I felt remarkably carefree, uplifted, as I sped back from my magical plot to Transpheri Technologies. The orange glow of twilight struck me as peaceful and hopeful at once, a seeming promise of good things to come. Now that the memories of my earlier life had begun to open, I awaited their bounty with a quiet eagerness that bordered on euphoria.
Who had Hephaestus been during his first epic journey from ancient times to the present? I knew that not every aspect of the answer would thrill me. I had already begun to recall my first millennia, spent largely among the other gods: easily enraged, with the impulse control of a child. My second voyage through the ages, accompanied by my picks of the mortal world, would teach me patience and maturity. Brevity of life and the other limits of a human body, after all, taught mortals to exceed those limitations in ways that no god ever had to learn. I thought that all the gods might benefit from such underrated sages; maybe I would persuade a few of them to consider that.
One detail I needed to work out before anything else: from exactly when did my earlier self travel backward in time? I did not dare make myself known to the other gods until I remembered when I had vacated that apartment in Crete. “How” and “why” could wait, but making my presence known too early might cause a paradox. At least a theory claimed that, and I had no intention of putting it to the test. Besides, I saw no real hurry. After thousands of years, if I needed to wait a little longer to see Father, Ares, and all the rest, then so be it.
The western sky had darkened to deep blue by the time I pulled up to the Transpheri office building. The instant that I parked, my feeling of well-being vanished. It took me a second to realize what had disturbed me: all the lights inside the building had gone out. Every window revealed only blackness, not even the dim glow of emergency lights powered by generators that kicked in during power failures. On the other hand, the outside lights throughout the parking lots shone perfectly normally, and the generators did not power those. Something had gone wrong at Transpheri, and that always meant trouble.
Having spent so much time among mortals in recent centuries, I sometimes forgot about certain powers inherent to my divinity. Best sense what I can now, before things get too busy for me to concentrate. So I sat back in my Stingray, dismissed everything else from my mind, and focused on the office building before me.
Yes, a dozen or so mortals remained inside, about the usual number for this hour. More than usual, though, seemed to have gone to the lower levels. Gone…or fled. Some presence had made them deathly afraid, something or someone in the building. But what, and where? I directed my attention back up to the main floor. Yes. I had found an intruder—more than one, I felt certain. Manlike in general shape, but not human. Predatory, and no more caring for mortal lives than a tiger.
Well, my mortal charges needed my help. If I wouldn’t face a peril to their lives that stood no serious chance of really harming me, what good was I to them?
But also, I couldn’t be of much help if I didn’t bring a weapon. I climbed out of the Stingray and opened the trunk. Then I pressed a tiny stud that no one would ever notice, and a compartment immune to the most thorough possible search swung ajar. From there I removed a device of my personal design, the only one of its kind in the world. Superficially, this object resembled a machine gun, and that was indeed one of its many operating modes. But why limit myself to such a common-as-dirt tool as a machine gun? I could get so much more creative than that!
Thus armed, I left my car and headed toward the building.
Someone had locked the twin glass doors. Of course; that would occur automatically if the doors had been closed during the loss of power. That would also render my key card useless. Fortunately, I had learned long before to never rely completely on the latest technology. I needed only the large, metallic key that I refused to stop carrying. With an audible click, the door unlatched.
After switching on my weapon’s powerful attached flashlight, I shone it through the glass to ensure that nothing lurked right behind it. Then I readied my trigger finger, braced myself for anything, and swung the door open.
Nothing happened. By the light of my weapon, I saw that all appeared normal in the foyer and the reception area. Except, that is, for the darkness and the absence of a receptionist.
I stepped just inside, and let the door drift slowly shut. Then I froze in my tracks, and did something that most gods rarely find necessary: I opened every mundane sense, as well as some divine ones, to the world around me. In so doing I left immortality behind, temporarily forgotten, and joined in the blood sport shared by legions of our creations: the game of hunter and hunted. On this night, I expected to play both roles.
For one moment, I registered only my own heartbeat. Then two other sensations broke through. First, I noticed a faint scent of spilled blood. Then came a much more powerful message: a feeling that something hid very close by. Keenly aware of me, this entity likewise took care to make no sound. If it breathed, it barely did so then, but its pulse seemed to race.
From where did these impressions spring? Very close by. Perhaps as close as the reception area.
I advanced warily, barely moving forward. All the same, I knew that my shoes impacted the floor audibly, and that my prey—my hunter—heard.
Finally, I reached the receptionist’s desk. My weapon’s light fixed on the work station, I saw nothing.
Hallways yawned open to the left and the right—and I still hadn’t finished my search of the reception station. I had only seen the front; I had yet to look inside.
Knowing how vulnerable this made me, I drew up to the station to look over the desk. As I did so, a detached part of myself noted with wry amusement that my own heart now pounded.
Nothing lay concealed in the station.
Just as I registered that fact, something skittered off to my left. Whatever it was, it padded off rapidly on two bare feet, to judge by the rhythm. As quickly as I could, I pointed my weapon at the fleeing thing. I had less than a second to see it as it ran off. Like a man in shape, it seemed to be wrapped in dirty brownish-white cloth of some kind. Then it rounded a corner and passed beyond my line of sight.
I considered chasing after the being, whose slapping footsteps now faded off in the distance. But at that moment, I saw a prone figure on the floor. A youngish man, dressed in a blue robe that reminded me of a much earlier age.
Again, I directed every sense into my immediate surroundings. This time, I picked up no immediate threat. I did notice, however, that the man lying on the floor still breathed. Stepping quietly, I drew closer.
When I reached the man, he opened his eyes and looked at me. A cut on his forehead, just below his hairline of black curls, explained his expression of pain. Then his gaze met mine, and recognition blossomed there. The man knew me, but I had no idea who he was.
Or did I? Something seemed so familiar about him…
Then I recognized him—twice.
The first time I saw him, he appeared out of nowhere in my apartment in Crete. I knew nothing of him, but he seemed to have an encyclopedic familiarity with me. He convinced me that I should travel back in time to the ancient era of my relative youth. What’s more, he provided the means for me to go.
Then I met him again—in Cairo, in what the common calendar of Western mortals calls the tenth century. This time, we grew to know each other gradually, over decades. I gained enormous respect for the talents of this man, one of the greatest mortal sorcerers ever to walk the earth. Many of those who heard of him did not even believe him to be human, but considered him to possess the divinity that his name suggested.
Now he sat up and smiled. “Hello, Hephaestus,” he said in a variety of Coptic spoken by some in medieval Egypt. “Have you enjoyed your millennia?”
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