"If you can sense the interference in your past," said Hercules, "why do you need the tracking device?"
"When you have a stomach-ache," retorted Merlin, "can you tell how many feet down your digestive tract the trouble is?"
Hercules was about to respond that he didn't get stomach-aches, but that if he did get one he would in fact be able to locate it as exactly as he wished; however, just as he decided that that might not be tactful, the plotting sphere came to rest.
"We're here," said Merlin.
Hercules and Merlin stepped out of the CAVE. The landscape was utterly barren. The CAVE had landed in the foothills of a mountain range, its door-exterior up against a mountainside as if the entry to a real cave. The sky was streaked with a sunset-rainbow of colors, primarily orange. This though the sun was directly overhead.
"Where are we?" Hercules asked.
"Avalon," said Merlin. "Quickly!" He started off toward a little building with a domed roof about fifty yards off, at the very foot of a mountain.
In the house they followed the sound of a baby crying to an interior room. They found a man wearing orange and red robes of extrahellestial design in the same room as the baby's crib, sitting in a nearby chair. Hercules recognized Kryptes in the crib instantly.
Standing just inside the room, a teleport trail leading off her like a leash, head to toe in green as usual, Morgan le Fay held her wand on Kryptes.
"It's all right." Merlin sub-vocalized, knowing Hercules would pick it up. "This must be the previous attempt Nessus said Morgan made. We know we come through this."
In fact, almost before Merlin had started speaking (or rather not-speaking), Hercules was in motion. Before Merlin had finished the second sentence, Morgan was held off the ground by the collar in one of Hercules's hands and the wand was ground to dust in the other.
"Not recommended," growled Hercules, blowing the remains of the wand off the palm of his hand, "for children under 3."
"You musclebound idiot," barked Morgan. "This is no business of yours!"
"It is now."
"Well, then I shall just have to enlist some expert help for my next attempt," sneered Morgan. She slapped her left shoulder with her right hand, glowed red for an instant, and disappeared - Hercules saw the converted energy zoom back along the path of the teleport trail.
"Let her go!" said Merlin - now in the room too - before Morgan was even all gone. "That's not what we're here for."
The other Avalonian - Hercules, thinking of what Merlin had said about his perception and the Avalonians' of his father, found himself thinking of Merlin's father as the Demon - was taking a good look at Merlin. "You," the Demon said. "Why are you here now?"
"At our first meeting," said Merlin, "you spoke of role models."
The Demon looked over to Hercules. "Bravo," he said.
Kryptes was still wailing. It was obvious to Hercules that the baby needed nothing but to be picked up and held; and it was just as obvious that the Demon had utterly no clue why the baby was upset, even though from Merlin's report the Demon had already raised at least one child. But now he got up and picked the baby out of the crib to give it to Hercules. Kryptes quieted almost right away.
Merlin and the Demon regarded the baby in Hercules's arms. "He'll want to visit you, you know," Merlin said to the Demon.
"Why?" said the Demon.
"Because you're his father and he has in him what you wanted him to have."
The Demon was confused. "But I can't care for him. That seemed to matter the first time we met. I can't be the parent he wants. I don't have it in me. You know that or you wouldn't be here now."
"He knows," said Merlin. "He doesn't care, really, no matter what he says or even believes about you. He just wants to know you."
The Demon shrugged. "He's welcome," he said to Hercules.
Hercules nodded. "For now I think we'd better get him home, though."
"Who was my mother?" Merlin blurted.
The Demon gave Merlin an appraising look, then shook his head. "The time will come," was all he said.
The disappointment was obvious on Merlin's face. "Well, let's go."
Father looked up at him at that. "One way or another," he said, "that is not true."
Amber thought about that as he watched the plotting hologram glow and turn. It was the same sort of cryptic comment Father always made when skirting the true facts of Amber's origins, not to mention his own. As the hologram came to a rest and they exited the capsule, he made a decision. "Listen - I'm eighteen now, and a legal adult. I think it's time you told me who exactly I am - who you are, where you're from, and why you wouldn't have me live with you. Merlin's always said I would find out when I was an adult."
He trailed off as they stepped out into the living area of Father's house. There were three people waiting for them there. Amber had never seen anyone but his father in this house, nor met anyone else during his visits here, besides the hermit who lived halfway up the mountain in whose foothills the house rested.
These women wore robes stylistically related to Father's, but much filmier. Two of them, one in smoky black and one in translucent green, had the same impassivity that Father always displayed, but the other was definitely angry about something. Her robes were white, and her outfit was topped off with a sort of sash, and she carried a wand or sceptre.
Apparently the third had overheard much of Amber's speech. "Yes," she said, "tell us how this young one came to be."
"He is my son," said Father. "He is half Hellene." Amber had heard Father use that word to mean 'Greek' before. "He has been fostered by the greatest hero in Hellene history." So far Father hadn't told these women anything Amber didn't already know.
"How?" the spokeswoman snapped.
"I secured the donation of a Hellene female zygote," said Father, "and combined it with mine."
One of the silent women, in green robes, seemed to be minutely shaken. "Do you mean," the spokeswoman asked, fully aghast, "that this child has genes from only two parents?"
"Yes," said Father.
"Who was my mother?" Amber blurted.
"That doesn't matter!" the spokeswoman shouted.
"It does to me," Amber retorted.
The spokeswoman's face hardened as, ignoring Amber, she faced Father again. "You are chief of eugenic services. A great trust is yours. You have betrayed that trust."
"On the contrary," said Father unmoved. "Our gene strains have become tired. They need revitalization. I am true to the spirit of my trust, and not the letter, which are at odds."
"What's this all about?" Amber demanded.
The spokeswoman turned to him. "You are not Greek. You are an Avalonian sorceror." Ah - so Them are sorcerors. Whatever that means. "This is the planet Avalon, where you belong, and you shall never leave it again. You shall be given an Avalonian name, and never use your Greek name again. You shall never see your foster family again. Nor most likely, depending on his eventual disposition, your ..." The spokeswoman almost spit the word. "Father."
Amber was stunned by this statement - but not by surprise: at the realization that he'd half expected it. Merlin had known. This was what had upset Mom and Dad. But Father had said it wasn't true that he'd never see Mom and Dad again, and Father never said anything he didn't know for a fact. Still, Amber didn't like it. "You can't do this to me."
"Do not argue with the Lady of the Lake," said Father.
Amber was startled; Father never gave commands like - well, like a father. "You're just going to let them do this to me?"
"It is inevitable."
Amber clenched his teeth. "At least let me see my master again first."
"Your past life is over -" started the Lady of the Lake.
"He speaks of Blaise," Father interrupted.
That got a reaction - from even the other two. The Lady of the Lake breathed deeply twice, then said grudgingly, "Very well. But do not linger."
Amber looked over to Father, who nodded. He left the house, heading up what he thought of as "the mountain in the back yard".
"Yes," said Merlin, spinning the trackballs on the CAVE control console. The hologram started moving, and Merlin turned to him. "How are you doing?"
"I'm happy," said Hercules, "and scared out of my wits. Of all the things I've ever done, parenthood is... Deianira and I were already thinking about this, but we thought we'd have the normal nine months' warning."
"You'll do fine," said Merlin. "One can't gripe much about one's upbringing when one likes so much how one turned out."
"Merlin, why did you say that this was a job for Hercules, when you didn't know till we were on our way that Kryptes was in danger?"
Merlin folded his arms and leaned back against the console. "Someone once said, 'With great power comes great responsibility.' Now, you've thought of yourself as a Greek all your life ..."
"I didn't know I wasn't a Greek until I was grown."
"The first time we met, you said to Deianira, 'Alcides is who I am. Hercules is what I do.' Hercules needs to be more than just your night job."
"You know it means more to me than that," said Hercules without rancor. "What are you saying? That I need to be Hercules, I can't be Alcides any more?"
"Of course that's not what I'm saying. You couldn't stop if you wanted to. That's part of ..." Merlin nodded at the infant in Hercules's arms. "But you see ... The word 'hero' has a certain meaning in this day and age: one who has superhuman powers and/or who accomplishes superhuman feats. In the future, though, it will come to have another connotation: one who fights the forces of evil for truth, justice and civilization. Your destiny is to bring about that change. And you will. You must, if he is to learn from you what I have learned. I wasn't just blowing steam when I spoke to my father of role models."
Hercules nodded. "I'll try."
"There is no try. You will. Just keep your mind open." The hologram came to rest and Merlin opened the doors. "Here we are, last week. Time for your stork run."
Hercules looked from the adult to the child. He wrapped a length of lion pelt around the baby for protection from the effects of high speed. He left the CAVE, and was back empty handed inside of a second.
Father stood. When he didn't move toward Amber, Amber went to him and hugged him. The Avalonians made expressions of distaste.
"Have you anything to say?" said the woman in the black robes to Father, obviously fishing for some sign of repentance.
Father thought a minute.
"Yes," he said finally. "His respect must be earned."
"Our Kryptes." It wasn't striking Deianira right any more either. "You know, it was one thing to call him 'Stranger' when we didn't know who he was ..."
"Who he's going to be," Alcides said. "You know, most people get to imagine what their kid'll make of himself."
"Most people don't get picked by an intergalactic hero to be his parents, either. Hey," Deianira said before Alcides could respond to that, "that's almost what you did. When we were in your past you could've picked other parents if you wanted."
"The thought never occurred to me."
"Well, the option was still there. Q.E.D." But Deianira wasn't done proving what made her the reporter she was. "We must be going to call him something else. Remember when Merlin showed up and we called him Kryptes - Merlin didn't recognize the name."
"You're right." Alcides found this an encouraging indication that he and Deianira were already, instinctively, of their own free will, playing their correct roles in this time paradox of Merlin's arrangement for his own conception and upbringing.
"We're going to have to come up with a cover story too," said Deianira. "Or hide him for nine months while I stuff progressively larger pillows up the front of my gown any time I go out of the house."
Alcides liked that prospect about as much as Deianira evidently did - not at all. "Well, when I took him to Daedalus I told him the straight truth. Without mentioning our real names, of course. We could just say Hercules found the baby and left him with us."
"I don't think your secret identity would survive public acknowledgement that we're raising a half-extrahellestial baby."
"Maybe not. Let's see. Ma and Pa know the truth." Amphitryon and Alcmene had extended their vacation in Thebes when Kryptes'd shown up. "Well, they will when we tell them what's happened today. Maybe we can say he's the child of out-of-town cousins who died in a car accident, and we'll have them to back it up."
"All right. So what'll we name him?"
"Hm. A Greek name for Merlin. Somenthing that suggests the mystical, the legendary ..."
"How about ... " Deianira thought a moment, then smiled. "Ambroseas?"
Alcides grinned. "Perfect."
This story is the second in a three-story cycle about Merlin's father. The first is Transformations and the third is Posterity.
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