(AUTHOR’S NOTE: This flash fiction was written during a writers group meeting I attended. I was given a postcard with a photo and told to write a story inspired by it. I scanned the image and included it below. I thought at first it looked like a woman’s foot wearing a dance shoe, but then I thought it looked like a foot wearing a Greek sandal. That brought about this little tale. Enjoy!)
Achilles, clad in his best chiton, tapped into his warrior’s training as he rose onto his tiptoes and spun. His partner, Helen of Troy, whose face was ready to launch another thousand ships, spun with him, the skirt of her gold-trimmed white peplos billowing. But as Achilles descended, he stumbled and fell, nearly dragging Helen down with him.
“That’s the tenth time you tried that turn!” exclaimed Helen. “I’m going to need a new dance partner at this rate! The Greek Gala is only a few days from now!”
“I’m sorry,” replied Achilles, cradling his left foot. “I’ve not been the same since that heel injury during the Trojan War.”
Helen sighed. “Good thing I know an excellent podiatrist.”
Remember my short story, “Baptized in Fire“? Well, I’ve added something new to it, something I want to keep adding to the other stories on my site: illustrations. I commissioned my brother Jarod Marchand, a young aspiring artist, to create some artwork of the battlemech designated Achilles in the piece. He gave it to me recently, and I posted it just now. Check it out.
My goal is to use artwork and photographs done by myself or other aspiring artists I know as illustrations for my stories (FYI: I myself can’t draw, but I do love photography). Stay tuned to see more work from other great artists you don’t know (yet).
My few seconds of exhilaration ended when my Avatar warmech met the ground. My legs felt like they were being smashed together at the knees, illusionary pain ripping through me. The cerebral interface in the back of my head ached as if a bee with a lightning rod for a stinger had stung me. I think I lose at least a hundred brain cells every time that happens.
I hate landings.
I stood, the Avatar—whose name I had yet to learn—mimicking me. I looked up through its visor-like window and saw the Beowulf beginning its ascent into the rusty sulfuric sky. Only then did it dawn on me that the interior of the Avatar felt like a sauna. The fiery glow of lava geysers flashed in the distance. Ripples of heat distorted my vision, making me wonder if I was sober.
“The deepest bowels of Hell may be reserved for traitors, but planet Hell is reserved for Plugs like me,” I said.
“Actually, Retro,” chimed a computerized, seemingly British voice, “this is Helios, an arid, volcanic planet with a—“
“I know what the freakin’ planet’s name is, Bill Nye,” I injected.
“Why do you refer to me by the name of a twentieth century television science teacher?”
“They call me ‘Retro’ for a reason.”
“Regardless, my designation is not ‘Bill Nye.’ It is Achilles.”
“What?” I blurted. “My last training mission, and what Avatar do they give me? The greenest, most annoying one we have. Why not Osiris? I’d even take Hrothgar for that matter!”
“Hrothgar’s jump jets are malfunctioning, and Osiris has been assigned to—“
“It was a rhetorical question,” I interrupted. What’d they give me? Napoleon in a box or a computerized know-it-all?
“I will have you know that I have been programmed with over ten zettabytes of military strategy,” said Achilles indignantly.
I grunted, muffling a curse. “Do me a favor Achilles, and stay outta my head!” Four years of training, and I still wasn’t used to sharing my thoughts with an A.I.
“It is not my fault that—“
Suddenly our verbal calisthenics were interrupted.
“Cadet, respond!” ordered a familiar bulldoggish voice in my headset.
Stifling a gasp, I snapped to attention, though he wasn’t there. It’s a habit one develops in the Cyber Brigade, especially under Gen. Cleese. “Yessir.”
“Your objective is simple,” said Cleese. “Navigate this volcanic valley. All you have to do is survive; no assistance, no retreat, no rescue. The Beowulf will be waiting to retrieve you at valley’s edge.”
Reassuring, I thought sarcastically, knowing full well that Achilles was recording my thoughts.
“Baptism in Hell. Only the best pass. The rest”—he paused—“still burn there. Good luck, cadet.”