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#18: Netrunner Odyssey

by Jens Kreutzer

Though the movie Troy only hints at the depth of its classical sources, it has brought one of the oldest stories back to public attention: the story told in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, as well as Virgil's Aeneid. The influence of this ancient myth from Greek antiquity is so great that it extends even into Netrunner. Let's take a look at the two cards Trojan Horse and Siren.

The Iliad and the Aeneid tell us about the long siege of the city of Troy by the Greeks. Although heroes such as Achilles, Ajax and Odysseus (or Ulysses) were on the Greek side, after ten years there was still no sign of a decisive victory. The strong walls of Troy were not to be breached by force. Finally, wily Odysseus had an idea to defeat the Trojans by trickery. This excerpt of the Aeneid, in the English translation by Andrew Wilson, relates the story of the original Trojan horse:

"Battered by war, and let down by the fates, with now so many years slipping past, the leaders of the Danaans [=Greeks] built a mountain-like horse, thanks to the immortal assistance of Pallas, and clad its flanks with beams of silver-fir. They pretended it was an offering for a speedy homecoming: this was the story that was spread. They picked men by lot and, unobserved, hid them in its dark interior, closely packing the vast hollow belly with armed troops.

"There is an island, Tenedos, clearly visible from Troy: most celebrated and rich in resources while Priam's kingdom lasted - now there's just the bay with its unreliable anchorage for ships. This was where the Greeks sailed to, and hid on the deserted shore. We [=the Trojans] assumed they had gone home, making for Mycene with the wind behind them. And so all Troy shook itself free from its long agony. The gates were opened: we were pleased to visit the Dorian camp and the abandoned beach. [...]

"Some of us gasped at the deadly gift from the virgin Minerva, and marvelled at the hugeness of the horse. Thymoetes was first to suggest it be brought inside the walls and stationed on the acropolis. [...] Everyone readied themselves for the task and slid rollers under the feet, and tied ropes of hemp round its neck. The deadly engine, pregnant with armed men, mounted our walls. Boys and unmarried girls sang hymns around us, delighted to touch the rope with their hands. The horse crawled on, and came to rest menacingly in the centre of the city.

"Meanwhile the heavens revolved, and night rushed in from the stream of Oceanus, wrapping in deep shadow the earth and the sky and the guile of the Myrmidons [=Greeks]. The Trojans, scattered along the fortifications, were quiet. Sleep hugged their tired bodies. And now the Argive vanguard, ships in line, was heading out from Tenedos under the friendly silence of the complaisant moon, making for the familiar landing-places. The king's ship displayed a fire-signal, and Sinon [a Greek who had duped the Trojans into letting him and the horse into their city], protected by the unfair fates, thief-like loosened the pine-wood beams and released the bottled-up Danaans [=Greeks] from their womb.

"The horse, opened up, discharged them to the fresh air, and joyfully from the wooden cave emerged Thessandrus and Sthenelus, leading the way, then Ulysses the man of terror, sliding down the rope which had been dropped, and Acamas, and Thoas and Neoptolemus grandson of Peleus, and noble Machaon, and Menelaos, and Epeos, the actual builder of the device. They penetrated a city buried in sleep and wine. The sentries were cut down; once the gates were open, they welcomed in all their friends and joined forces, as planned."

So the Greeks hid in the wooden horse, which was then brought into the city of their enemies. The Trojans believed the horse to be a gift or a peace offering, while in fact it was their doom. This "Trojan horse" has become almost proverbial, and has been used metaphorically ever since to describe similar situations. Even in computer technology, the term can be found, as explained by

"Trojan horse: A destructive program that masquerades as a benign application. Unlike viruses, Trojan horses do not replicate themselves, but they can be just as destructive. One of the most insidious types of Trojan horse is a program that claims to rid your computer of viruses but instead introduces viruses onto your computer."

Although it would have been fitting to include a Trojan horse virus program in Netrunner, the flavor text on the card tells us that it is supposed to be "[t]he high-tech equivalent of a teller slipping a paint bomb into a money bag." This probably means that the agenda (or the data associated with it) stolen by the Runner somehow informs the Corp of its current whereabouts - and the Solo team can then hunt the Runner down. The Trojan horse (hidden away in the data) is taken into the Runner's home (or cyberdeck), and instead of disgorging Greek warriors, it transmits a homing signal. This is cleverly represented in the artwork by Mike Kimble, which blends antiquity with an all-too-near future.

Though victorious, Odysseus, the mastermind behind the Trojan horse, could not enjoy his triumph for very long: On his long journey home, he encountered many dangers and had to endure many hardships and twists of fate, as we can read in the Odyssey. One of the dangers that lurked on his way were the Sirens, usually depicted as women with the lower bodies of birds.

Here is Samuel Butler's English translation ( of the relevant passages. The sorceress Circe warns Odysseus:

"First you will come to the Sirens, who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men's bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men's ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must lash the rope's ends to the mast itself, that you may have the pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you, then they must bind you faster. [...]

"Here she ended [...]. I then went on board and told my men to loose the ship from her moorings; so they at once got into her, took their places, and began to smite the grey sea with their oars. [...]

"Then, being much troubled in mind, I said to my men, 'My friends, it is not right that one or two of us alone should know the prophecies that Circe has made me; I will therefore tell you about them, so that whether we live or die we may do so with our eyes open. First she said we were to keep clear of the Sirens, who sit and sing most beautifully in a field of flowers; but she said I might hear them myself so long as no one else did. Therefore, take me and bind me to the crosspiece half way up the mast; bind me as I stand upright, with a bond so fast that I cannot possibly break away, and lash the rope's ends to the mast itself. If I beg and pray you to set me free, then bind me more tightly still.'

"I had hardly finished telling everything to the men before we reached the island of the two Sirens, for the wind had been very favourable. Then all of a sudden it fell dead calm; there was not a breath of wind nor a ripple upon the water, so the men furled the sails and stowed them; then taking to their oars they whitened the water with the foam they raised in rowing. Meanwhile I look a large wheel of wax and cut it up small with my sword. Then I kneaded the wax in my strong hands till it became soft, which it soon did between the kneading and the rays of the sun-god son of Hyperion. Then I stopped the ears of all my men, and they bound me hands and feet to the mast as I stood upright on the crosspiece; but they went on rowing themselves. When we had got within earshot of the land, and the ship was going at a good rate, the Sirens saw that we were getting in shore and began with their singing.

"'Come here,' they sang, 'renowned Ulysses, honour to the Achaean name, and listen to our two voices. No one ever sailed past us without staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song - and he who listens will go on his way not only charmed, but wiser, for we know all the ills that the gods laid upon the Argives and Trojans before Troy, and can tell you everything that is going to happen over the whole world.'

"They sang these words most musically, and as I longed to hear them further I made by frowning to my men that they should set me free; but they quickened their stroke, and Eurylochus and Perimedes bound me with still stronger bonds till we had got out of hearing of the Sirens' voices. Then my men took the wax from their ears and unbound me."

In analogy to the dreadful voices of the mythical Sirens, a police siren or an air-raid siren is a device that makes a lot of noise to warn other people of danger. On the Netrunner card Siren, the artwork by David Logan once more fuses the modern and the mythical: In the foreground, something that might be a kind of police siren attracts Runners with loud noise (or data similarly alluring as the Sirens' advances to Odysseus), while in the background, a spider-like nemesis is lurking. A spider in its web is of course an archetypical image of a trap waiting for a victim, but this one sports a missile launcher and a laser targeting system. This might be a reference to the computer game Doom II, which featured spider-like cybercreatures with implanted heavy weaponry. Finally, the flavor text gives us an idea what kind of message (or "enchanting sweetness") sent out by the siren might be so alluring to Runners: "They'll come. Just leak one word: 'oops'".

To conclude: Siren is a classic, in almost every respect. In one respect, it's rather unfittingly a Proteus instead.

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