The machine-man looked back and forth between Talie and the nameless god. He flicked several switches on his arm, and a puzzled expression formed on his face.
“Come along, Mr. Cognis,” Talie said. “We’re wasting our time here.”
* * *
Spiro hadn’t realized the clocks had stopped until they start ticking again. This time, he felt positive he hadn’t imagined the silence. Spiro reached for Harmonia’s hand, but she slipped away, lightly hopping over a row of clocks on the floor.
The nameless god sat in contemplation, but his eyes brightened when he noticed the bronze-haired girl walking toward him. Harmonia curtsied. This was not temple etiquette any more than what Talie had done. Spiro cringed, fearing how the god, already angered, might crush the poor girl with one clawed foot.
“May I call you Prometheus?” Harmonia said.
The nameless god cocked his head to the side. “You may,” he answered.
“Prometheus, when I first beheld you, I was terrified. You appeared to be a vicious monster who might demolish this temple and the city around it were you not placated by our priests. Now I know you for what you really are: a warrior of great honor. You were maimed in battle, but that makes you no less great.
“Noble Prometheus, please accept this humble girl into your service.”
“The High Priest chooses those worthy of my service,” the nameless god said.
“I provide a different kind of service than the clergy of this temple. I can provide you companionship, friendship, and love. I will treat you as you wish to be treated: not as a god, but as a man.”
Harmonia was going too far. Spiro nearly ran into the open to protect her from the wrath that was surly coming, but the nameless god did not lash out at the girl’s impiety. The god’s contemplative mood remained unchanged.
“I have spent many eons hiding from the Acelera,” the nameless god said. “I have visited many worlds where many other primitive cultures bowed down to worship me, but never before has anyone offered me companionship as you describe it. I have not known a friend for over thirteen billion years, not since the day I turned against my own people.
“I welcome your offer. Come sit by my side. Perhaps I will find your companionship useful.”
Harmonia smiled. She bounced on her toes, so eager to obey, but first she ran back to Spiro and kissed him on the lips. Her frivolous joy, however, did not infect the young acolyte.
“Do I have to pay for that?” Spiro said, unable to meet Harmonia’s eyes.
“That one’s free,” Harmonia said, laughing. “And so is this.”
Harmonia kissed Spiro again. The nameless god sat on his throne watching this human custom with interest.
* * *
The next day, Spiro skipped the morning sermon and neglected his other duties. Rumors were already spreading among the acolytes about the nameless god’s new companion. Spiro left the temple grounds before the lewd jokes could begin.
Harmonia had called the nameless god an insect, but he was an insect unlike any other, an insect that could squash a man as a man might squash a normal insect. In his fitful sleep, Spiro had dreamed of Harmonia sitting at the god-insect’s feet like a pet. She’d never looked so beautiful, draped in resplendent, silver robes, her eyes full of stars. The nameless god leaned down to kiss her, but his mouth, full of needle-like teeth, tore her flesh, leaving bloody lacerations all over her face. And yet she smiled, and the stars still gleamed in her eyes.
Then, in the dream, Talie came to badger Spiro with questions like “How does this make you feel?” or “What do you plan to do about it?”
“What am I supposed to do about it?” Spiro now mumbled to himself, kicking pebbles off the road. “Harmonia is Harmonia. No law or custom restrains her. No box was ever made to contain her. Why would she ever listen to me?”
Spiro paused where the road forked. In one direction lay a hidden meadow only he and Harmonia knew, their secret meeting spot once long ago. Spiro decided to take the other path. He headed away from the city and the farms and olive groves and into the untamed parts of the island.
Aside from the fertile valley on the eastern coast, most of Atlantis was a barren wilderness. A rare bush or scraggly tree provided the only color in a landscape of crags and rocks. As Spiro looked out to sea that morning, even the water seemed grey to him.
But the nameless god had not left even this inhospitable area untouched. His wind turbines stood on the highest peaks, and his watermills made productive use of every river and stream, generating electricity for Atlantis’s technologically advanced society.
As Spiro approached one of these watermills, a peasant rushed out to meet him.
“My lord priest!” the peasant said. “We were wrong to disobey the river gods. The machines have angered them!”
“River gods?” Spiro said.
“They made the water turn around and come back from the sea. It started climbing out of its banks.”
“You mean it flooded?”
“No,” the peasant said, agitated. “It moved like a living thing. It chased me away from the mill. It intended to kill me!”
Spiro glanced at the river, zigzagging its way toward the sea. The watermill stood crooked on the shore, the wheel no longer turning with the current.
Then Spiro saw it. A pool seemed to separate itself from the river. It crawled over sand and gravel. It crept its way around rocks and boulders. The sunlight sparkled off its surface as it flowed onto the road and, as Spiro watched in disbelief, began snaking its way uphill.
“Poseidon, forgive us!” the peasant yelled, running back toward the city.
* * *
By the time Spiro returned to the temple, sprinting back up the road, the temple lay in ruins. Soldiers had come, dressed in red tunics and armor, carrying both swords and rifles, but they’d arrived too late. Spiro wondered how swords and rifles would have helped against a living flood anyway.
High Priest Boreas ran across what remained of the temple courtyard, calling Spiro’s name. The fastenings of his robes had come undone, and his clothes hung loose over his scrawny figure.
“Something terrible has happened!” Boreas said, grabbing Spiro by the shoulders. “The harbinger of doom… she came here. She… she interviewed me. Spiro, wisest of my pupils, you were right! Talie Tappler treads upon Atlantian soil. It is a bad omen indeed.”
Two of the soldiers approached.
“Ignore the old man,” the first said.
“General Zosimos thinks he’s gone mad,” the second added.
“You don’t understand!” Boreas said. “Talie is a journalist from the future.”
“What’s a journalist?” the first soldier asked.
Boreas frowned. “I’m not certain,” he said, “but I believe it’s someone who makes their living spreading gossip.”
The soldiers laughed. “Sounds like a job well suited for a woman.”
Spiro stepped away from Boreas and the giggling army men. He did not need to hear their talk about the legendary Talie Tappler. He could see her reality in the temple’s collapsed walls and in the bodies of the other acolytes scattered among the rubble.
“What happened to the nameless god?” Spiro asked, choosing not to mention Harmonia.
“The water flowed up the steps,” Boreas said, making a wave-like motion with his hands. “When the nameless god saw it, he went into a rage. I think he caused more damage than the enchanted water. Finally, he punched a hole in the floor and descended into the catacombs.”
Spiro took a deep breath. “Then I will follow him,” he said.
“No, Spiro,” Boreas said, grasping Spiro’s arm. “The catacombs are full of ghosts and evil spirits.”
Spiro chuckled, covering his face. Amidst all this, Boreas was worried about evil spirits.
“That’s superstition,” Spiro said. “I’ve been in the catacombs before. Many of the acolytes have gone on a dare. They’re a dark and foul-smelling place, but I’ve never met any evil spirits down there.”
The High Priest seemed to remember himself. He released Spiro.
“Superstition,” the High Priest said, assuming a more dignified posture. “Of course. It’s just superstition.”
* * *
General Zosimos and a company of ten men followed Spiro into the catacombs. Boreas would not go with them. He would only sit weeping on the temple steps, but he did tell Spiro where to find the lasers the nameless god had designed. “You were right,” Boreas said, clutching Spiro’s hand. “We needed those weapons much sooner than I’d guessed.”
Zosimos and each of his soldiers now carried a laser pistol. Spiro carried one too, as well as another of the nameless god’s inventions: a flashlight.
The catacombs stank of rot and mold. The walls, honeycombed with narrow crypts, had crumbled, spilling bones all over the floor. Spiro found a dead rat lying among them.
The group moved on through the tunnels, following a flight of stairs deeper underground. Loose bricks littered the floor. Carved stone gave way to coarse rock, and the smell of decay grew stronger. In these grim caves, it was easier to believe in the harbinger of doom and all those other crazy stories of gods and monsters. At any moment, Spiro expected to turn a corner and find the dread god Hades, lord of the underworld, with his three-headed dog beside him.