Cramming the three of them into the front seat of the van proved something of a challenge and, in the end, Jason pulled Calypso back out and sent Hercules off on his own, flagging a taxi to take the two of them home.
They lived in a comfortably modern place on the river in the South West quarter of Greater London. Peaceful and green, Calypso was drawn to the wall of windows at the far end of the apartment, looking out over the green-brown flow of the Thames and the swans and rowers paddling across its surface.
Hercules walked through the door half an hour later, the scowl on his face uncomfortably similar to Zeus’s. “The situation’s devolved.”
Jason looked worried. “What do you mean?”
“The whole thing’s sunk to a one-upmanship match between Zeus and Hera. He’s forbidden Ares to pay anything more than is legally necessary on Calypso’s severance, so Hera’s imposed an all-company hiring freeze.”
Calypso choked on the wine she’d just taken a sip of. Jason hurried over.
“Don’t worry, legal severance is still pretty good. Something like a month for every year served.”
She rubbed her forehead. “Receptionists don’t earn very much, and I was only there a bit over two years.”
“But you were a Head of Department.”
“Only for a few weeks. And it’s not like there was any sort of pay rise attached.”
Hercules put a large Z Corp-branded bag on the seat next to Calypso. “Not all is lost. When I heard the news, I pinged your team, let them know you needed a bit of help and they managed to pull together a few outfits for you in time for me to pick up. There’s a mix of casual and business in there.”
He poured himself a large stout, then joined them, collapsing into a large easy chair and taking a long drink. “For what it’s worth, I still think you should take the two weeks at the cottage. Hera also thinks you need time off. My guess is it suits her agenda for you to disappear for a little while. She did suggest you visit the outplacement group she’d set you up with before you go though.”
Calypso looked inside the bag. There were two envelopes, each with her name on, at the top, then a pile of neatly-folded clothes.
The first envelope was her severance letter. It contained details of a small payout and an appointment with an outplacement firm, scheduled for the following afternoon.
The second was a note from Athena. She read it aloud.
“Calypso, I’m so sorry my father’s an evil bastard. I know you’re worried right now and scared for your future, anyone would be but, please, take the time to rest. The cottage Jason has spoken to you about is owned by someone even Zeus is reluctant to cross. Go down there; sleep, make plans, walk, read, and dream. The clothes you’ll find here were chosen for you by Clio from Apollo’s latest leisure and workwear ranges. They’ve been charged to my department as an important cost of business and I’ll fight anyone on that claim. When you’re back, we’ll catch up for coffee and see what future you can build, now you’re free of the Z Corp shadows. Look after yourself. Athena.”
Hercules finished his beer and grumbled to himself. Then looked across at Calypso. “Get that outplacement person to set you up as your own business.”
“Get them to organise you as a one person business. You might not need it, but it will give you a bunch more options.”
“I’ll ask them about it.”
With that, he sank back into thought. Jason threw a cushion at him. “Precious lot of help you’re being, you’re supposed to be cheering her up. You can take that glum face out and get takeaway, what does everyone want for dinner?”
A couple of hours later, following a meal of what was probably very good Chinese, Calypso found herself tucked into the wide, slightly-too-soft bed in their spare room, alone with her thoughts for the first time since Zeus’s announcement. She lay in the dark, staring into nothing, while crazy scenes played in her head. They veered between destitution and glory, each more improbable than the last. Until, somehow, finally, she fell asleep.
The next morning was a quick whirl of Jason and Hercules leaving for work, followed by several empty hours.
Rather than sit and wallow, Calypso grabbed her camera and took the scenic route to her appointment with the outplacement specialist.
A few determined photos later, she made her way to Delphi House, and the meeting. She was met in the foyer by an elegantly reserved older woman, who introduced herself as Pythia and settled her into a dangerously squashy chair in her office.
Pythia herself opted for a tall, three-legged stool. “For my back, you see.”
Calypso didn’t see, but nodded politely and waited as the woman flicked through a neat file.
“Well, I don’t usually consult on such short notice, but I think we can all agree you need a little support in making your career plan. What have you considered to date?”
“Nothing I’m afraid. Hercules suggested I ask you about setting me up as a business of some sort as he says it would be useful. Beyond that, I’m afraid I’ve never looked for a job before. My father employed me when I finished school, and I became Z Corp’s receptionist as a sort of side-effect of them taking over Titan Fashion.”
“Ahh, yes, Hera did mention you’d been a little left out of normal life. I believe you’ve also been offered a little holiday in the country.”
Calypso squirmed under Pythia’s schoolteacher stare. “The people I’ve spoken with all insist I need a break, but if you think it’s a bad idea, I’ll tell them I can’t do it.”
“No, I don’t think it’s a bad idea. What I do think is that you need to spend that time constructively, creating a plan and then making a start.”
She stood and went to the cupboard behind her desk. “Now on that note, I do have a delivery here for you from Hephaestus.”
Calypso tried to sit up, and failed. She wiggled to the front of the chair and looked attentive.
Pythia handed her a large shoulder bag containing a neat lightweight laptop and power cord. “Apparently this was sent to him for trial but wasn’t considered powerful enough for the design department.”
It may not have been powerful enough for the artists in Design, but it would be more than enough for anything she needed to do. She hugged the bag to her and smiled up at Pythia. “Please do send him my deepest thanks. This is wonderful.”
Pythia’s lips twitched in answer and she turned back to her perch. “Now, let’s discuss options and steps.”
An hour later, Calypso stumbled out of the building, her head whirling. The two week break was no longer looking bleak and empty. Now she was wondering if it was going to be enough time to complete all the tasks Pythia had set her. She was to complete and send in the paperwork to set up her own business, set up a CV based on a template Pythia had emailed her, make a list of companies she’d like to work for, and more.
It was funny, but, much like the homewares project, having a huge set of tasks ahead of her somehow seemed to make things less dire and more exciting. She decided to treat herself to tea and cake.
Setting off to find a promising-looking cafe, she nearly ran into Hermes, who rolled his eyes at her. “Princess, you are not doing yourself any favours by looking all happy and empowered right now. Go and look miserable somewhere so I can report back to the big guy.”
She laughed. She couldn’t help it. Then patted the horrified courier on the cheek and walked off.