by George Gauthier

Chapter 1

Spooky Old Mansion

I live on the fourth floor of a spooky old mansion long since converted into comfortable modern apartments. My own apartment on the top floor had been servant's quarters before builders knocked down non-load-bearing walls to create a spacious apartment.

A half-size bronze statue of a youthful nude gladiator is the focal point of a small art collection which occupies a corner of my living room. That statue was a recent gift from my friend Franklin Dyson. It seems that the tech billionaire had spotted it in a catalog of an estate sale and snapped it up with a preemptive bid. The reason for his intense interest was the uncanny resemblance of the subject of the statue to myself.

In that respect it would become a companion piece to another work of art I already owned, a charcoal sketch of a nude youth asleep attributed to the school of Leonardo though only I knew that it had come from the hand of the master himself. It was during our brief affair in 1493 that I had posed for the sketch so the resemblance between its model and myself was not the least bit coincidental.

The bronze statue Dyson acquired for me depicted an athletic but slender youth in a slight crouch, knees bent, weight evenly distributed on both feet, with hands raised on guard. Two bronze knives that were originally part of the sculpture had long since disappeared but Dyson had them restored. The subject of the sculpture was a particular kind of gladiator known as a dimachaerus who fought armed with two long knives but no armor, helmet, or other gear, especially not any clothing. The ideal dimacherus was young, slender, sleek, and agile, physical attributes which fit the role. Nudity not only allowed the play of the muscles to be fully visible, its subtextual homoeroticism titillated the audience watching to see who would win, the cute kid with a pair of knives or the big brute with trident and net or shield and sword.

The bronze statuette was a tangible sign of Dyson's friendship and continuing support in gratitude for my participation in our hard-fought battle last year against would-be assassins at the billionaire's estate. The three of us: Dyson, his bodyguard cum private secretary cum boyfriend, Will Laurier, and myself had managed to turn the tables on three killers armed with submachine guns, essentially ambushing them in a hedge maze.

Since then Will has become one of my three boyfriends along with Constable Paolo Franco and my downstairs neighbor graduate student Kyle Kavanaugh, spelled with a K. Joining the four of us in my apartment was an older man, Paolo's straight partner on the police force Sergeant Delany, also a good friend, though without any romantic involvement, obviously.

"My boss could hardly have chosen a better present, Troy," Will Laurier said. "The resemblance between you and this statue is uncanny. Why you could have served as the life model for the sculptor had you lived in Roman times."

The others nodded in agreement, though I had reservations.

"Sure I can see that it's really close but somehow it is not quite the picture I have of myself. Something is off."

Kyle shook his head.

"What is off Troy is your image of yourself you have in your mind. You most often see yourself in the mirror, which reverses left and right. That reversed image is much more familiar to you than what everyone else sees or what a camera sees. Hence you think something is off, when it's the sculpture which is dead on and the mirror image in your mind which is somewhat off."

"Exactly," Palo seconded.

"It's analogous to why your voice sounds different from how the rest of us hear you. For us, the sound is carried to our ears exclusively by waves of compression and rarefaction in the air. Your own voice reaches your ears as much through the bones of your skull as through the air. That is why the voice on your answering machine does not sound like you."

Of course they were right about the closeness of the resemblance. In point of fact I had been the life model some eighteen centuries ago in Rome. The statue celebrated my thankfully brief career in the arena during the early third century AD, shortly before the onset of the Crisis of the Third Century which brought the Roman Empire to its knees only to be saved by hero emperors of the Illyrian dynasty including Probus, Aurelian, and Diocletian.

Having been constrained to fight in the Colosseum as a gladiator I got to be really good at close-in fighting both one-on-one and in a melee. My brief career in the arena was one of the worst experiences of my life. I hated having to kill fellow humans beings whom I personally had nothing against, but if we did not fight each other both of us would have been punished or perhaps killed. The arena is one aspect of Graeco-Roman civilization I do not miss in the least.

As a dimachaerus I fought naked, the better to appeal to the prurient interest and blood lust of the spectators. After each victory, while I was still covered in the blood and gore of the loser and maybe some blood of my own, I was chained up then pimped out to rich men eager to safely rape the young gladiator known as the Killer Catamite.

As a gladiator I stood barely five three and at that time weighed one-hundred four pounds, having dropped a few pounds from my more usual one-hundred eight after my gladiator trainer Marcellus whipped me into shape, sometimes literally, though he was always careful never to leave scars. A former gladiator himself he knew that my physical beauty and sex appeal were largely responsible for my growing popularity in the arena.

The knives wielded by a dimachaerus were a little shy of the length of a gladius but were lighter so they were faster to wield. More useful offensively than defensively, they could still block or at least redirect the swing of a gladius though not the thrust of a spear or the trident of a retiarius, literally a net-man.

Against long weapons I had to rely on my speed and agility and the tripled strength conferred on me by Zeus, king of the gods of Olympus when he carried me off to Olympus to be his cupbearer and naked wine boy cum sex slave. On the plus side Zeus rebuilt my body to make it not only immortal but much sturdier and with triple its normal strength.

While keeping my body essentially human I got upgrades to all my systems, starting with the mechanisms of homeostasis (stability of physiological processes) and telomere rejuvenation (to keep me ageless). Also denser bones reinforced with tensile fibers, stronger musculature, tendons, and ligaments (partly to keep me from getting hurt during energetic sex play), more efficient gas exchange (better breathing), faster reflexes, etc.

With these upgrades I was three times stronger than I would otherwise be, endowed with strength which is always a nasty surprise to my foes. My strengthened musculature, matched with faster reflexes and a reinforced skeletal system (bones, ligaments and tendons) lets me react and move my limbs far quicker than normal, certainly faster than any foe would suspect. Also I can hold my breath for six minutes, run like the wind, and jump like an Olympic athlete.

The upgrade to my body included improved senses meaning not just the classical five but the others we don't always think of as senses such the sense of balance and the proprioceptive sense, plus echolocation like the blind use to sense objects around them.

During our discussion in my apartment Sergeant Delany brought up Will's and my recent confrontation with some of the very worst human beings we had ever come across, a pair of serial killers who had targeted women hiking in the woods. They hunted their victims with bow and arrow, shooting them like game animals, like something out of that movie the Hunger Games.

They were not just serial killers. The pair were necrophiliacs who raped their victims after they were dead. A young lady had worked with them, setting the victims up for the killers. Will and I put an end to all three after their final killing spree when they murdered three young ladies who had run to us for help. We killed not only both archers but also the cold-blooded bitch herself for good measure. And good riddance it was to all three.

Delany commended Will and me for keeping publicly silent about our encounter with the bad guys after that single public interview.

"Some folks in the media and at least one special agent in the FBI are not fully satisfied with your account about how their female accomplice died. They realize that she died from wounds inflicted by arrows but are not entirely sure it was the two archers who fired the shots. And since it was only you two who were left standing, well you can see why the might suspect you of acting like vigilantes in her case. So tread lightly here."

"We will."

Paolo nodded knowingly.

"Once again, Troy, you have demonstrated unusual skill in close combat. First those robbers on the street -- and don't bother to deny it -- then the assassins at Dyson's estate, and now the trio of nut jobs in the woods. We can understand Will's combat skills. He served in the Canadian special forces and was trained in krav maga, but you have no background in the military or in law enforcement. You never carry a gun or a knife but rely only on your unaided physical powers and your skill in Thai boxing plus that slingshot of yours."

"Actually I have also trained in stick fighting, although I do not carry a pair of single sticks as Will does. Still, with the recent upsurge in urban crime I am thinking maybe I should do so."

"You did borrow my throwing knife when we fought the assassins." Will pointed out.

"Yes, but only because I had no other ranged weapon. These days I carry my sling which provides that capability. In fact it also can double as a flail of sorts if I don't let the lead bullet fly but just whack my foe close up."

Delany added his thoughts:

"All five of us have fighting skills one way or another. Franco, you and I are cops, and we have both had occasion to fire our weapons in the line of duty. We are also well trained in the use of the police baton, which is not that different from those single sticks Will and Troy have used. Will is not only a bodyguard; he's a combat veteran. As for Troy, he trains regularly with those parkour buddies of his in Thai martial arts. Kyle is a boxer who handled himself well in that non-lethal confrontation on campus with pro-Hamas demonstrators.

Kyle demurred.

"Thanks, but my boxing wouldn't have been much use against those archers in the woods or those robbers on the street. So I need to rethink personal protection maybe with those single sticks of yours Will or something else."

"I'd be happy to get you started and can recommend a good trainer who can make you truly proficient. And Kyle, just so you know, the techniques in stick fighting are a lot like fighting with a pair of knives, so be careful."

I nodded. "Exactly right. With a blade you stab and slash. With sticks you jab and whack, so very much the same movement. And not to be too graphic, but if the threat is deadly jab your sticks at the vulnerable points of the human body along the center line: eyes, throat, groin, or under the ribs."

Our conversation paused for a moment, during which Delaney read the transcript of Will's and my banter with the pro-Hamas bullies we had fought on campus.

"I gotta hand it to you two. It was seven against two but you guys won handily. On top of that you ad-libbed clever chatter to discourage any thoughts of a rematch from those guys. Bravo!"

"Thanks." I said for both of us. "It seems to have worked. None of those bullies has come looking for us, which is just as well. I fight when forced to but would rather avoid trouble in the first place."

"Though in this case, a rematch would be in the second place, wouldn't it?" Kyle pointed out.

Sergeant Delany took his leave a while later. The Kyle went downstairs to his apartment with Paolo which left me alone with Will who was spending a few days with me while his employer convalesced in isolation from a mild case of the Covid virus on his estate. We made the most of our opportunities.

Kyle was serious about getting training in Thai stick fighting. Boxing was all well and good against fists but not much use against edged weapons or guns. Against a knife a pair of sticks might actually be a better choice. Almost all knife attacks involve a single blade. Wielding two sticks gives a fighter an advantage. That said, as good as I am with sticks, I would not care to match them against a kukri which is the ideal blade for close-in fighting. The bent bladed knife is practically a short sword, a general purpose edged weapon good for stabbing, slashing, or chopping attacks.

Now sticks can do little against guns unless you got the jump on your opponent. A good whack to his wrist before he trained the gun at you could make him drop it. I suggest a follow up with a jab to the solar plexus to take the fight out of him. For permanent results, a thrust into the throat to crush the trachea would ensure a fatality. Still the best counter to a hand gun is distance and walls. Put some distance between you, run to another room, turn the corner, however you do it, but get out of the line of fire. As Sergeant Delaney told us, most professionals criminals are terrible shots. They don't believe in practice. Even fewer are conscientious about maintenance so many of the guns used for street crimes jam or misfire.


Just last week Will Laurier became a naturalized citizen of the United States. That step did not require him to renounce his citizenship in his country of birth though at the naturalization ceremony Will did have to forswear his allegiance to Canada, a country in whose armed forces he had once served. Both countries recognize dual citizenship as long as allegiance was owed to only one. Besides neither country was likely to ever go to war with the other.

Forget Britain, it is surely Canada which has the special relationship with the United States. Both countries are members of the NATO alliance. Their land border is the longest international border in the world, one usually described as the "longest undefended border". That is certainly true militarily though civilian law enforcement does control the border.

Most of Canada is lightly populated. So much of the country is taken up by the Canadian Shield, the High Arctic, and the Arctic Archipelago where agriculture is impossible and any kind of settlement very difficult. So most Canadians live in the more salubrious zones close to the border. Eighty percent live within one-hundred miles of the US border, which bears out the old tourism slogan that Canada is "friendly, familiar, foreign, and near." A few border disputes persist, such as over the status of the Northwest Passage which Canada claims as territorial waters, but which the US regards as an international strait.

Both peoples have mostly positive views of one another, though the Canadians tend to deplore our religiosity (thankfully declining steadily), our fractious politics, and our frequent interventions abroad. Admittedly the US does have the deplorable habit of bombing other countries regardless of international law or public opinion abroad, hence that ironic map posted on the Internet of countries the US has never bombed or bombarded with cannon fire during the era of gunboat diplomacy. That map was no doubt inspired by a similar historical map of countries which the Brits have never invaded at one time or another, which in the case of the UK that is quite a short list indeed, made up mostly of landlocked countries, beyond the reach of the Royal Navy.

At a celebratory dinner, when called upon to make a short speech, Will started off by addressing his audience as "My fellow Americans..." which brought enthusiastic applause. His short speech touched our hearts and brought tears to our eyes. However, a few days later, when Will happened to repeat the catch phrase about how Americans are all immigrants (or descendants of immigrants) I had to correct him. As I explained it:

"Actually only half our population is of immigrant stock. The other half is descended from settlers."

"Isn't that a difference without a distinction?"

"Hardly. Immigrants are individuals who crossed the oceans with the intention of becoming Americans. That is true of the Irish and Germans in the mid-nineteenth century and the later wave of Jews, Italians, and Eastern Europeans. Except for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, immigration was largely unrestricted by ethnicity until after World War I. Since then various quotas and exemptions have controlled the influx of immigrants.

Settlers came to the continent in groups with the intention of making it their own. That was obviously true of the Indians who are the descendants of the original settlers of North America, having crossed the Bering Land Bridge into North America looking to establish their own cultures in the new continent, not to join existing societies of which there were none.

But it is also true for maybe half of Americans of European extraction. The early colonists were actually settlers and not merely immigrants. They did not seek to join existing Indian societies or to adopt Indian ways. Instead the European settlers strove to displace those who had settled before them and to transplant their own civilization and cultures from the Old World to the New.

Hence the Yankees in New England, the Dutch in New York, the English planters and Scotch-Irish Upcountry farmers in the South. All were settlers who kept their own languages, laws, religions, clothing, food crops, farm animals, literacy, and all manner of technology including metallurgy, printing, firearms, wheeled vehicles, sailing ships, etc.

"Well since I was born in Italy I am certainly an immigrant," Paolo affirmed. I haven't gone back since I arrived here at age five, but I intend to do so in the next couple of years."

Delany clapped him on the shoulder.

"Good for you Paolo and how fortunate you are that Italy no longer drafts young men into its armed forces. These days Italy's army, navy, and air force are staffed by volunteers, paid professionals. Not so very long ago, everyone born in Italy owed military service even if they had become naturalized citizens of another country. "

"I am friends with a police officer of Italian extraction some of whose family emigrated to Australia. In the nineteen-seventies their grandfather took a gap year before college. He was on a Mediterranean cruise to Greece and the Ionian Islands when bad weather forced his cruise ship to dock in the port of Brindisi on the heel of the Italian boot. Once officials checked his papers and realized that he had been born in Italy, the poor guy found himself hustled off the ship and dragooned into their army. As an enlisted man, a draftee, his living conditions were deplorable. I understand that in their enlisted barracks their racks were stacked five high."

"Good grief! Could nothing be done about it?" Paolo asked, utterly appalled.

"Not a thing. The law was absolute. Fortunately, their term of conscription was short, but the poor kid was stuck in the Italian Army for over a year. At first his command of the language was poor, but he soon regained his childhood fluency. That is the only thing of value he retained from of his traumatic experience."

"Yikes! I'll be sure to check with the Italian embassy before I make any travel plans to my homeland. Mama Franco did not raise her son for a soldier."

"So is any of us a descendant of settlers and not of immigrants. I know Sergeant Delany is fourth generation Irish-American, Will was born in Winnipeg, so we three are of immigrant stock."

"Me too." I added. "My ancestors were from the Caucasus, the mountain range which forms Europe's southern border with Asia. What about you, Kyle? Kavanaugh is an Irish name, isn't it?"

"Yes it is, but my ancestors were really Scotch-Irish who were among the early colonists of North Carolina. That makes me the only settler in our group."

"Tsk, tsk" I chided facetiously. "It seems Kyle that you are descended from the invaders who dispossessed the original inhabitants of the continent. I know that those on the left like to claim that slavery was America's original sin, but surely it was the European conquest and colonization of the continent."

"We won't hold it against you." Paolo assured him.

"Nor should we," I said.

"After all, the Europeans only did to the Indians what they did to each other, with one group conquering or displacing weaker peoples. The Apache were originally from Canada. Their hold on the Southern Great Plains was broken by the Comanche whose policy toward the Apache was literally genocidal which forced the surviving Apache to retreat to the mountains."

"The Iroquois Confederacy, celebrated as a Great League of Peace, was really a military alliance against surrounding peoples. Peace reigned within the confederacy. Outwardly the fought many wars. It was no accident that their towns were built atop hills and defended by palisades. Like the Apache they practiced ritual torture, though the Iroquois also ate the flesh of those whom they tormented."

"During a century of Beaver Wars the Iroquois subjugated tribes as far west as the Mississippi. One of the losers in those wars were the ancestral Sioux, a woodland tribe who had once lived by agriculture till forced to migrate to the Great Plains. In time the Sioux became horse nomads, and subjugated the Arikara from whom the Sioux seized the Black Hills in 1776. Ironically that was not only the year of American Independence but exactly one-century before their Pyrrhic victory at the Little Big Horn."

"Which is why I have no patience with Native American activists who insist that we are living on stolen land. Is there any country on the planet where the original inhabitants have not been displaced at one time or another? At least Americans often acquired lands from the Indians by purchase or treaty, not just by war or theft. It was the Spanish and Portuguese who simply claimed vast lands for their kings and their church, ignored Indian sovereignty, insisted the Indians were the subjects of their Catholic Majesties by the Pope's decree, and conquered and enslaved them. That is literally what conquistador means, conqueror."

"Another sin Americans are often charged with is genocide." Delany pointed out.

I shook my head.

"It was European diseases to which the natives had no natural immunity which wiped out millions of Indians in North America. So blame their deaths on epidemiology not on intentional genocide. Forget legends about blankets infected with smallpox."

"Long before the arrival of colonists in New England the local Indians contracted diseases from European explorers and fur traders. Forty years before the arrival of the Pilgrims fisherman started making annual visits to the Newfoundland Banks harvesting cod for markets in Europe. When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth they found the Indian town deserted, their crops of maize ripening in the fields, which the pious colonists took to be the handiwork of God, preparing the land across the ocean for his chosen people."

"I'm not disagreeing with you." Kyle ventured. "but you must know that such views would not be popular on campus or in social media."

"Just another sad example of what is wrong with so many folks these days." I told him.

Kyle nodded.

"Even STEM subjects are being invaded by wokeism. Hence the effort to decolonize mathematics."

"Huh?" Paolo asked. "How could math ever be colonized? What does that even mean?"

In his best professorial voice Kyle quoted:

"A central theme in the decolonization of mathematics is questioning the epistemic privilege of scientific and mathematical reasoning over other beliefs, an approach consistent with postmodernist epistemology which prioritizes alternate ways of knowing."

"Alternative to what? Logic and common sense? So for those decolonizers, two plus two do not necessarily make four?"

Channeling those Ivy League college presidents on TV, I assured him:

"It depends on the context."

That drew rueful grins all around though Paolo was still bothered by the concept of decolonizing mathematics.

"It's all so much bullshit!"

"Nevertheless in woke circles, it is cutting edge stuff."

We all shook our heads at this latest example of human folly.

Will summed it up for us:

"Beam me up Scotty. There is no intelligent life on this planet!"

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