Avalanche – Snippet 39
Amphitrite was pleased. Bill (she really did not like that name) was proving to be more and more congenial as he climbed out of his Melancholia. The investment in the physician of the mind had been wise–but then, she was a goddess, and goddesses are always wise.
Finally she decided that it was time for the next stage of her cure. At least once a day, he told her, his eyes full of admiration, how beautiful she was. But she heard what was unspoken beneath the compliment. And I am so ugly. He did not think he was worthy of her.
(But at least he had ceased to speak of the wife who had deserted him when he needed her most.)
“You are so beautiful,” he said on the very day she had made her decision. But this time he went farther. “Your skin is like the inside of a shell. Your eyes are as blue as the ocean. Your body is more perfect than Miss America. Your hair is like…” and there his imagination failed him, but at least he had finally emerged enough from Melancholia to have an imagination. “And…I am not worthy to–“
“Ah–“ she chided, holding up an admonishing finger. “I decide who is worthy to be in my company. And your heart and spirit certainly are. As for your outer self…would you have me change it?”
His glowing eyes widened in shock. “You mean, that’s an option?” he gasped.
“Am I not a goddess?” she replied. “Come with me.”
Obediently, he followed.
She brought him to one of the little “desert” islands, too small to even support much in the way of plant growth. There she made him sit, and she studied him from every angle. “Yes,” she said, finally. “I can do this.” And she took up a handful of sand, and began to shape him.
It was, after all, the power of water and sand that smoothed and shaped rock the world over–and she was a goddess, and could command the water and sand to work exponentially faster than they would otherwise have done. She had in mind a statue by the great sculptor Praxiteles, the Apollo Lyceus, and she kept that sculpture firmly in mind as she worked, starting with Bill’s head.
She really did not like that name.
Sculpting in stone, after all, is a matter of subtraction, and although Bill considered himself ugly, he really just was more of a roughed-out copy of a human than he was a monster. So over the course of seven days, she subtracted, and smoothed, and followed the copy in her mind. He was patient while she worked on his head and shoulders. He became excited when the work moved to his arm, since now he could actually see what she was doing. His pleasure at seeing his chest muscles–modeled more on a Hercules than an Apollo–emerge from the rough stone that had been there made her smile. But when her hands went to work below his waist, he almost stopped her.
“Ah…you’re a lady…” he said, showing an astonishing amount of shyness, given that she had not draped so much as in inch of her body in anything concealing for as long as they had been together.
“I am a goddess,” she corrected. “And I am making you a god. Would you be only a half-god?”
Since he had no good answer for this–as she had intended–he let go her hand and stared up into the sky as she worked. She had the distinct feeling that if he could have been blushing, he would have been. Quite redly, in fact.
But at least he was not interfering with her. So she sculpted him to please herself, and then went on to his legs.
And when she was done, she made the water to be glassy smooth, and invited him to look.
Elegant brows rose, and the eyes beneath them glowed. “I never looked like that!” he said, putting one hand to his cheek, as if to reassure himself that this really was his reflection, and not some illusion.
“You were never a god before,” she pointed out. “Now you are.” She tilted her head to look at him critically. “You have been liberated from your burden of mortality and melancholy, as Atlas was liberated of his burden of the sky by Heracles. I do not like this name, ‘Bill,’ not at all. It did not suit you before, and it suits you even less, now. I shall call you Atlas.”
In joy and gratitude, he embraced her. And something rose between them. He looked down at himself, and his mouth fell agape.
She laughed, for this was, of course, exactly as she had intended. “The rest of you moves freely,” she pointed out. “Why not that?”
In confusion, he drew away from her. Firmly, she drew him back. “I made it,” she pointed out. “May I not enjoy if?”
And, after some little time of persuasion, she did.
Of all the miracles that Johnny and Sera worked, I think getting a teenager to listen to them was the biggest.
Keep Your Distance
Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin
Leaving Zach was one of the hardest things that John had ever had to do. The teen had so many questions, and John wished he had all of the answers. He answered when he could, and was silent instead of lying when the truth in some of the questions was too hard to bear. Zach alternated among curious, relieved, angry, and scared. John and Sera could both feel the waves of emotion rolling off of the boy, crashing into them and through them. Sera was doing her best to comfort him; John hoped it would be enough, to keep him from spiraling down into a dark place that he knew of all too well. He’s going through everything I went through when I got out of the Program. But he’s so damned young.
As much as John wanted to stay and help the young man navigate through the small hell he was going through, he couldn’t. They needed to keep Zach safe, but there was still a war to fight in the meantime. Hopefully, they would win, and then they could bring him back to Atlanta, or wherever he wanted to go. If they didn’t win…he was the world’s last chance, and was infinitely precious for that reason.
So John hid him in the best place that he knew of. After a very lengthy discussion, John, Sera, and Vickie had decided that they wouldn’t use any ECHO safe houses. For one, many of them were occupied off and on by Metisian scientists; they were working nearly around the clock in ECHO labs and offices around the world, though most of them were located in the USA. Keeping them in one particular place was an invitation for them to be attacked, so moving them–and their research data–constantly was a priority. As such, all of the safe houses were in use at one time or another; having one reserved without a real damned good excuse would arouse…suspicion. While the trio could have gone up the chain of command with Zach, it was better for operational security if they kept the secret between themselves. With ECHO locations out–same with any of the locations that Vickie knew through her parents–they needed to come up with an alternative. Luckily, John had one ready.
It seemed like forever ago when he had first been on the run. Six years…so much had changed, with him and the world, and at times he hardly believed that the past had actually happened. At least the way he remembered it. Those first days after he had escaped the Program had been chaotic. He hadn’t been able to trust anyone, and he had felt hunted wherever he went. One close call in a bus station had been enough for him; he had gone off the grid completely as much as he could. Still, back when he had been a Delta operator, he had set aside some…insurance, in case something ever happened. The special operations community and the intelligence world were inextricably linked. John had seen and heard of too many guys like him being left to twist in the wind when some intel weenie had screwed up; he had determined that he would never end up as a cautionary tale. So, he had prepared to disappear early on. A chunk of money, some weapons, and a full set of papers that he had sort of blackmailed a CIA spook into setting up for him; enough to start over somewhere, if he needed to. Once he had calmed down enough, he had used most of the money to buy a chunk of land out in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming; a small plot with its back to a state forest. It made for a nice backyard, and quiet, too. He had spent most of a sweltering hot summer building a cabin and stocking it. Situated at the edge of a small valley, he had privacy and a stream for water.