The Children of the Company (The Company Series #6) [NOOK Book]


Take a ride through time with the devil. In the sixth book of the Company series, we meet Executive Facilitator General Labienus. He's used his immortal centuries to plot a complete takeover of the world since he was a young god-figure in Sumeria. In a meditative mood, he reviews his interesting career. He muses on his subversion of the Company black project ADONAI. He considers also Aegeus, his despised rival for power, who has discovered and captured a useful race of mortals known as Homo sapiens umbratilis. ...
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The Children of the Company (The Company Series #6)

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Take a ride through time with the devil. In the sixth book of the Company series, we meet Executive Facilitator General Labienus. He's used his immortal centuries to plot a complete takeover of the world since he was a young god-figure in Sumeria. In a meditative mood, he reviews his interesting career. He muses on his subversion of the Company black project ADONAI. He considers also Aegeus, his despised rival for power, who has discovered and captured a useful race of mortals known as Homo sapiens umbratilis. Their unique talents may enable him to seize ultimate power. Labienus plans a double cross that will kill two birds with one stone: he will woo away Aegeus's promising protege, the Facilitator Victor, and at the same time dispose of a ghost from his own past who has become inconvenient. The Hugo-nominated novella "Son Observe The Time," telling that part of the story, is integrated into the narrative. Fans of the series will love this book, and new readers will be enthralled.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The latest, slightly disappointing volume in Baker's highly regarded Company series (The Life of the World to Come, etc.) incorporates previously published short stories within a larger narrative framework. Immortal cyborgs have worked behind the scenes throughout human history, ostensibly to rescue great works of art, endangered species and other victims of human and natural disasters. Supposedly, Dr. Zeus, the 24th-century company that used time travel to create the cyborgs back in prehistoric times, is doing this for the good of all humanity, but previous books have dropped hints that things aren't exactly what they seem and that Dr. Zeus has powerful ulterior motives. Now, through these connected tales and Baker's frame, which focuses on a corrupt cyborg leader named Labienus, we gain new insight into the complexities of cyborg politics, while the existence of another human species, Homo sapiens umbratilis, holds out a dark promise for humanity's future. Though the individual episodes read well, they add up to a somewhat disjointed whole. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
From his self-made role as the god Enlil in ancient Sumeria to his being assigned to San Francisco in 1906 to assist in the salvage of valuable items just before the great earthquake to his pursuit of his nemesis, which carries him to the 23rd century, the Executive Facilitator General Labienus has sought to increase his control over the world. Baker's sixth novel featuring the exploits of the time-traveling corporation known as The Company offers a compelling meditation on events in the life of one man whose exploits span the course of human history. Chosen as the November title in the newly launched SCI FI Essential Books Program, cosponsored by Tor Books and the SCI FI Channel, this panoramic study of history through the eyes of an immortal time traveler belongs in most sf collections. Libraries should anticipate demand from series fans as well as SCI FI Channel aficionados. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another installment in Baker's incomparable multi-volume time-travel saga (The Life of the World to Come, 2004, etc.), a seamless "fix-up" of six previously published stories. The "company" of the title is called Dr. Zeus; having discovered time travel, it set about rearranging the past to suit its own obscure ends and ensure its own existence. In the 24th century, childlike mortal geniuses run Dr. Zeus for fun and profit. To that end, Dr. Zeus created a race of immortal cyborgs who loot the past to enrich their masters (they grab anything valuable that historians say was lost or destroyed). Unknown to their mortal masters, however, the cyborg Executive Facilitators are plotting to take over Dr. Zeus in 2355, the year beyond which no time travelers can penetrate. Devious, expert manipulator Labienus seeks to outfox his rival Aegeus by suborning Victor, Aegeus's innocent, trusting assistant Facilitator. Unwittingly serving Labienus's purposes, Victor deactivates cyborg Lewis when Lewis has come upon too much of the truth, confronts the ancient Neanderthal Enforcer, Budu, Labienus's former teacher, now a rival for power, and duly spreads a plague that selectively kills thousands of mortals. Labienus, you see, loathes and despises the humans he supposedly serves, because their swarming, unchecked masses pollute the pure Earth he once cherished as the cruel Sumerian god Enlil. Funny, heart-rending, terrifying, pellucid, Baker's magnificent series grows in stature with every installment.
From the Publisher
Praise for Children of the Company

A Romantic Times Book Club nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel of 2005

A Kirkus Best Book of 2005

"Kage Baker is the greatest natural storyteller to enter the field since Poul Anderson." -Gardner Dozois

"Baker's sixth novel featuring the exploits of the time-traveling corporation known as The Company offers a compelling meditation on the events in the life of one man whose exploits span the course of human history." -Library Journal

"Vividly evoked. . . .Baker has a light touch, and her effervescent characterization and talent for social comedy make The Children of the Company picturesque and picaresque, sometimes extremely funny." -Nick Gevers, Locus

"Anything Kage Baker publishes I will immediately rush out and read! I am never disappointed. The woman is a marvel. She can take on any voice, in any time, and make it sing high and low."— Ellen Kushner

"Funny, heart-rending, terrifying, pellucid, Baker's magnificent series grows in stature with every installment." -Kirkus, starred review

"Through these connected tales and Baker's frame, which focuses on a corrupt cyborg leader named Labienus, we gain new insight into the complexities of cyborg politics, while the existence of another human species, Homo sapiens umbratilis, holds out a dark promise fro humanity's future." -Publishers Weekly

"The book unfolds through both Labienus' memories and the journals and artifacts of Victor and others caught in his web. As in the other Company novels, the time line spanned is prodigious, despite which Baker never stints on characters and details that capture the reader's fancy."—Booklist

"[Baker's] effervescent characterization and talent for social comedy make The Children of the Company picturesque and picaresque."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429910460
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 8/1/2006
  • Series: Company , #6
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 667,249
  • File size: 329 KB

Meet the Author

KAGE BAKER has been an artist, actor, and director at the Living History Centre and has taught Elizabethan English as a Second Language. Born in 1952 in Hollywood, she lives in Pismo Beach, California, the Clam Capital of the World.
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Read an Excerpt

1863MAN OF SHADOWSThe man has an air of authority. Dignity, too. Gravity, integrity, and all you’d want to see in the face of a judge. He is a consummate actor.His name (at least, the name he has used for the last couple of millennia) is Labienus. He is a Facilitator General for Dr. Zeus Incorporated, and the Executive Section Head for the Northwestern American Continent. This means he has a great deal of power, more than a cyborg is generally granted. If his mortal masters had any inkling of how much power he actually has, they’d be terrified.But Labienus’s mortal masters are in their offices in the twenty-fourth century, safe in some urban hive. Labienus, at this moment, sits in his Company HQ office in 1863, and it is as far from the urban world as he can manage. The view from his window is trackless wilderness.The local Native Americans have long since learned this is no place to visit for any reason whatsoever, and no prospector will ever manage to straggle this far into the mountains. Were one to do so, however, and were he to climb painfully up the side of a particular towering peak, and were he to look at a particular cliff wall when the light was striking it in a particular way … he’d be astounded to find himself looking into a paneled and carpeted room, where a smooth-faced man would smile out at him before pressing a button to trigger an avalanche to sweep him away like a mosquito.And the man is smiling now, and humming a sprightly little tune to himself as he scans the file of a low-ranking drone he has just damned. As head of Black Security, it is occasionally his duty to consign his fellow immortals to the nearest they can come to eternal fires. He doesn’t mind the work. He likes cutting away unnecessary things.He orders a disk generated of the material he’s just scanned, and a moment later it pops obediently out of a slot in his desk. He takes it and crosses the room to a seldom-used cabinet, where he unlocks and opens a file drawer. At the very back, beyond the slots headed BUDGET REPORTS 1700–1850 and GENETIC SURVEY FOR YUKON REGION, is a small file case he’d labeled in a moment of whimsy. It reads simply DOOMED.Labienus pulls it out and glances through it. There are a few disks in there, and several paper files. He drops the disk inside, but as he does so the foremost of the paper files spills forward, opens.An image stares out at him. It is not a human face, as human is counted in 1863, but it might have passed for human sixty thousand years earlier. Prognathous, big and wide, with immense broad cheekbones, nose like a boulder fallen from the cliff of the sharply receding brow, massive jaw. Hair and beard are neutral, the dun color of winter hills where no snow has fallen, and the hair begins far back and is worn long. The eyes are pale, almost colorless. For all its inhuman quality, the face is intelligent and calm.Labienus finds his smile freezing, and averts his eyes. With a grimace of self-contempt he makes himself look again, stare down the face. It’s only a picture, after all! Still, after a moment he prefers to gaze out the window at the big trees, remembering when he first saw Budu.

One day it might be known as Jericho, but at that time it had no name, no walls, no surrounding desert thick with potsherds. It hadn’t much more than a few reed huts and they sat low on the low earth, no raised mound, at the edge of a lake. It was a green place. There was a lot of rain. When there was a cloudless night, the stars were not in patterns you or I would recognize. Uncounted generations yet before it would occur to anyone that marks poked in clay with a cut reed might serve to freeze a moment in time, or make a hero immortal.Life prospered in this low place. There was so much food, of all kinds, that it was easy to have a baby every year and feed them all. What it was not easy to do was to find room for them all, crowding around the fire.The father was a fist, the mother was a vast belly with a pair of sloe-eyed babies at gourdlike breasts. A boy might be edged away from the fire, especially if he was one of many boys and there was no special reason to value him. A boy might be pushed from the breast, for no reason that he could see except that there were too many children, and if he was too small to be of use yet he might wander off at times unnoticed.So a boy might escape, occasionally, to the high places where there was plenty of room. He might look down on the huts crowding the low place, and his resentment might in time find expression. He might make songs about the ugliness of the cookfire smoke hanging in the clean air, or the stink of crowded bodies, or the unfairness of life. He would do very well on his own, if he was a resourceful and self-reliant little boy, feeding himself from the abundance all around him.He might tell himself stories, too, as he lay in the tall grass watching the clouds cross the sky: how the clouds and the stars were people, and he was their child, not the child of the dirty people in their low village. His mother was not that smoke-wrinkled fat creature in the hut; she was a glorious goddess of towering cloud, with high domed breasts yielding pure snowmelt. And his father … perhaps his father was the darkness between the stars, since that was bigger than the stars themselves. Perhaps the boy was a star himself, accidentally fallen to Earth, and didn’t belong in that muddy village at all. Perhaps one day the other stars would notice he was lost and come find him.There might have come a day when he had been beaten by an older brother, and run crying up to the high place, and sat there alone on the height looking down on the village, hating them all. But the wild places loved him, the big rocks and the cedars and the grasses loved him, and so … they might have listened to him when he fervently wished that something very bad would happen to the wicked dirty people down there. Perhaps they told him he had the power to bring punishment down from the sky.And perhaps something very bad had happened after all …He might have watched, too astonished to be frightened, as the tattooed strangers crept up on the far escarpment across the valley and peered down at his village, where the tiny people went to and fro like ants. And maybe like ants the strangers had come swarming down, screaming, and speared his people and set fire to their huts.Then the boy might have felt terror, watching the flames, then he might have trembled where he crouched in the long grass like a rabbit. But there might have risen also a sense of wonder in his heart, an awe that was nearly joy. He had made this happen!Being very little, he might not have understood what occurred next. Gods might have come, tremendous beings with animal bodies and the upper torsos of giants, galloping down into the low place, swinging flint axes. And if the gods made death and death and more death, so that the strangers who had invaded his village were slaughtered in their turn, the boy assumed they too had come down from the sky at his call.Eventually there would have been only a few ants crawling feebly here and there, and smoke rising and big birds beginning to circle, and perhaps then the boy would have been bewildered to see the centaurs break apart and become giants walking on two legs, leading great bridling stamping beasts. Perhaps he held his breath as the biggest of the giants turned his flat head slowly and stared up at the hills, and seemed to see the boy in his hiding place.Perhaps then the giant had walked up the long slope, never taking his pale eyes from the boy, unhurried, swinging his flint axe in one bloody hand as he came. But the boy would not have been afraid; and when Budu towered over him at last, and held out his red hand, the boy would have taken it eagerly.He would have ridden in the crook of the Enforcer’s arm after that, far above the smoke and the pitiful ant-bodies and the crying survivors, and how happy he would have been! And if he was loaded into a magical hut later, that shone like the sun and the moon and rose into the air toward the stars, if it took him to join his true brothers and sisters, it would have been no more than the boy expected.Perhaps all this was nothing more than a story the boy made up, or an imperfectly remembered dream.But from that day afterward, he was the child of the gods, and claimed his birthright.

It was good to be the son of a god, though he was perfectly aware he was exploiting the mortal monkeys’ridiculous superstitions. It was better still to be a new life form with all mortal weakness burned away, a cyborg, brilliant and immortal, heir to the technology of the future! And to be a Facilitator was best of all.The Company sent mere Preservers scurrying through the mortal world after plants, after animals, after mortals’ genetic material, even after their clumsy clay pots. Preservers were like mice gleaning grain from an endless harvest, drones programmed with obsession for their own petty little disciplines.Enforcers, the pale-eyed giants who rescued him, had no job but to patrol endlessly and descend like avenging demons upon mortals who made war on one another, so that the peaceful tribes would prevail and civilization would dawn at last. The Enforcers were too short-sighted to see that the very civilization they fought for would render them obsolete, too rigidly focused on their conception of righteousness to pay attention to any other work.But a Facilitator manipulated mortal destinies to the Company’s advantage. A Facilitator shaped the raw stuff of history! Facilitators were able to adapt, to improvise, to see all sides of a question and understand every one, and that was power. Labienus set aside the name he had been given in the Company school and took the name Atrahasis. It meant “Great Wise One.”Being the Great Wise One had kept him amused for a while, even as he began to suspect that the mortal masters who had reached back through the past to create him were no better than their pathetic ancestors upon whom he looked down. Impossible to resist dropping the odd technological artifact here and there, knowing how doggedly future archaeologists would label spark plugs or Phillips head screws as “ritual objects of unknown purpose.” Atrahasis had even touched up a few cave paintings, daubing flying saucers amid the bison and wooly mammoths.This was the gloriously fluid time before history began, when there were nearly infinite possibilities. Nothing yet recorded, except in the pattern of stones tossed to a cultivated field’s edge, in the layers of ash and scrapers left in a cave, in the crumbling brick foundations of unnamed settlements. This was the perfect time—if one was an immortal creature, immeasurably wiser than one’s flawed mortal creators—to lay one’s own foundations for power among the mortal masses.Not that he ever desired to rule them.

There was water, and mud, and there were reeds.That was all. No cities, no arts, no industry. In short, no civilization.The mortals hadn’t cared; they’d been happy enough, living in little clutches of reed huts that were too amorphous even for villages. They’d been well nourished, too, hunting for ducks, fishing, gathering roots and wild grains.Young Atrahasis hadn’t cared, either. It was all one to him if the monkeys never came down out of the trees, let alone built themselves nations. He much preferred the social life at Old World One, in the company of his fellow junior executive immortals.And, while it was true that there were only so many times one could attend a fancy-dress ball in the costume of a god before it just wasn’t amusing anymore, there was still the sex, and the unending delicious gossip. There was the ongoing challenge of how to falsify his monthly reports to his superiors, so that his utter lack of productivity was disguised.Best of all were the times he got out on his own in his personal aircraft, soaring above the marshy world. It was fun, swooping over the reed huts and watching the little mortals scream and point at him. And when he flew by moonlight, over the wide land and the glittering water, under the white stars: oh, then he truly felt like the son of heaven.But the day had come when he had been called into the office of Executive Facilitator Nergal, and kept sweating in the antechamber a full two hours before being called in at last and told, with exquisite understatement, that Dr. Zeus had a special place for slackers and liars, not a very nice place really, and would young Atrahasis care to do a bit of work for a change? Such as, perhaps, organizing the mortals in his assigned region into a useful, civilized society?He didn’t have to be told twice.Shaking with anger and fear, he had flown out above the land between the two rivers. The first mortals to encounter him did not fare well, especially after they shot arrows into his glider.But mortals certainly came to fear him, in time, and so they obeyed him. He bid them call him Enlil.

There was water and mud, which must be separated, even as the Lord gathered the waters under heaven together unto one place and let the dry land appear. Atrahasis ordered the mud raised into arable fields, the water drained away into canals. The weary little mortals leaned on their shovels and looked around at this flat, arid-seeming place, where the old easy life would no longer be possible.They asked the cruel young god whether they might not rest now; and in response he gave them oxen and plows, and barley to sow. Atrahasis made them farmers. By day they toiled for him in the fields; by night they filed back in long rows to the long reed houses where he stabled them, and slept guarded by his security technicals. Any who tried to escape were punished spectacularly.But after a few generations they had come to accept this, for Atrahasis explained their cosmos to the mortals. The gods, it seemed, had grown tired of drudge work, and so they had created mortal mankind to do it for them. Mortals had no other purpose in life but this labor. Mortals who worked diligently at draining the marshes, or planting the fields, would be rewarded in this life by being granted a little dry land and a house, and perhaps a day of leisure once a week.The afterlife, unfortunately, was a dark and horrible place of twittering ghosts, so suicide had better not be thought of. But if a mortal worked hard all his life, and begot many children who worked just as hard as he did—why, it was just possible that mortal might be granted a slightly less gloomy corner of the underworld for his own, and might even sup of the crusts and dregs from the gods’ own table.And they believed him! The darker and more unpleasant Atrahasis made their world, the more desperately the little mortals clung to what he told them, the more obedient they became. It helped, of course, that he could back up his words with all manner of stage effects to awe them.It helped also that he could kill them with impunity; for he had discovered that as long as he could meet an annual production quota of barley for the Company’s mills, and present statistics showing an overall increasing birth rate among his mortal charges, Dr. Zeus was fairly disinterested in the occasional sacrifice.And when the rivers rose one season and drowned three-fourths of his mortals, Atrahasis waited out the catastrophe on high ground, watching with a peculiar thrill as bloated corpses were swept past his feet.He told the survivors it had been their own fault, for not loving him enough.

His security techs wearied of playing overseers after a century or so. Atrahasis therefore had them sort through the mortal population for those who were most servile; these he raised up, and gave them titles, and a little power over their fellow mortals. He noted, with amusement, that they were far more zealous in their oppressive duties than his techs had been.Some two or three showed greater than average intelligence; these he made bureaucrats, and set them to tallying the crops that went into the Company warehouses as offerings to the gods. When he got around to bestowing on them the divine gift of making counting-marks with reeds on clay tablets, he was more than a little annoyed to learn that they’d already figured it out for themselves.By now Atrahasis had redeemed himself in the eyes of Executive Facilitator Nergal. No slacker he! His city was a perfect geometry of green and golden squares, yielding abundant barley, yielding melons and pomegranates, chickpeas and dates, grapes and cucumbers, and fine flocks of sheep and goats. His mortals bred in such numbers that it was hardly worthwhile to pursue those who escaped. Besides, the escapees invariably settled down and started little farms of their own, so indoctrinated they were.His own personal ziggurat of sun-fired brick arose, like an incongruous mountain, the house of the great god Enlil. He told the mortals that it must stand high above the smoke and stench of the city. The overseers sang the praises of the gods, and cracked their whips with gusto as the patient laborers raised terrace upon terrace.There remained only to design a palace to sit atop it, and have his tech staff install all that was necessary to make life gracious. So Atrahasis moved out of his field shelter at last, into his grand house with its penthouse view, advanced sanitation, and doors of imported cedarwood.And Atrahasis saw that this was good.Then he celebrated by throwing a party for himself, and invited all those members of his commencement class who were still on speaking terms with him. They came and drank his excellent barley beer, and dined on his roast kid and hot bread, his melons and pomegranates, his chickpeas and dates. They praised him, lounged with him on his fine furniture, looked down with him on the Euphrates and the shining canals. By night they sang with him under the eternal stars. And he was pleased that he had impressed them all.But the stale gossip of Old World One seemed a bit tedious now, and none of his former classmates were quite as sparklingly witty as he remembered them. After the second day, he found himself wishing they’d leave.

Atrahasis became bored.His city was practically running itself nowadays. Ships plied the two rivers and brought trade goods for him. Uncomplaining mortals loaded his granaries with wheat and barley, to be shipped to distant Company warehouses in Eurobase One and Terra Australis. The mortals had craftsmen now, gold workers and scribes, carpenters and potters, weavers, charioteers. Atrahasis received commendations from his superiors. A job well done! Preserver drones were sent in to work among the mortals, collecting their works of art, noting down the stories of their heroes. Atrahasis, who found Preservers the dullest people in the world, did not invite them to stay with him.Instead, he dined alone behind a curtain in his high temple, and issued memos to his staff, who conveyed his will to the mortals far below. He ordered new gliders from the Company field catalogs, and soared alone over night fields. He kept up a desultory correspondence with some few of his old classmates.He toyed with the idea of wiping the whole project out and starting over again, but he couldn’t think of a way to make the rivers rise sufficiently. There was always fire and brimstone …Though of course the Company would notice something like that.So Atrahasis continued to go through the motions, ordering the construction of libraries, gardens, and canals. When word came of some manner of political disturbance far off to the south, he daydreamed wistfully a little while about watching armies advance, looking down from his high place on bloody slaughter. Then, regretfully, he gave orders for the building of a defensive wall.

It was a splendid wall. So wide across its top, two chariots could race abreast; so high, no slung stones could reach those chariots. And well made, too; no trash or rubble infilling its center, but only solid fired brick. The inner walls were faced with glazed tile depicting the glory of the Great God Enlil. The mortals were proud of it.Atrahasis was pleased, himself; it had earned him a commendation from the new Executive Facilitator Shamash, who had replaced Nergal, who had been transferred to another region. Not one dark and unpleasant enough to suit Atrahasis, but that couldn’t be helped.He was gazing out upon his wall, musing on the possibility of regime change, when he first spotted the far-off cloud of dust.When his charioteers came racing back with their reports, when his overseers sounded the alarm, when it finally sank in on Atrahasis that an army was actually advancing on his sacred city—his first reaction was incredulous outrage.“He calls himself who?” he demanded. Below him, in the audience pit, his high priest trembled.“Enna-aru, o great god,” he said, addressing Atrahasis’s shadow on the opposite wall, that being the only part of his lord he was permitted to see. “And he calls himself a …” He strained to remember the unfamiliar word. “A king. And he says he has come to cast down the oppressor of the people. What are we to do, o great god?”“Gather in the people behind the wall, and shut the gates,” said Atrahasis, stalking back and forth in front of his fire. “Let the young men gather stones for their slings, and mount my high wall. Come back when you have seen to these things.”“Immediately, o great god,” said his high priest, and ran like a rat down the dark tunnel through the temple.Atrahasis went at once to his credenza.He paused before it, struggling to get a grip on his emotions. Why send a message? He was pretty certain the Company wouldn’t dispatch any Enforcers to come barreling in and slaughter the invaders for him. Their patrols had been few and far between in the recent centuries …Should he ask for advice? More security techs? But that would make him seem weak.At last he transmitted: LOCAL PETTY TYRANT HAMMERING AT MY GATES. FOOTAGE OUGHT TO MAKE EXCITING VIEWING AT THE NEXT SOLSTICE BALL. SHADES OF D. W. GRIFFITH!“Sir?” Security Technical Vidya saluted. “Orders, sir?”Atrahasis composed his features into a suitable mask of superior amusement and turned. “Oh, we needn’t mobilize your boys for a few hours yet. Let the monkeys slug it out in front of the walls! Just stand ready to defend this place, if any of them break through. If he’s a super-duperpower and takes the whole ant heap, we’ll evacuate by air.”“And the mortals, sir?”Atrahasis shrugged elaborately. “The herds need to be thinned now and again. Who am I to stand in the way of progress? Just make certain our air transport is fueled up. I could do with a change of scene after all these centuries, couldn’t you?”

He took his evening meal of roast lamb, lentils, and wine in his high garden that night, looking out across the plain. Atrahasis felt rather proud of himself that he did not quail at the sight of all those campfires, stretching away through the black night, under a heavy and thunderous sky. After all, a gleaming sky chariot waited patiently in its hangar, down on the fifth terrace, in case he should need to be airlifted out.All the same, he did not think he’d give the order to evacuate until the fighting reached the temple complex. He could imagine it breaking around his ziggurat like a red tide. The screams, the smoke, the pitiful crying, the foolish little figures dragging themselves like ants … the curious chop a flint axe made, breaking a skull … it was with a pang of disappointment that he realized they were in the Bronze Age now, and he might never hear the music of a flint edge again.

He breakfasted in the garden, too, on goat cheese, figs, and fresh bread, frowning at the hundred columns of smoke that rose against the rising sun. Only cook-fires? When were they going to charge?The sun was so high he had ordered a parasol erected over his chair by the time something finally happened. Fanning himself irritably, he peered out at his wall. There, the mortals were running to and fro at last, pointing, readying their caches of slingstones. Action!But …Nothing happened.Atrahasis waited half an hour, his impatience mounting. What the hell was going on? The mortals were leaning down, apparently paying intense attention to some drama playing out before the city gates.“Get on with it!” he muttered under his breath, and had a sip of wine. Then he choked, spraying wine across his linen; for the ponderous gates of his city were opening, and a cheer rose along his magnificent wall.

He was pacing like a lion in his audience chamber when the high priest entered the pit, sobbing for breath.“O great god—” he began, looking up at Atrahasis’s shadow.“What has happened?” Atrahasis demanded, looking down on the back of his head.“Great god, you are betrayed—may they sleep with scorpions, may vultures gouge out their living eyes—oh, the wickedness—o great god, have mercy on your poor servant who—”“On pain of death,” said Atrahasis, with wonderful calm, “instantly tell me what has happened.”“O great god, your people are seduced,” said the high priest miserably. “Enna-aru the king spoke before your gate. His voice was like music, great god; his voice was like a lover persuading his beloved to lie back.“He did not threaten force, nor did he rage. Enna-aru the king spoke words like lilies, words like honey in the comb. His words went softly into the ears of your people.“And Enna-aru the king is fair to look upon, like a bridegroom coming to his bride, o great god; and your people are faithless.”“What exactly did Enna-aru the king say?” asked Atrahasis. He was cold with shock, but he could feel a really remarkable rage gathering itself together.“O great god, he persuaded your people that he comes in peace, to free them from bondage,” said the high priest. “He told them the gods are cruel and false. Please don’t punish me.“Enna-aru the king told them he comes as a father to care for them, not as a master to trample upon their heads. Please don’t punish me.“He told them he will cast you down and open your storehouses to the people, that each may help himself thereunto. Please don’t punish me.”“He did, did he?” Atrahasis stared down at the high priest’s head. The man had a bald spot, which he had never noticed before. It made a tempting target. Oh, for a good old-fashioned flint axe …“Go forth,” he said. “Go to Enna-aru the king, who comes in triumph through my city. Tell him great Enlil will speak with him.”

Atrahasis changed his garment, put on his finest ornaments, and stationed security techs in strategic places as he waited for his visitor. He could follow the mortal’s progress through the streets by the cheering, by the baying of bronze trumpets. He ground his teeth. Punishment, such punishment he was going to mete out on the fickle monkeys … it would make the great flood pale in comparison, and the Company be damned. Fire and brimstone? Yes, what about a rain of flaming death? That would give the little bastards a story to hand on to their descendants … those who survived to have any.He was waiting by his altar fire when he heard the voices come echoing up the tunnel. The high priest’s was querulous, panicky.“Stop! You must remove your sandals! No man may enter the presence of Almighty Enlil shod!”“Enlil must learn to bear with this, and more.” The voice that replied sounded … untroubled. Amused. Atrahasis scowled. He stepped before the fire, throwing his biggest, blackest shadow on the wall.Two men emerged from the tunnel into the pit: his high priest, and a stranger. They were followed by three more men, soldiers armed with spears. The high priest immediately prostrated himself, craning his head back to address Atrahasis’s shadow.“O great god, Enna-aru the king has—”“He’s not over there, priest,” said Enna-aru the king, for it was he. He turned and stared up at Atrahasis, looking straight at him.Atrahasis blinked. He had never seen such a mortal.Enna-aru had a face like his own—shrewd, cold, strong, handsome. He was well muscled, unlike the little doughballs over whom Atrahasis ruled. He wore fine garments, not the armor of war, but there was something martial in his bearing.The high priest turned involuntarily, glimpsed Atrahasis and then threw himself down, wailing in terror. Enna-aru considered the wall of the pit. He backed up a few paces, took a running leap, and vaulted to the edge, where he caught hold and pulled himself up. Not even breathing hard, he rose to his feet and looked Atrahasis in the eye. The two men were the same height.“You see?” said Enna-aru, and his voice, his voice was … powerful, somehow. “This is a false god. He is only a man, like me.”

Permission to fire, sir? transmitted Security Technical Vidya. Atrahasis blinked again, the dreamlike moment shattered, and his brain engaged once more.No! I will handle this. Stand by.“I have chosen to appear as a man like you,” he told Enna-aru, with his most intimidating smile. “Rash mortal, why have you looked upon me? Do you not know that you will surely die?”“No, actually, I don’t know that,” said Enna-aru, with a beautiful sneer. “Though it’s probable you have assassins concealed in here, waiting to get a shot off at me. You hidden ones, consider my archers in the pit below! If I am murdered, the great god Enlil will be stuck full of arrows. Therefore do not do this thing; for I have come to speak with the great god.”Atrahasis took a deep breath. Had his heart just skipped a beat?“It pleases me to speak with you, mortal king,” he said. “And so I will not annihilate you until after we have spoken. Come, we will drink wine in my garden.”

He had his finest vintage brought, in his wine service of gold chased with silver. The mortal man regarded them critically; looked at the couch carved of cedarwood, with its purple cushions trimmed in scarlet. And Enna-aru the king said:“This is all as I expected it would be. You sit up here gorging yourself on the best of everything, don’t you? And down there in your city, they gnaw the crusts you throw them.”“They only eat at all because I created the fields, and taught them how to grow barley,” said Atrahasis. He realized he sounded defensive, and made an effort to calm himself.“Oh, please,” said Enna-aru the king. “I know better. Shall I tell you how I know?”“If you like,” Atrahasis replied. Enna-aru leaned forward, took one of his cups, and poured wine.“My land is eight days’ journey north of this place. It sits fair on the river, wide black fields, well watered; beyond are highlands good for grazing sheep. Long ago an escaped slave came there, with his wife and child.“This slave had formerly lived in a city ruled over by a cruel and capricious god. The people there obeyed their lord in all things—they were afraid to do otherwise—but when a flood came and drowned them in their hundreds, that god stood by and smiled, and would not lift a finger to help them.“The slave was one of those who survived the flood. He saw the god walking through the desolation, smiling at the bloated corpses of the dead, and saw that the god had mud on his sandals and on his robe where it trailed on the earth. He knew, then, that the god was only a man, only an evil man.“Therefore he took his wife and child, and they fled by night. When they came to the good land, they settled, and the man made himself lord and master of wide acres. He had many children. In time, other slaves escaped and came to work for him. He was a good master to them. He fed them, he gave them land, but he never bid them worship him.“And he passed down through his sons, and his sons’ sons, and all their children through the generations, the wisdom he had learned, which was: those who demand worship are frauds.”And Enna-aru the king raised his eyes that were so like Atrahasis’s own, and winked. Atrahasis opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Composedly the king went on:“That slave was my ancestor, O great god Enlil. The god he fled from was, I strongly suspect, your ancestor. And all my life, and all the lives of my forefathers, have been spent in preparation for this day, when I would walk into your city and tell your people the truth about you. Now it is done. Let us drink to the future.”He lifted his cup and drank.Atrahasis sat staring at him, wondering why his rage had died utterly into white ash. He felt like laughing.“You’re wrong about one thing, you know,” he said. “That wasn’t my ancestor walking in the mud. That was me. I really am an immortal.”Enna-aru the king yawned. He reached across to Atrahasis and pulled a golden coin from his ear, and held it up.“I can do magic, too, you see? One of my court magicians showed me that trick. I suspect you have many more.”The laughter came—Atrahasis couldn’t stop it, didn’t want to. He looked at Enna-aru and raised his own cup in salute.“Great king, you are a man after my own heart. Dear, dear, what shall I do now that I am deposed?”“Live off your own sweat for a change,” said Enna-aru the king.“And if I oppose you?”“I have an army in your city,” the king pointed out. “Your people loathe you so much they were dancing as we came in. I don’t think you want me to ask them what I ought to do with you. Your priests have seen you insulted; they depend on you for their livelihoods, so they might stand by you, but they know the truth about you now. You don’t stand much of a chance, I’m afraid.”Atrahasis was delighted. “What’s a poor little false god to do, then?”“Become a man,” said Enna-aru. “You know how to run this city, you understand its infrastructure. Rule it as my viceroy! It needn’t be an embarrassment for you, either; almost no one alive has ever seen you, so they won’t know you’re their former god. I can tell them you’re my brother. But if you abuse your power again, I will have you killed.”“Oooh.” Atrahasis pretended to shiver. “How kind of you to spare my dignity. And what do you want in return?”“The good of the people,” said Enna-aru gravely. “You must love them. Treat them as your children, not as beasts of burden.”“Children, eh?” Atrahasis said. “But children are a dangerous proposition for a god, you know. Shall I tell you how the world was made?“Tiamat the Mother and Apsu the Father begot between them elder gods, who proceeded to spawn generations of godlets. And what did these little monsters do, but rebel against their ancient parents? And, when the old couple determined to destroy their vicious brood, what did the ungrateful children do but fight back?“The Father was killed; the Mother was killed, and a bright young thing named Marduk split her body into a dozen pieces and used it to create the rotting, stinking world in which we walk. There is no love in Heaven, my mortal friend. Why then should it be any different on Earth? And therefore why should I hold my subjects as sons?”“Because those stories are lies,” said Enna-aru the king.“Are they? Are there then no gods?”“Possibly,” said Enna-aru. “Possibly there are shining beings of infinite power and wisdom. But you are only a petty tyrant, and will soon be a dead one if you do not agree to my demands.”“Which makes you no less a petty tyrant, doesn’t it?” said Atrahasis.“Perhaps,” said Enna-aru the king. “But I never claimed to be otherwise. And my people love me, o false god, because I am a good father to them. Soon, your people will love me, too. I am their servant, you see, rather than the other way around; it is my business to see that they have what they need to live. When they are threatened, it is my duty to protect them. And so must you.”“I hear and obey, great king,” said Atrahasis, and made a mock bow. “How much of this pious claptrap do you actually believe, by the way?”“None,” said Enna-aru the king. “But I intend to make it true.”

The army was quartered in Atrahasis’s city, and they did not plunder, and hardly raped at all. Enna-aru the king quartered himself in Atrahasis’s own temple, with his men-at-arms standing guard. Atrahasis gave him the guest bedroom and showed him where the clean towels were. Security Technical Vidya and his team stood down, and stood down, and wondered thereat.Sir, how are we going to resolve the situation?Leave that to me! Atrahasis waved away the transmission as though it were a gnat whining in his ear. He sipped his kefir and watched, fondly, as Enna-aru the king methodically peeled figs. The mortal even ate with elegance. What an uncanny resemblance to himself! I’m merely toying with him. He amuses me. When I grow bored with him, he’ll die.If you say so, sir.And it occurred to Atrahasis to wonder what his double looked like with a bloody spear in his hands; and he was disconcerted to note how much the image excited him. He cleared his throat.“It occurs to me,” Atrahasis told the king, “that it would be best for my people if this power shift takes place quickly. You said something last night about presenting me as your brother. I think the people would believe that; there is a certain resemblance between us, have you noticed?”“I had, yes,” said Enna-aru. “Useful, isn’t it?”“Of course, I’ll probably have to have my priests executed,” said Atrahasis lightly. Enna-aru the king set down his cup, and gave him a long hard stare.“Probably necessary,” he conceded at last. “They have grown fat off the fear of the people. And they are the most likely to plot against us. But you will kill them swiftly; no torture. They have only done your will, after all.”“Then it is done,” said Atrahasis, and transmitted an order to Security Technical Vidya. “And so we are brothers! Let us send forth messengers to proclaim it in the streets; and then, later, let us appear and make a show of brotherhood. Shall we go hunting together? I have a private preserve outside the city. The wild bull and the gazelle roam there untroubled; and I have two swift chariots and the finest charioteers.”“I wouldn’t have thought you were a hunting man,” said Enna-aru the king. “Though you seem to enjoy killing.”“I kill only to cull my herds,” said Atrahasis swiftly. “You will see how green the park is, how fine and strong the beasts are. I have preserved them from indiscriminate slaughter by common men. Is this not also the work of a lord?”

So when Security Technical Vidya and his subordinates had washed the blood from their hands, they hitched swift horses to a pair of chariots, and sent them out with drivers to await the pleasure of the king.And first went soldiers bearing the heads of the executed priests, that the people might see them and rejoice, which they did. And next went messengers crying aloud the news that Enna-aru the king had appointed his brother to be lord over them, and the people rejoiced about that, too. Finally Enna-aru the king and his new brother were driven forth in their chariots, in lordly progress through the streets. Atrahasis marveled at the grace and strength of the king, poised swaying in the jolting chariot. And Atrahasis caused Security Technicals to toss trinkets of gold, and the ornaments of the priests, to the cheering multitudes.

The Preserve of Enlil lay two miles from the city, fenced with high palings and wire specially hooked up to deliver a blast of Enlil’s wrath to would-be poachers. Was there a faint whiff of charred flesh on the air, as the chariots bore Atrahasis with Enna-aru the king to that place? But no corpses in view, at least.Security Technical Rulon opened the gate, bowing low, and admitted them. They rode in and Atrahasis watched for the king’s reaction.“Is this not fair, o king?” he demanded. “Look! A green paradise. You will see no scars here from plow or mattock, no ditches to stink, no trees hacked for firewood. No mortal intrusion at all. And see the wild cattle, there at the watering place? The water they drink is pure, untainted by anything men might do. They have never been hunted. Have I not done well, to set this place apart?”“It is a beautiful park,” agreed Enna-aru.“I have not been such a bad lord, you know,” said Atrahasis. “I have kept my distance from my subjects, but you will never hear that I was unfair. I never favored any man over another, even when they tried to buy my favor with offerings of gold. I never debauched their wives or daughters, either—” He saw Security Technical Rulon turn a shocked face to him, and caught the fleeting transmission: What are you trying to prove to this monkey?Atrahasis flushed with humiliation that became rage. What the hell do you know about strategy, you oaf? Mind your own business!He drew a spear from its case and struck his charioteer on the shoulder. “Drive! Let us hunt the wild bulls!”So they rode forth into his acreage. Atrahasis seized the reins from his charioteer and drove with reckless speed, splashing through the streams, scattering the herds where they drank. He wheeled among the frightened and disoriented cattle, singling out the biggest bull at last. Enna-aru the king followed warily. The bull galloped off some distance, and they pursued; but when he turned at bay, pawing the ground, then Atrahasis vaulted out on the chariot-tongue. There he clung a moment, before leaping to balance upright on the back of the left-hand horse in his team. From that high vantage he sent his black spear down, with such force it pierced straight through the bull’s broad neck and into its immense heart.It dropped without a moan. Atrahasis sprang down beside it, wrenching out his spear. The blood ran and smoked on the earth. It pleased him nearly as much as though it were mortal blood. Why haven’t I done this before? He looked up, eager to see if Enna-aru had been watching. The king, indeed, watched with narrowed eyes.“You have excellent skill in the hunt,” was all he said.“Butcher my bull, and build a fire,” said Atrahasis to his charioteer, with some asperity. “My brother king and I would feast.”

They killed twice more that day. Atrahasis took down another bull, this time leaping from the chariot onto the bull’s very back, felling it with a stroke that drove through and penetrated its lungs. Enna-aru the king cornered his own bull, circling and turning in the chariot, until the baffled animal charged and got a spear through the eye into its brain. Atrahasis thought that he might have been watching himself in a mirror, so shapely was Enna-aru, so powerful.“Is this not fine sport, my brother?” he asked as they washed in the stream.“You have succeeded in impressing me,” said the king. “Very male, all this, isn’t it? I daresay not one of the laborers who till your fields would be brave enough to leap on a bull’s back. Nor light-footed enough, after a lifetime of following the plow. Still, I have seen acrobats do as much.”Atrahasis was silent a moment.“How wise you are, mortal man,” he said at last.

He watched the king as they rode slowly back through the city, followed by surly Security Technicals bearing massive sides of beef. At one point Enna-aru bid the chariots halt in the street, and got down and called for an axe; with it he cut the beef into pieces, and handed them out to the crowd. They blessed him and cried that he was their lord, they called on him to live a thousand years, they prostrated themselves and kissed his feet.And though Enna-aru smiled broadly, and was genial as a favorite uncle before them all, Atrahasis noted that his eyes remained a little distant.“Such generosity, o king!” he said slyly, when they had ridden on. “Truly my people love you.”“That was showmanship,” said Enna-aru. “And they don’t love me; they don’t know me. But they love a handout now and then, and the promise that things will be a little better. If you had understood that fairly basic fact, I might not have marched into your city uncontested.”“Ah! So my fault was simply ruling by the wrong kind of showmanship?” said Atrahasis.“No,” said Enna-aru the king. “Your fault was that you never gave a thought to what your people wanted.”

They dined once again on the terrace. A cool wind brought the smell of the river, the sound of frogs, the murmuring of rushes in the twilight. A round moon rose slowly out of the purple east, looking as though it had been painted on the horizon.“See how she lifts free of the earth?” said Atrahasis. “Red with smoke and dust at first, and then yellow; but the higher she ascends, the purer her light becomes, and she outshines even the stars. You and I have lifted free of the mud ourselves, o king. You shine upon those peasants down there; but who are your own people?“The idiots in the street sang their love for you; but their love meant nothing to you. I saw that. Your eyes are clear, you have no fond illusions, you know the world for the shameful place it is, you know the truth. You are a unique mortal.“What is it you desire, o king?”Enna-aru looked at him curiously.“A better world,” he said. “Full of better men.”Atrahasis looked up at the first stars.“I am going to give you a gift,” he said.

Atrahasis carried the frame out himself, set it up in the garden as Enna-aru watched, uncomprehending. He tested the fabric, the pads, the taut straps; and when all was ready he lifted it onto his shoulders and stepped out to the edge of the terrace.“Now,” he said, “o king, you will see how close a man may come to being a god.”He leaned into the night and swept down, down, until he caught the thermal rising over the massed cook-fires of the city. Up he floated then, turning as he soared, circling, and the white moonlight glittered on the distant river and on the irrigation channels, but shone full and steady on his high terrace and the tiny figure of Enna-aru. The king stood motionless, face turned up to him; he did not cower or tremble, as a mortal might have done. In his steady regard Atrahasis flew high, and higher, up where the stars hung like lamps in the blue night; and Atrahasis had never been so happy in his life.At last he drifted down, mothlike, and landed with a light foot beside Enna-aru.“Magicians and acrobats you have seen, o king; but never the like of this,” he said triumphantly.“Never,” admitted Enna-aru the king. He stepped close and examined the glider, peering intently at its tight-stitched fabric.“It will bear two,” said Atrahasis, edging over within the frame. “Will you dare to fly, mortal man?”Without replying, Enna-aru stepped in under the frame. He worked out the harness buckles for himself, and drew them tight; took firm hold of the frame, and stepped toward the edge.He never cried out once, not during the initial plunge, not in the moment when they lifted on the thermal like a blown leaf. Atrahasis looked into his face and saw that it was shining.

When he returned to his chamber that night, there was a figure standing just within, obscured by shadows.“You had better check your credenza,” said Security Technical Vidya.“What are you talking about?” said Atrahasis, but he crossed to the cabinet and switched it on.“They want to know what the hell is going on,” said Vidya. Atrahasis saw the long green line of transmission and recoiled, but all he said was: “Forty messages. Well, that’s certainly some kind of record. Wouldn’t you think they’d have learned to trust me by now?”“I don’t think it’s a matter of trust,” said Vidya. “I think it’s a matter of Executive Facilitator Shamash having a bright young protégé in need of a posting. I think it’s a matter of looking for any excuse to boot you out on your ass. Sir.”“Really,” said Atrahasis.“Yes. Really. Sir.”“I am obliged to you for the warning, Security Technical,” said Atrahasis, kicking off his sandals. “You may go.”Vidya did not move. “I have been given certain orders, sir. You have twenty-four hours to bring the situation under control, and then I am to act. Permission to speak freely, sir?”“Granted.”“Do I have to point out the obvious? This mission is in jeopardy. A Company operation yielding millions in annual profits may be lost. The city you built is occupied by a hostile force. We will fail here, sir.”“I think you’re wrong,” said Atrahasis. “Consider the progress of recorded history. Perhaps it’s my time to step down. The age of priests comes to an end, doesn’t it? And civilization takes the next step upward, to an age of kings. Isn’t that what the Company wanted? Wasn’t that the point of all this? Somebody has to write Gilgamesh, after all.”He lit the lamp. In the blaze of gold that filled the room, he saw the contempt—and, infinitely more galling, the pity—in Vidya’s face.“What is wrong with you?” said Vidya, without raising his voice. “You, of all people, are infatuated with a mortal. You are attempting to win his approval. A stinking little monkey has defied you in front of the other mortals, and you fawn on him and call him brother. What’s next? Will you drink from one cup together? Will you offer to comb the lice from his hair?”

He mixed the cup himself, in the gray hour before the sun rose. He carried it out to the garden and sat, watching the stars fade. White mist moved a while above the river, was thick over the river fields. The first laborers emerged from their huts and drove the teams of oxen down, into that mist, vanishing from sight as they would vanish in the abyss of time. Living ghosts. Their grandfathers were forgotten; their grandchildren would not remember them. Only this moment existed for them and it was all sweat, all stink, all grinding poverty.And so it has always been. And so it will always be.Enna-aru the king emerged from the temple, gilded by the rising sun. Atrahasis looked at him and smiled. He lifted the cup.“Drink with me, brother. To a better world, and better men.”“I will,” said Enna-aru, and took the cup and drank. He passed it back to Atrahasis, who paused a moment and then drank down what was left.He set down the cup and felt the biomechanicals swarming from under his tongue, massing in his bloodstream to neutralize what had been in the cup. He flushed, felt the prickle of sweat under his armpits, felt the twinge in his lymph nodes; only psychosomatic reaction. After a moment he breathed more easily. The heat and nausea faded steadily.Enna-aru the king sat tranquil, cutting open a pomegranate with his curved dagger. The red drops fell like blood. He set aside half and broke the other open, revealing the rubies set in yellow membrane.“Pomegranate seeds?” he said, offering it to Atrahasis.“No, thank you,” Atrahasis replied.

By noon the king was feverish. Atrahasis watched the flush grow in his cheeks, watched his eyes take on a certain glassiness as he studied the maps of the city canals and the grain warehouses.By twilight the king was sweating and faint, and the blotches had begun to come up under his skin. Atrahasis led him to the couch of purple cushions, with soothing and solicitous words, and had sherbet fetched for him.By midnight the king was raving, with brief periods of clarity wherein he struggled for understanding. Atrahasis sat beside him, wiping the sweat from his brow. The king’s guard crowded in the corridor, watched from the doorway.“If he dies, we will kill you,” said their chief, in an almost conversational tone. The king jerked and shuddered at the sound; Atrahasis rose in fury, but by the time he had turned and approached the mortal, there was nothing in his face but meek sorrow.“Speak softly, if you love him,” he whispered. “He has the fever, but why should he die? Enna-aru is not like other men.”The mortal looked past him uncertainly, into the golden circle of lamplight where the king lay marked with black sores. “You have poisoned him,” he said, but without conviction.“Fool. Those are the marks of fever, and you know it,” said Atrahasis. “What man commands disease? The gods alone send it, to punish whom they will. But the gods have no power over Enna-aru the king, surely. He will live.”“He is not like other men,” admitted the chief. “Yes, surely he will live.”He left quietly. Atrahasis returned to the bedside of the king, and sat. Enna-aru opened his eyes, the glaring eyes of a hawk, lucid and suspicious.“This is not punishment,” he said thickly. “Nothing but fever.”“Merely a touch of fever,” Atrahasis agreed, and put a wet sponge to his cracked lips. “Undoubtedly the result of traveling. The fever will break. What shall we do when you’re well again? Shall we take our wings and ride the night wind, my brother? How cool it will be, up among the white stars.”

Before dawn the king was lucid for an hour, though he had gone blind; but he summoned his generals and his bodyguards, and turned his face to their voices as though he could see them. He gave orders that there was to be no rioting, no slaughter. There was still command, even in the hoarse ruin his voice had become; they backed out of his presence and went down to maintain good order in the streets.Just as the sun rose, Enna-aru stopped breathing. Atrahasis sat patiently waiting for him to resume, but he never did.He was still sitting, staring at the king, when Security Technical Vidya came in an hour later. Vidya looked at Enna-aru, and smiled.“Good work, sir. That’ll impress them. Shall we display the body, sir?” Atrahasis said nothing for a long moment.“I wonder if this is what I would look like,” he said at last.Vidya cleared his throat.“What are your orders, sir?”Atrahasis did not look up. “Tell the people to pray for the king. Tell his generals to obey him.”“So … you don’t want this announced right away,” said Vidya.“No. And send for his chief bodyguard.”The mortal came swiftly, and bid his lieutenants wait in the corridor. He stopped, aghast, at the sight of Enna-aru the king.“You see how it is,” said Atrahasis quietly. “Had he any heirs?”“No,” said the mortal. “He was only a young man! How could he die?”Atrahasis said nothing. The mortal lifted his eyes to the window, looked out, at the city with its shops and warehouses, at the green and yellow fields stretching to the river. He looked sidelong at Atrahasis.“You are thinking this is a rich place,” said Atrahasis. “You are wondering who will rule here now. And it has just occurred to you that you might be king.”The mortal blinked, opened his mouth to deny it—then went pale.“How did you hear my thoughts?”Atrahasis smiled. He rose, standing his tallest, and put every cheap trick of theater he knew into his reply.“Did you think we gods were really so easily defeated, mortal man?”The mortal backed away a pace, staring. Then he threw himself to the ground, in terrified self-abasement.“Great Enlil, forgive us! Do not punish us! We were misled!”“How loyal you are to your king,” said Atrahasis bitterly. “How faithful to his ideals. I could crush your skull now with my foot; I could grind your brain into the tiles. Never have I so ardently desired to do a thing, mortal. But I will tell you how you will preserve your little life.”“Spare me!”“Shut up. You will go forth to the people, and say the king has been wounded by treachery. Not mine; kill one of your underlings, and hold his head up before the multitudes, and tell them thus have you done to the traitor, in the name of Enna-aru the king.“Then, mortal, you shall be king in this place. And you shall declare that Enna-aru has been taken up among the stars to heal his wound, and dwells now with the gods. You will rule and grow as rich as one man may be, but you will see to it that we gods receive our portion in all things.“Vidya will be your high priest, and he will instruct you in the desires of the gods, and will serve you; but only so long as you obey the will of the gods. Disobey, and our vengeance will be cruel and subtle. You will lament in ashes a thousand years on the floor of the house of the dead.”“I hear you,” said the mortal, weeping. “I obey you.” He crawled forward in an attempt to kiss Atrahasis’s feet, and Atrahasis stepped back in horror.“Never touch me, mortal,” he said. “Go now.”The mortal rose and fled into the corridor. A moment later Atrahasis heard a strangled cry as his will was done, and an innocent was stabbed and beheaded.

Evening came, and Atrahasis heard the massed prayer rising from the city below, with the fumes of burnt offerings. He lit incense in his own quarters. Now and then he went to look at Enna-aru the king.The moon rose, and he dined alone on his terrace, though he ordered and set aside a portion for Enna-aru. He heard the clash of arms and the exchange of passwords as the army kept civil order through the night. He carried the untouched plate in and set it by Enna-aru’s bed.Dawn came grayly, and once more the mortals led oxen down through the mists to the fields. Atrahasis, watching, wondered why they were not at home praying for the king. He went in and lit more incense. He ordered a morning meal for two, and set half aside.Another evening, and another, and the city remained calm and well ordered. Goods were bought and sold. Enna-aru’s soldiers settled into their quarters and made friends, romanced girls, found favorite beer shops. On the floor by Enna-aru’s bed, full plates were laid out in a line, in progressive degrees of spoilage.The prayers for the king fell off a very little, in their volume and intensity.On the evening of the sixth day, Atrahasis looked down at the tranquil city, and hated it.He called to him Vidya, and said: “Do you suppose we could get away with bombing the damned place to the ground?”Vidya, after a pause, said: “You’ve lost it, haven’t you?”“Go fuck yourself,” said Atrahasis.He went into the chamber where Enna-aru lay, blue as lapis lazuli, and quoted:
“For whom have I labored, boatman?
For whom have I lost the blood of my heart?
I have not gained any advantage to myself;
Only the serpent has gained the advantage.”
No golden voice to answer now. There was silence.But not stillness; something moved on Enna-aru’s face.Atrahasis leaned close, and saw the maggot fall from the king’s arched nostril.He stiffened, overwhelmed with revulsion. Then he turned on his heel and left the room.“Have that carcass dragged out and burned,” he told Vidya in a light and carefree voice. “And send a transmission to Old World One; mission accomplished. Peaceful (apparent) transfer of power, civilization continues without a hitch, no loss to the stockholders. I’m on my way to Egypt for a welldeserved holiday. They can forward my next posting there.”“Yes, sir,” said Vidya. “I’ll have your air transport powered up, sir.”“No; I’ve had enough of flying,” said Atrahasis.He wrapped himself in a cloak, and went down through the tunnels and out of the city by secret ways, and glided away through the night like a serpent.

But he had gone back to his duties at last. What else was there for an immortal to do, besides plot for power and sound out prospective allies?He had first come down the Nile on a reed boat, in a time before there were any pyramids at Giza. Nothing then more remarkable in that landscape than a great outcropping of rock that resembled a lion’s head, which likeness successive generations of mortals had increased by chiseling out eyes and a muzzle. Graffiti was scrawled across its lower surfaces now. Not yet the Sphinx, it stared gloomily across the land that wasn’t yet Egypt. Atrahasis—not yet Labienus—sympathized with it.He had liked the delta country once. The river was wide and clear, the air was purity itself. Dawn wind came across the green murmuring reeds and when the young sun rose above them it really might have been a god, such was its brilliance and clean heat. No smoke in the sky; light sharp as a diamond.Then the mortals had come. For a while the crocodiles and floods had kept their numbers down, but they had multiplied at last, and spoiled it all. At this point in time it was only the smoke of their cook-fires that muddied the face of the sun, and this was bad enough. In the time to come the very dust of their mummified dead would rise like a pall, the gases of their sewage, the chemical fumes of their cities. All this fresh young world lost to ancient bricks, blackened corpses.Atrahasis put it firmly out of his mind, as the river bore him to the city of white walls. It had been built to rule both Upper and Lower Kingdoms. Two dynasties had come and gone and the third was prosperous, expansive, so the damned place was sprawling now. Shading his eyes, he could see the necropolis on its ridge. The world’s first pyramid was no more than a foundation yet. Mortals swarmed over it like insects, setting the little limestone blocks.He sighed and glanced down from his high seat to the water, where a ridged back paced his boat, drifting unobtrusively near. Poor old crocodile. There had been a time when Atrahasis might have given an order and had a clumsy slave tossed overboard like a crust of bread, and before the river gods converged on him the slave would have screamed his thanks at being so honored. One couldn’t get away with that nowadays. Too much history was being recorded.When his boatman docked and bowed him ashore, Atrahasis walked through the streets and the mortals fell back before him, gaping at the splendid lord in his finery, marveling at the tall spearmen who went before and followed him. They wondered at the mortal slaves who bore the carved chest that was splendidly covered in beaten gold, inlaid with turquoise and lapis. They thought surely he must be an ambassador bringing gifts to the king.But he did not go to the palace. Atrahasis went swiftly to the house of Imhotep, the high priest, he who was the king’s chief minister, he who had designed and was overseeing the construction of the latest thing in monuments to royal glory.The mortal onlookers nodded to each other knowingly. No surprise that this regal-looking stranger was calling on Imhotep first. Imhotep might claim he was merely a man, but everyone knew better. He had miraculous healing powers, he knew the name of every star in the sky and their secret paths, and his ability to work spectacularly showy magic was famous. Of course he must entertain gods from time to time! Before Atrahasis had stepped through the courtyard gate, word was spreading that Imhotep had another divine visitor.To Atrahasis’s annoyance, he was not at once admitted to the august presence of the high priest of Ptah.“He is bathing, my lord,” stammered the mortal woman. She clapped her hands and servants ran to her side. “A chair for the great lord, a basin for his feet! Will you have beer, my lord? Will you be pleased to wait in the garden, where the air is cool? I will fetch—”“Tell him the priest of Zeus would speak with him,” Atrahasis snapped.There was a beat while the mortals present wondered who Zeus might be, before a servant said: “Our lord will not permit us to disturb his bath—” The woman turned and waved him to silence.“I will tell him,” she said, and hurried away. Atrahasis waited, enduring in stiff-lipped silence as well-meaning mortals brought a chair for him, seated him, drew off his sandals and washed his feet. He still hated to be touched by the creatures.He focused his attention on the interior of the mansion and heard the splashing, the raucous whistling of—of all things—the Grand March from Verdi’s Aida, interrupted by the mortal woman’s urgent murmur. There was a response, more splashing, and then the whistling resumed. Atrahasis tracked it through the mansion as it came nearer to him, and at last the high priest Imhotep stepped out into the garden.Imhotep was a stockily built man with black button eyes, smiling in wry apology as he approached Atrahasis. He had a generic olive-skinned Mediterranean appearance, and might have disappeared into any crowd anywhere with perfect invisibility, so ordinary was his face, so easily could he pass for human.His hastily donned linen kilt was damp, and he was still toweling his shaven head dry as he came.“Sorry, friend,” he said in Cinema Standard. “I was at the construction site all day and got pretty stinky. You want a beer?”“Please,” said Atrahasis, as a servant dried his feet. Imhotep asked the servant to bring a pitcher of beer and two cups. He ducked his head and hurried away.Imhotep gave his ears a last dig with the towel and hung it around his neck. He thrust out a hand to Atrahasis.“Facilitator Grade One Imhotep, how’s it going and to what do I owe the honor?”“Executive Facilitator Atrahasis,” he replied, shaking Imhotep’s hand gingerly. “The god Zeus has sent you a gift, divine son of Ptah. I’m here to brief you on its use.”Imhotep grimaced. “Don’t call me that where the servants can hear, okay? Not in their language, anyhow.”Atrahasis was amused. “Don’t you want them to respect you?”“They respect me just fine as a mortal man, which is what I’ve worked really hard to convince them I happen to be, so let’s not scare them, all right?” Imhotep sagged onto a garden bench. He regarded the carved chest, still being held on its poles by the mortal slaves; cocked his eye at the honor guard of security techs in loincloths. “That must be one hell of a present. What is it, another capacitor?”“I don’t believe your project budget could support one,” Atrahasis replied delicately. “And it’s hardly necessary for the second phase of your mission here.”“Second phase, huh?” Imhotep rubbed his chin. “Okay.” In the language of the country, he addressed the mortal bearers. “Boys, you want to set that thing down?”The slaves glanced nervously at Atrahasis, who nodded. They lowered their burden and straightened up in obvious relief. At that moment the servant brought the beer, and only after he had offered them their cups and retreated to a respectful distance was the conversation able to proceed.“What second phase?” Imhotep asked. “I’ve got Zoser and his court in the palm of my hand, with stage illusions galore. The step-pyramid’s on schedule. I’m dealing out miraculous cures and promoting good hygiene. Wasn’t that the point of this junket?”“As far as it’s gone, yes,” Atrahasis said, sniffing his beer and setting it aside. “But now you need to know more.”“I see.”“The chest is not to be opened until you have it in your private chambers. You will find inside it certain equipment, and a number of scrolls.”“Scrolls? What do I need books for?”“Think of them as stage-dressing. They’re to impress your initiates.”“What initiates?” said Imhotep, reaching for his beer. He turned the cup in his hands uneasily. “I thought the whole deal with me becoming a god didn’t happen until way later in history.”“Of course. This is another matter entirely. You’re to start a, to put it in the mortals’ parlance, a ‘Hermetic Brotherhood.’ The most secret of secret societies. You’ll feed them snippets of philosophy and arcane gibberish as revelations from the gods. Flashy conjuring tricks to impress them. Hints of real science, with demonstrable results. The equipment in the chest is for that purpose.”“Don’t tell me there are still Rosicrucians in the twenty-fourth century, and they’re paying the Company to do this?” Imhotep sighed.“Not at all. You’re simply laying the groundwork for certain others to build on at a later date,” Atrahasis told him. “The real challenge will be convincing your little king that the whole affair is his idea.”Imhotep looked unhappy.“Okay,” he said. “I can do that. No problem.” He drained his beer in one gulp and reached for the pitcher. “More?”“Not for me, thank you.” Atrahasis turned in his chair and surveyed the garden. “Quite a comfortable posting you have here. It must nearly make up for the air pollution and the crowds of mortals.”“It’s great,” said Imhotep earnestly. “And the pollution’s no worse than anywhere else. You try living in the same cave with the rest of your tribe through a six-month winter—now, that’s pollution!”“Undoubtedly,” said Atrahasis. “Still, one can’t help wish the wretched things would grasp the basic principles of birth control.” He transmitted the rest of his thought subvocally: Or that the old Enforcers had been allowed to continue their useful work.Imhotep gulped down a second beer even more quickly than the first.Hey, times change. I hear most of them are adapting real well to the new jobs.Atrahasis considered him coolly. You don’t find what was done to them shameful? How professional of you. I’d have thought you could summon a little outrage on their behalf. You were one of Budu’s recruits, weren’t you? Just as I was.That’s right.Yet you never spoke out on behalf of our immortal father, when the orders came.Imhotep narrowed his eyes. What’s it to you? I went to him and we talked, if you must know. Sure, he had his reservations about closing down the old operation. But he was smart enough to see that times were changing, and he’s changed with them. Not like that dumb ass Marco.Marco was rash, have to admit.He was a loose cannon! He’d grab any excuse to slaughter mortals. Budu’s smart, and he’s got self-control, and he’s going to be just fine. It’s not like there aren’t going to be plenty of wars to keep him busy.How true.At this moment they were interrupted. A tiny brown naked mortal came marching into the garden, fists clenched, scowling in furious determination, heading for the street. Imhotep spotted him and jumped up.“Excuse me a minute. Benny, come back here!”Atrahasis turned, staring in disbelief, as Imhotep ran after the mortal infant and caught it. A conversation took place in the ancient tongue that would be translated approximately as follows:“Whoa! Where do you think you’re going? Remember what Daddy said about chariots?”“No potty go.”“Oh. Benny, you have to go potty like a big boy now.”“No potty go!”Imhotep looked around. “Okay, okay. Come on. Big boy on the tree like Daddy showed you, all right?”“Big boy.”Atrahasis averted his gaze as Imhotep led the infant to a fig tree in the corner, where it urinated. The mortal woman came running from the house, calling for the child, and Imhotep turned and waved to her.“I caught him, honey, it’s all right.”“How did you get the door open?” she demanded of the baby. It just glared up at her. “My lord husband, I put the latch on!”“He’s a magician,” said Imhotep, grinning in embarrassment. “Like me.”“Horses might have killed you under their hooves,” she admonished the baby, gathering it into her arms. “Crocodiles might have eaten you!” She glanced over at Atrahasis and crimsoned in a blush. “Ten thousand apologies, my lord!”“It’s all right,” said Imhotep. He put his arms around her and kissed her. “I’ll be in soon. Send Aye and Pepi and a couple of the others out, okay? And unlock my study. I want that chest taken inside and set against the far wall.”“Will our guest stay for dinner?”“I don’t think so,” Imhotep said.“No potty go,” the baby informed them.“We’ll see about that, kiddo,” Imhotep told him sternly, and the mortal woman bore the protesting child away to the house. He returned to the stone bench to find Atrahasis regarding him in scandalized disgust.“We adopted,” explained Imhotep, looking a little shamefaced.“No wonder you don’t mind the pollution,” Atrahasis said at last. “You’re actually living in intimacy with them!”“It’s part of my job,” said Imhotep. “She was a gift from the king. What was I supposed to do? You know the procedure on this kind of mission. And anyway, since when is sex with them against the rules?”“True enough,” Atrahasis said, but mentally he crossed Imhotep off his list of possible allies.“I know she’ll die one of these days,” Imhotep went on defensively. “The kid will die, too, maybe fifty years down the line, but in the meanwhile he’ll have had a good life and … well, they all die, don’t they? And I’ll be somewhere else by then anyway. I’ve been through this before. I can handle it. The Company doesn’t care, as long as I get the job done, right?”“Whatever it takes,” Atrahasis agreed.”He didn’t stay to dinner.

Imhotep might be besotted with mortals, but he had indeed gotten the job done. In founding an occult society that promised secret knowledge and earthly power to its members, he had forged the first link in a long chain that would ultimately terminate in that remarkable cabal of scientists and investors calling itself Dr. Zeus Incorporated.Not quite in keeping with the high moral purpose expressed in the Company’s mission statement. However, Atrahasis had learned—long before he became Labienus—that the mortal masters were the first to jettison their principles, when it was necessary to get something they wanted.Copyright © 2005 by Kage Baker
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Two steps forward, one step back.

    There was finally a feel of momentum about the last Company novel (The Life of the World to Come) -- we finally reached the future, and quite a few events came to a head. The cast of characters appeared to be complete with the introduction of Mendoza's third (and final, I believe) lover and his devious Captain; we finally got into the heads of some of those poor short-sighted mortals nominally in charge of the Company, and we came within striking distance of 2355. Unfortunately, this volume squandered all that momentum by jumping far, far backward to fill us in on another event shadow -- the evil machinations of Labienus who, from sometime in prehistory, has been doing his best to undermine the Company's stated mission.

    Which actually wouldn't have been terrible (though it was always destined to be frustrating) if Labienus had been rendered as fully as Baker's other viewpoint characters have been. Unfortunately, he remains throughout a caricature of frustrated desires and squeamishness. The implications from his being the only character in this universe to display homosexual urges left me a little queasy.

    I don't think that Baker is particularly homophobic (she was in theater, for goodness' sake! in California!) and I believe she could have rendered Labienus a more complex character had she wanted to (though thinking about it, most of her bad guys have been a tad stock) but despite what the dust jacket says, Labienus isn't really the focus of the book. He's little more than a frame; the book literally shows us him going through his secret files for a page or two, then "remembering" a short story set from quite a few other Company operatives' perspectives.

    We see Lewis at his best in an Ireland just being converted to Christianity; we see little Latif receive training from a Facilitator in Amsterdam; we see Kalugin's final dive into treachery; and we get Victor's story. Tragedies all, and most quite moving. We also see Budu and the ADONAI project from Labienus' perspective, as Baker maneuvers more of her plot into place. But I must say I resent the evil puppetmaster Labienus has been cast as, because (1) I just find it hard to believe a total sociopath could be produced through the indoctrination the Company uses on its Facilitators, and (2) it seems a rather creaky plot device.

    Still, some of the short stories within nearly moved me to tears, and Baker's prose has become more polished -- there were several pieces of description that took my breath away. The series has come far enough from the passionate first-person narration of Mendoza and Joseph that I no longer crave that from it -- at this point, I just want the action to start! But the frustration shows how much Baker has me invested in these characters and this world, so of course I still have to recommend it. But just a warning to the universe at large: the payoff had better be fantastic!

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Kage Baker¿s Company novels are always fun to read

    Dr. Zeus of the Company has learned the secrets of time travel and how to turn mortals into immortal cyborgs that he sends back in time to hide art, artifacts and anything else that would benefit the Company in a place where the company can recover it. Cyborgs also turn young children into cyborgs as new recruits for the company. Cyborgs have been on the Earth for many millennia, raising man up on two legs and bringing new civilizations into being..................... Executive Facilitatior General Labienus looks at files that span the millennium to learn that the company did not play fair with the cyborgs. He has plans to take over the world and eliminate the company and Dr. Zeus if he can defeat his life long enemy who has discovered a new race of mortals, Homo sapiens umbratilis, mortals who can invent anything and are easy to manipulate. Throughout time Labienus subtly influences history so that when the moment is right he will be in a position to make his move to control the world....................... Kage Baker¿s Company novels are always fun to read but CHILDREN OF THE COMPANY is particularly good because it shows the different eras that the agents operated in from the dawn of time to the San Francisco earthquake to the future when a virus was deliberately let loose on a world so that some scientific research would be lost until Dr. Zeus ¿finds¿ it. This is a stupendous series because one never knows in what direction Mr. Baker will take readers........................ Harriet Klausner

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    Posted January 21, 2011

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