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The Gods Abandon Alcibiades by Joel Richards
 

 


Illustration by Laurie Harden

The dolphin motif is the most graceful extension of a bracelet’s curvilinear form. Compared to the massive and burly heads of ram or lion, that of the dolphin arcs seamlessly from its body, in silver as in water. A noble progression. I looked up from my work, the bending of the bracelet’s two dolphin heads to their near joining point, to see Philistus standing quietly before me. The dust of the road clung to him, turned to mortar by his sweat.

Philistus eyed the bracelet appraisingly. A Cretan, he was partial to the bull motif. But he was not here to indulge his own aesthetic tastes. I raised one eyebrow, and he responded.

"My master Antigonus greets the worthy Timocles and asks his attendance at dinner the morrow evening."

This was short notice by a host not given to impromptu fests. My eyebrow remained raised.

"My master bids me say that Sphodrias will bring the Artemis casket that you have fashioned."

Fashioned of Laurium’s silver, ornamented to the best of my craft, it was but an elaborate container nonetheless. Sphodrias, our healer, was the master and custodian of its contents. This was grim news indeed, though not unexpected. Antigonus’ kidneys had long been failing. Given the impossibility of replacement or even dialysis in this early time and milieu, a leavetaking of one sort or another was all that remained. The Artemis casket was both the signal and the means.

"I will come," I said. "And the other guests?"

"Hippocles, Androclides, Sphodrias, Teukros, and Alcibiades."

I nodded and looked down at the bracelet on my work bench. As with Antigonus’ life, passing in grace; a circle nearly complete.

Hippocles strode besides me, his staff borne lightly. Not needed as yet, it would be for a man of his years as we mounted the steeper hills that ringed Antigonus’ villa and olive groves.

Already the bulk of the town was behind us. We had been offered and accepted a ride partway. An oxcart was as good as a chariot here; the armorer, Sestias, was making frequent deliveries to the countryside now that the Spartans were getting restive, and had saved us a good part of the dusty trek. It was a near thing now, the balance between human business and sounds and that of the buzzing, sun-drowsy mindlessness of the fields and groves around us. An occasional slave overtook us, on his way to some villa or other with a jar of wine or a packload of cheese. A party of masons made their dusty way back to Athens from a day of fence or house building. These were metics, not slaves; their greeting was raucous, tinged by the prospect or current reality of good country beer.

Hippocles made a good companion, speaking only with something to say, allowing me my reflections while he immersed himself in his. He would have been Antigonus’ successor were it not for his years. He was in Antigonus’ counsel, and spoke at last of our current concern.

"Alcibiades will be there, I understand. One can hope that he will treat the occasion with none of his usual frivolity."

I said nothing.

"That depends on whether or not he’s drunk, I suppose," Hippocles went on. "Since Antigonus’ villa is such a distance from his usual haunts, one can hope to find him sober. At least by the time he arrives."

"Alcibiades is not known to drink during the day," I said. "And drunk or sober, he’s not the insensitive fool you seem to think him."

"Oh, he’s clever enough. It’s his sense of propriety I’m talking about. That dissertation on androgyny at Agathon’s dinner."

"I understood that to be Aristophanes’ exposition," I said.

"And who do you think put those ideas in Aristophanes’ head? I know that you’re Alcibiades’ friend, but start thinking about him in your role of Antigonus’ successor. Your friend will do his mischief by proxy, if he can. He uses people, and he’s dangerous. But foolish. Cleverness does not preclude injudicious behavior."

Hippocles was right, of course. Alcibiades was difficult to defend. This androgyny business. We are an androgynous race on our native Katha. Sexless, even, in one sense: our organs have atrophied to sexual nonfunction. Moreover, we lack the hormones that course through the human body, arousing, even inflaming, certainly influencing decisions and relationships. We may have had such hormones in our long distant past, but they, too, would have fallen by the wayside on our long evolutionary trail. Our sexless, hormone-less, cool selves lack the concommitant tidal surges. Their presence makes the humaniform so piquant, enticing, so close to the edge. To overlay the animal body and its self-manufactured instabilities with a questing, rational mind–how human! And, in its current quintessence, how Greek!

Only the fulminators–those races that develop on an exponentially evolving time scale–can offer this experience. And for so little time before they reach an apotheosis of self-salvation or a climax of self-destruction.

We have been cloning human bodies for five hundred years, adapting the mind transfer to human physiology so that we can imprint the Kathan persona on blank primate cortex. It has taken us long to establish itinerant family units, settle them in so that succeeding "generations" can enjoy citizen status. And for so short lived–but so intense–an experience! A program that can be carried forward for only a thousand or so years to come, before humanity’s scientific progress makes it all too dangerous.

The humans will discover us soon enough, if we don’t withdraw in good time. Those of us like Alcibiades can hasten the process, to his titillation and amusement, and the discomfiture and shortchanging of us all.

So Hippocles was quite right. Alcibiades, if not a fool, was showing himself to be a dangerous mischiefmaker. To ourselves, as well as the Athenians. And this would not be tolerated by the project monitors in their orbiting control station.

We were climbing the last hill now. The late afternoon sun had lost its intensity, making the uphill trek easier. Olive trees surrounded us, the silver/green of their leaves as promising of clear oil as the pure silver at my smithy of the bracelets and brooches to which it transmutes.

Alcibiades would be at Antigonus’ villa tonight, and would have to be dealt with. He would try to charm and cajole me toward forbearance as he had so often before. But this time the mechanisms for controlling him were already in motion. I was friend or perhaps only acquaintance to some I would dine with this night; silversmith to some; channel of wealth and fortune to all. Silversmithing is both cover and means for that. Before this evening was out, I would be more than our mission’s financier and banker–still Alcibiades’ friend, but something more. I would be the head of the mission and the enforcer of the mission’s dictates.

Antigonus was in his olive grove, roaming the land he cultivated. He still tended to the trees alongside his free hired men. Olive trees are vital, even sacred to the Greeks, and this ensured Antigonus’ attention. More so than with any Athenian citizen I knew, who might be prepared to acknowledge the economic and even spiritual centricity of the olive, but who left the cultivation and its sweatwork to others.

One might say that Antigonus had outGreeked the Greeks. On other projects, on other worlds, we had turned out the occasional Kathan who had embraced–overembraced–the local lifestyle and culture to the point of inspiring ridicule. The Greeks had their indigenous parallels: Macedonians, Phoenicians, and others resident in the City who had aped Athenian mores and mannerisms to the locals’ amusement. Antigonus, in a redeeming flash of insight and self directed humor, had commented on this and his own all-pervasive Athenian persona.

"There are layers within layers," he had told me, and had laughed. "Could there be others at home passing as Kathans?"

I thought of this as Antigonus greeted us across the low stone wall separating his grove from the dusty road Hippocles and I were traveling.

"I’ll walk with you to the gate. Time is short, and I have been consolidating agreeable errands–like greeting friends and taking a last stroll among these old trees."

We turned and walked on parallel paths toward the entrance gate. Antigonus passed a skin of wine across the wall.

Pylades met us partway. He was now sixteen years old and Antigonus’ "son." A Kathan, actually, substituted as a baby for one who had died young and perhaps too conveniently, as had Antigonus’ first wife.

"The others are resting from their journey," he told us as we turned in the gate and toward the villa. "You are the last to arrive. Except, of course, Alcibiades."

"Ah, yes," Hippocles murmured.

Antigonus’ two natural sons met us in the courtyard behind the entrance door to lead us to the bath. They looked down in spirit, and I imagined that Antigonus had already made his farewells to his wife and children, likely garnishing the occasion with portentous talk of signs of impending death.

The servants scraped us and washed us down. Cool was the operative word now; it seemed synonymous with good. We were offered tunics and fresh mantles, trimmed with purple. Antigonus was making the occasion a festive one. As we returned to the courtyard we heard a vigorous neighing from beyond the open door.

"Alcibiades, I’ll wager," Hippocles said. "Only he has horses with such staying power and spirit after such an arduous ride."

"Timocles! Hippocles!" Alcibiades swung neatly from the saddle and strode forward to embrace us as we stood at the door. He paid no heed to the dust that accompanied his embrace as he clapped us on the shoulders. And why should he? Few men had ever reckoned a soiled tunic–even a new one–a high price for even a passing token of Alcibiades’ affection.

"Take me to Antigonus!" he commanded with spirited bonhomie. No man could doubt that he anticipated anything but the highest pleasure from the chance of seeing him and dining with him once more.

Or–as Hippocles might have voiced it–one last time.

Dinner was indeed a festive affair; hearty country dishes with a surprise at the end.

"This cheesecake, Antigonus, was created by no country baker," Alcibiades pronounced. On matters culinary, as well as other pleasures of the flesh, Alcibiades was our acknowledged master, and none dared gainsay him. Indeed, Hippocles backed him up–something quite rare–and ventured the opinion that we might have caught a ride with the baker’s wagon, since it was evident that the cake was not only rich but of the freshest, and saved walking that dusty road altogether.

"It would have been our loss, Hippocles," I told him. "Our appetite would have been all the less, and we would have missed gazing up at the sky through that grandfather of an oak while we had our lunch among the poppies."

"Another aesthete!" Alcibiades said. "Or, should I say, philosopher? You sound like you’ve been conversing with Socrates."

Several of the company smiled at this. Hippocles did not.

The slaves cleared off the food, and Antigonus dismissed them. Pylades, the youngest of us, mixed and poured the wine. I regarded the cup, and, over its rim, Antigonus. Others did, too, I noted.

Antigonus was over fifty years, the start of a dangerous phase when death might strike at any moment–at a time and at a distance that made rescue and revival impossible, even given the med alert and heart starting implants. We generally repatriated at age fifty, but Antigonus had stretched things a bit to savor at length the relationships with land, friends, family, and even himself in his current persona. But he did not need a readout of his medical condition to know that it was now time to go.

"Friends," Antogonus said, "This is a leavetaking. But not an unhappy one. Or shall I better say, not one without its happier aspects. For, as compared to those others with whom we mingle and even intertwine, we know that we shall meet again." He looked about him benignly.

Alcibiades spoke. "But shall the ‘we’ be the ‘we’ of now, of this nature? And will we then appreciate our feelings of these past and present moments in the same light?"

Teukros tossed the dregs of his wine into the bowl. He seemed to regard Alcibiades’ thought in the same wise, and his actions said so.

Sphodrias spoke. "I imagine that Alcibiades meant merely that physiology–the neural pathways our thoughts must traverse–prefigure prefigures these thoughts and, indeed, our value judgments."

"Perhaps," Androclides said. "But it is our thoughts, or the neurotransmitters that move them, that generate new dendritic networks. Thought prefigures substance."

"Perhaps a bit of both," Sphodrias said. "Mutual feedback. Still, Alcibiades’ view probably has the preponderance of evidence behind it."

"Why is that?" Alcibiades asked, somewhat surprised. He had clearly tired of the argument after his initial provocative thrust, and had removed himself from it.

"Because we are discussing the matter in a dialogue and mode of thought common to human, even Greek culture and physiology. Kathans would never so discourse."

Heads nodded. A point for Sphodrias and for Alcibiades.

Alcibiades looked bored. The argument was circular and mere exegesis of what Alcibiades had encapsulated far more pithily. This symposium irked him, and I knew why. Good food, drinking, social conversation he could handle in this company. But he was used to more sinewy meat in the realm of philosophy.

He wouldn’t get that here. He devoted himself to drinking, looking at me frequently from his couch. But I was not here in the role of drinking companion, not this night, and I, at least, practiced moderation. That fine Greek overlay.

Eventually the drinking and general conversation turned to leavetaking. Some of it was gracefully done. Hippocles and Alcibiades left for their sleeping quarters in the villa. Only Teukros and Androclides, young, vigorous and relatively sober, ventured the moonlight descent to their houses in town. Sphodrias, Antigonus, and I remained.

Sphodrias went about his set-up. With his guests in their beds or on the road there were no hostly duties for Antigonus still to perform. We could just talk.

"Alcibiades shows no willingness to resign as general of the Sicily expedition," Antigonus said. "I did ask him."

"I know."

"Sorry to leave you with that one, but it’s beyond my strength now. You’ll have to stop it."

Sphodrias had emptied the casket of the mindjack, and was holding it out to Antigonus. The power pack and data matrix remained.

"I shall," I said. "Why not focus on what you hold dear of this human mindset? Crystallize some good memories."

"You’re quite right." He reached for the helmet and placed it carefully over his balding head. Sphodrias activated the microfilaments that would painlessly extrude into the cerebral cortex. The downloading was a two-step process. The machine would stimulate the hippocampus and amaglyda, the organs that laid down memories in the temporal lobes, running those memories in a retroscroll. Also traveling that neuroelectric conduit was the quicksilver, evanescent field that structured future mindset. Together what was transiting was Antigonus’ persona and very essence.

The memories we’d transfer to the data bank in the casket; the field to the microprocessor where it could roam in fast time in a matrix programmed to recreate the mother world. The eight months till next rendezvous and pick- up would seem but a day or two.

Antigonus lay back in reverie and meditation. Memories paraded, were relived. I held Antigonus’ hand and said nothing. Sphodrias, a man of tact, had allowed us our last dialogue uninterrupted. He nodded to Antigonus, but Antigonus had started that inward journey unaided. Sphodrias’ role was now competely technical; he started and monitored the spooling back of Antigonus/K’aarvana to his Kathan home.

An early rain had silvered the olive trees with droplets too large for a mist-hidden sun to burn off. Yet. Such are the pleasures of an early start upon the road. My horse cared more for browsing for grain amongst the barley stubble of the newly harvested fields where they met the road. I didn’t care much about discouraging him, though it slowed our progress. It bothered Alcibiades, though; as he soon made plain, he was not indulging himself in such bucolic reveries as both I and my mount were absorbing ourselves.

"I don’t much care for such dinners," Alcibiades said, reining in his horse to match the pace of this more staid specimen that Antigonus had arranged for me. Another example of his thoughtfulness to the last.

"I don’t doubt it," I said. "That’s why you arrive at so many of them late and in your cups."

Alcibiades turned in the saddle and gave me an intent look.

"I wasn’t in my cups last night. Not when I arrived, nor later either."

"I’d hope not, considering the occasion. Still, I’ll admit fear on the matter."

"I know, I know. The special nature of this dinner aside, they’re still so sententious, so full of solemn fatuities and disputations. Antigonus’ most of all." Alcibiades shook his head, his golden hair glinting in the sun. "All that devotion to his wife, his children, his trees, by Heracles! I still can’t decide whether he was a sentimentalist or worse. A masochist, perhaps, not only willing to concede that pain is the obverse of the coin of pleasure, but entering into relationships ensuring that pain."

I laughed in spite of myself and my liking for Antigonus.

"It’s not amusing," he said, with an uncharacteristic scowl. "Even the death of a wife and child seemed necessary and even desirable, not only to introduce our kind into the culture, but to further his appreciation of the human condition. I’ve heard him say as much, and it chills my marrow. And he thought me morally deficient for avoiding lasting entanglements!"

"Enough," I said. "I know that you didn’t think much of Antigonus. But I think it meant something to him to have all of our company with him in his last moments of the Greek mindset. And I’m grateful that you came and behaved yourself."

Alcibiades said nothing, leaving me to take the next step.

"But he’s gone now, and you’ve me to deal with. Only Timocles, your old friend and drinking companion."

Alcibiades reached behind him to his saddlebag, produced a skin and drank deeply from it. He passed it to me, and laughed.

"You know me too well."

I took an exploratory pull. It was water.

"And you should know me well enough to realize that I can’t let you assume the generalship that’s been offered you, and that you’ve accepted."

"Why not?"

"You know that we are here to partake of the human condition as we find it, not to overtly influence it."

"Well, I’ve certainly politicked enough, and Antigonus tolerated it."

"He was getting too old to pick fights, Alcibiades. And you had him overmatched."

We rode on in silence. Alcibiades was no doubt weighing my mettle and how formidable an adversary I would be in an upcoming match. No need to give him my opinion on the matter. Alcibiades preferred inference to explication or braggadocio. And the latter never had been my style.

"Perhaps you’d be better advised to let me general my way through Sicily," he said finally. "I’ve no experience in the generaling business here or on Katha. Fighting a war could be considered tapering down from inciting one. Besides, I might get myself killed."

"That sounds more like Gorgias or some other Sophist," I said. "You’re beyond such tricks, or should know that I am. The point is not how well or ill you do in such a leadership role. It’s that you shouldn’t undertake it. Nor incite wars either, while I head the mission, though I fear that this one will be enough to last the Athenians a good while. Nor go still further, and influence Greek thought."

"How do you mean?"

"Don’t play the guileless inquisitor with me, Alcibiades. You’re not Socrates."

Alcibiades shook his head. "No, I’m not Gorgias the Sophist nor Socrates the philosopher. I’m Alcibiades, trying to rise above a life of aimless wealth, trying to not form relationships simply to extract insights from reveling in the pleasures and the pain. I revel in verbal interplay, sensuality without relationships, floating on the froth. And if I want something more–to realize some of my golden promise before age tarnishes it, to do something–would you stop me? Would you take that final step, Timocles, and kill off your old friend?"

"As a last measure. And think of it–if I didn’t manage it till you had sailed or were in Sicily, that would be the end. We couldn’t download you. Would you really want to die at sea or on a far shore, cut short from the millennia ahead in your Kathan persona?"

"Yes," he said. I stiffened in the saddle, clamping my legs to my horse’s flanks. He jumped ahead, and I had to rein in to stop him. He turned his neck, pulled back his lips and whickered at me.

"Yes," Alcibiades repeated. "I do want to die as a human, though I’d hope later rather than sooner."

He was abreast of me again, and I turned to look him full in that fine lined face, no longer delicately patrician but something harder. "You’d not mean that if you were back in your Kathan mindset."

"Quite right. That’s the point. I’d rather end it in Greece than live centuries viewing these years as a grand holiday, a sabbatical from that bloodless, alienated Kathan condition. That’s how I would see it, and how I don’t intend to. So do it now, if you must, with one of those skin-permeable nerve toxins I know you carry around."

I was flustered, I’ll admit, and not as good as Alcibiades at meeting these abrupt changes in fortune or tactics. My hands slackened on the reins, again giving my mount the impression that I wanted to move only by fits and starts.

"No. Not yet. Let’s expand the options. But, be sure of it, they’re your options. Consider resigning. Or arrange to be recalled on some pretext, even while at sea. Or get detained at some interim port."

Alcibiades continued his regard of me. His lips tightened in comprehension and displeasure. But not acceptance.

"I see. You’ve already arranged my death, but at a remove and not by your own hand. How devious you’ve become, Timocles."

"You force me to it. But don’t think I’d rather you live shorter than longer, as you put it. I’d like the chance–in Athens–to talk you back into ultimately resuming your Kathan persona."

"I’ll study the game board," Alcibiades said grudgingly. "But I perceive that you’ve bested me. It’s always so much easier to kill than defend. And consider your resources! But I can’t simply resign the post. It’s not in my character." He reached over to grasp the reins of my horse, and pulled both of our mounts to a halt. "I’ll think of some scheme. But I will promise you one thing, Timocles. If you want to spare yourself killing me, directly or by proxy, then you’ll have to help me work it."

Alcibiades’ bright countenance and jaunty strut bespoke health and vigor, a man back from a sea voyage and not one about to embark on one. His ruddy skin, he assured me with a light laugh, came from scraping and rough toweling at the palestra and not from drink. Not that we wouldn’t patronize the wineshops and taverns tonight, he told me. No claim of prior obligations on my part would be brooked. In fact, I had laid on no plans for the coming days that could not be broken. Alcibiades had promised a way out of his dilemma–a scheme–that would involve me. Whatever others might say of him, he had always been a man of his word.

Alcibiades, wet of hair and tunic damp, stood on the dirt floor of my shop and examined a lapis and silver finger ring.

"I would purchase this from you, Timocles, as a remembrance of you and your skill. In particular,"–he laughed again–"of your ability to turn silver and men malleable to your intent. Though what you make of me will not attain the artistry of this effort." He held it up to examine it more closely. "What is your price?"

There was subtlety here. I was banker for the local project, filtering silver into the system to support us all. Money meant nothing to me, and less (so long as he had it!) to Alcibiades. But he had always been an esthete and an arbiter of taste. That was the capacity he was exercising now.

"None," I said. "A gift freely given, to take if you will. As is your life."

He nodded. "I will take the ring with me to summon Athens and you when I am away." His eyes glinted, blue as the lapis he held. "No, not in Sicily. But I doubt that my future will lie in Athens when the morning star rises."

"Where, then?" I asked.

"Sparta, perhaps," he said, relishing my look of disbelief.

"We will not speak of treason," I said, "Since we are not yet at war, and since I know you deem your prime allegiance to yourself and not to Athens. Or even Katha. But you love wealth and fine living and the arts far too much to live among those dour self-flagellants."

"You misread me, Timocles. As did Antigonus and as does this city. I need a stage and players of magnitude about me. The trappings are incidental."

He paused, and his unuttered words danced with the sunlit dust motes in the air about us. And none of our type abide there to constrain or threaten me as they do here.

"But enough. Meet me at Perimedes’ tavern when the moon is up." He strode to my workbench and hefted several tools, selecting the heaviest of my hammers and tucking it within his tunic. "Bring one of these."

He turned abruptly and left, leaving me to wonder what Alcibiades–a man I had never known to lift a tool for work or artistry–planned for our nocturnal labor.

The oil lamps guttered. Our host was too caught up in one of Alcibiades’ rough tavern stories–nowhere near as elegant as those he laid on Agathon and Socrates–to replenish them or even order his gap-mouthed slave boy to do so. The story was ribald and funny. Alcibiades always had a sense of place and suitable behavior. Sometimes, though not now, he deliberately abandoned it.

A carpenter, his leather apron stained with sweat and drink, slapped his knee and ordered wine all around. Alcibiades had swayed the Athenians to financing a war in Sicily. Parting a tightfisted craftsmen from a half day’s earnings in tribute to that same talent was a mere stage turn.

This tavern was not a place I frequented–these days. Responsibilities, devotion to the creative aspect of silversmithing, increasing appreciation of the number of days before me and how to use them–these had altered my habits since my days of youth.

Still, I was remembered here and well received. I could and did spin a tale or two, though none received an accolade to match Alcibiades’. But I was well content to pay for my drinks and make certain there were not too many of them. The tradesmen, artisans, and slumming landholders were not so constrained. Telamon, whom I knew in passing socially and in public as a reasoned orator, guffawed as loud as any and let fall a trickle of purple wine, dark as Homer’s sea, to complement the purple edging of his chiton.

"Friends," Alcibiades said, standing. He drained the last of his wine and tossed the lees on the floor. "The hour is late, and Timocles and I are off to other revels. No better than these, I assure you, but we are not ones to renege on invitations earlier accepted." He carelessly emptied his purse on the table, the drachmae and obols glinting silver and bronze in the now-renewed lamplight. "We have no need for these tonight. Another man buys our wine. Drink our health!"

And, hand on elbow–far firmer than I would have thought–Alcibiades had me out the door.

The wind gusting the narrow streets caught me like a sail badly furled, and I staggered as drunkenly as any wineshop toper.

Alcibiades clapped me on the back as I straightened. "No need to act the part. That was for before . . . and later."

I kept my silence. Clearly this "later" would soon be upon us, and I would be shown it.

Alcibiades strode a pace or so before me. He had his hammer–mine, actually–in hand and waved it jovially in greeting to the occasional citizen we passed in the narrow streets, whether he knew him or not. I recognized a few of them, lategoers on the way home from taverns or dinner parties. Now we were out of the metic and freedmen districts and among residences whose stucco walls gleamed whitely in a moon straight overhead. The statues of the household Hermes shone brighter still, those of polished marble shimmering in the lunar stream like snow-covered boulders in a winter rivulet.

A dog barked, a raspy cough. Another answered. Their revels were ongoing still.

Alcibiades stopped before a colonnaded porch and rested his palm atop the Hermes.

"Timarchus’ house. He employs ten shoemakers in his factory and doesn’t know the rear end of the hide from the front. A good place to start."

He raised his hammer and delivered a smart and well placed blow to the statue’s head. It split down the middle with a sharp crack, as if acknowledging Alcibiades as a master stone cutter.

The dogs barked again.

I was as frozen. "What is this thing, Alcibiades?" I asked hoarsely.

"My farewell salute to Athens, of course." He propelled me onward. "Don’t tell me that you’re brought up by the impiety of it all."

"It will be sacrilege to these Greeks. Or at least highly improper and offensive, even to the nonbelievers."

"Of course," Alcibiades said, taking a scything swipe at another statue as we passed. The blow removed its nose, giving it an odd frogfaced cast.

"Why am I here?"

"To help me. There are too many Herms for me to handle on my own, so get to work on your side of the street. Time is short. Besides, I need you to bear witness or at least confirm my whereabouts and wanderings."

"You’ve greeted enough citizens with that hammer to do that."

"Perhaps. But not all of them know me and some were too drunk to tell me from Heracles himself. Or remember it tomorrow."

Alcibiades had brought me before the house of Cleocritus, a money changer who had commissioned a bracelet from me for his lover. He had reneged on the purchase when that young man had moved on to someone worthier before the work had been completed.

"And then there’s another reason," he said, laying his hand caressingly on Cleocritus’ Hermes. "To let you have a little fun. Believe me, Timocles, you need it."

I looked at Alcibiades and the statue, seeing Cleocritus’ pinched face in it, and laughed. I swung the hammer and lopped off an ear. I was skilled in its use and could be precise. With a backhanded swipe I lopped off the other ear, then the erect phallus. I clasped Alcibiades about the waist and swept him on in search of further prey.

"Here’s a likely one," Alcibiades said. "Dioclides. He calls my amusements degenerate and writes sanctimonious drivel to torture the judges at the Dionysos. Luckily none of his have made it to performance."

Another swing, another casualty.

"Dioclides!" Alcibiades bawled.

This was going too far. I pulled at Alcibiades’ mantle, and he let me pull him, with some resistance, into the shadow of an overhanging portico. But I couldn’t shut him up.

"Dioclides, you degenerate scrivener!"

"Who is that?" a querulous voice called from the second story window.

"A fellow degenerate."

"Alcibiades?"

"Perhaps. As you like." A bob forward into the illuminating moonlight, a laugh, and we were again gusting down the empty streets.

Quickly, breathlessly, we blew through the Attic night. At last we were across half the town and close to my own house.

"Enough," Alcibiades said, though his eyes glittered still with thoughts of further mischief. "Like any pleasure pursued to satiety, even this palls. And we’ve done enough damage. With luck we’ve been glimpsed and half glimpsed well enough, and rumor will do the rest. I will deny all this, of course. So will you. But unlike me, Timocles, you do not lie convincingly. I’m counting on that."

I nodded. "They won’t let you lead their expedition, Alcibiades."

"No. But if they waver, you make sure of it. Let them know that I thumbed my nose at them. And their gods. Irreverence and folly on the eve of serious intent. Alcibiades to the last."

He turned to look at me full face, and threw his head back in his old gesture of impatience and defiance. To me or the Athenians, I would not care to venture. The wind scudded clouds across the moon and whipped that golden hair from his brow.

"But we know who are the true gods here, Timocles. They’re you and the others. I’ve not been properly reverent or obeisant there, either, and I can’t knock off your noses. But you and the others can forsake me, and you have."

I said nothing, having had my say on this point before. "I’m finished in Athens, Timocles, or will be tomorrow. I’ve always been the child of gold, tarnishing a bit of late but still full of promise. Now I will be Alcibiades, failed of his promise and forced to live out his days in foreign lands. None so alive and bright as Athens."

"There is still Katha," I said. "And another life full of achievement and promise."

Alcibiades gripped my shoulder and squeezed hard. "Not for the likes of me," he said, turned and was gone down the street, as ephemeral already as the mists of the morn soon to come.

I turned toward my house. The Hermes before the entry was untouched. Alcibiades knew the right of a matter, always, and had left that to me.

I lopped off the statue’s nose with a blow that rang off the cobbles and shivered up my arm, then swung wide the door and strode inside.

Our last story from Joel Richards, "Overlays," was published in our February 1992 issue. Since then, he reports, "I’ve sold material to several original anthologies–most currently Harry Turtledove’s Alternate Generals II. These days, I’m mainly running my mini empire of athletic shoe and clothing stores (Archrival) in Marin county, California, and that doesn’t leave much time for writing."


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Copyright

"The Gods Abandon Alcibiades" by Joel Richards, copyright © 2002 with permission of the author.

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