Unions between gods and mortals have ever been chancy things. And the offspring of such unions have always been anything but predictable. One was as likely to get a monster as a hero. There had been malicious geniuses, awe-inspiring leaders, meddlers, monumental fools. The only thing they had ever had in common was that they were not mundane beings living boring lives.
No, the children of gods, even with the curse of a half-mortal existence, were never boring...
The first son of Zeus born to a mortal woman in over one thousand years started life in a very ordinary, mortal way. Not for him an infant strength that could crush serpents from the cradle. At birth he seemed no different to any other child. His infancy passed without any serious mishap. At ten years old he was not dissimilar to any other ten year old. A little brighter, perhaps; his wit a little sharper, his physical reactions a little more mature than his supposed peers. But nothing out-of-the-ordinary.
At twelve his heritage had begun to manifest itself. He grew at a greater rate than the others in his class, until he stood a head above the next-tallest. In looks and attitude he could pass for three or four years older.
His moods began to communicate themselves to others. Usually the most sunny of characters he would, occasionally, fall into a bleak despondency that would blight the lives of those around him. And when he felt frivolous no one could maintain a serious disposition. His charm worked on almost everyone. He could, and did, get away with the most outrageous things.
There were a few sticky moments when, unthinkingly, he did something a little too unusual. But he soon learned to cover up. He became an expert at pretending to be normal. By the time he'd reached his thirteenth birthday he'd hidden his unusual abilities so well that even he had forgotten that he possessed them. His mother no longer had to rebuke him for absently lifting heavy weights, or moving too swiftly. He even began to achieve less in games lessons. Oh, not all at once, but gradually enough so that his instructors believed that his was a talent that had burned itself out practically before it had developed.
A few months after his thirteenth birthday his mother married. The shame of being a single mother had kept most men from regarding her with any respect. It couldn't really be said that her new husband respected her. But she had a house (left to her by an aunt), a reasonably permanent job (as a barmaid-come-singer at a private club) and she could cook. Better still, she was pathetically grateful and was a willing doormat.
His new stepfather did not succumb to the boy's charm. The blows became more and more frequent. Due to a mixture of love and guilt, fostered by his mother, the boy allowed the beatings to go ahead. He hardly even felt them anyway.
A month before the boy's fourteenth birthday his mother got a job at another club. The pay was better, which her husband appreciated. The hours were longer and the clothing more provocative, which he did not. He spent a couple of weeks in growing frustration as she left for work wearing outfits that left nothing to the imagination and returned home in the early hours of the morning wanting only to sleep. Still expected to cook and clean, she had scant energy to devote to her husband. One evening, caught in a web of frustration and resentment, his stepfather decided that his wife's bastard might be put to some use after all...
The boy took a while to realise that this was not just another beating. With realisation came incandescent rage. His stepfather found himself hurled across the room. Hands moving with blurring speed grasped his throat and throttled him with inhuman strength.
As soon as it had come the rage died away. Trembling, the boy gazed down on the man sprawled before him. He rushed to his room, thrust a few belongings in his school-bag, then ran back downstairs and out of the door. Dawn saw him waiting on the docks. His plan was to get himself on a merchant ship bound for anywhere. Instead he was hailed by a grey-haired, distinguished looking man who called him by name. The next moment found him in Olympus, facing the father he had never met before...
Ares was bored. Oh, there was a war or two going on somewhere, but nothing exciting, nothing Earth-moving. And, anyway, it was all so passé. He hadn't had any real fun in centuries. Everybody took war so seriously these days! Oh, for the old days when war was glorious. Idly, he surveyed his options. His attention was caught by a minor skirmish in a little place called England. He drifted in to see if it would develop.
There were a number of swarthy, well-armed men here and there, being pursued by other less-swarthy men. The man giving orders to the latter seemed vaguely interesting. An old soldier. Ah, but old soldiers were so sad in a way. Soldiers should die valiantly in battle, they shouldn't wither into old men. Ares sniffed. And as for the rest of them, they had the unmistakable stink of policemen. With a grimace of disgust, he began to turn away. Then something caught his eye. A man ran across a stretch of road, shooting as he went. There was something familiar... 'William?' he exclaimed. The man faltered, turning his gaze towards Ares, then gave a shout of pain as a bullet grazed his arm. He fell, hitting his head against the ground, and passed out. Ares watched as another man raced towards his fallen comrade.
William. Oh, he'd almost forgotten his little half-brother. Now, how could he have done that? He watched as the man was led away. Well, well, maybe this boring little skirmish had produced something of interest after all...
Bodie grimaced as the doctor cleaned the graze. God, Ray had been cutting. Mind you, Bodie conceded, he had a point. He'd behaved like a complete prat, standing there in full view of anyone who wanted to take a pot-shot at him. He hadn't been able to tell Doyle why. He hadn't wanted to sound certifiable: 'Well, Mate, it was like this, someone called my name and stood there in front of me. and for a moment I knew him and wondered what Ares was doing on a street in London.'
As he was being led away to Doyle's car he'd seen Ares still standing there, had even seen someone walk straight through him. Ares, the god of War. It was crazy. HE was crazy!
'Hello, little brother.'
Bodie started. Fortunately, the doctor had already withdrawn the needle from his arm and turned away. Bodie said nothing. He was damned if he'd talk to hallucinations!
'You do remember me, don't you, little brother William? I know you do. I removed the memory block. Everything should be coming back to you.'
And everything was. Six years of fake memories melted away. Six years on Olympus. Six years of Hera's spite, his father's guarded affection, the teasing, tormenting, casual patronage of most of his half-brothers and sisters. Half-mortal in a world of gods, William Bodie had first tried to fit in, then tried to excel, and finally had rejected his heritage. After six years he'd asked Zeus to make him mortal, begged to be sent back to the mortal world. Zeus had stated that William couldn't go back as he was. The world had no place for superhuman powers anymore. So make me mortal, William had said. Zeus had been doubtful. How could his son ever find contentment in his life, always knowing what he had given up? So take my memories , William had cried. Make me forget all about this.
Finally, realising that his son would never be content living on Olympus, Zeus had done so, taking away the strength and speed, removing the memories and replacing them with an alternate history. And so, at the age of twenty, William Andrew Phillip Bodie had awakened in some hellhole in Africa remembering a history that hadn't happened until a few moments before...
'Well, Little Brother?'
The doctor had gone. Ares was sitting on the examining table cross-legged.
'Hello, Ares. How's business?'
Ares smiled. 'Deadly dull, my dear William.'
Bodie winced at the use of his name. 'I prefer Bodie. What the hell are you doing here, Ares?'
Ares shrugged, pouted, 'Just came to see my little brother. No law against that, is there?'
Bodie perched on the window ledge, wincing as bruises began to make themselves known.
'Oh, I dunno. Probably is. I doubt you entered this country on a valid passport.'
Ares waved a hand, nonchalantly: what did mortal rules matter to him? Bodie, correctly interpreting the gesture, shook his head and sighed.
'What do you want with me, Ares?' he asked.
Ares jumped down from the table. He placed an arm around Bodie's shoulder, his hand playing with Bodie's ear, gently stroking it. 'I just bet you're sick of this existence, William. You're getting older, the reflexes are slowing. One day you'll meet someone faster, younger, better than you. And then... BANG! You're dead. You really can't enjoy this mortality. I tried it once, you know. Some stupid little scheme of Hades'.' Ares gave a theatrical shudder. 'It was dreadful. All that pain and weakness and all the other disgusting attributes of mortality. But it doesn't have to be like that, Little Brother. Put yourself in my hands and I'll place you above all that. I'll make you great!'
He smirked as Bodie began to rub his head, catlike, against Ares' hand. But the man was frowning.
'So why would you want to make me great, Ares?' he asked.
Ares smiled his best hungry-shark smile. 'Life's so boring these days, William. The world needs stirring up a little. What do you say?'
'Thanks, but no thanks.' Bodie's voice said that the matter was closed.
Ares changed tactics. 'Okay, Little Brother, forget I mentioned it. But wouldn't you like some of your strength back? You can't really enjoy being so weak!'
The thought was appealing. But... 'I thought that Zeus made me completely mortal?'
Ares nodded. 'He did, in a way. If you were shot through the heart now, you'd almost certainly die. But our respected father didn't actually take away your strength and invulnerability, he just convinced your body that he did. You can die of something trivial because you believe you can. You think that you are mortal so you are mortal. From the moment that you truly believe that you are a demigod then your abilities will return. Zeus was rather fond of you, you know. He didn't really want to lose you. He's already helped you once since you rejected your heritage. He probably keeps an eye on you every so often.' Not that Zeus was looking on now. Ares had been caught like that before. He'd made sure that the father of the gods was otherwise occupied before coming here.
'When did Zeus help me?'
Ares smirked. He knew that'd get his brother.
'The time your partner - the policeman - got shot. He should have died. Would have died. But you prayed that he would live. Oh, maybe not consciously to Zeus but, being who you are, he was the one who heard you. So he saved your beloved partner. Because you wanted it. And the only thing you'd ever asked of him before was to let you go. Even the most mighty of fathers sometimes need to feel wanted, needed. And you needed him, little brother.'
Bodie stared at his half-brother. He had vague memories of doctors saying that Ray had made an incredible recovery. And he suddenly saw again the expression on Macklin's face as Doyle had managed to put down Towser. All he, Bodie, had felt at the time was satisfaction that the 'Dynamic Duo', the 'Bisto Kids', had beaten the odds again. Now, he realised how unlikely it had all been.
Ares broke into his thoughts.
'So, you're happy with this boring, mundane, pathetic existence. Fine. But that doesn't mean we can't hang around together, does it? A few drinks, weapons practise. Come on, little brother, life is so boring at the moment.'
Bodie gave his immortal half-brother a searching glance, thinking back to his childhood on Olympus. Ares had never been really bad to him. The young William had been warned about the god of War: his mother's darling; his mother's lapdog. The boy had expected the worst but instead he had been pleasantly surprised. The Wargod had seemed to take an particular interest in his young brother. He'd even risked Hera's displeasure to teach him the Arts of War. Ares had taught his brother to use a wide variety of weapons and different fighting skills. William had once asked him why. The answer had worried him for a while. Ares had said that there was a darkness in his young half-brother, a seed of greatness. Ares had said he could make a brilliant general given guidance. William had shied away from that. Starved as he was for affection, still, he could see the dangers of falling too deep into Ares' power. Besides, by that time he was already disenchanted with Olympus. In the mortal world he'd been strong, clever, popular. Here, he knew he was merely tolerated by most, actively disliked by some. And most beings he met could tear him apart without breathing hard.
Bodie hesitated. He was positive that Ares was up to something. But... newly awakened memories reminded him of the fun he and Ares had had. Not all of it innocent fun, true, but Bodie's morals had never been particularly well-developed. Okay, so Ares could be malicious, even vicious, at times. But, despite everything, he'd always been okay with Bodie. More than okay at times, Bodie thought, remembering some of the things they had got up to. His body remembered, too...
Which turned his thoughts suddenly to Ray Doyle. He'd fancied his partner for ages, now. And recently it had gone beyond the 'fancying' stage. He'd realised this fact in the middle of wining and dining a stunning redhead. Halfway through the meal he found himself virtually 'going through the motions' of seduction. Bodie loved flirting. It was something he was good at. But flirting, dating, never seemed quite as fun as when Ray Doyle was around. And half the time it was Ray he was flirting with rather than the bird he was supposed to be with. And Bodie could have sworn that Doyle was doing the same. Wrapped around his current 'flavours-of-the-month' (or week, or, let's face it, sometimes even night) Bodie often found his eyes practically glued to Doyle. And he'd says things, do things, to ensure that Ray would look at him. Bodie liked it when Ray looked at him. He realised how serious it had been getting when he'd passed up an opportunity of a luxury weekend with sexually-athletic raver because he and Doyle had agreed to watch the football on the telly that Saturday. And he'd enjoyed swilling beer and squabbling with Ray far more than he would have enjoyed getting his leg over.
But now Ray was spending a hell of a lot of time with his new bird, Carrie. Who didn't seem to appreciate Bodie's sterling qualities. Who didn't like Bodie hanging out with her boyfriend. Who certainly didn't want to take part in Bodie and Doyle's usual double-dating. And Doyle seemed to be happy to go along with her. It was pretty obvious that Raymond Doyle didn't feel quite so desperate to spend all his waking moments with his partner as said partner would wish. And Bodie just couldn't be bothered to summon up the enthusiasm for seducing a beautiful woman on his own any more. So he had time on his hands, empty hours with nothing but the telly or a pint glass for company.
And Ares certainly knew how to have a good time.
'No tricks, Ares. I'm quite happy being mortal, thank you very much.'
Ares smiled. 'I promise you, Little Brother. No tricks. I won't do a thing to affect your precious mortality. Now, are we going to spend all day in this unpleasant place? I don't suppose that you'd mind if I removed the pain of that little scratch, would you? No? I didn't think so. Come on then. Let's get out of here and start having some fun.'
Bodie sighed. Well, he was off duty, he supposed. 'Why not,' he said, quelling a feeling that he'd just changed the course of his life.
Ares stared with satisfaction at his brother. The man was moving with easy, deadly grace, sending his opponents hurtling through the air.
There was very little of the mortal in him now. And Ares hadn't even had to break his word. His brother had done it all himself. Knowing who - what - he was, his body had adapted itself. Knowing it was not truly mortal, William's body had shaken off the shackles and limitations of mortality with eager speed. The musculature had developed, the speed of the reactions had increased, the stamina had multiplied. Ares knew that William had told his colleagues that he was working out, weightlifting. But he doubted that his brother realised quite how much he had changed. Godhood was, in some respects anyway, a state of mind. And while William Andrew Phillip Bodie was not quite a god he was so much more than a mortal.
There was still many things that could kill him. But there were so many more that couldn't, not now that he had accepted his heritage to this extent. Being cut in half by machine-gun fire would kill him, but he'd survive a few bullets. Disease - unless it was supernatural in origin - would have no effect. And although he would age, it would be at a very slow rate.
Ares watched his brother finish off all his opponents. There had to be a way to use that boundless energy. A way that would benefit Ares without drawing the attention of either Zeus or Hera. The last thing he wanted was for his father to put a stop to Ares' schemes or for his mother to take it into her head that her son was being in any way disloyal. Hera had always hated her husband's half-mortal bastards with a passion that bordered on insanity. He'd got away with it when William was young because he'd convinced Hera that the best way to make Zeus disenchanted with his youngest son was to turn William against his father. And his mother had been amused at his father's annoyance at Ares' intimate relationship with his young half-brother.
Ares sighed. It was hard work trying to be a dutiful son as well as the god of War. He really hadn't had any fun in such a long while. He hadn't been truly happy for so long, not since...
He froze. He stared at his brother as Bodie wiped his face on a cloth and took a drink out of a golden goblet that he then casually tossed aside.
There was a physical resemblance, superficial though it was. Black hair, startling blue eyes and solid build. But Ares suddenly realised why he had always liked William. His younger half-brother reminded him of Xena!
Now the thought had occurred to him, he wondered why it had taken so long for him to see the resemblance. It screamed to him from the arrogant set of the shoulders, the wry, mocking twist of the lips, the damning 'screw the lot of you' glint in the eyes. Ares knew that Xena had left descendants. How ironic if this was one of them! And no wonder he'd found William so attractive.
He stood there, mulling over the strangeness of the universe, when The Idea hit him like one of his father's lightning bolts. It was a brilliant idea. Absolutely inspired. Mind you, it would take careful planning...
'Hello, anyone in there?' Bodie waved a hand in front of Ares' face. It'd given him quite a turn to see Ares just standing there gazing into space with an almost ecstatic look on his face.
Ares blinked, then gave Bodie a blinding, seductive, smile.
'I was just thinking that I could just do with some wine, women and song. Come on, little brother, let's go out and party. And then we'll come back here and I'll fuck you into the middle of next week.'
Bodie grinned. It was good to have a brother.
George Cowley stared at the reports in front of him, then gazed up at Brian Macklin and Kate Ross. They had both been very vocal. Macklin had practically raved about Bodie's scores. Bodie had always made one of the best - if not the best - scores on these training exercises. But his performance over the past few weeks had astounded everyone. And Macklin was certain that he'd been toning it down. Brian Macklin had always been able to tell when an agent wasn't giving his all. He'd demanded that Cowley let him know the name of this gym Bodie was attending. The Ares Fitness Centre, it was called. Macklin was talking about going there himself.
But it wasn't all good news. The bad news was Doyle. Or, to be more exact, the partnership.
Oh, it was all right in areas that required skill or thinking things through. But in other ways things were going badly wrong. Doyle was constantly mis-timing his partner's responses. Not surprising, really. Bodie wasn't moving like a man in his late thirties, not even one who was superbly fit. For the past few years Bodie's reactions, like Doyle's and those of all the other members of the 'old guard', had been slowing down. Now all of that had changed. He was faster, more alert than he'd ever been. And Doyle couldn't keep up...
According to Ross, Doyle wasn't taking this too well. But that wasn't what was worrying her. It was Bodie's mental state. Bodie had never been one of her favourite people at the best of times. Too flippant and cocky even by CI5's rather juvenile standards.
But Bodie's behaviour was more disturbing now. Ross reckoned that Bodie was taking almost insane risks. Despite Macklin's protests to the contrary, Ross was saying that Bodie was putting his life at stake with a series of ridiculous stunts. Even Macklin couldn't deny that Bodie was showing very little concern for his own safety. Admittedly they were training exercises. But they were still dangerous. And 3.7 was approaching them with a supreme arrogant confidence. Only the fact that he still seemed careful of the safety of the other agents had kept Ross from ordering him off the active list.
'Bodie's been like this before, sir," Ross said earnestly, "remember the King Billy business? More than most of the agents, Bodie walks near the edge. But now it's as if he's lost any fear of death; as if he doesn't believe in his own mortality. That kind of attitude could get him killed out on the streets. It could get Doyle killed, or innocent members of the public. Bodie has become too dangerous.'
'Brian? What do you think?'
Macklin had been shaking his head as Ross spoke.
"I disagree, George. Bodie would never do anything to put Doyle in danger. And he's not out-of-control."
"That's your 'expert' opinion on Bodie's mental state is it, Brian?" Kate Ross was scathing. "And what will you be saying when we have another Tommy on our hands?"
Macklin was shaking his head.
'Bodie's nothing like Tommy. The time is long past when we might have been looking at 'Lone-Wolf Bodie'. Doyle's managed to civilise 3.7. And I stand by my opinion. Look, control Doyle and you control Bodie. Doyle will get used to these changes in Bodie. And Doyle will handle him. And don't forget yourself, George. I'll bet that any psych profile done on Bodie shows that he's loyal to you.'
Ross nodded her head reluctantly at Macklin's questioning look. 'Bodie's loyalty has always been to people rather than institutions. You'll remember that I've expressed doubts about this before. He has a great deal of loyalty to you and, strangely enough, to Murphy.' She had always considered that to be odd. 'But his primary loyalty is to Doyle, way above anything else. It hadn't used to be so strong, but in the last few years... if it came to a choice between Doyle and CI5, sir, I don't think Bodie would hesitate.'
'Och, don't you think I know that. But Bodie isn't a loose cannon, Kate, and between us 4.5 and I will make sure that he walks the straight and narrow. 3.7 stays on active duty. I'll have a word with Doyle. He's likely to fly off the handle, but he'll take extra of Bodie, I'm sure of it. Now I've got about a dozen other things to do before I can go home tonight and I'm sure that you have too. Goodbye Kate, Brian.'
Ares stood unseen by the window. 'Control Doyle and you control Bodie.'
He smiled. This was going to be so easy...
* * * * * *
Doyle navigated the crowded pub with practised ease. He placed a pint in front of his partner.
'Ta, Ray. So what's this in aid of, then? Carrie washing her hair or something?'
Doyle frowned. Maybe the Cow had been right, at least in this. What had happened to the days when he and Bodie had spent practically all of their waking hours together?
Of course, Carrie wasn't so keen on double-dating. Fact being, Carrie wasn't exactly keen on Bodie. His partner had tried the old 'slay 'em dead' charm on her when they'd first been introduced. Carrie had looked at him as if he was some particularly loathsome slug. Doyle had thought that hilarious at the time. Now he wasn't so sure.
He wasn't quite sure how serious his feelings were towards Carrie. He wasn't getting any younger. Maybe it was about time he thought of settling down. But how could he consider spending his life with someone who didn't like his partner? Bodie was practically a part of him; as close as any brother. He couldn't imagine a time when he wouldn't want Bodie in his life. And he knew that he was just as important to his partner.
Doyle thought about the discussion he'd had with Cowley earlier. Whatever happened, he and Bodie were partners. But somehow Bodie seemed to have got a new lease of life. Doyle couldn't deny that he'd not exactly been in charity with partner for the last few days. He had blamed Bodie for the fact that their timing always seemed to be off in the more physical exercises. I'm getting old, he thought suddenly. And Bodie seems to have stopped slowing down. But I can cope. We'll work it out. Maybe I'll take up weightlifting too.
He snorted into his drink at the sudden mental picture of himself developing muscles like Charles Atlas. That'd be more likely to slow him down, not speed him up!
Two hours later, as they left the pub, Doyle's mind was still in a state of confusion. 'Do you know what my problem is?' he asked Bodie.
Bodie grinned. 'Apart from having a partner who's smarter, more talented and better-looking?' he enquired.
Doyle feinted a blow at him. 'Seriously. I think that I think too much,' Doyle mused.
Bodie responded to this piece of not-entirely-sober self-appraisal with giggles. 'How old are you, Sunshine? And it's taken you all this time to come to that conclusion? Christ, Ray, 'cept for the Cow, you think more than anyone I've met.'
Doyle grinned. 'Can I help it if everybody else you hang around with are intellectual morons? Mind you, it's probably the only way you can look bright by comparison.'
He waited for a response, but Bodie was staring into space.
'Ray, can you hear that?'
Doyle listened. Apart from a few cars and the noise from the pub, he could hear nothing and said as much.
'Strange... something's not right, Ray.'
Doyle was immediately on guard. Bodie's instincts were almost as good as his own, and while he felt nothing, he wasn't willing to dismiss whatever seemed to be making his partner so unsettled. He reached for his gun, subjecting the area around him to a close scrutiny.
'There!' Bodie shouted.
Doyle whirled. Behind him was a shimmering hole where a wall had previously been. He stepped forward to investigate. Two figures appeared. Suddenly they grabbed Doyle, knocking the gun out of his hand and pulled him into the hole, which promptly seemed to fold in on itself and disappear.
Bodie watched with horror as the two figures pulled Doyle through the hole that had suddenly appeared in the wall in front of them. Even as he raced towards them his mind was storing a mental picture of the two men. One was tall, muscular, long-haired. One was much shorter, blond and stocky. Bodie heard the shorter one yell, 'Hercules, let's get out of here!' as the strange hole disappeared.
Bodie stood in the deserted street. He stared in disbelief at the solid wall, hitting it in frustration. Then, head raised back, almost in supplication, he shouted for his brother.
* * * * * *
Ares watched as his half-brother paced up and down.
'Your descriptions certainly match Hercules and that scruffy obnoxious little sidekick of his,' he stated.
Bodie whirled round. 'But why the hell would he want to take Doyle, for Christ's sake?' he yelled.
Ares hesitated for a fraction of a second. There were weak spots in his brilliant plan, and this was one of them. He put on his most pensive-looking expression. Then he clicked his fingers.
'Hades. It has to be Hades!' he exclaimed.
His brother looked puzzled. 'But I've never met Hades!'
Ares waved his hand in the air as if dismissing that as irrelevant. 'We're not on the best of terms, Hades and I,' he announced, truthfully. 'He once stole my godhood, you know. He mentioned that he'd noticed that I'd been spending a lot of time with you.' A complete lie. 'He threatened to tell Hera. But he could have decided that he'd get at me by getting at you. Hercules is as thick-as-thieves with Hades, you know. The two of them hate me. I'm sorry, William, it's all my fault.' He bowed his head, gazing at his brother from under his lashes. Bodie continued his pacing for a while, then swung back to Ares.
'Where would they have taken Doyle then?' he asked.
Ares stifled a sigh of satisfaction. 'I'll find out. You can't keep things like this secret, you know. If the time continuum has been affected then I'll be able to discover what's going on.'
Bodie nodded his head curtly. 'You do that,' he said, 'and make it quick, Ares. I want Doyle back. And heaven help whoever's taken him. Even if it's a god, I'm going to make him wish he'd never been born.'
Ares stifled a grin. Everything was going just the way he wanted it.
Ray Doyle awoke to the sounds of an argument. For a moment he was disorientated, but soon he remembered the amazing occurrence that had brought him here. Doyle's mind was filled with thoughts of alien abductions. By opening his eyes carefully he could just about see two very human-looking 'aliens'. They were involved in a spirited conversation, in the middle of the room, completely ignoring their captive. At first, Doyle couldn't understand what they were saying. But, suddenly, he felt something seem to explode in his brain, and he could understand every word being said.
'... I tell you, I don't like it! Pretending to be Hercules, that's just asking for trouble!'
'Yeah, but not doing what Ares says is begging for it! Who would you rather face, Hercules or Ares?'
'Given the choice, neither,' the first man said.
The second man gave a heavy sigh. 'Well, we haven't been given the choice, have we, stupid? So we do what Ares says and persuade this fool here that we're Hercules and Iolaus. Then, when we're told, we let him go. Zeus knows what Ares is planning, but whatever it is, we'd better do as we're told. It's not exactly conducive to long life-expectancy annoying the god of War.'
'What? What did you say?' he demanded.
His companion gave another heartfelt sigh. 'I said that Ares will roast us over a burning fire if we mess this up.'
The other man scowled. 'Ain't that the truth.'
Doyle carefully turned so that he could see the two men better without them realising that he was awake. Before his startled eyes they seemed to shudder and then reform into two completely different people. The tall well-built man and the blond, shorter man disappeared and were replaced by two scarred goons dressed in black leather and stupid hats.
And the goons were still taking no notice of him. Obviously can't get any decent help around here, Doyle thought to himself, if these idiots had been picked to keep him captive. His mind was swimming with this talk of Hercules and Ares, but at the moment his main priority was escape. Shouldn't be too difficult...
He gave a sudden loud groan. Through slitted eyes he saw the two men touch medallions around their necks and transform back into the big bloke and the blond. Doyle groaned again, theatrically. One of the men came nearer. Doyle began to making choking sounds.
'Hey, he don't look so good!'
One of the men came closer. That's right, sunshine , Doyle thought, just come a little nearer...
As if in answer to his fervent wish, the taller of the two leaned over him. Swiftly, Doyle thrust his hand up, hearing the crunch of the man's now-broken nose.
Doyle jumped up, kicking the other man as hard as he could as the first man ran towards him. Then, he punched this man in the face. While both men were writhing on the floor, Doyle ran for the door. Amazingly, the key was still in its lock! God, these goons were incredibly stupid! He opened the door and then locked it behind him. He set off along a stone corridor. Now to find out what exactly was going on.
* * * * * *
A few hours later Ares reported to Bodie that he'd 'discovered' that Doyle was now trapped in the past - in Ancient Greece to be precise.
'This is just the kind of thing Hades would do. And Hercules will do anything Hades asks.' Ares was using his most persuasive tone.
'So what do we do, then?' Bodie snarled.
Ares mentally rubbed his hands together, that 'we' proved that his words were actually having an impact on his brother. He knew that William was destined for greatness, even if he refused to see it. Why, he could be as great as Xena! All he needed was a little persuasion...
'Well, we'll have to go back to Ancient Greece and get your partner back, won't we?' he asked.
Bodie frowned. 'Can't you just snap your fingers or something and bring Ray back?'
Ares put on his most innocent expression. 'I've tried - as soon as I found out where your partner was I tried. But Hades is blocking me. No, the only way to get your partner back is to go into the past and get him. Even Hades can't stop us once we have your Doyle in our possession.'
Ares gazed at his half-brother through lowered eyelashes. It was obvious that William was deep in thought. He watched as William's expression cleared, then settled into one of dogged determination. Zeus! It was going to work; it was actually going to work...
'Okay, then,' his brother stated, 'just how do we go about this time-travelling business, anyway?'
* * * * * *
Ares had spun some tale about not being able to be in the same place twice as the reason why he'd transported his brother so far away from Hercules. It had sounded vaguely plausible and William had seemed to fall for it. He'd even fallen for the idea of the army. By some twist of luck, Hercules was the guest of King Trantes at the moment. Ares had managed to persuade his younger half-brother that the older one had a huge army behind him.
It had been a little more difficult to persuade William that his place was at the head of his own army, but he'd managed to do it. The army was actually made up of the more sedate members of Xena's old forces: the ones who hadn't joined up with any tin-pot would-be warlord who happened to have come along. William had been impressed by their solid no-nonsense professionalism. He'd been less impressed when Ares had named him 'Lord William', their new commander, but he'd contented himself with a few mumbled protests, his mind being too wrapped up in wondering what was happening with Doyle...
* * * * * * *
Ray Doyle was convinced that he was having some horrendous nightmare. He had pinched himself a couple of times to see if he was dreaming. All he'd got for his pains were bruises, so he'd stopped. This was like something out of a fantasy book. Everyone was dressed in very peculiar clothing. He'd tried to talk to people, to ask if there was a phone handy (although he'd seen no phone-lines), or a car he could beg a lift in. He'd been greeted with exceedingly odd looks, as if nobody knew what he was talking about. For a while he'd wondered if this wasn't an elaborate practical joke of Bodie's, but he'd had to dismiss the idea. The cost would have been far too much. There was no way his partner would pay out that kind of money just to set Doyle up.
Out of the corner of his eye Doyle saw something. He turned to get a better look. And just stared and stared. In front of him two figures leaned over to get a drink from the well. Two men with the bodies of horses. Doyle noticed that nobody was screaming or otherwise causing a panic, although he saw one man spit pointedly near the hooves of one of the (say it, Doyle) centaurs.
Doyle closed his eyes in disbelief but when he opened them the scene remained unchanged. He walked past a small dog scrambling through what looked like a rubbish-heap. He gazed for a while at this totally ordinary scene in the middle of a world otherwise gone mad. He couldn't resist it. He looked at the dog and addressed his next comment to its uncaring form.
'Toto, I don't know about you, but I get the feeling we're not in Clapham anymore.'
He began to laugh. The people near him edged away. They had no desire to get involved with this dangerous and slightly mad-looking individual.
* * * * * *
The plan was working beautifully, Ares gloated, as he watched his brother ride at the head of a rapidly-growing army. Oh, to be certain, William was still obsessed with finding that dreadful little partner of his, but that was all to the good. Ares was counting on it. But finding Ray Doyle was not the only matter of importance on his little brother's mind any more. Firstly, there were the numerous challenges that the army had received. Ares had had a hand in that. William had strongly objected to destroying the villages in his path. But with a little judicious whispering in the ears of various rulers in cities along the army's projected path, Ares had made sure that his brother had any number of battles to contend with. And with each battle the army grew as more and more mercenaries and deserters flocked to join Ares' new favourite. And also with each battle William Andrew Phillip Bodie became a little more 'Lord William'. There was so much he had to do: strategies to plan; an army to provision and discipline. Almost without being aware of it, he was becoming a general not just acting as one as a means to an end. He was already thinking of the army as 'his'. Sheer necessity had meant that he'd sanctioned actions he would have been appalled at a few weeks ago...
It helped that his half-brother was nowhere near Xena's intellectual equal, of course. Ares wouldn't be making that mistake again! Oh, it wasn't that William was stupid, far from it. Stupid generals end up dead pretty quickly. But he didn't possess Xena's devious brain.
And William's morals were - to say the least - rather stunted. Ares had managed to suppress Xena's irritating morality for years before Hercules - curse him - had reawakened it. William's sense of morality was vestigial at best; and mostly imposed on him from outside, from those very few people he cared for.
'Look, just tell this king - whatever-his-name-is - that all I want is provisions for my army. If he sends food out to us we'll be on our way. This piddling little excuse for a kingdom really doesn't interest me in the slightest.'
The messenger looked askance at 'Lord William'. 'We can barely feed our own people, my Lord General. The harvests have been bad this year. If he gave you the provisions you require then King Rimon would be condemning hundreds of his subjects to death by starvation.'
Bodie grinned, a feral, predatory grin that left the messenger quaking. 'And if he doesn't give me what I want he'll be condemning hundreds of his subjects to death by the sword... And probably himself, too. And I'll still get what I want. Only there'll be a lot more blood. Go on, get out of my sight. Run back to your king. Tell him to send his decision to me by first light or I'll attack anyway.'
* * * * * *
Ares grinned to himself as his half-brother dealt with yet another challenge to his army. At first he'd tried sending messages of peace, but these had failed. Ares had made sure they'd failed! Now he didn't even bother. Soon, 'Lord William' would be initiating battles. Soon, all he'd remember was how to kill...
... And then Ares would have his men release Doyle. Who would run to his partner with tales of 'Hercules" monstrous cruelty. Then William would fight Hercules. Oh, it was going to be good! Either Hercules would defeat William, in which case Ares could run and tell dear old Daddy that Hercules had just trashed his youngest son. Which would definitely bring down some Divine wrath. Or - and what a wonderful thought - William might just defeat Hercules. And he would kill Hercules if this happened. William was no bleeding-heart do-gooder. Of course, Zeus would be furious when he found out, but Ares was sure he could avoid any blame being placed on himself.
Whichever way it turned out, Ares was sure that William would then be ripe for his further machinations. The bothersome partner would have to go, of course. Easy enough to arrange an accident...
Then Ares' real plan could be put into operation. William was wasted here. Put him back in the twentieth century with the knowledge of warfare he had learnt here, and give him a real army to lead. Just a little one at first, in some tin-pot little country. But with Ares backing him William could take over a continent in a decade or so... The whole world would tremble, and Ares would stand behind his brother, and men would worship him again.
Okay, so there were loads of technicalities to overcome, and centuries of Humanity's ridiculous belief that it was the highest form of life. But Ares was sure he was on a winning roll here...
* * * * * *