"Good match. Good match. Good match."
Slowly and painfully the two opposing columns shuffled past one another and mumbled the customary and obligatory words. Their once proud uniforms were caked with dust and more than a few showed the darkened splashes of dried blood. The elaborate garb of the victors was now hardly distinguishable from that of the vanquished. Both sides of the procession had removed their helmets to reveal weathered and weary faces streaked with sweat and devoid of smiles or frowns. In a few instances, ancient veterans who had engaged on past fields paused for a moment and with a slight nod, paid silent homage to yesterday's glories. The mood was solemn and empty, without the back-slapping joy that once followed every match. Even the occasional high fives and quick skins were exchanged without the old enthusiasm and only as an embarrassing afterthought.
"ONE HUNDRED HOURS, Bay-bee!" The words shattered the muted atmosphere when the two captains finally met at the end of the line. "It took just ONE HUN-DRED hours." Achilles' eyes were now ablaze; his pulse rapid. Achilles followed his words by grasping the startled Hector's forearm in a death grip and pulling him close. "In your face, Captain Hot Shot."
"Knock it off, Achilles," chided Agamemnon, who had not yet faded from the scene. "Any more of your taunting and you sit out the next match. You know the rules."
Achilles gave Hector's arm one last rough squeeze, then released him. "Good to see you again, Heck-tor. It's been awhile." The two antagonists stood facing each other in the middle of the flat, dusty plain.
Hector regained his composure and replied. "Good to see you again, too. How did you fare in this one?"
"Not bad. Lost a body to a SAM the first day, but otherwise no prob-lem-oh. And you?"
Hector smiled, spread his arms, and did a three-sixty. "Not a scratch." Then, losing his smile he added, "You know, I actually believed I might never see you and the others again. Ever."
"Hey, don't you keep up with the times. I really thought these mortals might be finished with us. By Zeus, in the last few years they have dissolved alliances, destroyed weapons, lowered barriers, and have even stopped calling one another 'the evil empire.' It looked grim."
"Ah, that's just talk. Those mortals will always be fighting somewhere," replied Achilles.
"Sure they still fight, but not the kind of fighting that's fit for heroes and gods. You call Afghanistan a match? Paris and Ajax got bored handling that one on their own. And Somalia was over before Odysseus could even find it. Of course, Odysseus always did have trouble getting somewhere." Hector laughed at his own little joke, then stopped. "Seriously, the mortals frightened me with all this peace, love and brotherhood talk."
"But they always come back," said Achilles. "Once they started praying for victory instead of peace, we had 'em. Oh yes, we heard. 'God, grant us peace,' became 'Lord, guide my bomb to the target,' and 'Shalom' turned into 'My Allah grant me the blood of my enemy.' And who could forget the oft repeated 'I shall not fear the terror of the night or the arrows that fly by day.'"
"Hey," shot back Hector. "That's a low blow. I could have scored points on you had those SCUD got through. You cheated with PATRIOT."
"Cheated? Cheated? Look who's talking cheated. Just what do you call the atom bomb, Heck-tor?"
"Yea? And just who started air raids, Ark-hilles?"
"So, you used poison gas."
"What, tanks don't count?"
Achilles put his arm around Hector's shoulder. "Yea, I guess it is getting a little out of hand, Hector, old boy. Sure was nice in the old days when we slew eyeball to eyeball and didn't have to use all this fancy pants stuff to cheat."
"Yea, you're right Ark-hilles. It was much better before you started to cheat."
Achilles dropped his arm and stepped back, shock contorting his face. "Cheat? Moi? Just when did I cheat in the good old days, Heck-tor?"
Hector put his hands on his hips, leaned forward into Achilles' face and smiled. "And just what do you call the Trojan Horse?" Hector wet the tip of his index finger with his tongue and notched up a bonus point on the great air scoreboard.
Then, like so many times before, they parted. The last of the old ones walked off their playing field and into the thick, black smoke of a hundred burning oil wells. Their mortal forms slowly dimmed, then disappeared, quietly mingling with the ever widening pall of smoke that now stretched to Indian Ocean. Their bodies had once more departed the embattled arena, but their spirits continued to hover near. Near enough to quickly respond when next the mortals felt their need to call for heroes.