Rumblings of thunder tumble from the clouds like grumbles of doom as the doors of Heaven creak open. A crescendo of rain splatters the flags and ricochets in coronets of water. Wands of lightning scream like missiles, zinging across the carbon sky.
In the centre of a drunken town a young man raves to a gathering crowd: ‘And I, the mighty Heracles, I feel the Hydra’s poison seeping like acid into my veins. How piteous my plight! My skin corrodes; flesh melts and sinew dissolves. See the cream of my bones poking through the gore.’
Electric domes spin silently, strobing cobalt blue on rubber-stretched faces. The looming officers are dressed for war and have back-up: a tinny voice and an alien language spat through the nostrils of an automaton woman: ’Negative Yankee Bravo 3. No record of anyone matching that description. Suggest you action Section 136 and take him to nearest designated place of safety.’
‘Leave me you creatures, return to your mountain,’ the wailing man begs, dropping hard on his knees in splashes of gutter puddles. ‘Send me Poeas to torch my pyre that I might fling my dying body in the flames.’
‘What is your name?’ the chief centaur demands, his thick arms inked with ancient symbols.
‘My name?’ the man mocks, leaping to his feet. ‘My name is Heracles!’ he screams into the centaur’s face, his words flung fearlessly in gobs of spittle.
The officer’s face contorts with anger and disgust. He and his comrades grab the man’s arms and wheel him round, crashing him face first onto the pavement with a sickening thud. Wrists lashed tight, they drag him to their chariot and bundle him inside.
The throng of people begin to disperse. Some are laughing and shaking their heads, some are singing and making lewd comments. Others drift away, unconcerned. One person, a woman, weeps softly as she holds the man’s tattered jacket to her breast.
‘Yankee Bravo 3, disturbance reported on the Mount Oeta estate, please detour and attend.’
‘Roger Charlie Echo 7. On our way.’
Sirens howl down waterlogged streets, spraying eerie shifts of Doppler in their wake. Revs of adrenalin, tyre-screech turns in a macho blaze of thrust.
‘Charlie Echo 7, arrived at the Mount Oeta estate, vehicle alight behind disused garages but no sign of suspects or any other emergency vehicles. Will take a closer look, over.’
A quantum crackle of energy jumps the gap as two realities bump edges. Storms break again and the driving rains of Philoctetes’ tears skid in angled slides down the window of the centaurs’ chariot: a thousand teardrops, each holding precious the sodium glow that soars many light years to the world of the man’s ancestors who have abandoned him now.
Hissing gases, mauve-blue-green. Ash clouds, licks of palsied flame, yellow twists of yang. Splats of falling water fizzing on hot iron. Up in the realms of midnight, a judder, a monumental bang as the firmament is exposed in a blinding flash of glory. Steam. The reek and choke of miasma: burning flesh fusing with hot metal.
‘Yankee Bravo 3, requesting an update from the town centre disturbance. Are you still en route to place of safety?’
‘Negative, Charlie Echo 7. Young man clearly thought-disordered and hallucinating. Aborted section 136, chose parallel section of immolation. It’s what he would have wanted. We have served Zeus.’