The Hero of Algol
Chapter 6: Mythic Proportions
**** Student documentary film project: The Hero of Algol, transcript excerpt. ****
Erin Maslac: Can you tell us where we are?
Alis Landale: Well, this is the Camineet Museum of Ancient History. This handsome stone man here is Perseus Eurymedon.
Erin: Any similarities to other handsome stone men you've met?
Alis: ...? Ah, you mean Odin. Heh. ... Well, I suppose Odin and Perseus have a number of things in common. Battling Medusa not least among them. Of course a big difference would be that this is just a normal statue, carved a century after Perseus's death, as should be obvious since that's a carving of Medusa's head he's holding.
Erin: Is that what the real Medusa looked like?
Alis: Uh... Kinda, I guess. I never got a good look at her face, obviously.
Erin: You could have safely looked at her reflection in the mirror shield though, right?
Alis: I guess I could have. But before she was dead Odin had the shield and things were a little bit hectic. And after she was dead... well... I didn't feel much like ogling her corpse. I was still averting my gaze at that point. Better safe than sorry, when dealing with that kind of magic.
Erin: And how about Perseus? Does this statue look anything like the real thing?
Alis: You mean, presuming that the dreams I had involving Perseus were of the real him and not just my subconscious's rendition of him?
Erin: You don't think they were real?
Alis: I don't know. It's a romantic notion to be sure, two people meeting in their dreams across a thousand years of time. But that's actually one of the things that makes me skeptical of the idea. Anyway, if the dreams were real then this statue is a somewhat close depiction of him. The Perseus in my dreams wasn't quite as tall though, or as broad shouldered, or as handsome. That's a common theme through almost all the art here, in fact. People always seem to want to make him more majestic and regal and... statuesque than our most accurate accounts of him indicate.
Erin: Like in this painting here, for example?
Alis: Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the sea monster. This is actually a favorite painting of mine.
Erin: Oh yeah? Why is that?
Alis: Well, mostly just because it's so nice looking. Andromeda is beautiful and looks terrified because she hasn't noticed Perseus coming to her rescue yet. The artist made Perseus look both frightened and determined as he dashes in to save her. I really like that touch, I think it captures wonderfully how it feels to have to run toward danger in a way that I almost never see. Most artists or directors depicting Perseus -- or any action hero, actually -- putting themselves in harms way, make them look bold and fearless, maybe defiant too, or angry. But this Perseus really rings true for me, although, yeah, the artist kind of went a bit overboard on that gleaming musculature.
Erin: Hah. So you think this Perseus was made too handsome too?
Alis: Well, kind of. Andromeda is beautiful, Perseus is handsome, and the Cetus is huge and terrifying and... sleek.
Erin: You sound like that's not how a "Cetus" is supposed to look.
Alis: The Cetus is a mythical creature, so the artist can paint it however he likes I guess. But I've fought a lot of sea monsters, and they are not... good looking. They're mostly pretty repulsive, actually. Anyway, the other thing I really like about this painting is how it epitomizes that most fundamentally heroic act, the rescue.
Erin: Hmm. So you think rescuing others is a more essentially heroic trait than something like generosity or self-sacrifice?
Alis: Well... maybe. Generosity might be more important and realistically performable in an everyday context, but... uh... it's not the sort of grand heroic act that people like to write stories about. I mean... Okay, imagine what the scene depicted in this painting would look like if Perseus wasn't in it.
Erin: ... It'd just be a monster about to eat a princess. Right?
Alis: Exactly. It'd be a picture of a tragedy. A heroic act, I think, is one that averts an otherwise inevitable tragedy. Self-sacrifice and the willingness to take personal risks, courage, those aren't unimportant. Intentions matter. But outcomes matter more. A self-sacrifice that fails to achieve the intended good outcome is just another tragedy. Moving, perhaps. Maybe even inspiring. But a rescue, even without any risk or sacrifice on the part of the rescuer, is still a cause for celebration.
Erin: But wouldn't that mean that anyone could be a hero, just by the circumstance of being in the right place at the right time, if being a hero doesn't require any unusual courage or effort?
Alis: Uh... ... no, I think... ... huh... maybe you're right. Maybe intentions are more important than outcomes...
Erin: You're not as much of an expert on heroics as I thought you'd be.
Alis: I'm sorry!
**** end excerpt ****
AW 342, July 24 (day 48)
Myau is a slave driver. Seriously. We don't even get one day's break before he's shoving us all out to the spaceport to catch the next flight to Paseo. We're in space again. Already. The fact that we have a five day flight on which to cool our heels sort of makes up for it though, I guess.
Myau says he's working on a backup plan in case the cake bribe ploy doesn't work. One way or another we're going to meet with the Governor, even if we have to ... I don't know, do something heroic in or near Paseo to do it. Wheels within wheels, spinning in Myau's head. He says it takes more than just strength and ambition to become a great hero. You also have to think about what you're doing. That's what he told Odin today.
They invited me to join a strategizing session with them, but I didn't feel up to it. I just wanted to go someplace where I could turn off the lights and stare at the stars for a while. Being tired and stressed-out sucks.
I had the nightmare again last night. It woke me up in the middle of the night and left me too freaked out to get back to sleep. I was in an awful mood all morning because of it. I almost changed my mind about coming to Motavia, even. Once I finally settled down though, I got to spend the rest of the day feeling fuzzy-headed and sleep-deprived. I'm seriously thinking about talking to a therapist to try to figure out a way to get these stupid dreams to stop. Knock it off, subconscious! I don't know what hidden fears or whatever it is you're trying to work through or sort out, but these dumb dreams are just making me feel worse!
I'm very tired and not thinking about Noll at all. Goodnight.
**** Interview with Odin - excerpt. AW 344, Nov. 10 ****
Odin: Perseus? Yeah, I guess he did have a strong influence on me, growing up. You remember that old show, "Perseus: The Legendary Travels"?
Odin: I watched it religiously as a kid. I used to love that stuff. Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be Perseus when I grew up. Of course as I got older my dreams became more realistic. I wanted to be like my grandfather in the army, taming the Dezorian wilds, or like my father in the police, protecting Scion by fighting crime. But thanks to Lassic's Robotcop Initiative, those doors became closed to me before I reached adulthood.
Interviewer: You came of age at just the wrong time.
Odin: Or at just the right time. Forced by circumstance into becoming a monster Hunter, I would sometimes recall my childhood idol. As Palma got more and more dangerous, as travel and agriculture and trade began to break down, Algol seemed to be growing ever more like the Algol that Perseus lived in. Sometimes after fighting one or more monsters, especially after particularly dangerous ones, I found myself asking: "What would Perseus do?"
Interviewer: Like, what would he do if he were alive today? Or what would you do if you were him?
Odin: Yeah. Either. Both. Perseus wouldn't just stand by and watch the world go to hell. "The Legendary Travels" is deeply cheesy and kind of painful to watch now, but the thing about it that made the most lasting impression on me was the fact that an awful lot of the incredible things the show depicted were based on true stories. My childhood hero had been a real person, who, in Algol's darkest hour, had set out to save the worlds, and did a lot of amazing things along the way.
Interviewer: So he really was an inspiration to you.
Odin: A thousand years ago Perseus was a man who dreamed big, and fought hard for what he believed in. He threw himself headlong at every evil thing in Algol, determined to save the land he loved, the people he loved, and the woman he loved from any more destruction and death. "If I lose, I lose only my life. But if I win, I can save us all!"
Interviewer: The famous quote from the show.
Odin: It wasn't something I decided quickly. But one day, after asking myself "what would Perseus do?" for the hundredth time, I found that I finally had an answer that I liked.
Interviewer: And what was that?
Odin: "The same thing that I'm going to do. After all, I have nothing to lose but my life, and there are worlds that need saving!"**** end excerpt ****
AW 342, July 25 (day 49)
I had the nightmare again. Two nights in a row now. But it was a little bit different this time. Well, I guess it's a little bit different every time, but this time it was a little bit different in a kind of odd way. I've been thinking about it all morning, trying to figure out what it means.
As always it began with Perseus standing in the black void. He looked exhausted. And scared. Like he knew that the unwinnable battle was coming and he was only there because he had no choice. He had his famous mirrored shield in his hand for once, though I think he and I both seemed to feel that it would not be nearly enough of an advantage to let him defeat what was coming. I wonder why I dreamed that he had that shield now, when I never did before.
In the stark, dark tension before the monster's appearance Perseus looked around and spotted me. At first he looked annoyed and angry, but then he relaxed a little and asked me, "Girl, what's your name?"
I was startled, but I think I said something like, "I'm Alis." He thought about that for a bit, and I started to feel awkward about the silence, so I added, "and you're Perseus, the legendary hero." I guess I didn't want him to think I didn't know who he was.
He gave me a funny look then, I'm not really sure what it meant. He started to ask me something else, but then we both heard the monster's roar rumbling nearby. It had a voice like a dozen wrecked hovercars simultaneously being ripped apart by the jaws of life. Perseus forgot about me immediately and turned to face his fate. And I... woke up.
That was kind of the weirdest thing about it. My heart was pounding when I awoke, I was still scared and shaken by the nightmare, but not nearly as much as usual. I'm not sure, but I think I may finally be getting over whatever this subconscious fear is, so that's good.
Odin and Myau spent the whole morning socializing and bragging and giving the whole spiel about how awesome Odin is to some of the other passengers. Most people seem to be encouraging and enjoy the stories those two tell, but they also tend to be more than a little skeptical of the chances that a self proclaimed 'Hero' out to save the world has.
I suppose it's time I stop being an antisocial recluse on this flight. Let's see if the testimony of a battle-scarred teenaged girl makes Myau's stories any more compelling.
AW 342, July 25 (day 49)
Wow! ... Today was a little bit... harrowing. I've very quickly become the most famous person on this ship, I think. Myau and Odin can really spin a story when they want to, and apparently I make a very sympathetic protagonist. To hear Odin tell it, I'm apparently a uniquely talented magical and sword-swinging combat prodigy who he's taken under his wing in order to teach me and nurture my abilities. And Myau's version of my story had me swearing vengeance upon Lassic and every evil thing in Algol the instant my brother was ruthlessly gunned down by Robotcops. Then I apparently set out and almost immediately rescued both him and Odin from captivity and petrification, respectively, on my quest for justice.
I tried to keep their exaggerations and half-truths reigned in as best I could, but changing the subject to what it was like working together to defeat skeletons and werebats and evil dead, aiding the people of Eppi and Naula, and "exploring" the long lost ruins of Iala did not deflect as much attention as I'd hoped. Unfortunately, Myau and Odin forgot that I'm traveling under a fake name, so now I'm Ashley Chase, whose nickname happens to be "Alis" for no particularly good reason. At least, that's what I'll try to claim if anyone notices the discrepancy. Damn those two! My dreams of being a super awesome secret agent are being crushed before my eyes!
Four more days until Motavia. I don't know if I'm more excited or nervous about what we're going to try to do when we get there. Hopefully by the time we're actually doing it I'll just be excited.
AW 342, July 26 (day 50)
"Stop toying with me, Saccubus! Come and fight me if you're going to! If you're trying to teach me a lesson about the futility of hope in a world such as this, then I refuse to learn it!"
Perseus looked tired but defiant when he said that, waiting for the monster to make its appearance. Waiting for the 'Saccubus'. Then he looked over at me, piercing me with his hard gaze. (No, seriously. He had a really hard gaze.)
"And who are you, Alis? You're not someone I know. Why are you here? What do you represent?"
I didn't know how to answer him. I think I said something stupid like, "I... um...". Then the monster's face crept out of the darkness, and Perseus fought his doomed battle against it. It was weird though. For a while at least I felt less horror watching the fight, and more a sort of fascination. Maybe it was because Perseus was fighting with more skill than I'd ever seen before. And I don't just mean more than I've ever seen in these dreams before, but with more skill than I've seen anyone fight with, ever. He had moves that I didn't know it was even possible to aspire to. It was incredible and inspiring, and it didn't look staged at all, not like an over the top action sequence from a movie. This felt like something that a person who was practiced enough might actually be able to pull off in real life.
That didn't last though. The Saccubus was still faster, stronger, and much more durable than poor Perseus. I think I finally reached the end of the dream for once. The fascination ended and a sense of horror returned, but I didn't wake up until the monster was grinning over Perseus's broken, bloody pieces. It was still a very bad dream. Still a very unnerving state of mind to wake up in. But it's getting a lot less bad than it used to be.
Now I'm kind of wishing I had a video of it and not just a memory. I want to watch Perseus fight like that again.
**** Interview with Myau - excerpt AW 344, Oct. 24 ****
Interviewer: Perseus is a topic that seems to keep emerging. How has the story of Perseus influenced your life?
Myau: ... Which one?
Interviewer: "Which one?" ... Which "Perseus"?
Myau: Which story. For the longest time I thought Perseus was a fictional character because the details of the stories told about him were so inconsistent. Was it a sword or a sickle he used to kill Medusa, and who gave it to him? Did he win, steal, or have given to him as a gift the cap of darkness, the magic wallet, and the winged shoes? Different stories say different things. Not only that, but so many of the specifics of his stories sounded far too fantastical to be real. His supposedly divine conception, the prophecy that he would kill his grandfather (and the eventual fulfillment of that prophecy), his grandfather's attempt to kill him as an infant, growing up in a distant land, setting off on an epic quest because of a promise the king of that land tricked him into making, receiving assistance in his task from the gods, slaying multiple monsters famous for being undefeatable, saving and marrying a princess, being credited with saving all of Algol... do you want me to go on?
Interviewer: That's okay, I think I see what you're getting at.
Myau: I think what I found the most inspiring and fascinating about the stories of Perseus though, was the fact that the man is practically worshipped by so many people, and for exactly the same reasons that make me think his stories sound fake! People want to believe in an impossibly perfect and larger than life savior of all Algol! Even now that historical and archeological evidence has overturned some of the more grandiosely absurd parts of his story, there are still people who believe every mythical word of it!
Interviewer: And... this is something you think is inspiring about Perseus?
Myau: You asked me what I found inspiring about his "story". If the stories of Perseus influenced who am I today in any important way, it would be because they taught me that it takes more than just great deeds to make a legendary hero, it also takes great storytelling.
**** end excerpt ****
AW 342, July 26 (day 50)
Augh! Myau and Odin have gone off the deep end! It seemed like every time I turned around today I'd catch Myau telling another one of his truth-straining stories. And he doesn't even bother to keep all of his stories straight! Just because Nero and I were orphans, Myau's taken that as license to "speculate" on all manner of ridiculous possibilities as to our parentage, or my parentage rather, since most of the times he did this he seemed to completely forget that I even have a brother. One minute I'm perhaps descended from Espers, the next from royalty in exile, and the next from God himself.
Whenever I tried to do damage control Myau would play it all off as a joke. A bit of fun to pass time on the trip. Odin seems perfectly fine with all of this. In fact, he likes playing along with Myau's stories. When I tried to confront him in private, Myau said that he has a "serious purpose" behind all of this storytelling. He says that he's "testing the waters" to "see what sticks". (I let him know that he was "mixing his metaphors".) It's all apparently part of his "plan B" to convince the Governor to want to meet with us in case the cake incentive isn't enough.
I let Myau and Odin both know that I don't mind them hyping themselves up to get the support they need to do what needs to be done. But I don't approve of any outright lying, especially when it's about me. I don't know if I got through to them though. Odin seemed like he would humor me because he didn't really care one way or the other. Myau though, just rolled his eyes at me and made halfhearted assurances that he would "tone it down".
Rrrrrrgh! They shouldn't call themselves "heroes" if they're not going to act like ones. And that means no lying!
Three more days until planetfall. Hopefully those two won't have driven me completely crazy by then.
**** Student documentary film project: The Hero of Algol, transcript excerpt. ****
Erin: You seem pretty passionate about this.
Alis: I happen to think that truth matters a lot. There are plenty of epic tales about mythic heroes, they may all be interesting stories and contain insights into the ways that past cultures viewed the world, but the most important and inspiring of these tales are the ones that are about real people and actual events. The story of Perseus foremost among them. It really bothers me that so much of the tradition handed down about him is most likely fiction, and that we'll probably never be able to either verify or falsify so many of the most interesting stories told about him.
Erin: Are there any stories in particular that you're most curious about?
Alis: It's said that a thousand years ago -- almost exactly -- Perseus fought and defeated a force of evil so powerful and malevolent that if he had failed, it would have destroyed all of Algol. There's very little historical evidence to support this story, and it sounds an awful lot like an exaggeration, but...
Erin: It sounds a little bit... too familiar now.
Alis: That's right. If we combine what my friends and I experienced, with the story of Perseus from a thousand years ago, and with what little is known about the Esper Wars and the civilization collapse that devastated Algol two thousand years ago, then a worrisome pattern emerges.
Erin: You're talking about the Millennial Hypothesis.
Alis: Yeah. ... Though the biggest problem with the Millennial Hypothesis is that too much of the "evidence" for it is anecdotal or circumstantial. This is why I think truth matters so much, and why I hate the mythologizing of true stories. If we actually knew what's been going on in Algol every thousand years we could pass that information on as a warning to our descendants, or better yet figure out where it's coming from and put a stop to it! But all we really have is speculation about a mysterious "Dark Force" that might turn out to be nothing more than half-baked paranoia.
Erin: That's pretty harsh. I thought you were one of the Millennial Hypothesis's strongest proponents.
Alis: I'm one of the people who tells one of the most important anecdotes behind it. That doesn't mean I don't see how shaky the foundation it's resting on appears to be from an objective stance. If we knew more truth about Perseus and fewer myths, we might be in a better position to figure out what really happened two years ago. And what may or may not happen a thousand years from now.
**** end excerpt ****
AW 342, July 27 (day 51)
Perseus smiled at me. It was a weak smile, but that's how last night's dream began. Then he called out to the darkness, "I'm not afraid of you, Saccubus! I've figured you out!" Although... to be honest, I think he still sounded a little bit scared.
"I've figured out who the girl is!" he yelled while looking around. "Alis represents all of Algol, doesn't she?!" (This kind of surprised me, I'll admit, and confused me. Did my dream really try to interpret itself? It hadn't even occurred to me that the dreamer might herself represent something abstract within a dream. Trying to grok the idea still makes my head hurt, actually.)
"Alis is all the innocent women and children out there who have never heard of me, who will never know who I am, but who I'm fighting to save! And they're here why? You make me fight you and fail, over and over again, while they just stand by and watch! For what?! To humiliate me?! To convince me my struggle is pointless?!"
At this point what he was saying made me realize that I had never tried to help Perseus in these dreams. I tried to move but my body felt like lead that was tied to more lead. I somehow felt that I wasn't in any immediate danger from the coming violence, but neither was I capable of intervening in it, now that it had occurred to me to want to.
"You may have scared me, and you may hurt me, but these dreams aren't real! And you have never once defeated me!! I will not be deterred from my quest, Saccubus! I will fight against you and all of your kind! Whether they ever hear of me or not, I will continue to fight for Alis and everyone she represents until the day that I die!"
Okay, I'm paraphrasing. I don't actually remember everything he said word for word, but I think that captures the heart of it. I may have put it a little more eloquently than he did, in fact. Anyway, then the Saccubus finally emerged from the darkness, a little farther away than usual. Perseus stood his ground as it closed on him and they began fighting.
Thinking back, Perseus has changed a lot in these dreams from when I first began having them. He's seemed a little bit older and more weary of late than he used to, but also much more steady and self-assured. Not to mention much more deft and canny in battle. In my first dreams of him he just seemed like a man. A man trying vainly to defend himself from an overwhelming terror. The Saccubus hasn't become any weaker or less terrible, but Perseus seems to have almost completely transcended that earlier man, becoming a near living miracle of courage, strength, determination, and tenacity.
Perseus began the fight cautiously, but fighting at a level that might have been even higher than last time. He was still outmatched, but by less than ever before, and his earlier words were still resonating in me. To the point that I found myself whispering words of encouragement. "Come on... You can do it," and the like, and praying for a good outcome to happen for once. And then it occurred to me: 'Why am I whispering?'
So I began shouting, "You can do it, Perseus!" "I believe in you!" "Don't let him win!"
Okay, wow. That looks much more embarrassing and cliched cold on the page than it felt at the time. In the dream I was really getting worked up with excitement. And then Perseus glanced over at me a couple times (very briefly, he was pretty busy) and he had this look of utter amazement and shock on his face.
And it was like I'd fired a starting pistol that Perseus hadn't realized he'd been waiting to hear. The energy and fervor he suddenly threw into the fight was utterly galvanizing. He was inspired by me and I was inspired by him and we fed off of each other's energy in a sort of positive feedback loop. I became Perseus's own personal cheering section shouting for him harder and harder, and he fought against the monster harder and harder, electrifying me more and more with what he was capable of.
And then, in a moment of clarity, I realized that, for the first time, there was a chance that Perseus might actually be able to win. And then I woke up. Disappointed. Disappointed! These nightmares never leave me feeling like that! It's always a cold sweat and horror or stark terror and an hour-long anxiety attack! For the first time ever I wanted to go back to sleep to see how it ended!
But of course I couldn't. I was way too keyed up. So I decided to write it all down instead. But now that I've thought about it, it does sort of feel complete now. I don't need to see how it ended, I know how it ended. Hope itself was the end.
I'm really glad I wrote this one down. I don't want to forget this dream. It's given me a lot to think about. I think I'm finally ready to tell Odin and Myau about these nightmares. But I swear, if Myau tries to spin my dreaming about Perseus into some sort of ridiculous sign or omen, then I'm going to klonk him right on his furry yellow head!
AW 342, July 27 (day 51)
"No lying," the girl with the forged identification documents vociferously insisted. God, I didn't even realize what a hypocrite I was being when I wrote that yesterday.
I've been feeling a lot better. Forged IDs notwithstanding, it seems the truth is winning through in the end. Myau has become quite the popular character on this ship (and not just because he's fuzzy and cute), people love to gather around and hear his incredible dramatic stories, but then afterward a bunch of them will come to me to find out what really happened in whatever event he'd just overembellished.
Myau's taking it all with good humor though. At one point a group of us were gathered in the forward lounge talking, I was telling a little bit about the dreams I've been having and the conversation turned into a discussion of everybody's favorite Perseus stories or memories. Turns out Odin used to love the old Perseus: The Legendary Travels show as a kid. (Not a big surprise, that. I always suspected the guy was raised on a diet rich in cheese.)
Some people think Perseus is overplayed, but it was fun to hear each person's own personal and peculiar reason for being fond of everyone's favorite legendary hero. There were a few pretty funny anecdotes and associations in there, and some were really strange and unexpected.
Ah well. Two more days before we have to get serious again. I'm glad this flight is turning out to be so relaxing. Goodnight.
**** Student documentary film project: The Hero of Algol, transcript excerpt. ****
Erin: As a child, you also had a fascination with Perseus, didn't you?
Lutz: *smiling charmingly* Oh absolutely! Although that would almost be a given for someone in my position back then.
Erin: What position was that?
Lutz: Growing up, I was taught the ancient history and traditions of the Esper race. Among these is the legend that in the times when Algol becomes shrouded by a malign darkness that threatens to consume and destroy our three fair worlds, a special, exceptional hero always arises to vanquish this evil and restore the light. Two millennia ago this hero was supposedly an Esper named Noah. One millennium ago, it was a Palman named Perseus. And two dozen years ago it was prophesied that the new hero would be a young Esper prodigy named Lutz.
**** end excerpt from The Hero of Algol ****