Percy was more than a little bit ashamed to admit that he hadn’t really explored the headquarters of Pantheon Industries beyond his dormitory, the adjacent floors, and the office space he had to himself for his work, over the last few months, as an unpaid intern.
Truth be told, Percy had always wanted to walk around and see what the scientists of Pantheon Industries were working on. He had been, however, quite afraid of any potential security roadblocks that needed biometric scans for authorization. Although, Percy thought, in retrospect, it had all been for naught. As he had come to learn, Jason had known of his identity all along, after all.
“Like what you see?” said Jason, startling Percy from his thoughts when they stopped momentarily in front of what seemed to be a large window into a hangar.
Within, there was a massive mechasuit that was about twice as tall as Percy, and three times as wide. It was heavily armoured, and from the tubes that Percy could see being covered by panels, climate-controlled, as well.
“This is the final prototype for Project OTHRYS,” said Jason, leaning his back against the window. Percy glanced at his boss, who seemed to be downright amused by his amazement. “Officially, the suit is supposed to protect surface-miners from the elements more efficiently, but it’s also meant to make surface-exploration more tolerable for the brave souls that want to give it a go.”
Percy was more than a little surprised by the idea that actual human beings still went out onto the surface willingly. Jason looked even more amused now than he had been before. “There are many things that only humans can do that robots can’t. Yet.”
“Come on,” said Jason, jerking his head in the direction that he and Percy had been walking, earlier. Percy felt a flutter in his stomach. Jason’s hair whipped around with the gesture, golden strands on the surface parting to reveal silver underneath. Percy felt his cheeks warm. “OTHRYS is not the only interesting project we’ll walk by.”
Jason stopped Percy in front of what looked, at first glance, like a red viewing panel of some sort. “In there is project OMPHALOS,” said Jason, “One of the handful of planetary government-funded initiatives here at Pantheon Industries. I’m not quite so sure why the room is lit red at the moment, though.”
Percy had heard of OMPHALOS. He wasn’t too much of a geologist, but he knew what the project was about. OMPHALOS was basically an exploratory research mission for the lower crust and the upper mantle of the planet. “How much longer can we run on geothermal plants?” he said, glancing over at Jason.
“Long enough to get the HELIOS MkIII up and running in Nova Olympia,” said Jason, a pensive look on his face. Percy was somewhat concerned. The MkIII was the most sophisticated fusion reactor of its kind, after all, and still Jason didn’t look too confident in its capabilities.
“We were lucky we arrived when C-Vita Lyrae was still geologically active,” Jason said with a heavy sigh. He braced his right arm against the window and rested his forehead there. “HELIOS will tide us over for as long as we have hydrogen on the surface, but even that won’t be enough to sustain us. Not forever.”
Percy looked back into the control room, having spent the last few moments studying his employer’s face. It was eerily motionless inside the control room, the red light almost sinister against the blinking of the unattended consoles. He wondered if all OMPHALOS would uncover was more evidence that the Oracle Drive needed to be finished.
Percy was so absorbed in his own thoughts that he didn’t realize Jason had moved on. He jumped, startled, when he realized that Jason was some ways away from him by now. He nearly tripped over his own feet trying to catch up.
There weren’t many more interesting projects on the way to the hangar. Most of them were rather miscellaneous, focused on increasing the current quality of life in Nova Olympia rather than paving the way for a sustainable future for the planet.
Jason and Percy walked through a door, the pneumatics hissing as the two parts slid apart, into another hallway. This one was bare, though there were windows to either side. It was a walkway across a massive chasm that was still largely unexplored despite Pantheon Industries being built around and over it.
Halfway across the gap, Jason turned to Percy. “Have you heard of the PONTUS initiative?” he said. Percy frowned. He was pretty sure he’d heard the name before, but he didn’t quite remember where or in relation to what. “I thought you of all people would be in on the secret, being a prominent—if unpublished—Marine Chimerobiologist.”
Percy shook his head. He had been out of touch with his academic pursuits for quite a while now. All of his energy had been devoted to getting his situation together so that he could help Bessie move out of the Hellene headquarters.
“PONTUS is an independent project that both the New Rome group and the Hellenes have contributed to. PONTUS hopes to create a large reservoir of liquid water outside of the cities—accessible to all planetary citizens.”
Percy’s jaw dropped. Now he knew where he had heard PONTUS from. Nico. Nico hadn’t had many good things to say about the project, and though Percy hated to, he had to admit that Nico had a point. It was simply a logistical nightmare.
“I don’t think it can be done,” said Percy. He stopped for a moment before resuming the brisk pace that Jason had set. “How would they even get significant volumes of water in one place underground?” he said. “And even if they were able to, who’s to stop either group of companies from taking advantage and exploiting the shared resource?”
A brief moment of awkward silence passed, during which Percy’s ears continued to grow hotter and hotter until he felt like they were about to catch fire. “I-I’m sorry, sir,” he stammered, averting his gaze from Jason. “I d-didn’t mean any offense.”
Jason laughed, the sound hearty in the empty walkway. “Of course,” he said. “But you’re right. I don’t think it can be done, either. Doesn’t mean they’re not going to try. Although, PONTUS has lost a lot of Hellene support ever since Poseidon was elected as the project head.”
Percy bristled at the name. Not only had Poseidon left his mother, but he had also cursed Percy with Hellenic blood—a fact that he was certain he would never get to live down.
It was bad enough trying to break into a field that had no real traction in C-Vita Lyrae. Percy did not need the added stigma of being a Hellene working against him. Luckily, he’d managed to deal with it thus far.
Jason and Percy stopped in front of the pneumatic doors to the hangar. Percy looked up at his boss, and saw that Jason was smiling at him with genuine affection. His stomach did a somersault at the sight of the crinkling at the corners of Jason’s eyes, and the way that Jason’s hand raked through his hair.
“You might well want to get back in touch with your father,” said Jason, voice surprisingly tender. “I have the sneaking suspicion that Poseidon is working with similar goals to yours in mind. He is a marine biologist by trade, as well. No doubt he has followed your progress all these years, too.”
Percy sighed. Jason had a point, but he wasn’t quite sure whether speaking with his father would be a good idea. There were many choice words that he wanted to say, and very few of them were nice.
Before Percy could respond, he heard the final few beeping noises of the keypad by the door. He looked at Jason just in time to see Jason press his palm against the console. A soothing male voice rang out in the hallway. “Biometrics scan completed. Welcome, Jason, son of Zeus. Be safe.”
Percy gawked at his boss, shocked to hear the epithet that the system had just used. “Yes, Percy,” said Jason, with another affectionate smile. Jason’s hand on his back was warm and comforting. “I know what you have been through. I know the fear. But, I also know that things can get much better.”
The twin doors hissed and slid apart to reveal the massive hangar that housed not only the capital ship of Pantheon Industries, but Jason’s smaller but still-respectably-sized personal ship.
There was an engineer on the other side that saluted at Jason as he passed by. “Good evening, Sir,” said the engineer with a genial smile. He passed a holo-tablet to Jason and nodded at Percy. “I’m pleased to note that Tempest is in tip-top shape, although we’ve fitted him with the latest stable ion thrusters from the propulsion labs.”
“Thank you, Jake,” said Jason, clapping the man on the shoulder. “And if you don’t mind me saying, perhaps you should take the rest of the day off if you aren’t doing anything of vital importance. You look like you need it.”
The engineer laughed. “Sir, I appreciate the concern, and maybe I will. It will be remiss of me to not see you off, though. Not with the disturbing reports from Sector 7.”
“I know, Jake,” said Jason. Percy couldn’t help but feel somewhat warm inside, knowing that his boss was one of the more compassionate company heads. He’d met Zeus, once, and the memory still sent shivers down his spine.
“Security has already informed me that the primary assailant is in custody. They aren’t sure if there is anyone else involved, though.” Jake frowned. “The Admiral’s presence has confirmed the instigator for the attack, however.”
Jake’s face hardened. “Jason,” he said, surprising Percy by the way that he addressed the CEO by name. Percy looked around, and sure enough, security cameras were all deactivated. “This has got to stop.”
Percy jumped when he felt fingers gripping his arm tightly. He looked down, expecting Jason’s hand on him, but it was the engineer’s. The bright yellow hem of the engineer’s jumpsuit was flush against the engineer’s wrist. “Percy,” said Jake, a steely look in his eyes. “Be safe.”
Percy was shocked to find out that the engineer had known his name. He was, rather truthfully, beginning to think that he was more than a little out of his depth. “H-how do you know my name?”
Jake and Jason shared a knowing look. There was a small amused smile playing on both their lips. “Everyone who’s in Jason’s little circle knows who you are by now, Percy Jackson,” said Jake. “Jason caught us up to speed while you were on your way here.”
“I don’t approve of him involving you, no matter how much he thinks you’ll be useful for SIBYL,” said Jake. He was glaring at Jason, and the president, to his credit, was looking somewhat bashful. “You’re too young for this bullshit,” said Jake.
Percy was about to say something, as they came to a halt in front of the entry-ramp to the frigate, but he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head, and in the fraction of a second that he managed to get to look at the source of the movement, he was heavily thrown off.
Holding what seemed to be an old-fashioned pistol in his hands was a man. Percy didn’t get a chance to look at the man’s face for too long, but he did notice that the stranger was wearing what seemed to be a standard-issue jumpsuit, except the colours and designs were all wrong.
Where most civilian jumpsuits were coloured a pleasant mix of silver-and-blue, the stranger’s was charcoal and red. Even then, Percy couldn’t quite tell. The light seemed to refuse to cling to the outfit properly.
There was another cause for concern. Silver wires seemed to wind out of the sleeves of the jumpsuit, wrapping around the man’s fingers and the pistol that he held levelled at Percy and Jason.
“Jason!” Percy managed to shout before he took a step in front of his boss. The sound of two gunshots rang out in the otherwise-quiet hangar, followed by Jason’s grunt as Percy pushed him out of the way onto the ramp.
Percy gasped in pain as the first bullet buried itself an inch away from his armpit—which would have hit Jason square in the chest if he hadn’t moved in the way. He hadn’t quite experienced pain of this sort before. His knees buckled and he fell, just in time for the second bullet to sail over his shoulder.
Jason grabbed Percy and hurled him higher up the ramp to the starship. Percy grunted as his back hit the hard alloy surface of the ramp. He watched as Jason pulled out a pistol from gods know where, levelling it at the unknown assailant.
Percy could tell that Jake was still jarred by the events. The engineer was fumbling with a battery pack for his plasma pistol. Percy was pretty sure that by the time Jake was ready, the standoff would be over and done with.
Percy turned his attention to Jason, surprised to find the genuine anguish that was on the older man’s face. There was a hesitation to the way that he held his gun. Percy was sure that Jason recognized the assailant. “I hate to do this,” said Jason, a slight tremor in his voice.
The pain in Percy’s arm throbbed. He groaned and threw his head back. By the time he looked back, two shots had already been fired, and the stranger was on his back, bleeding out into the hangar floor.
“Take Castellan to Medical, and then make sure to get him in custody” said Jason. He dropped his pistol to the floor. He grabbed the one in Jake’s hands and slammed the battery pack home. “I want to talk to him when he’s in better shape. And make sure to strip him of that inferior copy of IRIS. Whatever happens, no word of this leaves the company, understood?”
Jason angrily stalked up the ramp. Percy expected a few harsh words from his boss, but instead, surprisingly-gentle arms picked him up. “It’s alright, Percy,” said Jason with a tender smile. “Thank you for saving me. But now, it’s time for you to rest. I’ll take care of you.”
Percy shivered at the words. Heat rushed up his neck to his cheeks when he felt Jason’s lips press against his left temple. He wrapped his arms around Jason’s shoulders. The last thing he saw before he passed out was the ramp rising up to seal the ship.