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of all men now alive

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It happens first when silver flows through the blood of man, after Pallas (of course after Pallas; all come after Pallas in her heart, now and forever more) — that pale-eyed Athene looks down on a mortal who confounds her.

“What,” she says (and she is young still; the way of talking gently to mortals does not come easily to her, as in later years), “what are you doing?”

The mortal smiles, showing a row of crooked teeth. It has not fully mastered the art of talking to the divine yet—not quite advanced enough for that, although its lips curl up in rudimentary prayer to her glory. It raises the sliver of bone to which it had tied the sinews of a deer’s heart, which it has been slipping in and out of a cured deer hide. Most clever, thinks Athene, who weaves cloth but does not sew it, yet. Most clever, indeed.

She reminds herself to keep an eye on this particular mortal, but levity takes over all goddesses’ minds as irrevocably as Lethe does all mortal souls, and that spark of brilliance is lost to her, for a time.

Still. It happens first so. She must remember that.

In Egypt they call her Neith. She watches over the red and black lands idly; their stability and good sense do not draw her as the brawling, bickering islands do. Nevertheless her attention is occasionally drawn to them by a startling soul, and such a one is this.

She is no one special—a common girl, in fact, who played the flute and pleased Pharaoh, and at last finagled a place in his bed, swelling up with a son not a year later. A simple story, seen often enough, but then: A king murdered, an infant heir left behind, and a sharp-eyed mother all too ready to reign in his name. The crown rests on the head that once wore nothing more than perfume.

Filial Athene, who has never forgotten that had she been born a son, she would have superseded her sire, smiles.

The woman king closes her wily eyes and dreams of a tomb to ensure she will never be forgotten; the breath of a goddess stirs her soul. Clever-fingered Athene presents herself at her court, in the kilt and collar of a simple architect, and bows: “Your Highness. How may I be of service?”

“Well met," says Pharaoh.

When they meet again, she as Anat, fierce and furious, and he as Shamgar, Her beloved son, it is easier and more difficult, all at once. Forward-fighting Athene is angry these days. She has raised a rebellion against her father with her stepmother, and fallen from his grace. She leaves Olympus and fights on the plains between the two rivers, howling with rage. She is no better than her brother Ares; she fights with passion rather than prudence. She wades in blood and tramples bones.

Shamgar they call her son, in name rather than in truth. To her old vows she holds true; the only lust she feels is for blood. There have been many to bear this title; it is an honor among those that worship her. But this one, and this one alone, watches her with eyes a trifle too sharp, lips pressed too thin. When he presents battle plans to her, he advocates trickery, cowardice, anything to survive one day more. He understands rage, he tells her; but with the limited years given to him, he understands better not to let it overwhelm him.

He brings her back to herself. She will always be grateful for that.

Galanthis, once of the green eyes, now of the sleek brown pelt, settles on a stone as child-nurturing Athene approaches. There was a time when even she, impudent as she is, would have stood to attention before the divine, but now she only yawns: having been cursed by one goddess, she has no fear of any other.

“Why did you do it?” inquires Athene, eyes wide. “Clever girl that you are, even you wouldn’t go so far for a jest. Whatever possessed you?”

Galanthis turns her head away sullenly, wishing she could turn away as easily from the memory of Alcmene’s dark eyes, her clever white fingers, her rosy mouth’s dismay when realizing what had become of her. She had wept against Galanthis's breast as her son kicked and pummeled her, careless of the harm he caused even from the womb: her tears had burned bright against Galanthis's skin. If Galanthis had not dared to defy Hera, Queen of Heaven herself, her queen would only have known her as the most faithful of servants. At least this way, she consoles herself, Alceme will always remember her.

“Ah,” says whole-hearted Athene, as if trying to understand something she can’t comprehend, “Ah.”

In Troy, when the campfires have almost gone out and he can almost convince himself that the voice he hears is but the whistle of the wind, she asks: “Do you think of her? Do memories of your Penelope make you weak, son of Laertes?”

He knows what effective weapons taunts can be - has used them himself, to rattle a warrior into a worried man, easily defeated - but he is no less susceptible himself. Particularly when he recalls his wife’s dark eyes, her clever white fingers, her rosy mouth’s dismay when watching his ship set sail.

Sometimes all he can remember is longing for her.

“But that,” his goddess continues, “is not that the question to ask. The question to ask: why do I think of you?

Always obedient to the will of the gods, he parrots: “Why is it so, gray-eyed goddess?”

“Because,” replies devious Athene, “you have always wanted to be remembered. And I will be remembered through you. And that is why you are here, and I with you.” His ears roar with blood; his heart yearns for fame. Penelope is gone.

She brings him back to himself. He will always be grateful for that.

At times the first astronaut manning a mission into the outer rim succumbs to loneliness. It’s a one-person job, she was told from the start; but even all the psychological testing and all the trial isolations can’t prepare herself for how achingly empty it all is. At times it frightens her: hearts and souls and human cruelty she hardly fears — she can outthink and outwit them all. But this darkness, this unbendable law of nature? She is helpless before it.

“Nonsense,” a voice says, and snorts. She is seventy-five point eight percent it’s just a hallucination, but it’s a comforting one, nonetheless. It reminds her of hot ginger tea and biscuits: it is with her as she swings between two jagged asteroids, scraping the shuttle’s wing; it is with her as she desperately hobbles together a slapdash repair; it’s with her as she kills, connives, and destroys to survive another day.

“Why,” she asks once, “are you here with me?”

The voice hesitates. It has never done so before. “Because,” it says at last, “there is no where else I would rather be.”

The astronaut closes her eyes in calm acceptance. The space shuttle Minerva carries on into infinity.