It was still dark, but he felt the cold slab of concrete on his back. His muscles strained, but they moved with a bit of encouragement. How? It must have been no more than a minute ago he was holding his innards in his hands, trying not to bleed out on the fields of Mycenae. Quickly he patted his stomach; all was intact. He shot to his feet with a speed and agility he thought he shouldn’t actually have. 

“What in the hells is going on?” he said to no one. His eyes scanned his immediate surroundings, only to find a gray scene before him. Concrete slab, walls, a ceiling, again, concrete. He was in a structure, clearly, that he wasn’t in moments ago. He rubbed his eyes again, thinking they betrayed him somehow. “Nope,” he said. 

There was a doorway, but no door. He moved forward through it. He found himself in what his mind would have called “outside”, but this exterior area had no color to it. No sun. Just gray. Everywhere. The location he found himself standing in looked like any street in an old archaeological dig. A building in its base form, but no decoration. No paint. Nothing. He followed the alley down to his left, only to see more of the same. There were no indications of life. No plants, animals, or other people he could talk to. It was all empty. Perhaps abandoned, unused for a very long time. What struck Zeus was the lack of any kind of color. Sure there was shadow, but that only made the gray turn black. It was as if he found himself inside a black and white television from the golden days of mortal entertainment. 

Around a corner, he saw the makings of a street. A sidewalk, unoccupied shops, what looked like a sandwich stand, other signs of normal mortal civilization, except of course, mortals. He stopped when he came to the first intersection. “Ah shit,” he said, defeated. Ahead of him, he saw a large domed building. A grandiose facility, even by the standards of Zeus. It had to be twenty, thirty stories tall, and all around it were windows that reflected no light, because there wasn’t any. This was a station, the greatest one in the known cosmos. Above it, in all directions, were elevated lanes of traffic. These were not roads for vehicles, but transit lanes for another type of transport. Zeus was familiar with the stories; he was a voracious reader of ancient texts, and to be honest, the gossip columns of modern tabloids. The King of the Gods was painfully aware of where he was, even if the how was not quite making sense: The Ethereal Realm. The Grand Central Station for all recently departed, lost, and wayward souls traveling to wherever their AfterWorld was. 

“You’ve gotta be shitting me. How did I get to the Ethereal plane?” he said aloud, again to no one. The only option left was to walk towards the building. Zeus knew his answers were inside. So he did what any good tourist would do and went to the ticket booth. When he approached the booth seemed empty, yet just about ten feet from the window a form appeared out of, what, smoke? An attendant filled the booth, looking all manner of professional, if a bit lifeless, greeting Zeus in a flat monotone that somehow matched the drab, gray realm he found himself in.

“Tickets to the AfterWorld. Please present your soul for routing. No exchanges. No transfers. No refunds.”

“Uh…” Zeus stammered. “See, here’s the thing. I don’t have…” he was interrupted by the monotoned booth agent.

“Vessels without proper authorization must speak to the Lucifer. Please use the door to the right.” With that, the agent vanished. A simple puff of smoke and the booth was empty again. Zeus stood motionless for a time, until he heard a large metal door open to the right of him. The sounds of old rusted metal grinding on hinges echoed in the vast, empty courtyard in front of the Ethereal Station. Zeus slowly entered, not at all certain of what he was walking into.

“Welcome to The Ethereal Station: Gateway to the AfterWorld. Passengers, please keep your immortal soul on your person at all times. Enjoy your journey. Mind the gap.”

Inside the station, Zeus had his senses completely bombarded. While the outside was devoid of color at all, inside was a total shift in pallette. The interior of the station was a powerful sapphire. It was as if a mountain of the azure stone was carved into the representation of a major transit hub. The sparkle and shine from…absolutely no light source Zeus could find, assaulted his visual senses. He looked down at his own body and was shocked to see he had turned blue himself. A sort of translucent, crystalline hue that he could almost see through. 

“What in the bleeding eye of Odin is going on!” Zeus roared. Causing a group of wandering souls to slightly turn to regard him, only to turn back quickly. Focusing on their wait for some sort of transport to, wherever it was they were going. Zeus hardly cared. Seeing no one make any moves to assist him, or even acknowledge him, he stormed toward what appeared to be an eatery. He looked at the small arrangement of tables and chairs, and sought out someone in charge. 

“Who is the authority here?” Zeus called to anyone who would listen. “Where is Lucifer? Someone find me Morningstar,” he said, his voice heavy with impatience.

The patrons, such as they were, looked up at Zeus, stared for a few seconds, and looked away almost in unison. “Someone answer me! Have you all had your voices cut out?” he yelled, anger simmering and burning brighter in his gut. Finally, there was commotion behind the tables. What appeared to be a kitchen door swung open, and out came a woman. Tall, black hair in a bun, solid blue skin, but not the translucent color Zeus currently wore, and four very muscled and strong arms, approached Zeus with a very unhappy look on her face. 

“Listen, big boy, you’re upsetting my customers. I can’t have that. So is there some way I can help you, or do I need to punch you in your mouth so you shut up?” The woman crossed all four arms across her chest. 

“Big boy?” Zeus shuffled his stance, caught off guard by the act of intimidation. “Do you have no idea who I am?” he said, immediately throwing his right arm out wide, fingers wide, ready to call upon a lightning bolt to his hand. 

Nothing.

Zeus turned and looked at his hand, betrayal in his eyes as his most famous method of retribution failed to materialize at his call. The woman who insulted Zeus only stood with a slight smirk on her face. 

“Performance issues?” she said, “Or are you always show with no go?” This statement garnered some light laughter from the patrons of the eatery. “You want to actually do something, or just yell like an idiot and disrupt my customers?”

Zeus stood dumbfounded, still looking at his empty hand. “I…don’t know why the bolt didn’t work. That always works,” he said. 

“We don’t allow weapons here.” the woman said, “we are beyond those concerns in this place. Best you can do is throw a punch, which I am still willing to do. Or is there something you want?”

Zeus did not make eye contact, still looking at his hand. “I need Lucifer. Where is he?”

“Oh honey, that ain’t how it works. You’re gonna need to make an appointment, and the office don’t open until sunrise.” the woman said, taking a file to nails on one of her right hands. “You can either wait here, in the Ether Pit, or find a room at the hotel. Your choice, big boy.”

Zeus was feeling defeated. He tried to throw his weight around, and it fell flat. He had no power to call his lightning bolt. “You have any whiskey?” he asked.

A smile worked its way onto the blue woman’s face. “You got it, honey. Name’s Kali. I’d be happy to serve you at the bar.” She turned and pointed Zeus towards the back of the restaurant. 

He walked to the bar, sat down, and looked at this woman, Kali, as she expertly poured a three-fingered whiskey. “Trying to get me to divulge my bank account numbers?” He grabbed the glass, examined it, and realized it also had the blue translucent coloring to it as well. “This should be enough to even get a god tipsy.”

Kali snorted. “Typical upper crust. Coming in here, thinking you’re something big, special. A soul is just a soul, big boy. Everyone is equal here.” She put the bottle back on the rack. “Besides, this will only get you tipsy if you want it to. If your soul isn’t in it, it’ll just be water. Did no one explain the rules to you, or are you one of those types that never thought you’d die?”

Zeus had the glass right to his lips when he heard the word ‘die’. “Wait, so am I actually dead? Like these people?” He nods towards the patrons behind him. Kali looked at him without blinking. 

“There are only three types of souls who end up at my bar. The departed, the transcendent, and the disconnected,” Kali said. “It seems to me, with your piss poor attitude, that you’re disconnected.”

Zeus emptied the glass quickly, only to discover it tasted just like water. Exactly as Kali had told him.   

“Water?” she asked.

“Water.” 

“Well the good news is I don’t charge for water,” Kali said, wiping a glass with her bottom arms.

“And the bad news?” Zeus asked, irritated. 

“Bad news is that you need the Lucifer, and he’s not in his office.”

Zeus sat the glass down on the bar and pushed it away. He sat back against the back of the bar stool, taking in the information he had been provided. “You mean to tell me that The Morningstar is the manager of the AfterWorld transit hub? Isn’t that a bit out of character for someone who likes to torture souls? He runs a bus station?” 

Kali open mouth laughed, loudly, in Zeus’ face. She laughed so hard she had to use her top two arms to cover her mouth while she rested her body against the bar with the bottom two. The patrons closest to the bar turned, in their slight way, said nothing and turned back to their business. 

“You are so damned adorable.” Kali stifled another laughing fit. “You’re Greek, right? You’re tan enough, and the long white beard and the whole…bolt thing sorta gave you away.” She made a crude gesture with her top hands in the same way Zeus did when he tried to summon his bolt. “Wrong Lucifer, big boy. The guy you’re talking about runs a bar somewhere on the Prime Material Plane.”

Zeus looked confused. His mind was reeling at the simple mistake of language he just made. He let his face fall into his hands, letting out a loud groan of disappointment. 

“You mean the literal Lucifer, the Dawn Bringer. Phosphorus.” Zeus dragged his hands down his sapphire face. “He’s going to be so pissed at me.” 

Kali changed her expression quickly, no longer did she laugh. Suddenly, she seemed very concerned. “I don’t know what name you just called him by, but that’s not what we call him here. You have history?” 

“You could say that. I, uh, well, I’m probably the reason he goes by Lucifer down here.” Zeus slid off of the stool and stood. “I fired him and gave his job to someone else.” 

Zeus turned away from the bar and walked towards the hotel Kali mentioned before. Kali called after him as he quickly exited the restaurant. 

“His office is on the top floor. You can’t get there until…” Zeus cut her off. 

“Dawn.” Zeus bellowed back. “I know.”

Zeus (Michael Z. Ryan)
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