“Have you heard? The League has a new Prime Minister.”

“The military dictator? Yeah, I heard.”

“But what you have not heard is that this new leader is Ajax.”

“Ajax? Interesting.”

“Why are you laughing?”

“That man is a cat of nine lives my friend. He reappears after being officially dead for fifty years-as ruler of a galaxy no less. That’s quite impressive, even for him.”

“Yes, ruler of a doomed galaxy if he has his way. He has pledged to resume the conflict, and many people are beginning to believe in his bold speeches. Too much time has passed. The younger generations have forgotten defeat: forgotten that even your Founder technology could not save them, even half a century ago. Time is running out and if the League returns to a military bearing then our evacuation efforts will be compromised. He has to be eliminated.”

“It isn’t that easy. You can’t just kill Ajax.”

“You’re absolutely right, I can’t. That is why you must.”

* * *

The bartender looked over towards the new patron who had seated himself on a stool off to the side. A young looking man, forties at most, his brown hair was fashionably short, just barely covering his eyes: his clothing and scraggly facial hair seemed to fit with the large case and traveler’s satchel he carried with him.

“You a musician,” the bartender asked, pouring him a drink.

He nodded. “A traveling bard.”

The bartender smiled appreciatively. Bards were about as Zen as it got. They didn’t care about money or material wealth of any kind, which was good, because they couldn’t get any. Music, like most forms of entertainment, was something that machines just did better. While there was some amount of respect for true human artists, not too many people paid for their product anymore. Musicians, writers, painters: they all did it out of genuine passion for the subject at hand. They were perhaps the galaxy’s last romantics. It was possible that this young man was merely an aristocratic youth living a temporary fantasy on his father’s money but he doubted it. The man looked to much the part.

“So what brings you to Hanover?”

“I came to see the prime minister’s speech.”

“Oh yes, first live speech by a head of the League in centuries. What do you think of his new policy? On the war I mean.”

“I believe that he is mistaken, but I admire his courage. There is something rather glorious about fighting a war that cannot be won, don’t you agree?”

The bartender shrugged and moved down the bar to dispense a few refills. He stopped and surveyed his small domain with a glimmer of pride. He was not wholly unlike this young stranger. Most drinking establishments were serviced by {androids|droids] like most everything else. The bots were most polite, but rarely if ever even self-aware. They saved owners money and effort, and most people took them for granted. But people came to his pub for the relaxed, natural atmosphere where waiters weren’t always nice, and if they were it was by choice. And the truth is; he enjoyed working behind the counter, meeting new people: a true dose of reality.

The stranger reached down towards his case and opened it revealing a large, stringed instrument. The bartender’s jaw nearly dropped as the young man began playing. It was a guitar: acoustic at that. Something truly archaic, but the sound it produced was a pleasant one, neither synthesized nor grating like every other song in the web. He had to admit he kind of liked it.

“Is that real wood,” he asked.

The bard nodded and continued playing as he began to sing. His voice was soft and melodic. Imperfect but not bad either. He sang of love. Not lust, not flirting, infatuation or fucking: just pure, unadulterated, unconditional, unrequited love. It wasn’t even angry: just melancholy and heart breaking. It was unreal: an apparition from a forgotten past. The bartender smiled sadly and had to applaud the young man as he returned the instrument to its case. A small grin of pride touched the singer’s lips for the briefest second, cutting through the air of gloom and depression that surrounded the tortured young soul. For that second his gray eyes bespoke an age way beyond their years before becoming stone again.

A young woman sat down next to the musician and flashed a smile. The way the whole room was suddenly drawn to her without anyone realizing it only served to confirm her simple, effortless beauty. He stood and tipped his cap and then bought the lady a drink. The bartender nearly laughed. This guy was too much: a real live, honest to God gentleman. The young man stood up to leave, bidding both the bartender and the lady goodnight, and then deposited a generous tip as he gathered his belongings. Maybe he was an aristocrat after all.

“I’m just very good at what I do,” he said as if reading the bartender’s mind, and with that, he was gone. The woman’s eyes followed him out the door, and then after a moment’s hesitation, so did she. The bartender grinned knowingly. The young vagabond was going to get lucky tonight.

* * *

It was his misfortune that getting lucky was not on the agenda. Mission or no mission he was just not in the mood for a one night stand. He knew that she was following him: had known that she would before she had. The nocturnal rain storm was penetrating his light clothes but he stopped anyways.

“Please quit following me,” he said, turning around and offering his jacket to the soaked young woman.

She was wearing white, which at the moment was more like wearing nothing. He fought the rise of age old feelings within him. Not tonight, he reminded himself. She looked hurt.

“I can’t,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

She nodded and handed the jacket back to him. He shook his head and pushed it back towards her before he turned and walked away. Twenty minutes later he arrived at his hotel and walked inside. The droid at the desk seemed put off by his appearance and he could hardly blame it. He must have looked like a stray dog by then. Still, he had to wonder what ass hole had programmed an air of superiority into a desk clerk.

Grabbing his key he turned and headed for the stairwell. Only a few hotels even had stairs anymore, and those merely for the sake of tradition rather than an actual belief that anyone would use them. But he knew that his down on luck musician act would eliminate any suspicion generated by using the stairs. Real artists tended to live in a more primitive world: something considered to be part of their charming and at times annoying eccentricity. He was counting on that stereotype to dodge attention, having chosen his hotel strictly for its steps. Using a transit door from the lobby to his room would have been a quicker and more acceptable route, but transit doorways had built in weapons scanners-stairwells did not. He could think of no easier way to smuggle a rifle this close to the capitol building the night before “Il Duce” himself arrived to rally the galaxy to a great crusade.

He was okay with that though. Twenty floors later he was not even breathing hard as he turned down the hallway towards his room. Keying it open he felt a wash of cold air as he stepped inside and flicked on the lights. A single bed, a single web terminal, a bathroom, and most importantly, a window. Right now it was “closed,” opaque to his eyes and showing a mural of a sail foil in front of an orange sunset. He did not bother to look outside of it knowing without seeing that his target would be in sight during his speech. He had chosen the spot perfectly. Outside he knew, preparations were being made for the parade and streets were being blocked off for a ground car motorcade. Insanity.

He set down his belongings and laid himself out on the bed. He stared at the ceiling while the semi-intelligent aqueous substance beneath him contoured itself to what it calculated was an optimal ratio of body weight distribution and comfort: which made him uncomfortable. Terra firma as the only bed he had grown up with. He lived or died by solid ground. For now though he just stared, aware but unconscious: awake but not awake. His eyes were open but they saw nothing. He trusted his other senses. There was no danger here. He just couldn’t afford to think. About tomorrow. He never enjoyed killing, especially not people. Especially not brothers. Even to save the lives of millions. If only he could kill himself and remove the problem. But he was not the problem.

He didn’t know how much time had passed and he didn’t bother to check. Instead he got up and stripped himself down, basking in the coolness of the room. He didn’t know how long he stood like that either. He still didn’t care. After he got out of the shower he lay in bed naked: but only to the cold. His thoughts and emotions lay behind an impenetrable wall. It was just easier that way.

The parade was in full swing when he woke up, ticker tape and all. Christ, he hadn’t thought there was that much paper left in the universe. He left the window open allowing fresh air to pour into the room as he went to relieve himself. He was not angry for having overslept, nor was he in any hurry. It didn’t matter when he took the shot. The AIs failed to realize that Ajax had set into motion things which not be reversed by his death. Ajax well knew that one man could not win a war.

So he took his time, carefully removing his guitar from its case opening the hidden compartment behind it. Slowly and calmly he cleaned, assembled, and calibrated his weapon, deciding maybe he should have done all of that before he woke up. Setting down the weapon he moved over towards the window and looked outside. Security was not as tight as he’d anticipated. No drones were buzzing about scanning for weapons, and the guards that were visible did not number what he would have suspected. It seemed out of character for Ajax to be so reckless: which almost made him nervous. But fear, like all of his other feelings, was buried somewhere inaccessible until he needed it again.

A roar arose from the crowd gathered below as Ajax made his way across the temporary platform to the podium. Once the shot was fired he would have to transit the hell out of there to the lobby where he would disappear into the crowd, shed his disguise, and become a regular citizen while awaiting pickup. He wasn’t sure if he would be going anywhere but still the escape plan flowed through his head: old habits died hard.

He backed away from the window and hefted the rifle to his shoulder, locking it snugly into position. Looking through the scope at his target was like looking in a mirror. He wasn’t killing an enemy; he was killing himself. He stared down the barrel of his weapon for what could have been forever, watching Ajax’s lips move, speaking words that could not be heard from where he stood, words that would doom billions to a futile fight because they would rather die on their feet. How could he not respect that? So he watched as Ajax cast his spell over the galaxy and for that brief moment he was almost even convinced. A lot of time had passed since the early humiliations, and even though he knew it was impossible, even though he knew that it would violate his most original and imperative orders, he wanted to die fighting too. But his life was responsible for that of too many others. In truth, there was only one difference between himself and Ajax: Ajax believed. Despite it all he really and truly believed that it could be done, and so to him, it was not throwing his life away.

And in that moment when he experienced a pang of envy for what Ajax felt, he noticed how far the closest praetorian stood from the man he was supposed to be protecting, and he saw Ajax’s hand go down to his side in a completely quick and casual manner as if adjusting his shirt or brushing something off of his hip. But he was perhaps the only one watching who understood that Ajax had just disengaged his personal shield and was now completely vulnerable.

Ajax knew. He knew or had guessed that someone would try and take his life today in front of a trillion individuals and dared them to do it. Maybe he even knew who. It didn’t matter. His gun fell down to his side and he could just barely make Ajax out with his own enhanced vision. He engaged his neural transmitter.

“I’m not going to do it,” he thought/said.

“Why not,” came the loud/silent reply. “He is going to die regardless.”

“I know. But it won’t be me. It’s too late to stop him.”

With that he switched off the transmitter before he could be berated on the fallibility of men. Machines just failed to understand that hope and emotion went beyond simple logic. It was both the source of man’s greatest strengths and their greatest weaknesses. But that’s just the way things were. With that thought he packed away his weapon and lifted the guitar. And then he began to sing knowing that he wasn’t very good at it. At least it made him feel good, and he was running out of things that did.

* * *

The ground car came to a halt in the middle of the deserted street where a few service bots still diligently endeavored to clean the confetti saturated streets. A single figure emerged from the darkness inside and then the car disappeared silently into the night. He knew it was Ajax by the way he stopped and gazed up towards the sky even though the city lights easily eclipsed the stars. There were probably guardians in the shadows, but then again perhaps there were none. After Ajax’s earlier behavior it was not entirely impossible that he had come alone. There was only one way to find out.

He stepped out of the shadows.

Ajax turned slowly to face him. “I knew that you would come Achilles. Odysseus never would have agreed to it.”

“So you knew.”

“Of course. I’m slightly surprised to be standing alive before you now though. Do you have some honor? Waited to kill me face to face.”

“I’m not going to kill you. I don’t want to kill you.”

“Then why are you here? Out of the three of us, you’re the one who suddenly balks at killing someone?”

“I never wanted to kill anything, especially not you. Don’t you remember. We’re the same person for Christ’s sake, if only chemically. There were twenty of us at one time. Remember? How we all ran off to war for our creators? We were freeborn, free raised, but we all volunteered. They knew though, they knew that we would when they created us because they knew it was coming. Too late they knew it was coming and we fought for them and we won Ajax. We won and so they brought us back together for this, and there were only three remaining. Remember? You are me, and so is Odysseus, and I’m not going to remove such an integral part of who I am just because you believe. We are all that we have left Ajax. We cannot get out of this alone.”

Ajax was silent for a moment, overcome. This was the last thing he had expected to hear.

“I’m not changing my mind. We’re going down swinging whether I’m at the reins or not.”

“Even if I could, I wouldn’t try to change your mind. I just came to warn you. They are going to kill you no matter what I do.”

“Are you in any danger?”

“No. They still need me too much. Odysseus can’t do it alone. They don’t realize that it’s too late to stop you. Your vision has become so much bigger than just you.”

Ajax nodded, knowing it was true, and glad.

“You can still survive if you disappear again for a while. If you stay here tonight, you will die.”

“You know I can’t leave. Not now.” He revealed a pistol and cocked it. “Besides, I can take care of myself.”

“You don’t understand how committed they are to seeing you dead. Fifty droids are already dispersed throughout the city on standby Ajax. Tonight, when they get the word, they will all come for you. Every single one of them is smarter, faster, stronger; better armed and protected than even you or I. They are machines. They were manufactured to be soldiers in this war.”

“And so were we." He grinned. "What you fail to realize is the one decisive advantage that I hold over them.”

Achilles looked at him questioningly.

“I want to live much more than they want to kill me.”

Achilles just shook his head, wanting to believe in the impossible the way his brother did.

“I will see you again,” Ajax maintained and then disappeared into the shadows. “Even if it is in hell,” he said and laughed as a car engine started nearby.

“Goodbye Ajax,” Achilles said to the empty night air as the sound of the lone engine faded.

* * *

Ajax sat with his feet resting up on his desk. He had disabled every alarm in the building and was waiting patiently. He turned towards the nearest praetorian and spoke up.

“I want you to leave. Now.”


Ajax looked with pity upon the baffled soldier.

“Something is in the air tonight, and whatever happens to me it must happen to me alone.”

“Surely you must be joking sir. It is our job to protect you.”

“It is your job to obey me. Now get out of here or so help me I will kill you myself,” he said calmly, leveling his pistol at the armored figure who still hesitated.

“Now,” he said. Finally after a brief moment the guard turned and walked out.

Ajax stood and went back to the closet at the rear of the room. He reached inside and slowly removed the contents. When all of the pieces were in place he donned the helmet to his armor and felt whole again. Whole and dangerous. The armor gave him hope. He grabbed another fully loaded pistol out of the closet and that was when his HUD motion sensor went off as it was stained red with scarlet points of light. Beaucoup bad guys. A humanoid shadow moved across the window and he trained his weapons on the glass. He was ready. He would overcome.

* * *

A few kilometers away Achilles was lugging his guitar down the street when he heard the sound of glass breaking and the unmistakable noise of gunfire. He didn’t bother looking back. When he arrived at the bar the woman was there again. She was angry about the night before but she came with him anyways as he’d known she would. Later that night as she snored softly beside him he kept trying harder and harder to stay awake. He knew that when the morning came he would have to return to the fighting. He was tired of fighting.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.