Book: Olympos


Dan Simmons


This novel is for Harold Bloom, who—in his refusal to collaborate in this Age of Resentment—has given me great pleasure.

How could Homer have known about these things? When all this happened he was a camel in Bactria!

—Lucian, The Dream

…the real-life history of the earth must in the last instance be a history of a really relentless warfare. Neither his fellows, nor his gods, nor his passions will leave a man alone.

—Joseph Conrad, Notes on Life and Letters

O write no more the tale of Troy,

If earth Death’s scroll must be—

Nor mix with Laian rage the joy

Which dawns upon the free:

Although a subtler Sphinx renew

Riddles of death Thebes never knew.

Another Athens shall arise,

And to remoter time

Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,

The splendor of its prime;

And leave, if naught so bright may live,

All earth can take or Heaven can give.

—Percy Blythe Shelley, Hellas

Part I


Helen of Troy awakes just before dawn to the sound of air raid sirens. She feels along the cushions of her bed but her current lover, Hockenberry, is gone—slipped out into the night again before the servants wake, acting as he always does after their nights of lovemaking, acting as if he has done something shameful, no doubt stealing his way home this very minute through the alleys and back streets where the torches burn least bright. Helen thinks that Hockenberry is a strange and sad man. Then she remembers.

My husband is dead.

This fact, Paris killed in single combat with the merciless Apollo, has been reality for nine days—the great funeral involving both Trojans and Achaeans will begin in three hours if the god-chariot now over the city does not destroy Ilium completely in the next few minutes—but Helen still cannot believe that her Paris is gone. Paris, son of Priam, defeated on the field of battle? Paris dead? Paris thrown down into the shaded caverns of Hades without beauty of body or the elegance of action? Unthinkable. This is Paris, her beautiful boy-child who had stolen her away from Menelaus, past the guards and across the green lawns of Lacedaemon. This is Paris, her most attentive lover even after this long decade of tiring war, he whom she had often secretly referred to as her “plunging stallion full-fed at the manger.”

Helen slips out of bed and crosses to the outer balcony, parting the gauzy curtains as she emerges into the pre-dawn light of Ilium. It is midwinter and the marble is cold under her bare feet. The sky is still dark enough that she can see forty or fifty searchlights stabbing skyward, searching for the god or goddess and the flying chariot. Muffled plasma explosions ripple across the half dome of the moravecs’ energy field that shields the city. Suddenly, multiple beams of coherent light—shafts of solid blue, emerald green, blood red—lance upward from Ilium’s perimeter defenses. As Helen watches, a single huge explosion shakes the northern quadrant of the city, sending its shockwave echoing across the topless towers of Ilium and stirring the curls of Helen’s long, dark hair from her shoulders. The gods have begun using physical bombs to penetrate the force shield in recent weeks, the single-molecule bomb casings quantum phase-shifting through the moravecs’ shield. Or so Hockenberry and the amusing little metal creature, Mahnmut, have tried to explain to her.

Helen of Troy does not give a fig about machines.

Paris is dead. The thought is simply unsupportable. Helen has been prepared to die with Paris on the day that the Achaeans, led by her former husband, Menelaus, and by his brother Agamemnon, ultimately breach the walls, as breach they must according to her prophetess friend Cassandra, putting every man and boy-child in the city to death, raping the women and hauling them off to slavery in the Greek Isles. Helen has been ready for that day—ready to die by her own hand or by the sword of Menelaus—but somehow she has never really believed that her dear, vain, godlike Paris, her plunging stallion, her beautiful warrior-husband, could die first. Through more than nine years of siege and glorious battle, Helen has trusted the gods to keep her beloved Paris alive and intact and in her bed. And they did. And now they have killed him.

She calls back the last time she saw her Trojan husband, ten days earlier, heading out from the city to enter into single combat with the god Apollo. Paris had never looked more confident in his armor of elegant, gleaming bronze, his head flung back, his long hair flowing back over his shoulders like a stallion’s mane, his white teeth flashing as Helen and thousands of others watched and cheered from the wall above the Scaean Gate. His fast feet had sped him on, “sure and sleek in his glory,” as King Priam’s favorite bard liked to sing. But this day they had sped him on to his own slaughter by the hands of furious Apollo.

And now he’s dead, thinks Helen, and, if the whispered reports I’ve overheard are accurate, his body is a scorched and blasted thing, his bones broken, his perfect, golden face burned into an obscenely grinning skull, his blue eyes melted to tallow, tatters of barbecued flesh stringing back from his scorched cheekbones like… like… firstlings–like those charred first bits of ceremonial meat tossed from the sacrificial fire because they have been deemed unworthy. Helen shivers in the cold wind coming up with the dawn and watches smoke rise above the rooftops of Troy.

Three antiaircraft rockets from the Achaean encampment to the south roar skyward in search of the retreating god-chariot. Helen catches a glimpse of that retreating chariot—a brief gleaming as bright as the morning star, pursued now by the exhaust trails from the Greek rockets. Without warning, the shining speck quantum shifts out of sight, leaving the morning sky empty. Flee back to besieged Olympos, you cowards, thinks Helen of Troy.

The all-clear sirens begin to whine. The street below Helen’s apartments in Paris’s estate so near Priam’s battered palace are suddenly filled with running men, bucket brigades rushing to the northwest where smoke still rises into the winter air. Moravec flying machines hum over the rooftops, looking like nothing so much as chitinous black hornets with their barbed landing gear and swiveling projectors. Some, she knows from experience and from Hockenberry’s late-night rants, will fly what he calls air cover, too late to help, while others will aid in putting out the fire. Then Trojans and moravecs both will pull mangled bodies from the rubble for hours. Since Helen knows almost everyone in the city, she wonders numbly who will be in the ranks of those sent down to sunless Hades so early this morning.

The morning of Paris’s funeral. My beloved. My foolish and betrayed beloved.

Helen hears her servants beginning to stir. The oldest of the servants—the old woman Aithra, formerly queen of Athens and mother to royal Theseus until carried away by Helen’s brothers in revenge for the kidnapping of their sister—is standing in the doorway to Helen’s bedchamber.

“Shall I have the girls draw your bath, my lady?” asks Aithra.

Helen nods. She watches the skies brighten a moment more—sees the smoke to the northwest thicken and then lessen as the fire brigades and moravec fire engines bring it under control, watches another moment as the rockvec battle hornets continue to fling themselves eastward in hopeless pursuit of the already quantum-teleported chariot—and then Helen of Troy turns to go inside, her bare feet whispering on the cold marble. She has to prepare herself for Paris’s funeral rites and for seeing her cuckolded husband, Menelaus, for the first time in ten years. This also will be the first time that Hector, Achilles, Menelaus, Helen, and many of the other Achaeans and Trojans all will be present at a public event. Anything could happen.

Only the gods know what will come of this awful day, thinks Helen. And then she has to smile despite her sadness. These days, prayers to the gods go unanswered with a vengeance. These days, the gods share nothing with mortal men—or at least nothing except death and doom and terrible destruction carried earthward by their own divine hands.

Helen of Troy goes inside to bathe and dress for the funeral.


Red-haired Menelaus stood silent in his best armor, upright, motionless, regal, and proud between Odysseus and Diomedes at the forefront of the Achaean delegation of heroes gathered there at the funeral rites within the walls of Ilium to honor his wife-stealing enemy, Priam’s son, that shit-eating pig-dog, Paris. Every minute he stood there Menelaus was pondering how and when to kill Helen.

It should be easy enough. She was just across the broad lane and up the wall a bit, less than fifty feet from him opposite the Achaean delegation at the heart of the huge inner court of Troy, up there on the royal reviewing stand with old Priam. With luck, Menelaus could sprint there faster than anyone could intercept him. And even without luck, if the Trojans did have time to get between him and his wife, Menelaus would hack them down like weeds.

Menelaus was not a tall man—not a noble giant like his absent brother, Agamemnon, nor an ignoble giant like that ant-pizzle Achilles—so he knew he’d never be able to leap to the reviewing ledge, but would have to take the stairs up through the crowd of Trojans there, hacking and shoving and killing as he went. That was fine with Menelaus.

But Helen could not escape. The reviewing balcony on the wall of the Temple of Zeus had only the one staircase down to this city courtyard. She could retreat into the Temple of Zeus, but he could follow her there, corner her there. Menelaus knew that he would kill her before he went down under the attacks of scores of outraged Trojans—including Hector leading the funeral procession now coming into sight—and then the Achaeans and Trojans would be at war with one another again, forsaking their mad war against the gods. Of course, Menelaus’ life would almost certainly be forfeit if the Trojan War resumed here, today—as would Odysseus’, Diomedes’, and perhaps even the life of invulnerable Achilles himself, since there were only thirty Achaeans here at the pig Paris’s funeral, and thousands of Trojans present all around in the courtyard and on the walls and massed between the Achaeans and the Scaean Gate behind them.

It will be worth it.

This thought crashed through Menelaus’ skull like the point of a lance. It will be worth it—any price would be worth it—to kill that faithless bitch. Despite the weather—it was a cool, gray winter’s day—sweat poured down under his helmet, trickled through his short, red beard, and dripped from his chin, spattering on his bronze breastplate. He’d heard that dripping, spattering-on-metal sound many times before, of course, but it had always been his enemies’ blood dripping on armor. Menelaus’ right hand, set lightly on his silver-studded sword, gripped the hilt of that sword with a numbing ferocity.


Not now.

Why not now? If not now, when?

Not now.

The two arguing voices in his aching skull—both voices his, since the gods no longer spoke to him—were driving Menelaus insane.

Wait until Hector lights the funeral pyre and then act.

Menelaus blinked sweat out of his eyes. He didn’t know which voice this was—the one that had been urging action or the cowardly one urging restraint—but Menelaus agreed with its suggestion. The funeral procession had just entered the city through the huge Scaean Gate, was in the process of carrying Paris’s burned corpse—hidden now beneath a silken shroud—down the main thoroughfare to the center courtyard of Troy, where ranks upon ranks of dignitaries and heroes waited, the women—including Helen—watching from the reviewing wall above. Within a very few minutes, the dead man’s older brother Hector would be lighting the pyre and all attention would be riveted on the flames as they devoured the already burned body. A perfect time to act—no one will notice me until my blade is ten inches into Helen’s traitorous breast.

Traditionally, funerals for such royal personages as Paris, son of Priam, one of the Princes of Troy, lasted nine days, with many of the days taken up by funeral games—including chariot races and athletic competitions, usually ending in spear-throwing. But Menelaus knew that the ritual nine days since Apollo blasted Paris into charcoal had been taken up by the long voyage of carts and cutters to the forests still standing on Mount Ida many leagues to the southeast. The little machine-things called moravecs had been called on to fly their hornets and magical devices along with the cutters, providing force-shield defenses against the gods should they attack. And they had attacked, of course. But the woodcutters had done their job.

It was only now, on the tenth day, that the wood was gathered and in Troy and ready for the pyre, although Menelaus and many of his friends, including Diomedes standing next to him here in the Achaean contingent, thought that burning Paris’s putrid corpse on a funeral pyre was an absolute waste of good firewood since both the city of Troy and the miles of Achaean camps along the shore had been out of fuel for campfires for many months, so picked-over were the scrub trees and former forests surrounding Ilium itself ten years into that war. The battlefield was a stubble of stumps. Even the branches had long since been scavenged. The Achaean slaves were cooking dinners for their masters over dung-fueled fires, and that didn’t improve either the taste of meat or the foul mood of the Achaean warriors.

Leading the funeral cortege into Ilium was a procession of Trojan chariots, one by one, the horses’ hooves wrapped in black felt and raising little noise on the broad stones of the city’s thoroughfare and town square. Riding on these chariots, standing silent beside their drivers, were some of the greatest heroes of Ilium, fighters who’d survived more than nine years of the original war and now eight months of this more terrible war with the gods. First came Polydorus, another son of Priam’s, followed by Paris’s other half brother, Mestor. The next chariot carried the Trojan ally Ipheus, then Laoducus, son of Antenor. Following in their own jewel-bedecked chariots were old Antenor himself, down among the fighting men as always rather than up on the wall with the other elders, then the captain Polyphetes, then Sarpedon’s famed charioteer, Thrasmelus, standing in for the Sarpedon himself, co-commander of the Lycians, killed by Patroclus months ago when Trojans still fought Greeks rather than gods. Then came noble Pylartes—not, of course, the Trojan killed by Great Ajax just before the war with the gods began, but this other Pylartes who so often fights alongside Elasus and Mulius. Also in this procession are Megas’ son, Perimus, as well as Epistor and Melanippus.

Menelaus recognized them all, these men, these heroes, these enemies. He’d seen their contorted and blood-filled faces under bronze helmets a thousand times across the short deadly space of lance-thrust and sword-hack separating him from his twin goals—Ilium and Helen.

She’s fifty feet away. And no one will expect my attack.

Behind the muffled chariots came groomsmen leading the potential sacrificial animals—ten of Paris’s second-best horses and his hunting dogs, droves of fat sheep—a serious sacrifice these last, since both wool and mutton were growing scarce under the siege of the gods—and some old, shambling crooked-horned cattle. These cattle were not there for their pride of sacrifice—who was there to sacrifice to now that the gods were enemies?—but there for their fat to make the funeral pyre burn brighter and hotter.

Behind the sacrificial animals came thousands of Trojan infantry, all in polished armor this dull winter’s day, their ranks running back out through the Scaean Gate and onto the plains of Ilium. In the midst of this mass of men moved Paris’s funeral bier, carried by twelve of his closest comrades-in-arms, men who would have died for Priam’s second-eldest son and who even now wept as they carried the massive palanquin for the dead.

Paris’s body was covered by a blue shroud and that shroud was already buried in thousands of locks of hair—symbols of mourning from Paris’s men and lesser relatives, since Hector and the closer relatives would cut their locks just before the funeral pyre was lighted. The Trojans had not asked the Achaeans to contribute locks for mourning, and if they had—and if Achilles, Hector’s principal ally these mad days, had passed on that request, or worse yet, formed it as an order to be enforced by his Myrmidons—Menelaus would have personally led the revolt.

Menelaus wished that his brother Agamemnon were there. Agamemnon always seemed to know the proper course of action. Agamemnon was their true Argive commander—not the usurper Achilles and never the Trojan bastard Hector, who presumed to give orders to Argives, Achaeans, Myrmidons, and Trojans alike these days. No, Agamemnon was the Greeks’ true leader, and if he were there today, he’d either stop Menelaus from this reckless attack on Helen or join him to the death in carrying it out. But Agamemnon and five hundred of his loyal men had sailed their black ships back to Sparta and the Greek Isles seven weeks earlier—they were expected to be gone another month, at least—ostensibly to round up new recruits in this war against the gods, but secretly to enlist allies in a revolt against Achilles.

Achilles. Now appeared that traitorous monster walking only a step behind weeping Hector, who kept pace just behind the bier, cradling his dead brother’s head in his two huge hands.

At the sight of Paris’s body, a great moan went up from the thousands of Trojans massed on the walls and within the square. Women on rooftops and the wall—lesser women, not the females in Priam’s royal family or Helen—began a keening ululation. Despite himself, Menelaus felt goosebumps break out on his forearms. Funeral cries from women always affected him thus.

My broken and twisted arm, thought Menelaus, stoking his anger as one would stoke a fading bonfire.

Achilles—this same Achilles man-god passing now as Paris’s bier was solemnly carried past this honor-contingent of Achaean captains—had broken Menelaus’ arm just eight months earlier, on the day that the fleet-footed mankiller had announced to all the Achaeans that Pallas Athena had killed his friend Patroclus and carried the body to Olympos as a taunt. Then Achilles had announced that the Achaeans and Trojans would no longer make war on each other, but besiege holy Mount Olympos instead.

Agamemnon had objected to this—objected to everything: to Achilles’ arrogance and usurpation of Agamemnon’s rightful power as king-of-kings of all the Greeks assembled here at Troy, to the blasphemy of attacking the gods, no matter whose friend had been murdered by Athena—if Achilles was even telling the truth—and had objected most to the fact that tens and tens of thousands of Achaean fighters being put under Achilles’ control.

Achilles’ response that fateful day had been short and simple—he would fight any man, any Greek, who opposed his leadership and his declaration of war. He would fight them in single combat or take them all on at once. Let the last man standing rule the Achaeans from that morning forward.

Agamemnon and Menelaus, the proud sons of Atreus, had both attacked Achilles with spear, sword, and shield, while hundreds of the Achaean captains and thousands of the infantry watched in stunned silence.

Menelaus was a bloodied veteran though not counted amongst the first ranks of heroes at Troy, but his older brother was considered—at least while Achilles had sulked in his tent for weeks—the fiercest fighter of all the Achaeans. His spearcasts were almost always on target, his sword cut through reinforced enemy shields like a blade through cloth, and he showed no mercy to even the noblest enemies begging for their lives to be spared. Agamemnon was as tall and muscled and godlike as blond Achilles, but his body bore a decade’s more battle scars and his eyes that day were filled with a demon’s rage, while Achilles waited coolly, an almost distracted look on his boy-man’s face.

Achilles had disarmed both brothers as if they were children. Agamemnon’s powerful spearcast deflected from Achilles’ flesh as if Peleus’ and the goddess Thetis’ son were surrounded by one of the moravecs’ invisible energy shields. Agamemnon’s savage sword swing—fierce enough, Menelaus had thought at the time, to cut through a block of stone—shattered on Achilles’ beautiful shield.

Then Achilles had disarmed them both—throwing their extra spears and Menelaus’ sword into the ocean—tossing them down onto the packed sand and ripping their armor from their bodies with the ease a great eagle might tear cloth away from a helpless corpse. The fleet-footed mankiller had broken Menelaus’ left arm then—the circle of straining captains and infantry had gasped at the green-stick snap of the bone—and then Achilles broke Agamemnon’s nose with a seemingly effortless flat thrust of his palm, finally kicking in the ribs of the king-of-kings. Then Achilles planted his sandal on the moaning Agamemnon’s chest while Menelaus lay moaning next to his brother.

Only then had Achilles drawn his sword.

“Surrender and vow allegiance to me this day and I will treat you both with the respect due the sons of Atreus and honor you as fellow-captains and allies in the war to come,” Achilles said. “Hesitate a second, and I’ll send your dog-souls down to Hades before your friends can blink and scatter your corpses to the waiting vultures so that your bodies will never find burial.”

Agamemnon, gasping and groaning, almost vomiting the bile rising within him, had given surrender and allegiance to Achilles. Menelaus, filled with the agony of a bruised leg, his own set of broken ribs, and a shattered arm, had followed suit a second later.

All in all, thirty-five captains of the Achaeans had chosen to oppose Achilles that day. All had been bested within an hour, the bravest of them decapitated when they refused to surrender, their corpses thrown to birds and fish and dogs just as Achilles had threatened, but the other twenty-eight had ended up swearing their service. None of the other great Achaean heroes of Agamemnon’s stature—not Odysseus, not Diomedes, not Nestor, neither Big nor Little Ajax, not Teucer—had challenged the fleet-footed mankiller that day. All had vowed aloud—after hearing more about Athena’s murder of Patroclus and, later, hearing the details of the same goddess’s slaughter of Hector’s baby son, Scamandrius—to declare war on the gods that very morning.

Now Menelaus felt his arm ache—the set bones had not healed straight and proper, despite the best ministrations of their famed healer, Podalirius, son of Asclepius, and the arm still bothered Menelaus on cool days like this—but he resisted the urge to rub that ache as Paris’s funeral bier and Apollo proceeded slowly in front of the Achaean delegation.

Now the shrouded and lock-covered bier is set down next to the funeral pyre, below the reviewing stand on the wall of the Temple to Zeus. The ranks of infantry in the procession cease marching. The women’s moans and ululation from the other walls cease. In the sudden silence, Menelaus can hear the horses’ rough breathing and then the stream from one horse pissing on stone.

On the wall, Helenus, the old male seer standing next to Priam, the primary prophet and counselor of Ilium, shouts down some short eulogy that is lost on the wind that has just come in from the sea, blowing like a cold, disapproving breath from the gods. Helenus hands a ceremonial knife to Priam, who, though almost bald, has kept a few long strands of gray hair above his ears for just such solemn occasions. Priam uses the razor-sharp blade to sever a lock of that gray hair. A slave—Paris’s personal slave for many years—catches that lock in a golden bowl and moves on to Helen, who receives the knife from Priam and looks at the blade for a long second as if contemplating using it on herself, plunging it into her breast—Menelaus feels a sudden alarm that she will do just that, depriving him of his vengeance that is now only moments away—but then Helen raises the knife, seizes one of her long side tresses, and slices off the end. The brunette lock falls into the golden bowl and the slave moves on to mad Cassandra, one of Priam’s many daughters.

Despite the effort and danger of bringing the wood from Mount Ida, the pyre is a worthy one. Since they could not fill the city square with a traditional royal pyre a hundred feet on each side and still have room for people there, the pyre is only thirty feet to a side, but taller than usual, rising up to the level of the reviewing platform on the wall. Broad wooden steps, small platforms in themselves, have been built as a ramp-way to the apex of the pyre. Strong timber, reft from Paris’s own palace walls, square and support the massive heap of firewood.

The strong pallbearers carry Paris’s bier to the small platform at the top of the pyre. Hector waits below at the foot of the wide stairs.

Now the animals are quickly and efficiently killed by men who are experts at both butchery and religious sacrifice—and after all, thinks Menelaus, what’s the difference between the two? The sheep and cattle’s throats are cut, blood drained into more ceremonial bowls, hides skinned, and fat flensed in mere minutes. Paris’s corpse is wrapped about in folds of animal fat like soft bread around burned meat.

Now the flayed animal carcasses are carried up the steps and laid around Paris’s shrouded body. Women—virgins in full ceremonial gowns with their faces covered by veils—come forth from Zeus’s temple carrying two-handled jars of honey and oil. Not allowed on the pyre itself, they hand these jars to Paris’s bodyguards, now turned bier-bearers, who carry the jars up the steps and set them around the bier with great care.

Paris’s favorite chariot horses are led forth, the four finest are chosen from the ten, and Hector cuts the animals’ throats with his brother’s long knife—moving from one to the next so quickly that even these intelligent, high-spirited, superbly trained war animals have no time to react.

It’s Achilles who—with wild zeal and inhuman strength—flings the bodies of the four massive stallions onto the pyre, one after the next, each one higher onto the pyramid of timbers and logs.

Paris’s personal slave leads six of his master’s favorite dogs into the clearing next to the pyre. Hector moves from one dog to the next, patting and scratching them behind the ears. Then he pauses to think a moment, as if remembering all the times he had seen his brother feed these dogs from the table and take them on hunting expeditions to the mountains or the inland marshes.

Hector chooses two of the dogs, nods for the others to be led away, holds each affectionately for a minute by the loose skin at the back of its neck as if offering it a bone or a treat, and then cuts each dog’s throat so violently that the blade almost severs the animal’s head from its body. Hector himself flings the corpses of the two dogs onto the pyre—heaving them far above the bodies of the stallions so that they land at the foot of the bier itself.

Now a surprise.

Ten bronze-armored Trojans and ten bronze-armored Achaean spearmen lead forward a man-pulled cart. On the cart is a cage. In the cage is a god.


On the reviewing balcony high on the wall of Zeus’s temple, Cassandra watched the funeral ceremony for Paris with a growing sense of doom. When the cart was pulled into the center courtyard of Troy—pulled by eight chosen Trojan spearmen, not by horses or oxen—the cart carrying its sole cargo of a doomed god, Cassandra came close to swooning.

Helen caught her elbow and held her up. “What is it?” whispered the Greek woman, her friend, who, with Paris, had brought all this pain and tragedy down on Troy.

“It’s madness,” whispered Cassandra, leaning back against the marble wall, although whether her madness, or the madness of sacrificing a god or the madness of this whole, long war, or the madness of Menelaus below in the courtyard—a madness which she had been sensing grow over the past hour like a terrible storm sent by Zeus—Cassandra did not make clear to Helen. Nor did she herself know which she meant.

The captured god, held not only behind the iron bars hammered into the cart but also within the clear egg of the moravec forcefield that had finally trapped him, was named Dionysos–or Dionysus, son of Zeus by Semele, god of fulfillment in wine and in sex and in release to rapture. Cassandra, whose personal Lord from childhood had been Apollo—Paris’s killer—had nonetheless communed with Dionysos on more than one intimate occasion. This god had been the only divinity captured in combat so far in the new war, wrestled into submission by godlike Achilles, denied his quantum teleportation by moravec magic, talked into surrender by the wily Odysseus, and kept in thrall by the borrowed moravec forceshield now shimmering around him like heated air on a midsummer’s day.

Dionysos was unprepossessing for a god—short of stature, a mere six feet tall, pale, pudgy even by mortal standards, with a mass of gold-brown curls and a boy’s first attempt at a sketchy beard.

The cart stopped. Hector unlocked the cage and reached through the semipermeable forcefield to drag Dionysos up onto the first step of the pyre’s staircase. Achilles also laid his hand on the small god’s neck.

“Deicide,” whispered Cassandra. “God murder. Madness and deicide.”

Helen and Priam and Andromache and the others on the reviewing balcony ignored her. All eyes were on the pale god and the two taller, bronzed mortals on either side of him.

Unlike Seer Helenus’ wispy voice, which had been lost to the cold wind and crowd murmur, Hector’s booming shout rolled out over the crowded city center and echoed back from the tall towers and high walls of Ilium; it might have been clearly audible atop Mount Ida leagues to the east.

“Paris, beloved brother—we are here to say farewell to you and to say it so that you shall hear us even there where you now reside, deep in the House of Death.

“We send you sweet honey, rare oil, your favorite steeds, and your most loyal dogs—and now I offer to you this god from Olympos, Zeus’s son, whose fat shall feed the hungry flames and speed your soul to Hades.”

Hector drew his sword. The forcefield flickered and died, but Dionysos remained shackled in leg irons and wrist irons. “May I speak?” said the pale little god. His voice did not carry as far as Hector’s had.

Hector hesitated.

“Let the god speak!” called down the seer Helenus from his place by Priam on the balcony of Zeus’s temple.

“Let the god speak!” cried the Achaean seer Calchas from his place near Menelaus.

Hector frowned but nodded. “Say your last words, bastard son of Zeus. But even if they are a plea to your father, they will not save you today. Nothing will save you today. Today you are firstling for my brother’s corpse fire.”

Dionysos smiled, but it was a tremulous smile—tremulous for a mortal man, much less for a god.

“Trojans and Achaeans,” called the flabby little god with the straggly bit of beard. “You can’t kill one of the immortal gods. I was born from the womb of death, you fools. As a boy-god, Zeus’s child, my toys were those prophesied as the toys of the new ruler of the world—dice, ball, top, golden apples, bullroarer, and wool.

“But the Titans, whom my Father had beaten and thrown down into Tartarus, the hell beneath hell, the nightmare kingdom below the kingdom of the dead where your brother Paris now floats like a forgotten fart, whitened their faces with chalk and came like the spirits of the dead and attacked me with their bare, white hands and tore me into seven pieces, and threw me into a cauldron standing over a tripod that stood above a fire much hotter than this puny pyre you build here today.”

“Are you finished?” asked Hector, raising his sword.

“Almost,” said Dionysos, his voice happier and stronger now, its power echoing back from the far walls that had sent Hector’s voice bouncing back earlier.

“They boiled me and then roasted me over the fire on seven spits, and the smell of my cooking was so delicious that it drew my father, Zeus himself, down to the Titans’ feast, hoping to be invited to the meal. But when he saw my boy’s skull on the spit and my boy’s hands in the broth, Father smote the Titans with lightning and hurled them back in Tartarus, where they reside in terror and misery unto this very day.”

“Is that all?” said Hector.

“Almost,” said Dionysos. He raised his face to King Priam and the royals on the balcony of Zeus’s temple. The small god’s voice was a bull-roar now.

“But others say that my boiled limbs were thrown into the earth where Demeter gathered them together—and thus came to man the first vines to give you wine. Only one boyish limb of mine survived the fire and the earth—and Pallas Athena brought that limb to Zeus, who entrusted my kradiaios Dionysos to Hipta, the Asian name for the Great Mother Rheaso, that she might carry it on her head. Father used that term, kradiaios Dionysos as a sort of pun, you seen, since kradia in the old tongue means ‘heart’ and krada means ‘fig tree’, so…”

“Enough,” cried Hector. “Endless prattling will not prolong your dog’s life. End this in ten words or fewer or I’ll end it for you.”

“Eat me,” said Dionysos.

Hector swung his great sword with both hands, decapitating the god with one blow.

The crowd of Trojans and Greeks gasped. The massed ranks all took a step backward. Dionysos’ headless body stood there on the lowest platform for several seconds, tottering but still upright, until it suddenly toppled like a marionette with its strings cut. Hector grabbed the fallen head, its mouth still open, lifted it by its thin beard, and threw it high up on the funeral pyre so that it landed between the corpses of the horses and the dogs.

Using his sword overhand like an axe now, Hector hacked away—cutting off Dionysos’ arms, then legs, then genitals—throwing every bit onto a different section of the pyre. He took care not to throw them too near Paris’s bier, however, since he and the others would have to sort the ashes later to separate Paris’s revered bones from the unworthy bone-garbage of the dogs, horses, and god. Finally, Hector cut the torso into dozens of small, fleshy bits, throwing most onto the pyre, but lobbing others down to the pack of Paris’s surviving dogs, who had been released into the square by the men who had been handling them since the funeral procession.

As the last bits of bone and gristle were hacked to bits, a black cloud seemed to rise from the pitiful remnants of Dionysos’ corpse—rising like a swirling mass of invisible black gnats, like a small cyclone of black smoke—so fierce for a few seconds that even Hector had to stop his grim work and step back. The crowds, including the Trojan infantry in ranks and the Achaean heroes, also took another step back. Women on the wall screamed and covered their faces with their veils and hands.

Then the cloud was gone, Hector threw the last bits of pasty-white and pink flesh onto the pyre and kicked the rib cage and spine in among the faggots of heaped wood. Then Hector struggled out of his bloody bronze, allowing his attendants to carry away the soiled armor. One slave brought a basin of water and the tall man washed blood off his arms and hands and brow with it, accepting a clean towel from another slave.

Clean now, clad only in tunic and sandals, Hector lifted the golden bowl filled with fresh-cut locks of hair for mourning, ascended the broad steps to the summit of the pyre where the bier resided on its resin-and-wood platform, and poured the hair of his brother’s loved ones and friends and comrades onto the shroud of Paris. A runner—the fastest runner in all the running games in Troy’s recent history—entered through the Scaean Gate carrying a tall torch, jogged through the crowd of infantry and onlookers—a crowd that parted for him—and ran up the wide platform steps to where Hector waited at the top of the pyre.

The runner handed the flickering torch to Hector, bowed, and descended the stairs backward, still bowing.

Menelaus looks up as a dark cloud moves in over the city.

“Phoebus Apollo shrouds the day,” whispers Odysseus.

A cold wind blows in from the west just as Hector drops the torch into the fat—and resin-soaked timber below the bier. The wood smokes but does not burn.

Menelaus, who has always been more excitable in battle than his brother Agamemnon or many other of the coolest killers and greatest heroes among the Greeks, feels his heart begin to pound as the moment for action approaches. It does not bother him so much that he may only have moments more to live, as long as that bitch Helen goes screaming down to Hades before him. If Menelaus, son of Atreus, had his way, the woman would be thrown down into the deeper hell of Tartarus where the Titans whom the dead god Dionysos had just been prattling about still scream and blunder about in the gloom and pain and roar.

Hector gestures, and Achilles carries two brimming goblets up to his former enemy and then goes back down the steps. Hector raises the goblets.

“Winds of the West and North,” cries Hector, raising the goblets, “blustering Zephyr and cold-fingered Boreas, come with a strong blast and light the pyre where Paris lies in state, all the Trojans and even the honoring Argives mourning around him! Come Boreas, come Zephyr, help us light this pyre with your breath and I promise you splendid victims and generous, brimming cups of libation!”

On the balcony above, Helen whispers to Andromache, “This is madness. Madness. Our beloved Hector invoking the aid of the gods, with whom we war, to burn the corpse of the god he just slaughtered.”

Before Andromache can reply, Cassandra laughs aloud from the shadows, drawing stern glances from Priam and the old men around him.

Cassandra ignores the reproachful stares and hisses at Helen and Andromache. “Madnesssss, yessss. I told you all was madness. It’s madness what Menelaussss is planning now, Helen, your slaughter, moments away, no less bloody than the death of Dionysos.”

“What are you talking about, Cassandra?” Helen’s whisper is harsh, but she has gone very pale.

Cassandra smiles. “I’m talking about your death, woman. And just minutes away, postponed only by the refusal of a corpse pyre to light.”


“Your worthy husband,” laughs Cassandra. “Your previous worthy husband. The one who’s not rotting away now like charred compost on a woodpile. Can’t you hear Menelaus’ ragged breathing as he prepares to cut you down? Can’t you smell his sweat? Can’t you hear his foul heart pounding? I can.”

Andromache turns away from the funeral and steps closer to Cassandra, ready to lead her off the balcony into the temple, out of sight and earshot.

Cassandra laughs again and shows a short but very sharp dagger in her hand. “Touch me, bitch, and I’ll carve you up the way you cut up that slave baby you called your own child.”

“Silence!” hisses Andromache. Her eyes are suddenly wide with fury.

Priam and the other old men turn and scowl again. They obviously have not made out the words in their aged semi-deafness, but the tone of the angry whispers and hisses must be unmistakable to them.

Helen’s hands are shaking. “Cassandra, you’ve told me yourself that all your predictions from all your years of casting doom were false. Troy still stands months after you predicted its destruction. Priam is alive, not cut down in this very temple of Zeus as you prophesied. Achilles and Hector are alive, when for years you said they would die before the city fell. None of us women have been dragged into slavery as you predicted, neither you to Agamemnon’s house—where you told us Clytemnestra would slaughter that great king along with you and your infants—nor Andromache to…”

Cassandra throws back her head in a silent howl. Below them, Hector is still offering the wind gods sacrifices and honeyed wine if only they will light his brother’s pyre. If theater had been created at this time, the attendees here today would think that this drama had slipped into farce.

“All that is gone,” whispers Cassandra, slicing across her own forearm with the razor-sharp edge of her dagger. Blood trickles across her pale flesh and drips on marble, but she never looks down at it. Her gaze stays on Andromache and Helen. “The old future is no more, sisters. The Fates have abandoned us. Our world and its future have ceased to be, and some other one—some strange other kosmos–has come into being. But Apollo’s curse of second sight has not abandoned me, sisters. Menelaus is seconds away from rushing up here and sticking his sword through your lovely tit, Helen of Troy.” The last three words are spat out with total sarcasm.

Helen grabs Cassandra by the shoulders. Andromache wrestles away the knife. Together, the two shove the younger woman back between the pillars and into the cool shadows of the interior mezzanine of Zeus’s temple. The clairvoyant young woman is pressed back against the marble railing, the two older women hovering over her like Furies.

Andromache lifts the blade to Cassandra’s pale throat. “We’ve been friends for years, Cassandra,” hisses Hector’s wife, “but one more word out of you, you crazy cunt, and I’ll cut your throat like a hog being hung up to bleed.”

Cassandra smiles.

Helen puts one hand on Andromache’s wrist—although whether to restrain her or be an accomplice to murder, it is hard to tell. Her other hand remains on Cassandra’s shoulder.

“Is Menelaus coming to kill me?” she whispers into the tormented seer’s ear.

“Twice he will come for you today, and each time he will be thwarted,” replied Cassandra in monotone. Her eyes are not focused on either woman. Her smile is a rictus.

“When will he come?” asks Helen. “And who will thwart him?”

“First when Paris’s pyre is lighted,” says Cassandra, her tone as flat and disinterested as if she is reciting from an old children’s tale. “And secondly when Paris’s pyre burns out.”

“And who shall thwart him?” repeats Helen.

“First shall Menelaus be stopped by Paris’s wife,” says Cassandra. Her eyes have rotated up in her head so that only the whites show. “Then by Agamemnon and the would-be Achilles-killer, Penthesilea.”

“The amazon Penthesilea?” says Andromache, her surprised voice loud enough to echo in the Temple of Zeus. “She’s a thousand leagues from here, as is Agamemnon. How can they be here by the time that Paris’s funeral pyre burns out?”

“Hush,” hisses Helen. To Cassandra, whose eyelids are fluttering, she says, “You say Paris’s wife stops Menelaus from murdering me when the funeral pyre is lighted. How do I do that? How?”

Cassandra slumps to the floor in a swoon. Andromache slips the dagger into the folds of her gown and slaps the younger woman several times, hard. Cassandra does not awaken.

Helen kicks the fallen form. “Gods damn her. How am I to stop Menelaus from murdering me? We may be just minutes away from…”

From outside the temple a huge roar goes up from the Trojans and Achaeans in the square. Both women can hear the whoosh and roar.

The winds have obediently roared in through the Scaean Gate. The tinder and timber have caught the spark. The pyre is lighted.


Menelaus watched as the winds blew in from the west and fanned the embers of Paris’s pyre first into a few flickering tongues of flame and then into a blazing bonfire. Hector barely had time to run down the steps and leap free before the entire pyre erupted in flames.

Now, thought Menelaus.

The ordered ranks of Achaeans had broken up as the crowd jostled back away from the heat of the pyre, and Menelaus used the confusion to hide his movements as he slid past his fellow Argives and through the ranks of Trojan infantry facing the flames. He edged his way around to the left, toward Zeus’s temple and the waiting staircase. Menelaus noticed that the heat and sparks from the fire—the wind was blowing toward the temple—had driven Priam, Helen, and the others back off the balcony and—more important—the intervening soldiers off the stairs, so his way was clear.

It’s as if the gods are helping me.

Perhaps they are, thought Menelaus. There were reports every day of contact between Argives and Trojans and their old gods. Just because mortals and gods were warring now didn’t mean that the bonds of blood and old habit had been completely broken. Menelaus knew dozens of his peers who secretly offered sacrifices to the gods at night, just as they always had, even while fighting the gods by day. Hadn’t Hector himself just called on the gods of the west and north winds—Zephyr and Boreas—to help him light his brother’s pyre? And hadn’t the gods complied, even though the bones and guts of Dionysos, Zeus’s own son, had been scattered on the same pyre like inadequate firstlings that one tosses to dogs?

It’s a confusing time to be alive.

Well, answered the other voice in Menelaus’ mind, the cynical one that had not been ready to kill Helen this day, you won’t be alive for long, boyo.

Menelaus paused at the bottom of the steps and slipped his sword from its scabbard. No one noticed. All eyes were on the funeral pyre blazing and crackling thirty feet away. Hundreds of soldiers raised their sword hands to shield their eyes and face from the heat of the flames.

Menelaus stepped up onto the first step.

A woman, one of the veiled virgins who had earlier carried the oil and honey to the pyre, emerged from the portico of Zeus’s temple not ten feet from Menelaus and walked straight toward the flames. All eyes turned in her direction and Menelaus had to freeze on the lowest step, lowering his sword, since he was standing almost directly behind her and did not want to draw attention to himself.

The woman threw down her veil. The Trojan crowd opposite the pyre from Menelaus gasped.

“Oenone,” cried a woman from the balcony above.

Menelaus craned to look up. Priam, Helen, Andromache, and some of the others had stepped back out onto the balcony at the sound of the crowd’s gasps and shouts. It had not been Helen who spoke, but one of the attending female slaves.

Oenone? The name was vaguely familiar to Menelaus, something from before the last ten years of war, but he couldn’t place it. His thoughts were on the next half minute. Helen was at the top of these fifteen steps with no men between him and her.

“I am Oenone, Paris’s true wife!” shouted this woman called Oenone, her voice barely audible even at this proximity over the rage of wind and fierce crackling of the corpse fire.

Paris’s true wife? In his puzzlement, Menelaus hesitated. There were more Trojans jostling out of the temple and adjoining alleys to watch this spectacle. Several men stepped up onto the stairs next to and above Menelaus. The red-haired Argive remembered now that the word in Sparta after the abduction of Helen had been that Paris had been married to a plain-looking woman—ten years older than he had been on their wedding day—and that he had put this wife aside when the gods helped him to abduct Helen. Oenone.

“Phoebus Apollo did not kill Priam’s son, Paris,” shouted this woman called Oenone. “I did!”

There were shouts, even obscenities, and some of the Trojan warriors on the near side of the fire stepped forward as if to grab this crazy women, but their comrades held them back. The majority wanted to hear what she had to say.

Menelaus could see Hector through the flames. Even Ilium’s greatest hero was powerless to intercede here, since his brother’s blazing corpse fire stood between him and this middle-aged woman.

Oenone was so close to the flames that her clothing steamed. She looked wet, as if she had doused herself in water in preparation for this stunt. Her full breasts were clearly visible as they drooped under her soaked gown.

“Paris did not die from flames by Phoebus Apollo’s hands!” screamed the harpy. “When my husband and the god disappeared from sight into Slow Time ten days ago, they exchanged bowshots—it was an archer’s duel, just as Paris had planned. Both man and god missed his mark. It was a mortal—the coward Philoctetes—who fired the fatal arrow that doomed my husband!” Here Oenone pointed into the group of Achaeans to where old Philoctetes stood near Big Ajax.

“Lies!” screamed the old archer, who had been rescued from his isle of exile and disease only recently by Odysseus, months after the war with the gods had begun.

Oenone ignored him and stepped even closer to the flames. The skin of her bare arms and face reddened in the heat. The steam from her garments became as thick as a mist around her. “When Apollo QT’d back to Olympos in frustration, it was the Argive coward Philoctetes, bearing old grudges, who fired his poison arrow into my husband’s groin!”

“How could you know this, woman? None of us followed Priam’s son and Apollo into Slow Time. None of us saw the battle!” bellowed Achilles, his voice a hundred times more clear than the widow’s.

“When Apollo saw the treachery, he QT’d my husband to the slopes of Mount Ida, where I have lived in exile this decade and more…” continued Oenone.

There were a few shouts now, but for the most part the gigantic city square, filled with thousands of Trojan warriors, as well as the populated walls and rooftops above, were silent. Everyone waited.

“Paris begged me to take him back…” shouted the weeping woman, her wet hair now steaming as furiously as her clothes. Even her tears seemed to turn to steam. “He was dying of Greek poison, his balls and once-beloved member and lower belly already black from it, but he begged me to heal him.”

“How could a mere harridan heal him from mortal poison?” shouted Hector, speaking up for the first time, his voice bellowing through the flames like a god’s.

“An oracle had told my husband that only I could heal him from such a mortal wound,” Oenone shouted back hoarsely, her voice either failing now or being defeated by the heat and roar. Menelaus could hear her words, but he doubted if most of the others in the square could.

“He implored me in his agony,” cried the woman, “asking me to put balm on his poisoned wound. ’Do not hate me now,’ Paris begged me, ‘I left you only because the Fates ordered me to go to Helen. I wish I had died before bringing that bitch to Priam’s palace. I implore you, Oenone, by the love we bore each other and by the vows we once took, forgive me and heal me now.’ ”

Menelaus watched her take two more steps closer to the pyre, until flames licked around her, blackening her ankles and causing her sandals to curl.

“I refused!” she shouted, her voice hoarse but louder again. “He died. My only love and only lover and only husband died. He died in horrible pain, screaming obscenities. My servants and I tried to burn his body—to give my poor Fates-doomed husband the hero’s funeral pyre he deserved—but the trees were strong and hard to cut, and we were women, and weak, and I failed to do even this simple task. When Phoebus Apollo saw how poorly we had honored Paris’s remains, he took pity on his fallen foe a second time, QT’d Paris’s desecrated body back to the battlefield, and let the charred corpse fall out of Slow Time as if he had been burned in battle.

“I’m sorry that I did not heal him,” called Oenone. “I’m sorry for everything.” She turned long enough to look up at the balcony, but it was doubtful if she could see the people there clearly through the heat haze and smoke and pain of her burning eyes. “But at least that cunt Helen never saw him alive again.”

The ranks of Trojans began to murmur until the sound built into a roar.

Now, too late, a dozen Trojan guards ran toward Oenone to drag her back for further interrogation.

She stepped up onto the flaming pyre.

First her hair burst into flames, and then her gown. Incredibly, impossibly, she continued climbing the heaped wood, even as her flesh burned and blackened and folded back like charred parchment. Only in the last seconds before she fell did she visibly writhe in agony. But her screams filled the square for what seemed like minutes, stunning the crowd into silence.

When the massed Trojans spoke again, it was to shout for Philoctetes, demanding that the honor guard of Achaeans give him up.

Furious, confused, Menelaus looked up the staircase. Priam’s royal guard had surrounded everyone on the balcony now. The way to Helen was blocked by a wall of circular Trojan shields and a picket of spears.

Menelaus jumped down from his step and ran across the empty space near the pyre, feeling the heat hitting his face like a fist and knowing that his eyebrows were being singed off. In a minute he had joined the ranks of his fellow Argives, his sword raised. Ajax, Diomedes, Odysseus, Teucer, and the others had made their own circle around Philoctetes and also had their weapons raised and ready.

The overwhelming mass of Trojans surrounding them lifted high their shields, raised their spears, and advanced on the two dozen doomed Greeks.

Suddenly Hector’s voice roared everyone into immobility.

“Stop! I forbid this! Oenone’s babblings—if this even was Oenone who killed herself here today, for I did not recognize the crone—mean nothing. She was mad! My brother died in mortal combat with Phoebus Apollo.”

The furious Trojans did not seem convinced. Spearpoints and swords remained poised and eager. Menelaus looked around at his doomed band and noticed that while Odysseus was frowning and Philoctetes was cowering, Big Ajax was grinning as if anticipating the imminent slaughter that would end his life.

Hector strode past the pyre and put himself between the Trojan spears and the circle of Greeks. He still wore no armor and carried no weapons, but suddenly he seemed the most formidable foe on the field.

“These men are our allies and are my invited guests at the funeral of my brother,” shouted Hector. “You shall not harm them. Anyone who defies my order will die by my hand. I swear this on the bones of my brother!”

Achilles stepped off the platform and raised his shield. He was still dressed in his best armor and was armed. He said nothing and made no move, but every Trojan in the city must have been aware of him.

The hundreds of Trojans looked at their leader, looked over at fleet-footed mankilling Achilles, looked a final time at the funeral pyre where the woman’s corpse had been all but consumed by the flames, and they gave way. Menelaus could feel the fighting spirit slide out of the mobs surrounding them, could see the confusion on the tanned Trojan faces.

Odysseus led the Achaeans toward the Scaean Gates. Menelaus and the other men lowered their swords but did not sheath them. The Trojans parted like a reluctant but still-blood-hungry sea before them.

“By the gods…” whispered Philoctetes from the center of their circle as they went out through the gates and past more ranks of Trojans, “I swear to you that…”

“Shut the fuck up, old man,” said powerful Diomedes. “You say one more word before we’re back to the black ships, I’ll kill you myself.”

Beyond the Achaean pickets, past the defensive trenches and beneath the moravec forceshields, there was confusion along the coast even though the encampments there couldn’t have heard about the near disaster in the city of Troy. Menelaus broke away from the others and ran down to the beach.

“The King has returned!” cried a spearman, running past Menelaus and wildly blowing a conch shell. “The commander has returned.”

Not Agamemnon, thought Menelaus. He won’t be back for at least another month. Perhaps two.

But it was his brother, standing at the prow of the largest of the thirty black ships in his small fleet. His golden armor flashed as the rowers drove the long, thin craft through the surf and in toward the beach.

Menelaus waded into the waves until the water covered the bronze greaves protecting his shins. “Brother!” he cried, waving his arms over his head like a boy. “What news is there from home? Where are the new warriors you swore to return with?”

Still sixty or seventy feet out from shore, water splashing about the bow of his black ship as it surfed in on the long, great swell, Agamemnon covered his eyes as if the afternoon sun hurt them and shouted back, “Gone, fellow son of Atreus. All are gone!”


The corpse fire will burn all through the night.

Thomas Hockenberry, B.A. in English from Wabash College, M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale in classical studies, formerly on the faculty of Indiana University—in truth, head of the classics department there until he died of cancer in A.D. 2006—and most recently, for ten years of the ten years and eight months since his resurrection, Homeric scholic for the Olympian gods, whose duties during that time included reporting daily and verbally to his Muse, Melete by name, on the progress of the Trojan War and how the tale was following or diverging from Homer’s Iliad–the gods, it turns out, are as preliterate as three-year-olds—leaves the city square and Paris’s flaming pyre shortly before dusk and climbs the second-tallest tower in Troy, damaged and dangerous though it is, to eat his bread and cheese and drink his wine in peace. In Hockenberry’s opinion, it’s been a long, weird day.

The tower he frequently chooses for solitude is closer to the Scaean Gate than to the center of the city near Priam’s palace, but it’s not on the main thoroughfare and most of the warehouses at its base are empty these days. Officially, the tower—one of the tallest in Ilium before the war, almost fourteen stories tall by Twentieth Century reckoning and shaped like a poppy reed or a minaret with a bulbous swelling near its top—is closed to the public. A bomb from the gods in the early weeks of the current war blasted off the top three floors and diagonally shattered the bulb, leaving the small rooms near the top open to the air. The main shaft of the tower shows alarming cracks and the narrow spiral staircase is littered with masonry, plaster, and dislodged stones. It took hours for Hockenberry to clear the way to the eleventh-floor bulb during his first venture up the tower two months earlier. The moravecs—at Hector’s direction—have placed orange plastic tape across the entrances, warning people in graphic pictograms what harm they could come to—the tower itself could tumble over at any time according to the most alarming of the graphic images—and other symbols command them to stay out upon penalty of King Priam’s wrath.

The looters had then emptied the place within seventy-two hours, and after that the locals did stay out—for what use was an empty building? Now Hockenberry slips between the bands of tape, clicks on his flashlight, and begins his long ascent with little worry about being arrested or robbed or interrupted here. He’s armed with a knife and short sword. Besides, he’s well known: Thomas Hockenberry, son of Duane, occasional friend… well, no, not friend, but interlocutor at least… of both Achilles and Hector, not to mention a public figure now with more than passing acquaintance with both the moravecs and rockvecs… so there are very few Greeks or Trojans who will move to harm him without thinking twice.

But the gods, now… well, that’s another matter.

Hockenberry is panting by the third floor, actively wheezing and stopping to catch his breath by the tenth, and making noises like the 1947 Packard his father had once owned by the time he reaches the shattered eleventh floor. He’s spent more than ten years watching these human demigods—Greek and Trojan alike—warring and feasting and loving and debauching like muscular ads for the most successful health club in the world, not to mention the gods, male and female, who are walking advertisements for the best health club in the universe, but Thomas Hockenberry, Ph.D., has never found time to get himself in shape. Typical, he thinks.

The stairway winds tightly up through the center of the circular building. There are no doorways and some evening light comes into the central stairwell through windows in the tiny, pie-shaped rooms on either side, but the ascent is still dark. He uses the flashlight to make sure that the stairs are where they should be and that no new debris has tumbled into the stairwell. At least the walls are clean of graffiti–one of the many blessings of a totally illiterate populace, thinks Professor Thomas Hockenberry.

As always when he reaches his little niche on what is now the top floor, long since swept clear of debris and the worst of the plaster dust by him but open to rain and wind, he decides that the climb has been worth the effort.

Hockenberry sits on his favorite block of stone, sets down his pack, puts away his flashlight—loaned to him months ago by one of the moravecs—and pulls out his small wrapped package of fresh bread and stale cheese. He also digs out his wineskin. Sitting there, feeling the evening breeze coming off the sea stir his new beard and long hair, idly cutting off chunks of cheese and slicing the slab of bread with his combat knife, Hockenberry gazes out at the view and lets the tension of the day seep out of him.

The view is a good one. Sweeping almost three hundred degrees, blocked from being circular by just a shard of wall left standing behind him, the view allows Hockenberry to see most of the city beneath him—Paris’s funeral pyre just a few blocks east and seeming to be almost directly beneath him from this height—and the city walls all around, their torches and bonfires just being lighted, and the Achaean encampment strung out north and south along the coast for miles, the lights of the hundreds upon hundreds of cooking fires reminding Hockenberry of a view he’d once glimpsed from an aircraft descending above Lake Shore Drive in Chicago after dark, the lakefront bejeweled with its shifting necklace of headlights and countless lighted apartment buildings. And now, just visible against the wine-dark sea, are the thirty or so black ships just returned with Agamemnon, the long boats mostly still bobbing at anchor rather than pulled up on the beach. Agamemnon’s camp—all but empty the last month and a half—is ablaze with fires and blurred with motion this evening.

The skies are not empty here. To the northeast, the last of the space-warp holes, Brane Holes, whatever they are—people have just called the remaining one the Hole for the last six months—cuts a disk out of the Trojan sky as it connects the plains of Ilium to the ocean of Mars. Brown Asia Minor soil leads directly to red Martian dust without so much as a crack in the earth to separate the two. It’s a bit earlier in the evening on Mars, and a red twilight lingers there, outlining the Hole against the darker old-Earth sky here.

Navigation lights blink red and green on a score of moravec hornets flying night patrol above the Hole, over the city, circling out over the sea, and prowling as far away as the dimly glimpsed shadows that are the wooded peaks of Mount Ida to the east.

Even though the sun has just set—early on this winter’s night—the streets of Troy are open for business. The last traders in the marketplace near Priam’s palace have folded away their awnings and are trundling their wares away in carts—Hockenberry can hear the creaking wooden wheels over the wind even at this height—but the adjoining streets, filled with brothels and restaurants and bathhouses and more brothels, are coming alive, filling with jostling forms and flickering torches. As is the Trojan custom, every major intersection in the city, as well as every turn and angle on the broad walls around the city, are lighted every evening by huge bronze braziers in which oil or wood fires are kept burning all through the night, and the last of these are now being lighted by watchmen. Hockenberry can see dark forms pressing close to warm themselves around each of these fires.

Around all but one. In Ilium’s main square, Paris’s funeral pyre outshines all the other fires in and around the city, but only one dark form presses close to it as if for warmth—Hector, moaning aloud, weeping, calling to his soldiers and servants and slaves to pour more wood onto the howling flames while he uses a large, two-handed cup to dip wine from a golden bowl, constantly pouring it onto the ground near the pyre until the earth there is so drenched it looks to be oozing blood.

Hockenberry is just finishing his dinner when he hears the footsteps coming up the spiral staircase.

Suddenly his heart is pounding and he can taste the fear in his mouth. Someone has followed him up here—there can be little doubt. The tread on the steps is too light—as if the person climbing the stairs is trying to move stealthily.

Maybe it’s some woman scavenging, thinks Hockenberry, but even as the hope rises, it’s dashed; he can hear a faint metallic echo in the stairwell, as of bronze armor rattling. Besides, he knows, the women in Troy can be more deadly than most men he’d known in his Twentieth and Twenty-first century world.

Hockenberry rises as quietly as he can, sets the wineskin and bread and cheese aside, sheaths his knife, silently draws his sword, and steps back toward the only standing wall. The wind rises and rustles his red cape as he conceals the sword under its folds.

My QT medallion. He uses his left hand to touch the small quantum teleportation device where it hangs against his chest under his tunic. Why did I think I had nothing valuable with me? Even if I can’t use this any longer without being detected and pursued by the gods, it’s unique. Invaluable. Hockenberry pulls out the flashlight and holds it extended the way he used to aim his taser baton when he owned one. He wishes he had one now.

It occurs to him that it might be a god climbing the last of the eleven flights of steps just below him. The Masters of Olympos had been known to sneak into Ilium disguised as mortals. The gods certainly had reason enough to kill him and to take back their QT medallion.

The climbing figure comes up the last few stairs and steps into the open. Hockenberry flicks on the flashlight, shining the beam full on the figure.

It is a small and only vaguely humanoid form—its knees are backward, its arms are articulated wrong, its hands are interchangeable, and it has no face as such—barely a meter tall, sheathed in dark plastic and gray-black-and-red metal.

“Mahnmut,” Hockenberry says in relief. He shifts the circle of the flashlight beam away from the little Europan moravec’s vision plate.

“You carrying a sword under that cape,” asks Mahnmut in English, “or are you just happy to see me?”

It’s been Hockenberry’s habit to carry some fuel in his backpack for a small fire when he’s up here. In recent months, this has often meant dried cow chips, but tonight he’s brought plenty of sweet-smelling kindling sold everywhere on the black market today by those woodcutters who had brought back the wood for Paris’s pyre. Now Hockenberry has the little fire going while he and Mahnmut sit on blocks of stone on opposite sides of it. The wind is chill and Hockenberry, at least, is glad for the fire.

“I haven’t seen you around for a few days,” he says to the little moravec. Hockenberry notices how the flames reflect off Mahnmut’s shiny plastic vision plate.

“I’ve been up at Phobos.”

It takes Hockenberry a few seconds to remember that Phobos is one of the moons of Mars. The closer one, he thinks. Or maybe the smaller one. At any rate, a moon. He turns his head to see the huge Hole a few miles to the northeast of Troy: it’s now night on Mars as well—the disk of the Hole is only barely visible against the night sky, and that is only because the stars look slightly different there, more brilliant, or clustered more tightly together, or maybe both. Neither of the Martian moons is visible.

“Anything interesting happen today while I was gone?” asks Mahnmut.

Hockenberry has to chuckle at that. He tells the moravec about the morning funeral services and Oenone’s self-immolation.

“Whoa, doggies,” says Mahnmut. The ex-scholic can only assume that the moravec deliberately uses idiomatic English he thinks is specific to the era Hockenberry had lived through on his Earth. Sometimes it works; sometimes, like now, it’s laughable.

“I don’t remember from the Iliad that Paris had an earlier wife,” continues Mahnmut.

“I don’t think it’s mentioned in the Iliad.” Hockenberry tries to remember if he’d ever taught that fact. He doesn’t think so.

“That must have been pretty dramatic to watch.”

“Yes,” says Hockenberry, “but her accusations about Philoctetes really killing Paris were even more dramatic.”

“Philoctetes?” Mahnmut cocks his head in a way that seemed almost canine to Hockenberry. For whatever reason, he’s come to associate that movement with the idea that Mahnmut is accessing memory banks. “From the play by Sophocles?” asks Mahnmut after a second.

“Yeah. He was the original commander of the Thessalians from Methone.”

“I don’t remember him from the Iliad,” says Mahnmut. “And I don’t think I’ve met him here either.”

Hockenberry shakes his head. “Agamemnon and Odysseus dumped him on the isle of Lemnos years ago, on their way here.”

“Why’d they do that?” Mahnmut’s voice, so human in timbre, sounds interested.

“Because he smelled bad, mostly.”

“Smelled bad? Most of these human heroes smell bad.”

Hockenberry has to blink at that. He remembers thinking just that ten years ago, when he’d first started as a scholic here shortly after his resurrection on Olympos. But somehow he hadn’t noticed it after the first six months or so. Did he smell bad? he wonders. He says, “Philoctetes smelled especially bad because of his suppurating wound.”


“Snakebite. Bitten by a poisonous snake when he… well, it’s a long story. The usual ‘stealing stuff from the gods’ story. But Philoctetes’ foot and leg got so bad that it just poured pus, smelled bad all the time, and sent the archer into screaming and fainting fits at regular intervals. This was on the boat ride here to Troy ten years ago, remember. So finally Agamemnon, on Odysseus’ advice, just dumped the old man on the island of Lemnos and literally left him to rot there.”

“But he survived?” says Mahnmut.

“Obviously. Probably because the gods kept him alive for some reason, but he was in agony with that rotting foot and leg the whole time.”

Mahmut cocks his head again. “All right… I’m remembering the Sophocles play now. Odysseus went to get him when the seer Helenus told the Greeks that they wouldn’t defeat Troy without Philoctetes’ bow—given to him by… who?… Heracles. Hercules.”

“Yes, he inherited the bow,” says Hockenberry.

“I don’t remember Odysseus going to fetch him. In real life, I mean. During the past eight months.”

Hockenberry shakes his head again. “It was very quietly done. Odysseus was gone for only about three weeks and no one made a big deal about it. When he returned, it was sort of like… oh, yeah, I picked up Philoctetes on my way back from getting the wine.”

“In Sophocles’ play,” says Mahnmut, “Achilles’ son, Neoptolemus, was a central figure. But he never met his father when Achilles was alive. Don’t tell me he’s here too?”

“Not that I know of,” says Hockenberry. “Just Philoctetes. And his bow.”

“And now Oenone’s accused him rather than Apollo of killing Paris.”

“Yep.” Hockenberry tosses a few more sticks on the fire. Sparks spin in the wind and rise toward the stars. There is blackness out over the ocean where clouds are moving in. Hockenberry guesses that it might rain before morning. Some nights, he sleeps up here—using his pack as a pillow and his cape for a blanket—but not tonight.

“But how could Philoctetes shift into Slow Time?” asks Mahnmut. The moravec rises and walks to the broken edge of the platform in the dark, evidently having no fear of the hundred-foot-plus drop. “The nanotechnology that allows that shift was only injected into Paris before that single combat, right?”

“You should know,” says Hockenberry. “You moravecs are the ones who injected Paris with the nanothingees so that he could fight the god.”

Mahnmut walks back to the fire but remains standing. He holds out his hands as if to warm them by the flames. Maybe he is warming them, thinks Hockenberry. He knows that parts of moravecs are organic.

“Some of the other heroes—Diomedes, for example—still have Slow-Time nanoclusters left in their systems from when Athena or one of the other gods injected them,” says Mahnmut. “But you’re right, only Paris had them updated ten days ago for the single combat with Apollo.”

“And Philoctetes wasn’t here for the last ten years,” says Hockenberry. “So it doesn’t make any sense that one of the gods would have accelerated him with the Slow-Time nanomemes. And it is acceleration, not a slowing down of time, right?”

“Right,” says the moravec. “ ‘Slow Time’ is a misnomer. It seems to the Slow-Time traveler that time has stopped—that everything and everyone is frozen in amber—but in reality, the body’s moved into hyperfast action, reacting in milliseconds.”

“Why doesn’t the person just burn up?” asks Hockenberry. He could have followed Apollo and Paris into Slow Time to watch the battle—in fact, if he’d been there that day, he would have. The gods had riddled his blood and bones with nanomemes for just that purpose, and many was the time he’d shifted into Slow Time to watch the gods prepare one of their Achaean or Trojan heroes for combat. “From friction,” he added. “With the air or whatever…” He broke off lamely. Science wasn’t his strong suit.

But Mahnmut nodded as if the scholic had said something wise. “The Slow-Time accelerator’s body would burn up—from internal heat if nothing else—if the tailored nanoclusters didn’t deal with that as well. It’s part of the body’s nano-generated forcefield.”

“Like Achilles’?”


“Could Paris have burned up just because of that?” asks Hockenberry. “Some sort of nano-tech failure?”

“Very unlikely,” says Mahnmut and sits on the smaller block of stone. “But why would this Philoctetes kill Paris? What motive would he have?”

Hockenberry shrugs. “In the non-Iliad, non-Homeric tales of Troy, it is Philoctetes who kills Paris. With his bow. And a poisoned arrow. Just as Oenone described. Homer even refers to fetching Philoctetes to bring about the prophecy that Ilium will fall only when Philoctetes joins the fray—in the second book, I think.”

“But the Trojans and the Greeks are allies now.”

Hockenberry has to smile. “Just barely. You know as well as I that there are conspiracies and incipient rebellions brewing in both camps. Nobody but Hector and Achilles is happy about this war with the gods. It’s just a matter of time until there’s another rebellion.”

“But Hector and Achilles make for an almost unbeatable duo. And they have tens of thousands of Trojans and Achaeans loyal to them.”

“So far,” says Hockenberry. “But now maybe the gods themselves have been kibbitzing.”

“Helping Philoctetes shift into Slow Time?” says Mahnmut. “But why? Occam’s Razor suggests that if they wanted Paris dead, they could have just let Apollo kill him as everyone assumed he had. Until today. Until Oenone’s accusation. Why have a Greek assassinate him…” He stops and then murmurs, “Ah, yes.”

“Right,” said Hockenberry. “The gods want to hurry up the next mutiny, get Hector and Achilles out of the way, break up this alliance, and get the Greeks and Trojans killing each other again.”

“Thus the poison,” says the moravec. “So that Paris can live just long enough to tell his wife—his first wife—who really killed him. Now the Trojans will want revenge and even the Greeks loyal to Achilles will be ready to fight to defend themselves. Clever. Has anything else of comparable interest happened today?”

“Agamemnon’s back.”

“No shit?” says Mahnmut. I need to talk to him about his vernacular vocabulary, thinks Hockenberry.

This is like talking to one of my freshmen at IU.

“Yes, correct, no shit,” says Hockenberry. “He’s back from his voyage home a month or two early and has some really surprising news.”

Mahnmut leans forward expectantly. Or at least Hockenberry interprets the body language of the little humanoid cyborg as expressing expectation. The smooth metallic-plastic face shows nothing but reflection of the firelight.

Hockenberry clears his throat. “The people back home are gone,” he says. “Missing. Disappeared.”

Hockenberry had expected some sort of exclamation of surprise, but the little moravec waits silently.

“Everyone gone,” continues Hockenberry. “Not just in Mycenae, where Agamemnon first returned—not just his wife Clytemnestra and his son Orestes and all the rest of that cast, but everyone’s missing. Cities empty. Food sitting uneaten on tables. Horses starving in stables. Dogs pining on empty hearths. Cows unmilked in pastures. Sheep unshorn. Everywhere Agamemnon and his boats put in in the Peloponnese and beyond—Menelaus’ kingdom of Lacedaemon, empty. Odysseus’ Ithaca—empty.”

“Yes,” says Mahnmut.

“Wait a minute,” says Hockenberry. “You’re not in the least surprised. You knew. You moravecs knew that the Greek cities and kingdoms had been emptied out. How?”

“Do you mean how did we know?” asks Mahnmut. “Simple. We’ve been keeping tabs on these places from earth orbit since we arrived. Sending down remote drones to record data. There’s a lot to be learned here on the earth of three thousand years before your day—three thousand years before the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries, that is.”

Hockenberry is stunned. He’d never thought of the moravecs paying attention to anything other than Troy, the surrounding battlefields, the connecting Hole, Mars, Mount Olympos, the gods, maybe a Martian moon or two… Jesus, wasn’t that enough?

“When did they… disappear?” Hockenberry manages at last. “Agamemnon is telling everyone that some of the food left behind was fresh enough to eat.”

“I guess that depends upon your definition of ‘fresh,’ ” says Mahnmut. “According to our surveillance, the people disappeared about four and a half weeks ago. Just as Agamemnon’s little fleet was approaching the Peloponnese.”

“Jesus Christ,” whispers Hockenberry.


“Did you see them disappear? On your satellite cameras or probes or whatever?”

“Not really. One minute they were there and the next minute they weren’t. It happened about two a.m. Greek time, so there wasn’t a lot of movement to monitor… in the Greek cities, I mean.”

“In the Greek cities…” Hockenberry repeats dully. “Do you mean… I mean… is there… have other people disappeared as well? In… say… China?”


The wind suddenly whips around their eyrie and scatters sparks in all directions. Hockenberry covers his face with his hands during the spark storm and then brushes embers off his cloak and tunic. When the wind subsides, he throws the last of his sticks on the fire.

Other than Troy and Olympos—which, he discovered eight months ago, wasn’t on Earth at all—Hockenberry had only traveled to one other place in this past-Earth, and that was to prehistoric Indiana, where he deposited the only other surviving scholic, Keith Nightenhelser, with the Indians there to keep him safe when the Muse had gone on a killing spree. Now, without consciously meaning to, Hockenberry touches the QT medallion under his shirt. I need to check on Nightenhelser.

As if reading his mind, the moravec says, “Everyone else is gone—everyone outside a five-hundred-kilometer radius of Troy. Africans. North American Indians. South American Indians. The Chinese and aborigines in Australia. Polynesians. Northern European Huns and Danes and Vikings-to-be. The proto-Mongols. Everyone. Every other human being on the planet—we estimated that there were about twenty-two million—has disappeared.”

“That’s not possible,” says Hockenberry.

“No. It wouldn’t seem so.”

“What kind of power…”

“Godlike,” says Mahnmut.

“But certainly not these Olympian gods. They’re just… just…”

“More powerful humanoids?” said Mahnmut. “Yes, that’s what we thought. There are other energies at work here.”

“God?” whispers Hockenberry, who had been raised in a strict Indiana Baptist family before he had traded faith for education.

“Well, maybe,” says the moravec, “but if so, He lives on or around planet Earth. Huge amounts of quantum energy were released from Earth or near-earth-orbit at the same time Agamemnon’s wife and kids disappeared.”

“The energy came from Earth?” repeats Hockenberry. He looks around at the night, the funeral pyre below, the city nightlife becoming active beneath them, the distant campfires of the Achaeans, and the more distant stars. “From here?”

“Not this Earth,” says Mahnmut. “The other Earth. Yours. And it looks like we’re going to it.”

For a minute Hockenberry’s heart pounds so wildly that he’s afraid he’s going to be sick. Then he realizes that Mahnmut isn’t really talking about his Earth—the Twenty-first Century world of the half-remembered fragments of his former life before the gods resurrected him from old DNA and books and God knows what else, the slowly-returning-to-consciousness world of Indiana University and his wife and his students—but the concurrent-with-terraformed-Mars Earth of more than three thousand years after the short, not-so-happy first life of Thomas Hockenberry.

Unable to sit still, he stands and paces back and forth on the shattered eleventh floor of the building, walking to the shattered wall on the northeast side, then to the vertical drop on the south and west sides. A pebble scraped up by his sandal falls more than a hundred feet into the dark streets below. The wind whips his cape and his long, graying hair back. Intellectually, he’s known for eight months that the Mars visible now through the Hole coexisted in some future solar system with Earth and the other planets, but he’d never really connected that simple fact with the idea that this other Earth was really there, waiting.

My wife’s bones are mingled with the dust there, he thinks and then, on the verge of tears, almost laughs. Fuck, my bones are mingled with the dust there.

“How can you go to that Earth?” he asks and immediately realizes how stupid the question is. He’s heard the story of how Mahnmut and his huge friend Orphu traveled to Mars from Jupiter space with some other moravecs who did not survive their first encounter with the gods. They have spaceships, Hockenbush. While most of the moravec and rockvec spacecraft had appeared as if by magic through the quantum Holes that Mahnmut had helped bring into existence, they were still spacecraft.

“We’re building a ship just for that purpose on and near Phobos,” the moravec says softly. “This time we’re not going alone. Or unarmed.”

Hockenberry can’t stop pacing back and forth. When he gets to the edge of the shattered floor, he has the urge to jump to his death—an urge that has tempted him when in high places since he was a kid. Is that why I like to come up here? Thinking about jumping? Thinking about suicide? He realizes it is. He realizes how lonely he’s been for the last eight months. And now even Nightenhelser is gone—gone with the Indians probably, sucked up by whatever cosmic vacuum cleaner made all the humans on earth except these poor fucked Trojans and Greeks disappear this month. Hockenberry knows that he can twist the QT medallion hanging against his chest and be in North America in no time at all, searching for his old scholic friend in that part of prehistoric Indiana where he’d left him eight months earlier. But he also knew that the gods might track him through the Planck-space interstices. It’s why he hasn’t QT’d in eight months.

He walks back to the fire and stands looming over the little moravec. “Why the hell are you telling me this?”

“We’re inviting you to go with us,” says Mahnmut.

Hockenberry sits down heavily. After a minute he is able to say, “Why, for God’s sake? What possible use could I be to you on such an expedition?”

Mahnmut shrugs in a most human fashion. “You’re from that world,” he says simply. “If not that time. There are humans on this other Earth, you know.”

“There are?” Hockenberry hears how stunned and stupid his own voice sounds. He’d never thought to ask.

“Yes. Not many—most of the humans appear to have evolved into some sort of post-human status and moved off the planet into orbital ring cities more than fourteen hundred years ago—but our observations suggest that there are a few hundred thousand old-style human beings left.”

“Old-style human beings,” repeats Hockenberry, not even trying not to sound stunned. “Like me.”

“Exactly,” says Mahnmut. He stands, his vision plate barely coming up to Hockenberry’s belt. Never a tall man, Hockenberry suddenly realizes how the Olympian gods must feel around ordinary mortals. “We think you should come with us. You could be of tremendous help when we meet and talk to the humans on your future Earth.”

“Jesus Christ,” repeats Hockenberry. He walks to the edge again, realizes again how easy it would be to take one more step off this edge into the darkness. This time the gods wouldn’t resurrect him. “Jesus Christ,” he says yet again.

Hockenberry can see the shadowy figure of Hector at Paris’s funeral pyre, still pouring wine into the earth, still ordering men to pile more firewood into the flames.

I killed Paris, thinks Hockenberry. I’ve killed every man, woman, child, and god who’s died since I morphed into the form of Athena and kidnapped Patroclus—pretending to kill him—in order to provoke Achilles into attacking the gods. Hockenberry suddenly laughs bitterly, not embarrassed that the little machine-person behind him will think he’s lost his mind. I have lost my mind. This is nuts. Part of the reason I haven’t jumped off this fucking ledge before tonight is that it would feel like a dereliction of duty… like I need to keep observing, as if I’m still a scholic reporting to the Muse who reports to the gods.

I’ve absolutely lost my mind. He feels, not for the first or fiftieth time, like sobbing.

“Will you go with us to Earth, Dr. Hockenberry?” Mahnmut asks softly.

“Yeah, sure, shit, why not? When?”

“How about right now?” says the little moravec.

The hornet must have been hovering silently hundreds of feet above them but with its navigation lights off. Now the black and barbed machine swoops down out of the darkness with such suddenness that Hockenberry almost falls off the edge of the building.

An especially strong gust of wind helps him keep his balance and he steps back from the edge just as a staircase ramp hums down from the belly of the hornet and clunks on stone. Hockenberry can see a red glow from inside the ship.

“After you,” says Mahnmut.


It was just after sunrise and Zeus was alone in the Great Hall of the Gods when his wife, Hera, came in leading a dog on a golden leash.

“Is that the one?” asked the Lord of the Gods from where he sat brooding on his golden throne.

“It is,” said Hera. She slipped the leash off the dog. It sat.

“Call for your son,” said Zeus.

“Which son?”

“The great artificer. The one who lusts after Athena so much that he humped her thigh just as this dog would if the dog had no manners.”

Hera turned to go. The dog started to follow her.

“Leave the dog,” said Zeus.

Hera motioned the dog to stay and it stayed.

The dog was large, gray, short-haired, and sleek, with mild brown eyes that somehow managed to look both stupid and cunning. It began to pace and its claws made scraping sounds on the marble as it wandered back and forth around Zeus’s gold throne. It sniffed the sandals and bare toes of the Lord of Lightning, the Son of Kronos. Then it claw-clicked its way to the edge of the huge holovision pool, peered in, saw nothing that interested it in the dark videoswirl of the surface static, lost interest, and wandered toward a pillar many yards away.

“Come here!” ordered Zeus.

The dog looked back at Zeus, then looked away. It began to sniff at the base of the huge white pillar in a preparatory way.

Zeus whistled.

The dog’s head came up and around, its ears shifted, but it did not come.

Zeus whistled again and clapped his hands.

The gray dog came quickly then, running in a rocking motion, tongue lolling, eyes happy.

Zeus stepped down from his throne and petted the animal. Then he pulled a blade from his robes and cut off the dog’s head with a single swing of his massive arm. The dog’s head rolled almost to the edge of the vision pool while the body dropped straight to the marble, forelegs stretched ahead of it as if it had been ordered to lie down and was complying in hopes of getting a treat.

Hera and Hephaestus entered the Great Hall and approached across acres of marble.

“Playing with the pets again, My Lord?” asked Hera when she drew near.

Zeus waved his hand as if dismissing her, sheathed the blade in the sleeve of his robe, and returned to his throne.

Hephaestus was dwarfish and stocky as gods go, a little under six feet tall. He most resembled a great, hairy barrel. The god of fire was also lame and dragged his left leg along as if it were a dead thing, which it was. He had wild hair, an even wilder beard that seemed to merge with the hair on his chest, and red-rimmed eyes that were always darting to and fro. He seemed to be wearing armor, but closer inspection showed the armor to be a solid covering made up from hundreds of tiny boxes and pouches and tools and devices—some forged of precious metal, some shaped of base metal, some tooled of leather, some seemingly woven of hair—all hanging from straps and belts that crisscrossed his hairy body. The ultimate metalworker, Hephaestus was famous on Olympos for once having created women made of gold, young clockwork virgins, who could move and smile and give men pleasure almost as if they were alive. It was said that from his alchemic vats he had also fashioned the first woman—Pandora.

“Welcome, artificer,” boomed Zeus. “I would have summoned you sooner but we had no tin pots or toy shields to repair.”

Hephaestus knelt by the dog’s headless body. “You needn’t have done this,” he muttered. “No need. No need at all.”

“It irritated me.” Zeus raised a goblet from the arm of his golden throne and drank deeply.

Hephaestus rolled the headless body on its side, ran his blunt hand along its rib cage as if offering to scratch the dead dog’s belly, and pressed. A panel of flesh and hair popped open. The god of fire reached into the dog’s gut and removed a clear bag filled with scraps of meat and other things. Hephaestus pulled a sliver of wet, pink flesh from the gut-bag.

“Dionysos,” he said.

“My son,” said Zeus. He rubbed his temples as if weary of all this.

“Shall I deliver this scrap to the Healer and the vats, O Son of Kronos?” asked the god of fire.

“No. We shall have one of our kind eat it so that my son may be reborn according to his wishes. Such Communion is painful for the host, but perhaps that will teach the gods and goddesses here on Olympos to take better care when watching out for my children. “

Zeus looked down at Hera, who had come closer and was now sitting on the second stone step of his throne with her right arm laid affectionately along his leg, her white hand touching his knee.

“No, my husband,” she said softly. “Please.”

Zeus smiled. “You choose then, wife.”

Without hesitation, Hera said, “Aphrodite. She’s used to stuffing parts of men into her mouth.”

Zeus shook his head. “Not Aphrodite. She has done nothing since she herself was in the vats to incur my displeasure. Shouldn’t it be Pallas Athena, the immortal who brought this war with the mortals down on us with her intemperate murder of Achilles’ beloved Patroclus? And of the infant son of Hector?”

Hera pulled her arm back. “Athena denies that she did these things, Son of Kronos. And the mortals say that Aphrodite was with Athena when they slaughtered Hector’s babe.”

“We have the vision-pool image of the murder of Patroclus, wife. Do you want me to play it again for you?” Zeus’s voice, so low it resembled distant thunder even when he whispered, now showed signs of growing anger. The effect was of a storm moving into the echoing Hall of the Gods.

“No, Lord,” said Hera. “But you know that Athena insists that it was the missing scholic, Hockenberry, who must have assumed her form and done these things. She swears upon her love for you that…”

Zeus stood impatiently and paced away from the throne. “The scholic morphing bands were not designed to grant a mortal the shape or power of a god,” he snapped. “It’s not possible. However briefly. Some god or goddess from Olympos did those deeds—either Athena or one of our family assuming Athena’s form. Now… choose who will receive the body and blood of my son, Dionysos.”


Zeus rubbed his short white beard. “Demeter. My sister. Mother to my much-loved Persephone?”

Hera stood, stepped back, and showed her white hands. “Is there a god on this mount who is not related to you, my husband? I am your sister as well as your wife. At least Demeter has experience giving birth to odd things. And she has little to do these days since there is no grain crop being harvested or sewn by the mortals.”

“So be it,” said Zeus. To Hephaestus he commanded, “Deliver the flesh of my son to Demeter, tell her it is the will of her lord, Zeus himself, that she eat this flesh and bring my son to life again. Assign three of my Furies to watch over her until this birth is achieved.”

The god of fire shrugged and dropped the bit of flesh into one of his pouches. “Do you want to see images from Paris’s pyre?”

“Yes,” said Zeus. He returned to his throne and sat, patting the step that Hera had vacated when she stood.

She obediently returned and took her place, but did not lay her arm on his leg again.

Grumbling to himself, Hephaestus walked over to the dog’s head, lifted it by its ears, and carried it to the vision pool. He crouched there at pool’s edge, pulled a curved metal tool from one of his chest-belts, and worried the dog’s left eyeball out of its socket. There was no blood. He pulled the eye free easily, but red, green, and white strands of optic nerve ran back into the empty eye socket, the cords unreeling as the god of fire pulled. When he had two feet of the glistening strands exposed, he pulled yet another tool from his belt and snipped them.

Pulling mucus and insulation off with his teeth, Hephaestus revealed thin, glittering gold wires within. These he crimped and attached to what looked to be a small metal sphere from one of his pouches. He dropped the eyeball and colored nerve strands into the pool while keeping the sphere next to him.

Immediately the pool filled with three-dimensional images. Sound surrounded the three gods as it emanated from piezo-electric micro-speakers set into the walls and pillars around them.

The images from Ilium were from a dog’s point of view—low, many bare knees and bronze shin-guarding greaves.

“I preferred our old views,” muttered Hera.

“The moravecs detect and shoot down all our drones, even the fucking insect eyes,” said Hephaestus, still fast-forwarding through Paris’s funeral procession. “We’re lucky to have…”

“Silence,” commanded Zeus. The word echoed like thunder from the walls. “There. That. Sound.”

The three watched the last minutes of the funeral rites, including the slaughter of Dionysos by Hector.

They watched Zeus’s son look right at the dog in the crowd when he said, “Eat me.”

“You can turn it off,” said Hera when the images were of Hector dropping the torch onto the waiting pyre.

“No,” said Zeus. “Let it run.”

A minute later, the Lord of Lightning was off his throne and walking toward the holoview pool with his brow furrowed, eyes furious, and fists clenched. “How dare that mortal Hector call upon Boreas and Zephyr to fan the fires containing a god’s guts and balls and bowels! HOW DARE HE!!”

Zeus QT’d out of sight and there was a clap of thunder as the air rushed into the hole in the air where the huge god had been a microsecond earlier.

Hera shook her head. “He watches the ritual murder of his son, Dionysos, easily enough, but flies into a rage when Hector tries to summon the gods of the wind. The Father is losing it, Hephaestus.”

Her son grunted, reeled in the eyeball, and set it and the metal sphere in a pouch. He put the dog’s head in a larger pouch. “Do you need anything else from me this morning, Daughter of Kronos?”

She nodded at the dog’s carcass, its belly panel still flopped open. “Take that with you.”

When her surly son was gone, Hera touched her breast and quantum teleported away from the Great Hall of the Gods.

No one could QT into Hera’s inner sleeping chamber, not even Hera. Long ago—if her immortal memory still served her, since all memories were suspect these days—she had ordered her son Hephaestus to secure her rooms with his artificer’s skills: forcefields of quantum flux, similar but not identical to those the moravec creatures had used to shield Troy and the Achaean camps from divine intrusion, pulsed within the walls; the door to her chamber was flux-infused reinforced titanium, strong enough to hold even an angered Zeus at bay, and Hephaestus had hung it from quantum doorposts snug and tight, locking it all with a secret bolt of a telepathic password that Hera changed daily.

She mentally opened that bolt and slipped in, securing the seamless, gleaming metal barrier behind her and moving into the bathing chamber, discarding her gown and flimsy underthings as she went.

First the ox-eyed Hera drew her bath, which was deep and fed from the purest springs of Olympos ice, heated by Hephaestus’s infernal engines tapping into the core of the old volcano’s warmth. She used the ambrosia first, using it to scrub away all faint stains or shadows of imperfection from her glowing white skin.

Then the white-armed Hera anointed her eternally adorable and enticing body with a deep olive rub, followed by a redolent oil. It was said on Olympos that the fragrance from this oil, used only by Hera, would stir not only every male divinity within the bronze-floored halls of Zeus, but could and did drift down to earth itself in a perfumed cloud that made unsuspecting mortal men lose their minds in frenzies of longing.

Then the daughter of mighty Kronos arranged her shining, ambrosial curls along her sharp-cheeked face and dressed in an ambrosial robe that had been made expressly for her by Athena, when the two had been friends so long ago. The gown was wonderfully smooth, with many designs and figures on it, including a wonderful rose brocade worked into the weft by Athena’s fingers and magic loom. Hera pinned this goddess material across her high breasts with a golden brooch, and fastened—just under her breasts—a waistband ornamented with a hundred floating tassels.

Into the lobes of her carefully pierced ears—just peeking out like pale, shy sea-things from her dark-scented curls—Hera looped her earrings, triple drops of mulberry clusters whose silver glint was guaranteed to cast hooks deep into every male heart.

Then back over her brow she veiled herself with a sweet, fresh veil made of suspended gold fabric that glinted like sunlight along her rosy cheekbones. Finally she fastened supple sandals under her soft, pale feet, crossing the gold straps up her smooth calves.

Now, dazzling from head to foot, Hera paused by the reflecting wall at the door to her bath chamber, considered the reflection for a silent moment, and said softly, “You still have it.”

Then she left her chambers and entered the echoing marble hall, touched her left breast, and quantum teleported away.

Hera found Aphrodite, goddess of love, walking alone on the grassy south-facing slopes of Mount Olympos. It was just before sunset, the temples and gods’ homes there on the east side of the caldera were limned in light, and Aphrodite had been admiring the gold glow on the Martian ocean to the north as well as on the icefields near the summit of three huge shield volcanoes visible far to the east, toward which Olympos threw its huge shadow for more than two hundred kilometers. The view was slightly blurred because of the usual forcefield around Olympos, which allowed them to breathe and survive and walk in near Earth-normal gravity here so close to the vacuum of space itself above terraformed Mars, and also blurred because of the shimmering aegis that Zeus had set in place around Olympos at the beginning of the war.

The Hole down there—a circle cut out of Olympos’ shadow, glowing within from a sunset on a different world and filled with lines of busy lights from mortal fires and moving moravec transports—was a reminder of that war.

“Dear child,” Hera called to the goddess of love, “would you do something for me if I asked, or would you refuse it? Are you still angry at me for helping the Argives these ten mortal years past while you defended your beloved Trojans?”

“Queen of the Skies,” said Aphrodite, “Beloved of Zeus, ask me anything. I will be eager to obey. Whatever I can do for one so powerful as yourself.”

The sun had all but set now, casting both goddesses into shadow, but Hera noticed how Aphrodite’s skin and ever-present smile seemed to glow of their own accord. Hera responded sensually to it as a female; she couldn’t imagine how the male gods felt in Aphrodite’s presence, much less the weak-willed mortal men.

Taking a breath—since her next words would commit her to the most dangerous scheme the scheming Hera had ever devised—she said, “Give me your powers to create Love, to command Longing—all the powers you use to overwhelm the gods and mortal men!”

Aphrodite’s smile remained, but her clear eyes narrowed ever so slightly. “Of course I will, Daughter of Kronos, if you so request—but why does someone who already lies in the arms of mighty Zeus require my few wiles?”

Hera kept her voice steady as she lied. As most liars do, she gave too many details in her lie. “This war wearies me, Goddess of Love. The plotting and scheming among the gods and among the Argives and Trojans hurts my heart. I go now to the ends of the generous other earth to visit Okeanos, that fountain from which the gods have risen, and Mother Tethys. These two kindly raised me in their own house and took me from Rhea when thundering Zeus, he of the wide brows, drove Kronos deep beneath the earth and the barren salt seas and built our new home here on this cold, red world.”

“But why, Hera,” Aphrodite asked softly, “do you need my poor charms to visit Okeanos and Tethys?”

Hera smiled in her treachery. “The Old Ones have grown apart, their marriage bed grown cold. I go now to visit them and to dissolve their ancient feud and to mend their discord. For too long have they stayed apart from each other and from their bed of love—I would lure them back to love, back to each other’s warm bodies, and no mere words of mine will suffice in this effort. So I ask you, Aphrodite, as your loving friend and one who wishes two old friends to love again, loan me one of the secrets of your charms so that I can secretly help Tethys win back Okeanos to desire.”

Aphrodite’s charming smile grew even more radiant. The sun had set now behind the edge of Mars, the summit of Olympos had been plunged into shadow, but the love goddess’s smile warmed them both. “It would be wrong of me to deny your warmhearted request, O Wife of Zeus, since your husband, our lord, commands us all.”

With that, Aphrodite loosed from beneath her breasts her secret breastband, and held the thin web of cloth and microcircuits in her hand.

Hera stared at it, her mouth suddenly dry. Dare I go forward with this? If Athena discovers what I’m up to, she and her fellow conspirators among the gods will attack me without mercy. If Zeus recognizes my treachery, he will destroy me in a way that no healing vat or alien Healer will ever hope to restore to even a simulacrum of Olympian life. “Tell me how it works,” she whispered to the goddess of love.

“On this band are all the beguilements of seduction,” Aphrodite said softly. “The heat of Love, the pulsing rush of Longing, the sibilant slidings of sex, the urgent lover’s cries, and the whispers of endearment.”

“All on that little breastband?” said Hera. “How does it work?”

“It has in it the magic to make any man go mad with lust,” whispered Aphrodite.

“Yes, yes, but how does it work?” Hera heard the impatience in her own words.

“How do I know?” asked the goddess of love, laughing now. “It was part of the package I received when… he… made us gods. A broad spectrum of pheromones? Nano-kindled hormone enactors? Microwaved energy directed directly at the sex and pleasure centers of the brain? It doesn’t matter… although this is only one of my many tricks, it works. Try it on, Wife of Zeus.”

Hera broke into a smile. She tucked the band between and under her high breasts, so that it was barely concealed by her gown. “How do I activate it?”

“Don’t you mean how will you help Mother Tethys activate it?” asked Aphrodite, still smiling.

“Yes, yes.”

“When the moment comes, touch your breast just as you would to activate the QT nanotriggers, but instead of imagining a far place to teleport, let one finger touch the circuited fabric in the breastband and think lustful thoughts.”

“That’s it? That’s all?”

“That is all,” said Aphrodite, “but it will suffice. A new world lies in this band’s weaving.”

“Thank you, Goddess of Love,” Hera said formally. Laser lances were stabbing upward through the forcefield above them. A moravec hornet or spacecraft had come through the Hole and was climbing for space.

“I know you won’t return with your missions unaccomplished,” said Aphrodite. “Whatever your eager heart is hoping to do, I am sure it will be fulfilled.”

Hera smiled at that. Then she touched her breast—careful not to touch the breastband nestled just beneath her nipples—and teleported away, following the quantum trail Zeus had made through folded space-time.


At dawn, Hector ordered the funeral fires quenched with wine. Then he and Paris’s most trusted comrades began raking through the embers, taking infinite care to find the bones of Priam’s other son while keeping them separate from the ashes and charred bones of dogs, stallions, and the weakling god. These lesser bones had all fallen far out near the edge of the pyre, while Paris’s charred remains lay near the center.

Weeping, Hector and his battle-comrades gathered Paris’s bones in a golden urn and sealed the urn with a double layer of fat, as was their custom for the brave and noble-born. Then, in solemn procession, they carried the urn through the busy streets and marketplaces—peasants and warriors alike stepping aside to let them pass in silence—and delivered the remains to the field cleared of rubble where the south wing of Priam’s palace had stood before the first Olympian bombing run eight months earlier. In the center of the cratered field rose a temporary tomb made from stone blocks scattered during the bombing—Hecuba, Priam’s wife, queen, and mother to Hector and Paris, had her few recovered bones in that tomb already—and now Hector covered Paris’s urn with a light linen shroud and personally carried it into the barrow.

“Here, Brother, I leave your bones for now,” said Hector in front of the men who’d followed him, “allowing the earth here to enfold you until I enfold you myself in the dim halls of Hades. When this war is over, we will build you and our mother and all those others who fall—most likely including myself—a greater tomb, reminiscent of the House of Death itself. Until then, Brother, farewell.”

Then Hector and his men came out and a hundred waiting Trojan heroes covered over the temporary stone tomb with dirt and piled more rubble and rocks high upon it.

And then Hector—who had not slept for two nights—went in search of Achilles, eager now to re-engage in combat with the gods and hungrier than ever to spill their golden blood.

Cassandra awoke at dawn to find herself all but naked, her robe torn and in disarray, her wrists and ankles tied with silken ropes to the posts of a strange bed. What mischief is this? she wondered, trying to remember if she had once again gotten drunk and passed out with some kinky soldier.

Then she remembered the funeral pyre and fainting into the arms of Andromache and Helen at its fiery conclusion.

Shit, thought Cassandra. My big mouth’s got me in trouble again. She looked around the room—no windows, huge stone blocks, a sense of underground damp. She might well be in someone’s personal underground torture chamber. Cassandra struggled and thrashed against the silken cords. They were smooth, but they were tight and well tied and remained firm.

Shit, Cassandra thought again.

Andromache, Hector’s wife, came into the room and looked down on the sybil. Andromache’s hands were empty, but Cassandra could easily imagine the dagger in the sleeve of the older woman’s gown. For a long moment, neither woman spoke. Finally, Cassandra said, “Old friend, please release me.”

Andromache said, “Old friend, I should cut your throat.”

“Then do it, you bitch,” said Cassandra. “Don’t talk about it.” She had little fear, since even within the kaleidoscope of shifting views of the future in the past eight months since the old futures had died, she had never foreseen Andromache killing her.

“Cassandra, why did you say that about the death of my baby? You know that Pallas Athena and Aphrodite both came into my tiny son’s chamber eight months ago and slaughtered him and his wet nurse, saying that his sacrifice was a warning—that the gods on Olympos had been ill pleased at my husband’s failure to burn the Argive ships and that little Astyanax, whom his father and I had called Scamandrius, was to be their yearly heiffer chosen for sacrifice.”

“Bullshit,” said Cassandra. “Untie me.” Her head hurt. She always had a hangover after the most vivid of her prophecies.

“Not until you tell me why you said that I had substituted a slave baby for Astyanax in that bloodied nursery,” said cool-eyed Andromache. The dagger was in her hand now. “How could I do that? How could I know that the goddesses were coming? Why would I do that?”

Cassandra sighed and closed her eyes. “There were no goddesses,” she said tiredly but with contempt. She opened her eyes again. “When you heard the news that Pallas Athena had killed Achilles’ beloved friend Patroclus—news which still may turn out to be another lie—you decided, or conspired with Hecuba and Helen to decide—to slaughter the wet nurse’s own child, who was the same age as Astyanax, and then kill the wet nurse as well. Then you told Hector and Achilles and all the others who assembled at the sound of your screams that it was the goddesses who killed your son.”

Andromache’s hazel eyes were as blue and cold and ungiving as ice on the surface of a mountain stream in spring. “Why would I do that?”

“You saw the chance to realize the Trojan Women’s scheme,” said Cassandra. “Our scheme of all these years. To somehow turn our Trojan men away from war with the Argives—a war I had prophesied as ending in all of our death or destruction. It was brilliant, Andromache. I applaud your courage for acting.”

“Except, if what you say is true,” said Andromache, “I’ve helped plunge us all into an even more hopeless war with the gods. At least in your earlier visions, some of us women survived—as slaves, but still among the living.”

Cassandra shrugged, an awkward motion with her arms extended and tethered to the bedposts. “You were thinking only of saving your son, whom we know would have been foully murdered had the old past become the current present. I understand, Andromache.”

Andromache extended the knife. “It’s all of my family’s death—even Hector’s—if you were to ever speak of this again and if the rabble—Trojan and Achaean alike—were to believe you. My only safety is in your death.”

Cassandra met the other woman’s flat gaze. “My gift of foresight can still serve you, Old Friend. It may even save you—you and your Hector and your hidden Astyanax, wherever he is. You know that when I am in the throes of my visions that I cannot control what I cry aloud. You and Helen and whoever else is in on this conspiracy—stay with me, or assign murderous slave girls to stay with me, and shut me up if I start to babble such truth again. If I do reveal this to others, kill me then.”

Andromache hesitated, lightly bit her lower lip, and then leaned forward and cut the silken cord that bound Cassandra’s right wrist to the bed. While she was cutting the other cords, she said, “The Amazons have arrived.”

Menelaus spent the night listening to and then talking to his brother and by the time Dawn spread forth her rosy fingertips, he was resolved to action.

All night he had moved from one Achaean and Argive camp to another around the bay and along the shoreline, listening to Agamemnon tell the horrifying story of their empty cities, empty farm fields, abandoned harbors—of unmanned Greek ships bobbing at anchor in Marathon, Eretria, Chalcis, Aulis, Hermione, Tiryns, Helos, and a score of other shoreside cities. He listened to Agamemnon tell the horrified Achaeans, Argives, Cretans, Ithacans, Lacadaemons, Calydnaeans, Buprasians, Dulichions, Pylosians, Pharisans, Spartans, Messeians, Thracians, Oechalians—all the hundreds of allied groups of varied Greeks from the mainland, from the rocky isles, from the Peloponnese itself—that their cities were empty, their homes abandoned as if by the will of the gods—meals rotting on tables, clothing set out on couches, baths and pools tepid and scummed over with algae, weapons lying un-scabbarded. On the Aegean, Agamemnon described in his full, strong, booming voice—empty ships bellying against the waves, sails full but tattered, no sign of furling or storm—the skies were blue and the seas were fair coming and going in their month-long voyage, Agamemnon explained—but the ships were empty: Athenian ships full-loaded with cargo or still resplendent with rows of unmanned oars; great Persian scows empty of their clumsy crews and helmeted, hopeless spearmen; graceful, crewless Egyptian ships waiting to carry grain to the home islands.

“The world has been emptied of men and women and children,” cried Agamemnon at each Achaean encampment, “except for us here, the wily Trojans and us. While we have turned our backs on the gods—worse, turned our hands and hearts against them—the gods have carried away the hopes of our hearts—our wives and families and fathers and slaves.”

“Are they dead?” cried man after man in camp after camp. The cries always were made though moans of pain. Lamentations filled the winter night all along the line of Argive fires.

Agamemnon always answered with upraised palms and silence for a terrible minute. “There was no sign of struggle,” he would say at last. “No blood. No decaying bodies feeding the starving dogs and circling birds.”

And always, at every encampment, the brave Argive crews and bodyguards and foot soldiers and captains who had accompanied Agamemnon homeward were having their own private conversations with others of their rank. By dawn, everyone had heard the terrible news, and palsied terror was giving way to impotent rage.

Menelaus knew that this was perfect for their purpose—the Atridae brothers, Agamemnon and Menelaus—to turn the Acheaens not only against the Trojans once again and to finish this war, but to overthrow the dictatorship of fleet-footed Achilles. Within days, if not hours, Agamemnon would once again be commander in chief.

At dawn, Agamemnon had finished his duty of reporting to all the Greeks, the great captains had wandered away—Diomedes back to his tent, the Great Telamonian Ajax, who had wept like a child when he heard that Salamis had been found as empty as all the other homelands—and Odysseus, Idomeneus, and Little Ajax, who had cried out in pain with all his men from Locris when Agamemnon had told them the news, and even garrulous old Nestor—all had wandered away at dawn to catch a few hours’ restless sleep.

“So tell me the news of the War with the Gods,” said Agamemnon to Menelaus as the two brothers sat alone in center of their Lacadaemon encampment, surrounded by rings of loyal captains, bodyguards, and spearmen. These men stayed far enough away to let their lords converse in private.

Red-haired Menelaus told his older brother what news there was—the ignoble daily battles between moravec wizardry and the gods’ divine weapons, the occasional single combat—the death of Paris and a hundred lesser names, both Trojan and Achaean—and about the funeral just finished. The corpse-fire smoke had ceased to rise and the flames above the wall of Troy had disappeared from sight only an hour earlier.

“Good riddance,” said royal Agamemnon, his strong white teeth gnawing off a strip of the suckling pig they’d roasted for his breakfast. “I’m only sorry Apollo killed Paris… I wanted to do the job myself.”

Menelaus laughed, ate some of the suckling pig himself, washed it down with breakfast wine, and told his dear brother about Paris’s first wife, Oenone, appearing out of nowhere and of her self-immolation.

Agamemnon laughed at this. “Would that it had been your bitch of a wife, Helen, who’d been so moved to throw herself into the flames, Brother.”

Menelaus nodded at this, but he felt his heart lurch at the sound of Helen’s name. He told Agamemnon of Oenone’s ravings about Philoctetes, not Apollo, being the cause of Paris’s death, and about the anger that had swept through the Trojan ranks, causing the small contingent of Achaeans to beat a hasty retreat from the city.

Agamemnon slapped his thigh. “Wonderful! It’s the penultimate stone set in place. Within forty-eight hours, I’ll stir this discontent into action throughout the Achaean ranks. We’ll be at war with the Trojans again before the week is out, Brother. I swear this on the stones and dirt of our father’s barrow.”

“But the gods…” began Menelaus.

“The gods will be as they were,” he said with what sounded like complete confidence. “Zeus neutral. Some helping the mewling, doomed Trojans. Most allying themselves with us. But this time we’ll finish the job. Ilium will be ashes within the fortnight… as sure as Paris is nothing but bones and ashes this morning.”

Menelaus nodded. He knew that he should ask questions about how his brother hoped to mend the peace with the gods again, as well as overthrow the invincible Achilles, but he ached to discuss a more pressing topic.

“I saw Helen,” he said, hearing his own voice stumble at his wife’s name. “I was within seconds of killing her.”

Agamemnon wiped grease from his mouth and beard, drank from a silver cup, and raised one eyebrow to show that he was listening.

Menelaus described his firm resolve and opportunity to get to Helen—and how both were ruined by Oenone’s sudden appearance and her dying accusations against Philoctetes. “We were lucky to get out of the city alive,” he said again.

Agamemnon squinted toward the distant walls. Somewhere a moravec siren wailed and missiles hurtled skyward toward some unseen Olympian target. The forcefield over the main Achaean camp hummed into a deeper tone of readiness.

“You should kill her today,” said Menelaus’ older and wiser brother. “Now. This morning.”

“This morning?” Menelaus licked his lips. Despite the pig grease, they were dry.

“This morning,” repeated the once and future commander in chief of all the Greek armies assembled to sack Troy. “Within a day or so, the opening rift between our men and those dog-spittle Trojans will be so great that the cowards will be closing and bolting their fucking Scaean Gate again.”

Menelaus looked toward the city. Its walls were rose-colored in the light of the rising winter sun. He was very confused. “They won’t allow me in by myself…” he began.

“Go in disguise,” interrupted Agamemnon. The royal king drank again and belched. “Think as Odysseus would think… as some crafty weasel would think.”

Menelaus, as proud a man as his brother or any other Achaean hero in his own way, wasn’t sure he appreciated that comparison. “How can I disguise myself?”

Agamemnon gestured toward his own royal tent, its scarlet silk billowing again nearby. “I have the lion skin and old bore-tusk wraparound helmet that Diomedes wore when he and Odysseus attempted to steal the Palladian from Troy last year,” he said. “With that strange helmet hiding your red hair and the tusks hiding your beard—not to mention the lion skin concealing your glorious Achaean armor—the sleepy guards at the gate will think you another barbarian ally of theirs and let you pass without challenge. But go quickly—before the guard changes and before the gates are locked to us for the duration of Ilium’s doomed existence.”

Menelaus had to think about this for only a few seconds. Then he rose, clasped his brother firmly on the shoulder, and went into the tent to gather his disguise and to arm himself with more killing blades.


The moon Phobos looked like a huge, grooved, dusty olive with bright lights encircling the concave end. Mahnmut told Hockenberry that the hollowed tip was a giant crater called Stickney and that the lights were the moravec base.

The ride up had not been without some adrenaline flow for Hockenberry. He’d seen enough of the moravec hornets at short range to notice that none of them seemed to have windows or ports, so he assumed the ride would be a blind one, except perhaps for some TV monitors. He’d underestimated asteroid-belt moravec technology—for all the hornets were from the rockvecs according to Mahnmut. Hockenberry had also assumed there would be acceleration couches or Twentieth Century space-shuttle-style chairs with huge straps and buckles.

There were no chairs. No visible means of support. Invisible force-fields enfolded Hockenberry and the small moravec as they seemed to sit on thin air. Holograms—or some sort of three-dimensional projections so real that there was no sense of projection—surrounded them on three sides and beneath them. Not only were they sitting on invisible chairs, the invisible chairs and their bodies were suspended over a two mile drop as the hornet flashed through the Hole and climbed for altitude to the south of Olympus Mons.

Hockenberry screamed.

“Does the display bother you?” asked Mahnmut.

Hockenberry screamed again.

The moravec quickly touched holographic controls that appeared as if by magic. The drop below them shrank until it appeared to be set into the metal floor of the hull like a mere giant-screen TV. All around them, the panorama continued to unfold as the forcefield-shrouded summit of Olympus Mons flashed past—lasers or some sort of energy lances flickering at them and splashing against the hornet’s own energy field—and then the blue Martian sky shifted to thin pink, then to black, and the hornet was above the atmosphere, pitching over—although the great limb of Mars seemed to rotate until it filled the virtual windows.

“Better,” gasped Hockenberry, flailing for something to hang on to. The forcefield chair didn’t fight him, but it didn’t release him either. “Jesus Christ,” he gasped as the ship did a one-hundred-eighty degree roll and fired its engines. Phobos tumbled into view, almost on top of them.

There was no sound. Not a whisper.

“I’m sorry,” said Mahnmut. “I should have warned you. This is Phobos filling the aft windowscreen right now. It’s the smaller of Mars’ two moons, just about eight miles in diameter… although you can see it’s not a sphere by any means.”

“It looks like a potato that some cat’s been clawing,” managed Hockenberry. The moon was approaching very fast. “Or a giant olive.”

“Olive, yes,” said Mahnmut. “That’s because of the crater at this end. It’s named Stickney—after Asaph Hall’s wife, Angeline Stickney Hall.”

“Who was… Asaph… Hall?” managed Hockenberry. “Some astronaut… or… cosmonaut… or… who?” He’d found something to hang on to. Mahnmut. The little moravec didn’t seem to mind his metal-plastic shoulders being clutched. The aft view-holo flared with flame as some silent thrusters or engines fired. Hockenberry was just barely succeeding in keeping his teeth from chattering.

“Asaph Hall was an astronomer with the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.,” said Mahnmut in his usual soft, conversational tones. The hornet was pitching over again. And spinning. Phobos and the Stickney Crater hole were filling first one holographic window and then another.

Hockenberry was pretty sure that the thing was crashing and that he would be dead in less than a minute. He tried to remember a prayer from his childhood—damn all those years as an intellectual agnostic!—but all he could bring back was the singsong “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

It seemed appropriate. Hockenberry went with it.

“I believe that Hall discovered both moons of Mars in 1877,” Mahnmut was saying. “There is no record—none of which I am aware—of whether Mrs. Hall appreciated a huge crater being named after her. Of course, it was her maiden name.”

Hockenberry suddenly realized why they were out of control and going to crash and die. No one was flying the goddamned ship. It was just the two of them in the hornet, and the only control—real or virtual—that Mahnmut had touched had been the one to adjust the holographic views. He considered mentioning this oversight to the little organic-robot, but since the Stickney Crater was filling all the forward windows now and approaching at a speed they had no chance of decreasing before impact, Hockenberry kept his mouth shut.

“It’s a strange little moon,” said Mahnmut. “A captured asteroid, really—as is Deimos, of course. They’re quite different from each other. Phobos here orbits only three thousand seven hundred miles above the Martian surface—almost skimming the atmosphere, as it were—and is destined to crash into Mars in approximately eighty-three million years if no one does anything about it.”

“Speaking of crashing…” began Hockenberry.

At that moment the hornet slowed to a hover, dropped into the floodlit crater, and touched down near a complex network of domes, girders, cranes, glowing yellow bubbles, blue domes, green spires, moving vehicles, and hundreds of busy moravecs bustling around in vacuum. The landing, when it came, was so gentle that Hockenberry only just felt it through the metal floor and forcefield chair.

“Home again, home again,” chanted Mahnmut. “Well, not really home, of course, but… watch your head when we get out. That door is a little low for human heads.”

Before Hockenberry could comment or scream again, the door had swung out and down and all the air in the little compartment roared out into the vacuum of space.

Hockenberry had been a classics major and professor during his previous life, never very science literate, but he’d seen enough science-fiction movies in his time to know the fate of explosive decompression: eyes expanding until they were the size of grapefruits, eardrums bursting in great gouts of blood, flesh and skin boiling and expanding and ripping as internal pressures expanded when finding no resistance against the zero external pressure of hard vacuum.

None of that happened.

Mahnmut paused on the ramp. “Aren’t you coming?” The little moravec’s voice sounded tinny in the human’s ears.

“Why aren’t I dead?” said Hockenberry. It felt as if he’d suddenly been wrapped in invisible bubble wrap.

“Your chair’s protecting you.”

“My chair??” Hockenberry looked around him but there was not so much as a shimmer. “You mean I have to keep sitting here forever or die?”

“No,” said Mahnmut, sounding amused. “Come on out. The forcefield-chair will come with you. It’s already providing heat, cooling, osmotic scrubbing and recycling of your oxygen—good for about thirty minutes—and acting as a pressure suit.”

“But the… chair… is part of the ship,” said Hockenberry, standing gingerly and feeling the invisible bubble wrap move with him. “How can it go outside the hornet?”

“Actually, the hornet is more a part of the chair,” said Mahnmut. “Trust me. But watch your step out here. The chair-suit will give you a little down-thrust once you’re on the surface, but the gravity on Phobos is so weak that a good jump would allow you to reach escape velocity. Adios, Phobos, for Thomas Hockenberry.”

Hockenberry paused at the top stair of the ramp and clutched the metal door frame.

“Come on,” said Mahnmut. “The chair and I won’t let you float away. Let’s get inside. There are other moravecs who want to talk to you.”

After leaving Hockenberry with Asteague/Che and the other prime integrators from the Five Moons Consortium, Mahnmut left the pressurized dome and went for a walk in Stickney Crater. The view was spectacular. The long axis of Phobos constantly pointed at Mars and the moravec engineers had tweaked it so that the red planet was always hanging directly above Stickney, filling most of the black sky, since the steep crater walls blocked out the peripheral views. The little moon turned on its axis once every seven hours—precisely the same amount of time it took to orbit Mars—so the giant red disk with its blue oceans and white volcanoes rotated slowly above.

He found his friend Orphu of Io several hundred meters up amidst the spiderweb of cranes, girders, and cables tethering the Going-to-Earth ship to the launch crater. Deep-space moravecs, engineering bots, black-beetled rockvecs, and Callistan supervisors scuttled and clambered over the ship and connecting girders like glittering aphids. Searchlights and worklights played on the dark hull of the huge Earth-ship. Sparks fell in cascades from batteries of roving autowelders. Nearby, more secure in the mesh of a metal cradle, was The Dark Lady, Mahnmut’s own deep-sea submersible from Europa. Months ago, the moravecs had salvaged the damaged and powerless vessel from its hiding place along the Martian coast of the north Tethys Sea, used tugs to lift it to Phobos, and then repaired, repowered, and modified the tough little sub for service on the Earth mission.

Mahnmut found his friend a hundred meters up, scuttling along steel cables under the belly of the spaceship. He hailed him on their old private band.

“Is that Orphu I spy? The Orphu formerly of Mars, formerly of Ilium, and always of Io? That Orphu?”

“The same,” said Orphu. Even on the radio or tightbeam channels, Orphu’s rumble seemed to border on the subsonic. The hardvac moravec used its carapace thrusters to jump thirty meters from the cables to the girder where Mahnmut was balancing. Orphu grabbed a girder with his manipulator pincers and hung there a few meters out.

Some of the moravecs—Asteague/Che, for example, the chitinous Belt moravecs for another, Mahnmut himself somewhat less so—were humanoid-looking enough. Not Orphu of Io. The moravec, designed and evolved to work in the sulfur-torus of Io in the magnetic, gravitational, and blinding radiation storms of Jupiter space, was about five meters long, more than two meters high, and slightly resembled a horseshoe crab, if horseshoe crabs were outfitted with extra legs, sensor packs, thruster pods, manipulators that almost—not quite—could serve as hands, and an aged, pitted shell-carapace so many times cracked and mended that it looked as if it had been cemented together by spackle.

“Is Mars still spinning up there, old friend?” rumbled Orphu.

Mahnmut turned his head skyward. “It is. Still rotating like some huge red shield. I can see Olympus Mons just coming out from the terminator.”

Mahnmut hesitated a moment. “I’m sorry about the outcome of the most recent surgery,” he said at last. “I’m sorry they couldn’t fix it.”

Orphu shrugged four articulated arm-legs. “It doesn’t matter, old friend. Who needs organic eyes when one has thermal imaging, sniffy little gas chromatograph mass spectrometers on my knees, radar—deep and phased—sonar and a laser-mapper? It’s just those useless, faraway things like stars and Mars that I can’t quite make out with all these lovely sensory organs.”

“Yes,” said Mahnmut. “But I’m sorry.” His friend had lost his organic optic nerve when he was almost destroyed during their first encounter with an Olympian god in Mars orbit—the same god who had blasted their ship and two comrades into gas and debris. Mahnmut knew that Orphu was lucky to be alive and repairable to the extent he had been, but still…

“Did you deliver Hockenberry?” rumbled Orphu.

“Yes. The prime integrators are briefing him now.”

“Bureaucrats,” rumbled the large Ionian. “Want a ride to the ship?”

“Sure.” Mahnmut jumped to Orphu’s shell, grabbed a handhold with his most serious gripping pincer, and held on as the hardvac moravec thrusted out away from the gantry, up to the ship, and then around. They were almost a kilometer above the crater floor here and the true size of the Earth-ship—tethered to the gantry like an ellipsoid helium balloon—became visible for the first time. It was easily five times the length of the spacecraft that had brought the four moravecs to Mars from Jupiter space more than a standard-year earlier.

“It’s impressive, isn’t it?” said Orphu. He’d been working with the Belt and Five Moons engineers for more than two months on the craft.

“It’s big,” said Mahnmut. And then, sensing Orphu’s disappointment, he added, “And rather beautiful in a bumpy, bulgy, black, bulbous, sinister sort of way.”

Orphu rumbled his deep laugh—tones that always made Mahnmut think of aftershocks from a Europan icequake or follow-on waves to a tsunami. “That’s an awful lot of alliteration from an anxious astronaut,” he said.

Mahnmut shrugged, felt bad for a second because his friend could not see the gesture, and then realized Orphu had seen it. The big moravec’s new radar was a very fine instrument, lacking only the ability to see colors. Orphu had told him that he could make out subtle shifts on a human’s face with the close-radar. Useful if Hockenberry does come on this mission, thought Mahnmut.

As if reading his mind and memory banks, Orphu said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about human sadness recently, and how it compares to our moravec style of dealing with loss.”

“Oh, no,” said Mahnmut, “you’ve been reading that French person again.”

“Proust,” said Orphu. “That ‘French person’s’ name is Proust.”

“I know. But why do you do that? You know that you always get depressed when you read Remembrance of Things Past.

In Search of Lost Time,” corrected Orphu of Io. “I’ve been reading the section called ‘Grief and Oblivion.’ You know, the part after Albertine dies and Marcel, the narrator, is trying to forget her, but he can’t?”

“Oh, well,” said Mahnmut. “That should cheer you up. How about if I loaned you Hamlet for a chaser?”

Orphu ignored the offer. They were high enough now to see the entire ship beneath them and to peer over the walls of Stickney Crater. Mahnmut knew that Orphu could travel many thousands of kilometers of deep space with no problem, but the sense that they were out of control and flying away from Phobos and the Stickney Base—just as he’d warned Hockenberry—was very strong.

“To cut the cords of connection to Albertine,” says Orphu, “the poor narrator has to go back through his memory and consciousness and confront all of the Albertines—the ones from memory, as well as the imaginary ones he’d desired and been jealous of—all those virtual Albertines he’d created in his own mind when he was worrying about whether she was sneaking out to see other women behind his back. Not to mention the different Albertines of his desire—the girl he hardly knew, the woman he captured but did not possess, the woman he’d grown tired of.”

“It sounds very tiring,” said Mahnmut, trying to convey through his own tone over the radio band how tired he was of the whole Proust thing.

“That’s not the half of it,” said Orphu, ignoring the hint—or perhaps oblivious to it. “To move ahead in grieving, poor Marcel—the narrator-character has the same name as the author, you know… wait, you did read this, didn’t you, Mahnmut? You assured me you had when we were coming in-system last year.”

“I… skimmed it,” said the Europan moravec.

Even Orphu’s sigh bordered on the subsonic. “Well, as I was saying, poor Marcel not only has to confront this legion of Albertines in his consciousness before being able to let her go, he has to also confront all the Marcels who had perceived these multiple Albertines—the ones who had desired her beyond all things, the insanely jealous Marcels, the indifferent Marcels, the Marcels whose judgment had been distorted by desire, the…”

“Is there a point here?” asked Mahnmut. His own area of interest over the past standard century and a half had been Shakespeare’s sonnets.

“Just the staggering complexity of human consciousness,” said Orphu. He rotated his shell one hundred and eighty degrees, fired his thrusters, and they started back toward the ship, the gantry, Stickney Crater, and safety—such as it was. Mahnmut craned his short neck to look up at Mars as they pivoted. He knew it was an illusion, but it seemed closer. Olympus and the Tharsis volcanoes were almost out of sight now as Phobos hurtled toward the far limb of the planet.

“Do you ever wonder how our grieving differs from… say… Hockenberry’s? Or Achilles’?” asked Orphu.

“Not really,” said Mahnmut. “Hockenberry seems to grieve as much for the loss of memory of most of his previous life as he does for his dead wife, friends, students, and so forth. But who can tell with human beings? And Hockenberry is only a reconstituted human being—someone or something rebuilt him out of DNA, RNA, his old books, and who knows what kinds of best-guess programs? As for Achilles—when he gets sad, he goes out and kills someone. Or a bunch of someones.”

“I wish I’d been there to see his Attack on the Gods during the first month of the war,” said Orphu. “From the way you described it, the carnage was astounding.”

“It was,” said Mahnmut. “I’ve blocked random access to those files in my NOM because they’re so disturbing.”

“That’s another element of Proust I’ve been thinking about,” said Orphu. They touched down on the upper hull of the Earth-ship and the big moravec drove connecting micro-pitons into the sheath of insulating material there. “We have our non-organic memory to fall back on when our neural memories seem doubtful. Human beings have only that confusing mass of chemically driven neurological storage to rely on. They’re all subjective and emotion-tinged. How can they trust any of their memories?”

“I don’t know,” said Mahnmut. “If Hockenberry goes with us to Earth, maybe we can get a glimpse of how his mind works.”

“It’s not as if we’ll be alone with him with a lot of time to talk,” said Orphu. “This will be a high-g boost and an even higher-g deceleration and there’ll be quite a mob this time—at least three dozen Five Moons ‘vecs and a thousand rockvec troopers.”

“Prepared for anything this time, huh?” said Mahnmut.

“I doubt it,” rumbled Orphu. “Although this ship carries enough weapons to reduce Earth to cinders. But so far, our planning hasn’t kept up with the surprises.”

Mahnmut felt the same sickness he’d been touched by when he’d learned their ship to Mars had been secretly armed. “Do you ever mourn for Koros III and Ri Po the way your Proust narrator mourns for his dead?” he asked the Ionian.

Orphu’s fine radar antenna shifted slightly toward the smaller moravec, as if trying to read Mahnmut’s expression the way he said he could a human’s. Mahnmut, of course, had no expression.

“Not really,” said Orphu. “We didn’t know them before the mission and didn’t travel in the same compartment with them during the mission. Before Zeus… got us. So mostly they were voices on the comm to me, although sometimes I access NOM to see their images… just to honor their memory, I guess.”

“Yes,” said Mahnmut. He did the same thing.

“Do you know what Proust said about conversation?”

Mahnmut resisted another sigh. “What?”

“He said… ‘When we chat, it is no longer we who speak…. we are fashioning ourselves then in the likeness of other people, and not of a self that differs from them.’ ”

“So when I talk to you,” Mahnmut said on their private frequency, “I’m really shaping myself into the likeness of a six-ton horseshoe crab with a beat-up shell, too many legs, and no eyes?”

“You can hope,” rumbled Orphu of Io. “But your reach should always exceed your grasp.”


Penthesilea swept into Ilium on horseback an hour after dawn with twelve of her finest sister-warriors riding two abreast behind her. Despite the early hour and the cold wind, thousands of Trojans were on the walls and lining the road that passed through the Scaean Gate to Priam’s temporary palace, all of them cheering as if the Amazon queen were arriving with thousands of reinforcements rather than thirteen. The mobs waved kerchiefs, thumped spears against leather shields, wept, hurrahed, and threw flowers beneath the hooves of the horses.

Penthesilea accepted it all as her due.

Deiphobus, King Priam’s son, Hector’s and the dead Paris’s brother, and the man whom the whole world knew would be Helen’s next husband, met the Amazon queen and her warriors just outside the walls of Paris’s palace, where Priam currently resided. The stout man stood in gleaming armor and red cape, his helmet brush stiff and golden, his arms folded until he extended one palm up in salute. Fifteen of Priam’s private guardsmen stood at rigid attention behind him

“Hail, Penthesilea, daughter of Ares, Queen of the Amazons,” cried Deiphobus. “Welcome to you and your twelve warrior women. All Ilium offers you thanks and honor this day, for coming as ally and friend to help us in our war with the gods of Olympos themselves. Come inside, bathe, receive our gifts, and know the true richness of Troy’s hospitality and appreciation. Hector, our noblest hero, would be here to welcome you in person but he is resting for a few hours after tending our brother’s funeral pyre all through the night.”

Penthesilea swung down lightly from her giant war steed, moving with consummate grace despite her solid armor and gleaming helmet. She grasped Deiphobus by the forearm with both her strong hands, greeting him with a fellow-warrior’s grip of friendship. “Thank you, Deiphobus, son of Priam, hero of a thousand single combats. I and my companions thank you, extend our condolences to you, your father, and all of Priam’s people at the news of Paris’s death—news that reached us two days ago—and we accept your generous hospitality. But I must tell you before I enter Paris’s home, Priam’s palace now, that I come not to fight the gods alongside you, but to end your war with the gods once and for all.”

Deiphobus, whose eyes tended to protrude in a hypothalic way at the best of times, literally goggled now at this beautiful Amazon. “How would you do this, Queen Penthesilea?”

“This thing I have come to tell you, and then to do,” said Penthesilea. “Come, take me in, friend Deiphobus. I need to meet with your father.”

Deiphobus explained to the Amazon queen and her bodyguard-army that his father, royal Priam, was staying here in this wing of Paris’s lesser palace because the gods had destroyed Priam’s palace on the first day of the war eight months earlier, killing his wife and the city’s queen, Hecuba.

“Again you have the Amazon women’s condolences, Deiphobos,” said Penthesilea. “Sorrow at the news of the queen’s death reached even into our distant isles and hills.”

As they entered the royal chamber, Deiphobos cleared his throat. “Speaking of your distant land, daughter of Ares, how is that you survived the gods’ wrath this month? Word has spread through the city overnight that Agamemnon found the Greek Isles empty of human life during his voyage home. Even the brave defenders of Ilium are quaking this morning at the thought of the gods eliminating all peoples save for the Argives and us. How is that you and your race was spared?”

“My race hasn’t been,” Penthesilea said flatly. “We fear that the land of the brave Amazon women is as empty as the other lands we’ve passed through the last week of our travel. But Athena has spared us for our mission. And the goddess sent an important message to the people of Ilium.”

“Pray tell us,” said Deiphobus.

Penthesilea shook her head. “The message is for royal Priam’s ears.”

As if on cue, trumpets sounded, curtains were pulled back, and Priam entered slowly, leaning on the arm of one of his royal guardsmen.

Penthesilea had seen Priam in his own royal hall less than a year before when she and fifty of her women had braved the Achaean siege to bring words of encouragement and alliance to Troy—Priam had told her that the Amazon’s help was not needed then, but had showered her with gold and other gifts. But now the Amazon queen was shocked into silence by Priam’s appearance.

The king, always venerable but filled with energy, had seemed to age twenty years in the past twelve months. His back, always so straight, was now crooked. His cheeks, always ruddy with wine or excitement at the times Penthesilea had seen him over her five-and-twenty years, even when she was a child and she and her sister, Hippolyte, had hidden behind curtains in their mother’s throne room when the royal party from Ilium visited to pay tribute, were now concave, as if the old man had lost all of his teeth. His salt-and-pepper hair and beard had gone a sad, straggly white. Priam’s eyes were rheumy now, gazing at ghosts.

The old man almost collapsed into the gold-and-lapis throne.

“Hail, Priam, son of Laomedon, noble ruler in the line of Dardanus, father of brave Hector, pitiable Paris, and welcoming Deiphobus,” said Penthesilea, going to one greaved knee. Her young-woman’s voice, although melodious, was more than strong enough to echo in the huge chamber. “I, Queen Penthesilea, perhaps the last of the Amazon queens, and my twelve breasted and bronze-armored warriors bring you praise, condolences, gifts, and our spears.”

“Your condolences and loyalties are your most precious gifts to us, dear Penthesilea.”

“I also bring you a message from Pallas Athena and the key to ending your war with the gods,” said Penthesilea.

The king cocked his head. Some of his retinue audibly gasped.

“Pallas Athena has never loved Ilium, beloved daughter. She always conspired with our Argive enemies to destroy this city and all within its walls. But the goddess is our sworn enemy now. She and Aphrodite murdered my son Hector’s baby, Astyanax, young lord of the city—saying that we and our children were like mere offerings to them. Sacrifices. There will be no peace with the gods until their race or ours is extinguished.”

Penthesilea, still on one knee but her head held high and her blue eyes flashing challenge, said, “The charge against Athena and Aphrodite is false. The war is false. The gods who love Ilium wish to love us and support us once again—including Father Zeus himself. Even gray-eyed Pallas Athena has come over to the side of Ilium because of the base treachery of the Achaeans—that liar Achilles most specifically, since he invented the calumny that Athena murdered his friend Patroclus.”

“Do the gods offer peace terms?” asked Priam. The old man’s voice was whispery, his tone almost wistful.

“Athena offers more than peace terms,” said Penthesilea, rising to her feet. “She—and the gods who love Troy—offer you victory.”

“Victory over whom?” called Deiphobus, moving to his father’s side. “The Achaeans are our allies now. They and the artificed beings, the moravecs, who shield our cities and camps from Zeus’s thunderbolts.”

Penthesilea laughed. At that moment, every man in the room marveled at how beautiful the Amazon queen was—young and fair, her cheeks flushed and her features as animated as a girl’s, her body under the beautifully molded bronze armor both lithe and lush at the same time. But Penthesilea’s eyes and eager expression were not those of a mere girl’s—they brimmed over with vitality, animal spirits, and sharp intelligence, as well as showing a warrior’s fire for action.

“Victory over Achilles who has misled your son, noble Hector, who even now leads Ilium to ruin,” cried Penthesilea. “Victory over the Argives, the Achaeans, who even now plot your downfall, the city’s ruin, your other sons’ and grandsons’ death, and the enslavement of your wives and daughters.”

Priam shook his head almost sadly. “No one can best fleet-footed Achilles in combat, Amazon. Not even Ares, who three times has been killed by Achilles’ own hands. Not even Athena, who has fled at his attack. Not even Apollo, who was carried back to Olympus in golden-bloodied pieces after challenging Achilles. Not even Zeus, who fears to come down to do single combat with the man-god.”

Penthesilea shook her head and her golden curls flashed. “Zeus fears no one, Noble Priam, pride of the Dardanus line. And he could destroy Troy—lo, destroy the entire earth on which Troy resides—with one flick of his aegis.”

Spearmen went pale and even Priam flinched at the mention of the aegis, Zeus’s most powerful and divine and mysterious weapon. It was understood by all that even the other Olympian gods could be destroyed in a minute if Zeus chose to use the aegis. This was no mere thermonuclear weapon such as the Thunder God dropped uselessly on moravec forcefields early in the war. The aegis was to be feared.

“I make this vow to you, Noble Priam,” said the Amazon queen. “Achilles will be dead before the sun sets on either world today. I vow on the blood of my sisters and mother that…”

Priam held up his hand to stop her.

“Make no vow before me now, young Penthesilea. You are like another daughter to me and have been since you were a baby. Challenging Achilles to mortal combat is death. What made you come to Troy to find your death this way?”

“It is not death, My Lord,” said the Amazon with strain audible in her voice. “It is glory.”

“Often the two are the same,” said Priam. “Come, sit down next to me. Talk to me softly.” He waved his bodyguard and son, Deiphobus, back out of the range of hearing. The dozen Amazon women also took several steps away from the two thrones.

Penthesilea sat on the high-backed throne, once Hecuba’s, recovered from the wreckage of the old palace and now kept empty here in Hecuba’s memory. The Amazon set her shining helmet on the broad arm of the throne and leaned closer to the old man.

“I am pursued by Furies, Father Priam. For three months to this day I have been pursued by the Furies.”

“Why?” asked Priam. He leaned closer, like some future-era priest to some yet unborn confessor. “Those avenging spirits seek to exact blood for blood only when no human avenger is left alive to do so, my daughter—especially when one family member has been injured by another. Surely you have hurt no member of your royal Amazon family.”

“I killed my sister, Hippolyte,” said Penthesilea, her voice quavering.

Priam pulled back. “You murdered Hippolyte? The former queen of the Amazons? Theseus’ royal wife? We heard that she had died in a hunting accident when someone had seen movement and mistaken the Queen of Athens for a stag.”

“I did not mean to murder her, Priam. But after Theseus abducted my sister—seduced her aboard his ship during a state visit, set sail, and carried her off—we Amazons set our mind to revenge. This year, while all eyes and attention in the home isles and Peloponnese were turned to your struggle here at Troy, with heroes away and Athens lying undefended, we made up a small fleet, set our own siege—though nothing so grand and immortal in the telling as the Argives’ siege of Ilium—and invaded Theseus’ stronghold.”

“We heard this, of course,” mumbled old Priam. “But the battle ended quickly in a treaty of peace and the Amazons departed. We heard that Queen Hippolyte died shortly after, during a grand hunt to celebrate the peace.”

“She died by my spear,” said Penthesilea, forcing every word out into the air. “Originally, the Athenians were on the run, Theseus was wounded, and we thought we had the city in our grasp. Our only goal was to rescue Hippolyte from this man—whether she wanted to be rescued or not—and we were close to doing so when Theseus led a counterattack that drove us a day’s bloody retreat back to our ships. Many of my sisters were slain. We were fighting for our lives now, and once again Amazon valor won out—we drove Theseus and his fighters back a day’s walk toward his walls. But my final spearcast, aimed for Theseus himself, found its deadly way into the heart of my sister, who—in her bold Athenian armor—looked like a man as she fought alongside her lord and husband.”

“Against the Amazons,” whispered Priam. “Against her sisters.”

“Yes. As soon as we discovered whom I had killed, the battle stopped. The peace was made. We erected a white column near the acropolis in my noble sister’s memory, and we departed in sorrow and shame.”

“And the Furies hound you now, for your sister’s shed blood.”

“Every day,” said Penthesilea. Her bright eyes were moist. Her fresh cheeks had gone flushed with the telling and now were pale. She looked extraordinarily beautiful.

“But what does Achilles and our war have to do with this tragedy, my daughter?” whispered Priam.

“This month, son of Laomedon and scion of the line of Dardanus, Athena appeared to me. She explained that no offering I could make to the Furies would ever appease the hell-beasts, but that I could make amends for Hippolyte’s death by traveling to Ilium with twelve of my chosen companions and defeating Achilles in single combat, thus ending this errant war and restoring peace between gods and men.”

Priam rubbed his chin where the gray stubble he’d let grow since Hecuba’s death passed for a beard. “No one can defeat Achilles, Amazon. My son Hector—the finest warrior Troy has ever bred—tried for eight years and failed. Now he is ally and friend to the fleet-footed mankiller. The gods themselves have tried for more than eight months, and all have failed or fallen before the wrath of Achilles—Ares, Apollo, Poseidon, Hermes, Hades, Athena herself—all have taken on Achilles and failed.”

“It’s because none of them knew of his weakness,” whispered the Amazon Penthesilea. “His mother, the goddess Thetis, found a secret way to confer invulnerability in battle to her mortal son when he was an infant. He cannot fall in battle except by injury to this one weak place.”

“What is it?” gasped Priam. “Where is it?”

“I swore to Athena—upon pain of death—that I would reveal it to no one, Father Priam. But that I would use the knowledge to kill Achilles by my own Amazon hand and thus end this war.”

“If Athena knows Achilles’ weakness, then why did she not use it to end his life in their own combat, woman? A duel which ended with Athena fleeing, wounded, QTing back to Olympos in pain and fear.”

“The Fates decreed when Achilles was an infant that his secret weakness would be found only by another mortal, during this battle for Ilium. But the work of the Fates has come undone.”

Priam sat back in his throne. “So Hector was fated to kill fleet-footed Achilles after all,” he murmured. “If we had not opened this war with the gods, that destiny would have come about.”

Penthesilea shook her head. “No, not Hector. Another mortal—a Trojan—would have taken Achilles’ life after he had killed Hector. One of the Muses had learned this from a slave they called a scholic, who knew the future.”

“A seer,” said Priam. “Like our esteemed Helenus or the Achaeans’ prophet Calchas.”

The Amazon shook her golden curls again. “No, the scholics did not see the future—somehow, they came from the future. But they are all dead now, according to Athena. But Achilles’ Fate awaits. And I will fulfill it.”

“When?” said old Priam, obviously turning over all the ramifications of this in his mind. He had not been king of the grandest city on earth for more than five decades for no reason, to no purpose. His son, Hector, was blood ally to Achilles now, but Hector was not king. Hector was Ilium’s noblest warrior, but while he might have once carried the fate of the city and its inhabitants in his sword arm, he had never imagined it in his mind. This was Priam’s work.

“When?” asked Priam again. “How soon can you and your twelve Amazon warriors kill Achilles?”

“Today,” promised Penthesilea. “As I promised. Before the sun sets on either Ilium or Olympos visible through that hole in the air we passed on the way in.”

“What do you require, daughter? Weapons? Gold? Riches?”

“Only your blessing, Noble Priam. And food. And a couch for my women and me, for a short nap before we bathe, adorn ourselves again in armor, and go out to end this war with the gods.”

Priam clapped his hands. Deiphobus, the many guards, his courtiers, and the twelve Amazon women stepped back into earshot.

He ordered fine food be brought to these women, then soft couches made available for their short sleep, then warm baths to be drawn and slave women to be ready to apply oils and unguents after their baths, and massages, and finally that the thirteen women’s horses be fed and combed and resaddled when Penthesilea was ready to go forth to do battle that afternoon.

Penthesilea was smiling and confident when she led her twelve companions out of the royal hall.


Quantum teleportation through Planck space—a term the goddess Hera did not know—was supposed to be instantaneous, but in Planck space, such terms had little meaning. Transit through such interstices in the weave of space-time left trails, and the gods and goddesses, thanks to the nanomemes and cellular re-engineering that was part of their creation, knew how to follow such trails as effortlessly as a hunter, as easily as the goddess Artemis would track a stag through the forest.

Hera followed Zeus’s winding trail through Planck nothing, knowing only that it was not one of the regular string channels between Olympos and Ilium or Mount Ida. It was somewhere else on the ancient earth of Ilium.

She QT’d into existence in a large hall that Athena knew well. A giant quiver of arrows and the outline of a giant bow was painted on one wall and there was a long, low table set with dozens of fine goblets, serving bowls, and golden plates.

Zeus looked up in surprise from where he was sitting at the table—he had reduced his size to a mere seven feet here in this human hall—and idly scratching behind the ears of a gray-muzzled dog.

“My Lord,” said Hera. “Are you going to cut that dog’s head off as well?”

Zeus did not smile. “I should,” he rumbled. “As a mercy to it.” His brow was still furrowed. “Do you recognize this place and this dog, wife?”

“Yes. It is Odysseus’ home, on rugged Ithaca. The dog is named Argus, and was bred by the younger Odysseus shortly before he left for Troy. He trained the pup.”

“And it waits for him still,” said Zeus. “But now Penelope is gone, and Telemachus, and even the suitors who had just now begun to gather like carrion crows in Odysseus’ home, seeking Penelope’s hand and lands and wealth, have mysteriously disappeared along with Penelope, Telemachus, and all other mortals save for those few thousand at Troy. There is no one to feed this mutt.”

Hera shrugged. “You could send it to Ilium and let it dine on Dionysos, your wastrel son.”

Zeus shook his head. “Why are you so harsh with me, wife? And why have you followed me here when I want to be alone to ponder this strange theft of all the world’s people?”

Hera stepped closer to the white-bearded God of Gods. She feared his wrath—of all the gods and mortals, only Zeus could destroy her. She feared for what she was about to do, but she was resolved to do it.

“Dread majesty, Son of Kronos, I stopped by only to say goodbye for a few sols. I did not want to leave our last discussion on its note of discord.” She stepped even closer and covertly touched Aphrodite’s breast-band tucked under her right breast. Hera could feel the flow of sexual energy filling the room; sense the pheromones flowing from her.

“Where are you going for several sols when both Olympos and the war for Troy are in such turmoil, wife?” grumbled Zeus. But his nostrils flared and he looked up at her with a new interest, ignoring Argus the dog.

“With Nyx’s help, I am off to the ends of this empty earth to visit Okeanos and Mother Tethys, who prefer this world to our cold Mars, as well you know, husband.” She took three steps closer so that she was almost within touching distance of Zeus.

“Why visit them now, Hera? They’ve done well enough without you in the centuries since we tamed the Red World and inhabited Olympos.”

“I’m hoping to end their endless feud,” said Hera in her guileful way. “For too long have they held back from each other, hesitated to make love because of the anger in their hearts. I wanted to tell you where I would be so that you would not flare in godly anger at me, should you think I’d gone in secret to Okeanos’ deep, flowing halls.”

Zeus stood. Hera could sense the excitement stirring in him. Only the folds of his god-robe concealed his lust.

“Why hurry, Hera?” Zeus’s eyes were devouring her now. His look made Hera remember the feel of her brother-husband-lover’s tongue and hands upon her softest places.

“Why tarry, husband?”

“Going to see Okeanos and Tethys is a journey you can take tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or never,” said Zeus, stepping toward Hera. “Today, here, we can lose ourselves in love! Come, wife…”

Zeus swept all the goblets, cutlery, and spoiled food from the long table with a blast of invisible force from his raised hand. He ripped a giant tapestry from the wall and tossed it onto the rough-plank table.

Hera took a step back and touched her breast as if she were going to QT away. “What are you saying, Lord Zeus? You want to make love here? In Odysseus’ and Penelope’s abandoned home, with that dog watching? Who is to say that all the gods will not be watching us through their pools and viewers and holowalls? If love is your pleasure, wait until I return from Okeanos’ watery halls and we will make love in my own bedroom, made private by Hephaestus’s craft…”

“No!” roared Zeus. He was growing in more ways than one now, his gray-curled head brushing the ceiling. “Don’t worry about prying eyes. I will make a golden cloud so dense around the isle of Ithaca and Odysseus’ home that the sharpest eyes in the universe, neither god nor mortal, not even Prospero or Setebos, could pierce the mist and see us while we’re making love. Take your clothes off!”

Zeus waved his blunt-fingered hand again and the entire house vibrated with the energy of the surrounding forcefield and concealing golden cloud. The dog, Argus, ran from the room, his hair standing on end from the energies being unleashed.

Zeus grabbed Hera by the wrist and pulled her closer with his right hand, even while pulling her gown down away from her breasts with his free hand. Aphrodite’s breastband fell away with the gown Athena had made for Hera, but it did not matter—the air was so thick with lust and pheromones that the queen thought she could swim in it.

Zeus lifted her with one arm and tossed her back on the tapestry-covered table. It was a good thing, thought Hera, that Odysseus had made his long dining table of thick, solid planks pulled from the deck of a ship run aground on Ithaca’s treacherous rocks. He pulled the gown away from her legs, leaving her naked. Then he stepped out of his own robes.

As many times as Hera had seen her husband’s divine phallus standing erect, it never ceased to stop her breath in her throat. All of the male gods were… well, gods… but in their almost-forgotten Transformation to Olympians, Zeus had saved the most impressive attributes for himself. This purple-knobbed staff now pressing between her pale knees was the only scepter this King of the Gods would ever need to create awe among mortals or envy among his fellow gods, and although Hera thought that he showed it too frequently—his lust was the equal of his size and virility—she still thought of this part of her Dread Majesty as hers alone.

But, at risk of bruising or worse, Hera kept her naked knees and thighs tight closed.

“You want me, husband?”

Zeus was breathing through his mouth. His eyes were wild. “I want you, wife. Never has such a lust for goddess or mortal woman flooded my pounding heart and prick and overwhelmed me so. Open your legs!”

“Never?” asked Hera, keeping her legs closed. “Not even when you bedded Ixion’s wife, who bore you Pirithous, rival to all the gods in wisdom and…”

“Not even then, with Ixion’s wife of the blue-veined breasts,” gasped Zeus. He forced her knees wide and stepped between her white thighs, his phallus reaching to her pale, firm belly and vibrating with lust.

“Not even when you loved Ascrisius’ daughter Danae?” asked Hera.

“Not even with her,” said Zeus, leaning far forward to suckle at Hera’s raised nipples, first the left, then the right. His hand moved between her legs. She was wet—from the breastband’s work and from her own eagerness. “Although, by all the gods,” he added, “Danae’s ankles alone could make a man come!”

“It must have more than once with you, My Lord,” gasped Hera as Zeus set his broad palm beneath her buttocks and lifted her closer. The broad, hot head of his scepter was batting at her thighs now, making them moist with his own anticipating wetness. “For she bore you a paragon of men.”

Zeus was so excited that he could not find entry, but lunged around her warmth like a boy in his first time with a woman. When he released her breast with his left hand to guide himself home, Hera seized his wrist.

“Do you want me more than you wanted Europa, Phoenix’ daughter?” she whispered urgently.

“More than Europa, yes,” breathed Zeus. He grabbed her hand and set it on himself. She squeezed, but did not guide. Not yet.

“Do you want to lie with me more than you did with Semele, Dionysos’ irresistible mother?”

“More than Semele, yes. Yes.” He set her hand more firmly around himself and lunged, but he was so engorged that it was more a ram’s head shoving than a penetration. Hera was pushed two feet up the table. He pulled her back. “And more than Alcmene in Thebes,” he gasped, “although my seed that day brought invincible Herakles into the world.”

“Do you want me more than you wanted fair-haired Demeter when…”

“Yes, yes, god damn it, more than Demeter.” He pushed Hera’s legs further apart and, with only his right palm, lifted her backside a foot off the table. She could not help opening for him now.

“Do you want me more than you wanted Leda on the day you took the shape of a swan to couple with her while you beat her down and held her with your great swan’s wings and entered her with your great swan’s…”

“Yes, yes,” gasped Zeus. “Shut up, please.”

He entered her then. Opening her like some great ram-headed battering engine would open the Scaean Gates had the Greeks ever won entrance to Ilium.

In the next twenty minutes, Hera almost swooned twice. Zeus was passionate, but not quick. He took his pleasure urgently, but waited for its climax with all the miserliness of a hedonist ascetic. The second time, Hera felt consciousness sliding away under the oiled and sweating pounding—the table shook and almost upended although it was thirty feet long, the chairs and couches tumbled away, dust fell from the ceiling, Odysseus’ ancient home almost came down around them—and Hera thought, This will not do—I must be conscious when Zeus climaxes or all my scheming is for naught.

She forced herself to stay attentive even after four orgasms of her own. Odysseus’ great quiver of arrows fell from the wall, scattering barbed and possibly poisoned arrows across tile in the last seconds of Zeus’s heavy pounding. He had to hold Hera in place with one hand under her, pressing up so fiercely that she heard her divine hipbones creak, while his other gripped her shoulder, keeping her from sliding far down the quivering, straining table.

Then he erupted inside her. Hera did scream then and swooned for a few seconds, despite herself.

When her eyelids flickered opened, she felt his great weight upon her—he’d grown to fifteen feet in his involuntary last seconds of passion—his beard scratched against her breast, the top of his head—hair soaked with sweat—lay against her cheek.

Hera raised her treacherous finger with the injection ampule set in the false nail by crafty Hephaestus. Stroking his neck curls with her cool hand, she bent the nail back and activated the injector—there was barely a hiss, unheard over his ragged breathing and the pounding of both their divine hearts.

The drug was called Absolute Sleep and it lived up to its name within microseconds.

Almost instantly, Zeus was snoring and slobbering against her rubbed-red chest.

It took all of Hera’s divine strength to shove him off, to remove his softening member from her folds, to slide out from under him.

Her unique, Athena-made gown was a torn mess. So was she, Hera realized. Bruised and scratched and pummeled in every muscle, outside and in. The divine seed from the King of the Gods ran down her thigh as she stood. Hera mopped it away with the tatters of her ruined gown.

Retrieving Aphrodite’s breastband from the torn silk, Hera went into Odysseus’ wife Penelope’s dressing room, next to the bedroom where their great marriage bed had one post made of a living olive tree and a frame inlaid with gold, silver, and ivory, with thongs of oxhide dyed crimson stretched end to end to hold soft fleeces and rich coverlets. From camphor-lined trunks set by Penelope’s bath, Hera pulled gown after gown—Odysseus’ wife had been about her size, and the goddess could morph her shape enough to finish the tailoring—finally choosing a peach-colored silk shift with an embroidered band that would hold her bruised breasts high. But before dressing, Hera made her bath as best she could from the copper kettles of cold water set out days or weeks earlier for a hot bath Penelope never had.

Later, emerging into the dining hall again, dressed, walking gingerly, Hera stared at the great, bronzed, naked hulk snoring face-down on the long table. Could I kill him now? she wondered. It was not the first time—or the thousandth—that the queen had held this thought while looking at and listening to her snoring lord. She knew she was not alone in the wondering. How many wives—goddess and mortal woman, long dead and yet unborn—had felt this thought slipping across their minds like a cloud shadow over rocky ground? If I could kill him, would I kill him? If it were possible, would I act now?

Instead, Hera prepared to quantum teleport to the plains of Ilium. So far, the plot was unfolding according to plan. Poseidon, the Earth-Shaker, should be maneuvering Agamemnon and Menelaus into action at any minute. Within hours, if not sooner, Achilles might be dead—slain by the hands of a mere woman, although Amazon, his heel pierced by poison spearpoint—and Hector isolated. And if Achilles killed the woman who attacked him, Athena and Hera had plans for him still. The mortal revolt would be over by the time Zeus awoke, if Hera ever allowed him to awake at all—Absolute Sleep needed an antidote or it would work until these high walls of Odysseus’ home would tumble down in rot. Or Hera might wake Zeus soon, if her goals were fulfilled earlier than planned, and the Lord of Gods would not even be aware that he had been felled by drugs rather than mere lust and a need to sleep. Whenever she chose to waken her husband, the war between gods and men would be over, the Trojan War resumed, that status quo restored, the fait chosen by Hera and her co-conspirators most decidedly accompli.

Turning her back on the sleeping Son of Kronos, Hera walked from Odysseus’ house—for no one, not even a queen, could QT through the concealing forcefield Zeus had set around it—pressed through the watery wall of energy like an infant fighting from its caul, and teleported triumphantly back to Troy.


Hockenberry didn’t recognize any of the moravecs who met him in the blue bubble inside Stickney Crater on the moon Phobos. At first, when the chair forcefield clicked off and left him exposed to the elements, he’d panicked and held his breath for a few seconds—still thinking he was in hard vacuum—but then he felt the air pressure against his skin and the comfortable temperature, so he’d taken a ragged breath just as little Mahnmut was introducing him to the taller moravecs who’d come forward like an official delegation. It was embarrassing, actually. Then Mahnmut had left and Hockenberry was on his own with these strange organic machines.

“Welcome, Dr. Hockenberry,” said the closest of the five moravecs facing him. “I trust your trip up from Mars was uneventful.”

For a second, Hockenberry felt a stab of something almost like nausea at hearing someone call him “Doctor.” Except for Mahnmut using the honorific, it had been a long time since… no, it had been never in this second life, unless his scholic friend Nightenhelser had used his title jokingly once or twice in the past decade.

“Thank you, yes… I mean… I’m sorry, I didn’t catch all your names,” said Hockenberry. “I apologize. I was… distracted.” Thinking I was going to die when the chair deserted me, thought Hockenberry.

The short moravec nodded. “I don’t doubt,” it said. “There’s a lot of activity in this bubble and the atmosphere certainly conveys the noise.”

That it did. And that there was. The huge blue bubble, covering at least two or three acres—Hockenberry was always poor at judging sizes and distances, a failure due to not playing sports, he’d always thought—was filled with gantry-structures, banks of machines larger than most buildings in his old stomping grounds of Bloomington, Indiana, pulsating organic blobs that looked like runaway blancmanges the size of tennis courts, hundreds of moravecs—all busy on one task or another—and floating globes shedding light and spitting out laser beams that cut and welded and melted and moved on. The only thing that looked even remotely familiar in the huge space, although completely out of place, was a round rosewood table sitting about thirty feet away. It was surrounded by six stools of varying heights.

“My name is Asteague/Che,” said the small moravec. “I’m Europan, like your friend Mahnmut.”

“European?” Hockenberry repeated stupidly. He’d been to France once on vacation and once to Athens for a classics conference, and while the men and women in both places had been… different… none of them resembled this Asteague/Che: taller than Mahnmut, at least four feet tall, and more humanoid—especially around the hands—but still covered with the same plasticky-metallic material as Mahnmut, although Asteague/Che was mostly a brilliant, slick yellow. The moravec reminded Hockenberry of a slick yellow-rubber raincoat he’d had and loved when he was a kid.

“Europa,” said Asteague/Che with no hint of impatience. “The icy, watery moon of Jupiter. Mahnmut’s home. And mine.”

“Of course,” said Hockenberry. He was blushing and knowing he was blushing made him blush again. “Sorry. Of course. I knew Mahnmut was from some moon out there. Sorry.”

“My title… although ‘title’ is too formal and ostentatious a word, perhaps ‘job function’ would be a more appropriate translation,” continued Asteague/Che, “is Prime Integrator for the Five Moons Consortium.”

Hockenberry bowed slightly, realizing that he was in the presence of a politician. Or at least a top bureaucrat. He had no clue as to what the other four moons might be named. He’d heard of Europa in his other life and he seemed to recall that they were finding a new Jovian moon every few weeks—or so it seemed—back at the end of the Twentieth Century, beginning of the Twenty-first—but the names escaped him. Maybe they hadn’t been named by the time he’d died, he couldn’t remember. Also, Hockenberry had always preferred Greek over Latin and thought that the solar system’s largest planet should have been called Zeus, not Jupiter… although in current circumstances that might be confusing.

“Allow me to reintroduce my colleagues,” said Asteague/Che.

The moravec’s voice had been reminding Hockenberry of someone and now he realized who—the movie actor James Mason.

“The tall gentleman to my right is General Beh bin Adee, commander of the Asteroid Belt contingent of combat moravecs.”

“Dr. Hockenberry,” said General Beh bin Adee. “A pleasure to meet you at last.” The tall figure did not offer his hand to shake, since he had no hand—only barbed pincers with a myriad of fine-motor manipulators.

Gentleman, thought Hockenberry. Rockvec. In the last eight months, he’d seen thousands of the soldier rockvecs on both the plains of Ilium and the surface of Mars around Olympos—always tall, about two meters as this one was, always black, as the general was, and always a mass of barbs, hooks, chitinous ridges, and sharp serrations. They obviously don’t breed them… or build them… for beauty in the Asteroid Belt, thought Hockenberry.

“My pleasure, General… Beh bin Adee,” he said aloud, and bowed slightly.

“To my left,” continued Prime Integrator Asteague/Che, “is Integrator Cho Li from the moon Callisto.”

“Welcome to Phobos, Dr. Hockenberry,” said Cho Li in a voice so soft it sounded absolutely feminine. Do moravecs have genders? wondered Hockenberry. He’d always thought of Mahnmut and Orphu as male robots—and there was no doubt about the testosteronic attitudes of the rockvec troopers. But these creations had distinct personalities, so why not genders?

“Integrator Cho Li,” repeated Hockenberry and bowed again. The Callistan—Callistoid? Callistonian?—was smaller than Asteague/Che but more massive and far less humanoid. Less humanoid even than the absent Mahnmut. What disconcerted Hockenberry a bit were the glimpses of what looked to be raw, pink flesh between panels of plastic and steel. If Quasimodo—the Hunchback of Notre Dame—had been assembled out of bits of flesh and used car parts, with boneless arms, a wandering multitude of eyes in assorted sizes, and a narrow maw that looked like a mail slit, and then miniaturized—he might have been a sibling of Integrator Cho Li. Because of the names, Hockenberry wondered if these Callistoidonal moravecs had been designed by the Chinese.

“Behind Cho Li is Suma IV,” said Asteague/Che in its, his, smooth, James Mason voice. “Suma IV is from the moon Ganymede.”

Suma IV was very human in height and proportion, but not so human in appearance. Somewhere over six feet tall, the Ganymedan had properly proportioned arms and legs, a waist, a flat chest, and the proper number of fingers—all sheathed in a fluid, grayish, oil-like coating that Hockenberry had once heard Mahnmut refer to as buckycarbon. But that had been on the hull of a hornet. Poured over a person… or a person-shaped moravec… the effect was disconcerting.

Even more disconcerting were this moravec’s oversized eyes with their hundreds upon hundreds of shining facets. Hockenberry had to wonder if Suma IV or his ilk had landed on Earth in his day… say at Roswell, New Mexico? Did Suma IV have some cousin on ice in Area 51?

No, he reminded himself, these creatures aren’t aliens. They’re robotic-organic entities that human beings designed and built and scattered in the solar system. Centuries and centuries after I died.

“How do you do, Suma IV,” said Hockenberry. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Dr. Hockenberry,” said the tall Ganymedan moravec. No James-Masony or little-girl tones here… the shiny black figure with the glittering fly’s eyes had a voice that sounded like boys pelting a hollow boiler with cinders.

“May I introduce our last representative from the Consortium,” said Asteague/Che. “Retrograde Sinopessen from Amalthea.”

“Retrograde Sinopessen?” repeated Hockenberry, stifling a sudden urge to laugh until he wept. He wanted to go lie down, take a nap, and wake up in his study in the old white house near Indiana University.

“Retrograde Sinopessen, yes,” said Asteague/Che, nodding.

The thrice-identified moravec skittered forward on silver-spider legs. Hockenberry observed that Mr. Sinopessen was about the size of a Lionel train transformer, although much shinier in a polished-aluminum sort of way, and his eight legs were so thin as to be almost invisible. Eyes or diodes or tiny little lights glowed at various points on and in the box.

“A pleasure, Dr. Hockenberry,” said the shiny little box in a voice so deep it rivaled Orphu of Io’s near-subsonic rumble. “I’ve read all of your books and papers. All that we have in our archives, at least. They’re brilliant. It’s an honor to meet you in person.”

“Thank you,” Hockenberry said stupidly. He looked at the five moravecs, at the hundreds more working on other incomprehensible machines in the huge pressurized bubble, looked back at Asteague/Che, and said, “So now what?”

“Why don’t we sit down around that table and discuss this imminent expedition to Earth and your possible participation in it,” suggested the Europan Prime Integrator of the Five Moons Consortium.

“Sure,” said Thomas Hockenberry. “Why not?”


Helen was alone and unarmed when Menelaus finally cornered her.

The day after Paris’s funeral started bizarrely and grew only more bizarre as the day wore on. There was a smell of fear and apocalypse on the winter wind.

Early that morning, even as Hector was bearing his brother’s bones to their barrow, Helen was summoned by Andromache’s messenger. Hector’s wife and a female servant, a slave from the isle of Lesbos, her tongue torn out many years earlier, now sworn to serve the secret society once known as the Trojan Women, were holding wild-eyed Cassandra prisoner in Andromache’s secret apartments near the Scaean Gates.

“What’s this?” asked Helen as she came into the apartment. Cassandra did not know about this house. Cassandra was supposed to never know about this house. Now Priam’s daughter, the mad prophetess, sat sunk-shouldered on a wooden couch. The servant, whose slave name was Hypsipyle after Euneus’ famous mother by Jason, held a long-bladed knife in her tattooed hand.

“She knows,” said Andromache. Hector’s wife sounded tired, as if she had been awake all night. “She knows about Astyanax.”


It was Cassandra who replied, without lifting her head. “I saw it in one of my trances.”

Helen sighed. There had been seven of them at the height of their conspiracy—Andromache, Hector’s wife, and her mother-in-law, Hecuba, Priam’s queen, had begun the planning. Then Theano had joined the group—the horseman Antenor ‘s wife, but also high priestess in Athena’s temple. Then Hecuba’s daughter, Laodice, was brought into the secret circle. Those four had trusted Helen with their secret and their purpose—to end the war, to save their husbands’ lives, to save their children’s lives, to save themselves from enslavement by the Achaeans.

Helen had been honored to become one of the secret Trojan Women—no Trojan, she knew, but only the source of the true Trojan Women’s sorrows—and like Hecuba, Andromache, Theano, and Laodice, she had worked for years to find a third way—an end to the war with honor, but without such a terrible price.

They’d had no choice but to include Cassandra, Priam’s prettiest but maddest daughter, in their plotting. The young woman had been given the gift of second sight by Apollo, and they needed her visions if they were to plan and plot. Besides, Cassandra had already found them out in one of her mad trances—babbling already about the Trojan Women and their secret meetings in the vault beneath Athena’s temple—so they included her in order to silence her.

The seventh and final and oldest Trojan Woman was Herophile, “beloved of Hera,” the oldest and wisest sibyl and priestess of Apollo Smintheus. As a sibyl, Herophile often interpreted Cassandra’s wild dreams more accurately than Cassandra could.

So when Achilles had overthrown Agamemnon, the fleet-footed mankiller claiming that Pallas Athena herself had murdered his best friend, Patroclus, and then leading the Achaeans against the gods themselves in violent war, the Trojan Women had seen their chance. Excluding Cassandra from their planning—for the prophetess was too unstable in those final days before her prophesied fall of Troy—they had carried out the murder of Andromache’s nurse and that nurse’s child, Andromache then claiming—shouting, sobbing hysterically—that it had been Pallas Athena and the goddess Aphrodite who had slaughtered young Astyanax, Hector’s child.

Hector, like Achilles before him, had gone mad with grief and anger. The Trojan War ended. The War with the Gods began. The Achaeans and Trojans marched through the Hole to besiege Olympos with their new allies, the minor-gods, the moravecs.

And in that first day of bombing from the gods—before the moravecs protected Ilium with their forcefields—Hecuba had died. And her daughter Laodice. And Theano, Athena’s most beloved priestess.

Three of the seven Trojan Women dead that first day of the war they had brought about. Then hundreds of other warriors and civilians dear to them.

Now another? thought Helen, her heart sinking into some region of sorrow beneath sorrow. To Andromache, she asked, “Are you going to kill Cassandra?”

Hector’s wife turned her cold gaze in Helen’s direction. “No,” she said at last, “I’m going to show her Scamandrius, my Astyanax.”

Menelaus had no problem getting into the city in his clumsy disguise of boar-tusk helmet and lion-skin robe. He pushed in past the gate guards along with scores of other barbarians, Trojan allies all, after Paris’s funeral procession and just before the much-heralded arrival of the Amazon women.

It was still early. He avoided the area around Priam’s bombed-out palace since he knew that Hector and his captains would be there interring Paris’s bones and too many of those Trojan heroes could recognize the boar-tusk helmet or Diomedes’ lion skin. Wending his way past the bustling marketplace and through alleys, he came out by the small square in front of Paris’s palace—King Priam’s temporary quarters and still home to Helen. There were elite guards at the door, of course, and more on the walls and every terrace. Odysseus had once told him which set-back terrace was Helen’s, and Menelaus watched those billowing curtains with a terrible intensity, but his wife did not appear. There were two spearmen there in glinting bronze, which suggested that Helen was not at home this morning—she had never allowed bodyguards in her private apartments back in their more modest palace in Lacedaemon.

There was a wine and cheese shop across the square from Paris’s palace, rough tables set out into the sunny alley, and Menelaus broke his fast there, paying in the Trojan gold pieces he’d had the foresight to grab from Agamemnon’s trunk while he was dressing. He tarried there for hours—slipping more triangular coins to the shopkeeper to keep him happy during his tarrying—and listened to the gab and gossip from crowds in the square and townsfolk at adjoining benches.

“Is her ladyship in today?” one old crone asked another.

“Not since this morning. My Phoebe said that her chinks had gone and left at first light, yes, but not to honor her hubby’s bones bein’ put in all right and proper, no.”

“What then?” cackled the more toothless of the two old hags gumming their cheese. The old woman leaned closer as if ready to receive whispers, but the other old hag—as deaf as the first—fairly bellowed her response.

“Rumor has it that old priapic Priam insists that her Helenship—poxy foreign bitch that she is—marry his other son—not one of the army of Priam bastards roundabouts, you can’t throw a dog-puking rock without hitting a bastard of Priam’s, but that fat, stupid, rightful son, Deiphobus—and wed within forty-eight hours of Paris’s barbecue party.”

“Soon then.”

“Aye, soon. Today, perhaps. Deiphobus has been waiting his turn in line to boink the poxy doxy since the week Paris dragged her bumpy ass here—gods curse the day—so he’s probably well into the rites of Dionysos, if not of marriage, even as we speak, sister.”

The old hags cackled up bits of cheese and bread.

Menelaus slammed up from his table and strode the streets, carrying his spear in his left hand, his right hand on the hilt of his sword.

Deiphobus? Where does Deiphobus live?

It had been easier before the War with the Gods began. All of Priam’s unmarried sons and daughters—some in the fifties now—had lived in the huge palace in the center of the city—the Achaeans had carefully planned to carry the slaughter there first after breaching the Trojan walls—but that one lucky bomb on the first day of the new war had scattered the princes and their sisters to equally plush living quarters all over the huge city.

Thus, an hour after leaving the cheese shop, Menelaus was still striding the crowded streets when the Amazon Penthesilea and her dozen fighting women rode past while the crowds went wild.

Menelaus had to step back or be struck by the lead Amazon’s warhorse. Her greaved leg almost brushed his cloak. She never looked down or to the side.

Menelaus was struck so hard by Penthesilea’s beauty that he almost sat down then and there on the horse-dunged cobblestones. By Zeus, what frail beauty wrapped in such gorgeous, gleaming war armor! Those eyes! Menelaus—who’d never gone to war against or alongside the Amazon tribe—had never seen anything like it.

As if in a seer’s trance, he stumbled along behind the procession, following the crowds and the Amazons back to Paris’s palace. There the Amazon was greeted by Deiphobus, with no Helen in the retinue, so it seemed like the cheese hags had been wrong. At least about Helen’s current whereabouts.

Watching the door where Penthesilea had disappeared, Menelaus, like some lovestruck teenage shepherd boy, finally pulled himself away and began wandering the streets again. It was almost noon. He knew he had little time—Agamemnon had planned to start the uprising against Achilles’ rule by midday and have the battles fought by nightfall—and he recognized for the first time what a huge city Ilium was. What chance did he have of stumbling across Helen here in time to act? Almost none, he realized, since at first cry of battle amidst the Argive ranks, the great Scaean Gates would be closed and the guard on the walls doubled. Menelaus would be trapped.

He was headed for the Scaean Gates, filled with the triple nausea of failure, hatred, and love, almost running, half happy he had not found her and sick to his soul that he had not found and killed her, when he came upon a sort of riot near the gate.

He watched for a bit, seemingly unable to tear himself away from the spectacle, although the spectacle threatened to engulf him as it spiraled out of hand. Old women nearby babbled the tale.

It seemed the women of Troy had been somehow inspired by the mere arrival of Penthesilea and her egg-carton of Amazons—all sleeping now, presumably, on Priam’s softest couches—word had leaked out of the temporary palace of Penthesilea’s vow to kill Achilles—and Ajax, too, if she had the time, and any other Achaean captain who got in her way, since her Amazon eyes were full of business. This had stirred something dormant but certainly not passive in the women of Troy (as opposed to the surviving few Trojan Women), and they had rushed out into the street, to the walls, onto the very battlements, where the confused guards had given way to the screaming wives and daughters and sisters and mothers.

Then it seemed that a woman named Hippodamia, not the well-known wife of Pirithous, but rather the wife of Tisiphonus—such an unimportant Trojan captain that Menelaus had never faced him on the field nor heard of him around the campfire—now this Hippodamia was whipping the women of Troy into a killing frenzy with her shouted oratory. Menelaus had paused to blend into the crowd but stayed to listen and watch.

“Sisters!” screamed Hippodamia, a thick-armed and heavy-hipped woman not without appeal. Her tied-back hair had come loose and vibrated around her shoulders as she shouted and gestured. “Why haven’t we been fighting alongside our men? Why have we wept about the fate of Ilium—wailed about the fate of our children—yet done nothing to change that fate? Are we so much weaker than the beardless boys of Troy who, in this past year, have gone out to die for their city? Are we not as supple and as serious as our sons?”

The crowd of women roared.

“We share food, light, air, and our beds with the men of our city,” shouted full-hipped Hippodamia, “why have we failed to share their fates in combat? Are we so weak?”

“No!” roared a thousand women of Troy from the walls.

“Is there anyone here, any woman, who has not lost a husband, a brother, a father, a son, a kinsman in this war with the Achaeans?”


“Does any among us doubt what would be our fate, as women, should the Achaeans have won this war?”


“So let us not tarry and loiter here a moment longer,” shouted Hippodamia above the roar. “The Amazon queen has vowed to kill Achilles before the sun sets today, and she has come from afar to fight for a city that is not her home. Can we vow less, do less, for our home, for our men, for our children, and for our own lives and futures?”

“No!” This time the roar went on and on and women began running from the square, jumping from the steps to the wall, some almost trampling Menelaus in their eagerness.

“Arm yourselves!” screamed Hippodamia. “Toss aside your weavings and your wools, leave your looms, don armor, gird yourselves, meet me outside these walls!”

The men on the walls and watching, men who had been leering and laughing during the first part of Tisiphonus’ wife’s tirade, slunk back into doorways and alleys now, getting out of the way of the rushing mob. Menelaus did the same.

He had just turned to leave, heading for the nearby Scaean Gate—still open, thank the gods—when he saw Helen standing on a nearby corner. She was looking the other way and did not see him. He watched her kiss two women goodbye and begin walking up the street. Alone.

Menelaus stopped, took a breath, touched the hilt of his sword, turned, and followed her.

* * *

“Theano stopped this madness,” said Cassandra. “Theano spoke to the crowd and brought this mob of women to its senses.”

“Theano is dead eight months and more,” said Andromache in cold tones.

“In the other now,” said Cassandra in that maddening monotone she assumed when half in trance. “In the other future. Theano stopped this. All heeded the chief priestess of Athena’s Temple.”

“Well, Theano is worm meat. Dead as Prince Paris’s pizzle,” said Helen. “No one stopped this mob.”

Women were already returning to the square and filing out through the gate in a parody of military order. They had obviously scattered to their homes and girded themselves in whatever odd armor they could find around the house—a father’s dull bronze helmet, its crest wilted or missing horsehair, a brother’s cast-off shield, a husband’s or son’s spear or sword. All the armor was too large, the spears too heavy, and most of the women looked like children playing dress-up as they rattled and clank-banged by.

“This is madness,” whispered Andromache. “Madness.”

“Everything since the death of Achilles’ friend Patroclus has been mere madness,” said Cassandra, her pale eyes bright as with fever and their own madness. “Untrue. False. Unfirm.”

For more than two hours in Andromache’s sun-filled top-floor apartment by the wall, the women had spent time with eighteen-month-old Scamandrius, the “god-murdered” child the whole city had mourned, the babe for whom Hector had gone to war with all the Olympian gods to avenge. Scamandrius—Astyanax, “Lord of the City”—was healthy enough under the watchful eye of his new nurse, while at the door, loyal Cicilian guards brought from fallen Thebe stood twenty-four-hour watch. These men had tried to die for Andromache’s fallen father, King Eetion, killed by Achilles when the city fell, and, spared not by their own choice but by Achilles’ whims, now lived only for Eetion’s daughter and her hidden son.

The babe, babbling words and toddling up a mile these days, recognized his Aunt Cassandra after all these months, almost half his short life, and came rushing toward her with his arms outspread.

Cassandra accepted the hug, returned it, wept, and for almost two hours the three Trojan Women and the two slaves—one a wet nurse, the other a Lesbos killer—talked and played with the little boy and talked more when he was laid down to nap.

“You see why you must not speak these trance words aloud again,” Andromache said softly after the visit was done. “If the wrong ear hears them—if any ears other than ours hear this hidden truth—Scamandrius will die just as you once prophesied—thrown down from the highest point on the walls, his brains dashed out on the rocks.”

Cassandra went whiter than her usual white and wept again briefly. “I will learn how to hold my tongue,” she said at last, “even when I have no control over it. Your ever-watching servant will see to that.” She nodded toward the expressionless Hypsipyle.

Then they had heard the growing commotion and women’s screams from the nearby wall and city square and had gone out together, their veils pulled down, to see what all the fuss was about.

Several times during Hippodamia’s harangue, Helen was tempted to intervene. She realized, after it was too late—when the women had scattered by the hundreds to their homes to fetch armor and weapons, fritting to and fro like a pack of hysterical bees—that Cassandra was right. Theano, their old friend, the high priestess of the still-revered Temple of Athena, would have stopped this nonsense. With her temple-trained voice, Theano would have boomed out “What folly!” and gotten the attention of the crowd and sobered the women with her words. Theano would have explained that this Penthesilea—who had done nothing for Troy yet except make promises to its aging king and sleep—was the daughter of the war-god. Were any of these women shouting in this city square daughters of a god? Could any claim Ares as their father?

What’s more, Helen was sure Theano would have pointed out to the suddenly quieting crowd, the Greeks had not battled for almost ten years, equaling and sometimes besting such heroes as Hector, to submit this day to untrained female rabble. Unless you’ve secretly learned how to handle horses, manhandle chariots, cast spears half a league, deflect violent sword thrusts with your shield, and are prepared to separate men’s screaming heads from their sturdy bodies, go home—Theano would have said all this, Helen was sure—trade in your borrowed spears for spindles and let your men protect you and decide the outcome of their men’s war. And the mob would have dispersed.

But Theano was not there. Theano was—in Helen’s sensitive phrase—as dead as Prince Paris’s pizzle.

So the mobs of half-armored women marched out to war, heading for the Hole, going to the foothills of Olympos, sure they would slay Achilles even before the Amazon Penthesilea awoke from her beauty nap. Hippodamia rushed late through the Scaean Gates, her borrowed armor askew—it looked to be from some previous age, as from the time of the War with the Centaurs—its bronze breastplates poorly tied and clattering and banging against her large bosoms. The mob-arouser had lost control of her mob. Like all politicians, she was rushing—and failing—to get ahead of the parade.

Helen and Andromache and Cassandra—with the killer-slave Hypsipyle already watching the red-eyed prophetess—had kissed goodbye and Helen had gone her way, knowing that Priam wanted to settle her marriage-date with gross Deiphobus before this day was out.

But on her way back to the palace she had shared with Paris, Helen stepped away from the mobs and went into Athena’s Temple. The place was empty of course—these days few openly worshiped the goddess who had reportedly killed Astyanax and plunged the world of mortals into war with the Olympians—and Helen paused to step into the dark and incense-rich space, breathing in the calm, and to look up at the huge golden statue of the goddess.


For an instant, Helen of Troy was sure the goddess had spoken in her former husband’s voice. Then she slowly turned.


Menelaus was there not ten feet from her, his legs wide, sandals firmly planted on the dark marble floor. Even by only the flickering of the vestal votive candles, Helen could see his red beard, his glowering aspect, the sword in his right hand, and a boar-tusk helmet held loose in his left hand.


It was as if this was all the cuckolded king and warrior could say now that his moment of vengeance was at hand.

Helen considered running and knew it would do no good. She could never get past Menelaus to the street, and her husband had always been one of the fleetest runners in all Lacedaemon. They had always joked that when they had a son, he would be too fast for either of them to catch for a spanking. They had never had a son.


Helen had thought she’d heard every sort of male groan—from orgasm to death and everything in between—but she’d never heard such a surrender to pain from a man before. Certainly not sobbed out in one familiar but totally alien word like this.


Menelaus walked quickly forward, raising his sword as he came.

Helen made no move to run. In the full light of the candles and the golden goddess glow, she went to her knees, looked up at her rightful husband, lowered her eyes, and pulled her gown down, baring her breasts, waiting for the blade.


“To answer your last question,” said Prime Integrator Asteague/Che, “we have to go to Earth because it appears that the center of all this quantum activity originates on or near the Earth.”

“Mahnmut told me shortly after I met him that you’d sent him and Orphu to Mars precisely because Mars—Olympus Mons in particular—was the source of all this… quantum?… activity,” said Hockenberry.

“That was what we believed when we tapped into the Olympians’ QT ability to transit these Holes, coming from the Belt and Jupiter space into Mars and the Earth of Ilium’s day. But our technology now suggests that Earth is the source and center of this activity, Mars the recipient… or target, perhaps would be the better word.”

“Your technology has changed so much in eight months?” said Hockenberry.

“We’ve easily tripled our knowledge of unified quantum theory since we piggybacked in on the Olympians’ quantum tunnels,” said Cho Li. The Callistan seemed to be the expert on technical things. “Most of what we know about quantum gravity, for instance, we’ve learned in the last eight standard months.”

“And what have you learned?” asked Hockenberry. He didn’t expect to understand the science, but he was suspicious of the moravecs for the first time.

Retrograde Sinopessen, the transformer with spider legs, answered in his incongruous rumble. “Everything we’ve learned is terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.”

That word Hockenberry understood. “Because the quantum whatsis is unstable? Mahnmut and Orphu told me that you knew that before you sent them to Mars. Is it worse than you thought?”

“Not just that factor,” said Asteague/Che, “but our growing understanding of how the force or forces behind the so-called gods are using this quantum-field energy.”

Force or forces behind the gods. Hockenberry noted that but did not pursue it at that moment. “How are they using it?” he asked.

“The Olympians actually use ripples—folds—in the quantum field to fly their chariots,” said the Ganymedan, Suma IV. The tall creature’s multifaceted eyes caught the light in a prism of reflections.

“Is that bad?”

“Only in the sense that it would be if you used a thermonuclear weapon to power a lightbulb in your home,” said Cho Li in his/her soft tones. “The energies being tapped into are almost immeasurable.”

“Then why haven’t the gods won this war?” asked Hockenberry. “It seems that your technology has sort of stalemated them… even Zeus’s aegis.”

Beh bin Adee, the rockvec commander, answered. “The gods use only the slightest fraction of the quantum energy in play on and around Mars and Ilium. We don’t believe they understand the technology behind their power. It’s been… loaned to them.”

“By whom?” Hockenberry was suddenly very thirsty. He wondered if the moravecs had included any human-style food or drink in their pressurized bubble.

“That’s what we’re going to Earth to find out,” said Asteague/Che.

“Why use a spaceship?” said Hockenberry.

“Pardon me?” asked Cho Li in soft tones. “How else could we travel between worlds?”

“The same way you got to Mars in your invasion,” said Hockenberry. “Use one of the Holes.”

Asteague/Che shook his head in a manner similar to Mahnmut’s. “There are no quantum-tunnel Brane Holes between Mars and Earth.”

“But you created your own Holes to come from Jupiter space and the Belt, right?” said Hockenberry. His head hurt. “Why not do that again?”

Cho Li answered. “Mahnmut succeeded in placing our transponder precisely at the quincunx locus of the quantum flux on Olympos. We have no one on Earth or in near-Earth orbit to do that for us now. That is one of the goals of our mission. We’ll be bringing a similar, although updated, transponder with us on the ship.”

Hockenberry nodded, but wasn’t quite sure of what he was nodding in agreement to. He was trying to remember the definition of “quincunx.” Was it a rectangle with a fifth point in the middle? Or something to do with leaves or petals? He knew it had to do with the number five.

Asteague/Che leaned closer over the table. “Dr. Hockenberry, may I give you a hint of why this frivolous use of quantum energy terrifies us?”

“Please.” Such manners, thought Hockenberry, who had been around Trojan and Greek heroes too long.

“Have you noticed anything about the gravity on Olympos and the rest of Mars during your more than nine years shuttling between there and Ilium, Doctor?”

“Well… yeah, sure… I always felt a little lighter on Olympos. Even before I realized it was Mars, which was only after you guys showed up. So? That’s right, isn’t it? Doesn’t Mars have less gravity than Earth?”

“Very much less,” piped in Cho Li… and her voice did sound a lot like pipes to Hockenberry’s ear. Pan’s pipes. “It’s approximately three seventy-two kilometers per second per second.”

“Translate,” said Hockenberry.

“It’s thirty-eight percent of Earth’s gravitational field,” said Retrograde Sinopessen. “And you were moving—quantum teleporting, actu-ally—between Earth’s full gravity and Olympos’ every day. Did you notice a sixty-two percent difference in gravity, Dr. Hockenberry.”

“Please, everyone, call me Thomas,” Hockenberry said while distracted. Sixty-two percent difference? I’d almost be floating like a balloon on Mars… jumping twenty yards at a leap. Nonsense.

“You didn’t observe this gravitational difference,” said Asteague/Che, not framing it as a question.

“Not really,” agreed Hockenberry. It was always a little easier walking after the return to Olympos after a long day observing the Trojan War—and not just on the mountain, but in the scholics barracks at the base of the huge massif. A little easier—a little lighter in the walking and carrying loads—but sixty-two percent difference? No way in hell. “There was a difference,” he added, “but not such a profound one.”

“You didn’t notice a profound difference, Dr. Hockenberry, because the gravity of the Mars you have been living on for the past ten years—and which we have been fighting on for the past eight Earth-standard months—is ninety-three point eight-two-one percent Earth normal.”

Hockenberry thought about this for a moment. “So?” he said at last. “The gods tweaked the gravity while they were adding the air and oceans. They are, after all, gods.”

“They’re something,” agreed Asteague/Che, “but not what they appear.”

“Is changing the gravity of a planet such a big deal?” asked Hockenberry.

There was a silence, and while Hockenberry did not see any of the moravecs turn their heads or eyes or whatever to look at any of the other moravecs, he had the sense that they were all busy communing on some radio band or the other. How to explain to this idiot human?

Finally Suma IV, the tall Ganymedan, said, “It is a very big deal.”

“Bigger even than the terraforming of a world like the original Mars in less than a century and a half,” piped in Cho Li. “Which is impossible.”

“Gravity equals mass,” said Retrograde Sinopessen.

“It does?” said Hockenberry, hearing how stupid he sounded but not caring. “I always thought it was what held things down.”

“Gravity is an effect of mass on space/time,” continued the silver spider. “The current Mars is three point nine-six times the density of water. The original Mars—the pre-terraformed world we observed not much more than a century ago—was three point nine-four times the density of water.”

“That doesn’t sound like too much of a change,” said Hockenberry.

“It is not,” agreed Asteague/Che. “It in no way accounts for an increase in gravitation attraction of almost fifty-six percent.”

“Gravity is also an acceleration,” Cho Li said in her musical tones.

Now they’d lost Hockenberry completely. He’d come here to learn about the upcoming visit to Earth and to hear why they wanted him to join them, not to be lectured like a particularly slow eighth grade science student.

“So they—someone, not the gods—changed Mars’ gravity,” he said. “And you think it’s a very big deal.”

“It is a very big deal, Dr. Hockenberry,” said Asteague/Che. “Whoever and whatever manipulated Mars’ gravity this way is a master of quantum gravity. The Holes… as they’ve come to be called… are quantum tunnels that also bend and manipulate gravity.”

“Wormholes,” said Hockenberry. “I know about them.” From Star Trek, he thought but did not say. “Black holes,” he added. Then, “And white holes.” He’d just exhausted his entire vocabulary on this subject. Even nonscience types like old Dr. Hockenberry at the end of the Twentieth Century had known that the universe was full of wormholes connecting distant places in this galaxy and others, and that to go through a wormhole, you went through a black hole and came out a white hole. Or maybe vice versa.

Asteague/Che shook his head in that Mahnmut way. “Not wormholes. Brane Holes… as in membrane. It looks like the post-humans in Earth orbit used black holes to create very temporary wormholes, but the Brane Holes—and there is only one left connecting Mars and Ilium, you must remember; the others have lost stability and decayed away—are not wormholes.”

“You’d be dead if you tried to go through a wormhole or a black hole,” said Cho Li.

“Spaghettified,” said General Beh bin Adee. The rockvec sounded as if he enjoyed the concept of spaghettification.

“Being spaghettified…” began Retrograde Sinopessen.

“I get the idea,” said Hockenberry. “So this use of quantum gravity and these quantum Brane Holes makes the adversary much scarier even than you’d feared.”

“Yes,” said Asteague/Che.

“And you’re taking this big spaceship to Earth to find out who or what created these Holes, terraformed Mars, and probably created the gods as well.”


“And you want me along.”


“Why?” said Hockenberry. “What possible contribution could I make to…” He paused and touched the lump under his tunic, the heavy circle against his chest. “The QT medallion.”

“Yes,” said Asteague/Che.

“Back when you guys first arrived, I loaned the medallion to you for six days. I was afraid you’d never give it back. You did tests on me as well… blood, DNA, the whole nine yards. I would have guessed that you’d replicated a thousand QT medallions by now.”

“If we were able to replicate a dozen… half a dozen… one more,” growled General Beh bin Adee, “the war with the gods would be over, Olympos occupied.”

“It’s not possible for us to build a duplicate QT device,” said Cho Li.

“Why?” Hockenberry’s headache was killing him.

“The QT medallion was customized to your mind and body,” Asteague/Che said in his mellifluous James Mason way. “Your mind and body were… customized… to work with the QT medallion.”

Hockenberry thought about this. Finally he shook his head and touched the heavy medallion under his tunic again. “That doesn’t make any sense. This thing wasn’t standard issue, you know. We scholics had to go to prearranged places to get back to Olympos—the gods QT’d us back. It was sort of a beam-me-up-Scotty thing, if you understand what I mean, which you can’t.”

“Yes, we understand perfectly,” said the Lionel transformer box on its millimeter-thin silver-spider legs. “I love that program. I have all the episodes recorded. Especially the first series… I’ve always wondered if there was some sort of hidden physical-romantic liaison between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.”

Hockenberry started to reply, stopped. “Look,” he said at last, “the goddess Aphrodite gave me this QT medallion so that I could spy on Athena, whom she wanted to kill. But that was more than nine years after I started work as a scholic, shuttling between Olympos and Ilium. How could my body have been ‘customized’ to work with the medallion when nobody could have known that…” He stopped. A hint of nausea was creeping in under the headache. He wondered if the air was good in this blue bubble.

“You were originally… reconstructed… to work with the QT medallion,” said Asteague/Che. “Just as the gods were designed to QT on their own. Of this we are sure. Perhaps the answer to why lies back on Earth or in Earth orbit in one of the hundreds of thousands of post-human orbital devices and cities there.”

Hockenberry sat back in his chair. He’d noticed when they sat down at the table that his stool had been the only one with a back on it. The moravecs were very considerate that way.

“You want me along on the expedition,” he said, “so that I could QT back here if things go wrong. I’m like one of those emergency buoys that nuclear submarines used to carry in my time on Earth. They only launched it when they knew they were screwed.”

“Yes,” said Asteague/Che. “This is precisely the reason we want you along on the voyage.”

Hockenberry blinked. “Well, you’re honest… I’ll give you that. What are the goals of this expedition?”

“Goal One—to find the source of the quantum energy,” said Cho Li. “And to shut it off if possible. It threatens the entire solar system.”

“Goal Two—to make contact with any surviving humans or post-humans on or around the planet to interrogate them as to the motives behind this gods-Ilium connection and the dangerous quantum manipulation surrounding it,” said the gray-oily Ganymedan, Suma IV.

“Goal Three—to map the existing and any additional hidden quantum tunnels—Brane Holes—and to see if they can be harnessed for interplanetary or interstellar travel,” said Retrograde Sinopessen.

“Goal Four—to find the alien entities who entered our solar system fourteen hundred years ago, the real gods behind these midget Olympian gods, as it were, and to reason with them,” said General Beh bin Abee. “And if reason fails, to destroy them.”

“Goal Five,” Asteague/Che said softly in his slow British drawl, “to return all of our moravec and human crewmen to Mars… alive and functioning.”

“I like that goal, at least,” said Hockenberry. His heart was pounding and the headache had become the kind of migraine he’d had when in graduate school, during the unhappiest period of his previous life. He stood.

The five moravecs quickly stood.

“How long do I have to decide?” asked Hockenberry. “Because if you’re leaving in the next hour, I’m not going. I want to think about this.”

“The ship won’t be ready and provisioned for forty-eight hours,” said Asteague/Che. “Would you like to wait here while you think it over? We’ve prepared a suitable habitation for you in a quiet part of the…”

“I want to go back to Ilium,” said Hockenberry. “I’ll be able to think better there.”

Asteague/Che said, “We’ll prepare your hornet for immediate departure. But I’m afraid it’s getting rather hectic there today according to the updates I’m receiving from our various monitors.”

“Isn’t that the way?” said Hockenberry. “I leave for a few hours and miss all the good stuff.”

“You may find evolving events at Ilium and on Olympos too interesting to leave behind, Dr. Hockenberry,” said Retrograde Sinopessen. “I would certainly undersand an Iliad scholar’s commitment to remaining and observing.”

Hockenberry sighed and shook his aching head. “Wherever we are in what’s going on at Ilium and Olympos,” he said, “it’s way the hell outside the Iliad. Most of the time, I’m at as much of a loss as that poor woman Cassandra.”

A hornet came through the curving wall of the blue bubble, hovered over them, and set down silently. The ramp curled down. Mahnmut stood in the doorway.

Hockenberry nodded formally toward the moravec delegation, said, “I’ll let you know before the forty-eight hours are up,” and walked toward the ramp.

“Dr. Hockenberry?” said the James Mason voice behind him.

Hockenberry turned.

“We want to take one Greek or Trojan with us on this expedition,” said Asteague/Che. “Your recommendation would be appreciated.”

“Why?” said Hockenberry. “I mean, why take along someone from the Bronze Age. Someone who lived and died six thousand years before the time of the Earth you’re visiting?”

“We have our reasons,” said the Prime Integrator. “Just off the top of your mind, who would you nominate for the trip?”

Helen of Troy, thought Hockenberry. Give us the honeymoon suite on the trip to Earth and this could be one hell of an enjoyable expedition. He tried to imagine sex with Helen in zero-g. His headache stopped him from succeeding.

“Do you want a warrior?” asked Hockenberry. “A hero?”

“Not necessarily,” said General Beh bin Adee. “We’re bringing one hundred warriors of our own. Just someone from the Trojan War era who might be an asset.”

Helen of Troy, he thought again. She has a great… He shook his head. “Achilles would be the obvious choice,” he said aloud. “He’s invulnerable, you know.”

“We know,” Cho Li said softly. “We covertly analyzed him and know why he is, as you say, invulnerable.”

“It’s because his mother, the goddess Thetis, dipped him in the River…” began Hockenberry.

“Actually,” interrupted Retrograde Sinopessen, “it is because someone… some thing… has warped the quantum-probability matrix around Mr. Achilles to a quite improbable extent.”

“All right,” said Hockenberry, not understanding a word of that sentence. “So do you want Achilles?”

“I don’t believe Achilles would agree to go with us, do you, Dr. Hockenberry?” said Asteague/Che.

“Ah… no. Could you make him go?”

“I believe it would be a riskier proposition than all the rest of the dangers involved in the visit to the third planet combined,” rumbled General Beh bin Adee.

A sense of humor from a rockvec? thought Hockenberry. “If not Achilles,” he said, “who then?”

“We were wondering if you would suggest someone. Someone courageous but intelligent. An explorer, but sensible. Someone we could communicate with. A flexible personality, you might say.”

“Odysseus,” said Hockenberry with no hesitation. “You want Odysseus.”

“Do you think he would agree to go?” asked Retrograde Sinopessen.

Hockenberry took a breath. “If you tell him that Penelope is waiting for him at the other end, he’ll go to hell and back with you.”

“We cannot lie to him,” said Asteague/Che.

“I can,” said Hockenberry. “I’d be glad to. Whether I go with you or not, I’ll be your intermediary in conning Odysseus into joining you.”

“We would appreciate that,” said Asteague/Che. “We look forward to hearing your own decision on joining us within the next forty-eight hours.” The Europan held out his arm and Hockenberry realized that there was a fairly humanoid hand on the end of it.

He shook the hand and got into the hornet behind Mahnmut. The ramp came up. The invisible chair grabbed him. They left the bubble.


Impatient, furious, pacing in front of his thousand best Myrmidons along the coastline at the base of Olympos, waiting for the gods to send down their champion for the day so that he could kill him, Achilles remembers the first month of the war—a time all Trojans and Argives still called “the Wrath of Achilles.”

They had QT’d down from the Olympian heights in legions then, these gods, confident in their forcefields and blood-machines, ready to leap into Slow Time and escape any mortal wrath, not knowing that the little moravec clock-people, new allies to Achilles, had their own formulas and enchantments to counter such god-tricks.

Ares, Hades, and Hermes had leaped first, clicking into the Achaean and Trojan ranks while the sky exploded. Flame followed forcelines until both Olympos and the mortal ranks became domes and spires and shimmering waves of flame. The sea boiled. The Little Green Men scattered for their feluccas. Zeus’s aegis shuddered and grew visible as it absorbed megatons of moravec assault.

Achilles had eyes only for Ares and his newly QT’d cohorts, Hades, red-eyed in his black bronze, and black-eyed Hermes in his barbed red-armor.

“Teach the mortals death!” screamed Ares, god of war, twelve feet tall, shimmering, attacking the Argive ranks at a run. Hades and Hermes followed. All three cast god-spears that could not miss their mark.

They missed their mark. Achilles’ fate was not to die that day. Or any day by the hands of an immortal.

One immortal’s spear grazed the fleet-footed mankiller’s strong right arm but drew no blood. Another embedded itself in his beautiful shield, but the god-forged layer of polarized gold blocked it. A third glanced from Achilles’ golden helmet without making a mark.

The three gods fired energy blasts from their god-palms. Achilles’ own nano-bred fields shed the millions of volts the way a dog shakes off water.

Ares and Achilles crashed together like mountains colliding. The quake threw hundreds of Trojans and Greeks and gods off their feet even as the battle lines joined. Ares was the first to fall back. He raised his red sword and swung a decapitating blow at the upstart mortal, Achilles.

Achilles ducked the blade and ran the war god through, scooping a slice through divine armor and gut until Ares’ belly opened, golden ichor covered mortal and immortal alike, and the war god’s divine bowels spilled out on the red Martian gorse. Too surprised to fall, too outraged to die, Ares stared at his own insides still unraveling and uncoiling onto the dirt.

Achilles reached high, grabbed Ares by his helmet and jerked him down and forward until his human spittle splattered the god’s perfect features. “You taste death, you gutless effigy!” Then, working like a marketplace butcher at the beginning of a long day’s labor, he lopped off Ares’ hands at the wrists, then his legs above the knee, and then his arms.

Screaming black whirling around the corpse, other gods gaping, Ares’ head continued to scream even after Achilles cut it off at the neck.

Hermes, horrified but also ambidextrous and deadly, raised his second spear.

Achilles leaped forward so quickly that everyone assumed he had teleported. Grabbing the second god’s spear, he jerked it toward him. Hermes tried to pull it back. Hades swung his black sword at Achilles’ knees but the mankiller leaped high, avoiding the blur of dark carbon-steel.

Losing the tug of war for his spear, Hermes leaped back and tried to QT away.

The moravecs had cast their field around them. No one would be quantum teleporting out or in until this fight was finished.

Hermes pulled his sword, a curved and wicked thing. Achilles cut off the giant-killer’s arm at the elbow, and the sword arm and the still-grasping hand fell to Mars’ rich, red soil.

“Mercy!” cried Hermes, throwing himself to his knees and embracing Achilles’ around the waist. “Mercy, I beg you!”

“There is none,” said Achilles and then hacked the god into as many quivering, gold-bleeding bits.

Hades backed away from the slaughter, his red eyes filled with fear. More gods were flicking into the human-set trap by the hundreds, and Hector and his Trojan captains and Achilles’ Mymidons and all the heroes of the Greeks were engaging them, the moravec forcefields not allowing the gods to QT away once they arrived. For the first time in the memory of anyone on the field, gods and heroes, demigods and mortals, legends and infantry grunts, all fought on something not unlike equal terms.

Hades shifted into Slow Time.

The world stopped turning. The air thickened. The waves froze in their curl against the rocky shore. Birds halted and hung in midflight. Hades panted and retched in relief. No mortal could follow him here.

Achilles shifted into Slow Time after him.

“This… is… not… possible,” the ruler of the dead said through the syrup-slow air.

“Die, Death,” shouted Achilles and drove his father Peleus’ spear through the god’s throat, just below where the black cheek-guards curved up again toward Hades’ skull-like cheekbones. Golden ichor spurted in slow motion.

Achilles shoved aside Hades’ black-ornamented shield and put his blade through the death god’s belly and spine. Dying, Hades still returned the thrust with a blow that could have split a mountainside. The black blade slid off Achilles’ chest as if it had not touched him. It was not Achilles’ fate to die that day, and never by the hands of an immortal. Hades’ fate was to die that day—however temporarily by human standards. He fell heavily and blackness swirled around him as he disappeared within an onyx cyclone.

Manipulating new nanotechnology without conscious effort, playing havoc with already-battered quantum fields of probability, Achilles flicked back out of Slow Time to rejoin the battle. Zeus had left the field. The other gods were fleeing, forgetting, in their panic, to raise the aegis behind them. More moravec magic, injected that very morning, allowed Achilles to push through their lesser energy fields and give pursuit up the cliffs of Olympos onto the lower ramparts.

Then his slaughter of gods and goddesses began in earnest.

But all this was in the early days of the war. Today—this day after Paris’s funeral—no gods are coming down to fight.

So, with his ally Hector gone and the Trojans quiescent on their part of the front today, Hector’s lesser-brother Aeneas in charge of the thousands of Trojans there, Achilles is meeting with his Achaean captains and moravec artillery experts to plan an imminent attack on Olympos.

The attack will be simple: while moravec energy and nuclear weapons activate the aegis on the lower slopes, Achilles and five hundred of his best captains and Achaeans in thirty transport hornets will punch through a lesser section of the energy shield almost a thousand leagues around the back of Olympos, make a dash for the summit, and carry the torch to the gods in their homes. For those Achaeans who are wounded or lose their nerve fighting in the very citadel of Zeus and the gods, the hornets will lift them out after the element of surprise fades.

Achilles plans to stay until the top of Mount Olympos has been turned into a charnel house and all its white temples and god-dwellings are blackened rubble. After all, he thinks, Herakles once pulled down the walls of Ilium all by himself when angered and took the city single-handedly—why should the halls of Olympos be sacrosanct?

All morning, Achilles has expected Agamemnon and his simpler sibling, Menelaus, to show up, leading a mob of their loyal men to try to take back control of the Achaean forces and to push the war backward into mortal-versus-mortal, befriending the murderous, treacherous gods again, but so far that dog-eyed, deer-hearted former commander in chief has not shown his face. Achilles has decided that he will kill him when he does attempt the revolt. Him and his red-bearded stripling Menelaus and anyone and everyone who follows the two Atrides. The news of the home cities being emptied of all life is—Achilles is sure—merely a ruse by Agamemnon to incite the restless and cowardly Achaeans to revolt.

So when moravec Centurion Leader Mep Ahoo, the barbed rockvec in charge of the artillery and energy bombardment, looks up from the map they are studying under the silk of a lean-to shelter and announces that his binocular vision has picked up an odd-looking army coming through the Hole from the direction of Ilium, Achilles is not surprised.

But a few minutes later he is surprised as Odysseus—the most sharp-eyed among their command group huddled under the flapping canopy—says, “They’re women. Trojan women.”

“Amazons, you mean?” says Achilles, stepping out into the Olympos sunshine. Antilochus, son of Nestor, Achilles’ old friend from countless campaigns, had ridden his chariot into camp here an hour earlier, telling everyone of the arrival of the thirteen Amazons and Penthesilea’s vow to kill Achilles in single combat. The fleet-footed mankiller had laughed easily, showing his perfect teeth. He had not fought and defeated ten thousand Trojans and scores of gods to be frightened by a woman’s bluster.

Odysseus shakes his head. “There must be two hundred of these women, all dressed out in ill-fitting armor, son of Peleus. No Amazons these. They are too fat, too short, too old, some almost lame.”

“Every day,” grumbles dour Diomedes, son of Tydeus, lord of Argos, “it seems we descend into another level of madness.”

Teucer, the bastard master-archer and Big Ajax’s half brother, says, “Shall I advance the camp pickets, noble Achilles? Have them intercept these women, whatever the folly of their mission here, and frog-march them back to their looms?”

“No,” says Achilles. “Let’s go out and meet them, see what brings the first women to venture through the Hole to Olympos and an Achaean camp.”

“Perhaps they’re looking for Aeneas and their Trojan husbands leagues to our left,” says Big Ajax, son of Telamon, leader of the Salamis army supporting the Myrmidons’ left flank this Martian morning.

“Perhaps.” Achilles sounds amused and mildly irritated, but not convinced. He walks out into the weaker Olympian sunlight, leading the group of Achaean kings, captains, subcaptains, and their most loyal fighting men.

It is indeed a rabble of Trojan women. When they are within a hundred yards, Achilles stops with his contingent of fifty or so heroes, and waits for the clanking band of shouting women to come on. It sounds like a gaggle of geese to the fleet-footed mankiller.

“Do you see any high-born among the women?” Achilles asks sharp-eyed Odysseus as they stand waiting for the rattling horde to cross the last hundred yards of red-gorse soil that separates them. “Any wives or daughters of heroes? Andromache or Helen or wild-eyed Cassandra or Medesicaste or venerable Castianira?”

“None of those,” Odysseus responds quickly. “No one of worth, either born to or married into. I recognize only Hippodamia—the big one with the spear and the ancient long shield, like that which Great Ajax chooses to carry—and her only because she visited me in Ithaca once with her husband, the far-traveling Trojan Tisiphonus. Penelope took her for a tour of our gardens, but said later that the woman was as sour as a pre-season pomegranate and would take no pleasure in beauty.”

Achilles, who can see the women clearly enough now, says, “Well, she herself is certainly no beauty to take pleasure in. Philoctetes, go forward, halt them, ask them what they are doing here on the our battleground with the gods.”

“Must I, son of Peleus?” whines the older-archer. “After the libel spread about me yesterday at Paris’s funeral, I hardly think that I should be the one…”

Achilles turns and silences the man with an admonishing glance.

“I’ll go with you to hold your hand,” rumbles Big Ajax. “Teucer, come with us. Two archers and a master spearman should answer for this prickless rabble, even if they turn uglier than they already are.”

The three men walk forward from Achilles’ contingent.

What happens next happens very quickly.

Philoctetes, Teucer, and Big Ajax stop some twenty paces from the obviously winded and gasping, loose-formed lines of armored women, and the former commander of the Thessalians and former castaway steps forward, holding Herakles’ fabled bow in his left hand while he holds his right palm up in peace.

One of the younger women to the right of Hippodamia casts her spear. Incredibly, astonishingly, it catches Philoctetes—ten-year survivor of poison snakebite and the ire of the gods—full in the chest, just above his light archer’s armor, and passes clean through, severing his spine and dropping him lifeless to the red soil.

“Kill the bitch!” screams Achilles, outraged, running forward and pulling his sword from its scabbard.

Teucer, under fire now from wild-cast women’s spears and a hail of ill-aimed arrows, needs no such prompting. Faster than most mortal eyes can follow, he notches an arrow, goes to full pull, and sets a yard-long shaft through the throat of the woman who has cut Philoctetes down.

Hippodamia and twenty or thirty women close with Big Ajax, thrusting spears tentatively and trying to swing their husbands’ or fathers’ or sons’ massive swords in awkward two-handed blows.

Ajax, son of Telamon, looks back at Achilles for just an instant, giving the other men a glance of something like amusement, and then he pulls his long blade, slams Hippodamia’s sword and shield aside with an easy shrug, and lops off the woman’s head as if he were cutting weeds in his yard. The other women, maddened beyond fear now, rush at the two standing men. Teucer puts arrow after arrow into their eyes, thighs, flopping breasts, and—within a few seconds—fleeing backs. Big Ajax finishes the rest who are foolish enough to linger, wading through them like a tall man among children, leaving corpses in his wake.

By the time Achilles, Odysseus, Diomedes, Nestor, Chromius, Little Ajax, Antilochus, and the others arrive, forty or so women are dead or dying, a few screaming their death agonies on the red-soaked red soil, and the rest are fleeing back toward the Hole.

“What in Hades’ name was that all about?” gasps Odysseus as he comes up to Big Ajax and steps among the bodies thrown down in all the graceful and graceless—but all too familiar to Odysseus—attitudes of violent death.

The son of Telamon grins. His face is spattered and his armor and sword run red with Trojan-women blood. “That’s not the first time I’ve killed women,” says the mortal giant, “but by the gods, it was the most satisfying!”

Calchas, son of Thestor and their most able soothsayer, hobbles up from behind. “This is not good. This is bad. This is not good at all.”

“Shut up,” says Achilles. He shields his eyes and looks toward the Hole where the last of the women are disappearing, only to be replaced by a small group of larger figures. “What now?” says the son of Peleus and the goddess Thetis. “Those look like centaurs. Has my old friend and tutor Chiron come to join our effort?”

“Not centaurs,” says sharp-eyed, keen-witted Odysseus. “More women. On horseback.”

“Horseback?” says Nestor, his old eyes squinting to see. “Not in chariots?”

“Riding horses like the fabled cavalries of ancient days,” says Diomedes, who sees them now. No one rides horses in these modern days, using them only to pull chariots—although both Odysseus and Diomedes himself escaped a Trojan camp on a midnight raid some months earlier, before the truce, by riding bareback on untethered chariot horses through Hector’s half-awakened army.

“The Amazons,” says Achilles.


Athena’s Temple. Menelaus advancing, red-faced, breathing hard—Helen on her knees, pale face lowered, paler breasts bared. He looms over her. He raises his sword. Her pale neck seems thin as a reed, offered. The endlessly sharpened blade will not even pause as it slices through skin, flesh, bone.

Menelaus pauses.

“Do not hesitate, my husband,” whispers Helen, her voice quavering only slightly. Menelaus can see her pulse beating wildly at the base of her heavy, blue-veined left breast. He seizes the hilt in both hands.

He does not yet bring the blade down. “Damn you,” he breathes. “Damn you.”

“Yes,” whispers Helen, face still downcast. The golden idol of Athena looms over them both in the incense-thick darkness.

Menelaus grips the sword hilt with a strangler’s fervor. His arms vibrate with the twin strain of preparing to behead his wife while simultaneously stopping the action.

“Why shouldn’t I kill you, you faithless cunt?” hisses Menelaus.

“No reason, husband. I am a faithless cunt. It and I have both been faithless. Finish it. Carry out your rightful sentence of death.”

Don’t call me husband, damn you!”

Helen lifts her face. Her dark eyes are precisely the eyes Menelaus has dreamt of for more than ten years. “You are my husband. You always were. My only husband.”

He almost kills her then, so painful are these words. Sweat falls from his brow and cheeks and spatters on her simple robe. “You deserted me—you deserted me and our daughter,” he manages, “for that… that… boy. That popinjay. That pair of spangled leotards with a dick.”

“Yes,” says Helen and lowers her face again. Menelaus sees the small, familiar mole on the back of her neck, right at the base, right where the edge of the blade will strike.

“Why?” manages Menelaus. It is the last thing he will say before he kills her or forgives her… or both.

“I deserve to die,” she whispers. “For sins against you, for sins against our daughter, for sins against our country. But I did not leave our palace in Sparta of my own free will.”

Menelaus grinds his teeth so fiercely that he can hear them cracking.

“You were gone,” whispers Helen, his wife, his tormenter, the bitch who betrayed him, the mother of his child. “You were always gone. Gone with your brother. Hunting. Warring. Whoring. Plundering. You and Agamemnon were the true couple—I was only the breed sow left at home. When Paris, that trickster, that guileful Odysseus without Odysseus’ wisdom, took me by force, I had no husband home to protect me.”

Menelaus breathes through his mouth. The sword seems to be whispering to him like a living thing, demanding the bitch’s blood. So many voices rage in his ears that he can barely hear her soft tones. The memory of her voice has tormented him for four thousand nights; now it drives him beyond madness.

“I am penitent,” she says, “but that cannot matter now. I am suppliant, but that cannot matter now. Shall I tell you of the hundred times in the last ten years that I have lifted a sword or fashioned a noose from rope, only to have my tirewomen and Paris’s spies pull me back, urging me to think of our daughter if not of myself? This abduction and my long captivity here have been Aphrodite’s doing, husband, not my own. But you can free me now with one blow of your familiar blade. Do so, my darling Menelaus. Tell our child that I loved her and love her still. And know yourself that I loved you, and love you still.”

Menelaus screams, drops the blade clattering to the temple floor and falls to his knees next to his wife. He is sobbing like a child.

Helen removes his helmet, puts her hand on the back of his head, and draws his face to her bare breasts. She does not smile. No, she does not smile, nor is she tempted to. She feels the scratch of his short beard and his tears and the heat of his breath on her breasts that have held the weight of Paris, Hockenberry, Deiphobus, and others since Menelaus last touched her. Treacherous cunt, yes, thinks Helen of Troy. So are we all. She does not consider the last minute a victory. She was ready to die. She is very, very tired.

Menelaus gets to his feet. He angrily wipes tears and snot from his red mustache, reaches down for his sword, and slides it back into his strap ring. “Wife, lay aside your fear. What’s done is done—Aphrodite’s and Paris’s evil, not yours. On the marble over there is a temple-virgin’s cloak and veil. Put them on and we’ll leave this doomed city forever.”

Helen rises, touches her husband’s shoulder under the odd lion skin she once saw Diomedes wear while slaying Trojans, and silently dons the white cloak and laced white veil.

Together they go out into the city.

Helen cannot believe she is leaving Ilium like this. After more than ten years, to walk out through the Scaean Gate and put all this behind her forever? What of Cassandra? What of her plans with Andromache and the others? What of her responsibility for the war with the gods she—Helen—has helped start through their machinations? What, even, of poor sad Hockenberry and their little love?

Helen feels her spirits soar like a released temple dove as she realizes that none of these things are her problem anymore. She will sail home to Sparta with her rightful husband—she has missed Menelaus, the… simplicity… of him—and she will see their daughter, grown into a woman now, and will view the last ten years as a bad dream as she ages into the last quarter of her life, her beauty undimmed, of course, thanks to the will of the gods, not hers. She has been reprieved in every way possible.

The two are out in the street, walking as if both still in a dream, when the city bells ring, the great horns on the watchwalls blare, and criers begin to call. All of the city’s alarums are sounding at once.

The shouts sort themselves out. Menelaus stares at her through the gap in his absurd boar-tusk helmet and Helen stares back through the thin slit of her temple-virgin veil and turban. In those seconds, their eyes somehow manage to convey terror, confusion, and even grim amusement at the irony of it all.

The Scaean Gate is closed and barred. The Achaeans are attacking again. The Trojan War has begun anew.

They are trapped.


“Could I see the ship?” asked Hockenberry. The hornet had emerged from the blue bubble in Stickney Crater and was climbing toward the red disk of Mars.

“The Earth-ship?” said Mahnmut. At Hockenberry’s nod, he said, “Of course.”

The moravec broadcast commands to the hornet and it came around and circled the Earth-ship gantry, then rose until it docked with a port on the upper reaches of the long, articulated spacecraft.

Hockenberry wants to tour the ship, Mahnmut tightbeamed to Orphu of Io.

There was only a second of background static before—Well, why not? We’re asking him to risk his life on this voyage. Why shouldn’t he see all of the ship? Asteague/Che and the others should have suggested it to him.

“How long is this thing?” Hockenberry asked softly. Through the holographic windows, the ship seemed to drop away beneath them for miles.

“Approximately the height of your Twentieth Century Empire State Building,” said Mahnmut. “But a little rounder and lumpier in places.”

He’s certainly never been in zero-g, sent Mahnmut. Phobos gravity will just disorient him.

The displacement fields are ready, tightbeamed Orphu. I’ll set them to point-eight-g on ship lateral and go to Earth-normal internal pressure. By the time you two get in the forward airlock, everything will be breathable and comfortable for him.

“Isn’t this too large for the mission they were talking about?” said Hockenberry. “Even with hundreds of rockvec soldiers aboard, this seems like overkill.”

“We may want to bring things back with us,” said Mahnmut. Where are you? he sent to Orphu.

I’m on the lower hull now, but I’ll meet you in the Big Piston Room.

“Like rocks? Soil samples?” said Hockenberry. He’d been a young man the week human beings had first set foot on the moon. Memories came back now of him sitting in the backyard of his parents’ house and watching the ghostly black-and-white images from the Sea of Tranquility on a small TV on the picnic table, extension cord running to the summerhouse, while the half-full moon itself was visible above through the leaves of the oak tree.

“Like people,” said Mahnmut. “Perhaps thousands or tens of thousands of people. Hang on, we’re docking.” The moravec silently commanded the holoports off; attaching at right angles more than one thousand feet up the vertical hull of a spacecraft was a view that would give anyone vertigo.

Hockenberry asked little and said less during his tour of the ship. He’d imagined technology beyond his imagining—virtual control panels that disappeared at the flick of a thought, more energy-field chairs, an environment built for zero-g with no sense of up or down—but what he saw felt like some gigantic Nineteenth or early-Twentieth Century steamship. What it felt like, he realized, was a tour of the RMS Titanic.

Controls were physical, made of metal and plastic. Couches were clunky, physical things—enough, it looked like, for a crew of about thirty moravecs—the couch proportions were never really right for humans—along with long storage bins with metal-and-nylon bunks along bulkheads. Entire levels were set aside with high-tech-looking racks and sarcophagi for a thousand rockvec troopers, Mahnmut explained, who would make the trip in a state somewhere above death but below consciousness. Unlike their trip to Mars, the moravec explained, this time they were going armed and ready for battle.

“Suspended animation,” said Hockenberry, who’d not avoided all sci-fi movies. He and his wife had had cable there toward the end.

“Not really,” said Mahnmut. “Sort of.”

There were ladders and broad stairways and elevators and all sorts of anachronistic mechanical devices. There were airlocks and science rooms and weapons’ lockers. The furniture—there was furniture—was large and clunky, as if weight were no problem. There were astrogation bubbles looking out toward the rim walls of Stickney and up toward Mars and down toward the gantry lights and moravec bustle. There were mess halls and cooking galleys and sleeping cubbies and bathrooms, all of which, Mahnmut hurriedly explained, were for human passengers, should they have any coming or going.

“How many human passengers?” asked Hockenberry.

“Up to ten thousand,” said Mahnmut.

Hockenberry whistled. “So is this a sort of Noah’s ark?”

“No,” said the little moravec. “Noah’s boat was three hundred cubits long by fifty cubits wide by thirty cubits tall. That translates to about four hundred fifty feet in length, seventy-five feet in width, and forty-five feet high. Noah’s ark had three decks comprising a volume of about one million four hundred thousand cubic feet and a gross tonnage of thirteen thousand nine hundred and sixty tons. This ship is more than twice that long, half again that width in diameter—although you saw that some sections, like the habitation cylinders and holds, are more bul-bous—and masses more than forty-six thousand tons. Noah’s ark was a rowboat compared to this craft.”

Hockenberry found that he had no response to this news.

Mahnmut led the way into a small steel-cage elevator, and they descended through level after level past the holds, where Mahnmut explained his Europan submersible The Dark Lady would go—and down through what the moravec described as “charge storage magazines.” The word “magazine” had military connotations for Hockenberry, but he assured himself that it couldn’t be that. He saved his questions for later.

They met Orphu of Io in the engine room, which the larger moravec called the Big Piston Room. Hockenberry expressed his pleasure at seeing Orphu with his full complement of legs and sensors—sans real eyes, he understood—and the two talked about Proust and grief for a few minutes before the tour resumed.

“I don’t know,” Hockenberry said at last. “You once described the ship you took in from Jupiter, and it sounded high tech beyond my understanding. Everything I’m looking at here seems… looks like… I don’t know.”

Orphu rumbled loudly. When he spoke, Hockenberry thought, not for the first time, that the huge moravec sounded Falstaffian.

“It probably looks like the engine room of the Titanic to you,” said Orphu.

“Well, yes. Should it?” said Hockenberry, trying not to sound more ignorant of such things than he was. “I mean, your moravec technology must be three thousand years beyond the Titanic. Three thousand years beyond my end-time in the early Twenty-first Century even. Why this… this?”

“Because it’s based largely on mid-Twentieth Century plans,” rumbled Orphu of Io. “Our engineers wanted something fast and dirty that would get us to Earth in the least possible time. In this case, about five weeks.”

“But Mahnmut and you once told me that you zipped in from Jupiter space in days,” said Hockenberry. “And I remember you talked about boron solar sails, fusion engines… a lot of terms I didn’t understand. Are you using those things in this ship?”

“No,” said Mahnmut. “We had the advantage coming in-system of using the energy from Jupiter’s flux tube and a linear accelerator in Jovian orbit—a device our engineers have been working on for more than two centuries. We don’t have those things going for us here in Mars orbit. We had to build this ship from scratch.”

“But why Twentieth Century technology?” asked Hockenberry, looking at the huge pistons and driveshafts gleaming up toward the ceiling sixty or seventy feet overhead in the giant room. It did look like the engine room in the Titanic in that movie, only more so—bigger, more pistons, more gleaming bronze and steel and iron. More levers. More valves. And there were things that looked like giant shock absorbers. And the gauges everywhere looked like they measured steam pressure, not fusion reactors or some such. The air smelled of oil and steel.

“We had the plans,” said Orphu. “We had the raw materials, both brought from asteroids in the Belt and mined right on Phobos and Deimos. We had the pulse units…” He paused.

“What are pulse units?” asked Hockenberry.

Big mouth, sent Mahnmut.

What, do you want me to hide their presence from him? sent Orphu.

Well, yes… at least until we were a few million miles away from here toward Earth, preferably with Hockenberry on board.

He might notice the effect of the pulse units during our departure and get curious, sent Orphu of Io.

“The pulse units are… small fission devices,” Mahnmut said aloud to Hockenberry. “Atomic bombs.”

“Atomic bombs?” said Hockenberry. “Atomic bombs? Aboard this ship? How many?”

“Twenty-nine thousand seven hundred in the charge storage magazines you passed through on the way to the engine room,” said Orphu. “Another three thousand and eight in reserve stored below the engine room here.”

“Thirty-two thousand atomic bombs,” Hockenberry said softly. “I guess you guys are expecting a fight when you get to Earth.”

Mahnmut shook his red and black head. “The pulse units are for propellant. To get us to Earth.”

Hockenberry raised his palms to show his lack of understanding.

“These huge piston things are… well… pistons,” said Orphu. “On the way to Earth, we’ll be kicking a bomb out through a hole in the center of the pusher-plate beneath us about once every second for the first few hours—then once an hour for much of the rest of the flight.”

“For every pulse cycle,” adds Mahnmut, “we eject a charge—you’d just see a puff of steam out in space—we spray oil on the pusher-plate out there to act as an anti-ablative for the plate and the ejection tube muzzle, then the bomb explodes, and there’d be a flash of plasma that slams against the pusher-plate.”

“Wouldn’t that destroy the plate?” said Hockenberry. “And the ship?”

“Not at all,” said Mahnmut. “Your scientists worked all this out in the 1950s. The plasma event slams the pusher-plate forward and drives these huge reciprocating pistons back and forth. Even after just a few hundred explosions behind our butt, the ship will begin to pick up some real speed.”

“These gauges?” said Hockenberry, putting his hand on one that looked like a steam pressure gauge.

“That’s a steam pressure gauge,” said Orphu of Io. “The one next to it is an oil pressure gauge. The one above you there is a voltage regulator. You were right, Dr. Hockenberry… this room would be more quickly understood and manned by an engineer from the Titanic in 1912 than by a NASA engineer from your era.”

“How powerful are the bombs?”

Shall we tell him? sent Mahnmut.

Of course, tightbeamed Orphu. It’s a little late to start lying to our guest now.

“Each propellant charge packs a little more than forty-five kilotons,” said Mahnmut.

“Forty-five kilotons each—twenty-four thousand-some bombs,” muttered Hockenberry. “Are they going to leave a trail of radioactivity between Mars and Earth?”

“They’re fairly clean bombs,” said Orphu. “As fission bombs go.”

“How big are they?” asked Hockenberry. He realized that the engine room must be hotter than the rest of the ship. There was sweat beaded on his chin, upper lip, and brow.

“Come up a level,” said Mahnmut, leading the way to a spiral stairway broad enough for Orphu to repellor up the wide steps with them. “We’ll show you.”

Hockenberry guessed the room to be about a hundred and fifty feet in diameter and half that tall. It was almost completely filled with racks and conveyor belts and metal levels and ratcheting chains and chutes. Mahnmut pushed an oversized red button and the conveyor belts and chains and sorting devices began whirring and moving, shunting along hundreds or thousands of small silver containers that looked to Hockenberry like nothing so much as unlabeled Coke cans.

“It looks like the inside of a Coca-Cola dispenser,” said Hockenberry, trying to lighten the sense of doom he was feeling with a bad joke.

“It is from the Coca-Cola company, circa 1959,” rumbled Orphu of Io. “The designs and schematics were from one of their bottling plants in Atlanta, Georgia.”

“You put in a quarter and it dispenses a Coke,” managed Hockenberry. “Only instead of a Coke, it’s a forty-five-kiloton bomb set to explode right behind the tail of the ship. Thousands of them.”

“Correct,” said Mahnmut.

“Not quite,” said Orphu of Io. “Remember, this is a 1959 design. You only have to put in a dime.”

The Ionian rumbled until the silver cans in the moving conveyor belt rattled in their metal rings.

Back in the hornet, just Mahnmut and him, climbing toward the widening disk of Mars, Hockenberry said, “I forgot to ask… does it have a name? The ship?”

“Yes,” said Mahnmut. “Some of us thought it needed a name. We were first considering Orion…

“Why Orion?” said Hockenberry. He was watching the rear window where Phobos and Stickney Crater and the huge ship were fast disappearing.

“That was the name your mid-Twentieth Century scientists gave the ship and the bomb-propellant project,” said the little moravec. “But in the end, the prime integrators in charge of the Earth voyage accepted the name that Orphu and I finally suggested.”

“What’s that?” Hockenberry settled deeper into his forcefield chair as they began to roar and sizzle into Mars’ atmosphere.

Queen Mab,” said Mahnmut.

“From Romeo and Juliet,” said Hockenberry. “That must have been your suggestion. You’re the Shakespeare fan.”

“Oddly enough, it was Orphu’s,” said Mahnmut. They were in atmosphere now and flying over the Tharsis volcanoes toward Olympus Mons and the Brane Hole to Ilium.

“How does it apply to your ship?”

Mahnmut shook his head. “Orphu never answered that question, but he did cite some of the play to Asteague/Che and the others.”

“Which part?”

MERCUTIO: O then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.

BENVOLIO: Queen Mab, what’s she?

MERCUTIO: She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes

In shape no bigger than an agate stone

On the forefinger of an alderman,

Drawn with a team of little atomi

Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep,

Her wagon spokes made of long spinners’ legs;

The cover, of the wings of grasshoppers;

Her traces, of the moonshine’s wat’ry beams;

Her collars, of the smallest spider web;

Her whip, of cricket’s bone, the lash of film;

Her wagoner, a small grey-coated gnat

Not half so big as a round little worm

Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid.

Her chariot is an empty hazelnut

Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,

Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.

And in this state she gallops night by night

Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;

O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on curtsies straight;

O’er ladies’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,

Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues…

…and so on and so forth,” said Mahnmut.

“And so on and so forth,” repeated Dr. Thomas Hockenberry, Ph.D. Olympus Mons, the gods’ Olympos, was filling all the forward windows. According to Mahmut, the volcano was a mere 69,841 feet above Martian sea level—more than 15,000 feet shorter than people in Hock-enberry’s day had thought, but tall enough.’Twil serve, thought Hockenberry.

And up there, on the summit—the grassy summit—under the glowing aegis now catching the late-morning light—there were living creatures. And not just living creatures, but gods. The gods. Warring, breathing, fighting, scheming, mating creatures, not so unlike the humans Hockenberry had known in his previous life.

At that moment, all the clouds of depression that had been gathering around Hockenberry for months blew away—like the streamers of white cloud he could see blowing south from Olympos itself as the afternoon winds picked up from the northern ocean called the Tethys Sea—and at that moment, Thomas C. Hockenberry, Ph.D. in classics, was simply and purely and totally happy to be alive. Whether he chose to go on this Earth expedition or not, he realized, he would change places right then with no one in any other time or at any other place.

Mahnmut banked the hornet to the east of Mons Olympus and headed for the Brane Hole and Ilium.


Hera jumped from outside the exclusion field around Odysseus’ home on Ithaca directly to the summit of Olympos. The grassy slopes and white-columned buildings spreading out from the huge Caldera Lake all gleamed in the lesser light from the more distant sun.

Poseidon, the Earth-Shaker, QT’d into existence nearby. “It is done? The Thunderer sleeps?”

“The Thunderer makes thunder now only through his snores,” said Hera. “On Earth?”

“It is as we planned, Daughter of Kronos. All these weeks of whispering and advising Agamemnon and his captains have come to the moment. Achilles is absent—as always—below us on the red plain, so the son of Atreus is even now raising his angry multitudes against the Myrmidons and other of Achilles’ loyalists who stayed behind in camp. Then straight they march against the walls and open gates of Ilium.”

“And the Trojans?” said Hera.

“Hector still sleeps after his night’s vigil by his brother’s burning bones. Aeneas is below Olympos here, but taking no action against us in Hector’s absence. Deiphobus is still with Priam, discussing the Amazons’ intentions.”

“And Penthesilea?”

“Just within this hour did she awake and gird herself—and so did her twelve companions—for this mortal combat to come. They rode out of the city to cheers only a short time ago and just passed the Brane Hole.”

“Is Pallas Athena with her?”

“I’m here.” Athena, glorious in her golden battle armor, had just QT’d into instant solidity next to Poseidon. “Penthesilea has been sent off to her doom… and Achilles’. The mortals everywhere are in a state of shrill confusion.”

Hera reached out to touch the glorious goddess’s metal-wrapped wrist. “I know this was hard for you, sister-in-arms. Achilles has been your favorite since he was born.”

Pallas shook her bright, helmeted head. “No longer. The mortal lied about me killing and carrying off his friend Patroclus. He lifted his sword against me and all my Olympian kin and kind. He can’t be sent down to the shady halls of Hades too soon for my pleasure.”

“It’s Zeus whom I still fear,” interrupted Poseidon. His battle armor was a deep-sea verdigris, with elaborate loops of waves, fishes, squids, leviathans, and sharks. His helmet bracketed his eyes with the raised fighting pincers of crabs.

“Hephaestus’ potion will keep our dreaded majesty snoring like a pig for seven days and seven nights,” said Hera. “It’s vital that we achieve all of our goals within that time—Achilles dead or exiled, Agamemnon returned as leader of the Argives, Ilium overthrown or at least the ten-year-war resumed beyond hope of peace. Then Zeus will be confronted with facts he cannot change.”

“His wrath will be terrible still,” said Athena.

Hera laughed. “You deign to tell me about the son of Kronos’ wrath? Zeus’s anger makes mighty Achilles’ wrath look like the stone-kicking pouts of a sullen and beardless boy. But leave the Father to me. I will handle Zeus when all our ends are met. Now, we must…”

Before she could finish, other gods and goddesses began winking into existence there on the long lawn in front of the Hall of the Gods on the shore of Caldera Lake. Flying chariots, complete with holograms of their straining steeds pulling them, zoomed in from each point of the compass and landed nearby until the lawn filled up with cars. The gods and goddesses gravitated into three groups: those pressing close to Hera, Athena, Poseidon, and the other champions of the Greeks; those others filling in the ranks behind glowering Apollo—principal champion of the Trojans—Apollo’s sister Artemis, then Ares, his sister Aphrodite, their mother Leto, Demeter, and others who had also long fought for the triumph of Troy; and the third group, who had not yet taken sides. The quantum and chariot-borne convergence continued until there were hundreds of immortals clustered on the long lawn.

“Why is everyone here?” cried Hera, amusement in her voice. “Is there no one guarding the ramparts of Olympos today?”

“Shut up, schemer!” shouted Apollo. “This plot to overthrow Ilium today is yours. And no one can find Lord Zeus to stop it.”

“Oh,” said white-armed Hera, “is the Lord of the Silver Bow so frightened by unseen events that he must run to his father?”

Ares, the war god, fresh from the healing and resurrection vats three times now after his ill-considered combats with Achilles, stepped up next to Phoebus Apollo. “Female,” gritted the tempestuous god of battle, growing to his full fighting height of more than fifteen feet, “we continue to suffer your existence because you’re the incestuous wife of our Lord Zeus. There is no other reason.”

Hera laughed her most calculatingly maddening laugh. “Incestuous wife,” she taunted. “Ironic talk from a god who beds his sister more than any other woman, goddess or mortal.”

Ares lifted his long killing spear. Apollo drew his powerful bow and notched an arrow. Aphrodite unlimbered her smaller but no less deadly bow.

“Would you incite violence against our queen?” asked Athena, stepping between Hera and the bows and spear. Every god on the summit had brought their personal forcefields up to full strength at the sight of the weapons being readied.

“Don’t speak to me of inciting violence!” shouted red-faced Ares at Pallas Athena. “What insolence. Do you remember only months ago when you spurred on Tydeus’ son, Diomedes, to wound me with his lance? Or how you cast your own immortal’s spear at me, wounding me, thinking yourself safely cloaked in your concealing cloud?”

Athena shrugged. “It was on the battlefield. My blood was up.”

That’s your excuse for trying to kill me, you immortal bitch?” roared Ares. “Your blood was up?”

“Where is Zeus?” demanded Apollo, speaking to Hera.

“I am not my husband’s keeper,” said white-armed Hera. “Although he needs one at times.”

“Where is Zeus?” repeated Apollo, Lord of the Silver Bow.

“Zeus will have nothing to do with the events of men or gods for many days more,” said Hera. “Perhaps he will never return. What happens next in the world below, we on Olympos shall determine.”

Apollo notched the heavy, heat-seeking arrow back, but did not yet lift the bow.

Thetis, sea goddess, Nereid, daughter of Nereus—the true Old Man of the Sea—and Achilles’ immortal mother by the mortal man Peleus, stepped between the two angry groups. She wore no armor, only her elaborate gown sewn to look like patterns of seaweed and shells.

“Sister, brothers, cousins all,” she began, “stop this show of petulance and pride before we harm ourselves and our mortal children, and fatally offend our Almighty Father, who will return—no matter where he is, he will return—carrying the wrath at our defiance on his noble brow and death-dealing lightning in his hands.”

“Oh, shut up,” cried Ares, shifting the long killing spear in his right hand to throwing position. “If you hadn’t dipped your wailing, mortal brat in the sacred river to make him near-immortal, Ilium would have triumphed ten years ago.”

“I dipped no one in the river,” said Thetis, drawing herself up to her full height and folding her slightly scaly arms across her breasts. “My darling Achilles was chosen by the Fates for his great destiny, not by me. When he was newborn—and following the Fates’ imperious advice sent through thoughts alone—I nightly laid the infant in the Celestial Fire itself, purging him, through his own pain and suffering—(but even then, though only a baby, my Achilles did not cry out!)—of his father’s mortal parts. By night I scarred and burned him terribly. By day I healed his scorched and blackened baby flesh with the same ambrosia we use to freshen our own immortal bodies—only this ambrosia was made more effective by the Fates’ secret alchemy. And I would have made my babe immortal, succeeded in insuring Achilles’ pure divinity, had I not been spied on by my husband, the mere human man Peleus, who, seeing our only child twitching and searing and writhing in the flames, seized him by the heel and pulled him free from the Celestial Fire only minutes before my process of deification would have been finished and done with.

“Then, ignoring my objections as all husbands will, the well-meaning but meddling Peleus carried our babe off to Chiron, the wisest and least man-hating of all the centaur race, rearer of many heroes himself, who tended Achilles through childhood, healing him by herbs and salves known only to the centaur savants, then growing him strong by nourishing him with the livers of lions and the marrow of bears.”

“Would that the little bastard had died in the flames,” said Aphrodite.

Thetis lost her mind at that and rushed at the goddess of love, wielding no weapons but the long fishbone-nails at the ends of her fingers.

As calmly as if shooting for a prize during a friendly picnic game, Aphrodite raised her bow and shot an arrow through Thetis’ left breast. The Nereid fell lifeless to the grass and the black pregoddess essence of her whirled around her corpse like a swarm of black bees. No one rushed to claim and capture the body for repair by the Healer in the blue-wormed vats.

“Murderess!” cried a voice from the depths, and Nereus himself—the Old Man of the Sea—rose from the trackless depths of Olympos’ Caldera Lake, the self-same lake he’d banished himself to eight months earlier when his earthly oceans had been invaded by moravecs and men.

“Murderess!” boomed the giant amphibian again, looming fifty feet above the water, his wet beard and braided locks looking like nothing so much as a mass of writhing, slithering eels. He cast a bolt of pure energy at Aphrodite.

The goddess of love was thrown a hundred feet backward across the lawn, her god-blood-generated forcefield saving her from total destruction, but not from flames and bruises as her lovely body smashed through two huge pillars in front of the Hall of the Gods and then through the thick granite wall itself.

Ares, her loving brother, cast his spear through Nereus’ right eye. Roaring so loudly that his pain could be heard in Ilium an infinite distance below, the Old Man of the Sea pulled out both spear and eyeball and disappeared beneath the red-frothed waves.

Phoebus Apollo, realizing that the Final War had begun, raised his bow before Hera or Athena could react and fired two heat-seeking arrows that honed on their hearts. His drawing and firing were faster than even immortal eye could follow.

The arrows—unbreakable titanium both, coated with their own quantum fields to penetrate other forcefields—nonetheless stopped in midflight. And then melted.

Apollo stared.

Athena threw back her helmeted head and laughed. “You’ve forgotten, upstart, that when Zeus is well and truly gone, the aegis is programmed to obey our commands, Hera’s and mine.”

“You started this, Phoebus Apollo,” white-armed Hera said softly. “Now feel the full force of Hera’s curse and Athena’s anger.” She gestured ever so slightly and a boulder weighing at least a half a ton, lying at water’s edge, tore itself loose from Olympos’ soil and hurtled at Apollo at such speeds that it twice broke the sound barrier before striking the archer in the side of his head.

Apollo flew backward with a great crash and clatter of gold and silver and bronze, tumbling head over heel for seven rods in his fall, his tightly curled locks now covered with dust and soiled with lake mud.

Athena turned, cast a war lance, and when it fell some miles across the Caldera Lake, Apollo’s white-columned home there exploded in a mushroom of fire, the million bits of marble and granite and steel rising two miles toward the humming forcefield above the summit.

Demeter, Zeus’s sister, cast a shock wave at Athena and Hera that only folded air and blast around their pulsing aegis, but which lifted Hephaestus a hundred yards into the air and slammed him far across the summit of Olympos. Red-armored Hades answered back with a cone of black fire that obliterated all temples, ground, earth, water, and air in its wake.

The nine Muses screamed and joined Ares’ rallying pack. Lightning leaped down from chariots that QT’d in from nowhere and the shimmering aegis lashed up from Athena. Ganymede, the cup bearer and only nine-tenths immortal, fell in the no-man’s-land and howled as his divine flesh burned away from mortal bones. Eurynome, daughter of Okeanos, cast her lot with Athena but was immediately set upon by a dozen Furies, who flapped and flocked around her like so many huge vampire bats. Eurynome screamed once and was borne away over the battlefield and beyond the burning buildings.

The gods ran for cover or for their chariots. Some QT’d away, but most massed in war groups on one side of the great Caldera or the other. Energy fields flared in red, green, violet, blue, gold, and a myriad of other colors as individuals melded their personal fields into focused fighting shields.

Never in the history of these gods had they fought like this—with no quarter, no mercy, no professional courtesy of the sort one god always gave another, with no assurance of resurrection at the many, many hands of the Healer or hope of the healing vats—and worst of all, with no intervention from Father Zeus. The Thunderer had always been there to restrain them, cajole them, threaten them into something less than a killing rage against their fellow immortals. But not this day.

Poseidon QT’d down to Earth to oversee the Achaean destruction of Troy. Ares rose, trailing bloody golden ichor, and rallied threescore of outraged gods—Zeus loyalists all, Trojan supporters all—to his side. Hephaestus QT’d back from where he had been blasted and spread a poison black fog across the battlefield.

The War between the Gods began that hour and spread to all Olympos and down to Ilium in the hours that followed. By sunset, the summit of Olympos was on fire and parts of the Caldera Lake had boiled away to be replaced by lava.


Riding out to meet Achilles, Penthesilea knew without doubt that every year, month, day, hour, and minute of her life up to this second had been nothing more than prelude to today’s sure pinnacle of glory. Everything that had come before, each breath, every bit of training, each victory or loss on the battlefield, had been but preparation. In the coming hours her destiny would be fulfilled. Either she would be triumphant and Achilles dead, or she would be dead and—infinitely worse—cast down in shame and forgotten to the ages.

The Amazon Penthesilea did not plan on being cast down in shame and forgotten to the ages.

When she awoke from her nap in Priam’s palace, Penthesilea had felt strong and happy. She had taken time to bathe, and when she was dressing—standing in front of the polished metal mirror in her guest quarters—she paid attention to her own face and body in a way she rarely if ever did.

Penthesilea knew that she was beautiful as judged by the highest standards of men, women, and gods. She did not care. It simply was not important to her warrior soul. But this day, while unhurriedly donning her cleaned garments and shining armor, she allowed herself to admire her own beauty. After all, she thought, she would be the last thing that fleet-footed mankilling Achilles would ever see.

In her midtwenties, the Amazon had a child-woman’s face and her large green eyes seemed even larger when framed, as they were now, by her short blond curls. Her lips were firm and rarely given to smiling, but they were also full and rosy. The body reflected in the burnished metal was muscled and tanned from hours of swimming, training, and hunting in the sun, but not lean. She had a woman’s full hips and behind, which she noticed with a slight pout of disapproval as she buckled her silver belt around her thin waist. Penthesilea’s breasts were higher and rounder than most women’s, even those of her fellow Amazons, and her nipples were pink rather than brown. She was still a virgin and planned to stay that way for the rest of her life. Let her older sister—she winced at the thought of Hippolyte’s death—be seduced by men’s tricks and carried away to captivity to be used as breeding stock by some hairy man; this would never be Penthesilea’s choice.

As she dressed, Penthesilea removed the magical perfumed balm from a silver, pomegranate-shaped vase and rubbed it above her heart, at the base of her throat, and above the vertical line of golden hair that rose from her sex. Such were the instructions of the goddess Aphrodite, who had appeared to her the day after Pallas Athena had first spoken to her and sent her on this mission. Aphrodite had assured her that this perfume—more powerful than ambrosia—had been formulated by the goddess of love herself to affect Achilles—and only Achilles—driving him into a state of overwhelming lust. Now Penthesilea had two secret weapons—the spear Athena had given her, which could not miss its mark, and Aphrodite’s perfume. Penthesilea’s plan was to deliver Achilles’ death blow while the mankiller stood there overcome with desire.

One of her Amazon comrades, probably her faithful captain Clonia, had polished her queen’s armor before allowing herself to nap, and now the bronze and gold gleamed in the metal mirror. Penthesilea’s weapons were at hand: the bow and quiver of perfectly straight arrows with their red feathers, the sword—shorter than a man’s, but perfectly balanced and just as deadly at close quarters as any man’s blade—and her double-bladed battle-axe, usually an Amazon’s favorite weapon. But not this day.

She hefted the spear Athena had given her. It seemed almost weightless, eager to fly to its target. The long, barbed killing tip was not bronze, nor even iron, but some sharper metal forged on Olympos. Nothing could dull it. No armor could stop it. Its tip, Athena had explained, had been dipped in the deadliest poison known to the gods. One cut in Achilles’ mortal heel and the poison would pump its way to the hero’s heart, dropping him within seconds, sending him down to Hades a few heartbeats after that. The shaft hummed in Penthesilea’s hand. The spear was as eager as she was to pierce Achilles’ flesh and bring him down, filling his eyes and mouth and lungs with the blackness of death.

Athena had whispered to Penthesilea about the source of Achilles’ near-invulnerability—had told her all about Thetis’ attempt to make the baby an immortal, thwarted only by Peleus pulling the infant from the Celestial Fire. Achilles’ heel is mortal, whispered Athena, its quantum probability set hasn’t been tampered with… whatever that meant. To Penthesilea, it meant that she was going to kill the mankiller Achilles—and womankiller and rapist as well, she knew, a scourge of women in his conquest of almost a score of cities taken by Achilles and his rampaging Myrmidons while the other Achaeans rested on their laurels and asses here on the coast. Even in her distant Amazon lands to the north, the young Penthesilea had heard how there had been two Trojan Wars—the Achaeans with their single-minded fighting here at Ilium, followed by long periods of sloth and feasting, and Achilles with his city-destroying, decade-long swath of destruction around all of Asia Minor. Seventeen cities had fallen to his relentless attacks.

And now it is his turn to fall.

Penthesilea and her women rode out through a city filled with confusion and alarms. Criers were calling out from the walls that the Achaeans were gathering behind Agamemnon and his captains. The rumor was that the Greeks were planning a treacherous assault while Hector slept and brave Aeneas was at the front on the other side of the Hole. Penthesilea noticed groups of women in the streets wandering aimlessly in ragtag bits of men’s armor, as if pretending to be Amazons. Now the watchmen on the walls were blowing trumpets and the great Scaean Gates were slammed shut behind Penthesilea and her warriors.

Ignoring the scurrying Trojan fighters falling into ranks on the plain between the city and the Achaean camps, Penthesilea led her dozen women east toward the looming Hole. She’d seen the thing during her ride in, but it still made her heart pound with excitement. More than two hundred feet tall, it was a perfect three-quarters circle sliced out of the winter sky and anchored in the rocky plains east of the city. From the north and east—she knew, since they’d approached from that direction—there was no Hole. Ilium and the sea were both visible and there was no hint of this sorcery. Only when approached from the southwest did the Hole become visible.

Achaeans and Trojans—staying separate but not fighting—were scurrying out through the Hole on foot and in chariots in long columns, as if some evacuation had been ordered. Responding to messages from Ilium and from Agamemnon’s camp, Penthesilea imagined, ordered to leave their front lines against the gods and to make haste home to prepare for renewed hostility against one another.

It did not matter to Penthesilea. Her goal was Achilles’ death and woe to any Achaean—or Trojan—who made the mistake of getting between her and that goal. She had sent legions of men in battle down to Hades before, and she would do it again today if she had to.

She actually held her breath as she led her double column of Amazon cavalry through the Hole, but all she felt upon emerging on the other side was a strange sense of lightness, some subtle shift in the light itself, and a momentary shortness of breath—when she did bother to inhale again—as if she were suddenly on a mountaintop where the air was thinner. Penthesilea’s horse also seemed to sense the change and pulled hard against the reins, but she forced him to his course.

She could not take her eyes off Olympos. The mountain filled the western horizon… no, it filled the world… no, it was the world. Straight ahead of her, beyond the small bands of men and moravecs and what looked like bodies on the red ground to the Amazon who had suddenly lost all interest in anything that was not Olympos, rose first the two-mile-high vertical cliffs at the base of the home of the gods, and then ten miles more of mountain, its slopes rising up and up and up…

“My Queen.”

Penthesilea heard the voice only distantly, recognized it at last as belonging to Bremusa, her second lieutenant after faithful Clonia, but ignored it as surely as she did the sight of the limpid ocean to their right or the great stone heads that lined the shore. These things meant nothing when compared to the looming reality of Olympos itself. Penthesilea leaned back in her thin saddle to follow the line of the shoulder of the mountain higher and then higher and then endlessly higher as it rose into and above the light blue sky…

“My Queen.”

Penthesilea swiveled to rebuke Bremusa only to find that the other women had reined their horses to a stop. The Amazon queen shook her head as if emerging from a dream and rode back to them.

She realized now that all the time she had been enraptured by Olympos, they had been passing women on this side of the Hole—women running, screaming, bleeding, stumbling, weeping, falling. Clonia had dismounted and had propped the head of such a wounded woman on her knee. The woman appeared to be wearing a bizarre crimson robe.

“Who?” said Penthesilea, looking down as if from a great height. She realized now that they had been following a trail of abandoned and bloody armor for the last mile or so.

“The Achaeans,” rasped the dying woman. “Achilles…” If she had been wearing armor, it had not helped. Her breasts has been cut off. She was almost naked. The crimson robe was actually her own blood.

“Take her back to…” began Penthesilea but stopped. The woman had died.

Clonia mounted and fell in to the right and rear of Penthesilea, where she always rode. The queen could feel the rage coming off her old comrade like heat from a bonfire.

“Forward,” said Penthesilea and spurred her war mount. Her war axe was strapped balanced across her pommel. Athena’s spear was in her right hand. They galloped the last quarter mile to the band of men ahead. The Achaeans were standing and bending over more bodies—looting them. The sound of the Greeks’ laughter was clear in the thin air.

Perhaps forty women had fallen here. Penthesilea slowed her steed to a walk, but the two lines of Amazon cavalry had to break ranks. Horses—even warhorses—do not like to step on human beings, and the bloodied corpses here—women all—had fallen so close that the horses had to pick their way carefully, setting their heavy hooves down in the few open spaces between the bodies.

The men looked up from their looting and pawing. Penthesilea estimated that there were about a hundred Achaeans standing around the women’s bodies, but none of these men was recognizable. There were none of the Greek heroes there. She looked five or six hundred yards farther on and saw a nobler group of men walking back to the main Achaean army.

“Look, more women,” said the mangiest of the men stripping the female corpses of their armor. “And this time they brought us horses.”

“What is your name?” asked Penthesilea.

The man grinned, showing missing and rotted teeth. “My name is Molion and I’m trying to decide whether to fuck you before or after I kill you, woman.”

“It must be a hard decision for such a limited mind,” Penthesilea said calmly. “I met a Molion once, but he was a Trojan, comrade to Thymbraeus. Also, that Molion was a living man, and you are a dead dog.”

Molion snarled and pulled his sword.

Without dismounting, Penthesilea swung her two-bladed axe and beheaded the man. Then she spurred her huge warhorse and rode down three others who barely had time to raise their shields before being trampled.

With an unearthly cry, her dozen Amazon comrades spurred into battle beside her, trampling, slashing, hacking, and spearing Achaeans as surely as if they were harvesting wheat with a scythe. Those men who stood to fight, died. Those who ran, died. Penthesilea herself killed the last seven men who had been stripping corpses alongside Molion and his three trampled friends.

Her comrades Euandra and Thermodoa had run down the last of the sniveling, groveling, begging Achaeans—an especially ugly, whining bastard who announced that his name was Thersites as he pleaded for mercy—and Penthesilea astounded her sisters by ordering them to let him go.

“Take this message to Achilles, Diomedes, the Ajaxes, Odysseus, Idomeneus, and the other Argive heroes I spy staring at us from yonder hill,” she boomed at Thersites. “Tell them that I, Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, daughter of Ares, beloved of Athena and Aphrodite, have come to end Achilles’ miserable life. Tell them that I will fight Achilles in single combat if he agrees, but that I and my Amazon comrades will kill all of them if they insist. Go, deliver my message.”

Ugly Thersites scampered away as fast as his shaking legs could take him.

Her good right arm, unbeautiful but totally bold Clonia, rode up next to her. “My Queen, what are you saying? We can’t fight all of the Achaean heroes. Any one of them is legend… together they are all but invincible, more than a match for any thirteen Amazons who have ever lived.”

“Be calm and resolute, my sister,” said Penthesilea. “Our victory is as much in the will of the gods as in our own strong hands. When Achilles falls dead, the other Achaeans will run—as they’ve run from Hector and mere Trojans when far lesser leaders of theirs have fallen or been wounded. And when they run, we will swing about, ride hard, pass back through that accursed Hole, and burn their ships before these so-called heroes can rally.”

“We will follow you into death, My Queen,” murmured Clonia, “just as we have followed you to glory in the past.”

“To glory again, my beloved sister,” said Penthesilea. “Look. That ratfaced dog Thersites has delivered our message and the Achaean captains are walking this way. See how Achilles’ armor gleams more brightly than any other’s. Let us meet them on the clean battlefield there.”

She spurred her huge horse and the thirteen Amazons galloped forward together toward Achilles and the Achaeans.


“What blue beam?” said Hockenberry.

They had been discussing the disappearance of this Ilium-era Earth’s population—all those outside a two-hundred-mile-radius of Troy—as Mahnmut guided the hornet down toward Mars, Olympos, and the Brane Hole.

“It’s a blue beam stabbing up from Delphi, in the Peloponnesus,” said the moravec. “It appeared the day the rest of the human population here disappeared. We thought it was composed of tachyons, but now we’re not sure. There’s a theory—just a theory—that all of the other humans were reduced to their basic Calabi-Yau string components, encoded, and fired into interstellar space on that beam.”

“It comes from Delphi?” repeated Hockenberry. He didn’t know a thing about tachyons or Calabi-Whatsis strings, but he knew quite a bit about Delphi and its oracle.

“Yes, I could show it to you if you have another ten minutes or so before you have to get back,” said Mahnmut. “The odd thing is that there’s a similar blue beam coming up from our present-day Earth, the one we’re headed for, but it’s coming from the city of Jerusalem.”

“Jerusalem,” repeated Hockenberry. The hornet was rocking and pitching as it nosed down toward the Hole and Hockenberry was gripping the invisible arms of the invisible forcefield chair. “The beams go up into the air? Into space? To where?”

“We don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be any destination. The beams stay on for quite a long time and rotate with the Earth, of course, but they pass out of the solar system—both Earth solar systems—and neither one seems to be aimed at any particular star or globular cluster or galaxy. But the blue beams are two-way. That is, there is a flow of tachyonic energy returning to Delphi—and presumably to Jerusalem—so that…”

“Wait,” interrupted Hockenberry. “Did you see that?”

They had just passed through the Brane Hole, skimming just under its upper arc.

“I did,” said Mahnmut. “It was just a blur, but it looked as if humans were fighting humans back there where the Achaeans generally keep their front lines near Olympos. And look—up ahead.” The moravec magnified the holographic windows and Hockenberry could see Greeks and Trojans fighting outside the walls of Ilium. The Scaean Gates—open these eight months of the alliance—were closed.

“Jesus Christ,” whispered Hockenberry.


“Mahnmut, can we go back to where we saw the first signs of fighting? On the Mars side of the Brane Hole? There was something strange about that.”

What Hockenberry had seen was mounted cavalry—a very small troop—apparently attacking infantry. Neither the Achaeans nor the Trojans used cavalry.

“Of course,” said Mahnmut, bringing the hornet around in a swooping bank. They accelerated back toward the Hole again.

Mahnmut, are you still copying me? came Orphu’s voice on the tight-beam, relayed through the Hole by the transponders they’d buried there.

Loud and clear.

Is Dr. Hockenberry still with you?


Stay on tightbeam then. Don’t let him know we’re talking. Do you see anything strange there?

We do. We’re going back to investigate it. Cavalry fighting Argive hoplites on the Mars side of the Brane, Argives against Trojans on the Earth side.

“Can you cloak this thing?” asked Hockenberry as they approached about two hundred feet above the dozen or so mounted figures who were approaching fifty-some Achaean foot soldiers. The hornet was still about a mile from the apparent confrontation. “Can you camouflage it? Make us less obvious somehow?”

“Of course.” Mahnmut activated full-stealth and slowed the hornet.

No, I’m not talking about what the humans are doing, sent Orphu. Can you see anything odd about the Brane Hole itself?

Mahnmut not only looked with his eyes on broad-spectrum, but he interfaced with all of the hornet’s instruments and sensors. The Brane seems normal, he sent.

“Let’s land behind Achilles and his men there,” said Hockenberry. “Can we do that? Quietly? “

“Of course,” said Mahnmut. He brought the hornet around and set it down silently about thirty yards behind the Achaeans. More Greeks were coming toward them from the army at the rear. The moravec could see some rockvecs in the approaching group, and could make out Centurion Leader Mep Ahoo.

No, it’s not normal, sent Orphu of Io. We’re picking up wild fluctuations in the Brane Hole and the rest of the membrane space. Plus something’s going on atop Olympos—quantum and graviton readings are off the scale. We have evidence of fission, fusion, plasma, and other explosions. But the Brane Hole is our immediate worry.

What are the anomaly parameters? asked Mahnmut. He’d never bothered himself with learning much W-theory or its various historical precursors, M-theory or string-theory, while driving his submersible under the ice of Europa. Most of what he knew now he’d downloaded from Orphu and the main banks on Phobos to catch up with the current thinking about the Holes he’d accidentally helped create to connect the Belt with Mars—and with this alternate Earth—and to understand why all but one of the Branes had disappeared in the last few months.

The Strominger-Vafa-Susskind-Sen sensors are giving us BPS rates showing increasing disparity between the Brane’s minimum mass and its charge, sent Orphu.

BPS? sent Mahnmut. He knew the mass-charge disparity had to be bad, but wasn’t sure why.

Bogomol’nyi, Prasard, Sommerfield sent Orphu in his oh-what-a-moron-but-I-like-you-anyway voice. The Calabi-Yau space near you there is undergoing a space-tearing conifold transition.

“Great, perfect,” said Hockenberry, slipping out of the invisible chair and rushing toward the lowering ramp. “What I wouldn’t give to have my old scholic gear back—morphing bracelet, shotgun mike, levitation harness. Are you coming?”

“In a second,” said Mahnmut. Are you telling me the Brane Hole is going unstable?

I’m telling you it’s going to collapse any minute, sent Orphu. We’ve ordered the moravecs and rockvecs around Ilium and along the coast there to get the hell out. We think they have time to load up their gear, but the hornets and shuttles should be coming out of there within the next ten minutes at about Mach 3. Be prepared for sonic booms.

That’ll leave Ilium open to air attack and QT invasion from Olympos, sent Mahnmut. He was horrified at the thought. They were abandoning their Trojan and Greek allies.

That’s not our problem anymore, rumbled Orphu of Io. Asteague/Che and the other prime integrators have ordered the evacuation. If that Brane Hole closes—and it will, Mahnmut, trust me on that—we lose all eight hundred of the technicians, missile battery vecs, and others stationed on the Earth side. They’ve already been ordered out. They’re risking their lives even taking the time to pack up their missiles, energy projectors, and other heavy weapons, but the integrators don’t want those things left behind, even if disabled.

Can I help? Mahnmut looked out the open hatch to where Hockenberry was jogging toward Achilles and his men. He felt useless—if he left Hockenberry behind, the scholic might die in the fight here. If he didn’t get the hornet airborne and through the Hole immediately, other moravecs might be sealed away from their real universe forever.

Stand by, I’ll check with the integrators and General Beh bin Adee, sent Orphu. A few seconds later the tightbeam channel crackled again. Stay where you are right now. You’re the best camera angle we have on the Brane at the moment. Can you hook all your feeds to Phobos and get outside the ship to add your own imaging to the link?

Yes, I can do that, sent Mahnmut. He de-stealthed the hornet—he didn’t want the approaching mob of Achaeans and rockvecs to bump into it—and hurried down the ramp to join Hockenberry.

Walking up to the cluster of Achaeans, Hockenberry felt a growing sense of unreality tinged with guilt. This is my doing. If I hadn’t morphed myself into Athena’s form and kidnapped Patroclus eight months ago, Achilles wouldn’t have declared war on the gods and none of this would have happened. If anyone dies here today, it’s all my fault.

It was Achilles who turned his back on the approaching cavalry and greeted him. “Welcome, Hockenberry, son of Duane.”

There were about fifty of the Achaean leaders and their captains and spearmen standing there waiting for the women on horseback to arrive—from the rapidly closing distance, Hockenberry could see that they were indeed women decked out in resplendent armor—and among the top men here he recognized Diomedes, Big and Little Ajax, Idomeneus, Odysseus, Podarces, and his younger friend Menippus, Sthenelus, Euryalus, and Stichius. The former scholic was surprised to see the leering camp-lawyer Thersites standing by Achilles’ side—normally, Hockenberry knew, the fleet-footed mankiller would not have allowed the corpse-robber within a mile of his person.

“What’s going on?” he asked Achilles.

The tall, blond god-man shrugged. “It’s been a bizarre day, son of Duane. First the gods refused to come down to fight. Then a motley group of Trojan women attacked us, killing Philoctetes with a lucky spearcast. Now these Amazons approach after killing more of our men, or so this rat by my side tells us.”


Mahnmut came hurrying up. Most of the Achaeans were used to the little moravec now and gave the metal-plastic creature only a passing glance before returning their gazes to the fast-approaching Amazons.

“What’s happening?” Mahnmut had spoken to Hockenberry in English.

Rather than answer in the same language, Hockenberry recited—

Ducit Amazonidum lunatis agmina peltis

Penthesilea furens, mediisque in milibus ardet, aurea sunectens exwerta cingula mammae bellatrix, audetque viris concurrere virgo.”

“Don’t make me download Latin,” said Mahnmut. He nodded toward the huge horses being reined to a stop not five yards in front of them all, throwing up a cloud of dust that rolled over the Achaean captains.

Furious, Penthesilea leads a battleline of Amazons,” translated Hockenberry. “With crescent shields, and she glows in the middle of thousands, fastening golden belts around the exposed breast, female warrior, and the maiden dares run with men.”

“That’s just great,” the little moravec said sarcastically. “But the Latin… it’s not Homer, I presume?”

“Virgil,” whispered Hockenberry in the sudden silence in which the paw of a horse’s hoof sounded crashingly loud. “Somehow we’re in the Aeneid here.”

“That’s just great,” repeated Mahnmut.

The rockvec techs are almost loaded and will be ready to lift off from the Earth side in five minutes or less, sent Orphu. And there’s something else you have to know. We’re pushing up the launch time for the Queen Mab.

How soon? sent Mahnmut, his mostly organic heart sinking. We promised Hockenberry forty-eight hours to make up his mind and try to talk Odysseus into going with us.

Well, he has less than an hour now, sent Orphu of Io. Maybe forty minutes if we can get these damned rockvecs tranked and shelved and their weapons stored. You’ll have to get back up here by then or stay behind.

But The Dark Lady, sent Mahnmut, thinking of his submersible. He’d not even run the last checks on the sub’s many systems.

They’re stowing her in the hold right now, sent Orphu from the Mab. I can feel the bumps. You can do your checklist when we’re in flight. Don’t dally down there, old friend. The tightbeam went from crackle to hiss as Orphu signed off.

Only one row back from the thin front line here, Hockenberry saw that the Amazons’ horses were huge… as big as Percherons or those Budweiser horses. There were thirteen of them and Virgil, bless his heart, had been right—the Amazon women’s armor left each of their left breasts bare. The effect was… distracting.

Achilles took three steps in front of the other men. He was so close to the blonde Amazon’s horse that he could have stroked its nose. He didn’t.

“What do you want, woman?” he asked. For such a huge, heavily muscled man, Achilles’ voice was very soft.

“I am Penthesilea, daughter of the war god Ares and the Amazon queen Otrere,” said the beautiful woman from high on her armored horse. “And I want you dead, Achilles, son of Peleus.”

Achilles threw back his head and laughed. It was an easy, relaxed laugh, and all the more chilling to Hockenberry because of that. “Tell me woman,” Achilles said softly, “how do you find the courage to challenge us, the most powerful heroes of this age, fighters who have laid siege to Olympos itself? Most of us are sprung from the blood of the Son of Kronos himself, Lord Zeus. Would you really do battle with us, woman?”

“The others can go if they want to live,” called down Penthesilea, her voice as calm as Achilles’ but louder. “I have no fight with Ajax, son of Telamon, or with the son of Tydeus or the son of Deucalion or the son of Laertes or the others gathered here. Only with you, son of Peleus.”

The men listed—Big Ajax, Diomedes, Idomeneus, and Odysseus—looked startled for a second, glanced at Achilles, and then laughed in unison. The other Achaeans joined in the laughter. Fifty or sixty more Argive fighters were coming up from the rear, the rockvec Mep Ahoo in their ranks.

Hockenberry didn’t notice as Mahnmut’s black-visored head swiveled smoothly around, and Hockenberry had no idea that Centurion Leader Mep Ahoo was tightbeaming the smaller moravec about the imminent collapse of the Brane Hole.

“You have offended the gods by your feeble attack on their home,” cried Penthesilea, her voice rising until it could be heard by the men a hundred yards away. “You have wronged the peaceful Trojans by your failed attack on their home. But today you die, womankiller Achilles. Prepare to do battle.”

“Oh, my,” said Mahnmut in English.

“Jesus Christ,” whispered Hockenberry.

The thirteen women screamed in their Amazon language, kicked their warhorses’ sides, the giant mounts leaped forward, and the air was suddenly filled with spears, arrows, and the clatter of bronze points slamming into armor and onto hastily raised shields.


Along the coast of the northern Martian sea, called the Northern Ocean or the Tethys Sea by the inhabitants of Olympos, the Little Green Men—also known as zeks–have erected more than eleven thousand great stone heads. Each of the heads is twenty meters tall. They are identical—each showing an old man’s face with a fierce beak of a nose, thin lips, high brow, frowning eyebrows, bald crown, firm chin, and a fringe of long hair streaming back over his ears. The stone for the heads comes from giant quarries gouged into the cliffs of the geologic tumble known as Noctis Labyrinthus on the westernmost end of the four-thousand-two-hundred-kilometer-long inland sea filling the rift known as Valles Marineris. From the quarries at Noctis Labyrinthus, the little green men have loaded each uncarved block of stone onto broad-beamed barges and floated them the length of Valles Marineris. Once out into the Tethys, zek–crewed feluccas with lanteen sails have guided the barges into position along the coast, where hundreds of thronging LGM unload each stone and carve the head in place as it lies on the sand. When the carving is finished except for the hair on the back of the head, the mob of zeks roll each head to a stone basepad prepared for it, sometimes having to lift the head up cliffs or transport it across bogs and marshes, and then they pull it upright using a combination of pulleys, tackle, and shifting sand. Finally they set a stone stem from the neck into the base stone niche and rock the huge head into place. Then a dozen LGM finish the carving of the wavy hair while the majority of the little beings move on to work on the next head.

The identical faces all look out to sea.

The first head was erected almost an Earth-measured century and a half ago, at the base of Olympus Mons near where the surf of the Tethys Sea rolls in, and since then the little green men have placed another head every kilometer of the way, traveling east, around the great mushroom-shaped peninsula called Tempe Terra, then curving back south and into the estuary of Kasei Valles, then southeast along the marshes of Lunae Planum, then to both sides of the huge estuary and sea-within-a-sea of Chryse Planitia, then on both cliff-faced shores of the broad estuary of Valles Marineris, and finally—in just the last eight months—northeast along the steep cliffs of Arabia Terra toward the northernmost archipelagoes of Deuteronilus and Protonilus Mensae.

But this day all work on the heads has ceased and more than a hundred feluccas have carried the LGM—meter-tall green photosynthesizing hominids with transparent flesh, no mouth or ears and coal-black eyes—to a point on the broad beaches of Tempe Terra some two hundred kilometers across the curve of water from Olympus Mons. From here the island volcano of Alba Patera can be seen far out in the sea to the west and the incredible massif of Olympus Mons rises up over the shoulder of the world far to the southwest.

The stone heads line a cliff face here some several hundred meters back from the water, but the beach is broad and flat and it is here that all seven thousand three hundred and three zeks have gathered, creating a solid mass of green along the beach except for an empty semicircle of sand some fifty-one meters across. For several Martian hours, the little green men stand silent and motionless, their black coal-button eyes trained on the empty sand. Feluccas and barges bob slightly to the very low Tethys surf. The only sound is wind blowing in from the west, occasionally lifting sand and pelting it against transparent green skin or whistling very slightly among the low gorse plants beyond the beach and below the cliffs.

Suddenly the air smells of ozone—although the zeks have no noses to pick up this scent—and repeated thunderclaps explode close above the beach. Although the LGM have no ears, they feel these explosions of sound through their incredibly sensitive skin.

Two meters above the beach, there suddenly appears a three-dimensional red rhomboid about fifteen meters wide. This rhomboid widens but then grows pinched at the waist, until it resembles two red candy kisses. At the points of these kisses, a tiny sphere emerges and then grows into a three-dimensional green oval, which appears to have swallowed the original red rhomboid. The oval and rhomboid begin to spin in opposite directions until sand is thrown a hundred meters into the air.

The LGM stand in the growing storm and stare impassively.

The three-dimensional oval and rhomboid spin themselves into a sphere, completing the original shape’s flop-transition mirror rephrasing. A circle ten meters across appears in midair and seems to sink into the sand until a Brane Hole cuts a slice out of space and time. Because this Brane Hole is newborn, its protective world-sheet is still visible, petals and layers of eleven-dimensional energy protecting the sand, the air, Mars, and the universe from this deliberate degeneration of space-time fabric.

From the hole emerges a puffing, chugging sort of steam-powered carriole, hidden gyroscopes balancing the metal and wooden mass on its single rubber wheel. The vehicle clears the Hole and comes to a stop precisely in the center of the space the zeks have left clear on the sand. An intricately carved door opens on the vehicle and wooden steps lower and unfold like some carefully contrived puzzle.

Four voynix—two-meter-tall metallic bipeds with barrel chests, no necks, and heads looking like mere humps on their bodies—emerge from the carriole and, using their manipulator hands rather than their cutting-blade hands, begin to assemble a complex apparatus that includes silver tentacles ending in small parabolic projectors. When they are finished, the voynix step back toward the now-silent steam vehicle and freeze into immobility.

A man or a projection of a man shimmers first into visibility and then into apparent solidity there on the sand between the projector’s tentacle-filaments. He is an old man in a blue robe covered with marvelously embroidered astronomical icons. He carries a tall wooden staff to help him walk. His gold-slippered feet are solid enough and his flickering mass heavy enough to make impressions in the sand. His features are precisely the same as the face of the statues on the cliff.

The magus walks to the edge of the limpid sea and waits.

Before long the sea stirs and something huge rises from the water just beyond the line of desultory surf. The thing is large and it comes up slowly, more like an island rising from the sea than like any organic creature such as a whale or dolphin or sea serpent or sea god. Water streams from its folds and fissures as it moves in toward the beach. The zeks step back and to the side, making a larger space for the thing.

In its shaping and color, it is most like a gigantic brain. The tissue is pink—like a living human brain—and the convolutions most resemble the maximized folded surface area of a brain, but there the resemblance to mind matter ends since this thing has multiple pairs of yellow eyes set in the folds between pink tissue and a surfeit of hands: small grasping hands with different numbers of fingers arising from the folds and waving like sea anemones stirred by cold currents, larger hands on longer stalks set on either side of the various inset eyes, and—as becomes more apparent as the house-sized thing emerges from the water and shuffles to the sand—multiple sets of huge hands on its underside and edges to propel it, each grub-white or dead-gray hand the size of a headless horse.

Moving crablike, darting sideways onto the sodden sand, the huge thing scatters LGM farther back and then comes to a stop less than five feet from the blue-robed old man, who—after an initial backing away to give the thing room to find fingerhold on the dry beach—now stands his ground, holding his staff and looking up calmly at the multiple sets of cold yellow eyes.

What have you done with my favorite worshiper? asks the many-handed in a voice without sound.

“He is loosed upon the world again, it pains me to say,” sighs the old man.

Which world? There are too many.


Which Earth? There are too many.

“My Earth,” said the old man. “The true one.”

The brain with hands makes a sound through holes and apertures in its folds, a mucousy noise like a whale snorting thick seawater. Prosper, where is my priestess? My child?

“Which child?” asks the man. “Dost thou seek after your blue-eyed sow-raven whore, malignant thing, or after the hag-born freckled whelp bastard, never honored with a human shape, that she did litter there on the shore of my world?”

The magus had used the Greek word sus for “raven” and korax for “sow,” obviously enjoying his little pun, just as he had with the “litter.”

Sycorax and Caliban. Where are they?

“The bitch is missing. The lizard-pup is free.”

My Caliban has escaped the rock on which you confined him these long centuries?

“Have I not just said so? You need to trade some of your excess eyes for ears.”

Has he eaten all your puny mortals on that world yet?

“Not all. Not yet.” The magus gestures with his staff toward the stone versions of his own face that look out from atop the cliff behind him. “Have you enjoyed being watched, Many-Handed?”

The brain snorts brine and mucus once again. I’ll allow the green men to labor some more and then send a tsunami to drown all of them at the same time it knocks down your pathetic spy-stone effigies.

“Why not do it now?”

You know I can. The nonvoice somehow conveys a snarl.

“I know you can, malignant thing,” says Prospero. “But drowning this race would be a crime greater than many of your other great crimes. The zeks are close to compassion perfected, loyalty personified, not altered from their former state as you did the gods here on your monstrous whim, but truly creatures that are mine. I new-formed them.”

And for that alone it will give me more pleasure to kill them. What use are such mute, chlorophyllic ciphers? They’re like ambulatory begonias.

“They have no voice,” says the old magus, “but they are far from mute. They communicate with one another through genetically altered packages of data, passed cell to cell by touch. When they must communicate with someone outside their race, one of them volunteers his heart up to touch, dying as an individual but then being absorbed by all the others and thus living on.’Tis a beautiful thing.”

Manesque exire sepulcris, thinks-hisses the many-handed Setebos. All you’ve done is call up the dead men from their graves. You play Medea’s game

Without warning, Setebos pivots on his walking hands and sends a smaller hand from his brainfolds shooting out twenty meters on a snakelike stalk. The gray-grub fist slams into a little green man standing near the surf, penetrates his chest, seizes his floating green heart, and rips it out. The zek’s body falls lifeless to the sand, leaking out all its internal fluids. Another LGM instantly kneels to absorb what it can of the dead zek’s cellular essence.

Setebos retrieves his retractable armstalk, squeezes the heart into a dry husk as one would squeeze moisture out of a sponge, and flings it away. Its heart was as empty and voiceless as its head. There was no message there.

“Not to you,” agrees Prospero. “But the sad message now to me is not to speak so openly to my enemies. Others always suffer.”

Others are meant to suffer. That’s why we create them, you and I.

“Aye, to that end we have the key of both officer and office, to set all hearts in the state to what tune that pleases our ear. But your creations offend all, Setebos—especially Caliban. Your monster child is the ivy that hid my princely trunk and sucked my verdure out on it.”

And so was he born to do.

“Born?” Prospero laughs softly. “Your hag-seed’s bastard oozed into being amidst all the panoply of a true whore-priestess’s charms—toads, beetles, bats, pigs who once were men—and the lizard-boy would have made a sty of mine own Earth had not I taken the traitorous creature in, taught it language, lodged it in my own cell, used it with humane care, and showed to it all the qualities of humankind… for all the good it did me or the world or the lying slave itself.”

All the qualities of humankind, snorts Setebos. It moves five paces forward on its huge walking hands until its shadow falls over the old man. I taught him power. You taught him pain.

“When it did, like your own foul race, forget his own meaning and begin to gabble like a thing most brutish, I deservedly confined it into a rock where I kept it company in a form of myself.”

You exiled Caliban to that orbital rock and sent one of your holograms there so that you could bait and torture him for centuries, lying magus.

“Torture? No. But when it disobeyed, I racked the foul amphibian with cramps, filled his bones with ache, and made him roar so as to make the other beasts of that now-fallen orbital isle tremble at his din. And I shall do so again when I capture him.”

Too late. Setebos snorts. His unblinking eyes all turn to look down at the old man in the blue robe. Fingers twitch and sway. You said yourself that my son, with whom I am well pleased, is loosed upon your world. I knew this, of course. I will be there soon to join him. Together, along with the thousands of little calibani you were so obliging as to create when you still dwelt among the post-humans there and thought that doomed world good, father and son-grandson will soon scour your green orb into a more pleasing place.

“A swamp, you mean,” says Prospero. “Filled with foul smells, fouler creatures, all forms of blackness, and all infections that fetch up from bogs, fens, flats, and the stink from Prosper’s fall.”

Yes. The huge, pink-brain thing seems to dance up and down on its long fingerlegs, swaying as if to unheard music or pleasing screams.

“Then Prosper must not fall,” whispers the old man. “Must not fall.”

You will, magus. You are but a shadow of a rumor of a hint of a noosphere—a personification of a centerless, soulless pulse of useless information, senseless mumbles from a race long fallen into dotage and decay, a cyber-sewn fart in the wind. You will fall and so shall your useless bio-whore, Ariel.

Prospero lifts his staff as if to strike the monster. Then he lowers it and leans on it as though suddenly drained of all energy. “Ariel is still our Earth’s good and faithful servant. She shall never serve you or your monster son or your blue-eyed witch.”

She will serve us by dying.

“Ariel is Earth, monster,” breathes Prospero. “My darling grew into full consciousness from the noosphere interweaving itself with the self-aware biosphere. Would you kill a whole world to feed your rage and vanity?”

Oh, yes.

Setebos leaps forward on its giant fingertips and seizes up the old man in five hands, lifting him close to two of its sets of eyes. Where is Sycorax?

“She rots.”

Circe is dead? Setebos’ daughter and concubine cannot die.

“She rots.”

Where? How?

“Age and envy did turn her into a hoop, and I rolled her into the form of a fish, which now rots from the head down.”

The many-handed makes its mucus-snort and tears Prospero’s legs off, casting them into the sea. Then the thing rips away the magus’s arms, feeding them into a maw that opens from the deepest orifice of its folds. Finally, it pulls the old man’s entrails out, slurping them up as it would a long noodle.

“Does this amuse you?” asks Prospero’s head before that, too, is crunched by gray finger-thumbs and fed into the many-handed’s maw.

Silver tentacles on the beach flicker and the parabolic suckers at the end shine. Prospero flicks back into solidity farther away on the beach.

“You are a dull thing, Setebos. Ever angry, ever hungry, but tiresome and dull.”

I will find your true corporeal self, Prospero. Trust this. On your Earth or in its crust or under its sea or on its orbit, I will find the organic mass that once was you and I will chew on you slowly. There is no doubt of this.

“Dull,” says the magus. He looks weary and sad. “Whatever the fate of your clay-made gods and my zeks here on Mars—and my beloved men and women on the Earth of Ilium—you and I will meet again soon. On Earth this time. And this, our long war, will soon and finally end for the better or for the worse.”

Yes. The many-handed thing spits bloody shreds out onto the sand, pivots on its under-hands, and scuttles back into the sea until all that can be seen of it is a bloody spouting from its half-submerged tophole.

Prospero sighs. He nods to the voynix, crosses to the nearest LGM, and hugs one of the little green men.

“As much as I want to speak with you and hear your thoughts, my beloveds, my old heart can bear to see no more of your kind die today. So until I venture here again, in happier times, I pray thee, corragio! Have courage! Corragio!

The voynix come forward and flick off the projector. The magus vanishes. The voynix carefully fold up the silver tentacles, carry the projecting machine to the steam carriole, and disappear up its steps into its red-lighted interior. The steps fold up. The steam engine chugs more loudly.

The carriole puffs around in a lumbering, sand-spitting circle on the beach, the zeks silently stepping aside, and then the unwieldy machine lumbers through the Brane Hole and disappears.

A few seconds later, the Brane Hole itself shrinks, shrivels back into its eleven-dimensional world sheet of pure colored energy, shrinks again, and flicks out of existence.

For a while, the only sound or movement comes from the lethargic waves sliding into the red beach. Then the LGM disperse to their feluccas and barges and set sail back to their stone heads yet to be carved and raised.


Even as she spurred her horse forward and lifted Athena’s spear for the killing throw, Penthesilea realized that she’d overlooked two things that might seal her fate.

First of all—incredibly—she realized that Athena had never told her, nor had she asked the goddess, which heel of the mankiller’s was mortal. Penthesilea had assumed it was the right heel—that had been her image of Peleus pulling the baby from the Celestial Fire—but Athena had not specified, saying only that one of Achilles’ heels was mortal.

Penthesilea had imagined the difficulty of striking the hero’s heel, even with Athena’s charmed spear—feeling safe in assuming that Achilles would not be running away from her—but she’d instructed her Amazon comrades to strike down as many Achaeans to the rear of Achilles as possible. Penthesilea planned to throw at the fleet-footed mankiller’s heel the instant he turned to see who was wounded and who was dead, as any loyal captain would do. But to make this strategy work, Penthesilea had to hold back on her part of the attack, allowing her sisters to strike down these others so that Achilles would be made to turn. It went against Penthesilea’s warrior nature not to lead, not to be the first to make killing contact, and even though her sisters understood this attack plan was necessary for the mankiller to be brought down, it caused the Amazon queen to flush with shame as the line of horses closed with the line of men as Penthesilea’s huge steed hung a few seconds behind the others.

Then she realized her second mistake. The wind was blowing in from behind Achilles, not toward him. Part of Penthesilea’s plan depended upon the confusing effect of Aphrodite’s perfume, but the muscled male idiot had to smell it for the plan to work. Unless the wind changed—or unless Penthesilea closed the distance until she was literally on top of the blond Achaean warrior—the magical scent would not be a factor.

Fuck it, thought the Amazon queen as her comrades began to fire arrows and hurl spears. Let the Fates have their way and Hades take the hindmost! Ares—Father!—be with me and protect me now!

She half-expected the god of war to appear at her side then, and perhaps Athena and Aphrodite as well since it was their will that Achilles should die this day, but no god or goddess showed up in the few seconds before horses impaled themselves on hastily raised spears and thrown lances thunked down onto hurriedly raised shields and the unstoppable Amazons collided with the immovable Achaeans.

At first, both luck and the gods seemed to be with the Amazons. Although several of their horses were impaled on spearpoint, the huge steeds crashed on through Argive lines. Some of the Greeks fell back; others simply fell. The Amazon warriors quickly encircled the fifty or so men around Achilles and began slashing downward with their swords and spears.

Clonia, Penthesilea’s favorite lieutenant and the finest archer of all the living Amazons, was firing arrows as quickly as she could notch and release. Her targets were all behind Achilles, forcing the mankiller to turn as each man was hit. The Achaean Menippus went down with a long shaft through his throat. Menippus’ friend, the mighty Podarces, son of Iphiclus and brother of the fallen Protesilaus, leaped forward in rage, trying to pierce the mounted Clonia through the hip with his lance, but the Amazon Bremusa slashed the lance in half and then cut off Podarces’ arm at the elbow with a mighty downward slash.

Penthesilea’s sisters-in-arms, Euandra and Thermodoa, had been dismounted—their warhorses crashing to the ground, pierced through the heart by Achaean long lances—but the two women were on their feet in an instant, armored back to armored back, their crescent shields flashing—as they held off a circle of screaming, attacking Greek men.

Penthesilea found herself crashing through Argive shields in the second wave of Amazon attack, her comrades Alcibia, Dermachia, and Derione by her side. Bearded faces snarled up at them and were slashed down. An arrow, fired from the Achaeans’ rear ranks, ricocheted off Penthesilea’s helmet, causing her vision to blur red for an instant.

Where is Achilles? The confusion of battle had disoriented her for a moment, but then the Amazon queen saw the mankiller twenty paces to her right, surrounded by the core of Achaean captains—the Ajaxes, Idomeneus, Odysseus, Diomedes, Sthenelus, Teucer. Penthesilea gave out a loud Amazon war cry and kicked her horse in the ribs, urging it toward the core of heroes.

At that second the mob seemed to part for an instant just as Achilles turned to watch one of his men, Euenor of Dulichium, fall with one of Clonia’s arrows in his eye. Penthesilea could easily see Achilles’ exposed calf under the greaves’ straps, his dusty ankles, his calloused heels.

Athena’s spear seemed to hum in her hand as she drew back and threw with all her might and strength. The lance flew true, striking the fleet-footed mankiller in his unprotected right heel… and glancing away.

Achilles’ head snapped around and came up until his blue-eyed gaze locked on Penthesilea. He grinned a horrible grin.

The Amazons were engaged with the core group of Achaean men now, and their luck began to turn.

Bremusa cast a spear at Idomeneus, but Deucalion’s son raised his round shield almost casually and the lance broke in two. When he cast his longer spear, it flew deadly true, piercing the red-haired Bremusa just below the left breast and coming out through her spine. She tumbled backward off her lathered horse and half a dozen lesser Argives raced to strip her of her armor.

Screaming rage at their sister’s fall, Alcibia and Dermachia drove their horses at Idomeneus, but the two Ajaxes grabbed the steeds’ reins and wrestled them to a stop with their awful strength. When the two Amazons leaped down to carry the battle on foot, Diomedes, son of Tydeus, decapitated both of them with one wide sweep of his sword. Penthesilea watched in horror as Alcibia’s head rolled, still blinking, to a dusty stop, only to be lifted up by the hair by a laughing Odysseus.

Penthesilea felt her leg raked by some grasping unnamed Argive and she plunged her second spear down through the man’s chest until it pierced his bowels. He fell away, mouth gaping, but took her spear with him. She freed her battle-axe and spurred her horse forward, riding with only her knees holding her on to her steed.

Derione, riding to the Amazon queen’s right, was pulled off her horse by Little Ajax, son of Oileus. On her back, her breath knocked out of her, Derione was just reaching for her sword when Little Ajax laughed and slammed his spear through her chest, twisting it until the Amazon stopped writhing.

Clonia fired an arrow at Little Ajax’s heart. His armor deflected it. That is when Teucer, bastard son of Telamon, master archer of all archers, shot three fast arrows into the grunting Clonia—one in her throat, one through her armor into her stomach, a last one so deep into her bared left breast that only the feathers and three inches of the end of the shaft stayed visible. Penthesilea’s dear friend fell lifeless from her bleeding horse.

Euandra and Thermodoa were still standing and fighting back to back—though wounded and bleeding and almost falling over from weariness—when the press of Achaeans around them fell away and Meriones, son of Molus, friend of Idomeneus and second in command of the Cretans, cast two spears at once—one from each hand. The heavy spears cut through all layers of the Amazon women’s light armor and Thermodoa and Euandra fell dead in the dust.

All the other Amazons were down now. Penthesilea was wounded with a hundred scratches and slashes, but none of them mortal. Her axe blades were covered with blood and Argive gore, but the weapon was too heavy for her to lift now, so she set it aside and pulled her short sword. The space between her and Achilles opened wider.

As if the goddess Athena had ordained it, the unbroken spear she’d cast at Achilles’ right heel was on the ground near her exhausted horse’s right hoof. Normally, the Amazon queen could have bent low from a galloping horse to swoop up the magical weapon, but she was too exhausted, her armor was too heavy on her, and her wounded steed had no strength left to move, so Penthesilea slipped sideways on her saddle and slid down, bending low to retrieve the spear just as two of Teucer’s arrows whizzed over her helmet top.

When she stood, there was no one left in her focused vision except Achilles. The rest of the surging throngs of screaming Achaeans were unimportant blurs.

“Throw again,” said Achilles, still grinning his horrible grin.

Penthesilea put every ounce of strength left to her in the spearcast, throwing low where Achilles’ bare, muscular thighs were visible below the circle of his beautiful shield.

Achilles crouched as quickly as any panther. Athena’s spear struck his shield and splintered.

Now Penthesilea could only stand there and grasp her axe again as Achilles, still grinning, lifted his own lance, the legendary spear that the centaur Chiron had made for his father, Peleus, the lance that never missed its mark.

Achilles threw. Penthesilea raised her crescent shield. The lance smashed through the shield without slowing, pierced her armor, tore through her right breast and out her back, and went through her horse standing behind her, piercing its heart as well.

Amazon queen and her war steed fell into the dust together, Penthesilea’s legs and feet flying high on the pendulum of the rising spear embedded in both their chests. As Achilles approached, sword in hand, Penthesilea strained to hold him in her sight as her vision dimmed. The axe fell from her nerveless fingers.

“Holy shit,” whispered Hockenberry.

“Amen,” said Mahnmut.

The ex-scholic and little moravec had been next to Achilles during the entire brawl. They walked forward now as Achilles stood next to Penthesilea’s twitching body.

Tum saeva Amazon ultimus cecidit metus,” murmured Hockenberry. Then the savage Amazon fell, our greatest fear.

“Virgil again?” said Mahnmut.

“No, Pyrrhus in Seneca’s tragedy, Troades.”

Now a strange thing happened.

As various Achaeans crowded around to strip the dead or dying Penthesilea of her armor, Achilles folded his arms and stood above her, his nostrils flaring as if taking in the stink of blood and horse sweat and death. Then the fleet-footed mankiller raised his huge hands to his face, covered his eyes, and began to weep.

Big Ajax, Diomedes, Odysseus, and several other captains who had pressed close to see the dead Amazon queen stepped back in amazement. Rat-faced Thersites and some lesser Achaeans ignored the weeping man-god and persisted in their stripping of Penthesilea’s armor, pulling her helmet from her lolling head, allowing the dead queen’s golden locks to tumble down.

Achilles threw his head back and moaned as he had on the morning of Patroclus’ murder and kidnapping by Hockenberry disguised as Athena. The captains stepped farther back from the dead woman and horse.

Thersites used his knife to cut away the straps on Penthesilea’s chest-plate armor and belt, slashing into the dead queen’s fair flesh in his hurry to gather his unearned spoils. The queen was all but naked now—only one dangling greave, her silver belt, and a single sandal remaining on her slashed and bruised but somehow still-perfect body. Peleus’ long lance still pinned her to the carcass of the horse and Peleus’ son made no move to retrieve the spear.

“Step away,” said Achilles. Most of the men obeyed at once.

Ugly Thersites—Penthesilea’s armor under one arm and the queen’s bloodied helmet under his other arm—laughed over his shoulder as he continued to strip her of her belt. “What a fool you are, son of Peleus, to weep so for this fallen bitch, standing there sobbing for her beauty. She’s a meal for worms now, worth no more than that.”

“Step away,” said Achilles in his terrible monotone. Tears continued to streak down his dusty face.

Emboldened by the mankiller’s show of womanly weakness, Thersites ignored the command and tugged the silver belt from around dead Penthesilea’s hips, raising her body slightly to free the priceless band and making the motion an obscenity by moving his own hips as if copulating with the corpse.

Achilles stepped forward and struck Thersites with his bare fist, smashing his jaw and cheekbone, knocking every one of the rat-man’s yellow teeth out of his mouth, and sending him flying over the horse and dead queen to lie in the dust, vomiting blood from both mouth and nose.

“No grave or barrow for you, you bastard,” said Achilles. “You once sneered at Odysseus, and Odysseus forgave you. You sneered at me just now, and I killed you. The son of Peleus will not be taunted without a reckoning. Go now, go on down to Hades and taunt the shadows there with your mocking wit.”

Thersites choked on his own blood and vomit and died.

Achilles pulled Peleus’ spear slowly—almost lovingly—from the dust, the horse’s corpse, and up and out through Penthesilea’s softly rocking corpse. All the Achaeans stepped farther back, not understanding the mankiller’s moans and weeping.

Aurea cui postquam nudavit cassida frontem, vicit victorem candida forma virum,” whispered Hockenberry to himself. “After her gilded metal helmet was removed, her forehead exposed, her brilliant form conquered the man… Achilles… the victor.” He looked down at Mahnmut. “Propertius, Book Three poem Eleven of his Elegies.”

Mahnmut tugged at the scholic’s hand. “Someone’s going to be writing an elegy for us if we don’t get out of here. And I mean now.”

“Why?” said Hockenberry, blinking as he looked around.

Sirens were going off. The rockvec soldiers were moving among throngs of retreating Achaeans, urging them with alarms and amplified voices to get through the Hole at once. A huge retreat was under way, with chariots and running men pouring toward and through the Hole, but it wasn’t the moravec loudspeakers that were creating the retreat—Olympos was erupting.

The earth… well, the Mars earth… shook and vibrated. The air was filled with the stink of sulfur. Behind the retreating Achaean and Trojan armies, the distant summit of Olympos glowed red beneath its aegis and columns of flame were leaping miles into the air. Already, rivers of red lava could be seen on the upper reaches of Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system. The air was full of red dust and the stink of fear.

“What’s going on?” asked Hockenberry.

“The gods caused some sort of eruption up there and the Brane Hole is going to disappear any minute,” said Mahnmut, leading Hockenberry away from where Achilles had knelt next to the fallen Amazon queen. The other dead Amazons had also been stripped of all their armor, and except for the core of captain-heroes, most of the men were hurrying toward the Hole.

You need to get out of there, came Orphu of Io’s voice over the tight-beam to Mahnmut.

Yes, sent Mahnmut, we can see the eruption from here.

Worst than that, came Orphu’s voice on the tightbeam. The readings show the Calabi-Yau space there bending back toward a black hole and wormhole. String vibrations are totally unstable. Olympus Mons may or may not blow that part of Mars to bits, but you have minutes, at most, before the Brane Hole disappears. Get Hockenberry and Odysseus back to the ship here.

Looking between the moving armor and dusty thighs, Mahnmut caught sight of Odysseus standing speaking to Diomedes thirty paces away. Odysseus? he sent. Hockenberry hasn’t had time to talk to Odysseus, much less convince him to come with us. Do we really need Odysseus?

The Prime Integrator analysis says we do, sent Orphu. And by the way, you had your video on during that entire fight. That was one hell of a thing to see.

Why do we need Odysseus? sent Mahnmut. The ground rumbled and quaked. The placid sea to their north was no longer placid; great breakers rolled in against red rocks.

How am I supposed to know? rumbled Orphu of Io. Do I look like a prime integrator to you?

Any suggestions on how I’m going to persuade Odysseus to leave his friends and comrades and the war with the Trojans to come join us? sent Mahnmut. It looks like he and the other captains—except for Achilles—are going to get into their chariots and head back through the Hole in about one minute. The smell from the volcano and all the noise are driving the horses crazy—and the people, too. How am I going to get Odysseus’ attention at a time like this?

Use some initiative, sent Orphu. Isn’t that what Europan sub-drivers are famous for? Initiative?

Mahnmut shook his head and walked over to Centurion Leader Mep Ahoo where the rockvec stood using his loudspeaker to urge the Achaeans to return through the Brane Hole at once. Even his amplified voice was lost under the volcano rumble and the pounding of hooves and sandaled feet as the humans ran like hell to get away from Olympos.

Centurion Leader? sent Mahnmut, connecting directly via tactical channels.

The two-meter-tall black rockvec turned and snapped to attention. Yes, sir.

Technically, Mahnmut had no command rank in the moravec army, but in practical terms, the rockvecs understood that Mahnmut and Orphu were on the level of commanders such as the legendary Asteague/Che.

Go over to my hornet there and await further orders.

Yes, sir. Mep Ahoo left the evacuation shouts to one of the other rockvecs and jogged to the hornet.

“I have to get Odysseus over to the hornet,” Mahnmut shouted to Hockenberry. “Will you help?”

Hockenberry, who was looking from the convulsions high on the shoulder of Olympos back at the quivering Brane Hole, gave the little moravec a distracted look but nodded and walked with him toward the cluster of Achaean captains.

Mahnmut and Hockenberry strode briskly past the two Ajaxes, Idomeneus, Teucer, and Diomedes to where Odysseus stood frowning at Achilles. The tactician seemed lost in thought.

“Just get him to the hornet,” whispered Mahnmut.

“Son of Laertes,” said Hockenberry.

Odysseus’ head whipped around. “What is it, son of Duane?”

“We have word from your wife, sir.”

“What?” Odysseus scowled and put his hand on his sword hilt. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about your wife, Penelope, mother of Telemachus. She has sent a message to you through us, conveyed by moravec magic.”

“Fuck your moravec magic,” snarled Odysseus, scowling down at Mahnmut. “Go away, Hockenberry, and take that little abomination with you, before I open both of you from crotch to chin. Somehow… I don’t know how, but somehow… I’ve always sensed that these new misfortunes rode in with you and these cursed moravecs.”

“Penelope says to remember your bed,” said Hockenberry, improvising and hoping he remembered his Fitzgerald correctly. He had tended to teach the Iliad and let Professor Smith handle the Odyssey.

“My bed?” frowned Odysseus, stepping away from the other captains. “What are you prattling about?”

“She says to tell you that a description of your marriage bed will be our way of letting you know that this message is truly from her.”

Odysseus pulled his sword and set the side of the razored blade against Hockenberry’s shoulder. “I am not amused. Describe the bed to me. For every error in your description, I will lop off one of your limbs.”

Hockenberry resisted the urge to run or piss himself. “Penelope says to tell you that the frame was inlaid with gold, silver, and ivory, with thongs of oxhide stretched end to end to hold the many soft fleeces and coverlets.”

“Bah,” said Odysseus, “that could describe any great man’s couch. Go away.” Diomedes and Big Ajax had gone over to urge the still-kneeling Achilles to abandon the Amazon queen’s corpse and come with them. The Brane Hole was visibly vibrating now, its edges blurry. The roar from Olympos was so loud now that everyone had to shout to be heard.

“Odysseus!” cried Hockenberry. “This is important. Come with us to hear your message from fair Penelope.”

The short, bearded man turned back to glower at the scholic and moravec. His sword was still raised. “Tell me where I moved the bed after my bride and I moved in, and I may let you keep your arms.”

“You never moved it,” said Hockenberry, his raised voice steady despite his pounding heart. “Penelope says that when you built your palace, you left a strong, straight olive tree where the bedroom is today. She says that you cut away the branches, set the tree into a ceiling of wood, carved the trunk, and left it as one post of your marriage bed. These were words she said to tell you so that you would know that it was truly she who sent her message.”

Odysseus stared for a long minute. Then he slid his sword back in its belt-sheath and said, “Tell me the message, son of Duane. Hurry.” The man glanced at the lowering sky and roaring Olympos. Suddenly a flight of twenty hornets and dropship transports flew out through the Hole, hauling the moravec techs to safety. A series of sonic booms pounded the Martian earth and made running men duck and raise their arms to cover their heads.

“Let’s go over by the moravec machine, son of Laertes. It is a message best delivered in private.”

They walked through the milling, shouting men to where the black hornet crouched on its insectoid landing gear.

“Now, speak, and hurry,” said Odysseus, grasping Hockenberry’s shoulder in his powerful hand.

Mahnmut tightbeamed Mep Ahoo. You have your taser?

Yes, sir.

Taser Odysseus unconscious and load him into the hornet. Take the controls. We’re going up to Phobos immediately.

The rockvec touched Odysseus on the neck, there was a spark, and the bearded man collapsed into the moravec soldier’s barbed arms. Mep Ahoo slid the unconscious Odysseus into the hornet and jumped in, firing up the repellors.

Mahnmut looked around—none of the Achaeans had seemed to notice the kidnapping of one of their captains—and then jumped in next to Odysseus. “Come on,” he said to Hockenberry. “The Hole’s going to collapse any second. Anyone on this side stays on Mars forever.” He glanced up at Olympos. “And forever may be measured in minutes if that volcano blows.”

“I’m not going with you,” said Hockenberry.

“Hockenberry, don’t be crazy!” shouted Mahnmut. “Look over there. All the Achaean top brass—Diomedes, Idomeneus, the Ajaxes, Teucer—they’re all running for the Hole.”

“Achilles isn’t,” said Hockenberry, leaning closer to be heard. Sparks were falling all around, rattling on the roof of the hornet like hot hail.

“Achilles has lost his mind,” shouted Mahnmut, thinking Shall I have Mep Ahoo taser Hockenberry?

As if reading his mind, Orphu came on the tightbeam. Mahnmut had forgotten that all this real-time video and sound was still being relayed up to Phobos and Queen Mab.

Don’t zap him, sent Mahnmut. We owe Hockenberry that. Let him make up his own mind.

By the time he does, he’ll be dead, sent Orphu of Io.

He was dead once, sent Mahnmut. Perhaps he wants to be again.

To Hockenberry, Mahnmut shouted, “Come on. Jump in! We need you aboard the Earth-ship, Thomas.”

Hockenberry blinked at the use of his first name. Then he shook his head.

“Don’t you want to see Earth again?” shouted the little moravec. The hornet was shaking on its gear as the ground vibrated with marsquake tremors. The clouds of sulfur and ash were swirling around the Brane Hole, which seemed to be growing smaller. Mahnmut realized that if he could keep Hockenberry talking another minute or two, the human would have no choice but to come with them.

Hockenberry took a step away from the hornet and gestured toward the last of the fleeing Achaeans, the dead Amazons, the dead horses, and the distant walls of Ilium and warring armies just visible through the now vibrating Brane Hole.

“I made this mess,” said Hockenberry. “Or at least I helped make it. I think I should stay and try to clean it up.”

Mahnmut pointed toward the war going on beyond the Brane Hole. “Ilium is going to fall, Hockenberry. The ‘vec forcefields and air defenses and anti-QT fields are gone.”

Hockenberry smiled even while shielding his face from the falling embers and ash. “Et quae vagos vincina prospiciens Scythas ripam catervis Ponticam viduis ferit excisa ferro est, Pergannum incubuit sibi,” he shouted.

I hate Latin, thought Mahnmut. And I think I hate classics scholars. Aloud, he said, “Virgil again?”

“Seneca,” shouted Hockenberry. “And she… he meant Penthesilea… the neighbor of the wandering Scythians, keeping watch, leads her destitute band toward the Pontic banks, having been cut down by iron, Pergamum… you know, Mahnmut, Ilium, Troy… itself stumbled.”

“Get your ass in the hornet, Hockenberry,” shouted Mahnmut.

“Good luck, Mahnmut,” said Hockenberry, stepping back. “Give my regards to Earth and Orphu. I’ll miss them both.”

He turned and slowly jogged past where Achilles was kneeling and weeping over Penthesilea’s body—the mankiller was alone now except for the dead, the other living humans having all fled—and then, as Mahnmut’s hornet lifted off and clawed toward space, Hockenberry ran as hard as he could toward the visibly shrinking Hole.

Part II


After centuries of semitropical warmth, real winter had come to Ardis Hall. There was no snow, but the surrounding forests were free of all but the most stubbornly clinging leaves, frost marked the area of the great manor’s shadow for an hour after the tardy sunrise—each morning Ada watched the line of white-tinged grass on the sloping west lawn retreating slowly back up toward the house until it became only the thinnest moat of frost—and visitors reported that the two small rivers that crossed the road in the one-and-one-quarter miles between Ardis Hall and the faxnode pavilion both showed scrims of ice on their surface.

This evening—one of the shortest of the year—Ada went through the house lighting the kerosene lamps and many candles, moving gracefully despite the fact that she was in the fifth month of her pregnancy. The old manor house, built more than eighteen hundred years earlier, before the Final Fax, was comfortable enough; almost two dozen fireplaces—used mostly for decorative and entertainment purposes during the previous centuries—now warmed most of the rooms. In the other chambers in the sixty-eight-room mansion, Harman had sigled the plans for and then built what he called Franklin stoves, and this evening these radiated enough heat to make Ada sleepy as she moved from the lower hall to rooms and then to the staircase and upper halls and rooms, lighting the lamps.

She paused at the large arched window at the end of the hall on the third floor. For the first time in thousands of years, thought Ada, forests were falling to human beings wielding axes—and not just for the firewood. In the last of the wan winter twilight flowing through the gravity-warped panes, she could see the view-blocking but reassuring gray wall of the wooden palisade down the hill on the south lawn. The palisade stretched all around Ardis Hall, sometimes as close as thirty yards from the house, sometimes as far away as a hundred yards behind the house to the edge of the forest. More trees had been felled to build the watch towers rising at all the corners and angles of the palisade, and then even more to turn the scores of summer tents into homes and barracks for the more than four hundred people now living on the grounds of Ardis.

Where is Harman? Ada had been trying to block the urgency of that thought for hours—busying herself with a score of domestic tasks—but now she couldn’t ignore her concern. Her lover—“husband” was the archaic word that Harman liked to use—had left with Hannah, Petyr, and Odysseus—who insisted upon being called Noman these days—a little after dawn that morning, leading an oxen-pulled droshky, sweeping up through the forests and meadows ten miles and more from the river hunting for deer and searching for more of the lost cattle.

They should have been home by now. He promised me he’d be home long before dark.

Ada returned to the first floor and went into the kitchen. For centuries the preserve only of servitors and the occasional voynix bringing in meat from their slaughter grounds, the huge kitchen was now alive with human activity. It was Emme and Reman’s night to plan the meal—usually about fifty people ate in Ardis Hall itself—and there were almost a dozen men and women bustling around baking bread, preparing salads, roasting meat on the spit in the huge old fireplace, and generally producing a genial chaos that would soon resolve itself into a long table filled with food.

Emme caught Ada’s eye. “Are they back yet?”

“Not yet,” said Ada, smiling, attempting to make her voice sound totally unconcerned.

“They will be,” said Emme, patting Ada’s pale hand.

Not for the first time, and not with anger—she liked Emme—Ada wondered why people seemed to feel that they had a greater right to touch and pat you when you were pregnant. She said, “Of course they will. And I hope with some venison and at least four of those missing head of cattle… or better yet, two of the cattle and two cows.”

“We need the milk,” agreed Emme. She patted Ada’s hand again and returned to her duties by the fire.

Ada slipped outside. For a second the cold took her breath away, but she’d brought her shawl and now she hitched it higher around her shoulders and neck. The cold air felt like needles against her cheeks after the warmth of the kitchen and she paused a moment on the back patio to let her eyes adjust to the dark.

To heck with it, she thought, raising her left palm and invoking the proxnet function by visualizing a single yellow circle with a green triangle in it. It was the fifth time she’d tried the function in the last two hours.

The blue oval coalesced into existence above her palm but the holographic imagery was still blurred and static-lashed. Harman had suggested that these occasional failures of proxnet or farnet or even of the old finder function had nothing to do with their bodies—the nanomachinery was still there in their genes and blood, he’d said with a laugh—but may have something to do with the satellites and relay asteroids in either the p-ring or e-ring, perhaps due to interference caused by the nightly meteor showers. Looking up at the darkening evening sky, Ada could see those polar and equatorial rings shifting and turning overhead like two crisscrossing bands of light, each ring composed of thousands of discrete glowing objects. For almost all of her twenty-seven years, those rings had been reassuring—the friendly home of the Firmary where their bodies would be renewed every Twenty, the home of the post-humans who watched over them and whose ranks they would ascend to on each person’s Fifth and Final Twenty—but now, Ada knew from Harman and Daeman’s experience there, the rings were empty of post-humans and a terrible threat. The Fifth Twenty had been a lie these long centuries—a final fax up to unconscious death by cannibalism from the thing called Caliban.

The falling stars—actually chunks of the two orbital objects that Harman and Daemon had helped to collide eight months earlier—were streaking from west to east, but this was a tiny meteor shower, nothing like the terrible bombardment of those first weeks after the Fall. Ada mused on that phrase they’d all used in the past months. The Fall. Fall of what? Fall of the chunks of the orbital asteroid Harman and Daemon had helped Prospero destroy, fall of the servitors, fall of the electrical grid, the end of the service from the voynix who had fled human control that very night… the night of the Fall. Everything had fallen that day a little more than eight months ago, Ada realized—not just the sky, but their world as they and preceding generations of old-style humans had known it for more than fourteen Five Twenties.

Ada began to feel the queasiness of the nausea she’d suffered the first three months of pregnancy, but this was anxiety, not morning sickness. Her head ached from tension. She thought off and the proxnet flicked off, tried farnet—it wasn’t working either—tried the primitive finder function, but the three men and one woman she wanted to find weren’t close enough for it to glow red, green, or amber. She blinked off all the palm functions.

Invoking any function made her want to read more books. Ada looked up at the glowing windows of the library—she could see the heads of others in there now, sigling away—and she wished she was with them, running her hands across the spines of the new volumes brought in and stacked in recent days, watching the golden words flow down her hands and arms into her mind and heart. But she’d read fifteen thick books already this short winter day, and even the thought of more sigling made her nausea surge.

Reading—or at least sigl-reading—is a lot like being pregnant, she thought, rather pleased with the metaphor. It fills you with feelings and reactions you’re not ready for… it makes you feel too full, not quite yourself, suddenly moving toward some destined moment that will change everything in your life forever. She wondered what Harman would say about her metaphor—he was brutal in critiquing his own metaphors and analogies, she knew—and then she felt the nausea in her belly move to her heart as the concern flooded back in. Where are they? Where is he? Is my darling all right?

Ada’s heart was pounding as she walked out toward the glowing open hearth and web of wooden scaffolding that was Hannah’s cupola, manned twenty-four hours a day now that bronze and iron and other metals were being shaped for weapons.

Hannah’s friend Loes and a group of the younger men were stoking and maintaining the fires tonight. “Good evening, Ada Uhr,” called down the tall, thin man. He’d known her for years, but always preferred the formality of the honorific.

“Good evening, Loes Uhr. Any word from the watchtowers?”

“None, I’m afraid,” called down Loes, stepping away from the opening at the top of the cupola. Ada noticed in her distraction that the man had shaved his beard and that his face was red and sweaty from the heat. He was working bare-chested up there on a night when it might snow.

“Is there a pour tonight?” asked Ada. Hannah always informed her of such things—and night pours were dramatic to watch—but the metal furnace was not one of Ada’s responsibilities and a fact of their new life that was only of passing interest to her.

“In the morning, Ada Uhr. And I’m sure that Harman Uhr and the others will be back soon. They can find their way easily enough in ring-light and starlight.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” called Ada. Then, as an afterthought, she asked, “Have you seen Daeman Uhr?”

Loes mopped his brow, spoke softly to one of the other men who ran to get firewood, and then called down, “Daeman Uhr left for Paris Crater this evening, do you remember? He’s fetching his mother here to Ardis Hall.”

“Ah, yes, of course,” said Ada. She bit her lip, but had to ask, “Did he leave before dark? I certainly hope he did.” The voynix attacks between Ardis and the faxnode had increased in recent weeks.

“Oh, yes, Ada Uhr. He left with plenty of time to get to the pavilion before dark. And he was carrying one of the new crossbows. He’ll wait until after sunrise here to return with his mother.”

“That’s good,” said Ada, looking north toward the wooden wall and the forest beyond it. It was already dark here on the open hillside, the last of the light fled from the western sky where dark clouds were massing, and she could imagine how very dark it must be under the trees out there. “I’ll see you at dinner, Loes Uhr.”

“A good evening to you until then, Ada Uhr.”

She pulled her shawl up over her head as the wind came up. She was walking toward the north gate and the watchtower there, but she knew she wouldn’t call up to distract the guards there with her anxiety. Besides, she’d spent an hour out there in late afternoon, watching the northern approaches, waiting almost happily. That was before the anxiety had set in like nausea. Ada walked aimlessly around the eastern side of Ardis Hall, nodding to the guards leaning on their spears near the circular driveway. The torches along the drive had been lit.

She couldn’t go inside. Too much warmth, too much laughter, too much conversation. She saw young Peaen on the porch, talking earnestly with one of her young admirers who had moved to Ardis from Ulanbat after the Fall—one of the many disciples of Odysseus back when the old man had been a teacher, before he had become Noman and taciturn—and Ada turned back into the relative darkness of the side yard, not wishing to be drawn into so much as a greeting.

What if Harman dies? What if he is dead already somewhere out there in the dark?

Putting the thought into words made her feel better, made the nausea recede. The words were like objects, making the idea more solid—less a poisonous gas and more a loathsome cube of crystallized thought that she could rotate in her hands, studying its terrible facets.

What if Harman dies? She would not die herself—Ada, always a realist, knew that. She would live on, have the child, perhaps love again.

That last thought made the nausea return and she sat on a cold stone bench where she could look at the blazing cupola and at the closed north gate beyond it.

Ada knew that she had never really been in love before Harman—even when she had wanted to be, she’d known as both girl and young woman that the flirtations and dalliances had not been love, in a world before the Fall that had amounted to little more than flirtations and dalliances—with life and others and oneself.

Before Harman, Ada had never known the deep soul-satisfying pleasure of sleeping with one’s beloved—and here she did not use a euphemism, but was thinking of sleeping next to him, waking next to him in the night, feeling his arm around her as she fell asleep and often first thing when she woke in the morning. She knew Harman’s least self-conscious sounds and his touch and his scent—an outdoor and masculine scent, mixing the smell of leather of the tack in the stables visible there beyond the cupola and the autumn richness of the forest floor itself.

Her body had imprinted itself on his touch—and not just the intimate touch of their frequent lovemaking, but the slightest pressure of his hand on her shoulder or arm or back as he passed. She knew that she would miss the pressure of his gaze almost as much as she would miss his physical touch—indeed, his awareness of her and attention to her had become a sort of constant touch to Ada. She closed her eyes now and allowed herself to feel his large hand enclosing her cold, smaller hand—her fingers had always been long and thin, his were blunt and wide, his calloused palm always warmer than hers. She would miss his warmth. Ada realized that what she would miss most if Harman were dead—miss as much as the essence of her beloved—was his embodiment of her future. Not her fate, but her future—the ineffable sense that tomorrow meant seeing Harman, laughing with Harman, eating with Harman, discussing their unborn child with Harman, even disagreeing with Harman—she would forevermore miss the sense that the continuation of her life was more than another day of breathing, but was the gift of another day of engagement with her beloved across the spectrum of all things.

Sitting there on the cold bench with the rings revolving overhead and the nightly meteor shower increasing in intensity, her shadow thrown across the frost-whitened lawn by the glow of that light and the cupola, Ada realized that it was easier to contemplate one’s own mortality than the death of one’s beloved. This wasn’t a total revelation to her—she had imagined such a perspective before, Ada was very, very good at imagining—but the reality and totality of the feeling itself was a revelation. As with the sense of the new life within her, the sensation of loss and love for Harman infused her—it was somehow, impossibly, larger not only than herself but than her capacity for such a thought or feeling.

Ada had expected to love making love with Harman—with sharing her body with him and learning the pleasure his body could bring her—but she had been amazed to find that as their closeness grew, it was as if each of them had discovered another body—not hers, not his, but something shared and inexplicable. Ada had never discussed this with anyone—not even with Harman, although she knew that he shared the feeling—and it was her opinion that it had taken the Fall to liberate this mystery in human beings.

These last eight months since the Fall should have been a hard, sad time for Ada—the servitors crashed to uselessness, her life of ease and partying gone forever, the world that she had known and grown up in gone forever, her mother—who had refused to come back to the danger of Ardis Hall, staying at the Loman Estate near the eastern coast with two thousand others, dead along with all the others there in the massed voynix attack in the autumn—the disappearance of Ada’s cousin-friend Virginia from her estate outside of Chom above the Arctic Circle, the unprecedented worries about food and warmth and safety and survival, the terrible knowledge that the Firmary was gone forever and that the certainty of ascension to the heaven of the p-ring and e-ring was all a vicious myth, the sobering knowledge that only death awaited them someday and that even the Five Twenties lifespan was not their birthright any more, that they could die at any time… it all should have been terrifying and oppressive to the twenty-seven-year-old woman.

She had been happy. Ada had been happier than at any time in her life. She had been happy with the new challenges and with the need to find courage as well as the need to trust and depend on others for her life. Ada had been happy learning that she loved Harman and that he loved her in some way that their old world of fax-in parties and servitor luxuries and temporary connections between men and women would never have allowed. As unhappy as she was each time he left on a hunting trip or to lead an attack on voynixes or on a sonie voyage to the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu or to another ancient site, or on one of his teaching fax-journeys to any of the three-hundred-some other communities of survivors—at least half the humans on Earth dead since the Fall, and there were never a million of us we know now, that number the post-humans had given us centuries ago had always been a lie–she was equally happy every time he returned and gloriously happy every cold, dangerous, uncertain day that he was there at Ardis Hall with her.

She would go on if her beloved Harman was dead—she knew in her heart that she would go on, survive, fight, birth and raise this child, perhaps love again—but she also knew this night that the fierce, gliding joy of the past eight months would be gone forever.

Quit being an idiot, Ada commanded herself.

She rose, adjusted her shawl, and had turned to go into the house when the bell in the gate watchtower rang out, as did the voice of one of the sentries.

“Three people approaching from the forest!”

All the men at the cupola dropped their work, grabbed spears or bows or crossbows, and ran to the walls. The roving sentries from the east and west yards also ran to the ladders and parapets.

Three people. For a moment, Ada stood frozen where she was. Four had left that morning. And they’d had a converted droshky pulled by an ox. They wouldn’t return without the droshky and ox unless something terrible had happened, and if it was just that someone had been injured—say, a twisted ankle or broken leg—they would have used the droshky to transport him or her.

“Three people approaching the north gate,” cried the watchtower guard again. “Open the gate. They’re carrying a body.”

Ada dropped her shawl and ran as fast as she could for the north gate.


Hours before the voynix attacked, Harman had the sense that something terrible was going to happen.

This outing hadn’t really been necessary. Odysseus—Noman now, Harman reminded himself, although to him the sturdy man with the salt-and-pepper beard would always be Odysseus—had wanted to bring in fresh meat, track down some of the missing cattle, and reconnoiter the hill country to the north. Petyr suggested that they just use the sonie, but Odysseus argued that even with the leaves off the trees, it was still difficult to see even something as large as a cow from a low-flying sonie. Besides, he wanted to hunt.

“The voynix want to hunt too,” Harman had said. “They’re getting bolder every week.”

Odysseus—Noman—had shrugged.

Harman had come along despite his sure knowledge that everyone on this little expedition had better things to do. Hannah had been working toward an early morning iron pour for the following day and her absence might throw that plan behind schedule. Petyr had been cataloging the hundreds of books brought in during the last two weeks, setting priorities on which should be sigled first. Noman himself had been talking about finally going on his long-delayed solo sonie search for the elusive robotic factory somewhere along the shores of what had once been called Lake Michigan. And Harman would have probably devoted the entire day to his obsessive attempt to penetrate the allnet and discover more functions, although he’d also been considering going to Paris Crater with Daeman to help fetch his friend’s mother.

But Noman—who constantly went on solo hunting expeditions—had wanted to go out with others this time. And poor Hannah, who had been in love with Noman-Odysseus since the day she’d met him on the Golden Gate Bridge at Machu Picchu more than nine months earlier, insisted on coming along. Then Petyr, who had first come to Ardis Hall as a disciple of Odysseus’ before the Fall, back when the old man was still teaching his strange philosophy, but who was now a disciple only of Hannah in the sense that he was helplessly in love with her, had also insisted on going. And finally Harman had agreed to join them because… he wasn’t sure why he had agreed to join them. Perhaps he didn’t want three such star-crossed lovers alone in the woods all day with their weapons.

Later, while walking behind those three in the cold forest and thinking these words, Harman had to smile. He’d run across that phrase—“star-crossed lovers”—only the previous day while reading—visually reading, not function-sigling—Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Harman was drunk on Shakespeare that week, having read three plays in two days. He was surprised he could walk, much less hold a conversation. His mind was filled to overflowing with incredible cadences, a torrent of new vocabulary, and more insight into the complexity of what it meant to be human than he’d ever hoped to achieve. It made him want to weep.

If he wept, he knew with some shame, it would not be for the beauty and power of the plays—the entire concept of staged drama was new to Harman and his postliterate world. No, he’d be weeping because of selfish sorrow over the fact that he’d not encountered such things as Shakespeare until less than three months before his allotted fivescore years was up. Even though he was certain, since he’d helped to destroy it, that the orbital Firmary would be faxing no more old-style humans up to the e-ring on their Fifth Twenty—or on any other Twenty for that matter—ninety-nine years of thinking that his life on earth would end on the stroke of midnight marking his hundredth birthday was a hard mind-set to escape.

As dusk approached, the four of them walked slowly along a cliff’s edge, returning from their fruitless day. Their pace was never faster than the lumbering ox they’d brought along to pull the droshky. Before the Fall, the conveyances had been balanced on one wheel by internal gyroscopes and pulled by voynix, but without internal power now, the damned things couldn’t balance, so the machine-guts and moving parts of each vehicle had been ripped out, the tongues moved farther apart, and a yoke rigged for the ox, while the single, slender center wheel had been replaced by two broader wheels on a newly forged axle. Harman thought the jury-rigged droshkies and carrioles were pathetically crude, but they did represent the first human-built wheeled vehicles in more than fifteen hundred years of nonhistory.

That thought also made him want to weep.

They’d headed about four miles north, walking mostly along the low bluffs overlooking a tributary to the river Harman now knew had once been named the Ekei, and before that the Ohio. The droshky was necessary to transport any deer carcasses they managed to accumulate—although Noman was notorious for walking miles with a dead deer draped over his shoulders—so their progress was slow in the way that only an ox’s progress could be slow.

At times, two of them would stay with the cart while two went into the woods with bows or crossbows. Petyr was carrying a flechette rifle—one of the few firearms at Ardis Hall—but they preferred to hunt with less noisy weapons. Voynix did not have ears, as such, but somehow their hearing was excellent.

All during the morning, the three old-style humans had monitored their palms. For whatever reason, voynix did not show up on the finders, farnet, or the rarely used allnet functions, but they usually did on proxnet. But then again, as Harman and Daeman had learned with Savi nine months earlier in a place called Jerusalem, voynix also used proxnet—to locate humans.

It didn’t matter this day. By noon, all of the functions were down. The four trusted to their eyes, being more careful in the forest, watching the edge of the tree line when moving through meadows and along the line of low bluffs.

The wind out of the northwest was very cold. All of the old distributories had quit working on the day of the Fall, and there had been few heavy garments needed before then anyway, so the three old-style humans were wearing rudely fashioned coats and cloaks of wool or animal hides. Odysseus… Noman… seemed impervious to the cold and wore the same chest armor and short-skirt sort of girdle he always wore on his expeditions, with only a short red blanket-cape draped around his shoulders for warmth.

They found no deer, which was odd. Luckily they ran across no allosauruses or other RNA-returned dinosaurs either. The consensus at Ardis Hall was that the few dinos that still hunted this far north had migrated south during this unusual cold spell. The bad news was that the sabertoothed tigers that had shown up the previous summer had not migrated with the large reptiles. Noman showed them fresh pugmarks not far from the cattle tracks they’d been following for much of the day.

Petyr made sure that the power rifle had a fresh magazine of crystal flechettes locked in.

They turned back after they found the rib cages and scattered, bloody bones of two of the missing cattle along a rocky stretch of cliff. Then ten minutes later, they found the hide, hair, vertebrae, skull, and amazing curved teeth of a sabertooth.

Noman’s head had come up and he’d turned three hundred and sixty degrees, scrutinizing every distant tree and boulder. He kept both hands on his long spear.

“Did another sabertooth do this?” asked Hannah.

“Either that or voynix,” said Noman.

“Voynix don’t eat,” said Harman, realizing how silly his comment was as soon as he’d said it.

Noman shook his head. His gray curls stirred in the wind. “No, but this sabertooth might have attacked a pack of voynix. Scavengers or other cats ate this one afterward. See those other pugmarks in the soft soil there? Right next to them are voynix padmarks.”

Harman saw them, but only after Noman actually pointed again.

They’d turned back then, but the stupid ox walked more slowly than ever, despite Noman’s encouragement to it with the shaft of his spear and even the sharp end on occasion. The wheels and axle squeaked and creaked and once they had to repair a loose hub. The low clouds moved in with an even colder wind and the daylight began to fade when they were still two miles from home.

“They’ll keep our dinner warm,” said Hannah. Until her recent bout of lovesickness, the tall, athletic young woman had always been the optimist. But now her easy smile seemed strained.

“Try your proxnet,” said Noman. The old Greek had no functions. But on the other hand, his ancient-style body, devoid of the last two mil-lennia’s nanogenetic tampering, didn’t register on finder, farnet, or proxnet on the voynix’s functions.

“Just static,” said Hannah, looking at the blue oval floating above her palm. She flicked it off.

“Well, now they can’t see us either,” said Petyr. The young man had a lance in one hand, the flechette rifle slung over his shoulder, but his gaze remained on Hannah.

They resumed trudging across the meadow, the high, brittle grass scraping against their legs, the repaired droshky squeaking louder than usual. Harman glanced at Noman-Odysseus’ bare legs above the high-strapped sandals and wondered why his calves and shins weren’t a maze of welts.

“It looks like our day was sort of useless,” said Petyr.

Noman shrugged. “We know now that something large is taking the deer near Ardis,” he said. “A month ago, I would have killed two or three on a long day’s hunt like this.”

“A new predator?” said Harman. He chewed his lip at the idea.

“Could be,” said Noman. “Or perhaps the voynix are killing off the wild game and driving the cattle away in an attempt to starve us out.”

“Are the voynix that smart?” asked Hannah. The organic-mechanical things had always been looked down upon as slave labor by the old-style humans—mute, dumb except to orders, programmed, like the servitors, to care for, take orders from, and protect human beings. But the servitors had all crashed on the day of the Fall and the voynix had fled and turned lethal.

Noman shrugged again. “Athough they can function on their own, the voynix take orders. Always have. From who or what, I’m not quite sure.”

“Not from Prospero,” Harman said softly. “After we were in the city called Jerusalem, which was crawling with voynix, Savi said that the noosphere thing named Prospero had created Caliban and the calibani as protection against the voynix. They’re not from this world.”

“Savi,” grunted Noman. “I can’t believe the old woman is dead.”

“She is,” said Harman. He and Daeman had watched the monster Caliban murder her and drag her corpse away, up there on that orbital isle. “How long did you know her, Odysseus… Noman?”

The older man rubbed his short, gray beard. “How long did I know Savi? Just a few months of real time… but spread out over more than a millennium. Sometimes we slept together.”

Hannah looked shocked and actually stopped walking.

Noman laughed. “She in her cryo crèche, I in my time sarcophagus on the Golden Gate. It was all very proper and parallel. Two babies in separate cribs. If I were to take the name of one of my countrymen in vain… I would say it was a platonic relationship.” Noman laughed heartily even though no one joined in. But when he was finished laughing, he said, “Don’t believe everything that old crone told you, Harman. She lied about much, misunderstood more.”

“She was the wisest woman I’ve ever met,” said Harman. “I won’t see her like again.”

Noman flashed his unfriendly smile. “The second part of that statement is correct.”

They encountered a stream that ran down into the larger stream, balancing precariously on rocks and fallen logs as they crossed. It was too cold to get their feet and clothes wet unless necessary. The ox lumbered through the chill water, bouncing the empty droshky behind him. Petyr crossed first and stood guard with the flechette rifle ready as the other three came over. They were not following the same cattle tracks home, but were within a few hundred yards of the way they’d come. They knew they had one more rolling, wooded ridge to cross, then a long rocky meadow, then another bit of meadow before Ardis Hall, warmth, food, and relative safety.

The sun had set behind the bank of dark clouds to the southwest. Within minutes, it was dark enough that the rings were providing most of the light. There were two lanterns in the droshky and candles in the pack that Harman carried, but they wouldn’t need them unless the clouds moved in to obscure the rings and stars.

“I wonder if Daeman got off to go get his mother,” said Petyr. The young man seemed uncomfortable in long silences.

“I wish he’d waited for me,” said Harman. “ Or at least until daylight on the other end. Paris Crater isn’t very safe these days.”

Noman grunted. “Of all of you, Daeman—amazingly—seems the best fitted to take care of himself. He’s surprised you, hasn’t he, Harman?”

“Not really,” said Harman. Instantly he realized that this wasn’t the truth. Less than a year ago, when he’d first met Daeman, he’d seen a whining, pudgy momma’s boy whose only hobbies were capturing butterflies and seducing young women. In fact, Harman was sure that Daeman had come to Ardis Hall ten months ago to seduce his cousin Ada. In their first adventures, Daeman had been timid and complaining. But Harman had to acknowledge to himself that events had changed the younger man, and much more for the better than they’d changed Harman. It had been a starved but determined Daeman—forty pounds lighter but infinitely more aggressive—who had taken on Caliban in single combat in the near zero-gravity of Prospero’s orbital isle. And it had been Daeman who had gotten Harman and Hannah out alive. Since the Fall, Daeman had been much quieter, more serious, and dedicated to learning every fighting and survival skill that Odysseus would teach.

Harman was a little envious. He’d thought of himself as the natural leader of the Ardis group—older, wiser, the only man on earth nine months ago who could read, or wanted to, the only man on earth who knew then that the earth was round—but now Harman had to admit that the ordeal that had strengthened Daeman had weakened him in both body and spirit. Is it my age? Physically, Harman looked to be in his healthy late thirties or early forties, like any Four Twenties-plus male before the Fall. The blue worms and bubbling chemicals he’d seen in the Firmary tanks up there had renewed him well enough during his first four visits. But psychologically? Harman had to worry. Perhaps old was old, no matter how skillfully one’s human form had been reworked. Adding to this feeling was the fact that Harman was still limping from injuries to his leg received up there on Prospero’s hellish isle eight months earlier. No Firmary tank now waited to undo every bit of damage done, no servitors floated forth to bandage and heal the result of every little careless accident. Harman knew his leg would never be right, that he’d limp until the day he died—and this thought added to his odd sadness this day.

They trudged on through the woods in silence. Each of them seemed to the others to be lost in his or her own thoughts. Harman was taking his turn to lead the ox by its halter, and the ox was getting more stubborn and willful as the evening grew darker. All it would take was for the stupid animal to lurch the wrong way, bash the droshky against one of these trees, and they’d have to either stay out all night repairing the goddamned thing or just leave it out here and lead the ox home without it. Neither alternative was appealing.

He glanced at Odysseus-Noman walking easily along, shortening his stride to keep pace with the slow ox and limping Harman, and then he looked at Hannah staring wistfully at Noman and Petyr staring wistfully at Hannah, and he just wanted to sit down on the cold ground and weep for the world that was too busy surviving to weep. He thought of the incredible play he’d just read—Romeo and Juliet–and wondered if some things and follies were universal to human nature even after almost two millennia of self-styled evolution, nano-engineering, and genetic manipulation.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have allowed Ada to get pregnant. This was the thought that haunted Harman the most.

She had wanted a child. He had wanted a child. More than that, uniquely after all these centuries, they had both wanted a family—a man to stay with the woman and child, the child to be raised by them and not by servitors. While all pre-Fall old-style humans knew their mothers, almost no one had known—or wanted to know—who his or her father was. In a world where males stayed young and vital until their Fifth and Final Twenty, in a small population—perhaps fewer than three hundred thousand people worldwide—and in a culture comprised of little more than parties and brief sexual liaisons where youthful beauty was prized above all else, it was almost certain that many fathers would unknowingly couple with their daughters, young men with their mothers.

This bothered Harman after he had taught himself to read and got his first glimpses of previous cultures, long-lost values—too late, too late–but the incest would have bothered no one else nine months ago. The same genetically engineered nano-sensors in a woman’s body that allowed her to choose from carefully stored sperm packets months or years after intercourse, would have never allowed the woman to choose someone from her immediate family as a breeding mate. It simply couldn’t happen. The nanoprogramming was foolproof, even if the coupling humans were fools.

But now everything is different, thought Harman. They would need families to survive—not just to make it through the voynix attacks and hardships after the Fall, but to help them organize for the war that Odysseus had sworn was coming. The old Greek wouldn’t say anything else about his Fall-night prophecy, but he had said that night that some large war was coming—some speculated a war related to the siege of Troy they’d all vicariously enjoyed under their turin cloths before those embedded microcircuits also ceased to function. “New worlds will appear on your lawn,” he’d told Ada.

As they came out into the last broad meadow before the final rim of forest, Harman realized that he was tired and scared. Tired of always trying to decide what was right—who was he to have destroyed the Firmary, possibly freed Prospero, and now always to be lecturing on family and the need to organize into protective groups? What did he know—ninety-nine-year-old Harman who had wasted almost all of his lifetime without learning wisdom?

And he was scared not so much of dying—although they all shared that fear for the first time in a millennium and half of human experience—but of the very change he’d helped bring about. And he was afraid of the responsibility.

Were we right to allow Ada to get pregnant now? In this new world, the two had decided that it made more sense—even in the midst of hardships and uncertainty—to begin a family, though “begin a family” was a strange phrase since it took a great effort even to think of having more than one child. Only one child had been permitted to each old-style human woman during the millennium-and-a-half rule of the absent post-humans. It had been disorienting to the point of vertigo for Ada and Harman to realize that they could have several children if they so chose and if their biology agreed. There was no waiting list, no need for post-human approval signaled through the servitors. On the other hand, they didn’t know if a human could have more than one child. Would their altered genetics and nanoprogramming allow it?

They’d decided to have the baby now, while Ada was still in her twenties and they thought they could show the others, not just at Ardis but in all the other surviving faxnode communities, what a family with a father present could be like.

All this frightened Harman. Even when he felt sure he was right, it frightened him. First there was the uncertainty of mother and child surviving a non-Firmary birth. There was not an old-style human alive who had seen a human baby being born—birth was, like death, something one had been faxed up to the e-ring to experience alone. And as with pre-Fall humans suffering serious injury or premature death, as Daeman once experienced upon being eaten by an allosaurus, Firmary birth was something so traumatic that it had to be blocked from memory. Women remembered no more about the Firmary birth experience than did their infants.

At the appointed time in her pregnancy, a time announced by servitors, the woman was faxed away and returned healthy and thin two days later. For many months afterward, the babies were fed and cared for exclusively by servitors. Mothers tended to keep in touch with their children, but they had little hand in raising them. Before the Fall, fathers not only did not know their children—they never knew they’d fathered a child, since their sexual contact with that woman may have occurred years or decades earlier.

Now Harman and the others were reading books about the ancient habit of childbirth—the process seemed unbelievably dangerous and barbaric, even when carried out in hospitals, which seemed to be crude pre-Firmary versions of the Firmary, and even when supervised by professionals—but now there wasn’t a single person on the planet who had seen a baby being born.

Except for Noman. The Greek had once admitted that in his former life, in that unreal age of blood and warfare shown in the turin-cloth adventure, he had seen at least part of the process of a child being born, including his own son, Telemachus. He was Ardis’s midwife.

And in a new world where there were no doctors—no one who understood how to heal the simplest injury or health problem—Odysseus-Noman was a master of the healing art. He knew poultices. He know how to stitch up wounds. He knew how to set broken bones. In his near-decade of travels through time and space after escaping someone named Circe, he’d learned about modern medical techniques such as washing one’s hands and one’s knife before cutting into a living body.

Nine months ago, Odysseus had talked about staying at Ardis Hall for only a few weeks before moving on. Now, if the old man tried to leave, Harman suspected that fifty people would jump on him and tie him down, just to keep him there for his expertise—making weapons, hunting, dressing out game, cooking over open flames, forging metal, sewing garments, programming the sonie for flight, healing, and dealing with wounds—helping a baby to be born.

They could see the meadow beyond the forest now. The rings were being swallowed by clouds and it was getting very dark.

“I wanted to see Daeman today…” began Noman.

It was the last thing he had time to say.

The voynix dropped down out of the trees like huge, silent spiders. There were at least a dozen of them. They all had their killing blades extended.

Two landed on the ox’s back and cut its throat. Two landed near Hannah and slashed at her, sending blood and fabric flying. She leaped back, trying to raise her crossbow and ratchet back the bolt, but the voynix knocked her down and leaned closer to finish the job.

Odysseus screamed, activated his sword—a gift from Circe, he’d told them long ago—to a vibrating blur, and leaped forward swinging. Bits of voynix shells and arms flew into the air and Harman was spattered by white blood and blue oil.

A voynix landed on Harman, knocking the wind out of him, but he rolled away from its fingerblades. A second voynix landed on all fours and snapped upright, moving like something in a speeded-up nightmare. Getting to his feet, fumbling his spear up, Harman stabbed at the second creature at the same instant the first one slashed at his back.

There was a ratcheting explosion as Petyr brought the rifle into play. Crystal flechettes whizzed by Harman’s ear as the voynix behind him spun and fell away under the impact of a thousand shining slivers. Harman turned just as the second voynix jumped. He rammed the spear through its chest and watched as the whirling thing went down, but cursed as it pulled the spear out of his hands in its falling. Harman reached for the shaft, but then jumped back and pulled his bow from his shoulder as three more voynix turned his way and attacked.

The four humans set their backs to the droshky as the eight remaining voynix made a circle and closed in on them, fingerblades gleaming in the dying light.

Hannah fired two crossbow quarrels deep into the chest of the one closest to her. It went down, but continued its attack on all fours, dragging itself forward with its blades. Odysseus-Noman stepped forward and sliced the thing in two with his Circe sword.

Three voynix rushed Harman. He had nowhere to run. He fired his single arrow, saw it glance off the lead voynix’s metal chest, and then they were on him. Harman ducked, felt something slash his leg, and now he was rolling under the droshky—he could smell the ox’s blood, a copperish taste in his mouth and nose—and then he was up and on his feet on the other side. The three voynix leaped up and over the droshky.

Petyr whirled, crouched, and fired an entire magazine of several thousand flechettes at the leaping figures. The three voynix flew apart and landed in a gout of organic blood and machine oil.

“Cover me while I reload!” shouted Petyr, reaching into his cape’s pocket to pull out another flechette magazine and slap it into place.

Harman dropped his bow—the things were too close—pulled out a short sword forged in Hannah’s furnace only two months ago, and began hacking away at the two closest metallic shapes. They were too fast. One dodged. The other batted Harman’s sword out of his hands.

Hannah jumped up into the droshky and fired a crossbow bolt into the back of the voynix that was slashing at Harman. The monster whirled but then spun back to the attack, metallic arms raised, blades swinging. It had no mouth or eyes.

Harman ducked beneath the killing blow, landed on his hands, and kicked at the thing’s knees. It was like kicking at thick metal pipes embedded in concrete.

All five of the remaining voynix were on Harman’s side of the cart now, rushing at Petyr and him before the younger man could raise the flechette rifle.

At that second, Odysseus came around the cart with a berserker scream and waded into them, his short sword a blur within a blur. All five voynix turned on him, their arms and rotating blades also spinning into motion.

Hannah raised the heavy crossbow but had no clear shot. Odysseus was in the middle of that whirling mass of violence and everything was moving too fast. Harman leaned into the droshky and pulled out one of the extra hunting spears.

“Odysseus, drop!” screamed Petyr.

The old Greek went down, although due to heeding the shout or just from the voynix attack, they couldn’t tell. He’d sliced two of the things apart, but the final three were still functional and lethal.


The flechette rifle on full automatic sounded like someone sticking a wooden paddle into the blades of a swiftly turning fan. The final three voynix were thrown six feet backward, their shells riddled with over ten thousand crystal flechettes all glittering like a mosaic of broken glass in the dying ringlight.

“Jesus Christ,” gasped Harman.

The voynix that Hannah had wounded rose up behind her on the other side of the droshky.

Harman threw his spear with every ounce and erg of energy left in his body. The voynix staggered back, pulled the spear free, and snapped its shaft.

Harman jumped into the droshky and grabbed up another spear from the bed of the vehicle. Hannah fired two quarrels into the voynix. One of the bolts deflected off into the darkness under the trees, but the other sank deep. Harman leaped from the droshky and drove the remaining spear into the last voynix’s chest. The creature twitched and staggered back another step.

Harman wrenched the lance out, drove it home again with the pure violence of madness, twisted the barbed tip, pulled it free, and drove it home again.

The voynix fell backward, clattering onto the roots of an ancient elm.

Harman straddled the voynix, unmindful of its still-twitching arms and blades, lifted the blue-milked spear straight up, drove it down, twisted it, ripped it out, lifted it, drove it down lower on the thing’s shell, ripped it free, drove it in where a human’s groin would be, twisted the barbs to do maximum damage to the soft parts inside, lifted it out—part of the shell ripping away—and drove it home again so fiercely that he could feel the speartip hit soil and root. He pulled the spear free, lifted it, drove it deep, lifted it…

“Harman,” said Petyr, setting a hand on the older man’s shoulder. “It’s dead. It’s dead.”

Harman looked around. He didn’t recognize Petyr and couldn’t get enough air into his lungs. He heard a violent noise and realized that it was his own labored breathing.

It was too fucking damned dark. The clouds had covered the rings and it was too fucking damned dark here under the trees. There could be fifty more voynix there in the shadows, waiting to leap.

Hannah lighted the lantern.

There were no more voynix visible in the sudden circle of light. The fallen ones had ceased twitching. Odysseus was still down, one of the voynix fallen across him. Neither voynix nor man moved.

“Odysseus!” Hannah leaped from the droshky with the lantern, kicking the voynix corpse aside.

Petyr rushed around and went to one knee next to the fallen man. Harman limped over as quickly as he could, leaning on his spear. The deep scratches on his back and legs were just beginning to hurt.

“Oh,” said Hannah. She was on her knees, holding the lantern over Odysseus. Her hand was shaking. “Oh,” she said again.

Odysseus-Noman’s armor had been knocked off his body, the leather straps slashed apart. His broad chest was a latticework of deep wounds. A single slash had taken off part of his left ear and a section of scalp.

But it was the damage to the old man’s right arm that made Harman gasp.

The voynix—in their wild attempt to make Odysseus drop the Circe sword, which he had never done, it was still humming in his hand—had ripped the man’s arm to shreds and then all but torn the arm from his body. Blood and mangled tissue shone in the harsh lantern light. Harman could see white bone glistening. “Dear God,” he whispered. In the eight months since the Fall, no one at Ardis Hall or at any of the survivors’ communes Harman knew of had suffered such wounds and survived.

Hannah was pounding the earth with one fist while her other hand pressed palm downward on Odysseus’ bloody chest. “I can’t feel a heartbeat,” she said almost calmly. Only her wild white eyes in the lantern’s gleam belied that calm. “I can’t feel a heartbeat.”

“Put him in the droshky…” began Harman. He felt the post-adrenaline shakiness and nausea that he’d experienced once before. His bad leg and lacerated back were bleeding fiercely.

“Fuck the droshky,” said Petyr. The young man twisted the hilt of the Circe sword and the vibration ceased, the blade becoming visible again. He handed Harman the sword, the flechette rifle, and two extra magazines. Then he bent, went to one knee, lifted the unconscious or dead Odysseus over his shoulder, and stood. “Hannah, lead the way with the lantern. Reload your crossbow. Harman, bring up the rear with the rifle. Shoot at anything that even looks like it might move.” He staggered off toward the last meadow with the bleeding figure over his shoulder, looking ironically, horribly, much like Odysseus often had when hauling home the carcass of a deer.

Nodding dumbly, Harman cast aside the spear, tucked the Circe sword in his belt, lifted the flechette rifle, and followed the other two survivors out of the forest.


As soon as he faxed into Paris Crater, Daeman wished that he’d arrived in daylight. Or at least waited until Harman or someone else could have come with him.

It was about five p.m. and the light had been fading when he’d reached the fax pavilion palisade a little more than a mile from Ardis Hall, and now it was one in the morning, very dark, and raining hard here in Paris Crater. He’d faxed to the node closest to his mother’s domi—a fax pavilion called Invalid Hotel for no reason understood by any living person—and he came through the fax portal with his crossbow raised, swiveling and ready. The water pouring off the roof of the pavilion made looking out into the city feel like peering out through a curtain or waterfall.

It was irritating. The survivors in Paris Crater didn’t guard their faxnodes. About a third of the survivor communities, with Ardis leading the way, had put a wall around their fax pavilions and posted a full-time guard, but the remaining residents of Paris Crater just refused to do so. No one knew if voynix faxed themselves from place to place—there seemed to be enough of them everywhere without them having to do that—but the humans would never know if places like Paris Crater refused to monitor their nodes.

Of course, that guarding had begun at Ardis not as an attempt to prevent voynix from faxing, but as a way to limit the number of refugees streaming in after the Fall. The first reaction when the servitors crashed and the power failed was to flee toward safety and food, so tens and tens of thousands had been faxing almost randomly in those early weeks and months, flicking to fifty locations around the planet within a dozen hours, depleting food supplies and then faxing away again. Few places had their own store of food then; no place was really safe. Ardis had been one of the first colonies of survivors to arm itself and the first to turn away fear-crazed refugees, unless they had some essential skill. But almost no one had any important skill after more than fourteen hundred years of what Savi had called “sickening eloi uselessness.”

A month after the Fall and that early confusion, Harman had insisted at the Ardis Council meetings that they make up for their selfishness by faxing representatives to all the other communities, giving advice on how to raise crops, tips on how to improve security, demonstrations of how to slaughter their own meat animals, and—once Harman had discovered the reading sigl-function—seminars to show the scattered survivors how they could also pull crucial information from old books. Ardis had also bartered weapons and handed out the plans for making crossbows, bolts, bows, arrows, lances, arrowheads, speartips, knives, and other weapons. Luckily, most of the old-style humans had been using the turin cloths for entertainment for half a Twenty, so they were familiar with everything less complicated than a crossbow. Finally, Harman had sent Ardis residents faxing to all of the three hundred-plus nodes, asking every survivor’s help in finding the legendary robotic factories and distributories. He would demonstrate one of the few guns he’d brought back from his second visit to the museum at the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu and explain that if they were to survive the voynix, human communities needed thousands of these weapons.

Staring out into the darkness through the rain and runoff, Daeman realized that it would have been difficult to guard all this city’s fax-nodes; Paris Crater had been one of the largest cities on the planet just eight months earlier, with twenty-five thousand residents and a dozen working fax portals. Now, if his mother’s friends were to be believed, there were fewer than three thousand men and women left here. The voynix roamed the streets and skittered and scrabbled across the old skywalks and residential towers at will. It was past time to get his mother out of this town. Only a lifetime—almost two Twenties—of habit obeying his mother’s every wish and whim had caused Daeman to acquiesce to her insistence on staying here.

Still, it seemed relatively safe. There were more than a hundred survivors, mostly men, who had secured the tower complex near the west side of the crater where Marina, Daeman’s mother, had her extensive domi apartments. They had water because of rainfall accumulators stretched from rooftop to rooftop, and it rained most of the time in Paris Crater. They had food from terrace gardens and from the livestock they’d driven in from the old voynix-tended fields and then penned in the grassy swards around the crater. Every midweek there was an open market in the nearby Champs Ulysses with all of the survivor camps in West Paris Crater meeting to barter food, clothing, and other survival essentials. They even had wine faxed in from the far-flung vineyard-estate communities. They had weapons—including crossbows purchased from Ardis Hall, a few flechette guns, and an energy-beam projector one of the men had brought up from an abandoned underground museum someone had found after the Fall. Amazingly, the energy-beam weapon worked.

But Daeman knew that Marina had really stayed in Paris Crater because of an old bastard here named Goman who had been her primary lover for almost a full Twenty. Daeman had always disliked Goman.

Paris Crater had always been known as the “City of Light”—and it had been in Daeman’s experience growing up there, with floating glow globes on every street and boulevard, entire towers illuminated by electric lights, thousands of lanterns, and the lighted, thousand-foot-tall structure that symbolized the city towering over everything—but now the glow globes were dark and fallen, the electrical grid gone, most of the lanterns were dark or hidden behind shuttered windows, and the Enormous Whore had gone dark and inactive for the first time in two thousand years or more. Daeman glanced up at her as he ran, but her head and breasts—usually filled with bubbling photoluminescent red liquid—were invisible against or perhaps in the dark storm clouds and the famous thighs and buttocks were just black-iron armatures now, drawing the lightning that crackled over the city.

Actually, it was the lightning that helped Daeman traverse the three long city blocks between the Invalid Hotel faxnode and Marina’s domi tower. With the hood of his anorak up to give him at least an illusion of staying dry in the downpour, Daeman would wait at each intersection, crossbow raised, and then sprint across open areas when the lightning revealed the shadows in doorways and under arches to be free of voynix. He had tried proxnet and farnet when waiting in the pavilion, but both were down. This was good for him since the voynix were using both functions these days to seek out humans. Daeman didn’t need to bring up the finder function—this was his home, after all, despite the weaselly Goman’s usurpation of his place next to his mother.

There were abandoned altars in some of the lightning-illuminated empty courtyards. Daeman caught sight of crudely modeled papiermâché statues of what had been meant to be robed goddesses, naked archers, and bearded patriarchs as he sprinted by these sad testaments to desperation. The altars were for the Olympian gods of the turin drama—Athena, Apollo, Zeus, and others—and that craze for propitiation had begun even before the Fall here in Paris Crater and in other node communities on the continent that Harman, Daeman, and the other readers at Ardis Hall now knew as Europe.

The papier-mâché effigies had melted in the constant rain, so the once-again-abandoned gods on the windstrewn altars looked like humpbacked monstrosities from some other world. That’s more appropriate than worshiping the turin gods, thought Daeman. He had been on Prospero’s Isle in the e-ring and heard about the Quiet. Caliban himself—itself—had bragged to his three captives about the power of his god, the many-handed Setebos, before the monster killed Savi and dragged her away into the sewage-swamps there.

Daeman was only half a block from his mother’s tower when he heard a scrabbling. He faded back into the darkness of a rain-filled doorway and clicked off the safety on the crossbow. Daeman had one of the newer weapons that fired two sharp, barbed quarrels with each snap of the powerful steel band. He raised the weapon against his shoulder and waited.

Only the lightning allowed him to see the half-dozen voynix as they scrabbled by half a block away, heading west. They weren’t walking, but racing along the sides of old stone buildings here like metallic cockroaches, finding grip with their barbed fingerblades and horned footpeds. The first time Daeman had seen voynix scramble along walls like that had been in Jerusalem some nine months ago.

He knew now that the things could see in the infrared, so darkness alone would not hide him, but the creatures were in a hurry—scrabbling in the opposite direction from Marina’s tower—and none of them turned the IR-sensors on their chests in his direction in the three seconds it took them to scuttle out of sight.

Heart pounding, Daeman sprinted the last hundred yards to his mother’s tower where it rose above the west curve of the crater. The hand-cranked elevator basket wasn’t at street level, of course—Daeman could just make it out some twenty-five stories higher along the column of scaffolding, where the residential stacks began above the old shopping esplanade. There was a bell rope hanging at the bottom of the elevator scaffolding to alert the tower residents to a guest’s presence, but a full minute of pulling on Daeman’s part showed no lights coming on up there nor any answering tugs.

Still gasping from his run through the streets, Daeman squinted up into the rain and considered returning to Invalid Hotel. It would be a twenty-five-floor climb—much of it in the old dark stairwells—with absolutely no guarantee that the fifteen stories below the abandoned esplanade would be free of voynix.

Many of the former faxnode communities based in the ancient cities or high towers had to be abandoned after the Fall. Without electricity—old-style humans didn’t even know where the current had been generated or how it was distributed—the lift shafts and elevators wouldn’t work. No one was going to climb and descend two hundred and fifty feet—or much more for some tower communities such as Ulanbat, with its two-hundred-story Circles to Heaven—every time they needed to seek food or water. But, amazingly, some survivors still lived in Ulanbat, even though the tower rose in a desert where no food could be grown and no edible animals wandered as game. The secret there was the tower-core faxnodes every six floors. As long as other communities continued to barter food for the lovely garments that Ulanbat had always been famous for—and which they had in surplus after one-third of their population was killed by voynix before they learned how to seal off the upper floors—the Circles to Heaven would continue to exist.

There were no faxnodes in Marina’s tower, but the survivors up there had shown amazing ingenuity in adapting a small exterior servitor elevator to occasional human use, rigging the cables to a system of gears and cranks so that as many as three people could be lifted up from the street in a sort of basket. The elevator only went to the esplanade level, but that made the last ten stories more climbable. This wouldn’t work for frequent trips—and the ride itself was hair-raising, with startling jerks and occasional dips—but the hundred or so residents of his mother’s tower had more or less seceded from the surface world, relying on their high terrace gardens and water accumulators, sending their representatives down to market twice a week and having little other intercourse with the world.

Why don’t they respond? He pulled on the bell rope another two minutes, waited another three.

There was a scrabbling echo from two blocks south, toward the wide boulevard there.

Make up your mind. Stay or go, but decide. Daeman stepped farther out into the street and looked up again. Lightning illuminated the spidery black buckylace supports and gleaming bamboo-three structures on the towers above the old esplanade. Several windows up there were illuminated by lanterns. From this vantage point, he could see the signal fires that Goman kept burning on his mother’s city-side terrace, in the shelter of the bamboo-three roof.

Scrabbling noises came from alleys to the north.

“To hell with it,” said Daeman. It was time to get his mother out of here. If Goman and all his pals tried to stop him from taking her to Ardis tonight, he was prepared to throw all of them over the terrace railing into the Crater if he had to. Daeman set the safeties on the crossbow so he wouldn’t put two pieces of barbed iron into his foot by mistake, went into the building, and began climbing the dark stairway.

He knew by the time he reached the esplanade level that something was terribly wrong. The other times he’d come here in recent months—always arriving in daylight—there were guards here with their primitive pikes and more sophisticated Ardis bows. None tonight.

Do they drop their esplanade guard at night? No, that made no sense—the voynix were most active at night. Besides, Daeman had been here visiting his mother on several occasions—the last time more than a month ago—when he’d heard the guards changing through the night. He’d even stood guard once on the two a.m. to six a.m. shift, before faxing back to Ardis blurry-eyed and tired.

At least the stairway here above the esplanade was open on the sides; the lightning showed him the next rise or landing before he sprinted up the stairs or crossed a dark space. He kept the crossbow raised and his finger just outside the trigger guard.

Even before he stepped out onto the first residential level where his mother lived, he knew what he’d find.

The signal flames in the metal barrel on the city-side terrace were burning low. There was blood on the bamboo-three of the deck, blood on the walls, and blood on the underside of the eaves. The door was open to the first domi he came to, not his mother’s.

Blood everywhere inside. Daeman found it hard to believe that there had been this much blood in all the bodies of all the hundred-some members of the community combined. There were countless signs of panic—doors hastily barricaded, then the doors and barricades splintered, bloody footprints on terraces and stairways, shreds of sleeping clothes thrown here and there—but no real signs of resistance. No bloodied arrows or lances stuck in wooden beams after being thrown, their targets missed. There were no signs that weapons had been reached or raised.

There were no bodies.

He searched three other domis before working up the nerve to enter his mother’s. In each domi he found blood spattered, furniture shattered, cushions torn, tapestries ripped down, tables overturned, furniture stuffing strewn everywhere—blood on white feathers and blood on pale foam—but no bodies.

His mother’s door was locked. The old thumb locks had failed with the Fall, but Goman had replaced the automatic lock with a simple bolt and chain that Daeman had thought was too flimsy. It proved to be now. After several soft knocks with no answer. Daeman kicked hard three times and the door splintered and came out of its groove. He squeezed into the darkness, crossbow first.

The entryway smelled of blood. There was a light in the back rooms facing the crater, but almost none here in the foyer, hallway, or public anteroom. Daeman moved as silently as he could, his stomach convulsing at the stench of blood and slight ripples under his feet as he moved through unseen pools. He could see just well enough here to make sure there was nothing or no one waiting, and that there were no bodies underfoot.

“Mother!” His own cry alarmed him. Again. “Mother! Goman? Anyone?”

Wind stirred the chimes on the terrace beyond the living area, and although the crater and the city beyond the crater were mostly dark, lightning flashes illuminated the main sitting area. The blue and green silk tapestries he’d never loved but had grown so used to on the south wall had gained red-brown streaks and spatters. The nesting chair he’d always claimed when he was home—a body-molded womb of corrugated paper—had been shredded. There were no bodies. Daeman could only wonder if he was ready to see what he had to see here.

Swirls, trails, and smears of blood came in from the terrace and led from the common sitting room into the dining room where Marina loved to entertain at the long table. Daeman waited for the next flash of lightning—the storm had moved east and there were more seconds between each flash and the following thunder—and then he lifted the crossbow back to his shoulder and moved into the large dining room.

Three successive bolts of lightning showed him the room and its contents. There were no bodies as such. But on his mother’s twenty-foot-long mahogany table, a pyramid of skulls rose almost to the ceiling seven feet above Daeman’s head. Scores of empty eye sockets stared at him. The white of bone was like a retinal after-image between each lightning flash.

Daeman lowered the heavy crossbow, clicked on the safety, and came closer to the pyramid. There was blood everywhere in the room except atop the table, which was pristine. In front of the pyramid of grinning, gaping skulls was an old turin cloth, spread wide with its embroidered circuitry centered in line with the topmost skull.

Daeman stepped up onto the chair he’d always sat in when at his mother’s table, and then stepped on the table itself, bringing his face up to the level of that highest skull of these hundred skulls. In the white flashes from the receding storm, he could see that all of the other skulls were picked clean, pure white, holding no fleshly remains of their victims. This top skull was not so clean. Several strands of curly red hair had been left—oh so deliberately left—like a topknot and more at the back of the skull.

Daeman had reddish hair. His mother had red hair.

He jumped down from the table, threw open the window wall, and staggered out onto the terrace, retching over the side into the single, red eye of the crater magma fifty miles directly below. He vomited again, and then again, and then several more times, even though he had nothing left in him to throw up. Finally he turned, dropped the heavy crossbow onto the floor of the terrace, rinsed his face and mouth with water from the copper basin his mother left hanging there from ornamental chains as a birdbath, and then he collapsed with his back to the bamboo-three railing, staring in through the open sliding window-door of the dining room.

The lightning was growing dimmer and less frequent, but as Daeman’s eyes adjusted, the red glow from the crater illuminated the curved backs of countless skulls. He could see the red hair.

Nine months ago, Daeman would have wept like the thirty-seven-year-old child he was. Now, though his stomach churned and some black emotion folded itself into a fist in his chest, he tried to think coolly.

He had no question about who or what had done this thing. Voynix did not feed, nor did they carry off their victims’ bodies. This was not random voynix violence. This was a message to Daeman, and only one creature in all of dark creation could send such a message. Everyone in this domi tower had died and been filleted like fish, skulls stacked like white coconuts, just so the message could be delivered. And from the stench-freshness of the blood, it had occurred only hours earlier, perhaps even more recently.

Leaving his crossbow lying where it fell for now, Daeman got to his hands and knees, and then to his feet—only because he did not want to further smear his hands in the gore on the terrace floor—and he walked into the dining room again, circling the long table, finally climbing to take down his mother’s skull. His hands were shaking. He did not feel like weeping.

Humans had only just recently learned how to bury their fellow humans. Seven had died at Ardis in the past eight months, six from voynix, one from some mysterious illness that had carried the young woman away in one feverish night. Daeman hadn’t known it was possible for old-style humans to contract illness or disease.

Should I take her back with me? Have some burial service out by the wall where Noman and Harman had directed us to create the cemetery for our dead?

No. Marina had always loved her domis here in Paris Crater better than anyplace else in the faxable world.

But I can’t leave her here with these other skulls, thought Daeman, feeling wave after wave of indescribable emotion surge through him. One of these other skulls is that bastard Goman.

He carried the skull back out onto the terrace. The rain had grown much more fierce, the wind had dropped off, and Daeman stood a long minute at the railing, letting the raindrops wet his face and further clean the skull. Then he dropped the skull over the edge of the railing and watched it fall toward the red eye below until the tiny white speck was gone.

He lifted the crossbow and started to leave—back through the dining room, the common area, the inner hall—then he paused.

It hadn’t been a sound. The pounding of the rain was so loud that he couldn’t have heard an allosaurus if it was ten feet behind him. He’d forgotten something. What?

Daeman went back into the dining room, trying to avoid the accusatory stares of the dozens of skulls—What could I have done? he asked silently. Died with us, they silently responded—and swept up the turin cloth.

He—it–had left the cloth here for some purpose. It and the table were the only things in the domi complex not smeared and spattered with human blood. Daeman stuffed the cloth into the side pocket of his anorak and went out of that place.

It was dark in the stairway down to the esplanade and even darker in the enclosed stairway for fifteen stories beneath the esplanade. Daeman did not even raise his crossbow to the ready. If it—he–was waiting for him here, so be it. It would be a contest of teeth and fingernails and rages.

Nothing waited there.

Daeman was halfway back to the Invalid Hotel fax pavilion, walking stolidly down the center of the boulevard in the pounding rain, when there came a crackling and crashing behind him.

He turned, went to one knee, and raised the heavy weapon to his shoulder. This was not its sound. It was silent on its horn-padded and yellow-taloned webbed feet.

Daeman raised his face and stared, jaw going slack. A spinning had appeared in the direction of the crater, somewhere between him and his mother’s domi tower. The thing was some hundreds of meters across and spinning rapidly. A form of lightning crackled around it like a crown of electrical thorns and rays of random light stabbed out from the sphere. The wet air was filled with rumbles that made the pavements shake. Shifting fractal designs filled the sphere until the sphere became a circle and the circle sank, ripping a building apart as it settled to the earth and then partially beneath the earth.

Sunlight flooded out of the circle now, but it was not any sunlight as ever seen from Earth. The circle stopped sinking with only one-fourth of it wedged into the ground like some giant portal. It was only two blocks away, filling the sky to the east. Air rushed toward it from behind Daeman at near-hurricane speeds, almost knocking him down in its loud, wailing rush.

There was a daylit world visible through that still vibrating three-quarters circle—a world of a tepidly lapping blue sea, red soil, rocks, and a mountain—no, a volcano, rising to impossible heights in front of an off-blue sky. Something very large and pink and gray and moist emerged from that tepid sea and appeared to scuttle toward the open hole on centipede-fast feet that looked like giant hands to Daeman’s eyes. Then the air in front of that view was filled with debris and dust as the winds raged, mixed, were absorbed, and died away.

Daeman stood there another minute, peering through the obscuring dust, holding his hand up to shield his eyes from the diffused but still blinding sunlight streaming from the hole. The buildings of Paris Crater west of the hole—and the iron-armature thighs and emptied belly of the Enormous Whore—glinted in the cold, alien sunlight and then disappeared in the dust cloud broiling out of the hole. Other parts of the city remained invisible and wet, wrapped in night.

There came voynix scrabblings—urgent, many-clawed—from streets to the north and south.

Two voynix exploded out of a dark doorway on Daeman’s boulevard and rushed him on all fours, killing blades clattering.

He tracked them with his crossbow sight, led them, fired the first bolt into the leathery hood of the second voynix—it fell—and then fired his second bolt into the chest of the leading one. It fell but kept pulling itself closer.

Daeman carefully pulled two barbed, iron bolts from the pouch slung over his shoulder, reloaded, recocked, and shot both bolts into the thing’s nerve-center hump at a distance of ten feet. It quit crawling.

More scrabblings to the west and south. The reddish daylight from the hole was revealing everything on the street here. Daeman’s concealment of darkness was gone. Something bellowed from that rising dust cloud—making a sound like nothing Daeman had ever heard—deeper, more malignant, the incomprehensible growls sounding like some terrible language being bellowed in reverse.

Not hurrying, Daeman reloaded again, looked one last time over his shoulder at the red mountain visible through the hole in Paris Crater’s sky and cityscape, and then he jogged west—not in panic—toward Invalid Hotel.


Noman was dying.

Harman went in and out of the small room on the first floor of Ardis Hall that had been converted into a makeshift—and largely useless—infirmary. There were books in there from which they could sigl anatomy charts and instructions for simple surgery, mending broken bones, etc., but no one but Noman had been proficient in dealing with serious wounds. Two of those buried in the new cemetery near the northwest corner of the palisade had died after days of pain in this same infirmary.

Ada stayed with Harman, had been by his side since he’d staggered through the north gate more than an hour earlier, often touching his arm or taking his hand as if reassuring herself he was really there. Harman had been treated for his wounds on the cot next to where Noman lay now—Harman’s wounds had been deep scratches, requiring a painful few stitches and an even more painful administration of their crude, homemade versions of antiseptic—including raw alcohol. But the unconscious Noman’s terrible wounds to his arm and scalp were too serious to be treated with only these few inadequate measures. They’d cleaned him as best they could, applied stitches to his scalp, used their antiseptics on the open wounds—Noman did not even return to consciousness when the alcohol was poured on—but the arm was too mauled, connected to his torso only by ragged strings of ligament, tissue, and shattered bone. They had stapled and bandaged, but already the bandages were soaked through with blood.

“He’s going to die, isn’t he?” asked Hannah, who’d not left the infirmary even to change her bloody clothes. They’d treated her for slashes to her left shoulder and she’d never taken her eyes off Noman as the stitches and antiseptic were applied to her.

“Yes, I think so,” said Petyr. “He won’t survive.”

“Why is he still unconscious?” asked the young woman.

“I think that’s a result of the concussion he received,” said Harman, “not the claw wounds.” Harman wanted to curse at the simple fact that sigling a hundred volumes on neuroanatomy did not teach one how to actually open a skull and relieve pressure on the brain. If they tried it with their current rough instruments and almost nonexistent level of experience as surgeons, Noman would certainly die sooner than if they left things to nature’s way. Either way, Noman-Odysseus was going to die.

Ferman, who was the usual keeper of the infirmary and who had sigled more books on the subject than Harman, looked up from sharpening a saw and cleaver in case they decided to remove the arm. “We’ll have to decide soon about the arm,” he said softly and returned to working his whetstone.

Hannah turned to Petyr. “I heard him mumble a few times while you were carrying him but couldn’t hear what he said. Did it make any sense?”

“Not really. I couldn’t make most of it out. I think it was in the language the other Odysseus used in the turin drama…”

“Greek,” said Harman.

“Whatever,” said Petyr. “The couple of words I could make out in English weren’t important.”

“What were they?” asked Hannah.

“I’m sure he said something that ended in ‘gate.’ And then ‘crash’… I think. He was mumbling, I was panting loudly, and the guards on the wall were shouting. It was when we were approaching the north gate of the palisade, so he must have been saying ‘crash it’ if they don’t open it.”

“That doesn’t make much sense,” said Hannah.

“He was in pain and lapsing into coma,” said Petyr.

“Maybe,” said Harman. He left the infirmary, Ada still holding his arm, and began to pace through the manor house.

About fifty of Ardis’s population of four hundred were eating in the main dining room.

“You should eat,” said Harman, touching Ada’s stomach.

“Are you hungry?”

“Not yet.” In truth, the pain to Harman’s bad leg from the new slashes was bad enough to make him a little nauseated. Or perhaps it was the mental image of Noman lying there bleeding and dying.

“Hannah will be so upset,” whispered Ada.

Harman nodded distractedly. Something was gnawing at the subconscious and he was trying to let it have its way.

They went through the former grand ballroom where dozens of people were still working at long tables, applying bronze arrowheads to wooden shafts, then adding the prepared feathers, crafting spears, or carving bows. Many looked up and nodded as Ada and Harman went by. Harman led the way out back into the overheated blacksmithing annex where three men and two women were hammering bronze sword and knife blades, adding edges and sharpening on large whetstones. In the morning, Harman knew, this room would be insufferably hot as they carried in the molten metal from the next pour to be molded and hammered into shape. He paused to touch a sword blade and hilt that was finished except for the last of the leather to be wrapped around the hilt.

So crude, he thought. So unspeakably crude compared to the craft and artistry not only of Noman’s Circe sword—wherever that came from—but from the weapons in the old turin drama. And how sad that the first pieces of technology we old-style humans pour and cast and worry into a shape after two millennia or more are these rough weapons, their time come round again at last.

Reman came bursting into the blacksmith annex on the way to the main house.

“What is it?” said Ada.

“Voynix,” said Reman, who’d gone out to guard duty after finishing his chores in the kitchen. He was wet from the rain that had been falling since nightfall and his beard was icy. “A lot of voynix. More than I’ve ever seen at once.”

“Out of the woods yet?” asked Harman.

“Massing under the trees. But scores and scores of them.”

Outside, from the ramparts on all parts of the palisades the bells began to sound the alarm. The horns would blow if and when the voynix actually began their attack.

The dining hall emptied as men and women grabbed their coats and weapons and ran to their fighting stations on the walls, in the yard, and at windows, doorways, gables, porches, and balconies in the house itself.

Harman did not move. He let the running shapes flow around him like a river.

“Harman?” whispered Ada.

Turning against the current, he led her back into the infirmary where Noman lay dying. Hannah had pulled on her coat and found a lance, but seemed unable to leave Noman’s side. Petyr was half out the door but returned when Harman and Ada went in to stand by Noman’s bloodied cot.

“He didn’t say crash the gate,” whispered Harman. “He said Golden Gate. The crèche at Golden Gate.”

Outside, the horns began to blow.


Daeman knew that he should fax straight back to the Ardis node to report on what he’d seen, even if he had to make the mile-and-a-quarter-walk from the palisaded faxnode pavilion to Ardis Hall in the dark, but he couldn’t. As important as his news about the hole in the sky was, he wasn’t ready to go back.

He faxed to a previously unknown code he’d discovered when they were doing their node survey six months earlier, mapping out the four hundred and nine known nodes—hunting for survivors of the Fall—and looking for unnumbered destinations. This place was hot and in sunlight. The pavilion was on a knoll among palm trees stirring in soft breezes from the sea. Just down the hill began the beach—a white crescent almost encircling a lagoon so clear he could see the sandy bottom forty feet down out where the reef began. There were no people around, either old-style human or post-human, although Daeman had found the overgrown ruins of what had once been a pre–Final Fax city just inland on the north side of the crescent beach.

He’d seen no voynix in the dozen or so times he’d come here to sit and think. On one trip, some huge, legless, flippered saurian thing had risen out of the surf just beyond the reef, then crashed back into the water with a thirty-foot shark in its mouth, but other than that one disconcerting sighting, he’d seen nothing threatening here.

Now he trudged down to the beach, dropped his heavy crossbow onto the sand, and sat down next to it. The sun was hot. He pulled off his bulky backpack, anorak, and shirt. There was something hanging out of the pocket of his anorak and he pulled it out—the turin cloth from the table of skulls. He tossed it away on the sand. Daeman removed his shoes, trousers, and underwear and staggered naked toward the water’s edge, not even glancing toward the jungle’s edge to make sure he was alone.

My mother is dead. The fact hit him like a physical blow and he thought he might be sick again. Dead.

Daeman walked naked toward the surf. He stood at the edge of the lagoon and let the warm waves lap at his feet, move the sand from under his toes. Dead. He would never see his mother or hear her voice again. Never, never, never, never, never.

He sat down heavily on the wet sand. Daeman had thought himself reconciled to this new world where death was a finality; he thought he’d come to terms with this obscenity when he’d faced his own death eight months earlier up there on Prospero’s Isle.

I knew that I had to die someday… but not my mother. Not Marina. That’s not… fair.

Daeman sobbed a laugh at the absurdity of what he was thinking and feeling. Thousands dead since the Fall… he knew there were thousands dead, because he’d been one of Ardis’s envoys to the hundreds of other nodes, he’d seen the graves, even taught some communities how to dig graves and set the bodies in them to rot away…

My mother! Had she suffered? Had Caliban played with her, tormented her, tortured her before slaughtering her?

I know it was Caliban. He killed them all. It doesn’t matter if that’s impossible—it’s true. He killed them all, but only to get to my mother, to set her skull on top of the pyramid of skulls, wisps of her red hair remaining to show me that it was indeed my mother. Caliban. You whoremongering gill-slitted motherfucking sonofabitching asshole-licking freakshit murderous gape-mawed goddamned fucking…

Daeman couldn’t breathe. His chest simply locked up. He opened his mouth as if to retch again, but he couldn’t move air in or out.

Dead. Forever. Dead.

He stood, waded into the sun-warmed water, and then dove, striking out and swimming hard, swimming toward the reef where the waves lifted white and where he’d seen the giant beast with the shark in its jaws, swimming hard, feeling the sting of saltwater in his eyes and on his cheeks…

The swimming allowed him to breathe. He swam a hundred yards to where the lagoon opened onto the sea and then treaded water, feeling the cold currents tugging at him, watching the heavy waves beyond the reef, listening to the wonderful violence of their crashing, almost surrendering then to the undertow beckoning him out, farther, farther—there was no Pacific Breach as there was in the Atlantic, his body might drift for days—and then he turned and swam back into the beach.

He came out of the water oblivous of his nakedness but no longer oblivious to his safety. He lifted his salt-crusted left palm and invoked the farnet function. He was on this island in the South Pacific—Daeman almost laughed at this thought, since nine months ago, before he’d met Harman, he hadn’t known the names of the oceans, hadn’t even known the world was round, hadn’t known the landmasses, didn’t know there was more than one ocean—and what goddamn good had it done him since to know these things? None, as far as he could tell.

But the farnet showed him that there were no old-style humans or voynix around. He walked up the beach to his clothes and dropped onto the anorak, using it as a beach blanket. His tanned legs were covered with sand.

Just as he went to his knees, a gust of wind from the land caught the tumbling turin cloth and blew it over his head, toward the water. Acting on pure reflex, Daeman reached high and caught it. He shook his head and used the borders of the elaborately embroidered cloth to dry his hair.

Daeman flopped onto his back, the wadded cloth still in his hand, and stared up at the flawless blue sky.

She’s dead. I held her skull in my hands. How had he known for sure that this one skull out of a hundred—even with the obscene hint of the strands of short, red hair—had been his mother? He was sure. Perhaps I should have left her there with the others. Not with Goman, whose stubbornness at staying in Paris Crater killed her. No, not with him. Daeman had a clear image of the small, white skull tumbling toward the red-magma eye of the crater.

He closed his eyes, wincing. The pain of this night was a physical thing, lurking behind his eyes like lancets.

He had to get back to Ardis to tell everyone about what he’d seen—about the certainty of Caliban’s return to earth and about the hole in the night sky and about the huge thing that had come through the hole.

He imagined Harman’s or Noman’s or Ada’s or some of the other people’s questions. How can you be certain it was Caliban?

Daeman was certain. He knew. There had been a connection between him and the monster since the two tumbled in near zero-gravity in the great ruined cathedral space of Prospero’s orbital isle. He’d known since the Fall that Caliban was still alive—had probably, somehow, impossibly, certainly, escaped the isle and returned to Earth.

How could you know?

He knew.

How could one creature, smaller than a voynix, kill a hundred of the Paris Crater survivors—most of them men?

Caliban could have used the clone things from the Mediterranean Basin—the calibani that Prospero had created centuries ago to keep the Setebos’ voynix at bay—but Daeman suspected the monster had not. He suspected that Caliban alone had slaughtered his mother and all the others. Sending me a message.

If Caliban wants to send you a message, why didn’t he come to Ardis Hall and kill us all—saving you for last?

Good question. Daeman thought he knew the answer. He’d seen the Caliban-creature play with the eyeless lizard-things he’d caught up from the rank pools in his sewage ponds under the orbital city—play with them and tease them before swallowing them whole. He’d also seen Caliban play with them—Harman, Savi, and him—taunting them before leaping with lightning speed to bite through the old woman’s neck, dragging her under the water to devour. I’m being played with. We all are.

What did you see coming through the hole above Paris Crater?

Another good question. What had he seen? It had been dusty, the air filled with debris from the hurricane winds, and the light from the hole had been all but blinding. A huge, mucousy brain propelling itself on its hands? Daeman could imagine the reaction from the others at Ardis Hall—at any of the survivor communities—when he told them that.

But Harman would not laugh. Harman had been there with Daeman—and with Savi, who had only minutes more to live—when Caliban had cackled and hissed and huffed its odd litany to and about his father-god, Setebos—“Setebos, Setebos, and Setebos!” the monster had cried. “Thinketh, He dwelleth i’ the cold o’ the moon.” And later, “… Thinketh, though, that Setebos, the many-handed as a cuttlefish, who, making Himself feared through what He does, looks up, first, and perceives he cannot soar to what is quiet and happy in life, but makes this bauble-world to ape yon real. These good things to match those as hips do grapes.

Daeman and Harman had later decided that the “bauble-world” was Prospero’s orbital isle, but it was Caliban’s god Setebos he was thinking of now—“the many-handed as a cuttlefish.”

How big was this thing you saw come through the hole?

How big indeed? It had seemed to dwarf the smaller buildings. But the light, the wind, the mountain gleaming behind the scuttling thing—Daeman had no idea how large it had been.

I have to go back.

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” moaned Daeman, knowing now that this easy epiphet so many had used since childhood related to some lost god from the Lost Age. “Oh, Jesus Christ.” He didn’t want to go back to Paris Crater tonight. He wanted to stay here in the warmth and sunlight and safety of this beach.

What did the giant cuttlefish thing do when it entered the city of Paris Crater? Was it coming to meet Caliban?

He had to go back and reconnoiter before faxing home to Ardis. But not this second. Not this very minute.

Daeman’s head was aching from the spikes of agony-sorrow behind his eyes. The goddamned sun was far too bright here. First he set his left palm across his eyes—fleshly light, too much—and then he lifted the turin cloth and set it over his face as he’d done many times before. He’d never been very interested in the turin drama—seducing young women and collecting butterflies had been his two interests in life—but he’d gone under the turin more than a few times out of boredom or mild curiosity. Simply out of habit, knowing all the turins were as dead and inoperative as the servitors and electric lights, he aligned the embroidered microcircuits in the cloth with the center of his forehead.

The images and voices and physical impressions flowed in.

Achilles kneels next to the dead body of the Amazon Penthesilea. The Hole has closed—red Mars stretches away east and south along the coast of the Tethys with no sign left of Ilium and the Earth—and most of the captains who had fought the Amazons with Achilles have escaped through it in time. Big and Little Ajax are gone, as are Diomedes, Idomeneus, Stichius, Sthenelus, Euryalus, Teucer—even Odysseus has disappeared. Some of the Achaeans—Euenor, Pretesilaus and his friend Podarces, Menippus—lay dead among the bodies of the defeated Amazons. In the confusion and panic as the Hole closed, even the Myrmidons, Achilles’ most faithful followers, have fled with the others, thinking their hero Achilles was with them.

Achilles is alone here with the dead. The Martian wind blows down from the steep cliffs at the base of Olympos and howls among scattered, hollow armor, stirring the bloodied pennants on the shafts of spears pinning the dead to the red ground.

The fleet-footed mankiller cradles the body of Penthesilea, lifting her head and shoulders to his knee. He weeps at the sight of what he has done—her pierced breast, her no-longer-bleeding wounds. Five minutes earlier, Achilles had been triumphant in his victory, crying at the dying queen—“I don’t know what riches Priam promised you, foolish girl, but here is your reward! Now the dogs and birds will feed on your white flesh.”

Achilles can only weep more fiercely at the memory of his own words. He cannot take his eyes from her fair brow, her still-pink lips. The Amazon’s golden curls stir to the rising breeze and he watches her eyelashes, waiting for them to flicker, for her eyes to open. His tears fall onto the dust of her cheek and brow, and he takes the hem of his tunic to wipe the mud from her face. Her eyelids do not flicker. Her eyes do not open.

His spearcast passed through her body and pierced her horse as well, so fierce had been the force of his throw.

“You should have married her, son of Peleus, not murdered her.”

Achilles looks up through his tears at the tall form standing between him and the sun.

“Pallas Athena, goddess…” begins the mankiller and then can only choke his words back or sob. He knows that among all the gods, Athena is his most sworn enemy—that it was she who appeared in his tent eight months earlier and murdered his dearest friend, Patroclus, that it is she whom he’d most longed to slaughter as he fought and wounded dozens of other gods in the past months—but Achilles can find no rage in his heart right now, only bottomless sorrow at the death of Penthesilea.

“How very strange,” says the goddess, looming over him in her golden armor, her tall golden lance catching the low sunlight. “Twenty minutes ago you were willing—nay, eager–to leave her body to the birds and dogs. Now you weep for her.”

“I did not love her when I killed her,” manages Achilles. He brushes at the muddy streaks on the dead Amazon’s fair face.

“No, and you have never loved thus before,” says Pallas Athena. “Never a woman.”

“I have bedded many a woman,” says Achilles, unable to take his eyes off Penthesilea’s dead face. “I have refused to fight for Agamemnon for the love of Briseis.”

Athena laughs. “Briseis was your slave, son of Peleus. All the women you have ever bedded—including the mother of your son, Pyrrhus, whom the Argives will someday call Neoptolemus—were your slaves. Slaves of your ego. You have never loved a woman before this day, fleet-footed Achilles.”

Achilles wants to stand and fight the goddess—she is, after all, his worst enemy, the murderer of his beloved Patroclus, the reason he led his people into war with the gods—but he finds that he cannot take his arms from around the corpse of Penthesilea. Her deadly spearcast had failed, but his heart has been pierced nonetheless. Never—not even at the death of his dearest friend Patroclus—has the mankiller felt such terrible sorrow. “Why… now?” he gasps between wracking sobs. “Why… her?”

“It is a spell put on you by the witch goddess of lust, Aphrodite,” says Athena, moving around him and the fallen horse and Amazon so that he can see her without moving his head. “It was always Aphrodite and her incestuous brother Ares who confounded your will, killed your friends, and murdered your joys, Achilles. It was Aphrodite who killed Patroclus and carried away his body these eight months past.”

“No… I was there… I saw…”

“You saw Aphrodite take my form,” interrupts Pallas Athena. “Do you doubt that we gods can take any form we wish? Shall I make myself into the form and shape of the dead Penthesilea so you can slake your lust with a living body rather than a dead one?”

Achilles stares up at her, his jaw hanging slack. “Aphrodite…” he says after a minute, his tone that of a deadly curse. “I will kill the cunt.”

Athena smiles. “An act most worthy and long overdue, fleet-footed mankiller. Let me give you this…” She hands him a small jewel-encrusted dagger.

Still cradling Penthesilea in his right arm, he accepts the thing with his left hand. “What is it?”

“A knife.”

“I know it’s a knife,” snarls Achilles, his tone showing no respect for the fact that he’s speaking to a goddess, third-born of all the gods sired by Zeus. “Why in Hades’ name would I want this girl’s toy of a blade when I have my own sword, my own gutting knife? Take this back.”

“This knife is different,” says the goddess. “This knife can kill a god.”

“I’ve cut down gods with my regular blade.”

“Cut them down, yes,” says Athena. “Killed them, no. This blade does for immortal flesh what your mere human sword does for your puny fellow mortals.”

Achilles stands, easily shifting the body of Penthesilea to his right shoulder. He holds the short blade in his right hand. “Why would you give me such a thing, Pallas Athena? We have opposed each other across this battlefield for months now. Why would you aid me now?”

“I have my reasons, son of Peleus. Where is Hockenberry?”


“Yes, that former scholic who became Aphrodite’s agent,” says Pallas Athena. “Does he still live? I have business with this mortal, but do not know where to seek him out. The moravec forcefields have clouded our godly vision of recent.”

Achilles looks around him, blinking as if noticing for the first time that he is the only living human being left on the red Martian plain. “Hockenberry was here only a few minutes ago. I spoke to him before I slew… her.” He begins weeping again.

“I look forward to meeting this Hockenberry again,” says Athena, muttering as if to herself. “Today is a time of reckonings, and his is long overdue.” She reaches out and takes Achilles’ chin in her powerful, slender hand, raising his face, locking her gaze to his. “Son of Peleus, do you wish this woman… this Amazon… alive again, to be your bride?”

Achilles stares. “I wish to be released from this spell of love, noble goddess.”

Athena shakes her golden-helmeted head. The red sun glints every where on her armor. “There is no release from this particular spell of Aphrodite—the pheromones have spoken and their judgment is final. Penthesilea will be your only love for this life, either as a corpse or as a living woman… do you want her alive?”

Yes!!” cries Achilles, stepping closer with the dead woman in his arms and bright madness in his eyes. “Return her to life!”

“No god or goddess can do that, son of Peleus,” Athena says sadly. “As you once said to Odysseus—‘Of possessions cattle and fat sheep are things to be had for the lifting, and tripods can be won, and the tawny high heads of horses, but a man’s life–nor a woman’s, Achilles—cannot come back again, it cannot be lifted nor captured again by force, once it has crossed the teeth’s barrier. Not even Father Zeus has this power of resurrection, Achilles.”

“Then why the fuck did you offer it to me?” snarls the mankiller. He feels the rage flow in next to the love now—oil and water, fire and… not ice—but a different form of fire. He is very aware of both his rage and the god—and goddess-killing knife in his hand. To keep himself from doing something rash, he sets the blade in his broad warbelt.

“It is possible to return Penthesilea to life,” says Athena, “but I do not have that power. I will sprinkle her with a form of ambrosia which will preserve her from all decay. Her dead body will forevermore carry the blush on her cheeks and the hint of fading warmth you feel now. Her beauty will never depart.”

“What good does that do me?” snarls Achilles. “Do you really expect me to celebrate my love with an act of necrophilia?”

“That’s your personal choice,” says Pallas Athena with a smirk that almost makes Achilles pull the dagger from his belt. She continues, “But if you are a man of action, I expect you to carry your love’s body to the summit of Mount Olympos. There, in a great building near a lake, is our godly secret—a hall of clear, fluid-filled tanks where strange creatures tend to our wounds, repairing all damage, assuring that we return—as you put it so well—across the teeth’s barrier.”

Achilles turns and stares up at the endless mountain catching the sunlight. It rises forever. The summit is not in sight. The vertical cliffs at its base, a mere beginning to the giant massif, are more than fourteen thousand feet tall. “Climb Olympos…” he says.

“There was an escalator… a staircase,” says Pallas Athena, pointing with her long lance. “You see the ruins there. It is still the easiest way up.”

“I’ll have to fight my way up, every foot of the way,” says Achilles, grinning horribly. “I am still at war with the gods.”

Pallas Athena also grins. “The gods are now at war with each other, son of Peleus. And they know the Brane Hole has closed forever. Mortals no longer threaten the halls of Olympos. I would guess that you will climb undetected, unopposed, but once you are there they will surely sound the alarm.”

“Aphrodite,” whispers the fleet-footed mankiller.

“Yes, she will be there. And Ares. All the architects of your personal hell. You have my permission to kill them. I ask you only one favor in return for my ambrosia, my guidance, and my love.”

Achilles turns back to her and waits.

“Destroy the healing tanks after they have brought your Amazon love back to life. Kill the Healer—a great monstrous centipede thing with too many arms and eyes. Destroy everything in the Healer’s Hall.”

“Goddess, would that not destroy your own immortality?” asks Achilles.

“I will worry about that, son of Peleus,” says Pallas Athena. She extends her arms, palms downward, and golden ambrosia falls on the bloody, pierced body of Penthesilea. “Go now. I must return to my own wars. The issue of Ilium will be decided soon. Your fate will be settled there, on Olympos.” She points to the mountain rising endlessly above them.

“You goad me as if I have the power of a god, Pallas Athena,” whispers Achilles.

“You have always had the power of a god, son of Peleus,” says the goddess. She raises her free hand in benediction and QT’s away. The air rushes into the vacuum with a soft thunderclap.

Achilles lays Penthesilea’s body down among the other corpses only long enough to wrap it in clean white cloth retrieved from his battle tent. Then he seeks out his own shield, lance, helmet, and a single bag of bread and wineskins he’d brought along so many hours earlier. Finally, his weapons securely lashed to him, he kneels, lifts the dead Amazon, and begins walking toward Mount Olympos.

“Holy shit,” says Daeman, pulling the turin cloth away from his face. Long minutes have passed. He checks his proxnet palm—no voynix nearby. They could have deboned him like a fish while he lay under the turin’s spell. “Holy shit,” he says again.

There is no reply except for the low waves lapping along the beach.

“Which is more important?” he mutters to himself. “Getting this working turin cloth back to Ardis as quickly as possible—and figuring out why Caliban or his master left it for me? Or going back to Paris Crater to see what the many-handed-as-a-cuttlefish is up to there?”

He stays on his knees in the sand for a minute. Then he pulls on his clothes, stuffs the turin cloth into his backpack, sets his sword back on his belt, lifts the crossbow, and slogs up the hill to the waiting fax pavilion.


Ada awoke in the dark to find three voynix in her room. One of them was holding Harman’s severed head in its long fingerblades.

Ada awoke in the diffused light just before dawn with her heart pounding. Her mouth was open as if already forming a scream.


She rolled out of bed, sitting on the edge, her head in her hands, her heart still pounding so fiercely that it gave her vertigo. She couldn’t believe that she’d come up to her bedroom and fallen asleep while Harman was still awake. This pregnancy was a stupid thing, she thought. It made her body a traitor at times.

She’d slept in her clothes—tunic, vest, canvas trousers, thick socks—and she pressed her hair and long shirt down as well as she could to calm the worst of the wildness, considered using some of the precious hot water for a standing bath at the basin—her birdbath, Harman always called it—and rejected the idea. Too much might have happened in the hour or two since she fell asleep. Ada pulled on her boots and hurried downstairs.

Harman was in the front parlor where the wide window doors had been unshuttered, allowing a view down the south lawn to the lower palisade. There was no sunrise—the morning was too cloudy—and it had begun to snow. Ada had seen snow before in her life, but only once here at Ardis Hall, when she was very young. About a dozen men and women, including Daeman—who looked oddly flushed—were standing by the windows, watching the snow fall and talking softly.

Ada gave Daeman a quick hug and moved close to Harman, slipping her arm around him. “How is Ody…” she began.

“Noman’s still alive, but only barely,” Harman said softly. “He’s lost too much blood. His breathing is becoming more and more difficult. Loes thinks that he’ll die within the next hour or two. We’re trying to decide what to do.” He touched her lower back. “Ada, Daeman has brought us some terrible news about his mother.”

Ada looked at her friend, wondering if his mother had simply refused to come to Ardis. She and Daeman had visited Marina twice in the past eight months, and neither time had they come close to convincing the older woman.

“She’s dead,” said Daeman. “Caliban killed her and everyone else in the domi tower.”

Ada bit her knuckle until it almost bled and then said, “Oh, Daeman, I am so, so sorry…” And then, realizing what he’d said, she whispered, “Caliban?” She had convinced herself from Harman’s stories about Prospero’s Isle that the creature had died up there. “Caliban?” she repeated stupidly. Her dream was still with her like a weight on her neck. “You’re sure?”

“Yes,” said Daeman.

Ada put her arms around him, but Daeman’s body was as tight and rigid as a rock. He patted her shoulder almost absently. Ada wondered if he was in shock.

The group resumed discussing the night’s defense of Ardis Hall.

The voynix had attacked just before midnight—at least a hundred of them, perhaps a hundred and fifty; it was hard to tell in the dark and rain—and they had rushed at least three out of the four sides of the palisade perimeter. It was the largest and certainly the most coordinated attack the voynix had ever carried out against Ardis.

The defenders had killed them until just before dawn—first setting the huge braziers alight, burning the precious kerosene and naphtha saved for that purpose, illuminating the walls and fields beyond the walls—and then showering volley upon volley of aimed bow-and-crossbow fire onto the rushing forms.

Arrows and bolts didn’t always penetrate a voynix’s carapace or leathery hood—more often than not they didn’t—so the defenders expended a huge percentage of their arrows and bolts. Dozens of the voynix had fallen—Loes reported that his team had counted fifty-three voynix corpses in the fields and woods at first light.

Some of the things had gotten to the walls and leapt to the ramparts—voynix could jump thirty feet and more from a standing start, like huge grasshoppers—but the mass of pikes and reserve fighters with swords had stopped any from getting to the house. Eight of Ardis’s people had been hurt, but only two seriously: a woman named Kirik with a badly broken arm, and Laman, a friend of Petyr’s, with four fingers lopped off—not by a voynix’s blades, but from a fellow defender’s ill-timed swing of a sword.

What had turned the tide was the sonie.

Harman launched the oval disk from the ancient jinker platform high on Ardis Hall’s gabled rooftop. He flew it from its center-forward niche.

The flying machine had six shallow, cushioned indentations for people lying prone, but Petyr, Loes, Reman, and Hannah had knelt in their niches, shooting down from the sonie, the three men wielding all of Ardis’s flechette rifles and Hannah firing the finest crossbow she’d ever crafted.

Harman couldn’t go lower than about sixty feet because of the voynix’s amazing leaping abilities. But that was close enough. Even in the dark and the rain, even with the voynix scuttling as fast as cockroaches and leaping like giant grasshoppers on a griddle, the sustained flechette and crossbow fire dropped the creatures in their tracks. Harman flew the sonie in among the tall trees at the bottom and top of the hill, the defenders on the palisade ramparts shot flaming arrows and catapult-launched balls of burning, hissing naphtha to illuminate the night. The voynix scattered, regrouped, and attacked six more times before finally disappearing, some toward the river far down the hill from Ardis and the rest into the hills to the north.

“But why did they stop attacking?” asked the young woman named Peaen. “Why’d they leave?”

“What do you mean?” said Petyr. “We killed a third of them.”

Harman crossed his arms and glared out at the softly falling snow. “I know what Peaen means. It’s a good question. Why did they break off the attack? We’ve never seen a voynix react to pain. They die… but they don’t complain about it. Why didn’t they all keep coming until they overran us or died?”

“Because someone or something recalled them,” Daeman said.

Ada glanced at him. Daeman’s face was almost slack, his voice dull, his eyes not quite focused on anything. For the last nine months, Daeman’s energy and determination had deepened and visibly increased daily. Now he was listless, seemingly indifferent to the conversation and the people around him. Ada felt sure that his mother’s death had almost undone him—perhaps it would yet do so.

“If the voynix were recalled, who recalled them?” asked Hannah.

No one spoke.

“Daeman,” Harman said, “please tell your story again, for Ada. And add any detail you left out the first time.” More men and women had gathered in the long room. Everyone looked tired. No one spoke or asked questions as Daeman gave his story again, his voice a dull monotone.

He told of the slaughter at his mother’s domi, the stack of skulls, the presence of the turin cloth on the table—the only thing not splattered with blood—and how he activated it later when he’d faxed somewhere else; he didn’t specify where exactly. He told of the appearance of the hole above the city of Paris Crater and about his glimpse of something large emerging from it—something that seemed to scuttle about on impossible sets of giant hands.

He explained how he had faxed away to regain his composure, then faxed to the Ardis node—the guards at the small fort there told him of the movement of voynix they’d glimpsed all night, the torches were lit and every man was at the walls, and about the sounds of fighting and flashes of torches and naphtha they’d seen from the direction of Ardis Hall. Daeman had been tempted to start toward Ardis on foot but the men at the barricades there at the fax pavilion were positive it’d be certain death to try that walk in the dark—they’d counted more than seventy voynix slipping past across meadows and into the woods, headed toward the great house.

Daeman explained how he’d left the turin cloth with Casman and Greogi, the two captains of the guard there, and directed one of them to fax to Chom or somewhere safe with the turin if the voynix overran the fax pavilion before he got back.

“We plan to fax out if those bastards attack us,” said Greogi. “We’ve made plans on who goes when and in which order, while others provide covering fire until it’s their turn. We’re not planning to die to protect this pavilion.”

Daeman had nodded and faxed back to Paris Crater.

He told the others now that if he had chosen the closer-in Invalid Hotel node to the more distant Guarded Lion, he would have died. All the center of Paris Crater had been transformed. The hole in space was still there—weak sunlight streaming out—but the center of the city itself had been encased in a webbed glacier of blue ice.

“Blue ice?” interrupted Ada. “It was that cold?”

“Very cold near the stuff,” said Daeman. “But not so bad just a few yards away. Just chilly and raining, It wasn’t really ice, I don’t think. Just something chill and crystalline—cold but organic, like spiderwebs rising out of icebergs—and the blocks and webs of the stuff covered the old domi towers and boulevards all around the crater in the heart of Paris Crater.”

“Did you see that… thing… you saw come through the hole?” asked Emme.

“No. I couldn’t get close enough. There were more voynix than I’d ever seen before. The Guarded Lion building itself—it used to be some sort of transport center, you know, with rails running in and out and landing pads on the roof—was alive with voynix.” Daeman looked at Harman. “It reminded me of Jerusalem last year.”

“That many?” said Harman.

“That many. And there was something else. Two things that I haven’t talked about yet.”

Everyone waited. Outside, the snow fell. There was a moan from the infirmary, and Hannah slipped away to check on Noman-Odysseus again.

“There’s a blue light shining from Paris Crater now,” said Daeman.

“A blue light?” asked the woman named Loes.

Only Harman, Ada, and Petyr registered comprehension—Harman because he’d been there in Jerusalem with Daeman and Savi nine months earlier; Ada and Petyr because they’d heard the stories.

“Does it shoot skyward like the one we saw in Jerusalem?” asked Harman.


“What the hell are you talking about?” asked the redheaded woman named Oelleo.

Harman answered. “We saw a similar beam in Jerusalem last year—a city near the drained Mediterranean Basin. Savi, the old woman with us, said that the beam was made of… what was it, Daeman? Tachyons?”

“I think so.”

“Tachyons,” continued Harman. “And that it contained the captured codes of all of her race from before the Final Fax. That beam was the Final Fax.”

“I don’t understand,” said Reman. He looked very tired.

Daeman shook his head. “Neither do I. I don’t know if the beam came with the creature I saw come through the hole, or if the beam somehow brought that thing to Paris Crater. But there’s more news—and it’s worse.”

“How could it be?” asked Peaen with a laugh.

Daeman did not smile. “I had to get out of Paris Crater quickly—the Guarded Lion node would be death by now, voynix everywhere—and I knew it wouldn’t be light here yet, so I faxed to Bellinbad, then Ulanbat, then Chom, then Drid, then Loman’s Place, then Kiev, then Fuego, then Devi, then Satle Heights, then to Mantua, finally to Cape Town Tower.”

“To warn them all,” said Ada.


“Why is that bad news?” asked Harman.

“Because the holes have opened at both Chom and Ulanbat,” said Daeman. “The community cores there are webbed with blue ice. The blue beams rise from both of those survivor colonies. Setebos has been there.”


The forty or so people in the room simply stared at each other. Then there was a babble-chorus of questions. Daeman and Harman explained what Caliban on the orbital isle had said about his god, Setebos, the “many-handed like a cuttlefish.”

They asked about Ulanbat and Chom. Chom he’d seen only from a distance—a growing web of blue ice. In Ulanbat, he told them, he’d faxed to the seventy-ninth floor of the Circles of Heaven and seen from the ring terrace there that the hole was a mile out over the Gobi Desert, the web of ice-stuff connecting the low outbuildings to the bottom levels of the Circles. The seventy-ninth floor seemed to be above the ice—for now.

“Did you see any people there?” asked Ada.


“Voynix?” asked Reman.

“Hundreds. Scuttling in and under and around the ice web. But not in the Circles.”

“Then where are the people?” asked Emme in a small voice. “We know Ulanbat had weapons—we bartered them for their rice and textiles.”

“They must have faxed out when the hole appeared,” said Petyr. It sounded obvious to Ada that the young man was putting more certainty in his voice than he felt.

“If they faxed out,” said Peaen, “I mean the people in both Ulanbat and Chom, why haven’t they shown up here as refugees? Those three node cities—Paris Crater, Chom, Ulanbat—still house tens of thousands of old-style humans like us. Where are they? Where did they go?” She looked at Greogi and Casman, who’d just come in from their overnight guard duty at the fax pavilion. “Greogi, Cas, have people been faxing in overnight? Fleeing something?”

Greogi shook his head. “The only traffic was Daeman Uhr here—late last night and then again this morning.”

Ada stepped into the middle of the circle. “Look… we’ll meet to talk about this later. Right now you’re all exhausted. Most of you were up all night. A lot of people hadn’t eaten when all this started. Stoman, Cal, Boman, Elle, Anna, and Uru have been cooking up a huge breakfast. Those of you who need to go on guard duty—you’re first in line in the dining hall. Make sure you get plenty of coffee. The rest of you should also eat before you catch some sleep. Reman wanted me to mention that the iron pour will be at ten a.m. We’ll all get together in the old ballroom at three p.m. for a full community meeting.”

People milled, stirred, buzzed with conversation, but left to get their breakfasts and to go about their duties.

Harman walked toward the infirmary, caught Ada’s and Daeman’s eye, nodded in that direction. The two joined him as the last of the crowd dispersed.

Ada quietly told Siris and Tom, who’d been working as medical attendants, applying first aid to the wounded and watching over Noman during the night, that they should go get something to eat. The two slipped out, leaving Hannah sitting next to the bed and Daeman, Ada, and Harman standing.

“This is like old times,” said Harman, referring to when the five of them had traveled together, and then with Savi, nine months earlier. They’d rarely had time to be alone together since then.

“Except that Odysseus is dying,” said Hannah, her voice flat and ragged. She was holding the unconscious man’s left hand and squeezing it so tightly that all the interlaced fingers, his and hers, were white.

Harman stepped closer and studied the unconscious man. His bandages—just replaced an hour earlier—were soaked through with blood. His lips were as white as his fingertips and his eyes no longer moved beneath their closed eyelids. Noman’s mouth was open slightly and the breath that rattled there was swift, shallow, and unsure.

“I’m going to take him to the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu,” said Harman.

Everyone stared at him. Finally Hannah said, “You mean when he… dies? To bury him?”

“No. Now. To save him.”

Ada gripped Harman’s upper arm so fiercely that he almost flinched away. “What are you talking about?”

“What Petyr said—Noman’s last words before losing consciousness near the wall yesterday evening—I think he was trying to tell him to take him back to the crèche at Golden Gate.”

“What crèche?” said Daeman. “I only remember the crystal coffins.”

“Cryotemporal sarcophagi,” said Hannah, enunciating each syllable with care. “I remember them in the museum there. I remember Savi talking about them. It’s where she slept some of the centuries away. It’s where she said she found Odysseus sleeping three weeks before we met here.”

“But Savi didn’t always tell the truth,” said Harman. “Perhaps she never did. Odysseus has admitted that he and Savi had known each other for a long, long time—that it was the two of them who distributed the turin cloths almost eleven years ago.”

Ada held up the turin cloth that Daeman had left behind in the other room.

“And Prospero told us… up there… that there was more to this Odysseus than we could understand. And on a couple of occasions, after a lot of wine, Odysseus has mentioned his crèche at the Golden Gate—joked about returning to it.”

“He must have meant the crystal coffins… the sarcophagi,” said Ada.

“I don’t think so,” said Harman, pacing back and forth past the empty beds. All of the other victims of last night’s fighting had decided to recuperate in their rooms in Ardis Hall or the outlying barracks. Only Noman was still here this morning. “I think there was another thing there at Golden Gate, a sort of healing crèche.”

“Blue worms,” whispered Daeman. His pale face grew even paler. Hannah was so shocked at the image—her cells remembered her hours in the worm-filled tanks up there in the Firmary on Prospero’s orbital isle even if her mind did not—that she released Odysseus’ hand.

“No, I don’t think so,” Harman said quickly. “We didn’t see anything that resembled the Firmary healing tanks when we were at the Golden Gate. No blue worms. No orange fluid. I think the crèche is something else.”

“You’re just guessing,” Ada said flatly, almost harshly.

“Yes. I’m just guessing.” He rubbed his cheeks. He was so very tired. “But I think that if Noman… Odysseus… survives the sonie flight, there might be a chance for him at the Golden Gate.”

“You can’t do that,” said Ada. “No.”

“Why not?”

“We need the sonie here. To fight the voynix if they come back tonight. When they come back tonight.”

“I’ll be back before dark,” said Harman.

Hannah stood. “How can that be? When we flew from the Golden Gate with Savi it took more than a day of flying.”

“It can fly faster than that,” said Harman. “Savi was flying slowly so as not to scare us.”

“How much faster?” asked Daeman.

Harman hesitated a few seconds. “Much faster,” he said at last. “The sonie tells me that it can get to the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu in thirty-eight minutes.”

“Thirty-eight minutes!” cried Ada, who had also been on that long, long flight up with Savi.

“The sonie told you?” said Hannah. She was upset. “When did the sonie tell you? I thought the machine couldn’t answer questions about destinations.”

“It hasn’t until this morning,” said Harman. “Just after the fighting. I had a few minutes alone up on the jinker platform with the sonie and I figured out how to interface my palm functions with its display.”

“How did you discover that?” asked Ada. “You’ve been trying to find some function interface for months.”

Harman rubbed his cheek again. “I finally just asked it how to start the function interface. Three green circles within three larger red circles. Easy.”

“And it told you how long it would take to get to Golden Gate?” said Daeman. He sounded dubious.

“It showed me,” Harman said softly. “Diagrams. Maps. Airspeed. Velocity vectors. All superimposed on my vision—just like farnet or…” He paused.

“Or allnet,” said Hannah. They’d all experienced the vertigo-inducing confusion of allnet since Savi had shown them how to access it the previous spring. None of them had mastered its use. It was just too much information to process.

“Yeah,” said Harman. “So I figure if I take Odysseus… Noman… this morning, I can see if there’s some sort of a healing crèche there for him… install him in one of the crystal coffins if there’s not—and be back here before the three p.m. meeting. Heck, I could be back here for lunch.”

“He probably wouldn’t survive the trip,” said Hannah, her voice wooden. She was staring at the gasping unconscious man whom she loved.

“He definitely won’t survive another day here at Ardis without medical care,” said Harman. “We’re just… too… fucking… ignorant.” He slammed his fist down on a wooden cabinet top and then pulled it back, knuckles bleeding. He was embarrassed by the outburst.

Ada said, “I’ll go with you. You can’t carry him into the Bridge bubbles by yourself. You’ll have to use a stretcher.”

“No,” said Harman. “You shouldn’t go, my dear.”

Ada’s pale face came up quickly and her black eyes flashed with anger. “Because I’m…”

“No, not because you’re pregnant.” Harman touched her fingers that she’d folded into a fist, setting his large, rough fingers around her slender, softer ones. “You’re just too important here. This news that Daeman brought is going to spread through the entire community in the next hour. Everyone’s going to be near panic.”

“Another reason that you shouldn’t go,” whispered Ada.

Harman shook his head. “You’re the leader here, my darling. Ardis is your estate now. We’re all guests here at your home. The people will need answers—not just at the meeting, but in the coming hours—and you need to be here to calm them.”

“I don’t have any answers,” Ada said in a small voice.

“Yes, you do,” said Harman. “What would you suggest we do about Daeman’s news?”

Ada turned her face toward the window. There was frost on the panes, but it had quit snowing and raining outside. “We need to see how many of the other communities have been invaded by the holes and blue ice,” she said softly. “Send about ten messengers out to fax to the remaining nodes.”

“Just ten?” said Daeman. There were more than three hundred remaining faxnodes that had survivor communities.

“We can’t spare more than ten, in case the voynix return during the daylight,” Ada said flatly. “They can each take thirty codes and see how many nodes they can cover before nightfall in this hemisphere.”

“And I’ll look for more flechette magazines at the Golden Gate,” said Harman. “Odysseus brought back three hundred magazines with him when he found the three rifles last fall, but we’re almost out after last night.”

“We have teams pulling crossbow bolts from the voynix carcasses,” said Ada, “but I’ll tell Reman that we’ll need to cast as many new ones as we can today. I’ll have the workshop double up on that work today. The arrows take so much longer, but we can put more bows on the ramparts by darkfall.”

“I’m going with you,” Hannah said to Harman. “You will need someone else to carry Odysseus in on the stretcher, and no one here has explored the green bubble city on the Golden Gate more than I have.”

“All right,” said Harman, seeing his wife—what a strange word and thought, “wife”—throw the younger woman a sharp glance that considered jealousy and then rejected it. Ada knew that Hannah’s only love—as hopeless and unrequited as it had been—was for Odysseus.

“I’ll go, too,” said Daeman. “You could use an extra crossbow there.”

“True,” said Harman, “but I think it would be more useful if you’d be in charge of choosing the fax-messenger teams, briefing them on what you saw, and sorting out their destinations.”

Daeman shrugged. “All right. I’ll take thirty nodes myself. Good luck.” He nodded toward Hannah and Harman, touched Ada’s arm, and left the infirmary.

“Let’s eat very quickly,” Harman said to Hannah, “and then grab some clothes and weapons and get going. We’ll get some strong young guys to help us carry Odysseus outside. I’ll bring the sonie down.”

“Couldn’t we eat in the sonie?” said Hannah.

“I think it’d be better if we grabbed a fast bite first,” said Harman. He was remembering the impossible trajectories the sonie had shown him—the launch from Ardis almost vertical, leaving the atmosphere, arcing up into outer space, then reentering like a bullet dropped from heaven. Just the memory of the trajectory graphic made his heart pound.

“I’ll go get my stuff and see if Tom and Siris can help me get Odysseus ready for the trip,” said Hannah. She kissed Ada on the cheek and hurried out.

Harman took a last look at Odysseus—the strong man’s face was gray—and then took Ada by the elbow and led her down the hall to a quiet place by the rear door.

“I still think I should go,” said Ada.

Harman nodded. “I wish you could. But when the people digest Daeman’s news—when they get the sense that Ardis may be the last free node left and that someone or something is gobbling up all the other cities and settlements—there’s liable to be a real panic.”

“Do you think we’re the last ones left?” whispered Ada.

“I have no idea. But if this thing Daeman glimpsed coming through the hole is the Setebos god-thing that Caliban and Prospero talked about, I think we’re in big trouble.”

“And you think Daeman’s right… that Caliban himself is on Earth?”

Harman chewed his lip for a moment. “Yes,” he said at last. “I think Daeman’s right in thinking that the monster slaughtered everyone in the Paris Crater domi tower just to get to Marina, Daeman’s mother—to send Daeman a message.”

The clouds had covered the sun again and it grew darker outside. Ada seemed intent on watching the feverish activity on the cupola scaffolding. A team of a dozen men and women were laughing as they walked to relieve the guards on the north wall.

“If Daeman’s right,” Ada said softly, never turning to look at Harman, “what’s to keep Caliban and his creatures from coming here while you’re gone? What’s to prevent you from returning from this trip to save Odysseus only to find stacks of skulls in Ardis Hall? We wouldn’t even have the sonie to escape in.”

“Oh…” said Harman and it came out as a moan. He took a step away from her and brushed sweat from his forehead and cheeks, realizing how cold and clammy his skin was.

“My love,” said Ada, whirling, taking two fast steps, and hugging him fiercely. “I’m sorry I said that. Of course you have to go. It’s terribly important that we try to save Odysseus—not just because he’s our friend, but because he’s the only one who might know what this new threat is and how to counter it. And we need the flechette ammunition. And I wouldn’t flee Ardis in a sonie under any circumstances. It’s my home. It’s our home. We’re lucky to have four hundred others to help us defend it.” She kissed him on the mouth, then hugged him fiercely again and spoke into the leather of his tunic. “Of course you have to go, Harman. You do. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Just come back soon.”

Harman tried to speak but found no words. He hugged her to him.


When Harman flew the sonie down from the jinker platform to let it hover three feet off the ground near Ardis Hall’s main back door, it was Petyr who met him there.

“I want to go,” said the younger man. He was wearing his travel cape and weapons belt—a short sword and killing knife were slung on the belt—and his handmade bow and arrow-filled quiver were slung over his shoulder.

“I told Daeman…” began Harman, propping himself on an elbow and looking up as he lay in the forward-center open niche on the surface of the oval flying machine.

“Yes. And that made sense… to tell Daeman. He’s still in shock from his mother’s death and organizing the messengers might help him come out of it. But you need someone with you on the Bridge. Hannah’s strong enough to carry the litter with Noman on it, but you need someone to cover both your backs while you do it.”

“You’re needed here…”

Petyr interrupted again. His voice was quiet, firm, calm, but his gaze was intense. “No, I’m not, Harman Uhr,” said the bearded man. “The flechette rifle’s needed here, and I’m leaving it with the few flechette magazines left to it, but I’m not needed here. Like you, I’ve been up for more than twenty-four hours—I have a six-hour sleep period coming before I have to return to duty on the walls. I understand that you told Ada Uhr that you and Hannah will be back in a few hours.”

“We should be…” began Harman and stopped. Hannah, Ada, Siris, and Tom were carrying Odysseus-Noman’s stretcher out the door. The dying man was wrapped in thick blankets. Harman slid out of the hovering sonie and helped lift the old man into the cushioned rear-center niche. The sonie used directed forcefields as safety restraints for its passengers, but there was also a silk-webbed netting built into the periphery of each niche for gear or inanimate objects, and Harman and Hannah pulled this over the comatose Noman and secured it. Their friend might well be dead before they reached the Golden Gate and Harman didn’t want the body tumbling out.

Harman clambered forward and dropped into the piloting niche. “Petyr’s coming with us,” he told Hannah. Her gaze was on the dying Odysseus and she showed no flicker of interest at the news. “Petyr,” he continued, “left rear. And keep your bow and quiver handy. Hannah, right rear. Web in.”

Ada came around, leaned over the metal surface, and gave him a quick kiss. “Be back before dark or you’ll be in big trouble with me,” she said softly. She walked back into the manor house with Tom and Siris.

Harman checked to make sure that all were wearing their webnets, including himself, and then he thrust both palms under the sonie’s forward rim, activating the holographic control panel. He visualized three green circles set within three larger red circles. His left palm glowed blue and his vision was overlaid with impossible trajectories.

Destination Golden Gate at Machu Picchu?” came the machine’s flat voice.

“Yes,” said Harman.

Fastest flight path?” asked the machine.


Ready to initiate flight?”

“Ready,” said Harman. “Go.”

The restraint forcefields pressed down on all of them. The sonie accelerated over the palisade and trees, went nearly vertical, and broke the sound barrier before it reached two thousand feet of altitude.

Ada didn’t watch the sonie leave and when the sonic boom slammed the house—she’d heard hundreds of them during the meteor bombardment at the time of the Fall—her only reaction was to ask Oelleo, who was on housekeeping duty that week, to check for broken panes and mend them as needed.

She pulled a wool cape from her peg in the main hall and went out into the yard, then through the front gate of the palisade. The grass here—formerly her beautiful front lawn that ran downhill for a quarter of a mile, now Ardis’s pasture and killing ground—had been churned up by hooves and voynix peds and then refrozen. It was difficult to walk without spraining an ankle. Several oxen-pulled, long-bed droshkies rumbled along the edge of the tree line where men and women lifted voynix carcasses onto the cargo bed. The metal of their carapaces would be recycled into weapons. Their leatherish hoods would be cut and sewn into clothing and shields. Ada paused to watch Kaman, one of Odysseus’ earliest disciples last summer, use special tongs that Hannah had designed and forged to pull crossbow bolts out of voynix bodies. These went into buckets on the droshky and would be cleaned and re-sharpened. The droshky bed, Kaman’s gloved hands, and the frozen soil were blue with voynix blood.

Ada moved around the palisade, strolling in and out of the gates, chatting with other work groups, urging those who had been on the wall all morning to go in for breakfast, and finally climbing up on the furnace cupola to talk with Loes and watch the last preparations for the morning’s iron pour. She pretended not to notice Emme and three young men with crossbows casually walking thirty paces behind her all the way, watching the woods for movement, their crossbows cocked and double-loaded.

Ada came back into the house through the kitchen and checked her palm time function—thirty-nine minutes since Harman had left. If his silly sonie timetable was right—and she could hardly believe it, since she remembered so clearly the long, long day of flying up from the Golden Gate nine months ago, with the stop in what she now knew was a redwood forest in the area once called Texas—but if his timetable was right, they’d be there now. Assume an hour to find this mythical healing crèche, or at least to stow the dying Noman in one of the temporal sarcophagi, and her beloved would be home before lunch would be served. She reminded herself that tomorrow was her day on cooking duty for dinner.

She hung her shawl on its peg and went up to her room—the room she now shared with Harman—closing the door. She’d folded the turin cloth Daeman had brought back with him and slipped it into her largest tunic pocket during the conversations, and now she removed the cloth and unfolded it.

Harman had almost never gone under the turin. She remembered that Daeman also rarely indulged—seducing young women had been his idea of recreation before the Fall, although, to be fair, she also remembered that he had worked hard to collect butterflies in the fields and forests when he’d visited her at Ardis when she was a girl. They were technically cousins, although the phrase meant little in terms of blood relationship in that world that had ended nine months earlier. Like the term “sister,” the idea of “cousin” was an honorific given among female adults who had been friends for years, offering at least the idea of a special relationship between their children. Now, as an adult herself, and a pregnant one at that, Ada realized that the honorific “cousin” might have been a sign that her late mother and Daeman’s mother—also dead now, she realized with a pang—had chosen to be impregnated by the same father’s sperm packet at different times in their lives. She had to smile at that, and be thankful that the pudgy, lecherous young man Daeman had once been had never succeeded in seducing her.

No, Harman and Daeman had never spent much time under the turin cloth. But Ada had. She’d escaped to the gory images of the siege of Troy almost daily for the almost eleven years that the turins had functioned. Ada had to confess to herself that she had loved the violence and the energy of those imaginary people—at least they had been presumed to be imaginary until they met the older Odysseus at the Golden Gate—and even the barbaric language, somehow translated by the turin, had been like an intoxicating drug to her.

Now Ada lay back on the bed, lifted the turin cloth over her face, set the embroidered microcircuits against her forehead, and closed her eyes, not really expecting the turin to work.

It is night. She is in a tower in Troy.

Ada knows it’s Troy—Ilium—because she’s seen the nighttime silhouette of the city’s buildings and walls during her hundreds of times under the turin over the past decade, but she’s never seen it from this perspective before. She realizes that she’s in a shattered, circular tower with a wall missing on the south side of the building and that two people are huddled a few feet away, holding a low blanket over a fire consisting of little more than embers. She recognizes them at once—Helen and her former husband Menelaus—but she has no idea of why they’re together here, inside the city, looking out over the wall and the Scaean Gate at a night battle in full progress. What’s Menelaus doing here and how can he be sharing a blanket—no, she realizes, it’s a red warrior’s cape—with Helen? For almost ten years, Ada has watched Menelaus and the other Achaeans battling to get inside the city, presumably to capture or kill this very woman.

It’s obvious that the Achaeans are battling to get inside the city at this very moment.

Ada turns her nonexistent head to change her field of vision—this turin-cloth experience is different from all her other ones—and stares in awe out toward the Scaean Gate and the high wall.

* * *

This is much like our battle last night here at Ardis, she thinks, but then almost laughs at the comparison. Instead of a twelve-foot-tall rickety wooden palisade, Ilium is surrounded by its hundred-foot-high, twenty-foot-thick wall, its defense further augmented by its many towers, sally ports, embrasures, trenches, rows of sharpened stakes, moats, and parapets. Instead of an attacking army of a hundred-some silent voynix, this great city is being attacked by tens of thousands of cheering, roaring, cursing Greeks—torches and campfires and flaming arrows illuminate mile upon mile of the surging horde of heroes—each group complete with its own kings, captains, siege ladders, and chariots, each group intent upon its own battle-within-the-larger-battle. Instead of Ardis Hall with its four hundred souls, the defenders here—she can see thousands of archers and spearmen on just the parapets and stairways of the long south wall visible from this tower—are defending the lives of more than a hundred thousand terrified kinsmen, including their children, wives, daughters, young sons, and helpless elders. Instead of Harman’s one silent sonie flying over a backyard battlefield, Ada sees the air here filled with dozens of flying chariots, each protected by its own force bubble, its divine occupants launching shafts of energy and bolts of lightning either into the city or out toward the attacking hordes.

In all of her previous times under the turin, Ada has never seen so many of the Olympian gods so personally involved in the fighting. Even from this distance she can make out Ares, Aphrodite, Artemis, and Apollo flying and fighting in defense of Troy, and Hecuba, Athena, Poseidon, and other rarely seen gods raging on the side of the attacking Achaeans. There is no sign of Zeus.

Things have certainly changed during the nine months I’ve been away from the turin, thinks Ada.

“Hector has not come out of his apartments to lead the fight,” Helen whispers to Menelaus. Ada turns her attention back to the couple. They are huddled together over the tiniest of campfires up here on the broken, open-air platform, the red soldier’s cape shielding the embers from any-one’s view from below.

“He’s a coward,” says Menelaus.

“You know better than that. There has been no braver man in this mad war than Hector, son of Priam. He’s in mourning.”

“For whom?” laughs Menelaus. “Himself? His life span can now be counted in hours.” He gestures out toward the hordes of Achaeans attacking Troy from all directions.

Helen also looks. “Do you think this attack will succeed, my husband? It seems uncoordinated to me. And there are no siege engines.”

Menelaus grunts. “Yes, perhaps my brother led them to the attack too quickly—there is too much confusion. But if tonight’s attack fails, tomorrow’s will succeed. Ilium is doomed.”

“It seems so,” Helen says softly. “But it has always been, has it not? No, Hector is not grieving for himself, noble husband. He grieves for his murdered son, Scamandrius, and for the end of the war with the gods that might have avenged the baby.”

“The war was pure folly,” grumbles Menelaus. “The gods would have destroyed us or banished us from the earth, just as they stole our families back home.”

“You believe Agamemnon?” whispers Helen. “Everyone is gone?”

“I believe what Poseidon and Hera and Athena told Agamemnon—that our families and friends and slaves and everyone else in the world will be returned by the gods when we Achaeans put Ilium to the torch.”

“Could even the immortal gods do such a thing, my husband—remove all humans from our world?”

“They must have,” says Menelaus. “My brother does not lie. The gods told him it had been their work and lo, our cities are empty! And I’ve talked to the others who sailed with him. All of the farms and homes in the Peloponnesus are… shhh, someone’s coming.” He kicks the embers apart, rises, thrusts Helen into the deepest shadows of the broken wall, and stands in the blind side of the opening to the circular staircase, his sword out and ready.

Ada can hear the shuffle of sandals on the stairs.

A man Ada has never seen before—dressed in Achaean infantry armor and cape but less fit, milder-looking than any soldier she’s ever noticed while under the turin—steps up onto the open area where the stairway abruptly ends.

Menelaus springs, pins the man so he can’t raise his arms, and sets his blade across the startled intruder’s throat, ready to open his jugular with a single slash.

“No!” cries Helen.

Menelaus pauses.

“It is my friend Hock-en-bear-eeee.”

Menelaus waits a second, his expression set and forearm flexing as if still planning to cut the thinner man’s throat, but then he pulls the man’s sword out of its sheath and tosses it away. He shoves the thinner man down onto the floor and stands almost astride of him. “Hockenberry? The son of Duane?” growls Menelaus. “I’ve seen you with Achilles and Hector many times. You came with the machine-beings.”

Hockenberry? thinks Ada. She’s never heard a name like that in the turin tale.

“No,” says Hockenberry, rubbing both his throat and his bruised bare knee. “I’ve been here for years, but always observing until nine months ago when the war with the gods began.”

“You’re a friend of that dog-fucker Achilles,” snarls Menelaus. “You’re a lackey of my enemy, Hector, whose doom is sealed this day. And so is yours…”

“No!” Helen cries again and steps forward, grasping her husband’s arm. “Hock-en-bear-eeee is a favorite of the gods. And my friend. He is the one who told me of this tower platform. And you remember that he used to bear Achilles invisibly away, using the medallion at his throat to travel like the gods themselves.”

“I remember,” says Menelaus. “But a friend of Achilles and Hector is no friend of mine. He’s found us out. He’ll tell the Trojans where we’re hiding. He must die.”

“No,” says Helen a third time. Her white fingers look very small on Menelaus’ tanned and hairy forearm. “Hock-en-bear-eeee is the solution to our problem, my husband.”

Menelaus glares at her, not understanding.

Helen points to the battle going on out beyond the walls. The archers firing hundreds—thousands—of arrows in deadly volleys. The disorganized Achaeans first surging to the wall with ladders, then falling back as the archers’ crossfire thins their ranks. The last of the Trojan defenders outside the wall fighting valiantly on their side of the stakes and trenches—Achaean chariots crashing, wood splintering, horses screaming in the night as stakes pierce their lathered sides—and even the Achaean-loving goddesses and gods Athena, Hera, and Poseidon are falling back under the berserker counterassault of Troy’s principal defending gods, Ares and Apollo. The violet energy-arrows of the Lord of the Silver Bow are falling everywhere among the Achaeans and their immortal allies, dropping men and horses like saplings under the axe.

“I don’t understand,” growls Menelaus. “What can this scrawny bastard do for us? His sword doesn’t even have an edge.”

Still touching her husband’s forearm, Helen kneels gracefully and lifts the heavy gold medallion on its thick chain around Hockenberry’s neck. “He can carry us instantly to your brother’s side, my darling husband. He is our escape. Our only way out of Ilium.”

Menelaus squints, obviously understanding. “Stand back, wife. I’ll cut his throat and we’ll use the magic medallion.”

“It only works for me,” Hockenberry says softly. “Even the moravecs with their advanced engineering couldn’t duplicate it or make it work for them. The QT medallion is cued to my brainwaves and DNA.”

“It’s true,” says Helen, almost whispering. “This is why Hector and Achilles always held Hock-en-bear-eeee’s arm when they used the god magic to travel with him.”

“Stand up,” says Menelaus.

Hockenberry stands. Menelaus is not a tall man like his brother, nor a barrel-chested ox of a man like Odysseus or Ajax, but he is almost godlike in his muscle and mass compared to this thin, potbellied Hockenberry.

“Take us there now, son of Duane,” commands Menelaus. “To my brother’s tent on the sands.”

Hockenberry shakes his head. “For months I’ve not used the QT medallion myself, son of Atreus. The moravecs explained that the gods could track me through something called Planck space in the Calabi-Yau matrix—follow me through the void that the gods use for travel. I betrayed the gods and they would kill me if I quantum teleport again.”

Menelaus smiles. He lifts the sword, pokes it into Hockenberry’s belly until it draws blood through the tunic. “I’ll kill you now if you don’t, you pig’s arse. And draw your bowels out slow in the killing.”

Helen sets her free hand on Hockenberry’s shoulder. “My friend, look at the warring there—there beyond the wall. The gods are all engaged in bloodletting this night. There, see Athena falling back with a host of her Furies? See mighty Apollo in his chariot, firing down death into the retreating Greek ranks. No one will notice you if you QT this night, Hock-en-bear-eeee.”

The meek-looking man bites his lip, looks again at the battle—the Trojan defenders clearly have the upper hand now, with more soldiers flowing out of sally ports and man doors near the Scaean Gate—Ada can see Hector, come at last, leading his core of crack troops.

“All right,” says Hockenberry. “But I can only QT one of you at a time.”

“You will take us both at once,” growls Menelaus.

Hockenberry shakes his head. “I can’t. I don’t know why, but the QT medallion allows me to teleport only one other person that I’m in contact with. If you remember me with Achilles and Hector, you remember that I never QT’d away with more than one of them, returning for the other a few seconds later.”

“It’s true, my husband,” says Helen. “I have seen this myself.”

“Take Helen first then,” says Menelaus. “To Agamemnon’s tent on the beach, near where the black ships are drawn up on the sand.” There are shouts on the street below, and all three step back from the edge of the shattered platform.

Helen laughs. “My husband, darling Menelaus, I can’t go first. I am the most hated woman in the memory of the Argives and Achaeans. Even in the few seconds it would take for my friend Hock-en-bear-eeee to come back here and return with you, Agamemnon’s guards or the other Greeks there—recognizing me as the bitch I am—would pierce me with a dozen lances. You must go first. You are my only protector.”

Menelaus nods and seizes Hockenberry by the bare throat. “Use your medallion… now.”

Before touching the gold circle, Hockenberry says, “Will you let me live if I do this? Will you let me go free?”

“Of course,” growls Menelaus, but even Ada can see the glance he gives Helen.

“You have my word that my husband Menelaus will not harm you,” says Helen. “Now go, QT quickly. I think I hear footsteps on the stairway below.”

Hockenberry grasps the gold medallion, closes his eyes, twists something on its surface, and he and Menelaus disappear with a soft plop of inrushing air.

For a minute, Ada is alone on the shattered platform with Helen of Troy. The wind rises, whistling softly through the broken masonry up here and bringing the shouts of the retreating Greeks and pursuing Trojans up from the torchlit plain below. People in the city are cheering.

Suddenly Hockenberry reappears. “Your turn,” he says, touching Helen’s forearm. “You’re right that no god pursued me. There’s too much chaos tonight.” He nods toward the sky filled with swooping chariots and slashing bolts of energy.

Hockenberry pauses before touching his medallion again. “You’re sure that Menelaus won’t hurt me when I bring you there, Helen?”

“He will not hurt you,” whispers Helen. She seems almost distracted, as if listening for the footsteps on the stairs.

Ada can hear only the wind and distant shouts.

“Hock-en-bear-eeee, wait a second,” says Helen. “I need to tell you that you were a good lover… a good friend. I am very fond of you.”

Hockenberry visibly swallows. “I’m… fond… of you, Helen.”

The black-haired woman smiles. “I’m not going to join Menelaus, Hock-en-bear-eeee. I hate him. I fear him. I will never submit to him again.”

Hockenberry blinks and looks out toward the now-distant Achaean lines. They are regrouping beyond their own staked trenches two miles away, near the endless line of tents and bonfires where the countless black ships are drawn up on the sand. “He’ll kill you if they take the city,” he says softly.


“I can QT you away. Somewhere safe.”

“Is it true, my darling Hock-en-bear-eeee, that all the world is empty now? The great cities? My Sparta? The stony farms? Odysseus’ isle of Ithaca? The golden Persian cities?”

Hockenberry chews his lip. “Yes,” he says at last, “it’s true.”

“Then where could I go, Hock-en-bear-eeee? Mount Olympos? Even the Hole has disappeared, and the Olympians have gone mad.”

Hockenberry shows his palms. “Then we’ll just have to trust that Hector and his legions hold them off, Helen… my darling. I swear to you that whatever happens, I’ll never tell Menelaus that you chose to stay behind.”

“I know,” says Helen. From her wide sleeve, a knife slips into her hand. She swings her arm, bringing the short but very sharp blade up under Hockenberry’s ribs, piercing to the hilt. She twists the blade to find the heart.

Hockenberry opens his mouth as if to cry out but can only gasp. Grasping his bloody midsection, he collapses in a heap.

Helen has pulled the knife free as he fell. “Goodbye, Hock-en-bear-eeee.” She goes quickly down the steps, her slippers making almost no noise on the stone.

Ada looks down at the bleeding, dying man wishing she could do something, but she is, of course, invisible and intangible. On impulse, remembering how Harman had communicated with the sonie, she raises her hand to the turin cloth, feels the embroidery under her fingers, and visualizes three blue squares centered in three red circles.

Suddenly Ada is there–standing on that shattered, exposed platform in the topless tower in Ilium. She’s not turin-viewing something from there, she is there. She can feel the cold wind tugging at her blouse and skirt. She can smell the alien cooking scents and smell of livestock floating up from the marketplace visible below in the night. She can hear the roar of the battle just beyond the wall and feel the vibration in the air from the great bells and gongs ringing along the Trojan walls. She looks down and can see her feet firmly planted on the cracked masonry.

“Help… me… please,” whispers the bleeding, dying man. He has spoken in Common English. Eyes widening in horror, Ada realizes that he can see her… he is staring right at her. He uses the last of his strength to lift his left hand toward her, imploring, beseeching.

Ada flung the turin cloth from her brow.

She was in her bedroom at Ardis Hall. Panicked, her heart pounding, she called up the time function from her palm.

Only ten minutes had passed since she first lay down with the turin cloth, forty-nine minutes since her beloved Harman had left in the sonie. Ada felt disoriented and slightly nauseated again, as if the morning sickness were returning. She tried to shake the feeling away and replace it with resolve, but only ended up with a resolvedly stronger conviction of nausea.

Folding the turin cloth and hiding it in her underwear drawer, Ada hurried down to see what was happening in and around Ardis.


The sonie ride was even more exciting than Harman had imagined, and Harman knew that he had a damned good imagination. He was also the only one onboard the sonie who’d ridden a wooden chair up a cyclone of lightning all the way from the Mediterranean Basin to an asteroid on the equatorial ring, and he assumed that nothing could match the thrill and terror of that ride.

This ride came in a close second.

The sonie smashed through the sound barrier—Harman had learned about the sound barrier in a book he’d sigled just last month—before it reached two thousand feet of altitude above Ardis, and by the time the machine ripped out of the top layer of clouds into bright sunlight, it was traveling almost vertically and outrunning its own sonic booms, although the ride was far from silent. The hiss and rush of air roaring over the force-field was loud enough to drown out any attempts at conversation.

There were no attempts at conversation. The same forcefield that saved them from the roaring wind kept the four of them pinned belly-down in their cushioned niches; Noman remained unconscious, Hannah had one arm thrown over him, and Petyr was staring wide-eyed back over his shoulder at the clouds receding fast so far below.

Within minutes, the roaring lessened to a teakettle hiss and then faded away to a sigh. The blue sky grew black. The horizon arched like a white bow drawn to full pull and the sonie continued to shoot skyward—the silver tip of an invisible arrow. Then the stars suddenly became visible, not emerging gradually as they do at sunset, but all appearing in an instant, filling the black sky like silent fireworks. Directly above them, the slowly revolving e—and p-rings glowed frighteningly bright.

For a terrible moment, Harman was sure that the sonie was taking them back up to the rings—this same machine had brought Daeman, the unconscious Hannah, and him down from Prospero’s orbital asteroid, after all—but then the sonie began to level off and he realized that they were still thousands of miles from the orbital rings, just barely above the atmosphere. The horizon was curved, but the Earth still filled the view beneath them. When he and Savi and Daeman had ridden the lightning vortex up to the e-ring nine months ago, the Earth had seemed much farther below.

“Harman…” Hannah was calling from the rear niche as the sonie pitched over until it was upside down, the blinding sweep of the cloud-white planet now above them. “Is everything all right? Is this the way it should be?”

“Yes, this is normal,” called back Harman. Various forces, including fear, were trying to lift his prone body off the cushions, but the forcefield pressed him back down. His stomach and inner ears were reacting to the lack of gravity and horizon. In truth, he had no idea whether this was normal or whether the sonie had tried to perform some maneuver it wasn’t capable of and they were all seconds away from dying.

Petyr caught his eye and Harman saw that the younger man knew he was lying.

“I may throw up,” said Hannah. Her tone was completely matter-of-fact.

The sonie surged forward and down, propelled by invisible thrusters and forces, and the Earth began to spin. “Close your eyes and hang on to Odysseus,” called Harman.

The noise returned as they re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Harman found himself straining to look back up in the rings, wondering if much of Prospero’s orbital island had survived, wondering if Daeman was correct in his certainty that it was Caliban who had murdered the young man’s mother and slaughtered the others in Paris Crater.

Minutes passed. It seemed to Harman that they were re-entering above the continent he knew had once been called South America. There were clouds in both hemispheres, swirling, crenellated, rippled, flattened and towering, but he also caught a glimpse through the gaps in the cloud cover of the broad, watery strait that Savi told them had once been a continuous isthmus connecting the two continents.

Then fire surrounded them and the screech and roar grew louder even than during their ascent. The sonie spiraled into thicker atmosphere like a spinning flechette dart.

“It’ll be all right!” Harman shouted to Hannah and Petyr. “I’ve been through this before. It’ll be all right.”

They couldn’t hear him—the roaring was already too loud—so Harman didn’t add the “I’ve been through it before… once” disclaimer that he was thinking. Hannah had been aboard when this same sonie had brought Daeman, Harman, and her down from Prospero’s disintegrating orbital isle, but she hadn’t been fully conscious and had no real memory of the event.

Harman decided that closing his eyes as the sonie hurtled Earthward again within its womb of plasma was the best choice for him as well.

What the hell am I doing? Doubts filled him again. He was no leader—what did he think he was doing taking this sonie and two trusting lives and risking them this way? He’d never flown the sonie this way, why did he think it was going to make the trip successfully? And even if it did, how could he justify taking the sonie away from Ardis Hall at the community’s time of maximum danger? Daeman’s report of the Setebos creature’s entombing of Paris Crater and the other faxnode communities should have taken top priority, not this running off to the Golden Gate and Machu Picchu just to save Odysseus. How dare Harman leave Ada when she was pregnant and depending upon him? Noman was almost certainly going to die anyway, why risk several hundred lives—perhaps tens of thousands if their warning didn’t get out to the other communities—on this almost surely hopeless attempt to save the wounded old man?

Old man. As the wind shrieked and the sonie bucked, Harman held on for dear life and grimaced. He was the old man of the group, less than two months to go before his Fifth and Final Twenty. Harman realized that he was still expecting to disappear when his final birthday rolled around, and then be faxed up to the rings even if there were no healing tanks left there to receive him. And who knows that won’t be the case? he thought. Harman believed himself to be the oldest man on Earth, with the possible exception of Odysseus-Noman, who could be any age. But Noman probably would be dead in minutes or hours anyway. So might we all, thought Harman.

What the hell was he thinking, having a child with a woman only seven years beyond her First Twenty? What right did he have to urge others to return to the idea of Lost Era–type families? Who was he to say that the new reality demanded that fathers of children be known to the mother and to others and that the man should stay with the woman and children? What did the old man named Harman really know about the old idea of family—about duty—about anything, and who was he to lead anyone? The only thing unique about himself, Harman realized, was that he’d taught himself to read. He’d been the only person on Earth who could do that for many years. Big deal. Now everyone who wanted it had the sigl function and many others at Ardis had also learned how to decode the words and sounds from the squiggles in the old books.

I’m not so special after all.

The plasma shield around the sonie faded and the spinning ceased, but tongues of flame still licked past on either side.

If the sonie is destroyed—or just runs out of fuel, energy, whatever it runs on—Ardis is doomed. No one will ever know what happened to us—we’ll simply disappear and Ardis will be without its only flying machine. The voynix will attack again or Setebos would show up, and without the sonie to fly between the Hall and the faxnode pavilion, there will be no retreat for Ada and the others. I’ve endangered their only hope of escape.

The stars disappeared, the sky grew deep blue, then pale blue, and then they were entering a high cloud layer as the sonie bled off velocity.

If I get Noman into some sort of crèche, I’m heading straight back, thought Harman. I’m going to stay with Ada and let Daeman or Petyr or Hannah and the younger people make the decisions and go on their voyages. I have a baby to think of. That last thought was more terrifying than the violent leaping and bucking of the sonie.

For long minutes, the descending flying machine was wrapped in clouds that flowed over the sonie’s still-humming forcefield like whirling smoke, first mixing with the snow flying by and then just rushing by like the rising souls of all those billions of humans who had lived and died before Harman’s century on the still-shrouded Earth. Then the sonie broke out of the cloud cover about three thousand feet above the steep peaks and once again, Harman looked down on the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu.

The plateau was high, steep, green, and terraced, bordered by jagged peaks and deep, greener canyons. The ancient bridge, its rusted towers more than seven hundred feet tall, was almost-but-not-quite connected to the two jagged mountains on either side of the terraced plateau, which showed outlines of even more ancient ruins. What had once been buildings on the plateau were just stone outlines against the green now. At places on the huge bridge itself, paint that must once have been orange glowed like patches of lichen, but rust had turned most of the structure a deep, dried-blood red. The suspended roadbed had fallen away here and there, some suspension cables had collapsed, but the Golden Gate was most visibly still a bridge… but a bridge that started nowhere and went nowhere.

The first time Harman had seen the ruined structure from a distance, he’d thought the huge towers and heavy horizontal connecting cables were wrapped about with bright green ivy, but he knew now that these green bubbles, hanging vines, and connecting tubules were the actual habitation structures, probably added centuries after the bridge itself was built. Savi had said, perhaps not all in jest, that the green buckyglas globes and globs and spiraling strands were the only thing holding the older structure up.

Harman, Hannah, and Petyr all rose to their elbows to stare as the sonie slowed, leveled off briefly, and then began a long, descending turn that would bring them to the plateau and bridge from the south. The view was even more dynamic than the first time Harman had seen it since the clouds were lower now, rain was falling on the boundary peaks, and lightning was flashing behind the higher mountains to the west even while itinerant beams of sunlight shafted down through gaps in the flying clouds to illuminate the bridge, roadbed, green buckyglas helixes, and the plateau itself. Scudding clouds dragged black curtains of rain between the sonie and the bridge, obscuring their view for a minute, but then quickly moved past them toward the east as more tatters of clouds and shafts of sunlight kept the entire scene in apparent motion.

No, not just apparent motion, Harman realized… things were moving on the hill and bridge. Thousands of things were moving. At first Harman thought it was an optical trick of the quickly moving clouds and shifting light, but as the sonie swooped toward the north tower to land, he realized that he was looking at thousands of voynix—perhaps tens of thousands. The eyeless, gray-bodied, leather-humped creatures covered the old ruins and green summit and swarmed up the bridge towers, jostled against each other on the broken roadbed, and skittered and scuttled like six-foot-tall cockroaches along the rusted suspension cables. There were a score of the things on the flat north tower where Savi had landed them last time and where the sonie seemed intent upon landing now.

Manual or automatic approach?” asked the sonie.

“Manual!” shouted Harman. The holographic virtual controls blinked into existence and he twisted the omni controller to turn the sonie away from the north tower just a few seconds and fifty feet before they would have landed amongst the voynix. Two of the voynix actually leaped at them, one of them coming within ten feet of the sonie before silently falling more than seventy stories to the rocks below. The dozen or so remaining voynix on the flat tower top followed the sonie with their eyeless, infrared gazes and dozens more streamed up the scabrous towers to the tops, their bladed fingers and sharp-edged peds cutting into cement as they clambered.

“We can’t land,” said Harman. The bridge and hillsides and even the surrounding peaks were alive with the scuttling things.

“There aren’t any voynix on the green bubbles,” called Petyr. He was up and on his knees, his bow in his left hand and an arrow notched. The forcefield had flicked off and the air was both chill and humid. The smell of rain and rotting vegetation was very strong.

“We can’t land on the green bubbles,” said Harman, circling the sonie about a hundred feet out from the suspension cables. “There’s no way in. We have to turn back.” He swung the sonie back north and began to gain altitude.

“Wait!” called Hannah. “Stop.”

Harman leveled off and set the sonie in a gentle, banking circle pattern. To the west, lightning flickered between the low clouds and high peaks.

“When we were here ten months ago, I explored the place while you and Ada were out hunting Terror Birds with Odysseus,” said Hannah. “One of the bubbles… on the south tower… had other sonies in it, like a sort of… I don’t know. What was that word we sigled from the gray-bound book? ‘Garage?’ ”

“Other sonies!” cried Petyr. Harman also wanted to shout aloud. More flying machines could decide the fate of everyone at Ardis Hall. He wondered why Odysseus had never mentioned the extra sonies when he came back with the flechette guns after his solo return trip to the Bridge some months ago.

“No, not sonies… I mean, not complete sonies,” Hannah said hurriedly, “but parts of them. Shells. Machine parts.”

Harman shook his head, feeling his eagerness deflate. “What does this have to do with…” he began.

“It looked like a place where they could land,” said Hannah.

Harman banked the sonie past the south tower, taking care to stay far out. There were over a hundred voynix atop the towers, but none on the scores of green bubbles that clustered and twisted around the bridge tower like grapes of various sizes. “There’s no opening anywhere,” called back Harman. “And so many bubbles… you’d never remember which one you were in from out here.” He remembered from their first visit that although the glass of the buckyglas globules was clear and color-free while inside looking out, the bubbles were opaque to an outside viewer.

Lightning flashed. It began to rain on them and the forcefield flickered up again. The voynix on the tops of the tower and the hundreds more clinging to the vertical tower itself turned their eyeless bodies to follow their circling.

“I can remember,” said Hannah from the rear niche. She was also on her knees, holding the unconscious Odysseus’ hand in hers. “I have a good visual memory… I’ll just retrace my steps from that afternoon I was there, look at the landscape from different angles, and figure out which bubble I was in.” She glanced around and then closed her eyes for a minute.

“There,” said Hannah, pointing to a green bubble protruding about sixty feet out from the south tower, two-thirds of the way up the orange-red monolith. It was just one of hundreds of green-glass bumps on that tower.

Harman flew lower.

“No opening,” he said as he twisted the virtual omnicontroller, bringing the sonie to a hover about seventy-five feet out from the bubble. “Savi landed us on the top of the north tower.”

“But it makes sense that they would have flown the sonies into that… garage,” said Hannah. “The bottom of it was flat, and a different substance than most of the green globes.”

“You two told me once that Savi said it was a museum,” said Petyr, “and I’ve sigled that word since then. They probably brought the sonie parts in piece by piece.”

Hannah shook her head. Harman thought, not for the first time, that the pleasant young woman could be stubborn when she wanted to be.

“Let’s go closer,” she said.

“The voynix…” began Harman.

“They aren’t out on the bubble, so they’d have to leap from the tower,” argued Hannah. “We can get all the way to the bubble and they can’t reach us by jumping.”

“They can be out on the green stuff in a minute…” began Petyr.

“I don’t think they can,” said Hannah. “Something’s keeping them off the glass.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Petyr.

“Wait,” said Harman. “Maybe it does.” He told them both about the crawler they’d been in when Savi drove Daeman and him into the Mediterranean Basin ten months earlier. “The top of the machine was like this glass,” he said, “tinted from the outside but clear when looking out. But nothing stuck to it. Not rain, not even voynix when they tried to jump on the crawler in Jerusalem. Savi said that the glass had some sort of forcefield just above the glass material that made it frictionless. I can’t remember if she said it was buckyglas, though.”

“Let’s go closer,” said Hannah.

Twenty feet from the bubble and Harman saw the way to get in. It was subtle, and if he hadn’t been to Prospero’s Isle, where both the airlock to the orbital city and the entrance to the Firmary worked with this same technology, he never would have noticed it. A barely visible rectangle on the edge of the elongated bubble was a slightly lighter green than the rest of the buckyglas. He told the other two about what Savi had called “semipermeable membranes” on Prospero’s airlock and Firmary.

“What if this isn’t one of those semiwhatsit membranes,” said Petyr. “Just a trick of the light?”

“I guess we crash,” said Harman. He nudged the omnicontroller and the sonie slid forward.

“If you couch him there, he shall die,” said a voice from the darkness. Then Ariel stepped into the light.

The semipermeable molecular membrane had been quite permeable enough, the rectangle had solidified behind them, Harman had landed the sonie on the metal deck amongst the cannibalized parts of the machine’s own kind, and the three of them had wasted no time getting Odysseus-Noman onto the stretcher and out of the garage. Hannah had grabbed the front of the stretcher, Harman had taken the rear, Petyr provided security, and they were into the green-bubble helix maze at once, traversing corridors, climbing unmoving escalators, and heading for the bubble filled with crystal coffins where Savi had said both she and Odysseus had slept their long cryosleeps.

Within minutes, Harman was impressed not only with Hannah’s memory—she never hesitated when they came to a junction of bubble corridors or stairs—but with her strength. The thin young woman wasn’t even breathing hard, but Harman would have welcomed a break. Odysseus-Noman wasn’t that tall, but he was heavy. Harman caught himself glancing at the unconscious man’s chest to make sure he was still breathing. He was… but only just.

When they reached the main bubble helix rising around the bridge tower, all three of them hesitated and Petyr raised his readied bow.

Scores of voynix were hanging from the bridge metal, apparently looking down at them with their eyeless carapaces.

“They can’t see us,” said Hannah. “The bubble’s dark from the outside.”

“No, I think they can see us,” said Harman. “Savi said their hood receptors see three hundred and sixty degrees in the infrared… the range of light that’s more heat than vision, our eyes don’t see into it… and I have the feeling they’re looking at us right through the opaque buckyglas.”

They advanced down the curved corridor another thirty paces and the voynix shifted their clinging postures to follow their advance. Suddenly half a dozen of the heavy creatures leaped down onto the glass.

Petyr raised his nocked bow and Harman was sure that the voynix would come crashing through the buckyglas, but there was only the softest of thumps as each voynix struck the millimeter-thin forcefield and slid off, falling away. The humans happened to be in a stretch of the bubble corridor where the floor was almost transparent—an unnerving experience, but at least Harman and Hannah had seen it before and trusted the near-transparent floor to hold them. Petyr kept glancing at his feet as if he were going to fall any second.

They passed through the largest room—museum, Savi had called it—and entered the long bubble with the crystal coffins. Here the buckyglas was almost opaque and very green. It reminded Harman of the time—could it only have been a year and a half ago—when he had walked miles out into the Atlantic Breach and peered in through towering walls of water on each side to see huge fish swimming higher than his head. The light had been dim and green like this.

Hannah set down the stretcher, Harman hurried to lower it with her, and she looked around. “Which cryo-crèche?”

There were eight crystal coffins in the long room, all empty and gleaming dully in the low light. Tall boxes of humming machines were connected to each coffin and virtual lights blinked green, red, and amber above metal surfaces.

“I have no idea,” said Harman. Savi had talked to Daeman and him about her sleeping for centuries in one or more of these cryo-crèches, but that conversation had taken place more than ten months ago while they were entering the Mediterranean Basin in the crawler and he didn’t remember the details well. Perhaps there had been no details to remember.

“Let’s just try this closest one,” said Harman. He took hold of the unconscious Odysseus under the man’s bandaged arms, waited for Petyr and Hannah to find a grip, and they started lifting him into the coffin closest to a spiral staircase that Harman remembered going up into another bubble corridor.

“If you couch him there, he shall die,” said a soft, androgynous voice from the darkness.

All three hurried to lower Odysseus back onto the stretcher. Petyr raised his bow. Harman and Hannah set their hands to their sword hilts. The figure emerged from the darkness beyond the monitoring machines.

Harman instantly knew that this was the Ariel of whom Savi and Prospero had spoken, but he did not know how he knew this. The figure was short—barely five feet tall—and not-quite-human. He or she had greenish-white skin that was not really skin—Harman could see right through the outer layer to the interior, where sparkling lights seemed to float in emerald fluid—and a perfectly formed face so androgynous that it reminded Harman of pictures of angels he had sigled from some of Ardis Hall’s oldest books. He or she had long slender arms and normal hands except for the length and grace of the fingers, and appeared to be wearing soft green slippers. At first Harman thought that the Ariel figure was wearing clothes—or not so much clothes as a series of pale, leaf-embroidered vines running round and round its slim form and sewn into a tight bodysuit—but then he realized that pattern lay in the creature’s skin rather than atop it. There was still no sign of gender.

Ariel’s face was human enough—long, thin nose, full lips curved in a slight smile, black eyes, hair curling down to his or her shoulders in greenish-white strands—but the effect of looking right through Ariel’s transparent skin to the floating nodes of light within diminished any sense that one was looking at a human being.

“You’re Ariel,” said Harman, not quite making it a question.

The figure dipped its head in acknowledgment. “I see that Savi herself has told thee of me,” he or she said in that maddeningly soft voice.

“Yes. But I thought that you would be… intangible… like Prospero’s projection.”

“A hologram,” said Ariel. “No. Prospero assumes substance as he pleases, but rarely does it please him to do so. I, on the other hand, whilst being called a spirit or sprite for so very long by so very many, yet love to be corporeal.”

“Why do you say that this crèche will kill Odysseus?” asked Hannah. She was crouching next to the unconscious man, trying to find his pulse. Noman looked dead to Harman’s eye.

Ariel stepped closer. Harman glanced at Petyr, who was staring at the figure’s translucent skin. The younger man had lowered the bow but continued to look shocked and suspicious.

“These are crèches such as Savi used,” said Ariel, gesturing toward the eight crystal coffins. “Therein all activity of the body is suspended or slowed, it is true, like an insect in amber or a corpse on ice, but these couches heal no wounds, no. Odysseus has for centuries kept his own time-ark hidden here. Its abilities surpasseth my understanding. “

“What are you?” asked Hannah, rising. “Harman told us that Ariel was an avatar of the self-aware biosphere, but I don’t know what that means.”

“No one does,” said Ariel, making a delicate motion part bow, part curtsy. “Wilst thou follow me then to Odysseus’ ark?”

Ariel led them to the spiral staircase that helixed up through the ceiling, but rather than climbing, she laid her right palm against the floor and a hidden segment of the floor irised open, showing more spiral staircase continuing downward. The stairs were wide enough to accommodate the stretcher, but it was still hard and tricky work to carry the heavy Odysseus down the stairway. Petyr had to go ahead with Hannah to keep the unconscious man from sliding off.

Then they followed a green bubble corridor to an even smaller room, this one allowing in even less light than the crystal coffin chamber above. With a start, Harman realized that this space was not in one of the buckyglas bubbles, but had been carved out of the concrete and steel of the actual Bridge tower. Here there was only one crèche, wildly different from the crystal boxes—this machine was larger, heavier, darker, an onyx coffin with clear glass only above where the man or woman’s face would be. It was connected by a myriad of cables, hoses, conduits, and pipes to an even larger onyx machine that had no dials or readouts of any sort. There was a strong smell which reminded Harman of the air just before a serious thunderstorm.

Ariel touched a pressure plate on the side of the time-ark and the long lid hissed open. The cushions inside were frayed and faded, still impressed with the outline of a man just Noman’s size.

Harman looked at Hannah, they hesitated only a second, and then they set Odysseus-Noman’s body inside the ark.

Ariel made a motion as if to shut the lid, but Hannah quickly stepped closer, leaned into the ark, and kissed Odysseus gently on the lips. Then she stepped back and allowed Ariel to close the lid. It sealed shut with an ominous hiss.

An amber sphere immediately flicked into existence between the ark and the dark machine.

“What does that mean?” asked Hannah. “Will he live?”

Ariel shrugged—a graceful motion of slim shoulders. “Ariel is the last of all living things to know the heart of a mere machine. But this machine decides its occupants’ fates within three revolutions of our world. Come, we must depart. The air here will soon grow too thick and foul to breathe. Up into the light again, and we shall speak to one another like civil creatures.”

“I’m not leaving Odysseus,” said Hannah. “If we’ll know if he’ll live or die within seventy-two hours, then I’ll stay until we know.”

“You can’t stay,” said an indignant Petyr. “We have to hunt for the weapons and get back to Ardis as quick as we can.”

The temperature in the stuffy alcove was rising quickly. Harman felt sweat trickle down his ribs under his tunic. The thunderstorm burning smell was very strong now. Hannah took a step away from them and folded her arms across her chest. It was obvious that she intended to stay near the crèche.

“You will die here, cooling this fetid air with your sighs,” said Ariel. “But if thee wishes to monitor your beloved’s life or death, step closer here.”

Hannah stepped closer. She towered over the slightly glowing form that was Ariel.

“Give me your hand, child,” said Ariel.

Hannah warily extended her palm. Ariel took the hand, set it against his or her chest, and then pushed it into its green chest. Hannah gasped and tried to pull away, but Ariel’s strength was too much for her.

Before Harman or Petyr could move, Hannah’s hand and forearm were free again. The young woman stared in horror at a green-gold blob that remained in her fist. As the three humans watched, the organ deliquesced, seeming to flow into Hannah’s palm until it was gone.

Hannah gasped again.

“It is only a telltale,” said Ariel. “When your lover’s condition changeth, thee shall know it now.”

“How will I know it?” asked Hannah. Harman saw that the girl was pale and sweating.

“Thee shall know it,” repeated Ariel.

They followed the palely glowing figure out into the green buckyglas corridor and then up the stairs again.

* * *

No one spoke as they followed Ariel through corridors and up frozen escalators and then along a helix of globules attached to the underside of the great suspension cable. They stopped in a glass room attached to the concrete and steel cross-support high on the south tower. Just beyond the glass, voynix on this horizontal segment of the Bridge silently threw themselves at the green wall, clawing and scrabbling but finding neither entry nor purchase. Ariel paid them no heed as he or she led them to the largest room along this string of globules. There were tables and chairs here, and machines set into countertops.

“I remember this place,” said Harman. “We ate dinner here our one night at the Bridge. Odysseus cooked his Terror Bird right outside there on the Bridge… during a lightning storm. Do you remember, Hannah?”

Hannah nodded, but her gaze was distracted. She was chewing her lower lip.

“I thought all of you might wish to eat,” said Ariel.

“We don’t have time…” began Harman, but Petyr interrupted.

“We’re hungry,” he said. “We’ll take time to eat.”

Ariel waved them to the round table. She or he used a microwave to heat three bowls of soup in wooden bowls, then brought the bowls to the table and set out spoons and napkins. She or he poured cold water into four glasses, set the glasses in place, and joined them at the table. Harman tasted the soup warily—found it delicious, filled with fresh vegetables—and ate it with pleasure. Petyr tasted his and ate slowly, suspiciously, keeping one eye on Ariel as the biosphere avatar stood by the counter. Hannah didn’t touch her soup. She seemed to have flowed into herself, out of reach, much as the green-gold glob from Ariel had.

This is madness, thought Harman. This greenish… creature… has one of our party reach into his or her chest and remove a golden organ, and the three of us come up to have hot soup while the voynix scrabble at the glass ten feet away and the self-aware avatar of the planetary biosphere acts as our servitor. I’ve gone mad.

Harman acknowledged to himself that he may have gone mad, but the soup was good. He thought of Ada and continued eating.

“Why are you here?” asked Petyr. He’d pushed the wooden bowl away from him and was staring intently at Ariel. His bow was by his chair.

“What would thee have me tell you?” asked Ariel.

“What the hell is going on?” asked Petyr, never one for small talk or subtleties. “Who the hell are you, really? Why are the voynix here and why are they attacking Ardis? What is that goddamned thing that Daeman saw in Paris Crater? Is it a threat… and if so, how can we kill it?”

Ariel smiled. “Always among the first questions of thy kind… what is it and how can I kill it?”

Petyr waited. Harman lowered his spoon.

“It is a good question,” said Ariel, “ for if thee were the first men to leap up, instead of the last, thou shoulds’t cry, ‘Hell is empty, and all the devils are here!’ But it is a long tale, as long as dying Odysseus’, I think, and hard to tell over cold soup.”

“Then start by telling us again who you are,” said Harman. “Are you Prospero’s creature?”

“Aye, I was once. Not quite slave, not quite servant, but indentured to him.”

“Why?” asked Petyr. It had begun to rain hard, but the water droplets found no more purchase on the curved buckyglas than had the leaping voynix. Still, the pounding of the showers on the Bridge and girders made a background roar.

“The magus of the logosphere saved me from that damned witch Sycorax,” said Ariel, “whose servant then I was. For it was she who had mastered the deep codes of the biosphere, she who summoned Setebos, her lord, but when I showed myself too delicate to act her earthy and abhorred demands, she—in her most unmitigable rage—anchored me to a single, cloven pine, in which rift I did remain a dozen times a dozen years before being released by Prospero.”

“Prospero saved you,” said Harman.

“Prospero released me to do his bidding,” said Ariel. The thin, pale lips curved upward slightly. “And then demanded my service for another dozen times a dozen years.”

“And did you serve him?” asked Petyr.

“I did.”

“Do you serve him now?” asked Harman.

“I serve no man or magus now.”

“Caliban served Prospero once,” said Harman, trying to remember everything Savi had said, everything that the hologram named Prospero had told him up there on that orbital isle. “Do you know Caliban?”

“I do,” said Ariel. “A villain I do not love to look on.”

“Do you know if Caliban is back on Earth?” pressed Harman. He wished Daeman were here.

“Thou know’st it is truth,” said Ariel. “He seeks to turn all Earth into his old filthy-mantled pool, make the frozen sky his cell.”

The frozen sky his cell, thought Harman. “So Caliban is ally of this Setebos?” he asked aloud.


“Why did you show yourself to us?” asked Hannah. The beautiful young woman’s gaze was still distracted by sorrow, but she had turned her head to look at Ariel.

Ariel began to sing—

“Where the bee sucks, there suck I

In a cowslip’s bell I lie;

There I crouch when owls do cry.

On the bat’s back I do fly

After summer merrily:

Merrily, merrily, shall I live now

Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.”

“The creature’s mad,” said Petyr. He stood abruptly and walked to the bridge-side wall. Three voynix leapt at him, struck the field above the buckyglas, and dropped away. One of them managed to sink its bladed hands into the Bridge concrete and arrested its fall. The other two disappeared in the clouds below.

Ariel laughed softly. Then he or she wept. “Our shared Earth is under siege. The war has come here. Savi is dead. Odysseus is dying. Setebos would fain kill everything I am and come from and exist to protect. You old-style humans are either enemies or allies… I choose the latter. You have no vote in the matter.”

“You’ll help us fight the voynix, Caliban, and this Setebos creature?” asked Harman.

“No, thee shall help me.”

“How?” said Hannah.

“I have tasks for thee. First, you came for weapons…”

“Yes!” said Hannah, Petyr, and Harman in unison.

“Those two who stay shall find them in a secret room at the bottom of the south tower, behind the old, dead computing machines. You will see a circle on the opaque, greenglass wall, having then a pentacle inscribed within. Say merely ‘open’ and you will find the room where sly Odysseus and poor, dead Savi did conceal their little Lost-Era toys.”

“You said the two who stay?” said Petyr.

“One of thee three should take the sonie home to Ardis Hall before yon Ardis falls,” said Ariel. “The second of thee should stay here and tend to Odysseus if he does not die, for he alone knows the secrets of Sycorax, since once he did lie with her—and no man lies with Sycorax without suffering a change. The third of thee shall come with me.”

The three people looked at each other. With the heavy rain and cloudy light, it was as if they were deep underwater, staring at each other through cold green gloom.

“I’ll stay,” said Hannah. “I’d decided to stay anyway. If Odysseus awakes, someone should be here.”

“I’ll take the sonie home,” said Harman, cringing at his own cowardice but not caring at the same time. He had to get home to Ada.

“I’ll go with you, Ariel,” said Petyr, stepping closer to the delicate little figure.

“No,” he or she said.

The three humans glanced at each other and waited.

“No, it must be Harman who comes with me,” said Ariel. “We will tell the sonie to take Petyr straight home, but at half the speed thee came. It is an old machine and should not suffer the spur without dire cause. Harman must come with me.”

“Why?” said Harman. He wasn’t going anywhere but home to Ada—of this he was sure.

“Because drowning is thy destiny,” said Ariel, “and because thy wife’s life and thy child’s life depend upon this destiny. And Harman’s destiny this day is to come with me.” Ariel rose from the ground then, weightless, floating above them, floating six feet above the table, his or her black gaze never leaving Harman’s face as she or he sang again—

“Full fathom five our Harman lies,

Of his bones are coral made:

Those are pearls that were his eyes:

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

Ding dong, ding dong.”

“No,” said Harman. “I’m sorry, but… no.”

Petyr set an arrow to his string and drew back the bow.

“Are you going bat-fowling?” asked Ariel, twenty feet away now as she/he drifted in the green-gloomed air, but smiling at Petyr.

“Don’t…” said Hannah, but whether she was talking to Ariel or Petyr he never found out.

“Time to go,” said Ariel, almost laughing.

The lights went out. In the absolute darkness, there came a fluttering, rushing sound—as of an owl swooping—and in the darkness, Harman felt something lift him off the floor as effortlessly as a hawk would lift a baby rabbit, flinging and carrying him backward through the darkness, sending him flailing and falling down into the sudden blackness between the tall pillars of the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu.


The first day out from Mars and Phobos.

The thousand-foot-long, moravec-built atomic spaceship Queen Mab moves up out of Mars’ gravity well with a series of brilliant explosions literally kicking it in the butt.

Escape velocity from the moon Phobos is a mere 10 cm/sec, but the Queen Mab quickly kicks herself up to 20 km/sec acceleration in order to start the process of climbing up and out of Mars’ gravity. While the three-hundred-meter-long spacecraft could travel to Earth at that velocity, it’s too impatient to do so; the Queen Mab plans to keep accelerating until its thirty-eight thousand tons of mass are moving at a brisk 700 km/sec. On the pulse-unit storage decks, well-oiled chains and ratchets and chutes guide the Coke-can-sized forty-five-kiloton bombs down and into the ejector mechanism that runs out through the center of the pusher plate at the rear end of the spacecraft. During this part of the voyage, a bomb-can is ejected every twenty-five seconds and is then detonated six hundred meters behind the Queen Mab. On each pulse-unit ejection, the muzzle of the ejection tube is sprayed by anti-ablation oil, which also coats the pusher after each detonation. The heavy pusher plate is driven backward into the ship on thirty-three-meter-long shock absorbers, and then its huge pistons drive it back into place for the next plasma flash. The Queen Mab is soon moving toward Earth at a comfortable and steady 1.28-g’s, its actual acceleration increasing with every blast. The moravecs, of course, could withstand hundreds or even thousands of times that g-force for short periods, but there is one human aboard—the shanghaied Odysseus—and the moravecs were unanimous in not wanting him to end up as raspberry jam on a deck floor.

On the engineering level, Orphu of Io and other technical ‘vecs watch steam pressure and oil-level gauges while also monitoring voltage and coolant levels. With atom bombs going off behind it every thirty seconds, the spacecraft has much use for lubricant, so oil reservoirs the size of small oceangoing oil tankers from the Lost Era ring the bottom ten decks. The engine-room deck with its myriad of pipes, valves, meters, reciprocating pistons, and huge pressure gauges still looks to all concerned like something out of an early-Twentieth Century steamship.

Even with its gentle 1.28-g-load, the Queen Mab will be accelerating briskly enough, for long enough, and then decelerating quickly enough, that it plans to reach the Earth-Moon system in just a little over thirty-three standard days.

Mahnmut is busy this first day out checking systems in his submersible the Dark Lady. The sub is not only fitted snugly into one of the holds of the Queen Mab, but is also attached to a winged reentry shuttle for its drop into the Earth’s atmosphere in a month or so, and Mahnmut is making sure that the new controls and interfaces for these new parts are all in working order. Although a dozen decks apart while they work, Mahnmut and Orphu chat with each other via private tightbeam while they watch on separate ship video and radar links as Mars falls farther and farther behind. The cameras showing Mahnmut this stern-view require sophisticated computerized filters to be able to peer through the near-continuous flash-blast of the constantly erupting “pulse-units”… aka bombs. Orphu, while blind to the visible spectrum of light, “watches” Mars recede through a series of radar plots.

It feels weird to be leaving Mars after all the trouble we went through to get there, sends Mahnmut on the tightbeam.

Indeed, answers Orphu of Io. Especially now that the Olympian gods are warring so furiously together. To illustrate his point, the deep space moravec zooms Mahnmut’s video of retreating Mars, focusing on the icy slopes and green summit of Olympus Mons. Orphu of Io sees the activity as a series of infrared data columns, but Mahnmut can see it clearly enough. Bright explosions flash here and there and the caldera—a lake only twenty-four hours ago—now glows yellow and red on the infrared, showing that it is filled with lava once again.

Asteague/Che, Retrograde Sinopessen, Cho Li, General Beh bin Adee, and the other prime integrators seemed actively frightened, sends Mahnmut as he runs checks on the submersible’s power systems. Their explanation to Hockenberry about the gravity of Mars being wrong—how whoever or whatever changed it to near Earth-normal—also frightened me. This is the first time that he and Orphu have found to speak privately since the launch of the Queen Mab and Mahnmut welcomes the chance to share his anxiety.

That’s not even the tip of the merde iceberg, sends Orphu.

What do you mean? Mahnmut’s organic parts feel a sudden chill.

That’s right, rumbles Orphu, you were so busy shuttling around Mars and Ilium, you didn’t hear all of the Prime Integrators Commission findings, did you?

Tell me.

You’ll be happier not knowing, my friend.

Shut up and tell me… you know what I mean. Talk.

Orphu sighs—an odd noise over the tightbeam, sounding like the entire one thousand and thirty feet of the Queen Mab has suddenly depressurized. First of all, there’s the terraforming…

So? In their many weeks of traveling across Mars by submersible, felucca, and balloon, Mahnmut had grown accustomed to the blue sky, blue sea, lichen, trees, and abundant air.

All that water and life and air wasn’t there a mere century and a quarter ago, sends Orphu.

I know. Asteague/Che explained that during our first briefing on Europa, almost a standard year ago. It almost seemed impossible that the planet could have been terraformed that quickly. So?

So it was impossible, sends Orphu of Io. While you were schmoozing with the Greeks and Trojans, our science ‘vecs, both Five Moons and Belt, have been studying terraformed Mars. It wasn’t done by magic, you know… asteroids were used to melt the ice caps and free the CO2, more asteroids were targeted on the huge underground frozen water deposits and crashed into the Martian crust to set H2O flowing on the surface after millions of years, lichen, algae, and earthworms were seeded to prepare the soil for larger plants, and all that could happen only after fusion-fired oxygen and nitrogen generating plants had thickened the Martian atmosphere by a factor of ten.

In his submersible control crèche, Mahnmut quits tapping at his computer screen. He unjacks from virtual ports and lets the schematics and images of the sub and its reentry shuttle fade away. That would mean… he sends hesitantly.

Yep. That means that it took almost eight thousand standard years to terraform Mars to its present stage.

But… but… Mahnmut is sputtering on the tightbeam line, but he can’t help it. Asteague/Che had shown them astronomical photos of the old Mars, the airless, cold, lifeless Mars, taken from Jupiter and Saturn space only a standard century and a half ago. And the moravecs themselves had been seeded in the Outer System by human beings less than three thousand years earlier. Mars certainly hadn’t been terraformed then—except for a few domed Chinese colonies on Phobos and the surface, it was exactly as the early probes from Earth had first photographed it in the Twentieth or Twenty-first century or whenever.

But… sends Mahnmut again.

I love it when you’re speechless, sends Orphu, but there is none of the accompanying rumble that usually means the hard-vac moravec is amused.

You’re saying that we’re either talking magic or real gods here… a God-type god… or… Mahnmut’s tone on the tightbeam is approaching anger.


That’s not the real Mars.

Exactly, sends Orphu. Or rather, it’s the real Mars, but not our real Mars. Not the Mars that’s been in our solar system for lo, these billions of years.

Someone… something… swapped… our Mars… for… another… one?

It appears that way, sends Orphu. The Prime Integrators and their top science ‘vecs didn’t want to believe it either, but that’s the only answer that fits the facts. The sol-day thing cinched it.

Mahnmut realizes that his hands are shaking. He clasps them, shuts off his vision and video feeds so he can concentrate, and sends—Sol-day thing?

A small matter, but important, sends Orphu. Did you happen to notice during your travels through the Brane Hole between Mars and the Earth with Ilium that the days and nights were the same length?

I guess so but… Mahnmut stops. He doesn’t have to access his nonorganic memory banks to know that the Earth rotates once every twenty-three hours and fifty-six minutes, Mars every twenty-four hours and thirty-seven minutes. A small difference, but one whose disparity would have accumulated during the months of their stay on both Mars and the Hole-connected Earth where the Greeks were battling the Trojans. But it hadn’t. The days and nights on both worlds had been the same length, synchronized.

Jesus Christ, whispers Mahnmut on the tightbeam. Jesus Christ.

Maybe, sends Orphu, and this time the rumble is there. Or at least someone with comparable God-powers.

Someone or something from Earth punched holes in multidimensional Calabi-Yau Space, connected Branes across different universes, swapped our Mars for theirs… whoever and wherever “theirs” is… and left that other Mars… the terraformed Mars with gods on top of Olympos… still connected to the Ilium-Earth with quantum Brane Holes. And while they were at it, they changed the gravity and rotational period of Mars. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and holy crap!

Yes, sends Orphu. And the Prime Integrators now think that whoever or whatever did this little trick is on Earth or in near-Earth orbit. Still want to go on this trip?

I… I… if… I… begins Mahnmut and falls silent. Would he have volunteered for this trip if he’d known all this? After all, he already knew how dangerous it was, had known since he’d volunteered to go to Mars after being briefed on Europa. Whatever these beings were—these evolved post-humans or creatures from some other universe or dimension—they’d already shown themselves capable of controlling and playing with the very quantum fabric of the universe. What’s a couple of moved-around planets and altered rotation periods and gravitational fields compared to that? And what the hell was he doing on the Queen Mab hurtling toward Earth and its waiting god-monsters at a velocity of 180 km/sec and climbing? The unknown enemy’s control of the quantum underpinnings of the universe—of all universes—made this space-ship’s puny weapons and the thousand sleeping rockvec soldiers on board seem like a joke.

This is sort of sobering, he finally sends to Orphu.

Amen, sends his friend.

At that moment alarm bells begin ringing all over the ship, while alarm lights and klaxons override tightbeams and flash and clang across all other shared virtual and comm channels.

“Intruder! Intruder!” sounds the ship’s voice.

Is this a joke? sends Mahnmut.

No, replies Orphu. Your friend Thomas Hockenberry just… appeared… on the deck of the engine room here. He must have quantum teleported in.

Is he all right?

No. He’s bleeding profusely… there’s already blood all over the deck. He looks dead to me, Mahnmut. I’ve got him in my manipulators and I’m moving toward the human-hospital as fast as my repellors can get me there.

The ship is huge, the gravity is greater than anything he’s operated in before, and it takes Mahnmut several minutes to get out of his submersible, then out of the hold, and then up to the decks that he thinks of as the “human levels” of the ship. Besides enough sleeping and cooking quarters and toilets and acceleration couches to accommodate five hundred human beings, besides an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere set at sea-level pressure to be harmonious for humans, Deck 17 has a working medical infirmary outfitted with state-of-the-art early Twenty-second Century surgical and diagnostic equipment—ancient, but based on the most updated schematics that the Five Moons moravecs had on file.

Odysseus—their reluctant and angry human passenger—has been the only occupant of Deck 17 for this first day out from Phobos, but by the time Mahnmut arrives, he sees that a majority of the moravecs on the ship have gathered. Orphu is here, filling the corridor, as is the Ganymedan Prime Integrator Suma IV, the Callistan Cho Li, rockvec General Beh bin Adee, and two of the pilot techs from the bridge. The door to the medlab surgery is closed, but through the clear glass, Mahnmut can see Prime Integrator Asteague/Che watching as the spidery Amalthean, Prime Integrator Retrograde Sinopessen, works frantically over Hockenberry’s bloody body. Two smaller tech ‘vecs are taking Sinopessen’s orders, wielding laser scalpels and saws, connecting tubes, fetching gauze, and aiming virtual imaging equipment. There is blood on Retrograde Sinopessen’s small metal body and elegant silver manipulators.

Human blood, thinks Mahnmut. Hockenberry’s blood. There is more blood spattered here on the floor of the wide access corridor, some on the walls, and more on the pitted carapace and broad manipulators of his friend Orphu of Io.

“How is he?” Mahnmut asks Orphu, vocalizing the words. It is considered impolite to tightbeam in the company of other ‘vecs.

“Dead when I got him here,” says Orphu. “They’re trying to bring him back.”

“Is Integrator Sinopessen a student of human anatomy and medicine?”

“He’s always had an interest in Lost Era human medicine,” says Orphu. “It was his hobby. Sort of like you with Shakespeare’s sonnets and me with Proust.”

Mahnmut nods. Most of the moravecs he’d known on Europa had some interest in humanity and their ancient arts and sciences. Such interests had been programmed into the early autonomous robots and cyborgs seeded in the Asteroid Belt and Outer System, and their evolved moravec descendants retained the fascination. But does Sinopessen know enough human medicine to bring Hockenberry back from the dead?

Mahnmut sees Odysseus emerging from the cubby where he’s been sleeping. The barrel-chested man stops when he sees the crowd in the corridor and his hand automatically goes to the hilt of his sword—or rather, to the empty loop on his belt, for the moravecs had relieved him of his sword while he was unconscious on the hornet trip up to the ship. Mahnmut tries to imagine how strange this all must look to the son of Laertes—this metal ship they’ve described to him, sailing on the ocean of space he cannot see, now this motley assortment of moravecs in the corridor. No two ‘vecs are quite the same in size or appearance, ranging from Orphu’s two-ton hulking presence to the blackly smooth Suma IV to the chitinous and warlike rockvec General Beh bin Adee.

Odysseus ignores all of them and goes straight to the med lab window to stare in at the surgery, his face expressionless. Again, Mahnmut wonders what the bearded, barrel-chested warrior is thinking, seeing this long-legged silver spider and the two black-shelled techvecs hunched over Hockenberry—a man whom Odysseus has seen and spoken to many times in the last nine months—Odysseus and the group of moravecs in the corridor all staring at Hockenberry’s blood and opened chest and spread ribs splayed like something in a butcher shop. Will Odysseus think that Retrograde Sinopessen is eating him? wonders Mahnmut.

Without turning his gaze away from the operation, Odysseus says to Mahnmut in ancient Greek, “Why did your friends kill Hockenberry, son of Duane?”

“They didn’t. Hockenberry suddenly appeared here in our ship… you remember how he can use the gods’ abilities to travel instantly from place to place?”

“I remember,” says Odysseus. “I’ve watched him transport Achilles to Ilium, disappearing and appearing again as do the gods themselves. But I never believed that Hockenberry was a god or a son of a god.”

“No, he’s not, and has never claimed to be,” says Mahnmut. “And now it looks as if someone has stabbed him, but he was able to QT… to travel like the gods travel… here for help. The silver moravec you see in there and its two assistants are trying to save Hockenberry’s life.”

Odysseus turns his gray-eyed gaze down on Mahnmut. “Save his life, little machine-man? I can see that he is dead. The spider is lifting out his heart.”

Mahnmut turns to look. The son of Laertes is right.

Unwilling to distract Sinopessen, Mahnmut contacts Asteague/Che on the common channel. Is he dead? Irretrievably dead?

The Prime Integrator standing near the surgical table watching the procedure does not lift his head as he answers on the common band. No. Hockenberry’s life functions ceased for only a little over a minute before Sinopessen froze all brain activity—he believes that there was no irreversible damage. Integrator Sinopessen informs me that normally the procedure would be to inject several million nanocytes to repair the human’s damaged aorta and heart muscle, then insert more specialized molecular machines to replenish his blood supply and strengthen his immune system. The Integrator discovered that this is not possible with scholic Hockenberry.

Why not? asks the Callistan integrator, Cho Li.

Scholic Hockenberry’s cells are signed.

Signed? says Mahnmut. He’d never had much interest in biology or genetics—human or moravec—although he had long studied the biology of kraken, kelp, and other creatures of the Europan ocean where he’d driven his submersible for the last standard century and more.

Signed—copyrighted and copy-protected, sends Asteague/Che on the common band. Everyone on the ship except Odysseus and the unconscious Hockenberry is listening. This scholic was not born, he was… built. Retroengineered from some starter DNA and RNA. His body will accept no organ transplants, but more important than that, it will not accept new nanocytes, since it is already filled with very advanced nanotechnology.

What kind? asks the buckycarbon-sheathed Ganymedan, Suma IV. What does it do?

We don’t know yet. This answer comes from Sinopessen himself, even as his thin fingers wield laser scalpel, sutures, and micro-scissors while one of his other hands holds Hockenberry’s heart. These nanomemes and microcytes are much more sophisticated and complex than anything this surgery has or anything we’ve designed for moravec use. The cells and subcellular machinery ignore our own nano-interrogation and destroy any alien intrusion.

But you can save him anyway? asks Cho Li.

I believe so, says Retrograde Sinopessen. I’ll finish replenishing Scholic Hockenberry’s blood supply, complete the cell-repair and sewing up, allow neural activity to resume, initiate Grsvki-field stimulus to accelerate recovery, and he should be all right.

Mahnmut turns to share this prognosis with Odysseus, but the Achaean has turned and walked away.

The second day out from Mars and Phobos.

Odysseus walks the hallways, climbs the stairways, avoids the elevators, searches the rooms, and ignores the Hephaestan artifices called moravecs as he seeks a way out of this metal-halled annex to Hades.

“O Zeus,” he whispers in a long chamber empty and silent except for humming boxes, whispering ventilators, and gurgling pipes, “Father wide-ruling over gods and men alike, Father whom I disobeyed and rashly warred with, He who hast thundered forth from starry heaven for all the length of my life, He who once sent his beloved daughter Athena to favor me with her protection and love, Father, I ask thee now for a sign. Lead me out of this metal Hades of shadows and shades and impotent gestures to which I have come before my time. I ask only for my chance to die in battle, O Zeus, O Father who rules over the firm earth and the wide sea. Grant me this final wish and I shall be thy servant for all the days remaining to me.”

There is no answer, not even an echo.

Odysseus, son of Laertes, father of Telemachus, beloved of Penelope, favorite of Athena, clenches his fists and teeth against his fury and continues to pace the metal tunnels of this shell, this hell.

The artifices have told him that he is in a metal ship sailing the black sea of the kosmos, but they lie. They have told him that they took him from the battlefield on the day the Hole collapsed because they seek to help him find his way home to his wife and son, but they lie. They have told him that they are thinking objects—like men—with souls and hearts like men, but they lie.

This metal tomb is huge, a vertical labyrinth, and it has no windows. Here and there Odysseus finds transparent surfaces through which he can peer into yet another room, but he finds no windows or ports to look out onto this black sea of which they speak, only a few bubbles of clear glass that show him an eternally black sky holding the usual constellations. Sometimes the stars wheel and spin as if he’s had too much to drink. When none of the moravec machine toys are around, he pounds the windows and the walls until his massive, war-calloused fists are bloody, but he makes no marks on the glass or metal. He breaks nothing. Nothing opens to his will.

Some chambers are open to Odysseus, many are locked, and a few—like the place called the bridge, which they showed him on that first day of his exile in this right-angled Hades—are guarded by the black and thorny artifices called rockvecs or battle ‘vecs or Belt troopers. He has seen these black-thorned things fight during the months they helped protect Ilium and the Achaean encampments against the fury of the gods, and he knows that they have no honor. They are only machines using machines to fight other machines. But they are larger and heavier than Odysseus, armed with their machine weapons, and armored with their built-in blades and metal skin, whereas Odysseus has been stripped of all his weapons and armor. If all else fails, he will try to wrest a weapon away from one of the battle ‘vecs, but only after he has exhausted all his other choices. Having held and wielded weapons since he was a toddler, Odysseus, son of Laertes, knows that they must be learned—practiced with—their function and form understood as any artist understands his tools—and he does not know these blunt, scalloped, heavy, pointless weapons that the rockvecs carry.

In the room with all the roaring machines and the huge, plunging cylinders, he talks to the huge metal crab of a monster. Somehow, Odysseus knows the thing is blind. Yet somehow, he also knows, it finds its way around without the use of its eyes. Odysseus has known many brave men who were blind, and has visited blind seers, oracles, whose human sight had been replaced with second sight.

“I want to go back to the battlefields of Troy, Monster,” he says. “Take me there at once.”

The crab rumbles. It speaks Odysseus’ language, the language of civilized men, but so abominably that the words sound more like the crash of harsh surf on rocks—or the plunge and hiss of the huge pistons above—rather than true human speech.

“We have… long trip… in front of me… us… noble Odysseus, honored son of Laertes. When that is dead… finished… over… we hope to remove you… return you… to Penelope and Telemachus.”

How dare this animated metal hulk touch the names of my wife and child with its hidden tongue, thinks Odysseus. If he had even the dullest of swords or the crudest of clubs, he would bash this thing to pieces, tear open its shell, and find and rip out that tongue.

Odysseus leaves the crab-monster and seeks the bubble of curved glass where he can see the stars.

They are not moving now. They do not blink. Odysseus sets his scarred palms against the cold glass.

“Athena, goddess… I sing the glorious Power with azure eyes, Pallas Athena, tameless, chaste, and wise… hear my prayer.

“Tritogenia, goddess… town-preserving Maid, revered and mighty; from his awful head whom Zeus himself brought forth… in warlike armor dressed… Golden! All radiant!… I beseech thee, hear my prayer.

“Wonder, goddess, strange possessed… the everlasting Gods that Shape to see… shaking a javelin keen… impetuously rush from the crest of Aegis-bearing God, Father Zeus… so fearfully was heaven shaken… and did move beneath the might of the Cerulean-eyed…. hear my prayer.

“Child of the Aegis bearer, Third Born… sublime Pallas whom we rejoice to view… wisdom personified whose praise shall never unremembered be… hail to thee… please hear my prayer.”

Odysseus opens his eyes. Only the unblinking stars and his own reflection return his gray-eyed gaze.

The third day out from Phobos and Mars.

To a distant observer—say, someone watching through a powerful optical telescope from one of the orbital rings around Earth—the Queen Mab would appear as a complicated spear-shaft of girder-wrapped spheres, ovals, tanks, brightly painted oblongs, many-belled thruster quads, and a profusion of black buckycarbon hexagons, all arranged around the core stack of cylindrical habitation modules, all of which, in turn, are balanced atop a column of increasingly brilliant atomic flashes.

Mahnmut goes to see Hockenberry in the infirmary. The human is healing quickly, thanks in part to the Grsvki-process, which fills the ten-bed recovery room with the smell of a thunderstorm. Mahnmut has brought flowers from the Queen Mab’s extensive greenhouse—his memory banks had told him that this was still proper protocol in the prerubicon Twenty-first Century from which Hockenberry, or at least Hockenberry’s DNA, had come. The scholic actually laughs at the sight of them and allows that he’s never been given flowers before, at least as best he can recall. But Hockenberry adds that his memory of his life on Earth—his real life, his life as a university scholar rather than as a scholic for the gods—is far from complete.

“It’s lucky that you QT’d to the Queen Mab,” says Mahnmut. “No one else would have had the medical expertise or the surgical skills with which to heal you.”

“Or the spidery moravec surgeon,” says Hockenberry. “Little did I know when I met Retrograde Sinopessen that he’d end up saving my life within twenty-four hours. Funny how life works.”

Mahnmut can think of nothing to say to that. After a minute, he says, “I know you’ve talked to Asteague/Che about what happened to you, but would you mind discussing it again?”

“Not at all.”

“You say that Helen stabbed you?”


“And the motive was just to keep her husband—Menelaus—from ever discovering that it was she who betrayed him after you quantum teleported him back to the Achaean lines?”

“I think so.” Mahnmut was not an expert at reading human facial expressions, but even he could tell that Hockenberry looked sad at the thought.

“But you told Asteague/Che that you and Helen had been intimate… were once lovers.”


“You’ll have to excuse my ignorance about such things, Dr. Hockenberry, but it would appear that Helen of Troy is a very vicious woman.”

Hockenberry shrugs and smiles, albeit sadly. “She’s a product of her era, Mahnmut—formed by harsh times and motives beyond my understanding. When I used to teach the Iliad to my undergraduate students, I’d always emphasize that all of our attempts to humanize Homer’s tale—to make it into something explicable by modern humanist sensibilities—were destined to fail. These characters… these people… while completely human, were poised at the very beginning of our so-called civilized era, millennia before our current humanist values would begin to emerge. Viewed in that light, Helen’s actions and motivations are as hard for us to fathom as, say, Achilles’ almost complete lack of mercy or Odysseus’ endless guile.”

Mahnmut nods. “Did you know that Odysseus is on this ship? Has he come to see you?”

“No, I haven’t seen him. But Prime Integrator Asteague/Che told me he was aboard. Actually, I’m afraid he’ll kill me.”

“Kill you?” says Mahnmut, shocked.

“Well, you remember you used me to help kidnap him. I was the one who convinced him that you had a message from Penelope for him—all that garbage about the olive tree trunk as part of his bed back home in Ithaca. And when I got him to the hornet… zap! Mep Ahoo coldcocked him and loaded him aboard the hornet. If I were Odysseus, I’d sure carry a grudge against one Thomas Hockenberry.”

Coldcocked, thinks Mahnmut. He loved it when he encountered a new English word. He runs it through his lexicon, finds it, discovers to his surprise that it isn’t an obscenity, and files it away for future use. “I’m sorry I put you in a position of possible harm,” says Mahnmut. He considers telling the scholic that in all the confusion of the Hole closing forever, Orphu had tightbeamed him an order from the prime integrators—get Odysseus—but then he thinks better of using that as an excuse. Thomas Hockenberry, Ph.D., had been born into the century when the excuse of I was only following orders went out of style once and for all.

“I’ll talk to Odysseus…” begins Mahnmut.

Hockenberry shakes his head and smiles again. “I’ll talk to him sooner or later. In the meantime, Asteague/Che posted one of your rockvecs as a guard.”

“I wondered what the Belt moravec was doing outside the medlab,” says Mahnmut.

“If worse comes to worse,” says Hockenberry, touching the gold medallion visible through the opening in his pajama tops, “I’ll just QT away.”

“Really?” says Mahnmut. “Where would you go? Olympos is a war zone. Ilium may have been put to the torch by now.”

Hockenberry’s smile disappears. “Yeah. There is that problem. I could always go look for my friend Nightenhelser where I left him—in Indiana, circa 1000 B.C.”

“Indiana…” Mahnmut says softly. “On which Earth?”

Hockenberry rubs his chest where, less than seventy-two hours earlier, Retrograde Sinopessen had been holding his heart. “Which Earth,” repeats the scholic. “You have to admit, that sounds odd.”

“Yes,” says Mahnmut, “but I suspect we’ll all have to get used to thinking that way. Your friend Nightenhelser is on the Earth you QT’d away from—Ilium-Earth, we might call it. This spacecraft is headed toward an Earth that exists three thousand years after you first lived and… mmm…”

“Died,” says Hockenberry. “Don’t worry, I’m used to that concept. It doesn’t bother me… too much.”

“It’s amazing that you were able to visualize the engine room of the Queen Mab so clearly after you were stabbed,” says Mahnmut. “You arrived here unconscious, so you must have activated the QT medallion just as you were on the verge of passing out.”

The scholic shakes his head. “I don’t remember twisting the medallion or visualizing anything.”

“What’s the last thing you remember, Dr. Hockenberry?”

“A woman standing over me, looking down at me with an expression of horror,” says the man. “A tall woman, pale skin, dark hair.”


Hockenberry shakes his head. “She’d left already, gone down the steps. This woman just… appeared.”

“One of the Trojan women?”

“No. She was dressed… strangely. In a sort of tunic and skirt, more like a woman of my era than like any female outfit I’ve seen in the last ten years on Ilium or Olympos. But not like my era either…” He trailed away.

“Could she have been an hallucination?” asks Mahnmut. He doesn’t add the obvious—that Helen’s knife blade had nicked Hockenberry’s heart, spilling blood into his chest and denying it to the human’s brain.

“She could have been… but she wasn’t. But I had the strangest sense when I stared at her and saw her looking back at me…”


“I don’t know how to describe it,” says Hockenberry. “A sense of certainty that she and I were going to meet again soon, somewhere else. Somewhere far away from Troy.”

Mahnmut thinks about this and the two—moravec and human—sit in comfortable silence for a long moment. The thud of the great pistons—a pounding that went through the very bones of the ship every thirty seconds followed by half-felt, half-heard hisses and sighs of the huge reciprocating cylinders—has become accustomed background noise, like the soft hiss of the ventilation system.

“Mahnmut,” says Hockenberry, touching his chest through the gap in his pajama shirt, “do you know why I didn’t want to come along on your voyage to Earth?”

Mahnmut shakes his head. He knows that Hockenberry can see his own reflection in the polished black plastic vision strip that runs around the front of Mahnmut’s red metal-alloy skull.

“It’s because I understood enough about the ship—this Queen Mab—to know her real reason for going to Earth.”

“The prime integrators told you the real reason,” says Mahnmut. “Didn’t they?”

Hockenberry smiles. “No. Oh—the reasons they gave are true enough, but they’re not the real reason. If you moravecs wanted to travel to Earth, you didn’t have to build this huge monstrosity of a ship to make the voyage in. You had sixty-five combat spacecraft in orbit around Mars already, or shuttling between Mars and the Asteroid Belt.”

“Sixty-five?” repeats Mahnmut. He’d known there had been ships in space, some of them hardly larger than the shuttle hornets, others large enough to haul heavy loads all the way from Jupiter space if necessary. He had no idea there were so many. “How do you know there were sixty-five, Dr. Hockenberry?”

“Centurion Leader Mep Ahoo told me while we were still on Mars and Ilium-Earth. I was curious about the ships’ propulsion and he was vague—spacecraft engineering isn’t his specialty, he’s a combat ‘vec—but I got the impression these other ships had fusion drives or ion drives… something much more sophisticated than atomic bombs in cans.”

“Yes,” says Mahnmut. He didn’t know much about spacecraft either—the one that had brought Orphu and him to Mars had been a jury-rigged combination of solar sails and disposable fusion thrusters, all flung initially across the solar system by the two-trillion-watt moravecbuilt trebuchet of Jupiter’s accelerator-scissors—but even he, a modest submersible driver from Europa, knew that the Queen Mab was primitive and much larger than its stated mission would demand. He thought he knew where Hockenberry was headed with this, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it.

“An atom bomb going off every thirty seconds,” the human says softly, “behind a ship the size of the Empire State Building, as all the prime integrators and Orphu were eager to point out. And the Mab doesn’t have any of the exterior stealth material that even the hornets are covered with. So you have this gigantic object with a bright what do you call it?… albedo… atop a series of atomic blasts that will be visible from the surface of the Earth in daytime by the time you arrive in Earth orbit… hell, it might be visible to the naked eye there now, for all I know.”

“Which leads you to conclude…” says Mahnmut. He is tightbeaming this conversation to Orphu, but his Ionian friend has remained silent on their private channel.

“Which leads me to believe that the real purpose of this mission is to be seen as soon as possible,” says Hockenberry. “To appear as threatening as possible so as to evoke a response from the powers on or around Earth—those very powers who you claim have jiggery-pokered the very fabric of quantum reality itself. You’re trying to draw fire.”

“Are we?” says Mahnmut. Even as he says it, he knows that Dr. Thomas Hockenberry is right… and that he, Mahnmut of Europa, has suspected this all along but not confronted his own certainty.

“Yes, you are,” says Hockenberry. “My guess is that this ship is just loaded with recording devices, so that when the Unknown Powers in orbit around Earth—or wherever they’re hiding—blast the Queen Mab to atoms—all the details of that power, the nature of those superweapons, will be transmitted back to Mars, or the Belt, or Jupiter Space, or wherever. This ship is like the Trojan Horse that the Greeks haven’t yet thought to build back on Ilium-Earth—and may never build, since I’ve screwed up the flow of events and since Odysseus is your captive here on the ship. But this is a Trojan Horse that you know… or are fairly certain… that the other side is going to burn. With all of us in it.”

On the tightbeam, Mahnmut sends, Orphu, is this the truth of it? Yes, my friend, but not all of it, comes the grim reply. To the human, Mahnmut says, “Not with all of us in it, Dr. Hockenberry. You still have your QT medallion. You can leave at any time.”

The scholic quits rubbing his chest—the scar is just a line on his flesh, livid still but fading where the molecular glue is healing the incision—and now he touches the heavy QT medallion hanging there. “Yes,” he says. “I can leave at any time.”


Daeman had selected nine other people at Ardis—five men and four women—to help him with the warning trip, faxing to all three hundred known faxnode portals to see if Setebos had been there and to warn the inhabitants there if Setebos had not—but he decided to wait until Harman, Hannah, and Petyr returned with the sonie. Harman had told Ada that they’d be back by the lunch hour or shortly after.

The sonie wasn’t back by lunchtime or by an hour after that.

Daeman waited. He knew that Ada and the others were nervous—scouts and firewood teams had noted shadowy movement of many voynix in the forests north, east, and south of Ardis, as if they were gathering for a major attack—and he didn’t want to pull ten people off their duties before Harman and the other two returned.

They didn’t return by midafternoon. Lookouts on the guard towers and palisades kept glancing toward the low, gray clouds, obviously hoping to see the sonie.

Daeman knew that he should leave—that Harman had been right, that the fax reconaissance and warning trip had to be done quickly—but he waited another hour. Then two. However illogical it might be, he felt that he would be abandoning Ada if he left before Harman and the sonie returned. If something had happened to Harman, Ada would be devastated but the community at Ardis might survive. Without the sonie, the fate of everyone might well be sealed during the next voynix attack.

Ada had been busy all afternoon, only coming outside occasionally to stand alone on Hannah’s cupola tower to watch the skies. Daeman, Tom, Siris, Loes, and a few others stood nearby but did not speak to her. The clouds grew grayer and it began to snow again. All of the short afternoon felt more and more like some terrible twilight.

“Well, I have to go in to work in the kitchen,” said Ada at last, pulling her shawl higher around her shoulders. Daeman and the others watched her go. Finally he went into the house, up to his small third-floor cubby under the eaves, and dug through his clothing chest until he found what he needed—the green thermskin suit and osmosis mask given to him by Savi more than ten months earlier.

The suit had been ripped and soiled—rent by Caliban’s claws and teeth, smeared by his blood and Caliban’s, then by the mud of their forced sonie landing the previous spring—and while cleaning had removed the stains, the suit had tried to heal all of its own rips and tears. It had almost succeeded. Here and there the green insulating overfabric was all but invisible, revealing the silver sheen of the molecular layer itself, but its heating and pressure-sealing faculties were almost intact—Daeman had faxed to an empty node at fourteen thousand feet above sea level, an uninhabited, wind-ravaged, snow-pelted node known only as Pikespik, to test it. The thermskin had kept him alive and warm and the osmosis mask had also worked, providing him with enough enhanced atmosphere to breathe easily.

Now, in his room under the eaves, he laid the almost weightless thermskin and mask in his pack next to the extra crossbow bolts and water bottles and went downstairs to assemble his waiting team.

A cry went up from outside. Daeman ran outdoors at the same time Ada and half the household did.

The sonie was visible about a mile away. It had come out through the clouds smoothly enough, circling around from the southwest, but suddenly it wobbled, dived, righted itself, then wobbled again, suddenly diving steeply toward earth just beyond the stockade on the south lawn. The silvery disk pulled up at the last minute, actually struck the top of the wooden palisade—making three guards there throw themselves to the ground to avoid the machine—and then it plowed into the frozen ground, bounced thirty feet, hit again, threw sod high into the air, bounced once more, and slid to a halt, plowing a shallow furrow into the rising lawn.

Ada led the rush from the front porch as everyone ran to the downed machine. Daeman reached it just seconds after Ada.

Petyr was the only person in the machine. He lay stunned and bleeding in the forward-center position. The other five cushioned passenger niches were filled with… guns. Daeman recognized variations on the flechette rifles that Odysseus had brought back, but also handguns and other weapons he’d never seen before.

They helped Petyr out of the sonie. Ada tore a clean strip of cloth from her tunic and pressed it against the young man’s bleeding forehead.

“I hit my head when the forcefield went off…” said Petyr. “Stupid. I should have let it land itself… I said ‘manual’ when it came off autopilot just after it came out of the clouds… thought I knew how to fly it… didn’t.”

“Hush,” said Ada. Tom, Siris, and others helped support the wobbly man. “Tell us about it when we get you in the house, Petyr. You guards… back to your posts, please. The rest of you, back to whatever you were doing. Loes, perhaps you and some of the men could bring in those weapons and ammunition magazines. There may be more in the sonie’s storage compartments. Put everything in the main hall. Thank you.”

In the parlor of Ardis Hall, Siris and Tom brought disinfectant and bandages while Petyr told his story to at least thirty people.

He described the Golden Gate under voynix siege and the meeting with Ariel. “Then the bubble went dark for several minutes, the glass gone opaque to sunlight, and when the buckyglas became transparent again, Harman was gone.”

“Gone where, Petyr?” Ada’s voice was steady.

“We don’t know. We spent three hours searching the whole complex—Hannah and I—and we found the weapons in a sort of museum room in a bubble she’d never been in before—but there was no sign of Harman or this green thing, Ariel.”

“Where is Hannah?” asked Daeman.

“She stayed behind,” said Petyr. He was bent over, holding his bandaged head. “We knew we had to get the sonie and as many of the weapons back to Ardis as quickly as possible—Ariel had said that he, she, had reprogrammed the sonie to return more slowly than we’d gone—it took about four hours on the return trip. Ariel had said that Odysseus would be out of his crèche in seventy-two hours if the machine could save his life, and Hannah said she was going to stay there until she knew… knew whether he’d made it or not. Besides, we found scores more weapons—we’ll have to go back with the sonie—and Hannah said we could pick her up then.”

“Were the voynix on the verge of getting into the bubbles?” asked Loes.

Petyr shook his head and then grimaced at the pain. “We didn’t think so. They slid right off the buckyglas and there were no exits or entrances functioning except the semipermeable garage door that sealed behind me when I flew out.”

Daeman nodded thoughtfully. He remembered both the friction-free buckyglas of the crawler canopy during their drive into the Mediterranean Basin with Savi and the semipermeable membrane doors up on Prospero’s orbital isle.

“Anyway, Hannah has about fifty flechette weapons,” said Petyr with a wry grin, “we carried them out of the museum in chests and blankets. She could kill a lot of voynix if they do get in. Plus, the room that Odysseus’ crèche is in is sort of hidden from the rest of the complex.”

“We’re not sending the sonie back tonight, are we?” asked the woman named Salas. “I mean…” She glanced out the windows at the dimming afternoon.

“No, we’re not sending the sonie back today,” said Ada. “Thank you, Petyr. Go on to the infirmary and get some rest. We’ll bring the sonie up to the house and inventory the weapons and ammunition you brought back. You may have saved Ardis.”

People went about their business. Even out on the far lawn, there was the buzz of excited conversation. Loes and others who had fired the flechette guns originally brought back by Odysseus, tested the new weapons—all those flechette guns they tried worked—and set up an ad hoc firing range behind Ardis where they could begin training others. Daeman himself oversaw the brushing off of the sonie. It hummed back to life when the controls were reactivated and resumed its hover three feet off the ground. Half a dozen men walked it back to the house. The storage compartments at the rear and sides of the machine—where Odysseus had once stored his spears while going on a hunt for Terror Birds—had indeed been filled with more guns.

Finally, by late afternoon, with the winter twilight fading the day from the sky, Daeman went out to see Ada where she was standing by Hannah’s flaming hearth tower. He started to speak, then found he didn’t know what to say.

“Go,” said Ada. “Good luck.” She kissed Daeman on the cheek and pushed him back toward the house.

In the last gray light of the snowy afternoon, Daeman and the nine others loaded their packs with more crossbow bolts, biscuits, cheese, and water bottles—they considered taking some of the new flechette pistols, but decided to stay with the crossbows and knives, weapons they were familiar with—and then they quickly walked the mile and a quarter of road between the Ardis Hall stockade and the fax pavilion. At times they jogged. Shadows were moving within the deeper shade of the forest, although the ten couldn’t see any voynix in the open. There was no bird sound from the trees—not even the sparse flutters and calls common in deep winter. At the fax pavilion stockade, the nervous men and women keeping guard there—twenty of them—first welcomed them as their relief come early, then showed their displeasure when they learned the group was faxing out. No one had faxed in or out in the past twenty-four hours and the guard team had seen voynix—scores of them—moving west in the forest. They knew the faxnode pavilion was not really defensible should the voynix attack en masse and all of them wanted to be back at Ardis before nightfall. Daeman told them that Ardis was not the place they wanted to be this night—that a relief crew might not make it down to the fax pavilion before nightfall because of the voynix activity, but that someone would fly down in the sonie and check on them within the next few hours. If there was an attack here at the pavilion and the defenders here could get one messenger back to Ardis, the sonie could bring in reinforcements, five at a time.

Daeman looked at the team he’d put together—Ramis, Caman, Dorman, Caul, Edide, Cara, Siman, Oko, and Elle—and then he briefed the nine volunteers on their mission a final time: each had been assigned a list of thirty faxnode codes, codes simply rising in numerical order since distance from Ardis made no difference in the fax world, and explained again how they were to flick to all thirty sites before returning. If there was sign of the blue ice-web and the many-handed Setebos, they were to note it, see what they could from the fax pavilion there, and get the hell out. Their job was not to fight. If the community there looked normal, they were to spread the word to whoever was in charge, then fax on to the next node as quickly as possible. Even with delays in delivering their messages, Daeman hoped that each could complete his or her mission in less than twelve hours. Some of the nodes were sparsely inhabited—little more than a cluster of homes around a fax pavilion—so the stays should be short, even shorter if the humans had fled. If any of the messengers didn’t return to Ardis Hall in twenty-four hours, he or she would be presumed lost and someone sent in his or her place to notify those thirty nodes. They were to return early—before completing their circuit of thirty nodes—only if they were seriously injured or if they learned something that was important to the survival of everyone at Ardis. In that case, they were to come straight back.

The man named Siman looked anxiously at the surrounding hills and meadows. It was already growing dark. The man said nothing, but Daeman could read his mind—What chance would they have trying to make the mile and a quarter in the dark, with the voynix on the move?

Daeman called the fax pavilion defenders into their circle. He explained that if any of these people faxed back with important news and the sonie was not available, fifteen of the guard troop would accompany the messenger back to Ardis Hall. In no case was the fax pavilion to be left undefended.

“Any questions?” he asked the group. In the dying light, their faces were white ovals turned toward him. No one had a question.

“We’ll leave in fax code order,” he said. He did not waste time wishing them luck. One by one they faxed out, tapping the first of their codes onto the diskplate pad on the column in the center of the pavilion and flicking out of sight. Daeman had taken the last thirty codes, primarily because Paris Crater was one of these high numbers, as were the nodes he’d checked. But when he faxed out, he tapped none of these codes in. Instead, he set in the little-known high-number code for the uninhabited tropical isle.

It was still bright daylight when he arrived. The lagoon was light blue, the water beyond the reef still a deeper color. Storm clouds were piled high on the western horizon and morning sunlight illuminated the tops of what he’d recently learned were called stratocumulus.

Glancing around to make sure he was alone, Daeman stripped naked and pulled on the thermskin, allowing the hood to lie loose at his neck and the osmosis mask to hang on a strap beneath his tunic. Then he pulled on his trousers, tunic, and shoes, stuffing his underwear into his pack.

He checked the other items in his rucksack—strips of yellow cloth he’d cut up at Ardis, the two crude clawhammers he’d had Reman forge—Reman was the best ironworker at Ardis when Hannah was gone. Coils of rope. Extra crossbow quarrels.

He wanted to go back to Paris Crater first, but it was the middle of the night there and to see what he had to see, Daeman needed daylight. He knew that he had about seven hours before sunrise at Paris Crater and he was pretty sure that he could visit most of his other twenty-nine nodes by then. Some of those on his list were the ones he’d faxed to after fleeing from Paris Crater last time—Kiev, Bellinbad, Ulanbat, Chom, Loman’s Place, Drid, Fuego, Cape Town Tower, Devi, Mantua, and Satle Heights. Only Chom and Ulanbat had been infected with the blue ice then, and he hoped it would still be that way. Even if it took a full twelve hours to warn the people in the other cities and nodes, it would be full daylight when he faxed last to Paris Crater.

And Paris Crater is where he planned to do what he had to do.

Daeman tugged on his heavy pack, lifted the crossbow, walked back to the pavilion, said a silent goodbye to the tropical breezes and rustle of palm fronds, and tapped in the first code on his list.


Achilles has carried the dead but perfectly preserved corpse of the Amazon Penthesilea more than thirty leagues, almost ninety miles, up the slope of Mount Olympos and is prepared to carry her another fifty leagues more—or a hundred more if it comes to that, or a thousand—but somewhere on this third day, somewhere around the altitude of sixty thousand feet, the air and warmth disappear completely.

For three days and nights, with only short breaks for rest and catnaps, Achilles, son of Peleus and the goddess Thetis, grandson of Aeacus, has climbed within the glass-shrouded tube of the crystal escalator that rises to the summit of Olympos. Shattered on the lower slopes in the first days of fighting between the forces of Hector and Achilles and the immortal gods, most of the escalator had retained its pressurized atmosphere and its heating elements. Until the sixty-thousand-foot level. Until here. Until now.

Here some lightning bolt or plasma weapon has severed the escalator tube completely, leaving a gap of a quarter mile or more. It makes the crystal escalator on the red volcanic slope look like nothing so much as a snake chopped in half with a hoe. Achilles presses through the force-field on the open end of the tube and crosses that terrible openness, carrying his weapons, his shield, and the body of Penthesilea—the Amazon’s corpse anointed in Pallas Athena’s preserving ambrosia and bound in once-white linen he’d taken from his own command tent—but when he does reach the other side, his lungs bursting, eyes burning and ears bleeding from the low pressure, his skin scored by the burning cold, he sees that the tube beyond is shattered for miles more, the wreckage rising up over the ever-receding curving slope of Olympos, its interior without air or heat. Instead of a staircase he can climb, the escalator is now a series of shattered shards showing jagged metal and twisted glass for as far as he can see. Airless, freezing, it does not even offer shelter from the howling jet-stream winds.

Cursing, gasping, Achilles staggers back down the open slope, presses back through the humming forcefield at the opening to the crystal tube, and collapses on the metal steps, setting his wrapped burden gently on the stairs. His skin is raw and cracked from the cold—How can it be cold this close to the sun? he wonders. Fleet-footed Achilles feels sure that he has climbed higher than Icarus flew, and the wax on the wings of the boy-who-would-be-bird had melted from the heat of the sun. Had it not? But the mountaintops in the land of his childhood—Chiron’s land, the country of the centaurs—were cold, windy, inhospitable places where the air grew thinner the higher one climbed. Achilles realizes that he expected more from Olympos.

He takes a leather bag from his cape, removes a small wineskin from the pouch, and squirts the last of his wine between his parched and cracked lips. Achilles ate the last of his cheese and bread ten hours earlier, confident that he would soon reach the summit. But Olympos seems to have no summit.

It seems now like months since the morning of the day he’d begun this quest three days earlier—the day he’d killed Penthesilea, the day the Hole closed, sealing him away from Troy and his fellow Myrmidons and Achaeans, not that he cared that the Hole was gone, since he had no intention of going back until Penthesilea lived again and was his bride. But he hadn’t planned this expedition. On that morning three days earlier when Achilles had set out from his tent on the battlefield near the base of Olympos, he’d carried only a few scraps of food into the battle with the Amazons, not planning to be gone for more than a few hours. His strength that morning had seemed as limitless as his wrath.

Now Achilles wonders if he has the strength to descend the thirty leagues of metal staircase.

Maybe if I leave the woman’s corpse behind.

Even as the thought slides through his exhausted mind, he knows that he won’t do it… he can’t do it. What had Athena said? “There is no release from this particular spell of Aphrodite—the pheromones have spoken and their judgment is final. Penthesilea will be your only love for this life, either as a corpse or as a living woman…”

Achilles, son of Peleus, has no idea what pheromones might be, but he knows that Aphrodite’s curse is real enough. The love for this woman he so brutally killed chews at his guts more fiercely than the hunger pangs that make his belly growl. He’ll never turn back. Athena had said that there were healing tanks at the summit of Olympos, the gods’ secret, the source of their own physical repair and immortality—a secret path around the inviolate line between the light and dark that is Death’s teeth’s barrier. The healing tanks… this is where Achilles will take Penthesilea. When she breathes again, she will be his bride. He defies the Fates themselves to oppose him on this mission.

But now his exhaustion makes his powerful, tanned arms shake and he leans forward, resting those arms on his bloodied knees just above his greaves. He looks out through the crystal roof and sides of the enclosed metal staircase and—for the first time in three days—really takes in the view.

It is almost sunset and the shadow of Olympos stretches far out over the red landscape below. The Hole is gone and there are no longer any battlefield campfires visible on the red plain below. Achilles can see the winding line of the crystal escalator for much of the thirty leagues he has climbed, its glass catching more light than the dark slopes beneath it. Farther out, the shadow of the mountain falls across shoreline, distant hills, and even the blue sea that rolls in so tepidly from the north. Farther to the east now, Achilles can see the white summits of three other tall peaks, rising above low clouds, catching the red sunset glow. The edge of the world is curved. This strikes Achilles as a very strange thing, since everyone knows that the world is either flat or saucer-shaped, with the far walls curving upward, not downward as the edge of this world is now in the evening light. This is obviously not the Mount Olympos in Greece, but Achilles has been aware of this for many months. This red-soil, blue-sky world with this impossibly tall mountain is the true home of the gods, and he suspects that the horizon can curve downward here or do anything else it pleases.

He turns to look back uphill just as a god QT’s into sight.

He’s a small god by Olympian standards, a dwarf—just six feet tall—bearded, ugly, and, as he staggers around viewing the damage to his escalator—Achilles can see that he is crippled, almost hunchbacked. As familiar with the Olympian Pantheon as the next Argive hero, Achilles knows at once who this is—Hephaestus, god of fire and chief artificer to the gods.

Hephaestus appears to be almost finished surveying the damage to his artificing—standing out there in the freezing cold and howling jet stream, his back to Achilles, scratching his beard and muttering while he surveys the wreckage—and it looks as if he hasn’t noticed Achilles and his linen-wrapped bundle.

Achilles doesn’t wait for him to turn. Running through the forcefield at top speed, the fleet-footed mankiller tackles the god of fire and uses his favorite wrestling moves on him—first using the famous “body hold” that has won Achilles countless prizes in wrestling games, grabbing the god by his burly waist, flipping him upside down, and hurling him headfirst into the red rock. Hephaestus howls a curse and tries to rise. Achilles grabs the gnome-god by his burly forearm and uses the “flying mare” move—hurling Hephaestus over his shoulder in a complete flip and slamming him to the ground on his back.

Hephaestus moans and shouts a truly obscene curse.

Knowing that the god’s next move will be to teleport away, Achilles throws himself on the shorter, bulkier figure, wrapping his legs around Hephaestus’s waist in a rib-crunching scissors hold, setting his left arm around the bearded god’s neck, and pulling the short god-killing knife from his belt and holding it under the fire god’s chin.

“You fly away, I go with you and kill you at the same time,” hisses Apollo in the artificer’s hairy ear.

“You… can’t… kill… a fucking… god,” gasps Hephaestus, using his blunt, calloused god-fingers to try to pry Achilles’ forearm away from his throat.

Achilles uses the Athena-blade to draw a three-inch cut—long but shallow—under Hephaestus’ chin. Golden ichor spills onto the ratty beard. At the same instant, Achilles closes his legs tighter around the god’s creaking ribs.

The god shoots electricity through his body and into Achilles’ thighs. Achilles grimaces at the high voltage but does not release his grip. The god exerts superhuman strength to escape—Achilles counters with even more superhuman strength and holds him tight, increasing the pressure of his scissoring legs. Achilles brings the blade up more sharply under the red-faced god’s chin.

Hephaestus grunts, woofs, and goes limp. “All right… enough,” he gasps. “You win this match, son of Peleus.”

“Give me your word that you will not flick away.”

“I give you my word,” gasps Hephaestus. He groans as Achilles tightens his powerful thighs.

“And know that I will kill you when you break your word,”growls Achilles. He rolls away, aware that the air is too thin for him to stay conscious more than a few more seconds. Grabbing the fire god by his tunic and tangled hair, he drags him through the forcefield into the warmth and thick air of the enclosed crystal staircase.

Once inside, Achilles throws the god down on the metal steps and wraps his legs around Hephaestus’ ribs again. He knows through watching Hockenberry and the gods themselves that when they QT away to wherever they’re going, they transport with them anyone who is in physical contact.

Wheezing, moaning, Hephaestus glances at the linen-wrapped body of Penthesilea and says, “What brings you up to Olympos, fleet-footed Achilles? Bringing your laundry up to be washed?”

“Shut up,” gasps Achilles. The three days without food and the exertions of climbing sixty thousand feet on an airless mountain have taken too much out of him. He can feel his superhuman strength ebbing like water out of a sieve. Another minute and he’ll have to release Hephaestus—or kill him.

“Where did you get that knife, mortal?” asks the bearded and ichor-bleeding god.

“Pallas Athena entrusted me with it.” Achilles sees no reason to lie and unlike some—crafty Odysseus for one—he never lies anyway.

“Athena, eh?” grunts Hephaestus. “She is the goddess I love above all others.”

“Yes, I have heard this,” says Achilles. Actually, what Achilles has heard is that Hephaestus pursued the virgin goddess for centuries, trying to have his way with her. At one point he came close enough that Athena was batting Hephaestus’ turgid member away from her thighs—and Greeks coyly used the word for “thighs” to mean a woman’s pudenda—when, dry humping for all he was worth, the bearded cripple of a god ejaculated all over her upper legs just as the more powerful goddess shoved him away from her. As a child, Achilles’ stepfather, the centaur Chiron, had told him many tales in which the wool, erion, that Athena used to wipe away the semen, or the dust in which that semen fell, all played interesting roles. As a man and the world’s greatest warrior, Achilles had heard the poet-minstrels sing of “bridal dew”—herse or drosos in the language of his home isle—but these words also meant a newborn child itself. It was said that various human heroes—some included Apollon—had been born of this semen-impregnated wool or dust.

Achilles decides not to mention either tale right now. Besides, he’s almost out of strength—he needs to conserve his breath.

“Release me and I will be your ally,” says Hephaestus, gasping again. “We are like brothers anyway.”

“How are we like brothers?” manages Achilles. He has decided that if he has to release Hephaestus, he will drive the god-killing Athena dagger up through the god’s underjaw and into his skull, skewering the ar-tificer’s brain and pulling it free like spearing a fish from a stream.

“When I was flung into the sea not long after the Change, Eurynome, daughter of Okeanos, and your mother, Thetis, received me on their laps,” gasped the god. “I would have drowned had not your mother—dearest Thetis, daughter of Nereus—caught me up and cared for me. We are like brothers.”

Achilles hesitates.

“We are more than brothers,” gasps Hephaestus. “We are allies.”

Achilles does not speak because to do so would be to reveal his approaching weakness.

“Allies!” cries Hephaestus, whose ribs are snapping one after the other, like saplings in the cold. “My beloved mother, Hera, hates the immortal bitch Aphrodite, who is your enemy. My adored beloved, Athena, sent you on this task, you say, so it is my will to aid you in your quest.”

“Take me to the healing tanks,” manages Achilles.

“The healing tanks?” Hephaestus breathes deeply as Achilles relinquishes the pressure a bit. “You’ll be found out there now, son of Peleus and Thetis. Olympos is in the thrall of kaos and civil war this day—Zeus has disappeared—but there are still guards at the healing tanks. It is not yet dark. Come to my quarters, eat, drink, refresh yourself, and I will then take you directly to the healing tanks in the dead of night, when only the monstrous Healer and a few sleepy guards are there.”

Food? thinks Achilles. It’s true, he realizes, that he will hardly be able to fight—much less command others to bring Penthesilea back to life—unless he gets something to eat soon.

“All right,” grunts Achilles, pulling his legs from around the bearded god’s middle and pushing the Athena-blade back in his belt. “Take me to your quarters on the summit of Olympos. No tricks, now.”

“No tricks,” growls Hephaestus, scowling and feeling his bruised and broken ribs. “But it is an ill day when an immortal can be treated this way. Take hold of my arm and we will QT there now.”

“A minute,” says Achilles. He can barely lift Penthesilea’s body to his shoulder, he is so weak. “All right,” he says, grabbing the god’s hairy forearm, “we can go now.”


The voynix attacked a little after midnight.

After helping to make and serve dinner to the Ardis Hall multitudes, Ada had joined in the evening heavy outside work of reinforcing Ardis’s defenses. Despite requests from Peaen, Loes, Petyr, and Isis—all of whom knew she is pregnant—she stayed outside in the cold and light snow, helping to dig the ditches about a hundred feet inside the fences of the palisade. It had been Harman and Daeman’s idea—fire ditches, filled with their precious lantern oil and ignited if the voynix managed to break through the palisade—and Ada wished that Harman and Daeman were there that night to help dig.

The earth was frozen and Ada found that she was too weary to break through the soil, even though she had one of the sharper shovels. This frustrated her so much that she had to wipe away the tears and snot as she waited for Greogi and Emme to break through the frozen dirt before she could lift and shovel it away. Luckily, it was dark and no one was looking at her. The embarrassment of being seen crying would have made her blubber harder. When Petyr came from where he was working in the hall to finish first-floor defenses and asked her again to come in the house, at least, she told him truthfully that she loved working on the line out here with the hundreds of other laborers. The manual labor and the proximity of so many made her feel better and kept her from thinking about Harman, she said. It was the truth.

Some time after ten p.m., the ditches were finished. They were crude things, at best—five feet across, less than two feet deep, lined with plastic bags scavenged from Chom in previous weeks. Cans of the precious lamp oil—kerosene, Harman had called it—were in the hallway, ready to be carried out, poured, and ignited if the palisade defenders had to fall back.

“What happens after we use a year’s worth of lighting fuel in a few minutes?” Anna had asked.

“We sit in the dark,” had been Ada’s response. “But we’ll be alive.”

In truth, she had reservations about that assessment. If the voynix got past the outer perimeter, she doubted if a little wall of flame—if they even had time to ignite it—could hold them back. Harman and Daeman had helped draw up the plans for reinforcing Ardis’s doorways and attaching the heavy shutters on the inside of all the first—and second-floor windows—the work had been going on for three days and was almost completed, according to Petyr—but Ada had her doubts about that line of defense as well.

When the ditches were finished, guards doubled on the palisades, cans of kerosene set in the outer hall and people assigned to deliver them to the trenches in case of attack, the new flechette rifles and pistols distributed—there were enough to arm one out of every six persons at Ardis, a far cry from the two flechette rifles they’d had before—and Greogi was circling overhead in the sonie, keeping watch, Ada went inside to help Petyr with the interior defenses.

The heavy shutters were almost finished—large, solid planks of wood set deep into the ancient oak frames of Ardis Hall’s windows and ready to be swung shut and latched with iron locks forged in Hannah’s cupola out back. It looked so ugly that Ada just nodded her approval and then turned away to weep.

She remembered how beautiful and gracious Ardis Hall had been less than a year ago—part of a tradition that stretched back almost two thousand years. It had always been a wonderful place to live and to entertain—sophisticated, gracious, elegant. Less than a year ago they had celebrated Harman’s ninety-ninth birthday here in comfort with a huge feast out under the spreading elm and oak trees—lighted lanterns in the trees, food from all over the planet being served by floating servitors, docile voynix pulling carrioles and droshkies up the crushed-stone drive to the lighted front porch, with men and women from everywhere showing up in their finest robes and linens and elegant hairdos. Looking around at the scores of people in rough tunics milling in the cluttered main parlor, lanterns hissing and spitting in the dark, bedrolls on the floor and flechette rifles and crossbows stacked close to hand, fires burning in the fireplace not for ambience but for survival warmth with a score of exhausted and grimy men and women snoring near the hearth, muddy bootprints everywhere and heavy wooden shutters where her mother’s beautiful drapes once hung, Ada thought Has it come to this?

It had.

There were four hundred people living in and around Ardis now. It was no longer Ada’s home. Or rather, now it was the home to everyone willing to live here and fight for it.

Petyr showed her the shutters and other additions—slits cut into the first—and second-floor window shutters through which the defenders could continue to fire arrows, crossbow bolts, and flechettes at the voynix if they made it through the palisade, into the grounds—boiling water in huge vats on the third floor and raised by winches to the high gable terraces above, from which last-ditch defenders could pour the hot liquid down on the voynix. Harman had sigled that idea from one of his old books. Now the large vats of water and oil bubbled and boiled on makeshift stoves hauled up into Ada’s family’s former private quarters. It was all ugly, but it looked as if it might work.

Greogi came in.

“The sonie?” asked Ada.

“Up on the jinker platform. Reman and the others are preparing to take it up with archers.”

“What did you see?” asked Petyr. They’d quit sending reconnaissance parties out into the forest after sunset—the voynix could see better than humans in the dark and it was just too risky on such a cloudy night without moonlight or ringlight—so the sonie forays had become their eyes.

“It’s hard to see in the dark and sleet,” said Greogi. “But we dropped flares into the woods. There are voynix everywhere—more than we’ve ever seen before…”

“Where do they come from?” asked the older woman named Uru, rubbing her own elbows as if cold. “They’re not faxing in. I was on guard duty yesterday and…”

“That’s not our worry right now,” interrupted Petyr. “What else did you see, Greogi?”

“They’re still carrying rocks up from the river,” said the short, redheaded man.

Ada winced at this. The foot patrols had reported that as early as midday, voynix were seen carrying heavy stones and stacking them in the woods. It was a behavior the people of Ardis had never seen before, and any new behavior from the voynix made Ada sick with anxiety.

“Do they seem to be building something?” asked Casman. His voice sounded almost hopeful. “A wall or something? Shelters?”

“No, just stacking the rocks in rows and heaps near the edge of the woods,” said Greogi.

“We have to assume they’ll use them as missiles,” Siris said quietly.

Ada thought of all the years—centuries—that the voynix were powerful but passive, silent servants, doing all the tasks that old-style humans had abandoned—herding and slaughtering their animals for them, standing guard against ARNied dinosaurs and other dangerous replicant creatures, pulling droshkies and carrioles like beasts of burden. For centuries before the Final Fax fourteen hundred years earlier, it was said that voynix were everywhere but were immobile, unresponsive—simply headless statues with leathery humps and metal carapaces. Until the Fall nine months earlier, when Prospero’s Isle came flaming down from the e-ring in ten thousand meteoric pieces, no one in living memory had ever seen a voynix do something unexpected, much less act on its own initiative.

Times had changed.

“How do we defend against thrown rocks?” asked Ada. Voynix had powerful arms.

Kaman, one of Odysseus’ earliest disciples, stepped forward, closer to the center of the circle that had formed here in the second-floor parlor. “I sigled a book last month that told of ancient siege engines and pre–Lost Era machines that could fling huge rocks, boulders, for miles.”

“Did the book have diagrams?” asked Ada.

Kaman chewed a lip. “One. It wasn’t all that clear how it worked.”

“That’s not a defense anyway,” said Petyr.

“It would allow us to throw rocks back at them,” said Ada. “Kaman, why don’t you find that book and get it to Reman, Emme, Loes, Caul, and some of the others who help Hannah with the cupola and who are especially good at building things…”

“Caul’s gone,” said the woman with the shortest hair at Ardis, Salas. “He left today with Daeman and that group.”

“Well, get it to everyone left good at building things,” Ada said to Kaman.

The thin, bearded man nodded and jogged toward the library.

“We going to throw their rocks back at them?” asked Petyr with a smile.

Ada shrugged. She wished Daeman and the nine others weren’t gone. She wished Hannah had come back from the Golden Gate. Most of all, she wished Harman were home.

“Let’s go finish our work, people,” said Petyr. The group broke up with Greogi leading some people upstairs to the jinker platform to relaunch the sonie. Others went off to bed.

Petyr touched Ada’s arm. “You have to get some sleep.”

“Stand guard…” mumbled Ada. There seemed to be a loud buzz in the air, as if the cicadas of summer had returned.

Petyr shook his head and led her down the hall toward her room. Harman and my room, she thought.

“You’re exhausted, Ada. You’ve been going for twenty hours straight. All the day-shift people are asleep now. We have extra people on the walls and watching from above. We’ve done all we can do for today. You need to get some sleep. You’re special.”

Ada pulled her arm away in shock. “I’m not special!”

Petyr stared at her. His eyes were dark in the flickering lantern light of the hallway. “You are, whether you acknowledge it or not, Ada. You’re part of Ardis. To so many of us, you’re the living embodiment of this place. You’re still our hostess, whether you admit it or not. People wait for your decision on things, and not just because Harman’s been our de facto leader for months. Besides, you’re the only pregnant woman here.”

Ada couldn’t argue with that. She allowed herself to be led off to her bedroom.

Ada knew she should sleep—she had to sleep if she was to be any good to Ardis or herself—but sleep evaded her. All she could do was worry about the defenses and think of Harman. Where was he? Was he alive? Was he all right? Would he return to her?

As soon as this current voynix threat was past, she was flying to the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu—no one could stop her—and she would find her lover, her husband, if it was the last thing she ever did.

Ada got up in the dark room, crossed to her dresser, and withdrew the turin cloth, carrying it back to bed with her. She had no urge to use a function to interact with the images again—her memory of the dying man in the tower looking up at her, seeing her, was too terribly fresh—but she did want to see the images of ancient Troy again. A city under siege—someone’s home under siege. It might give her hope.

She lay back, set the embroidered microcircuits in the cloth to her forehead, and closed her eyes.

It is morning in Ilium. Helen of Troy enters the main hall of Priam’s temporary palace—Paris and Helen’s former mansion—and hurries to join Cassandra, Andromache, Herophile, and the huge Lesbos slave-woman Hypsipyle, who stand in a cluster of royal women to the left and rear of King Priam’s throne.

Andromache shoots Helen a glance. “We sent servants to search for you in your quarters,” she whispers. “Where have you been?”

Helen has just had time to bathe and put on clean clothes since she escaped Menelaus and left the dying Hockenberry in the tower. “I was walking,” she whispers back.

“Walking,” says beautiful Cassandra in the inebriated tone that often accompanies her trances. The blonde woman smirks. “Walking… with your blade, dear Helen? Have you wiped it off yet?”

Andromache hushes Priam’s daughter. The slave woman Hypsipyle leans closer to Cassandra and now Helen can see that Hypsipyle has a grip on the prophetess’s pale arm. Cassandra winces from the pressure—Hypsipyle’s fingers are sinking into the pale flesh upon the command of Andromache’s nod—but then Cassandra smiles again.

We’ll have to kill her, thinks Helen. It seems like months since she has seen the other two surviving members of the original Trojan Women, as they had called themselves, but it has been less than twenty-four hours since she said goodbye to them and was kidnapped by Menelaus. The fourth and final surviving secret Trojan Women—Herophile, “beloved of Hera,” the oldest sibyl in the city—is here now in the cluster of important women, but Herophile’s gaze is vacant and she looks to have aged twenty years in the past eight months. As with Priam, Helen realizes, Herophile’s day is done.

Returning her thoughts now to the mindset of Ilium’s internal politics, Helen is amazed that Andromache has allowed Cassandra to stay alive—if Priam and the people learn that Andromache and Hector’s baby, Astyanax, is still alive, that the death of the child had been only a ruse for war with the gods, Hector’s wife would be ripped limb from limb. In fact, Helen realizes, Hector would kill her.

Where is Hector? Helen realizes that this is whom everyone is waiting for.

Just as she is about to whisper the question to Andromache, Hector enters, accompanied by a dozen of his captains and closest comrades. Even though the king of Troy—ancient Priam—is sitting on his throne, Queen Hecuba’s throne empty next to him, it is as if the true king of all Ilium has just entered the room. The red-crested spearmen standing guard snap to even greater attention. The weary war captains and heroes, many still covered with dust and blood from the night’s battle, stand straighter. Everyone, even the women of the royal family, hold their heads up higher.

Hector is here.

Even after ten years of admiring his presence and heroism and wisdom, even after ten years of being a plant curling toward the sunshine that is Hector’s charisma, Helen of Troy feels her pulse race for the ten thousandth time as Hector, son of Priam, true leader of the fighters and people of Troy, enters the hall.

Hector is wearing his battle armor. He is clean—obviously risen from a bed rather than a battlefield, his armor is freshly polished, his shield unmarked, even his hair is freshly shampooed and plaited—but the young man looks tired, wounded by a pain of the soul.

Hector salutes his royal father and sits easily in his dead mother’s throne while his captains take their place behind him.

“What is the situation?” asks Hector.

Deiphobus, Hector’s brother, bloodied by the night’s fighting, answers, looking at King Priam as if reporting to him but actually speaking to Hector. “The walls and great Scaean Gate are secure. We were almost taken by surprise by Agamemnon’s sudden attack and we were undermanned with so many of the fighters away through the Hole fighting the gods, but we repulsed the Argives, drove the Achaeans back to their ships by dawn. But it was a close thing.”

“And the Hole is closed?” asks Hector.

“Gone,” says Deiphobus.

“And all of our men made it back through the Hole before it disappeared?”

Deiphobus glances at one of his captains, receives some subtle signal. “We believe so. There was much confusion as thousands retreated back to the city, the moravec artifices fled in their flying machines, and Agamemnon launched his sneak attack—many of our bravest fell outside the walls, caught between our archers and the Achaeans—but we believe that no one was left behind on the other side of the Hole except Achilles.”

“Achilles did not return?” asks Hector, raising his head.

Deiphobus shakes his head. “After slaying all the Amazon women, Achilles stayed behind. The other Achaean captains and kings fled back to their own ranks.”

“Penthesilea is dead?” asks Hector. Helen realizes now that Priam’s greatest son has been out of touch for more than twenty hours, sunk in his own misery and disbelief that his war with the gods had ended.

“Penthesilea, Clonia, Bremusa, Euandra, Thermodoa, Alcibia, Dermachia, Derione—all thirteen of the Amazons were slaughtered, my lord.”

“What now of the gods?” asks Hector.

“They war amongst themselves most fiercely,” says Deiphobus. “It is like the days before… before our war against them.”

“How many are here?” asks Hector.

“For the Achaeans,” says Deiphobus, “Hera and Athena are their principal allies and patrons. Poseidon, Hades, and a dozen more of the immortals have been seen on the battlefield this night, urging on Agamemnon’s hordes, casting bolts and lightning at our walls.”

Old Priam clears his throat. “Then why do our walls still stand, my son?”

Deiphobus grins. “As in the old days, my father, for every god who wishes us ill, we have our protectors. Apollo is here with his silver bow. Ares led our counterattack at dawn. Demeter and Aphrodite…” He stops.

“Aphrodite?” says Hector. His voice is cold and flat, like a knife dropped on marble. Here was the goddess Andromache had said had killed Hector’s babe. Here was the name that forged the alliance between the greatest enemies in history—Hector and Achilles—and began their war against the gods.

“Yes,” says Deiphobus. “Aphrodite fights alongside the other gods who love us. Aphrodite tells us that it was not she who slayed our beloved Scamandrius, our Astyanax, our young lord of the city.”

Hector’s lips are white. “Continue,” he says.

Deiphobus takes a breath. Helen looks around the great hall. The scores of faces are white, intense, rapt with the force of the moment.

“Agamemnon and his men and their immortal allies are regrouping near their black ships,” says Hector ‘s balding brother. “They got close enough in the night to throw their ladders against our walls and send many a brave son of Ilium down to Hades, but their attacks were not well coordinated and came too soon—before the bulk of their captains and men were back through the Hole—and with Apollo’s help and Ares’ leadership, we threw them back beyond Thicket Ridge, back beyond their own old trenches and the abandoned moravec revetments.”

For a long moment there is total silence in the hall as Hector sits there, gaze lowered, seemingly lost in thought. His polished helmet in the crook of his arm gleams and throws a distorted reflection of the nearest watching faces.

Hector stands, walks to Deiphobus, clasps his brother’s shoulder a second, and turns to his father.

“Noble Priam, beloved Father, Deiphobus—dearest of all my brothers—has saved our city while I sulked in my apartments like an old woman lost in sour memories. But I ask now that I may be forgiven and that I might enter the ranks again in the defense of our city.”

Priam’s rheumy eyes seem to gain a faint glimmer of life. “You would put aside your fight with the gods who help us, my son?”

“My enemy is the enemy of Ilium,” says Hector. “My allies are those who kill the enemies of Ilium.”

“You will fight alongside Aphrodite?” presses old Priam. “You will ally yourself with the gods you’ve tried to kill these last many months? Kill those Achaeans, those Argives, whom you’ve learned to call friend?”

“My enemy is the enemy of Ilium,” repeats Hector, his jaw set. He lifts the golden helmet and sets it on. His eyes are fierce through the circles in polished metal.

Priam rises, hugs Hector, kisses his hand with infinite gentleness. “Lead our armies to victory this day, Noble Hector.”

Hector turns, clasps Deiphobus’ forearm for a second, and speaks loudly, addressing all the ranked and weary captains and their men.

“This day we bring fire to the enemy. This day we roar with war cries, all together! Zeus has handed us this day, a day worth all the rest in our long lives. This is the day we seize the ships, kill Agamemnon, and end this war forever!”

The silence echoes for a long pause and then suddenly the great hall is filled with a roar that frightens Helen, makes her step back behind Cassandra, who is smiling ear to ear in a sort of death rictus.

The hall empties then as if the people in it have been carried off by the roar—a roar that does not die but that begins anew and then grows even louder as Hector leaves Helen’s former palace and is cheered by his thousands of men waiting outside.

“Thus it begins again,” whispers Cassandra, her terrible grin frozen in place. “Thus the old futures come ‘round again to be born in blood.”

“Shut up,” hisses Helen.

“Get up, Ada! Get up!”

Ada threw the turin cloth aside and sat up in bed. It was Emme in her room, shaking her. Ada raised her left palm and saw that it was only a little after midnight.

Outside there came shouts, screams, the rip-crack of flechette rifles and the twang-thud of heavy crossbows firing. Something heavy smashed into the wall of Ardis Hall and a second later a window in the room next door exploded inward. There were flames lighting the win-dow—flames outside and below.

Ada jumped out of bed. She hadn’t even taken her boots off, so she tugged her tunic straight and followed Emme out into a hallway filled with running figures. Everyone had a weapon and was heading for his or her assigned positions.

Petyr met her at the base of the stairs.

“They’ve broken through the west wall. We have a lot of people dead. The voynix are in the compound.”


Ada emerged from Ardis Hall into confusion, darkness, death, and terror.

She and Petyr and a group of others had rushed out through the front door onto the south lawn, but the night was so dark that she could see only torches on the palisades and the vague shapes of people running toward the Hall, hear only shouts and screams.

Reman jogged up to them. The powerfully built bearded man—one of the earliest of those who came to Ardis to hear Odysseus’ teachings while he was still teaching—was carrying a crossbow with no bolts left in it. “The voynix came in over the north wall first. Three or four hundred of them at once, concentrated, en masse…

“Three or four hundred?” whispered Ada. The previous night’s attack had been the worst, and they’d estimated that no more than a hundred and fifty of the creatures, spread out, had attacked all four sides of the compound.

“There are at least a couple of hundred coming over each wall,” gasped Reman. “But they came over the north wall first, behind a fusillade of stones. A lot of our people were hit… we couldn’t see the rocks in the dark… and when our numbers on the ramparts dropped, we had to keep our heads down, some ran, the voynix came leaping over, using each other’s backs as springboards. They were in among the cattle before we could bring up the reserves. I need more quarrels for the crossbow and a new spear…”

He started to brush past them into the foyer where the weapons were being dispensed, but Petyr caught his arm.

“Did you get the injured back from the wall?”

Reman shook his head. “It’s crazy up there. The voynix butchered those that fell, even those with just light head wounds or bruises from the rocks. We couldn’t… we couldn’t… get to them.” The big man turned away to hide his face.

Ada ran around the house toward the north wall.

The huge cupola was on fire and the flames illuminated the confusion. The temporary wooden barracks and tents where more than half the people at Ardis slept were also on fire. Men and women were running back toward Ardis Hall in total panic. The cattle were lowing as shadowy, flick-fast shapes of voynix slaughtered them—that was what voynix once did, Ada well knew, slaughter animals for humans, and they still had their deadly manipulator blades at the ends of those powerful steel arms. More cows went down in the mud and snow as Ada watched in horror, and then the voynix began hopping and leaping her way, quickly covering the hundred yards toward the house in giant grasshopper bounds.

Petyr grabbed her. “Come on, we have to fall back.”

“The fire trenches…” said Ada, pulling out of his grasp. She made her way across the current of running people until she reached one of the torches along the back patio, caught it up, and ran back toward the nearest trench. She had to dodge and weave her way against the crowd of men and women running toward the house—she could see Reman and others trying to stem the flight, but the panicked, defeated mob ran on, many of them throwing down their crossbows, bows, and flechette weapons. The voynix were past the burning cupola now, their silvery forms leaping across the burning scaffolding, striking down men and women trying to put out the fire. More voynix—scores of them—were hopping, scuttling, and running toward Ada. The trench was fifty feet away, the voynix less than eighty.


She ran on. Petyr and a small group of men and women followed her to the trenches, even as the leading voynix leaped across the first ditch.

The kerosene drums were in place, but no one had poured the fluid into the trench. Ada pried the top off and kicked a heavy drum over, then rolled it along the edge of the trench as the strong-smelling fuel poured sluggishly into the shallow ditch. Petyr, Salas, Peaen, Emme, and others seized more of the heavy drums of lamp oil and began tipping and pouring them.

Then the voynix were on them. One of the creatures leaped the ditch and slashed Emme’s arm off at the shoulder. Ada’s friend did not even scream. She looked down at her missing arm in silent astonishment, her mouth hanging open. The voynix raised its arm and its cutting blades flashed in the light.

Ada dropped the torch into the trench, picked up a fallen crossbow, and fired a bolt into the voynix’s leather hump. The creature turned away from Emme and coiled, crouching, ready to leap at Ada. Petyr sloshed half a can of kerosene across its carapace at almost the same time that Loes threw his torch at the thing.

The voynix exploded into flame and staggered in circles, its infrared sensors overloaded, metal arms flapping. Two men near Petyr fired clouds of flechettes into it. Finally it fell into the ditch and ignited that entire section of the trench. Emme collapsed and Reman caught her, lifting her easily, and turned to carry her back to the house.

A fist-sized rock came hurtling out of the darkness, fast as a flechette and almost as invisible, and smashed in the back of Reman’s head. Still holding Emme, he tumbled backward into the burning ditch. Their bodies burst into flame.

“Come on!” shouted Petyr, grabbing Ada’s arm. A voynix leaped through the flames and landed between them. Ada fired the remaining crossbow bolt into the voynix’s belly, grabbed Petyr’s wrist, dodged past the staggered voynix, and turned to run.

There were fires all over the compound now, and Ada could see voynix everywhere—many past the flame trenches already, all of them within the walls. Some fell to flechette fire or were slowed by well-placed crossbow bolts and arrows, others were flung back when hit by flechette bursts, but the human firing was sporadic, individual, and poorly aimed. People were panicked. Discipline was not holding. The hail of flung rocks from the unseen voynix beyond the walls, on the other hand, was incessant—a constant and deadly barrage out of the darkness. Ada and Petyr tried to help a very young redheaded woman to her feet before the voynix overran them all. The woman had been struck in the side by a rock and was coughing blood onto her white tunic. Ada threw down her empty crossbow and used both hands to help the woman get to her feet and begin staggering back toward the Hall.

Flame trenches were being ignited on all four sides of Ardis Hall now by the retreating humans, but Ada saw the voynix run through the fire or leap over it. Wild shadows leaped everywhere on the lawn and the temperature rose a dozen degrees or more in a few seconds.

The woman sagged against Ada and almost pulled her down as she fell. Ada crouched next to her—amazed at the amount of blood the redheaded girl was vomiting onto her tunic—but Petyr was trying to pull her to her feet, guide her away. “Ada, we have to go!”


Ada bent low, got the bleeding girl over her shoulder, and managed to stand. There were five voynix surrounding them.

Petyr had lifted a broken spear from the ground and was holding them back with feints and stabs, but the voynix were faster. They dodged back and lunged forward more quickly than Petyr could turn and thrust. One of the creatures grabbed the spear and wrenched it out of his hands. Petyr fell onto his stomach almost at the voynix’s feet. Ada looked around wildly for any weapon she could grab or use. She tried to set the girl on her feet so she could free her own hands, but the redhead’s knees buckled and she fell again. Ada rushed at the voynix standing over Petyr, ready to use her bare hands on it.

There came a rip of flechette fire and two of the voynix, including the one ready to behead Petyr, went down. The other three creatures whirled to meet the attack.

Petyr’s friend Laman—who had lost four fingers on his right hand in the last voynix attack—was firing a flechette pistol with his left hand. His right arm held up a wood-and-bronze shield and rocks ricocheted off it. Behind Laman came Salas, Oelleo, and Loes—all friends of Hannah’s and disciples of Odysseus—also using shields for defense and flechette weapons to kill. Two of the voynix went down and the third leaped back across the flaming ditch. But dozens more were running, leaping, and scrabbling around Ada’s group.

Petyr staggered to his feet, helped Ada lift the girl, and they headed toward the house still more than a hundred feet away, with Laman leading the way and Loes, Salas, and the petite Oelleo giving them protection on each side with their shields.

Two voynix landed on Salas’s back, driving her into the muddy, churned-up soil and tearing her spine away. Laman turned and shot the voynix in the hump with a full spread of flechettes. The creature was blasted sideways across the frozen ground, but Ada could see that Salas was dead. At that instant, a rock caught Laman in the temple and he fell lifeless.

Ada let Petyr support the girl’s weight while she snatched up the heavy flechette pistol. A solid volley of rocks came flying out of the darkness, but the humans crouched behind Loes’s and Oelleo’s shields. Petyr grabbed the fallen Laman’s shield and added it to the defensive barricade. One of the larger stones smashed Oelleo’s left arm through the wood and leather shield, and the woman—the absent Daeman’s close friend—threw back her head and screamed with the pain.

There were scores—hundreds—of voynix around them now, scrabbling, leaping, killing the wounded humans on the ground, with more rushing toward Ardis Hall.

“We’re cut off!” cried Petyr. Behind them, the flames in the trenches had lost much of their intensity and the voynix were leaping across without problem. The ground was littered with more human bodies than voynix corpses.

“We have to try!” shouted Ada. One arm around the unconscious girl, firing the flechette pistol with her right hand, she yelled for Oelleo to raise her shield with her right arm and to set it next to Loes’s. Behind that flimsy barricade, the five of them ran toward the house.

More voynix saw them coming and leaped to join the twenty or thirty blocking the way. Some of the creatures had crystal flechette darts lodged in their carapaces and leather humps; the light from the flames caught the crystal and danced in red and green flashes. A voynix grabbed Oelleo’s shield, pulled her off her feet, and cut her throat with a powerful slash of its left arm. Another pulled the girl away from Ada, who set the muzzle of the flechette pistol against the thing’s hump and squeezed the trigger four times. The blast blew out the front of the voynix’s carapace and it collapsed on top of the unconscious girl in a flood of its own blue-white blood-fluid, but Ada could hear the pistol click on an empty chamber as a dozen more voynix leapt closer.

Petyr, Loes, and Ada were kneeling now, trying to protect the fallen girl with the shield, Loes firing with the one remaining flechette gun, Petyr holding out the shortened, broken spear against the next attack, but there were scores of voynix converging.

Harman, Ada had time to think. She realized that she said his name with a mixture of total love and total anger. Why wasn’t he here? Why had he insisted on going away on her last day of life? Now the child growing in her belly was as doomed as Ada was, and Harman was not here to protect either of them. At that second she loved Harman beyond words and hated him at the same time. I’m sorry, she thought—not to Harman, not to herself, but to the fetus inside her. The closest voynix leaped at her and she threw her empty flechette pistol at its metal carapace.

The voynix flew backward, smashed to bits. Ada blinked. The five voynix on either side either fell or were flung backward. The dozen voynix around them crouched, raising their arms, as a withering hail of flechette fire rained down on them from the sonie. There were at least eight humans on the disk, overloading it, firing wildly.

Greogi brought the machine lower, chest height—Foolish! thought Ada. The voynix could leap on it, drag it down. If they lost the sonie, Ardis was lost.

“Hurry!” shouted Greogi.

Loes shielded them with his body as Petyr and Ada extricated the unconscious redheaded girl from the voynix carcass and tossed her into the center of the crowded sonie. Hands pulled Ada up. Petyr crawled on. Rocks were pelting around them. Three voynix leaped, higher than the heads of the people on the sonie, but someone—the young woman named Peaen—fired a flechette rifle and two of them were knocked aside. The last one landed on the front of the disk, directly in front of Greogi. The bald pilot stabbed the thing in the chest. The voynix pulled the sword with it when it fell away.

Loes turned and jumped aboard. The sonie wobbled from the weight, staggered, dropped, hit the frozen earth. Voynix were rushing from all sides now and they seemed much larger than usual from Ada’s perspective lying on the bloodied surface of the downed sonie.

Greogi did something with the virtual controls and the sonie bobbed, then rose vertically. Voynix leaped at them but those with rifles in the outer niches blasted them away.

“We’re almost out of flechettes!” shouted Stoman from the rear.

“Are you all right?” asked Petyr, leaning over Ada.

“Yes,” she managed. She’d been trying to stem the girl’s bleeding, but it was internal. Ada couldn’t find a pulse on the girl’s throat. “I don’t think…” she began.

The rocks hit the underside and edges of the sonie like a sudden hailstorm. One caught Peaen in the chest and knocked her backward, across the girl’s body. Another caught Petyr behind the ear, snapping his head forward.

“Petyr!” cried Ada, rising to her knees to grab him.

He lifted his face, looked at her quizzically, smiled slightly, and fell backward off the sonie, dropping into the scuttling mass of voynix fifty feet below.

“Hang on!” cried Greogi.

They circled high once, flew around Ardis Hall. Ada leaned out to see the voynix at every door, scuttling over the porch, beginning to climb every wall, smashing at every shuttered window. The Hall was surrounded by a giant rectangle of flame, and the burning cupola and barracks added to the light. Ada was never good at numbers and estimating, but she guessed that there were a thousand voynix inside the walls down there, all converging on the main house.

“I’m out of flechettes,” cried the man at the right front of the sonie. Ada recognized him—Boman—he’d cooked breakfast for her yesterday.

Greogi looked up, his face white behind streaks of blood and mud. “We should fly to the faxnode pavilion,” he said. “Ardis is lost.”

Ada shook her head. “You go if you want. I’m staying. Let me out there.” She pointed at the ancient jinker platform up between the gables and skylights on the roof. She remembered the day when she was a young teenager, leading her “cousin” Daeman up the ladders to show him that platform—he’d peeked up her skirt and discovered that she didn’t wear underwear. She’d done it deliberately, knowing what a lecherous boy-man her older cousin was in those days.

“Let me out,” she said again. Men and women—hunched shadows like lean and leaning gargoyles—were firing down from the gables, broad gutters, and the jinker platform itself, firing flechettes and bolts and arrows into the growing mob of skittering voynix below. Ada realized that it was like trying to stop an ocean’s tide by throwing pebbles at it.

Greogi hovered the sonie over the crowded platform. Ada jumped out and they lowered the girl’s body to her—Ada couldn’t tell if she was alive or dead. Then they handed her the unconscious but moaning Peaen. Ada lowered both bodies to the platform. Boman jumped down just long enough to throw four heavy bags of flechette magazines into the sonie and clamber back aboard. Then the machine pivoted silently on its axis and dived away, Greogi’s hands working the virtual controls gracefully, his face rapt with attention, reminding Ada of her mother’s focus when she used to play the piano in the front parlor.

Ada staggered to the edge of the jinker platform. She was very dizzy, and if someone in the dark hadn’t steadied her, she would have fallen. The dark figure who’d saved her moved away, back to the edge of the platform, and continued firing a flechette rifle with its heavy thunkthunkthunk. A rock flew up out of the darkness and the man or woman fell backward off the jinker platform, the body sliding down the steep roof and dropping away. Ada never saw who it was who had saved her.

Now she stood at the edge of the platform and looked down with a detachment almost approaching disinterest. It was as if what she was watching now was part of the turin-cloth drama—something vulgar and unreal she would view on a rainy autumn afternoon to pass the time away.

The voynix were climbing straight up the outside walls of Ardis Hall. Some of the window shutters had been smashed inward and the creatures were scrabbling in. Light from the front doors spilled down the voynix-crowded front steps and told Ada that the main doors had been breached—there must be no human defenders left alive in the front hall or foyer. The voynix moved with impossible insect-speed. They’d be up here on the roof in seconds, not minutes. Part of the west wing of Ada’s home was on fire, but the voynix were going to reach her long before the flames would.

Ada turned, groping in the dark along the jinker platform, feeling wet bodies there, searching for the flechette rifle her savior had dropped. She had no intention of dying with empty hands.


Daeman had expected it to be cold when he faxed to the Paris Crater node, but not this cold.

The air inside the Guarded Lion fax pavilion was too cold to breathe. The pavilion itself was sheathed in cords of thick, blue ice, the strands overlapping and attached to the circular faxnode structure like tendons wrapped tight to a bone.

It had taken him more than thirteen hours to fax to the other twenty-nine nodes and warn them of the coming of Setebos and the blue ice. Rumors had preceded him—people from other warned nodes had faxed in ahead of him, filled with panic—and everyone had questions. He’d told them what he knew and then faxed on as quickly as possible, but there were always more questions—where was it safe? All of the node communities had voynix gathering. Several had suffered small raiding attacks, but few had experienced the kind of serious attack that Ardis had fought off the night before Daeman left. Where to go? they all wanted to know. Where was safe? Daeman told them about what he knew of Setebos, Caliban’s many-handed god, and about the blue ice, and then he faxed on—although twice he’d had to brandish his crossbow to get away.

Chom, seen from its hilltop fax pavilion half a mile away, was a dead, blue bubble of ice. The Circles at Ulanbat were now completely enclosed in the strange blue strands and Daeman had faxed away at once before the cold seized him there, tapping in the code for Paris Crater, not knowing what to expect there.

Now he knew. Blue cold. The Guarded Lion faxnode buried in Setebos’ strange ice. Daeman hurriedly pulled up his thermskin hood and fixed the osmosis mask in place—and even then the air was so cold that it burned his lungs. He slung the crossbow over a shoulder already burdened with his heavy rucksack and considered his options.

No one—not even himself—would blame him for turning back now, faxing back to Ardis and reporting what he’d seen and heard. He’d completed his work. This fax pavilion was entombed in blue ice. The largest opening of the dozen or so visible was not more than thirty inches across and it curved away in an ice tunnel that might well lead nowhere. And if he did enter this ice-labyrinth that Setebos had created over the bones of a dead city, what if he didn’t get back? They might need him at Ardis. They certainly needed the information he’d gathered in the past thirteen hours.

Daeman sighed, unslung his pack and crossbow, crouched by the largest opening—it was low, near the floor—shoved the pack in ahead of him, nudged it forward with the cocked crossbow, and began crawling on the ice, feeling the deep-space cold through his thermskinned hands and knees.

The shuffling along was tiring and eventually painful. Less than a hundred yards in, the tunnel forked; Daeman took the left branch because there seemed to be more sunlight in it. Fifty yards beyond that, the tunnel dipped slightly, widened considerably, and then continued almost straight up.

Daeman sat back—feeling the cold reaching his butt through his clothing and thermskin—and then took a water bottle from his backpack. He was exhausted and dehydrated after his hours of faxing and the anxious confrontations with frightened people. He’d rationed his water, but he still had half this bottle left. It didn’t matter though, because the water was firmly frozen. He set the bottle inside his tunic, next to the molecular thermskin, and looked at the ice wall.

It wasn’t perfectly smooth—none of the blue ice was. All of it was striated, and here some of the striations ran horizontally or diagonally in such a way that he thought he might find fingerholds or footholds on it. But it continued rising for at least a hundred feet, angling slowly away from the vertical until it pitched out of sight above. But the sunlight seemed stronger up there.

He withdrew from his pack the two ice hammers he’d had Reman forge for him the long day before this one. Until he’d sigled the word from one of Harman’s old books, Daeman had never heard the word “hammer.” If he had heard the word before the Fall, the idea of such a tool would have bored him silly. Human beings did not use tools. Now his life depended upon these things.

The twin hammers were each about fourteen inches long, with one side of the ice hammer straight and sharp, the other curved and serrated. Reman had helped him tightly wrap the handles with cross-hatched leather—something he could find a grip with even through his thermskin gloves. The points had been sharpened as well as Hannah’s grindstone at Ardis had permitted.

Standing, craning his head back, setting the osmosis mask more firmly in place over his mouth and nose, Daeman shouldered his pack again, made sure the crossbow strap was firmly secure over his left shoulder—the heavy weapon lying diagonally over the pack on his back—and then he raised one of the hammers, slammed it into the ice, slammed it again, and pulled himself four feet up the wall. The tunnel was not much wider than the main chimney at Ardis, so Daeman braced himself across it with a straight leg while he set his left knee on the ice wall to rest there a minute. Then he raised the second hammer as high as he could reach and slammed it into the ice, pulling himself until he was hanging there from one hammer, supporting his weight on the other. Next time, he thought, I’m going to rig some sharp spikes for my boots.

Panting, laughing at the idea of ever doing this a second time, his breath icing the air even through the filtering osmosis mask, his pack threatening to pull him off his precarious perch, Daeman hacked and chipped toeholds, lifted himself, wedged the tips of his boots in, slammed the right hammer in higher, pulled himself up, hacked footholds with the left. After another twenty feet gained, he hung from both hammers embedded in the ice and leaned back to look up the ice chimney. So far so good, he thought. Only ten or fifteen more moves like that and I’ll reach the bend a hundred feet up. Another part of his mind whispered, And find that it’s a dead end. An even darker part of his mind muttered, Or you’ll fall and die. He shook all of the voices out of his head. His arms and legs were beginning to shake from the tension and fatigue. Next stop, he’d chip in a deeper foothold so he could rest more easily. If he had to come back down the ice chimney, he had the rope in his rucksack. Soon he’d find out if he’d packed enough.

Above the ice chimney, the tunnel leveled out for sixty feet or so, forked twice more, and then opened up to a canyon-wide crevasse in the blue ice. Daeman packed away the ice hammers with shaking hands and unlimbered his crossbow. When he reached the opening into the wide crevasse, he looked up and saw bright afternoon sunlight and blue sky. The crevasse stretched away to his right and left, the striated floor sometimes dropping away thirty, forty feet and more, the bottom of the gap connected only by ice bridges, the walls riddled with stalactites and stalagmites and spanned here and there above him by bridges of thick ice. Sections of buildings emerged from the icy blue matrix and then were swallowed again; he could see protruding segments of masonry, broken windows and windows blind with frost, bamboo-three towers and buckyfiber additions to the older, Lost Era buildings below, all equal now in the grip of the blue ice. Daeman realized that he was on the rue de Rambouillet near the Guarded Lion faxnode, but six stories above the street he’d walked down and ridden on in voynix-pulled droshkies and carrioles his whole life.

Ahead, to the northwest, the floor of the crevasse descended slowly until it was almost down at the original street level. Daeman fell twice on the slippery slope, but he’d taken one of the ice hammers out of the pack and both times he arrested his fall with the curved iron claw.

Lower now, the light bright and the air still burning his lungs, at the bottom of a two-hundred-foot crevasse whose ice walls were made of countless strands of what Daeman began more and more to think were some sort of living tissue, he saw a second crevasse-tunnel crossing his on the diagonal and he recognized it at once. Avenue Daumesnil. He knew this area well—he’d played here as a child, seduced girls here as a teenager, taken his mother for countless walks here as an adult.

If he followed the other crevasse to his right, the southeast, it would take him away from the crater and the city center, out toward the forest called Bois de Vincennes. But he didn’t want to head away from the center of Paris Crater—he’d seen the Hole appear to the northwest, very near his mother’s domi tower right on the Crater. To go that way, he would have to head up the Avenue Daumesnil crevasse toward the bamboo-three marketplace called the Oprabastel just opposite an ancient heap of overgrown rubble called the Bastille. He’d had rock fights there as a boy, with the few children from his domi tower flinging rocks and clods at those boys from the west, kids that his neighborhood group had always insultingly called the “radioactive bastillites” for some reason known to no one, adults or children.

The blue ice seemed thicker and more ominous in the direction of the Oprabastel, but Daeman realized he had no choice. He’d caught that first glimpse of Setebos in that direction, back toward the Crater.

The trench he was in angled around to the east again before intersecting Avenue Daumesnil. This larger crevasse was too deep to enter directly, so Daeman crossed it on an ice bridge. Looking down, he saw the bamboo-three and everplas-sealed ruins of the street and avenue he’d known his whole life, but the trench continued lower than that, revealing layers of ruins of some old steel-and-masonry city beneath the Paris Crater he was familiar with. He had the horrible image of the gray-and-pink brain Setebos scrabbling in the earth with its many hands, uncovering the bones of the city under the city. What was he hunting for? And then an even more horrible thought occurred to Daeman. What could he be burying?

The ropes and stalagmites of blue on regular street level were too thick to allow him to proceed northwest up Avenue Daumesnil itself, but, amazingly, there was a stretch of green pathway down there paralleling the avenue. He rigged a bent quarrel driven into the blue ice to secure his thirty-foot descent, looping a rope over it and lowering himself carefully, knowing that a broken leg now would probably mean his death. There was an icy overhang near the bottom and he had to swing free, then slide down the rope the last ten feet to the absurdly grassy floor of the trench.

There were a dozen voynix waiting in the darkness under the overhang.

Daeman was so surprised that he let go of the rope at the same instant he started fumbling for the crossbow strung across his back. He fell four feet, lost his footing on the grass, and tumbled backward without extricating the heavy crossbow. He half lay there on his back, hands empty, looking at the raised steel arms, sharp killing blades, and emerging carapaces of the mob of voynix frozen in the act of leaping at him from only eight feet away.

Frozen. All twelve of the creatures were mostly entombed in the blue ice with only bits of blade or arm or leg or shell protruding. None of their peds were fully on the ground and it was obvious that the ice had caught them in the act of running and leaping. Voynix were fast on their peds. How could this blue ice form quickly enough to catch them thus?

Daeman had no answer, only thankfulness that it had. He got to his feet, felt his back and ribs ache where he’d fallen on the crossbow and lumpy pack, and pulled the rope down. He could have left it fixed in place—he had more than a hundred feet more and he might need to ascend that ice cliff quickly on his return rather than laboriously chipping footholds with his ice hammers—but he might need all the rope before this day was done. Heading northwest now, parallel to the Avenue Daumesnil on what he still thought of as the Promenade Plantee–the familiar bamboo-three elevated walkway frozen in ice sixty feet above him now—Daeman freed the crossbow, made sure again that the heavy weapon was cocked and ready, and followed the impossible path of green grass toward the heart of Paris Crater.

Promenade Plantee, everyone in Paris Crater had called the walkway above. It was one of those rare old names, in words that seemed to predate the world’s common language, and no one Daeman knew had ever asked its meaning. He wondered now as he followed the green strip down the darkening and ever-deeper canyon through blue ice and excavated ruins if the walkway he’d known had been named after this older, forgotten path, buried until Setebos had seen fit to dig it up with his many hands.

Daeman advanced cautiously and with a growing sense of anxiety. He didn’t know what he thought he’d find here—his main goal had been to get one clear look at Setebos, if Setebos it was, and perhaps be able to report to everyone at Ardis Hall on just what this blue-ice city was like after its invasion—but as he saw other things frozen in the organic blue ice on either side of the Promenade, half a dozen more voynix, stacks of human skulls, more ruins that had not seen the light of day for centuries, his palms grew more moist even as his mouth dried up.

He wished he’d taken one of the flechette pistols or rifles that Petyr had brought back from the Bridge. Daeman clearly remembered Savi firing a full cloud of flechettes into Caliban’s chest at almost zero range up there in the subterranean grotto on Prospero’s orbital isle. It hadn’t killed the monster; Caliban had howled and bled, but had also lifted Savi in his long arms and bitten through her neck with one horribly audible snap of his jaws. Then the creature had hauled her body away, diving into the swamp and carrying her corpse off through the system of sewage pipes and flooded tunnels.

I came to find Caliban, thought Daeman, clearly acknowledging that as fact for the first time. Caliban was his enemy—his nemesis. Daeman had learned the word only the previous month and knew at once that in his life, the term “nemesis” applied only to Caliban. And—after his trying to kill the creature up there on Prospero’s isle, then leaving it to die there after maneuvering the orbiting black-hole machine into the island—it was all too possible that Caliban considered Daeman his nemesis.

Daeman hoped so, though the thought of fighting the creature again made his mouth drier and his palms wetter. But then Daeman would remember holding his mother’s skull, remember the taunting insult of that pyramid of skulls—an insult that could have come only from Caliban, Sycorax’s child, Prospero’s creature, worshiper of that god of arbitrary violence, Setebos—and he kept on walking, his crossbow with its two inadequate but sharpened and barbed bolts cocked and ready.

He was in the deep shadow of another larger overhang when he saw the forms emerging from the blue ice. These weren’t frozen voynix; they appeared to be humans, giants, heavily muscled and contorted, with blue-gray flesh and vacant, upturned eyes.

Daeman had his crossbow leveled and was frozen in his tracks for thirty seconds before he understood what he was looking at.

Statues. He’d first learned the real meaning of the word from Hannah—stone or some other material shaped into human form. There had been no “statues” in the Paris Crater and faxworld of his youth and the first time he’d actually seen one had been at the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu just ten months or so before. That place, or at least the green habitation globes clinging to it like ivy, was a museum more than a bridge, but it had taken Hannah—always interested in making and pouring molten metal into shapes—to explain that the human forms they were looking at there were “statues,” works of art—also an alien idea. Evidently these statues had no other reason for existence than to please the eye. Daeman had to smile even now at one memory from the Bridge—they’d thought that Odysseus, Noman now, had been one of those museum statues until he’d moved and spoken to them.

These shapes weren’t moving. Daeman stepped closer and lowered the crossbow.

The figures were huge—more than twice life-sized—and leaning out of the ice because the ancient building they were part of had tilted forward. Each stone or concrete gray shape was the same—a man, beardless, with curls around the gray mass that stood for his hair, nude except for a small sleeveless shirt that was pulled up above his midriff. The figure’s left arm was raised and bent, its hand set on the back of his head. The right arm was massive, muscular, bent at elbow and wrist, with his huge right hand resting on the man’s bare belly just under its chest, actually pushing up the gray, concrete folds of the shirt. The man’s right leg was the only other limb visible, curving out of the façade of the building, a shelf or ridge of some sort above small windows running through the line of identical male statues like something piercing their hips.

Daeman stepped closer, his eyes adapting to the darkness under the blue-ice overhang. The man’s—the “statue’s”—head was tilted to the right, the gray cheek almost touching the gray shoulder, and the expression on the sculpted face was hard for Daeman to describe—eyes closed, bow of lips pursed upward. Was it agony? Or some sort of orgasmic pleasure? It could be either—or perhaps some more complicated emotion known to humans then and lost to Daeman’s era. The long line of identical shapes emerging from both the façade of the ancient ruin and the wall of blue ice made Daeman think of a dancing line of simpering men undressing for some unseen audience. What had this building been? What use had the Ancients put it to? Why this decoration?

Nearby on the façade were letters—Daeman recognized them as such now after his months with Harman and his own learning the siglfunction.

sagi m yunez yanowski 1991

Daeman had never learned to read, but out of habit he set his thermskinned hand on the cold stone and brought up the mental image of five blue triangles in a row. Nothing. He had to laugh at himself—you couldn’t sigl stone, only books, and only certain books at that. Besides, would the sigl-function work through molecular thermskin? He had no way of knowing.

However, Daeman could read the numerals. One-nine-nine-one. No faxnode code ran that high. Could it be some sort of explanation of the statues? Or some ancient attempt to set the figures more firmly in time, just as the human likenesses had been set in stone? How does one number time? he wondered. Daeman tried for a moment to imagine what one-nine-nine-one might stand for in years… the years since the reign of some ancient king, such as Agamemnon or Priam in the turin drama? Or perhaps it was part of the way the artist of these disturbing statues proclaimed his or her own identity. Was it possible that everyone in the Lost Era identified themselves through numerals rather than names?

Daeman shook his head and left the blue-ice grotto. He was wasting time and the strangeness of these things—these buildings and “statues” that should have remained buried, these thoughts of people unlike those he’d always known, of someone trying to put a numerical value to time itself—were as alien and unsettling to him as the memory of Setebos coming through the Hole, a swollen, disembodied brain being carried by scuttling rats.

If he was to find Caliban and Setebos—or allow them to find him—he’d find them in this dome-cathedral.

It was not a true cathedral, of course—Daeman had only known that word, “cathedral,” for a few months, sigling it in a book of Harman’s from which he’d learned many words and understood almost nothing—but the inside of this huge dome seemed much like Daeman imagined a cathedral to be. But certainly no cathedral like this had ever stood in the city now called Paris Crater.

That was after dark. While the light still lasted, he’d followed the green slash of the Promenade Plantee along the trench of the Avenue Daumesnil until that dead-ended in an ice mass he guessed to be the Operbastel. Although the crevasse had closed overhead, he followed a tunnel that seemed to follow the Rude Lyon up to the juncture that was the Bastille. Here more tunnels and open, narrow crevasses—in one he could extend his arms and touch both ice walls at once—led to his left toward the Seine.

In Daeman’s lifetime and for a hundred Five-Twenty lifetimes before him, the Seine had been dried up and paved with human skulls. No one knew why the skulls were there, only that they always had been—they looked like white and brown paving stones from any of the many bridges one would cross in a droshky, barouche, or carriole—and no one in Daeman’s experience had ever wondered where the water in the river had disappeared to, since the mile-wide Crater itself bisected the old riverbed. Now there were more skulls—skulls recently liberated from living human bodies—lining the walls of the crevasse he was following toward the Île de la Cité and the east rim of the crater.

According to what little legend remained in a culture largely devoid of history, oral or otherwise, Paris Crater was said to have gained its crater more than two millennia ago when post-humans lost control of a tiny black hole they’d created during a demonstration at a place called the Institut de France. The hole had bored its way through the center of the earth several times but the only crater it had left in the planet’s surface was right here between the Invalids Hotel faxnode and the Guarded Lion node. Legends persisted that right where the north rim of the crater was now, a huge building called the Luv—or sometimes “the Lover”—had been sucked down to the center of the earth with the runaway hole, taking with it a lot of old-style human “art.” Since the only “art” that Daeman had ever encountered were these few “statues,” he couldn’t imagine that the loss of the Luv amounted to much if everything in it had been as stupid as the dancing naked men in the Avenue Daumesnil crevasse now behind him.

Daeman couldn’t see anything from the one open crevasse leading to Île St-Louis and Île de la Cité, so he spent the better part of an hour climbing an ice wall—laboriously chipping steps, driving in heavy bolts to loop his rope around, frequently hanging from one or both of his ice hammers to let the sweat run out of his eyes and to allow his pounding heart to slow. One good thing about the incredible exercise of the climb—he was no longer cold.

He came out atop the blue-ice crust over the city right about where the west end of Île de la Cité used to be. The ice was a hundred feet deep here and Daeman had expected to look west across the Crater and see at least the tops of the skyline he was used to—the tall buckylace and bamboo-three domi towers ringing the crater itself, his mother’s tower just across the way, and farther west the thousand-foot-high La putain énorme, the giant naked woman made of iron and polymer. A statue, just a big statue, he thought now, but I never knew the word before.

None of these things were visible. Straight ahead of Daeman, looking west, an enormous dome of organic blue ice rose at least two thousand feet above the level of the old city. Only corners, edges, shadows, and an occasional extruding terrace showed where the ring of once-proud towers had circled the crater. His mother’s tall domi was not visible. Nor was the putain farther west. Besides the huge blue dome itself—both blocking and absorbing what Daeman realized was late-evening light—the area around the crater was now a mass of airy ice towers, flying buttresses, complex tessellations, and blue ice stalagmites rising a hundred stories and more. All these soaring towers and protrusions surrounding the dome were connected through the air by webs of the blue ice that looked delicate but which—Daeman realized—must each be wider across than any of the city’s broad avenues. Everything glittered in the rich, low sunlight, and there appeared to be jolts and jots of light moving within the towers and webs and the dome itself.

Jesus Christ, whispered Daeman.

For all the scrotum-tightening impressiveness of glowing ice towers leaping sixty, eighty, a hundred stories above the lower cap of ice covering the old city, the dome was most impressive of all.

At least two hundred stories tall—Daeman could judge its height and staggering mass only by the glimpses of the old domi towers low on the dome’s flank—the dome stretched more than a mile in radius, from his position here on the Île de la Cité south to the huge garbage dump his mother used to call the Luxembourg Gardens, north past the greensward called boulevard Haussmann, enveloping the domi tower at Gare St-Lazare where his mother’s most recent lover used to live, and then west almost to the Champs de Mars, where the straddle-legged putain was always visible. But not visible this day. The dome blocked even a thousand-foot-tall woman from view.

If I’d faxed in to the Invalid Hotel node, I would have ended up inside the dome, he thought.

The idea made his heart pound more wildly than the ice climb had, but then he had two more terrifying thoughts in rapid succession.

His first thought was—Setebos built this thing across the Crater. That was impossible, but it had to be true. In fact, with the orange sunset glow lessening slightly on the towers and Dome itself, Daeman could now see a red glow coming up through the ice—a red pulsing that could be coming only from the Crater.

His second thought was—I have to go in there.

If Setebos was still here in Paris Crater, there is where he would be waiting. If Caliban was here, the Dome is where he would be.

Hands shaking from the cold—from the cold, he told himself—Daeman went back to the wall of ice, secured the rope around a bamboo-three girder emerging from the blue ice, and lowered himself back into the waiting crevasse.

It was already dark at the bottom of the narrow ice canyon—he could look up and see stars in the paling sky—and the only way forward from Île de la Cité was into one of the many small tunnels opening like eyes in the ice, tunnels in which it would be darker still.

Daeman found one tunnel opening about chest high above the floor of the crevasse and he crawled in, feeling the even deeper cold come up through the ice into his knees and palms. Only the thermskin kept him alive here. Only the osmosis mask kept his breath from freezing in his throat.

Scooting on his knees when he could, his rucksack scraping the lowering ice ceiling above him, his crossbow extended before him, he crawled on his belly toward the red glow in the dome-cathedral ahead.


Hockenberry comes to the astrogation bubble to confront Odysseus, perhaps to be beaten up by him, but he stays to get drunk with him.

It has taken Hockenberry more than a week to work up the courage to go talk to the only other human being on board, and by the time he does, the Queen Mab has reached its turn-around point and the moravecs have warned him that there will be twenty-four hours of zero-gravity before the ship rotates stern-first toward the Earth, the bombs begin detonating again, and the 1.28 Earth-gravity will return during the deceleration phase. Mahnmut and Prime Integrator Asteague/Che both came by to make sure that his cubby would be freefall-proofed—i.e., all sharp corners padded, loose things stowed so they wouldn’t float away, velcro slippers and mats provided—but no one warned Hockenberry that a common reaction to zero-g is to get violently seasick.

Hockenberry does. Repeatedly. His inner ear keeps telling him that he is falling out of control and there certainly is no horizon to focus on—his cubby doesn’t have a window or a porthole or anything to peer out of—and while the bathroom facilities were designed to operate in the predominant 1.28-g gravity environment, Hockenberry soon learns how to use the in-flight bags that Mahnmut brings him whenever he announces that he’s beginning to feel sick again.

But six hours of nausea is enough, and eventually the scholic begins to feel better and even starts to enjoy kicking around the padded cubby, floating from his bolted-down couch to his well-secured writing desk. Finally he asks permission to leave his room, permission is granted at once, and then Hockenberry has the time of his life floating down long corridors, kicking down the broad ship’s stairways that look so silly now in a truly three-dimensional world, and pulling his way from one handhold to the next in the wonderfully byzantine engine room. Mahnmut remains his faithful assistant during all this, making sure that Hockenberry doesn’t grab an unfortuitous lever in the engine room or forget that things still have mass here even while they show no weight.

When Hockenberry announces that he wants to visit Odysseus, Mahnmut tells him that the Greek is in the forward astrogation bubble and leads him there. Hockenberry knows that he should send the little moravec away—that this is to be a private apology and conversation, and possible beating, between the two men—but perhaps it is the craven part of the scholic that lets Mahnmut tag along. Surely the moravec won’t let Odysseus tear him limb from limb, whatever right the kidnapped Greek might have to do so.

The astrogation bubble consists of a round table anchored amidst an ocean of stars. There are three chairs connected to the table, but Odysseus merely uses one to anchor himself, hooking his bare foot between the slats. When the Queen Mab spins or pivots—which it seems to be doing a lot of in its twenty-four hours without thrust—the stars swing past in a way that would have sent Hockenberry running for the zero-g bag a few hours earlier, but which now doesn’t bother him. It’s as if he has always existed in freefall. Odysseus must feel the same way, Hockenberry thinks, for the Achaean has emptied three wine gourds of the nine or ten tied to the table by long tethers. He passes one to Hockenberry by propelling it through the air with a flick of his fingers, and even though Hockenberry’s stomach is empty, he can’t refuse the wine offered as a gesture of reconciliation. Besides, it’s excellent.

“The artifactoids ferment it and put it up somewhere here on this godless ship,” says Odysseus. “Drink up, human artifact. Join us, moravec.” This last is to Mahnmut, who has pulled himself down into one of the chairs but who declines the drink with a shake of his metallic head.

Hockenberry apologizes for deceiving Odysseus, for bringing him to the hornet so that the moravecs could shanghai him. Odysseus waves away the apology. “I thought of killing you, son of Duane, but to what purpose? Obviously the gods have ordained that I come on this long voyage, so it is not my place to defy the will of the immortals.”

“You still believe in the gods?” asks Hockenberry, taking a long sip of the powerful wine. “Even after going to war with them?”

The bearded war planner frowns at this, then smiles and scratches his cheek. “Sometimes it may be difficult to believe in one’s friends, Hockenberry, son of Duane, but one must always believe in one’s enemies. Especially if you are privileged to count the gods amongst your enemies.”

They drink a minute in silence. The ship rotates again. Bright sunlight blots out the stars for a moment and then the ship turns into its own shadow once more and the stars reappear.

The powerful wine hits Hockenberry in a wave of warmth. He’s happy to be alive—he raises his hand to his chest, touching not only the QT medallion there but the thin line of disappearing scar under his tunic—and he realizes that after ten years of living amongst the Greeks and Trojans, this is the first time he’s sat down to drink wine and schmooze with one of the serious heroes and major characters of the Iliad. How strange, after teaching the tale to undergraduates for so many years.

For a while the two men talk about the events they’d seen just before leaving Earth and the base of Olympos—the Hole between the worlds closing, the one-sided battle between the Amazons and Achilles’ men. Odysseus is surprised that Hockenberry knows so much about Penthesilea and the other Amazons, and Hockenberry doesn’t find it necessary to tell the warrior that he’d read about them in Virgil. The two men speculate on how quickly the real war will resume and whether the Achaeans and Argives under the leadership of Agamemnon again will finally bring down the walls of Troy.

“Agamemnon may have the brute strength to destroy Ilium,” says Odysseus, his eyes on the turning stars, “but if strength and numbers fail him, I doubt he has the craft.”

“The craft?” repeats Hockenberry. He has been thinking and communicating in this ancient Greek for so long that he rarely has to pause to consider a word, but he does so now. Odysseus has used the word dolos for craft—which could mean “cleverness” in a way that would draw either praise or abuse.

Odysseus nods. “Agamemnon is Agamemnon—all see him for what he is, for he is capable of nothing more. But I am Odysseus, known to the world for every kind of craft.”

Again Hockenberry hears this dolos and realizes that Odysseus is bragging of the very same character trait of cleverness and guile that made Achilles say of him—Hockenberry had been there to hear this during their embassy to Achilles months ago—“I hate that man like the very Gates of Death who… stoops to peddling lies.”

Odysseus had obviously understood Achilles’ implied insult that night, but had chosen not to take offense. Now, after four gourds of wine, the son of Laertes was showing pride in his cleverness. Not for the first time, Hockenberry wonders—Will they be able to bring down Troy without Odysseus’ wooden horse? He thinks of the layers of this word, dolos, and has to smile to himself.

“Why are you grinning, son of Duane? Did I say something funny?”

“No, no, honored Odysseus,” says the scholic. “I was just thinking about Achilles…” He lets his voice drift off before he says something that will anger the other man.

“I dreamt of Achilles last night,” says Odysseus, rotating easily in the air to look at the near-sphere of stars around them. The astrogation bubble looks both ways along the Queen Mab’s hull, but the metal and plastic there mostly reflect the starlight. “I dreamed that I talked to Achilles in Hades.”

“Is the son of Peleus dead then?” asks Hockenberry. He opens another gourd of wine.

Odysseus shrugs. “It was just a dream. Dreams do not accept time as a boundary. Whether Achilles breathes now or already shuffles amongst the dead, I do not know, but it’s certain that Hades will someday be his home—as it will be all of ours.”

“Ah,” says Hockenberry. “What did Achilles say to you in the dream?”

Odysseus turns his dark-eyed stare back on the scholic. “He wanted to know about his son, Neoptolemus, about whether the boy had become a champion at Troy.”

“And did you tell him?”

“I told him I did not know, that my own fate has carried me far from the walls of Ilium before Neoptolemus could enter battle there. This did not satisfy the son of Peleus.”

Hockenberry nods. He can imagine Achilles’ petulance.

“I tried to comfort Achilles,” continues Odysseus. “To tell him how the Argives honored him as a god now that he was dead—how living men would always sing of his feats of bravery—but Achilles would have none of it.”

“No?” The wine was not only good, it was wonderful. It sent liquid heat blossoming out from Hockenberry’s belly and made him feel as if he were floating more freely even than zero-g would allow.

“No. He told me to stuff those songs of glory up my ass.”

Hockenberry splutters a sort of laugh. Bubbles and beads of red wine float free. The scholic tries to bat them away, but the red spheres burst and make his fingers sticky.

Odysseus still stares out at the stars. “The shade of Achilles told me last night that he’d rather be a peasant sod buster, his hands covered with calluses not from the sword but from the plow, staring up an oxen’s ass ten hours a day, than to be the greatest hero in Hades, or even the king there, ruling over the breathless dead. Achilles doesn’t like being dead.”

“No,” says Hockenberry, “I could see that he would not.”

Odysseus pirouettes in zero-g, grabs the back of the chair, and looks at the scholic. “I’ve never seen you fight, Hockenberry. Do you fight?”


Odysseus nods. “That’s smart. That’s wise. You must come from a long line of philosophers.”

“My father fought,” says Hockenberry, surprised at the memories flooding in. As far as he can tell, he’s not thought of or remembered his father in the last ten years of his second life.

“Where?” asks Odysseus. “Tell me the battle. I may have been there.”

“Okinawa,” says Hockenberry.

“I don’t know of this battle.”

“My father survived it,” says Hockenberry, feeling his throat tightening. “He was very young. Nineteen. He was in the Marines. He came home later that same year and I was born three years after that. He never spoke of it.”

“He didn’t brag of his bravery or describe the battle to his boy?” asks Odysseus, incredulous. “No wonder you grew up to be a philospher rather than a fighter.”

“He never mentioned it at all,” says Hockenberry. “I knew he was in the war, but I found out about his actions on Okinawa only years later, by reading old letters of commendation from his commanding officer, a lieutenant not much older than my father when they fought. I found the letters, and medals, in my father’s old Marine trunk after he died. I was already close to having my Ph.D. in classics then, so I used my research skills to learn something about the battle in which my father received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.”

Odysseus doesn’t ask about these odd-sounding prizes. Instead, he says, “Did your father do well in battle, son of Duane?”

“I think he did. He was wounded twice on May 20, 1945, during a fight for a place called Sugar Loaf Hill on the island of Okinawa.”

“I don’t know this island.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” said Hockenberry. “It’s far away from Ithaca.”

“Were there many men in this fight?”

“My father’s side had one hundred and eighty-three thousand men ready to be thrown into the battle,” says Hockenberry. He is also looking out at the stars now. “His army was carried to the island of Okinawa in a fleet of more than sixteen hundred ships. There were a hundred and ten thousand of the enemy waiting for them, dug into rock and coral and caves.”

“No city to lay siege to?” asks Odysseus, looking at the scholic with an expression of interest for the first time since their conversation began.

“No real city, no,” says Hockenberry. “It was just one battle in a bigger war. The other side wanted to kill our people to prevent an invasion of their home island. Our side ended up killing them any way they could—they poured flame into their caves, entombed them alive. My father’s comrades killed more than a hundred thousand of the hundred and ten thousand Japanese on the island.” He takes a drink. “The Japanese were our enemies then.”

“A glorious victory,” says Odysseus.

Hockenberry makes a soft noise.

“The numbers involved—men, ships—reminds me of our war for Troy,” says the Argive.

“Yes, very similar,” says Hockenberry. “As was the ferocity of the fighting. Hand-to-hand in rain and mud, day and night.”

“Did your father return with much plunder? Slave girls? Gold?”

“He brought home a samurai sword—the sword of an enemy officer—but put it away in a trunk and never even showed it to me when I was a boy.”

“Were many of your father’s comrades sent down to the House of Death?”

“Counting both the men fighting on land and at sea, 12,520 Americans were killed,” says Hockenberry, his scholar’s mind—and his son’s heart—having no trouble recalling the figures. “There were 33,631 wounded on our side. The enemy, as I said, lost more than a hundred thousand dead, thousands and thousands burned to death and entombed in the caves and holes where they dug in to fight.”

“We Achaeans have lost more than twenty-five thousand comrades in front of the walls of Ilium,” says Odysseus. “The Trojans have built funeral pyres to at least that many of their own.”

“Yes,” says Hockenberry with a slight smile, “but that’s over a period of ten years. My father’s battle on the island of Okinawa lasted only ninety days.”

There is a silence. The Queen Mab rotates again, as smoothly and majestically as some giant marine mammal rolling over as it swims. Brilliant sunlight pours over them briefly, causing each man to raise his hand to shield his eyes, and then the stars return.

“I’m surprised I’ve never heard of this war,” says Odysseus, handing the scholic a fresh gourd of wine. “But still, you must be proud of your father, son of Duane. Your people must have treated the victors in that battle like gods. Songs will be sung of it for centuries around your hearths. The names of the men who fought and died there will be known to the grandsons of the grandsons of the heroes, and the details of every individual combat will be sung by minstrels and poets.”

“Actually,” says Hockenberry, taking a long drink, “almost everyone in my country has forgotten that battle already.”

Are you hearing this? sends Mahnmut on tightbeam. Yes. Orphu of Io is outside on the hull of the Queen Mab, scuttling around with the other hard-vac moravecs during the twenty-four hours that the ship is not under acceleration or deceleration, doing inspections and carrying out repairs on minor damage from micrometeorite hits, solar flares, or the effects of the fission bombs they have been detonating behind them. It is possible to work on the hull while the ship is under way—Orphu has been outside several times in the last two weeks, moving along the system of catwalks and ladders rigged for that purpose—but the big Ionian is already on record as saying he prefers the zero-gravity to what he’s described as working on the face of a hundred-story building while under acceleration, with an all-too-real sense of the stern and pusher plate of the ship being down.

Hockenberry sounds quite drunk, sends Orphu.

I think he is, responds Mahnmut. This wine that Asteague/Che had the galley replicate is powerful stuff, based on a sample of Medean wine from an amphora “borrowed” from Hector’s wine cellar. Hockenberry has been drinking lesser versions of this red Medean for years with the Greeks and Trojans, but almost certainly in moderation—the Greeks mix more water than wine into their cups. Sometimes they add saltwater or perfumes like myrrh.

Now that sounds barbarous, tightbeams Orphu.

At any rate, sends Mahnmut, the scholic hasn’t eaten since he was spacesick earlier today, so his empty stomach isn’t any help in keeping him sober.

It sounds as if he’ll be spacesick again later today.

If he is, sends Mahnmut, it’s your turn to bring him more spacesickness bags. I’ve held his head over them enough for one twenty-four-hour cycle.

Darn, sends Orphu of Io, I’d really love to take my turn at that, but I don’t think the doorways there in the human-cubby level of the ship are wide enough for me.

Wait, sends Mahnmut. Listen to this.

“Do you like to play games, son of Duane?”

“Games?” said Hockenberry. “What kind of games?”

“The kinds of game one would play during a celebration, or a funeral,” says Odysseus. “The games we would have had at Patroclus’ funeral, if Achilles had acknowledged his friend’s death and allowed us to put on a funeral after Patroclus’ disappearance.”

Hockenberry is quiet for a minute and then says, “You mean discus, javelin… that sort of thing.”

“Aye,” says Odysseus. “And chariot races. Footraces. Wrestling and boxing.”

“I’ve seen your boxing matches there at your camps near where the black ships are drawn up,” says Hockenberry, slurring only slightly. “The men fight with just rawhide thongs wrapped around their hands.”

Odysseus laughs. “What else should they wear on their hands, son of Duane? Great soft pillows?”

Hockenberry ignores the question. “Last summer in your camp I watched Epeus beat a dozen men bloody, smashing their ribs, breaking their jaws. He took on all comers and fought from early afternoon to late after moonrise.”

Odysseus is grinning. “I remember those matches. No one could stand up to Panopeus’ son that day, although many men tried.”

“Two men died.”

Odysseus shrugs and sips more wine. “Diomedes was training and backing Euryalus, son of Mecisteus, third in command of the Argolid fighters. He had him out running every morning before dawn, hardening his fists by slugging oxen halves fresh from the slaughter pens. But Epeus coldcocked him that evening in only twenty rounds. Diomedes had to drag his man out of the circle with poor Euryalus’ toes leaving ten furrows in the sand. But he lived to fight another day—and the next time he won’t drop his fucking guard, that’s for sure.”

“Boxing is a filthy enterprise,” quotes Hockenberry, “and if you stay in it long enough, your mind will become a concert hall where Chinese music never stops playing.”

Odysseus brays a laugh. “That’s funny. Who said it?”

“A wise man by the name of Jimmy Cannon.”

“But what is Chinese music?” asks Odysseus, still chuckling. “And what exactly is a concert hall?”

“Never mind,” says Hockenberry. “You know, in all the years of watching the war, I don’t remember your boxing champion, Epeus, ever distinguishing himself in aristeia–single combat for glory.”

“No, that’s true,” agrees Odysseus. “Epeus himself acknowledges that he’s no great man of war. Sometimes the courage it takes to face another man bare-fisted is not the kind required to run an enemy through the belly with your spearpoint, and then twist the blade out, spilling the man’s guts like so much offal in the dirt.”

“But you can do that.” Hockenberry’s voice is flat.

“Oh, yes,” laughs Odysseus. “But the gods have willed it so. I’m of a generation of Achaeans whom Zeus has decreed, from youth to old age, must wind down our brutal wars to the bitter end until we ourselves drop and die, down to the last man.”

Odysseus is quite the optimist, sends Orphu.

A realist, says Mahnmut on the tightbeam.

“But you were talking about games,” says Hockenberry. “I’ve seen you wrestle. And win. And you’ve won camp footraces as well.”

“Yes,” says Odysseus, “more than one time I’ve carried off the cup at the running race while Ajax has had to settle for the ox. Athena has helped me there—tripping up the big oaf to let me cross the finish line first. And I’ve bested Ajax in wrestling as well, clipping the hollow of his knee, throwing him backward, and pinning him before the dull-witted giant noticed that he’d been thrown.”

“Does that make you a better man?” asks Hockenberry.

“Of course it does,” booms Odysseus. “What would the world be without the agon–the agonistics of one man against another—to show everyone the order of precedence among men, just as no two other things on earth are alike? How could any of us alive know quality if competition and personal combat did not let all the world know who embodies excellence and who merely manages mediocrity? What games do you excel in, son of Duane?”

“I went out for track my freshman year at college,” says Hockenberry. “I didn’t make the team.”

“Well, I have to admit that I’m not half bad in the world of games where men compete,” says Odysseus. “I know how to handle a well-carved, fine-polished bow and will be the first among my comrades to hit my man in a moving mass of enemies, even with my friends jostling against me, everyone trying to take aim at once. One reason I was willing to follow Achilles and Hector into a war with the gods was my eagerness to test my prowess as an archer against Apollo’s skill—although in my heart, I knew this was folly. Whenever mortal man rivals the gods in archery—look at poor Eurytus of Oechalia—that man can bet he’ll die a sudden death, not pass away from old age within the halls of his own home. And I don’t think I’d go up against the Lord of the Silver Bow unless I had my best bow with me, and I never take it to war when I sail off in the black ships. That bow is on the wall of my great hall even now. Iphitus gave me that bow as a sign of friendship when we first met—the bow belonged to his father, the archer Eurytus himself. I liked Iphitus a lot, and I’m sorry I gave him only a sword and rough-hewn spear in exchange for the finest bow on earth. Heracles murdered Iphitus before I really had time to get to know the man.

“As for spears, I can fling a lance as far as the next man can shoot an arrow. And you’ve seen me box and wrestle. As for sprinting—yes, you saw me beat Ajax, and I can run for hours without vomiting up my breakfast, but in the short sprint, many runners will leave me behind in the dust unless Athena intervenes on my behalf.”

“I could have qualified for track,” says Hockenberry, almost muttering to himself now. “Long distance was my thing. But there was this guy named Brad Muldorff—the Duck we used to call him—who squeezed me out for the last position on the team.”

“Failing tastes of bile and dog vomit,” says Odysseus. “Shame on any man who gets used to that taste.” He gulps some wine, throwing his head back to swallow, then wipes droplets from his brown beard. “I dream of talking to dead Achilles in the shaded halls of Hades, but it’s my son Telemachus whom I really want to know about. If the gods are going to send me dreams, why not dreams of my son? He was a boy when I left—timid and untested—and I’d like to know if he’s turned into a man or become one of those pantywaists who hang around better men’s halls, seeking a rich wife, buggering boys, and playing the lyre all day.”

“We never had any children,” says Hockenberry. He rubs his forehead. “I don’t think we did. Memories of my real life are mixed up and murky. I’m like a sunken ship that someone refloated for their own reasons, but didn’t bother to pump all the water out—just enough to make it float. Too many compartments are still flooded.”

Odysseus looks at the scholic, obviously not understanding and obviously not interested enough to ask a question.

Hockenberry looks back at the Greek captain-king, his gaze suddenly focused and intense. “I mean, answer me this if you can… I mean, what does it mean to be a man?”

“To be a man?” repeats Odysseus. He opens the last two gourds of wine and hands Hockenberry one.

“Yess… excuse me, yes. To be a man. To become a man. In my country, the only rite of passage is when you get the car keys… or get laid for the first time.”

Odysseus nods. “Getting laid for the first time is important.”

“But certainly that can’t be it, son of Laertes! What does it take to be a man—or a human being, for that matter?”

This should be good, Mahnmut sends to Orphu on the tightbeam. I’ve wondered this myself more than a few times—and not just when I’m trying to understand Shakespeare’s sonnets.

We’ve all wondered it, replies Orphu. All of us obsessed with things human. Which is to say, all of us moravecs, since our programming and designed DNA lead us back to studying and trying to understand our creators.

“Being a man?” repeats Odysseus, his voice serious, almost distracted. “Right now I have to piss. Do you have to piss, Hockenberry?”

“I mean,” continues the scholic, “maybe it has something to do with consistency.” He has to try the word twice before getting it right. “Consistency. I mean, look at your Olympics versus ours. Just look at that!”

“That other moravec told me how to piss in that latrine in the room, it has some sort of vacuum that sucks it in even in this floating time, but I find it damned hard not to send blobs everywhere, don’t you, Hockenberry?”

“Twelve hundred years you ancient Greeks kept your Games going,” says Hockenberry. “Five days of games, every four years, for twelve hundred years, until some pissant Christian emperor of Rome abolished them. Twelve hundred years! Through drought and famine, pestilence and plague. Every four years, the wars would be brought to a halt, and your athletes would travel from all over their world to Olympia, to pay homage to the gods and to compete in the chariot races, footraces, wrestling, discus, and javelin, and pankration–that weird mixture of wrestling and kickboxing that I’ve never seen and I bet you haven’t either. Twelve hundred years, son of Laertes! When my own people brought the Games back, they couldn’t keep them going for much more than a hundred years without three of them being canceled for war, countries refusing to show up because they were pissed off by this or that slight or offense, and we even had terrorists kill Jewish athletes…”

“Pissed off, yes,” says Odysseus, releasing the gourd on its tether and spinning around, ready to kick back to his cubby. “Have to piss. Be right back.”

“Maybe the only thing that’s really consistent is what Homer said—‘Dear to us ever is the banquet and the harp and the dance and changes of raiment and the warm bath and love, and sleep.’ ”

“Who’s Homer?” asks Odysseus, pausing in midair at the irised door to the astrogation bubble.

“No one you’d know,” says Hockenberry, drinking more wine. “But you know what…”

He stops. Odysseus is gone.

Mahnmut goes out through the medical deck airlock, tethers himself even though he has reaction-thruster fuel in his backpack, and follows catwalks, ladders, and ship lines around and up the Queen Mab. He finds Orphu of Io welding a patch on the cargo bay doors in which The Dark Lady is stored, cradled under the folding wings of the reentry shuttle.

“That could have been more enlightening,” says Mahnmut on their private radio frequency.

“Most conversations share that particular quality,” says Orphu. “Even ours.”

“But we’re not usually drunk during our conversations.”

“Since moravecs don’t ingest alcohol for stimulative or depressive purposes, you are technically correct,” says Orphu, his shell, legs, and sensors brightly illuminated by the shower of sparks from his welding. “But we’ve discussed things while you’ve been hypoxic, drugged with fatigue toxins, and—as the humans would say—scared shitless, so Odysseus’ and Hockenberry’s disjointed conversation did not sound unfamiliar to my ears… if I had ears.”

“What would Proust say about what it takes to be human… or a man, for that matter?” asks Mahnmut.

“Ah, Proust, that tiresome fellow,” says Orphu. “I was reading him again just this morning.”

“You once tried to explain to me his steps to truth,” says Mahnmut. “But first you said he had three steps, then four, then three, then back to four. I don’t think you ever told me what they were, either. In fact, I think you lost track of what you were talking about.”

“Just testing you,” says Orphu with a rumble. “Seeing if you were listening.”

“So you say,” says Mahnmut. “I think you were having a moravec moment.”

“It wouldn’t be the first,” says Orphu of Io. Data overload from both their organic brains and cybernetic memory banks was an increasing problem as moravecs moved into their second or third century.

“Well,” says Mahnmut, “I doubt if Proust’s ideas about the essence of being human connect too well with Odysseus’.”

Four of Orphu’s multiply jointed arms are busy with the welding, but he shrugs two others. “You remember that he tried friendship—even as a lover—as being one of those paths,” says the Ionian. “So he has that in common with both Odysseus and our scholic in there. But Proust’s narrator discovers that his own calling to truth is writing, examining the nuances wrapped within the other nuances of his life.”

“But he’d rejected art earlier as a path to the deepest humanity,” says Mahnmut. “I thought you told me that he decided that art wasn’t the way to truth after all.”

“He discovers that real art is an actual form of creation,” says Orphu. “Here, listen to this passage from an early section of The Guermantes Way

“ ‘People of taste tell us nowadays that Renoir is a great eighteenth-century painter. But in so saying they forget the element of Time, and that it took a great deal of time, even at the height of the nineteenth century, for Renoir to be hailed as a great artist. To succeed thus in gaining recognition, the original painter or the orginal writer proceeds on the lines of the oculist. The course of treatment they give us by their painting or by their prose is not always pleasant. When it is at an end the practitioner says to us: “Now look!” And, lo and behold, the world around us (which was not created once and for all, but is created afresh as often as an original artist is born) appears to us entirely different from the old world, but perfectly clear. Women pass in the street, different from those we formerly saw, because they are Renoirs, those Renoirs we persistently refused to see as women. The carriages, too, are Renoirs, and the water, and the sky; we feel tempted to go for a walk in the forest which is identical with the one which when we first saw it looked like anything in the world except a forest, like for instance a tapestry of innumerable hues, but lacking precisely the hues peculiar to forests. Such is the new and perishable universe which has just been created. It will last until the next geological catastrophe is precipitated by a new painter of original talent.’ And he goes on to explain how writers do the same thing, Mahnmut—bring new universes into existence.”

“Surely he doesn’t mean that in a literal sense,” says Mahnmut. “Not bringing real universes into existence.”

“I think he is speaking literally,” replies Orphu, his tone on the radio band as serious as Mahnmut has ever heard it. “Have you been following the quantum flux sensor readings that Asteague/Che has been putting on the common band?”

“No, not really. Quantum theory bores me.”

“This isn’t theory,” says Orphu. “Every day we’ve been making this Mars-Earth transit, the quantum instability between the two worlds, within our entire solar system, has grown larger. The Earth is at the center of this flux. It’s as if all of its space-time probability matrices have entered some vortex, some region of self-induced chaos.”

“What does that have to do with Proust?”

Orphu shuts off the welding torch. The large patch-plate on the cargo-bay doors is perfectly joined. “Somebody or something is screwing around with worlds, perhaps with entire universes. Break down the math of the quantum data flowing in, and it’s as if different quantum Calabi-Yau spaces have somehow attempted to coexist on one Brane. It’s almost as if new worlds are trying to come into existence—as if they’ve been willed into existence by some singular genius, just as Proust suggests.”

Somewhere on the Queen Mab, invisible thrusters fire and the long, inelegant-but-beautiful black buckycarbon and steel spacecraft rotates and tumbles. Mahnmut grabs a clutch-bar, his feet flying out away from the ship, as three hundred meters of atomic spacecraft twist and tumble like a circus acrobat. Sunlight slides across the two moravecs and then sets behind the bulky pusher plates at the stern. Mahnmut readjusts his polarized filters, sees the stars again, and knows that while Orphu can’t see them on the visible spectrum, he’s listening to their radio squawks and screeches. That themonuclear choir, the Ionian once had called it.

“Orphu, my friend,” Mahnmut says, “are you getting religious on me?”

The Ionian rumbles in the subsonic. “If I am—and if Proust is right and real universes are created when those rare, almost unique genius-level minds concentrate on creating them—I don’t think I want to meet the creators of this current reality. There’s something malignant at work here.”

“I don’t see why this…” begins Mahnmut and then pauses, listening to the common band. “What’s a twelve-oh-one alarm?”

“The mass of the Mab has just decreased by sixty-four kilograms,” says Orphu.

“Waste and urine dump?”

“Not quite. Our friend Hockenberry has just quantum teleported away.”

Mahnmut’s first thought is—Hockenberry’s in no condition to QT anywhere—we should have stopped him. Friends don’t let friends teleport drunk–but he decides not to share this with Orphu.

A second later, Orphu says, “Do you hear that?”

“No, what?”

“I’ve been monitoring the radio bands. We just brought the high-gain antenna around to aim it at Earth—or actually, the polar orbital ring around Earth—and it’s just picked up a modulated radio broadcast being masered right at us.”

“What does it say?” Mahnmut feels his organic heart beginning to pump faster. He doesn’t override the adrenaline, but lets it pump.

“It’s definitely from the polar ring,” says Orphu, “about thirty-five thousand kilometers above Earth. The message is in a woman’s voice. And it just says, over and over—‘Bring Odysseus to me.’ ”


Daeman entered the blue-ice dome-cathedral to an echoing susurration of whispers and chants.

“Thinketh, He made it, with the fire to match, one fire-eye in a ball of foam, that floats and feeds! Thinketh, He hath watched hunt with that slant white-wedge eye by moonlight; and the pie with the long tongue, that pricks deep into oakwarts for a worm, and says a plain word when she finds her prize, but will not eat the ants; the ants themselves that built a wall of seeds and settled stalks about their hole—He made all these and more, made all we see, and us, in spite: how else?”

Daeman recognized the voice at once—Caliban. The sibilant whispers echoed off blue-ice wall and blue-ice tunnel, seeming to come from everywhere, reassuringly distant, terrifyingly close. And somehow that single Caliban voice was a chorus, a choir, a multitude of voices in terrible harmony. More frightened than he thought he’d be—much, much more frightened than he’d hoped he would be—Daeman bent his head low and moved forward out of the ice tunnel onto the ice mezzanine.

After an hour’s crawling, often backtracking as some blue-ice tunnel narrowed and closed at a dead end, sometimes emerging into corridors ten yards across only to come up against a wall or vertical shaft far too high to climb, sometimes crawling on his belly so that his back scraped the ice ceiling, shoving his pack ahead of him along with the crossbow, Daeman had emerged into what he thought of as the center of the ice-dome cathedral.

Daeman had none of the ancient words to describe this space he had stepped out into, standing as he was on one of what looked to be hundreds of shadowy ice-mezzanines in the inner, curved wall of the vast structure, but if he had sigled the words, he would have fumbled through them now—spires, dome, arches, flying buttresses, apse, nave, basilica, choir loft, porch, chapel, rose window, alcove, pillar, altar. They all would have applied to one or more parts of what he was looking at now, and he would have needed more words. Many more words.

As best as Daeman could estimate, the interior of this space was just a little over a mile across and about two thousand feet from the red-glowing floor to the blue-ice apex of the dome. As he’d guessed earlier from the outside, Setebos had covered over the entire crater at the heart of Paris Crater and the vast circle now glowed red, pulsing as if from some huge heartbeat. Daeman had no idea whether this was due to some natural volcanic activity in the crater, some magma rising from miles below where the black hole had once torn at the heart of the Earth, or whether Setebos was somehow summoning and using that heat and light. The rest of the dome glowed in shades of colors Daeman could not describe—from all the varieties of red at the base, through iridescent and then subtle oranges along the periphery of the crater and lower reaches of the dome, veins of red branching up through orange-yellow buttresses and stalagmites and then the hotter colors fading into the cool glow of the immense blue pillars. The blue-ice walls, columns, tendons, and towers were shot through with pulses of green light and yellow sparks, ordered columns of red pulses moving along hidden channels like surges of electricity, open sparks connecting brachiated sections of the cathedral like dendrites firing.

The shell of the dome was thin enough in places that the last evening light from outside illuminated rose circles on the west side. The highest point on the ceiling was as thin as glass and showed an oval of darkening sky and an only slightly blurred view of the emerging stars. Most curious though, low on the inner walls of the dome were hundreds of cross-shaped impressions, each about six feet high. They circled the space, and by leaning out from his rough mezzanine slab, Daeman could see more of these cross-niches below him, indented as if burned into the blue-ice. They seemed to be made of metal and were empty, their steel interiors reflecting the red glow from the center of the crater.

The red-hued floor of the crater itself was not empty. Everywhere rose thorned stalagmites and craggy spires, with some rising all the way to the ceiling—creating neat rows of blue-ice pillars—while others remained freestanding. Nor was the floor of the crater smooth; everywhere were smaller craters and raised fumaroles. Gases, steam, and smoke curled out of most of these and Daeman caught the stink of sulfur on the tepid, overheated air currents. In the center of the red-glowing circle was a raised and raw-rimmed crater ringed with blue-ice stairways and lesser fumaroles. This crater above the crater appeared to be filled almost to the rim with round, white stones, until Daeman realized that the stones were the tops of human skulls—tens of thousands of human skulls, most lying beneath the mass that almost filled the crater. This raised crater looked very much like a nest and the impression was reinforced by the thing that filled it—gray brain tissue, convoluted ridges, multiple pairs of eyes, mouths, and orifices opening and shutting in no unison, a score of huge hands beneath it—these hands occasionally rearranging the huge form’s mass on its nest, settling it more comfortably—and he saw other hands, each larger than the room Daeman occupied at Ardis Hall, that had emerged from the brain on stalks and were pulling themselves and their trailing tentacles across the glowing floor. Some of the hands were close enough that Daeman could see a myriad of curved, barbed, black hair spikes or hooks emerging from the ends of those huge fingers. Each barb—some sort of evolved hair?—was longer than the killing knife that Daeman wore on his belt, and the fingers used the filaments to sink into the blue-ice. The hands could climb anywhere, pull themselves along any surface—masonry, ice, or steel—by sinking those black, hooked blades into whatever lay underhand.

The brain-shape of Setebos itself was much larger than Daeman remembered from its emergence through the Hole in the sky less than two days before—if that thing had been a hundred feet along its axis, it was now at least a hundred yards long and thirty yards high in the center, where the convoluted tissue was separated by a deep, glowing groove. It filled its nest and whenever it resettled its bulk, there came the crunch of skulls like the snapping and settling of straw.

“Thinketh, such glory shows nor right nor wrong in Him, nor kind, nor cruel: He is strong and Lord. ‘Saith, He is terrible: watch His feats in proof!”

Caliban’s sibilant hiss slid off the dome in some show of perfect acoustics, echoed off fumaroles and ziggurats, echoed again down the labyrinth of ice tunnels, and seemed to come at Daeman from front, back, and side—a murderous whisper.

As Daeman’s eyes adjusted to the red-glow gloom and the scale of the vast hollowed-out dome, he could see smaller objects moving now—scuttling around the base of Setebos’ nest, scurrying on all fours up the blue-ice steps to the base of the brain-shape and then trudging back down on hind legs only, carrying large oval pods that glowed with a sick and slick milkiness.

For a minute, Daeman thought they were voynix—he’d seen the remains of dozens of voynix during his long crawl in through the ice-maze, not voynix frozen in the ice as he’d encountered in the outside crevasse, but gutted remains of voynix, a hollowed-out carapace here, a torn ped or lacerated leather hump there, a set of claw-hands lying alone—but now looking through the stream and fog from the fumaroles, he could see that these attending shapes were not voynix. They had the form of Caliban.

Calibani, thought Daeman. He’d encountered them in the Mediterranean Basin with Savi and Harman almost a year earlier, and he realized now the significance of the cross shapes in the wall of the dome. Recharging cradles, Savi had called the hollowed-out crosses, and Daeman himself had stumbled across a single naked calibani lolling in one such vertical cross, arms spread, and he’d thought it dead until the yellow cat’s-eyes had flickered open.

Savi had told them that Prospero and the unmet biosphere entity named Ariel had evolved a strain of humanity into the calibani in order to stop the voynix from invading the Mediterranean Basin and other areas Prospero wanted to keep private. Daeman thought now that this was either a lie or Savi’s own mistake—the calibani weren’t evolved from any human strain, but rather cloned from the original and much more terrible Caliban, as Prospero had admitted up on his orbital isle—but at the time, Harman had asked the old Jewish woman why the post-humans had created the voynix in the first place if they—or Prospero—then had to create some other form of monster to contain them.

Oh, they didn’t create the voynix,” the old woman had said. “The voynix came from somewhere else, serving someone else, with their own agenda.”

Daeman did not understand then and he understood less now. These calibani he watched scuttling like obscenely pink ants across the crater floor, carrying those milky eggs, were clearly not serving Prospero—they served Setebos.

Then who brought the voynix to Earth? he wondered. Why are the voynix attacking Ardis and the other old-style human communities if they’re not serving Setebos? Who do the voynix serve?

All Daeman knew for sure right now was that the coming of Setebos to Paris Crater had been a disaster for the voynix here—those not frozen in the rapidly expanding blue-ice had been caught and shelled like tasty crabs. Shelled by whom? Or by what? Two answers came to mind, and neither one was reassuring—the voynix had been crunched open either by the teeth and claws of the calibani or by Setebos’ own hands.

Daeman realized now that what he’d thought were gray-pink ridges running along the floor of the crater were actually more arm-stalks emanating from Setebos. The fleshy stalks disappeared into openings in the dome wall and…

Daeman whirled around, raising his crossbow, finger on the trigger. There had been a sliding sound in the ice tunnel behind him. One of Setebos’ hands, three times my size, squeezing through the tunnel behind me.

Daeman crouched there waiting, arms finally shaking from holding the weight of the raised crossbow, but no silent hand emerged. But the corridor of ice hissed and slithered to echoed noises.

The hands are in the walls and probably outside in the crevasses by now, thought Daeman, trying to slow his hammering heart. It’s dark in the tunnels and outside. What do I do if I run into one or more of the hands in there? He’d seen the pulsing feeding orifice in the palms of the hands below—a group of calibani had been feeding them large chunks of raw red meat, either voynix or human.

Finally he lay back on his belly on the blue-ice balcony, feeling the cold of the ice—a substance he now believed to be living tissue extruded by Setebos himself—flow up through his thermskin.

I can get out of here now. I’ve seen enough.

Lying there on his belly, the silly crossbow ahead of him, keeping his head down as a group of calibani scuttled across the crater floor on all fours not a hundred yards below and in front of him, Daeman waited for strength to return to his cowardly arms and legs so he could get the hell out of this unholy cathedral.

I need to report back to Ardis, came the reasonable voice in his mind. I’ve done all I can here.

No, you haven’t, answered the honest part of Daeman’s mind—the part that would get him killed someday. You have to see what those slick, gray egg shapes are.

The calibani had stowed some of those gray pods in a steaming fumarole not a hundred yards from him, below and to the right of his low mezzanine.

I can’t possibly climb down there. It’s too far.

Liar. It’s less than a hundred feet. You still have most of your rope and the spikes. And the ice hammers. Then it would just be a fast sprint out to look at the pod-shapes—grab one to bring back if you can—and then back to your balcony here and out.

That’s crazy. I’d be exposed the whole time I was on the crater floor. Those calibani were between me and that nest. If I’d been out there when they appeared, they would have grabbed me. Eaten me there or taken me to Setebos.

They’re gone now. Now is your chance. Get down there now.

“No,” said Daeman, realizing that he’d whispered the terrified syllable aloud.

But a minute later he was driving a spike into the blue-ice floor of his balcony, tying the rope securely around it, setting the crossbow over his shoulder next to his pack, and beginning the laborious process of lowering himself to the crater floor.

This is good. You’re showing some courage for a change and… Shut the fuck up, Daeman ordered that brave, totally stupid part of his mind.

His mind obeyed.

“Conceiveth all things will continue thus, and we shall have to live in fear of Him,” came the hymn-chant-hiss of Caliban—not from the calibani, Daeman was sure, but from Caliban himself. The original monster must be somewhere here in the dome, perhaps on the other side of Setebos and the crater nest.

“Thinketh this, that some strange day, Setebos, Lord, He who dances on dark nights, shall come to us like tongue to eye, like teeth to throat—or suppose, grow into it, as grub grow butterflies: else, here are we, and there is He, and nowhere help at all.”

Daeman continued sliding down the slippery rope.


The first thing Dr. Thomas Hockenberry, Ph.D., had to do after quantum teleporting into Ilium was find an alley he could puke in.

That wasn’t hard, even in his inebriated state, since the ex-scholic had spent almost ten years in and around Troy and he’d QT’d back to a minor street off the square near Hector and Paris’s apartments where he’d been a thousand times. Luckily, it was night in Ilium, the shops, market stalls, and little restaurants around the square were closed and shuttered, and no spearman or night guard noticed his silent arrival. Still, he needed an alley and found it fast, was sick until the dry heaves passed, and then he needed an even darker and less traveled alley. Luckily the lanes were many and narrow near the dead Paris’s palace—now Helen’s home and the temporary palace of Priam—and Hockenberry quickly sought out the darkest and narrowest lane, barely four feet across, where he curled up on some straw, wrapped the blanket he’d brought from his cubby on the Queen Mab around him, and slept heavily.

He awoke a little after dawn, aching, surly, profoundly hungover, and acutely aware of both the noise in the square near the palace and the fact that he’d brought the wrong clothes from the Queen Mab; he was dressed in a soft gray cotton jumpsuit and zero-g slippers, something the moravecs had thought suitable for a Twenty-first Century man. The outfit didn’t blend in too well with the robes, leather greaves, sandals, tunics, togas, capes, furs, bronze armor, and rough homespun seen in Ilium.

When he did get to the public square—brushing off the worst of the alley filth even while noticing the real difference between the 1.28-g acceleration load he’d been living under and the single gravity of Earth, he felt bouncy and strong now despite his hangover—Hockenberry was surprised to see how few people were in the square. Just after dawn was the busiest time in this market, but most of the stalls were attended only by their owners, tables at the outdoor eating establishments were all but empty, and the only people at the far side of the square, in front of Paris’s, Helen’s, and now Priam’s palace, were the few guards by the doors and gates.

He decided that proper clothes should precede even breakfast, so he stepped into the shadows under the loggia and began bartering with a one-eyed, one-toothed ancient in a red-rag turban. This old man had the largest cart with the widest variety of goods—mostly discards or rags stolen from fresh corpses—but he haggled like a dragon loath to part with his gold. Hockenberry’s pockets were empty, so all he had to bargain with were the ship clothes and the blanket he’d brought along, but these were exotic enough—he had to tell the old man that he’d come all the way from Persia—that he ended up with a toga, high-lace sandals, some unlucky commander’s fine red wool cape, a regular tunic and skirt, and under linens—Hockenberry chose the cleanest ones in the bin, and when he couldn’t manage clean, he settled for louse-free. He left the plaza with a broad leather belt that held a sword that had seen much action but was still sharp, and two knives, one that he’d carry tucked into the belt and the other that slipped into a specially sewn fold inside the red cape. He also received a handful of coins. One glance back at the old man’s gaping, one-toothed grin let Hockenberry know that the geezer had made out well, that the unusual jumpsuit would probably trade for a horse or gold shield or better. Ah, well.

Hockenberry hadn’t asked the old man or the few other drowsy merchants what was going on—why the mostly empty square, why the absence of soldiers and families, why the strange quiet over the city—but he knew he’d find out soon enough.

When he’d been changing clothes behind the seller’s cart, the old man and two of his neighbors had offered him gold for his QT medallion, the fat man behind the fruit cart topping the bidding at 200 weight of gold and 500 silver Thracian coins, but Hockenberry had said no, glad that he’d taken possession of the sword and two daggers before stripping.

Now, after spending some of his new coins for a stand-up breakfast of fresh bread, dried fish, some cheese, and a hot-tea sort of substance infinitely less satisfying than coffee, he stepped back into the shadows and looked at Helen’s palace across the way.

He could QT into her private chambers. He’d certainly done it before.

And if she’s there, then what?

A fast thrust with his sword and then QT away again, the perfect invisible assassin? But who was to say that the guards wouldn’t see him? For the ten thousandth time in the last nine months, Hockenberry mourned the loss of his morphing bracelet—the gods’ essential basic for all of their scholics, allowing them to shift quantum probability to the point that Hockenberry, Nightenhelser, of any of the other ill-fated scholics could instantly displace any man or woman in or around Ilium, not only taking their form and clothing, but truly replacing them on the quantum level of things. This had allowed even the massive Nightenhelser to morph into a boy a third his weight without defying the rule that one of the scientific-oriented scholics years ago had described to Hockenberry as the conservation of mass.

Well, Hockenberry had no morphing capability now—the morphing bracelet had been left behind on Olympos along with his taser baton, shotgun microphone, and impact armor—but he still had the QT medallion.

Now he touched that gold circle against his chest and… hesitated. What would he do when he faced Helen of Troy? Hockenberry had no idea. He’d never killed anyone—much less the most beautiful woman he’d ever made love to, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, a rival to the immortal goddess Aphrodite—so he hesitated.

There was a commotion toward the Scaean Gate. He walked that way, nibbling on the last of his bread, a newly purchased goatskin of wine slung over his shoulder, thinking about the situation here in Ilium.

I’ve been gone more than two weeks. On the night I left—on the night Helen tried to kill me—it appeared that the Achaeans were going to overrun the city.

Certainly Troy and its few allied gods and goddesses—Apollo, Ares, Aphrodite, lesser deities—didn’t seem capable of defending the city against the determined attack by Agamemnon’s armies supported by Athena, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest.

Hockenberry had seen enough of this war to know that nothing was certain. Of course, that had been Homer’s vision—the events here in this real past, on this real Earth, in and around this real Troy, had usually paralleled, if not always directly followed, Homer’s great tale. Now, with events diverging so dramatically in the past months—thanks, he knew, to the meddling of one Thomas Hockenberry—all bets were off. So he hurried to follow the tail end of crowds that obviously were headed straight toward the main city gates at first light.

He found her on the wall above the Scaean Gate, with the rest of the royal family and a bunch of dignitaries all crowded onto the wide reviewing platform where he’d watched her match faces to names during the gathering of the Achaean army for the Trojans ten years earlier. That day, she’d whispered the names of the various Greek heroes to Priam, Hecuba, Paris, Hector, and the others. Today Hecuba and Paris were dead—along with so many thousand others—but Helen still stood at Priam’s right, along with Andromache. The old king had been standing for the review of the armies ten years ago, but now he was half-reclining in the throne-cum-litter in which he was carried these days. Priam looked a lot more than ten years older than the vital king Hockenberry had watched here a mere decade ago—the old man was a shrunken, wizened caricature of powerful Priam.

But today the mummy seemed happy enough.

“Until this day I had pitied me,” cried Priam, addressing the dignitaries around him and a few hundred royal guardsmen on the stairs and plain below them. There was no army in sight—Thicket Ridge and the approaches to Ilium were clear of soldiers—but by straining and following Helen’s gaze, Hockenberry could see a huge mob almost two miles away, where the Greek black ships were drawn up. It looked as if the Trojan army had surrounded the Achaeans, overrun their moat and horse-staked trenches, and reduced the miles of Achaean camps to a rough semicircle hardly more than a few hundred yards across. If this was so, the Greeks had their backs to the sea and were surrounded by a powerful Trojan force just waiting to pounce.

“I pitied me,” repeated Priam, his cracked voice growing stronger, “and asked too many of you to pity me as well. Since my queen’s death by the hands of the gods, I have been but a harrowed, broken old man marked for doom… worse than old, past the threshold of decrepitude… certain that Father Zeus had singled me out to be wasted by a terrible fate.

“In the last ten years, I had seen too many of my sons laid low and I was certain that Hector would join them in the halls of Hades even before his father’s spirit traveled there. I was prepared to watch my daughters dragged away, my treasure vaults looted, the Paladion stolen from Athena’s temple, and helpless babies hurled from our parapets to the red-blooded end of barbarous war.

“A month ago, friends and family, warriors and wives, I waited to watch my sons’ wives be hauled off by the Argives’ bloody hands, Helen struck down by murderous Menelaus, my daughter Cassandra raped, so that I would be willing—nay, eager—to greet the Argive dogs before my doors, urge them to eat me raw, after the spear of Achilles or Agamemnon or crafty Odysseus or unforgiving Ajax or terrible Menelaus or powerful Diomedes would bring me down. Splitting me with a spear, wrenching and tearing my old life out of my old body, feeding my guts to my own dogs—yes, those faithful hounds who guarded my gates and chamber door—letting these suddenly rabid friends lap their master’s blood and eat their master’s heart in front of everyone.

“Yes, this was my lament ten months ago, two weeks ago… but look at the world born anew this morning, my beloved Trojans. Zeus took away all the gods—those who wished to save us, those who wished to destroy us. The Father of the Gods struck down his own Hera in a blast of his thunder. Mighty Zeus has burned the Argives’ black ships and ordered all immortals to return to Olympos to face his punishment for disobedience. With the gods no longer filling the days and nights with fire and noise, my son Hector led our troops to victory after victory. Without Achilles to stop the noble Hector, the Achaean pigs have been driven back to the burned hulls of their black ships, their southern camps shredded, their northern camps put to the torch. And now they are bound in tight from the west by Hector and our Ilium-born, by Aeneas and his Dardanians, by Antenor’s two surviving sons, Acamas and Archelochus.

“To the south, they are shut off from retreat by the shining sons of Lycaon and our faithful allies from Zelea, under the foot of Ida where Zeus oft makes his throne.

“To the north, the Greeks are stymied by Adrestus and Amphius, trim in their linen corsets, leading the Apaesians and the Adestrians, marvelous in their new-acquired gold and bronze, wrenched from the dead Achaeans who fell in their panicked flight.

“Our beloved Hippothous and Pylaeus, who survived the ten years of carnage and were ready to die this month with us, with their Trojan friends and brothers, but instead, this day, who lead their dark-skinned Plasgian warriors alongside the captains of Abydos and gleaming Arisbe. Instead of ignoble death and defeat this day, our sons and allies are but hours away from seeing the head of our enemy, Agamemnon, lifted high on a spike, while our Thracians and Trojans and Pelasgians and Cicones and Paeonians and Paphlagonians and Halizonians have lived to watch the end of this long war at last, and soon will be raking up the gold of defeated Argives, soon will be sweeping up the well-earned armor of Agamemnon and his men. This day, unable to flee to their black ships, all the Greek kings who came to kill and loot will be killed and looted.

“This day, all the gods willing—and Zeus has already spoken it into being—let my friends and family—and our foes—witness our final victory. Let us see the end to this war. Let us prepare now—before this beginning day ends—to welcome home Hector and Deiphobus in a victory celebration that will last a week—no, a month!—a party of celebration and deliverance that will let your faithful servant Priam of Ilium die a happy man!”

So spake Priam, King of Ilium, Father of Hector, and Hockenberry couldn’t believe his ears.

Helen slipped away from the side of Andromache and the other women, then descended the wide steps back down to the city, with only Andromache’s warrior slave-woman, Hypsipyle, at her side. Hockenberry hid behind the broad back of an imperial spearman until Helen was out of sight on the steps, and then he followed.

The two women turned down a narrow alley almost in the shadow of the west wall, then east up an even more narrow lane, and Hockenberry knew where they were going. Months ago, during his jealous phase after Helen had quit seeing him, he’d trailed Andromache and her here, discovering their secret. This was where Hector’s wife, Andromache, kept her secret apartment where Hypsipyle and another nurse watched over Andromache’s son, Astyanax. Not even Hector knew that his son was alive, that the baby’s murder by the hands of Aphrodite and Athena was a ruse by the few Trojan Women to end the war between the Argives and Trojans, turning Hector’s wrath toward the gods themselves.

Well, Hockenberry thought now, staying back at the head of the smaller alley so the two women would not notice they were being followed, that ruse had worked wonderfully well. But now the war with the gods was over and it looked as if the Trojan War was in its final hour.

Hockenberry didn’t want them to reach the apartment itself; there had been male Cicilian guards there as well. Now he bent and lifted a heavy, smooth, oval stone, just the size of his palm, and curled his fist around it.

Am I really going to kill Helen? He had no answer to that. Not yet.

Helen and Hypsipyle were pausing at the gate that led into the courtyard to the secret house when Hockenberry moved up quietly behind them and tapped the big Lesbos slave-woman on her brawny shoulder.

Hypsipyle whirled.

Hockenberry hit her in the jaw with a roundhouse uppercut. Even with the heavy rock in his fist, the big woman’s bony jaw almost broke his fingers. But Hypsipyle went backward like a toppled statue, her head striking the courtyard door on the way down. She stayed down, clearly unconscious, her big jaw looking broken.

Great, thought Hockenberry, after ten years in the Trojan War, you finally joined the fighting—by suckerpunching a woman.

Helen stepped back, the little hidden dagger that had once found Hockenberry’s heart already sliding down from her sleeve into her right hand. Hockenberry moved fast, clutching Helen’s wrist, forcing her hand and arm back against the rough-hewn door, and—his bleeding, bruised right hand barely working—pulling his own long knife from his belt and thrusting the point of it into the softness under her chin. She dropped her knife.

“Hock-en-bear-eeee,” she said, her head back but his knife drawing blood already.

He hesitated. His right arm was shaking. If he was going to do this, he needed to do it quickly, before the bitch began to speak. She had betrayed him, stabbed him in the heart and left him for dead, but she had also been the most amazing lover he’d ever had.

“You are a god,” whispered Helen. Her eyes were wide, but she showed no fear.

“Not a god,” gritted Hockenberry. “Just a cat. You took one of my lives. I’d already been given one extra. I must have seven left.”

Despite the knife point cutting into her underjaw, Helen laughed. “A cat having nine lives. I like that conceit. You always did have a way with words… for a foreigner.”

Kill her or not, but decide now… this is absurd, thought Hockenberry.

He pulled the point of the blade away from her throat, but before Helen of Troy could move or speak, he grabbed a fistful of her black hair in his left hand, held the dagger to her ribs, and pulled her down the alley with him, away from Andromache’s apartment.

They’d come full circle—back to the abandoned tower overlooking the Scaean Gate wall where he’d discovered Menelaus and Helen hiding, where Helen had stabbed him after he’d QT’d her husband to Agamem-non’s camp. Hockenberry shoved Helen up the narrow, winding staircase all the way to the top, to the mostly open level now atop the tower that had been shattered by the gods’ bombing months ago.

He pushed her toward the open edge, but out of view of anyone on the wall below. “Strip,” he said.

Helen brushed the hair out of her eyes. “Are you going to rape me before you throw me over the edge, Hock-en-bear-eeee?”


He stood back with his knife ready as Helen slipped out of her few layers of silky garments. This morning was warmer than the day on which he’d left—the wintry day when she’d stabbed him—but the breeze up this high was still cool enough to cause Helen’s nipples to stand on end and to bring out goosebumps on her pale arms and belly. As she let each layer fall away, he told her to kick them over to him. Watching her carefully, he felt through the soft robes and silky under-shift. No other hidden daggers.

She stood there in the morning light, legs slightly apart, not covering her breasts or pubic region with her hands but just letting her arms hang naturally at her sides. Her head was high and there was the slightest line of blood visible under her chin. Her gaze seemed to mix calm defiance with a mild curiosity about what was going to happen next. Even now, filled with fury as he was, he saw how she could have set these hundreds of thousands of men to killing one another. And it was a revelation to him that he could be so angry—close-to-killing angry—and still feel sexual desire for a woman. After the seventeen days in the 1.28-Earth-gravity acceleration field, he felt strong here on Earth, muscular, powerful. He knew that he could lift this beautiful woman in one arm and carry her wherever he wanted to, do whatever he wanted for as long as he wanted.

Hockenberry threw her clothes back to her. “Get dressed.”

She watched him warily as she picked up her soft garments. From the wall and Scaean Gate below came shouts, applause, and the banging of wooden spear shafts on bronze-and-leather shields as Priam ended his speech.

“Tell me what’s happened in the seventeen days I’ve been gone,” he said gruffly.

“That’s all you’ve come back for, Hock-en-bear-eeee? To ask me about recent events?” She was securing the low bodice across her white breasts.

He gestured her to the fallen piece of stone and when she’d taken a seat, he found another slab for himself about six feet away. Even with a knife in his hand, Hockenberry did not want to get too close to her.

“Tell me about the last weeks since I left,” he said again.

“Don’t you want to know why I stabbed you?”

“I know,” Hockenberry said tiredly. “You’d had me QT Menelaus out of the city but you decided not to follow him. If I was dead, and the Achaeans overran the city—which you were sure they were going to do—you could always tell Menelaus I refused to take you with me. Or something like that. But he would have killed you anyway, Helen. Men—even Menelaus, who’s not the sharpest sword in the armory—can rationalize being betrayed once. Not twice.”

“Yes, he would have killed me. But I hurt you, Hock-en-bear-eeee, so that I would have no choice… so that I had to stay in Ilium.”

“Why?” This didn’t make any sense to the former scholic. And his head hurt.

“When Menelaus found me that day, I realized that I was happy to go with him. Happy almost to be killed by him, if that had been his pleasure. My years here in Ilium as a harlot, as Paris’s false wife, as the reason for all this death, had made me mean in every sense of the word. Base, brittle, empty inside—common.”

You’re many things, Helen of Troy, he was tempted to say, but common is not one of them.

“But with Paris dead,” continued Helen, “I had no husband, no master, for the first time since I was a young girl. My first reaction of being glad to see Menelaus here in Ilium that day, I soon recognized as a slave’s happiness at seeing his chains and shackles again. By the time you joined us here in this very tower that night, all I wanted to do was stay in Ilium, alone, not as Helen, wife of Menelaus, not as Helen, wife of Paris, but just as… Helen.”

“That doesn’t explain why you stabbed me,” said Hockenberry. “You could have just told me you were staying after I delivered Menelaus to his brother’s camp. Or you could have asked me to transport you anywhere in the world—I would have obeyed.”

“That is the real reason I tried to kill you,” Helen said softly.

Hockenberry could only frown at her.

“That day, I decided to wed my fate not to any man’s, but to the city’s… to Ilium,” she said. “And I knew that as long as you were here and alive, I could make you use your magic to carry me anywhere… to safety… even as Agamemnon and Menelaus entered the city and put it to flames.”

Hockenberry thought about this for a long minute. It made no sense. He knew it never would. He set it aside. “Tell me about the last couple of weeks and what has happened,” he said for the third time.

“The days after I left you here for dead were dark ones for the city,” said Helen. “Agamemnon’s attack almost overwhelmed us that very night. Hector had been sulking in his apartments since before the Amazons went out to their doom. After the Hole had closed and it was certain that it wasn’t opening again, Hector stayed in his apartment, his thoughts his own, closed even to Andromache—I know she considered telling him the secret that their son still lived, but held off, not knowing how to explain the deception in any way that would not cause her own life to be forfeit—and during the next days’ battles, Agamemnon’s armies and their supporting gods killed many Trojans. Only the city’s Protector—Phoebus Apollo, Lord of the Silver Bow—firing his always unerring arrows into the Argive multitudes kept us from being overrun and destroyed on those dark days before Hector rejoined the fray.

“As it was, Hock-en-bear-eeee, the Argives, under Diomedes, did breach our walls at their lowest point—where the wild fig tree stands. Three times before in the ten years that did proceed our ill-fated war with the gods had the Argives tried that same spot, our weakness, perhaps revealed to them by some skilled prophet, but three times before, Hector, Paris, and our champions had beat them back—Great and Little Ajax in their attempts, then Atreus’ sons, the third time Diomedes himself—but this time, four days after I tried to kill you and left your body here for the carrion birds, Diomedes led his warriors from Argos on the fourth assault on the point where the wild fig tree stands. Even while Agamemnon’s ladders were rising to the western wall and battering rams the size of great trees were splintering the Scaean Gate in its huge hinges, Diomedes attacked the low point on our wall by stealth and strength, and by sunset that fourth day, the Argives were inside the wall.

“Only the courage of Deiphobus, Hector’s brother, Priam’s other son, the man who has been chosen by the royal family to be my next husband—only Deiphobus saved the city through his courage. Seeing the threat when others were despairing about Agamemnon’s ladders and rams, Deiphobus swept up survivors of his old battalion, and Helenus’, and the captain named Asisu, son of Hyrtacus, and a few hundred of Aeneas’ fleeing men, and with the combat veteran Asteropaeus at his side, Deiphobus formed a counterattack through the overrun city streets, turning the nearby marketplace into a second line. In terrible battle with the winning Diomedes, Deiphobus fought godlike—parrying even Athena’s spearcast, for the gods were battling here with as much violence as the men—more!

“At dawn that day, the Argive line was stopped temporarily—our wall by the wild fig tree breached, a dozen city blocks burned and occupied by the raging Argives, Agamemnon’s hordes still trying to scale our western and northern walls, the great Scaean Gate hanging by splinters and holding only by its iron bands—and that was the morning that Hector announced to Priam and the other despairing royals that he would re-enter the battle.”

“And did he?” asked Hockenberry.

Helen laughed. “Did he? Never has there been such a glorious aristeia, Hock-en-bear-eeee. On the first day of his wrath, Hector—protected by Apollo and Aphrodite from Athena’s and Hera’s bolts—met Diomedes in a fair fight and killed him, casting his finest spear all the way through the son of Tydeus and sending his Argus’ fighters fleeing. By sunset that day, the city was whole again and our masons were building up the wall by the old fig tree, making it as tall as the wall near the Scaean Gate.”

“Diomedes dead?” said Hockenberry. He was shocked. Ten years watching the fighting here and the scholic had begun to think that Diomedes was as invulnerable as Achilles or one of the gods. In Homer’s Iliad, Diomedes’ exploits—his excursus, his glorious single-combat or aristeia–had filled Book 5 and the beginning of Book 6, second only in length and ferocity in Homer’s tale to that of Achilles’ unleashed wrath in Books 20–22… a wrath that was never to be realized here now, thanks to Hockenberry’s own tampering with events.

“Diomedes is dead,” repeated Hockenberry, stunned.

“And Ajax as well,” said Helen. “For on the next day, Hector and Ajax met again—you remember that they had once fought in single combat but parted friends, so valiant was each of their struggles. But this time, Hector cut down the son of Telamon, using his sword to beat down the big man’s huge, rectangular shield, bending its metal back on itself, and when Great Ajax cried out ‘Mercy! Show mercy, son of Priam!,’ Hector showed him none, but drove his sword through the hero’s spine and heart, sending him down to Hades before the sun had risen a hand’s breadth above the horizon that morning. Ajax’s men, those famed fighters from Salamis, wept and rent their clothes in mourning that day, but they also fell back in confusion, crashing into Agamemnon and Menelaus’ armies as they surged over Thicket Ridge—you know that ridge just beyond the city to the west that the gods call the Amazon Myrine’s mounded tomb?”

“I know it,” said Hockenberry.

“Well, this is where the dead Ajax’s fleeing army crashed into the attacking men from Agamemnon and Menelaus’ corps. It was confusion. Pure confusion.

“And into the melee swept Hector, leading his Trojan and Allied captains—Deiphobus now following his brother, Acamas and old Pirous leading the Thracians close behind, Mesthles and Antiphus’ son driving the Maeonians on with shouts—all the remaining and surviving Trojan heroes, thought beaten just two days before, were part of that charge. I stood on the wall just below here that morning, Hock-en-bear-eeee, and for three hours none of us—Trojan women, old Priam, no longer able to walk but who had been carried there in his litter, we wives and daughters and mothers and sisters and the boys and old men—none of us could see a thing for three hours, so great was the dust cloud kicked up by the thousands of warriors and hundreds of chariots. Sometimes volleys of arrows from one side or the other would shield the sun.

“But when the dust settled and the gods retreated to Olympos after that morning’s fighting, Menelaus had joined Diomedes and Ajax in the House of Death, and…”

“Menelaus is dead? Your husband is dead?” said Hockenberry. Again, he was deeply shocked. These men had fought and prevailed for ten years against each other, another ten months against the gods.

“Didn’t I just say that he was?” asked Helen, irritated at being interrupted. “Hector didn’t kill him. He was brought down by an arrow in the air, an arrow shot by dead Pandarus’ son, young Palmys, Lycaon’s grandson, using the same god-blessed bow that Pandarus had used to wound Menelaus in the hip just a year ago. But this time, there was no invisible Athena to flick aside the shaft, and Menelaus received the arrow through the eye-circle in his helmet and it passed through his brain and out the back of the bronze head-sheath.”

“Little Palmys?” said Hockenberry, aware that he was repeating names like an idiot. “He can’t be more than twelve years old…”

“Not yet eleven,” said Helen with a smile. “But the boy used a man’s bow—his dead father’s, Pandarus, brought low by Diomedes a year ago—and the arrow settled all my husband’s debts and resolved all our marital doubts. I have Menelaus’ blood-splashed helmet in my rooms at the palace if you would like to see it—the boy Palmys kept his shield.”

“My God,” said Hockenberry. “Diomedes, Big Ajax, and Menelaus dead in a single twenty-four-hour period. No wonder you’ve driven the Argives back to their ships.”

“No,” said Helen, “the day might well still have gone to the Achaeans if Zeus had not appeared.”


“Zeus,” said Helen. “On the day that had begun with glorious victory, the gods and goddesses on the side of the Argives were so infuriated by the deaths of their champions that Hera and Athena alone murdered a thousand of our valiant Trojans with their fiery bolts. Poseidon, the old Earth-Shaker himself, bellowed so in anger that a score of strong buildings in Ilium crashed to the ground. Archers tumbled from our walls like falling leaves. Priam was thrown from his throne-litter.

“All our gains that day were lost in minutes—Hector falling back, still fighting, his men falling around him, Deiphobus wounded in the leg, finally having to be carried by his brother even while our Trojan men beat a retreat back to Thicket Ridge, then from Thicket Ridge to and through the Scaean Gates.

“We women actually rushed down to help set the great bar across the splintered gates, so wild was the fighting—scores of raging Argives had come through into the city with our retreating heroes—and again Poseidon shook the earth, knocking everyone to their knees even as Athena neutralized Apollo in their sky battles, their chariots whirling and flashing through the sky, while Hera herself cast explosive bolts of energy at our walls.

“Then Zeus appeared in the east. Larger and more impressive than any living mortal has ever seen…”

“More impressive than the day he appeared as a face in the atomic mushroom cloud?” asked Hockenberry.

Helen laughed. “Much more impressive, my Hock-en-bear-eeee. This Zeus was a colossus, his legs rising higher than Mount Ida’s snowy summit in the east, his huge chest above the clouds, his giant brow so high above us as to be almost invisible, taller than the tops of the tallest stratocumulus piled high, one upon another, on a summer day before a storm.”

“Whoa,” said Hockenberry, trying to imagine it. He’d once tussled with Zeus—well, not tussled exactly, more just a sort of general scuttling away from him during an earthquake on Olympos, culminating in sliding between the Lord of All Gods’ legs to grab the dropped QT medallion so he could teleport away right at the beginning of the human-god war—and the Father of the Gods had been wildly impressive when he was just his usual fifteen feet tall. He tried to imagine this ten-mile-high colossus. “Go on,” he said.

“So when this giant Zeus appeared, the armies stopped in their tracks, froze like statues, swords raised, spears poised back, shields high—even the chariots of the gods froze in the sky, Athena and Phoebus Apollo as motionless as all the thousands of mortals below—and Zeus thundered forth—I cannot imitate his voice, Hock-en-bear-eeee, for it was all thunder and all earthquake and volcanoes erupting at once—but Zeus thundered—UNCONTROLLABLE HERA—YOU AND YOUR TREACHERY YET AGAIN!—I WOULD BE SLEEPING YET HAD NOT YOUR CRIPPLED SON AND A MORTAL AWAKENED ME. HOW DARE YOU BETRAY ME WITH YOUR WARM EMBRACE, SEDUCE ME BLIND, SO THAT YOU CAN HAVE YOUR WAY, PURSUE YOUR WILL OF DESTROYING TROY IN DEFIANCE OF YOUR LORD’S COMMAND!”

“Your crippled son and a mortal?” repeated Hockenberry. The crippled son would be Hephaestus, god of fire. The mortal?

“That’s what he bellowed,” said Helen, rubbing her pale neck as if her imitation of the bass earthquake-rumble had hurt her throat.

“And then?” prompted Hockenberry.

“And then, before Hera could speak in her own defense, before any of the gods could move, Zeus, the King of the Black Cloud, struck her down with a thunderbolt. It must have killed her, immortal as we all thought she was.”

“The gods have a way of returning after they are ‘killed,’ ” muttered Hockenberry, thinking of the huge healing tanks and their roiling blue worms up in the great, white building on Olympos, tanks tended by the giant insectoid Healer.

“Yes, we all know that,” Helen said in a disgusted tone. “Didn’t our own Hector kill Ares half a dozen times in the past eight months? Only to face him again a few days later? But this was different, Hock-en-bear-eeee.”

“How so?”

“Zeus’s lighting bolt destroyed Hera—threw bits of her golden chariot for miles, raining melted gold and steel on the rooftops of Troy. And gibbets of the goddess herself fell in a swath from the ocean to dead Paris’s palace—scorched shards of pink flesh, which none of us were brave enough to touch, but which simmered and smoked for days.”

“Jesus,” whispered Hockenberry.

“And then the mighty Zeus struck down Poseidon, opening a great yawning pit under the fleeing Sea God and dropping him into it, screaming. The screams echoed for hours, until all mortals—Argives and Trojans alike—wept from the sound.”

“Did Zeus say anything when he opened this pit?”


Hockenberry waited while Helen paused to clear her throat again.

“Do you have any water, Hock-en-bear-eeee?”

He handed her the wineskin he’d filled with water from the plaza fountain and waited in silence while she drank.

“And this is what Zeus spoke as he opened up a pit beneath Poseidon and sent the Shaker of the Earth screaming into Tartarus. Those soldiers on the wall who saw into the pit could not speak for days, only mumble or scream.”

Hockenberry waited.

“And then the Father of the Gods ordered all the other gods back to Olympos to face their punishment—you will pardon me, Hock-en-bear-eeee, if I do not try to imitate Zeus’s bellow—and in an instant the flying chariots were gone, the Lord of the Silver Bow was gone, Athena was gone, red-eyed Hades was gone, that bitch Aphrodite was gone, bloodthirsty Ares was gone—all our Pantheon disappeared, QTing back to Olympos like guilty children waiting for their displeased father to use the rod on them.”

“Did Zeus disappear then, too?” asked Hockenberry.

“Oh, no, the Son of Kronos had just begun to play. His towering form strode over Ilium and walked across the miles between here and the shore like Astyanax playing in his sandbox, striding over his toy soldiers. Hundreds of Trojans and Argives died under the giant feet of Zeus that day, Hock-en-bear-eeee, and when he reached Agamemnon’s camp, Zeus reached out his palm and burned all the the hundreds of black ships pulled up on the sand there. And for those Argive ships still at anchor, or the convoy pulling in from Lemnos bringing wine sent across by Euneus, Jason’s son, carrying gifts to Atrides Agamemnon and the dead Menelaus, Zeus closed his flaming hand into a fist and a great wave rose up, dashing the Lemnos ships and the anchored Argive ships ashore—again like toys, like Astyanax splashing in his bath, sinking his slave-carved balsawood toy boats in petulance divine.”

“Holy God,” whispered Hockenberry.

“Yes, exactly,” said Helen. “And then Zeus disappeared in a crack of the loudest thunder yet, louder even than his voice that had deafened hundreds, and the wind howled into the place where giant Zeus had been, ripping up the Achaean tents and swirling them thousands of feet into the air, swirling strong Trojan stallions from their stalls and over our highest walls.”

Hockenberry looked to the west where the armies of Troy had surrounded the diminished army of the Argives. “That was almost two weeks ago. Have the gods returned at all? Any of them? Zeus?”

“No, Hock-en-bear-eeee. We have seen no immortals since that day.”

“But that was two weeks ago,” said Hockenberry. “Why has it taken so long for Hector to besiege the Argive army? Surely with the deaths of Diomedes, Big Ajax, and Menelaus, the Achaeans must have been demoralized.”

“They were,” agreed Helen. “But both sides were in shock. Many of us could not hear for days. As I said, those on the wall or those Argives too close to the opening pit of Tartarus were little more than drooling idiots for a week. A truce was called without either side declaring it. We gathered our dead—for we had suffered terribly during Agamemnon’s assaults, you remember—and for almost a week, corpse fires burned both here in the city and along the miles of shore where the terrified Argives still had their camps. Then, in the second week, when Agamemnon ordered men to the forests at the base of Mount Ida to begin felling trees—to make new ships, of course—Hector began the assault. The fighting has been slow and heavy work. With their backs to the sea and no ships for their flight, the Argives fight like cornered rats. But this morning, you see, the few thousands left are encircled there at the edge of the water and today Hector will unleash our final assault. Today ends the Trojan War, with Ilium still standing, Hector the hero of all heroes, and Helen free.”

For a while the man and woman just sat on their respective great stones and stared out to the west, where sunlight glinted on armor and spears and where horns were sounding.

Finally Helen said, “What will you do with me now, Hock-en-bear-eeee?”

He blinked, looked at the knife still in his hand, and set it in his belt. “You can go,” he said.

Helen looked at his face but she did not move.

Go!” said Hockenberry.

She left slowly. The sound of her slippers came up the circular staircase—he remembered the same soft sound from when he lay dying here two and a half weeks ago.

Where do I go now?

Trained as a scholic in his second life, he had the loyal urge to report these variances from the Iliad to the Muse, and thence to all the gods. This thought made him smile. How many of the gods still existed in that other universe where Olympus Mons on Mars had been turned into Olympos? How extensive had Zeus’s wrath really been? Had there been a genocidal deicide up there? He might never know. He didn’t have the courage to quantum teleport to Olympos again.

Hockenberry touched the QT medallion under his tunic. Back to the ship? He wanted to see the Earth—his Earth, even one three thousand years or so in his future—and he wanted to be with the moravecs and Odysseus when they saw it. He had no duty or role here in this Ilium-universe now.

He brought the QT medallion out and ran his hand over the heavy gold.

Not back to the Queen Mab. Not yet. He might not be a scholic any longer—the gods may have abandoned him just as he had betrayed them—but he was still a scholar. Decades of teaching the Iliad, all those memories of wonderful dusty classrooms and very young college students, all those faces—pale, pimply, healthy, tanned, eager, indifferent, inspired, insipid—came flowing back now, filling in the gaps. How could he not see the last act in this new and absurdly revised version?

Twisting the medallion, Dr. Thomas Hockenberry, Ph.D., quantum teleported to the center of the besieged and doomed Achaean encampment.


Later, Daeman wasn’t sure when he decided to steal one of the eggs.

It wasn’t while he was sliding down the rope to the floor of the dome-crater, since he was too busy hanging on and trying not to be seen to plan anything then.

It wasn’t while he was scurrying across the hot, cracked floor of the crater, since his heart was pounding too loudly during that sprint to allow him to think of anything except reaching the fumarole where he’d seen the eggs. Twice he saw groups of calibani scuttling along beyond the nearest smoking vents and both times Daeman threw himself down and lay still until they had hurried off on their business toward the main Setebos nest. The floor of the crater was hot enough that it would have burned his hands if he hadn’t been wearing the thermskin under his regular clothes. As it was, a minute lying on his belly caused his shirt and trousers to singe. He sprinted forward and reached the side of the fumarole, crouching and panting in the heat—the walls of the fumarole were about twelve feet high, but rough, made of the same blue-ice as everything else. Daeman found enough fingerholds and footholds to climb it without using his ice hammers.

The fumarole—a hissing crater within the larger crater, one of dozens inside the dome-cathedral—was filled with human skulls. These were so heated that some glowed red even while sulfurous vapors hissed around them and rose into the stinking air. At least the steam and vapors gave Damean some cover as he dropped onto the mound of skulls and looked at the Setebos eggs.

Oval, gray-white, each pulsing with some internal energy or life, the things were each about three feet long. Daeman counted twenty-seven in this nest. Besides the cradling heap of hot skulls, the eggs themselves were surrounded by a ring of sticky, blue-gray mucus. Daeman crawled closer, fingers and feet scrabbling on skulls, and looked at the tall heap of eggs from as close as he could get without lifting his head above the level of the fumarole crater rim.

The shells were thin, warm, almost translucent. Some already glowed brightly, others had only a white gleam at their center. Daeman reached out and gingerly touched one—a mild heat, a strange sense of vertigo as if some instability in the egg itself flowed through his thermskinned finger. He tried to lift one and found it weighed about twenty pounds.

Now what?

Now he had to beat a retreat, get up the rope, out through the tunnels, back to the Avenue Daumesnil crevasse, and back to the Guarded Lion faxnode. He had to report all this to everyone at Ardis as soon as possible.

But why come all this way and risk exposure on the crater floor without taking a souvenir?

By dumping everything out of his rucksack except the extra crossbow bolts, he made room for the egg. At first it wouldn’t fit, but by pushing gently but insistently he managed to get the broad end of the oval through the opening and wedge the bolts in around the side of the egg. What if it breaks? Well, he’d have a messy pack, he thought, but at least he’d know what was inside the damned things.

I don’t want to break one of the eggs here, so close to Setebos and the calibani. We’ll inspect it back at Ardis.

Amen, thought Daeman. He was finding it very hard to breathe. He’d had his osmosis mask on all this time, but the sulfurous vapors from the fumarole vent and the overwhelming heat made him dizzy. He knew that if he’d come into the dome without the thermskin and mask, he would have lost consciousness long ago. The air in here was poisonous. Then how do the calibani breathe?

To hell with the calibani, thought Daeman. He waited until the steam and vapors were thick as a smoke screen and slid down the side of the fumarole, dropping the last five feet. The egg shifted heavily in his rucksack, almost causing him to fall.

Easy, easy.

“ ‘Saith, what He hates be consecrate, all come to celebrate Thee and Thy state! Thinketh, what I hate be consecrate to celebrate Him and what He ate!” Caliban’s chant-hymn was much louder down here. Somehow the acoustics of the giant dome-cathedral amplified as well as directed the monster’s voice. Either that or Caliban was closer now.

Running in a crouch, dropping to one knee at any hint of motion through the shifting vapors, Daeman made it the hundred yards to his rope still dangling from the blue-ice balcony. He looked up at the rope hanging free.

What was I thinking? It must be eighty feet to the balcony. I can never climb that—especially not with this weight on my back.

Daeman looked around for another tunnel entrance. The nearest one was three or four hundred feet away around the curve of the dome wall to his right, but it was filled with the huge arm-stalk of one of Setebos’ crawling hands.

That hand’s up there in the ice tunnels, waiting for me… with the others. He could see other arm stalks disappearing into tunnel openings now, the slick gray flesh of the tentacles almost obscene in their wet physicality. Some of them rose three or four hundred feet up the curving wall, hanging down like fleshy tubules, some visibly writhing in a sort of peristalsis as the hands pulled more arm-stalk in after them.

How many hands and arms does this motherfucking brain have?

“ ‘Believeth that with the end of life, the pain will stop? Not so! He both plagueth enemies and feasts on friends. He doth His worst in this our life, giving respite only lest we die through pain, saving last pain for worst!”

It was climb or die. Daeman had lost almost fifty pounds in the last ten months, converting some weight to muscle, but he wished now that he’d been on Noman’s obstacle course in the forest beyond Ardis’s north wall every single day of the last ten months, lifting weights in his spare time.

“Fuck it,” whispered Daeman. He jumped, grabbed the rope, got his legs and shins around it, reached higher with his thermskinned left hand, and began dragging himself up, shinnying when he could, resting when he had to.

It was slow. It was agonizingly slow. And the slowness was the least part of the agony. A third of the way up and he knew he couldn’t make it—knew he probably did not have the strength even to hang on while sliding down. But if he jumped, the egg would break. Whatever was inside would get out. And Setebos and Caliban would know at once.

Something about this image made Daeman giggle until his eyes were filled with tears, fogging the clear lenses on the osmosis mask hood. He could hear his breath rasping in the osmosis mask. He could feel the thermskin suit tightening as it labored to cool him off. Come on, Daeman, you’re almost halfway. Another few feet and you can rest.

He didn’t rest after ten feet. He didn’t rest after thirty feet. Daeman knew that if he tried to just hang here, if he paused to wrap the rope around his hands to just cling, he’d never get moving again.

Once the rope shifted on its belay pin and Daeman gasped, his heart leaping into his throat. He was more than halfway up the eighty-foot rope. A fall now would break a leg or arm and leave him crippled on the steaming, hissing crater floor.

The pin held. He hung there a minute, knowing how visible he was to calibani anywhere on this side of the crater. Perhaps dozens of the things were standing below him right now, waiting for him to fall into their scaly arms. He did not look down.

Another few feet. Daeman raised his aching, shaking arm, wrapped rope around his palm, and pulled himself up, his legs and ankles seeking traction. Again. Again. No pause allowed. Again.

Finally he couldn’t climb anymore. The last of his energy was done. He hung there, his entire body shaking, the weight of his crossbow and the giant egg in his pack pulling him backward, off balance. He knew that he would fall any second. Blinking madly, Daeman freed one hand to wipe the mist from his thermskin lenses.

He was at the overhang of the balcony—a foot beneath its edge.

One last impossible surge and he was up and over, lying on his belly, pulling himself up to the belaying pin and lying on it, lying on the rope, spread-eagled on the blue-ice balcony.

Don’t throw up… don’t throw up! Either the vomit would drown him in his own osmosis mask or he’d have to tug the mask off and the vapors would render him unconscious in seconds. He’d die here and no one would even know that he’d been able to climb eighty feet of rope—no, more, perhaps ninety feet—he, pudgy Daeman, Marina’s fat little boy, the kid who couldn’t do a single chin-up on the buckycarbon struts.

Some time later, Daeman returned to full consciousness and willed himself to move again. He pulled off the crossbow, checked to make sure it was still cocked and loaded, safety off now. He checked the egg—pulsing more whitely and brightly than before, but still in one piece. He set the ice hammers on his belt and pulled up the hundred feet of rope. It was absurdly heavy.

He got lost in the tunnels. It had been twilight when he’d come in, the last of daylight filtering through the blue-ice, but it was deep night outside now and the only illumination was from the yellow electrical discharges surging through the living tissue all around him—Daeman was sure the blue-ice was organic, somehow part of Setebos.

He had left yellow fabric markers at the intersections, nailed into the ice, but somehow he missed one of those and found himself crawling to new junctions, tunnels he’d never seen before. Rather than backtrack—the tunnel was too narrow to turn around in and he dreaded trying to crawl backward in it—he chose the tunnel that seemed to head upward and crawled on.

Twice the tunnels ended or pitched steeply downward and he did have to backtrack to the junction. Finally a tunnel both rose and widened, and it was with infinite relief that he got to his feet and began moving up the gently sloping ice ramp on his feet, crossbow in his hands.

He stopped suddenly, trying to control his panting.

There was a junction less than ten feet ahead, another one thirty feet behind, and from one or the other or both came a scratching, scrabbling sound.

Calibani, he thought, feeling the terror like the cold of outer space seeping through the thermskin, but then a colder thought came. One of the hands.

It was a hand. Longer than Daeman, thicker through the middle, pulling itself along on fingernails emerging from the gray flesh like ten inches of sharpened steel, with black-barbed fiber hairs at the ends of the fingers grabbing ice, the pulsating hand pulled itself into the junction less than ten feet in front of Daeman and paused there, the palm rising—the orifice in the center of that palm visibly fluttering open and shut.

It’s searching for me, thought Daeman, not daring to breathe. It senses heat.

He did not stir, not even to raise the crossbow. Everything depended upon the slashed and worn old thermskin suit. If he was radiating heat from it, the hand would be on him in a millisecond. Daeman lowered his face to the ice floor, not out of fear but to mask any heat emissions that might be leaking from his osmosis mask.

There was a wild scrabbling and when Daeman jerked his head up, he saw that the hand had taken a tunnel to his right. The fleshy, moving arm-stalk filled the tunnel ahead, almost blocking the junction.

I’ll be goddamned if I’m going backwards, thought Daeman. He crawled forward to the junction, moving as quietly as he could.

The arm-stalk was sliding through the junction; a hundred yards of it had already flowed past but it seemed endless. He could no longer hear the scrabbling of the hand itself.

It’s probably circled around through the tunnels and is behind me.

“ ‘Listen! White blaze—a tree’s head snaps—and there, there, there, there, there, His thunder follows! Fool to give at Him! Lo! ‘Lieth flat and loveth Setebos!”

Caliban’s chant was muffled by distance and ice, but it flowed up the tunnel after him.

Inches from the sliding arm-stalk, Daeman weighed the possibilities.

The tunnel it slid through was about six feet across and six feet high. The arm-stalk filled the width of the junction and tunnel—at least six feet, compressed by the blue-ice, but it was broader than it was tall. There was at least three feet of air between the top of the endless, sliding mass and the tunnel ceiling. On the other side, the tunnel Daeman had been following broadened and headed gradually toward the surface. Through the thermskin, he thought his skin could feel a movement of air from the outside. He might be only a few hundred feet from the surface here.

How to get past the arm-stalk?

He thought of the ice hammers—useless, he couldn’t hang from the ceiling and cross that six feet. He thought of going back, back into the labyrinth that he’d been crawling through for what seemed like hours, and he put that thought from his mind.

Maybe the arm-stalk will slide past. That thought showed him how tired and stupid he was. This thing ended in the brain-mass that was Setebos, the better part of a mile away in the center of the crater.

It’s going to fill all these tunnels up with its arms and its scrabbling hands. It’s searching for me!

Part of Daeman’s mind noted that pure panic tasted like blood. Then he realized that he’d bitten through the lining of his cheek. His mouth filled with blood, but he couldn’t take time to slide the osmosis mask off to spit, so he swallowed instead.

To hell with it.

Daeman made sure the safety was on and then he tossed the heavy crossbow across the sliding mass of arm-stalk. It missed the oily gray flesh by inches and skittered on the ice of the tunnel opposite. The pack and egg were more difficult.

It’ll break. It will smash open and the milky glow inside—it’s brighter now, I’m sure it’s brighter—will spill out and it’ll be one of these hands, small and pink rather than gray, and its orifice will open and the little hand will scream and scream, and the huge gray hand will come scuttling back, or perhaps straight down the tunnel ahead, trapping me…

“God damn you,” Daeman said aloud, not worrying about the noise. He hated himself for the coward he was, for the coward he’d always been. Marina’s pudgy little baby, capable of seducing the girls and catching butterflies and nothing else.

Daeman slipped the pack off, wrapped the top around the egg as best he could, and heaved it sideways over the sliding mass of oily arm.

It landed on the pack side rather than the exposed eggshell and slid. The egg looked intact as best Daeman could tell.

My turn.

Feeling light and free without the rucksack and heavy crossbow, he backed up thirty feet down the almost-horizontal tunnel and then broke into a sprint before he could give himself time to think about it.

He almost slipped, but then his boots found purchase and he was moving fast when he reached the arm. The top of his thermskin hood brushed the ceiling as he dove as high as he could, his arms straight ahead of him, his feet coming up—but not quite enough, he felt the toes of his boots grazing the thick slithering arm—Don’t come down on the pack and egg!—and then he was landing on his hands, rolling forward, crashing down—the blue-ice knocking the wind out of him, rolling over the crossbow but not firing it by accident because the safety was on.

Behind him the endless arm stopped moving.

Not waiting to get his breath back, Daeman grabbed the rucksack and crossbow and began running up the gently rising ice slope toward fresh air and the darkness of the exit.

He emerged into the fresh, cold night air a block or two south of the Île de la Cité crevasse he’d followed into the dome. There was no sight of any of the hands or calibani in the starlight and electric glow from the blue-ice nerve flashes.

Daeman pulled off the osmosis mask and gasped in huge draughts of fresh air.

He wasn’t out yet. With the pack on his back and the crossbow in his hands again, he followed this crevasse until it ended somewhere near where the Île St-Louis should be. There was an ice wall to his right, tunnel entrances to his left.

I’m not going in a tunnel again. Laboriously, his arms shaking with fatigue even before he did anything, Daeman took the ice hammers out of his belt, slammed one into the flickering blue-ice wall, and began to climb.

Two hours later, he knew he was lost. He’d been navigating by the stars and rings and by glimpses of buildings rising from the ice or the shapes of masonry half-glimpsed in the shadows of crevasses. He thought he’d been paralleling the crevasse that ran along Avenue Daumesnil, but he knew now that he must be mistaken—nothing lay before him but a wide, black crevasse, dropping into absolute darkness.

Daeman lay on his stomach near the edge, feeling the egg shifting in his rucksack as if it were alive, wanting to hatch, and he had to concentrate on not weeping. There had been scrabblings in the tunnel openings and crevasses he’d passed—more hands searching, he was sure. He’d seen none up here in the starlight and ringlight atop the ice mass, but the dome behind him was glowing more brightly than ever.

Setebos is missing his egg.

His? thought Daeman, resisting the urge to laugh since hysteria might be right behind the softest giggle.

Something at the edge of the bottomless abyss ahead of him caught his eye. Daeman pulled himself forward on his elbows.

One of his nails with a tatter of yellow cloth attached.

This was the ice chimney only a hundred and fifty yards from the Guarded Lion node where he’d faxed in to Paris Crater.

Weeping openly now, Daeman hammered in the last of his ice nails, bent it, secured the rope—not even bothering to knot it in the rappelling knot he’d learned so he could slide it free when he reached the bottom—and heaving himself over the edge, he let himself down into the darkness.

Leaving the rope behind, Daeman staggered and crawled the last hundred yards or so. There was one last junction, marked by his yellow tatters of cloth, then he had to crawl, and then he was out and sliding into the Guarded Lion fax pavilion where he could stand up on a solid floor. The faxpad glowed softly on its pedestal in the center of the circular node.

The naked shape hit him from the side, sending him sliding across the floor, his crossbow skittering on tile.

The thing—Caliban or calibani, he couldn’t tell in the blue darkness—wrapped long fingers around Daeman’s throat even as yellow teeth snapped at his face.

Daeman rolled again, tried to throw the clinging shape off, but the naked form hung on with its legs and spatulate, prehensile toes even as it clung tight with its long arms and powerful hands.

The egg! thought Daeman, trying not to land on his back as the two surged back and forth, crashing into the faxpad pedestal.

Then he was free for a second and leaping for the crossbow against the far wall. The amphibian man-shape snarled and grabbed him, throwing Daeman up against the ice. The yellow eyes and yellow teeth glowed in the blue gloom.

Daeman had fought Caliban before and this wasn’t Caliban—this fiend was smaller, not quite as strong, not quite as fast, but terrible enough. The teeth snapped at Daeman’s eyes.

The human got his left palm under the calibani’s chin and forced the jaw up, the scaly face with its flat nose arching up and back, the yellow eyes glaring. Daeman felt strength flowing in with the rush of the last of his adrenaline, and he tried to snap the creature’s neck by forcing its head back.

The calibani’s head whipped like a snake and it bit off two of the fingers on Daeman’s straining left hand.

The man howled and fell away. The calibani swung its arms wide, paused to swallow fingers, and leaped.

Daeman swept the crossbow up with his good right hand and fired both bolts. The calibani was thrown backward, impaled on the ice wall with one of the long, iron, barbed bolts protruding through its upper shoulder into the ice and the other through its palm, its hand raised next to its howling face. The naked creature writhed, pulled, snarled, and snapped one of the bolts free.

Daeman also howled. He leaped to his feet, pulled the knife from his belt, and rammed the long blade up through the calibani’s underjaw, up through its soft palate and into its brain. Then he pressed against the length of the calibani’s long body like a lover and twisted the blade around—twisted again, again, and then again—and kept twisting until the obscene writhing against him stopped.

He fell back onto the tile, cradling his mangled hand. Incredibly, there was no bleeding. The thermskin glove had closed around the stumps of the two amputated fingers, but the pain made him want to vomit.

He could do that, and he did, kneeling and throwing up until he could vomit no more.

There was a scrabbling from one or more of the tunnels on the opposite wall.

Daeman stood, jerked the long knife from the calibani’s underjaw—the creature’s body sagged but was held up by the bolt through its shoulder—and then he retrieved the other bolt, rocking it loose, picked up the crossbow, and crossed to the faxpad.

Something surged out of the glowing tunnel entrance behind him.

Daeman faxed into daylight at the Ardis Hall node. He staggered away from the faxpad there, fumbled a bolt out of his pack, dropped it in the groove in his crossbow, and used his foot to cock the massive mechanism. He aimed the crossbow at the faxpad node and waited.

Nothing came through.

After a long minute, he lowered the weapon and staggered out into the sunlight.

It looked to be early afternoon here at the Ardis node. There were no guards around. The palisade wall here had been pulled down in a dozen places. The carcasses of at least a score of dead voynix lay all around the fax pavilion, but other than streaks and smears and trails of human blood leading off to the meadow and into the forest, there was no sign of the humans who had been left behind to guard the pavilion.

Daeman’s hand hurt so terribly that his entire body and skull became only an echo to that throbbing pain, but he cradled his hand to his chest, set another bolt in the crossbow, and staggered out to the road. It was a little less than a mile and a half to Ardis Hall.

Ardis Hall was gone.

Daeman had approached cautiously, staying off the road and moving through the trees most of the way, wading the narrow river upstream from the bridge. He had approached the palisade and Ardis from the northeast, through the woods, ready to call out quickly to the sentries rather than be shot as a voynix.

There were no sentries. For half an hour, Daeman crouched at the edge of the woods and watched. Nothing moved except the crows and magpies feeding on the remnants of human bodies. Then he moved carefully around to the left, coming as close to the barracks and east entrance to the Ardis palisade as he could before coming out of the cover of the trees.

The palisade had been breached in a hundred places. Much of the wall was down. Hannah’s beautiful cupola and hearth had been burned and then knocked over. The line of barracks and tents where half of the four hundred people of Ardis had lived had all burned down. Ardis Hall itself—the grand hall that had weathered more than two thousand winters—had been reduced to a few carbon-smeared stone chimneys, burned and tumbled rafters, and heaps of collapsed stone.

The place stank of smoke and death. There were scores of dead voynix on what had been Ada’s front yard, more piled where the porch had stood, but mixed in with the shattered carapaces were remains of hundreds of men and women. Daeman couldn’t identify any of the corpses he could see around the burned ruins of the house—there a small charred corpse, seemingly too small to be an adult, burned black, the charred and flaking arms raised in a boxer’s posture, here a rib cage and skull picked almost clean by the birds, there a woman lying seemingly unharmed in the sooty grass, but—when Daeman rushed to her and rolled her over—missing a face.

Daeman knelt in the cold, bloodied grass and tried to weep. The best he could do was wave his arms to chase away the heavy crows and hopping magpies that kept trying to return to the corpses.

The sun was going down. The light was fading from the sky.

Daeman rose to look at the other bodies—flung here and there like bundles of abandoned laundry on the frozen earth, some lying under voynix carcasses, others lying alone, some fallen in clumps as if the people had huddled together at the end. He had to find Ada. Identify and bury her and as many of the others as he could before trying to make his way back to the fax pavilion.

Where can I go? Which community will take me in?

Before he could answer that or reach the other bodies in the quickly falling twilight, he saw the movement at the edge of the forest.

At first Daeman thought that the survivors of the Ardis massacre were coming out of the trees, but even as he raised his good hand to hail them, he saw the glint on gray carapaces and knew that he was wrong.

Thirty, sixty, a hundred voynix moved out of the forest and across the grass toward him from the road and forest to the east.

Sighing, too tired to run, Daeman staggered a few yards toward the woods to the southwest and then saw the movement there. Voynix scuttling out of the darkness there, more voynix dropping from the trees and moving out into the open on all fours. They’d be on him in a few seconds.

He knew that it was no use running around the smoldering ruins of the Great Hall toward the north. There would just be more voynix there.

Daeman went to one knee, noticed that the egg in his rucksack was glowing brightly enough now to throw his shadow across the frozen grass, and then pulled the last of the crossbow quarrels out.

Six. He had six bolts left. Plus the two already loaded.

Smiling grimly, feeling something like a terrible elation rise in him, he stood and leveled the weapon at the closest cluster of advancing shapes. They were sixty feet away. He’d let them get closer, knowing that they could close the gap in seconds running at full voynix speed. His mangled hand was good enough to level the crossbow with his thumb and remaining two fingers.

Something cracked and slapped behind him. Daeman whirled, ready to meet the attack, but it was the sonie, flying in low from the west. Two people were firing flechette rifles from the rear niches. Voynix leaped at it but were slapped away by clouds of flickering flechettes.

“Jump!” yelled Greogi as the sonie flew in at head height and then hovered next to Daeman.

The voynix rushed in from every side, bouncing and leaping like giant silver grasshoppers. A man Daeman vaguely recognized as Boman and a woman with dark hair—not Ada, but the woman named Edide who had gone with Daeman on the fax-warning expedition—were firing their flechette rifles in opposite directions on full automatic, pouring out a cloud of crystal darts.

“Jump!” Greogi yelled again.

Daeman shook his head, retrieved the rucksack with the egg, tossed it up into the sonie, tossed in his crossbow, and only then jumped. The sonie began to climb even as he leaped.

He didn’t quite make it. His good hand found a grip on the inner edge of the sonie, but his mangled left hand banged against metal, the pain blinded him, he released his grip and began to slide away toward the mass of silent voynix below.

Boman grabbed him by the arm and pulled him aboard.

Daeman couldn’t speak for most of the fast flight northeast, hurtling several miles above the dark forest, finally circling toward a bare spur of rock rising two hundred feet above the skeletal trees. Daeman had seen this granite knob years earlier, when he’d first visited Ada and her mother here at Ardis Hall. He’d been hunting for butterflies then and at the end of a long afternoon of meandering, Ada had pointed out the rocky point rising almost vertically from a brambled meadow beyond the forest. “Starved Rock,” she’d said, her teenager’s voice sounding almost proud and possessive.

“Why do they call it that?” he’d asked.

Young Ada had shrugged.

“Do you want to climb it?” he’d said, thinking that if he got her up there, he might be able to seduce her on a grassy summit.

Ada had laughed. “No one can climb Starved Rock.”

Now, in the last of the twilight and the first of the bright ringlight, Daeman saw what they had done. The summit was not grassy after all—bare rock stretched a flat hundred feet or so, broken by the occasional boulder, and crowded onto that summit were crude tarps and a half-dozen campfires. Dark figures huddled by those fires and more figures were posted at all the edges of the granite monolith… sentries, no doubt.

The field below Starved Rock seemed to be moving in the shadows. It was moving. Voynix shuffled and stirred there, stepping over hundreds of shattered carcasses of their own kind.

“How many people made it from Ardis?” asked Daeman as Greogi circled to land.

“About fifty,” said the pilot. His face was soot-streaked and looked infinitely weary in the glow from the virtual controls.

Fifty out of more than four hundred, thought Daeman numbly. He realized that his body was in shock from losing fingers, and his mind was going into something like shock after seeing what he’d seen back at Ardis. The numbness and disinterest were not unpleasant.

“Ada?” he said hesitantly.

“She’s alive,” said Greogi. “But she’s been unconscious for almost twenty-four hours. The Great Hall was burning and she wouldn’t leave until everyone else who could be carried off had been… and even then, I don’t think she would have left if that section of the burning roof hadn’t collapsed and a rafter hadn’t knocked her out. We don’t know if her baby is still… viable… or not.”

“Petyr?” said Daeman. “Reman?” He was trying to think of who would lead them with Harman gone, Ada injured, and so many lost.

“Dead.” Greogi hovered the sonie and lowered it toward the dark mass of the granite summit. It bumped to a stop. Dark forms from one of the campfires rose and walked toward them.

“Why are you still here?” Daeman asked Greogi, holding him by his shirtfront as the others stepped off the grounded sonie. “Why are you still here with the voynix down there?”

Greogi easily pulled Daeman’s hand free. “We tried the faxnode, but the voynix were on us before we could get people inside. We lost four people there before we could get away. And we don’t have anywhere else to fly… with Ada injured so severely and a dozen others badly hurt, we could never get them all off Starved Rock in time, before those fucking animals come up the cliff. We need everyone here just to hold off the voynix… If we start flying out a few at a time, those staying behind will be overrun. We probably don’t have enough flechette ammunition to hold out another night as it is.”

Daeman looked around. The campfires were low, pitiful things—mere burning moss or lichen and a few twigs, nothing more. The brightest thing on the dark rock was the Setebos egg still glowing milkily in his rucksack.

“Has it come to this?” Daeman asked, speaking to himself.

“I guess it has,” said Greogi, sliding off the sonie and staggering slightly. The man was obviously in some state beyond exhaustion. “It’s full dark now. The voynix will be coming up the sides any minute.”

Part III


Harman fell through darkness with Ariel for what seemed an impossible length of time.

When they landed, it wasn’t with a fatal crash at the base of the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu, but with a soft thump on a jungle floor covered with centuries’ buildup of leaves and other humus.

For a stunned second Harman couldn’t believe that he wasn’t dead, but then he stumbled to his feet, shoved the small Ariel figure away—though Ariel had already danced out of range—and then stood, blinking in the darkness.

Darkness. It had been daytime at the Golden Gate. He was… somewhere else. Wherever the somewhere else might be, besides on the dark side of the planet, Harman knew that it was in deep jungle. The night smelled of richness and rot, the thick, humid air clung to his skin like a soaked blanket, Harman’s shirt immediately soaked through and lay limp against him, and all around in the seemingly impenetrable night came the buzz of insects and the rustle of fronds, palms, undergrowth, insects, small creatures and large. Letting his eyes adapt, his hands raised into fists, hoping that Ariel would come back into striking range, Harman craned his head back and saw the hint of starlight between tiny gaps in foliage far, far above.

In another minute, he could see the pale, almost spectral, genderless figure of Ariel glowing slightly ten feet or so from him across the jungle floor.

“Take me back,” growled Harman.

“Take thee back where?”

“To the Bridge. Or to Ardis. But do it now.”

“I cannot.” The genderless voice was maddening, insulting.

“You will,” growled Harman. “You will right now. However you got me here, undo it, take me back. Now.”

“Or what consequence ensues?” asked the glowing figure in the jungle dark. Ariel’s voice sounded mildly amused.

“Or I’ll kill you,” Harman said flatly. He realized that he meant it. He would strangle this green-white flop of a thing, choke the life out of it, and spit on the corpse. And then you’ll be left lost in an unknown jungle warned the last sensible part of Harman’s mind. He ignored it.

“Oh, my,” said Ariel, feigning terror, “I shall be pinched to death.”

Harman leaped, arms extended. The little figure—not much more than four feet tall—caught him in midleap and threw him thirty feet through ripping fronds and tearing vines into the jungle.

It took Harman a minute or two to get his breath back and another minute to get to his knees. He realized at once that if Ariel had done that to him elsewhere—say, on the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu where they’d been a minute before—it would have broken his back. Now he stood again on deep humus, willed his vision to see through the encroaching darkness, and shoved and tore his way back through vines and thick vegetation to the small clearing where Ariel waited.

The sprite was no longer alone.

“O look,” Ariel said in happy, conversational tones, “here is more of us!”

Harman paused. He could see better now by the starlight filtering down into this little clearing in the jungle and what he saw made him stare.

There were at least fifty or sixty other shapes in the clearing and under the trees and amidst the ferns and vines beyond. They were not human, but neither were they voynix or calibani or any other bipedal form that Harman had seen in his ninety-nine years and nine months of life. These humanoid shapes were like rough sketches of people—short, not much taller than little Ariel, and, like Ariel, with transparent skin and organs floating in greenish liquid. But where Ariel had lips, cheeks, a nose, and the eyes of a young man or woman, with physical features and muscles one associated with the human body, these short, green forms had neither mouths nor human eyes—they looked back at Harman in the starlight from black dots in their faces that could have been lumps of coal—and from their boneless-looking frames to their three-fingered hands, the forms seemed to lack all identity.

“I don’t believe you’ve met my fellow ministers,” Ariel said softly, gesturing with a feminine turn of hand toward the mob of shapes in the shadows. “Instruments to this lower world, they were belched up before your kind was born. They have different names—his Prosperousness doth fain to call them this and that, as takes his pleasure—but they are more like me than not, descended from chlorophyll and the motes set there in the forest to measure it in time before post-humans. They are the zeks–helpers and workers and prisoners all, and who of us is not all these things?”

Harman stared at the greenish shapes. They stared unblinking back.

“Seize him,” lisped Ariel.

Four of the zeks came forward—they moved with a smooth grace that Harman wouldn’t have expected from such gingerbread shapes—and before he could run or fight, two of them seized him with three-fingered grips of iron. The third zek leaned in close, unbreathing, until its featureless chest touched the tunic above Harman’s chest, and the fourth seized Harman’s hand—just as Ariel had seized Hannah’s only a short while before—and thrust it through the yielding green-skin membrane of the third zek’s chest. Harman felt the soft heart-organ in his hand, almost coming to him like a pet, and then the unspoken words echoed in his brain—do not irritate ariel he will kill you on a whim. come with us and make no effort to resist. it is to your benefit and to your lady’s ada’s to come with us now.

“How do you know about Ada?” Harman shouted aloud.


That was the last word transmitted through Harman’s pulsing hand into his aching skull before his hand was wrenched free, the zek’s soft heart still in it, shriveling, dying, and then the zek itself pitched over backward, falling silently to the jungle floor, there to shrivel and desiccate and die. Ariel and the other zeks ignored the corpse of the communicator as Ariel turned and led the way down the slightest of trails along the dark jungle floor.

The zeks on either side of Harman still clung to his arm, but lightly now, and Harman made no effort to resist, only to keep up as the line of forms moved through the dark wood.

* * *

Harman’s mind was racing faster than his feet as he stumbled to keep up through the dark jungle. At times, when the foliage overhead was too thick, he couldn’t see anything—not even his legs or feet beneath him in the near absolute darkness—so he let the zeks guide him as if he were blind and concentrated on thinking. He knew that if he was ever going to see Ada and Ardis Hall again, he’d have to be a lot smarter in the coming hours than he’d been in the last many months.

First question—where was he? It had been a stormy morning when he’d been at the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu, but it felt very late here in this jungle. He tried to remember his self-taught geography, but the maps and spheres blurred in his mind now—words like Asia and Europe meaning almost nothing. But the darkness here suggested that Ariel hadn’t just whisked him to some jungle on the same southern continent that held the Bridge. He couldn’t walk back to Machu Picchu and Hannah and Petyr and the sonie.

Which led to the second question—how had Ariel brought him here? There had been no visible faxnode pavilion in the Golden Gate green globules. If there had been—if Savi had ever suggested a fax connection to the Bridge—he certainly wouldn’t have flown the sonie there to get the weapons and ammunition and try to get Odysseus to the healing crèche. No… Ariel had used some other means to transport him through space to this dark, rot-smelling, muggy, insect-filled place.

Since he was being dragged through the darkness not ten paces behind the biosphere avatar—or so Prospero had once identified Ariel—Harman realized he could just ask these questions. The worst the pale sprite—his/her body visibly glowing in starlight as they crossed the occasional small opening in the jungle—could do was not answer.

Ariel answered both questions, the second one first.

“I shall have thy company for only a few hours more,” said the small form. “Then I must deliver thee to my master, not long after we hear the strain of the strutting chanticleer—if strutting chanticleer there were in this wretched place.”

“Your master Prospero?” asked Harman.

Ariel did not answer.

“So what is the name of this wretched place?” Harman asked.

The sprite laughed, a sound like the tinkling of small bells, but not altogether a pleasant noise. “They should call this wood Ariel’s Nursery, for here ten times two hundred years ago, I came to be—rising into consciousness from a billion little sensor-transponders the old-old-style hu-mans—your very ilk, guest—called motes. Trees were talking to their human masters and to each other, chatting in the mossy old net that had become the nascent noosphere, gabbling on about temperatures and birds’ nests and hatchlings and pounds per square inch of osmotic pressure and trying to quantify photosynthesis the way a rheumy clerk counts his beads and bangles and thinks them treasure. The zeks–my beloved instruments of action, too many stolen from me for wasteful duty on the red world by that monster-magus master—rose likewise, yea, but not here, honored guest, not here, no.”

Harman understood almost none of that, but Ariel was talking—babbling—and he knew that if he could keep the creature engaged in conversation, he’d learn something important sooner or later.

“Prospero, your master, called you the avatar of the biosphere when I spoke to him, your master, nine months ago on his orbital isle,” said Harman.

“Aye,” said Ariel, laughing again, “and I call Prospero, whom you call my master, Tom Shit.” Ariel looked back at him, the small, greenish-white face glowing like some phosphorescent tropical plant as they plunged into a section of trail in total darkness under the encroaching leaves. “Harman, husband of Ada, friend of Noman, thou art, to mine eyes, a man of sin, a man whose destiny has import, in this lower world at least, less for what is in’t than for its pallid shape. Thou, ‘mongst all men, being most unfit to live—much less to live your full Five Twenty so like one of brother Caliban’s long-baked meals—since time and tides of time hath made you mad. And even with such valour, you know, men hang and drown their proper selves.”

Harman understood none of this and despite his asking many more questions, Ariel did not reply or speak again until dawn some three hours and many miles later.

An hour after Harman was sure that he had no energy left, they allowed him to stop and lean against a huge boulder to catch his breath. As the light came up, he realized that it was no boulder.

The boulder was actually a wall, the wall was part of a large building with levels set back as it rose, and the building was something that he guessed from his sigling was called a temple. Then Harman realized what his hands were touching and what his eyes were seeing.

Every inch of the large temple was carved. Some of the carvings were large—as wide as the length of Harman’s arm—but most were small enough that he could cover them with the palm of his hand.

In the carvings—each one becoming more clear as the tropical sunrise bled light through the jungle overhead—men and women were making love—having sex—as were men and more than one woman, men and men, women and women, women and men and what looked to be horses, men and elephants, women and bulls, women and women and monkeys and men and men and men….

Harman could only stare. He’d never seen anything like this in his ninety-nine years. On one level of carvings just at eye height, he could see a man with his head between a woman’s legs while another man, straddling the first, offered his erect penis to the straining woman’s open mouth, while behind her, a second woman wearing some sort of artificial penis was entering the first woman from behind while the first woman, servicing the two men and the woman behind her, was reaching her arm out to an animal Harman recognized from the turin drama as a horse, masturbating the excited stallion. Her other free hand was massaging the genitals of a human male figure standing next to the horse.

Harman stepped away from the temple wall, looking up at the vine-encrusted stone structure. There were thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of variations on this theme, showing Harman aspects of sex he’d never imagined, could never have imagined. Just some of the elephant images alone…. The human figures were stylized, faces and breasts oval, eyes almond-shaped, the women’s and men’s mouths curling in pleased and decadent smiles.

“What is this place?” he asked.

Ariel sang in a falsetto—

Above, half seen, in the lofty gloom,

Strange works of a long dead people loom,

What did they mean to those who now are dust,

These rioting figures of love and lust?”

Harman tried again. “What is this place?”

For once Ariel answered simply. “Khajuraho.” The word meant nothing to Harman.

The biosphere sprite gestured, two of the little, green, largely transparent zeks touched Harman’s arm, and the procession moved away from the temple, following a barely discernible path through the jungle. Looking back, Harman caught a final glimpse of the stone building—buildings he realized now, there was more than one temple there, all of them carved with erotic friezes—and he noticed again how the jungle had all but reclaimed the structures. The coupling figures were bound about by vines, partially obscured by grass, and tightly constricted by roots and green feelers.

Then the place called Khajuraho disappeared in the green growth and Harman concentrated on plodding along behind Ariel.

As the sunlight illuminated the wild density of the jungle around them—ten thousand shades of green, most of which Harman had never imagined—all he could think of was how to get back to Ardis and Ada, or at least back to the Bridge before Petyr flew off in the sonie. He didn’t want to wait three days for Petyr’s return to pick up Hannah and the restored—if that crèche could restore life and health—Noman/Odysseus.

“Ariel?” he said suddenly to the small form that seemed to be floating at the front of the line of zeks ahead of him.

“Ay, sir?” The androgynous quality of the otherwise pleasant voice disturbed Harman.

“How did you transport me from the Golden Gate to this jungle?”

“Did I not do my spriting gently enough, O Man?”

“Yes,” said Harman, fearing that the pale figure was going to launch into more nonsense babble. “But how?”

“How dost thou travel from place to place, when you are not lying abelly in your sonie saucer?”

“We fax,” said Harman. “But there was no fax pavilion at the Golden Gate… no faxnode.”

Ariel floated higher, brushing branches and sending a shower of droplets down onto the zeks and Harman. “Did your friend Daeman go to a fax pavilion when the allosaurus ate him ten months ago?”

Harman stopped in his tracks. The zeks still holding his arms stopped with him, not yet pulling him on.

Of course, thought Harman. It had been in front of him all his life. He’d seen it all his life—but he’d been blind. When someone faxed up to the rings on any of his or her normal four Twenties of life, you went to the nearest fax pavilion. When someone wanted to fax anywhere, you went to the nearest faxnode pavilion. But when someone was injured—or killed, devoured as Daeman had been, torn apart in some freak accident—the rings faxed you up.

Harman had been there, on Prospero’s Isle, in the Firmary tanks where naked bodies arrived, were fixed by the bubbling nutrient and blue worms, and were faxed back. Harman and Daeman had done the faxing themselves, on Prospero’s instructions, destroying the servitors and setting the virtual dials and levers to fax as many of the bodies-under-repair home as they could.

Humans could be faxed without going to a fax pavilion, without starting from one of the three-hundred-some known faxnodes. Harman had seen this his entire life—almost one hundred years—but had never seen what he could see. The thought was too entrenched that the post-humans were calling you home when you were injured or killed before your Fifth Twenty. Faxnodes were science; going to the Firmary for emergency repair was something like religion.

But the Firmary on Prospero’s Isle had machinery that could fax anyone from anywhere without relying on nodes and pavilions.

And Harman and Daeman had destroyed the Firmary and Prospero’s Isle.

The zeks tugged at Harman’s arms to get him moving again, but gently. Harman did not move quite yet. The intensity of his thoughts made him dizzy; if the zeks had not been clutching him, he might have fallen to the jungle floor.

Prospero’s Isle was destroyed—he and all the old-style humans had watched the pieces burn through the night sky for months—but Ariel could still fax—a sort of free-fax, independent from nodes, portals, and pavilions. Something up on the rings—or on Earth itself—found the sprite, coded him, and faxed him, and today Harman with him, from the Bridge to here, wherever here and Khajuraho were. On the opposite side of the Earth if nothing else.

Harman might yet be able to fax home to Ada, if he could only get Ariel to reveal the secret of this free-faxing.

The zeks pulled again, gently but insistently. Ariel was far ahead, floating toward a patch of bright sunlight in the jungle. Harman did not want to get the zeks in trouble. Nor did he want to lose sight of Ariel—the sprite was his fax-ticket home.

Harman rushed, stumbling, to catch up with the avatar of Earth’s biosphere.

When they first emerged into the clearing the sun was so bright that Harman squinted and covered his eyes, not seeing the structure looming above him for several seconds. When he did see it, he froze in his tracks.

The thing—structure—it wasn’t quite a building—was gigantic, rising up for what Harman estimated—and his estimates on the size of things had always been uncannily good—for at least a thousand feet. Perhaps a little more. It had no skin; that is, the entire structure was a lacy, open-latticework skeleton of dark metal girders, rising inward from a huge square base that connected via semicircular metal arches at treetop level, then continuing to curve inward until it became a pure spire, its dark knob of a summit far, far above. A phrase that the metal-working Hannah had once described came to his mind—wrought iron. Harman felt sure that the trusses, arches, girders, and open latticework he was staring at here in the hot, jungle sun were all made of some sort of iron.

“What is it?” he breathed. The zeks had released him and stepped back into the shade of the jungle, as if afraid to go closer to the base of the incredible tower. Harman realized that nothing grew on the acre or more at the base of the tower except for low, perfectly manicured grass. It was as if the strength of the structure itself was keeping the jungle at bay.

“It’s seven thousand tons,” said Ariel in a voice much more masculine than any the biosphere sprite had used before. “Two and a half million rivets. Four thousand three hundred and eleven years old—or at least the original of this was. There are more than fourteen thousand of these in Khan Ho Tep’s eiffelbahn.”

Eiffelbahn…” repeated Harman. “I don’t…”

“Come,” snapped Ariel. His voice was powerfully masculine now, deep, threatening, not to be disobeyed.

There was a sort of wrought-iron cage at the base of one of the arched legs.

“Get in,” said Ariel.

“I need to know…”

“Get in and you’ll learn everything you need to know,” said the biosphere avatar. “Including how to get back to your precious Ada. Stay here and you die.”

Harman stepped into the cage. An iron grating slid shut. Gears clanked, metal screeched, and the cage began rising on the curve, following a series of cables and iron tracks.

“Aren’t you coming?” Harman called down to Ariel.

The sprite did not answer. Harman’s elevator continued rising into the tower.


The tower seemed to have three major landings. The first and broadest was just above the level of the jungle treetops. Harman looked across at a solid carpet of green. The elevator did not stop.

The second landing was high enough that the elevator was traveling almost vertically and Harman had moved to the center of the small cage. Looking up and out, he could see that a series of cables ran from the top of this tower and disappeared far to the east and west, sagging a bit in the distance. The elevator did not stop at the second landing.

The third and final landing was a thousand feet above the ground, just below the domed top of the tower with its spike of antennae. Here the elevator slowed and stopped—ancient gears ground and slipped, the elevator cage slipped back six feet, and Harman grabbed the wrought-iron bars of the cage and prepared to die.

A brake stopped the cage. The wrought-iron door slid back. Harman shakily crossed five or six feet of iron bridge with rotted wood planks. Ahead of him, a much more elaborate door—polished sections of mahogany set into a filagree of wrought iron—clanked, stirred, and then hissed open. Harman paused only a second before entering the darker interior. Any place was preferable to that exposed little bridge a thousand feet above the latticework of girders disappearing in a vertigo of iron below.

He was in a room. When the door hissed and clanked shut behind him, Harman realized that it was twenty or thirty degrees cooler here in the large room than outside in the sun. He stayed where he was for a few seconds, allowing his eyes to adapt to the relative dimness.

He was standing on a small, carpeted and booklined entry mezzanine as part of a larger room. From the mezzanine, a wrought-iron staircase spiraled down to the main floor of the room and up through the ceiling to what presumably was a second story.

Harman descended.

He’d never seen furnishings like this—oddly styled furniture, tufted, with red-velour fabric, thick drapes over a wall of windows on the south side of the room, the drapes dragging their gold tassels onto the elaborately designed red and brown carpet. There was a fireplace in the north wall—Harman stared at the design of black iron and green ceramics. A long table with elaborately carved legs ran for at least eight feet of the fifteen feet of window wall where the panes near the corners of the window were as complicated as the silk of a spider’s web. Other furniture consisted of overstuffed single chairs with overstuffed ottomans, carved chairs of gleaming dark wood with gold metal inlays, and everywhere examples of what Hannah had once told him was polished brass.

There was a strange firehose of a speaking tube with a bell-shaped polished brass snout; there were levers of polished brass set into cherry-colored wooden boxes on the walls; on the long plank table rose several brass instruments—some with brass keys to punch and slowly turning gears, farther down the table an astrolabe with circles of brass turning within larger circles of brass, a polished brass lamp glowing softly with light. There were maps laid out on the table with small hemispheres of brass holding them down, more maps curled into a brass basket on the floor.

Harman ran forward and stared hungrily at the maps, pulling more out and unfurling them, laying brass hemispheres on them.

He’d never seen maps like these before. Everything was on a grid but within those grid boxes were ten thousand wriggly parallel lines—some close together where the map ran brown or green, some lines far apart where the map showed expanses of white. There were irregular blobs of blue that Harman guessed were lakes or seas and longer, wigglier blue lines that he guessed were rivers with unlikely names penned next to them—Tungabhadra, Krishna, Godavari, Normada, Mahanadi, and Ganga.

On the east and west wall of the room, surrounding smaller but still multipaned windows, were more bookshelves, more books, more brass trinkets, jade statues, brass machines.

Harman ran to the shelf and pulled down three books, smelling the scent of centuries rising from the ancient but still firm paper and the thick leather covers. The titles made his heart pound—The Third Dynasty of Khan Ho Tep—A.D. 2601–2939 and Ramayana and Mahabharata Scripture Revised According to Ganesh the Cyborg and Eiffelbahn Maintenance and AI Interface. Harman laid his right palm on the top book, closed his eyes to bring up the sigl function, and then hesitated. If he had time, he would prefer to read these books—sounding out each word and guessing at the definitions of the words from context. It was slow, laborious, painful, but he always gained more from reading than from sigling.

He laid the three books reverently on the polished, dust-free tabletop, and bounded up the circular stairs to the high second floor.

This was a bedroom—the head of the bed made of cylinders of polished brass, the bedspread a rich red velvet with fringes of elaborate, swirling designs. There was another chair set next to a brass floor lamp—a broader, comfortable-looking chair with floral designs, a high tufted leather ottoman pushed against it. There was a smaller room—a bathroom with a strange porcelain toilet under a porcelain tank and a hanging chain with a brass pull, panes of stained glass on the west wall, brass fixtures on faucets and spigots on the sink, a huge, clawfooted white porcelain bathtub with more brass fixtures. Back out in the bedroom again, the north wall here was also made up of windows—no, paned-glass doors with wrought-iron doorhandles.

Harman opened two of the doors and stepped out onto a wrought-iron balcony a thousand feet above the jungle. The sun and heat hit him like a hot fist. Blinking, he did not trust himself to stand on the iron—he could see the latticework of the tower beneath, but it would take no more than a gentle push to send him out and into nothing but air, a thousand feet of air.

Still gripping the door, he leaned out far enough to see some iron furniture, red cushions strapped on, a table on the ten-foot-wide balcony. Looking up, he saw the bulge of iron above the two-story room, a huge metal flywheel just under the gold-mica dome at the top of the tower, cables thicker than his forearm and thigh running out to the east and west.

Squinting to the east, Harman could see another vertical line of a dark tower there—how far away?—forty miles at least, seen from this height. He looked to the west to where the dozen or so cables disappeared, but there were only blue-black clouds of a storm visible there on the horizon.

Harman stepped back into the bedroom, shut the doors carefully, and walked back to the staircase and down and around, wiping the sweat from his forehead and neck with the sleeve of his tunic. It was so delightfully cool in here that he had no urge to go back down to the jungle yet.

“Hello, Harman,” said a familiar voice from the gloom near the table and dark drapes.

Prospero was far more solid than Harman remembered from their meeting months earlier on the orbital rock high in the e-ring. The magus’s wrinkled skin was no longer slightly transparent as his hologram had been. His robe of blue silk and wool, embroidered all about with gold planets, gray comets, and burning stars of red silk, hung in heavier folds now and dragged behind him on the Turkish carpet. Harman could see the long silver-white hair cascading behind the old man’s sharp ears and noted the age marks on his brow and his hands as well as the slight, clawlike yellowing to his fingernails. Harman noted the seeming solidity of the carved, twined staff that the old magus clutched in his right hand, and how Prospero’s blue slippers seemed to have weight as they shuffled across the wooden floor and thick carpet.

“Send me home,” demanded Harman, stepping toward the old man.


“Patience, patience, human named Harman, friend of Noman,” said the magus, showing his yellowed teeth in a slight smile.

Fuck patience,” said Harman. He’d had no idea until this instant how deep the fury in him went from being kidnapped from the Bridge by Ariel, taken away from Ardis and Ada and his unborn child, almost certainly on the orders of this shuffling figure in the blue robe. He took a step closer to the old man, reached out, grabbed a bit of the magus’s flowing sleeve…

And was thrown eight feet backward across the room, finally sliding from the carpet to the polished floor and coming to rest on his back, blinking away retinal after-images of orange circles.

“I suffer no one’s touch,” Prospero said softly. “Do not make me remonstrate with this old man’s stick.” He raised his magus’s staff ever so slightly.

Harman got to one knee. “Send me back. Please. I can’t leave Ada alone. Not now.”

“You already have chosen that course, have you not? No man made you take Noman to Machu Picchu, yet no man stopped you, either.”

“What do you want, Prospero?” Harman got to his feet, tried unsuccessfully to blink away the last of the red-orange circles in his vision, and sat in the nearest wooden chair. “And how did you survive the destruction of the orbital asteroid? I thought your hologram was trapped there along with Caliban.”

“Oh, it was,” said Prospero, pacing back and forth. “A small part of my self, perhaps, taken all for all, but a vital small part. You brought me back to Earth.”

“I…” began Harman. “The sonie? Somehow you loaded your hologram into the sonie’s memory?”


Harman shook his head. “You could have called that sonie up to the orbital isle any time.”

“Not true,” said the magus. “It was Savi’s machine and only makes orbital housecalls for humankind passengers. I do not qualify… quite.”

“Then how did Caliban escape?” asked Harman. “I know that it wasn’t in the sonie with Daeman, Hannah, and me.”

Prospero shrugged. “Caliban’s adventures are now solely Caliban’s concerns. The wretch no longer serves me.”

“He serves Setebos again,” said Harman.


“But Caliban did survive and return to Earth after centuries.”


Harman sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. He suddenly felt very tired and very thirsty.

“The wooden box beneath the mezzanine is a sort of cold-keeper,” said Prospero. “There is food in there… and bottles of pure water.”

Harman sat up straight. “Are you reading my mind, Magus?”

“No. Your face. There is no more obvious map than the human face. Go—get a drink. I will take a seat here by the window and await your return, refreshed, as interlocutor.”

Harman felt how shaky his legs and arms were as he walked to the large wooden box with the brass handle, then stared into the cold a minute at all the bottles of water and heaps of clear-wrapped food. He drank deeply.

Returning to the center of the red and tan carpet where Prospero sat at the table with the sunlight behind him, he said, “Why did you have Ariel bring me here?”

“Actually, in deference to accuracy, I had my biosphere sprite bring you to the jungle near Khajuraho since no faxing is allowed within twenty kilometers of the eiffelbahn.”

Eiffelbahn?” repeated Harman, still sipping from the ice-cold water bottle. “Is that what you and Ariel call this tower?”

“No, no, my dear Harman. That is what we—or Khan Ho Tep, to be precise, since that gentleman built the eiffelbahn some millennia ago—called this system. This is just one of… oh, let me see… fourteen thousand eight hundred towers just like this.”

“Why so many?” asked Harman.

“It pleased the Khan,” said the magus. “And it takes that many Eiffel Towers to connect the cables from the east coast of China to the Atlantic Breach on the coast of Spain, what with all the trunk lines, spurs, side branches, and so forth.”

Harman had no idea what the old man was talking about. “The eiffelbahn is some sort of transport system?”

“An opportunity for you to travel in style for a change,” said Prospero. “Or I should say—for us to travel in style, for I shall travel with you for a small part of the way.”

“I’m not traveling anywhere with you until…” began Harman. Then he stopped, dropped the water bottle to the floor, and clutched the heavy table with both hands.

The entire two-story platform one thousand feet atop the tower had lurched. There was a grinding and tearing of metal, an horrendous screech, and then the entire structure tilted, lurched again, tilted further.

“The tower’s falling!” cried Harman. Beyond the many panes of glass in their elaborate iron frames, he could see the distant green horizon tilt, wobble, then tilt again.

“Not at all,” said Prospero.

The two-story living unit was falling—sliding right out of the tower, screeching and rending across dry metal as if giant metal hands were pushing it out into thin air.

Harman leaped to his feet, decided to run for the doorway on the mezzanine, but then fell to his hands and knees as the two-story unit fell free of the tower, dropped at least fifteen feet, and then jerked violently before beginning a slide to the west.

Heart pounding, Harman stayed on his knees while the huge living unit rocked perilously back and forth on its long axis, then steadied. Above them, the screeching turned into a high-decibal hum. Harman stood, found his balance, staggered to the table, and looked out the window.

The tower was to their left and receding, an open patch of sky visible where this two-story, one-thousand-foot-level apartment had been. Harman could see the cables overhead and now understood the hum to be connected with some sort of flywheel in the housing above them. The eiffelbahn was some sort of cablecar system and this large iron house of a structure was the car. The vertical line he’d seen to the east earlier had been another tower, just like the one they’d just left. And the car was moving quickly to the west.

He turned to Prospero and took a step closer but stopped before coming within range of the magus’s solid staff. “You have to let me get back to Ada,” he said, trying for firmness but hearing the detestable pleading whine in his voice. “The voynix are all around Ardis Hall. I can’t let her stay there in danger… without me. Please, Lord Prospero. Please.”

“It is too late for you to intercede there, Harman, friend of Noman,” said Prospero in his throaty, old-man’s voice. “What’s done is done at Ardis Hall. But let us put aside our sea-sorrow, sir, and not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that is gone. For we are embarked upon a new voyage now—surely the stuff of sea-change, friend of Noman—and one of us shall soon be the wiser, the deeper, fuller man, whilst our enemies—namely that darkness I bred and harbored out of Sycorax—shall drink of seawater and be forced to eat the withered roots of failure and the husks of scorn.”


There was a storm brewing on and around Mount Olympos. A planetary dust storm had blanketed Mars in a red shroud, the howling winds swirling around the forcefield aegis that the absent Zeus had left in place around the home of the gods. Electrostatic particles so excited the shield that lightning flashed day and night around the summit of Olympos and thunder rumbled in the subsonic. Sunlight near the top of the mountain was diffused into a dull, bloody glow, punctuated by sheets of lightning and the ever-present rumble of the wind and thunder.

Achilles—still carrying his beloved but dead Amazon queen, Penthesilea—had quantum teleported to the home of his captive, Hephaestus, god of fire, chief Artificer to all the gods, husband of Aglaia, also known as Charis—the “delightfulness of art,” one of the loveliest of Graces. Some said that the Artificer had built his wife as well.

Hephaestus had quantum teleported not directly into his home, but to its front door. To the casual glance the front of the crippled fire god’s home looked like other dwelling places of the immortals—white stone, white pillars, white portico—but this was only the entrance; in truth Hephaestus had built his house and extensive workshops into the steep south slope of Olympos, far from Caldera Lake and the cluster of so many of the gods’ huge temple-houses. He lived in a cave.

It was quite a cave, Achilles saw, as the foot-dragging Hephaestus led the way in and secured multiple iron doors behind them.

The cave had been carved out of the solid black stone of Olympos and this one room stretched away for hundreds of yards into the gloom. Everywhere were tables, arcane devices, magnifying lenses, tools, and machines in various stages of creation or dismembering. Deep in the cave roared an open hearth with liquid steel bubbling like orange lava. Closer to the front, where various stools, couches, low tables, a bed and braziers showed Hephaestus’s actual living space carved out of the endless workshop, stood, sat, and walked some gold women—Hephaestus’s infamous attendants–machine women with rivets, human eyes, metal breasts, and soft synthetic-flesh vaginas but also—so the tales said—with the stolen souls of human beings.

“You can lay her down here,” said the dwarf-god, gesturing to a littered benchtop. With one swipe of his hairy forearm, Hephaestus cleared the table.

Releasing his grip on the dwarf-god, Achilles laid his linen-wrapped burden down with the utmost gentleness and reverence.

Penthesilea’s face was visible and Hephaestus stared down for a minute. “She was beautiful, all right. And I can see Athena’s work in the preservation of the corpse. Several days since death obviously and no rot or discoloration at all. The Amazon still has a flush to her cheeks. Do you mind if I roll the linen down just to take a peek at her tits?”

“If you touch her or her shroud,” said Achilles, “I will kill you.”

Hephaestus held up his palms. “All right, all right. Just curious.” He slapped his palms together. “Food,” he said. “Then strategy to bring your lady back.”

The golden female attendants began bringing trays of hot food and large cups of wine to the round table at the center of Hephaestus’ circle of couches. Fleet-footed Achilles and hairy Hephaestus both dug in with a will, not speaking except to demand more food or for the communal wine cup to be passed.

The attendants brought steaming fried liver wrapped in lamb intestines as an appetizer—one of Achilles’ favorites. They carried in a complete roast piglet stuffed with the flesh of many small birds, raisins, chestnuts, egg yolks, and spiced meats. They set out bowls of pork stewed with bubbling apples and pears. They brought in pure delicacies such as roasted sow’s womb and olives with mashed chickpeas. For the main course they served huge fish fried to a crispy, flaky brown on the outside.

“Netted in Zeus’s own Caldera Lake atop Olympos,” Hephaestus said with his mouth full.

For dessert and to cleanse the palate between courses they had a variety of fruits, sweetmeats, and nuts. The golden metal women set out bowls of figs and heaps of almonds, more bowls of fat dates and flat plates of the kind of delicious honeycakes that Achilles had tasted only once before when visiting the small city of Athens. Finally came that dessert most loved by Agamemnon, Priam, and other kings of kings—cheesecake.

After the meal, the robot attendants swept the table and floor and brought in more casks and double-handed goblets of wine—ten types of wine at least. Hephaestus did the honor of mixing the water with the wine and passing the huge cups.

The dwarf-god and god-man drank for two hours but neither entered the state that Achilles’ people called paroinia–“intoxication frenzy.”

The two males were mostly silent, but the naked, golden, female attendants celebrated for them—lining up and dancing around the table in the sensuous conga line that aesthetes such as Odysseus called the komos.

The man and god took turns going off to use the cave’s toilet facilities, and when they were drinking wine again, Achilles said, “Is it night yet? Is it time for you to spirit me to the Healer’s Hall?”

“Do you really think that Olympos’ healing tanks will bring your Amazon doxie back to life, son of wet-breasted Thetis? Those tanks and worms were designed to repair immortals, not some human bitch—however beautiful.”

Achilles was too drunk and too distracted to take offense. “Goddess Athena told me that the tanks would renew life to Penthesilea and Athena does not lie.”

“Athena does nothing but lie,” snorted Hephaestus, lifting the huge two-handled cup and drinking deeply. “And a few days ago you were waiting at the foot of Olympos, throwing rocks at Zeus’s impenetrable aegis, howling for Athena to come down to fight so you could kill her just as surely as you stuck a spear through this Amazon’s lovely tit. What changed, O Noble Mankiller?”

Achilles frowned at the god of fire. “This Trojan War has been… complicated, Cripple.”

“I’ll drink to that,” laughed Hephaestus and lifted the big goblet again.

When they were ready to QT to the Healer’s Hall, Achilles dressed in full armor again, his sword sharpened on the fire god’s wheel and his shield polished, the son of Peleus walked to the bench to lift Penthe-silea’s body to his shoulder.

“No, leave her,” said Hephaestus.

“What are you talking about?” growled Achilles. “She’s the reason we’re going to the Healer’s Hall. I can’t leave her here.”

“We don’t know which of the gods or guards will be there tonight,” said the artificer. “You may have to fight your way through a phalanx. Do you want to do that with an Amazon’s corpse on your shoulder? Or were you planning to use her beautiful body as a shield?”

Achilles hesitated.

“There’s nothing here to harm her body,” said Hephaestus. “I used to have rats and bats and roaches, but I built mechanical cats and falcons and praying mantises to rid the cave of them.”


“If the Healer’s Hall is empty, it’ll take us three seconds to QT back here and fetch her corpse. In the meantime, I’ll have the golden girls watch over her,” said the artificer god. He snapped his stubby fingers and six of the metal attendants took up positions around the Amazon’s body. “Are you ready now?”


Achilles gripped Hephaestus’ heavily scarred upper arm and the two men popped out of existence.

The Healer’s Hall was empty. No immortals were posted as guards. More surprising—even to Hephaestus—was that the many glass cylinders were empty. No gods were being healed and resurrected here tonight. In the huge space, lighted by only a few low-burning braziers and the violet light of the bubbling tanks themselves, nothing moved except the shuffling Hephaestus and the fleet-footed Achilles, shield held high.

Then the Healer emerged from the shadows of the bubbling vats.

Achilles raised his shield higher.

Athena had said to him over the corpse of Penthesilea—“Kill the Healer—a great, monstrous, centipede thing with too many arms and eyes. Destroy everything in the Healer’s Hall”—but Achilles had assumed that Athena was calling the healer a centipede out of insult, not as a literal description.

This thing had the segmented body of a centipede, but it rose thirty feet high, its segmented body swaying, its body-circling rings of black eyes on the top segment locked on Achilles and Hephaestus. The Healer had feelers and segmented arms—too many—and spindly hands with spidery fingers on the ends of half a dozen of those upper arms. One body segment near the top wore a vest of many pockets, bulging with tools, and there were straps and bands and black belts holding other tools on other segments of the swaying torso.

“Healer,” called Hephaestus, “where is everybody?”

The huge centipede swayed, waggled arms, and erupted in a stutter of noise from unseen mouths.

“Did you understand that?” Hephaestus asked Achilles.

“Understand what? It sounded like a boy running a stick along the rib cage of a skeleton.”

“It’s all good Greek,” said Hephaestus. “You just have to slow it down in your mind, listen more carefully.” To the Healer, the dwarf-god cried, “My mortal friend did not understand you. Could you repeat that, O Healer?”

“LordGodZeus’sOrdersAreThatNoMortalShallEverBePlaced InOneOfTheRegenerationTanksWithoutHisExpressCommand.The LordGodMasterZeusIsNowhereToBeFound.AndSinceHisCommand OnlyOnOlymposDoesTheHealerObeyICannotAllowAMortalToPass UntilZeusReturnsToHisThroneOnOlympos.”

“Did you understand that?” the artificer asked Achilles.

“Something about this thing obeying only Zeus and not allowing Penthesilea to be put into one of the vats without Zeus’s express command?”


“I can kill this big bug,” said Achilles.

“Perhaps so,” said Hephaestus. “Although the Healer is whispered to be even more immortal than we johnny-come-lately gods. But if you kill it, Penthesilea will never be brought back to life. Only the Healer knows how to operate the machinery and command the blue and green worms that are part of the healing process.”

“You’re the Artificer,” said Achilles, tapping his sword against the rim of his golden shield. “You must know how to operate this machinery.”

“The fuck I do,” growled Hephaestus. “This isn’t simple technology like we used when we were mere post-humans. I could never figure out the Healer’s quantum machines… and if I did, I still couldn’t order the blue worms to work. I think they respond only to telepathy and only to the Healer.”

“This bug said that he only obeyed Zeus on Olympos,” said Achilles, who was perilously close to losing his temper and killing the god of fire, the giant centipede, and every god still left on Olympos. “Who else can command it?”

“Kronos,” said Hephaestus with a maddening smile. “But Kronos and the other Titans have been banished to Tartarus forever. Only Zeus in this universe can tell the Healer what to do.”

“Then where is Zeus?”

“No one knows,” growled Hephaestus, “but in his absence the gods are warring with one another for control. The fighting is now mostly centered down on Ilium’s Earth, where the gods still support their Trojans or their Greeks, and Olympos is largely empty and peaceful now—it’s why I ventured out onto this fucking volcano’s slopes to survey the damage to my escalator.”

“Why would Athena give me this god-killing knife and order me to kill the Healer after the thing brings Penthesilea back to life?” asked Achilles.

Hephaestus’ eyes widened. “She told you to kill the Healer?” The bearded dwarf-god’s voice was low and puzzled. “I have no idea why she would order such a thing. She has some scheme, but it must be a mad one. With the Healer dead, the vats here would be useless… all of our immortality would be a joke. We could live a very long time, but we would suffer, son of Peleus. Suffer terribly without nano-rejuvenation.”

Achilles strode toward the Healer, pulling his famous shield tight until his eyes blazed through the slits of his shining war helmet. He pulled back his sword. “I’ll make this thing activate the vats for Penthesilea.”

Hephaestus hurried forward to grab Achilles’ arm. “No, my mortal friend. Believe me when I say that the Healer does not fear death and it will not be moved. It obeys only Zeus. Without the fucking Healer, the blue worms will not perform. Without the fucking blue worms, the vats are useless. Without the fucking vats, your Amazon queen will stay fucking dead forfuckingever.”

Achilles angrily shook off the artificer’s hand. “This… bug… has to put Penthesilea in the healing vats.” Even while he was saying this, Achilles again is reminded of Athena’s command for him to kill the Healer. What is that bitch-goddess up to? How is she using me? To what purpose? She’s not insane and she certainly has no intention of killing the one creature who can preserve her immortality.

“The Healer does not fear you, son of Peleus. You can kill it, but that only means you will never see your queen alive again.”

Achilles walked away from the dwarf-god, brushed past the huge Healer, and slammed his beautiful shield—with all its hammered concentric circles of symbols—hard into the clear plastic of the huge regeneration tank. The sound echoed in the dim darkness of the hall.

He swung back to Hephaestus. “All right. This bug obeys Zeus. Where is Zeus?”

The god of fire began to laugh and then stopped when he saw Achilles’ eyes blazing out through his helmet’s eyeslits. “You’re serious? Your plan is to bend the God of Thunder, the Father of All Gods to your will?”

Where is Zeus?”

“No one knows,” repeated Hephaestus. The crippled god walked toward the tall doors, dragging his shorter leg behind. Lightning flashed outside as the dust storm made the forcefield aegis spark in a thousand places. The pillars cut columns of black out of the silver-white light flooding into the Hall of the Healer. “Zeus has been absent these two weeks and more,” shouted the fire god over his shoulder. He tugged at his tangled beard. “Most of us suspect some fucking plot of Hera’s. Maybe she threw her husband down into the hellpit of Tartarus to join his vanished father Kronos and mother Rhea.”

“Can you find him?” Achilles turned his back on the Healer and slid his sword into its loop on his broad girdle. He swung his heavy shield over his back. “Can you take me to him?”

Hephaestus could only stare. “You’d go down into Tartarus to try to bend the God of Gods to your mortal will? There’s only one life form in the pantheon of the original gods besides Zeus who might know where he is. That terrible power also is the only other immortal here on Mars who could send us to Tartarus. You would go to Tartarus if you had to?”

“I’d pass through the teeth of death and back again to bring life back to my Amazon,” Achilles said softly.

“You’d find Tartarus a thousand times worse than death and the shaded halls of Hades, son of Peleus.”

“Take me to this immortal of which you speak,” commanded Achilles. His eyes through the eyeslits of his helmet were not quite sane.

For a long minute the bearded artificer stood hunched over, panting slightly, eyes unfocused, his hand still tugging absently at his tangled beard. Then he said, “So be it,” dragged his bad leg across the polished marble more rapidly than seemed possible, and clasped both huge hands around Achilles’ forearm.


Harman hadn’t meant to sleep. As exhausted as he was, he’d agreed only to eat and drink something, warming up an excellent stew and eating it at the table by the window while Prospero sat silently in the overstuffed armchair. The magus was reading out of a huge, worn, leatherbound book.

When Harman turned to talk to Prospero again, to demand in stronger terms that he be returned to Ardis, the old man was gone and so was the book. Harman had sat at the table for some minutes, only half-aware of the jungle rolling by nine hundred feet below the moving, creaking, house-sized cablecar. Then—just to look at the upstairs again, he told himself—he’d dragged himself up the iron spiral staircase, stood looking at the large bed for a minute, and then had collapsed on it face-first.

When he awoke it was night. Moonlight and ringlight flooded through the panes into the strange bedroom, painting velvet and brass in light so rich it appeared to be stripes of white paint. Harman opened the doors and stepped out onto the bedroom terrace.

The air was cool almost a thousand feet above the jungle floor, the breeze constant due to the motion of the cablecar, but he still was struck by the humidity, heat, and organic scents of all the green life below. The top of the jungle canopy was almost unbroken, whitewashed with ring-light and moonlight from the three-quarters moon, and occasional strange sounds wafted up, audible even over the steady hum of the flywheels above and the creak of the long cable. Harman took a minute to orient himself by the e—and p-rings.

He was sure that the car had been headed west when they’d left the first tower hours earlier—he’d slept for ten hours, at least—but now there was no doubt that the cablecar was lumbering north-northeast. He could see the moonlight-illuminated tip of one of the eiffelbahn towers just showing over the horizon to the southwest, from the direction he must have come, and another coming closer less than twenty miles to the northeast. Somewhere, while he slept, the car he was traveling in must have changed direction at a tower junction. Harman’s knowledge of geography was all self-taught, gleaned from books he’d taught himself to read—and he was quite sure that until recent months he was the only old-style human on Earth who had any sense of geography, any knowledge that the earth was a globe—but he’d never paid much attention to this arrow-shaped subcontinent south of what used to be called Asia. Still, it didn’t take a cartographer’s knowledge to know that if Prospero had been telling the truth—if his destination was the coast of Europe where the Atlantic Breach began along the 40th Parallel—then he was going the wrong way.

It didn’t matter. Harman had no intention of staying in this odd device the necessary weeks or months it would take to travel all that distance. Ada needed him now.

He paced the length of the balcony, occasionally grabbing the railing when the cablecar-house rocked slightly. It was on his third turn that he noticed an iron-rung ladder running up the side of the structure just beyond the railing. Harman swung out, grasped a rung, and pulled himself onto the ladder. There was nothing beneath him and the ground now but a thousand feet of air and jungle canopy.

The ladder led onto the roof of the cablecar. Harman swung himself up, legs pinioning for a second before he found a handhold and pulled himself onto the flat roof.

He stood carefully, arms extended for balance when the cablecar rocked as it began climbing a ridgeline toward the blinking lights of an eiffelbahn tower now only ten miles or so ahead. Beyond the next tower, a range of mountains had just become visible on the horizon, their snowy peaks almost brilliant in the moonlight and ringlight.

Exhilarated by the night and sense of speed, Harman noticed something. There was a faint shimmering about three feet out from the leading edge of the cable car, a slight blurring of the moon, rings, and vista below. He walked to that edge and extended his hand as far as possible.

There was a forcefield there, not a powerful one—his fingers pressed through it as if pushing through a resistant but permeable membrane, reminding Harman of the entrance to the Firmary on Prospero’s orbital isle—but strong enough to deflect the wind from the blunt and non-aerodynamic side of the cablecar-house. With his fingers beyond the forcefield, he could feel the true force of the wind, enough to bend his hand back. This thing was moving faster than he’d thought.

After a half hour or so of pacing and standing on the roof, listening to the cables hum, watching the next eiffelbahn tower approach, and working out strategies to get back to Ada, Harman went hand over hand down the rung-ladder, jumped onto the balcony, and reentered the house.

Prospero was waiting for him on the first floor. The magus was in the same armchair, his robed legs not up on the ottoman, the large book open on his lap and his staff near his right hand.

“What do you want from me?” asked Harman.

Prospero looked up. “I see, young sir, that you are as disproportionate in your manners as our mutual friend Caliban is in his shape.”

“What do you want of me?” repeated Harman, his hands balling into fists.

“It is time for you to go to war, Harman of Ardis.”

“Go to war?”

“Yes. Time for your kind to fight. Your kind, your kin, your species, your ilk—yourself.”

“What are you talking about? War with whom?”

“With what might be a better phrasing,” said Prospero.

“Are you talking about the voynix? We’re already fighting them. I brought Noman-Odysseus to the Bridge at Machu Picchu primarily to fetch more weapons.”

“Not the voynix, no,” said Prospero. “Nor the calibani, although all these slave-things have been tasked to kill your kin and kind, the minutes of their plot come ‘round at last. I am speaking of the Enemy.”

“Setebos?” said Harman.

“Oh, yes.” Prospero placed his aged hand on the broad page of the book, set a long leaf in as a bookmark, closed the book gently, and rose, leaning on his staff. “Setebos, the many-handed as a cuttlefish, is here at last, on your world and mine.”

“I know that. Daeman saw the thing in Paris Crater. Setebos has woven some blue-ice web over that faxnode and a dozen others, including Chom and…”

“And do you know why the many-handed has come now to Earth?” interrupted Prospero.

“No,” said Harman.

“To feed,” Prospero said softly. “To feed.”

“On us?” Harman felt the cablecar slow, then bump, and he noticed the next eiffelbahn tower surrounding them for a second, the two-story structure of the car fitting into the landing on the thousand-foot level just as it had on the first tower. He felt the car swivel, heard gears grind and clank, and they slid out of the tower on a different heading, traveling more east than north now. “Has Setebos come to feed on us?” he asked again.

Prospero smiled. “Not exactly. Not directly.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means, young Harman human, that Setebos is a ghoul. Our many-handed friend feeds on the residues of fear and pain, the dark energy of sudden terror and rich residue of equally sudden death. This memory of terror lies in the soil of your world—of any warlike sentient creatures’ world—like so much coal or petroleum, all of a lost era’s wild energy sleeping underground.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It means that Setebos, the Devourer of Worlds, that Gourmet of Dark History, has secured some of your faxnodes in blue stasis, yes—to lay his eggs, to send his seed out across your world, to suck the warmth out of these places like a succubus sucking breath from a sleeping soul—but it’s your memory and your history that will fatten him like a many-handed blood tick.”

“I still don’t understand,” said Harman.

“His nest now is in Paris Crater, Chom, and these other provincial places where you humans party and sleep and waste your useless lives away,” said Prospero, “but he will feed at Waterloo, HoTepsa, Stalingrad, Ground Zero, Kursk, Hiroshima, Saigon, Rwanda, Cape Town, Montreal, Gettysburg, Riyadh, Cambodia, Khanstaq, Chancellorsville, Okinawa, Tarawa, My Lai, Bergen Belsen, Auschwitz, the Somme—do any of these names mean anything to you, Harman?”


Prospero sighed. “This is our problem. Until some fragment of your human race regains the memory of your race, you cannot fight Setebos, you cannot understand Setebos. You cannot understand yourselves.”

“Why is that your problem, Prospero?”

The old man sighed again. “If Setebos eats the human pain and memory of this world—an energy resource I call umana–this world will be physically alive but spiritually dead to any sentient being… including me.”

Spiritually dead?” repeated Harman. He knew the word from his reading and sigling—spirit, spiritual, spirituality—vague ideas having to do with ancient myths of ghosts and religion—it just made no sense coming from this hologram of a logosphere avatar, the too-cute construct of some set of ancient software programs and communication protocols.

“Spiritually dead,” repeated the magus. “Psychically, philosophically, organically dead. On the quantum level, a living world records the most sentient energies its inhabitants experience, Harman of Ardis—love, hate, fear, hope. Like particles of magnetite aligning to a north or south pole. The poles may change, wander, disappear, but the recordings remain. The resulting energy field is as real—although more difficult to measure and locate—as the magnetosphere a planet with a hot spinning core produces, protecting the living inhabitants with its forcefield from the harshest realities of space. So does the memory of pain and suffering protect the future of a sentient race. Does this make sense to you?”

“No,” said Harman.

Prospero shrugged. “Then take my word for it. If you ever want to see Ada alive again, you will have to learn… much. Perhaps too much. But after this learning, you will at least be able to join the fight. There may be no hope—there usually is none when Setebos begins devouring a world’s memory—but at least we can fight.”

“Why do you care?” asked Harman. “What difference does it make to you whether human beings survive? Or their memories?”

Prospero smiled thinly. “What do you take me for? Do you think I am a mere function of old e-mails, the icon of an ancient Internet with a staff and robe?”

“I don’t know what the hell you are,” said Harman. “A hologram.”

Prospero took a step closer and slapped Harman hard across the face.

Harman took a step back, gaping. He raised his hand to his stinging cheek, balled that hand into a fist.

Prospero smiled and held his staff between them. “If you don’t want to wake up on the floor ten minutes from now with the worst headache of your life, don’t think about it.”

“I want to go home to Ada,” Harman said slowly.

“Did you try to find her with your functions?” asked the magus.

Harman blinked. “Yes.”

“And did any of your functions work here on the cablecar, or in the jungle before it?”

“No,” said Harman.

“Nor will they work until you’ve mastered the rest of the functions you command,” said the old man, returning to his chair and carefully lowering himself into it.

“The rest of the functions…” began Harman. “What do you mean?”

“How many functions have you mastered?” asked Prospero.

“Five,” said Harman. One had been known to everyone for ages—the Finder Function, which included a chronometer—but Savi had taught them three others. Then he had discovered the fifth.

“Recite them.”

Harman sighed. “Finder function—proxnet, farnet, allnet, and sigling—reading through one’s palm.”

“And have you mastered the allnet function, Harman of Ardis?”

“Not really.” There was too much information, too much bandwidth, as Savi had said.

“And do you think that old-style humans—the real old-style humans, your undesigned and unmodified ancestors—had five such functions, Harman of Ardis?”

“I… I don’t know.” He’d never thought about it.

“They did not,” Prospero said flatly. “You are the result of four thousand years of gene-tampering and nanotech splicing. How did you discover the sigl function, Harman of Ardis?”

“I… just experimented with mental images, triangles, squares, circles, until one worked,” said Harman.

“That’s what you told Ada and the others,” said Prospero, “but that is a lie. How did you really learn to sigl?”

“I dreamt the sigl function code,” admitted Harman. It had been too strange—too precious–to tell the others.

“Ariel helped you with that dream,” said Prospero, his thin-lipped smile showing again. “We grew impatient. Would you like to guess how many functions each of you—every one of you ‘old-style humans’—has in your cells and blood and brainstuff?”

“More than five functions?” asked Harman.

“One hundred,” said Prospero. “An even hundred.”

“Teach them to me,” said Harman, taking a step toward the magus.

Prospero shook his head. “I cannot. I would not. But you need to learn them nonetheless. On this voyage you will learn them.”

“We’re going the wrong way,” said Harman.


“You said the eiffelbahn would take me to the coast of Europe where the Atlantic Breach begins, but we’re heading east now, away from Europe.”

“We will swing north again two towers hence,” said Prospero. “Are you impatient to arrive?”


“Don’t be,” said the magus. “All the learning will happen during the trip, not after it. Yours will be the sea change of all sea changes. And trust me, you do not want to take the short route—over the old Pakistan passes into the waste called Afghanistan, south along the Mediterranean Basin and across the Sahara Marshes.”

“Why not?” said Harman. He and Savi and Daeman had flown east across the Atlantic and then over the Sahara Marshes to Jerusalem, then taken a crawler into the dry Mediterranean Basin. It was a place on Earth he knew. And he wanted to see if the blue tachyon beam still rose from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Savi had said it carried all of the coded information of all her lost contemporaries from fourteen hundred years ago.

“The calibani are loosed,” said Prospero.

“They’ve left the Basin?”

“They are freed of their old restraints, the center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. Or at least upon that part of it.”

“Then where are we going?”

“Patience, Harman of Ardis. Patience. Tomorrow we cross a mountain range I believe you will find most enlightening. Then into Asia—where you may behold the works of the mighty and the dead—and then west and west enough again. The Breach will wait.”

“Too slow,” said Harman, pacing back and forth. “Too long. If the functions don’t work here, I don’t have any way of knowing how Ada is. I need to go. I need to get home.”

“You want to know how your Ada fares?” asked Prospero. He was not smiling. The magus pointed to a red cloth draped over the couch. “Use that. This one time only.”

Harman frowned, went to the cloth, studied it. “A turin cloth?” he said. It was red—all turin cloths were tan. Nor was the microcircuit embroidery the same.

“There are a myriad of turin-cloth receivers,” said Prospero. “Just as there are a myriad of sensory transmitters. Every person can be one.”

Harman shook his head. “I don’t give a damn about the turin drama—Troy, Agamemnon, all that nonsense. I’m not in the mood for amusements.”

“This cloth tells you nothing of Ilium,” said Prospero. “It will show you your Ada’s fate. Try it.”

Trembling, Harman sat back on the couch, adjusted the red cloth over his face, touched the embroidery to his forehead, and closed his eyes.


The Queen Mab decelerated toward Earth on a column of nuclear explosions, the ship kicking out a Coke-can-sized fission bomb every thirty seconds, the bomb exploding and driving the pusher plate back up to the stern of the thousand-foot-long ship, the huge pistons and cylinders in the clockwork engine room cycling back and forth, the next can-bomb being ejected…

Mahnmut was watching on the stern video channel. If anyone on Earth didn’t know we were coming, they must know now, he said to Orphu on their tightbeam channel. The two had been invited to the bridge for the first time on the voyage and they were in the largest lift now, rising toward the bow of the ship—which during deceleration, of course, was aiming back toward space rather than at the rapidly growing Earth.

I don’t think the idea is to be subtle, tightbeamed Orphu.

Obviously not. But this is about as subtle as a stomach pump, about as subtle as a pay toilet in the diarrhea ward, about as subtle as…

Do you have a point? rumbled Orphu.

It’s too unsubtle, said Mahnmut. Too obvious. Too visible. Too precious—I mean, mid-Twentieth Century spaceship designs, for God’s sake. Fission bombs. Ejection mechanisms from the Atlanta, Georgia, Coca-Cola bottling plant circa 1959…

So your point is? interrupted Orphu. In the old days, his eye-stalks and video cameras would have tracked toward Mahnmut—some of them, at least—but those had not been replaced since his optic nerves had been burned out.

I have to assume that less obvious moravec ships—modern ships, stealth-activated and stealth-propelled ships—are following us, sent Mahnmut.

That has been my assumption as well, said the big hard-vac moravec.

You never mentioned it.

Nor have you, until now, said Orphu.

Why didn’t Asteague/Che and the other Prime Integrators tell us? asked Mahnmut. If we’re being put out ahead of the real fleet as the obvious target, we have a right to know.

Orphu sent a subsonic rumble that Mahnmut had learned was the Ionian’s equivalent of a shrug. It wouldn’t make any difference, would it? said the big moravec. If the Earth defenses fire on us and breach our rather modest forcefield defenses, we’ll be dead before we have time to complain.

Speaking of Earth defenses, has the voice from the orbital city said anything else since the message two weeks ago? The maser broadcast had been succinct; the recorded female-human voice had simply said “Bring Odysseus to me” over and over for twenty-four hours and then had cut off as quickly as it had begun. The message had not been broadcast at random—it had been aimed precisely at the Queen Mab.

I’ve been monitoring the incoming channels, said Orphu, and I haven’t heard anything new.

The lift whirred and stopped. The broad cargo doors opened. Mahnmut stepped onto the bridge for the first time since before their launch from Phobos and Orphu repellored after him.

The bridge was circular with a diameter of thirty meters, the ceiling dome-shaped and ringed with thick windows and holographic screens serving as windows. From a spaceship-spaceship point of view, it was almost completely satisfying to Mahnmut. Although the unnamed spacecraft that had brought Orphu, the late Koros III and Ri Po, and him to Mars had been centuries more advanced—accelerated to one-fifth light speed by magnetic scissors accelerator wickets, carrying a boron light sail, fusion engines, and other modern moravec devices—this strangely retro atomic spaceship and spaceship grid looked… right. Instead of purely virtual controls and simple jack-in stations, more than a dozen tech moravecs sat in old-fashioned acceleration chairs at even more old-fashioned metal and glass monitoring stations. There were actual switches, real toggles, physical dials—dials!—and a hundred other eye—and vid-camera-pleasing details. The floor looked to be of textured steel, perhaps lifted straight out of the hull of some World War II–era seagoing battleship.

The usual suspects—Orphu’s irreverent term—stood awaiting them near the central navigation table: Asteague/Che their central Prime Integrator from Europa, General Beh bin Adee representing the Belt fighter-moravecs, Cho Li their Callistan navigator (looking and sounding far too much like the dead Ri Po for Mahnmut’s comfort), Suma IV the brawny, buckycarbon-sheathed fly-eyed Ganymedan, and the spidery Retrograde Sinopessen.

Mahnmut walked closer to the map table and stepped up onto the metal ledge that allowed smaller moravecs to look down upon the glowing table surface. Mahnmut floated over.

“We have a little less than fourteen hours until low-Earth orbital insertion,” said Asteague/Che without greetings or introductions. His voice—that James Mason voice to Mahnmut’s Lost Era history-vid-trained ears and audio receivers—was smooth but businesslike. “We have to decide what to do.”

The Prime Integrator was vocalizing rather than transmitting on the common band. The bridge was pressurized to Earth normal—an atmospheric content the Europan moravecs liked and the others could tolerate—and audible speech was more private than common band chatter and less conspiratorial than tightbeaming.

“Have there been any more broadcasts from that woman asking us to deliver Odysseus?” asked Orphu.

“No,” said Cho Li, the bulky Callistan navigator. Cho Li’s voice, as always, was very, very soft. “But the orbital construction that was the source of that broadcast is our destination.”

Cho Li ran a manipulator tentacle over the map table and a large hologram of Earth appeared. The equatorial and polar rings were very bright, countless specks of light moving west to east along the equator and north to south around the poles.

“This is a live video feed,” said the tiny little silver box amidst the skinny little silver legs that comprised the Amalthean Retrograde Sinopessen.

“I can read the data bars via the common channel,” said Orphu of Io. “And I can ‘see’ all of you on my radar return and infrared scans. But there may be subtle aspects of the holo projections that I miss—being blind and all.”

“I’ll give a description via tightbeam of everything I see,” said Mahnmut. He connected via tightbeam and set up a high-speed squirt feed to the Ionian, describing the holographic image of the blue and white Earth hanging in space above the chart table, the bright polar and equatorial rings crisscrossing above the oceans and clouds. The rings were close enough that countless discrete objects could be seen gleaming against the black of space.

“Magnification?” asked Orphu.

“Just ten,” said Sinopessen. “Small binoculars level. We’re approaching the orbit of Earth’s Moon—although right now Luna is on the backside of the planet from us. We’ll cease use of the fission bombs and switch to ion drive as we enter their cislunar space—no reason to antagonize anyone there. Our velocity is down to ten kilometers per second and dropping. You may have noticed our one-point-two-five Earth-g deceleration the last two days.”

“How has Odysseus been taking the added g-load?” asked Mahnmut. He’d not seen their only remaining human passenger over the past week. Mahnmut had hoped that Hockenberry would QT back to the Queen Mab, but so far he hadn’t.

“Fine,” rumbled Suma IV, the tall Ganymedan. “He tends to stay in his bunk and quarters more than usual, but he was doing that before we raised the deceleration g-load.”

“Has he said anything about the female voice on the maser—or the ‘Bring Odysseus to me’ message?” asked Orphu.

“No,” said Asteague/Che. “He has told us that he doesn’t recognize the voice—that he’s sure it doesn’t belong to Athena, Aphrodite, or any of the Olympian immortals he’s met.”

“Where did the broadcast come from?” Mahnmut asked.

Cho Li activated a laser pen embedded in one of his manipulators and pointed out the speck in the polar ring, currently approaching the south pole on the backside of the transparent Earth holo. “Magnify,” the navigator ordered the Mab’s main AI.

The speck seemed to leap forward until it replaced the entire Earth hologram. It was a roughly dumbbell-shaped city of metal girders, opaque orange glass and light: tall glass towers, glass bubbles, glass domes, convoluted glass spires and arches. Mahnmut summarized it all in his tightbeam descriptions to Orphu.

“This is one of the larger artificial objects in Earth orbit,” said Retrograde Sinopessen. “About twenty kilometers long, roughly the size of their Lost Era city of Manhattan before it was flooded. It seems to be built around a stone and heavy metal core—probably a captured aster-oid—that gives—or gave—a little gravity to the inhabitants.”

“How much?” asked Orphu or Io.

“Roughly ten centimeters per second,” said the Almathean. “Enough that a human—or unmodified post-human—wouldn’t float away or be able to achieve escape velocity by jumping, but light enough to float pretty much where you want to.”

“Pretty close to Phobos’ size and gravity,” said Mahnmut. “Any clue who the voice belongs to or who lives there?”

“The post-humans built these orbital environments more than two thousand standard years ago,” said Prime Integrator Asteague/Che. “You both know that we assumed the post-humans had died out—their radio chatter stopped more than a millennia ago even as the quantum flux between Earth and Mars began to build, we haven’t seen their ships in cislunar space through our telescopes, there’s been no sign of them on Earth itself—but we can’t preclude the possibility that a few have survived. Or evolved.”

“Into what?” asked Orphu.

Asteague/Che performed that most archaic, arcane, yet expressive of human motions—he shrugged. Mahnmut started to describe the other Europan’s shrug to his friend but Orphu tightbeamed that he’d picked it up on both radar and infrared sensors.

“Let me show you some recent activity before we decide if you’re going to drop The Dark Lady into Earth’s atmosphere,” continued Asteague/Che. He set one very humanoid hand above the chart table.

The orbital island hologram was replaced with holos showing Earth and Mars, in scale of size but not in distance, with a myriad of blue, green, and white strands connecting Near-Earth-Orbit and the surface of Mars. Columns of holographic data misted into existence. The two planets looked as if they’d been woven into a spider’s frenzied web, except in this case the web itself pulsed and grew, strands contracting and expanding, extruding new strands and nodes as if of their own volition. Mahnmut rushed to describe it all on the tightbeam channel.

It’s all right, transmitted Orphu. I’m reading the databands. It’s almost as good as seeing the graphics.

“This is quantum activity of the past ten standard days,” said Cho Li. “You’ll note that it’s almost ten percent more volatile and active than when we launched from Phobos. The instability is reaching a critical stage…”

“How critical?” asked Orphu of Io.

Asteague/Che turned his visored face toward the big Ionian. “Critical enough that we have to make a decision in the next week or so. Less time if the volatility continues to grow. This level of quantum instability threatens the entire solar system.”

“What decision?” asked Mahnmut.

“Whether to destroy the Earth’s polar and equatorial rings where the quantum flux originated, also whether to cauterize Olympus Mons and the other quantum nodes on Mars,” said General Beh bin Adee. “And to sterilize the Earth itself if need be.”

Orphu whistled, an odd sound on the echoing bridge. “Does the Queen Mab have such a military capability?” the Ionian asked softly.

“No,” said the general.

I guess I was right about the invisible moravec ships shadowing us, thought Mahnmut.

On the tightbeam, Orphu sent—I guess we were right about the invisible moravec ships shadowing us. If Mahnmut had had eyelids, he would have blinked at this similarity in their thought patterns

A silence descended. None of the six moravecs around the chart table spoke or transmitted again for almost a minute.

“There are more developments to share with you,” Suma IV said at last. The buckycarbon-sheathed Ganymedan touched controls and a different, magnified telescopic view of Earth leapt into place. Mahnmut recognized what had once been called the British Isles—Shakespeare!—and then the view zoomed in on the continent of Europe. Two images filled the holocube—an odd city radiating out from a black crater and then what might have been the same city, sheathed in a blue web not so dissimilar from the view of the quantum displacement between Earth and Mars. He described the blue mass to his friend.

“What the hell is it?” asked Orphu.

“We don’t know,” said Suma IV, “but it’s appeared in the last seven standard days. These coordinates match those of the ancient city of Paris in the nation of France, but where our astronomers from Phobos and Martian space had been observing old-style human activity—primitive but visible—now there is just this blue dome, blue webs, blue spires surrounding what was obviously an old black-hole crater.”

“What could be spinning that web?” asked Mahnmut.

“Again, we don’t know,” said Suma IV. “But look at the measurements coming from inside it.”

Orphu did not whistle this time, but Mahnmut felt the urge to. Temperatures in the blue-webbed parts of Paris had dropped below minus 100 degrees Celsius, where, just meters away, the temperatures still hovered near Earth normal for that region and time of the year, while just meters away from that, the temperature spiked to levels where lead would melt.

“Could this be a natural phenomenon?” asked Mahnmut. “Something the post-humans brought about during the Demented Times when they were fooling with Earth’s ecology and life forms?”

“We’ve never seen or recorded anything like this before,” said Asteague/Che. “And we’ve never stopped monitoring Earth from Consortium space. But look at this.”

A dozen other blue-marked locations appeared in the holocube map, which pulled back until it was a large Earth sphere again. Blue-webbed sites were marked elsewhere in Europe, in Asia, in what had been South America, southern Africa—a dozen in total. Next to the blue circles were data cubes recording measurements similar to the Paris phenomenon, with notes on the day, hour, minute, and second that the blue web had appeared to moravec sensors. Mahnmut raced to tightbeam the image descriptions to Orphu.

“And this,” said Asteague/Che.

Another sphere of Earth appeared showing straight blue lines rising from Paris and the other blue nodes, including one city marked Jerusalem. The thin blue shafts continued straight into space, disappearing beyond the solar system.

“Well, we’ve seen that before,” said Orphu of Io after Mahnmut described it to him. “It’s the same kind of tachyon beam that appeared at Delphi on the other Earth, the ancient Earth of Ilium, when the population disappeared.”

“Yes,” said Prime Integrator Asteague/Che.

“That beam didn’t seem to be aimed at anything in deep space,” said Mahnmut. “Are these?”

“Not unless you count grazing the Lesser Magellanic Clouds,” said Cho Li. “Plus, there is a quantum component to these tachyon beams.”

“What does that mean—‘quantum component’?” asked Orphu.

“The beams phase-shift on the quantum level, existing more in Calabi-Yau space than in four-dimensional Einsteinian spacetime,” said the Callistan navigator.

“You mean,” said Mahnmut, “they’re shifting into a different universe.”


“The Ilium-Earth’s universe?” asked Mahnmut. His tone was hopeful. When the last Brane Hole that had connected the current-Mars and Ilium-Earth universes had collapsed weeks earlier, the moravecs had lost all communication with that ancient Earth of Troy and Agamemnon, but Hockenberry had been able to quantum teleport across the Calabi-Yau universe-membrane to the Queen Mab–and presumably to QT back, although no one knew where he’d gone when he’d teleported off the atomic spaceship. Mahnmut, who knew many of the Greeks and Trojans, had hopes of reconnecting to that universe once again.

“We don’t think so,” said Cho Li. “The reasons are as complicated as the multiple-membrane Calabi-Yau space math our assumptions are based on and are guided by what we learned from the Device you successfully activated on Mars eight months ago, but we think the tachyon beam’s phase-shifting is to one or more different universes, not that of the Ilium-Earth.”

Mahnmut spread his hands. “So what does all this have to do with our mission to Earth? I was supposed to pilot The Dark Lady in Earth’s seas or oceans, bringing Suma IV down for his mission—just as I was supposed to bring the late Ri Po to Olympus Mons last year. Does the blue-web stuff and the tachyon beams change that plan?”

There was another silence.

“The dangers and cautionary unknowns of an atmospheric penetration are proliferating,” said Suma IV.

“Could you translate that?” said Orphu of Io.

“Observe, please,” said the tall Ganymedan.

A holographic astronomical recording began running above the chart table. Mahnmut described the visuals to Orphu on tightbeam.

“Please note the date,” said Prime Integrator Asteague/Che.

“That’s more than eight months ago,” said Mahnmut.

“Yes,” said the Europan Integrator. “Shortly after we used the Brane Holes to transit to Mars-Ilium space. You notice that the resolution is relatively poor compared to today’s observations of the orbital rings. This is because we were observing from Phobos Base.”

The visuals showed an orbital object similar to the one that had broadcast the message to the Queen Mab, but not quite the same. This asteroid was visible as a slowly rotating rock, albeit one with glowing glass towers, domes, and structures. This orbital object was smaller—less than two kilometers in length. Suddenly another object came into the visual range of the recording—a three-kilometer-long metal construct rather like a long silver wand, clustered about with girders, storage tanks, and fuel cylinders, the column ending in a bulbous, shimmering sphere. Thrusters were firing but Mahnmut didn’t believe the thing was merely a spacecraft.

“What the hell is that?” asked Orphu after hearing Mahnmut’s description and reading the data.

“An orbital linear accelerator with a wormhole collector at its snout,” said Asteague/Che. “Notice that someone—or something—on the asteroid city has sent masered commands to this unmanned linear accelerator, overriding countless safety protocols, and is driving it right toward the asteroid.”

“Why?” asked Orphu.

No one answered. The five moravecs watched and Orphu listened as the long, girdered orbital machine continued accelerating until it crashed into the asteroid island. Asteague/Che slowed the recording. The glowing towers and domes exploded and flew apart in extreme slow motion, then the asteroid itself broke up as the wormhole accumulator at the end of the linear accelerator exploded with the force of countless hydrogen bombs. There came a final series of slow-motion, silent explosions as the fuel tanks, thrusters, and main drive engines of the linear accelerator ignited themseves.

“Now watch,” said Suma IV.

A second telescopic view, then a radar plot, joined the holographic explosions. Mahnmut tightbeamed a description of the blaze of thruster tails from throughout the plane of the equatorial orbital ring as dozens, then hundreds of small spacecraft hurried toward the exploding orbital asteroid.

“What’s the scale on those?” asked Orphu.

“They’re each about six meters long by three meters wide,” said Cho Li.

“Unmanned,” said Orphu. “Moravecs?”

“More like the servitors the humans used centuries ago,” said Asteague/Che. “Simple AI’s with one purpose, as you will see.”

Mahnmut saw. And he described what he saw to Orphu. The hundreds, then thousands of tiny devices rushing toward the expanding asteroid and accelerator debris field were little more than high-powered lasers each with a brain and aiming device. The recording fast-forwarded through the next hours with the servitor-lasers scooting through, under, and over the debris field, zapping every piece of asteroid or accelerator that posed a serious threat of surviving reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere.

“The post-humans weren’t fools,” said Asteague/Che. “At least when it came to engineering. The mass they accumulated in the two rings they built around Earth, if gathered together, would build a sizeable fraction of another Luna—more than a million separate objects, some like the one that hailed us, almost as massive as Phobos. But they had near foolproof failsafes for keeping them in orbit and a defense in depth if they threatened to fall—these high-boost laser hornets that break up any debris are the last line of that defense. Meteors are still falling on Earth more than eight standard months later, but there have been no catastrophic impacts.”

“Orbital leukocytes,” said Orphu of Io.

“Precisely,” said the Prime Integrator of the Five Moons Consortium.

“I understand,” Mahnmut said at last. “You’re afraid that if we use the dropship carrying The Dark Lady the way we planned, these little robot leukocytes will scurry out and zap us as well.”

“The mass of the dropship and your submersible combined would be a threat to Earth,” agreed Asteague/Che. “We watched the… leukocytes, as Orphu put it… laser to plasma or boost uphill much smaller pieces of the destroyed asteroid.”

Mahnmut shook his metal-and-plastic head. “I don’t get it. You’ve had this recording and this knowledge for more than eight months, yet you hauled the Lady and us all this way… what’s changed?”

General Beh bin Adee pointed to something in the rerunning holo recording of the asteroid breakup.

The image zoomed. The computers enhanced the grainy, pixilated image.

What? tightbeamed Orphu.

Mahnmut described the enhanced image. There in the midst of all the explosions and zapped debris was a small craft with three human figures lying prone in what appeared to be an open cockpit. Only the slight shimmer of a forcefield showed why the three were not dying in a vacuum.

“What is that thing?” asked Mahnmut after he had described it to Orphu.

It was Orphu who answered. “An ancient flying vehicle used by both old-style humans and post-humans millennia ago. It was called an AFV—All Function Vehicle—or sometimes they just called it a sonie. The post-humans used them to shuttle to and from the rings.”

The recording sped up, paused, sped up again. Mahnmut described to Orphu the image of the sonie twisting and turning as segments of the asteroid exploded—were lasered—all around it.

The holo showed the trajectory of the sonie as it entered the atmosphere, spiraled across the center of North America, and landed in a region below one of the Great Lakes.

“That was one of our destinations,” said Asteague/Che. He tapped some icons and telescopic still images appeared of a large human home on a hill. The huge house was surrounded by outbuildings and what looked to be a defensive wooden wall. Human beings—or what appeared to be human beings—were visible near the walls and house. Several dozen could be seen in the still photograph.

“That was one week ago as we began decelerating,” said General Beh bin Adee. “These were taken yesterday.”

Same telescopic view, but now the house and wall were in ruins, burned. Corpses were visible scattered across a charred landscape.

“I don’t understand,” said Mahnmut. “It looks as if the humans are being massacred there where the sonie landed eight months ago. Who or what killed them?”

Beh bin Adee brought up an another telescope image, then magnified it. Scores of non-human bipeds were visible between bare branches of trees. The things were a dull silver-gray, essentially headless, with a dark hump. The arms and legs were articulated wrong to be either human or known moravecs.

“What are those?” asked Mahnmut. “Servitors of some kind? Robots?”

“We don’t know,” said Asteague/Che. “But these creatures are killing old-style human beings in their small communities all over Earth.”

Mahnmut said, “This is terrible but what does it have to do with canceling our mission?”

“I understand,” said Orphu of Io. “The issue is how do you get to the surface to see what’s going on. And the question is—why didn’t the laser leukocytes fire on the sonie in the first place? It was large enough that it might survive reentry and pose a threat to those on the ground. Why was it spared?”

Mahnmut thought for several seconds. “There were humans on board,” he said at last.

“Or post-humans,” said Asteague/Che. “The resolution isn’t fine enough for us to tell which.”

“The leukocytes allow a ship with human or post-human life aboard to pass into the atmosphere,” Mahnmut said slowly. “You’ve known this for more than eight months. That’s why you had me kidnap Odysseus for this mission.”

“Yes,” said Suma IV. “The human was going down to Earth with us. His human DNA was to be our passkey.”

“But now the voice from the other orbital isle is demanding that we deliver Odysseus to her or it,” said Orphu with a deep rumble that may have signified irony or humor or indigestion.

“Yes,” said Asteague/Che. “We have no idea if our dropship and your submersible will be allowed to enter Earth’s atmosphere if there is no human life on board.”

“We can always just ignore the invitation from the asteroid-city in the polar ring,” said Mahnmut. “Bring Odysseus down to Earth with us, maybe send him back up in the dropship…” He thought another few seconds. “No, that won’t work. Odds are that the asteroid-city will fire on us if the Queen Mab doesn’t rendezvous as requested.”

“Yes, it seems a real possibility,” said Asteague/Che. “This imperative to deliver Odysseus to the orbital city and the views of a massacre of humans on Earth by non-human creatures are new factors since we planned your dropship excursion.”

“Too bad Dr. Hockenberry QT’d away on us,” said Mahnmut. “His DNA may have been rebuilt by the Olympian gods or whomever, but it probably would have gotten us through the orbital leukocytes.”

“We have a little less than eleven hours to decide,” said Asteague/Che. “At that point we’ll be rendezvousing with the orbital city in the polar ring and it will be too late to deploy the dropship and submersible. I suggest we reconvene here in two hours and make a final decision.”

As the two stepped and repellored into the cargo elevator, Orphu of Io set one of his larger manipulator pads on Mahnmut’s shoulder.

Well, Stanley, sent the Ionian, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.


Harman experienced the attack on Ardis Hall in real time.

The turin-cloth experience—seeing, hearing, watching from the eyes of some unseen other—had always been a dramatic but irrelevant entertainment for him before this. Now it was a living hell. Instead of the absurd and seemingly fictional Trojan War, it was an attack on Ardis that Harman felt—knew–was real, either happening simultaneously to his viewing of it or very recently recorded.

Harman sat under the cloth, lost to the real world, for more than six hours. He watched from the time the voynix attacked a little after midnight until just before sunrise, when Ardis was ablaze and the sonie flew away to the north after his wounded, bleeding, unconscious, beloved Ada had been dragged aboard like a sack of suet.

Harman was surprised to see Petyr there at Ardis with the sonie—where were Hannah and Odysseus?—and he cried aloud in pain when he watched as Petyr was struck by a voynix-thrown rock and fell to his death. So many of his Ardis friends dead or dying—young Peaen falling, beautiful Emme having her arm torn off by a voynix and then burning to death in a ditch with Reman, Salas dead, Laman struck down. The weapons Petyr had brought from the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu had not turned the tide against the rampaging voynix.

Harman moaned under the blood-red turin cloth.

Six hours after he activated the microcircuit embroidery, the turin images ended and Harman rose and flung the cloth from him.

The magus was gone. Harman went into the small bathing room, used the strange toilet, flushed it with the porcelain handle on the brass chain, splashed water on his face and then drank prodigously, gulping handfuls of tap water. He came back out and searched the two-story cablecar-structure.

“Prospero! PROSPERO!!” His bellow echoed in the metal structure.

On the second floor, Harman threw open the doors to the balcony and stepped out. He jumped to the rungs—indifferent to the long fall beneath him—and climbed quickly to the roof of the moving, rising car.

The air was freezing. He’d turined away the night and a cold, gold sun was just rising to his right. The cables stretched away due north and they were rising. Harman stood at the edge of the roof and looked straight down, realizing that both the cablecar and the eiffelbahn must have been rising—climbing in altitude—for hours. He’d left the jungle and the plains behind in the night and climbed first into foothills and now into real mountains.

Prospero!!!!” Harman’s shout echoed from the rocks hundreds of feet below.

He stood atop the cablecar until the sun was two handspans above the horizon, but no warmth came with the rising sun. Harman realized he was freezing. The eiffelbahn was carrying him into a region of ice, rock, and sky—all green and growing things had been left behind. He looked over the edge and saw a huge river of ice—he knew the word from his sigling, glacier–winding like a white serpent between rock and ice peaks, the sunlight blinding from it, the great white mass wrinkled with black fissures and pocked with rocks and boulders it was carrying downhill.

Ice fell from the cables above him. The turning wheels took on a new, cold hum. Harman saw that ice had formed on the roof of the rocking car, lined the rungs going down the outside wall, gleamed on the cables themselves. Crawling to the edge, hands aching, body shaking, he made his way carefully down the rung ladder, swung to the ice-encrusted balcony, and staggered into the heated room.

There was a fire in the iron fireplace. Prospero stood there, warming his hands.

Harman stood by the ice-latticed doorpanes for several minutes, shaking as much from rage as from the cold. He resisted the urge to rush the magus. Time was precious; he did not want to wake up on the floor ten minutes from now.

“Lord Prospero,” he said at last, forcing his voice to be sweet with reason, “whatever you want me to do, I will agree to do it. Whatever you want me to become, I agree to become—or to try my best to do it. I swear this to you on the life of my unborn child. But please allow me to return to Ardis now—my wife is injured, she may be dying. She needs me.

“No,” said Prospero.

Harman ran at the old man. He would beat the fucking old fool’s bald head in with his own walking staff. He would…

This time Harman did not lose consciousness. The high voltage threw him back across the room, bounced him off the strange sofa, sent him falling to his hands and knees on the elaborate carpet. His vision still blinded by red circles, Harman growled and rose again.

“Next time I will burn your right leg off,” the magus said in a flat, cold, completely convincing tone. “If you ever get home to your woman, you’ll do so hopping.”

Harman stopped. “Tell me what to do,” he whispered.

“Sit down… no, there at the table where you can see outside.”

Harman sat at the table. The sunlight was very bright as it reflected from vertical ice walls and the rising glacier; much of the ice had melted from the glass panes. The mountains were growing taller—a profusion of the tallest peaks Harman had ever seen, much more dramatic than the mountains near the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu. The cablecar was following a high ridgeline, a glacier dropping farther and farther below to their left. At that moment the car rumbled through another eiffelbahn tower and Harman had to grab the table as the two-story car rocked, bounced, ground against ice, and then continued creaking upward.

The tower fell behind. Harman leaned against the cold glass to watch it recede—this tower was not black like the others, but resplendently silver, gleaming in the sunlight, its iron arches and girders standing out like a spider’s web in morning dew. Ice, thought Harman. He looked the other way, to his right, in the direction the cables were climbing and rising, and could see the white face of the most amazing mountain imaginable—no, beyond imagination. Clouds massed to the west of it, piling against a ridge as serrated and merciless looking as a bone knife. The face they were rising toward was striated with rock, ice, more rock, a summit pyramid of white snow and gleaming ice. The cablecar was grinding and slipping on icy cables following a ridgeline to the east of this incredible peak. Harman could see another tower on a swooping ridge high above, the rising cables connecting this mountain ridge to the higher peak. High above that—on and around the summit of the impossibly tall mountain—rose the most perfect white dome imaginable, its surface tinted a light gold from the morning sun, its central mass surrounded by four white eiffelbahn towers, the entire complex set on a white base cantilevered out over the sheer face of the mountain and connected to surrounding peaks by at least six slender suspension bridges arching out into space to other peaks—each of the bridges a hundred times higher, slimmer, and more elegant than the Golden Gate at Machu Picchu.

“What is this place?” Harman whispered. “Chomolungma,” said Prospero. “Goddess Mother of the World.”

“That building at the top…”

“Rongbok Pumori Chu-mu-lang-ma Feng Dudh Kosi Lhotse-Nuptse Khumbu aga Ghat-Mandir Khan Ho Tep Rauza,” said the magus. “Known locally as the Taj Moira. We’ll be stopping there.”


The voynix didn’t come scuttling up Starved Rock by the hundreds or thousands that first cold, rainy night Daeman was there. Nor did they attack on the second night. By the third night everyone was weak from hunger or seriously sick with colds, flu, incipient pneumonia, or wounds—Daeman’s left hand ached and throbbed with a sick heat where the calibani at Paris Crater had bitten off two of his fingers and he felt light-headed much of the time—but still the voynix did not come.

Ada had regained consciousness that second day on the Rock. Her injuries had been numerous—cuts, abrasions, a broken right wrist, two broken ribs on her left side—but the only ones that had been life threatening had been a serious concussion and smoke inhalation. She’d finally awakened with a terrible headache, a rough cough, and hazy memories of the last hours of the Ardis Massacre, but her mind was clear. Voice flat, she had gone through the list of friends she was not sure she’d dreamt she’d seen die or actually watched die, only her eyes reacting when Greogi responded with his litany.

“Petyr?” she said softly, trying not to cough.





“Dead with Reman.”


“Dead. A thrown rock crushed her chest and she died here on Starved Rock.”





And so on for another twoscore names before Ada sagged back onto the dirty rucksack that was her pillow. Her face was parchment white beneath the streaked soot and blood.

Daeman was there, kneeling, the Setebos Egg glowing unseen in his own backpack. He cleared his throat. “Some important people survived, Ada,” he said. “Boman’s here… and Kaman. Kaman was one of Odysseus’ earliest disciples and has sigled everything he could find on military history. Laman lost four fingers on his right hand defending Ardis but he’s here and still alive. Loes and Stoman are here, as well as some of the people I sent on my fax-warning expedition—Caul, Oko, Elle, and Edide. Oh, and Tom and Siris both made it.”

“That’s good,” said Ada and coughed. Tom and Siris were Ardis’s best medics.

“But none of the medical gear or medicines made it here,” said Greogi.

“What did?” asked Ada.

Greogi shrugged. “Weapons we were carrying but not enough flechette ammunition. The clothes on our back. A few tarps and blankets we’ve been huddling under during the last three nights of cold rain.”

“Have you gone back to Ardis to bury those who fell?” asked Ada. Her voice was steady except for the rasp and cough.

Greogi glanced at Daeman and then looked away, out over the edge of the tall rock summit on which they all huddled. “Can’t,” he said, voice full. “We tried. Voynix wait for us. Ambush.”

“Were you able to get any more stores from Ardis Hall?” asked the injured woman.

Greogi shook his head. “Nothing important. It’s gone, Ada. Gone.”

Ada only nodded. More than two thousand years of her family history and pride, burned down and gone forever. She was not thinking of Ardis Hall now, but of her surviving people injured, cold, and stranded on this miserable Starved Rock. “What have you been doing for food and water?”

“We’ve caught rainwater on plastic tarps and have been able to zip away on the sonie for some fast hunting,” said Greogi, obviously glad to change the subject from those who had died. “Mostly rabbits, but we got an elk yesterday evening. We’re still picking flechettes out of it.”

“Why haven’t the voynix finished us off?” asked Ada. Her voice sounded only mildly curious.

“Now that,” said Daeman, “is a good question.” He had his own theory about it, but it was too early to share it.

“It’s not that they’re afraid of us,” said Greogi. “There must be two or three thousand of the damned things down there in the woods and we don’t have enough flechette ammunition to kill more than a few hundred. They can come up the rock anytime they want. They just haven’t.”

“You’ve tried the faxnode,” said Ada. It wasn’t really a question.

“The voynix ambushed us there,” said Greogi. He squinted up at the blue sky. This was the first sunny day they’d had and everyone was trying to dry clothes and blankets, laying them out like signal sheets on the flat acre of rock that was the summit of Starved Rock, but it was still a bitter winter, worse than any in Ardis-dwellers’ memory, and everyone was shivering in the thin sunlight.

“We’ve done tests,” said Daeman. “We can stack twelve people in the sonie—twice what it’s designed for—but more than that and the ma-chine’s AI refuses to fly. And it handles like a pig with twelve.”

“How many of us did you say made it up here?” asked Ada. “Only fifty?”

“Fifty-three,” said Greogi. “Nine of those—including you until this morning—were too sick or injured to travel.”

“Eight now,” Ada said firmly. “That would be five trips on the sonie to evacuate everyone—assuming that the voynix don’t attack as soon as we start the evacuation and also assuming we had somewhere to go.”

“Yes, assuming we had somewhere to go,” said Greogi.

When Ada had fallen asleep again—sleep, Tom assured them, not the semicoma she’d been in—Daeman took his own rucksack, carrying it gingerly away from his body, and walked to the edge of Starved Rock’s summit. He could see the voynix down there, their leathery humps and headless, silvery bodies moving between the trees. Occasionally a group of them would move—seemingly with purpose—across the broad meadow on the south side of Starved Rock. None of them looked up.

Greogi, Boman, and the dark-haired woman Edide came over to see what he was doing.

“Thinking of jumping?” asked Boman.

“No,” said Daeman, “but I’m curious about whether you have any rope up here… enough to lower me to just out of reach of the voynix?”

“We have about a hundred feet of rope,” said Greogi. “But that leaves you seventy or eighty feet above the bastards—not that that would slow them down if they want to scramble up and grab you. Why the hell do you want to go down among ‘em?”

Daeman squatted, set the rucksack on the rock, and pulled the Setebos egg out. The others squatted to stare at it.

Even before they could ask, Daeman told them where he’d gotten it.

Why?” asked Edide.

Daeman had to shrug at that. “It was one of those ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time’ things.”

“I always end up paying for those,” said the small, dark-haired woman. Daeman thought that she might have seen four Twenties. It was hard to tell because of the Firmary rejuvenations, of course, but older old-style humans tended to have a greater sense of confidence than the younger ones.

Daeman lodged the glowing, slightly pulsing silver-white egg in a crevice in the rock so that it wouldn’t roll away and said, “Touch it.”

Boman tried first. He set his palm flat on the curved shell as if welcoming the warmth they could all feel flowing from it, but the blond man pulled his hand away quickly—as if he’d been shocked or nipped. “What the hell?”

“Yeah,” said Daeman. “I feel it too when I touch it. It’s like the thing sucks some energy out of you—is pulling something out of your heart. Or soul.”

Greogi and Edide tried touching it—they both pulled their hands away quickly and then moved farther from it.

“Destroy it,” said Edide.

“What if Setebos comes looking for it?” said Greogi. “Mothers do that, you know, when you steal their eggs. They take it personally. Especially when the mother is a monster-sized brain with yellow eyes and dozens of hands.”

“I thought of that,” said Daeman. He fell silent.

“And?” said Edide. Even in the few months he’d known her at Ardis Hall, she’d always seemed like a practical, competent person. It was one of the reasons he’d chosen her as part of his fax-to-three-hundred-nodes warning expedition. “Do you want me to destroy it?” she asked, standing and pulling on leather gloves. “We’ll see how far I can hurl the damned thing and whether I can hit a voynix.”

Daeman chewed his lip.

“We damned sure don’t want it hatching up here on the top of Starved Rock,” said Boman. The man actually had his crossbow out and was aiming it at the milky egg. “Even a little Setebos-thing, from your description of what the mommy-daddy thing did at Paris Crater, might kill us all up here.”

“Wait,” said Daeman. “It hasn’t hatched yet. The cold may not be enough to kill it here—to make it nonviable—but it may be slowing its gestation… or whatever the hell you call the hatching period with a monster’s egg. I want to try something with it before we destroy it.”

They used the sonie. Greogi drove. Boman and Edide knelt in the rear niches, flechette rifles ready. The forcefield was off.

Voynix stirred in the shadows under the trees at the far end of the meadow, less than a hundred yards away. They hovered a hundred feet above the meadow, out of voynix leaping range. “Are you sure?” said Greogi. “They’re faster than we are.”

Not quite sure that he could speak properly, Daeman nodded.

The sonie swooped down. Daeman jumped out. The sonie went up vertically, like a silver-disk elevator.

Daeman had a fully loaded flechette rifle hitched over his shoulder, but it was the rucksack he removed, sliding the Setebos egg part of the way out, taking care not to touch it with his bare hands. Even in the bright sunlight the thing glowed like radioactive milk.

As if offering them a gift, Daeman began walking toward the voynix at the far end of the meadow. The things were obviously watching him via the infrared sensors in their metallic chests. Several of them pivoted to keep him centered in their sensor range. More voynix moved out of the forest shadows to stand at the edge of the meadow.

Daeman glanced up, seeing the sonie sixty feet above him, seeing Boman’s and Edide’s flechette rifles raised and ready, but also knowing that a voynix running moved at more than sixty miles per hour. The things could be on him before the sonie could drop and hover and if there were enough of the creatures in the charge, no amount of covering fire would save him.

Daeman walked on with the glowing Setebos egg half out of his rucksack, like some Twenty present peeking out of its gift wrapping. Once the egg shifted—Daeman was so shocked at the internal movement and brighter glow that he almost dropped the thing, but hung on through the torn and dirty fabric of his rucksack—but after fumbling for a minute, he continued walking. He was close enough to the massed voynix now that he could almost smell the old-leather and rust stench of the things.

Daeman was ashamed to realize that his legs and arms were shaking slightly. I just wasn’t smart enough to think of another way, he thought. But there wasn’t another way. Not with the serious condition that so many of the Ardis survivors were in—not with starvation and dehydration looming.

He was less than fifty feet from the cluster of thirty or more voynix now. Daeman lifted the Setebos egg like a talisman and walked straight toward them.

At thirty feet, the voynix began to fade back into the forest.

Daeman picked up his pace, almost running now. Voynix on all sides were moving away.

Afraid that he might stumble and smash the egg—he had the sickening mental image of the egg splitting and a small Setebos brain scuttling out on its dozens of baby-hands and stalks, then the thing leaping for his face—he still forced himself to run toward the retreating voynix.

The voynix dropped to all fours and loped away—hundreds of them fleeing out in all directions like frightened grazers freeing predators on some prehistoric plain—and Daeman ran until he could run no more.

He dropped to his knees, hugging the rucksack to his chest, feeling the Setebos egg stirring and shifting, feeling energy flowing from him toward the evil thing until he pushed it away from himself, setting it on the ground like the toxic thing it was.

Greogi landed the sonie. “My God,” said the bald pilot. “My God.”

Daeman nodded. “Take me back to the base of Starved Rock. I’ll wait there with the egg while you ferry down those who can walk the mile or so to the faxnode pavilion. I’ll lead that procession. You can load the weak and wounded and follow us by air.”

“What…” began Edide and fell silent. She shook her head.

“Yeah,” said Daeman. “I remembered the bodies of the voynix frozen in the blue ice at Paris Crater. They had all been frozen in the act of running away from Setebos.”

He sat on the edge of the sonie, the rucksack on his lap, as they floated back to Starved Rock a comfortable six feet above the ground. There were no voynix in the trees or meadows.

“Where are we going to fax to?” asked Boman.

“I don’t know,” said Daeman. He felt very tired. “I’ll figure that out as we walk there down the road from Ardis.”


“You’ll need a thermskin,” said Prospero.

“Why?” Harman’s voice was distracted. He was staring out the glass doors at the beautiful triple-dome and marble arches of the Taj Moira. The cablecar house had clicked into place in the southeast eiffelbahn tower—one of four set at the corners of the giant square of cantilevered marble that held this magnificent building above the summit of Chomolungma. Harman had estimated the eiffelbahn tower to be about one thousand feet tall and the apex of the onion-domed white building was half again taller.

“The altitude here is eight thousand eight hundred forty-eight meters,” said the magus. “More vacuum than air. The temperature out there in the sunlight is thirty degrees below zero Fahrenheit. That gentle breeze is blowing at fifty knots. There’s a blue thermskin in the wardrobe next to the bed. Go up and put it on. You’ll need your outer clothes and boots. Call down when you have your osmosis mask in place—I need to lower the pressure in the car here before we open the mezzanine door.”

They took the elevator down from the thousand-foot-level platform. Harman looked at the tower struts, arches, and girders as they passed them on the way down and had to smile. The secret of the whiteness of this tower was as prosaic as white paint over the same dark iron and steel as the other eiffelbahn structures. He could feel the elevator and the entire tower shaking to the howling winds and realized that the paint must be scoured away in months or weeks here rather than years; he tried to imagine the kind of painting crew that would be always at work up here, then gave it up as a silly effort.

He was obeying the magus now because it got him out of the prison of the cablecar. Somehow here in this insane temple or palace or tomb or whatever it was on this insanely tall mountain, he would find a way back to Ada. If Ariel could fax without faxnode pavilions, so could he. Somehow.

Harman followed Prospero from the elevator at the base of the tower across the wide expanse of red sandstone and white marble leading to the front door of the domed building. The wind threatened to blow him off his feet but for some reason there was no ice on the exposed sandstone and marble.

“Don’t maguses feel the cold or need air?” he shouted at the old man in the trailing blue robe.

“Not in the least,” said the magus. The jet-stream-strong wind was blowing his robe to one side and sending his fringe of long, gray hair trailing sideways from his mostly bald skull. “One of the perquisites of old age,” he cried over the wind howl.

Harman veered to his right, arms extended for balance against the wind, and walked toward the low marble railing—not more than two feet high—that ran around the huge square of sandstone and marble like a low bench around a skating rink.

“Where are you going?” called Prospero. “Be careful there!”

Harman reached the edge and looked over.

Later, studying maps, Harman realized that he must have been looking north from this mountain called Chomolungma or Chu-mu-lang-ma Feng or Qomolangma Feng or HoTepma Chini-ka-Rauza or Everest, depending upon the age and origin of the map, and that when he stood at the railing he was staring out for hundreds of miles—and six miles straight down—into lands that had once been called Khan’s Ninth Kingdom or Tibet or China.

It was the down part that struck Harman viscerally.

The Taj Moira was essentially a sandstone-marble city block stuck on the summit of the Goddess Mother of the World like a tray embedded on a sharp stone, like a piece of paper slammed down onto a spike. As an engineering feet, the buckycarbon cantilevering was impressive to the point of impossibility—a god-child’s form of showing off.

Harman stood by the two-foot-high, ten-inch-wide marble “railing” and stared straight down for more than twenty-nine thousand feet with the full force of the jet stream at his back, trying to shove him off into the endless empty air. Later, maps would tell him that he had been looking at other mountains with names and the east and west Rongbuk Glaciers with the brown plains of China far beyond toward the curve of the earth, but none of that mattered now. Shoved by the strong arms of the howling wind, windmilling his arms to keep his balance, Harman was looking six miles straight down—from an overhang!

He dropped to his hands and knees and began crawling back toward the temple-tomb and the waiting magus. Thirty feet in front of the huge doorway, a small, sharp boulder—no more than five feet tall—rose from the marble squares, ending in a thirty-inch pyramid of ice. With Prospero watching—arms crossed and a small smile on his face—Harman wrapped his arms around the decorative boulder and used its imperfections to pull himself back to his feet. He continued to lean on the boulder, arms wrapped around it, his chin resting on the icy point, afraid that if he looked back over his shoulder at the distant low wall and vertiginous drop, the urge to run toward that wall and leap would be overpowering. He closed his eyes.

“Are you going to stay there all day?” asked the magus.

“I might,” said Harman, eyes still closed. After another minute, he shouted over the rising wind, “What is this rock anyway? Some sort of symbol? A monument?”

“It’s the summit of Chomolungma,” said Prospero. The magus turned and walked into the open, elegantly arched entrance of the structure he’d called Rongbok Pumori Chu-mu-lang-ma Feng Dudh Kosi Lhotse-Nuptse Khumbu aga Ghat-Mandir Khan Ho Tep Rauza. Harman saw that a semipermeable membrane was guarding that entrance—it had rippled as the magus passed through, another sign that Harman wasn’t dealing with just a hologram this time.

Several minutes later, still hugging his boulder-summit, the eyepieces and osmosis mask of his thermskin hood almost completely frosted over because of the pelting snow squalls that struck his body like icy missiles, Harman considered the fact that it was probably warm inside that building, warm beyond that semipermeable forcefield.

He did not crawl the last thirty feet to the door, but he walked hunched over, face lowered, palms down and extended, ready to crawl.

Inside the single huge room under the dome, marble steps rose to a series of mezzanines—each in turn connected to the next mezzanine by another marble staircase—that lined the interior of the inward curving dome for a hundred levels, a hundred stories, until mist and distance above obscured the apex of the dome itself. What had appeared like tiny apertures in the dome from the cablecar during the approach and from the eiffelbahn tower—hardly more than decorative elements in the white marble—now proved to be hundreds of perspex windows that sent shafts of light down to illuminate the rich-bound books with slowly moving squares and rectangles and trapezoids of brightness.

“How long do you think it would take you to sigl all that?” asked Prospero, leaning on his staff and turning in a circle to take in the many mezzanines of books.

Harman opened his mouth to speak and then shut it. Weeks?

Months? Even moving from book to book, just setting his palm in place long enough to see the golden words move down his fingers and arms, it might take years to sigl this library. Finally he said, “You told me that the functions didn’t work in and around the eiffelbahn. Have the rules changed?”

“We shall see,” said the magus. He moved deeper into the dome, his staff tapping the white marble and the sound echoing up and around the acoustically perfect dome.

Harman realized that it was warm in this place. He pulled back the thermskin hood and gloves.

The interior of the domed building was broken into discrete spaces, if not actual rooms, by a maze of white marble screens that rose only eight feet high and were not a complete barrier to sight because of their latticeworked, filigreed construction and countless elegant oval, heart-and leaf-shaped openings. Harman noticed that the walls around the base of the dome up to a height of forty feet or so, where the first mezzanine began, were completely covered with carved designs of flowers, vines, elaborate and impossible plants, all brightened by the presence of inlaid jewels. So were the marble screens. Harman set his hand against one of the marble partitions as Prospero led the way through the maze—and it was a real maze—and he realized that anywhere he could set his hand, it would cover two or three of the designs at once, that there would always be several precious stones under his fingers. Some of the flower designs were less than an inch square and looked to contain fifty or sixty tiny inlays.

“What are these rocks?” asked Harman. His people had enjoyed wearing precious stones for decoration, baubles always fetched by the robotic servitors, but he’d never wondered where they came from.

“These… rocks…” said Prospero, “include agate, jasper, lapis lazuli, bloodstone, and cornelians—there are more than thirty-five varieties of cornelian in this simple little carnation leaf where I set my hand on this screen, do you see?”

Harman saw. The place made him dizzy. Trapezoids of light moving on the west wall below the books made the marble sparkle, gleam, and shimmer from the thousands of precious stones inlaid there.

“What is this place?” asked Harman. He realized that he was whispering.

“It was built as a mausoleum… a tomb,” said the magus, sweeping around another junction of white marble screens and leading the way to the center of the great place as if the maze had yellow arrows painted on the floor. They stopped before an arched entrance to an inner rectangle at the center of the maze of hundreds of screens. “Can you read this stele, Harman of Ardis?”

Harman peered at it in the milky light. The letters in the marble were carved strangely—they were swirly and elaborate rather than the straight lines he was used to from books—but it was written in Standard World English.

“Read it aloud,” said the magus.

“ ‘Enter with awe the illustrious sepulchre of Khan Ho Tep, Lord of Asia and Protector of Earth, and his bride and beloved Lias Lo Amumja, adored by all the world. She left this transient world on the fourteenth night of the month of Rahab-Septem in the year of the Khanate 987. She and her Lord dwell now in the starry Heaven and watch over you who enter here.’ ”

“What do you think?” asked Prospero, standing under the elaborate arch where the center of the maze opened to the yet-unseen interior.

“Of the inscription or this place?”

“Both,” said the magus.

Harman rubbed his chin and cheek, feeling the stubble there. “This place is… wrong. Too big. Too rich. Out of scale. Except for the books.”

Prospero laughed and the noise echoed and then re-echoed. “I agree with you, Harman of Ardis. This place was stolen—the idea, the design, the inlays, the chessboard design of the courtyard outside—everything stolen except for the mezzanines and books, which were placed there six hundred years later by Rajahar the Silent, a distant descendant of the feared Khan Ho Tep. The Khan had the original Taj Mahal design enlarged by a factor of more than ten. That original building was beautiful, a true testament to love—nothing remains of that structure because the Khan had it slagged, wanting only this mausoleum to be remembered. This place is a memorial to wretched excess more than anything else.”

“The location is… interesting,” Harman said softly.

“Yes,” said Prospero, pulling up his blue sleeves. “That bit of wisdom is as true about real estate today as it was in Odysseus’ day—location, location, location. Come.”

They walked into the center of the marble-screen maze, an empty patch of marble perhaps a hundred yards square with what looked to Harman to be a bright reflecting pool in the center. Prospero’s walking staff made echoing taps as they walked slowly to the center.

It was no reflecting pool.

“Jesus Christ,” cried Harman, stepping back from the edge.

It seemed to be empty air. To the left, just visible, was the vertical north face of the mountain, but beneath them—perhaps forty feet beneath the level of the floor—a steel and crystal sarcophagus seemed to be floating in midair, high over the jagged glacier six miles below. Inside the sarcophagus lay a naked woman. A narrow, white marble spiral staircase snaked down to the level of the sarcophagus, the last step appearing to hang out over that empty air.

It can’t be open, thought Harman. There was no blast of the jet stream, no roaring of high-altitude wind up and through the opening in the floor. The sarcophagus had to be resting on something. By squinting, he could make out facets, a multitude of nearly invisible geodesics. The burial chamber was made up of some incredibly transparent plastic or crystal or glass. But why hadn’t he seen this sarcophagus and stairway during their ascent in the cablecar or…

“The burial vault is invisible from the outside,” Prospero said softly. “Have you looked at the woman yet?”

“The beloved Lias Lo Amumja?” said Harman, not all that interested in staring at a naked corpse. “Who left this transient world on whenever the hell it was? And where’s the Khan? Does he get his own crystal chamber?”

Prospero laughed. “Khan Ho Tep and his beloved Lias Lo Amumja, daughter of Cezar Amumja of the Central African Empire—she was a stone bitch and a harpy, Harman of Ardis, trust me on this—were dumped overboard less than two centuries after they were entombed here.”

“Dumped overboard?” said Harman.

“Perfectly preserved bodies unceremoniously dumped over the same wall you peered over thirty minutes ago,” said Prospero. “Tossed overboard like yesterday’s garbage from a tramp steamer. Successors to the Khan—each one more minor in his or her own way—liked to be buried here for all eternity… that eternity lasting until the next Khan-successor wanted the best possible mausoleum space.”

Harman could picture it.

“That is, until fourteen hundred years ago,” said Prospero, returning his blue-eyed gaze to the glass and wood sarcophagus four stories below them. “This woman was truly the beloved of someone in power and she has rested here for fourteen centuries, undisturbed. Look at her, Harman of Ardis.”

Harman had been looking in the general direction of the sarcophagus but trying not to stare at the body. The woman was too naked for his tastes—she looked too young to be dead, her body was still pink and pale, her breasts were too visible—nipples looking rosy even from forty feet away—the short hair on her head one comma of black against white satin pillows, the rich triangle of hair at her groin another black comma—her dark eyebrows, strong features, broad mouth even from this distance, almost… familiar.

“Jesus Christ,” cried Harman for the second time that morning, but this time loud enough that his shout echoed from the dome and bounced back from the mezzanines of books and white marble.

She was younger—much younger—hair black rather than gray, body firm and young rather than pulled into tired lines and folds by long centuries as Harman had seen with the skintight thermskin—but her face had the same strength, the cheekbones the same sharpness, the eyebrows the same bold slash, the chin the same firm set. There was no doubt.

It was Savi.


“So where is everyone?” asks fleet-footed Achilles, son of Peleus, as he follows Hephaestus across the grassy summit of Olympos.

The blond mankiller and Hephaestus, god of fire and Chief Artificer to all the gods, are walking along the shore of Caldera Lake between the Hall of the Healer and the Great Hall of the Gods. The other white-pillared god-homes seem dark and deserted. There are no chariots in the sky. There are no immortals walking the many paved walkways, illuminated by low, yellow-glowing lamps that Achilles notices are not torches.

“I told you,” says Hephaestus. “With the Cat away, the Mice are playing. Almost all of them are down on the Ilium-Earth to be players in the last act of your petty little Trojan War.”

“How does the war proceed?” asks Achilles.

“Without you there to kill Hector, your Myrmidons and all the other Achaeans and Argives and whatever you want to call them are getting their asses kicked by the Trojans.”

“Agamemnon and his people are retreating?” asks Achilles.

“Aye. The last time I looked—only a few hours ago, just before I made the mistake of checking out the damage to my crystal escalator and getting into a wrestling match with you—I saw in the holopool in the Great Hall that Agamemnon’s attack on the city walls had failed, yet again, and the Achaeans were falling back to their defensive trenches near the black ships. Hector was about to lead his army outside the walls—ready to take the offensive again. Essentially, it came down to which of us immortals were tougher than the others in a serious fight—it turns out that even with tough bitches like Hera and Athena fighting for Ilium—and Poseidon shaking the earth for the city, which is his thing, you know—shaking the earth—the pro-Greek team of Apollo, Ares, and that sneaky Aphrodite and her friend Demeter are carrying the day. As a general, Agamemnon sucks.”

Achilles only nods. His fate now is with Penthesilea, not with Agamemnon and his armies. Achilles trusts his Myrmidons to do the right thing—to flee if they can, to fight and die if they must. Ever since Athena—or Aphrodite disguised as Athena, if the Goddess of Wisdom had told him the truth several days earlier—murdered his beloved Patroclus, Achilles’ bloodlust has focused only on vengeance against the gods. Now—even though he knows it is just the result of Aphrodite’s perfumed magic—he has two goals: to bring his beloved Penthesilea back to life and to kill the bitch Aphrodite. Without being aware that he is doing so, Achilles adjusts the god-killing dagger in his belt. If Athena was telling the truth about the blade—and Achilles believed her—this bit of quantum-shifted steel will be the death of Aphrodite and any other immortals who get in his way, including this crippled god of fire, Hephaestus, if he tries to flee or block Achilles’ will.

Hephaestus leads Achilles to a parking area outside the Great Hall of the Gods where more than a score of golden chariots are lined up on the grass, metal umbilical cords snaking into some underground charging reservoir. Hephaestus climbs into one of the horseless cars and beckons Achilles aboard.

Achilles hesitates. “Where are we going?”

“I told you. To visit the one immortal who might know where Zeus is right now,” says the Artificer.

“Why don’t we just look for Zeus directly?” asks Achilles, still not stepping into the chariot. He has driven or been driven in a thousand chariots, but he has never flown in one the way he frequently sees the gods flitting to and fro above Ilium or Olympos, and while the idea does not actively frighten him, he’s in no hurry to leave the ground.

“There is a technology known only to Zeus,” says Hephaestus, “which can hide him from all of my sensors and spy devices. It’s obviously been activated, although I’d guess by his wife Hera rather than by the God of Gods himself.”

“Who is this other immortal who can show us where Zeus hides?” Achilles is distracted by the howling sandstorm and wild flashes of lightning and static discharge a few hundred yards above them as the planetary storm throws itself against Zeus’s Olympos-girding aegis forcefield.

“Nyx,” says Hephaestus.

“Night?” repeats Achilles. The fleet-footed mankiller knows the goddess’s name—the daughter of Kaos, one of the first sentient creatures to emerge from the Void that was there at the beginning of time before the original gods themselves helped separate the darkness of Erebus from the blue and green Gaia-order of Earth—but no Greek or Asian or African city he knew of worshiped the mysterious Nyx-Night. Legend and myth said that Nyx—alone, without an immortal male to impregnate her—had given birth to Eris (Discord), the Moirai (Fates), Hypnos (Sleep), Nemesis (Retribution), Thanatos (Death), and the Hesperides.

“I thought Night was a personification,” adds Achilles. “Or just an oxcart load of bullshit.”

Hephaestus smiles. “Even a personification or load of bullshit takes on physical form in this brave new world the post-humans, Sycorax, and Prospero helped make for us,” he says. “Are you coming? Or shall I QT back to my laboratory and enjoy the… ah… pleasures of your sleeping Penthesilea while you dither up here?”

“You know I’ll find you and kill you if you do that,” says Achilles with no threat in his voice, only cool promise.

“Yes, I do,” agrees Hephaestus, “which is why I’ll ask you one last time: Are you going to get aboard this fucking chariot or not?”

They fly southeast halfway around the great sphere of Mars, although Achilles does not know that it is Mars he is staring at, nor that it is a sphere. But he knows that the steep ascent above Olympos’ Caldera Lake and the violent penetration of the aegis into the howling dust storm behind the four horses that had appeared out of nowhere at takeoff—and then the ride through the blinding dust storm and high winds them-selves—is not something he would choose to do again soon. Achilles hangs on to the wood and bronze rim of the chariot and works hard not to close his eyes. Luckily, there is some field of energy around the chariot car itself—some minor form of the aegis or variation on the invisible body shields the gods use in combat, Achilles assumes—that protects the two of them from the hurling sand and blasting winds.

Then they are above the dust storm, black night sky above them and the stars shining brilliantly, two small moons visibly hurtling across the sky. By the time the chariot crosses the line of three huge volcanoes, they have passed south of the worst of the dust storm and features are visible far below them in the reflected starlight.

Achilles knows that the gods’ home on Olympos inhabits its own odd world, of course—he has been fighting on the red plain between what his moravec allies had called the Brane Hole for eight months, watching the tepid, tideless waves wash in from some northern sea that was not any of Earth’s—but he’s never before considered that the Olympians’ world might be so large.

They fly high above an endless, broad, flooded canyon and darkness is broken only by reflected starlight on water and a few moving lanterns leagues below that Hephaestus says are running lights on the Little Green Men’s quarry barges. Achilles sees no reason to ask the cripple to elaborate on that cryptic description.

They fly above treeless and then forested mountain ranges and countless circular depressions—craters, the god of fire calls them—some eroded or forested, many showing central lakes, but most obviously sharp and severe in the moonlight and starlight.

They fly higher, until the whistle of air around the chariot’s mini-aegis dies away and Achilles is breathing a pure air emitted from the chariot car itself. The oxygen content is so high that he feels a little drunk.

Hephaestus names some of the rocky, mountainous, or valleyed features unrolling far beneath them in the night. Achilles thinks the crippled god sounds like a bored bargeman announcing stops along a river’s way.

“Shalbatana Vallis,” says the immortal. And then, some minutes later—“Margaratifer Terra. Meridiania Planum. Terra Sabaea. That heavily forested area to the north is Schiaparelli, the foothills dead ahead are called Huygens. We’re swinging south now.”

The chariot car flying behind the four straining, slightly transparent horses does not swing south, it banks south, and Achilles hangs on for dear life even though the floor of the car always—impossibly—seems to be down.

“What’s that?” asks Achilles a few minutes later. A huge, circular lake has appeared, filling much of the southern horizon. The chariot is descending and while there is no dust storm here, the air still howls.

“Hellas Basin,” grunts the god of fire. “It’s more than fourteen hundred miles across and it has a bigger diameter than Pluto.”

“Pluto?” says Achilles.

“It’s a fucking planet, you stupid hick preliterate,” growls Hephaestus.

Achilles releases his death grip on the chariot rim, freeing his hands for action. He thinks he will pick the crippled god up, snap his back over his knee, and fling him down from the chariot. But then Achilles glances over the side of the car at the mountain peaks and black valleys still many leagues below and decides he’ll let the gimpy dwarf land the vehicle first. The lake looms ahead of them, filling the entire south. Then they cross the arcing northern shoreline and begin descending over starlit water. Achilles realizes that what had seemed like a circular lake from just a few miles higher is really a small, round ocean.

“It varies from two miles deep to more than four,” says Hephaestus, as if Achilles had asked or cared. “Those two huge rivers flowing in from the east are called Dao and Harmakhis. Our original plan was to put a couple of million old-style humans in the fertile valleys there, just let them fucking go forth and be fertile and multiply, but we never got around to turning the beam this way and de-faxing them. Actually, Zeus and the other Pantheon originals just forgot everything before they were gods—it seemed like a dream to all of us. Besides, Zeus was busy overthrowing his parents, the Titan first-generation immortals—Kronos and his sister-bride Rhea—and casting them down into the Brane-reached world called Tartarus.”

Hephaestus clears his throat and begins to recite in a minstrel’s voice that sounds to Achilles like someone sawing a lyre in half with a rusty blade—

A dreadful sound troubled the boundless sea. The whole earth uttered a great cry. Wide heaven, shaken, groaned. From its foundation far Olympus reeled Beneath the onrush of the deathless gods, And trembling seized upon black Tartarus.”

Achilles can see only dark water to the right and left of them now, water hurtling by beneath at an impossible speed, the cliff-walled edges of the circular lake gone, below the rim of the horizons. To the south, a single craggy island appears.

“Zeus only won the war,” continues Hephaestus, “because he went back to the post-human Brane-punching machines in orbit around the original Earth—the real Earth, I mean, not yours, not this fucking terraformed counterfeit—and brought in Setebos and his egg-born ilk to fight Kronos’ legions. The hundred-handed monsters with their energy weapons and their hunger for eating terror out of the dirt won the day, although they were tough as shit stains to get rid of once the war was over. Also, one of the Titans’ fucking kids—Iapetus’ boy Prometheus—turned double agent. And then there was that lab-built hundred-headed clone monster named Typhon that came through the Brane Hole in the four hundred and twenty-fourth year of the war. Now that was something to see. I remember the day when…”

“Are we there yet?” interrupts Achilles.

The island—Hephaestus drones on as they continued descending—is more than eighty of Achilles’ leagues across and is filled with monsters.

“Monsters?” says Achilles. He has little interest in such things. He wants to know where Zeus is and he wants Zeus to tell the Healer to open the rejuvenation tanks and he wants the Amazon queen Penthesilea alive again. Everything else is beside the point.

“Monsters,” repeats the god of fire. “The first children of Gaia and Ouranos are misshapen fiends. But very powerful. Zeus allowed them to live on here rather than joining Kronos and Rhea in the Tartarus dimension. There are three Setebosians among them.”

This fact holds no interest for Achilles. He watches the island grow ahead of them and notices the huge, dark castle on the crags at its center. The few windows in the upright slags of stone glow orange, as if the interior is on fire.

“The island also holds the last of the Cyclopes,” drones on Hephaestus. “And the Erinyes.”

“Those Furies are here?” says Achilles. “I thought they were a myth as well.”

“No, no myth.” The crippled immortal banks the chariot around and lines up the horses’ heads with a flat, open space above a black-rock shelf at the base of the central castle. Dark clouds twist and writhe around the mountain and its keep. The valleys on either side are filled with furtive movement. “When they are released from this place they will spend the rest of eternity pursuing and punishing sinners. They are truly ‘those who walk in darkness,’ with writhing snakes for hair and red eyes that weep tears of blood.”

“Bring them on,” says the son of Peleus.

The chariot lands gently at the base of a gigantic sculpture set on a great ledge made of black stone. The chariot’s wooden wheels creak and the horses flick out of existence. The strange glowing panel that the Artificer had been using to control the craft disappears.

“Come,” says Hephaestus and leads Achilles toward the broad, seemingly endless stairway on the other side of the statue. The immortal drags his bad foot along on stone.

Achilles cannot help but look up at the sculpture—three hundred feet high at least, a powerful man holding the double-sphere of Earth and Heaven on his powerful shoulders. “This is a sculpture of Iapetos,” says Achilles.

“No,” growls the god of fire, “it’s old Atlas himself. Frozen here forever.”

The four hundredth step is the last. The black castle rises above, its towers and turrets and hidden gables lost in the roiling cloud. The two doors ahead of them are each fifty feet high and fifty feet apart from each other.

“Nyx and Hemera pass each other here every day—Night and Day,” whispers Hephaestus. “One going out, one coming in. They are never in the house at the same time.”

Achilles glances up at the black clouds and starless sky. “Then we’ve come at the wrong time. I have no business with Hemera. You said it was Night with whom we need to speak.”

“Patience, son of Peleus,” grumbles Hephaestus. The god seems nervous. He glances at a small but bulky machine on his wrist. “Eos rises… now.”

Around the eastern rim of the black island grows an orange glow. It fades.

“No sunlight penetrates this island’s polarized aegis,” whispers Hephaestus. “But it’s almost morning beyond. The sun will be rising over the Dao and Harmakhis Rivers and the eastern cliffs of Hellas Basin within seconds.”

A sudden flash blinds Achilles. He hears one of the gigantic iron doors slam shut, then the other one creak open. When he can see again, the second door is closed and Night stands in front of them.

Always in awe of Athena, Hera, and the other goddesses, this is the first time that Achilles, son of Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis, finds himself in terror of an immortal. Hephaestus has gone to both knees and lowered his head in respect and fear for the terrible apparition facing them, but Achilles forces himself to remain standing. Yet he has to fight an overwhelming urge to unstrap the shield from his back and cower behind it, his short god-killing-blade in his hand. Torn between fleeing or fighting, he lowers his face in deference as a compromise.

While the gods can assume almost any size—Achilles knows nothing of the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy and would not understand the explanation of how the immortals get around this law—gods and goddesses seem most comfortable at around nine feet tall: tall enough to make mortals feel like children; not so tall that they have to reinforce leg bones or become too awkward even in their own Olympian halls.

Night—Nyx—is fifteen feet tall, wrapped in a roiling, vaporous cloud, dressed in what seems like multiple layers of diaphanous black cloth, strips hanging down in scores of lengths, with either a black headdress that includes a veil over her face or perhaps a face that looks like a molded black veil. Impossibly, her black eyes are perfectly visible through the black veil and vaporous clouds. Before averting his face, Achilles saw that she was incredibly large-breasted, as if she would suckle all the world to darkness. Only her hands glow pale, long-fingered and powerful, as if the fingers are made of solidified moonlight.

Achilles realizes that Hephaestus is speaking, almost chanting.

“… Fumigation with torches, Nyx, parent goddess, source of sweet repose from woes, Mother from whom Gods and men arose, Hear, blessed Nyx decked with starry light, in sleep’s sweet silence dwelling ebon night. Dreams and soft ease attend thy dusky train, pleased with lengthened gloom and feastful strain, dissolving anxious care, the friend of mirth, with darkling speed riding ‘round the earth. Goddess of phantoms and of shadowy play…”

“Enough,” says Night. “If I want to hear an Orphic hymn I’ll travel through time. How dare you, God of Fire, bring a mere mortal to Hellas and the night-shrouded home of Nyx?”

Achilles shivers at the sound of the goddess’s voice. It is the sound of a violent winter sea crashing on rocks, but understandable nonetheless.

“Goddess whose natural power divides the natural day,” Hephaestus grovels, still on his knees, still bowing, “this mortal is the son of immortal Thetis and is a demigod in his own right on his particular Earth. He is called Achilles, son of Peleus, and his prowess…”

“Oh, I know Achilles, son of Peleus, and his prowess—sacker of cities, raper of women, and killer of men,” says Night in her wave-crashing tones. “What possible reason could compel you to bring this… foot soldier… to my black door, Artificer?”

Achilles decides it is time he spoke. “I need to see Zeus, Goddess.”

The dark wraith turns more in his direction. It as if she is floating, not standing, and the large and huge-breasted form swivels without friction. Her veiled face—or face with the meshed face of a black veil—peers down at him with eyes that are blacker than black. The clouds roil and broil around her.

“You need to see the Lord of Thunder, the God of All Gods, the Pelasgian Zeus, Lord of Ten Thousand Temples and Dodona’s Shrine, Father of All Gods and Men, Zeus the Ultimate King Who Marshals the Storm Clouds and Who Gives All Commands?”

“Yeah,” says Achilles.

“What about?” asks Nyx.

It is Hephaestus who speaks up. “Achilles seeks to bring a mortal to the Healer’s tanks, Mother of the first black germless egg. He wants to ask Father Zeus to command the Healer to bring back to life the Amazon queen, Penthesilea.”

Night laughs. If her voice had been a wild sea crashing against rocks, Achilles thinks her laugh sounds like a winter wind howling off the Aegean.

“Penthesilea?” says the black-garbed goddess, still chuckling. “That brainless, blond, big-boobed lesbian tart? Why on a million Earths would you want to bring that musclebound bimbo back to life, son of Peleus? After all, it was you I watched run her and her horse through with your father’s great lance, skewering them both like peppers on a kebab.”

“I have no choice,” rumbles Achilles. “I love her.”

Night laughs again. “You love her? This from the Achilles who beds slave girls and conquered princesses and captured queens as indifferently as others eat olives, only to cast them away like spit-out pits? You love her?”

“It’s Aphrodite’s pheromone perfume,” says Hephaestus, still on his knees.

Night quits laughing. “Which type?” she asks.

“Number nine,” grumbles Hephaestus. “Puck’s potion. The type with the self-duplicating nanomachines in the bloodstream constantly reproducing more dependency molecules and depriving the brain of endorphins and seratonin if the victim doesn’t act on his infatuation. There is no antidote.”

Night turns her sculpted veil-face toward Achilles. “I think that you are well and truly fornicated, son of Peleus. Zeus will never agree to rejuvenate a mortal—much less an Amazon, a race he thinks of rarely and thinks precious little of when they do come to his mind. The Father of All Gods and All Men has little use for Amazons and less use for virgins. He would see a resurrection of such a mortal as a desecration of the Healer’s tanks and skills.”

“I will ask him nonetheless,” Achilles says stubbornly.

Night regards him in silence. Then the big-bosomed, ebony-ragged aparition turns toward Hephaestus, who is still on his knees. “Crippled God of Fire, busy artificer to more noble gods, what do you see when you look upon this mortal man?”

“A fucking fool,” grunts Hephaestus.

“I see a quantum singularity,” says the goddess Nyx. “A black hole of probability. A myriad of equations all with the same single three-point solution. Why is that, Artificer?”

The god of fire grunts again. “His mother, Thetis of the seaweed-tangled breasts, held this arrogant mortal in the celestial quantum fire when he was a pup, little more than a larva. The probability of his death day, hour, minute, and method is one hundred percent, and because it cannot be changed, it seems to give Achilles a sort of invulnerability to all other attacks and injury.”

“Yesssssssss,” hisses shrouded Night. “Son of Hera, husband of that brainless Grace known as Aglaia the Glorious, why are you helping this man?”

Hephaestus bows lower on the step. “At first he bested me in a wrestling match, beloved goddess of dreadful shade. Then I continued helping him because his interests coincided with mine.”

“Your interest is to find Father Zeus?” whispers Night. Somewhere in the black canyons to their right, someone or something howls.

“My interest, Goddess, is to thwart the growing flood of Kaos.”

Night nods and raises her veiled face to the clouds roiling around her castle towers. “I can hear the stars scream, crippled Artificer. I know that when you say ‘Kaos,’ you mean chaos—on a quantum level. You are the only one of the gods, save for Zeus, who remembers us and our thinking before the Change… who remembers little things like physics.”

Hephaestus keeps his face lowered and says nothing.

“Are you monitoring the quantum flux, Artificer?” asks Night. There is a sharp and angry edge to her voice that Achilles does not understand.

“Yes, Goddess.”

“How much time, God of Fire, do you think we have left to survive if the vortexes of probability chaos continue to grow at this logarithmic rate?”

“A few days, Goddess,” grunts Hephaestus. “Perhaps less.”

“The Fates agree with you, Hera-spawn,” says Nyx. The volume and sea-crash timbre of her voice make Achilles want to clap his callused hands over his ears. “Day and night, the Moirai–those alien entities which mortal men call the Fates—toil at their electronic abacuses, manipulating their bubbles of magnetic energy and their mile-long coils of computing DNA—and every day the Moirai’s view of the future becomes less certain, their threads of probability more raveled, as if the loom of Time itself is broken.”

“It’s that fucking Setebos,” grumbles Hephaestus. “Begging your pardon, ma’am.”

“No, you are correct, Artificer,” says the giant Nyx. “It’s that fucking Setebos, let loose at last, no longer contained in this world’s arctic seas. The Many-Handed has gone to Earth, you know. Not this mortal’s Earth, but our old home.”

“No,” says Hephaestus, raising his face at last. “I didn’t know that.”

“Oh, yes—the Brain has crossed the Brane.” She laughs and this time Achilles does clasp his hands over his ears. This is a sound that no mortal should be made to hear.

“How long do the Moirai say we have?” whispers Hephaestus.

“Clotho, the Spinner, says that we have mere hours left before the quantum flux implodes this universe,” says Night. “Atropos, she who cannot be turned and who carries the abhorred shears to cut all our threads of life at death’s sharp instant, says it may be a month yet.”

“And Lachesis?” asks the god of fire.

“The Disposer of Lots—and she rides the fractal waves of the electronic abacus better than the others, I think—sees Kaos triumphant on this world and in this Brane within a week or two. Any way we cut it, we have little time left, Artificer.”

“Will you flee, Goddess?”

Night stands silent. Howls echo from the crags and valleys beyond her castle. Finally she says, “Where can we flee, Artificer? Where can even we few of the Originals flee if this universe we were born into collapses into chaos? Any Brane Hole we can create, any quantum leap we can teleport, will still be connected by the threads of chaos to this universe. No, there is nowhere to flee.”

“What do we do then, Goddess?” grunts Hephaestus. “Just bend over, grab our sandals, and kiss our immortal asses goodbye?”

Night makes a noise like the Aegean in mirthful storm. “We need to confer with the Elder Gods. And quickly.”

“The Elder Gods…” begins the Artificer and stops. “Kronos, Rhea, Okeanos, Tethys… all those exiled to terrible Tartarus?”

“Yes,” says Night.

“Zeus will never allow it,” says Hephaestus. “No god is allowed to communicate with…”

“Zeus must face reality,” bellows Night. “Or all will end in chaos, including his reign.”

Achilles climbs two steps toward the huge, black figure. His shield is on his forearm now as if he is ready to fight. “Hey, do you remember I’m here? And I’m still waiting for an answer to my question. Where is Zeus?”

Nyx leans over him and aims one pale, bony finger like a weapon. “Your quantum probability for dying at my hand may be zero, son of Peleus, but should I blast you atom from atom, molecule from molecule, the universe—even on a quantum level—might have a hard time maintaining that axiom.”

Achilles waits. He has noticed that the gods often babble on in this nonsense talk. The only thing to do is wait until they make sense again.

Finally Nyx speaks in the voice of wind-tossed waves. “Hera, sister and bride, daughter of Rhea and Kronos and incestuous bedmate to her divine brother, defender of Achaeans to the point of treachery and murder, has seduced Lord Zeus away from his duties and his watchfulness, bedding him and injecting him with Sleep in the great house where a hero’s wife weeps and labors, weaving by day and tearing out her work at night. This hero brought not his best bow to do his bloody work at Troy, but left it on a peg in a secret room with a secret door, hidden away from suitors and looters. This is the bow that no one else can pull, the bow that can send an arrow straight through iron axe-helve sockets, twelve in line, or half again that many guilty or guiltless men’s bodies.”

“Thank you, Goddess,” says Achilles and backs away down the staircase.

Hephaestus looks around, then follows, careful not to turn his back on the huge ebony figure in the flowing robes. By the time both men are standing, Night is gone from her place at the head of the stairs.

“What in Hades was all that about?” whispers the Artificer as they climb into the chariot and activate the virtual control panel and holographic horses. “A hero’s wife weeping, hidden fucking rooms, axe-helve sockets, twelve in line. Nyx sounded like your babbling Delphic oracle.”

“Zeus is on the isle of Ithaca,” says Achilles as they climb away from the castle and the island and the growls and bellows of unseen monsters in the dark. “Odysseus himself told me that he had left his best bow at his palace on that rocky isle of his, hidden away with herb-scented robes in a secret room. I’ve visited crafty Odysseus there in better days. Only he can bring that huge bow to full pull—or so he says, though I’ve never tried—and after an evening’s drinking, firing an arrow through iron axe-helve sockets, twelve in line, is the son of Laertes’ idea of entertainment. And if there are suitors there seeking his sexy wife Penelope’s hand, he would be even more greatly entertained to put his shafts through their bodies instead.”

“Odysseus’ home on Ithaca,” mutters Hephaestus. “A good place for Hera to hide her sleeping lord. Do you have any idea, son of Peleus, what Zeus will do to you when you wake him there?”

“Let’s find out,” says Achilles. “Can you quantum teleport us straight from this chariot?”

“Watch me,” says Hephaestus. Man and god wink out of sight as the chariot—empty now—keeps flying north and west across Hellas Basin.


“This isn’t Savi.”

“Did you hear me say it was, friend of Noman?”

Harman stood on the solid metal of the bier seemingly suspended above more than five miles of air a hundred yards from the north face of Chomolungma—staring despite his powerful urge not to stare at the dead face and naked body of a young Savi. Prospero stood behind him on the iron stairs. The wind was coming up outside.

“It looks like Savi,” said Harman. He could not slow the beating of his heart. Both the exposure to altitude and to the body in front of him made him almost sick with vertigo. “But Savi’s dead,” he said.

“You are sure?”

“I’m sure, goddamn you. I saw your Caliban kill her. I saw the bloody remnants of what he ate and what he left behind. Savi is dead. And I never saw her this young.”

The naked woman lying on her back in the crystal coffin could not have been older than three or four years beyond her first Twenty. Savi had been… ancient. All of them—Hannah, Ada, Daeman, and Harman—had been shocked at the sight of her—gray hair, wrinkles, a body that was past its prime. None of the old-style humans had ever seen the effects of aging before Savi… nor since, but that would all change now that the Firmary rejuvenation tanks were gone.

“Not my Caliban,” said Prospero. “No, not my monster then. The goblin was his own master, sick Sycorax-spawn, a lost in thrall Setebosslave, when you encountered it in yon orbital isle some nine months past.”

“This isn’t Savi,” repeated Harman. “It can’t be.” He forced himself to stride back up the stairs toward the central chamber of the Taj Moira, brushing brusquely past the blue-robed magus. But he paused before passing up through the granite ceiling. “Is she alive?” he asked softly.

“Touch her,” said Prospero.

Harman backed another step up the stairs. “No. Why?”

“Come down here and touch her,” said the magus. The hologram, projection, whatever it was, now stood next to the crystal sarcophagus. “It’s the only way you can tell if she is alive.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” Harman stayed where he was.

“But I’ve not given you my word, friend of Noman. I’ve given no opinion on whether this is a sleeping woman, or a corpse, or merely a corollary of wax, wanting spirit. But I warrant you this, husband of Ada of Ardis—should she wake, should you wake her, should she be real—and should you then discourse with this waked and decanted spirit, all your most pressing questions will be answered.”

“What do you mean?” asked Harman, descending the steps in spite of his urge to flee.

The magus remained silent. His only answer was to open the crystal top to the clear sarcophagus.

No smell of corruption came forth. Harman stepped onto the metal bier platform, then came around to stand next to the magus. Except for glimpses of hairless corpses in the healing tanks on Prospero’s isle, he’d never seen a dead person until recent months. No old-style human had. But now he’d buried people at Ardis Hall and knew the terrible aspects of death—the lividity and rigor mortis, the eyes seeming to sink away from the light, the hard coldness of flesh. This woman—this Savi–showed none of these signs. Her skin looked soft and flushed with life. Her lips were pink almost to the point of redness, as were her nipples. Her eyes were closed, the lashes long, but it seemed that she could awaken any second.

“Touch her,” said Prospero.

Harman reached a trembling hand and snatched it back before he touched her. There was a slight but firm forcefield above the woman’s body—permeable but palpable—and the air inside the field was much warmer than that above it. He tried again, setting his fingers first to the woman’s throat—finding the barest hint of pulse, like a butterfly’s softest stirring—and then set his palm on her chest, between her breasts. Yes—the slightest beating of her heart, but slow—soft poundings far too far apart to be the heartbeat of a normal sleeper.

“This crèche is similar to the one your friend Noman sleeps in now,” Prospero said softly. “It pauses time. But rather than healing and protecting her for three days, as Noman-Odysseus’ slow-time sarcophagus does this very minute, this crystal coffin has been her home for one thousand four hundred and some years.”

Harman plucks his hand back as if he’d been bitten. “Impossible,” he said.

“Is it? Wake her and ask her.”

“Who is she?” demanded Harman. “It can’t be Savi.”

Prospero smiled. Below their feet, clouds had swept in to the north face of the mountain and were curling gray around the glass-bottomed shelter in which they stood. “No, it can’t be Savi, can it?” said the magus. “I knew her as Moira.”

“Moira? This place—the Taj Moira—is named after her?”

“Of course. It is her tomb. Or at least the tomb in which she sleeps. Moira is a post-human, friend of Noman.”

“The posts are all dead—gone—Daeman and Savi and I saw their Caliban-chewed and mummified bodies floating in the foul air of your orbital isle.” Harman had stepped back from the coffin again.

“Moira is the last,” said Prospero. “Come down from the p-ring more than fifteen hundred years ago. She was the lover and consort of Ahman Ferdinand Mark Alonzo Khan Ho Tep.”

“Who the hell is that?” The clouds had enveloped the Taj platform now and Harman felt on more solid ground with the glass floor showing only gray beneath him.

“A bookish descendant of the original Khan,” said the magus. “He ruled what was left of the Earth at the time the voynix first became active. He had this temporal sarcophagus built for himself but was in love with this Moira and offered it to her. Here she’s slept away the centuries.”

Harman forced a laugh. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why didn’t this Ho Tep whatshisname just have a second coffin built for himself?”

Prospero’s smile was maddening. “He did. It was set right here on this broad bier, next to Moira’s. But even a place as hard to get to as the Rangbok Pumori Chu-mu-lang-ma Feng Dudh Kosi Lhotse-Nuptse Khumbu aga Ghat-Mandir Khan Ho Tep Rauza will have its visitors over almost a millennium and a half. One of the early intruders pulled Ahman Ferdinand Mark Alonzo Khan’s body and temporal sarcophagus out of here and tossed it over the edge to the glacier below.”

“Why didn’t they take this coffin… Moira’s?” asked Harman. He was skeptical of everything the magus said.

Prospero extended an age-mottled hand toward the sleeping woman. “Would you throw this body away?”

“Why didn’t they loot the upstairs then?” said Harman.

“There are safeguards up there. I will be happy to show you later.”

“Why didn’t these early intruders wake… whoever this is?” asked Harman.

“They tried,” said Prospero. “But they never succeeded in opening the sarcophagus…”

“You didn’t seem to have any trouble doing that.”

“I was here when Ahman Ferdinand Mark Alonzo Khan devised the machine,” said the magus. “I know its codes and passwords.”

You wake her, then. I want to talk to her.”

“I cannot wake this sleeping post-human,” said Prospero. “Nor could the intruders had they bypassed the security systems and managed to open her coffin. Only one thing will wake Moira.”

“What’s that?” Harman was on the lowest step again, ready to leave.

“For Ahman Ferdinand Mark Alonzo Khan or another human male descended from Ahman Ferdinand Mark Alonzo Khan to have sexual intercourse with her while she sleeps.”

Harman opened his mouth to speak, found nothing to say, and simply stood there, staring at the blue-robed figure. The magus had either gone insane or had always been mad. There was no third option.

“You are descended from Ahman Ferdinand Mark Alonzo Khan Ho Tep and the line of Khans,” continued Prospero, his voice sounding as calm and disinterested as someone speculating on the weather. “The DNA of your semen will awaken Moira.”


Mahnmut and Orphu went outside onto the hull of the Queen Mab where they could talk in peace.

The huge ship had ceased setting off its Coke-can-sized atomic bombs upon passing the orbit of Earth’s moon—they wanted to announce their arrival but not antagonize anyone or anything in the equatorial or polar rings into firing on them—and now the Mab was decelerating toward orbit under a mild one-eighth gravity using only its auxiliary ion-drive engines extended on short booms. Mahnmut thought that the blue glow “beneath” them was a pleasant alternative to the periodic smash and glare of the bombs.

The little Europan had to take care out in vacuum under deceleration, making sure that he was attached to the ship at all times, staying on the catwalks that ringed the ship, watching his step on the ladders that were everywhere on the thousand-foot-long spacecraft, but he knew that if he did something stupid Orphu of Io would come after him and save him. Mahnmut might be comfortable in full vacuum for only a dozen hours or so before having to replenish air and other requirements and he’d rarely practiced using the little peroxide thrusters built into his back, but this outside world of extreme cold, terrible heat, raging radiation, and hard vacuum was Orphu’s natural environment.

“So what do we do?” Mahnmut asked his huge friend.

“I think it’s imperative that we bring the dropship and The Dark Lady down,” said Orphu. “As soon as possible.”

“We?” said Mahnmut. “We?” The plan had been for Suma IV to pilot the dropship with General Beh bin Adee and thirty of his troopers—the rockvec soldiers under the direct command of Centurian Leader Mep Ahoo—in the dropship passenger nacelle, while Mahnmut waited in The Dark Lady down in the dropship’s hold. When and if the time came to use the submersible, Suma IV and any other required personnel would climb down into The Dark Lady via an access shaft. Despite Mahnmut’s misgivings about being separated from his old friend, there had never been any planning to include the huge, optically blind Ionian in the dropship part of the mission. Orphu was to remain with the Queen Mab as external systems engineer.

“So what is this ‘we’?” Mahnmut asked again.

“I’ve decided that I’m indispensable to this mission,” rumbled Orphu. “Besides, you still have that comfortable little niche for me in the sub’s hold—air and energy umbilicals, comm links, radar, and other sensor feeds—I could vacation there and be happy.”

Mahnmut shook his head, realized he was doing it in front of a blind moravec, realized then that Orphu’s radar and infrared sensors would pick up the movement, and shook his head again. “Why should we insist on going down? Trying to land on Earth could jeopardize the rendezvous with the broadcasting asteroid-city on the p-ring.”

“Bugger the broadcasting asteroid-city on the p-ring,” growled Orphu of Io. “The important thing right now is to get down to that planet as fast as we can.”


“Why?” repeated Orphu. “Why? You’re the one with the eyes, little friend. Didn’t you see those telescope images that you described to me?”

“The burned village, you mean?”

“Yes, the burned village, I mean,” rumbled Orphu. “And the other thirty or forty human settlements around the world that seemed to be under attack by headless creatures that seem to specialize in slaughtering old-style human beings—old-style humans, Mahnmut, the kind that designed our ancestors.”

“Since when has this turned into a rescue mission?” asked Mahnmut. The Earth was a big, bright, blue sphere now, growing by the minute. The e—and p-rings were beautiful.

“Since we saw the photos showing human beings being slaughtered,” said Orphu and Mahnmut recognized the near-subsonic tones in his friend’s voice. Those rumbles meant either that Orphu was very amused or very, very serious—and Mahnmut knew that he wasn’t amused at the moment.

“I thought the idea was to save our Five Moons, the Belt, and the solar system from total quantum collapse,” said Mahnmut.

Orphu growled low tones. “We’ll do that tomorrow. Today we have a chance to help people down there.”

“How?” said Mahnmut. “We don’t know the context. We have no idea what’s going on down there. For all we know, those headless metallic creatures are just killer robots that humans have built to kill each other. We’d be meddling in local wars that are none of our business.”

“Do you believe that, Mahnmut?”

Mahnmut hesitated. He looked far, far down to where the ion engines out on their booms lanced blue beams in the direction of the growing blue and white sphere.

“No,” he said at last. “No, I don’t believe that. I think something new is going on down there, just as it is on Mars and on Ilium-Earth and everywhere we look.”

“I do, too,” said Orphu of Io. “Let’s go in and convince Asteague/Che and the rest of the Prime Integrators that they have to launch the dropship and submersible when we go around the backside of the Earth. With me aboard.”

“Just how do you plan to convince them to do this?” asked Mahnmut.

This time, the Ionian’s deep rumble was more in the amused spectrum of bone-rattling subsonics. “I’ll make them an offer they can’t refuse.”


Harman tried to get as far away from the crystal coffin as he could. He would have returned to the eiffelbahn car but the winds outside were roaring—easily over a hundred miles per hour, enough to sweep him off the marble tabletop surrounding the Taj Moira—so he climbed through the spiraling levels of books instead.

The walkways were narrow and soon very high, each one a little farther out over the low-walled maze far below as the inside walls of the curved dome pressed the bookshelves and walkways farther in, and Harman would have been disturbed by the dizzying height beneath his feet on the open-iron catwalks if he hadn’t been so eager to put distance between himself and the sleeping woman.

The books had no titles. They were of uniform size. Harman estimated that there were hundreds of thousand of volumes in this huge structure. He pulled one out and opened it at random. The letters were small and printed in pre-rubicon English, older than any book or writing he’d yet encountered, and it took him minutes to sound out and guess at the first couple of sentences he encountered. He slid the book back in and set his palm on the spine, visualizing five blue triangles in a row.

It did not sigl. No golden words flowed down his hand and arm to settle in his memory. Either the sigl function did not work in this place or these ancient books were impervious to sigling.

“There’s a way you can read them all,” said Prospero.

Harman jumped backward. He’d not heard the magus approaching across the noisy catwalk. He was just suddenly there, not an arm’s length away.

“How can I read them all?” said Harman.

“The eiffelbahn car will be leaving in two hours,” said the magus. “If you’re not on it, it will be a while until the next one stops here at Taj Moira—eleven years, to be precise. So if you’re going to read all these books, you had best start at once.”

“I’m ready to go now,” said Harman. “It’s just too damned windy out for me to get to the car.”

“I’ll have one of the servitors rig a line when we are ready to leave,” said Prospero.

“Servitor? There are working servitors here?”

“Of course. Do you think the mechanisms of the Taj or the eiffelbahn repair themselves?” The magus chuckled. “Well, of course, in a way they do repair themselves, since most of the servitors are nanotech, part of the structures themselves and too small for you to detect.”

“All of our servitors at Ardis and the other communities quit working,” said Harman. “Just… crashed. And the power went out.”

“Of course,” said Prospero. “There are consequences to your destruction of the Firmary and my orbital isle. But the orbital and planetary power grid and other mechanisms are still intact. Even the Firmary could be replaced if you so choose.”

Harman was stunned to hear this. He turned and leaned on the iron railing, taking deep breaths, ignoring the long drop to the marble floor far below. When he and Daeman—with this magus’s instructions—had directed the huge “wormhole collector” into Prospero’s Isle nine months ago, it had been to destroy the terrible banquet table where Caliban had been feasting for centuries on the bodies and bones of Final Twenty old-style humans in the Firmary. Since that day, since the destruction of the Firmary and the knowledge that one would be faxed there after any serious injury and on every twentieth birthday, mortality had lain heavily on everyone’s spirit. Death and aging had become a reality for everyone. If Prospero was telling the truth now, virtual youth and immortality was once again an option. Harman didn’t know what he thought of this new option, but just the thought of choosing made him sick to his stomach.

“There’s another Firmary?” he said. He had spoken softly but his voice still echoed under the gigantic dome.

“Of course. There’s another on Sycorax’s orbital isle. It merely needs to be activated, as do the orbital power projectors and automated fax systems.”

“Sycorax?” said Harman. “The witch you said was Caliban’s mother?”


Harman started to ask how they might get up to the orbital rings to activate the Firmary, power, and emergency fax system, but then he remembered that Savi’s sonie they kept at Ardis could fly to the rings. Harman took long breaths.

“Harman, friend of Noman,” said Prospero, “you need to listen to me now. You can leave this place when the eiffelbahn commences to run again in one hour and fifty-four minutes. Or you can go outside and leap to your death on the Khombu Glacier. All choices are yours. But it is as certain that night shall follow day that you shall never see your Ada again, nor return home to what is left of Ardis Hall, nor see your friends Daeman, Hannah, and the others survive this war with the voynix and calibani, nor ever again see a green Earth not turned blue and dead by Setebos’ hunger, if you do not waken Moira.”

Harman stepped away from the magus and balled both hands into fists. Prospero was leaning on his staff as if it was a walking stick, but Harman knew that one motion by Prospero with that staff would send him flying over the rail to his death on the jewel-encrusted marble walls hundreds of feet below. “There has to be another way to waken her,” he said through clenched teeth.

“There is not.”

Harman pounded the iron railing. “None of this makes any goddamned sense.”

“Do not infest your mind with beating on the strangeness of this business,” said Prospero, his words echoing under the high vault. “At picked leisure, which shall be shortly, Moira will resolve you of every one of these happened accidents. But first you must wake her.”

Harman shook his head. “I don’t believe that I’m descended from this Ahman Whatshisname Khan Ho Tep,” he said. “How could I be? We old-styles were created by the posts centuries after Savi’s people disappeared in the Final Fax and…”

Prospero smiled. “Precisely. Where do you think your DNA templates and stored bodies were taken from, friend of Noman? Moira can explain it all to you and more. She is a post-human, the last of her kind. She knows how you can read all these books before our eiffelbahn car leaves this station. She may well know how you can defeat the voynix—or the calibani–or perhaps even defeat Caliban and his lord, Setebos himself. But you will have to decide soon whether your Ada’s life is worth one small infidelity. We now have one hour and forty-five minutes before the eiffelbahn starts running again. Fourteen hundred years of sleep and more cannot be shaken off in an instant. Moira will need some time to awaken, to eat, to understand our situation, before she will be ready to travel with us.”

“She’d go with us?” Harman said stupidly. “On the eiffelbahn? Back to Ardis?”

“Almost certainly,” said Prospero.

Harman gripped the railing so tightly that his knuckles turned first bright red, then white. Finally he released the iron and turned to the waiting magus. “All right. But you wait here. Or better yet, go back to the car. Out of sight. I’ll do this thing, but I have to be alone.”

Prospero simply winked out of existence. Harman stood on the high railing for a minute, breathing in the musty leather smell of ancient books, and then he hurried down the nearest flight of steps.


It was a ragtag, motley group of forty-five freezing men and women that made the seven-mile walk from Starved Rock to the fax pavilion.

Daeman led the way, carrying the pack with its glowing, occasionally squirming white Setebos Egg, and Ada walked by his side despite her concussion and cracked ribs. The first few miles through the forest were the worst—the terrain was rough and rocky, the visibility was poor, it had started snowing again, and everyone was braced for the attack of unseen voynix. When thirty minutes passed, then forty-five minutes, and then an hour with no attack—no sign of the voynix at all—everyone began to relax a little.

A hundred feet above them, Greogi, Tom, and the eight seriously injured survivors of Ardis filled the sonie. Greogi would flit ahead, circle high over the forest, and then come back, swooping low just long enough to shout information.

“Voynix ahead about half a mile, but they’re retreating—staying away from you and the egg.”

Through the pounding headache and the duller ache from her wrist and broken ribs—every breath pained her—Ada found little comfort that the voynix were only a half mile away. She’d seen them run at full speed, watched them leap into and out of trees. The creatures could be on them in a minute. The group had about twenty-five flechette rifles or pistols with them, but not many extra magazines of ammunition. Because of her broken right wrist and taped-up ribs, Ada didn’t carry a weapon, which made her feel all the more exposed as she walked up front with Daeman, Edide, Boman, and a few of the others. The drifts were a foot or more deep here in the woods and Ada barely had the energy to kick her way through the clinging wet snow.

Even after they got out of the rockiest, thickest part of the forest, still heading southeast to intercept the road between Ardis and the fax pavilion, the group traveled with excruciating slowness because of those who were ambulatory but more seriously injured or sick, including some who’d been victims of hypothermia the last two nights. Siris, their other medic, was walking with them and she shuttled back and forth constantly, making sure that the ill and injured were getting help and reminding the leaders to slow their pace.

“I don’t understand,” said Ada as they came out into a wide meadow that she remembered from a hundred summer hikes.

“What’s that?” asked Daeman. He carried the rucksack with the glowing egg in it ahead of him at arm’s length, as if it smelled bad. In truth, as Ada had noticed, it did smell bad—a mixture of rotten fish and something sewerish. But it was still glowing and it vibrated from time to time, so presumably the little Setebos inside was still alive.

“Why do the voynix stay away while we have this thing?” said Ada.

“They must be afraid of it,” said Daeman. He slipped the rucksack from his right hand to his left. He was carrying a crossbow in his free hand.

“Yes, of course,” said Ada, speaking more sharply than she’d meant to. The throbbing in her head, ribs, and arms was making her short-tempered. “I mean, what is the connection between that… thing… in Paris Crater and the voynix?”

“I don’t know,” said Daeman.

“The voynix have been around… forever,” said Ada. “This Setebos monster just arrived a week ago.”

“I know,” said Daeman. “But I feel that somehow they’re connected. Maybe they always have been.”

Ada nodded, winced from the pain of nodding, and trod on. There was very little talking in the rough ranks of the forty-five men and women as they trudged through another patch of thick woods, crossed a familiar stream that was now mostly frozen over, and headed down a steep hill of frozen high grass and weeds.

The sonie swooped low. “Another quarter mile to the road,” Greogi called down. “The voynix have moved farther south. Two miles at least.”

When they reached the road there was a stir among the survivors, urgent whispers, people clapping one another on the back. Ada looked west toward Ardis Hall. The covered bridge was in sight just before the turn in the road that ran up to the manor house, but there was no sight of the great hall, of course, not even a plume of black smoke. For a minute she thought she was going to be sick to her stomach. Black spots danced in front of her eyes. She paused, put her hands on her knees, and lowered her head.

“Are you all right, Ada?” It was Laman speaking. The bearded man wore only rags, including one wrapped around his right hand where he had lost four fingers during the battle with the voynix at Ardis.

“Yes,” said Ada. She rose, smiled at Laman, and hurried to keep up with the small group at the front of the shuffling pack.

It was less than a mile to the fax pavilion now and all looked familiar, except for the unusual snow. There was not the slightest sign of voynix. The sonie circled above, disappeared in wider circles, and then swept back, Greogi giving them a thumbs-up as he dipped the machine low and then flew on ahead.

“Where are we going to fax, Daeman?” asked Ada. She heard the flatness and lack of affect in her own voice but was too tired and hurting to put any energy in her tone.

“I don’t know,” said the lean, muscled man who had once been the pudgy aesthete who’d tried to seduce her. “At least I don’t know where to go for the long run. Chom, Ulanbat, Paris Crater, Bellinbad, and the rest of the more populated nodes have probably been covered with blue ice by Setebos. But I do know an unpopulated node I stop by from time to time—it’s in the tropics. Warm. Nothing but an abandoned little town, but it’s on the ocean—some ocean, somewhere—and has a lagoon. I haven’t seen many animals there other than lizards and a few wild pigs, but they don’t seem to be afraid of people. We could fish, hunt, make more weapons, take care of our injured… lay low until we come up with a plan.”

“How will Harman, Hannah, and Odysseus-Noman find us?” asked Ada.

Daeman was silent for a minute and Ada could almost hear him thinking—We don’t even know if Harman is alive. Petyr said that he disappeared with Ariel. But what he finally said was, “No problem there. Some of us will fax back here regularly. And we can leave some sort of permanent note at Ardis Hall with the faxnode code for our tropical hideout. Harman can read. I don’t think the voynix can.”

Ada smiled wanly. “The voynix can do a lot of things none of us ever imagined they were capable of.”

“Yeah,” said Daeman. And then they were silent until they reached the fax pavilion.

The fax pavilion looked pretty much as Daeman had seen it forty-eight hours earlier. The stockade had been breached. There was dried human blood everywhere, but the voynix or wild animals had carried off the bodies of those Ardisites who’d fought to the death trying to defend the pavilion. But the pavilion structure itself was still intact, the faxnode column still rising in the center of the open, circular structure.

The band of humans stood awkwardly at the edge of the pavilion floor, looking over their shoulders at the dark forest. The sonie landed and the injured were helped out or carried.

“Nothing for five miles,” said Greogi. “It’s weird. The few voynix I saw were fleeing south as if you were in pursuit of them.”

Daeman looked at the milkily glowing egg in his backpack and sighed. “We’re not pursuing them,” he said. “We just want to get the hell out of here.” He told Greogi and the others of his plan.

There was a brief spate of argument. Some of the survivors wanted to fax to familiar locations and to see if friends and loved ones were alive. Caul was sure that the Loman Estate node wouldn’t have been invaded by this Setebos thing Daeman had told them about. Caul’s mother was there.

“All right, look!” Daeman called over the rising voices. “We don’t know where Setebos might be by now. The monster turned the huge city of Paris Crater into a castle of blue-ice strands in less than twenty-four hours. It’s been more than forty-eight hours since I got back and I was the last person to fax in. Here’s my suggestion…”

Ada noticed that the babbling stopped. People were listening. They accepted Daeman as a leader just as they had once accepted her leadership… and Harman’s. She had to stifle a sudden urge to weep.

“Let’s decide now if we’re going to stick together for a while or not,” said Daeman, his deep voice easily carrying to the edge of the crowd. “We can vote and…”

“What does ‘vote’ mean?” asked Boman.

Daeman explained the concept.

“So if just one more than half of us… votes… to stay together,” said Oko, “then we all have to do what the others want?”

“Just for a while,” said Daeman. “Let’s say… a week. We’re safer together than traveling apart. And we have people injured, sick, who can’t defend themselves. If people all fax different directions right now, how are we ever going to find each other again? Do we let those who want to strike off alone carry the flechette rifles and crossbows, or do those stay with the larger group who wants to stick together?”

“What do we do in that week… if we agree to go with you to this tropical paradise?” asked Tom.

“Just what I said,” answered Daeman. “Recuperate. Find or build some more weapons. Build some sort of defensive perimeter there… I remember a little island just beyond the reef. We could make s