Prometheus’ Kidneys

Meg Candelaria

Story image for Prometheus’ Kidneys by Meg Candelaria

T he sun rose over a rock in the sea. A solitary figure on the rock stirred slowly.

Prometheus sighed. It was morning.

Yet again.

Soon the eagle of Zeus would be here.

Yet again.

The eagle would perform the ritual and eat his liver.

Yet again.

Prometheus was tired of the ritual. Over the centuries he had come to dread it almost as much as the actual eating of his liver, but there was no avoiding either. He could see the eagle’s outline in the distance. It would be here soon, and he must go through it all. Yet again.

At least then it would be over and he would have the rest of the day to himself, to heal, to think, to listen to the music of the sirens, the calls of the gulls, and the waves lapping at the edge of his rock. To listen to his hair grow, so long now it rode the water around the rock like weed.

It was a dull existence, punctuated with moments of terror and pain each morning, but Prometheus refused to regret the deed that had put him there.

The eagle landed on the rock to which Prometheus was chained, his abdomen exposed and defenseless. “Again I come,” it said. “And again I ask you: Do you regret your act?”

Prometheus sighed. “No, I do not, I cannot, and I will not.”

The eagle gave an odd sound, almost like a sigh. Prometheus wondered if it was tired of the ritual as well. Did the eagle long to be released from their commitment, to be free to seek some less stubborn food? Or did the access to easy prey make up for having to go through this ridiculous ritual of question and answer each morning? It certainly never seemed to tire of the meal. Once Prometheus had asked the eagle if it was bored with his liver and would prefer a kidney instead. He had pointed out that, if the eagle loosened the chains just a bit, it could reach his back and enjoy a new taste. Alas, the eagle had only stared at him when he made the suggestion. The eagle of Zeus was not known for its imagination, or its sense of humor.

“By your disloyalty and recalcitrance, you have earned this punishment,” the eagle said, raising its beak over Prometheus’ exposed right flank.

“Do what you will,” Prometheus said. “I will never regret siding with the weak against the strong, the powerless against the powerful, the poor against the rich, the defenseless against the aggressor, those in need against the greedy.” He said it every time, to remind himself more than to inform, convince, or even defy the eagle.

“Let’s get it over with,” he added.

The eagle was all too eager to move on to its reward. Soon, Prometheus knew, he would feel intense pain as the beak ripped open his side and removed piece after piece of his liver. He would scream until his throat bled and he choked on his own blood. The eagle would feast on his liver and drink its fill of his blood.

A god or a titan cannot lose consciousness or go into shock. He would be aware of every last sensation. Again. He would try to shut it out, to listen to the roar of the sea and the songs of the sirens instead. The strategy would fail soon enough, but it did help, at least a little, at first. The sea was, alas, still and uninteresting today, except for an unusual low-pitched hum. Perhaps that might provide a brief distraction. He focused on the sound.

The eagle eyed Prometheus one last time, angling its head to most easily strike the spot just below the ribs, its favorite spot for making the first break in the skin. Prometheus took a deep breath and waited for the pain. The sea’s hum increased in intensity.

“Not today!” a voice suddenly cried out from nowhere. “Not today and not ever again!”

The eagle lifted its head in annoyance, searching for the source of the disruption, but Prometheus saw it first: a human in a small boat was approaching his rock at an unnatural speed.

“How is he controlling his craft?” Prometheus wondered aloud. The human, sailor or warrior as he might be, did not appear to be rowing and the craft had no sail. A hero, then, gifted by the gods with a supernatural craft, perhaps. But what god would give such a gift to a human, even if he was a hero?

The human’s boat reached the island and, using Prometheus’ near endless hair as rope, he scrambled up it to the spot where Prometheus and the eagle stood. She scrambled up, Prometheus corrected himself, for at close range there was no mistaking this human’s shape for that of a man. But what could she be doing here? An Amazon, or Atalanta herself, come to challenge the eagle? But how? She had no sword or bow or other weapon. She wore no armor and bore no shield. She would die in seconds when the eagle attacked. The recklessness was magnificent, but would be all too short lived.

“Not today,” she repeated, looking the eagle in the eye. “And never again. You are done here. Go your way or be slain.”

The eagle eyed the woman with the expression a guard dog might give a lap dog that yipped at it: bemused and amused, a bit contemptuous, but by no means alarmed.

“Go away little human,” it said. “I have no business with you, but if you stay here you will be my dessert after I eat the titan’s liver.”

“You will never again eat his liver,” the woman insisted, taking a step towards the eagle.

“No!” Prometheus cried. “Get away! You are valiant, but what can you do against the eagle of Zeus? Save yourself and have no concern for me.”

“Take the titan’s advice,” the eagle said. “I will have my prey. You have no means to harm me. I, however, have every means of harming you.” The eagle lifted a talon, and clacked its beak threateningly.

“I have no means to harm you?” the woman asked. “Are you sure?”

The eagle looked at her, contempt and confidence plain in its expression. Prometheus, in contrast, felt a slight lift of hope. He knew a trickster’s expression when he saw one.

“Let’s test your hypothesis,” the woman said with a smile.

She pulled a small metal object from her pocket and pointed it at the eagle. There was a flash of light, the sound of a slammed door, and the smell of smoke filled the air. A tiny dot of blood appeared on the eagle’s chest.

The eagle looked first confused then surprised, then, for a brief moment, terrified, before it fell off the rock and landed with a splash in the sea. Prometheus knew instinctively that it was fire, his own gift, that the woman had used to end the immortal eagle’s life—although how she had used it he could not say.

“Thank… thank you!” Prometheus exclaimed. “I don’t know how I can ever repay your valor.”

The woman turned to him and smiled again. It had been a long time since Prometheus had seen a human and he had, perhaps, forgotten some of the subtle points which a smile could convey, but this he felt sure was not a pleasant one. The woman was short, pale, soft, and clearly mortal. Yet, with that smile, she looked like nothing so much as Zeus on the day he had chained Prometheus to the rock.

I do,” the woman said. “I know exactly how you will repay me. My donor shortage is over!”

With that, she fell on Prometheus and cut open his side in the very place the eagle would have opened it with its beak. Quickly and neatly, she removed the liver. Unlike the eagle, she seemed to find the blood a nuisance and did something with a small stick to stop its flow, similar to but distinct from the one she had used to destroy the eagle. Fire was involved here too, as Prometheus could tell by the smell of burnt meat that permeated the air. The smell of a burnt offering to the gods—or to humanity—made from his own flesh.

The woman placed his liver in a strange container which seemed to be neither wood nor metal nor even porcelain, and from which cold smoke arose. She smiled again, looking satisfied. “A new liver, every day. And the liver of a god. Perfect! Whose body would reject the liver of a god?”

She hopped down to her boat, her miniscule weight tugging his long locks as she went. As the strange little vessel set off again, she turned, waved, and called, “See ya tomorrow!”

The humming of the boat receded, and in a short span of time Prometheus was once more alone with the day and his discomfort, the steady knitting of his abused flesh. Yet again.

“You did not regret your deed before,” an amused voice in his head asked. “Do you now that you have seen the uses to which humans have put your gift?”

“No, Zeus, I do not,” Prometheus answered. “The woman made it clear that she seeks to use my liver not for her own need or greed but to help others. I regret her desire not at all, her act only a little. She is, in any case, quicker and neater than your eagle. Do you regret that you betrayed your loyal servant to death and did not even get the result you sought?”

The voice made no answer.

Prometheus smiled. He had made the speech to anger Zeus. Annoying Zeus was a game that never grew old, even with the passage of millennia. However, that did not mean that what he said was not true. On the contrary, it was true. Very true, as anyone who considered the matter carefully must eventually realize.

In his long period of suffering, suffering for an act of apparent charity, the world had forgotten who Prometheus really was: not a martyr god, such as Persephone or Baldor or the unfortunate son of Jaweh, but a trickster god, brother to Loki and Coyote. Tricking the eagle of Zeus was one thing: hard, near impossible, as Prometheus had found over the centuries. The eagle was too straightforward. It had had few or no ambitions of its own, beyond the need to serve Zeus, and little or no imagination to work with. Tricking a human—a surgeon no less, if he read the clues right—was quite a different task. A much easier and more enjoyable task. For the first time in centuries, Prometheus was oblivious to the world around him. The songs of the sirens went unnoticed as his brain seethed with new ideas, new plans.

Perhaps he’d start by convincing her to cut his hair. Things had clearly changed since his exile, but surely they couldn’t change so much that surgeons no longer cut hair. One talked while cutting hair. It was a natural thing. He would let her know that he did not grudge her his liver. Perhaps she would tell him how she used it, in whose name and interest she had taken his sacrifice. Then, sympathy established, perhaps he would suggest that she consider his kidneys. If she needed his liver, surely she could use his kidneys too. Yes, that suggestion would surely be of more interest to a surgeon than to the eagle of Zeus.

Kidneys are not easily reached from the front of the body and the chains kept Prometheus’ back firmly against the rock. The eagle would have probably continued straight through him to reach them, had he ever succeeded in its temptation, but this surgeon preferred a different sort of efficiency. And in order to get at his kidneys, she would have to loosen his chains, just a bit.

Iron and rock have no force to hold a titan. Only Zeus’ magic kept Prometheus chained to the rock. If the chains were loosened, so would the spell be. After they were loosened, he would need only to regrow his organs, stretch, break the fetters, and walk away. After that… the possibilities were nearly endless.

Humans were clearly no longer the pathetic, helpless creatures they were at the beginning of Prometheus’ exile. He might have stolen fire from the gods for them, but they had stolen magic from the gods for themselves. Prometheus felt a profound feeling of fellowship for the species. They were no longer his children. They were his brothers and sisters. They were his peers.

They were fair game.

Prometheus smiled a trickster’s smile and settled back, to regrow his liver, and to plan.

No, he had not a regret in the world.

Orbit-lrg

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Meg Candelaria

Author image of Meg Candelaria Meg Candelaria lives in Philadelphia with her family, two neurotic dogs, and an apparently indestructible ginkgo tree. Her work has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction and Everyday Fiction. Despite writing mostly for online venues, she’s a bit of a luddite and keeps hoping that twitter will go away before she has to take notice of it.

© Meg Candelaria 2021 All Rights Reserved

The title picture was created using Creative Commons images - many thanks to the following creators: Anna Shvets and TheOther Kev.

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