Rated R (for language).
Thundergod in Therapy
by Effie Seiberg
Zeus sat on his shitty beige sofa in his shitty beige condo in his shitty beige retirement community. This was what the Court-appointed therapist had recommended—to think of this parole as a fresh start, and to enjoy retirement on Earth. Everything around him was fucking beige except for the fake plant from Ikea, which was a mocking shade of unnatural green. He could imagine the smug grin his judge would have if she’d seen this—
But no, he would give this a fair try. He’d promised Dr. Brinkman (formerly Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries) that he would.
The fake leather on the couch squeaked as he shifted. He could do this. He could be calm and serene. He would start by not destroying the couch.
“So, how’s it been going so far?” Dr. Brinkman leaned back in his leather burgundy armchair. The former god of boundaries had interesting decor ideas for what a therapist’s office should look like. Most of those ideas were burgundy. That’s what happened when people soaked your statues in blood offerings for thousands of years, thought Zeus.
“How do you like the condo? I furnished it myself. Very normal, you know?”
Zeus pressed his lips together and muttered, “Certainly no Mount Olympus.”
“Well of course not. Those were the Court terms—prison then banishment and elimination of godly responsibilities, or death. Neither of your options included staying on Mount Olympus.” The therapist paged through a yellow notebook.
“Have you been making the amends we talked about? I see here that we said you’d start small.” Brinkman looked at Zeus over his half-moon glasses—a silly affectation for a god who clearly had perfect vision.
“I’ve started, yeah.” Zeus shifted on the prickly burgundy couch. “I’ve gotta tell you, though, Sisyphus was not happy to see me.” He chuckled. “Poor bastard would’ve thrown that rock at me if he could hoist it up that far.”
“That’s good progress, Zeus. What did you tell him?” Scribble scribble, went Brinkman’s stubby yellow pencil.
“That I was sorry, that I’d let the power I had at the time overwhelm my judgment, and that I’m working on the anger issues. You know, the stuff we talked about.” Zeus scratched his beard. “It was…fine.” It was not fine. It was horrible and the only thing that made it worthwhile was that he left without actually removing the onus.
Scribble scribble. “These are certainly healthy steps. Perhaps this week we can work towards making the amends the Court required, to Thor and Raijin and the Thunderbird. Can you think of ways to make amends to the gods you’ve… ah… slain?”
“I dunno. It’s not like I can go down to the underworld to find them. They’re just dead.” Zeus scratched his beard. “Maybe apologize to the other gods from their pantheons?”
“That’s a good thought. I think you should take this week to come up with a plan.”
“It’ll be so humiliating. I’m Zeus, you know. I was king of the gods once.” Zeus caught Brinkman’s eye. “I know I know. You don’t have to say it. I’m working on having a healthier relationship with power, whether I have it or not, keeping my anger in control, blah blah. I’m on it. I’m doing it. New start, new me.”
The therapist nodded. “Now tell me of your life in the retirement complex. How are you settling in?”
Zeus leaned forward. “Oh. Man. Lemme tell you, I never knew old chicks could be so much fun! They’ll do things the younger girls would never do. Except for Betty Whitshire, that insufferable bitch.You know, she went around spreading all these rumors about me afterwards! And she cheats at shuffleboard.”
“So you’re finding ways to fill your time. Excellent.” Scribble scribble.
“It’s an adjustment, no question. But I’m in it for real, man. A fresh start. No more power-raged Zeus. I’ve got this.”
He did not “got this.”
Zeus turned on his air conditioning—the summer was a brutal one—and sat in his shitty fake-leather chair. Why on earth did people retire to a heated hellhole like Florida? He could feel sweat pooling between his bare thighs and the plasticky material.
He picked up the paper stack off of his (shitty, beige) coffee table. Phone bill, $27.95. The phone had been much more useful before the women of the complex started calling him a diseased man-slut, thank you Betty Whitshire. Cable bill, $49.99. He’d gotten into soap operas, and hated himself a little bit more every time he thought about it. Maybe he should cancel his cable. But then he’d really have nothing to do all day. Electric bill, $355.72.
$355.72? What the hell? It wouldn’t completely blow through his monthly stipend, set up by the Court through Mammon, former false god of wealth, but still. He picked up the plastic beige phone on the plastic beige table by the couch, and called the electric company.
He waited more than twenty minutes on hold until a static-fuzzed voice finally came on and crackled, “Thank-you-for-holding-my-name-is-Grace-how-may-I-help-you.”
“My electric bill is too high.” Despite the AC, he was sweating into the plastic earpiece. This place was disgusting.
“What’s your account number?” my-name-is-Grace sounded bored. He read it to her off of the bill.
“Thank you, Mr. Armstrong.” He’d picked the name himself, after Dr. Brinkman had said that names like Mr. Allpowerfulfatherofthegodsdestroyerofmenbringeroflightning would probably make it difficult to assimilate.
Tappa tappa tappa went my-name-is-Grace’s fingers. “I see here that you owe $355.72. This is correct. My records show that we just sent a man out to read your meter last week.”
“Are you kidding me? That’s absurd!”
“Not really sir. It’s a very hot summer and it’s putting a lot of strain on our grid. We’ve asked our customers to cut back on high-power activities like air conditioning unless they absolutely need it, and we see that your usage patterns have remained the same. Prices go up during peak usage periods.”
Zeus wheedled. He charmed. He tried his best banter. It didn’t do one bit of good. My-name-is-Grace wouldn’t budge. He slammed down the plastic phone, cracking the casing. He would go hunt down my-name-is-Grace and fry her with a well-placed bolt of…
No. No, breathe. Dr. Brinkman had always said, “Find an outlet for your anger when you can’t dissolve it.” Fine. A well-placed zap of lightning to the phone did the trick, melting it into a slightly-discolored puddle of plastic around a tangle of metal bits, and he could feel the anger starting to crack away. But $355.72 for the privilege of having his thighs stick to his shitty beige couch? Not in a lifetime.
He considered. If electricity was the problem, this was a thing he could solve. He got in his brown Chevy Geo (Dr. Brinkman had said that anything too flashy would raise eyebrows) and drove to the Home Depot. There, he had a pimple-faced young man with dead eyes explain to him, in excruciating detail, how home wiring worked and how he was connected to his grid. He bought wire-cutters, a voltmeter, pliers, electrical tape, heat-shrink connectors, and a book titled “Do-It-Yourself Electrical Repair: A Shockingly Good Time!” with a cartoon man smiling and getting electrocuted on the cover. All this plus a trunk-sized battery would do the trick.
It took three days, but he disconnected his entire condo from the grid. He smashed holes in the plasterboard walls and yanked out wire after wire—brute force was as good a method as any. Then, in a tangle of metal and plastic, he reconnected everything to the battery, which now sat in the middle of his beige living room instead of the shitty coffee table. The apartment was transformed. Once a beige box of sadness, it was now a rat’s nest of blue and red wire casings which covered the walls (and part of the beige carpet) like ivy with a faint snow of plaster dust.
He sat on his fake leather sofa, put a finger on each of the hulking thing’s contact points and shovedlightning in. The battery’s gauge on the side lit up red, then yellow, then green.
Zeus stood and turned the air conditioner on full blast, then sat back down on the squeaky couch.Ahhhh. There, that was better. Cold air washed across his face and his underarms, fluttering the toga he still wore when he was alone at home. Retirement didn’t have to be all bad. The Court hadn’t stripped him of all his powers.
There was actually something satisfying about finishing a project. Plenty of people did it. Dr. Brinkman said there were many retired gods all living on Earth like humans, and that to his knowledge they’d found it relaxing. Nit, Egyptian goddess of weaving who had kept her role even after the Court of the Gods had stepped in, had apparently retired to a shepherding commune in California. He could do this.
In fact, he could celebrate. Some dolmades would just hit the spot, and maybe a nice shower after to get off the plaster dust. He was just getting out the grape leaves from the fridge when a sharp knock came from the door. He certainly wasn’t expecting company, as the complex’s crabs pariah. Must be a mistake. He rolled out a few grape leaves on a paper towel and started on the rice stuffing.
Zeus poked his head out of the tiny beige kitchenette. A man swathed in glittering electronics was standing in his living room. Sprinkled around him were shards of what had been Zeus’ door. He was brushing splinters away from some of his own wires and lights.
“What in the seven pits of Tartarus do you think you’re doing?” roared the once-king of gods. “Look what you’ve done to my door! The condo board is going to fine me for this!”
The man pushed some sort of screened visor up from his green eyes to his forehead. “The condo board. Really. Old man, look what you’ve become.” He glanced around the room with obvious distaste. “Your wiring is shit.”
He wasn’t wrong, but that wasn’t the point.
“Look! You can’t just come barging in here and insulting my project. Do you have any idea who I am?” Zeus dropped the mask of humanity and let his impressive deific light shine through.
Only this guy was unimpressed. He humphed. “I know who you used to be. Zeus, I don’t care what you do here with your silly little ‘condo board’” he said with air quotes, “but you stay the hell off my turf.”
Only a god could look straight at another god. Who was this guy? Zeus thought he knew all the deities out there. Some he only knew by name, some by appearance, but none of them corresponded to this asshole here. “What do you mean, your turf? This is my home. You stay the hell off of my turf.” He crossed his arms, and realized he’d just inadvertently stuffed a grape leaf into his armpit.
“Are you so out of touch you don’t even know?” The man laughed. “I’m Tekhno, god of technology.Which means that any metaphysical, magical, or otherwise occult thing you do with wires and batteries, like this unbelievable mess,” he indicated with a flutter of his hand, “is MY TURF. Stay off it, old man.”
Tekhno pointed an LED-studded finger at Zeus’ fridge, TV, and the massive battery in quick succession. Each one shorted out with a POP POP POP and a shower of sparks. An electrical fire started behind the fridge and quickly spread to the microwave.
“OH COME ON!” So much for making dolmades.
“That’s your one warning, old man. Later!” Tekhno pushed a button on his left side and dissolved into ones and zeroes hovering in the air, which shimmered for a moment and disappeared.
Zeus stared at the spot where the god of technology had stood, which now only had shards of door and a thin veil of smoke creeping from the kitchen. His eye twitched, and a vein pulsed on his forehead. Why that little asshole…no. No. He was retired. He was on a new path. Breathe in, breathe out. Try gratitudes if you don’t have a good outlet, Dr. Brinkman had said. Fine. He was grateful for…
The fire burned merrily, and upped itself to a roar.
He was grateful for…
The vinyl paneling on the kitchen cabinets started to yellow and curl, and a charcoal smear was growing steadily on the backsplash. He made a little cloud form under the flickering fluorescent lights. It rained out the fire in one swift deluge.
HE WAS GRATEFUL FOR…
- Fuck this. This was too much. Gritting his teeth, he threw a lightning bolt at the very same place that had just been in flames and watched it light up again.
Some young upstart god, coming around and telling Zeus almighty himself what to do? How dare he! Arrogant little prick thought he could just break down his door. Zeus was retired! The whole point was to retire and let go of the old power and old anger and to just let the world be and this unmitigated asshole just strode right in like he owned fucking everything and… AAAAARRRGH!
Zeus let loose another lightning bolt. This one lit the polyester beige rug in the living room on fire, and the smoke alarm began to wail. Bang bang bang came from the ceiling—his upstairs neighbor’s response to any untoward sounds.
No. Breathe. This wasn’t worth getting worked up over. He could handle himself before he was blinded with the red rage. The last thing he wanted to do was repeat last time, when he spent a millennia in the Court of the Gods’ prison after murdering the other weather gods for their powers. So it was fine when he killed his own dad, but stupid foreigners were now a problem? And sentenced there by Themis, of all people. Goddess of justice from his own pantheon. Ex-wife. Vindictive bitch.
But that was the past. Now, he’d been making progress in therapy. It wasn’t worth it.
Breathe. Every breath was tinged with the smell of scorched plastic. That asshole wasn’t worth it. Just some young idiot god who thought he was on top.
Zeus’ pulse slowed. He gathered two more storm clouds and put out the new fires with a splash, then surveyed the damage. The condo was a wreck. Gaping holes in the walls from the wiring project grew soggy with buckling plaster from the water damage. There were smears of smoke damage everywhere; and both the battery in his living room and the bulk of his kitchen were not much more than twisted pieces of charred devastation. Half of the living room rug was unburned, but it was squelchy at best. At least it wasn’t all beige anymore.
He was committed to making a new start, he reminded himself. Possibly not in this particular condo anymore. But that little asshole did have to learn that it was just not okay to come in and burn another god’s house down.
In the old days he would have hunted him down and found a horrific punishment that vastly outweighed the crime. Probably he’d encase the little asshole in the trunk of a tree and leave him to rot for a few hundred years. Maybe put some of Nit’s hippie followers around him for good measure. But that was the old Zeus. He was putting the anger behind him, not falling back into old patterns. He exhaled. He would take Tekhno to the Court of the Gods and sue for damages or something. Following the rules was part of the fresh start. He could do this.
When the Court of the Gods was initially designed, all the gods felt like they had to have a say in how it looked and how it worked. Eventually, as massive group projects are wont to go, those loudest about bureaucracy won the battle of how it worked, and those loudest about aesthetics saw the abomination of design that had been born out of their committee and wanted to go hang themselves.
Up Zeus went to the mishmash of architectures from cultures worldwide. Had he possessed any aesthetic sensibilities beyond “not all beige,” he would have cringed, but he was not overburdened with such gifts. The Court was its usual bustle, with deities from a plethora of pantheons going in and out via their preferred travel mechanisms on air, land, water, and fire. Gods waited in long lines which snaked into the massive labyrinthine corridors, and politely ignored each other in a distinct haze of bored irritation.
Zeus had never liked the Court of the Gods.
He wound his way through halls that led upstairs to go downstairs and halls that looped in onthemselves to go upside down until he found the Justice Wing. And after about eighteen hours of waiting in line, during which he frequently returned to deep breathing and repeating gratitudes (it would not be beneficial to shoot lightning in here), he made his slow way toward the desk. When he saw the deity behind it, he stifled a groan. The God of Bureaucracy itself, whose name was a long acronym that he’d never bothered to learn, stiffened itself up and gave a forced smile.
The God of Bureaucracy, whom Zeus secretly thought of as Gob, was also the product of a committee. Unlike most gods it had no specified gender identity, for the committee was unable to decide on one. It had one of those faces that you would immediately forget upon looking away—something bland and generic, and yet entirely unappealing. Its paper-white skin always looked smudged with black and red ink.
“Welcome-to-the-Court-of-the-Gods-how-may-I-help-you?” Gob said in a bored monotone.
Zeus had a newfound irritation for my-name-is-Grace. “I’d like to file a complaint against Tekhno. And also a restraining order against him. And sue for damages. And also…um…all the other things I can do to keep him away.”
Gob was simultaneously stamping, marking, and stapling papers, which it filed in different compartments under its desk. “And what is the nature of your complaint?” it droned.
“He wrecked my house.”
Gob reached underneath the desk and brought out a thick stack of papers. “Fill these out. Don’t forget to add in whether you live in a castle, mansion, tree house, submerged vehicle, spider web, volcano, recreational vehicle, etc. on pages one through three. Detail the nature of the wreckage, including approximate psychic value on all items destroyed and approximate impairment value of all items that were damaged, on pages four through twelve. The nature of your relationship with the subject goes on pages thirteen through twenty nine, and the specifics of your encounter go on pages thirty through fifty three.”
Zeus thumbed through the stack of papers. There were at least two hundred pages. “And the rest?”
“You fill it out in quadruplicate, and then the last copy is for you to keep for your records. Next,” it barked towards the line of gods in its same nasally tone. Gob’s hands hadn’t stopped moving as it talked. It alternated between stamps that said “DENIED,” “ABSOLUTELY NOT,” and “ESCALATED,” thumping each one on a never-ending parade of paper forms.
“Wait, waitaminute. I’m not done. Is this really all necessary to file a complaint?”
“Necessary, but not sufficient. When you’re done with these forms, go to the undercorridor of the Justice Wing and give them to filing. They’ll give you the filing forms, and the notification forms, and the scribing documents—”
“Are you kidding me with all this? Is there nothing simpler I could do? Perhaps just this once?” Zeus flashed his most winning smile. Maybe Gob could be charmed?
The deity’s stoic expression remained unchanged. Nope, not an effective strategy. “Sir, for the goals you have stated you must go through the proper procedures. No exceptions. Next!”
“Wait wait wait!” Zeus planted his hands on the desk, and looked over his shoulder to give a warning look to the goddess standing behind him in line, who’d begun to inch forwards hopefully. “What would be the quickest thing I could do if I wanted to get another god off my back?”
Gob rolled its white eyes and gave an exasperated sigh. “If you want to be uncivilized about it, you can just challenge them to a duel. Winner gets to determine what the loser has to do. But that’s merely left over from an archaic law in the books. We’ve evolved far past such barbarities. I would strongly suggest that instead, you—”
“Duel. Got it.” Zeus felt more energized than he had in years. “Right. How do I do that?” In the old days, he’d just done what he felt like. But, fresh start. He’d follow the rules.
Gob pursed its stained lips. “Go to neutral ground and yell out your challenge. But I must strongly suggest you take a more…official route.”
Zeus took one last look at the papers that sat piled on Gob’s desk. “Nah, I’m good.”
The Court of the Gods had several outdoor courtyards, each of a different climate and foliage (or lack thereof). Technically the court was neutral territory, so this should be as good a place as any. Zeus planted himself in the middle of a Mediterranean-looking courtyard. A long rectangle of grass was dotted with occasional marble benches and surrounded by cypress and eucalyptus trees. He inhaled deeply—it smelled like home. But this was not the time.
“Tekhno! I challenge you!” he roared at the top of his lungs. The grass flattened and the trees snapped backward before they sprang up again. It had been years since he’d gotten in a really good roar.
Within seconds, Tekhno, a goddess in a toga, and an enormous crowd appeared. Not just any goddess—it was Themis. SHIT.
She stepped forward. “A challenge has been issued! As the justice deity on shift, I will be the judge and referee. Tekhno, as the challenged, you may choose the field of battle.”
Tekhno looked smug. His lips twitched into a sneer as he said, “Old man, you really think this is a good idea? I’ll tell you what—I’ll even give you a chance to take it back.” Electronics glittered and blinked up and down the god’s skinny body in ever-changing patterns, held together by very neat lines of wires. No tangles here.
Zeus narrowed his eyes. “I should offer you the same.”
“Very well, it’s your funeral.” What a self-satisfied asshole. “For our battlefield, I choose…the internet.”
The what now? Oh wait, Esther from the retirement complex had mentioned that at one point. She’d been using it to keep in touch with her grandkids. She said they sent her pictures. How was that a battlefield?
“In fact,” Tekhno continued, turning to the audience with a grandiose gesture, “I’ll even give the old man an hour in advance, to get to know the field. Because I’m all magnanimous and shit.”
Themis nodded, and raised her arms. The Mediterranean courtyard transformed with a whoosh. A laminate floor pushed aside the grass, low gray cloth-covered walls sprouted from below, two marble benches morphed into two wood desks, and two more benches shifted into office chairs. A laptop appeared on each desk, cables coiling down towards outlets and ports on the walls.
“After you.” Tekhno gestured with an evil grin. Zeus took in the audience, who was still looking on in eager anticipation. Who in the hells were all these people? He recognized a few deities within the ranks. Didn’t matter. He was Zeus, once king of the gods. He could take this little pipsqueak in whatever shit he tried to pull. He sat down in one of the office chairs. It squeaked, and Tekhnosmirked.
“Tekhno has given Zeus one hour’s head start. The battlefield is the internet. As the judge, I decree that the winner is determined by the perception of the internet denizens: the god who they like most at the end is the winner. As there is no way to get the entire internet to agree on anything, a reasonable majority, as determined by me, will be required.” Themis gave Zeus a look. She was far from his favorite ex-wife. “Let the battle begin!”
Okay. He could do this. The screen in front of him had three icons: one labeled “Internet Explorer,” one labeled “Firefox,” and one labeled “Chrome.” “Internet Explorer” sounded a little too perfect.Tekhno giving him an extra amount of time and dangling that in front of him? Not a chance—it had to be a trap. He’d never had good experiences with foxes. Those Japanese buggers in particular were tricky little beasts—so Chrome it was. He quickly figured out how to use the mouse and clicked it. The audience cheered in approval and Tekhno frowned. Good, he must be on the right track.
He might be old. He might be retired. But Zeus was nothing if not clever. Within minutes, he’d figured it out and was clicking links with abandon.
People were posting on forums and social media, writing articles and blog posts, and all just…talking to each other. A lot of the discussion was through images with bold text over them, and tiny bits of moving pictures. Well, that was easy enough. Zeus started posting comments to random conversations, interjecting “Zeus rocks!” wherever he could find. He also figured out how to take a picture of himself on the laptop camera, put “Zeus rocks!” on top of the image, and started posting that too. This might take a while.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tekhno sitting down in the spot next to him. Had it been an hour already? Mucking about online certainly didn’t seem like it had taken that long. They were seated next to each other, desks set up so they could see each other’s screens.
“Aw, you’re figuring out what lolcats are. That’s adorable.” Tekhno’s voice was loud enough to carry to the audience, who rippled with an approving chuckle.
Lolcats? There were cats everywhere on this weird internet thing. He looked it up, wishing he could call in a favor from Bast, former cat-goddess of Egypt, but he was pretty sure she was still pissed at him. Had he promised her they’d do dinner? He probably had…
“He thinks posting in conversations is enough to get people to like him! Oh that’s cute. Heycloudypants, whatcha gonna do if I do this?”
A sudden swarm of new users appeared in the same forums and social media hashtags where Zeus had been posting. “Zeus sucks!” was the common refrain, and they were everywhere.
Fine. He was Zeus. He was clever enough to defeat Cronus, so he certainly could do this. They likedlolcats? He could give them cats. He transformed himself into a cat with cloud-like markings on his sides. CLICK CLICK CLICK. He took picture after picture of himself in different poses, then changed back to his usual form and uploaded them everywhere.
CLOUDY CAT RAINS ON YOUR PARADE
RAINING CATS, NOT DOGS
DESTROY THE COUCH? SORRY, I’LL HAVE TO GET A RAIN-CHECK
I’VE GOT YOUR SILVER LINING RIGHT HERE
It was working. The pictures spread online, and cloudy cat became a meme. Zeus glanced over to what Tekhno was doing. His screen had lines and lines of gobbledygook—no language Zeus had ever seen before, though there were occasional words in there he could make out.
Whatever. When people started making their own cloudy cat memes (WHEN IT RAINS IT PURRS) and started producing shirts and bumper stickers, he figured it was good enough. He stood up and yelled, “Behold, the might of Zeus! I am cloudy cat, and the internet loves me. Themis, declare it!”
Tekhno laughed. “Aw, you really ARE adorable. Getting a meme going in so short a time isn’t bad, I’ll grant you that. But it’s nothing in comparison to this.” He hit a button on his keyboard.
Zeus waited. Nothing seemed to happen. “And?”
“I’ve now taken over the web. I’ve hacked into the largest ISPs on earth, and started routing traffic my own way. People trying to go to Google are going to my own Google spoof site, where every returned link informs them that Zeus sucks. Rotten Tomatoes? The hottest thing on it is a movie called ‘Zeus’…guess what. It sucks.” He giggled. “I’ve made Facebook and Twitter swap everybody’s profile picture with an image that says ‘Zeus sucks.’ Reddit’s front page is overflowing with links about how Zeus sucks. Every mobile phone worldwide is getting a text that says ‘Zeus sucks.’ Are you getting the picture?”
Zeus poked around online. “Zeus sucks” was everywhere. It far outweighed anything cloudy cat could reach. No. This was awful—Tekhno was young and flush with power, and he remembered what happened when young and powerful gods won. He used to be that guy.
“Uh oh!” crowed Tekhno, his visor glittering with LEDs. “Now every digital traffic sign, airport announcement board, and even every connected coffee maker is displaying the words ‘Zeus sucks.’”
Themis smiled. “That seems pretty definitive to me. You have 10… 9…” The audience started counting down along with her.
This punk was going to want to humiliate him. And probably do something way worse than try to chain Zeus to a rock and have his liver eaten every day. Worse than killing him. Worse than humiliating him in front of Themis.
The bubble of rage swelled in Zeus’ chest and he stood up with a roar. NOBODY got the best of Zeus. He was the king of the gods, slayer of Cronus! He reached for Tekhno’s neck, and—
“Physical harm to your opponent is out of bounds for this challenge,” chirped Themis. “6… 5…”
Breathe. Anger is not constructive. Find your gratitudes or an outlet for the anger. An outlet…
And there it was. Two tiny outlets at the bottom of the low gray walls. Zeus yanked out the two laptop cables with a swoop, and shoved in as much raw lightning power as he could.
Extra juice surged through the wires, which were metaphysically connected to the entirety of the earth’s electrical grid, which overloaded. Around the world, cell towers shut off, servers died, and equipment went dark in quick succession. And as wires shorted out and blackouts rolled across the world, humanity en mass glared at their suddenly-disconnected cell phones and dead screens and grumbled, “What is this piece of shit?”
“2… 1… Well, that was unexpected,” said Themis, “but in a last-minute turn, I declare Zeus the winner.” An amused smile played on her face, and with a wave of her arms she dissolved the arena, the crowds, the computers, and the low walls. The elements of a eucalyptus-scented Mediterranean courtyard rushed in from all directions to fill the empty space.
“What? Are you kidding me?” screamed Tekhno. “That’s cheating! The battlefield was the internet!” He stamped his foot like a petulant child.
Themis walked over to Tekhno, growing with every step until she dwarfed him. Arms akimbo, she said, “And he disabled the internet, making far more people hate you than you had them hating him. Do you care to challenge the ruling? You know, the one from the IMPARTIAL GODDESS OF JUSTICE?” She stared him down. Zeus remembered that look, and was distinctly relieved to not be its target for once. It could strip the leaves right off a laurel wreath.
Tekhno winced and looked away. Hah. The kid couldn’t handle it. “Nothatsfine” he mumbled.
“Very well. As the winner of the challenge, Zeus may claim his prize.” She made another gesture, and Gob appeared with a stack of paperwork. The god had its usual puckered look on its face.
Zeus tamped down a shudder at the papers. But his award. He hadn’t even thought that far ahead! He could take whatever he wanted. He could strip Tekhno of everything he owned, everything he could do! He could be back, most powerful god once more! And he could….
He saw Tekhno’s scared face, and remembered Sisyphus and Prometheus, Thor and Raijin and the Thunderbird, and all the others he’d punished over the years. No. No falling back into the old patterns. Powerful Zeus lashed out, and he didn’t want to be that person anymore.
But he didn’t have to roll over and take it, either.
“My prize has three components. First: Tekhno shall be required to pay as much funds into my account each month as I deem fit. I’m not gonna deal with this electric bill bullshit again. Second:Tekhno is never to bother me again, in however way I deem ‘bothering’ at the time. And third,” at this an evil grin spread on his face, “Tekhno is now responsible for any paperwork I might have to do, in any context, from now until the end of time, and must do it correctly and to the best of his ability.”
“WHAT? Absolutely not. This is ridiculous! I challenge you!” Tekhno stood up and tapped a few buttons on his arms and stomach.
Gob started its droning monotone, “If a loser of a challenge wishes to re-challenge the challengee, he or she or it must wait for a period of no less than seven thousand years, and at that time fill out forms 1098A, X-860, 826-R-C-”
“Actually, I think that challenging me would constitute bothering me, and we’ve just established you can’t do that.” Zeus crossed his arm with a smirk.
“He’s right,” said Themis. “Now Tekhno, I believe you have some post-challenge paperwork to fill out.”
“This sucks. This sucks SO HARD. But just you wait. I’ll expand and become the god of innovation, too. I have this startup idea…”
A week later, it was time for the next therapy appointment.
“So,” said Dr. Brinkman, “how are things?” He leaned back in a leather burgundy armchair and twitched open the button on his burgundy corduroy blazer.
Zeus filled him in. “And you know what? You should be really proud of me. I didn’t kill anybody. I used the breathing techniques and everything.”
“Well,” Dr. Brinkman looked a bit uncomfortable, not looking up from his yellow legal pad. “I mean, that’s not quite true. The massive blackouts killed a few patients on respirators who couldn’t get on backup generators fast enough, and there were three plane crashes when the air traffic controllers lost power. But overall,” he hurried to add as he looked up, “you didn’t do so badly! After all, you didn’tknow that those were the consequences, and you refrained from slaughtering Tekhno. You didn’t even enact an overly-onerous punishment. I am proud. So what are you doing now?”
“Oh, nothing much. I’m staying retired, like we talked about. But with these new funds I’ve upgraded to a bitchin’ bachelor pad, and this one’s in New York City. Everything is now voice-activated—the fridge, the lights, the shades, the rotating bed…and lemme tell ya: the ladies love it.” Zeus grinned. “Between that and me offering to file taxes, fill out loan paperwork, and do immigration forms for free, I’m the most popular guy in town.”
About the Author
Effie Seiberg is a fantasy and science fiction writer. Apart from in the Escape Artists family of podcasts, her stories can be found in the “Women Destroy Science Fiction!” special edition of Lightspeed Magazine (winner of the 2015 British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology), Galaxy’s Edge, Analog, and Fireside Fiction, amongst others.
Effie lives in San Francisco. She likes to make sculpted cakes and bad puns.
About the Narrator
Graeme Dunlop is a Software Solution Architect. Despite his somewhat mixed accent, he was born in Australia. He loves the spoken word and believes it has the ability to lift the printed word above and beyond cold words on a page. He and Barry J. Northern founded Cast of Wonders in 2011 and can be found narrating or hosting the occasional episode, or working on projects behind the scenes. He is co-editor and co-host of PodCastle and has read stories for all of Escape Artists podcasts.
Graeme lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Amanda, and crazy boy dog, Jake.