends already."
"Yes… I'm… how?" stammered Julius.
"Helloooo Jules," called Romeo.
"Shush, do you want Hein to hear?" hissed Julius.
"That wouldn't do," said Otto his beard bristling, "Hein had best focus on where this intruder is not."
"You've got to come to my place," called Romeo, "I've told Tracy about you. She says you've got to come and visit. She's glad I have found a perfect friend."
"Yes, go, but be back at the agreed time, by the agreed path," wheezed Otto. "I've no energy to go traipsing around the moors like you pair of young rascals do."
Suddenly Romeo was standing beside them. The sunlight shone off his green nose and cheeks and glinted emerald off his hair. How proud and happy he seemed, right there in the flesh… had he no clue how quarrelsome people, such as Hein, might perceive him?
"You must know our full hospitality, Jules," urged Romeo. "It's sad Otto can't come, but we can have fun."
"Alright, let's just get out of here," said Julius, glancing nervously over his shoulder. Anything to stop the silly hybrid from being so foolhardy.
Out on the moors, Romeo moved with startling swiftness, although he wasn't running. Julius glanced nervously around. The memory of the werewolf rumour was still fresh. Even if it was a hoax, there was always the chance of some idiot letting a dog loose on the moor. With no one to control them, many dogs might as well be wolves of a kind. He wouldn't admit to his fear of wolves on the moor of course. Or would he? Why not. Romeo was eccentric enough. Perhaps he wouldn't judge.
"I was never too keen on the moor. I can't shake the feeling that some werewolf might actually be on the loose somewhere. Even though the idea might sound ridiculous. Wolves were a problem in this country once."
"I wouldn't let anything happen to you, dear Jules," said Romeo. "I can run fast and have reflexes better than any human man. I don't mean to boast, but look…" Suddenly he streaked ahead out of sight. Julius yelled after him and suddenly heard the hybrid's husky chuckle right behind him. "I'd outrun any wolf and sock it in the jaw." He brandished a bright green fist.
Julius laughed. "You've made your point, show off. You didn't bring your baby with you today I see."
"You were right," said Romeo. "Plastic is no substitute for a real little person."
Soon they arrived in the town across the moors and made their way along the main street arriving at a building with a sign which had the words "Sparkle Plenty" composed of tiny, brightly coloured glowstones.
Romeo approached a side door which swung open to admit them. "Tracy's going to open her beauty salon soon."
The hall beyond was light and airy, lit up by little star lamps in every colour of the rainbow. It led to a wide marble room, with pool baths set into the floor. Sunlight streamed through the wide windows. A young woman with long, silky black hair came running up to them and flung her arms around Romeo's shoulders.
"My emerald," she cooed. Romeo leaned down and rubbed his cheek against hers, making a curious rumbling noise in the back of his throat. Julius raised his eyebrows. Why were they rubbing cheeks?
"Tracy, meet Jules," said Romeo beaming. Tracy threw her arms around Julius too. She was almost as tall as him and her silky black hair obscured his vision for a moment.
"Soo good to meet you, Jules," she gushed. Julius was glad she didn't try rubbing his cheek. She smiled as she gazed into his face. She was good looking, with bright blue eyes, a patrician nose and a well marked cleft in her chin. But she was not in the least bit green. How in the cosmos did anyone have a hybrid child anyway? "Thank you for being Romeo's friend. It's wonderful that there are kind and open minded boys in this neighbourhood."
"I told you the estate was not so dangerous, Tracy," said Romeo, "how can it be a dreadful place with such wonderful people as Jules and Otto there?"
Tracy inclined her head. "I stand corrected. The bad rep was built up by rumour mongerers."
"I'm sure the old household staff were all angry," said Julius. Suddenly a thought occurred to him. "I wanted to see our old GEB manager again. I think we could all use her advice about these werewolf rumours."
Tracy laid a hand on his arm. "You're missing her?"
"Well… it's been a little while since I've seen her. My brother always hated her … he couldn't wait to send her away. How would she react if I tried to contact her?"
Romeo rubbed his shiny green cheek, a thoughtful expression in his dark eyes. "If she is smart, she'd be glad."
Tracy nodded. "You're not your brother, Jules. How did you feel about her?"
Good point. Julius considered. "She was always happy to show me her work. Both with the trifungus harvest or the freshwater greatfish." He thought harder. Once when Anja had been at the breakfast table with them she eyes had sparkled and her lips had twitched when he had come down late. She had wanted to show him around the GEB glasshouses. Had she found him funny or was she happy to see him? He couldn't tell about the nasty things that happened around them though. Or could he? He looked at Romeo for reassurance. Although he behaved a bit funny with the doll, the hybrid always seemed strong and confident and the many lights of the star lamps played on his shiny skin, giving it a lustrous sheen.
"There was that time Hein walloped her because he thought she was being impertinent… I was there and he made the side of her face a mess of bruising. She said she would tell our father unless he gave her his anbaric culler for harvesting. He raged that it was blackmail, but he had to do as she said. He definitely wasn't allowed to treat any of the staff that way. I suppose it was blackmail… ugh it was awful being there. I hate fighting. I really couldn't do or say anything."
Tracy brushed her long hair away from her face. "A piece of work, that Hein."
"Why did you have to do anything. It was their fight, not yours." Romeo's husky voice was unperturbed.
"If she does know more about the werewolf rumours that would be all well and good," said Tracy. "If there is any truth in them, I wouldn't want you boys going out alone. I'm sure I can find out how to contact her. I have the entire district's directory."
If there were werewolves at large, Julius absolutely would not want to go out at all. The bare idea brought a chill to his stomach. On an impulse he slipped his hand into Romeo's bright green one for reassurance and the hybrid smiled with those Smaragd lips…
GEB = Genetically Engineered Beast
Smaragd = a genetically engineered fruit. Like an emerald green cherry.