And who shall I be then? I will still be ugly, still not like other gods. I presume I will still have this feeling of apprehension, still feeling something is waiting for me. But I will have made some progress. I will have evolved while they wallow in their petty squabbles and pursuit of pleasure. What else shall I become? What limits are there to my improvement? Perhaps I will outgrow my family if I have not already.

“So, is this pain constant, or does it come and go?”

I sigh. I have answered questions like these so many times. “There are periods when it is constant and for periods is it bearable. There have even been times when it has diminished considerably.”

“And when you are working, when you are on your feet? Is it worse then?”

“If I am doing physical labour, it can be worse. That can happen quite suddenly.”

He looks shocked. “Do you have to do that in your job?”

I smile gently at him. “You would be surprised.”

“And these scans, they are definitely yours?”

“Yes, they are.”

The doctor examines the scans on his computer. “I don’t see anything that should be causing this kind of issue. Is this a long-term thing? You’ve had it for a while?”

“Yes, I would say so.” I hope he does not ask me to elaborate.

“And at the moment you’re taking…”


His eyebrows raise. “Morphine?”

I correct myself. Sometimes their words seem unnecessarily precise. “Pills. Opium-based pills.”

He winces as if my description is painful to him in some way. “I’m concerned if you are using those in the long term. There are issues that can arise. Some people find it hard to stop taking them.”

Why would I wish to stop taking them? That seems to make no sense. Wouldn’t the pain return? I wait for him to offer an alternative, but none seems to be forthcoming.

“You can get issues with constipation, loss of sex drive, weight gain. It’s a long list.”

And none of the conditions on the list could apply to me. Only the curse I was born with is a risk to me. “What would you recommend?”

“It could be that the pain was there, and now it’s not.”

The mortals often make no sense. It seems to be a quality they value in their most intelligent and learned individuals. “I do not understand. The pain is there.”

“No, I mean it could have once been caused by something and now that’s gone, but your body has been sensitised to the pain. It needs to readjust, especially if you’ve been taking opiates for a long time. How would you feel about stopping the pills for a few months?”

I wonder how he would feel about me tearing his head from his shoulders. “You are saying I am imagining this?”

“No, not exactly, just your body has got itself into a particular way of working, and it might need some help to make a change.”

There is a pause as if he doesn’t expect an answer. He has more to say but would like me to make him say it. I do so with some barely hidden irritation. “What?”

He shrugs. “Well, it’s not unknown for this type of thing to be psychological if people are under stress or unhappy. How do you feel generally? Are you under a lot of stress at work?”

My mind is filled with memories of intense heat, of people screaming, of abduction, curses, murder, and betrayal. “It is not unknown.”

“How are things at home? Are you married?”

The window is open. I picture myself hurling his head out of it after I have torn it free. “Yes.”


I imagine I could get it some distance. Perhaps to the edge of the car park. We are on the second floor, after all. “We have had our issues.”

He doesn’t press the matter, which results in his head remaining in the room for now. “What about your wider family? Is there any source of stress there?”

More images. Too many to describe. “Sometimes.”

He nods and hesitates, clacking his teeth together repeatedly in a way that irritates me and makes me want to remove his head and throw it across the car park again.

I sigh. “Just ask it, whatever it is.”

“It’s just I wanted to ask, is there any history of mental illness in your family?”

I am at a loss for words when I think about how I might answer such a question. It would seem easier to list the few members of my family who behave rationally.

“Some have had their issues.” I feel I am being less than helpful.

“Are you currently worried about anything?”

Yes, I have a sense of terrible dread, something somewhere is wrong. I am in danger. Others may be in danger as well. Perhaps the whole world. I have no idea what I am afraid of and so no idea how to combat it. I am often seized by apprehension, as if I have been plunged into a conflict, my body readying itself for combat. But then I find there is no reason for it, that there is nobody there.

“No, I am fine.”

“How would you feel about talking to someone?”

Beyond the car park, definitely. If I could move his desk and break into a run before throwing. “I do not see the need.”

There is silence. We are at an impasse.

“Well, I’ll leave that with you. There are other options. There are anti-inflammatories—”

“No, they do not work.” These work on the immune system. For reasons that are not clear to me, our people cannot adapt them to affect us.

“Some people prescribe anti-depressants,” I look at him, and he senses my possible reaction, “but, to be honest with you, I’ve never had much success with them.”

He appears to lose heart when it comes to listing other pharmaceutical possibilities. He drums his fingers on his desk as if looking for inspiration. It is only for show. Of course, the mortals don’t like to say what they know too freely. It makes what they say seem less important.

“You could look at other routes. What about something like acupuncture?”

I am sure my face betrays my scepticism. Is that one of the mortals’ superstitions? I am sure if the collective power of the gods cannot help me, then someone sticking needles in me is unlikely to make a difference. I shake my head.

“There’s massage? I don’t know. Does that help?”

How would I know? Who would wish to do such a thing to me? I shake my head.

He tries again. “Have you ever tried TENS?”

I have heard of this. “The small boxes which give electrical shocks?”

He winces again, “Well, not exactly shocks, but some people find it helps. You know, they say the ancient Greeks used electric eels to help with pain relief. I heard that’s where the word narcotic comes from. It’s from the Greek word for electric eel.”

I ignore his history lesson. “Does it work?”

He shrugs. “As I said, some people say it does, but others aren’t convinced. It could just be the placebo effect. People might just be imagining it works.”

I think about the implications of this. “Does that matter?”

He shrugs. “Well, exactly. If it works, who cares why it works? Actually, there is a study going on at the moment. I can’t get you in it, but Mr Deerman said he could give you access to one of the machines. It would be free, of course, and might be worth a try.”

A machine? It did sound more appealing to me than drugs. I do not refuse, and he senses that this is a possibility. But will it work with my body? I am not mortal. Will I have to have Apollo’s people adapt it? Would they know how to do such a thing? It sounds more like something I would do.

“How does it work? It gives me shocks?”

“Well, it’s both more and less complicated than that. It’s completely automatic. It scans you, adapts, applies electric shocks, ultrasound, and heat. It operates wirelessly. The treatment unit and its battery are small and would fit in your sock. The base unit would sit in your home and communicate with it when it was in range. You can change the batteries and recharge it at night.”

“I would wear it all the time?”

“You don’t have to but, yes. That’s the idea.”

He spins his chair around slowly, reaches into a cupboard behind him, and brings out a box. He opens it and lifts out a unit, just small enough to be held in one hand, and hands it to me. The casing is made of wood, which strikes me as unusual. There is some iron inside, contained as part of steel, and I sense traces of other metals. It appears fairly simple. It was just a box containing some electronics. There are a few buttons on the outside and a small display screen.

I look at him, my eyebrows raised. “Wood?”

He appears sympathetic to my confusion. “I know. I think it’s probably what these eco-types prefer these days. Environmentally friendly and responsibly sourced or something? I don’t know, but it must be some marketing thing. It’s probably got all that modern stuff people like. You know, it’ll upload to the cloud or something, and probably uses blockchain.”

I look at him sceptically. “Blockchain?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know what that is, but people seem to talk about it a lot.”

Perhaps I do like this doctor after all. I decide to use the device. It does not seem there is any need to trouble Apollo’s people. It will either work or it will not.

As I take the device, the doctor becomes more serious again. “If you are using this, I want you to stop the opioids. Can you do that?”

I nod. If this removes the pain, why would I need them? If it does not, that is another matter. He will have no way of knowing either way.

When I return to my hotel room, I examine the device. It is not designed to be taken apart, but that is no barrier to me. I see what I expect to see, some electronics and some empty space. The mortals often make things slightly bigger than they have to be. They do it less these days than they did in the past, but sometimes they feel things being of a certain size makes them appear more substantial.

There are some parts of it I do not understand. There is some kind of glass lining the inside of the wood, perhaps as some kind of filter against interference. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is what it does.

My leg is throbbing. As always, I roll up my trouser leg to examine it and find there is nothing to see. This time I attach the second part of the device, wrapping it around my shin and calf. I pull my sock up over it and set the device to begin. It buzzes for no apparent reason, and the display blinks momentarily. Then it is silent, and I feel…something, and the pain diminishes. It may be my imagination, of course, but the effect is undeniable. Soon I am free of the pain entirely. It is extraordinary. How can the mortals build such a device, and yet my family are all unable to help me? I was abandoned by them. I find my pain is exchanged for resentment. I will not tell them of this. Why should I? What interest have they ever shown?

If this device truly works, I will be freed from that which has troubled me for so long. And who shall I be then? I will still be ugly, still not like other gods. I presume I will still have this feeling of apprehension, still feeling something is waiting for me. But I will have made some progress. I will have evolved while they wallow in their petty squabbles and pursuit of pleasure. What else shall I become? What limits are there to my improvement? Perhaps I will outgrow my family if I have not already.

For now, I hope only for untroubled sleep. Then I will see what tomorrow brings.  

Hephaestus (Iain Houston)
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