Tuscany, Italy, 25th Century
"If you are so worried, perhaps you should not have sent that idiot Epimetheus to do your dirty work," Iapetus suggested to his worried son, who was pacing back and forth in the parlor of his Tuscany mansion.
"That ?idiot? is your son," Prometheus responded edgily, adding, "and my brother."
"Both of which serve to show how qualified I am to be his, and your, judge," the elder Titan smirked, taking a sip of wine and smacking his lips with the kind of purposefully exaggerated delight that takes centuries to perfect. "You?re not the brightest object in the universe either, you know. You should have done the job yourself?as I suggested many times."
Prometheus?also known as Loki, the Norse God of Fire, Huehueteotl, the Aztec Fire God, and a host of other names besides?was in a foul mood as he paced back and forth across the parlor. He didn?t need criticism. He needed solutions. He was worried about the soup he and the Titans were in. Well, mostly he was worried about himself. The others could go suck eggs as far as he was concerned.
"And another thing, you should learn to relax," his father continued. "Your impatience is unbecoming of a god." Demonstrating his own prowess in this regard, Iapetus was stretched out on a leather sofa, holding a glass of a superb Chianti left behind by the previous occupants of the mansion, who, along with the rest of humanity, had simply disappeared at some point in the previous twenty-four hours.
It was an enigma the gods had never been able to unravel. Yesterday, the fourteenth of November, 2405, Earth had been teeming with humanity, and today the planet was emptier than a politician’s promises. Whatever happened must have happened suddenly because automated machinery was still operating without a hitch, power plants were still generating electricity as though nothing had happened, and mechanized manufacturing plants were operating okay as well. Even aircraft passing through the skies were still running flawlessly, although the Titans had confirmed that nobody was aboard the metal cylinders streaking through the sky.
Where had everybody gone? Who knew? The Titans had never been able find out what had caused the sudden exodus. Many journeys to times just before the disappearance had revealed nothing: One instant humans were everywhere, and the next they were not. There had been no disaster, no panic?nothing. In the blink of an eye, nine billion souls had simply vanished.
Nor could the Titans determine if the humans would return later. There was an impenetrable barrier that prevented them from traveling beyond November 15th. Each time they tried, they simply looped back to the start of the day, to the instant just after humanity vanished.
Most Titans had long ago given up worrying about it: November 15, 2405 was now delightfully free of crowds, and there was plenty of fresh food free for the taking. Only Prometheus still fretted over what might be behind it all.
Prometheus stopped pacing and leveled his gaze at his father. "I?ll relax when the deed has been done?not an instant before."
"Naturally," Iapetus sniffed.
Nobody patronizes like family, even among gods. Prometheus ground his teeth and clenched his fists, forgetting to first retract his higher-dimensional projections from the three-dimensional space of the parlor. The sudden motion roiled spacetime, causing a blue-white bolt of energy to explode from the air above his head. The bolt pierced the wall of the parlor and crackled across the emerald sward of the garden, where a group of Titans were enjoying the wine on a splendid fall afternoon. One luckless servant, an Aztec from an earlier age, was immolated on the spot. The remaining servants, having no idea what their comrade had done wrong but sensing they might be next, dropped their trays and bolted for the surrounding forest, trusting that the unknown dangers there could be no worse than what awaited them here.
A chorus of curses sprang from the lips of the Titans: they would now have to fetch their own drinks.
Atlas materialized in the parlor a second later, his face twisted into a frown. "Are you insane?" he demanded of Prometheus. "You just ruined a perfectly good servant. And you know how difficult it is to bring obedient mortals here!"
Prometheus scowled and waved his arms, unleashing two more energy bolts, one of which shot harmlessly through the roof while the other, through pure chance, ignited a pile of logs in the fireplace. "I have greater concerns than worrying about damaging mortals who carry wine and food to worthless malingerers and drunken scroungers," he snorted.
Atlas turned to look at Iapetus, who shrugged and said, "He’s got Pandora on his mind again. At least he got the fire going; it’s going to be chilly tonight. Relax and enjoy the wine."
If Prometheus could have conjured a lightning bolt effective against his kin, he would have done so at that moment. But there was no point in it; Iapetus and all the other Titans were immune to releases of energy in the lower dimensions of this universe.
Nevertheless, he had good reason to worry about the powerful Guardian known as Pandora, who, sixty-five million years ago, was about to imprison the Titans, locking them in the featureless, timeless void between universes. If not for the providential shattering of the spacetime continuum, Prometheus would have been incarcerated, cooling his heels between realities. He knew beyond question that Pandora was alive somewhere in this universe; given a chance, she would complete her task.
Standing before the Titans on that fateful day, Pandora had been peering through a shimmering portal into a Null Zone, a passageway that connected neighboring universes. She had been holding the device that should have sealed the portal once the Titans were inside, and it would have ended there had not the universe unexpectedly exploded into countless fragments, like a pane of glass hit with a hammer. In the nothingness between the fragments, whirlpools had appeared, drawing in the pieces of the shattered continuum to some unknown, cataclysmic end.
Prometheus, like his fellow Titans, had been trapped, caught in the last fragment to disappear into a whirlpool, gaping in terror at the end of creation, but in the moments before they vanished, Prometheus alone had discovered that Pandora had also been trapped on the same shard of spacetime. Her vivid purple eyes wide in horror as she helplessly watched the collapse of a universe, she never saw Prometheus as he had circled behind her. With a push, Pandora went cart wheeling into the void.
Free of the fragment, Pandora drifted between two enormous whirlpools, one of which was the maelstrom sweeping Prometheus and the Titans away, and as Prometheus had watched in amazement, a multitude of Pandoras erupted into existence, replicating her countless times over. Some replicas had been young, even infants, while others were old and bent with age. For a heartbeat, they had hung in the nothingness, strung out like paper dolls, their purple eyes staring accusingly at Prometheus, and then they had plunged into the same whirlpool that would soon ensnare the Titans. Of the original Pandora, Prometheus saw the currents sweep her into another vortex. In the next instant, he and the Titans had been swept away as well, fated to become gods in a new universe.
But that was old news. Newer were signs that Pandora, or one of her replicas, had finally been spotted. If Pandora was alive, she might try to return them to their own universe and imprisonment. Having become a god, Prometheus had no intention of suffering the debasement of being stripped of his powers and sent up the river like a common criminal. It was a possibility too dismal to contemplate. Being the only Titan to have seen Pandora’s fate, he was the only one truly concerned about her return. The others did not believe she had survived that fateful day. Fine. If they were content in their close-minded stupidity, so be it. Prometheus would give them a warm send-off when the Guardian yanked them, kicking and screaming back to their own universe. He would be quite content ruling this universe by himself.
Prometheus turned his gaze upon his father. "Pour me a glass of wine," he commanded.