by George Gauthier

Chapter 6


Parkour is a sport where the entire built environment of a city is treated as an obstacle course, a training ground if you will for a game of applied acrobatics. For most participants it is simply recreation – the grown up equivalent of boys climbing trees or playing king of the mountain – but for me it was also a vital part of my survival training, letting me openly practice precisely those skills needed to escape and evade enemies while having a lot of fun doing so.

The idea in parkour is to move from point to point as quickly and efficiently as you can, using the unaided capabilities of the human body to run, climb, jump, fall, swing, slide, tumble, swim, or crawl (which actually has a technical name: quadrupedy, and I'll bet you didn't know that.)

Ropes, hooks, grapnels and the like are not allowed. The idea is to rely on your innate physical capabilities alone, without climbing aids or equipment except for sensible footwear like plimsolls and maybe gloves, though those are frowned on by the purists, among whom I number myself. In an emergency you likely won't have equipment or even gloves to hand so better learn to do without them.

I wear a pair of abbreviated bicycle shorts – low rise, skin tight, and with a short inseam. They are made of an airy, lightweight, porous, and sheer fabric at once both tan-thru and nearly see-thru. It is only the colorful patterns printed on the fabric which fool the eye into focussing on the colorful surface rather than on the naked body underneath, keeping the garment from being truly scandalous. I really wish they could came in a solid color to match my tan, but alas, that would be giving the game away for I would stand revealed in all my glory.

After a run, when I finally strip off for a shower, I am always surprised at how tiny a ball of cloth those shorts can be compressed into. There is practically nothing to the exiguous garment but color, perforations, and air. Shorts and low-top canvas shoes and a smart watch, that's it. That is all I wear for parkour.

The name of the modern sport of parkour is a variant spelling of the French word for an obstacle course, parcours du combattant only with the "c" changed to a "k" and without the silent "s", whence parkour. Participants are called traceurs, from the verb tracer which normally means to trace as a path or a line, but familiarly means to hurry up. And just as with a parliament of owls or a murder of crows, the collective noun for a gathering of traceurs at a competitive meet is unusual, a jam, though that meaning still hasn't made it into the dictionaries.

Some folks overthink the sport and expatiate grandiloquently on the philosophies and theories behind it, that it as much about overcoming mental and emotional obstacles as physical barriers. It is supposed to enhance self-confidence and critical thinking skills, and so on and so forth. Make of that what you will. I ignore all such highfalutin chatter. Parkour is physical – not mental however exhilarating it makes you feel.

The sport gives me a chance to test my nimbleness and strength not so much against others as against the limits of my own body as I overcame obstacles like walls, fences, buildings – especially derelict or unfinished ones, towers, trees, and ditches. I always feel exhilarated after a good scramble. It appeals to the boy in me, and what boy does not love to climb?

You should see me in action. As with the muggers that time in the alley I can run straight at a wall, jump and push my lead foot against the rough surface, getting enough impetus to grab the gutter or the rung of an old-fashioned fire escape and to swing myself up and out of reach of pursuit. From there it is easy enough to escape across the rooftops, leaping between buildings and across alleys. To shake pursuers off my tail I can clamber over construction scaffolding, trellises and arcades, climb up or to slide down drainpipes, or drop onto awnings, my agility and light weight making it easy to leave lumbering pursuers behind.

Parkour is at once modern and ancient. The sport itself was developed by the French army in the twentieth century. The techniques are ancient, by at least three thousand years. I got into what came to be called parkour out of necessity the first time Zeus tired of me (temporarily) and decreed that I should leave the pocket dimension of Olympus, at least for a time, and make my way in the world of mortals.

Needs must, and many a time I survived just by managing to scramble or climb up and out of reach of bullied, bashers and bigots, angry mobs, thieves and brigands, packs of dogs or wolves, and once from a gaggle of angry geese, the animal guardians of a villa in Roman Gaul. Their clipped wings kept them on the ground so they could not get at me as I made my getaway along an aerial highway in the canopy of trees.

Don't laugh. The wings and hard beaks of geese can deliver painful knocks and their loud honking raises the alarm, as famously happened early in Roman history when the fuss raised by guardian geese alerted its inhabitants to a sneak attack on their small city-state.

When we humans face danger, our bodies release adrenaline. It is the fuel for the fight or fight response. Now combat training is all about mobilizing that urge to fight whereas parkour is all about flight. Parkour provides a means to flee from threats rather than confront them.

I'm no coward and certainly no pacifist but I don't see why I should stand and fight when it is usually better to flee. Even if you defeat your foe you can still get hurt bad. I have nothing to prove to myself or to others about physical courage, no silly macho pride. I just want to live and let live, and sometimes, to keep on living, you have to run away, not to fight another day but to live another day. And what is wrong with that?

Had I myself not been the target of those muggers and had merely witnessed a robbery I would have helped out but only by calling 911 and blowing the police whistle I carry with me. I would not have charged three armed men to stop a crime where no one's life was at risk, only his property.

Fortunately I don't have to worry about bad guys on my parkour runs. There is safety in numbers and in parkour we climb in groups as much for the company as for the competition. Also one of us pulls lifeguard duty, an assignment which rotates among us. The lifeguard keeps up with the rest of the pack though usually just running along on the ground in our wake though he sometimes has to clamber over obstacles so as not to get left behind.

The lifeguard is our insurance policy. He keeps a cell phone handy to call for the cops or an ambulance or our lawyer, and he also carries a big first aid kit. It's not just for cuts, scrapes, and splinters but for serious injuries, like broken bones, or a nasty scrape on rusty metal, or serious hemorrhaging. Only one of us works as an EMT, but we all have had solid training in first aid.

There are real risks in parkour. You can get hurt bad though mercifully few of our kind are killed outright. We do occasionally get hurt but have avoided crippling injuries. The idea that a nineteen year old kid might wind up in a wheelchair as a paraplegic is so repugnant to our ethos that we make sure that everyone who runs with us is ready to participate at our level. Which is why we hold auditions and try-outs not as some puerile right of passage.

An indoor alternative to parkour is the sport of indoor bouldering at a gym where you climb a fake climbing wall. Bouldering presents many of the same challenges as rock climbing but it is safer. Most climbing walls are no more than twenty-feet high, and if lose your grip you drop onto a crash pad or mat. You face no problems from the weather and climb in a gym outfit plus special climbing shoes. Outdoor bouldering is riskier, but it is better practice for escape and evasion. Real rocks present problems which vary with the type of rock being climbed. Granite often has long cracks while steep overhangs and frequent horizontal breaks are characteristics of sandstone rocks.

My newest boyfriend, Constable Paolo Franco passed on a chance to join our group, saying that he did not care much for heights.

"I am not acrophobic. It's not like I freeze up or get the shakes when I am high up. Like I once talked a jumper out of a ten-story plunge. He had climb out onto on a ledge of one of the older buildings downtown. Suicide looked like a way o avoid a term in prison after the auditors uncovered his embezzlement of company funds."

"I kept my cool, and, as I had been trained, I first established a relationship with him, speaking calmly and evenly. I asked his name even though I already knew it, where he was from, about his family. I also told him about myself. He warned me not to grab for him. He would hate himself if took a young guy like me down with him, someone with so much of his life still ahead of him. I got him to trust me, and, over time, as we talked things over, he realized that, prison or no, he was not ready to die. So we climbed back inside, and he let me cuff him. I got a commendation out of that."

"The reason I don't much care for heights is that when I am high up, I am sometimes struck with an irrational fear that I will be seized by an irresistible impulse to jump off, hang the consequences. It's all I can do to resist the urge to grab a pipe or something and hang on for dear life instead of taking care of the problem which got me up there in the first place. Crazy no?"

"Actually Paolo, that feeling is much more common than you realize. So don't worry about it. You were functional on that ledge, which is what counts, so never mind that clambering around high places will never be the kind of fun for you that it is for me and my parkour pals."

"Right. It's fun for guys like you. It makes you feel like you're the King of the Mountain. Me, I get up high somewhere and think 'Yikes! What am I doing up here?'."

Kyle wasn't interested in joining our group either, but we did talk a lot about my climbing adventures.

"I'm just surprised that you and your parkour buddies never clamber over this big brick building of ours. I mean just look at all the potential handholds and footholds from the decorative brickwork on its facades, the gables, the overhangs, the stone window sills, and all the other architectural folderol the builder indulged himself with."

"Yes, It's a nice enough looking building though kinda weird also. I don't know what you would call such a mishmash of styles."

"I can help there. The technical architectural term for a stylistic mishmash is "Eclecticism." An architect would describe the style of our spooky old mansion as Elizabethan-Jacobean-Gothic-Eclectic."

"That's quite a mouthful!"

"Isn't it though?"

"And that porte-cochere over the front entrance, which is obviously a later addition, makes the historic preservation zealots shudder because it is 'not of the period' which, for them, is just about the worse thing you could say about a building."


"So Kyle, how do you know so much about architecture?"

"You can thank my roommate during my junior year. His name was Pieter Fluegel spelled with ue, the English-friendly alternate to an umlaut over the u. You follow?"

"Of course. You do remember that I am fluent in German and some of those books I have my nose buried in are written in that same language, some even in Fraktur type, which is pretty distinctive. (I can get along reasonably well in Dutch too though I don't read much in that language.)

"Pieter was studying architecture and got me interested in it. He seemed a decent enough fellow, and we got along pretty well at first , but I was glad when we switched roommates in our senior year. Our joint request for the change cited "irreconcilable differences."

"Ah! Like with a divorce. So what was the bone of contention?"

"Religion. He was an earnest Christian Scientist and kept trying to convert me, arguing that as a science major cum budding scientist myself I should appreciate and share his faith in Christ the Scientist. That's what they call Jesus, a scientist of all things."

"I tried to be tactful, expressing my total lack of interest in religion. My folks are freethinkers and the next thing to outright atheists so the way I was raised I had no use for religion. Faith in authority or sacred books offers wrongheaded heuristics, that is bad approaches for gaining reliable answers to the existential questions which engage our species. Christopher Hitchens said of religion that it was humanity's first fumbling attempt to understand the universe. Maybe so but now we have the scientific method. Anyway, whether for good or for ill, none of those creeds can provide reliable answers. The consolations of religion are real enough psychologically but only as answers which assuage or satisfy our anxieties. Truth is a whole different matter."

"The claims of religion are unreliable, based as they are on such flawed sources as prophecy, revelation, and/or a hodgepodge of ancient books of dubious provenance, each deemed holy by the adherents of a particular faith which condemns the sacred books of the others as mistaken or incomplete at best, demonically inspired at worst. "

"Necessarily then the only way they can settle issues between them is by force: the inquisition, forced conversion, book burnings, and persecution of heretics and schismatics whether Nicene Christians against Arians, Monophysites or Huguenots, etc. Wars of religion have pitted Protestants against Catholics or Sunni against Shia or Moslem jihads against anyone who hadn't embraced Islam.

"So what brought matters to such a head that you had a complete falling out?"

"I got fed up with his continual importuning and really laid into him putting it in religious terms, which I thought would get through to him or at least shut him up. I told him that science was the way we mortals investigate the universe around us, the way we learned things like Kepler's laws of planetary motion or Dalton's atomic theory in chemistry, or plate tectonics."

"In strict logic therefore the notion of Jesus Christ as a scientist was absurd because it contradicted itself. An omniscient being is one who already knows all there is to know about everything there is to know anything about. Such a mind can have no use for the scientific method. There is nothing for a god who already knows everything to find out by science or by magic."

[If that was not clear, scan that paragraph again. Trust me, it does parse.]

I finished by telling him just how much his position was self-contradictory. He might as well claim that something was wholly black and wholly white at the same time.

"Well that was putting it to him squarely. So he took it badly, did he?"

"Did he ever! Likely because my sally had struck too close to home, enough to make Pieter uneasy about his own commitment to so-called Christian Science. He struck back at me and brought a complaint against me for racial discrimination. You see he was black – actually half-black. His mother was an Army nurse stationed in Germany and his father was German. I am white, so it was beyond obvious that I must have been putting him down because of his skin color. How so? Because scientific rationalism is the worldview of the prevailing racist white colonial patriarchal mindset which oppresses persons of color in our world today. "

"What a jerk! I mean like how stupid can you get?"

"It made sense to the DEI bureaucrats in charge of the "investigation". Pieter's perception of the situation was all that mattered. I was lucky not to get expelled by their tribunal, a kangaroo court by any other name.

First off you had to represent yourself – no lawyers. No cross-examination of witnesses either or even your accuser. You couldn't even be in the room during his testimony. And the tribunal operated with lowest burden of proof. Your guilt had to be proved not beyond a reasonable doubt, nor by clear and convincing evidence, but merely by a preponderance of the evidence. So if fifty-one percent of the evidence pointed toward guilt and forty-nine percent to innocence, which would certainly have qualified as a reasonable doubt in any criminal proceeding, in their tribunal you were guilty."

"My case was just another example of how Woke the academy is these days. Everywhere those ideologues turn they see systemic racism, the remedy for which is affirmative action via lowered standards for the "underrepresented and the excluded", meaning certain favored ethnicities but not East Asians, South Asians, or Jews, ethnic minorities which manage to be successful on their own. Hence quotas, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions, speech codes, abolition of objective tests, and compulsory rules about chosen pronouns."

"In their twisted world view, both guilt and victimhood are heritable. But that cuts both ways. As a mix of white and black, Pieter himself was, by inheritance, both oppressor and oppressed and in equal measure, which cancels things out, not only for him personally, but by extension all those of mixed blood. When I told him exactly that, he nearly choked as he found the ground cut right out from under him. He got even angrier when I pointed out that his mindset and that of the DEI bureaucrats was a reversal of the ideal born in the Civil Rights Era of judging people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin."

"Then there are the outrageous claims for reparations even in states like California where slavery never existed except maybe the forced labor of Indians in the Franciscan missions along El Camino Real. For Woke activists some ethnicities are always the victims and others always the oppressors, which justifies guilt tripping white people and trying to steal wealth from folks like my parents who never owned slaves themselves, nor did their ancestors back in Ireland, while giving money, nice houses, or career advancement to persons who themselves were never victims of slavery here in the US of A."

"They claim that white people can never be victims, only perpetrators, despite centuries of oppression of my Irish ancestors by the English, the one million white Europeans abducted by the Barbary pirates for over two centuries including from raids around the Mediterranean, on England, Ireland, and even Iceland, or the Ottoman slave trade so named for the huge number of Slavs taken from Eastern Europe, whose very ethnicity was adopted into many languages as the term for persons held in bondage: slave, esclave, esclavo, and schiavo Then there are the millions of Europeans enslaved during the twentieth century in the work camps of the Gulag, POWs, Nazi and Japanese slave labor drafts from occupied countries, and so on."

"The conclusion I take from all this is that Wokeism is a dangerous crackpot cult, a new religion based on cultural rather than economic Marxism. This self-righteous belief system is ruining our colleges and universities. Nor does it stop there, allied as it is to Identity Politics which is corrosive to our entire polity."

"Amen to that! I mean...uh"

"I know what you mean, Troy."


"Anyway what about you? I noticed that you always use BC and AD for historical dates instead of the more modern and ecumenical usage of BCE and CE. Now we are both too young to be old-fashioned in that way so I would guess you to be some kind of Christian, only in a mainstream denomination."

"Actually I am a pagan, as unlikely as that may seem to you. I hope you won't hold it against me."

"Pagan? As in Zeus, Odin, and Osiris?"

"Just the gods of the Olympian pantheon. So yes to Zeus, Apollo, Hermes, and so forth. who are also know by their Roman names, but no to Odin or Osiris."

"Hmmm...I'll need a moment to wrap my head around that. Ancient paganism in the modern world! That is hard to swallow. And here you seem such a level headed sort, Troy... Hmmm, so is Troy Ganymede a stage name or maybe a joke played by your folks, or are you really the immortal boy Zeus took as a lover?"

Hardly the last. Ganymede is an Anglicization. I'm really Caucasian."

"Well so am I, though that's a pretty old fashioned term for White.

"No, I don't mean racially but ethnically. My ancestors hail from the Caucasus Mountains which separate Europe and Asia. Their original surname has so many consonants and so few vowels that even I find it hard to pronounce and spell. For the average American it would be impossible, so my grandparents adopted the closest name in English. But you are right, naming me Troy was mostly a joke, though it is also an echo of my grandfather's given name of Trofim. As for my professed religious affiliation, that is my own personal protest against all so-called revealed religions."

"OK, I get it. And what the hell! I'm liberal. So I'll just have to give you a pass on what has to strike me, no offense my friend, as a truly bizarre religious affiliation for anyone in this twenty-first century of ours."

"That's big of you, Kyle. Thank you for your broadmindedness and forbearance, love of my life."

Which brought an amused snort from my boyfriend.

I was indeed a pagan and had every reason to be. I knew, really knew, that my gods were real. My paganism was not a pose as I pretended nor a faith and not a mere belief, but an ineluctable fact. The Olympian gods were real. True, they are not actually divine, but that is a distinction without a practical difference given how powerful they were, fully capable of destroying whole planets with little effort. Of course I don't actually worship them, nor do they want slavish devotion and endless praise in return for a false promise of an afterlife.

The Greek religion into which the Olympians inserted themselves was not about belief or devotion. It was transactional. If a man wanted a favor from a particular god he would sacrifice a chicken or a goat or a cow, depending on how big the favor he wanted. So for his pregnant wife to deliver a son instead of a daughter a husband might sacrifice a goat. For ending a drought, a farmer would sacrifice a cow. And sometimes it worked or seemed to, and a son was born or the drought ended. That was what piety meant to the ancient Greeks.

In those days gods really did walk the Earth and engage with humans almost daily. You might encounter Ares fighting in the petty wars of the period, though, to give him credit, he usually supported the underdog or the victim of aggression, not only for moral reasons but because it made for a better fight with his own contribution standing out all the better. Ares held himself back a lot and fought with something near human strength but stronger and more resilient.

Fighting as a full-on superhuman would have defeated the whole purpose of incarnation in a human body. Ares wanted to feel the stress of battle at close quarters, hear the clamor of arms, endure the heat, the sweat, and the dust and to prevail in the end by main strength, not by his godlike powers. After all, like any of the Olympians, just by himself Ares could have won the Trojan War in an instant, by cutting loose with a blast of subatomic plasma and so destroying the entire fleet drawn up on the beach near the city of Troy or wiping out the camp of the Achaeans who manned those ships, or both.

The stories that have come down from those long ago days are blends of historical facts and the doings of the Olympians who took part in some of them. The feats of Hercules were actually the work of two different Olympians whose legends were later anthologized as the canonical Twelve Labors. Another myth, that of Acteon, disguises the reason that the young hunter was torn apart by his own hunting dogs. It was not because he had glimpsed the undraped charms of Artemis, but as a condign punishment for the brutal rape of two farm girls that same afternoon.

The legend of the Trojan Horse is based on the first use in siege warfare of a movable siege tower, later mythologized as a hollow wooden horse. The tower was the brainchild of the wily Odysseus who opposed the Trojans.

Other myths are basically history remembered through a lens of credulity. There was nothing magical about the Golden Fleece. The inhabitants of Colchis panned for gold by staking the fleeces of sheep in the beds of fast-running streams. After a time the fleeces were pulled out and thrown onto blazing fires, letting the locals later retrieve the flakes of placer gold left behind in the ashes.

Ultimately with the rise of revealed religions human religiosity got away from the Olympians, who did not want to play the old game under the new rules which were all about belief and orthodoxy and intolerance and elaborate but lamebrain metaphysics, so they largely withdrew from the world of mortals, seldom manifesting themselves as they had done so often in ancient times.

I would not be surprised if in the next millennium or two, the Olympians give up on humanity altogether and return to space to seek out another civilization to infiltrate and start the cycle once again. I understand that they do intend to stick around long enough to see if humanity survives its divisions and becomes a space-faring civilization and takes its first steps to nearby stars. They won't interfere if we kill ourselves off, however much they would regret our passing, though they would repel any alien invaders who arrived while the Olympians are in residence on Earth.

Humanity's predilection for war also makes them wonder if humans will become the next predatory species they will have to destroy as a plague on the universe. Though not for entirely altruistic reasons, they will not abide predatory species which expand through space at the cost of the total extermination of other species. It is acceptable for a space faring empire to expand to other solar systems and to impose their imperial rule over other species. The strong do what they can while the weak suffer what they must. That's just politics.

Extermination is something else again, something which they won't let happen again. They will not allow another holocaust on their watch, not in this spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy anyway.

So far they have destroyed species killers only twice. The Olympians have never shared the details with me. I know only that by highjacking the FTL spaceships of the offending species a pair of Olympians visited each of the home worlds and stolen planets and destroyed them utterly. FTL travel allowed them outrun the news of the vengeance they brought as they ultimately blew up some one-hundred and thirty planets.

It was easy for them. Arrive in a solar system, sink deep into the mantle of a target planet down to about halfway to the center, create four force fields the size of a beach ball equidistant from one other, convert the mass within the force fields to antimatter then depart. Once the Olympians got far enough away for a good view, they dropped the shielding around the beach balls allowing matter and anti-matter to touch and to interact which results in a total conversion of mass to energy according to Einstein's equation – all of the mass involved, not just a tiny percentage as in a hydrogen bomb. The result was an expanding sphere of sand and grit where a planet had once orbited around its primary. The solar systems survived much battered but colonies, space habitats, asteroid mines, and ships in transit died with their planets

Aside from the two times they hijacked FTL craft to bring chastisement upon the guilty, they don't use spaceships to travel between the stars. They are not in any hurry and would rather not rely on physical instrumentalities. So they sail across the gulfs of space at sub-light speeds via the pressure of starlight on vast and nearly immaterial sails which they erect from force fields. The pressure of light on a huge area adds up thanks to the minute acceleration from the impetus of the intercepted photons. About halfway from the target solar system they turn around and use the sails to slow down enough to achieve orbit.

So a journey of ten light years might take them two dozen Solar years, which is nothing to them. After arrival they move around the system by modulating the local gravitational fields.

As to why not just take over themselves, the Olympians shudder at the very thought of governance. They have absolutely no interest in running things as Emperors of the Universe. Too much responsibility, too many problems to shoulder. What the Olympians prefer is a universe filled with varied species and all kinds of life whether carbon based and oxygen breathing or cold planet species which breathe methane. Both empire and monoculture would make for a boring universe, leaving them with little to do.

Given all that, is it any wonder that, from my point of view, all the religions of mankind are ephemeral cultural artifacts, here one millennium, gone the next. For who still worships Zeus, Ahura Mazda, Mithras, or Osiris? And how many other gods are there on how many other planets? Or are aliens more sensible about metaphysics than we benighted humans?

The Olympians may have got their start on Earth as fictional beings from human mythology, but incarnated as they now were by space aliens, the Olympians are as close to gods as makes no difference. They will be around long after the Sun expands and turns the Earth into a cinder, which will happen after the Olympians themselves have moved on. They hope to survive till the heat death of the universe in some hundred trillion years. Even they do not know what happens after that, if there even is an after that.

So my general attitude toward religion is: No Thanks, It's Not For Me. But I am not like the writers dubbed the New Atheists including Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, admirable men who have taken up the fight against obscurantism. More power to them, but mine is a busy but more ordinary life devoted to work, intellectual pursuits, and fun. So I never sign up for crusades, no matter how noble the goal. I am not out to save the world; that is far too weighty a task for so insignificant a person as myself.

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