The Lorelei Signal
2001: A Homeric Odyssey
Written by Charles Kyffhausen / Artwork by Marcia Borell
“Zeus, you’ve been cheating on me again! Where is she?” Hera demanded.
“Where’s who?” Zeus asked with a raised eyebrow. He looked up from The Wall Street Journal while he set his drink on the table.
The Queen of the Gods looked around for a cow, bird, or similar creature that might be a disguised paramour. Upon finding none she continued, “I remember how you disguised Io as a cow when I almost caught you together. I know that you can’t keep your eyes off those coeds at the beach.” The beachfront hotel was near two big schools, Trojan University and Argive College.
“I swear by the River Styx I haven’t looked at that beach all morning,” Zeus replied while he raised the brim of his white Panama hat. He brushed the lapels of his neatly pressed white summer suit as if to say, “And that’s that.”
Hera’s accusations ceased when Zeus swore the gods’ inviolate oath. “We need you to settle an argument,” she continued more quietly. “Eris, the goddess of Discord, crashed the wedding reception last night. She threw in a golden apple for the most beautiful goddess, and that is me.”
“Daddy, Bag-your-Face Hera won’t give me the apple!” Aphrodite complained, and she bounced visibly while she trotted over to Zeus. “It’s mine, I’m the fairest goddess! And, like, can I borrow your credit card? I want to like, you know, go shopping in the like, you know, mall and like, you know, meet awesome guys.”
“I’m not involving myself in this,” Zeus said while he pointed to the beach. “See that good-looking surfer dude over there? I’m sure he can judge between you. Now I have to get back to the Wall Street Journal. Do you know what kind of bills you run up on my credit card? I need to find some good investments.”
“Oh, like, you mean all those big numbers on the monthly statement, Daddy? Math is like, so gross, I mean, gag me with a spoon!”
The two goddesses left. When Hera was well out of sight, The Wall Street Journal changed into a gorgeous bikini-clad coed. “Cows,” Zeus said. “I haven’t done cows for two thousand years. She didn’t catch on to my ‘laptop computer,’ either. Well, dear, shall we retire behind a cloud somewhere and get to know each other a little better? I didn’t need to look at the beach all morning with you here.”
~ * ~
The goddesses walked down to the beach where handsome Ares flexed his muscles for the coeds’ benefit. “Here comes the geek—I mean, the Famous Crippled Smith,” Ares sneered when a car approached.
“Crippled!” Aphrodite screamed. “Like, how totally insensitive and politically incorrect! Hephaestos is ‘differently abled,’ you brute!”
“I still say he’s a geek,” Ares said. Hephaestos wore thick horn-rimmed glasses, a pocket protector with several pens, and white socks. “He’s also a wimp, as shown by those form-fitting bucket seats in his car. Are they comfortable, you engi-nerd?”
“Want to go for ride without one? This car goes from zero to sixty in two tenths of a second; that’s almost fourteen g’s. It gets ten thousand miles to the gallon, and it has radar-absorbing paint along with a cloaking device that makes it invisible to police lasers.”
“You and your gadgets,” Ares said with a sneer.
“How many tickets have you gotten this year, Ares?”
“Look at the socially inept techno-dweeb with the calculator wristwatch!” The war god sneered as he turned purple.
“It’s not a calculator, it’s a computer. The microprocessor runs at six hundred gigahertz, and it has fifty gigabytes of RAM. The hard drive has more gigabytes than you have brain cells, not that that means anything. The display is a three-dimensional hologram. If you’re about to ask about the keyboard, it doesn’t have one. It uses mental telepathy, which rules you out as a user.”
“Huh?” Ares frowned.
Aphrodite bounced over to the car. Hephaestos took a small helium tank, applied it to her ear, and opened the valve. “Thanks for the refill!” she gushed. “Well, I’m off to the beauty contest!”
~ * ~
The goddesses admired Paris’ tanned body as he strode from the water with his surfboard. “Not bad for a mortal,” Aphrodite commented.
“Good afternoon, mortal,” Hera said as she appeared in a conservative one-piece bathing suit with a peacock pattern. “We want you to decide which of us is the most beautiful. Choose me, boy, and I will make you CEO of a Fortune Five Hundred company when you graduate.”
Athena’s running shorts and sports bra displayed her toned muscles as she spoke. “Hera needs to lose several pounds, so you should choose me. I will sweeten it for you, though; I will make you so intelligent that you will ace all your exams after you merely glance at your books. You will finish your B.S. and MBA in one year, start your own high-tech business, and be a billionaire in ten years. What are you studying, anyway?”
“Uh, studying, what’s that?”
Aphrodite’s string bikini left very little to the imagination. She inflated her ample bosom and said, “How would you like the most, like, totally awesome girl in the world to fall in love with you? Paris? Paris?” She waved her hand in front of his eyes.
“I choose Aphrodite!”
“That boy hasn’t heard the last of this,” Hera whispered to Athena as they left.
~ * ~
Menelaus was playing beach volleyball with his fraternity brothers when he noticed Helen had wandered off. He looked down the beach to see her in Paris’ arms.
“I’ll take you back to Trojan University, and we’ll have a great time,” Paris told her.
“I can transfer all my credits,” Helen said.
“Then we can be together…,” Paris began when Menelaus kicked sand in his face.
“Uh-oh, it’s my former boyfriend,” Helen said.
Paris turned pale; Menelaus was big, and he obviously worked out. “Put up your dukes!” the latter challenged.
“Don’t kick sand in my brother’s face!” Hector demanded while he grabbed Menelaus by the arm and spun him around. Hector also was big, and he also worked out. Argives and Trojans congregated on the scene and began squaring off.
“I can whip any man on this beach!” Achilles shouted.
“You and what army?” Aeneas countered.
Nobody remembers who threw the first punch, but the fighting spread quickly. Trojans and Argives alike rolled in the sand with bloody noses and black eyes. Raw steak vendors congregated on the scene like crows on a battlefield.
Athena saw Ares wade into the fray. The violent war god smote Argives right and left, and Athena noticed some distinctly low blows. When Ares bit a man’s ear, she had had enough. “Do you see that big bully? Why don’t you pop him one?” the grey-eyed war goddess suggested to the Argive champion Diomedes.
“He’s the god of war!” the champion said.
“He’s a sucker for a left hook.”
Diomedes nodded agreement, and he advanced on the war god with stinging words: “Is that your face, or is it a waste treatment plant?”
“How dare you, you impudent little mortal? I’m the god of war!” Tydeus’ son dodged and weaved, and the huge fist that followed this proclamation never touched him. Ares left his right wide open, and Diomedes’ fist crashed into his jaw to send him sprawling on the sand.
The fight broke up when the contenders heard the sirens. “You haven’t seen the last of us!” Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon shouted at the Trojans while the Argives departed.
The war raged on; every couple of days, the Argives and Trojans duked it out on the beach. They didn’t get much studying done, and their grades began to fall. Only the local grocers made out; they had never sold so many raw steaks in their lives.
A week later
Athena sat at a beachfront table, but she wasn’t sunbathing. She had, in fact, asked the Winds for a cooling breeze to keep her guests comfortable. Her Prussian Blue coat, tricorner hat, and powdered wig with pigtail were hardly appropriate for catching rays anyway.
“This tea is absolutely delightful, Athena,” a man in a gold-braided red coat said. “I could never get anything like it when I was alive, and England had access to the world’s best tea markets.”
“When I host an intellectual discussion with history’s greatest military geniuses, Arthur, I serve only the best.”
“I appreciate that, and even Boney here is learning to like tea. As I was saying, Boney, you should have retreated from Waterloo to fight another day.”
“Yes, I should have retreated when the day was lost,” Napoleon told the Duke of Wellington. “But had I done this,” he drew some diagrams in the sand, “I could have turned your flank.”
“Not against an active and flexible defense,” Frederick the Great interjected.
“I beat your oblique attack at Jena in eighteen-oh-six,” Bonaparte sneered.
“I was dead in eighteen-oh-six, so I wasn’t running it. You would not have prevailed against me.”
“The Prussian commanders at Jena weren’t very imaginative,” Alexander Suvorov agreed. That was when Ares interrupted the discussion by kicking sand in Athena’s face.
“How dare you, you cur?” Wellington said. “I demand satisfaction!”
“Yes, kicking sand in our host’s face is a mortal insult—well, not exactly mortal, since he is immortal while we are already dead,” Suvorov remarked.
“That was two mortal insults,” the Iron Duke corrected. “He also interrupted the consumption of tea, which is unforgivable. I know Ares can’t die, but I’ll be happy to entertain him with cold steel or hot lead nonetheless.”
“That’s far too pedestrian, Arthur; I want some real entertainment,” Athena said as she stood. “Sorry about the interruption, fellows, this won’t take more than a couple of seconds. Speaking of which…”
“Delighted.” The Duke of Wellington’s appearance changed, and he now wore a formal coat and top hat.
A moment later, Ares’ niece Strife appeared. Her hair was dyed several fluorescent colors, none of which were natural. She wore mirrored sunglasses, a silver rhinestone-studded jacket, and a silk sash around her waist. “Ares is the greatest, he’s Number One, there isn’t anyone better!” she proclaimed while she strutted around the beach. “He’s going to tear Athena apart, eat her sacred Owl for good measure, and then take on all comers in a steel cage! Watch, learn, and tremble, you would-be contenders, before you even think about rumbling with my man!”
“Is this person a second, or a clown?” Wellington asked.
“Ares, have you been taking recreational drugs?” Athena continued.
“You urged Diomedes to deck me; you caused my humiliation at the hands of a mere mortal! Now I’m going to rip you apart, slice you, dice you, grind you, chop you, blend you, grate you, whip you, puree you, trample you into the ground, and scatter your parts to the world’s four corners!” Ares assumed a terrifying form: black boots, red and black trunks, and a red and black mask over his face. His bare chest bulged with muscles while a tattoo appeared on it: “Commit a random act of violence.” He charged Athena with his hands outstretched.
Athena changed shape too. She now wore a white pajama-like garment and stood barefoot. “You, a war goddess, only fifth degree?” Ares sneered while he counted what looked like five red stripes on Athena’s black belt.
An onlooker would swear that Pallas hardly touched the butcher of men, but he slammed into the ground headfirst and buried himself to his waist. His legs kicked helplessly while grey-eyed Athena gloried over him with the words, “Colossal fool, buffoon of Olympus! That’s not five degrees on my belt, that’s a bar code. You couldn’t count that high even if you used all your fingers and toes. When you assumed that shape to fight me, you exposed your shameful secret; you think professional wrestling is real!”
“A duel with him wouldn’t have been sporting, Wellesley,” Suvorov chided. “You’d have had to spot him a nine-pounder with canister shot against your dueling pistol to make it halfway fair.”
“Oh, well; if I can’t get a piece of Ares, I can always fight his second.”
“Yipe!” Strife cried. She transformed herself into a chicken and flew away.
Ares dug himself out of the sand, and his face was crimson as he changed shape again. Now he wore black armor with projecting spikes, and he brandished a huge two-handed sword. This he raised over his head while he charged with the cry, “Yaaaarrrrggggghhhh!”
Athena changed into samurai armor, and the sashimono flag on its back displayed her sacred Owl. She held her katana at guard, and the blade flickered for a moment while she sidestepped Ares’ rush.
“You didn’t even swing at me!” Ares bellowed. “I’ll get you this time; turn and look at me, you dog-fly!” Athena had turned her back on him, and she was now cleaning the sword with a piece of paper. When Ares tried to begin his next rush, he fell into several dozen pieces that made a perfect chrysanthemum on the sand.
“What did you say about flower arranging being for sissies, Ares? Oh, dear; I forgot to invite Miyamoto Musashi. He would have loved to have seen this.”
The immortal god was not born to die, so the pieces reassembled themselves. Now Ares was in combat fatigues. “I’m through playing with you!” he bellowed while he took a grenade from his belt and pulled its pin.
Athena’s clothes changed to ordinary business wear, and she held an umbrella. She moved her hand slightly, and the spoon flew from Ares’ grenade, but he never noticed. “Ares, you enormous idiot, you have to pull the safety pin before you use that. And you call yourself the god of war; what a joke!”
“But I’m sure I pulled the…” Ares said as he turned to look at the grenade. Time ran out, and Athena opened the umbrella while pieces of Ares rained around her.
“…All right then, let’s go to Valhalla and get a couple of armies. I’ll take you on at Jena,” Napoleon meanwhile challenged Frederick the Great.
“Oh, you’re going to play it out? Then we’ll discuss the outcome tomorrow,” Athena told them. She changed into a khaki uniform, riding boots, polished helmet, tanker goggles, binoculars, and forty-five caliber Colt Pistol. “Ares, you bore me, so I’m also going over to Valhalla. George Patton and I have a date to play PanzerBlitz against the Teutonic Trio: Odin, Rommel, and Guderian. Now that’s competition.”
“PanzerBlitz?” Ares’ head sneered. “The Einherjar, the fallen heroes, once fought each other to the death every day! Are you telling me that they now play board games?”
“The Einherjar use real tanks, and Valhalla works as it always did. The dead people come back to life in time for the feast in Odin’s hall, and the wreckage reassembles itself for the next day’s battle. It took the fallen heroes some time to get used to tanks, and they wanted to put Viking horns on all the turrets. We’ve added airplanes too, and you should see what a Valkyrie can do with a Spitfire or Me-109. Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir likes to turn himself into an eight-engine bomber.”
“A real warrior would want to conquer the world!” Ares sneered.
“George did that when he was Alexander the Great, you twit. He loves Valhalla so much that he decided not to get reincarnated again. Why don’t you go play Diplomacy™ with Neville Chamberlain? He’s about your speed.”
~ * ~
“Agamemnon, the war has dragged on for a whole semester,” Menelaus complained a while later. “We must conquer Troy soon because our guys are tiring of this.”
“Summon the long-haired Achaeans, and we will go forth to battle!” the son of Atreus proclaimed.
He smelled an odor shortly afterward. “What’s that funny smell?” he demanded. “Who are these people?”
“Like wow, man, I see god.” The man’s jeans were worn, his psychedelic T-shirt had a peace sign, and his hair came to his shoulders. A strange looking cigarette dangled from his lips, and it was the odor’s source.
“Which one?” the man next to him said. “I usually see all twelve gods, and I can see right through Aphrodite’s clothing.”
“Wow, what a trip! What kind of acid do you use, man?”
“Who are these people?” the son of Atreus demanded.
“They’re the long-haired Achaeans, Sire.”
“Forget the long-haired Achaeans; go to the ROTC building and find the Achaeans with crew cuts. On second thought, the economy is good, and I’m ahead in the polls. Let’s have another round of peace talks with the Trojans until after the election.”
“I want Helen back,” Menelaus demanded.
“Achilles, we can win this if you’ll help us,” Odysseus said. He was a computer science major, but he could duke it out with the Trojans’ best.
Achilles glowered as he pointed to Agamemnon. “That son of Atreus took my girl, Briseis! I’m not helping him!”
“Agamemnon, why don’t you give her back?” Diomedes said. “Finals are coming up soon, and we have to finish this war so we can study. I’m down to a two point four grade point average for the semester.”
“Never! I’m the leader of the Argives, and I’m keeping her! I prize her above my fiancée Clytemnestra!”
“You son of Atreus! You’re unfaithful to your fiancée, you appropriate your companions’ girlfriends, and you’re no leader!” Achilles said.
“Is ‘treus’ Greek for ‘female dog?’“ Thersites asked.
“You!” Odysseus shouted at Thersites. “All you do is write derogatory editorials about the Trojans in the school paper. I’ve never once seen you duke it out with them!” He cooled off a little and continued, “My own grades aren’t too good either, and Penelope keeps asking when I’ll have time to visit her. She’s at Cornell; that’s in Ithaca, New York, and I haven’t been there all semester. Wait a moment; finals are coming up, right? The Trojans have the same problem we have. I’m going to write a program for them.”
~ * ~
“What’s this on the Argives’ Web page?” Paris asked the next day. “It says, ‘click here to download.’“
“HOmework Resource for Semester’s End,” Hector said. “It has material for calculus, physics, chemistry, Greek, history—almost everything! It must be an emergency resource for people who are behind in their studies.”
“It’s only good for the courses at Argive College, though,” Aeneas said.
“No, wait,” Paris said. “These are Trojan University course numbers! I’m taking most of these courses! We must have this!”
“Don’t download that program!” Cassandra screamed. No one paid attention, especially not Paris. He was down to a 1.5 average, and he was failing two courses.
“Wait, it might be a trick,” Hector warned. “We will download it to only one computer. If it does something bad, we won’t put it on the others.” The download took half an hour. “Now, run SETUP.EXE to install the program. Hmm, no harm done, all the files are still on the hard drive. The system’s not locking up or anything.” So the Trojans all downloaded HOmework Resource for Semester’s End.
Odysseus had timed his program to do its work two days later, and that was when HORSE wiped out the Trojans’ hard drives. They now had to spend sixteen hours a day cramming for their finals, and they could no longer duke it out with the Argives on the beach.
Menelaus got Helen back.
Clytemnestra found out about Agamemnon’s infidelity and dumped him—hard.
Odysseus bought a plane ticket for Ithaca, New York, but he found himself in Nepal while his luggage went to Ithaca, Greece. He finally got to Ithaca, New York, but by then he only had two days of vacation left.
Achilles had to quit the track team after a tendon injury.
Paris dropped out of Trojan University to become an insurance salesman. Hector struggled bravely, and he managed to finish his degree.
Aeneas left Trojan University in disgust, and he transferred to Seven Hills College. Seven Hills would one day become Romulus and Remus U, and it would name a building for Aeneas, but that’s another story.
Charles Kyffhausen is the SF/Fantasy pen name of the author of stories published in Fear and Trembling, Strange, Weird and Wonderful, Lorelei Signal, and others.