Friday, July 24, 2020

Catharsis Amidst Chaos

Anne chanted with the crowd, “No justice no peace!” using her banshee magic to amplify the voices of the men and women around her. She didn’t want to blow out any windows, but she couldn’t resist lending a little extra dramatic oomph to the marchers’ message. The crowd’s energy ebbed for a moment. It was getting late, and despite the dimming light of dusk, the July heat clung to the pavement under their feet, while the buildings blocked any hope of a breeze that might sweep away the humidity. Many of the protesters had been out there for hours before Anne had showed up, and most of them lacked her otherworldly stamina. With night coming on, many of the protesters were ready to call it a day. Even those who had the good fortune to be working from home during the pandemic still had to get up bright and early for their Monday morning video conferences, and after a full day of protesting systemic racism and militarization of law enforcement, people were starting to check Google for local restaurants with outside dining. Contrary to the broadcast image of a city under siege, the boarded-up storefronts extended only a few blocks from downtown in any direction. Anne knew for a fact that there was a microbrewery four blocks away doing good business thanks to its diligent social distancing and well-laid out rooftop dining area.
Of course, just as people left for the day, other people continued to filter in, prepared to carry the protests on into the night. Anne wasn’t sure, anymore, if that was really a good thing. Carrying signs and chanting in front of cameras worked a lot better when people could see your faces and read your words. When night fell, things just got murky. Cops got jittery, people were easily confused, and everyone felt anonymous. The best thing might be for everyone to just go home, as asked. On the other hand, in her three hundred and twenty something years of life, Anne hadn’t known too many well-behaved persons who’d made it into the history books. The whole country had pretty much been founded on misbehaving. And, however the English, Scottish, Irish, or Welsh might have felt about each other, the one common cultural value that America's British ancestors had all embraced was trouble-making as a means of making change happen. What so many Americans were inclined to call thuggery and anarchy now would have been called patriotism by the Sons of Liberty – and Anne should know, having been an honorary member since 1773.
Anne wasn’t sure where she belonged, anymore. Two hundred years ago she’d have been ready to tear down the patriarchy with her bare hands. Throw the tea in the harbor. Storm the Bastille. Well, not that last one, because she had had her own family matters to attend to when the people of Paris were storming the Bastille, but she went with them in spirit! She’d fought in the Civil War, slogged through more blood than she’d ever seen to that point in order to help put the final nail in slavery’s coffin, and then broken more than a few limbs trying to sabotage the backlash of Jim Crow laws that spread across the country. But at some point, after that, she just started to… burn out. Maybe it was cynicism or pessimism. World War II had shaken her faith in mankind badly, and when she came back from that to the still segregated and increasingly authoritarian United States, she felt like the Hobbits returning to their Shire after winning the war, only to find their home under the Enemy’s thrall. Rather than feeling like she’d been a participant in the progress of a great nation, Anne felt like the past two and a half centuries had just been a concerted and overall failing effort to prevent things from getting worse.
Anne was letting the negativity bubble up inside her when she felt a pointed elbow in her arm and turned to see a familiar face. “Oh no…”
“Not glad to see me?” Adresteia smiled and electricity flickered at the corner of her eye as she winked.
“That depends on why you’re here,” Anne said nervously. Adresteia’s smile was always a matter of concern. The woman had two modes when it came to happiness. Peaceful contentment, which was expressed in a muted fashion, and righteous sadism, which was expressed with the closest thing to glee that Adresteia ever summoned.
“Are you still sore over what happened in France?” Adresteia shook her head. While Anne had been preoccupied with her family issues, Adresteia had been an enthusiastic participant in the French Revolution.
“Marie and Louis didn’t deserve what happened to them,” Anne said again for the… hundredth time? She wasn’t sure – the argument took place almost every time they saw each other.
“Oh, here we go, ‘They were victims of circumstance…’”
“Well they were…”
“Who had the power to change their world for the better, and instead squandered that power on games and parties.”
After two hundred and twenty some years, it wasn’t an argument Anne was going to win tonight, “Least you could have done is wear a mask.” Social distancing had been more or less abandoned by the protesters, but masks had been readily embraced.
“Pfft,” Adresteia shook her head, “As if COVID is a concern for either of us. I’m about three thousand years past the high-risk age range.”
“Wearing a mask is polite. It shows that you care about the welfare of your neighbors.”
“But I don’t need one,” Adresteia said, “Neither do you! The humans are more likely to catch coronavirus from a tiger at the zoo than from one of us.”
“But they don’t know that,” Anne said, “so I wear the damned mask anyway. Now, I ask again, ‘why are you here?’”
“Does the goddess of divine retribution need an excuse to attend a protest against systemic injustice?”
“Hm,” Anne was still concerned, “Depends on whether you’re here to protest or to smite.”
Adresteia smiled again, “I’m here to punish charlatans.”
“And who might these charlatans be?”
“Two-thirty,” Adresteia nodded just to their right, “Antifa bro in the big coat. Got here just before me.”
“Aye, what about him?”
“He parked six blocks over in an old beater with a Confederate Battle Flag printed on the rear window and a three-percenter bumper sticker.”
“Ah, an ‘agent provocateur,’” Anne nodded, “Right-wing nutball looking to stir up trouble.”
“Not quite that simple,” Adresteia said, “Look just to his right. See his buddy also sporting the black-out look? With the Guy Fawkes mask? He came in and parked right next to him in a Prius plastered with bumper stickers, of which the most conservative was a Feel the Bern sticker that he’d tried to peel off and replace with a ‘Shoot the Police,’ sticker.”
“And they’re ‘buddies’?” Anne asked skeptically, “Hard to imagine they have much in common…”
“An authoritarian white supremacist and a democratic socialist turned anarchist? They have exactly three things in common – they think they love America, they hate about half of all Americans, and they absolutely love guns,” Adresteia explained, “They’re Boogaloos.”
“Oh, those fella’s trying to start a second Civil War…”
“I’d rather not fight in another one of those,” Anne said, “That war was when I stopped keeping count of the men I’d killed.”
Adresteia gave Anne a skeptical look.
“Human men,” Anne said.
“Oh please,” Adresteia said, “You cannot expect me to believe you kept a mental record of every man you killed between 1714 and 1864. You were a pirate. One of the pirates. And you went on to privateer in the Americans' War of Independence.”
“Well… I may not have had an exact number when the Civil War started, but only because I had to guestimate the number of men on any given ship we sank.”
“You know why I love you, Anne? You’re the only other woman I know who can use the word ‘guestimate’ when discussing her history of homicide.”
“It’s not homicide if… no, not getting into this now. You going to deal with our bad eggs?”
“I’ll take care of the Wannabe-Nazi,” Adresteia said, “The anarchist isn’t technically a charlatan, so he’s your problem, old friend.”
As the long shadows of the surrounding buildings turned to darkness, they maneuvered carefully through the chanting crowd until they were behind the two men.
“You first, dear,” Adresteia said.
With a hum, Anne shut down the sound around the left-wing Boogaloo’s head, plunging him into unnatural silence. He immediately stopped and started fiddling with his ears. He tried to shout to his partner, but his voice was completely muted, and his partner was already out of reach. Just as the man began to panic, Anne let the sound return to his ears and ramped it up to eleven for an instant before cutting it all off again. The man clutched his ears and screamed, but no one heard it. He looked around frantically and found Anne standing behind him, smiling.
“Run,” she whispered, her voice thundering in his ears.
The man started to reach under his coat, but Anne hummed a low note that she focused on his abdomen. Ultrasonic waves rumbled through his intestines like an earthquake in his gut. The man doubled over in pain and a foul smell filled the air. “Run,” Anne said again, and this time the man complied, half running and half waddling, taking his stench with him.
“Toilet humor? Really?” Adresteia watched the man awkwardly flee.
“It gets the job done.”
“If your ‘job’ is to let the man come back another night to cause trouble. There’s a reason I smite people, dear.”
Adresteia walked up behind the other Boogaloo and laid a hand on his shoulder. The man immediately convulsed and collapsed as Adresteia dumped a heavy jolt of electricity into his body. People in the surrounding crowd immediately turned around in alarm and began to move to help them.
“Just too hot out here for him,” Adresteia said, “Which way to a nurse?”
The people pointed to an aid station back down the street half a block, near where the press were set up with their cameras. Adresteia and Anne picked the man up, pretending he was heavier than he really was.
Did you just kill this guy?” Anne whispered as they dragged him out of the crowd.
“No, of course not. I thought you’d disapprove. I still could though if…”
“You can’t kill an unconscious man!”
“What? Killing an unconscious man is much easier than killing a conscious one. What sort of pirate were you?”
“The kind that searched for buried treasure and stole sugar and beans! And we didn’t kill sleeping men for their beans!”
“Hm, let me do the talking,” Adresteia said, pulling off the man’s mask as they approached one of the first aid workers, “Ma’am! Ma’am?” she got a volunteer’s attention, “This guy just passed out in the middle of the crowd.”
“Oh my!” the woman came over to help. She began checking his pulse, “Do you know him?”
“Never seen him before in my life,” Adresteia said loudly, “He wasn’t here earlier this evening. He just showed up a few minutes ago.”
The aid worker opened the man’s coat and found body armor and an AR-15 underneath. She gasped, and the nearby reporters descended on the aid station as she dialed 911. Adresteia and Anne calmly walked away.
“You know, they’ll probably spin this as, ‘Oh no, the liberal extremists are armed!’” Anne sighed.
“And thank God they didn’t defund the police!” Adresteia laughed, “Because obviously if you cut a police department’s military surplus toy budget, they’re going to stop responding to 911 calls. Ah, well... that story would probably be told either way. Going back to rejoin the march?”
“It’s late,” Anne said, “I probably ought to call it a night before the loonies come out. Or the looters.”
“An odd note of contempt from a bean-thieving pirate.”
“Hey, we had a flag. We didn’t hide who we were. Not usually. Jeopardizing the safety of these protesters and undermining their cause so that lackeys can load a U-Haul with stolen TVs is a scumbag move worthy of Charlie Vane.”
“Well then, perhaps we should stay,” Adresteia beamed, “Abusing a noble cause for personal gain certainly seems like a smiteable offense.”
“Is there such a thing as half-smiting?” Anne asked, “Light smiting?”
“Does overturning their U-Haul truck on top of the looters count as ‘light’?”
“No. Well, maybe if the truck’s not full yet…”
Adresteia clapped, “Look at us! Finding middle ground! Ooh! Let’s tear down that statue too!”
“The statue you’ve all been demanding they tear down. The one installed fifty years after the Civil War to memorialize the Confederate army with an effigy of a slave owner and KKK founder that probably treated his soldiers like illiterate pond-scum?”
“Well, yeah, but we can’t tear it down,” Anne said.
“Nonsense,” Adresteia said, “It’s made of bronze, no more than seven feet tall, and hollow. I only said ‘we’ because I wanted you to feel included.”
“The point of the protest is to convince the establishment to make changes because it’s in the public’s best interest. We want them to take the statue down voluntarily. It’s about winning the argument, it’s about…”
Adresteia pointed back down the street, and Anne turned to see the crowd throwing chains and cables around the statue. Anne sighed and shook her head.
“Don’t be discouraged. Some things need to be argued at length, but knocking down false idols isn’t one of them, in my opinion.”
“False idols?”
“Confederate statues are false idols?”
“Does it really need to be a Golden Calf for people to comprehend the problem with worshipping a graven image?”
“They don’t worship them…”
“There are over 1500 Confederate memorials in the United states, which is less than the number of Baptist churches, but not by as much as you’d expect.”
“How do you live three thousand years and still have room in your head for that sort of information?”
Adresteia pressed on, “When someone shoots up a church, what do Americans do? They send ‘thoughts and prayers.’ But what happens when someone threatens to tear down a statue? Suddenly there is a wall of heavily armed militia men there willing to kill to protect it. Apollo himself would have been envious of such devotion. Frankly, the fact that any of your human countrymen still believe this is a ‘Christian nation’ is laughable.”
“Well, it wasn’t ever supposed to be…”
“I was given to understand it wasn’t supposed to be a nation of necromancy, either, but people seem far more concerned with the opinions of dead Americans than living ones.”
There were loud pops and bangs followed by screams of fear and anger; white gas began to fill the streets.
“Oh, look, the fascists are here,” Adresteia said.
“Okay, on the matter of police brutality, you are the last one who should have anything to say.”
What? I only brutalize people who deserve it.”
“Which is exactly what a fascist would say.”
Adresteia scowled at Anne, “Well, are we going to get involved or not?”
“Tear gas drops me pretty damn fast,” Anne admitted.
“Light weight,” Adresteia scoffed.
“I think anything I could do would probably make things worse. And I know that anything you could do would definitely make things worse. Plus,” Anne pointed back at the reporters pulling their attention away from the aid station and directing it to the violence up the street, “We don’t need six million Americans to see two women bouncing bullets off their chests and one-punch K-O-ing armored police officers.”
“I think I disagree on that latter point,” Adresteia shook her head.
“Look… if nothing else… the cops have horses with them. Can you really promise me that if you wade into that none of those innocent horses will get hurt?”
“Innocent? What makes you think the horses are innocent?”
“Really? You’re going to hate on horses now?”
They know what they did,” Adresteia’s eyes narrowed. After two centuries, Anne still had trouble separating Adresteia’s dry, detached humor from the eccentricity of her age and the foreignness of her upbringing. She had absolutely no idea whether the ancient goddess was joking.
“Well, anyway, I think this should stay between the mortals,” Anne said, “Things’ll get real messy if Outsiders start fighting in the streets.”
Adresteia shrugged. She whispered facetiously, “Goodbye police officers violating your oath to defend the public. I will smite you another day.”
“That’s a bit harsh…”
“They’re inflicting violence on human beings in order to protect the decor.”
“Well… that’s one way to look at it but... No, come on, let’s go, before we end up hurting someone.”
The two women turned and walked away from the chaos, Anne’s guilt eating at her as she put it behind her, and Adresteia’s instinctive drive to terrorize the unjust gnawing at her gut.
“Do you think we could have prevented all of this?” Anne asked as they walked.
“While what happened to Mr. Floyd was a tragedy, I can’t be everywhere at once. I’m not a real god, remember?”
“That’s not what I meant. I mean…” Anne sighed, “I was there when they let a slave owner write the nation’s Constitution.”
“And what do you feel you should have done? Quietly disposed of James Madison and convinced the Philadelphia Convention to hand it over to a founding father that wasn’t a hypocrite?”
“I could have been louder on the matter of my opinion.”
“And what? Abolished slavery? Right then and there? Few American slave owners were so prosperous as your modern corporations. They were dependent on slavery to keep what they had. Switching over to paid labor would have ruined them economically. How many would ever care enough about their neighbor’s freedom to take food from the mouths of their own children?”
“You think I should feel sorry for men who owned people?”
“No, but I think if you’re going to question history, you should be realistic about it. Even men who opposed slavery ideologically still had slaves, because the alternative was to make rather large sacrifices. Lose the family business. Move into a smaller home. Not send your child off to the best school. People are selfish, and all the more selfish when they have families to consider. There’s no speech you could have made that would have mattered, because a good number of the ears you’d have been bending would have belonged to men who already knew you were right, and had continued to support slavery anyway. The only way the enslaved men and women of the South were ever going to be freed was with violence, and there was never any hope that people would just live-and-let-live afterward.”
“Seems like you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this.”
“I liberated a slave ship, once, you know? Crossing the Atlantic. I massacred half the white crewmen and left the rest to the sharks. But the ship was past the point of no return. Not enough supplies to return to Africa, so it had to make port in Charles Town. Every one of those people ended up on the auction block, even with their ‘owners’ rotting at the bottom of the sea.”
“I’m sorry.”
“I can kill a man. I’m good at that. I can fight gods; I’m pretty damned good at that, too. But I can’t fight the whole world. I couldn’t end slavery in Greece. I couldn’t end slavery in Rome. How many Vikings would I have had to kill in order to convince the Norse the error of their ways? Could I have ended serfdom without toppling feudalism altogether?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“But maybe I should have,” Adresteia shrugged, “Humans breed fast. You have to kill a lot of them to make a point, but it’s not like they’d be an endangered species, right? So maybe I should have just not held back. Maybe I should have butchered every slaver I met, dethroned every lord or king that allowed the oppression and abuse of people he was responsible for. Maybe I should have made a throne for myself.”
“Youngest daughter of Kronos and rightful heir to the Skyfather’s mantle?” Anne asked, “Ruling with an broken chain in one hand and a lightning bolt in the other?”
“Rightful heir?”
“By process of elimination,” Anne said.
“Hades and Hestia are still alive and would still come before me in the line of succession.”
“Maybe we could get Hestia to do it then? Hestia, god-empress of the Western hemisphere.”
“That wouldn’t be terrible,” Adresteia said, “But good luck prying her away from her restaurants.”
Despite the cathartic conversation, both women were quietly regretting their decision to leave the protest when a minivan came screaming down the street, headed for the protesters.
“Uh, I can’t stop a car without using my voice…” Anne said. She was worried the vehicle’s driver was intending to plow into the crowd, and mentally weighing the likelihood of that occurring against the consequences of her shouting a Dodge Caravan into a metal pancake.
“I can kill the electricals,” Adresteia’s hand lit up with sparks, but before she could do anything the van screeched to a halt in front of them. Four armed, masked men in camo and tactical gear jumped out and rushed at them.
There was no demand, no threat offered, the men just tried to grab them. Anne tossed two of the men back into the hood of the van. Adresteia cracked a third over the head with her fist, dropping him to the ground, and picked up the fourth assailant by the face, digging her nails in at the edges of his gas mask and lifting him into the air.
Anne took a moment and saw “POLICE” scrawled on their flak vests with white tape, “Are they actually police?”
Adresteia’s eyes glowed and flickered with lightning as she dove into the mind of the man she was holding, “This one is Customs and Border Patrol. The others are… ‘volunteers’ from out of town.”
The two men Anne knocked away drew their batons and rushed at Adresteia, intent on freeing their comrade. One swung his baton hard at her face and the weapon cracked and splintered on impact.
“Oh, they brought the wooden batons,” Adresteia laughed.
Anne grabbed the other man by the wrist and the elbow, and with a sharp jerk thrust his hand backwards, smacking him in the face with his own club. She restrained herself, though, and the man remained standing, so she grabbed the front of his helmet, yanked it down over his eyes, and kicked him between the legs, sending him through the air back onto the hood of the minivan, shattering the windshield. The other man pulled out a 9mm pistol and fired it into Anne’s face. The copper-jacketed lead bullet didn’t penetrate her fae skin, but the impact nearly knocked her off her feet. She shook her head to clear it as the man fired into her several more times, pelting her with bullets that left dark bruises.
“Do you need help dear?” Adresteia asked, as she tossed their leader aside like garbage.
Anne held up an outstretched hand and caught the next bullet. It hurt her hand badly, but it gave her a brief opening to grab the man’s wrist and crush it, forcing the gun to drop from his hand. She grabbed the man by his vest, lifted him, and threw him overhand into the boarded up windows of a nearby store front. The man Adresteia had put on the ground started to get up, but Adresteia put her foot on the man’s neck and forced him to the ground.
The world around them darkened and grew cold as Adresteia pressed down. Lightning crackled from her eyes. “Say it,” she said as the man struggled under her heel. “Say it.”
The man choked and gasped as Adresteia pushed down harder, but Anne finally shoved Adresteia off him, “Stop it! Enough! You made your point.”
“Thank you! Thank you!” the man cried.
“SHUT UP!” Anne shouted with her banshee voice, blowing her face mask off and silencing the man.
“He would have deserved it,” Adresteia said.
“Maybe,” Anne admitted, “But that’s not why you were doing it. You were power-tripping.”
“I was not-” Adresteia stopped and looked at the helpless young man sprawled on the ground beneath her. She’d had three millennia to learn better. He’d had, what? Three decades, maybe?
Adresteia calmly reached down and picked him up by the back of the neck. She yanked his wallet out of his pants, flipped it open, ripped out the driver’s license, and shoved the rest of the wallet in the man’s mouth. “See those reporters running down the street?” she hissed, Go, tell them who you are and who sent you; and tell the truth, ‘Chad Ryan Johnson’ of ‘5221 Columbus Circle,’ or you will be seeing me again.”
Adresteia dropped the man and blacked out the streetlights long enough for her and Anne to disappear.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

2.12: The First Mission

Location: Attica

Time Remaining: 15 years

Athena stood on a rise overlooking Piraeus and Moschato, which sat on either side of the mouth of Cephissus’s river in Attica.

“I have a number of missions for you, my friend,” Athena said to the owl perched on her shoulder, “But your first mission will be something very personal. An old friend of yours is in need of help, though she does not know it.”

“Hoo?” The owl cried.

2.11: The Gift of Athena

Location: Attica, Eastern Coast

Time Remaining: 16 Years

Nemesis carried the body away from the farmlands - she didn't want the widow finding his corpse the next time they plowed the fields, so she headed to the nearby forest and collected wood for a pyre.
"How do you feel?" Nemesis heard the voice again, but this time she recognized it.

2.10: The Goddess of Rhamnous

Location: Attica, Eastern Coast

Time Remaining: 16 Years

Nemesis had gone to Tartarus partly hoping that the masters of the underworld would be able to spare her from the pregnancy that Zeus had inflicted upon her, but Hades had been unable to do anything about it - if either of the parents had been mortal, perhaps, but with god-blood from both sides, there was nothing conventional to be done. As Nemesis's due date came closer, he did come up with a risky alternative involving an egg (for lack of a better word), that allowed Zeus's offspring to be removed from Nemesis and birthed by a surrogate mother devoted to Persephone.

2.09: The Kindness of Persephone

Location: The Fifth Gate of Tartarus

Time Remaining: 25 Years
It was the virtue of compassion that had betrayed Nemesis in the end; Zeus and Aphrodite had staged a trap to capitalize on the weakness, and Nemesis ran into it blindly. After Zeus left there was pain, of course, both tangible and intangible. That was at the front of Nemesis's mind. There was also despair, at being cast aside and abandoned by her master, conflicting with fear that he might yet decide to come back and continue where he left off. Nemesis was also dragged down by humiliation and anger with herself, a carefully forged killer who’d somehow become a compassionate fool bleeding on the carpet. When she recovered from Aphrodite’s poison, Nemesis had gone outside and waited for Andesidora to return. She couldn’t bear to go back into the house, so she stayed outside that night, waiting. She sat and waited for a day and a half, but Andesidora never returned.