t was good to be the son of a god, though Labienus was perfectly aware he was exploiting the mortal monkeys' ridiculous superstitions. It was better still to be a new life form with all mortal weakness burned away, a cyborg, brilliant and immortal, heir to the technology of the future! And to be a Facilitator was best of all.

The Company sent mere Preservers scurrying through the mortal world after plants, after animals, after mortals' genetic material, even after their clumsy clay pots. Preservers were like mice gleaning grain from an endless harvest, drones programmed with obsession for their own petty little disciplines.

Enforcers, the pale-eyed giants who had rescued him, had no job but to patrol endlessly and descend like avenging demons on mortals who made war on one another, so that the peaceful tribes would prevail and civilization would dawn at last. The Enforcers were too short-sighted to see that the very civilization they fought for would render them obsolete, and too rigidly focused on their conception of righteousness to pay attention to any other work.

But a Facilitator manipulated mortal destinies to the Company's advantage. A Facilitator shaped the raw stuff of history! Facilitators were able to adapt, to improvise, to see all sides of a question and understand every one, and that was power. As ages passed and the mud-walled cities began to rise on the plains, Labienus had empires to orchestrate, politics to invent.

It had kept him amused for centuries, even as he began to suspect that the mortal masters who had reached back through the past to create him were no better than their pathetic ancestors among whom he walked. He was taller than the mortals, stronger, wiser and, most important of all, deathless; so he was readily accepted in his various roles as divine hero, god-king, enlightened one and counselor to the mighty.

Hilarious, to lead all those trusting Neanderthal tribes to isolated promised lands, geographic cul-de-sacs where they'd inbreed themselves into near-extinction! Hard to keep a straight face, when mortals abased themselves and offered him their wretched first fruits. Impossible to resist dropping the odd technological artifact here and there, knowing how doggedly future archaeologists would label spark plugs or Phillips head screws as ritual objects of unknown purpose.

Labienus had even touched up a few cave paintings, daubing flying saucers amid the bison and wooly mammoths.

This was the gloriously fluid time before history began, when there were nearly infinite possibilities. Nothing yet recorded, except in the pattern of stones tossed to a cultivated field's edge, in the layers of ash and scrapers left in a cave, in the crumbling brick foundations of unnamed settlements. This was the perfect time-- if one were an immortal creature, immeasurably wiser than one's flawed mortal creators-- to lay one's own foundations for power among the mortal masses.

e had come down the Nile on a reed-boat, in a time before there were any Pyramids at Giza. Nothing then more remarkable in that landscape than a great outcropping of rock that resembled a lion's head, which likeness successive generations of mortals had increased by chiseling out eyes and a muzzle. Graffiti was scrawled across its lower surfaces. Not yet the Sphinx, it stared gloomily across the land that wasn't yet Egypt. Labienus sympathized with it.

He had liked the delta country, once. The river was wide and clear, the air was purity itself. Dawn wind came across the green murmuring reeds and when the young sun rose above them it really might have been a god, such was its brilliance and clean heat. No smoke in the sky; light sharp as a diamond.

Then the mortals had come. For a while the crocodiles and floods had kept their numbers down but they had multiplied at last, and spoiled it all. At this point in time it was only the smoke of their cookfires that muddied the face of the sun, and this was bad enough. In the time to come the very dust of their mummified dead would rise like a pall, the gases of their sewage, the chemical fumes of their cities. All this fresh young world lost to ancient bricks, blackened corpses.

Labienus put it firmly out of his mind, as the river bore him to the city of white walls. It had been built to rule both Upper and Lower kingdoms. Two dynasties had come and gone and the third was prosperous, expansive, so the damned place was sprawling now. Shading his eyes, he could see the necropolis on its ridge. The world's first pyramid was no more than a foundation yet. Mortals swarmed over it like insects, setting the little limestone blocks.

He sighed and glanced down from his high seat to the water, where a ridged back paced his boat, drifting unobtrusively near. Poor old crocodile. There had been a time when Labienus might have given an order and had a clumsy slave tossed overboard like a crust of bread, and before the river-gods converged on him the slave would have screamed his thanks at being so honored. One couldn't get away with that nowadays. Too much history was being recorded.

When his boatman docked and bowed him ashore, Labienus walked through the streets and the mortals fell back before him, gaping at the splendid lord in his finery, marveling at the tall spearmen who went before and followed him. They wondered at the mortal slaves who bore the carved chest that was splendidly covered in beaten gold, inlaid with turquoise and lapis. They thought surely he must be an ambassador bringing gifts to the King.

But he did not go to the palace. Labienus went swiftly to the house of Imhotep, the high priest, he who was the King's chief minister, he who had designed and was overseeing the construction of the latest thing in monuments to royal glory.

The mortal onlookers nodded to each other knowingly. No surprise that this regal-looking stranger was calling on Imhotep first. Imhotep might claim he was merely a man, but everyone knew better. He had miraculous healing powers, he knew the name of every star in the sky and their secret paths, and his ability to work spectacularly showy magic was famous. Of course he must entertain gods from time to time! Before Labienus had stepped through the courtyard gate, word was spreading that Imhotep had another divine visitor.

To Labienus's annoyance, he was not at once admitted to the august presence of the high priest of Ptah.

"He is bathing, my lord," stammered the mortal woman. She clapped her hands and servants ran to her side. "A chair for the great lord, a basin for his feet! Will you have beer, my lord? Will you be pleased to wait in the garden, where the air is cool? I will fetch--"

"Tell him the priest of Zeus would speak with him," Labienus snapped.

There was a beat while the mortals present wondered who Zeus might be, before a servant said:

"Our lord will not permit us to disturb his bath--" The woman turned and waved him to silence.

"I will tell him," she said, and hurried away. Labienus waited, enduring in stiff-lipped silence as well-meaning mortals brought a chair for him, seated him, drew off his sandals and washed his feet. He hated to be touched by the creatures.

He focused his attention on the interior of the mansion and heard the splashing, the raucous whistling of-- of all things-- the Grand March from Verdi's Aida, interrupted by the mortal woman's urgent murmur. There was a response, more splashing, and then the whistling resumed. He tracked it through the mansion as it came nearer to him, and at last the high priest Imhotep stepped out into the garden.

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