On the Slope of Olympus
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The newborn god who used to be Andrew MacGregor fell through the rift and crashed roughly to the mountainside. He collected himself and got to his feet. He called to the sun and moon, reaching for the sources of his power, but something was in the way. There was a thickness in the air - the god, though he had existed for only seconds, understood much of the human world. But not this thrummimg force, blocking him from his purpose.

Others approached - beings like himself. They walked up calmly, wielding guns. How did he know what guns were? How did he know to question his own knowledge?

Why couldn't he call down the sun?

The soldiers marched to a halt and spread out, keeping a respectful distance. Their leader pulled out a small black box and held it up in front of her. The box began to speak a series of words, in a language he couldn't understand. No - it was one word, repeated over and over in many languages. Finally he heard one he recognized: "Hello."

"Hello," he answered uncertainly.

The woman spoke into the box, then held it out again. "You must have many questions. Please come with us, and we will answer them," it droned.

"I don't suppose I have a choice," he said. The box translated his words into a series of grunts and barks.

The soldier listened, then pulled off her helmet to reveal a charming smile. "We come as friends, to take you somewhere safe," she said through the device.

So Andrew MacGregor, on his first day of godhood, descended Mount Olympus and willingly entered containment.

"Well, this one's no good." Doctor Maria Alvarado frowned at the screen. "FMRI shows barely any difference from a typical human's — you can see some of it here, these striations on the amygdala — but this is not what we're looking for."

The green lay in the imaging machine on the other side of thick glass, wall-mounted reality anchors pulsing away on both sides. The analysis room was cramped, and the SRA seemed to give off heat as it thrummed; Maria and her trainee were both starting to sweat.

Doctor Garth Christensen compared the readout to the example charts she'd given him. "So this shows the minimum of anomalous features he would need to be a candidate?"

"It doesn't need to be as atypical as the one you're looking at. But you want to be within, say, 10% of that. If you're not sure, just send them - we'd rather spend the money on extra cells than miss out on a green we can use."

"Understood. So, does this mean you'll be staying until a better candidate comes along?"

"I guess so. I'm not comfortable leaving you on your own until I've had a chance to show you the procedure in person. I guess you'll be stuck with me for a while."

"Well, we're happy to have you."

She grinned "I've seen the way your MTF friends look at me. They can't be rid of me soon enough. They all think I'd be digging around in their brains if I could."

"Oh, come on, I'm sure they don't-"

"They're not wrong." She smiled wider, more sweetly, and let him think she was joking.

The newborn god who used to be D-822-46 floated out of the rift and down onto the mountainside, hovering above the crust of snow. She grew a pair of rabbit ears, swiveling them. Silence.

The ears retracted and her face split from the nose down. Her tongue unbraided itself into tendrils, tasting the air as they waved. There were others surrounding the hill.

They were hiding under the snow, but she could taste everything about them. Like her, but covered in armor. They did not carry the reek of fear, nor the electric hum of anger. They were merely determined. They had come to hunt.

She put her face back together and willed herself to where one of them stood on the edge of the ring. The hunter leapt to his feet, firing his weapon; the bullets rippled into her like pebbles into a lake, vanishing harmlessly. The taste of panic made her blood start to rush.

She popped him like a berry and pressed him dry, the fluids of his body swirling in the air around her, and jumped to her next enemy. The serpentine trail of blood and mucous darted to his helmet, flooding it, forcing its way down his nose and mouth, filling his lungs until they burst. She threw her head back and shrieked with joy.

A boom echoed across the mountainside, and something undeniable - even to her - crashed into the ground. It was too slow; she was a streak in the wind, trailing color and furious glee.

Someone pushed her - a tug toward nothingness. She shook it off, like the grip of a child, but it was real power. Power like hers. Power she might steal for herself, once she consumed the vessel that carried it.

She burst toward the one trying to unmake her, teeth bared; her will was stronger than his, her desire more forceful, and he could not make her change. Laughing, she spiraled and picked up speed, and they collided with enough force to scatter his body over the snow. The survivors broke their formation, starting to rush in, and she knew she was winning. She burst into flames, just to make them afraid.

They closed on her, some of them running along the ground, others ripping through space the way that she did. She could sense words, coming out of their devices and traveling through the air between them. She didn't understand what was said, but she felt the meaning - through desperation, a plan.

Stones rose up from the ground and began to strike her; she waved her hand, and they turned to moths and flew away. In the instant that took her, one of the others reached his will into her chest and pulled. She felt herself torn open, twisted and cracked, bones exposed, bare heart bitten by the cold.

But she was above their world, and her body not subject to its laws. Her ribs spread wider, stretching and reaching, until they surrounded the nearest prey and snapped shut around him.

She felt his screaming from inside his body as her bones extended and tunneled in. She pulled him toward her, reshaping them both, breaking down his form. She would add it to her own. She would add all of them to herself, mind and body, and any others she found, until there was nothing else left, until the only life that existed lived within her-

Then a huge steel net came down over them all. Before she could erase it, the boom came again and an unstoppable force slammed into her legs, shearing them off mid-thigh. She screamed. She was suddenly bristling with darts, falling to the ground, pierced with a spear that began to pour lightning into her shifting flesh.

She screamed again, and her agony blossomed into chaos. Spires of pointed bone shot up from the ground. A monstrous serpent burst roaring from the mountainside. A storm of teeth and thorns howled around her.

They scattered, but quickly regrouped, spreading out into a rehearsed formation. Their leader roared defiance at her beast - she could hear it from where she lay, even through the woman's helmet. The creature writhed, scales ripping away and muscle instantly turning to ash, until its blackened skeleton crashed to the ground. One of them thickened time itself, and her projectiles slowed to a crawl, while another changed them to lotus petals with a soft, sad song.

She tried to remake herself, but there was too much to overcome, and the harpoon inside her crackled again, and then there was nothing.


Maria set down the bone saw. Her gloves, apron, and mask were all speckled with divine blood.

The class-V reality bender lay naked and pale in its steel coffin. Its body had resumed a human shape after it lost consciousness - except for the legs, which ended in shreds just above where the knees had been. The bronze-uranium shells used by Achilles' Heel, it seemed, enforced local reality on the target even after passing through.

The top of its skull was also missing, but Maria had done that herself. She began methodically inserting probes into the exposed brain, occasionally glancing at the fMRI readout on its wall-mounted screen as she explained each step to Garth.

"Back when the project was first started, they had to use response-to-stimulus to figure out where to place their leads - they had to talk to the greens while they did this. Can you imagine?"

Garth's eyes never left her hands, taking in wire after wire as she plugged them into the tissue. "So it's basically just a matter of putting the shunts in where the system tells you, and letting the computer do the rest?"

"Yep. I'd say 'it's not brain surgery,' except… well, it is. But it's not really any harder than connecting the life support system at the end. Just put the plugs in the right place." She smiled, and caught him shuddering at how casual she was. Oh, well - I'm getting out of this miserable backwater, Doctor Garth can stay here with his opinions.

"I've got this. Now that I've seen it, it seems pretty simple. I'm just going to set up the leads and the life support?"

"That's it, and then you close them up. These cells can only keep them for 72 hours, but that's enough time to get them to Site-48. I'll finish the processing there and get them all hooked up. Any more questions?"

"Why do we want so many of them? Why such strong ones? What are we really doing here? I know about Orpheus, but why did they assign me to this seventy years later?"

She frowned. "Does it matter?"

"It matters to me."

She held back a sigh. "The original concept of Project Orpheus was to preserve the world, but we know so much more now about what we're up against. We need a longer range."

"A galactic reset button?"


A long silence passed as she finished her work. "We've moved on from playing God, and taken His job altogether." There was more awe than judgment in his voice.

"God was asleep at the wheel." She lifted the top of the skull and set it gently in place. "Hand me that stapler."

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