My name is Odin. I suppose it would be appropriate to list all the titles that go with that name, but I really don’t feel like I deserve them. I took the name because I lead the Aesir, and it was expected of me. Not because I wanted it.
I’m Norwegian. Most Aesir are, actually, or at least one of the Nordic races. I was one of the many immigrants from those countries who got caught in the political crossfire in one of America’s stupid wars, and jumped at the chance to go to Domina when the city was being built. Many of my friends and family came with me, but few of us had any real skills, so we ended up as more unskilled labor, laying the foundation of the city on the trash island. Life was hard, but we survived.
Then, fifteen years later, Clarke invented the toy maker. It was a miracle, in a thousand ways and more, but the first thing I became interested in was the Bigger package, a set of buffs that increased size and strength over about six months. I was one of the first to try it.
It worked beautifully. I went from a short and compact man to a tall Adonis, able to lift cars and push buses. With effort, true, but this was not a comic book. Super strength was impossible, enhanced strength more than enough.
That proved useful at my construction job, you can be sure, and many of my coworkers bought the package as well. A lot of them were my Nordic friends and family, but others were other races. These were in the days before skin cosmos came out, when race still meant something. The Norwegians and Icelanders and Greenlanders were having enough trouble getting along; throwing Mexicans and Brazilians into that mix would have been lighting a powder keg.
So, I formed a gang. It wasn’t really a gang, at first. Just a small group to keep my friends out of trouble. Sure, it grew quickly, until we had almost a hundred members, but that was still barely a gang.
It wasn’t until the vampires started attacking us that we really started viewing ourselves as a group. I don’t know which subculture it was; again, that was the early days, so these were just kids with black eyes and bad attitudes. It’s easy to assume they were all Nessians or daevas, but reality rarely puts all the good guys and bad guys in clear groups.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Strong or not, most of us weren’t fighters, and with our clumsy new bodies, we couldn’t defend ourselves.
So we learned.
We bought guns, learned how to use them. The more patient of us learned martial arts, while the rest just fought each other for practice. We killed the vampires when they came. They came back with more guns, killed some of us. A vicious cycle with no end in sight.
Then Butler walked into our HQ one day.
Everyone had taken to calling it Asgard, but it wasn’t really a big deal. Just another ‘scraper, originally intended to be a hotel. The plan got scrapped when we were about ninety percent done—everything except the carpets, pretty much. There isn’t really much demand for high-class hotels in Domina City.
I managed to buy it off the owner for about a hundredth of what it was worth, and converted it into our lair. Like I said, it wasn’t much, but it was ours, and it was home. Fortified the first few floors, put water in the pools, and it was a place worth living. The vampires came pretty often, but we repulsed them, like I said.
Then Butler walked into our HQ one day.
We had heard of him, of course. Even before the toy maker, people were already beginning to whisper about Artemis Butler. No one knew what he had done to get sent to prison in the first place, but he wasn’t someone you wanted to screw with. They said he killed anyone who stood in his way, that his gang was supplied by the military, and that he was dying of an incurable disease, but held himself together with sheer will.
That was before the toy maker, mind. After that, the rumors got stranger, and aren’t really worth mentioning.
I had always assumed the rumors to be propaganda spread by the ‘sarians themselves. I had met Butler once, on the boat over to the island, and it seemed like something he would do. Simple. Effective. Small risk of danger. I didn’t want to cross him, but I figured if he started a fight, we could finish it.
But he walked through my fortifications like they weren’t even there. Walked into the elevator, up to my penthouse, and stood before me, leaning heavily on his cane, as if it was the easiest thing in the world.
I looked at the cameras, and it seemed like he had brought his entire gang with him, and it was bigger than I thought. Every single giant in the building had three guns in his face, and there were enough ‘sarians left to guard the entrances. That was nearly a thousand of the bastards. I still don’t know if that was all of them, but I very much doubt it.
No shots had been fired. Not a one.
Butler hadn’t brought a single man with him to my penthouse. Between me, my wife, my son, and our half-dozen bodyguards, we had twelve guns and nearly three thousand pounds of muscle to fight with. Butler was big and muscular, but he was baseline, and we were giants. Any one of us could have killed him with one hand. One finger.
But we didn’t.
Because Artemis Butler was the tallest one in that room. He is always the tallest person in the room.
He stared us all down without even the slightest trace of fear. He wasn’t smug. Smug implies that they’re arrogant, lording their successes over you. Butler was not smug.
“My name is Artemis Butler,” he said slowly, as if any of us didn’t know. “I have come to make a deal.”
I remember, even to this day, swallowing a lump in my throat that felt like an apple. “What deal?”
“Don’t cause trouble,” he said, looking me right in the eye. “Don’t start protection rackets. Don’t extort money or blackmail or murder. Don’t start wars.”
I ground my teeth. “The vampires—”
“Will be dealt with,” he interrupted. “In short order. And if they attack you, you may of course defend yourselves. You may even retaliate.” He fixed me with those crimson eyes. “If civilians get caught in the crossfire, however, there will be…problems.”
“And if I refuse?”
“Then you will become my enemy.”
His eyes, his pale red eyes, made his intention perfectly clear. You do not want to become an enemy of Artemis Butler.
So I nodded, once, after only a few moments hesitation.
“Good,” he said, smiling. “I will have a more detailed list of laws sent to you shortly.”
“Laws?” my wife virtually screeched. “You have laws for us?”
Butler raised an eyebrow. “Of course, Lady Frigga. A set of written laws is the best for everyone.” He smiled. “Unless you would rather simply be subject to my whim? I can be quite fickle.”
Everyone in the room knew that was a lie. This man was no more fickle than a mountain. He was eternal, unmovable. God himself could not force Artemis Butler to bend.
So when you take all that into account, I think, when it comes right down to it, it was obvious I was trying to commit suicide.
That was the only logical explanation I could come up with for my actions fifteen years later, a day after some of my best Thors were killed in that disastrous screamer attack at Bombed Alley. I was old, and tired, and wanted to die. My wife would be a good Colossus for a time, and when she stepped down, my son would have his turn.
I burst into NHQ, throwing ‘sarians left and right, roaring my anger and shouting Butler’s name, daring him to face me. I called him names, disparaging and unimaginative things like ‘redeye’ and ‘paleface.’ Hardly my best moment, by any account. Honestly, I expected to get a bullet to the brain and feel the final dark embrace any minute.
Instead, he came out.
He walked forward calm as you please, as though he was still in complete control of the situation. Which he was, of course. I had no power he didn’t wish for me to have.
“Senator Odin,” he called warmly, once he was within ten feet of me. He had to look up to meet my eyes, but as usual, he somehow managed to intimidate me. “To what do we owe this pleasure?”
“Don’t try to charm your way out of this one, Artemis,” I growled. “I lost over a hundred of my men at that ridiculous attack of yours.”
“As did the hellions,” he assured me. “The Composer revealed a weapon we did not anticipate, and we suffered for it. We are taking precautions now, but we can’t change the past.”
I stalked forward, ignoring the guns trained on me as best as I could. “Yes, I read your little newsletter. But the cultures are in turmoil. You can’t expect us to stand for this.”
He sighed, very deeply, and for the first time in a long time I remembered that this was a man with enough incurable diseases that he should have died when he was ten years old. Not only had he survived, but he had taken the weight of an entire city on his shoulders.
“I need your help with this, old friend,” he whispered. “This fighting—it’s exactly what the Composer wants.”
I sniffed, a little chastised, but determined to plow on. Or maybe determined to get myself killed. “Open war still hasn’t broken out, and it probably won’t. Everyone is mistrustful, but they’re not stupid. They’re just falling back and fortifying their domains.”
Butler shook his head. “Fortifying against a creature that can turn a thousand people into mindless zombies over the radio—and everyone is putting themselves in nice, compact boxes. Perfect for what the Composer has in mind.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And what would that be?”
Butler shrugged. “Who knows? That’s my point. Falling back gives the enemy too many options, and takes away too many of ours. We need to integrate, not segregate.”
I growled. “If you want us to deal with the hellions again—”
“Right now, I just want you to keep your men in check. Keep them from getting too violent. Once we find a way to identify these sleeper agents, everything will fall into place.”
He was being reasonable. He was always reasonable.
I sighed. “Fine. Butler, you win again. I’ll hold back my men. And I’ll shout down that vote of no-confidence some of the politicians are trying to push through.” I turned to go. “It’s the least I can do.”
Behind the Scenes (77)
Maybe a bit too much exposition here, but I liked how this turned out.