Hercules pulled out his sword and scratched his back with it a couple times. “Are you sure this is the spot?” he asked his nephew, Iolaus.
“That’s what all our intel says,” Iolaus replied.
Earlier that morning, Iolaus had woken the half-god hunk from a deep slumber and informed him the hydra was back. This annoyed Hercules, because he was still very tired from having wrestled the Cretan Bull the previous week. Plus, Hercules had been voted Greece’s favorite hero after promising to end the nation’s involvement with the hydra and it wouldn’t look good for him if he had to fight the stupid thing again.
But after Iolaus informed him the hydra had been emerging from a series of caves, trampling the locals’ temples, seizing their land, and devouring a bunch of people, including some fellow Greeks, Hercules conceded that the whole thing wasn’t going to blow over and he should probably do a little something about it. So after journeying across the Grecian border into a foreign land, Hercules and Iolaus now stood outside a lair freshly carved into the side of a dusty mountain.
“Well, I really want to get back in time for that fundraiser Orpheus is throwing me,” Hercules said, as he pulled a couple of arrows out of his quiver. “So if the beast really is inside, I’ll just fire a couple of these in there real quick to show it we mean business, then go home.”
“Yeah, I, uh, I think you’re doing that thing again,” Iolaus said, with a wince.
“What thing?” Hercules growled back.
“That thing where you convince yourself that not wanting to fight is a legitimate military strategy.”
Hercules was about to lecture his nephew on the complexities of interspecies warfare when the hydra erupted from its lair, sporting a gaggle of heads that spit bursts of fire and gnashed countless jagged teeth at the duo.
“Oh, come on! I thought that thing was only supposed to have seven heads,” Hercules whined. “It has like 50 now. What the heck happened?”
Iolaus informed Hercules that the hydra grows back two heads for every one someone cuts off. Iolaus then noted that he had told Hercules the same thing the last time he fought the hydra, and that Hercules was convinced cutting off the hydra’s heads would work fine for him because he wasn’t George W. Bush.
“Alright, fine,” said Hercules, annoyed by Iolaus’ history lesson. “I get what you’re saying. I’ll put a little more muscle into it this time.”
Hercules charged at the hydra and began swinging. With a guttural shout, the son of Zeus slashed at the innumerable scaly necks above him, lopping off heads left and right until they clustered around his feet. Sheathing his sword, Hercules walked back towards Ioalus, flexing his biceps.
“Who needs a strategy with guns like these?” he asked, wearing a broad smile.
“Um,” Iolaus pointed Hercules’ eyes back at the hydra, which had sprouted 138 new, angrier heads. “I think you just made the serpent worse again.”
“Iolaus, please,” Hercules scolded his nephew. “That’s a hateful thing to say to the vast majority of peaceful serpents in the world. The hydra is not a true serpent.”
“No, we are definitely a serpent,” one of the hydra’s heads hissed at Hercules. “That’s why we keep devouring everything around us—to punish the non-serpents for not being serpents and the serpents for not being sufficiently snakelike.”
“Hey, you don’t get to speak for us,” another head yelled at the first one, before incinerating it with a burst of fire. “I’m the only head that’s serpent enough to be our representative,” the second head continued before a third head burned it to ashes.
“Shut up, you! You don’t even recognize the proper order of hydra head succession,” the third head said, before another head set it ablaze. Then the rest of the heads started igniting each other in an effort to establish themselves as the embodiment of serpentine purity and chief head of hydra-acquired territories.
“Hmmm,” Iolaus wondered aloud. “I think this might be a third strategy we should consider.”
“What you do you mean?” Hercules asked as he watched the hydra whittle itself down to a couple dozen heads.
They had three possible options for defeating the hydra, Iolaus concluded. First, Hercules could tell the nearby king that Greece would no longer trade with his nation until the king ceased his not-so-secret practice of feeding the hydra and rubbing its belly. Second, Hercules could launch an all-out assault of fiery torches, burning off all the hydra’s heads until he definitively defeated the beast. Third, as they’d just discovered, Hercules could do nothing while the hydra internal-squabbled itself to death.
Hercules weighed the options in front of him. Starving the hydra with economic sanctions against the nearby king was a bloodless option, but that would probably drive up the price of chariot grease, and the Greeks certainly wouldn’t like that. Unleashing all his might to completely destroy the monster would probably be worth it in the end, but it would cost a tremendous amount of time and effort and the risk of physical harm to Greece’s one-man military was severely high. Sitting back and twiddling his thumbs while the hydra cremated itself was certainly the easiest approach, but Hercules worried that Hera’s giant crab and other nefarious creatures would interpret this as a sign of weakness.
As he watched the hydra fireblast itself down to two heads, Hercules weighed the pros and cons of the three strategies before him. Looking at Iolaus, he shrugged and said, “I don’t know. Which one do you think I should pick?”
“At this point, I don’t care,” Iolaus said with a sigh. “Just whatever you do, please don’t do the exact same thing that got us into this mess in the first place.”
“Gotcha,” Hercules said as he unsheathed his sword, smiled at his nephew, and charged towards the hydra again. “I’ll put a little more muscle into it this time.”