Year 413 P.A.
The day after Zeus’ death
Politicking was always a delicate, subtle art. Even in a monarchy of immortal gods, perception and appearances were all; even the young Zeus understood this. Accordingly, it was with great care and exacting purpose that the great rectangular feast table had been arranged by him and the Majordomo. The seating was as thus:
For Zeus himself was reserved the highest and grandest seat of all, a resplendent golden throne adorned with thunderbolts wrought from electrum. His place was naturally at the head of the table, for he was king. Sharing the end of the table with him was Hera, the queen, who sat beside him on the left atop a silvered throne adorned with imagery of cows. Though they were not with them at the head of the table, Athena and Hebe still came next; however, at that moment Athena was not present, having excused herself to retrieve her gift to the king of the gods. Because they were the king’s children, theirs were the auspicious spots closest to the end, with Hebe on Hera’s side and Athena on Zeus’, taking the especially prized position as the king’s right hand. The goddess of wisdom arrived just as everyone had finally started to settle into their chairs, striding past with military speed - it was her manner to go everywhere quietly and at speed, her movements betraying nothing other than single-minded purposefulness. Stopping at the head of the table, by Zeus’ seat - throne, really - she fell to one knee and presented him with a broad-bladed quantising antimatter amorphodantium
energysword forged and reforged until its purity had caused the entire blade to become a faint blue, and odd patterns reminiscent of flowing water to run along the entirety of the blade. Currently dormant, Athena had painstakingly laboured over it in her Tartarian FORGE facility, and refined it so that it would only ever respond to the touch of the highest of the gods; the merest contact by him with the nanofibres interlaced along the entirety of the white hilt would immediately cause the stabilised antimatter power nexus embedded within the hilt and inside the blade to issue forth a devastating antimatter corona that would destroy all forms of matter on contact. Within that antimatter corona was a second layer of disruptive energy issued by multi-energy nanotransistors that acted to ensure the blade was as effective against all forms of energy as it was against matter. “It came to you last, Almighty Zeus, but let it not be least.” She spoke softly, eyes downcast as she sheathed the blade and extended it, perched gently on her hands, to him.
“Speak not such things, for neither it nor you could ever be the least,” he answered softly, accepting the blade with ginger hands. “It’s beautiful. Perhaps before this year is passed, this blade will have shorn Typhon in half.” It sounded like an idle platitude, but Zeus was indeed imagining the thing cleaving through Typhon -- or Isaac Holcomb, as it was. Ruminating upon Typhon had consumed a good deal of his mental energy that morning, but he resolved not to let it show, and so directed his full attention to the assembly before him.
Athena took her seat at last and her eyes fell upon those of her sister, Hebe. The two sisters faced one another across the table, opposites in every way. Hebe’s chair was decorated with images of the eternal ouroboros and the immortal phoenix, while Athena’s had been personally carved by the goddess from olive wood and was replete with intricate olive motifs, medusoid ornaments, and owlish designs. It was in every way the display of masterful craftsmanship she had intended it to be. Athena’s grey eyes observed the girl for a few moments, she gave the slightest of smiles, then let her gaze fall down towards her feet. Hebe on her part avoided looking at Athena altogether as the Olympian Princess and Queen Hera walked over to their end of the table. There was faint whispering between the two royal ladies.
Next came the spymistress Apate, seated to Athena’s right. Hers was a sable seat so simple and unadorned that it seemed out of place, especially beside that of Athena, but it was comfortable enough with its cushions of black velvet. Hermes’ place was situated across from her and to Hebe’s left, the mercurial god’s chair decorated with motifs of fish, winged birds, palms, and the likeness of his beloved caduceus. Past Hermes came Demeter’s place, her seat appearing to have been grown from the hard floor. Thick vines thrust from the floor, entwined into a solid mass. The back of the chair converged into a delicate wreath of floral sprays. And then that of Artemis, smooth, silvered and looking rather uncomfortable. Across from them, Apollo sat beside Apate, and across from the virtuoso was Eros. There was no real space for Hephaestus (or Coeus as he insisted) now, the late Zeus in his ire ordering the engineer’s chair scrapped after he’d decided to disfigure himself and take the guise of a cat, but near the far end there was enough open space for the cat to at least bring his hoverboard up to the table.
And then on the opposite end of the table, furthest from Zeus and Hera, were the obsidian seats for Hades and Zagreus, the only scion that had a place at this high table. Their chthonic thrones were ornately fashioned with deathly iconography, each arm of the placements ending in sculpted skulls and both backs ending in a pair of crossed bidents. Hades might have disliked the great distance between himself and his supposed brother, but in truth that was a place of honor too; giving him the other end all to himself was some soft recognition to his title as king of the underworld. That placement almost made Hades look like Zeus’ equal… almost
For the rest of them, their distance from Zeus’ end of the table was supposedly a mark of their standing with him. In reality, it was more indicative of their usefulness and the frequency of their interactions.
And of course, the table itself was topped with a feast of all manner of choice things. A few calves and lambs had been claimed as tribute from nearby villages, and the choicest cuts had been slowly roasted. Hellas’ massive and bountiful oceans made seafood a staple for much of the planet, so a great many fish had also been prepared: blackened salmon with lemon and dill, spiced tuna with rice and creamed cheese and seaweed wrapping, and even seared steaks of swordfish, boiled octopus legs in a rich dark sauce, and dishes made from other aquatic creatures that were stranger yet. Aside from those main fares, there were too many smaller things and finger foods for anyone to possibly sample. Little sandwiches, layered baklava pastries filled with honey and almond, crisps with cheese, all manner of sweetmeats, and a dozen different fruits were on offer. Seemingly fantastical apples gleamed more vividly than gold or jewels rested on platters, but they were not mere decoration; even their gleaming peels were edible, and the flesh inside was delicious. Dates, figs, and pears were there too. A myriad of grapes of all manner of colors, size, and wild flavors surrounded the other fruit on the platters. Courtesy of genetic engineering done long ago under Demeter, there was a grape for almost every sweet or sour flavor that one could want for. Then there were bits of cheese and pickled olives to cleanse the palate, and pitchers of wine and ale were scattered here and there to wash it all down.
And then there were amphorae filled with ambrosia
, perhaps the most legendary item of all. In reality, the stuff disappointed; it was glorified nutrient paste synthesized from chemicals within an automated reactor that came as a relic from the ship. In time the mildly sweet, carbohydrate-rich goop could grow on a person, and by virtue of being so nutritious you could live on it and little else, but the lack of texture and odd taste of all the minerals made it far from a gourmet’s first choice. Zeus had tried the ambrosia exactly once, and that had been enough. Still, a few ascetics in Heaven favored it, whether out of some deliberate rebellion against decadence or just to cultivate a severe and disciplined reputation. On the rare occasions he had observed Athena to eat at all, for instance, it had been some kind of specially altered ambrosia of her own engineering. She eschewed - nay, perhaps looked down upon - all else.
When Hephaestus came upon the table for the first time in nearly two centuries, a familiar feeling of nostalgia washed over him. This sweet reminiscence however was quickly disturbed by a glooming reminder: his seat had been replaced. Immediately his snout turned to a frown as Coeus quietly hissed at Hermes for having supplanted his old spot. Once upon a time it was Coeus who was the favorite of Olympus. Now look how the Master Engineer had fallen from grace – all due to Zeus’ unwillingness to accept the new
him. T’was nearly enough to make a grown panther cry.
“Please, be seated,” Zeus’ voice rang out. His head cocked just slightly to glance at the absurdity that was Coeus, who’d come to hover near Hades’ end of the table. To think he was Olympus’ best engineer, and perhaps the one who’d brought the greatest gift! Perhaps the real joke wasn’t Hephaestus, but rather the rest of the council. The king shook the thought out of his mind and took a few steps over to pull out Hebe’s chair for her. He offered her a hint of a smile and a reassuring pat, then paced back to his own place. The Princess replied with a nod and a curtsy before sitting down, followed by a hushed “Thank you..’’.
They’d all taken their seats by then, but still the king himself remained standing.
“So I am king. There will not be any coronation, because Zeus was already king and still is king, forever shall be king, and so forth. We are all agreed on this, yes?” His gaze flitted back and forth, scanning them all, lingering on the faces of each and every one of them in turn. “Swear your allegiance. It’s important that in these trying times, we begin with that
. So that will be our first of many matters to address today.”
“It seems curious you would demand an oath of allegiance given we have already sworn one to you.” Hermes drawled, holding his helmeted visage up with one elbow propped up irreverently on the table. “After all, you are
almighty Zeus, King of the Gods and the Heavens, the All-Father on High, and always have been. All this fuss about new beginnings seems so terribly confusing to me, given nothing has changed.” He turned his faceted visor to stare dead at Zeus. “Am I right?” He asked rhetorically to the assembled high pantheon. “We are all loyal and avowed subjects to Zeus and always have been.”
Zeus smiled icily at the messenger of the gods. “Of course. You speak truth, and this shouldn’t
be necessary, but I have to make sure that this was understood.
It would not do to have anyone think otherwise. So reaffirm your allegiance.”
“Naturally.” Hermes said cheerfully as he finally corrected his posture and sat up straight in his chair. “I imagine you would like this expedited, but formalized? For the sake of our recordkeeper over yonder.” He gestured to GULA’s EMU, stood silently at one end of the room.
Zeus affirmed the notion with a small nod. Of course, GULA wasn’t there as a recordkeeper
, but they didn’t need to know that yet…
“Well I can hardly make such a formal avowal without my badge of office…let’s see…where DID I leave that damn thing…” Hermes made a play of patting down his feathered cloak. “Ah. According to my staff I appear to have let you borrow it for a while. Would you happen to have my
Kerykeion on you at the moment, All-Father?”
Now Hermes was making a nuisance of himself, and Zeus didn’t bother to hide his annoyance. “Messenger,” he addressed the god, smiling widely, “be quiet. Now is not the time to ask for your toy back.” The king looked expectantly at the rest of them. Hermes shrugged before making a gesture indicative of zipping his lips with one hand, before craning both arms behind his head and leaning back in his seat.
have let Hermes’ impudence go so that there wouldn’t be even more of an interruption, but he couldn’t help himself. That last little mocking gesture had made him seeth even more, but he had an idea. “Actually Hermes, why don’t you take off that helmet? We’re trying to speak and have lunch here, as a family.
” That last, strange word rolled off his tongue roughly. It wasn’t one that the clone had heard or used more than a few times in his life.
Hermes shrugged again and raised his hands to his helmet. There was a loud, buzzing hiss as atmosphere vented from a seam that abruptly materialized around the messenger’s neckline before the messenger removed it and set it on the table.
Hermes’ face stirred no recognition in Zeus’ faded memories whatsoever. It was as though he were gazing at a stranger. If the original Zeus had ever known the semblance of the Herald of the Gods, this was not it. His face was rounded, with foxen features and pronounced cheeks, and his curled hair was a dusken black with flecks of ruddish gold. His expression was nothing less than one of self-satisfied smugness - an easy and effortless smile that never quite left his face, leaving a habitual crook in the corners of his mouth. The only irregularity about his appearance were his eyes - low and lidded, revealing nary a trace of tension, as the corneas were a solid black in coloration, and his irises a field of opalescent stars.
A thud rumbled across the table as Hades, the abyssal deity, shifted his weight onto the ornate slab, rustling plate and plaster alike. The chthonic king leaned onto his armored elbows, bringing his clawed gauntlets into a steeple before him. “Hermes speaks the truth in one matter, brother, we have already sworn our allegiance to you upon Olympus many, many years ago. The Fates have decreed that you will forever be vested as the High King of Hellas and beyond. It goes without saying, but you have my - and those of my realm’s - allegiance. Glory to you, Zeus!” The thundering voice of Hades finished, casting his gaze across the table to the rest of the Pantheon. Twin, azure orbs narrowed on Hermes for a second longer as his facial features swiveled to the High King and inclined his head in a bow. His stern features rose once more after eventually being acknowledged.
The chthonic prince, stiff and uncomfortable, cast his emerald gaze across the Pantheon before joining his father’s gesticulation. His unkempt, black hair bounced as he inclined his head in a bow to the All-Father of Olympus. “Glory to you, Lord Zeus. As my father said, so shall I. You have my allegiance.” Zagreus spoke in an unnaturally formal tone, under laden with unease after the previous accidental
confrontation with the High King. His emerald eyes rose to rest upon Zeus, and then on Hebe with an uneasy, small smile. To this Zeus nodded slightly, once, twice; first directed to Hades and again for Zagreus. He sensed the prince’s unease and made a deliberate effort to relax his own expression and posture. Of course, even that failed to break all of the tension in the air.
The pregnant atmosphere was anon pierced by a loud, dull crack. Imperceptible in the instantaneous flow of her motion, Artemis had stood up; but where her movement had been soundless, not so was the impact of the long, recurve hunting knife she had driven into the wood of the table. Her hand kept a firm grip over its bone hilt as she looked up at Zeus' throne, with such intensity as if nothing else around them existed. For the king’s part, he tilted his chin and raised his eyebrows; she’d commanded his attention.
"It was not I who swore allegiance to the King of the Gods in my place, and it was not you that it was sworn to," she began, "But our loyalty has always stood regardless. It is the oath of the forest to Olympus, more than any words that run from mouth to ear. So I'll swear now to you, High King, that as long as the trail of my knife is on your table you will have nothing but obedience from me, but this is the echo of words older than us both. It's not mere fealty that ties us, but fate." A satisfied smile and a nod were the response that she earned from Zeus.
"You're doing well, dear." Eros quietly said to Zagreus, giving him a reassuring smile and a squeeze on the arm after he finished saying his allegiance. The god of love stood up gracefully and turned to Zeus, their cherubim hair and face contrasting the intense red of their eyes. "The original Eros had sworn loyalty to you eons ago, Lord Zeus, and that will not change now. As the current title bearer, this Eros will serve you dutifully and swear allegiance to the High King in the name of love." They said serenely and with a bow, to Zeus’ approval.
Eros then turned to the other members of the Pantheon. "Now, now. There's no need for all this tension in the air. We are family, yes? Please don't tell me this is how we'll always be whenever we all gather together again. Let us all be cordial and warm for the sake of family. Unless of course, you all want me to lighten up the mood…" Eros playfully said and giggled before sitting back down on their seat.
"Another time, dear Eros." Apollo tittered, briefly tearing their gaze from Zeus to the god of Love. "I suppose I would agree with Hermes, in a sense, for complex philosophical reasons I will not bore all of you with -- nonetheless, I will duly reaffirm my loyalty, as will all my kin, as is good and appropriate," she said, dipping her head in a small show of careful deference.
“Take heed not to agree with him too often, lest your mind fester and his ways become your own,” Zeus quipped back, surprised by his own vitriol. But he waved it away with a hand. “Your loyalty is appreciated.”
Next came Coeus’ turn to make his loyalty vow. ‘’I, Hephaestus the Hypernaut do so solemnly pledge my subservience to the King of Olympus, Zeus the Magnanimous Omnipotent.’’ The cat declared as solemnly pompous as possible, holding out a metal appendage from his hoverboard onto the table.
“And your pledge is happily received, Engineer,” Zeus answered back with what bordered upon unnerving enthusiasm. “I do look forward to working with you, especially over the coming days, on the specifics of your gift’s deployment. All in due time!” The king found himself wondering if the eccentric cat didn’t deserve a choicer place at the table, but he kept such thoughts unvoiced for the time being.
Demeter eyed each fellow god as they spoke, but it was Hades’ reaction she had been most intrigued to see. First to readily agree after that scamp, Hermes said his piece. The goddess was stoic in her musings, though by the time that she felt a moment to put herself forward, the whole proceedings had felt like they had gone on too long. “I, Demeter, do pledge my fealty and that of my kin, to you, Zeus.” What more was needed than the affirmation the reborn king desired - however curious that may have been.
Athena was last to speak. Leaning forward in her seat and resting her elbows on the table, she allowed her gray gaze to drift across the faces of the other gods, a small smile, uncomplicated and candid, frozen on her lips. She paused on Hera’s eyes, her smile falling away as she beheld the woman. Sophia, the clone who had so impeccably filled Athena’s role in Olympus since the previous day, had naturally made it her first priority to visit the woman and comfort her, but no amount of comfort could chase away such grief. It was only a momentary pause, and her eyes shifted and stopped, at last, on Zeus. The smile returned to her lips and she nodded to him. “I am but an extension of you, my lord.” She spoke in her characteristically gentle tone, then leaned back into her chair and said no more, her eyes downcast and mind seemingly elsewhere.
“Good, then.” Finally satisfied with the lot of them and their renewed fealty (for whatever the words were worth; even Zeus estimated their value to be little) the king seated himself at last. He carelessly seized a single grape and popped it into his mouth, biting into it to experience a pleasant snappiness to its texture and an explosion of blue raspberry flavor. He swallowed it quickly and pointedly, waving a hand; now that he’d claimed the first bite, they were all free to help themselves if they had the appetite for it. Zeus didn’t.
“Now we can move on to other, important things,” the king went on. He’d almost said more
important things, but he’d stopped himself before tripping there. Their fealty was
important. “I know that what most presses your minds will be the gruesome events of yesterday… truly sickening, horrifying. The attack on my prior incarnation was an attack on my own person too, and by extension upon all of you, and Olympus itself, and upon reason and order and the state and so forth. It cannot and will not stand, and for that matter I immediately took it upon myself to lead the investigation.”
He stopped, remembering himself. Lost among all the indulgent platters and plates of the banquet, there was one particular device and its remote. Zeus found the controls and activated a noise-cancellation field that surrounding the table and its immediate vicinity; none of the guards and servants attending them from a few feet away would hear anything, let alone anybody closer to the gates or across the courtyard at the tables that had been set aside for most of the scions and lessers. Even Majordomo Zelos and the GULA’s EMU had been left to watch and wait just beyond the veil of silence. No, here they had the privacy of their words, even if they remained visible. It was good and deliberate that they were seen together out there in the courtyard, though.
“Now we can speak more freely. Rest assured that I have been diligent and tireless in the investigation’s work; the last day and night has been entirely devoted to it. It took me from the palace’s highest levels to its lowest, through all manner of dusty vaults -- and as an aside, I did uncover one old artifact that might be of interest to you all. I’ll even share it; perhaps its rediscovery will bring some light to these dark times, and repay the generosity of all these gifts you’ve brought.”
Zeus smiled and clapped, almost instinctively. Then he remembered that nobody beyond the table could hear, and irritated at himself for looking the part of a fool, he glanced over his shoulder to try and signal his majordomo. The ever-vigilant Zelos had seen
and understood the clap though, and he was already gliding forward. When the minor god leaned his head through the energy field, Zeus commanded simply, “Bring the relic.” Then Zelos was gone as quickly as he’d come, and the king was left to continue his allocution.
“We tore the palace apart, turned it upside down,” he summarized. “143 servants, guards, and other potential witnesses have already been questioned, 86 of those subjected to memory audits, a half dozen tortured,” he detachedly rattled off. “Full forensics analysis was done of the scene, the remains were transferred into the custody of GULA for an autopsy, and of course, I consulted what relevant data S.I.H.T. could provide. I even took it upon myself to go through all of my past incarnation’s personal effects -- not just to inventory and claim them, but to try to find anything unusual, any suspects or possible motives for this butchery and defilement. It will take time to go through all of his journals and logs; I confess I’ve only read a miniscule portion, but then, they span centuries and I’ve had mere hours.”
He stopped. There was an icy, long, and very uncomfortable silence while he let the news settle in. He waited longer still so that it could ferment and fester, and then finally he broke the silence with a chuckle of all things. “You may think this excessive, or myself mad or obsessive. But it’s like I told Zelos: I’d sooner raze the whole palace to the ground than suffer potential traitors, assassins, spies, or conspirators to skulk within its august halls.
” Pointedly, this meeting was happening outside
“You must also understand that I had to do this without consulting any of you at first. I know that we are family
and should be able to trust one another implicitly, but it would have been foolish not to wonder… there’s only so many that would have had the knowledge, the power, the connections to do this -- nobody could have done this alone or without leaving a trail, no matter how genius. Fortunately, I’ve made some findings, and what evidence has been uncovered thus far points in directions away from this table.”
Apollo, all the while, twisted her expression into knots, already deep in thought as the god of knowledge was often wont to do. "It is most reassuring that the culprit does not appear
to be among us, My King." Apollo interjected, forcing her expression to relax somewhat as she looked toward Zeus, making certain to look at his face without directly meeting his gaze. "...I must notice the trepidation with which you speak, however -- the evidence points away from us," she said, gesturing around the table with her left arm. "But does it point away from Olympus?" Zeus raised both his eyebrows but didn’t answer; he was enjoying the drama of drawing this out.
The chthonic king carefully listened to the words of his elder brother and Apollo, picking apart particular phrases and sifting flowery language to get to the core of the matter. Without even realizing it, he had already arrived at the answer to the conundrum before them. He raised a clawed hand, waving it dismissively at the notion of the murderer within Olympus. “Brother, you’ve gone through all of this trouble when the answer is outside of the High Pantheon. We’ve been waging wars with him for nearly four centuries. The most obvious culprit is Typhos - damn his existence to Tartarus. For the transgression of assaulting your previous incarnation, I shall swear wrath and murder upon Hellas
.” Hades’ thunderous tone was resolute, firm in his findings to the point he appeared as if ready to do just as he spoke. Only when his scion put a hand on the abyssal lord’s shoulder did his fury momentarily pass.
Zagreus returned to a calm demeanor after halting another episodic rage from his father. The chthonic prince gave a short smile to Eros after their comment before returning his emerald gaze to the speakers of the High Pantheon. He dared not speak, though his mind ran amok of the possibilities. Each thought he gathered, however, was an equally heretical one. The scion felt his voice slip before he could catch it.
“Could Lord Gula not have done it?
” His voice was soft and silent, words spoken in thought as opposed to intentionally uttered. Zagreus then realized his mistake in pronouncing that question, slowly hiding his mouth behind a raised hand and praying that only his chthonic father heard him. A single glance across the far end of the table showed that Hermes - who had been pretending to be asleep - had cracked a single starry eye open in Zagreus’ direction.
“I have a suggestion.” Hermes yawed as he lazily stretched his arms. “Here we all are at this nice party, great food, great drinks, great decor, and, uh, company…” He waved vaguely across the assembled party at the table with a smirk. “It would be a shame to ruin this congenial atmosphere with accusations, even if we
are all in the clear, yes? I suggest that if anybody has any notion
as to possible perpetrators
, simply deliver the idea to me and I will convey them anonymously for our benefit - no hard feelings or ill will required. After all, the innocent have nothing to fear, and to reward prudence with hardship seems most deplorable. Let us skip the theatrics and assess all possibilities earnestly.”
‘’I for one suspect it was you, postal boy.’’ Hephaestus boldly declared with a sneer. ‘’How come you were on the scene so early? Also, I would like to point out you’ve taken my spot.’’
Zeus cleared his throat to silence them all. As droll (and telling) as their rampant speculation had been, he sensed that letting it run out of control for much longer would cause mayhem. “Such interesting thoughts! Now Hermes, what a noble offer. But as it seems like this whole affair bores you to the verge of sleep, I think it best that any whispers go directly to my own ear. I am
leading the investigation, after all.”
“Ah, so we are doing this with throwbacks
?” Hermes quipped, blatantly ignoring Hephaestus’ accustation. “I wonder how long it has been since any of us last actually wrote down
anything. I, for one, have not touched a quill in over a century. Such dreary things.” He splayed his hands and conjured a small, holographic visage of Zeus that then proceeded to vomit a deluge of illusory calligraphy pens onto the surface of the table which then began to spread and propagate until the entire front end of the table was submerged under the faintly translucent sea of implements, with more starting to spill over the edges and dribble down onto the floor with the faux–sound of clattering metal.
Hebe Dia can’t help but hold a hand to her mouth as she playfully chuckles. ‘’Oh Hermes, you are simply the wittiest among the gods! Don’t you think so too mothe–’’
Zeus was livid. He stood from his chair and roared loud enough to make Hebe flinch, to make a drop or two of spittle fall upon her face, “Hermes, cease this foolishness at once! Your king is speaking!” Hermes wordlessly waved a hand and the holographic cascade vanished, along with their vomiting progenitor. He then resumed his craned-back position and closed his eyes once more.
Zeus sat again and took a few moments to find his train of thoughts once more. This time, he didn’t take so much enjoyment out of the dramatic pause. “As for the investigation, why, I’ve already made some findings that could illuminate you all.” Another long, pregnant pause let that sink in. The cloned Zeus really had a penchant for theater. “Hades,” he eventually chirped. “Brother. You and I…” He stopped to look down at the table, chuckle, and helped himself to another grape. He slowly chewed, enjoying that particular one’s chocolatey flavor, before finishing his thought. “...we think much the same. I too suspect Typhon; beyond the obvious motivation, the timing just so happens to coincide with when he’s about due for another attempt at killing us all. And there’s other circumstantial evidence for it too. We’ve laughed at him for too long, arrogantly thinking him under control and useful to Olympus. Yes, arrogantly.
Too many of us have grown complacent and overly confident. Too much time in the sun, or out in the woods,” he lectured, casting his eyes and his aspersions towards Demeter and Artemis in that moment, “...or not enough.” By the end, his eye had wandered to Hades’ anemic visage. “Let this tragedy at least rouse us from our stupor so that we can regain control over my
planet. Let us no longer be so assured in the foolish thought that Typhon wouldn’t learn, wouldn’t change his methods.
“It was a brave
choice indeed to try to exploit his presence and predictable nature, to create a bogeyman to rally the mortals and demigods around. That’s now become a foolish choice. It might be a wise
choice to make an example of him now, but I’m not interested in quixotic wisdom. The pragmatic
choice is to kill our enemies so that they cannot make further nuisances of themselves. So, Engineer, Typhon
is my intended target for your neutron bomb. Let’s blast the ice cap to smoke him out, and then finish him for good.”
Demeter’s stoicism broke, perhaps by the utter absurdity of the plan offered - surely this was a test - but also from the slight she felt he had dealt her. Caring for the fields of Hellas was agonizing work. She only received brief moments of euphoria when she was able to work in her lab before it was time to return to the mundane work that kept the planet fed - or starving when needed. “You would kill far more than sinister Typhon, and the damage would be far beyond what I could repair.” She paused. “Surely there is an option with less…ah…collateral damage, my king.” By the end she had found a way to smooth the edges of her words.
Beside her, Artemis grim-facedly nodded her agreement. “Worse still, if we strike so recklessly and blindly
, he will see it as our weakness and nothing more. It might be awesome for the mortals, but Typhon has not survived so far without cunning. He’ll know such a display as betraying our fear, and make himself an even greater nuisance. If we are to strike him down at the last, we must do it swiftly and quietly. He last of all must know when our bolt is at his throat.”
Coeus just looked at the two Goddesses with a perplexed frown. ‘’You are this invested in some god-forgotten remote wasteland? Nothing is alive out there. And even if there is, my tools shall soon remedy that.’’ The feline said with a smirk, confident this would put their concerns to rest.
Zeus had erstwhile clenched his jaw, and one fist to match. His fingers unclasped and he waved his open hand in an explosive, dismissive motion. “Bah, so be it! I’ll not look weak.
Engineer, keep the device on standby; I’ll have to find another use for it. As in for Typhon? His demise should be anything but quiet. I want to extirpate him in spectacular fashion, in terrible
fashion. I’ll have to think of something else.” His hand wandered down to the sword that Athena had bestowed unto him; he’d rested it upon the side of his chair, but now his hands wandered over the grip, imagining the thought of driving it into Typhon himself. He quite fancied the thought of challenging Olympus’ nemesis to personal combat, but didn’t bother voicing the suggestion aloud. He already knew that the complacent cowards would all protest against it, but his recklessness was more potent than they could imagine.
A smug aura surrounded the young king; he thought the idea quite ingenious, quite bold
. But in that moment a servant stepped through the noise-cancellation field with a glass bottle in her hands. “Ah, the prized relic that I told you all about,” Zeus announced. He smiled. “This ought to bring the memories back! By my reckoning, it might be five centuries old. Set it right there,” he told the servant, gesturing to the corner of the table. She placidly did as he asked, and he turned the bottle to read its label. “Amon…till-a-dough? From a vineyard somewhere in a place called Italia.” He turned to the servant. “Girl, uncork this bottle. Then fill this cup. Don’t spill a single drop, or I’ll have you killed.”
Smiling all the while, menace never crept into his tone, but the color drained from the girl’s face all the same. Who knew if he was really joking? Ever carefully, she did as he asked, filling up the chalice only halfway for fear of spilling some. “What, that looks full to you?” Zeus chortled. She poured again, bringing it almost perfectly up to the top. “Good. Now let’s see if this spirit was worth the wait.” He held the gilded chalice up to his mouth, but before he brought the light, cloudy fluid to touch his lips, he sniffed. His brows furrowed and his nose wrinkled. He set the glass down.
“Dear wife, it occurs to me now that you’ve been quiet this whole time. And look at you, all in black; your mourning touches my heart. The first cup is yours. To my renewed life, and to my everlasting reign.”
She was silent, staring. He stared back expectantly before eventually gesturing to the chalice again. “I don’t want it,” Hera eventually told him.
He just laughed at that. “But I want you to try it. Besides, don’t people drink when they mourn? Drink.
” She stared at him defiantly. “I won’t ask again.”
Finally, Hera broke beneath his withering gaze. She slowly brought the cup to her mouth and took a tiny, vinegary sip. Disgust was painted plainly across her face.
“So, how is it?” Zeus inquired. “Was it worth it to open such a priceless treasure? Ah, but I suppose you’ve hardly wet your lips; you won’t be able to say! Drink some more. Actually, the whole cup is yours.”
Hebe just stared nervously at her new father, wanting to speak up in her mother’s defense. But words just would not leave her throat. She stammered meekly ‘’F-fathe… Don’t d-’’ but her vain effort was thankfully cut short by the heroic reinforcement of another god.
"My most glorious King, I do hate to be the bearer of bad news-" Apollo offered, her voice soft and apologetic, "but I do believe that bottle may have been improperly sealed, allowing the contents within to spoil." She continued, dipping her head in a show of deference. "Surely, the bottles my children and I have brought would be preferable, for I have brought only the finest libations from abroad."
“We have only just decided to hunt our enemy, and already we’re toasting?” The Maiden of the Hunt (Artemis) had withdrawn her knife, but her scowl had only deepened as the repartée around the banquet table continued. “With all respect, o king, this is premature.”
Hades scowled at the appearance of a reminder from Old Arith, a deep frown darkening his complexion as his azure eyes fell onto the bottle. Once more, he made his presence known by letting his armored hands fall flat against the table. “The Maiden of the Hunt speaks correctly, as I’m sure Athena would agree.” On mention of her name, the silent goddess of wisdom glanced briefly towards Hades. Her expression was inscrutable and her eyes swiftly swung back to Hera; they were cold and full of meaning Hera, alone, well understood: this was not the time or place to make a scene; here she had but to do her queenly duty. It was a fleeting look and Athena’s eyes were cast down again barely before Hades continued. “Let us celebrate after we’ve torn Typhon asunder and cast his essence into the Underworld. Be rid of that relic
, it stinks of Old Arith. Demeter or Apollo could ferment far better wine than the likes of that place
.” The chthonic king hissed in annoyance, slowly remembering parts of his mortal life as Hera drank of the putrid liquid. His demeanor began to slowly shift as if threatened by the bottle’s appearance.
A thin layer of pink mist swirled throughout the room. The mist emitted a fragrance so potent that it overpowered the acidic smell of the centuries-old drink. The smell of the mist varied depending on the individual that inhaled them, the scent reminding them of the thing or event in their life where they last felt genuine love and peace. The source of the pink mist was Eros, wafting from their skin while they twirled the creamy pasta on their plate. “Now, now. That is not how you treat the honorable Hera, o’ great Zeus. You are
indeed the King of the Pantheon, our most glorious leader, but you are also a husband, an uncle, a brother, and a father. Would you really act that way towards your wife in front of your family? In front of the God of Love?” Eros said, with a smile that didn’t reach their deep red eyes, as they looked at Zeus.
Coeus began to gag in the background. “GROSS. I inhaled it!’’ His paws began mashing buttons to activate the in-built air cleaner of his hoverboard lest his mind addled further. This – this was why he came prepared. In moments the pink mist that reached the Engineer’s part of the table was neutralized with an obnoxiously noisy vacuuming from the engine.
Apollo, likewise, recoiled from the mist, her chest abruptly heaving as her lungs shifted and warped, a membranous film covering the passage to her lungs just as a memory of her, drinking something
on Old Arith and laughing, began to form. The last word she heard was mention of the vessel that would become Olympus -- and then it was gone. "Eros speaks true, father
." Apollo commented, hoping that her show of deference -- one she rarely even gave to the original Zeus -- would further placate him.
They barked and squealed and protested and squirmed, but Zeus had no ear for any of it. Hera alone transfixed him. Beneath his stare, she drank another small sip, then a torturous gulp. She gagged. Hera shifted her eyes to meet the clone’s; he maintained a fierce eye contact until she broke her gaze away. “Finish it,” he insisted. He spoke softly, his lips barely even parting, and so quietly that it might have been drowned out by the clamor were it not for everyone awaiting his reaction. With a quavering hand, the queen brought the chalice back to her lips, but this time she ingested the vile swill more readily. Zeus snorted with contempt. “Are you using I.R.I.S. to mask the taste now?” This accusation came louder, venom and fire creeping into his tone. “And you thought I wouldn’t notice? Bah! I need a fair verdict of the taste. Will you need another cup now?”
It was in that moment that the pink vapor reached Zeus, and he found himself lost in a reverie. Athena, appearing unaffected and unfazed by the substance, sat silently right before him in the waking world, but he saw her as if in a dream, too. Then he blinked and roused himself from it, and looked down to see Hera crying -- he took it to be over the poor vintage, but it was another memory that had moved her to tears. “The taste was lacking. I must excuse myself, the drink did not suit me.”
“Sleep it off,” Zeus dismissed her. ‘Because you’re my wife, I might even let you wake from that sleep,’
was the part that he barely managed to leave unsaid. He finally looked towards the rest of the table then, with a mirthful grin. ‘If I could do that to her, what do you think I could do to all of you?’
After a tense moment Zeus instead declared, “A pity that the vintage disappointed. Brother, you were right. And Virtuoso, I’ll have her sample one of your own wines next time. When it’s a better occasion for a toast.” He grabbed the priceless, ancient bottle off the table and threw it over one shoulder, a servant barely ducking out of the way before it struck the ground and shattered. The sound of breaking glass was at least muted by the noise-cancellation field.
Hera gingerly rose from her place and took her leave. Once she was behind Zeus and out of his sight and hearing, she stepped around the broken bottle and flew toward the palace, doubtless to vomit. Zeus had more important things to worry about than the eyes of those who followed her retreat. “There’s another matter,” he proceeded as if nothing had happened. “It pertains to GULA. Well, first I’ll let it share the autopsy results and deliver its own verdict regarding what happened, absurd as it is…”
The young king gesticulated toward the EMU, beckoning it to advance toward the table.
“Current hypothesis accuracy: 76.6% likelihood of suicide,” came the modulated voice from the EMU, turning its head to the other gods to guage their reactions. For a moment it allowed for a brief silent before speaking of the other possible outcomes, “Other possibilities considered: Vitamin B12 Deficiency Induced Complication 1%, Cardiac Arrest 0.6%, Alcohol Poisoning 0.5%, Suffocation 0.4%, Arsenic Poisoning 0.1%.”
“A curious analysis.” Came Hermes’ voice. His tone had shifted - no longer lazy and lilting. The Herald was still leaning back in his chair, arms behind his head, but his eyes were now wide open and alert rather than low and lidded. The opalescent chasms glittered dangerously as he spoke. “Just for reference, here is a depiction of the body at the time it was discovered.”
A holographic screen shimmered into view near the head of the table, showing the state of the first Zeus’ corpse - if it could even be called that. What remained was a rancid, putrid mound of putrefied, blackened charnel with rough clumps vaguely approximating the ruined morphology of something that had once been humanoid. Several attendants standing outside the field of silence took a single look at the image and visibly blanched. A few dropped what they were holding in shock. A number of them suppressed retches. One of them abandoned their post on the spot to noisily vomit off to the side. Zeus grimaced, but forced himself to look at the gruesome sight yet again; a king oughtn’t be squeamish. Hermes’ tactless act caused Hebe to nearly faint. When the Princess caught a glimpse of her late father all the accumulated grief and dread she had repressed resurfaced in an instant. She despondently lowered her head as she held her face in her hands, softly weeping.
The heartless Hermes continued unimpeded:
“Rather conveniently, their nanites stopped transmitting to I.R.I.S. around half an hour prior to discovery, including biometric data. Local surveillance was, also conveniently, obscured
due to atmospheric parameters being adjusted to create an appropriate ‘aesthetic’ for meditation - but, of course, one of Zeus’ rings monitored his biometrics at all times independently of his nanites and continued sharing them.”
Zagreus felt bile tickle the back of his throat at the thought that his uncle
had been reduced to that form. A blackened gauntlet covered his lips to bite back the vomit desperately seeking to escape his insides. He shook his head in protest, managing to prevent himself from retching. Sorrowful eyes fell on the pitiful state of the High King’s previous incarnation.
Hades, having seen a plethora of more macabre instances, carefully scrutinized the blob that his brother had transformed into. The pale skin scrunched around his eyes as they narrowed in the conclusion wrought by Hermes. Reduced to Stygian sludge. A form easier to fertilize the Elysian Fields,
he thought to himself as the Herald of the Gods continued to speak. The chthonic king remained silent, once more steepling his gauntlets to await a more appropriate moment to make his request. Outwardly, the abyssal lord beheld a quiet rage about his presence.
Coeus all the while only tensely squinted his eyes in skepticism that this holographic ooze could really be his former Lord Captain, and not some Hermesian faux. The cat wondered for a moment whether he could reanimate a genetic profile based on the substance, though the molecules are presumably too damaged.
On the other side of the table, Artemis did but briefly quirk an eyebrow at the sight before sinking back to her habitually grim expression.
“The data is consistent with what I am certain most of you already recognize as rampant medical Nanites.” Hermes carried on. “What is interesting though, is I had a virtual emulator run a few projections using the same biometric data, and it came up with this
The image of the old king’s gruesome remnants vanished and was replaced by a chart of labeled figures.
Catastrophic Spontaneous Organ Failure: 7.21e-12%
Medical Nanite Malfunction: 0.00000000001%
Coadopted Necrotizing Fasciitis: 0.00001%
Coadopted Autophagocytosis Necrosis: 0.0001%
Mass Enzyme Denaturing Cascade: 0.001%
Radiologic Attack: 0.01%
Intentional Self-Harm: 12.94%
Invalid User Modification of Medical Nanite Core Parameters: 19.17%
Erroneous Medical Nanite User Settings Reconfiguration: 29.52%
Medical Nanite Sabotage: 38.36%
“And yet, somehow, the esteemed Lord GULA has naught to comment on except vitamin deficiency, alcohol poisoning, suffocation, and arsenic
of all things. Nevermind that independent emulation found those possibilities even less
likely than catastrophic organ failure. And the coroner doth rule the death a suicide. I think an elaboration
upon your analysis is necessary, Lord GULA. You must have had the same information I did…unless you knowingly were not minding the late King’s biometrics.” Hermes gestured airily to GULA, his expression now one of nearly unmasked fascination
“Elaboration, unnecessary. All present, untrained at medical sciences. Data expungement is only available for medical staff capable of understanding proper protocol,” GULA stated, the gaze of the EMU had not moved to truly acknowledge the demands of Hermes. It glared at the data analysis, seemingly taking in the information before a trill akin to a scoff came from the robotic being. The medical unit would only speak eerily further, “Medical Nanites Self-Sabotaged, hence, suicide. No further information dissemination allowed unless requested by Priority Personnel.”
Hermes opened his mouth as if to respond, but then paused, turning his head faintly to look towards the end of the table where Hades and his delegation were seated. He brought a hand up to his cheek, propping his head on the table in thought, his expression one of resigned contemplation - evidently troubled for some reason that was not immediately apparent.
"Is it truly so unthinkable that Zeus would commit suicide, as your analysis indicates?" Apollo interjected, turning to face Hermes. "The burden he carried was one of unthinkable weight to any of us but his new self, and eternal life itself can be said to be a terrible burden alone. I will apply the Antikythera to the investigation regardless, but I can't find much reason to be so suspicious of GULA's analysis until we gather more evidence. How did your analysis reach its conclusions? What guarantee do we have that your analysis is not flawed in the same way?"
“No reason to be suspicious? Apollo, if you saw the state of the body and thought for even a split instant that the cause of death could have possibly
been due to suffocation
amongst other evidently asinine afflictions, then you are very nearly as suspect.” Hermes snapped at Apollo irritably. “The issue is with the conclusory nature of their analysis. Either
Zeus committed suicide or else he drank too much
and had a heart attack
, consequentially leading to his entire body to dissolve
into viscous, molecular sludge.” Hermes made a very odd gesture with his head - reminiscent of one rolling their eyes, though given the twinkling, stygian depths of his helm it lost some of its effect. “Meanwhile, Lord GULA refuses to provide insight into their analysis and why it seemingly so deterministically eliminates foul play as a possibility. This is not some plebeian closed room mystery where the least likely outcome must default by virtue of being the only one left. Even acknowledging that suicide was possible
, independent analysis and common sense
dictates that so was murder
. Unlike Lord GULA, I have already availed you of the details behind my analysis. The biometric readings in question have been made available to all of you, and I for one am done attempting to be as acceptingly blasé about all of this absurdity as the rest of you. I am supposed to be the lackadaisical one, but this bad joke is too much even for me.”
“Correction; I am fully willing to divulge the information of my findings, however, everyone present lacks the requisite permissions to access it. If you bear issue with standard protocol; that is unfortunate,” GULA responded, finally looking to Hermes. The red optic scanned the god for a brief moment, analyzing some unknown information of the god. It would speak once more, “My diagnoses have always been accurate. Additionally there is no possibility that I can lie; such action would be against my programming.”
“Programming,” Zeus echoed. “A curious thing indeed. Perhaps it bears mentioning that GULA has refused to acknowledge my rank. Do any of you care to hazard a guess as to who it now claims to answer to?” Zeus didn’t bother waiting for any of them to play the game and guess. “Isaac Holcomb,” he spat out, “an ancient name for the blighted Typhon, as I’m sure we are all aware. Yet another reason to ensure his annihilation -- for good this time! -- but first, this grave error needs to be remedied. There is a procedure.”
‘’Your emanationence,’’ the engineer Coeus remarked, raising a paw, '’Why, I ask? With your permission I could disassemble and re-engineer GULA in my workshop and spare us this trite hassle. It might take a week. Some minute data might enter digital purgatory, but at rainbow’s end you’ll find a perfectly cooperative software.’’
To this GULA loosed a defensive trill, almost surprised, before he spoke hurriedly, “Negative. Technology, proprietary. No access.” It piqued Zeus to raise both eyebrows and give the cat a look that said something like ’perhaps’
"At the very least," Apollo interjected once more, raising an eyebrow. "How would Typhon have accessed GULA, assuming he was able to -- and if he did, could he not have ordered it to simply turn all of us who utilize its nanotechnology into biological soup? I quite despise Holcomb, the hypocritical barbarian he is, but I do not think he reprogrammed GULA, else far more of us would already be dead. A localized failure or targeted attack seems more likely to me."
“Who can say? With safeguards and protocols in place, perhaps he dared not try to compromise more than one of us for fear of someone noticing before he could send the kill signal. Or perhaps, idiot that he is, he roused from his century-long slumber unaware of my existence, and he figured that if he only killed my predecessor then the rest of you would succumb to infighting and raze Olympus for him. In any case, before taking any drastic measures,” he paused to glance at Coeus again, “A vote must be held. Having GULA acknowledge Typhon as its master is unacceptable; you must declare me administrator over the computer just as you have affirmed me as king over this world. Then I will be able to advance with my investigation. I need to access the GAS Core and inspect Gula for signs of tampering.”
It occurred to the young king at that moment that his impulsive treatment of the queen had backfired. By driving Hera into retreating from the meeting, he’d guaranteed her vote would be absent. He clenched a fist as his gaze drifted to her empty chair, contemplating having her dragged back. ’No,’
he thought, ’that won’t be necessary. The rest of them will vote for me.’
“Process simple, all registered crew eligible to vote. Voting is anonymous, additionally, this unit shall vote upon the candidate it sees fit for duty,” GULA explained, the modulated voice increasing its volume so that all may hear. It looked to Zeus, seemingly analyzing him before looking back towards the general body. The artificial intelligence would add one more stipulation to the voting process, “Voting shall be done electronically, linked to bio-signatures in order to prevent fraudulent use of dud-accounts and as proof of being of the crew. Protocol dictates that fraudulent voting or tampering will result in 10 years prison and additional fine up to court stipulation."
Artemis, who had visibly been forcing her eyes not to wander into the distance of the open sky as the proceedings took an increasingly querulous turn, creased her mouth in distaste. “Are we to sit through this - game while the enemy we know roams unpunished? Dance at the tune of a machine that sees no ill in openly calling him its master?” She pointed at the EMU with the tip of her knife, then at the spot where Coeus hovered. “As rash as our brother Hephaestus can be, he has the right of it this time. If the GULA would name itself our adversary, we should treat it as such.”
"Openly calling him its master?" Apollo sighed, idly drumming her fingers against the table. "Dancing to its tune? GULA is a machine, sister, albeit an intelligent one. It obeys programming and protocol. It seems far more likely to me that it is obeying some ancient protocol in which Holcomb is named than following some villainous desire to oppose us that I'm quite sure it lacks the capability to have. Besides -- as much as I trust brother Coeus, can we truly afford
to disassemble GULA on an unproven hypothesis? What if we cannot reassemble it?"
Zeus dismissed the two of them with a sharp gesture. “Simply elect me as its ‘Captain’, that I may examine its logs and find the truth of any biases or corruption. And then if something troubling is manifest, we can contemplate these…” the king waved his hand around, trying to find the words, “...more drastic
So then the vote began.