The Passenger
"Where to, mac?"

I close the door to the cab, wondering if my driver is some clone from Central Casting.  In all the time that I've ridden in cabs I've never heard one driver actually utter those words.  "Just drive," I reply.

He glances at me through the heavy plasticine safety shield suspiciously.  I don't have to read his thoughts; they're there on his face.  I'm a big, tough- looking boy, I might have a big gun that would make that safety shield look like a plastic painters tarp.  Cab drivers get robbed and/or killed all too frequently, even in cities that aren't so big and bad as this one.

I reach in my leather, pull out the roll of cash, making sure he sees it, and pass him a picture of Mr. Franklin as a down payment.  "Just drive," I repeat.

Mollified by the almighty dollar, he pulls away from the curb and into the late- night traffic.  Either he isn't a talker or he's more intelligent than he looks, because he doesn't say another word.  Suits me just fine.

"I am the passenger/and I ride and I ride
 I ride through the city's backsides/
 I see the stars come out of the sky/
 Yeah, the bright and hollow sky..."
Everything's so different now.  Different, but, cliched as it sounds, oddly the same.  The *world* has changed, but people haven't that much.  Perhaps it's that that occasionally makes me feel so... displaced.  Don't get me wrong.  Unlike so many of my family, I've embraced this time.  It and I were made for each other. The only society that came close to its frenetic energy was Rome at its decadent height, and believe me I was in the thick of things then, too.

Of course, I've also fared better than some of the others in these strange new days.  While I may not have much in the way of worshippers personally - at least not in the old ways - war never goes out of style.

It's that adapting to new ways that got so many of them, you know.  I have as big an ego as the next god, but I'm also practical.  The temples and sacrificial... heh, fill in the blanks... may be gone, but what too many of them could never understand is the *essence* of what we are is still alive and well and will be as long as humanity exists.  When they were thrown over in the verbal adulation market for the New And Improved ONE God For ALL!, most of them slunk back to Olympus to wither and sulk, regardless of the fact that they seemed to suffer very little in the way of ill effects other than a slight decrease in their personal Powers that can *probably* be traced directly back to their bruised egos.

*I* even worried about it for a bit.  But I *was* a few millenia younger then, and one can be caught up in familial hysteria.  Thing is, I didn't *feel* any different, and I'd already found that I was still *me* even though the Romans - creative devils that they were - chose to re-name me Mars.  War still existed, and so did I.  And even at the darkest times for humanity, I was still remembered as myself.  To this day I have no idea which of those facts might be more important.  Either way, I figure I'm safe.  Despite their protestations that they hate it, humanity is still utterly enamoured of war (at least they certainly devote an impressive amount of time to waging and preparing for it), and if you do even a *cursory* search of the Web, you'll see that the name Ares is *well* represented (surprised I know the Web?  I told you, I'm more than able to adapt).  Which brings me back to the present, and why I'm in the back of this cab.

While I truly adore this time in history, there are times when... how to even describe it?  Maybe it's the sheer amount of time I've lived.  It's an alien feeling, like I'm The Watcher from those Marvel comics.  Cursed to simply observe and report on the doings on Earth.  My driver takes me down random streets, and I see scenes that are alien and yet oh-so-familiar at the same time, with only the settings truly changed.

Here, well-off people going out for a night on the town.  A few blocks later, well-off club-goers who like to *fancy* themselves desperate or at least detached from the dully affluent world they were brought up in.  And further on, the *truly* poor in their many manifestations, from the defiant bravado of youth and the razor-edged confidence of those who've chosen the underbelly of the American Dream as their only channel to the TV-inspired goal of the Good Life they're entitled to, to the huddled shapes of fearful old men, who've seen it all and know just how callous the world really is. And looking through the window of my cab, only I know that all of them are, to a degree, mine.  All of them are busily playing out their own personal wars, all of them have that spark over which I have dominion.

The streets roll by, endless, seamless as they take me from one worldlet into another.  And as I see/don't see, I remember those from times so long ago they almost seem characters from a particularly vivid story I read once in a dream.

My little king, with his maddeningly dichotomous nature.  All maudlin seriousness and resentment and duty on the one hand, but just goad him a little and a tough, sarcastically funny, intelligent warrior was there underneath.  Also the most aggressive sub I've ever had.

The blond hunter, who would have enjoyed this century with *much* more gusto than my dear half-brother has managed on his own.

Strife, who would have been orgasmically delighted to discover there's now an entire subculture that adores that godsawful vinyl as much as he did.

Autolycus, an amoral rogue with the proverbial heart of gold.  He always intrigued me, and I never got to know him as well as I would have liked.

Xena... that girl would probably either be running her own country or be some sort of fitness guru now.  Or bring in thousands as one of the main attractions in the World Wrestling Federation.

It's started raining lightly now, giving the night a glisteningly surreal patina through my window.  I'm so lost in thoughts of times and people long ago I almost dismiss what I see.  Would have if he'd turned onto a side street, but he's *there*, walking from the glow of one streetlight to the next, seemingly unmindful of the rain-  I tell the cabby to slow down, pull over to the curb.  I have to make sure, since I can't imagine how he could be here in this place and this time.

He looks up calmly as my cab paces him, seemingly unworried though he surely can't see who it is gazing at him from the rain-streaked back window.  He's changed a bit, but haven't we all.  There's no question in my mind that it *is* him despite the impossibility.

I tell the driver to stop, pull over, and he stops too.

I open the door, let him see who's opening it, and wait.  I'm praying he'll get in, but I won't let him know that.  It's been too long.

He gets in silently.  Sits next to me without a word.  I tell the driver to just keep driving, and to his credit, he pulls out without a word.

"Get into the car
 we'll be the passenger
 we'll ride through the city tonight
 we'll see the city's ripped backsides
 we'll see the bright and hollow sky
 we'll see the stars that shine so bright"
For what seems like eternity, we ride silently, the city sliding past us like a Dali painting, then like a stark post-Apocalyptic world as night hits those dead hours where the night people have retired and the day people have yet to emerge and you can go blocks without seeing anyone, just the occasional cabs like ours hurrying past on private missions left to remind you that there are millions just outside of the deserted landscape you see. The rain stops and the clouds disperse.  As our driver - apparently on a whim - leaves the city for the dark roads between suburbs, I look out my window and see the sky is full of stars, after all these millenia subtly different from the stars of my youth.  They look cold, alone... unforgiving. In their hard, diffuse light I consider the possibility that I may have to be the one to make the first overture.

As if on cue, he finally speaks.  "So... what do I call you these days?"

"Ares," I mutter almost gruffly.  Not really meaning to sound like that; I just haven't talked for so long it's almost a chore.  I amend, "These days I can get away with it again.  What should I call you?"

I can see a slight smile out the corner of my eye.  He's grown harder over all these years.  More of a warrior.  I can see it in his moves as much as the way he's changed physically.  He moves economically, smoothly, with a control he could only dream of back then.  "These days it's Jack."

He's filled out too.  "Then Jack it is."  For the first time in a long time, I find myself at a loss as to what to say.  It's because of me that he's still here, still alive, but once I'd bestowed the dubious gift of immortality on him I'd left him.  I haven't seen him since Caligula was a pup.  "Been a long time," I say lamely.

His lip quirks up slightly.  "That's an understatement."  Then, amazingly, he grins.  "Don't worry, war god, I forgave you *long* ago.  Interested to see what I've learned in the last few millenia?"

"Jox-" I cut myself off.  That was a name in another time.  But I know I'm grinning like an idiot.  This is *most* unbecoming for one of my station, but I can't seem to help it.  "Jack, is that the offer I hope it is?"

He smirks (another move he's perfected), then slides into serious. "Depends.  I owe you for this incredible life, but you owe me too.  If you can guarantee me that this cab has somewhere to drop you off and you'll make good on *everything* you owe me, including staying *with* me this time, then that offer is everything and more."

I pretend to consider, but there's really no question.  Of those from back then that are still around, he's the most *alive* person I've seen in centuries.  I wouldn't leave him again for the world.  Of course, he appears to still want *me*, so he doesn't have to know all of that.

"You've got yourself a deal, and this time I give you my undying word," I tell him, and I mean it.  I give the cabbie the address to take us home...

"And all of this belongs to you and me
 Darling it was made for you and me
 So let's take a ride and see what's mine...."