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The Ilium Paradox

Discussion in 'FanFic' started by The_Librarian, Jul 30, 2019.

  1. The_Librarian

    The_Librarian New Member

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    Hey everyone. I originally posted this on Reddit, and decided to repost it here. Here is part 1 of a story I started working on. Please feel free to give feedback (especially on any lore discrepancies I may have made). Otherwise, enjoy!

    ******

    In my dreams, Ilium burns.

    I can still feel the heat washing over my skin, prickling at my beard, smoke stinging at my eyes. I look up, and I see the great citadel aflame, its white stone blackening and blistering in the heat, its spires now transformed into jagged, rotten fangs rearing up against the smog-smothered darkness of the sky. I feel dust and the copper tang of blood in the back of my mouth. There are screams, somewhere, in the background, of people running, of people burning. Of people falling prey to Achaean wolves.

    I am standing on the Ionian shoreline, the beach broken by the strewn debris of war: swords, spears, shields lying discarded, a panoply of colours and symbols from across the known world lying battered and broken. Bodies, Achaean and Trojan alike, lie just as broken, mingling in death, forming a carpet at my feet of sundered flesh. Names come to me as I glimpse dead faces: sure-sighted Pandarus, dark-skinned Memnon, the Thracian Rhesus, fast-running Dolonmy, my half-brothers Polites, Troilus, Kebriones and Deiphobus...and also faces of the foe. I dimly recall names amidst all the blood and ruin: Aesymnus, Teuthras, Periphetes, Agelaus...and lastly, the youth Patroclus, almost in the exact spot where I last saw him...

    In the background I hear the roar of the flames, the boom of masonry as it tumbles to the ground. The destruction almost sounds like a voice, calling my name.

    I turn, and suddenly they are surrounding me. My father, Priam, white bearded and sallow-faced, his hair uneven from where he has been tearing at it in his grief. My mother, severe Hecuba, glares down at me, trying to mask her sorrow with disappointment. My brother Paris, eyes sunken from the horrors he has seen. My sister Cassandra, eyes red from dried up tears, full of dread knowledge of the horrors to come. The captive Helen, perhaps the one true innocent in all of this, the face that launched our thousand woes partially hidden behind a funerary veil.

    And Andromache is there, holding Astynax at her breast. He is only three. Andromache and I both know that I will never get to see him become a man.

    They are all forming a circle around me, as though I am to become an offering before Zeus Thunderer. They are all pointing, their skin now greying and flaking to ash. They don't say a word, but their message is clear.

    You failed. We are dead because of you.

    I hear the booming again, the roar of the flames, the shattering of the earth. I know in my gut now that he is coming.

    I tremble, despite myself. My sword and shield are in hand, their grip familiar to my palms, but even so, they shake slightly in my grip. The dream always leads to this, no matter how much I try to avoid it: every step inevitably leads me here, before the burning gates, below the setting sun. It is always me and him. The gods, in their unending cruelty, have decreed this as my fate.

    The roar if the city's death becomes a roar of thunder. It is as though the world is booming my name at me. HECTOR. HECTOR.

    I turn, and he is there, nought but a darkened shade against the setting sun. He scorns armour, his flesh having been touched by divine flame, and the outline of his skin is gold against the sunlight, contours of battle-borne muscle and athletic might hinting at his immortal lineage. He carries a sword in one hand, still stained a ruddy crimson from the blood of countless of my countrymen, and his shield, once a finely crafted disc of bronze and wood, has been dented and blunted by countless sword-blades, spear strikes and chopping axes. Bereft of a helmet, his golden hair trails behind him like a living flame, a beacon to all in sight that he is here, that he has come to make war and ruin.

    He is beautiful. He is magnificent. He is a war god made flesh. And he has come to kill me.

    I take a step forward. From this distance I can see the black hate radiating from his eyes. This is an uneven battle, a mockery of a fight, but I step forward all the same. We are locked on course with one another by forces neither of us can defy. Despite all the cries and lamentations of my father, my wife, my family, I stride on to fulfill my part of the deed.

    I hold my sword low and lock eyes with the other man. "I will not run from you, as before, son of Peleus," I say. In this last moment, there is no more pretense, no more vainglory. I feel I can be honest with my pursuer. "My heart failed me as I waited for your attack, and three times round Priam’s city we ran. But now my heart tells me to stand and face you. To kill or be killed."

    I take another step forward, moving closer towards the demigod who has come for me. He does not move, still and statuesque in his hate.

    "Come, Achilles," I go on, giving voice to the name that has been hovering as an unspoken dread this whole time. "Let us swear an oath before the gods, for they are the best witnesses of such things. If Zeus lets me kill you and survive, then when I’ve stripped you of your glorious weapons I’ll not mistreat your corpse. I’ll return your body to your people...if you will do the same for me."

    Even as I say this, I know, deep down, that it is futile to bargain with such a being. His is a hatred that cannot be extinguished, in this life, or the next. Achilles' glower twists further into a scowl.

    "Curse you, Hector." His voice is low, a silence before the storm. "Don’t talk of oaths to me. Lions and men make no compacts, nor are wolves and lambs in sympathy: they are opposed, to the end."

    He throws his shield aside. He won't need it. He raises his sword, the Trojan blood on his surface becoming redder in the sunlight.

    "You and I are beyond friendship," he goes on. "There will be no peace between us till one or the other dies and sates Ares, lord of the ox-hide shield, with his blood. Summon up your reserves of courage, be a warrior brave. There is no escape from me, and soon Athene will bring you down with my blade."

    And then, with a suddenness that is terrifying, the silence breaks. The low tone becomes the ferocious snarl of a lion, eyes of dark hatred now ablaze with frenzy.

    "Now pay the price for all my grief, for all my friends you’ve slaughtered with your blade!"

    He explodes into a whirlwind of movement, blade flashing. I am already rushing to meet him, hard, battle worn instincts kicking in. Our blades meet, again and again, a storm of sparks, smoke and sand kicking up around us...and then his blade descends.

    There is pain, white-hot agony that stabs through every core of my being...

    *****

    And then it stops. Consciousness returns to me as I am reactivated.

    My MIU instantly comes alive with the daily feed, data flooding into my positronic brain. It is 5:15 A.M, Svalarheima standard time, the ship is in optimal low orbit, geostatic interference is within 0.007% of tolerable parameters, and time until insertion is seven minutes and decreasing. The great, interconnected device that is the Human Sphere ticks on.

    I blink-- an unnecessary action, given that my eyes are in fact coated with a fine polymer that repels dust and irritants: like so many parts of my being, blinking is a mundane, human action encoded into me, designed to make me fit in better among the flesh-and-blood creatures whom ALEPH serves. I run an internal diagnostic: this is the third time in a row that I have experienced this abnormality. I do not dream, at least in the human sense of the word: whenever my Lhost goes into hibernation, it drifts back to internal logs of training regimes, of tactical scenarios, of algorithms encoded by ALEPH to improve combat effectiveness. What I have been experiencing should not be happening.

    You must understand: though I share his name, I am not the Hector of the Trojan War. Like all ALEPH's brightest stars, I took the name of a mythical hero as my own, as much a badge of rank and status as a name. I am not like one of ALEPH's Recreations, bringing legends from the pages of history into nanotech-driven life. I have about as little to do with that ancient Trojan as I do with the rest of humanity.

    Just as before, the diagnostic comes back positive. No intrusive programs or malware, no internal errors, no damaged software. Not for the first time, I consider going to Machaon to look at the problem. Once again, I decide against it: the Homeridae will be dropping in just a few minutes, and they will need me down there with them. None of them know so far: when the bullets start flying, the last thing I want is for my men to start doubting me.

    Well, "men" in the operative term. The Steel Phalanx is the finest fighting force in the Human Sphere, but they can't be properly called human.

    My containment module drains of bio-synthetic gel, and in a matter of seconds, I am upright and walking the deck of the ship, transluscent blue gel dripping from my synthetically perfect form. I slide into my interface suit, the bodyglove of interconnected wires and neuro-synthetic polymers fitting over my Lhost like a second skin. My mobility armour is waiting near the ship's jump point. Around me, more containment tanks flicker to life as my fellow Homeridae are activated, their Lhosts snapping to alertness with perfect synchronicity.

    There is no need for instruction or for drill, as we were all inloaded the relevant tactical information during the trip. A renegade hacker from Bakunin was granted asylum by Yu Jing only a few days ago, and is arriving on Svalarheima today to be taken into custody. This individual already has a history of subverting ALEPH's controls, committing numerous data breaches and compromising dozens of caches of sensitive data over the past four years. ALEPH has already determined that there is a high likelihood that Yu Jing will employ him to commit even worse cyber-crimes in their ongoing shadow wars with PanOceania and the Haqqislamite states, disrupting a careful equilibrium between the warring nation-states that ALEPH has maintained for decades.

    Our objective is simple: make sure this hacker doesn't live long enough to receive his first paycheck.

    "Everyone suit up!" I bark. "We drop in zero-five! Local weather will be giving us a five-second window of sensor disruption, so let's make it count!" There is no actual need for me to say any of this: my team are all acutely of their objectives, of the exact duration in which the Yu Jing facility's sensors will be blinded by a local snowstorm, and of how soon we will be dropping-- like me, they all have an internal countdown running on their optical HUDs. But the soldiers of the Steel Phalanx, for all of their mechanical perfection, were built to mimic humanity, with all of their flaws and personal rituals. It is a fiction we have maintained since we were created, and it has become something of a ritual for us as well. I sometimes wonder if this illogical emphasis on habit is some hidden cost of free will.

    I stride towards the drop deck, passing by my squadmates as they prep for the drop, each one murmuring an acknowledgement to me. Ahead, I run into a familiar face, one of the Myrmidons who is busy sliding on his own interface suit. He glances at me, and I catch a flash of blonde hair tied in a short knot, a face lined with aesthetically pleasing stubble, and a wary grin as he nods at me. "Here's hoping this is a quick op," he says, as his interface suit locks in place. "I always hated the Svalarheima weather."

    I grin back, and give him a hearty slap on the shoulder, metal clanging against metal. "Afraid of becoming the most technologically sophisticated popsicle in the Human Sphere, Patrlocus?" I respond with a good-natured taunt.

    Patroclus gives me an annoyed smile. "Careful, Section Leader, or you may find yourself being 'accidentally' left behind," he replies. "In all seriousness, minor ops like these are a waste of resources. You and I both know we should be on Paradiso."

    Paradiso. The verdant jungle world at the edge of the Human Sphere, currently under siege by the vast alien force known as the Combined Army. Even at this moment, a great many of the Steel Phalanx's Myrmidons are fighting tooth and nail in Paradiso's sweltering jungles...including Patroclus' friend, the infamous Achilles.

    "It's not for us to second-guess ALEPH's decisions," I respond. "Focus on the task at hand, and if you're lucky, maybe then you'll have a chance to go die in the--"

    My vision goes hazy. The Achaean warrior lies dead on the sand dune, his chest slashed open by my sword. I remove the ornate helm, and a face far too young for war stares back at me with sightless eyes. I realize then and there that it is not Achilles I have just slain, and my fleeting moment of victory dashes like the surf upon the rocks. The fell-handed son of Peleus is still out there, and when he learns of what transpired here, even the gods themselves will not be able to stay his vengeance--

    "Hector?" I blink, and realize that Patroclus was speaking. The Myrmidon is staring at me. "Section Leader, are you alright? You kind of blanked out there for a second."

    I blink. "I'm fine," I lie. Yet another fiction for me to maintain. "Focus on the task at hand. Make sure your contingent is ready."

    The timer on my HUD turns red as we approach an optimal drop vector. Clanking in my mobility suit, I key up my antigrav systems for the high-velocity drop to come. I've done this hundreds of times before, from greater distances and in worse weather, but this time around, as the ship ghosts into the upper atmosphere of Svalarheima, I feel an emotion tighten inside of me. I can only call it apprehension.

    For some reason, I just can't stop thinking about the red shores of Ilium.