Howard Penderghast’s black Chevrolet Corvette 1 raced across the deep Mediterranean sky. The alien child who called herself Linda flew ahead of the car, laying down an aurorae road in her wake.
Blair squirmed in the passenger seat. Thankfully, Howard had acquired the boy more appropriate travelling clothes when they picked up the car from Penderghast house—if you considered a sky-blue polo-shirt and slightly too-short cotton trousers appropriate.
“Mr. Penderghast, this shirt itches.”
“Yes,” replied Howard, “you get used to the discomfort.”
Penderghast wondered what time it was in Perth. When this was over, he ought to apologize to Blair’s parents. And possibly ask to adopt him.
“If Linda can fly all naked, why can’t I wear my pyjamas?”
Penderghast thought it over for a moment.
“Because I said so.”
That, he had learned from his siblings.
“But why are we taking a car? Linda could fly us both.”
Penderghast thumped the dashboard. “I’ll have you know this is a great machine. You’re lucky to ride in it.”
Mostly Howard wasn’t comfortable with Linda carrying him and his young mutant thousands of miles through the sky (while naked) and flying himself reminded the warlock too much of the dreams. All that aside, he’d been itching to take the Vett out for a spin. He’d gotten his license and enchanted the car only a week before he decided to join the army. A vulgar trick, his father had called it. The kind of burlesque modernity he’d have expected from a gauche hedge-wizard, not the seventh son of a seventh son.
“Men of our station do not drive, Ward.”
That had cinched the deal for Howard, the same way it had him enlisting. And now he had all the time in the world to drive. Too much time…
“You’re in the army, right?”
Oh. The boy paid attention.
“That I am. Major in the US Army.”
It wasn’t quite a lie. More a simplification. Howard had never been formally discharged. He hadn’t resigned, either. He just… never went back.
“In Vi-et-nam?” the boy asked, pronouncing the country’s name with practised care.
“Do you know my big brother? Mum and Dad say he’s there too.”
Poor boy, Penderghast thought. Observant, but young enough to not realize how big the world was. Still, he had worked with Australian soldiers in his time.
“What’s his name?”
“Johnny,” the boy answered. “Johnny Wilder, same as me,” he added redundantly. “He’s really tall and has kinda yellowy hair?”
Penderghast gamely searched his memory for such a man.
“Don’t think so, son.”
Blair sank slightly in the cream leather passenger seat. “Oh. Thanks anyway.”
Penderghast took his hand off the steering wheel to gruffly pat Blair on the shoulder. “I’m sure he’s fine. You’d have heard if he wasn’t.”
Unless your parents don’t know how to tell you yet, Penderghast mused grimly.
He wondered if Johnny Wilder shared his younger brother’s invisible soul. Would it help him a wick when the Chinese sent their troops into North Vietnam like they were threatening? The Cold Peace was over, and the next war would be hot. Killing the Flying Man didn’t bring back what he’d stolen. How long until the Mediterranean was filled with warships again?
And where were you, Ward? Lying around the house, feeling sorry—
A few yards in front of the Corvette, Linda stopped mid-air, swinging around and pointing down at the island-strewn sea.
The girl’s shrill, buzzing voice echoed in Penderghast’s skull:
Here’s good! Going down!
Howard watched as the little girl tucked her knees into her chest and dropped screaming out of the sky, lightning crackling down her slipstream.
Blair clambered towards the windshield2. “Did she say something? She always forgets my brain can’t hear her!”
Penderghast shifted gears. The Corvette descended in winding loops like the sky was a high mountain road. Howard rolled his window open and looked down.
Linda was standing on the water. It took Penderghast a moment to notice the shadow of a coral reef under her. He’d thought she was being blasphemous.
The car “parked” two inches above the water, wavelets flicking foam at its tires. As soon as Howard popped the locks, Blair shoved his door open with all his weight and jumped out of the car with a gleeful splash.
“Glad we’re wearing galoshes now, hmm?” said Penderghast as he got out. Personally, he was just glad he wasn’t wearing his good pants.
Linda was standing at the edge of the reef like a siren’s baby, looking out at the open ocean.
“This where he lives?” asked Penderghast.
Howard was surprised. For all his occultic worldliness, the blue-blood in him usually defaulted to imagining gods living in palaces.
“Nah,” said Linda. “But he’s close.”
Linda shrieked. The water around them vibrated like desert sands in an earthquake.
Howard and Blair both covered their ears. Penderghast was put in mind of deep-sea beasts being dragged gasping into the air.
“Hate it when she does that!” Blair shouted, barely audible.
Linda’s mouth snapped shut.
Penderghast shook his head slowly, not taking his hands from his head. “What was that for—”
Linda dived into the deep waters, her shadow shooting off into the distance.
The water pulsed.
Penderghast looked at Blair. “Do you have any idea what she’s doing?”
“Wait for it,” Blair said knowingly.
A minute later, Linda burst out of the water, rising into the air with a child-shaped thing flailing and growling in her arms.
The thing went limp.
Linda giggled. “Gotcha.”
The boy-god Palaemon rolled his black eyes. “Alright, fine.”
The pair alighted back on the reef. The young godling’s naked skin was bluish grey, the bits that weren’t covered by rhime-moss at least. His teeth were predator sharp, his fingers clawed and webbed.
Penderghast kneeled and turned his head down.
“Great God Palaemon, it is an honour—”
Penderghast looked at the human boy. “You know him, too?”
“Yeah,” said Blair. “He and Lindy found me at the beach once! We rode a dolphin!”
“Porpoise, Blair,” corrected Palaemon. “It was a porpoise.” The godling pointed a claw at Penderghast. “Who’s the dark man?”
Penderghast squinted at Palaemon, years of training abandoning him. “Dark man?”
“He’s a wizard,” said Linda.
Palaemon grinned crookedly. “Oh, one of them.”
The two creatures giggled, sharing a private joke Howard would rather not be let in on.
“He wants to ask you about your friend,” said Linda. “What was he called? The one who wears a cape now?”
“Oh, Joe? Um…”
Palaemon shuffled his feet and rubbed his side, clearly uncomfortable.
“Please, oh god,” said Howard, looking down again, “it’s a matter of grave import.”
“Did you bring bikkies, Blair?”
Howard looked back up. “What are ‘bikkies’?”
Blair hopped. “Oh, yeah!”
The boy scurried over to the car and clambered back in, before reemerging with his half-full packet of Monte-Carlos.
He threw a biscuit at the other two children. Pal caught it smartly and shoved it less smartly into his mouth.
“Okay, so Joe…”
To Joe Allworth’s most honest estimation.
Nudity was lame.
“I don’t get it.” he grumbled. “Seriously. What’s the draw here?”
“Well of course you don’t get it,” Pal floating on his back in the moonpool. “You’re still wearing pants.”
“You’re a god!”
“I’m a god who likes pants!”
“You didn’t mind when you were my size.”
“I was five!”
“I don’t know why you didn’t stop there. Being five’s great!”
To Pal’s relief, Joe grinned. He hadn’t been doing that much. The boy flexed his small bicep. “Yeah. I bet it’s got nothing to do with me being able to out-wrestle you!”
Joe planted his hands on his hips. “Pal, I could beat you up when you were bigger than me.”
Pal glared. A globe of saltwater swelled into existence behind Joe and blasted him in the back of the head, knocking him into the moonpool.
Joe surfaced splashing and laughing, lunging through the water at Pal and dragging him under by the foot.
It’d been an odd few days for Palaemon. He’d been playing with some human children on a Corsican beach when he found himself being pulled into a desperate, sobbing hug by Joseph. Apparently his father had killed a man:
“They’re all evil! Stupid, evil apes!” The superboy reduced a boulder to dust with a slam of his fist and stamped the sand with enough power to fuse it into cracked, rough glass. “I’m sick of pretending to be human! I’m not like them! I’m glad I’m not like them.”
He’d looked at Palaemon with pleading, tear-red eyes. “Show me how to be a proper god. Please.”
Palaemon had been happy to help. He wasn’t completely sure why Joe was so upset: people died. Sometimes other people killed them. He himself had been slain by his own mother; before their transfiguration into godhood. Didn’t see him holding it against her. Anymore3.
But still, Joe shucking off his mortal drag-act had to be a good thing. The fact he came to him for god-advice was even better. Maybe now they could have some proper fun. Maybe now Joe would stop fleeing so fast from boyhood.
“You’re telling me the Flying Man’s father killed a man?”
“Foster father,” Palaemon clarified. “But yeah, he did. I think the guy was going to blab about Joe being amazing and stuff.” He shrugged. “Seemed like a pretty okay reason to kill someone to me, but Joe was being weird about it.”
Blair raised his hand like he’d been taught in kindergarten. “Um, Mister Penderghast?”
Howard had almost forgotten the boy was still with them. “Yes, Blair?”
“What’s “killing’ mean?”
Oh, God. Howard had forgotten other children didn’t become as acquainted with death as early Penderghasts did. This was really a conversation that should be left to the boy’s parents. Once they knew he wasn’t lying in a ditch somewhere.
Linda saved the warlock, “It means when you hurt someone so bad they sorta… go to sleep forever. It’s weird.”
Surprisingly succinct explanation, Penderghast thought. Sobrely, he wandered what things that wild girl had seen, out there in the great wide everywhere.
“It’s a mortal thing,” added Pal.
“Oh,” said Blair. “Doesn’t sound nice.”
“It’s not,” said Linda. “Not with people.”
Linda had killed plenty of things in her short life. Mostly animals. She liked to eat as much as anyone else. Curiosity made her try it on a man once. He’d been trying to kill her at the time, so it seemed fair. She’d been newer then.
She’d never forgotten how his lights had flashed and blurred as they went out.
Blair wasn’t out of questions. “Why was it bad this guy was gonna tell people the Flying Man was special?” He pointed at Linda. “Lindy’s special! And she’s great.”
To Howard’s surprise, he found himself and Linda sharing a look. Witch and godling. Space-alien and black man. Had to be some kinship there. Power and wealth had insulated the Penderghasts from the consequences of their craft and skin-colour for generations, but wariness was baked into their genes. Even if, until very recently, Howard had let himself believe nobody cared about those things anymore. Nobody important, at least.
Linda had already learned the wages of difference. The little girl had been run out of towns; had rocks and broken bottles thrown at her; once they’d tried literally burning her at the stake after she’d displayed some of her more interesting physiology too openly.
None of it had ever hurt her, of course. Nothing could hurt Linda. Sometimes she delighted in their efforts. Played along. Gave them all a good flight. Other times—mostly when she was looking for a place to sleep—she was very glad she had a friend like Blair.
She got jealous of him sometimes.
Palaemon cleared his throat with a dolphin-like squeak. “We still listening to my story?”
Penderghast nodded. “Please go on.”
“So, Joe didn’t want to be human anymore. Best idea he ever had. Did you know he went to school? Almost every day!”
Linda shuddered. Blair looked between the two children. “I like school.”
“So, the Flying Man tried turning his back on us?” asked Howard. “Tried to leave humanity?”
Didn’t sound like the Flying Man. He was used to the bastard never leaving mankind well enough alone.
“Yep. One problem, but.”
“What was that?”
“He was just so bad at being a god.”
Palaemon and Joseph were great friends. They were terrible roommates.
It wasn’t all bad. Joe’s new palace—as Pal insisted on calling it—was much more fun than Poseidon’s. Probably because Joe was cool and not a kelpy-bearded old grump who kept sleazing all over Palaemon’s mother. They spent their days shooting holographic fish and chasing each other up and down anti-gravity waterslides. They clambered over the seats in the movie theatre making gun noises at each other while black and white cowboys battled on the screen. Sometimes they left Lyonesse all together, exploring the sea-floor and wrestling whales.
Then Joe had to go and spoil it:
The boys were gorging themselves on candy over a Looney Tunes marathon when Joe snuck a glance at his friend. The other godling didn’t notice.
Palaemon didn’t look away from the screen. Bugs had almost fallen into a crocodile pit and was about to back right into the monster4. “Yeah?”
How did he ask this? How many times had anyone asked this?
“I was wondering. Have you ever considered maybe”—Joe looked away and mumbled—“growing-up-with-me-maybe?
Palaemon slowly turned his head towards Joe. Golden caramel oozed from his mouth like his own ichor.
“What a shame! Such an interesting monster, too.”
“What? Why? Being grown-up is crap! You get all uptight and too busy rutting to play!”
“It’s just… it’d be nice having a friend to grow up with is all.”
Palaemon stretched his arm to the height of Joe’s brow. “Ship’s kinda sailed on that, buddy. Why don’t you stop growing up? Don’t tell me you can’t control that.”
“I don’t know. Don’t wanna be short forever.” He shrugged. “And sex sounds interesting. I think.” An idea struck him. “What if I stopped growing just long enough for you to catch up?”
Palaemon shook his head. “Nope. Not growing up.” He grinned. “Never knew you felt this way.”
Joe sighed. “What, lonely?”
“Nooo. That you liked me.”
Joe’s eyes went wide. “I do not!”
“You were flirting with me!”
“No I wasn’t!”
“You’re a boy! You have a penis.”
“I like girls!”
God, Joe could be weird. Sometimes Palaemon wondered if he hit his head when he fell to Earth. Like a prettier Hephaestus.
“Also, Pal, you’re five. At most.”
“Again, so what?”
Joe grimaced and looked back at the movie screen, just in time for Bugs to wake up in his flooded rabbit-hole.
The boys jarred against each other in more ways. Often Joe didn’t want to play at all. He would feed hours of movie and audio clips into the artificial personalities gestating in Lyonesse’s computer-banks, guiding them towards pleasing caricatures of humanity. He devised complicated and finely detailed economic forecasts for several versions of the next century. He painted endless Canadian landscapes, waterfalls, and giant mechanical monsters.
One project Palaemon found especially baffling were Joseph’s attempts to salvage two wood-hulled ships he’d pulled from the Arctic: the HMS Terror and Erebus.
“I don’t get it,” said Pal. He was laying on the floor of the warehouse, the two rotten boats hanging above him like they were still ploughing the waves. “Why do you need a boat? Two boats! You don’t even need to breathe!”
Joe was tending to vats of cloned oak and larch, destined to replace the hull and planking of the ships. “It’s not that I need them, I just want to make something.”
“Making things is for mortals,” grumbled Pal. “They don’t last long enough to matter themselves.”
Joe tried very hard to agree with that. It seemed like something a god should think. Instead, he found himself remarking, “Lots of gods make things. Hephestus; Athena; I think Apollo built the walls of Troy back in the day5.”
Palaemon battered his heels against the saw-dust laden floor. “Well, they’re grown-ups. They have a lot of dumb ideas. And if you want to make something, why don’t you make your own stupid ships? They’d be better than these hunks of junk.”
“These ships are important. A long time ago—” Joe caught himself, “…I mean, a long time ago for humans, so a hundred and forty years. These ships were sent from Britain to find a new path through the Arctic.” He looked up sadly at the hulks. “Their people never saw them again.”
“So a bunch of mortals got lost in the snow, big deal.”
Joe made to answer Pal, but instead shook his head. “Don’t worry about it, Pal.”
As Palaemon saw it, Joe wasn’t becoming the god he was meant to be. He was turning into a hermit. Pal couldn’t allow it. What Joe needed was to mingle with his own kind. Or at least the closest thing to his kind in this solar system.
Palaemon had an idea.
He waited till Joseph was asleep and stole down to the room he called the Grand Foyer with a honey cake. To Pal’s delight, a faint rainbow hung in the mist the fountain threw up.
Pal held the cake over the basin:
“Oh Iris, high and beautiful lady of the rainbow, messenger of the gods, I, Palaemon, son of Leucothea, the white-goddess, beseech you!”
The fountain mists rose towards the ceiling. The dim, gauzy rainbows became as unreally bright and vivid as neon. They formed into a woman with skin like opals catching sunlight. Her hair was a sunset over the sea. Insectile wings of stained glass grew from her shoulders. It was impossible to tell if she was naked or clothed, and with how she glowed, it hardly mattered.
She cast her iridescent eyes down at Palaemon. “What do you want, Pal?”
Palaemon stood up very straight. “I wish to invite all the gods of our kind and our well-wishers to a party in this stately palace.” He gestured around at the Foyer. “As you can see, it’s very nice. Oh, and make sure to include all the godlings. And the Dōdekátheon. Especially King Athena.”
Iris stared at the young god. Then she laughed. “You’re telling me you want the entire divine race to drop everything for a party. Hosted by you.”
Pal took a deep breath. “Actually, I’m not the host. Joseph Allworth is.” He grinned slyly. “You know, the barbarian that dropped by Olympus a week back? The star-god? Offspring of a mother of Khaos?”
“…That’s something to consider.” Iris composed herself. “I shall bring your petition to King Athena.”
The honeycake flew out of Pal’s hand into Iris’s. She took a bite out of the pastry. “Farewell, Palaemon.”
It took three days for Palaeomon to get word back. Specifically, while him and Joseph were playing with his living chessboard.
Iris appeared in a burst of light, casting the red and white playing field in pale rainbows. The life-sized pieces pointed and gawked up at the goddess.
“Ah, hi Iris,” said Joe. “Why are you here?”
“Joseph Allworth, Athena, king of the gods, has accepted your request for her company. She and the rest of the Olympian host will arrive in three weeks.”
Joe’s mouth dropped. “What? I didn’t—”
“Our king trusts that shall give you ample time to prepare.” Iris glanced down at the board. “Oh, my God, is that a chessboard? That’s great.”
The goddess vanished. The pieces gossiped programmatically amongst themselves. Joe glared across the board at Palaemon.
“What did you do?”
Howard Penderghast had dealt with many gods and divinities in his time. But most of them were grown creatures. Adult personalities. Penderghast knew some lingered in childhood, but he’d always assumed it was mainly an aesthetic choice on their part. Ancient collections of knowledge and wisdom wrapped in childish flesh.
Speaking to Palaemon was rapidly correcting that assumption. The godling rambled down a hundred tangents. Sometimes he abandoned the conversation altogether to argue with Linda over biscuits. He spent ten minutes describing an old Warner Brothers cartoon.
“So, me and Joe kinda beat each other up for a while, but he got over it and we started planning the party. I said—”
Penderghast raised a hand. “Excuse me, Palaemon. While your story is deeply… interesting, it is very urgent that I find Joseph Allworth soon. Is there anything you know that could lead me to him?”
Palaemon frowned. “…You don’t wanna hear my story, do you?”
Howard shook his head vigorously, “Nothing of the sort, it’s only—”
“I want to hear it,” said Blair from his perch on the Corvette’s hood. “It’s fun!”
“It is… fun,” said Penderghast. “It’s just time. The world itself depends on me finding your friend. Your friend might depend on me finding him!”
Palaemon hopped from foot to foot. “Okay,” he said, “I’ll help you.”
“Thank you, oh God.”
“…If you listen to the end of the story.”
Pennderghast was rapidly becoming a misotheist.
After Joseph Allworth was done punting Palaemon up and down the Atlantic, he decided a housewarming party wasn’t a bad idea after all. Besides, now he had to finish that cocktail bar he was working on. And the bartender.
The young star-god pestered the Gatekeeper for recipes from across the civilized galaxy while Pal harvested the sea’s finest meats. Finally, Joseph settled on a name for his lair and the computer that would oversee it:
“So my name is… Blancheflor?”
“Yep,” said Joe. “He was the king of—”
“I’m aware,” said the caretaker program. “You programmed that explanation into me.”
“Ah, sorry… do you like the name?”
“…Permission not to be forthcoming with it?”
Joe examined one of the black chess pieces he’d repurposed as waitstaff. A hologram of Frank Sinatra stood ready onstage, soundlessly warming up an invisible crowd. He himself was wearing a pearlescent body-glove. It seemed like a tolerable compromise between Canadian sensibility and Cupidean nudity.
He rubbed his chin fretfully. “Should I have painted them white a bit?”
“Stop being a scaredy-cat,” said Palaemon from on top of one of the tables. “They’re gonna love this place.” He smirked ruefully. “Especially old Poseidon.”
Joe shot daggers at his friend. “Stop climbing on the tables! You’ll get sea-slime on them!”
The sea windows flashed like God snapping a photo. Thunder as loud as silence echoed through Clark’s.
Joe yelped. “Crap, they’re here!”
The thunder roared, only to shatter into a hundred chatting voices. The bar was crowded with gods and goddesses, more real and solid than all the steel Joe had wrought to build this place.
“Yes we are.”
Pallas Athena, king of Mt. Olympus loomed over the boy, dissecting him with eyes nearly the same grey as the handsome laurel coronet resting in her dark hair. She was wearing a gown woven of storm clouds. Joe had no doubt it concealed armour.
Joe bowed. “King Athena. I’m honoured to have you.”
Athena looked around Clark’s and the sea beyond its glass walls. “I commend your craftsmanship, child.”
Crimson-robed Hera cleaved from the crowd and bustled over to Joseph, pecking the boy on the forehead and pinching his cheeks.
“It’s so good to see you, Joe.” She glanced around the bar. “And in such a lovely palace. Your people would be proud.”
“Thank you, Queen Hera,” said Joe, suppressing a wince.
“Queen” was something of a courtesy title these days. Hera had divorced Zeus some time6 after the Trojan War. Not coincidentally, this also coincided with the sky-father departing Mt. Olympus for parts unknown, leaving his throne empty for his favourite daughter.
The split had done wonders for Hera’s temperament, but it’d also made her, well, broody.
Soon the Sinatra hologram was throwing himself into “They Say It’s Wonderful.” The guests spread out through the bar and into the rest of Lyonesse, Blancheflor directing them to points of interest they weren’t likely to break. Apollo barged on stage and somehow pulled Sinatra’s image into a duet:
“The thing that’s known as romance is wonderful, wonderful,
In every way, so they say!”
Heracles slapped Joe on the back. If he were a human child, his lungs would have exploded out of his chest. The burly god bellowed, “I wanted to thank you again for the sewing machine.” He gestured at the lavender chiton he was wearing. “It’s already come in handy.”
“You’re welcome!” Joe chirped, the first genuine grin in days blossoming across his face. The boy thumbed his own shiny party-outfit. “I did this by hand.”
Heracles rumbled with laughter. “That is a feat, my boy. Your parents must be proud as horses.”
Joe shrunk into himself. “My parents haven’t seen it.”
Heracles frowned. “What? You’re telling me you didn’t invite the Allworths?”
“I didn’t,” the boy admitted. “They don’t even know about here.”
“Why ever not?” Heracles laughed. “Oh. I see. This is a treehouse! I had one of those as a boy. Hollowed out of a grandfather oak.”
“No,” Joe muttered. “I mean. Yes, it’s a treehouse. But they’re being… dumb.”
Heracles tutted. It struck Joe as an awfully aunt-like noise coming from him. “Joseph, we all think our parents are fools when we’re young. I did. I imagine all my children thought so, too…”
Joe had forgotten Heracles was a dad. Palaemon was always griping about his sons by Hebe7.
Then he remembered Heracles’ first children. The mortal ones8. The ones he’d murdered.
That wasn’t fair. Heracles hadn’t been in his right mind when he did that. Thanks to the lady who’d just pinched Joe’s cheeks a second ago.
Joe nodded as Heracles’ wisdom fell on deaf ears. “Um, yeah, I’ll think about it. Try the crab cakes!”
He fled through the crowd.
Joe bumped into a wall of black fur. He stepped back to find himself before a god with a face like a hard, glum tombstone. His dark cloak was trimmed with frost and dusted with gravedirt. He regarded Joe with eyes of bleached bone.
Joe bowed hastily. He’d never met the god before, but there no doubt who he was looking at:
“Lord Hades. Honoured to make your acquaintance.”
Joe was surprised to run into the Rich One. They say he rarely left the underworld. Then again, how often was he invited to parties?
“Thank you, child,” Hades drawled morosely. “It is a fine abode you have built for yourself.” The god raised a finger. “I sense very little of my wealth in its structure.”
Joe gulped, unsure if that was meant to be a good thing or not. “You’re not wrong. I got most of the materials from the asteroid belt.”
He braced himself, but Hades only nodded gravely. “Most considerate. Mortals scour my coffers so rapaciously these days. I can let it pass most of the time, it all comes back to me eventually, but must they scar the Earth as they do it?”
Joe had never considered that Hades might be a greenie of all things. It was a pleasant surprise. He nodded. “It’s very rude of them.”
“It greatly upsets my wife.”
“Oh, Persephone? Is she here?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Child, if our marriage rests on one foundation, it’s giving each other space.”
Hades took a moment to search the bar, spotting a woman dressed in spring-flowers chatting with Iris in one of the conversation pits. Persephone caught sight of the Lord of the Dead and gave a small wave.
A ghost of a smile played across Hades’ bloodless lips, but he made no attempt to approach his wife.
Oh yeah, Joe remembered. You’re only married because you kidnapped her. And tricked her. And that’s why we have winter now. Or was it summer9?
He also remembered that Hades was Persephone’s uncle.
Hades looked back at Joe. “You know, godling, subterranean decor is a rare talent. Would you consider renovating my own home sometime? You would be handsomely rewarded.”
The underworld. Would Joe’s mother be there? Would it be better or worse if she wasn’t? Christopher Barberi would be.
It occured to Joe that, someday soon, his mortal mother and father would be in this god’s power.
“…I’ll think about it.”
Joe left Hades behind in his search for a conversation he could stand.
Hades plucked a martini from a passing pawn, stirring it with a black fingernail. “That always means no.”
Ares and Hephaestus were milling about in front of the stage.
“Amazing,” said Hephaestus. “People made of light.” The smith-god sat in an ornate, rocket-powered throne of a wheelchair—twisted, withered legs dwarfed by his pillar-like arms. Shiny, dark gold burns like dragon-scale armoured his bare chest. “Puts my Khryseai 10 into perspective.”
“Bah. At least they have some substance behind them.” Ares had taken to wearing an anchor beard this century. In honour of their host, he was also wearing the kevlar vest Joe had gifted him during his visit to Olympus. “This is just light. Men made of moth-wings would be deadlier.”
Joseph launched himself between the two gods. “You can make light burn things, you know.”
“Can you?” asked Ares.
Hephaestus tilted his chin. “You sure you’re not talking about fire, young man? They’re quite distinct.”
“Nope! Just light! You have to focus it through a crystal juuuust right11.”
Ares grinned wolfishly. This was the best news he’d gotten since the automatic rifle. “Do you know how to work this magic, Allworth?”
“I do! I used it to build this place!”
“Could you build me some? Preferably hand-held?”
Joe wasn’t sure he ought to be arming the god of war. The god of bloody war, at that. But at least he wasn’t making his stomach turn right now.
“Or you could come to my workshop and show me how you do it,” suggested Hephaestus. “I imagine my use for it would be much more edifying than my brother’s.”
Ares laughed. “You only turn your nose up at fighting because you’re useless at it, cripple.”
Joe frowned. “Hey, that’s not nice—”
He was cut off by Hephaestus’ own laughter. “You mock me, but you still pay me for my work!”
Oh, teasing. Joe could deal with that.
Ares clapped his hand down on Joseph’s shoulder. “Pure charity, boy, don’t let him tell you otherwise.” He smirked at the other god. “Which is saying a lot given what he got off me.”
“What?” Joe asked. “Money?”
The brothers both laughed.
“Only my damn wife12!” cried Ares. “Vulcan here blackmailed our mother and father into handing her over to him!”
Joe looked at Hephaestus. “You what?”
“Hey, hey! Don’t go twisting the history, brother. You and Aphrodite weren’t even married.”
“She was still promised to me!”
Hephaestus scoffed. “Like that was an inconvenience for you.” The god stage-whispered to Joe. “They were rutting behind my back as before we finished the wedding wine!”
Shockingly, Joe couldn’t blame the pair.
Hephaestus looked back at his brother. “At least until I caught them in the act! Well, me and Olympus.” He folded his arms. “Got my bride-price back and more.”
“Sure,” said Ares with a grin. “But who gets to lay with Aphrodite, hmm?”
Hephaestus cackled. “Everyone!”
To Joe’s shock, Ares laughed too. He was talking about his brother forcing his wife to marry him like it was an old prank. How did he not hate him?
Applause broke out as Apollo finished his impromptu set with Sinatra.
The god of music spread his arms out wide. “Thank you, thank you…”
He leapt down from the stage, landing on his feet in front of Joe. “Hail to our host.”
Joe looked warily at Apollo. He dressed more modernly than most of his kin. Specifically, he seemed to be ripping off James Dean’s publicity stills, jacket and all.
“Hi, Apollo,” said Joe, a touch tiredly.
“I love your musical illusions. Is there any chance you could show me how they work?”
At this rate, Joe might have done well to start charging.
“He’s already agreed to show me the secret of his sharp-light,” insisted Ares.
“Actually,” said Hephaestus, “he said ‘I guess!’ I feel there’s a distinction.”
“You two are being very mercenary. It’s unflattering,” Apollo said with a grin. “You’re talking about this boy like he’s your bond-slave!” He took Joe’s hand. “Does this look like the skin of a common labourer? Smooth as milk!”
Joe’s right eye twitched. He withdrew his hand. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”
Joe was already weaving through the crowd. “Yep!” he lied.
Apollo watched the boy as he went. “Strange lad,” he commented to his half-brothers. “Not without charm, but strange. Reminds me a little of Nancy’s boy.”
“Yes,” said Ares. “How is Lucius?”
Apollo tilted his head. “…I don’t know. Should check in sometime.”
“Hey Joe! Come say hi to my friends!”
Joseph turned at the sound of Palaemon’s voice. The boy was standing with three other godlings: two girls, one male.
Thank God. Other kids. At least they probably wouldn’t try hitting on him. Probably.
Palaemon brought his friends over. Only the most up to the minute mythographies would have mentioned the young deities. Despite what some mortals thought, the gods were not static in their… relations.
“This is Kauma. She’s the goddess of…” Pal glanced at the little girl with the translucent, Cherenkov blue skin. “What is it again?”
“Atomic power,” explained Kauma. “It’s the energy you get from splitting atoms.13”
Pal grinned at Joe. “Whatever those are, right?”
Joe smiled past him at Kauma. “I know what fission is.”
A boy with comic book panels for skin and sunspots for hair shook Joe’s hand. He was older than either Palaemon or Kauma: maybe twelve or so.
“Paideikon,14” he identified himself. “God of sequential art.”
“Sequential art,” repeated Joe. “That’s comics, right? Superman and The Phantom and all that?”
Paideikon sucked in a breath. “If you must.”
Joe examined the boy’s skin. Superheroes abounded, but were narrowly outnumbered by a plurality of other genres. Vampires and werewolves, swooning girls and kissing couples, cowboys and UFOS.
As he watched, a panel of Batman swinging across a yellow sky blurred and swirled, reforming into Frankenstein’s monster with his arms stretched out.
“I’m going through changes,” explained Paideikon.
Finally, there was Stereulaios, goddess of plastic15. Her skin and hair were plastic, too, giving Joe the unfortunate impression of an older, anatomically correct baby doll.
“Say,” said Joe, “have you guys ever tried pizza?”
“Your lot ran Italy for ages,” said Joe through a mouthful of melted cheese. “How did you guys never try pizza?”
“Dunno,” said Paideikon. “I’m barely sixty.”
“You know what’s crap?” said Kauma, waving a slice of pizza around. Flecks of cheese sizzled against her glowing chest. “There’s like, three hundred nuclear bombs out there, and they’re hardly being used!” She thumped her fist against the countertop. “I want more boom!”
“Heck yeah,” said Joe. “America’s full of deserts, just use them!” He grinned at the little goddess. “I watched a bomb test once. Gave me a heck of a tan.”
“Sure,” said Pal, “shame about the tan-lines.”
Joe slapped a slice in Palaemon’s face. “Shut up!”
“I don’t just want deserts!” protested Kauma. “I want cities! Forests!”
“It’s no fun if it’s blowing up nothing! Something needs to be on fire.”
“But—but people live in cities! And animals live in forests!”
Kauma shrugged. “They’re gonna die someday. At least nuclear bombs do it fast.”
“Except when they don’t! Except when they make them sick and sick and sicker. Except when they make babies come out wrong!”
“What,” said Paideikon, “like the Hundred-Handers18?”
“No! Like babies without brains! Or eyes!”
“…So double cyclopes?”
“I agree with you,” said Stereulaios. “Blowing up cities sounds horrid.”
Joe nodded desperately at the plastic goddess. “It does, doesn’t it?”
“Well, yeah. All the plastic would be ruined!”
Joe had no answer to that. He hopped off his kitchen stool. “Enjoy your pizza,” he said sourly, storming out of the kitchen.
“Wait, Joe,” Palaemon called after him. He scrambled off his seat and ran after his friend. “Joe!”
Joe was heading towards the elevator. What good was running from his own party? There was no escaping the awful.
Palaemon caught up to the bigger boy. “Why are you being so weird?”
Joe turned on his heels and glared. “They’re horrible.”
“Your friends! Everyone!”
Pal kneaded his hands. “Big gods can be…”
“Mean. But my friends—”
“Your friends are evil too!”
“…No they’re not,” Pal said in a very small voice. “They’re my friends.”
“Have fun then!”
When the elevator door opened on Clark’s, Joe flew over the crowd to the bar, much to the delight of the gathered gods and goddesses.
Joe ignored them.
He alighted on a barstool. “Lemonade, barman. Ice-cold.”
“You got it, Mr. Allworth,” said the newly constructed Iszac Steel.
“About the only thing I got…”
“You seem down for someone who pulled off the party of the divine year19.”
Joe looked beside him. There was a woman sitting beside him. She was sipping a glass of whiskey in a white feathered gown. Her face gave a very eagleline impression.
“It’s not unusual, I assure you,” she said. She sounded Scottish.
Joe narrowed his eyes at the woman. “Who says I’m down?”
“The fact you’re trying to pretend lemonade is booze.”
Iszac slid a tall, frosty glass in front of the boy.
“Here you go, boss.”
Joe looked miserably at the bar-robot. “Thanks.”
“Come on, tell me what’s the matter,” implored the woman. “Bars are for sharing miseries. We hold them under together until they drown.”
“…I don’t think I belong here.”
The woman considered that. “I mean, it’s a bar. You’re what, seven?”
“Ten! And I built it!”
The woman just chuckled.
“I mean—I don’t belong with you. Your folk, I mean.” Joe squinted at the woman. “You’re a goddess, right?”
“People have been debating that for a long time. So where do you belong?”
Joe laid his head on the counter. “In space, with my family.”
The woman put a hand on the child’s back. It took some effort not to flinch. “Can I ask you something else?”
“Who loved you. You don’t strike me as someone who’s never had that in their life.”
“Couple of mortals. In Canada”
“Aye.” The woman finished her drink. “Word of advice, Mr. Allworth. Mortals don’t have the time we do. Be sure you’re done with them before you leave them. For both your sakes”
The woman stood up and smoothed the front of her dress. “Have a good evening, Joseph. It’s time for me to go.”
“Why? Party’s not over yet.”
The woman shrugged. “Eh, not my crowd. Nothing wrong with that.”
A sunbeam sailed out through the sea-window.
Joseph endured the rest of the night. He even enjoyed himself. The gods weren’t all bad people. They weren’t people, for starters.
And when the very last guest had hitched a lift home on the sunrise, Joseph went home, too.
“And that was it,” said Palaemon. “Joe went home.” He sighed. “Kinda wish he stuck with us—especially after, you know—but he wasn’t going to fit in. Joe is Joe.”
Penderghast nodded. “He sounds… sensitive.”
Palaemon nodded and pointed at the warlock. “Yeah, that’s the word!”
Linda and Blair were still sitting on the Corvette’s hood. The latter noticed Linda’s face was… shiny.
“…Are you crying, Lin—”
Linda shoved her hand over his mouth and sniffed. “Shut up, Blair!”
“Alright now,” said Howard, folding his arms the way he would with one of his nieces and nephews. “That hint?”
“Oh, um, yeah.”
He had told the wizard he had a hint, hadn’t he?
The godling swallowed. “I know where you can find his mother.” A heartbeat. “Foster-mother.”
Penderghast stared at the child.
“I’m sorry—I just wanted you to listen—”
Howard hoisted Palaemon up into his arms. “You weren’t kidding when you said you had a lead, were you!” he laughed.
Howard called over to the other children. “Kids, in the car!”
Less than a minute later, the Corvette roared into the sky. Towards Catalpa.
1. A 59 to be specific. ↩
2. Like the vast majority of consumer automobiles at the time, Howard Penderghast’s Corvette was not grudgingly fitted with seatbelts until 1968. ↩
3. Three thousand years was a long time. ↩
4. Specifically Gossamer, who first appeared in the 1947 short Hair-Raising Hare before being recycled into Water, Water Every Hare.↩
5. He did, with the help of Poseidon. Not that these walls helped much when Heracles sacked the city. ↩
6. Due to the Olympians somewhat loose relationship with mortal timekeeping, practical theologians and historians debate the date of the abdication. With some placing it anywhere from the end of the Hellenic Dark Age to as far as the reign of Augustus. ↩
7. Alexiares and Anicetus, twin sons of Heracles after his ascension to godhood with Hebe, his half-sister and goddess of eternal youth, former cupbearer of Zeus. Like Palaemon, the boys have so far declined to grow up. ↩
8. Specifically his children by Megara, who would later be given in marriage to Heracles’ nephew (and former lover) Iolaus. During his mortal life, Heracles had over sixty children with many different women. ↩
9. First the latter, then the former, as the story travelled ever northwards. ↩
10. The Kourai Khryseai, automatons of gold fashioned by Hephaestus in the shape of human women. ↩
11. This was six years before the term “laser” was formally introduced to the public by Gordon Gould in his paper The LASER, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Some super-scientists who had actualized the concept earlier and coined their own nomenclature are still bitter about that. ↩
12. Aphrodite, goddess of love. ↩
13. Born July 16th, 1945 to Ares and Hestia. Perpetual virginity got tiresome after a few eons. ↩
14. A son of Apollo and Thalia, muse of comedy. ↩
15. Daughter of Hephaestus and an obscure Oread. ↩
16. Especially seafood. Palaemon did the grocery run. ↩
17. But no pineapple. Hawaiian pizza wouldn’t be unleashed upon the world until 1963. ↩
18. Often known as the Hecatoncheires, monstrous, gigantic offspring of Gaia and Ouranous with fifty heads and one hundred arms. This is false however. The hundred-handed ones were built, not born, and had no relation, familial or otherwise, to any of the Olympian gods until their alliance with Zeus. ↩
19. Equal to seven human years. ↩