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Thus it was, that n.o.body thought much of the homecoming of either of the ex-rulers of the Underworld. As for the erstwhile rulers themselves, not only did they feel alien but they were not even on Olympus but in an outlandish and non-recognisable city. True, they were high up, but they gazed down upon nothing like they had known on their last visit in the world. Thirdly...Fifthly...Hundrethly...They nagged Zeus silly with their constant whining and he was reminded all too clearly why they were banished in the first place.

To find a way to transform all this crabby bad temper, and in an to attempt to achieve something more positive, Hera suggested Zeus and Themis should go a-walking with Chronos and Hades. A proper family outing. To get to know what was going on, find out what was really what. This walk took them far afield indeed. Where did they not go? The whole Earth was meticulously visited in their togetherness. Gaia smiled upon them. Reunited, her family again spread their presence and gave her hope. Time, hand in hand with Justice, all the Power of the past and the current Kingly Reign, closely arm in arm with all her 'pasts', Her 'is's and - her 'might-be's. Her future, was beginning to seem brighter. She still felt uncertainty. There was still an absence of Her full potential, something yearned for but nonetheless missing. It was there somewhere, just beyond Her reach. She sensed too, a future in which Yahweh may even now not permit His mighty hand to be defiled by Her loam. Her desire. Her female secretions. Her warm-damp places. So She was glad Her children visited Her thus and She smiled on Zeus. She perceived Hades' discomfiture and admonished him as a mother would, and he wriggled, like a child. They soared in a mind meld of historic significance; She was impressed. Zeus was still the strong one. Was he not melded with Yahweh? She was persuaded of a possible future if only Prometheus' mortals could properly use these combined strengths, running indivisibly in each of them. So She hoped and Zeus smiled on Her in his turn. Hope flowed from Her rivers, ran down her mountainsides, shimmied Her plates, ran currents in Her seas, wafted wetly from Her skies.

Hephaestos sat by his master, who smiling, leaned benignly on his throne. Gaia was happier. His plan could yet be done. Hades and Chronos, if not altogether convinced, were at last quiet and less surly. Hera, and her JNO were hard at work. Barboncito was pursued.

'You have made the thing?' enquired Zeus.

'Aye, Great One,' said Hephaestos.

'You will see it works for all?'

'Aye, Master,' said Hephaestos.

'Is it a hard thing to have done?'

'No my Lord. But it is without power. The thing is quite empty. I must link it to the Chronosphere.

'Ah ha!'

'I need Your Grace to give me leave.'

'Ah! Hmmm! So you do my fine Sir. So you do.You can do with it what is needed?'

'I can.'

Zeus, leaned back. Hep waited. The moment had arrived. So simply stated. It could be done. Such vast consequences, such a magnificent gift and such a loss to the givers. The greatest gift the G.o.ds could give - Themselves! - Like that - given. Zeus never doubted the scientific powers of his askew nephew. But was it really the time? Was it actually now? Once relinquished there was no return of the 'sphere to the exclusivity of the G.o.ds. This was the point of no return. Was it truly now? Even so great a G.o.d can be forgiven for the merest hesitation at such a time. He had already given all he owned and some he did not, to Yahweh as the price of this deal. But had required of Him a recognition of his own earthiness by so doing. The New Trinity existed, despite the muttering of Hades and the detached indifference of Yahweh. As long as it held so the Earthly Chronosphere was able to be given, the timelines relinquished. But, he thought to himself, 2012 was an arbitrary date, it could, after all, be later or even not at all. The choice was his. Come, come, he said to himself resolutely, enough of this. You become like that boy. Such doubts become you not. It is as I have said - it is done let us on with it!

'And of Barboncito, where is my boy and his woman?'

'Ah My Lord, this is not for me to know. You must ask Hera. Or you must use the 'sphere to summon your child.'

'He still has the net I gave him?'

'He would be foolish to have lost my net,' grinned Hep, reminding Zeus unnecessarily, by whom the object had been made.

'Ha! - You make things well. You realise if I give them the 'sphere, they will have access to all that we know. All that I know! All you know! All that His Oneship knows!'

As far as Hep was concerned this was part of the original plan. He couldn't help wondering why Zeus was being so reticent about the handing-over of the 'sphere.

'Wonder not my twisty giant,' said Zeus rising from his throne and beginning to pace in a way that made Hephaestos uncomfortable. 'I find myself up against my own planning. I ought to know by now not to set arbitrary deadlines. I have set myself a game-plan which I have pa.s.sed to others and it has left my control. Stupid, stupid...' He muttered as he paced, appearing to ignore Hep's presence. 'Why pick a date? I could have done it any time. Said nothing to anyone, merely willed it when I was ready. But no, not I, I had to be grand, make the large gesture! Tell me,' he addressed Hep again. 'If I give the Chronosphere to them now how will it work?'

Hep told him as simply as possible and as far as he knew. When he had finished, Zeus clasped him warmly to his heart, a difficult thing to accomplish given Hep's bulk.

'Do it then, just do it, I leave it to you. Do it!' and he almost ran out of the chamber. He went at speed to Olympus itself.

Where else should he go to witness his achievement? This conjoining of all the elements of Time.

There, alone, in his own and proper place, he made his arrangements. First he saw that Hephaestos finished his work. Then he summoned nymphs who came and went bearing wondrous gifts for kings of G.o.ds. Food for G.o.ds. Pleasures for G.o.ds. They came loaded down with fine decorations, folderol's and baubles of every kind. The Divine Residence had been sorely neglected. Then he summonsed the other Eleven, plus the recently arrived two. The Fourteen held court in fresh, l.u.s.trous, splendour. Much clamour was heard on the Chronosphere, though thanks to Hep little was intelligible to other listeners. They spoke and argued long and loud. Zeus was, for once, serene. The Eleven, plus two, talked until they could say no more. Round and round they went. On and on they argued until eventually utterly exhausted, they one by one eventually fell silent until there was no activity on the Earthly Chronosphere. A thing that had never, ever, happened before.

Never, since the Creation, had they all been thus quieted. It was an appalling moment. This sudden, unexpected and terrible void. An alien stillness supplanted the formerly active, noisy, endlessly fascinating Chronosphere of the many G.o.ds of Gaia. It was truly a cutting off of the timelines. But without warning. That was the thing. They had known it was coming sometime - but now? Like this? The very heartbeat of the G.o.ds, the constant thrum of their timelines - was ceased. All was silence. A fell black-hole of nothing, pulling into itself the vastness of its aeons. The world held its breath, and held it, kept holding, for too, too, too long a time. It was insupportable. Every immortal felt the dread absence as the end of their contact with creation itself. There was no past, no present, no future.

NO TIME!

NOTHING!

NO IMMORTALS!

THEMSELVES ALONE!

Time breathed its last, the ultimate disjunction. The G.o.ds unbuckled the cord to humankind. Cut! Like prisoners abruptly thrown from captivity, they knew not where to go. Their work with mortals at an end! From that moment each might have their own story to tell anew. The world, however, had shifted its conceptual axis. Time for mortals, must begin again and theirs was the future. In any case there would nevermore be an Earth where the thoughts of G.o.ds of any kind were relevant or influential.

For Hera it was the end of her work. There was nothing more for her at JNO. The future of humankind was beyond her powers. Hep had done his work. Zeus had forged his Trinity. She wanted to be near her man. Share the last experience. Drink from the divine cup to the dregs.

'Alas you cannot.' Zeus clasped his spouse to his grand bosom. 'If I could my little cuckoo...If only I could. Things are not as they were. I am no longer one only. I am three. You cannot stay with me and be as before. You may go where you will. You may stay with mortals but without power, or else bind indivisibly with us, my cuckoo; if you choose not to remain part of them. I will be found in new timelines - as one part of the New Trinity. Gaia now depends on this last race in these final moments of their time. You can stay as part of them or live without Gaia and without humankind. The Trinity will form new G.o.ds for other forms of life on different and distant timelines.'

This was The Defining Moment for Hera and the other G.o.ds. To stay with mortals and be absorbed by them in the hope they had done enough and Gaia would be saved, or to leave this earth as part of the New Trinity for new worlds to merge with different intelligent forms of life. They were faced for the first time with the circularity of the ultimate reality of 'chicken and egg'. Was it they who created humankind, or vice-versa? Could they exist as they were elsewhere? Did their validity exist in each mortal as thoughts and ideas, or had they to be redefined, among other intelligences far off in the Firmament? To go or to stay? How best to survive? To survive at all? What questions! What new thoughts for Earthy G.o.ds! They who just were - now must make choices for themselves. They could no longer stay unchanged. The New Trinity had seen to that. Past, present and future all one! Being was for mortals only - is that it? Is this what it all came down to? Mortals had to decide all alone what being meant - without G.o.ds - and if they got it wrong? All would soon be known, as the redefined timelines of humankind were all but played out.

From Olympus - refurbished as of old, Zeus now summoned G.o.ds who would follow the New Trinity and he particularly relished the presence of his father Chronos, his brother Hades and the coming of his erstwhile rival Yahweh and his Son to his shimmering halls.

Huge thunderclouds gathered above the mountain and cut them off from prying eyes as they made plans. Great gaudy displays of lightening deterred travellers from too close a contact. Mists rose from the damp earth covering the ground in billowing vapours. Cut off from the Earth no mortals could evermore penetrate Olympus. Alexander alone of mortals, heard Zeus's call, as did all the G.o.ds of all time. Many trembled in their various fastnessess - made wondering and fearful by this mind-bending turn of events.

Chapter 13.

Alexander heard Zeus' Defining Moment through the net moulded to his shoulders. December 2012 had just three revolutions left on the axis of the Earth.

Barboncito's trace was everywhere, making him difficult to track - he moved at amazing speed so long as Fourthworld thrived through the sickness of Gaia. The signs that may have marked the beginning of the recovery seen by Doris Botham were not widely noticed. Marina and Alexander in their travels watched in dismay as everywhere, they saw how the new leader of Tartarus loosed his acolytes to roam where they could do their best work. They joined with terrorists, religious fundamentalists, cultists, shallow-ecologists, politicians, aesthetes, new agers, born-againers, holy-rollers, bureaucrats, with all the 'ists' and all the 'isms'. They conjoined in Fourthworld to deny the Fifth its hold on Gaia and haul the world back into the dead past.

Europa's mother culture in defence of freedom and democracy, could only prescribe b.l.o.o.d.y war, sabotage, invasion, and repression of every kind in the name of progress and stability. Gaia closed her eyes the better to gather her strength, and reposed only in minute s.n.a.t.c.hes. In these interludes, Barboncito's crew entrenched themselves ever deeper in UNPEX and the other administrative bodies of the world. Each sigh from Gaia whether earthquake, flood, or weather change, threw JNO out of gear and increased the followers of Fouthworld. Hadeans in contradiction of their proper place in the Underworld, led mortals to their own brand of immortality. There was heroism, there was subtlety and there was cunning, there was downright madness. The throngs at Charon Crossing multiplied. So the past and present mingled, indivisibly, as yet without the leaven of creative possibilities from an unpredictable future.

Despite prognostications from myriads of experts - n.o.body outside JNO knew what was really happening. The strengthened bridgehead of stability JNO was beginning to develop, struggled in the almost incoherent babble of UNPEX and its networks. Barboncito also knew what was afoot. GAIANET showed him how JNO's grip had subtly strengthened. The outrageous defections of Hades and Chronos had made him redouble his work in antic.i.p.ation of the loss of strength he felt slowly flowing from him. To compensate he had reached deep into Hades and he dredged yet more outpouring from the many Sipapu's of the world. Thus weakened in power but strengthened in numbers, he worked all the harder, but preoccupied, he failed to perceive the Defining Moment.

For Alexander the moment of the loss of the G.o.ds was a terrible wrench to his psyche, a bereavement accompanied by a such a depth of grief in his heart that it stopped him in his tracks.

Barboncito also felt the loss, but unlike his counterpart had no countervailing sense of the infinite future. He saw with horror that mortals were truly G.o.dless, at long last. Freed from the ability to offload guilt. They were the only beings responsible for the Earth and everything in it. Free to reject him!

Barboncito wilted under the crushing weight of his own loss, his followers out of place, as the Underworld itself faded like mist in the strong, warm, morning sun. Hades in the world had weakened him, but he still had resources, He had hoped that with Chronos in the world they would fight on together to establish his past in their present. But Chronos had given up and was not available to him, and Barboncito knew that alone, he could not hold the ascendancy of the Underworld in the consciousness of the living. Before his eyes his Hadeans gradually dissolved. Trapped on the wrong side of the Sipapu he too faded into the past and ceased to be. He nonetheless slipped proudly into the remembrance of his people where he belonged for all time.

Mingled with the pain of his loss, Alexander wondered if Ric and Hep had succeeded with Mimix? This last effort from JNO to give mortals the chance to use their new freedom and make them as truly and gloriously great as the lost G.o.ds. He had estimated the inevitable coming of the Defining Moment, but had expected it later, on the stroke of midnight 2012. He wryly noted this last inconsistency of Zeus. Immediately he missed the sense of his father and felt the uselessness of the net around his shoulders, its ma.s.s increasing moment by moment, weighing heavily as it became simple gold. Alone within himself for the first time since its acquisition, his loss was now so deep he could not just ignore it and go on. He would never see Prometheus again. Never sit with Zeus, Hera nor his beloved Nemmi. Would Thea still be available? Even the infuriating Pan was gone. Hep, there was no Hep to guide him, no giant arm on which to lean!

At the moment of the silent void of the G.o.ds, Alexander and Marina were in a fourtrack racing across the Egyptian desert towards the Mediterranean gulf that had been the Nile flood-plain. High in the hills of the inlet of the drowned Valley of the Kings, was an ancient Sipapu where they thought to find Barboncito in his last efforts to empty Hades. Marina, sensing a change in him, glanced across at Alexander and, at the Defining Moment, saw him clutch his shoulders and bow his head. She made an emergency stop, skidding to a halt in a cloud of dust and sand.

From the moment of her recovery from her adventure in Hades she had kept her wary eye on him. Her experience in Hades was something she could only characterise as a dream in sub-s.p.a.ce. She had no clear memory of those events. All she knew from Lucina on Ios was that the Concordat flight to San Francisco had hit unexpected turbulence and she had been evacuated automatically by a new seat-ejector safety system. She had lost consciousness and was one of only thirty-five survivors found in the sea. She had been in a coma for weeks and brought to Ios by Penny. She recovered soon after Alexander's return from his mission to Arizona. This explained his knowledge of the work of Barboncito. She had accepted this explanation having none other. As soon as she was fit they set off to find and stop him. The other-world experience was just a highly significant dream remembered for its impact and importance; and which operated powerfully on her from deep in her unconscious mind. She was also still bothered by the otherness of Alexander as 'Them' which had affected her from the very moment of their meeting.

She watched him slumped in his seat, staring sightlessly ahead and was full of thoughts, questions, she would not - would not... If asked she would have said her primary interest in him was purely professional and it was that alone which had drawn her to stay with him. Not since her conversation with Ric in the grounds of Markham, had she given any consideration to what his being one of 'Them' meant to her. The need for action then as now, in the pursuit of Barboncito, overrode personal matters. Nevertheless she could not prevent unbidden thoughts prompting questions which she had suppressed as irrelevant to their task.

She recalled the pair of gadgets Ric had given her before they left Ios; to be used only on a signal from Ric, or in exceptional circ.u.mstances, when without Ric's signal, it might or might not work. Placed on the wrist, he said, it would aid communication and clarify her thoughts. He had also told her it was untried, and so might have unforeseen and maybe even alarming consequences. Needing as much security as possible in her life Marina did not trust anything other than the tried and tested. Nevertheless her thoughts bothered her more than she liked. Like water under pressure, they leaked out from her control. She touched her belt bag where she had put the devices.

'Are you alright?' she asked. 'What's the matter? Are you ill?' was all she would allow herself to say. It was not normally in her nature to be over concerned with the feelings of others. He did not reply and remained motionless as if in a trance. Marina was surprised by the force of her uninvited thoughts. Alexander, paid her no attention and as if in a dream, he struggled in the confines of the car to remove his light jacket and shirt .She was astonished to see a gold mesh kind of shawl, which fitted round his shoulders like a second skin. Peeling it off, he folded it mechanically into a small package, the size of a handkerchief, and placed it in the glove compartment. She was amazed at the fineness of it. It was of the purest gold, beautifully wrought, it must be worth a fortune, and he was discarding it as if it no longer had value.

'What in the name of all that's holy is that you've taken off! It's time you came clean with me. We've enough on our plate without you having sudden heebie-jeebies in the middle of the desert'.

Alexander turned his head slowly and searched he face as if he were seeing her for the first time, astonished to find her there.

'Okay, okay, that's it! said Marina. 'I've had it! I want to know it all. I've been living inside this crazy dream for the past G.o.d knows how long, and I've checked you out and your family and you're weird, the lot of you, DNA weird. Ric tells me it's all to do with Greek G.o.ds and that's the origin of the other Firm. Well all I know is that there is another Firm, that's a fact and we're all working on that knowledge and that Barboncito who I know is real because I f.u.c.ked him like I f.u.c.ked you, so I know you're as real as him, if as weird. I know I get different feelings from you than I did from him. I know the world's gone barmy and might be coming to an end if we don't stop Barboncito from hacking his way to world power - but what I don't know and can't make any sense of is....is....what's the significance! So what's the big deal if you two, and Thea and Lucina and Ljeschi have different DNA patterns from the rest of humanity! So what if you are somehow descended from people who the Greeks made into G.o.ds if that's how it was then, I don't know anything about that. Maybe Greek G.o.ds once had, maybe they still have, some kind if influence on us today, but so what! Why the h.e.l.l is it so important....and why are you staring at me like that?'

He was torn apart by the loss of that half of him which had given him purpose. Desperate for the return of the 'sphere which had been turned off so abruptly, he also was acutely aware of a brand new reality facing him and the real people in JNO. His mother, Ric and the others. He also knew he was so in love with the face determinedly confronting him. Stranded between his loss and what he could see had been gained, he did not know whether to laugh or cry. Tears rolled down his face as ma.s.sive relief, vast waves of hope, great wastes of loss, washed through him back and forth. The huge waters of his emotion dashed against the dam of his mind, until he thought he would break into pieces. Marina, her resolve of years, breached by his torrent of feeling, clasped his head in her bosom and wailed with him. She extracted the Mimix wrapped in her belt-bag and without withdrawing from him, she strapped them in place. They would see what they would see. Was this the abyss into which they would fall, or would they, equally, gloriously, fly into a splendid future?

Alone in the endless desert, wrapped by a timeless remembrance of a race of people striving for immortality, they marked the Defining Moment as true lovers. They were mortals with a world to win. Complete in their mutual vulnerability, open to the world, they heard the buzzing of a new human 'sphere. She to discover it, he to teach the world. For the first time she felt open and joined with the universe, he revelled in new understanding. He was sure he felt the presence of Thea and Nemmi, of Hera and Pan.

Of Zeus there was nothing, but was not that a bright new star he saw in the Firmament...travelling...travelling.

THE END.

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2012 Part 28 summary

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