He cast about with the device as if it were a radiation counter, following the loudest of the device's noise. He was so concentrated on the device itself that he nearly ran into the road sign in the path in which the device led him.
It was a city limits sign; it read Thebes and boasted of a seven-figure population. The oddly-dressed man stared it in confusion quickly turning into horror. "Oh no," he said, and began looking around for something. A newspaper vending machine with the words DAILY CONSTELLATION printed prominently on its sides caught his eye. He rushed up to it and stooped to peer at the front page displayed. "Oh no!" he said again, and began running into town.
The hero Hercules, wearing a lion skin - the skull over his head obscuring his features, pelt and tail streaming behind as a cape, a loincloth - leaped over tall buildings in a single bound into the alley behind a particular house in Thebes. A moment later Alcides of Thebes walked in the back door. "Honey, I'm home!"
Deianira entered the living room as he was hanging up his cloak, wrapped her arms around him, and kissed him until she had to come up for air.
"You're in a good mood," said Alcides.
"You're not, after that?"
"Lots better than when I came in," conceded Alcides. After another half a minute's distraction he asked, "How's Kryptes?"
"Asleep, for the moment, finally," said Deianira. She sank onto the couch as Alcides took his sweater from the closet and pulled it on. "Don't make any loud noises."
"All right." Alcides sat down next to Deianira and put his arms around her. "Any news?"
Deianira sighed. She had addressed this subject less and less willingly as the past week had worn on. "Of a sort. Daedalus left a message for Hercules on your machine at the Daily Constellation." In his other identity Alcides had taken the infant to Argo Labs for an hour or two of tests, the day after Kryptes had appeared in their home. "There are results from Kryptes's DNA test."
"Already?" Alcides was impressed. "I thought even Argo Labs took months to do that. It was Argo who did the Oedipus tests, wasn't it?"
"It takes months to identify an individual Greek," Deianira said. "Apparently it only takes a week to determine that a sample comes from someone who's only part Greek."
"Part Greek?" Alcides repeated. He was stunned, though this possibility had been unspoken on his mind all along - and Deianira's too, he was certain.
"Yes," said Deianira.
Alcides waited for her to drop the other shoe, but she didn't. "And the other part - Olympian?"
"No," said Deianira.
"Daedalus said the rest of the genes aren't Olympian. They ran a comparison with your -"
"Right, right." Alcides had had to leave a sample with Daedalus for the fertility test a week and a half ago, and still wasn't comfortable discussing it, for more reasons than the genetic incompatibility with Deianira which the tests had revealed.
"He doesn't know what they are. Alcides, Kryptes still must have come from New Olympus. You heard the hero-speed dropoff, you told me. Kryptes was left here by a New Olympian."
"No; no, he wasn't," sighed Alcides. "I know he wasn't."
"How do you know?"
"Because ..." Alcides admitted reluctantly - he hadn't told her he was going to do this - "that's where I just came from." He made flying motions with his hands, toward the ceiling, though in fact New Olympus was in the sky of the other side of Greece at the moment. "Hebe was able to account for all of their citizens during the time it would've taken for one of them to have left Kryptes here."
"That's ridiculous!" Deianira stood, switching on the artifical outrage she used when she didn't want to hear something. "How can she possibly be sure that everyone on the planet was on the planet?"
"You know what I mean! Hebe can't be sure, especially after a week has passed."
"As a matter of fact, that day was her formal investiture as ruler of New Olympus," said Alcides. "As part of the ritual she's mentally linked with the planet's central biocomputer, which is also linked to everyone else on the planet - it keeps the rulers in touch with the people. Everyone's required to participate. If anyone hadn't been present or accounted for, Hebe would have known."
"Alcides!" Deianira was giving him the oddest mixed involuntary body language. It had been going on for days now; it was almost to the point that Alcides wouldn't wait any longer for her to bring it up first. "We have to find out where this baby came from! And soon!!" Deianira was pacing in agitation now.
"Honey, I know! We're doing everything we can."
"It has to be soon!" Deianira was about to cry.
Alcides stood and took her by the shoulders, stilling her. "Deianira! Calm down! What's the rush? I thought you liked looking after him."
"That's the problem," said Deianira. "Alcides, I think it may already be too late for me to give him up."
Amber and Diane stepped off the curb into the parking lot. All around them were fellow moviegoers - more in front than in back, since Amber was a credits reader - pouring out of the theatre with the five-times-life-size bot cutouts over the marquee which bore a great numeral nine.
"Ten years," Amber corrected. "I never saw any of them until I was eight."
"That's impossible," said Diane.
"Not until the series was re-released for Episode III," Amber said as they climbed into his parents' car. "Mom and Dad insisted I see them all for the first time on the big screen. They said it was 'doctor's orders'."
Diane only thought she knew what that really meant, because Amber had given her the cover story. In fact it'd been that day he'd first seen Episode IV that his parents had told him as much as they ever had of the truth about himself. The rest, they said, was his father's to tell him in his father's own time; though Amber knew Merlin had something to do with it too - how much, Amber wouldn't realize for many, many years.
He started the car and pulled out into the post-performance lot traffic congestion.
"All right," said Diane, "was it worth the ten year wait?"
"Yes," said Amber with relish. "The effects and the performances were great. But most importantly, it was a fitting conclusion for a great tradition. A story to inspire men to do good."
"But all that is just movie stuff," said Diane.
Amber looked up in the sky. "No it isn't," he said, pointing. As he intended, Diane poked her head out the window and looked. Swooping overhead - at less than Mach One, Amber noted from the lack of sonic boom; not in a hurry just now - was a streak of gold that never failed to move him, even though it was a familiar sight to Thebans after twenty-odd years. Amber had even met Hercules several times because his parents knew him.
"Uh huh." Diane was one of those who took Hercules for granted, but she knew better than to argue with Amber about it. "So how's it stack up against The Movie?"
Amber laughed. "You presume objectivity on my part, when I freely admit I have none. Nothing will ever replace JAY AND PERCY'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE in my heart of hearts."
Diane rolled her eyes. "Even against the series as a whole?"
"The greatest screen epic of all time, by your own admission, and it falls second best to a low budget teen comedy about two guys traveling time in a phone booth?"
"How can you spend so much time with high school boys," said Amber, "and know them so little?" They turned out of the mall lot onto the street. "JAY AND PERCY is the archetypal adolescent male fantasy; to be granted a fantastic device, go on an adventure - and lay down the pattern for all society to come, just by being themselves."
Diane shook her head. "You might just do it."
Amber looked at her. "I might?"
"Well, you know how you affect people."
"Right," said Amber, who didn't.
He dropped Diane off at her mother's and went home. He pulled into the driveway and burst through the front door. "Mom, Dad, are you home? It was fantastic - oh."
Mom and Dad had a guest - Merlin.
Deianira jumped. "Who's that?"
"It's Merlin," said Alcides. He'd heard the wavicle torch unlocking the back door. "We're in the living room!" he called.
Deianira tried to compose herself before Merlin reached the living room. It probably hadn't been necessary, though. Merlin entered in a state of agitation rivaling hers. "Hello, how are you," he said, "good good, I have something you must do for me."
"Time travel," Deianira said suddenly.
"Nnnno," said Merlin, taken aback. "I already do that." Alcides marveled again at the way the Avalonian's translation device - whatever it was he used - made him sound like a character from a highbrow Sophocles play. Assuming he wasn't actually speaking Greek. On second thought it probably wasn't a translator. A constant reminder that Merlin was from another time and place was that he pronounced Deianira with four syllables, instead of dropping the second like someone from this planet.
"You left Kryptes here," Deianira said to Alcides.
"Kryptes?" said Merlin.
"Doorstep baby," said Alcides. They'd had to call him something, and somewhere along the line stranger had become a proper noun. Maybe picking a name as if he were theirs had been a mistake, though, if it was going to turn out that they had to give him away. Alcides was realizing he would have as hard a time with that as Deianira. "It's a long story."
But from the comprehension on his face it seemed to answer a question for Merlin. Well, after all, Merlin was as familiar with their future history as they themselves were with their past.
And if Deianira was right about time travel, Merlin was the most likely agency for Kryptes's appearance a week ago. Whether Merlin knew it yet or not. After all, he and they had been through a few time paradoxes together already - usually up against Merlin's fellow renegade Avalonian, Morgan le Fay - though Deianira remembered these adventures better than Alcides did. There was Deianira's trip 'sideways' in time to a Greece where she didn't exist; their honeymoon tour through history as their own previous reincarnations, battling those of Hercules's centaur nemesis Nessus; and others.
On the other hand, if Merlin knew they had a child, why didn't he know what they'd named it?
There was a wail from the hastily improvised nursery in what had been the den. Deianira rolled her eyes. "Guess who's awake again." She left the living room, surreptitiously wiping her eyes.
"About that long story -" said Merlin. His agitation had returned.
"Merlin," said Alcides, "what exactly do you know about -"
Alcides had never, ever heard Deianira scream as she screamed now.
Alcides had heard Deianira squeak from falling on her behind. He had heard her yelp for being surprised while doing something she wasn't supposed to be doing. He had heard her bluster when in fear of her own life, and cry in fear for the life of a loved one. Now he heard her scream as if she was being torn limb from limb.
He was at her side in the nursery less than a tenth of a second after it had started. He started to quiet her by asking what was wrong, but never got it out. Naturally he'd assumed it was something to do with the baby, and even as he put his arms around her he was looking into the crib.
Kryptes was gone.
Alcides hadn't heard anything from the den - or anywhere in the house or on the property lot - between the baby's cry and the start of Deianira's scream. He made a circuit of the house and the property for footprints or other evidence of an intruder's passage anyway. When he came up dry he checked again. By the time he was done with the second sweep and had returned to the nursery, a couple of thousand milliseconds had passed. Deianira's wordless scream was ending, and Merlin was just completing his rush to the nursery after Alcides.
"He's gone!" Deianira was shouting now. "He's gone!"
"I'm too late!" cried Merlin.
"Too late?" Alcides demanded.
"This is just what I came here to prevent!"
to Chapter 2
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