by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 17


The gatekeeper was tall and overweight with pale skin, light brown beard, tight uniform, soft jaw, regular teeth and small eyes. He didn't smile when demanding their identification, which Mort offered to scan while he supervised the strip search. After removing their clothes, the five men took a shower then had their hair combed, mouths inspected and anuses probed. Declared clean, they dressed, were ushered out to their inspected vehicles and followed Mort over a slight ridge then along tree shaded avenues that wound down through apparently pristine rainforest.

'I had no idea we'd be going down hill. I wonder where we are.'

Mort drove slowly past a white stuccoed wall containing an elaborate wrought iron gate, stopped, got out, used a remote controller to open both the gate and the doors of the double garage, then directed the two Land Cruisers into the dim interior. He was waiting by the front door when they reappeared.

'What a fantastic entrance, we weren't expecting to go down hill. You can't tell from the road. Where are we?'

'Oasis is situated in a large, shallow, forested depression in an ancient volcanic crater. The rainforest is some of the last old growth forest in Queensland, and because the houses are invisible from the road we have privacy.'

'It's brilliant!'

'It is.' Mort grinned. 'This is the key to the house,' he said passing Bart a card. 'We can get more later. 'Test it to make sure it works.'

Bart placed it in the slot and the door opened silently.


Inside was white, smooth, light filled, and tastefully furnished. Prints depicting ancient Roman and Greek architectural masterpieces adorned the foyer and a wide hallway. The kitchen was stainless steel and natural timber, the dining room genuine antiques and realistic still life paintings. The lounge was spacious and comfortable with easy chairs and sofas littered with colourful cushions. Several Persian carpets adorned the polished wooden floor. Sliding doors gave onto a covered swimming pool area that in turn opened onto a private garden.

'No TV?'

'No, we're not a family that enjoys propaganda, American movies, or the banality that passes for entertainment on TV. Did you know that the brain of someone watching TV is less active than when that same person is asleep? It literally destroys the ability to think, imagine, visualise or form opinions. The perfect medium for brainwashing the sheeple. You can bet your bottom dollar the one thing JECHIS won't get rid of is the telly.'

'I'll have to think about that,' Hylas said. 'What do you reckon, Bart?'

'I agree with our sagacious host.'

They looked into Mort's father's office—large, light filled and as neat and sterile as an operating theatre. One wall dominated by a large drafting table, another by chart drawers, and the third by a state of the art computer set-up.

Mort checked his watch. 'I'd better tell Zadig I'm safe. He expected me back an hour ago. Hang on.' He dialled a number on the telephone on his father's desk, spoke briefly, simply saying he'd met five men and brought them back to join the work force and would explain later, then blew a kiss and replaced the receiver.

'Why did you use a landline?' Robert asked. 'I thought everyone used mobiles now.'

'No one in Oasis likes or wants them because they are invasive and easily hacked. It's intolerable that husbands and wives, children and acquaintances should demand the right to contact you day and night, record what you say, know exactly where you are, and a thousand other things about you with the interfering gadgets. It's Big Brother gone mad. One of the residents is an electronics whizz and set up a blocking wave, I think it's called, that interferes locally with mobile phone signals. So we're safe from that intrusion at least.'

'What about TV?'

'No one has one. Like newspapers they're run by multinational super rich guys with the sole object of brainwashing viewers into believing and doing what the big boys want, through lying propaganda pretending to be news, and mindless entertainment that, as I said, requires less brain activity than sleeping.'

'But you have to have the Internet, for banking and genuine information, even if it is intrusive.'

'Yes, but not under our names and addresses. Residents own other houses in the city, and the body corporate has a house on the boundary of Oasis, just along from the entrance gate. Those places have Internet, which after being processed by a scrambling device, is relayed to us via a secure cable so it can't be intercepted. We're just about completely off all official grids. Our electricity is solar, the water is sourced from wells on the property, our rates appear as one building. It's not perfect, but we've not been visited by any official agency for over ten years. I'm pretty sure no one knows we exist. Even the gate keeper's never been down here.'

'You took a risk bringing us.'

'That remains to be seen.' He grinned. 'Ok, on with the tour.'

Mort's old bedroom contained a large double bed, walk-in wardrobe and an ensuite bathroom. The main bedroom was larger. A wall of glass overlooked the garden; mirrors concealed a large walk in wardrobe and a double ensuite bathroom. A vast mural of mountains and valleys, painted by a guest who had been trekking in the Himalayas, faced the king-size bed.

'I gathered from Bart's introductions that you three are an item, Arnold, Fidel and Hylas, so I guess this'll be your room, and you two will have my old room.'

'Excellent. It'll make a change from squeezing into the back of the Land Cruiser. Can't wait to try it.'

'Are you sure your father won't mind?'

'He'll be pleased someone's using the place. He won't be returning any time soon, if at all. So it's yours for as long as you like.'

The five friends gazed around in disbelief.

Hylas broke the embarrassed silence. 'Mort, I don't know if we'll ever be able to even the score with you, this is so wonderful.'

'Sure is,' Fidel agreed. 'You're being insanely generous, and we'll owe you forever.'

'The rest of your lives will do, forever's a bit long,' Mort laughed.

Bart gave Mort an impetuous hug. ' Thanks. What happens now?'

'Unload your vehicles, make yourselves lunch, you must be starving, and get yourselves spruced up for a meeting with Zadig and Hercules later on to discuss how we present you to the residents to ensure they're all in favour of your being employed.'

Zadig and Hercules?' Robert failed to conceal a sceptical smile.

'Zadig's my boyfriend/partner and is the groundsman. Hercules is responsible for recreation, and I'm his assistant. And yes, those are their real names, which suit them.'

'Is Hercules also gay?'

'Rumour has it he's screwed every female in Oasis, and a couple of the younger men, but Arch reckons he's practically a virgin. He worked as a prostitute before coming here, so that doesn't count. He's a private person really. In the three years I've been here I've not noticed any attachments. I've always imagined he's waiting for that one special person, but he's getting a bit long in the tooth so will have to hurry.'

'How old is he?'

'Mid thirties, but looks much younger.'

'Might there be a problem with him?'

'There are always problems; the trick is to avoid them. If you all do as I suggest, then he'll love you and the residents will be begging you to become official employees. We'll have a residents' meeting tomorrow evening where you present yourselves for approval.'

'What sort of work will we be doing?'

'You can start with your Natural Fitness program and sort out other interests once you've settled in.'

'When you said Natural Fitness, did you mean…?'

'I certainly did. Will that be a problem?'

'Of course not. But…'

'It's what the residents want. I'll explain later. Apropos of that, how careful were you of your appearance at the gymnasium? I noticed when you were showering that you're all fit and lean, but your hair's shaggy—both head and body. Is that your look?'

'No way!' Robert protested. 'We're fanatical about cleanliness and neatness. Waxed our rings and shaved armpits to avoid dags and sweaty odours. Warm soap and a bidet after shitting, and regular checks of each other's orifices throughout the day. Body hair trimmed short—not shaved. Nails, teeth, breath, ears and nostrils clean and inspected several times a day. We didn't take the word natural too literally.'

'Don't worry, Mort,' Fidel assured him seriously, 'we will be clean and wholesome.'

'I don't doubt it, seeing as you still looked like health advertisements after living in a Land Cruiser for a couple of years.' Mort checked the time. 'Ok then, spend the afternoon turning yourselves into the sort of young men every mother would love as a son in law, and I'll see you about five o'clock. If there's any delay I'll phone.'

At five minutes to five the phone rang.

'Hi. We're coming via the forest so we'll need the back gate open. It's in the wall the other side of the pool. You can't miss it. See you in five.'

Four minutes later, Mort, barefoot and looking happier and healthier minus his shorts, bounced through the gate followed by a rugged dark skinned young man with sturdy legs, narrow hips, firm bum, slim waist, broad hairy chest and abs, powerful shoulders and arms, hands that could strangle a bull, muscular neck, square chin, thin lips, broken nose, heavy black eyebrows over hazel eyes, flat ears and a smooth brow on a lean head. Dangerously appealing rather than handsome.

'Bart, Robert, Arnold, Fidel and Hylas, allow me to introduce you to the love of my life—the noble Zadig, forester extraordinaire and lover divine.'

Zadig rolled his eyes at Mort's hyperbole and grinned while shaking hands. The five strangers couldn't stop laughing.

'Hercules will be here directly,' Mort said, peering out the gate. 'Ah… the demigod arrives.'

The description was apt. A man who looked to be in his late twenties, built like a powerful wrestler, body hair trimmed to a centimetre, sharply defined facial features, short curly brown hair and a neatly trimmed moustache and beard that enhanced a strong jaw, wandered casually in, nodded pleasantly and shook hands with each while repeating their names.

His voice was deep and warm, resonating in his listener's chests. Hooded dark blue eyes gazed for several unsmiling seconds into the eyes of each man. It felt neither uncomfortable nor invasive, more as if he was conferring an honour by taking such an interest. Arriving at Hylas he smiled slightly and seemed to wink. Hylas's heart flipped, his loins tingled and an erection rose unbidden.

Hercules raised an eyebrow. 'There's no need to stand when I enter a room.'

Everyone laughed and what little tension there was, evaporated.

Mort ushered them into the lounge where Fidel had prepared tea and biscuits.

'Mort thinks you're going to be an asset,' Hercules said lightly, 'and as he's always right that's settled. We certainly need help now that more than half the residents remain home all day.'

'Is that because of JECHIS?'

'Yes. Oasis is listed as a private residence, so you'll not find any headscarves or Protectors, but women can't go outside the gates safely, and aren't permitted to work if they do. There's no school for girls anywhere nearby. Several men have become redundant, including two members of parliament, a magistrate, a police commissioner and a bishop—none of whom dare leave this sanctuary. You're not the only people with a price on your head. Also a couple of lawyers and a bank manager.' He shook his head in mock despair. 'You'd think with all their money they'd be intelligent enough to entertain themselves, but confirmation bias, not intelligence were the requirements for their jobs.'

'Confirmation bias?'

'It's when someone has an opinion, and then ignores all facts that don't support that opinion. All politicians suffer from it; it's why they make such insane laws. Rich people believe that activities that don't make them richer are beneath them, so it's someone else's job to entertain them. The crunch came when they discovered that living in the house of their dreams with nothing to do but sit around being served, made them suicidal from boredom. They solved that problem by employing me, and then Mort, to entertain them.'

'You sound as if you enjoy it,' Arnold said with a smile.

'I do! I love these idiots in their mansions and beautiful clothes. Thanks to them I do whatever I want.'

'Are you sure they'll want us, though. Compared to you three we're ugly ducklings.'

'You're different, that's all, and excellent specimens of manhood. Not devastatingly handsome like Mort, or a demigod like me. But…' he dissolved into laughter. 'You guys are total fuckwits if you think you aren't just as irresistible as us, you'll each have a fan club after the first day. I'm already in love with this beautiful young creature.' He placed a hand on Hylas's thigh, triggering another one-finger salute, which he stroked, apparently absentmindedly, while continuing to talk. 'Everyone I spoke to this afternoon will be thrilled to have a fitness club and five sexy new activities experts to lighten the burden of their affluence. What about you, Mort? Did you talk to anyone?'

'Yep. With the same response.'

'So you're wanted,' Hercules said with satisfaction. 'We'll still have the interview in the theatre tomorrow night, but that's a formality for the Oasis Body-Corporate records. Any questions or reservations?'

'No reservations, but how do you get away with going sky-clad in a place owned by conservative hardliners? Politicians, a bishop, a cop?'

'They're madder than anyone else—you must be to want to live in the public eye. People who buy into ridiculously expensive gated estates like this, desperately need to feel special as well as safe. But despite living in mansions and behaving and dressing as if at a royal garden party, they still didn't feel special because everyone else was equally wealthy and well dressed. Then someone saw me working naked—I did all repairs and maintenance when Oasis first opened. After a prolonged debate during which I threatened to leave if I had to wear clothes while doing dirty or wet jobs, Arch, Mort's father, convinced them that nothing could make them more special than having a naked barbarian working for them. After checking that no other establishment of a similar quality had one, they amended the bylaws to state that Oasis employees must be naked at all times while in the estate.'

'Crazy! And how will they treat us? Like slaves?'

'Like wild, untameable creatures. Being civilized nobles they are morally obliged to treat naked savages with respect. We're like pet koalas, wombats or cats. We entertain them and look after their health and welfare, and in return they stroke us, say nice things, invite us into their homes for dinner, and take whatever liberties they can get away with. Like all wild animals we have the right to bare our teeth and growl if they annoy us, so they back off. It's a harmless game that adds a little uncertainty—a sense of danger perhaps—to their humdrum lives. They feel brave.'

'You're joking.'

'No, he's not,' Zadig laughed. 'This afternoon I took three women and a man for a ride through the forest. They sit in a light carriage I pull along rainforest tracks. They reckon they love watching my straining muscles in legs and buttocks, and I love the exercise. We stopped as usual for me to get my breath and for them to experience the magnificence of nature. They sat like aristocrats on the ground on a blanket, then someone said, "Here, Zadig,' patting the space between them as if cajoling a pet. I wandered over and stretched out on my back, like a sleepy cat. They chatted to each other while stroking me. It's very relaxing and I like it. But when someone started playing a bit roughly with my cock I growled and bared my teeth—like this.'

Zadig's lips drew back from brilliant white teeth that suddenly appeared very large and sharp, and a low-pitched snarl erupted from deep in his throat. 'She let go instantly and giggled nervously while the others patted me gently and said, "It's all right, Zadig. You're a good boy. Amelia was a naughty girl. There, there." It sounds stupid, and it is, but it's a fun game. No one gets upset, and next time she'll probably do it again for the thrill. These people are barking mad but, like Hercules, I can't help enjoying them.'

'You're lucky she didn't have a heart attack.'

'No chance of that. They're like kids who know it's Dad under the sheet, but still scream in terror when he says, Boo.'

'That's bizarre behaviour in adults, Hercules.'

'But harmless. So relax and enjoy, remembering it's a game in which both sides see how far they can go and no one takes offence. You have the absolute right to stop anyone going too far, so it'll be entirely your fault if they abuse you. Clear?'

'Sort of.'

'If you stroke a cat the wrong way,' Mort explained, 'and it spits and scratches to make you stop, would you be angry with the cat?'

'Of course not.'

'Well you're the cat and they're the owner who will continue to stroke until he's stopped.'

Arnold couldn't stop laughing. 'We're going to be treated like pets. We do as we want and so do they, but whereas they really need us, so don't punish us, we don't really need them so are free to spit and scratch.'

'Metaphorically, Arnold. Metaphorically.' Mort said seriously. 'We don't really scratch. But for them it's more than fun, it's profoundly sexual. They're frustrated by the constraints of middle class morality and religious guilt, and relieve that stress through contact with naked wild men and acting out their fantasies on stage. This afternoon's performance with Zadig was exactly that—a performance, therefore not real, not serious, not a sin. They're fooling themselves, but so are most people.'

'Clients at the gym would sometimes stroke us; we'd ignore it and take a step away. I've always thought it a compliment, not an insult. But here we just accept it as them being natural, right?'


'What happens if we get an erection?'

'Flaunt it,' Zadig laughed. 'Everyone—men, women and children absolutely adore our erections. It proves what uninhibited wild natural men they have under their control. It's thrilling. Teenage girls often have spates of standing close and attempting to arouse me. Usually with their mothers standing by for safety in case I leap on them and rape them. '

'Do they succeed?'

'If they're gentle.'

'And what do you do?'

'Enjoy it. I'm a bit of an exhibitionist at heart.'

'The funniest are the older women,' Mort added. 'They're always stroking and gently tugging at me if I get close enough. It makes them giggle.'

'If their hands aren't clean and nails cut,' Hylas said firmly, 'they'll get a snarl if the touch my bits.'

'But if they are clean and neat, that'll be Ok, will it?' Mort laughed.

Hylas shrugged. 'Why not?'

Hercules was staring at him. 'I imagine you got loads of offers at the gym.'

Hylas blushed. 'A few.'

'Why didn't you snarl when I stroked your cock?'

The others watched Hylas's confusion with amusement.

'I liked it,' he stated bravely, hoping it didn't make him a slut.

Hercules turned a serious face to the others. 'If no one objects I'm going to carry this beautiful creature back to my lair.'

Hylas's face was a picture of apprehension.

'Don't worry, Hylas,' Zadig laughed, 'we're all going to Hercules' lair; he's invited us for a meal, and then we're visiting Dr Welniss for a health check. Regular health checks are required for all Oasis employees.'

Before he could move, Hylas was swept off his feet, slung across Hercules' shoulders and held firmly as his abductor jogged out the gate and down a steep path through the trees, leaving the others to close the house and follow. Veering to the right of what looked like a Greek temple, they arrived at a cottage, entered, and Hylas was gently deposited in an armchair. Standing back with hands on hips, chest heaving from the effort, Hercules said quietly. 'You're heavier and tougher than you look, so it was a rough ride. But you still didn't bare your teeth or snarl.'

'Because I liked it.'

'What would I have to do to make you snarl?'

'Hurt Fidel.' Hylas's face was expressionless, his voice calm, his eyes dangerous.

'You love him.' A statement.

'More than anything.'

'He's lucky.'

'So am I. He loves me too.'

'What about Arnold?'

'We love him.'

'So, your life's complete; there's no room for anyone else.'

'There's Bart and Robert, we love them too.'

'Is it possible a sixth could come along?'

'If I'm lucky, there'll be a sixth, seventh and eighth.' Hercules was granted a sly grin.

'Of course, Mort, Zadig and… who else?'

'That's for me to know and you to find out.'

At that moment the others arrived and with everyone mucking in, the meal eventually got served.

Half an hour later with appetites satisfied they were on their way to Doctor Welniss to have their bodies inspected.

When Penelope Welniss, ex head of diagnostics and disease prevention at Cairns Central Public Hospital, discovered after her dismissal [due to her lack of a penis] that her laboratory was being closed due to lack of staff, she convinced another Oasis resident to secretly purchase all the equipment, which he did at a substantial discount. As a result, while health services declined and disappeared throughout the state due to the retrenchment of all female nurses, cleaners, doctors, drivers, office workers, ambulance staff and so on, Oasis could boast an excellent medical centre with the most up to date facilities for the identification, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of all common diseases, including those transmitted sexually.

At seven-thirty the almost full moon was casting shadows and illuminating fairytale ruins, temples and beautifully tended gardens, through which meandered groups of exquisitely clad residents. Classical music drifted from an open archway. The plop of tennis balls could be heard from a well-lit arena. Waltzing couples glided behind the windows of a circular building. Ornately carved tables arranged in a vine-covered loggia were occupied by concentrating card players.

As the three current and five future employees made their way to an appointment with the doctor, they were the recipients of gracious nods, smiles and restrained curiosity from elegantly clad residents, until one husband, wife, and twelve year-old daughter dressed like Spanish Grandees ditched their restraint.

'Hercules,' the fellow said jovially, patting him on the shoulder. 'Are these the new men?'

'Yes, George.'

George stood back a little as if to inspect. 'Fine specimens, what?' He stepped forward and grasped Arnold's biceps, then tested the quality of the specimen's thighs and bum, which he squeezed manfully. 'Powerful thews. Good stuff. Never trust a chap with no bum.' Turning to his wife. 'Feel this fellow, Amy. Good quality stock.'

While Arnold's seven companions stood watching, faces wreathed in innocent smiles, the wife stepped forward and felt Arnold's biceps, ran exploratory fingers down his chest and belly, then around to his backside which she squeezed quite as manfully as her husband who was gazing with interest as Arnold's penis more than doubled in size and became proudly upstanding.

'What's your name?' their daughter demanded, running a finger softly around his navel, clearly determined not to be outdone by her parents.

'Arnold,' Arnold answered calmly, as if being massaged in front of a gathering crowd of perfect strangers was a normal daily occurrence.

The daughter suddenly grasped his tumescent organ in both hands, then quickly let go with a shriek. 'It's hot!'

The onlookers laughed delightedly at her innocence. The spoiled brat, furious at having revealed her lack of experience, angrily pulled at her mother's mantilla. 'Mum, let's go. This is boring. I want to see my friends.'

Amy gave Arnold a proprietorial pat on the bum. 'We look forward to seeing more of you, Arnold,' she said with a curious little smile, before being dragged away by her daughter. George managed one last squeeze before following.

'Was that a threat or a promise?' Arnold asked.

'Sounded like a threat, but at least you passed the passivity test,' Mort replied, squeezing Arnold's bum. 'Those two are sticklers for keeping us wild men in our place. You behaved impeccably. Expect an invitation to dinner within a week.

'Ah… so that's what she meant by seeing more of me. I was wondering what more there was of me to see.'

'How did you feel, being treated like a beast at the sale yards?' Fidel asked. 'Did it annoy you?'

'Not at all! It was strangely liberating.' He giggled. 'I actually enjoyed it. Does that make me a slut?'

'Probably. Do you care?'


'Wise man.'

They were wandering along a path lined with trees and flowers softly illuminated by concealed lighting when a youth ran up and grabbed Zadig's arm. 'Zadig, I need photos of the termite mounds you showed me last month. I promised to have them for a school assignment tomorrow, and clean forgot. Can you take me there? I've forgotten where it is.'

'Sure. When?'

'Tomorrow really early.'

'Hammer on the door if I'm still asleep.'

'Thanks, you're a beaut.' He turned to the others. 'Are you the new activities guys?'

'If we're acceptable to the committee.'

'You will be, you're all studs—especially you,' he laughed pointing at Arnold's boner. 'Are you going to teach us pole vaulting?' With a grin he was off.

'I can't believe it,' Bart and Robert kept repeating. 'This place is too strange… too perfect.'

'Yeah! Who designed it?' Fidel asked with a reverence usually reserved for spiritual icons of great significance and beauty.

'Arch, my father,' Mort said proudly. 'But it would never have reached this state without Hercules and Zadig's father, they did the practical work.'

'I want to cry,' Hylas said softly. 'It's too, too beautiful. I feel as if I'm in an ancient Greek myth. And I am, aren't I?' He looked at Hercules, smiled and stroked his arm. 'I'm standing beside Hercules.'

The demi-god returned the smile with interest.

'Now I can die happy,' Arnold sighed dreamily. 'But not before I've been here a few more years.'

'Here we are,' Mort announced in front of a large wrought iron gate set into a two-metre high wall. He pushed it open and led them up a paved path to an impressive carved door at the base of a cylindrical tower attached to a medieval castle constructed in pale gold stone. Pennants fluttered in the moonlight above small towers at each corner.

The door was opened by a sombre servant of indeterminate years dressed in black trousers, black patent leather shoes and spats, a tight-fitting long sleeved black vest with a high Russian collar, epaulettes and brass buttons. The sight of eight naked young men failed to dent his composure. He nodded politely and in an obviously fake accent invited them to await Madame le docteur in the salon d'attente, which turned out to be a sumptuous Louis XV salon, furnished with what looked like genuine French antiques.

'Why isn't he naked?' Arnold asked in the respectful whisper the room seemed to require.

'He's employed by Aristo and Penelope, not Oasis, so like all personal servants he arrives by the back door and never leaves the house. It would be intolerable for the residents if mere servants were to wander the wondrous spaces of their earthly paradise.'

'Excellent rule. Keep the parks and gardens for residents and their pets,' Robert said with a wry nod. 'I'd do exactly the same.'

'You don't believe in the equality of humanity.'

'That's a meaningless concept. Equal in what? Looks? Intellect? Ability to play the flute? Strength? In appreciation of eighteenth century music? That's the sort of woolly thinking that destroys the brain and any hope of a cohesive society.'

A well-fed man in his late forties, balding with a neatly trimmed greying beard and dressed like a textbook Athenian philosopher in a toga, entered silently on sandaled feet. 'Welcome, boys. The doctor is nearly ready. As there are eight of you, Perses will be assisting her. He's apparently most adept with the needle.' He smiled thinly. 'I hear you snarled at Amelia this afternoon, Zadig. According to her friends she wet herself. Well done. I wish I was allowed to do that to some of my clients.'

'What do you do to them?' Bart asked politely.

'Repair the ravages of overindulgence.'

'How magnanimous of you. Is there still a demand for plastic surgery now women are kept locked away?'

'If you mean aesthetic reconstruction, then yes. Our new leaders want their physical attributes altered to match their intellectual qualities.'

'Don't tell me they're asking you to remove their brains and hearts.'

'Now that I would enjoy. Stomach tucks, jaw line firming, hair transplants and buttock tucks are good money-spinners. But the current best seller is a combination penis enlargement and erectile insertions. Essential, apparently, for a man with a harem. Rather them than me! One is almost more than I can handle.'

'One what, Aristo?' The voice was smooth, deep and ominous.

Everyone turned as Penelope Welniss, MD, ChD Dip. lots of other things, stepped firmly into the room. The voice did not seem to belong to the cute little blonde wearing an optically white doctor's coat, and white ankle-snapping high-heeled shoes.

'What can you only handle one of, Aristo?'

'One patient at a time, Penelope. I was saying to the boys how much I admire you for managing eight examinations in one sitting.'

With a disbelieving sniff she spun on one heel and led the way through a doorway into a modern, sterile laboratory and surgery.

'This is my son, Perses,' she announced pointing to a self-contained adolescent wearing a stethoscope, a similar lab coat to his mother and rope-soled sneakers. He smiled pleasantly but didn't speak.

'I will take blood samples, test blood pressure, posture, reflexes, eyesight and hearing,' Penelope announced. Perses will take swabs from your penis, anus, throat and nostrils, digitally test for prostate enlargement, and collect semen samples. Any questions?'

They shook their heads.

'I will have the results by tomorrow lunchtime, and display them on the noticeboard in time for everyone to see before the meeting to decide your appointment.'

'Thank you, Penelope.'

The doctor's head snapped around and she stared at Mort to see if he was being disrespectful. No one called her Penelope except Aristo. She was Doctor to everyone, even her best friends. Deciding Mort was just being a typical uncultivated savage, she consulted her computer, called each man over to check his names was spelled correctly, then set to work. Both examiners were efficient. Neither spoke more than necessary, and an hour later the boys, as they'd started to think of themselves, were out in the lane, none the worse for the experience.

'I like Perses.'

'Yes. He's a great kid,' Hercules said with warmth. 'Inherited his mother's intelligence and his father's character. He's the only person on the planet permitted to disagree with her. I've been to dinner here often and it's pretty clear that Perses keeps the family functioning. His parents are interested in little except their speciality, although Penelope seems to have a split personality. She's a brilliant actress. On stage she's a totally different person. Perses is interested in everything and, according to the servant, runs the house. Pays the bills and everything.'

'Wunderkinds always make me feel inadequate.'

'I know the feeling.'

'Fidel and Arnold, can you find your way back to Arch's place?' Hercules asked.

'Hardly, we're totally lost.'

'No worries,' Mort laughed. Zadig and I'll take you.'

'The thing is, I'd like to discuss something with Hylas,' Hercules said frowning slightly. 'We'll follow in a few minutes.'

'Nothing serious, I hope,' Fidel was instantly protective.

'No, no. It's just something…' his voice trailed off.

'Stop fussing, Fidel.' Hylas said softly. 'Hercules isn't going to do away with me.'

'Yeah, sorry. See you later.'

Hercules led Hylas by the hand across the grass to a low wall on which they sat in silence for nearly a minute before he spoke. 'You said earlier there might be room for an eighth person in your life. What sort of person would that be?'

Hylas smiled to himself, well aware of where this was heading. He had been thinking about relationships all day, arriving at no conclusions. But the question jolted his brain and without obvious thought said blithely, 'He'd have to have lots of muscles so he could carry me through the desert, be older and wiser than me, handsome with a short beard and a sexy bum—and he must like stroking and kissing me.' Hylas sighed and shook his head. 'But I'm dreaming, as usual. No one like that's ever going to come along.'

'Would I do in the meantime?'

'You hardly know me.'

'I feel as if I do. Did you know that the original Hercules fell in love with a beautiful boy called Hylas during Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece?'

'You're kidding.'

'No. He taught Hylas all the things that made him a great man. They were inseparable, day and night. Hercules helped row the ship, Argo, but was so strong he broke an oar. When they got to land, Hercules searched for a strong tree to make a new oar, while Hylas went to a famous spring for water. At the spring he was captured by nymphs who fell in love with his beauty and raped him, dragging him into the water where he drowned. Hercules was so distraught he remained searching for Hylas when the Argos sailed, abandoning the expedition for love.'

'That's sad. And beautiful.'

'Many love stories are.' Hercules frowned, not sure how to continue, then blurted. 'Do you believe in love at first sight?'

'Of course. I'm queer. We all believe we're going to be swept off our feet by a young God.'

'Ah… A slight problem. I'm thirty-four.'

'But looking and acting much younger. Bart's thirty-two and I love him,' Hylas said dreamily.

Hercules squatted in front of Hylas and looked into his eyes. 'Do you like me?'

'Very much.'

'Will you come and live with me? Not a one night stand or anything like that. I mean as my lover/boyfriend. Like Mort and Zadig.'

The silence was becoming painful when Hylas suddenly said brightly, 'Ok. When?'

Nerves overtook Hercules. He knew deep inside that this was perhaps the most important step in his life so far. He had to be careful and not seem too desperate and scare this young man away. So he forced himself to shrug casually and smile. 'As soon as you like. But of course…'

'Tonight then.' Hylas interrupted.

'Are you serious?'


'What about Fidel and Arnold?'

'What makes me happy makes them happy, and vice versa. I've a feeling they'll be relieved to have the bed to themselves. Fidel and I are brothers as well as lovers, so the bond is complex. Arnold never says anything, but I know he sometimes wonders if he's as important to Fidel as I am. And I'm pretty sure Fidel would prefer to have just the one person clamouring for his affection. He knows I'll love him forever and it's nothing to do with sex, so…' Hylas laughed aloud. 'You're looking doubtful, Hercules. This isn't a snap decision I'll live to regret. I've been thinking about this all day—ever since you walked onto Mort's house, if you want to know. We're two of a kind, it seems. So don't worry that I'll change my mind tomorrow. There's only one condition, though.'

'And what's that?'

'As soon as you realise you've made a mistake and you'd rather return to bachelorhood, you'll tell me honestly. You won't carry on bravely pretending you're still in love so as not to hurt my feelings.'

'Fair enough. And you'll do the same for me.'

'Of course.'

'Do you want to telephone Fidel and Arnold, or tell them face to face?'

'When I don't turn up they'll realise I'm staying the night with you. I'll wait till morning to tell them I've been seduced—permanently. I don't want to waste time discussing it when we could be in bed discovering all sorts of things about each other. Which brings me to the question of your morals. According to rumour, you've screwed every female in Oasis and most men; won't they be jealous?'

'That's a rumour Arch started for a joke. And as no woman will admit to not having been fucked by me because it would mean she wasn't attractive, the rumour persists. I've had sex with three females and one man in Oasis, but only on stage in front of the entire population—which doesn't count because it isn't real.' He stood, pulled Hylas to his feet and pulled him close. They were exactly the same height. One slender and hard, the other hard and conspicuously muscled.

And there they stood until Hylas, realising his paramour was either too shy, or stupid, or bewitched to do anything else, pulled his head forward and kissed, and kissed, and then reached down and adjusted their erections before kissing again. Finally, Hercules pulled away and said huskily, 'Hylas, that was the first kiss I've ever really and truly enjoyed. I can't believe I've never…' Hylas stopped the mouth, then taking Hercules' hand, led him like a child in the direction he thought the cottage lay. It didn't and they wandered blissfully through Arcadia until all the lights went out and they had to stumble home by the light of the moon.

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