Futurama

Fan Fiction

Gladiatrix, Part 3
By Ramon 51

I dedicate this portion of Gladiatrix to all those who have ever wrestled with the guilt of having taken a human life in the course of State sanctioned activity.

The year is 3006. Leela is a wrestling with the devastating guilt of having killed in the Arena for the first time. Can she overcome her revulsion at the thought of having to possibly kill again? Will she go on and win freedom for herself and her crew?

 

Excerpt from "Origins of the Empire," from the Encyclopedia Romanicus, Sosius Brothers Publishing, Rome, Terranos Prime, 3010.

"The roots of the Empire go back to the year 70 A.D. During that year, survivors of a terrible genocidal war in the Multarra System visited Earth. They had originally come with the intention of colonizing the planet. After observing the Earth Roman Empire, they decided to leave Earth to develop on its own.

"In fact, so great was our ancestor's admiration for the Earth Roman Empire, they decided to use it as the blueprint for a new civilization. For forty years, they studied the Earth culture, adapted it in some places to avoid what they considered pitfalls, and transferred it to Tantalus Four, the Old Space Rome. For over 2,800 years that civilization flourished.

"In 2920, the Brain Spawn attacked Old Space Rome, wiping out its civilization. Fortunately, the colony of Terranos Prime - now known as New Space Rome - became the new seat of the Empire. By 3003 the Empire had largely recovered and begun to expand once again."


Leela's sleeping chamber at the Villa Marcellii in Ostia. The chambers are dimly lit by a pair of guttering oil lamps.

Leela lay sleeping on the bed, her face covered with a sheen of perspiration. Nibbler lay on her chest, clutched tightly in her hands like a child's favorite stuffed animal. Her breathing caused the sheet draped over her to rise and fall like waves on the ocean. Occasionally, she muttered something unintelligible or twitched in her sleep.

On the floor, at the foot of the bed lay Antistia. Curled up in a fetal position on a blanket, Antistia was cat napping. Even so, her taut, muscular body gave off the aura of a coiled spring. Each time Leela mumbled, Antistia swiftly arose to a half-sitting position. Once satisfied that Leela was still asleep, Antistia lay down and resumed her cat nap. Leela's nightmares had a predictable sequence, first the twitching, then the mumbling, and finally the awakening.

Leela was having the same again dream. She was in the Arena at the awful moment when she heard the snapping of Achillea's spine. Then, the Arena went dark, as if night had fallen without twilight. A thick mist rolled in from the stands, covered the ground, chilling her.

Achillea's corpse rose from the ground, deathly white and with her head set at an unnatural angle. Achillea advanced toward Leela, skeletal hands outstretched, asking in a ghostly voice, "Why did you kill me?" Soundlessly, a crowd of zombie-like gladiators shuffled onto the sand of the Arena from the Porta Libitinensisi. Within the blink of an eye, they surrounded her. They began to jeer, to jostle her, and to call her a murderess.

"No, I didn't mean to kill her," she protested.

"Liar! Murderess!" they screamed.

She could feel them pressing against her, pawing her. The smell of blood and decay they gave off was absolutely overpowering. Looking at her hands, she saw they were covered in blood. She felt her stomach churning and her knees buckling…

Antistia heard Leela mumbling, knew what it meant. She began to rise just as Leela sat bolt upright in the bed, mouthing a voiceless scream. Nibbler squawked, nearly throttled as Leela's hands clenched reflexively. In a flash, Antistia was at her side.

"It's alright, Leela. It's alright, it's Antistia. You are safe. It's alright."

"Oh dear God," Leela sobbed. "It was the same horrible nightmare. When will it end?"

"Leela, you will only cease to ride the night mare when you return to the Arena," Antistia said softly. "I know that you do not want to hear it, but it is true. It was the same for me after my first kill in the Arena. Only when I returned did the nightmares cease."

Leela looked at her through a flood of tears. "Oh, Antistia…I just can't bear the thought of it. I only meant to knock her out, like I knocked out Amazonia. She moved her head at the last instant. Now she's dead. And it's my fault…" Her voice trailed off and silent tears continued to run down her cheeks and nose.

"Ecastorii!" Antistia said with a note of exasperation in her voice. "Everything bad that happens in this world isn't your fault. It was Achillea's time to die. It was fate. Had she been standing in the middle of the Forum on a cloudless day, she would have died. At least she died with a sword in her hand. That means that by her beliefs, she is in Elysiumiii now and a damned sight better off than either you or I."

Her tone softened. "Leela, our fates are in the lap of the gods. I know you never meant to kill anyone."

With a far away look on her face, Leela began to speak. Almost in a whisper, she said, "No, I never did." She gave a wan smile. "I'm tired, my friend. Let's turn in for the night."

Leela lay back and closed her eye. She stroked Nibbler until he began to purr. "Poor Nibbler," she thought, "he sees so little of me." Still thinking of Nibbler, she drifted off into an exhausted sleep.

 

Excerpt from "Politics in New Space Rome," a paper presented by John C. Stone to the New-New York University Department of Political Science, June 12, 3015.

"The Emperor of New Space Rome is elected for life. The process, while strange to us, is quite functional, if heavily weighted in favor of the ruling elites. Upon the death or impeachment of the old Emperor, the Senate selects two candidates for the office. By law, candidates must be a Consul or have held the office of Consul.

"The candidates campaign for one month, during which they spend heavily on entertainments for the people. During that time the Princeps Senatusiv assumes the office of interrexv, a sort of care taker ruler of the Empire until an Emperor can be elected. Nothing is allowed to stop the election. It must take place one month to the day after the death or impeachment of the former Emperor.

"The candidates are elected by a majority vote of 18 of the 35 tribes. Since the smaller, rural tribes are not well represented in Rome proper, their individual votes are actually more valuable than those of the 4 urban tribes. So, wise candidates cultivate rural voters both well in advance of and in the month prior to the election."

 

Marcus Marcellus' office, Villa Marcellii in Ostia.

Marcus Marcellus sat in his chair, thinking about the events of the past few days. Daily the Emperor Titus slipped closer to his journey across the Styxvi. Soon the Senate and People of Rome would elect a new Emperor. Marcellus had employed every trick in the book to insure his election, staging magnificent games throughout Italia. It had brought him within striking distance of his goal, the Imperial Throne.

Still, there were some in the Senate who opposed him. A few, such as his most vocal opponent Appius Claudius had considerable auctoriasvii. But the Claudii and their supporters were in a distinct minority. If he could pull of a few more spectacles in the Flavian Amphitheater at Rome, just prior to the election, he was sure to win the support of the rural voters in town for the election. There was nothing the paganiviii liked to see more than a show.

But the keystone in his triumphal arch, Leela, was now in questionable condition. He had never seen someone so affected by killing another accidentally. A Roman to the core, he simply could not understand such remorse over what was an act of fate. He was pondering what to do when he heard a rap at his door.

"Yes, who is it?"

"It's Corvo, Domineix. You sent for me?" his voice slightly hesitant.

He smiled at the thought of his Corvo, no doubt hopping from one foot to the other as he always did when waiting. He called out, "Enter, old friend."

Corvo entered the room, looking about quickly before approaching Marcellus' desk. Marcellus gestured for Corvo to take a seat. As he settled in, Marcellus asked, "Will she be able to fight in the next few days? The Emperor may not last out the week."

Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Corvo replied hesitantly, "Domine, I do not know. If it were any other Gladiatrix, I'd say just treat her to a whipping or the hot irons. But Leela is different. Stronger than steel but as brittle as glass…a real enigma. Antistia seems to think she will be able to fight soon, but I just can't say."

Marcellus pressed his fingertips together as his brow furrowed, digesting this unwelcome bit of news. "Edepolx, Corvo! She has to fight. She is my assurance of the Throne. What can I do to persuade her?"

Corvo took the plunge, speaking quickly, "Domine, you can promise her the rudisxi when you are Emperor. Send Leela and her friends' home with honor and her peculiumxii."

Marcellus looked surprised. "Corvo, do you think so little of me? Of course she will have the rudis…and the honor and glory to go with it. As to her peculium, it goes without saying that it is hers. Let her know this, that I am prepared to free Antistia and Morrigan as well…if she will fight.

Corvo smiled broadly. "Domine, you have read my mind. Very well, I'll start right away…by your leave, Domine."

"Yes, yes by all means go, you wily old crow!" Marcellus said with a laugh. "No man ever had a better cognomen!xiii"

 

The garden of the Villa Marcellii.

Fry was sitting beneath an Altarian Pear Tree. Sometimes called "the Music Tree," the Altarian Pear had a distinctly musical sound whenever the wind blew…almost like wind chimes. He had just finished pruning it, so he decided to take a short break before going to the vegetable garden.

He heard someone coming down the garden path. Without looking, he knew from the light, measured footfalls that it was Lady Vibia. He rose to greet her. With a genuine smile he spoke, "Salvexiv, Dominaxv!"

Lady Vibia returned the smile, laughing as she did so. "Salve, Fry! My, you are becoming quite the linguist. How are you today?"

"Very well…at least I will be, once I finish in the vegetable garden."

She sat down on a marble bench near the Altarian Pear. The bench was of Xanthian Marble, beautifully veined with purple and red. She reached out and patted the bench next to her. "Come and sit with me, I have something I want to tell you." she said in a voice that to Fry seemed somehow oddly strained.

Nervously Fry asked, "Have I done something wrong?"

"No, you are by far the best gardener we have had in many a year…even Plautius says so."

"What do you need me to do, Lady Vibia?"

"Answer a question for me, Fry. Have you ever lost someone close to you?"

"Not really, Domina. I mean, when I was frozen, everyone I knew died, but I wasn't around to see them go. When I got unfrozen…they were gone. So I didn't really suffer, you know?"

Lady Vibia paused for a moment. Her eyes took on a far away look, then she spoke softly, "Yes, I see what you mean. I once had a son. His name was Quintus. He was twelve years younger than Marcus. He was a gentle soul, like you. As a matter of fact, you could pass as twins. He loved the garden so much."

As she spoke, Lady Vibia's voice remained steady. However, tears began to slide down her cheeks. When she finished speaking, there was a brief moment where the only sound was the soft chiming of the tree.

Softly Fry asked, "What happened to him?"

In a controlled manner, she responded, "He went to war. Ecastor! He looked so out of place in that damned armor. He was my baby…barely eighteen. Still, Rome demands military service of all male citizens. His Legion was fighting against some Space Pirates on a distant planet. He was fighting in the front ranks and fell, bravely facing the enemy. Or at least that is what they told me…"

Lady Vibia began to sob uncontrollably. It unnerved Fry to see the woman who he had grown used to thinking of as the rock of the Marcellii dissolving into tears. He moved closer and, forgetting that he was a servant, embraced her as he would have loved to embrace his own sports-obsessed, distant mother. Fry looked distressed as he said, "I'm so sorry. Please don't cry."

Lady Vibia seemed to come briefly under control of her emotions, "I'm alright. You know, I haven't been able to set foot in our house in Rome since Quintus' death…eight long years. That's why we live in Ostia. It would be better for Marcus' career if we could live in Rome, but I just couldn't."

Fry looked puzzled as he had little knowledge of politics. "He seems to be doing alright. I mean, Consul is a pretty big deal, isn't it?"

She seemed so tired! Her voice sounded tired as well. "I know he's doing well…but in spite of me. Marcus is Rome, you see. Do you know what he did when his brother died?" Fry nodded no.

"He led a fleet into the area where the Space Pirates operated. He utterly wiped them out." She paused, as if to regain control. Sounding bitter, she continued, "The funeral games were magnificent!" She began to sob again. "It is so hard to bear, so hard…" her voice trailed off.

Suddenly, Lady Vibia looked every bit of her age. The light seemed to go from her face. Waves of grief for her dead son seemed to smother her vital spark. The tears rolled down her cheeks, dripped from her chin, and pooled on the marble bench. Fry's face mirrored his heartfelt sympathy and concern. He embraced her again, wishing that her pain would go away.

He let her cry for a few moments before he spoke, "There, there, Domina, don't be so hard on yourself."

After a few moments, a look of determination came over her face. The tears ceased. Once again Lady Vibia was the stately Roman matron…one who had made up her mind. "Well, I'm determined to go to Rome for the next few months, at least until Marcus is elected Emperor. I intend to bring you along. Plautius can care for this garden on his own." Smiling affectionately at Fry she said, "I also intend to have you freed and adopted into our family."

Fry began to stammer, "I…I don't know what to say."

"Say nothing for now. I need to find the right way to put this to Marcus."

"Domina, what about my friends? I can't leave them as slaves…I mean, servants."

She looked at him kindly. "I will do what I can. Be patient for now, my son."

"Yes, Ma'm."

She rose from the bench, with a serene expression once again on her face. Before Fry could rise, she leaned over and affectionately kissed his forehead.

"Valexvi, Fry. Rest awhile longer and enjoy the music of the tree."

"Vale, Domina." He sat there for a long while, enjoying the setting sun, the smells of the garden, and the song of the tree.

 

Interior shot of a room in the Three Lanterns Inn between Ostia and Rome.

Appius Claudius sat alone in his room, waiting. It was a sparsely furnished room, not of the sort frequented by the haughty and warlike Claudii. A member of one of Rome's oldest patricianxvii families, he had great disdain for anyone not of his class. At the top of his list of people to hate was Marcus Marcellus, a man he considered a plebianxviii upstart…a nothing. Yet, unbelievably, Marcellus was sure to be the next Emperor!

"Not if I can help it," he thought grimly. Every effort he had exerted to drag Marcellus down, every attempt to impede his path up the political ladder had been thwarted. "Not this time," he said aloud. "Not this time."

They had never been friendly because Claudius was jealous of Marcellus' abilities. A small, twisted man, Claudius hated Marcellus with an unreasoning hatred. Now, he was preparing to cross a line that no Roman had crossed in a century and a half…assassination. He had chosen the feared Sicariixix to carry out the deed.

There was a knock at the door. "Who is it?" asked Claudius.

"Friends of Rome," was the muffled reply.

"Enter, friends of Rome," said Claudius with a malicious smile. Two men in travel-stained, earth-colored capes and tunics; their feet still dusty from travel entered the room.

The two men were of such unremarkable features that they could blend into a crowd almost instantly. The first into the room was a shade taller than his companion. He spoke first as well, "You have the bank draft?"

"Of course I do, you nameless oaf!" replied Claudius in his most haughty tone. Such nerve! How dare they address him, a candidate for the Consulship, in such a manner?!

There was a moment's silence and the second man spoke up in honeyed tones, "Your pardon, Domine. My partner sometimes is too business-like."

Mollified, Claudius said, "I have the bank draft – on an account which cannot be traced to me – for ten million Denarii. It will be paid into the hands of the holder, when the deed is done."

The two men glanced briefly at each other. The second spoke again, "Very well, the Brotherhood does not miss its targets."

Claudius said, "For your sakes, I hope not. Crucifixion is the easiest fate that awaits you if you are caught." He extended the scroll that had been at his side. The second man took it with a slight bow. Without a word, the two left the room. Claudius thought, "The thunderbolt is now unleashed. Even Jupiter Optimus Maximusxx could not save Marcellus now."

 

Briefing Room, DOOP Embassy, City of Cunaxa, Altair 5.

Anyone looking at Ray GunZ could tell he was not happy. His face, devoid of its usual animation, was frozen into an angry scowl. DOOP had no direct diplomatic relations with the New Space Roman Empire, so DOOP had to work through a DOOP member, Altair 5, to obtain documentation. Thus, he had been cooling his heels in Cunaxa for two weeks, waiting for the Altarian Diplomatic Corps to procure letters of transit to Terranos Prime.

The door to the briefing room opened slightly and a young, tall, blonde haired woman with dark rimmed glasses peered nervously into the room. Ray recognized her as Agent Gold, head of the GIA Cell on Altair 5, operating under official cover as the Second Secretary for Protocol.

"Damn it, what is her real name again?" he muttered under his breath. She was obviously intimidated by Ray as he sat there scowling and muttering, but she plucked up her courage and entered the room.

She strode up to him, trying to look confident and poised. "Good afternoon, Sir. I am Second Secretary for Protocol, Laurel Hill. Ambassador Stimson has appointed me as your new liaison officer." She extended her right hand.

Ray shook it, using the opportunity to size her up. She was in pretty good shape, if her grip was any measure. A lot of the men at Foggy Bottomxxi had a far less sure grip. Her palms were a bit moist, so she was nervous.

"Only natural," he thought, "I am an intimidating old bastard." Her eyes showed she was a determined type. Excellent! Maybe she would get some action out of the Altarians.

"Well, Ms. Hill, what's the plan?"

"Sir?"

"The plan, you know, our methodical means of attaining our objective…getting me on Terranos Prime as soon as possible."

"Oh, yes sir, the plan…" She flushed with anger and began speaking in a staccato, yet controlled manner. "Sir, this job was dumped in my lap 15 minutes ago. I just had time to go over the file that my predecessor was allegedly building" she paused to maintain control of her rising temper, then went on, "but frankly it is a mess. I'm just going to have to drop back five yards and punt."

Ray burst into laughter. Laurel stood there, puzzled. When he regained control in a few moments, Ray said, "Ms. Hill that is one of the most refreshing moments of honesty I've had in a long time. I'm going to my hotel. Come and get me when we have a plan, OK?"

"OK, Sir you can bank on it."

 

The garden of the Villa Marcellii, beneath the Altarian Pear Tree.

Leela sat on the Xanthian Marble bench beneath the Altarian Pear Tree, waiting for Corvo. She was wearing a violet colored stolaxxii, quite unlike her normal garb. Her hair was in a ponytail, but was held in place by a golden cord instead of its normal scrunchie.

As she sat, she watched Fry and Plautius wrestling with a large boulder they had begun to excavate from the garden. They had stripped to their loincloths and sandals as they worked in the muggy heat of the afternoon.

She was surprised at how Fry had changed over the past few months. He had found something he was really, really good at. It had given him a quiet confidence that she had never seen before…and she liked it.

When she had been so close to going insane with remorse after killing Achillea, Fry had visited her often. His boyish charm tempered by his new found confidence had been like a tonic to her weary soul. Abruptly, her thoughts were interrupted by Plautius' voice.

"Mars' ass!" shouted Plautius as he pushed down on the lever in his hands. "This boulder is not going to beat us!" In response, Fry merely grunted in agreement as he slammed his lever into a different position, repositioned his fulcrum, and pushed down with all his might. Leela could see the boulder began to move.

As she looked at Fry straining every muscle to move that boulder, she realized that his body had become lean, hard, and muscular. Months of work in the garden without Slurm and eight spoons of sugar in every cup of coffee had converted what she had once called, "a fat sack of crap" into a real hunk.

"Oh, God," she thought, "I can't let myself get attracted to him again. It will just blow up like it always does. Still…"

Before she completed her thought, Fry shouted, "Woo HOO! Here it comes Plautius!" She looked up and the boulder was nearly out of the ground. Fry and Plautius kicked wood under the boulder to make sure that it wouldn't settle back into its hole where it had rested comfortably for centuries.

Now, their combined efforts on their levers finally pushed the boulder free. It rolled out of the hole…and kept on rolling…down the hill, right towards the fish pond. "Oh, snap!" yelled Fry. Both Plautius and Fry snatched blocks of wood which they frantically threw in front of the now energetic boulder in a vain attempt to stop it. The boulder splintered them without even slowing down.

Crash! The boulder pulverized a portion of the pond's surrounding low rock wall. Splash! It rolled into the fishpond, and kept splashing along until it reached the middle of the pond, where it wobbled for a moment before it came to rest. Both Fry and Plautius stood there dumbfounded as the waves generated by the boulder changed into ripples, which subsided, leaving a mirror-like surface again.

Once over the shock, Fry said, "It looks kind of pretty, like it belongs there, doesn't it Plautius?"

Plautius thought for a moment and then began to laugh, "Son, you certainly have an eye for beauty. Not a word about this to Iocasta. And that's what we'll tell Lady Vibia if she asks…that we planned it all along." Both men began to laugh uproariously as they trudged back up the hill to get their tools.

Neither man was laughing as hard as Leela, who had tears coming out of her eye. They had looked so comical in their frantic efforts to stop the rampaging boulder! Both men smiled sheepishly at her as they gathered their tools.

Fry was about to walk over to Leela when Plautius noticed Corvo entering the garden. Plautius spoke softly to Fry, who merely nodded in reply. They walked back down toward the fish pond to repair the pulverized section of rock wall as Corvo approached Leela.

Corvo approached and sat without speaking. For a few moments, they sat beneath the tree, listening to its music. The last blossoms of the year gave off a sweet perfume that seemed to complement the music, a joyful blend of smell and sound.

With a sigh, Corvo spoke, "So, Leela, are you ready to return to the Arena?"

Leela answered with some emotion, "I do not want to enter the Arena ever again." After a pause, she continued, "But I must enter to save my friends. Escape is not possible…I know that. Adding Antistia and Morrigan to the equation only makes Marcellus' offer that more impossible to resist. So, no matter how much I loathe the idea of getting into a situation where I may have to kill, I am trapped. And I hate myself for it. For a while, I thought I understood Rome. Now, I must confess that I do not understand or even like it."

Corvo frowned. "I suspect you'd like it even less if you'd have fetched up anywhere but the Villa Marcellii. Do you realize how Fortunaxxiii has smiled on you? Marcus Marcellus is unique. In public matters, he is the personification of the mos maiorumxxiv, a Roman to the core. In his domestic life, he is the most unorthodox man that I have ever met. Have you ever seen a slave collar on anyone in his household? Does he avail himself of his "rights" as paterfamilias? Has he made you live in barracks like nearly every other Gladiator and Gladiatrix save for the most famous?"

Leela said with feeling, "Corvo, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to complain."

Corvo smiled and touched her cheek affectionately. "My child, please let me finish. I've been on edge lately and it has not just been because of you. I'm worried about Marcellus. The reactionaries hate him with an unreasoning hatred. They are convinced that as Emperor Marcellus would alter the mos maiorum forever. I fear they will go to any lengths to stop him from being elected."

"Have you told him about your concerns?"

"Yes, and he just laughed. Well, I fought at his side in three wars and the gods only know how many punitive expeditions. He never was one to take heed of personal danger. That is why I hired a new servant as a bodyguard today…and why we all will keep watch until he becomes Emperor."

"That could be months from now, Corvo."

Haven't you heard?" he asked incredulously, "The Emperor Titus died last night. We head to Rome before the week is out. You are to perform in the late Emperor's funeral games. If we all do our parts, in a month Marcus Marcellus will be Emperor of Rome and you and your friends will be free.

 

The Atrium of the Villa Marcellii, Ostia.

The Villa Marcellii looked like an anthill that had been kicked open. Servants, hired workers, and freedmen were heading in every direction carrying boxes, cleaning, and preparing for the move to Rome. Marcus Marcellus had left for Rome within an hour of hearing of the Emperor's demise. He had been wearing his toga candidaxxv, a specially whitened toga that served to declare his candidacy for the office of Emperor to all who saw him. Being a tall man by Roman standards, he wore the toga well.

The Lady Vibia was overseeing the work with her usual brisk efficiency. Amy was in another part of the house helping keep the children entertained with Nibbler as the focus of attention. Morrigan was near the front door, acting as a sort of doorkeeper plus intimidator of the lazy. Antistia was in the workout Arena, overseeing the cleaning and packing of Leela's gear. Fry had persuaded Lady Vibia to let Plautius come along to Rome…at least for a few weeks. Both of them were in the garden, making hurried preparations for departure as well.

Bender, it turned out, could not come. While robots were severely limited in Italia, they were absolutely forbidden to cross the pomeriumxxvi into Rome. As it turned out, the Domusxxvii Marcellii was on the Palatine Hill well within the sacred limits of the city.

He didn't much care to leave, anyway. He had gone out in Ostia once, and the furor he had stirred up by a minor theft that nearly resulted in his destruction cured him of any wanderlust. "Just turn me back on when this is all over, flesh wad," he had said to Fry. So, he would wait – powered down – until their return.

Leela stood with Morrigan near the front door, waiting for Corvo to arrive. Suddenly, Corvo appeared in the door frame. He came through like a man in a hurry, his toga barely in place. He nearly tripped over the door jamb, further disordering his toga. To Leela's eye, his frantic struggles to adjust the unruly garment made him look like a man being eaten by a blanket.

Leela gave a merry peal of laughter. His obvious air of disgust at having to wear the toga was just too much! She continued laughing behind her hand, not wanting to hurt his feelings.

It was then that she noticed that behind him lumbered the biggest man she had ever seen. He was truly of Amazonian stature! Muscular, red-haired, fair-skinned, and of proud bearing, he looked like one of the race of giants Leela had seen on frescoes in the Villa. She also saw that he wore the cap of a freedman.

"Togas are such a pain in the Podex!"xxviii Corvo said as he entered. Turning to a passing servant girl he said with a smile, "Chloe, get me a tunic, there's a good girl." That done, he turned back to Leela. "So what do you think?"

"I think you should avoid togas whenever possible," she said nearly doubling over with laughter.

At first, Corvo looked miffed. "I meant the new servant!" Then he began to laugh as well. "By the gods, it is good to laugh. I hate that damned toga."

He turned and gestured to the giant standing quietly behind him. "Leela, Morrigan, meet Orm. He is our new head bodyguard for Marcus…although Marcus doesn't know that yet."

Leela looked sideways at Morrigan. What she saw absolutely startled her. The normally placid Morrigan obviously had fallen head over heels in…well, if not love, at least in lust with the newcomer. Orm was returning her looks as well.

There was an uncomfortable silence, which was broken by Lady Vibia's sudden arrival. "Ecastor, did we finish yet," she said with some heat, "or has everybody just declared Saturnaliaxxix without telling me?"

Corvo recovered his wits first. "Pardon me, Domina, I am responsible. I was just introducing our newest household member to Leela and Morrigan. Orm, this is the Lady Vibia, the mother of your patron Marcus Marcellus."

Orm knelt on one knee in front of Lady Vibia, bowed his head, and said, "Salve, Domina, I pledge to protect your family with my life."

Somewhat mollified, Lady Vibia said, "This work will not accomplish itself. We have very little light left. Let's get back to work!" Everyone scattered wordlessly back to work. Orm, Corvo and Leela headed for the balcony at the back of the Villa that overlooked the bay to talk.

As they passed through the peristylexxx garden, Chloe caught up with them and handed Corvo a tunic, belt, and loincloth. He excused himself and returned, clad comfortably in a tunic.

Once they reached the balcony, Corvo spoke, "Leela, Orm, I will rely on you to keep Marcus safe until he is elected. No one has ever assassinated a reigning Emperor in our history. The Praetoriansxxxi are too efficient. Such is not the case with candidates, however. I'll let the two of you work out the details, but I want a constant guard over him when he is at home. I'll handle his public appearances. Understood?"

Leela nodded. Orm asked unemotionally, "Who is in command, Leela or me?" Corvo looked a bit surprised but answered without hesitation, "Leela. She knows Marcus best. When she is in the Arena, you are in charge." Orm placidly nodded in agreement.

Leela spoke up, "What if Marcus doesn't want the extra security?"

Corvo smiled, "Your job is to see that he doesn't notice. Now, let's get back to work or Lady Vibia will try to do it all herself."

 

Leela's Sleeping Chamber, Domus Marcellii, Palatine Hill, Rome

Leela, Antistia, Amy, and Morrigan sat facing each other in a circle on the Persian rug in Leela's sleeping chamber. By the light of the oil lamps scattered around the room, it was easy to see that between them was a half-empty silver flagon of dark purple wine. Several already empty silver flagons sat nest to it. Each woman had their own silver cup from which each had just finished taking a drink.

Amy asked, "What shall we toast next?"

Morrigan spoke up first, "To men!"

All four of the women began to giggle, and then laugh. When they settled down, Morrigan said once more, "To men!"

Smiling, the other three echoed, "To men!" They all gulped down a cupful. Leela, acting as the hostess, refilled everyone's cup.

Amy looked slyly at Morrigan as she asked, "Do you have a man in mind?" knowing the answer already.

"Of course, who else would I have in mind but Orm?" She continued in a dreamy voice, "Have you seen his muscles? Even Hercules looks puny by comparison." She looked at Amy, "Do you have a man?"

Amy pondered the question for a split second, "Well, he's not a man exactly. My Kif isn't human. He's from Amphibios 9. There's no sweeter person in the whole universe." She sighed, thinking of how much she missed him.

Morrigan turned to Antistia. "How about you? Who catches your fancy?"

Antistia grinned and dropped her voice to a low whisper, "I like older men, men with power. Can you guess who I'm talking about?" Everyone nodded no. She continued, "Marcus Marcellus is the man for me. Great power under great control, that's him. Ooh! I get goose bumps thinking about him!"

Antistia looked at the gaping mouths of her three companions and began to laugh. Leela was the first to react. "Antistia, are you crazy? You could never have him. He's beyond your reach!"

Antistia looked at Leela and said, "No more than Fry is out of yours!"

Leela flushed and replied in an emphatic tone, "I am not interested in Fry." With anger creeping into her voice, "That…is…over!"

"Dear friend, it is not over, I've seen how you watch him whenever he is around. Mind you, if I didn't have my sights set on Marcus, I might give Fry a toss or two." Surprised by Leela's sudden scowl, Antistia stifled a laugh and continued, "Your face is an open book Leela. You are brave and honest, which is why we all love you as our sister. But you terrible at lying to others, you are only good at lying to yourself."

Amy chimed in, "Leela, we've talked about this before. You know that you care for Fry, but you've been hurt so often in your life that you're afraid to let him get close to you. Why won't you admit it?"

Leela ground her teeth. "Damn it, I am not in love with Fry. He isn't even interested in me anyway. He has a new girlfriend, that rich bitch, Virginia." She struggled to hold back the tears as she spoke. They were right, she still cared for Fry.

Her mind involuntarily flashed through all the searing daily emotional pain of the Orphanarium. Except for the occasional scraps of affection she got from an overworked Mr. Vogel, she had been under almost constant emotional attack. Nothing she did could make the other kids like her, so the idea took root that something must be wrong with her. Like most painful misconceptions that bury themselves deep in the psyche, it drove her on like the furies of ancient legend. Those closest to her realized that much of her tough exterior was a survival mechanism to protect her vulnerable emotional interior.

Morrigan interrupted her thoughts with her almost pleading tone, "Sister, why do you not see that you are an extraordinary person? Do you think having only one eye makes you inferior? It is not so! You are the only Turanga Leela in our universe, fashioned by the gods for a special purpose. Thousands of men in Rome alone would give their fortunes, nay their lives, for one night with you. In my homeland, you would be a queen. Hear me, Sister!"

Amy chimed in, "You just need to sleep with Fry and get it out of your system. Once he's snu-snu'ed with you, he'll never want another woman."

Leela lashed out, "And then what? What if he feels that I'm just another woman? What if I'm no longer special to him? What if he's just like every other man…" her voice trailed off. A single tear ran from her eye and dripped off her nose. She thought, "No, I will not cry!"

Regaining control, Leela gave a forced laugh. "Too much wine always makes me stupid. I know that you all care for me. But please, let's lay off the subject of Fry for the rest or the evening, OK?"

Antistia and Morrigan nodded yes. Amy said, "OK, what do you want to talk about?"

"Your best ever snu-snu!" Leela responded with a grin.

The four women giggled like school girls before they resumed their conversation. It was late that night before they retired to their own chambers. As they left, Leela reminded them of their assignments when Marcus Marcellus was in residence. Nothing would happen to him while they were on watch, of that she would make certain.

Excerpt from "The Sicarii," from the Encyclopedia Romanicus, Sosius Brothers Publishing, Rome, Terranos Prime, 3010.

"The Sicarii, or daggermen, were the most feared assassins of both the Old and New Empires until they were finally stamped out in 3008 by the Praetorian Prefect, Sextus Julius Caesar.

"They referred to themselves as 'the Brotherhood.' Organized in three to four person cells for security's sake, members of one cell were not supposed to know each other. Frequently, but not always, members of a cell would be related.

"Their only weapon was the curved dagger kept concealed under their tunics or togas until the moment to strike. At times they would use envenomed blades, but such practice was rare. Too many Sicarii had died of accidental nicks from their own weapons.

"They normally planned their operations in such a manner as to achieve surprise. A sudden strike, followed by a rapid withdrawal was their style. If they failed to gain surprise, their assassination attempt usually failed as well."

 

Exterior of the Domus Marcellii, Palatine Hill, Rome

Three nights after the family had moved in was a new moon. The streets of Rome were dark as the Brotherhood began to assemble. In groups of two and three, they drifted to prearranged assembly points. The Domus Marcellii was their target.

They had planned this for weeks. The sudden arrival of the red haired giant caused them concern, but they believed they could bypass him. Their plan was simple, because all Roman houses were essentially of the same layout.

This would be the largest attack by the Brotherhood in living memory and the most audacious as well, killing a sitting Consul in his home at the very heart of Rome. However, the Praetorians guarded him during the day, making him too difficult a target. After all, the Brotherhood was not suicidal. They preferred the stab in the back whenever possible.

The plan itself was simple. The Sicarii divided their force into three elements: security, support, and assault. Each force had twelve members. The security force set ambushes along the routes in and out of the Domus Marcellii to insure that no reinforcements could get in or out of the Domus.

The assault element would enter the Domus, kill Marcus Marcellus and Lady Vibia, and kidnap the two children to stave off retribution. The support element would either reinforce the assault or security elements as needed. Withdrawal would be covered by diversionary fires set by the assault element.

All was in readiness. The assault element began to scale the Domus walls, confident of success.

 

Interior of the Domus Marcellii, Palatine Hill, Rome

Leela was not sleeping well. She was not troubled by dreams, just by a sense of danger that seemed to loom over the lives of all in the Domus Marcellii. So, she had taken to sleeping with her sword by her side. "I'll sleep better when Corvo gets back from Neapolis," she thought.

Lady Vibia had experienced a terrible sense of foreboding as well. Unable to sleep, she was pacing through the peristyle garden when she saw the lamplight coming from Leela's sleeping chamber. Like a moth drawn to a flame, she entered the chamber.

Leela rose from where she had been seated on the side of her bed to greet Lady Vibia. "Salve Domina. Unable to sleep?"

"Salve, Leela. Yes, there are too many ghosts in this house for me to sleep well. Also, I've had a feeling of impending danger that has gone from a whisper to a shout over the past few days." She looked at Leela's sword lying on the bed. "It seems you have some premonitions as well."

"Yes, Domina I've had…what's that?" She cocked her head to the side. The sound that had interrupted her conversation was an odd, metal-on-stone sort of sound, very out of place for the normal nighttime sounds of the Domus.

Outside, the senior member of the Sicarii assault element was silently cursing his brother for his ineptness with the grappling hook. He had forgotten to check the padding on the hook, it had slipped, and the sound of metal on stone had rung out through the night air.

Leela tensed, listening for any further sound. Though she heard nothing further, every fiber in her being tingled with a sense of danger. She recalled what she had learned at Safe House 451 in what seemed like another life. The instructors had been fond of saying, "It is far better to be on your guard with no reason that to be caught with your guard down."

She made a quick decision. Turning to Lady Vibia she said, "Something is up. Alert everyone on this side of the house, I'll take the far side. Do it quietly. Make sure to alert Orm first, followed by Marcus." Lady Vibia nodded and sped out of the room, moving very swiftly for a woman of 68 winters.

At the front entrance, the Sicarii assault element was noiselessly opening the lock. Their next task was to eliminate the doorkeeper, if the female slave they had bribed to seduce him had failed. They opened the door without a sound. There was no sign of the doorkeeper. They fanned out into the house; four heading for the children's room, two for Lady Vibia's room, and four for Marcellus' chamber while two remained at the entrance to secure their line of retreat.

Leela had just finished alerting Antistia and Amy when she saw the dark clad intruders pass, headed for the rear of the house. Morrigan was already awake, having been alerted by Lady Vibia when she roused Orm from his slumber. Fry and Plautius had already been concealed on guard outside Marcellus' chamber. Marcus Marcellus was awake as well, armed and armored.

The Brotherhood was about to experience the dreadful reality of having their raid turn into someone else's ambush.

Leela looked down the hallway at the four stealthy intruders. She turned to Amy and Antistia, speaking in the lightest of whispers, "They seem to be heading for the children's rooms. Let's go." Without a word, they moved out as silently as ghosts. Leela was in the lead, armed with her spatha and small shield. Antistia followed, armed with her twin daggers. In the rear, Amy padded along carrying a gladius.

The Children's Chambers

Three Sicarii entered the children's chambers, while one remained on guard outside the door. To their great surprise, the children were alert. Young Marcus stood in a defensive stance in front of his sister Julia, holding his gladius in both hands. "Dogs," he said, "surrender or die." They laughed mirthlessly and fanned out in a semicircle, confident that they could swiftly overwhelm the children.

Distracted by their prey, the Sicarii failed to hear the death rattle of their brother at the door. Leela had rounded a corner and thrust him through the throat with her spatha. She caught him and lowered his lifeless body noiselessly to the ground. Her spatha stuck briefly, so she struggled to withdraw it.

Without hesitation, Antistia assumed the lead, entering the room. She struck with murderous determination. Memories of how she had been torn from her home by raiders as a child fueled her rage. The first Sicarii was greeting Charonxxxii before he knew what hit him. The second had scarcely less chance, only managing to call a warning before he died as well.

The last Sicarii lunged at Antistia, determined to kill at any cost. His dagger entered Antistia's ribcage, piercing her right lung. Her two return strikes were perfect, piercing his heart and slashing his jugular. The Sicarii fell dead at her feet.

Antistia felt the pain in her side, knew what it meant. She felt her breathing becoming more difficult as her lung began to collapse. Her knees buckled as Amy and Leela entered the room. "Deus et Dominusxxxiii," she gasped, "please receive me unto your breast." Then she collapsed onto the floor as the darkness took her.

Leela quickly assessed the situation. She could hear the sounds of fighting in the front of the house. She also knew Antistia would die if unaided. "Amy, help me. Get something we can make bandages out of, quickly. Marcus, cut me a small piece of leather about as big as your hand, can you do that?"

Marcus nodded and picked up a leather bag which he began to cut up with his gladius. Amy stripped Julia's bed of its covering and ripped it into strips. Within less than a minute, Leela bandaged Antistia just as she had learned in GIA first aid class. Slapping the leather over the wound to seal the chest cavity, she wound the bandages tightly enough to hold the leather seal in place. She rolled Antistia onto her wounded side. "At least Antistia now has a fighting chance," Leela thought as she wiped Antistia's blood from her hands.

"Amy and Marcus – stay here and guard Antistia and Julia. I'm heading for the front of the house." Without waiting for their response, Leela ran for the front of the house.

Lady Vibia's Chambers

While their brethren were dying in the children's chambers, the two Sicarii detailed to kill Lady Vibia stealthily entered her chambers to find them…empty! Confused, they conferred briefly before deciding to head back to the front door.

As they exited the chambers into the peristyle garden, the last thing they both saw were two huge forms rising up from the ornamental shrubbery. Before they could register alarm, both Sicarii died.

Orm's sword, swung in a slashing horizontal arc, neatly decapitated his opponent. The head flew in one direction, while the body collapsed in another. Morrigan thrust her opponent through with a spear. As she withdrew her spear, the body crumpled to the tiles.

Orm turned and whispered to two forms crouched behind him, "Domina, you will be safe here. Remain quiet. Morrigan and I must attend to the Master of the House.

Without another word, they both wiped their weapons clean on their victims' bodies and headed for the front door, from where the sounds of a fight were emanating.

Marcus Marcellus' Chambers

The four Sicarii heading for Marcellus' rooms knew that there were supposed to be two servants on guard at all times. All they could see by the flickering lamps was a single orange haired form, sitting on a chest with his arms wrapped around a spear, apparently sound asleep. This was going to be easier than they thought.

The first two Sicarii stealthily approached what they supposed to be Fry's sleeping form. As soon as they were within range of a spear thrust, Fry came to life. "Ha Ha," he shouted, "got you bastards!" Momentarily off balance, the Sicarii hesitated. Fry taunted them. "What's wrong? So you cowards are only good at stabs in the back, is that it? Can't fight a man with a spear in his hands?"

That seemed to make up their minds, as they spread out in a semicircle in front of Fry. As they were deploying, the leader signaled the two at the front door to bring up the support element. Confident that they would be able to eliminate a single untrained servant, they advanced…straight into Fry backed by a fully armed and armored Marcus Marcellus. Sighting their primary target, the three Sicarii closest to Marcellus closed on him, while a lone Sicarii attempted to close with Fry.

Marcellus punched the Sicarii on his left with his shield, knocking him unconscious to the floor. Thrusting with his gladius, he wounded the Sicarii to his front in the abdomen. The Sicarii to his right thrust at Marcellus' chest with his dagger, only to have it glance off Marcellus' lorica segmentataxxxiv.

Fry kept taunting his opponent, calling him all manner of names. Faced with a spear, the Sicarii seemed content to keep Fry from aiding Marcellus. He never saw Plautius approaching stealthily from behind. His face registered surprise as he felt Plautius' spear enter his back. He crumpled to the floor, lifeless.

Meanwhile Marcellus dispatched the already wounded Sicarii with another thrust to the abdomen. The sole survivor backpedaled toward the door, waiting for the arrival of reinforcements. The first to arrive were from the household in the form of Leela, followed rapidly by the titanic forms of Morrigan and Orm.

The surviving Sicarii made a decision based on the rapidly deteriorating tactical situation. He pulled a silver whistle out and blew a series of short blasts. Then, he turned and fled. The assault and support elements, hearing the signal retreated as well. As they left, they started fires in several locations to distract the City Watch.

Marcellus stopped Leela from charging out the door to hunt down the retreating Sicarii. "They no doubt have ambushes set. We've done well enough." Glancing around, he noted all who were present. "Where are Lady Vibia and the children?"

Leela answered, "Lady Vibia went to alert the rest of the household. The children were well when I left them, guarded by Amy. Antistia is there as well, she was badly wounded while protecting the children."

Orm spoke up, "Lady Vibia and Chloe are in the peristyle garden, concealed among the shrubs."

Marcellus turned to Orm and rapped out orders in military fashion, "Bolt the door; keep watch for the Praetorians; allow no one else to enter; and secure that one tightly," indicating the still unconscious Sicarii, "I'll want to speak to him."

He turned to Plautius. "Go get Quintus Tuccius, immediately! And take Fry with you."

He then turned to Morrigan and said, "Go safeguard my mother." Finally, he focused on Leela, "Come with me." He strode rapidly to the rear of the house, wrapped in his thoughts.

The Children's Chambers

In an instant, they were in the children's chambers where Antistia lay on the floor looking pale and somehow shrunken. Amy was holding Julia, who was still trembling. When Julia saw her father, she literally flew to his arms, "Oh Tataxxxv! These men wanted to hurt us, but Antistia killed all three of them. She was like a fury, Tata. Is she going to die Tata? Don't let her die!" She began to cry, laying her head on her father's shoulder.

Young Marcus spoke up, "Antistia saved us father. I was no match for the three of them. She is a true soldier of the sand."

Marcellus motioned to Amy to take Julia. "There now Ju-Ju," he said soothingly, "Quintus Tuccius is on the way. He will help her to get well, if anyone can." After Amy took Julia, Marcellus examined the first aid Leela had performed. He spoke admiringly, "This is as good a dressing as I've seen any Capsiariixxxvi or surgeon manage. If Tuccius can get here soon, she has a fair chance of surviving."


i - This was the gate through which the dead were removed, normally byyoung men or boys made up to look like Hermes Psychopomos (Mercury),divine guide of men's souls to the infernal regions. The gatewas named after Libitinia, the goddess of burials.

ii - The mildest of expletives, roughly equivalent of "Gee"or "Wow" that was used by Roman women.

iii - Paradise

iv - Princeps Senatus literally means first (among equals) in the Senate. His office was much like that of the Speaker of the Senate in the20th Century US.

v - In New Space Rome, the Interrex was, as the name suggests, theInterim Emperor. His primary function was to insure that electionswere held on time.

vi - The Styx was a river separating the world of the living from theunderworld of the dead.

vii - The closest English words for auctorias would be personalstanding or clout.

viii - Literally, pagani means country people.

ix - Sir

x - The male equivalent of "Ecastor."

xi - The rudis a wooden sword awarded by the Emperor to a Gladiator orGladiatrix. It conveyed instant freedom and retirement upon therecipient. They could never be compelled to enter the Arena again,although many did because of the fabulous sums of money they couldearn.

xii - The peculium was money saved by a slave toward purchasing theirfreedom.

xiii - Cognomens were name that described a person. Some were puns. Forexample, a really ugly person might get the nickname Pulcher, whichmeans "Beauty." Others were appropriate, for exampleCorvo is derived from Corvus and means crow.

xiv - Greetings

xv - Madam

xvi - Farewell

xvii - Patricians were the Roman upper class. Originally, they held all ofthe power. Eventually, the lower classes, the plebeians, forced thepatricians to share power. Now all that was left was a fewpriesthoods that were reserved for patricians only.

xviii - See above.

xix - The Sicarii were the assassins of New Space Rome. They got theirnames from their favorite weapon, the Sica, a short, wickedly curvedshort sword that could be easily concealed.

xx - Jupiter Best and Greatest was the father of the gods of Rome.

xxi - Foggy Bottom is the nickname for the Earth Headquarters of the DOOPDiplomatic Corps.

xxii - The stola was the dress of a Roman lady.

xxiii - Fortuna was the goddess of…well…good fortune.

xxiv - The mos maiorum is a concept very dear to the Romans. Although itliterally means "way of the ancestors," it hasadditional meaning. It really means the way things were, are, andalways will be.

xxv - The toga candida was specially whitened by the pounding of chalkinto the fibers.

xxvi - The pomerium was the sacred city boundary of Rome, supposedly laiddown by Romulus when he founded the city.

xxvii - Domus literally means "house" or "home" butin this case, it means the main residence of a family.

xxviii - Podex is Latin for the fundamental orifice.

xxix - The Saturnalia was a festival during which slaves and mastersswitched roles for the duration of the festival. Wine flowed freelyand gifts were sometimes exchanged.

xxx - The peristyle garden was inside the central courtyard of the Romanhome.

xxxi - The Praetorians of ancient Earth were a military guard for theEmperor. In New Space Rome, they were also performed acounterintelligence and law enforcement function. Their network ofinformers made them feared and respected by criminals andintelligence agents alike.

xxxii - Charon was the boatman who ferried dead souls across the River Styxinto the underworld.

xxxiii - "Deus et Dominus" means "God and Lord" inLatin.

xxxiv - The lorica segmentata is a piece of armor that protects the chestand back with a succession of overlapping metal bands.

xxxv - Tata is Latin for "Daddy."

xxxvi - The Capsiarii were Roman Army medics.

Buddies