I find myself admiring its ingenuity, but there is something else. Something like disappointment. A sadness that the mortals should make such an effort to kill each other. Did we teach them that? Did they learn it in the phalanx while they prayed to the gods?

I travel with him to a conference hall, not far from where the presentation took place. There appear to be robust security arrangements, but he waves me in by showing his badge. I gain the impression that he may be more important than I had initially assumed.

There are no octopuses in here and little entertainment. At least, not as most people would define it. It is some kind of exhibition. All around, there are stalls with expensive backdrops and people standing around shiny pieces of equipment. Some of it seems to have been cut in half so the mortals can see inside it. I require no such concession, of course.

The only thing missing is customers. There are a few people wandering around. A few people in suits and one in uniform, but it is hardly a crowd. As if anticipating my question, my new friend explains what is happening.

“So, they only let a few people in at a time. Usually, it’s by appointment. It’s all very discreet. Our people are here.” As I follow in his wake, he waves a hand at me over his shoulder. “Me being at the steel thing was really just because I was here, anyway. You should see what we’re selling.”

It occurs to me that I did not think about what I was agreeing to. This is clearly a fair for selling military equipment. I have made weapons in the past. In fact, the previous night would be one example. However, I have long since lost interest in military contracts.

I am taken to a booth where a large green cylinder, almost taller than I, stands on the ground. Adam shows it to me as a father might present a successful child grasping a medal. “This is it. This is what we do. What do you make of it?”

I use my mind to look inside the cylinder, sensing each component. I had assumed it was some kind of explosive device, but it seems much too intricate. It is true that even seemingly simple devices can be surprisingly complicated, but this has machinery within it. For the moment, I am unable to divine its purpose. There seems too little explosive material for the size of the thing. He slowly spins the object around, and I note that it appears to be on some kind of turntable like those I have seen in some restaurants. This reveals that one side has been removed to expose its inner workings.

In such situations, I have learned to be prudent. I lift a nearby brochure and flick through it. Just in case later, I accidentally reveal knowledge I could not possibly have known by just looking at the thing. “It is for use against vehicles, I see.”

The mortal seems stunned. Have I misspoken? Surely not. The brochure states it clearly. I thought it to be an innocuous piece of information. I do not understand.

When he regains the power of speech, the nature of my misstep becomes clear. “You can read Chinese?”

I look at the brochure again. Oh. I did not notice. “Yes, I have…studied it in the past. For business reasons.”

He relaxes, impressed at this unconvincing explanation until his friend who is working the stall, a short, balding man, points at the brochure and whispers something to him. Adam then looks puzzled. “No, that one is Japanese. You read Japanese as well?”

This kind of thing is exactly why I should not try to pretend to be someone I am not. I sigh inwardly. “Yes, it is an interest of mine.” It is not. How could it be?

Adam processes the ludicrous information I have provided and appears to accept it. I decide to distract him. “What does it do exactly? Is it a bomb?”

There is a good-natured laugh. “In a way, but only in the same way that the Eiffel Tower is some pieces of iron joined together.”

The Eiffel Tower is indeed some pieces of iron joined together. I do not understand. He senses my confusion and turns to his friend. “Kyle, run the video.”

There is rock music, which the mortals often feel is appropriate to accompany acts of violence for some reason, and an unseen narrator describes the object’s function.

An animation shows a sibling of the object in front of me dropping through the sky before suddenly shedding its skin. The green panels encasing it fly off, exposing a set of ten silver canisters. These are then also ejected, sprouting parachutes and slowly drifting to the ground together. Bombs within bombs. I have heard of such things.

“…provides an efficient and effective means of degrading and eliminating enemy mobile capability…”

It sounds like an advertisement for some kind of domestic cleaning product. I watch as the canisters lose their parachutes and then rockets fire, sending them up into the air again, spinning. Four metal arms emerge from each of them, and they spin furiously as the arms release still smaller objects which fly through the air in all directions. It cannot be denied that it is an impressive design.

The narrative informs me that this is a cluster munition. I know such things exist.

Then something else happens. The smaller objects use lasers to scan the area, each selecting a vehicle to target. In case that is not enough, they search for heat sources using infrared sensors, looking for the engines of vehicles.

“…both active and passive detection and identification systems work harmoniously to ensure a successful outcome…”

When they have chosen the target, they explode, but only to change themselves. The explosion creates a blob of metal which forms into something like a spear. This then heads towards the tank or truck on the ground and destroys it.

The virtues of this nightmarish weapon are extolled by the narrator throughout. I find myself admiring its ingenuity, but there is something else. Something like disappointment. A sadness that the mortals should make such an effort to kill each other. Did we teach them that? Did they learn it in the phalanx while they prayed to the gods?

Adam seems proud, “Well? What do you think?”

I find it hard to put my feelings into words. “How much does such a thing cost?”

Adam beams. “Only a few hundred thousand dollars.”

I am horrified at both the expense and the affordability.

He looks at me expectantly. “Do you like it?”

I choose my words carefully. “It is not really my area. I know someone who would love it, though.”

“We call it The Wrath of Ares.”

Suddenly I am annoyed. “What?”

“The Wrath of Ares. He’s the Greek God of War. The most formidable warrior of all.”

In his own head, certainly. I grit my teeth. “I see.”

I wonder if he was involved in its design. Sometimes it seems there are no limits to his thirst for destruction. I remember him once trying to convince me to work on atomic weapons. Something about the scale of the devastation they could cause excited him. I did not want to. There is no honour in killing on that scale, no room for skill. “How might an army or a soldier defend against such a device?”

Adam laughs and looks at his colleague before looking back at me and shrugging his shoulders. “They don’t. They just die.”

They just die. Somehow I prefer the phalanx. Why am I here? I will be told soon.

He places his hand on my shoulder before he speaks again. It seems this is something I will have to tolerate. “We want to take the next step. This is old technology. It’s been in use for a while—”

I find myself gasping involuntarily. “It is not just an idea? It already exists?”

More puzzlement. “Oh yes, it’s been used many times, very successfully. But we want to build an anti-personnel version, maybe have it discriminate between uniforms, even individuals. Maybe put the terminal devices under control, let them fly around. Can you imagine them floating through a window, looking for someone?”

Indeed, I can. I must speak to my brother. What has he been teaching these mortals? What new horrors and torments does he have them building? He has always been irresponsible, never a thought for anyone except himself.

“That is quite a thought.”

“I know your company has some experience in this type of thing. How about you come on board with us?”

The idea holds no attraction for me, and using my reckless brother’s name for their product has not helped their case. I cannot storm out, but perhaps politeness will work. I am aware that some find it effective in these situations. “I am sorry. I do not involve myself with such weapons. It is just not something I am interested in.”

Adam seems disappointed. “Well, we can understand that, can’t we, Kyle?” He looks to his colleague, nodding vigorously, inducing Kyle to do the same. “Look, we don’t just do this kind of thing. We have a lot of divisions.” I see him searching his mind for ideas. “Remote sensing, communication, even pharmaceuticals.” His eyes briefly flick to my foot, and I consider becoming embarrassed. “Does that cause you pain? I bet what they give you doesn’t touch it, does it? You know we have all kinds of new approaches, new pathways, we could help with that. You could help us.”

I smile graciously but demur. “I do not know anything about medicine. And my circumstances are rather unique.”

His hands wave everything away again. “Well, you might be surprised what can be done. Anyway, forget about you working on the weapons. You could consult with us on other things, collaborate. Maybe we could talk about your needs just while you’re there, you know?” He moves closer as if he is confiding in me. “I’m going to be honest. Everyone knows you. We all love your work. Really. We’d love you to be one of our family. You’re like, you know, like a God to us, seriously.”

The words sting. I do not like to hear praise as it rarely seems sincere. However, it must be admitted that this mortal seems genuine. And the words he chooses mean something to me, even though I try to dismiss them.

Like a God? Part of a family?

I decide I need time to think. There is no need to inform my father for now. It is my company, after all, and there is no harm in exploring beneficial relationships. I exchange details with this Adam. I tell myself, although I still do not approve of the weapon. I do not have to have any part in its development.

For now, politeness compels me to walk with this Adam round the conference hall, examining the weapons on display before I bid him goodbye. I leave the conference hall and head back to my hotel. My leg is painful, and I do have a plane to catch. I feel the two of us may meet again soon.

Hephaestus (Iain Houston)
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