The bell sounded, and all the men moved clockwise around the room. One of the men, looking up after he had taken his seat, had an uncommon tingle of recognition that became a cold rush of adrenaline.
The golden skinned woman across the table returned his stare. Her gaze didn’t waver, but muscles in her face twitched as she tried to hold her expression. They both slowly raised their hands above the edge of the table and laid them, palms up, on top of it. The uncomfortable introductions were over at all the other tables and the volume of the conversation was rising.
“You’re the lost prince of Atlantis.” the woman said.
“One of them. There’s another one causing a fuss now. You’re the hundredth daughter of Zeus.”
“What are you doing here?”
“What does one normally do at a speed dating event.”
They relaxed some, the initial tension slipping away. He crossed his arms on the desk and leaned forward. “What are you doing out in the normal world?”
“I was raised in the normal world.” She, too, leaned forward, to whisper, “If truth be told, I never felt comfortable with the Olympians. They were very grateful that I saved them, so they forgave me all my faux pas over etiquette and lack of knowledge of their history. But it was all so stiff and formal and…. not fun.” She sat back. “And what are you doing here, specifically, at a speed dating event? The tales say you fell for an Atlantean princess.”
“Me and Tula were thrown together by the adventures. We soon realised it wasn’t going to work out. We’re still friends, but she’s being wooed by some Duke from the Marianas, real deep nobility. What about you? I heard you shacked up with a demi-centaur.”
She exhaled violently, a dismissive and disappointed sound. “Quarter horse, all ass! That is another reason I stay away from Olympus, I may tear his throat out should I see him again.”
“I will never ask about him again.” He tapped the blue bordered sticker on his shirt. It said ‘Charlie’. “Obviously, this is not my real name. I’m Carlo.”
“Ariadne.” Her name badge said ‘Anne’.
The bell sounded. “That was quick.” said Ariadne. “Let’s swap war stories over a few drinks when this is done with.”
“Okay.” Carlo scraped his chair back and moved on to the next table along.
“Your father manifested as a duck to impregnate your mother? I thought he got jiggy as a swan?” Carlo’s gesture sloshed beer from his glass. He turned to apologise to whoever he had soaked, and found empty space. They had been at the bar some time, and the crowd had thinned as they had spent the hours reminiscing.
“I think he was drunk.” Ariadne sighed. “I’m the daughter of a duck and a woman who fell asleep by the wrong river.”
The picture in Carlo’s head made him laugh so hard he slipped off his stool. Somehow he kept his drink upright on the bar. Ariadne scowled at him, but then she viewed the scene through the haze of alcohol and joined in the guffaws.
When they had stopped laughing long enough to get their breath back, Ariadne picked up a shot glass of Ouzo and threw the liquid down her throat with a theatrical flick of her head. She let it burn for a moment, then rinsed her palate with a big mouthful of craft lager. Another mouthful and she had finished the beer. Carlo drained his. His Ouzo had been emptied earlier.
The barman recognised their needs and poured them generous shots of spirit then went to fill clean glasses with beers. They were tipping well, so he had become tuned to their requirements.
“I’m a shapeshifter, you know.” Ariadne announced. “I inherited that from my father.”
“So…. You can change into a duck as well?”
The barman returned with their beers. Carlo slid notes across the counter top to him, then picked up the large shot of Ouzo. “Slorp!” he said- an old Atlantean drinking salute- then knocked it back.
“Gia sou!” Ariadne downed her Ouzo, then chased it with some lager. “No, I cannot change into a duck. Nor do I ever, ever, want to. I can change into a cat.”
“What kind of cat?”
“Golden, with sleek hair. And I can make myself any size from a large pet to a puma.”
“I’d like to see that.”
“Stick around, maybe you will. What can you do?”
“I’m an Atlantean, I can breathe under water. And I can swim almost as fast as a tuna.”
“And there was some prophecy stuff, without which I might’ve got killed. But that was all specific place and time stuff. Not been able to do most of it since.”
“I know how that feels.”
“Hey.” Carlo dragged something up from his memory. “There were a bunch of ducks in Central Park killed a couple of months ago. They said it looked like it was done by a big cat.”
“I could not possibly say anything about that.”
“What ever happened to this being the city that never sleeped? Sleeped?… Slept?… Sleeps?… Sleeps. The city that never sleeps.” Ariadne asked.
“We were the last of his customers. Poor man has to get up some time tomorrow and start all over again, he deserved some rest.”
They were propping each other up and proceeding along the middle of the street by starting to topple forward and then catching themselves when they’d tumbled forward some more. “All the lights are on up there.”
Ariadne gestured with a sweep of her arm, “But down here there’s not even a cab.”
A car horn sounded behind them. They both jumped, then turned slowly to see a battered old Crown Victoria yellow cab which they were blocking. The driver leaned out of his window and said something uncharitable in Urdu.
Carlo straightened himself up, pointed a wandering finger at the cabbie and replied in the same language that actually, his parents had been married thank you very much, the lady he was with was from a noble family and, if the driver would be so gracious as to apologise, they would like him to take them home.
The driver stared, mouth and eyes wide open, then clasped his hands together and begged forgiveness. Carlo bowed and graciously accepted the apology. “I have a gift for languages. I inherited it from my mother, I’m told. So, your place or mine? You may like to know that mine has a generous supply of whisky and gin.”
Ariadne clasped the small cubic alarm so tightly she might crush it. She couldn’t find the button to switch off its squawking, so it might be the only way to shut it up. Perhaps it understood this, because it went quiet all by itself. She grunted in satisfaction, then began moving it back and forth until her hungover eyes could focus on the screen which covered the face nearest her. “Your machine says it is Sunday. What happened to Saturday?”
“I think we drank it.” said Carlo from under a pillow. He steeled himself and bravely lifted the covering from his eyes. The light was harsh, but not as bad as he had feared.
“This is your bed.” Ariadne noted, after tossing the alarm aside and pushing herself up. “Did we…?”
“Well, my jeans are still on. What about you?”
“My clothes are crumpled but intact.” Ariadne almost sounded disappointed.
Carlo carefully swung his legs over the edge of the bed. The floor was a minefield of empty bottles. Ariadne surveyed them. “I haven’t had such a night since I went drinking with my brother and all the other demi-god in crowd.”
Carlo tried to stand, got dizzy, and sat down again. On the second try he managed to stay upright. “I think I need a shower.”
“What happens to and Atlantean when they take a shower?” Ariadne wondered aloud.
“Why not come along and find out?”
Clothes, and then boxes from pizza and Chinese places had joined the empty bottles on the floor.
It was nearing dawn on Monday. Carlo stood naked before the window and watched the city as it began to hustle. He could just make out the Hudson between the buildings opposite. “So few normal people have the stamina to match the daughter of a god.” Ariadne said from the bed.
“Or Atlanteans.” Carlo replied.
“My goodness, we have made a mess.” Ariadne noted. “I must help you tidy up.”
“Thanks. Do you have to get to work?”
“No. I’m between jobs. But I get money from father, more than enough to get me through. The ancient Greek economy is doing better than the modern one, it seems. You?”
“This building has been in the family for years, so I get this place and a share of the rent paid on the other apartments. There’s money from Atlantis too, but the exchange rate ain’t so good on money from a place most folks don’t think is real. Sometimes I swim around the Hudson and sell the stuff I find down there on eBay. Or drink it. I found all this whiskey in a sunken rum-runner when I took a trip up to the Great Lakes last year.”
“So you are getting by.”
“I guess so. But…. I don’t know…. Do you ever miss the adventures?” Carlo picked his way through the debris of their excesses and sat on the bed.
“Somewhat, I suppose. My life has been dull now since I fulfilled the prophecy.”
“Yeah. I mean, it’s like we’re not needed any more and we just have to put up with it. We lose our families, or spend our whole childhood running from something we don’t understand. Then we spend our teenage years going from fight to fight, losing friends along the way, until we save the world, or our corner of it. And we’re lauded up and down for a while until another prophecy is discovered and another kid comes along and then we’re forgotten about.”
“That is the way of the world. Very few prophecy kids are as productive in adulthood as they were as teenagers.”
“It sucks. It’s almost as if we only exist to have a few tales told about us and then when they’ve dried up and everything’s back to status quo we’re tossed aside and everyone’s off to find a new story to be thrilled by.”
“So we drink and make love and…. exist in our own little bubble, outside the world we grew up in and the one we’re heirs to. Yes, I see what you mean. It is not a great way to spend the rest of our lives. But what can we do about it?”
“We could make our own adventures. I have been thinking about things to do with my abilities, like salvaging what’s at the bottom of rivers and lakes. But me and a guy I know from the Bronx have been planning a heist. I think our crew could use a shape shifter….”
To Be Continued?