"Farwell, Odysseus" by J.G. Willem
A genetically enhanced super-human has to make an important choice about the person he keeps as a pet.
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"Farwell, Odysseus" by J.G. Willem
Back on Earth, I had a dog. Here, he has me.
I don’t know what to call him. He doesn’t have a name. The deos are beyond names. The sapiens are not.
Perhaps they have names with each other. They must. But their language hits my primitive ears like a dissonant warbling and means nothing to me. I can usually infer tone, which is helpful, and this is how I know the man likes me.
I call him Agamemnon, because he called me Odysseus, and when he showed me the works of Homer from millennia ago, I understood why. That is our bond: he is my captain, my master. I am his loyal servant. I guard and maintain his estate in Tumulo-Iugum while he walks the caldera of Olympus Mons on the planet Mars.
I don’t know what he does up there. None of us do.
What I do know is that while he is gone, I am in charge. I prowl the high walls at night and inhabit the watchtowers, looking out over the compound: a courtyard of bare, Martian soil surrounded by terracotta-tiled rooftops and the white stone columns that hold them up. I drink my wine a little less diluted than I would if he were there. It does get lonely, after all. The wine is like a warm blanket or a hug from my master. It dulls the aches and pains of aging, issuing in a pleasant numbness after the day’s travails.
To further combat the isolation, I communicate with fellow sapiens manning the walls of other estates via an interconnected system of speakerphones built into the towers and walkways.
There is one named Penelope, and she is my best friend. She tells me she has long black hair and blue eyes. When we are alone on the speakers, I feel as if the galaxy has dissolved around us, so it is only her and I in the void, floating, invisible to each other, yet linked by some cosmic tether that neither her nor I can reckon with but are grateful for.
I tell her that I love her, and she tells me the same.
We are the lucky ones, she tells me, and I agree with her.
There is another called Achilles, because he is tempestuous and often moody. Another, called Patroclus, because he is eager and naïve. Nestor, because he is wise. Hector, because he is brave. Paris, because he is foolhardy and selfish.
It must be obvious by now, but our masters are great admirers of the Greeks. Indeed, to my archaic eyes, they seem to have modelled themselves on the giants of Mount Olympus, going so far as to inhabit a mountain of the same name (albeit in Latin), on a planet named after a Latin god.
Of course, Olympus Mons is its original name, from before the outpost was first established in the middle of the third millennium. Just as Tumulo-Iugum is the outpost’s original name.
I have no idea what the deos call either of them now. Being a sapiens, I only have access to sapiens databases - and, as such, a very limited and curated pool of knowledge compared with what the deos are privy to, based on what the deos deem eligible for sapiens consumption.
We talk mainly when our masters are away, and since they seem to work in shifts or teams, there is a constant flux of sapiens available for conversation. I can see now the red lights of those who want to talk, the blue lights of those already engaged in speaking. The unlit bulbs represent those sapiens who either do not want to talk or whose masters are at home.
When our masters are at home, we are with them. That is what we are for, after all, and we love them. We love them more than we love ourselves. More than we love other sapiens.
More than I love Penelope. More than Penelope loves me.
When my master is away and Penelope’s is not, I am sad, because I cannot talk to her. I feel a deep ache in the pit of my stomach to hear her voice, but just knowing how happy she is with her master, Priam, brings me a little joy in my grief.
I am glad we sapiens have at least this semblance of intimacy, even if it is a compromise. A result of the distance required to keep us from breeding and spreading disease, from rising up in rebellion - though why anyone would want to is beyond me.
In many ways, we are howling dogs in the night. Barking at each other from our backyard fences. Some wanting to fight, most wanting to play. All feeling deep inside that there is something strange and unnatural about these walls keeping us apart, and that they should be torn down, even if the result is celebration, or breeding, or war - whether against each other or our masters.
One of the few upgrades Agamemnon has given me is a Selective Sleep modification, so I can keep an eye on things while he is gone, without the need for another sapiens to trade shifts with.
I am glad he did not get another sapiens. I would rather be lonely than share him with another.
Whenever I’m lonely, I think of Achilles. His master, Thetis, bought another sap called Briseis to swap shifts with him - the consequence being that Thetis’ love is now split between two saps instead of being reserved for just him.
No wonder he’s moody.
Selective Sleep is a common mod for a sapiens to be outfitted with. Most of the saps I know have it. We aren’t cheap, so it makes sense on a purely economic level.
But it isn’t purely economical. If it were, deos would just get androids to do what we do. They’re cheaper, more efficient. They don’t need sleep or food to begin with, just a charging port and a service every now and then.
But you can’t hug an android.