Zeus and Jupiter were playing cribbage. Since the humans had stopped paying attention to them they had begun to play games. Cribbage was the current game of choice. You might think they’d favor chess, but chess had become predictable. They decided they preferred playing games where the Fates had influence.
“Fifteen-two, fifteen-four, fifteen-six, fifteen-eight, and a pair is ten,” said Zeus as he was counting the points in his hand before moving his peg.
“Arr-Arr-Arr.” It was the sound of Hercules clearing his throat. He was trying to get their attention. Apparently flexing his muscles had not been effective.
“Do I hear the sound of a sparrow?” asked Jupiter to Zeus.
“I thought I heard a frog croaking,” answered Zeus.
“My fathers, I need to speak with you,” Hercules said impatiently. ” I have a question.”
“Of course you can speak with us,” answered Jupiter.
“But first you must earn the right,” added Zeus.
“Not another quest!” Hercules was tired of quests.
“Afraid so,” answered Jupiter.
“A quest for each question,” added Zeus.
“It’s not so much a question as soliciting your opinion,” bargained Hercules.
Zeus and Jupiter ignored Hercules. “When did you stop wearing ram’s horns?” Zeus asked Jupiter.
“I took them off about a thousand years ago, they were starting to itch.”
“I think you should go back to wearing them, maybe bleat from time to time.”
“What sort of quest did you have in mind?” asked Hercules.
“Waste,” answered Jupiter. “Human waste,” clarified Zeus.
“What do you mean, metaphoric or literal waste?” asked Hercules.
Zeus and Jupiter looked at each other for a moment. “Both,” they answered together. “You must rid the world of human waste.”
“I don’t think you realize what you’re asking. Metaphoric waste – that includes wasting time and wasting opportunities and…”
“And literal waste is both the banana they don’t eat and the banana they do eat. That’s impossible.”
“Herculean,” clarified Zeus.
“Give it some time, we know you’ll think of something,” Jupiter added, as though he were being helpful. The room grew quiet. Jupiter and Zeus resumed their game of cribbage.
“Your deal.” Hercules was watching them.
“Why haven’t you left to fulfill your quest?” asked Zeus.
“The quest is too easy,” Hercules replied.
“No it’s not!” Bellowed Jupiter.
“It’s an impossible quest,” echoed Zeus.
“Sorry to disappoint two Kings of the gods, but this is the easiest quest of all.”
“No it’s not!” demanded Jupiter, not aware that he was repeating himself.
“Yes it is,” retorted Hercules.
“Explain yourself!” demanded Zeus.
Hercules seemed about to begin his explanation when Jupiter interrupted. “Both metaphoric and literal waste.”
“To be frank with you,” continued Zeus, “we thought that literal waste would be an impossible task all by itself. Think about it, all those piles of garbage, and all the accumulated stuff that will someday become garbage, and all the garbage that they consume that will become more… stuff.” Hercules was silent. Jupiter continued.
“And we all know what he means when he says stuff.”
“A whole lot of shi*,” replied Hercules.
“Precisely,” agreed Zeus. “Adding metaphoric waste was like the stuffing on the stuff. And we require you to rid the world of it. This is a little harder than cleaning the Augean stables. Do you understand the quest? The quest is Herculean. In other words Her-cue- lean. I realize that makes no sense.”
“And neither does your attitude.” Jupiter was addressing Hercules. “How can you possibly perform the quest?”
“I need only perform the quest,” Hercules said slowly, “as long as there is still a quest to perform.”
“What are you talking about?” said Jupiter and Zeus in unison.
“If I help things along, total destruction of the human race will eliminate human waste for all time.”
This line of reasoning had not occurred to the Kings of the gods. They were both silent for a moment. Jupiter broke the silence. “You understand that only two can play cribbage.”
“Yes, cribbage is a game for two,” echoed Zeus.
“There must be a game for three,” offered Hercules. It suddenly became clear that he had just wanted to be included as one of the gang.
“Can’t think of any, can you?” Jupiter said to Zeus.
“Not offhand, but if I had a century to think about it…”
“Poker,” interrupted Hercules.
Poker seemed like such a gamble. It made the Kings of the gods feel out of control. “You do realize that gods don’t play dice with the universe, don’t you?” Jupiter began the line of reasoning, and Zeus completed it: “Gambling is a vice gods can ill afford.”
“Global thermonuclear war, untreatable killer virus, the apocalypse – not to mention extraterrestrial invasion.” Hercules was very poker faced as he spoke. “I’m just getting warmed up. Hey, that’s a pun for global warming. Anyway, I was going to say I have my eye on this really cool meteor. The puns just keep on coming.”
“OK, pull up a chair. Poker it is,” said Jupiter.
“But if we catch you cheating, we’ll make some waste out of you,” threatened Zeus.
“Waste not want not,” replied Hercules, who was feeling a little glib.
“So let’s not waste this new challenge. We’ll play with chips of Fate,” said Jupiter.
“I accept your terms,” answered Hercules, who was quite pleased with himself. He had managed to become accepted by the gods on a bluff. Poker was his game. The gods didn’t really understand bluffing. He’d win every hand. OK, he’d have to let them win occasionally, set them up. But he’d win all the big pots.
As they sat down to play, Hercules wondered if bluffing the gods for an eternity was really such a good idea after all. He’d win piles of Fate, with nowhere to spend it. What a waste.