“Take a left here.”

Barlow frowned at the instruction but obliged nonetheless. “Something on your mind, rook?” he asked as the car rounded the corner. “My nav says straight.”

“Mine too,” the rookie agreed. “But Kino optics interface with the SkyCams for only $322 a month. I’ve been keeping an eye on the route, and if we had gone straight we’d be heading straight for an emergency tox venting.”

“Huh. Only $322, you say?” he mused, impressed in spite of himself. “Still, a halfway decent blood filter unit will keep you from feeling too much tox.”

“True,” the rookie replied. “But as cushy as government work is, insurance won’t cover that until I’ve been working nine more years.”

“Shoot, you’re a young son of a gun yet, aren’t you?” Barlow said. “Nine more years… I forgot how long that wait felt. That was nearly thirty years ago I got mine.”

“Christ above,” the rookie muttered. “You’ve been—”

“Don’t you dare say that I’ve been working longer than you’ve been alive.”

The rookie’s mouth clopped shut.

“That’s what I thought.”

“So, er, why did you insist on bringing me out to this one? For that matter, why are we doing a house call in the first place?” the rookie asked.

Barlow smiled smugly. The kid didn’t know everything yet.

“We will for certain rare events,” Barlow allowed. “VIPs, ranking officials, C-suite types…”

“And this fellow is?”

“None of the above,” Barlow said. “You’ll see.”

The rookie sighed but allowed the rest of the drive to proceed in silence. That meant hitting another emergency tox vent, of course, but he knew well enough to hold his breath and not smile too broadly when Barlow started to cough.

“We’re here,” Barlow finally said as the car pulled into a narrow spot on the side of the road. “Get out, follow my lead, and whatever you do, stay quiet.”

He walked up a narrow set of stairs that listed dangerously towards the street. The rookie followed close behind, feeling more nervous about his training by the second. Barlow paused for a moment, apparently referencing his internal optic display, then picked out the third door in the hallway and stood in front of it.

“Here we are,” he muttered. “You ready?”

The rookie took a deep breath and nodded.

Barlow knocked thrice on the door with pristine accuracy. “Department of Statistics and Records, we have an appointment with Mr. Pater.”

The wait was somehow excruciating, though Barlow seemed unconcerned. Lights danced in his eyes; apparently, he had decided to play a quick game while waiting for a response.

Finally, the door opened a crack and a bright blue eye peered through. “Are you—”

“Mr. Pater,” Barlow interrupted, “we would really prefer to conduct our business indoors. This information is, after all, sensitive, and its interception could impact our dealings here.”

Mr. Pater sighed. “Of course,” he said, pushing the door open farther. “We wouldn’t want to have any interruptions.” His voice held a strange tone of bitterness that the rookie had never quite heard before, and as a government employee, he was intimately familiar with most forms of bitterness.

Barlow stepped inside with tight precision, and the rookie followed close behind. The small apartment inside was unlike anything he had ever seen, with almost none of the brightly lit digital displays that typically adorned most living quarters. Instead, it was mostly barren, save for a few artifacts, made of what seemed to be wood and… was that organic cloth?’

Mr. Pater frowned. “It’s leather.”

The rookie’s mouth flapped open, then clopped shut. As discreetly as he could, he checked his optics’ internal readout. It was not showing any signs of a breach, but if Mr. Pater was as good a hacker as he seemed, then…

Pater’s frown deepened. “I am not concerned with your paltry toys,” he declared. “Your simple mind is as legible as an open book. I need no hacking to pare your very thoughts from your brain.”

“That’s intense,” the rookie muttered. Barlow kicked him.

“Mr. Pater, you called in last month,” Barlow said. “You said ‘it’s time’. Now, according to section 3.12.8 of the contract you signed with UCS eight hundred and fifty-two years ago, that has a very specific meaning. Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

Mr. Pater glowered. “I am no fool, mortal,” he growled. He turned and picked up a thick stack of papers on his desk.

Papers? the rookie thought. Mortal? Eight hundred and fifty-two years?

He burned an inquisitive stare into the back of Barlow’s head, but the older man ignored him.

“The terms of the contract are quite clear,” Pater continued, his voice softening ever so slightly. “I am done.”

Barlow nodded. “In accordance with the contract, UCS Statistics and Records will seize control of any remaining assets. Any tithes and sacrifice will likewise be forwarded to the department, regardless of the alias said tithe or sacrifice is dedicated to. Any debts, oaths, guarantees, or other liabilities are hereby dissolved, and the UCS will maintain no obligations to any heirs, successors, progeny, or priests of any kind. Do you understand?”

Pater’s eyes hardened and flashed. “I understand.”

“I have to say the words,” Barlow said softly. “You know the value of ritual better than I ever could.”

Pater took in a deep breath and nodded. “Okay.”

“Summon the coroner,” Barlow told the rookie. “And hazmat. Priority zero.”

The icon in the corner of the rookie’s vision started to flash as he made the call. “They’re on the way. ETA two minutes.”

“Good.” Barlow rubbed his hands together. “Jupiter, I release you of your binds. Zeus, depart this mortal plane. Dyeus, sky-father, be free. I do not believe in you.”

Pater closed his eyes, then sighed. He fell backwards into a nearby chair, then sat motionless.


The rookie’s eyes widened. “What—”

“Shh,” Barlow said. He beckoned toward the door.

Together, they exited the room. Barlow shut the door quietly, then led the rookie back to the car in reverent silence.

Only when they were seated back inside the vehicle did Barlow nod. “Okay. Go ahead.”

“What the hell was that?” the rookie exploded. “Who— how— what?

“He,” Barlow started, “was Dyeus Pater, the proto-Indo-European divine of the heavens. In other forms, the Latin and Greek ruler of the gods. Also responsible for a dozen other various gods, though those were his most prominent appellations. And that was his death.”

“We… we killed him?”

Barlow shrugged. “Technically, I did. I received that contract from my trainer, as she did from hers. We were some of the last believers in Dyeus, and that gave us control over his life and death.”

“But… but I saw him. I know he is— was— real.”

“Belief is one thing. Faith, dedication, affirmation… that is another entirely. There were many gods, rook. Less now, to be sure, but still a fair few. Knowing they exist is not the same as giving fealty, performing rites, tithing… the whole nine. That’s what counts. That’s where they draw their power.”

An ambulance wailed into the street behind them, followed closely by an armored truck with a handful of rubber suited individuals clinging to the side.

“That’s our cue,” Barlow said, pulling the car into the street and driving away. “Very expensive, getting hazmat out here, but some religions believe that even the body of a god holds great power. Best to dispose of it properly.”

“How?” the rookie asked. It was hardly the biggest question on his mind, but the new information was so overwhelming that he settled for the easy one.

Barlow shrugged. “Usually they divide it into pieces, ship them to cremation facilities across the country, dissolve the ashes in various solvents, then disperse it in nuclear waste storage sites. Scattered, dilute, and protected such that anyone who would even want to gather up the atomic remnants would have all sorts of rare, collectible forms of cancer if they tried.”

The rookie whistled softly. “Wow.”

“Fun stuff. Anyway, what are you thinking for lunch? I’m in the mood for Chinese. You up for Chinese?”

The rookie considered it. “Sure, I can do Chinese. Turn left here, there’s a stall on level 4. We still on for that census adjustment walkthrough this afternoon?”

“You know it.”


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