by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 24

Arch parked just inside the open gates to Oasis, preventing Mort from driving his van in. He got out and waved to Mort to join him at the gatehouse where an armed guard and the concierge checked his identification and telephoned for a police security check on Mortaumal Aywun, which gave Mort a jolt. His relief when he discovered he wasn't wanted showed on his face.

The concierge glared at him. 'You look as if you expected us to discover criminal convictions!'

'No, I drove through a red light in Rockhampton and was glared at by a cop on the other side. It seems he didn't report me — or didn't get my number.' As an extempore lie Mort thought it was rather fine. The concierge obviously considered him a criminal. She harrumphed, took his fingerprints, issued him with a passkey, nodded, and bid them both an unsmiling good day.

'Serena has a heart of gold, so I've been told. But she always makes me feel I've been a naughty boy. At least she's reliable. We've had no unauthorised entries since she arrived seven years ago.'

Arch parked his Porsche in the garage beside a Mazda Sports, and waved Mort to a parking space at the side.

'Better test your key,' he said, standing back.

Mort slid it across and the door opened silently.


Inside was white, smooth, light filled, and as tastefully furnished as a Modern Homes Exhibition showpiece. They followed the sound of a Television talking to itself.

Calumnia, swathed in something soft, long, pink and flowing, unwound from an armchair, stood and extended her hand as if expecting her guest to genuflect.

'I've seen her before,' was Mort's first thought, before realising it was impossible. Calumnia was slim with dark hair that hung in loose twirly hanks to her shoulders. Eyebrows plucked to a high, thin arched line made her look permanently surprised. She didn't need those glistening bright red lips. The long, black-lacquered fingernails looked dangerous but Mort bravely took hold of the flaccid hand, surprised when she suddenly tightened her grip and pulled him towards her, brushing cheeks in what she imagined was a continental kiss. Her breath was sour. At least she wasn't wearing too much perfume.

'Goodness, what a handsome young man,' she announced as if surprised. 'Despite that, there is a family resemblance. You both stand very straight and look as if you don't believe what I'm saying.'

'I don't believe I'm handsome. But Arch is lucky to have such a beautiful wife.'

'Thank you, Mortaumal.'

'Please, call me Mort.'

'As long as you don't call me Cal.' Her laugh was brittle and slightly off key. 'Why have you come north?'

'I'm looking for a job.'

'Doing what?'

'Oh, anything. I thought perhaps horticulture. I'm easy.'

'Doug might have something for him,' Calumnia said, turning to her husband.

'Normally he would, but his son's home from University and is helping him.'

'No worries,' Mort said cheerfully, I've saved a bit of money so I'm right for a while. It's really great of you to let me stay, I won't be a burden and can pay my way.'

'That won't be necessary,' Arch said with a smile.

Calumnia gave him an unpleasant look.

'Come on, I'll show you your room and then we can take a tour. Do you want to come with us Calumnia?'

'I'm meeting Ishbel for tennis in twenty minutes.' She turned away, then as if on an impulse swung back and in a little girl's voice simpered, 'Oh, Arch, lets go to that Italian restaurant for dinner tonight, to celebrate Mort's arrival.'

Arch shrugged to show he was easy. 'I'll phone for a table. '

'No need to sound so enthusiastic.' She flounced out.

'I'd better make that phone call before I forget. Calumnia is not very forgiving of other people's faults.' Arch's office was large, light filled and as neat and sterile as an operating theatre. One wall was dominated by a large drafting table, another by floor to ceiling chart drawers, and the third by a state of the art computer set-up. He made the call and hung up. No probs, they weren't very busy.'

'Why did you use a landline? I thought they were too old fashioned for the modern human; they don't tell you your latitude and longitude or the temperature or where your nearest and dearest is phoning from. And there's no camera or internet access, no way to plug them into your brain so you can hear the latest songs instead of birds or traffic... don't tell me Oasis is stuck in the twentieth century!'

'As far as cell phones go, yes. No one here likes them because they are far too invasive. It's intolerable that husbands and wives, children and acquaintance can expect to contact you day and night, record what you say, know exactly where you are, and a thousand other things about you with their 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.'

Mort was grinning.

'What're you laughing at? I suppose you think we're stupid?'

'The opposite. It's wonderful. I hate the damned things. I know I'm going to love this place. Now, show me this beautiful house.'

Half an hour later Mort had left his bag in the spare bedroom, admired the ultra chic modernity of everything, and was gazing longingly at the pool.

'Take a swim.'

'I've no togs.'

'We don't wear them at home.'

'Brilliant.' He stripped and dived in. Arch sat in a deck chair and watched.

'Come on in.'

'I'm suddenly shy.'


'I don't like comparisons. You're so... I was going to say beautiful, but you aren't really. Your body looks like we always hope bodies should look, but never do. Cellini's Perseus is the nearest I can think of.'

'Never heard of him.'

'I'll show you a print later.'

'Come on, Archibald, don't make me come and get you. I'm tougher than I look.'

'Yes, you actually do look dangerous.'

'I will be, if you don't come in!'

Arch stripped and joined Mort swimming lengths.

'The internet article said you'd designed this place.'

'Did they make any criticism of it?'

'Said it was Mediterranean pseudo classical, or something.'

'The Architects Journal said was the tackiest, most pretentious, kitschest collection of buildings ever erected in the state. But I like it. My current designs are the opposite — practical, modestly priced and boring.'

'I love this house, so if the rest of Oasis is as good I can't wait to see it.'

'Calumnia likes it because it impresses her friends.' Arch clambered out of the pool. 'Come on then, let's go see the rest of the place.'

Mort's clothes didn't fit the standards required for Oasis, so he joined Arch in his wardrobe and they donned clean shorts, well pressed shirts and neat leather sandals, then wandered down an avenue of flowering trees past a dozen or so villas invisible behind walls and dense planting. It was quiet; the only sounds came from birds and cicadas. In the distance a laugh and a faint splash. The avenue opened out to a paved area shaded by giant benjamina fig trees. Through the trees on all four sides could be seen what looked like classical ruins. He and Arch were the only people there.

'This is amazing,' Mort grinned. I feel as if I've gone back in time. It's so quiet, there's a ruin over there if I'm not mistaken, and it's all so clean yet not sterile. I love it already! It feels…' he sniffed the air. 'It feels happy. Crazy, I know, but that's how it makes me feel.'

'You couldn't have said a nicer thing if you worked on it for the rest of your life. As your reward I'll take you to see an ancient Greek temple.'

They stood partially concealed by a couple of fluted columns and watched the players.

'This is so wonderful, tennis courts in the house of a dead god. I'm sure he'd love it. Who's Calumnia's partner? They're not very good.'

'Don't tell her, she thinks she's a pro. Ishbel's the only female resident who will have anything to do with her, that's why Calumnia's seldom here. There's a coven of the friends she knew before we married who live in a nearby suburb and gather at each other's houses to gossip and cast spells.'

'You're joking.'

'I'm not sure. Now to the main pool.'

The path wound between rhododendrons in full flower until the vista opened and they were standing among an oval of columns surrounding a very large pool with a fountain at one side gushing water that burbled over rocks into the water. The sides were partially tiled, partially bordered by huge boulders between which grew slender palms.

'That's some pool! It looks like a lake in a Roman ruin in the forest. Shouldn't those kids be at school?'

'It's holidays.'

'Hey! That guy over there talking to the two girls is naked!'

'That's his official uniform.'

'His skin?'

Arch grinned and nodded.

'What about the kids?'

'They've grown up with Hercules as the naked wild man they obey better than they do their parents. He's an excellent Social Activities manager. We'd never get anyone as dedicated to replace him, so keep on his good side. I'd better introduce you in case he thinks you're an intruder and buries you in the ruins.'

Hercules turned as they approached. He looked somewhere between thirty and forty, deeply tanned, built like a wrestler. Solid, broad shoulders, thick neck, powerful legs, arms, chest and abdomen. All body hair trimmed to about a centimetre. Sharply defined facial features would become attractively craggy in twenty years. Short curly hair and a neatly manicured moustache and beard enhanced a strong jaw line. He walked towards them. Everything in proportion, perfectly natural, genitals no more in need of covering than his elbows.

'Hercules, I'd like you to meet my cousin who'll be staying with me for a while. Mort, This is Hercules Buff'

Hercules encased Mort's hand in a powerful grip and held on, eyeing him up and down without smiling. 'Welcome.'

Mort gazed into the cold, pale blue eyes and felt a shiver of fear. 'Thanks.'

With no indication of his intentions, Hercules suddenly released Mort's hand and threw a punch straight at his face.

Reflexes tilted Mort's head as he grasped the wrist and pulled down with all his strength. Hercules dropped to his knees and rolled onto his right side, dragging Mort with him, then rolled on top and pinned him to the ground. Mort looked up into amused eyes and was pulled to his feet.

'That was brilliant, young man!'

'Thanks. I realised too late you were going to pull the punch, sorry for over reacting.'

'No, no. You did right. He who thinks is lost.'

'How did you guess?'

'Your stance when we shook hands — cautious, ready for anything.'

'You're smart.'

'I keep my eyes open. How long are you staying?'

'As long as Arch'll have me.'

Hercules raised a questioning eyebrow at Arch.

'As long as he likes. You gave me a bit of a shock there.'

Hercules nodded coolly and turned to Mort. 'I've had several men asking for self-defence lessons, but I haven't the time or expertise. Will you take it on?'

'I'm not into that kung fu stuff with baggy trousers and things. And I've never taught anyone.'

'But you've been taught. Well?'

'I'll give it a go, but I really only know how to maim and run.'

'That's what we want.' He stood still and thought for a few seconds, then looked at Arch. 'Can you vouch for this bloke?' The question sounded remarkably like a snarl.

'Yes, Hercules. If he blows up the place or rapes one of his pupils, I'll take responsibility.'

Hercules turned to gaze back at the pool, then called a warning to two teenage boys running over the rocks. They stopped immediately. Turning back to Mort. 'I'm run off my feet with the school holidays. Fancy giving me a hand? Arch will organise payment.'

'Sure, but I don't need paying.'

'No paying; no job. I don't want favours.'

'That should be easy enough.' Arch said thoughtfully. 'Do you want Mort to wear the official uniform?'

'It's up to him.'

It took a second to sink in. 'You're on. I've always wanted to do nude self-defence. When do I start?'

'Come to the office when you're ready — Arch'll show you where it is.' Hercules turned abruptly and went back to guard the children swimming.

'Are you sure you want to do this?' Arch asked with a slight frown. 'When I said to keep on Hercules' good side, I didn't mean you had to work for him.'

'I want to keep active. But he seems upset about something. Don't you two get on?'

'We don't dislike each other.'

'And that's all you're prepared to say on the subject?'

'If we turn out to be family, I'll fill you in.'

'Fair enough. Where's the theatre?

'Follow me, and on the way I'll explain about the lack of clothes. Hercules has been with Oasis since the beginning. An excellent worker, but occasionally when off duty he used to wander around naked. When the women complained he said there was nothing in his contract requiring clothes, and every now and again he had the urge to live like a natural animal. The residents had paid big money to buy into Oasis; it's very exclusive and they call themselves Patricians, proving it by dressing well and behaving impeccably with exquisite manners. Most change for dinner and the children go to the best schools.'

'Patricians? What're they?'

'The ancient Roman Upper classes, known for their lavish lifestyle, sleeping with their slaves of both sexes, and other decadent habits. Oasis is a bit like a theme park where the owners pretend they're aristocrats. Look at those women over there, dressed to the nines, wearing hats and gloves just to play cards or watch their children play a game.'

So that's why my clothes weren't good enough. Am I an honorary patrician?'


'I'll have to keep borrowing your clothes.'

'What's mine is yours.'

'Thanks. That woman's wearing a toga thing. Beautiful hairstyle and jewellery.'

'They do everything well because it makes them feel special.'

'They are special.'

'Yes, but at the beginning they only felt special for a while and then realised they could have had the same things for half the price elsewhere, and disappointment crept in.'

'You say they. Aren't you also a resident?'

'Yes, but as well as my house I also own everything except the residential blocks. I bought forty hectares, that's nearly a hundred acres of rainforest reasonably cheaply, intending to preserve it for posterity, but the local council didn't like that idea, so upped the rates to force me to clear the forest and subdivide. I compromised by clearing a relatively small area and building the most expensive dwellings in the state at the time.'

'So you're worth a few dollars?'

'Not unless I sell everything, which I won't.'

'Good. I love it here. But you were telling me about Hercules.'

'At a meeting someone argued that as Oasis was still mostly original rainforest, having a naked savage in the grounds would make the place unique and very special indeed. A majority agreed so a couple of presentable Aborigines were invited to come every day and wander around naked with their boomerangs and throwing sticks. To the residents' astonishment the two blokes threatened to sue us for the insult. So we paid them off and decided that Hercules would be better and cheaper. We offered him a revised contract making it compulsory for the Activities Manager to work naked. Hercules thought they were insane, but signed, and has never worn a stitch of clothing since, and we all feel very special indeed.

'That's wondrously bizarre.'

'As Hercules says, it's insane! But also funny and delightful and typical of the residents. I love them and I'm sure you will too once you get to know them. So... if you don't mind being sky clad you can give him a hand.'

'Sky clad?'

'It's what Indians say about naked Jains who wander around.'

Mort shrugged. 'I'd prefer that to having to dress in my best every day. I'll go see him in the morning.'

'Good. Now... what do you think of that?'

'Ha! Its the Colosseum where you throw Christians to the lions.'

'No longer allowed, unfortunately.'

They moved into the shade of an archway and watched children swinging, climbing on frames and playing a ball game.

'There's enough grassed area for any sport. Some women play softball and there's a game of cricket most weekends... but all just for fun... there are no competitions. Activity is for fun and keeping fit, not for scoring points and making losers feel rotten.'

'I couldn't agree more. Is that your idea?'

'It is a condition Hercules laid down when he first started here.'

'That makes me like him even more. What's that?' Mort couldn't help laughing as they approached the circular Roman Temple. 'It looks great, but it's in ruins at the back.'

'Those ruins are very cleverly disguised changing rooms and offices.'

'I love it, but why have you made everything look like a semi ruin?'

'Because all empires are built on the ruins of other cultures; our civilization as well. We're actually in the process of destroying our current civilization along with most of the natural world.'

'Deep, Archibald... very deep.'

'Thanks. Come inside.'

Inside, ten semi-circular, creamy sandstone terraces rose steeply, giving excellent views onto an elaborate little stage that was fronted by a pedimented proscenium and royal blue curtains. Above the seating and stage, a domed roof appeared to float on creamy sandstone columns. Between the columns, statues of gods and goddesses gazed down, while above them circular windows filled the theatre with an amber glow.

'This is a very beautiful space, Arch. You must be incredibly proud.'

'Yeah, I am a bit.'

'How many does it seat?'

'Two hundred. We bring our own cushions.'

'I can't wait to see a show. I think you said Hercules' office is here.'

'Yes, in the fake ruins behind the stage are dressing rooms and the Activities Office where he hangs out. I'll show you later. '

'Who cleans everything. The whole of Oasis is spotless. No litter, no dust and dirt. Everything I've seen is pristine.'

'Every morning at one o'clock, a small electric train brings a dozen men who clean the buildings and common areas.'

'What about security?'

'They strip under surveillance cameras in a special building at the gate, take a shower, put on Oasis overalls, come in and work, then repeat the process when they leave at five o'clock.'

'No women?'

'Only because they refuse the security measures. The men like it because they can never be falsely accused of anything, and we pay them triple the going rate. As you can see they do a spectacular job.'

'Very smart.'

'It was Hercules' idea.'

'Honestly, Arch, I hope you are my father so I can say my dad designed this place, it is so utterly beyond anything I could ever dream of. I feel prosaic, dull and ordinary when I see this. No wonder everyone feels special living here. They are, it is, and so are you.

'Mmm... damned by faint praise. But I guess its better than nothing.'

Mort laughed loudly. 'You are so cool, Archibald! To make Oasis heaven on earth, is there anywhere I can go running?'

'There's a track just inside the boundary of the estate, hidden among the trees; its about eight kilometres. Long enough?'

'Brilliant. I can't wait to get running again. My legs feel as if they're shrivelling away if I don't give them a good pounding every couple of days. Do you jog?'

'Never done it. Can't see the attraction.'

'Gives me an excuse to be on my own. By the way, you're in bloody good shape for an oldie. How do you manage it?'

'Thirty-two is not old, as you will one day discover! There's an excellent Gymnasium just past the pool, but we'd better go, Calumnia hates being late for anything.

Dinner in Calumnia's favourite restaurant began more pleasantly than expected. She wore a simple dress, not too much makeup, spoke softly, and only bared her teeth once when Arch said he thought the lights were too dim. To the waiters she was charm itself; to the waitress she was civil.

The meal was tasty but a bit oily for Mort. When both he and Arch refused wine, Calumnia drank the entire bottle on her own, then ordered another.

'Is your background Italian?' Mort asked when she spoke to the wine waiter in what he assumed was that language.

'My grandparents immigrated from Cagliari.'

'Which is where?'


'That's how you got your beautiful olive skin.'

'Most people don't find it beautiful. How did you get yours?'

'Grandfather from Asia. And I know what you mean. But Arch obviously likes your skin.'

'Arch adores me, don't you darling?'

The venom in her voice gave Mort goose bumps. He looked at Arch and was astonished to see a smile, although it lacked conviction.

'I worship the ground you walk on, my precious.'

And that was the end of conversation for the evening. As soon as they arrived home, Calumnia went to her room, slammed the door and turned on very loud pop music that made the windows rattle. Arch came and sat with Mort while he made up his bed.

'Living with Calumnia has made me understand why the Greeks allowed women to drink wine, but not to socialise with men, and the Romans allowed them to socialise, but refused to let them drink wine.'

'Oh, Arch. I wish you could see your face. It isn't the end of the world.'

'Perhaps. You haven't been here long. I hope you'll not regret coming. Calumnia's not the easiest person to live with. But Hercules seems to have taken to you, so at least you've something to occupy yourself. I do intend to spend time with you, but at the moment I'm engaged in three projects, all of which need me at the building site most days.'

'Stop worrying. I'm looking forward to helping Hercules. I like being useful and learning things. And in my spare time I want to go jogging, use the gym, explore the forest, use the pool, and with the van I can check out the city and coast. There are tons of things to do until you have more time.'

'That's a relief, because I really do want you to stay.' Arch got up to go.



'I hope you're my father, but even if you aren't I want you to know I like you as much as if you were.'

Arch gave a short laugh. 'It's odd, isn't it, that after only these few hours I feel exactly the same — except I hope you're my son.'

The following morning Mort found Hercules in his office filling in the day's program. He looked up and handed Mort a form.

'Fill this in please Mort, the Body Corp needs it.'

'What name will I put?'

'Mortaumal. As you work for them I think it's best if everyone calls you by your full name, it gives you gravitas. Keep Mort for close friends... as a reward. It makes your friends feel special.'

Mort grinned. 'Yeah. That makes sense. I wondered why everyone calls you Hercules. I keep wanting to call you Herc. Does anyone?'

'Only one. But I've been a bit careless with him and somehow he stopped and now calls me Hercules like everyone else and I wish…'


'Nothing. Get that form finished.'

Mort completed name, age etc then frowned over the final question. 'It says: "Natural man: full time/part time; delete which doesn't apply." What does that mean?'

'Choose whether you want to be like me, never wear a stitch of clothing when in Oasis, or only be natural when assisting me.'

'That's easy. Full time. I can't be bothered being careful about what I'm wearing. 'But what if I get a hard on?'

'That's natural, so never apologise; they'd hate that, it would spoil the illusion of us being totally natural men! They aren't prudes, they've accepted their humanness and learned to be themselves and have fun without ruining their health or anyone else's happiness. I love them.'

'That's a relief. So… I'll get my gear off then?'

'Might as well.'

Mort stripped, tossed his shorts and shirt onto the top of a set of shelves and grinned. 'Won't be needing them again. Oh Hercules! It feels so good to feel the air on my skin. Now I'm ready for anything. But what am I, patrician or plebeian?'

'The same as me, a patrician with all rights and privileges who generously offers his services to his fellow patricians. I gather Arch has explained all that?'

'Sort of, he reckons we live in a theme park in which residents are lords and ladies on their best behaviour. I love it; it's so beautiful and civilized, like a toy village filled with humanoids. Are they real?'

'Oh yes, and very well aware of what they're doing. They're not mad. It's a fun game. At home they argue like every other family and the kids can be devious little pricks. Like all humans they're sex mad. Wife swapping is popular. There's a bloke in his fifties who runs sensitivity programs for men where they feel each other up in a darkened sauna. But it's done in the best of all possible taste, like the theatricals.'

'Real theatre?'

'Yes. Very good amateur. Better than most professionals. I don't know anyone who watches TV or videos; these are people who like to do things, not have things done for them, and they're always reading, writing and putting on plays and concerts.'

'Could I join? I'm crazy about theatre. I'd love to act and put on shows.'

'Of course you will join them. What other skills have you any apart from self-defence and a love of theatre?'

'Cross Country running, Fitness, Balancing tricks, I can swim pretty well, I love reading and wouldn't mind helping kids who find it hard.'

Hercules was grinning. 'You're a treasure. I'm going to lock you up and keep you.'

'Before the rest of us have met Archibald's cousin?'

They looked up to see a wiry bronzed man in designer tracksuit and trainers, matching sweat band, heavy gold chains round neck and wrist. The curly light blond hair of his head contrasted spectacularly with the curly black hair escaping his tracksuit top. He thrust out a lean and beautifully manicured hand. 'I'm Romulus, and you are Mortaumal I believe.' His smile was disarming and full of perfect teeth.

They shook hands and Mort laughed. 'You look superb, Romulus! I don't think I have ever met anyone dressed more elegantly, not a sports club in the universe would refuse you entrance.'

'Why thank you young man, and may I say that your physical form and skin are quite the most delightful I can recall. As I walked in I think I heard you say you like theatre?'

'I love it.'

'Excellent! I have a part made for you. Come to dinner tonight to meet my wife and sons and we'll discuss it. Meanwhile, Hercules mentioned in passing last night that you are able to teach self defence?'

'Yeah. Basic though.'

'That's what we want. So, shall we go? Two other men are waiting in the gymnasium.'

Mort turned to Hercules. 'Is that okay , boss?'

'Very okay. See you in an hour.

Teaching didn't seem like work, it was too much fun and the hour passed in seconds. When the self-defence students left for their work in the city, Mort returned to Hercules and a fourteen year-old who had never learned to swim. An hour later he could dog paddle across the main pool and had promised to come for daily exercises with Mort to build up his arm and shoulder muscles. After a quick snack, Mort met fifteen retirees on stage where they taught him how to use the sound system, and he got them laughing and exercising to music.

After a lunchtime snack with Hercules in his cottage, he posed for ninety minutes for a group of artists, then on the grass in the Colosseum introduced seven teenagers to the rudiments of self defence.

Hercules had also been busy all day so they were ready for a jog around the perimeter track. Mort had expected a bulldozed swathe beside an unattractive security fence. Instead it was a narrow sandy track winding between giant trees, the fence invisible.

'If trampers outside the property see a fence,' Hercules explained, 'they'll want to find out what's inside; if they don't notice it, they won't. Simple.'

'You are so clever, Hercules. But about this dinner invitation; are you sure it's okay to go naked to dinner with Romulus?'

'He won't let you in if you don't. Make certain you are scrupulously clean, especially your groin, and smell fresh... of yourself or plain soap, not perfume or stale sweat. There's pleasant natural, and unsavoury natural. You as I are always pleasant natural. Check your rear end carefully in a mirror just before leaving. I sometimes find little bits that shouldn't be there. If you are offered a small towel to sit on, thank them graciously and make sure you use it! I often go to dinner with residents because I like them and we get on well. Having a naked guest bolsters their feeling that their lives are special. And I also feel special, as do you I suspect.'

Mort grinned. 'I feel more special here than I have ever felt in my life. I love it.'

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