It’s funny how easy it can be to adapt to new surroundings when you’re totally immersed in them. If you’re completely invested in your situation, if you feel strongly that what you’re doing is important, you really can adjust to almost anything.
Let me use Melinoë as an example.
There’s simply no getting around it…she is flat out one of the weirdest, most off-kilter people I’ve ever met. She sees the world in a way I could never hope to understand, and takes pleasure in things that make most people uncomfortable at best. But on our first day together, she’d unintentionally provided me with a clue that had given me the insight needed to see past the weirdness to the lonely soul beneath the scary weirdness.
Jim Henson, she told me when I asked about him, had been one of the people she’d served as a muse, providing inspiration for art and creative energy. He had, she said, understood her better than anyone ever had. He’d instinctively understood that nightmares and madness didn’t need to be scary. That monsters could be embraced and loved too.
“Jim was a lovely man, with such a big heart,” she’d said. “He called me his Rainbow Connection…lovers and dreamers and me…” she sang softly, humming the rest of the tune for a moment before suddenly turning to me and asking with genuine urgency, “Do you want to have tacos tonight?”
So I looked beneath the surface and found a sad, lonely heart in need of compassion. Did she unnerve me sometimes? Definitely. No question. Profoundly.
But I learned to look past the disquiet she had a way of engendering, especially when I realized that it was simply who she was. She didn’t mean anything by it, she was just…odd. After a while, those moments even became endearing to me. She was, after all, trying to inspire me in a weird sort of way. Muses don’t do that for just anyone, and it was rather flattering that she felt I was worthy of her efforts.
I also very quickly decided not to question some of Mel’s odder quirks. She is, for example, one of the most amazingly organized people I’ve ever met, almost to the point of being obsessive about it. By the end of our third day, she had our office completely under control, and every last scrap of paper had been filed away.
That said, I despaired of ever being able to understand her filing system. After an hour of searching for a request that Hecate had filed some hundred years ago – which still needed looking into, of course – I’d given up and asked Mel where it was.
“I’ve checked under H for Hecate,” I said as I stood over an open filing drawer, “and under N for necromancy, but I can’t find the case file under either!”
“Check under S,” Mel replied from where she’d been organizing the new ammunition locker that Daedalus had delivered that morning.
“S?” I asked blankly, closing the drawer and opening another.
“S, for Scary-pants,” Mel said. “I put all of Hecate’s files in there. She gives me the collywobbles.”
Which was really saying something.
And there they were, all of Hecate’s files…filed under ‘Scary-pants’ and organized by date. I shrugged and moved on, and thereafter just asked her for files when I needed them rather than trying to find them myself.
She was also a highly entertaining suite-mate. She insisted on making breakfast every morning, often more than both of us together could eat, resulting in more than a few dinners being made of breakfast leftovers. Fortunately, many of her breakfasts were both healthy and tasty.
One day, she swept through our suite and reorganized my book collection…alphabetically, by authors she did and didn’t like. Then by books with scary monsters, books with nice monsters (including benevolent aliens, angels, and some clowns), and finally by books that had funny bits but were otherwise dreadful. All meticulously labelled in her strange, curly script. There were even a few empty places where none of my books fit her category labels.
I took it as a hint and tried, over time, to fill the empty spaces. I very much look forward to finding a book that fits into the category ‘Stories about heroes with alive parents who love each other very much.’ I am saddened by the fact that I have yet to find even one.
And yet…for all her wild talents at organizing and nearly compulsive need to do so, she invariably left socks lying around. Everywhere. I found them by the boot rack near the door, over the backs of chairs, on top of bookcases…seemingly anywhere socks were unlikely to appear. Black socks with bats on them, purple socks with pink butterflies, frilly white lace socks, rainbow-colored socks with toes, and on one particularly unusual morning a pair of black latex stockings draped over my doorknob.
But I never once saw her wear shoes, let alone socks. She was, to the best of my knowledge, always barefoot. Frankly, I’m not entirely convinced that her feet actually touch the ground when she walks.
I didn’t ask. I just came to enjoy her weirdness. It helped that as we got to know one another, I started to feel rather protective of her, like she was my little sister (in spite of her being literally millennia older than me). Getting to know her was a rewarding experience.
The work itself was also rewarding, as I came to understand just how important my position as Hades’ Avatar really is. The Underworld is enormous and is, in my humble opinion, the world’s largest functional bureaucracy. Not every day was an adventure…most days I was just going through reams of paperwork, delegating some, doing some myself, and setting aside the most important pieces to bring to Hades.
A lot of it – and there was a lot of old paperwork that Mel and I had to work through – was surprisingly normal large-organization work. Requisitions for supplies (which usually just needed a signature of approval), status reports, infrastructure reports, and so on, much of which just needed to be organized and filed.
Some of it was quite a bit more interesting than it sounds. It never ceases to amaze me, for example, what sort of requests come out of Elysium and the Isles of the Blessed. Was it possible, for example, to provide pillows that were made of cherry gelatin, but which wouldn’t go bad, dry out, ooze and leave stains, or generally be disgusting. As it turns out, the answer was yes.
(I don’t understand the desire for them, but I don’t have to.)
Likewise, it never ceases to amaze (and often horrify) what sort of things were needed for the Fields of Punishment, and especially the ‘special case’ items needed for the truly damned being punished in Tartarus.
Someone has to take care of the eagles who eat Prometheus’s liver every day. You didn’t think all of those eagles could survive on one Titan’s liver, no matter how big it is, did you?
(I’d never given it any thought before. I still wish I hadn’t.)
Then there were the meetings, both informal and formal, with the other gods and Avatars. Many gathered informally every few months, just to see how everyone was doing and find out if there were any important things going on that might require their direct attention. Hades, being both incredibly busy and incredibly anti-social, had not attended these gatherings more than once or twice a decade…ever. And since Persephone had died, there hadn’t been anybody to fill in for him.
I went to these meetings, mostly out of curiosity, since I rarely had anything to say or do on his behalf. But it gave me an opportunity to get to know the other gods and their Avatars, and – perhaps more importantly – it gave them a chance to get to know me. I learned a lot just by observing who attended.
For example, I learned that Hades was not the only god who eschewed the regular meetings. Neither Hephaestus nor his Avatar, Vulcan, attended any more often than Hades. Hera rarely attended unless there was something important she needed to address, and her Avatar – Juno – had stopped attending altogether several centuries earlier. Aphrodite usually forgot to attend, and her Avatar – Venus – frequently arrived late and was always apologizing for it.
The meetings were glorified social gatherings most of the time. But it was a chance to get to know my co-workers, and for them to get to know me.
Lady Venus turned out to be charming and much friendlier than I’d expected (having only known Aphrodite’s youngest daughter, Penelope, the would-be actress). She was a bit of a bubble-brain (her own words), but Venus was so earnestly warm and loving that it was hard to hold it against her. Love, as she pointed out, came in many forms and didn’t require intellect to recognize. “You don’t need to be a great thinker,” she once said, “to know love in all its myriad forms.”
I suspect she’s brighter than she lets on.
For all of the bureaucratic work I had to do, the most important aspect of my job was keeping monsters in check. It was a responsibility which Jupiter had taken up most recently, and Eos was tremendously glad to have someone in the role full-time. Still, I called her frequently to lend a hand, and she was always willing to oblige.
Between the two of us, we managed to get things pretty well under control. At first, I only called her to lend a hand if it was something that I really felt I needed help with. As she said, I was absolutely swamped with a backlog of paperwork that would’ve made the most efficient paper-pusher weep, even if most of it did just need to be read, stamped, and filed.
After a while, I started calling her more often, just to have company when I went out to deal with something. She even made paperwork more tolerable, and wasn’t particularly put out by Mel’s oddities.
“You need to get out of that musty office,” she joked one day. “You’re going to get as stuffy and uptight as your patron, and you’re too young and pretty for that to happen.”
So we fought monsters together, and on the whole we managed to get things pretty well under control, and keep our work away from the eyes of mortals. Sure, there was “the incident” in Tokyo, but we managed to convince people it was just a publicity stunt for an upcoming anime film.
Then she did something unexpected…she called me and invited me to lunch.
“I know this great little bistro in Paris, not far from the Eiffel Tower. Great food, great wine…you’ll love it. Meet me there at noon GMT. OK? Bye!”
She hung up before I could protest…and really, I didn’t want to. I enjoyed her company a great deal, so any opportunity to spend more time with her was a good one. I called her back to get an exact location.
I figured it was going to be a sort of business lunch. We’d catch up on little details, maybe figure out a better way to handle some of the paperwork we’d been passing back and forth. She might even want to assess my performance so far, and give me some pointers to help me improve.
So I dressed up a little. I wanted to look professional. She’d shown me how to change the appearance of my uniform, so I arrived at the (very charming) little restaurant wearing a black skirt that just brushed my knees, a cream-colored blouse under a black jacket that matched the skirt, low heeled pumps, and stockings. I was highly amused when my mental image of stockings even included seams down the back of my legs.
So was Eos. I beat her to the bistro by a couple of minutes and was waiting for her when she arrived. I didn’t realize she was there until she purred in my ear, “Those stockings are giving me all kinds of naughty ideas. I approve.”
Her voice sent a pleasant shiver down my spine, but I was a little shocked to find her wearing her usual jeans, motorcycle boots, t-shirt, and leather coat.
She grinned. “You overdressed a bit.”
“So it would appear,” I replied, trying to hide my embarrassment. “I thought…I don’t know what I thought.”
“It’s all right,” she smiled warmly. “You look great.”
It was then that we really started to get to know one another as more than just colleagues, and when I discovered that she was going to be one of the best friends I’d ever have. It also became something of a tradition. She would invite me to lunch, and I’d overdress a bit…just to see if I could get that reaction again.
It was fun, and more than anybody – even more than Mel – Eos helped me not only accept my position as Lady Pluto, but also enjoy it and feel proud of the work I was doing.
The only dark spot on my horizon was, unfortunately, Hades himself. I realized that for him, I could never replace his lost wife. Nor, frankly, did I want to. I always tried to respect the professional distance he kept between us at all times, even if it made things difficult for me sometimes.
I watched with some jealousy the easy camaraderie that existed between Zeus and Eos, Athena and Danae…between nearly all of the other gods and Avatars that I worked with. In my first two years as Lady Pluto, the only time I saw strife between an Avatar and their patron was during one meeting with Ares and Mars. Eos told me afterwards that they argued constantly, but that there wasn’t any real hostility in it.
The next time I met with them, I was able to see what she meant. Yes, they argued violently…but when Mars won the argument, Ares’s pride in his son was obvious, and when Ares won, Mars was perfectly content to concede the point to his father.
The absence of that sort of relationship with Hades – not a competitive one, but simply a friendly, give-and-take relationship – was an aching void in my life. He was never anything less that perfectly polite, and he always tried to treat me with respect…but he was distant, never even trying to make a connection with me beyond the professional one that had been forced on us.
Mother tried to make up for it by keeping in regular contact with me…but it just wasn’t the same, and my work environment remained a bit drab because of it.
Fortunately, the work itself was very fulfilling. And never, ever boring. Time didn’t actually fly – in some cases it slogged and waded through muck – but before I knew it, it was time to really open for business.