Pagan Passions

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Chapter 12

Zeus, Venus, Diana and Forrester sat in the Court of the Gods, listening to a large, blue-skinned individual with bright red eyes and two long white fangs coming from a lipless mouth. The eyes were like a cat's, with slitted pupils, and the general expression on the individual's face was one of feral hatred and bestial madness. However, as he had explained, he was not responsible for the arrangement of his features. He was, he kept saying, only interested in the general welfare. What was more, it was his business to be interested. He was, as a matter of fact, a cop: Bor Mellistos, of the Interstellar Police.

"My rank," he had told them mildly, "is about the equivalent of your Detective Inspector."

"Technically," he was saying now, "you are all four guilty of being accessories—as I understand your local law phrases it. However—"

He smiled. It made him look unbelievably horrible. Forrester tried not to pay any attention to it.

"However," he went on, "in view of the fact that none of you could possibly have known that you were, in fact, accessories—that is, that you were dealing with a criminal group, if you understand me—plus the fact that Mr. Forrester, as soon as he did discover the facts, called us at once through the power machine—I feel that we can overlook your part in the matter."

Venus frowned. "Wait a minute. I'm not sure I understand this at all. What crime are the Gods supposed to have committed?"

"Not crime, miss," Bor Mellistos said. His eyes twinkled. Forrester gulped and turned away. "Crimes. Misuse of a neural power machine, for one—and the domination and enslavement of a less advanced intelligent culture for another. Both those are very serious crimes."

"Less advanced culture?" Forrester said. "You mean us?"

"I'm afraid so, sir," Bor Mellistos said. "You see, all the members of my culture are attuned to the power nodes of one neural machine or another, but this power is not meant to be misused. We have been searching for this group for a long time now."

"And you first got wind of them on Earth about three thousand years ago?"

"A little more than that, actually," Bor Mellistos said, "if you don't mind the correction."

"Not at all," Forrester said, looking at the fangs of the Detective Inspector.

"We were alerted after the radiations had been coming in for some time. The search for this group wasn't nearly as urgent then."

"And that's why they had to go into hiding?" Diana asked.

"Correct, miss," Bor Mellistos said. "The only one we managed to catch was the woman calling herself Aphrodite, or Venus." He looked at the substitute Venus. "That's the one you replaced, miss."

"How did you catch her?" Forrester pursued.

"Well," Bor Mellistos said, turning a faint shade of orange with embarrassment, "she was—ah—engaged in a secret liaison with a mortal at the time. Knowing that two of the other gentlemen would be furious with her if they discovered this fact—"

"Mars and Vulcan," Forrester supplied.

"Quite correct, sir," Bor Mellistos said. "Knowing, as I say, that they would be furious, she had taken special pains to hide herself. When the alarm reached the others that we were coming, they could not warn her. As a result, when she returned to Mount Olympus, we were waiting for her."

"Serves her right!" Zeus said with indignation.

Bor Mellistos said: "Quite," very politely.

"And then," Forrester said, "you patrolled this place for a while."

Bor Mellistos nodded. "We left about three hundred years ago, finally deciding that they had gone elsewhere. By the way, do you know where they were hiding all this time?"

"My guess," Diana said, "is that they were here on Earth, of course."

"Naturally, miss," Bor Mellistos said. "But where?"

Zeus shrugged. "All sorts of places. I ran a tailor shop myself, pressing and cleaning. I understand that Poseidon and Pluto entered freak shows—they were fine attractions, too. Pan lived mostly in the forests, doing well enough for himself running wild. Diana and Athena ran a small hairdressing studio in Queens. And Venus—"

"Please," Venus interrupted.

"Perfectly honorable profession," Zeus objected. "One of the oldest. Perhaps the very oldest. And I don't see why—"

"Please!" Venus insisted.

Zeus shut up with a little sigh.

"At any rate," Bor Mellistos said, "that's the story up to date. And now there's only the question of the Overseer positions. Would you like to fill them?"

"Who?" Venus asked. "Us?"

"Well," Bor Mellistos said, "you have the experience. And we do need someone to take over. You see, three thousand years ago your technical attainments were not large. There was little need for an Overseer. Now, however, you are nearly at the stage where you will be invited to join the Galactic Federation. And we must make sure you do not do any irreparable harm to yourselves during the next few years."

"Well," Forrester said, "how could we—"

"If you'll permit me, sir," Bor Mellistos said, "I can explain. You would work much as the so-called Gods did—but with no publicity, and a greater sense of responsibility, if you understand me. Earth would never know you were there."

"I'd have to—stay away from mortals?" Forrester asked.

"Exactly," Bor Mellistos said.

Well, Forrester thought, it had its compensations. In the three days that the Detective Inspector had been on Earth, Forrester had had time to think and to find out some things. Gerda, for instance, was getting married to Alvin Sherdlap. Forrester wondered what kind of love would let a woman choose a name like Gerda Sherdlap, and decided it was better not to think about it.

What did he have to go back to? History classes? Students? Even students like Maya Wilson?

Well, he was sure he could do better than that. He looked at Diana and became even surer.

"The remaining eleven Overseers," Bor Mellistos was saying, "will be along shortly. You will then be able to draw fully on the machine. You need merely follow world events and make sure that any—ah—regrettably final decisions are not made. Your actions will, of course, be very much undercover."

Forrester nodded. "This mass arrest of the Gods is going to cause an upheaval all by itself."

"Quite true, sir. But that will be worked out. I'm afraid I don't really know the details, but doubtless the other eleven who are coming will inform you more thoroughly on that score."

Forrester sighed. "About the Gods—what kind of punishment will they receive?"

"Well, sir," Bor Mellistos said, "it varies. Vulcan, for instance—the person who called himself Vulcan, or Hephaestus—will probably get off with a lighter sentence than the others. He was a mechanic, brought along under some duress to service the machine. But the sentences will be severe, you may be sure. Very severe."

Forrester didn't feel like asking any more questions about that. There was a pause. He looked at Diana again, and she looked back at him.

"Do you accept?" Bor Mellistos said.

Forrester and the others nodded.

Bor Mellistos said: "Very well. In that case, I will inform the other eleven Overseers already picked that they will be met by you here, on Mount Olympus, and that—"

But Forrester wasn't listening.

He had begun whistling, very softly.

The song he was whistling was Tenting Tonight.

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