“So,” said Percy, as Annabeth flitted through game menus to get round two of their Endless Galaxy showdown under way, “when are you going to tell me about what you know of the cluster-fuck with Zeus and what it has to do with me?”
As much as Percy would have loved to play Endless Galaxy, a wonderful bullet hell game done in the style of the old classics, he did want to get to the bottom of his involvement in the Zeus debacle. Besides, Annabeth had totally destroyed him in the first round, anyway, and he was more than a little bit sour at that.
Endless Galaxy was the one video game that Percy had put any time and effort into which he had actually turned out pretty proficient in. Regardless, all those hours of figuring out and memorizing the patterns of every fucking boss in the damn game were for naught. Annabeth had had a good three quadrillion points more than he had at the end of their half-hour long session.
Percy sat back with a huff as Annabeth looked at him with a raised eyebrow. He was also rather sour that she had a copy of the game. It had taken him forever to find a working copy on Nova Olympia, since apparently every kid on ARKIII had decided to take one of the more modern video games.
Percy looked back at Annabeth. They stared at each other for a good long while until Annabeth heaved herself off of the floor with a colossal sigh. “Alright,” she said, “your puppy-dog eyes won. I’m going to call Thalia.”
Annabeth walked over to the holo-screen hovering by the wall opposite where Percy and Annabeth had been sitting on the floor earlier. She snatched a silvery bauble from one of the cubes that made up the corners of the screen.
Annabeth seemed to press a button on the bauble but Percy couldn’t quite be sure. A few minutes later, though, a chime filtered into the room through the speakers that were cleverly hidden in the near-non-existent seams between floor, walls, and ceiling.
“Come in!” said Annabeth. The door to the room slid open, revealing a dark-haired woman that Percy was pretty sure was supposed to be Jason’s sister. He wasn’t sure he was remembering things properly.
Thalia walked over to Annabeth and Percy, saluting in response to Annabeth’s salute. “Stand down, soldier,” she said, with a laugh that was more carefree than Percy expected. She took a seat on the floor in front of Percy and held out her hand. “Percy Jackson, I presume?” she said, with a smile. “I can see why my brother has the hots for you.”
Percy blushed bright red at the comment, and it took nearly all of his willpower to shove his thoughts about Jason aside. “Also,” said Thalia, craning her head to look up at Annabeth. “Cut it with the formality, man. We’ve talked about this. Adonis is your ship.”
“But protocol…” Annabeth muttered under her breath.
“Pfft,” said Thalia, scoffing at Annabeth’s insistence on adhering to protocol and the chain of command. She caught Annabeth’s wrist and pulled her down to the floor. “I’m not a stick in the mud, Annabeth. We’re in private, anyway.” Thalia grinned, though as far as Percy was concerned, the grin just made her more intimidating. “Besides, what Hylla doesn’t know isn’t going to kill her.”
Annabeth sheepishly scooted over to sit beside Percy, who, at this point, was fairly confused by the whole thing. The way that Thalia had walked into the room, all warrior grace and discipline had left him with the impression that she was going to be much more rigid than she had turned out to be.
Truth be told, Percy was glad that Thalia seemed quite open, to be honest. As nice a woman as he was sure Admiral Ramirez was, he didn’t think he would be able to listen to whatever she had to say over the sheer intimidation that he would have felt from her presence.
A few moments passed in silence as Percy, Annabeth, and Thalia settled into their places. “Where should I even begin?” said Thalia, a while later. She rested her hands on her knees, palms facing upward. “It’s such a long story. How we got here—how we even got involved in all the trouble with Zeus in the first place…”
When Percy looked up to examine Thalia’s face, he saw that there was a distant look in her eyes. He was a little bit worried he was dredging up bad memories, but Annabeth reassuringly squeezed his knee. “I guess I should start with the history of the ARK ships.” Thalia looked pointedly at Percy. “How familiar are you with the ARKs?”
“Uh…” Percy looked over at Annabeth. He was a bit unsure how to respond. He wasn’t expecting to be put on the spot like this. “Well, I know that they were sponsored by companies because planetary government didn’t have the funds to construct them, and the Martian and Lunar colonies were already contributing mining time to the ARK project…”
Thalia smiled at Percy, though it did little to settle his fluttering stomach. In a single deft motion, Thalia supported her entire body on a single hand and the sides of her feet—as though she was doing a side plank—and reached up to grab one of the corners of the holo-screen behind her. She gracefully returned to her original position afterwards.
The fluidity of the movement, and how quick it all happened, left Percy wondering whether he had hallucinated the whole thing. Nevertheless, he didn’t have the time to think too much about it. “You’re right,” said Thalia, “but did you know which companies sponsored which ARK?”
Percy shook his head. Thalia pulled up a holo-screen in the space between the two of them. Splashed across the screen were newspaper articles, each raving about the ‘salvation’ of the human race being built in geosynchronous orbit. “All the ARK ships were built as vessels to survive interstellar space and establish colonies on candidate extrasolar planets.”
“All the ARKs are privately owned, but are contractually obliged to have a certain portion of the population decided upon by the government and public entities,” said Thalia. “ARKI was owned by First Nome Holdings, and ARKII was owned by Nordic Enterprises.”
Thalia pulled up images of the finished ARKs. ARKI and ARKII were absolutely colossal. One of the images was, in fact, an infographic that showed the comparison of ARKII’s size with 2325’s New York City. The ship was twice the size of the already-massive city. “And there they are,” said Thalia, wiping away the images to replace them with more articles.
Percy looked thoughtfully at the reports that were splashed across the holo-screen. “They were genuine ark ships meant to establish colonies and ensure the survival of the human race.” The words gave Percy pause. Was Thalia implying that ARKIII and ARKIV weren’t?
“ARKI found a star with viable extrasolar planets on the way to its original objective and decided to take the risk. They established a colony around the star they name Apophis and they’re settled on one of the moons of Aten, a gas giant in the system,” said Annabeth.
An image of a sky dominated by a gigantic striped sphere appeared on the holo-screen. “New Egypt, they called the colony,” said Annabeth. “ARKII headed to Kepler 440b. They renamed the star Yggdrasil, but the planet seemed to be tidally locked with only a narrow equatorial strip that was habitable. They established a colony. Midgard.”
Annabeth pulled up a three-dimensional map of the system. Two other rocky planets were blinking with lights. Were they colonized? Percy supposed they were, but he didn’t want to ask. A couple of the rocky moons of the further-out gas giants also seemed to have lights on them. “They spread like wildfire across the system,” said Annabeth, with a laugh.
“ARKIII and ARKIV were both built by the Hellene Group of Companies,” said Thalia, “as I am sure you know by now.” Something hard slipped into Thalia’s voice, and it left a cold clammy dread in Percy’s chest. “ARKIII was supposed to take all of the colony scientists and engineers ahead to C-Vita Lyrae. ARKIV was supposed to follow when habitability was confirmed and infrastructure was built.”
Another chill ran up the length of Percy’s spine. Supposed to. He didn’t like that phrase, much less the tone with which Thalia said it. “At least,” said Thalia, as she pulled up an image of a news page with bright red letters printed across it like digital graffiti, “that was the official purpose for both ships.” ‘MURDERER’ was what the letters spelt out.
“Did you know that only the Big Three were taken aboard ARKIII?” said Thalia. “All other administrative staff of the Hellene Group were relegated to ARKIV.” Percy felt electricity in the air. He could tell that Thalia was about to drop a bomb. He wasn’t ready, but he didn’t think he ever would be.
“Zeus wanted complete control over the company,” said Thalia. “That much became clear when my mother was ‘accidentally’ shot out of an airlock. They said it was accidental explosive decompression. No one onboard was convinced.”
Thalia looked at Annabeth. Percy noticed, for the first time, that Thalia’s lower lip was trembling. “Jason’s mother, Juno, died in a freak stasis accident. She drowned in the cryogenic fluid. Apparently there had been a leak in one of the breathing tubes that wasn’t noticed until it was too late.”
Thalia looked at the floor, seemingly weary all of a sudden. The sight made Percy’s chest tighten. “He didn’t care that we were all on another ship entirely that wasn’t even supposed to catch up to ARKIII until hundreds of years in the future. He wanted to eliminate any possibility that people could get in his way.”
Thalia’s voice quivered, tears brimming in her eyes. Percy realized, then and there, how painfully similar Thalia’s eyes were to Jason’s. As much as he blamed the older man for the thoughts that plagued him now, he realized that he never wanted to see Jason’s eyes filled with tears like that. Annabeth reached across the space between her and Thalia, and Percy watched as all the tension in Thalia’s shoulders melted away.
The sex didn’t last too long. The beast inside Jason had wanted release, and it had seized it in the only way that it knew how—brutally. His seed spilled deep inside Octavian, the beast immediately lost interest in the boy.
Some part of Jason worried about what he had done to Octavian, but the larger part of him, driven inexplicably into the depths of lust by the smell of Octavian, didn’t particularly care at the moment.
With a lewd sound, Jason pulled himself out of Octavian. He looked down, disinterested, when Octavian collapsed onto the floor with a happy sigh and trembling thighs. He watched, head cocked, as his seed began to dribble out of Octavian’s puffy hole. He was a little amused when Octavian reached back and scooped all of it back in.
Jason stood from where he had knelt behind Octavian and looked around for the first time since entering his home. There was something else in the house; he could feel it. There was something electric in the air, but he couldn’t tell why, exactly, that was.
Jason’s eyes settled on something foreign to the house. It was a table set perfectly on the line of symmetry of the architecture of his foyer, the same distance away from the left staircase as the right. Atop the table stood a golden goblet. It was a chalice encrusted with gemstones of such quality that it was clear whom the message was from, in case the cup itself was not enough of a clue.
As though in a daze, Jason walked over to the chalice and stared at it, apprehensive. What the fuck did his father want with him, now? Why the cup? Was it filled with poison? Was his old man losing his touch?
Thalia wiped the tears from the corners of her eyes. “When Juno died, Rhea decided that it was time to put an end to all the madness,” said Annabeth. “She had stood by the wayside, just watching as Zeus and his two brothers in blood grew the company. She had some clout in the organization, but not enough to take over—not when it was clear Zeus still had some men aboard ARKIV.”
Percy knew he’d heard the name Rhea before. He wracked his mind for the memory and eventually found it. Rhea. The government codename of Zeus’ mother. He also knew that she had treated Poseidon and Hades like her own son. “She knew some of us girls were trained combatants, so she found us and charged us with purging the ship.”
“By that time, the obvious murders of my mother and Juno had convinced planetary government that Zeus was not to be trusted,” said Thalia. “They sent ARKIV off to another candidate star-system. We waited, biding our time until we were well beyond the heliopause. That was when we struck and we wrested control of ARKIV from Zeus’ men.”
“Okay,” said Percy, “I get it. It was difficult. You got control. You came here because you couldn’t let Zeus get away with anything.” Thalia nodded solemnly, though Percy could tell she was a bit annoyed by his tone. “None of this explains why he’s doing this.”
The look on Thalia’s face went from pained to sad. “Rhea has a suspicion,” she said. “Rhea thought that everything, the murder of my mother, the murder of Jason’s, the fact that ARKIV was never meant to leave the solar system intact, Zeus’ obsession with activating the Oracle Drive before anyone else—it’s all a desperate bid to bring someone that was once important to him back.”
A silence settled around the room. “Back from what?” Percy whispered, after a few pregnant moments. He felt like he knew the answer, but it made no sense. Surely Zeus wasn’t insane enough to try to bring someone back from beyond the pale.
Thalia heaved a sigh and averted her gaze. She looked over to the side, eyes distant. “Grandmother said that Zeus had very little love in his life. She was a single mother. She tried her best to care for him, to show him that he was loved, but she worked for the government and she was always busy.”
“Rhea said that when Zeus had introduced her to a boy, one that made Zeus’ eyes light up in a way that Rhea had never managed to, she had been so happy.” Thalia’s voice dropped an octave. “She said that she still couldn’t imagine that the boy would also be Zeus’ doom.”
Percy felt something cold settle into the pit of his stomach. Thalia hadn’t answered his question directly, but she might as well have. Annabeth squeezed his knee reassuringly.
“The boy,” said Thalia, drawing in a shuddering breath. “His name was Ganymede. He was the light of Zeus’ life. But, he was sick, too.” Thalia shivered, and Percy couldn’t help but do so, too. “Zeus begged Rhea to get the government to take a look at Ganymede, but there was nothing that Rhea could do. Medicine was beyond her purview.”
Percy took a moment to ponder everything that had just been said. No, something still didn’t quite make sense. Why did Zeus want anything to do with the Oracle Drive? It was a propulsion system, not a miracle machine.
“Eventually, the pollution on earth became bad enough that Ganymede couldn’t leave the house. Then, he died,” said Thalia. “Earth dying took its toll. It took joy and light and life from the humans that lived there. Moving to the moon and Mars helped a bit, but by then it was too late.”
Thalia fell silent, and Percy couldn’t help but shiver again. The way that she had spoken earlier had made it seem like the words were not her own but of someone much older and more experienced. “The lyre will be your guiding light,” whispered Annabeth, in the thick quiet that followed.
“Rhea said that Zeus kept mumbling that phrase over and over again. He became obsessed with Lyres, she said. Kept four in his room alone, apparently.” There was a whirr and a click as the four silver cubes that formed the corners of the holo-screen reconstituted themselves into a single inert cube in Thalia’s palm. The atmosphere in the room was almost suffocating.
“Where did he get that?” said Percy, though he wasn’t sure he actually wanted to have his question answered.
“Grandmother never quite moved on from the old ways,” said Thalia. There was a small smile on her lips—affection, if Percy were to hazard a guess. “She believed it was either god or the devil that revealed the words to him. All she knows is that the house was filled with light one night, and then the next day, Zeus was babbling that.”
Percy pinched the bridge of his nose. The pieces were beginning to fall together, and though there were still some missing here and there, he was starting to think that he could see the big picture. There was only one more major problem.
Percy stared at his hand, as though his fingers held a piece with his name written in bold blue letters across the front. “What do I have to do with all this?” he asked.
“Rhea asked us, in strictest confidence, to only reveal the secret with you,” said Annabeth. “ ‘The lyre will be your guiding light’ is only the first line in a stanza that Zeus kept repeating.”
Percy frowned. With him in particular? He thought about the ramifications for a moment before he decided that it was impossible. “You mean, with the person you think the rest of it has to do with, right?” he said.
Percy had to wonder, for a moment, if Zeus believed him to be the reincarnated form of his lover. That was a thing in some of the old traditions, right? The idea made him sick to his stomach. Even if it were true, he didn’t think he could ever swallow the thought of being with a mass-murderer.
“Right,” said Thalia, lips thin. Percy could tell that she was feeling uncertain about all of this, from the way that her eyes darted from him to Annabeth and then back. Annabeth nodded. Thalia sighed. She was hesitant, but she recited the rest of the small poem that Zeus had apparently taken to heart.
The lyre will be your guiding light. Find the serpent and bull in one. And when the light o’er darkness won, The sea-son will make all things right.
Percy’s blood ran cold in his veins. There was no doubt about it. The stanza talked about him and Bessie. The problem was that if this had all happened before ARKIII and ARKIV were built, the poem was at least three centuries old.
There was no way. It was simply impossible.
Jason peered over the rim of the chalice. There was nothing in it, no enticing drink that was probably poisoned, no dart trap that would kill him instantly. There was only a neatly folded square of paper weighted down by a thick golden coin.
Jason picked up the coin. He looked at it. Examined it. The coin bore an ax on one side and the unmistakeable face of Julius Caesar on the other.
Jason plucked the paper from the goblet. It was a note, handwritten in the angular and harsh script of his father—not much different from the man himself. “We should talk more, son,” said the note. “You could have died today, after all. Twice.” Jason felt a chill run down his spine, anger bubble up in his stomach.
“Do you still want to save your precious Castellan?” said the note. Jason could almost hear his father’s taunting laughter. “You know my story. You know why I do this. You of all people understand my pain.”
Jason shivered. He could almost remember the way that his father used to stroke the side of his cheek, whispering delusions of grandeur into his ear. “Don’t you want to help me with all your power to get him back? I could get him back to you. You need only ask. I need a strong ally, Jason. You need to make a choice. Come to me soon. Maybe the coin might help your decision.”
Jason looked at the coin again. It was clear, the message Zeus wanted to send. On the one side was an ax. An executioner’s ax. His head on the chopping block. On the other side was Julius Caesar, a man that wielded more power and authority than Jason dared dream. It was a promise from his father.
Jason wasn’t convinced. He flipped the coin, the metal ringing as it spun through the air. It landed ax-side up. The ax was also a weapon—a symbol of the crusade he was fighting to free not only himself but also C-Vita Lyrae from Zeus’ grasp. From the tyranny that was threatening to seize it. Julius Caesar was also a savage reminder of the man that his father was.
Jason had already proven himself a capable leader. He didn’t need money or power. He didn’t want it. His authority came from the mutual respect between him, his friends, and his employees. No. Julius Caesar was him, and Julius Caesar was a reminder that if he ever accepted Zeus’ offer, he would forever have to fear for the betrayal that was bound to happen.