||The Masque of Agamemnon
Sean Williams and Simon Brown
Part 4 of 4
AlterEgo initiated the escape sequence before he was even in the cockpit. Sudden accelerations knocked him around the interior of the ship like a pea in a pod, but he didn't have the heart to complain.
Once in his seat, still breathing heavily, he had time to think about what might happen next. His thoughts were interrupted by AlterEgo, speaking vocally now that Bernal was back in their ship.
"By the way, you might be interested to learn that Athena built the Achaeans to match the illustrations it found in Groenig's copy of the Iliad-a copy of an antique version printed many millennia ago. The illustrations-woodblock is the correct term, I believe-depicted the ancients with exaggerated proportions and impossibly perfect features. Naturally the probe-intelligence was not to know the difference, and copied it all too faithfully."
"The same with the food," Bernal said. "It looked nice but tasted like the supplies in Groenig's ship."
"And it's also why they waltzed instead of dancing more traditional Helladic dances. Everything was either improvised or based on the illustrations in the text. The characters themselves were little more than automata, programmed within a set of very narrow guidelines to perform their part in the story."
"Except Odysseus," said Bernal. "He seemed to know what was going on."
"Maybe he acted as a sort of relay, for when cosmic intervention was less effective than a personable nudge."
"But why?" Bernal scratched his head. "What did the collective-Athena gain by doing such a thing?"
"It is hard to tell exactly."
"But you have a theory?" Bernal guessed from AlterEgo's tone.
"Of course. The Von Neumann probes had no reason to exist beyond their initial programming objectives: to seek out new worlds and seed them. Once communication between the probes confirmed that all the worlds had been seeded, that request became meaningless. Likewise they possessed only a limited database, comprising just enough information to study and to categorise planets, but no more. They had no data upon which to decide what to do next. They had no alternatives."
"Until they found the Apollo," Bernal said, guessing ahead.
"Exactly," said AlterEgo, something very much like compassion in its voice. "And Athena finally found a quest."
"The Trojan War?"
"With us as the Trojans, whether we wanted to play along or not?"
"All because the only data it had about human society was the book of the Iliad ?"
Bernal sighed. As interesting as all the new information was, he was still confronted with a nightmare. "Regardless of how much free will a creation like Agamemnon really has, he is going to be upset. We can't rely on Achilles to distract him from the war. Everyone will be looking for scapegoats and it'll probably be us. We'll have to do something ourselves to stop them from attacking us. But what-?" An idea suddenly struck him. "Wait! You still have a link to the Apollo through Mycenae's navigation computer?"
"Yes; Athena hasn't cut me off yet, but it must only be a matter of time. From there I can reach deeper into the sentient matrix of the Mycenae. What exactly are you planning?"
Bernal ignored the question. "Quickly, I want a list of those classics Groenig had with her on board her ship."
As far as wars went, it was a bit of a fizzer. Within hours of the download AlterEgo had forced into the sentient matrix of the Mycenae-and therefore into the greater pool of knowledge comprising Athena-the Achaean fleet ceased accelerating towards Cirrus.
"They are no longer in attack formation," AlterEgo reported.
Bernal wriggled anxiously in his life support suit. The ship was ready to flee home at the slightest hostile movement. "You've given them a destination?"
"I have seeded the text with the coordinates of every white dwarf in this region of the galaxy. That should be enough. We don't want to tie them down too much, after all. What's a quest without some free will?"
"As long as they don't bother us, they can have as much free will as they like."
Two hours later, as Bernal prepared to enter deep-sleep, AlterEgo announced that the Achaean fleet had headed off on a new course, one that would take it well away from Cirrus.
"Also, a message has arrived via the ship's maser dishes."
"Who from?" Bernal asked.
"From the intelligence we knew as Athena."
"What does it want?"
"Answer and find out. But I think you'll find that we have done well, you and I."
Bernal took the call, responding with a simple: "Bernal, here." Not Paris.
When the reply came from the former Achaean fleet, he recognised the voice instantly. It was Odysseus.
"We received the data you sent," Odysseus said. "I have examined the text in great detail and it is much to our liking. We are infinitely better-suited to pursuit than invasion."
"I guess this is farewell, then."
"Yes. We are grateful for your help."
"Think nothing of it." Half-truth though that was, Bernal did feel slightly moved at the parting, enough so to add: "Take care, Odysseus; happy hunting."
There was the slightest of pauses before the voice returned:
"Call me Ishmael."
This story was originally published online at
Eidolon: SF Online December 1997.
©1997 Sean Williams and Simon Brown
Artwork ©1997 R&D Studios