In the Madness of War

Palomedes looked around the briefing room in almost childlike wonder. He’d made it. This was the centre of things. The people sat around this table were the decision-makers and crisis-solvers, the people who kept the City safe and running. There was Achilleus, sullen hero of a hundred headlines, and here the Amazon, whose logistical genius had kept the War viable, and the man standing up to speak, Field Marshal Agamemnon, needed no introduction. Truly this meeting was a dream come true.

“As you know,” Agamemnon said, “the situation is not good.” Data flickered across the screen behind him. “Our initial estimates saw Ilium falling before the New Year. That was nine years ago.”

Palomedes watched as he summarised the various twists and turns. None of it was that new to him, he was disappointed to realise. Short of a few specifics he hadn’t previously had access to – the decisive evidence for Ilium’s despicable use of chemical weaponry had, it seemed, been kept from the media for tactical reasons – it turned out that most of what he had had access to at his previous security clearance was the long and short of it. Still, he paid close attention, and tried to memorise the outline as best he could. Of course, note-taking and personal recording was forbidden.

“Nothing no one here didn’t already know, I suspect,” Agamemnon concluded. “All clear, Colonel Palomedes?” Suddenly singled out like this, Palomedes could do little but stammer and nod. “Well then. Any suggestions?”

Thinking that Agamemnon was still talking to him, Palomedes opened his mouth to reply. He had been considering this – who hadn’t? He was going to suggesta limited chemical response – show Ilium that the government could overpower them at their own game, if it so chose – but Patroclus, Achilleus’s strategist and right-hand man, cut across him. Palomedes closed his mouth, embarrassed.

“We need something new. A radical alternative,” Patroclus told the room.

“I agree,” General Menelaus added. “I don’t mean to impugn anyone in this room, but the situation is clearly out of our control. We need someone who can see the situation in a new light – perhaps think of something that we can’t, having been involved for so long.”

Agamemnon was nodding, and Palomedes took heart. “Have we considered a response in kind to Ilium’s chemical attack?” The room, silent, looked at him as one. He gulped and continued. “Just a limited response – but I’m sure that a limited response would show them – well, that the government commands resources that they do not have access to – and maybe…”

In the face of Agamemnon’s stony glare, he petered out. “We will not resort to war crimes, even if our opponent should,” he said firmly. Palomedes swore that the Amazon was quietly laughing, mocking him, and he turned red.

“No,” the Field Marshal continued, “We need access to resources that we don’t currently have. Like Menelaus says, a fresh pair of eyes – a fresh solution, a different skillset…”

“Well, we’ve got standard military responses ably covered,” growled Achilleus.

“Then maybe we need a response from outside the military?”

“I agree. Something more experimental.”

“Could the scientific community help, I wonder?” Patroclus thought aloud. “Obviously not our usual contacts, but there are areas we haven’t yet exploited. Psychology, perhaps? Mental manipulation, or thought mapping, or something…”

And then, with a sinking heart, Palomedes realised why he was here.

“I know someone in that field,” he muttered. This time, he merely felt resigned when everyone turned to stare at him. “The leader in that field, even. They’re an old friend from university – we studied together, but they were always smarter than the rest of us. Ulysses, is the name. Currently researching at the University of Island. But I warn you,” he added, taking a perverse pleasure that he could throw some small spanner into their careful setup, “they won’t help you. They always were an idealist. I doubt that they support the war effort.”

“Is that so?” the Amazon mused. “We must have some leverage. I’m sure we could convince them of their patriotic duties somehow. They have a child, correct?”

“…Yes. A son. Telemachos.”

“Well, we always need more conscripts for the forward trenches. The casualty rate is 75%, I believe – those are the latest accurate statistics?”

“Unpublished, but yes,” Patroclus nodded.

“But we all must play our part, and I’m Telemachos would be glad to do service on behalf of his parent.”

“Excellent.” Agamemnon clapped his hands together. “Good work, people. Let’s hope that this Ulysses can provide the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for. I’m sure they will see the urgency of the situation – but perhaps, Palomedes, as an old friend, you might be better placed to persuade them of the…irrational nature of any resistance.”

Palomedes could not speak to bow to the inevitable. He simply nodded.

“Good man.”