DAM, DAM, DAM!
Artie struggled with the safety cap of a medicine bottle. "Seu pedaço de estúpido . . ."
"Want me to get that for you?" Grover offered.
Artie wordlessly handed the bottle over.
Percy said nothing as they rode in the bed of an old pick up truck. They had found the truck at the edge of junkyard. It was just in luck as Artie could hardly support himself and Thalia was getting tired of carrying him. Once they carefully loaded the battered demigod onto the truck they all piled in as Thalia drove under a clear blue sky. Percy found the nice weather insulting after losing Bianca. He wanted to believe she was still alive, but he had the sinking feeling she was gone for good.
"Oh, gods." said Percy, his hand clutching the little metal figurine that had cost Bianca her life. "What am I going to tell Nico?"
"The truth." Artie popped two pills as Grover handed him the bottle back. "She was five feet from me and I wasn't fast enough to grab her."
"It's not your fault." Percy said. "I'm the one who should have gone into the giant."
"Don't say that!" Grover snapped. "The both of you!"
Artie and Percy looked at the satyr.
Grover pointed to Artie. "If you had grabbed Bianca, do you think she would have survived like you did?"
Artie kept silent. When he felt Talos's face crash, it wasn't with the ground. As Talos jerked around, his knee shot up and essentially bouncing his face like a hacky sack. It was then that the force caused Artie to black out which was a small blessing as then the giant's face finally collided with the ground, bouncing once before settling on the ground for good. Artie didn't want to admit it, but Grover was right. There was no way either Artie or Bianca would have survived if they had been forced to split the nectar and ambrosia. Even after all that, Artie was still couldn't find the strength to move and actually tired himself out trying to open a simple bottle of pills that he had the hindsight to pilfer from the camp's medical supplies only a day before he left.
"And you." Grover turned to Percy. "It's bad enough Annabeth is gone, and now Bianca. Do you think I could stand it if . . . "He sniffled. "Do you think anyone else would be my friend."
"Ah, Grover . . ."
"I'm . . ." He wiped his face which left his face stained like he was wearing war paint. "I'm okay."
Artie looked down at the pill bottle and chuckled reluctantly. "Appolonia would have gotten a kick out of this."
"What did you say?" Grover asked.
Artie handed the bottle to Grover. "Look who prescribed it."
"Doctor Gregory Laurie." Grover read aloud. "I don't get it."
"Appolonia loves this show called House MD. She has all the seasons on DVD along with lots of other medical shows like Scrubs and ER." Artie explained. "The main character's name is Dr. Gregory House and the actor that plays him is Hugh Laurie." Artie smiled grimly. "Get it? Dr. Gregory Laurie?"
"Small world." Percy commented.
"And here's the really funny part." Artie motioned to the bottle. "What's name of medicine?"
"Vicodin." Grover read aloud. "How is that funny?"
"Vicodin is a really powerful painkiller." Artie chuckled, though it looked pained. "In the show, House is addicted to the stuff."
The tow truck ran out of gas at the edge of a river canyon. It was just well because it was a dead end. They all piled out of the truck just as the tires blew which helped Artie a bit when he lowered himself to the ground.
Artie winced as his legs threatened to buckle. "So what now?"
They all scanned the horizon. There was desert in all direction, occasional clumps of mountains here and there. The canyon was the only thing of interest. The river itself wasn't that big, hardly fifty feet across with green water and few rapids, but it carved a scar through the desert. The rock cliffs dropped before them. Had he been by himself and able to move properly, Artie would have simply used his motorcycle which had survived the fight with Talos with only cosmetic damage and few dents. Even someone else drove, it could only fit three at the most and he did not have a side car attachment handy.
"There's a path." Grover pointed. "We could use that to get to the river."
Percy saw the little thing winding edge that led down the clif side. "That's a goat path."
"So?" he asked.
"Not all of us are goats." Percy reminded. "And Artie can barely stand."
"Don't worry about me." Artie forced a weary smile. "You guys go on ahead."
"We are not leaving thee in thy condition." Zoë said firmly.
"I've been through worse." Artie said. "Think of me like Rambo. Able to ignore pain, ignore weather, to live off the land, to eat things that would make a billy goat puke."
"Hey!" Grover snapped.
"Point is, I'll be fine." Artie coughed. "I'll only slow you down."
"No." Percy said. "I think we should go farther upstream."
"But — "
"Come on, a walk won't hurt us."
They all began walking. It was at a slow pace since Artie refused to lean on anyone for support. They tried to change his mind, calling hm an idiot and this was no time to be macho, but Arte put his foot down saying if there was an ambush he could cost them a precious second that could end their lives. They followed the river for half a mile before coming to an easier slope that led to the water. On the shore was a closed canoe rental stand, but they had failed to secure the canoes.
"Finally." Artie grunted as he swallowed another pill.
"You feeling alright?" Percy asked.
Artie forced a smile. "Learned to ignore pain remember?"
"Is it working?" Grover looked concerned.
"Not really." Artie chuckled at the Rambo III quote. "Don't take it personal. "
"Why would I take it personal?"
"Never mind." Artie shook his head. "Let's get a move on."
Percy left a couple of golden drachma with an IOU for two canoes. Artie watched while Thalia and Zoë put the canoes in the water and Grover refilled their water skins. Diego poked his head out of Artie's belt and Artie held him so he wouldn't be swept away as he lapped up some water.
"We need to go upstream." Zoë said. "The rapids are too swift."
"Percy can take care of that." Artie lowered himself into the canoe.
"Are thee sure?"
"He's usually good with water." Artie reasoned.
"Mind if I join thee?" Zoë asked.
"Be my guest."
As it turned out, Percy did not need to manipulate the current. When he looked over the edge of the boat, he saw a pair of naiads at the bottom of the river. He struck up a conversation and before he could finish his request, they each chose a canoes and began pushing them upriver. They started so suddenly, both Artie and Grover fell back in the canoes.
"I hate naiads." Zoë muttered.
A stream of water shot up from behind the boat and hit Zoë square in the face.
"She-devils!" Zoë went for her bow.
"Calm down." Artie said gently. "They're just playing. Plus, you insulted them when they're helping us out."
This time a naiad came out and planted a kiss on Artie's cheek before returning to the water.
"Cursed water spirits. They've never forgiven me."
"You'd think they would have moved on by now." Artie agreed.
Zoë did a double take at Artie. "You know . . ."
"Not the whole thing." Artie shrugged. "Apollo just told me you had a disagreement with your family because of someone you helped or something."
"Why would he tell thee?" Zoë asked.
"I didn't directly go back to Camp Half Blood when I ran out of the Hunters's camp." Artie rubbed his shoulder. "I just couldn't deal with what I was. I thought someone on Olympus could give me some answers. I found and managed to sneak into Athena's library."
"What did thee hope to find?"
"Anything." Artie said simply. "Anything I could learn that might help me make sense of everything."
"And what did thee find?"
"I found nothing, but Athena found me."
"I take it she was quite angry with thy intrusion."
"Actually she was impressed."
"It was really complicated." Artie nodded. "She said if I was smart enough to enter without anyone seeing me, I deserved the right to use the library. Something about self validating information."
"And you eventually discovered my past?"
"Just a footnote." Artie admitted. "Your name was crossed out under the names of the Hesperides. When I asked Athena, she told me to ask Apollo."
"But he did not tell thee." said Zoë. "At least not all of the details."
"I guess he would have if I had pushed, but I just didn't care at that point and went back to camp."
Artie and Zoë settled into a comfortable silence as they sped down the river. The cliffs now loomed over them on either side, giving the feeling they were inside the mouth of a giant monster. Artie briefly wondered if this how it looked from inside Charybdis.
"You were right." Zoë blurted out. "About everything."
"I pushed Bianca into the quest." Zoë's shoulders slumped. "She was a powerful half blood with a kind heart as well, but she was still new to this life. I . . . I thought she might be the next lieutenant."
"But you're the lieutenant."
"Nothing can last forever, Artie." Zoë gripped the strap of her quiver and she looked older than Artie had ever seen her. "I have led the Hunt under Lady Artemis for over two thousand years and my wisdom has not improved." Zoë gave Artie a forced smile. "You were right about that as well. I did not want the camp's help. I was petty to argue thy presence at the counsel when more important matter needed discussion. And I was wrong not to choose a more experienced Hunter than Bianca."
"Would have it changed how your feeling now?" Artie asked gently. "There's a good chance that no matter who you picked, the result would have been the same as it is now."
"I suppose not." said Zoë.
"If it makes you feel any better, you were right too." Artie offered. "At least half right. I really wanted to make Thorn pay for what he did to me and Annabeth."
"But now thee don't?"
Artie shook his head. "I want Annabeth out of harm's way, but if I have to go through Thorn to do it? Well, that's just two birds with one stone."
"Will killing him really give thee any satisfaction?" Zoë reminded him. "It will not return what he stole from thee."
Artie settled on a quote from Sin City to get his mind off the pain for a moment. "Killing? No. No satisfaction. Everything up until the killing, will be a gas." Artie decided to combine it with another quote. "I'll stare the monster in the face as he screams to the Gods, and I'll laugh harder when he whimpers like a baby. And when his eyes go dead, the hell I send him to will seem like heaven after what I've done to him." He sighed. "But until then, I'm just gonna focus on saving Annabeth."
"You really care for her."
"She was a friend and more when I needed one." Artie smiled at yet another quote. "When Artemis claimed me, she was the only one that came looking for me when I ran away to live in the woods."
"But why not return to Brazil?"
"I wanted to go back." Artie looked distant. "But I wanted everything the way it was and that was impossible."
"Is that why thee turned to films?"
"Everyone looks to escape from misery in one form or another." Zoë said. "Some turn alcohol while others find other ways of coping."
Artie sighed. "I guess that makes sense. I always liked movies when I was little, Jacob too. We didn't always have the money to go, but we always found a way to get into the theater." Artie chuckled as he wiped his eyes. "This one time, we actually went in through the roof and watched like bats from the projection booth." Artie reluctantly laughed. "We barely halfway through before we got caught. We were lucky to sit down after a week the tanning she gave us."
"You really miss him, don't thee."
"Every day." Artie admitted. "I guess you could call all those hours spent watching movies my personal way of mourning."
The cliffs on either side of them grew even taller, casting large shadows over the river and the demigods. They all felt the temperature drop from the lack of warm sunlight. Without thinking, Percy drew Riptide and Artie wondered why Zoë stared at magic pen in Percy's hand. He decided not to ask as he guessed Zoë would say it was none of his business. Plus, he didn't want to ruin the friendly moment that had passed between them.
Just as Artie felt the canoe slowing down, Percy announced. "This is as far we can go."
They all looked ahead as they saw the river was blocked. A white dam the size of a football field stood in their path.
They stood at the river's edge, looking up a curve of concrete that loomed between the cliffs. People were walking along it and looked to be the size of fleas. The naiads left with a lot of unintelligible grumbling which Percy took as they did not like this dam blocking their nice river. Artie watched as their canoes floated back downstream, swirling in the foam from one of the dam's discharge vents.
"Hoover Dam." said Thalia. "It's so huge."
"Seven hundred feet tall." Percy said. "Built in the 1930's"
"Five million cubic square feet of concrete." Thalia said.
Grover sighed. "Largest construction project in the United States."
"Named after J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI." Artie finished.
Zoë stared at them. "How do you all know that?"
"Annabeth." said Percy. "She liked architecture."
"Spouted facts all the time." Grover sniffled.
"So annoying." Artie reluctantly chuckled.
"We should go up there." Percy said. "For her sake, just to say we've been."
"You're mad." said Zoë. "But that is where the road is." She pointed to a parking lot near the top of the dam. "And so, sightseeing it is."
The demigods had to walk for almost an hour before they found a path that led to the road. It came up the east side of the river. Trying to ignore the cold and strong wind buffeting them, the heroes found the view enjoyable. On one side, a big lake spread out with rings of mountains around it. On the other side, the dam dropped away like the world's most dangerous skateboard ramp, seven hundred feet down to the river, and water churned around the dam's vents. Thalia walked in the middle of the road, far away from the edges and Artie got the feeling she not like heights. He quickly threw away that thought. Zeus was the lord of the sky, his children wouldn't be bothered by heights. Then again, it was a seven hundred foot free fall which would make anyone nervous. Then the wind blew past them again, but it carried a strange scent this time around. Artie began to sniff the air just as Grover caught the scent as well.
"How close are they?" Percy asked, knowing they smelled monsters.
Grover shook his head. "Maybe not that close. The wind on the dam, the desert all around us . . . the scent can probably travel for miles."
"But it seems to be coming from every direction." Artie turned his head as he paused to sniff again. "I don't like it."
"There's a snack bar in the visitor's center." Thalia said.
"We should eat while we can." Zoë agreed. "Let's find the dam snack bar."
Grover cracked a smile. "The dam snack bar?"
Zoë blinked. "Yes. What is funny?"
"Nothing," said Grover, trying to keep a straight face. "I could use some dam french fries."
Even Thalia smiled at that. "And I need to use the dam restroom."
Perhaps it was the fact they were tired and emotionally spent, but Percy burst out laughing. Thalia, Grover, and Artie all joined in. Even little Diego poked his little head out and looked cheerful.
Zoë looked confused. "I do not understand."
"I want to use the dam water fountain." said Percy.
"And . . . " Thalia tried to catch her breath. "I wanna buy a dam T-Shirt!"
"I hope there's a dam documentary." Artie doubled over. "Or a dam postcard!"
They all would have continued laughing, but then Percy heard a sound.
The smiled melted off his face and wondered if it was just him. But Grover and Artie both paused and Percy they too had heard it. Artie sniffed the air and Grover looked around. Percy figured it had to be something monster related since Artie and Grover were sensitive to them, but then why had he heard it when Thalia and Zoë clearly couldn't.
"Did I just hear a cow?" Grover asked.
"A dam cow?" Thalia laughed.
"No," Artie said. "I heard it too."
Zoë listened. "I hear nothing."
Thalia looked at Percy. "Are you alright, Percy?"
"Yeah," he said. "You guys go ahead. I'll be right in."
"What's wrong?" Grover asked.
"Nothing." Percy assured. "I . . . I just need a minute. To think."
They hesitated, but Percy's friend eventually walked into the vistor's center without him. The second they disappeared behind the doors, Percy jogged to the northern edge and looked over.
She was thirty feet below in the water, but Percy could see her clearly. It was his friend from the Long Island Sound, Bessie the cow serpent. Percy looked around. There were groups of kids running along the dam. A lot of senior citezens. Some families, but nobody seemed to be paying Bessie any mind. At least, that was Percy thought.
"I could dance with you till the cows come home." said a voice in a strange accent. "Better still, I'll dance with the cows and you come home."
Percy turned. "Artie?"
"Well, it ain't Groucho Marx." Artie smiled.
"One of the Marx brothers, kinda like the first three stooges." Artie shrugged. "That was from one of their movies, Duck Soup."
"Duck Soup?" Percy still hadn't learned not ask Artie anything film related. "I thought the stooges were a TV show."
"It's a 1930's black and white comedy." Artie grinned as he quote a funny line."He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot, but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot."
"Ughh . . ." Percy shook his head.
"Who's the cow?" Artie asked.
"That's Bessie." Percy told him. "I sort of rescued her the morning I left camp to follow Thalia and Grover. She was trapped and tangled in a sunken ship's net."
"She looks like she's trying to tell you something." Artie looked over. "I think."
Percy looked back at Bessie. She sounded urgent and seemed to be trying to warn Percy. She then swam in a circle and butted her head against the wall of the dam, mooing all the while. Now Percy thought she wanted him to come with her, but he wasn't entirely sure.
"Can't you understand her?" Percy asked.
"I can only understand predatory mammals." Artie shook his head. "Lions, wolves, and bears. Basically only warm blooded animals that hunt, though hawks and falcons sort of count." Artie shrugged. "It looks like it more of a fish thing to me. Can't you understand her?"
"No." Percy also shook his head. "Only horses, though I can talk with hippocampi and Pegasuses."
"Oh, that's right." Artie snapped his fingers. "Your dad created horses out of sea foam."
Bessie gave Percy one more, "Moo!" before doing a flip and disappearing under water.
Percy was considering jumping in when he heard Artie. "Hold on . . . something's close."
Percy felt it too, the hair on his arms and the back of his neck standing on edge. Together, Artie and Percy looked to the east. Two men were walking toward them wearing camouflage outfits that flicker over their skeletal bodies. The wind blew past them and Artie turned as he caught a familiar scent, a scent he remembered from D.C. With a screech of tires, a black van nearly plowed into an elderly couple on the west side of the dam. The doors opened and more skeletal warriors emerged from the van.
"Alright," Artie's claws sprouted. "How do you wanna do this?"
"Percy?" Artie looked around.
Only a few feet from the visitor's center, Percy was sprinting for the doors.
"So that what it feels like." Artie said as he took off in pursuit.
Artie managed to slip through the doors of a closing elevator, much to displeasure of a security guard at the metal detector. Artie felt claustrophobic in the elevator with a large tour group, at least not one of them smelled like a person. Although one did smell like a demigod.
Artie tapped Percy's shoulder. "What's with the vanishing act?"
"Sorry," Percy breathed hard. "But those things are after me, they probably would have left you alone once you got away."
"Now you tell me."
"We'll be going down seven hundred feet." The tour guide said cheerfully. She was a park ranger, with long black hair pulled back in a tail and tinted glasses. "Don't worry, ladies and gentlemen, the elevator hardly ever breaks down."
"Dose this go to the snack bar?" Percy asked.
Had Artie been mortal, he probably would have chuckled with a few tourist behind them. The tour guide looked at both of them, but she seemed to focus more on Percy. Her gaze made them both tingle.
"To the turbines, young man." said the lady
"Is there another way out of the dam?" Artie asked.
"It's a dead end." said a tourist. "The only way out is the other elevator."
The doors opened.
"Go right ahead , folks." said the tour guide. "Another ranger is waiting for you at the end of the corridor."
Without much choice, Artie and Percy got out with the group.
"And boys?" said the tour guide. The demigods looked back and saw she had removed her glasses, revealing starling gray eyes. "There is always a way out for those clever enough to find it."
"Excuse me?" Artie asked.
The lady simply smiled. "Cada hora feridas, mas mata um última."
The doors closed with the tour guide still inside, leaving the demigods quite confused, Percy more so since he did not speak Portuguese. Before they could ponder what she had meant, a ding came from around the corner. The second elevator was opening, and Percy and Artie heard the sounds of chattering teeth and bones. Together, they both ran after the tour group, down the corridor carved from solid rock. It seemed to run on forever. The walls were moist, as was the air, and the air hummed with electricity and the roar of water. The demigods came out on a U shaped balcony overlooking a giant room that held the dam's turbine. They both looked around for an exit, but there wasn't one. Unless they wanted to vault over the balcony and churned to make electricity.
Percy and Artie pushed through the tour group as the tour guide talked about water supplies in Nevada, trying not make it obvious. Percy noticed Artie hardly needed to move as he drifted between people without so much brushing up against thier clothes, years of practice in the jungle he guessed. Percy motioned to the hallway at the other side of the balcony and Artie followed his lead. By the time they reached the other side, Artie noticed how nervous Percy guessed. That was the downside of a demigod's battle reflexes. It might keep one moving and alive, but it could get you killed if you had to hold still and wait. Artie may have had massive dyslexia, like many demigods, but he was grateful he did not share thier ADHD. That was not to say he was perfectly calm about thier chance of going undiscovered by the skeletal warriors. If it came to a fight, it would not end well as he was still recovering from having broken nearly every bone in his body.
Then they heard a CHHK, like the voice of a skeleton.
Without thinking, Percy struck with Riptide and Artie his claws.
The girl that Percy just tried to slice in half yelped and dropped her Kleenex which was good as Artie's claws just missed her nose.
"Oh my god!" she shouted. "Do you always try to kill people who blow their nose?" She then looked at Artie's claws. "There's something called a manicure, ever hear about it?"
Percy's first thought that he had hurt her, but the sword had passed through her. "You're mortal."
Artie lean a inch close and sniffed the air around her. "She smells mortal." Artie took a slight sniff. "Is that Chanel NO. 5?"
"Maybe?" Her eyes narrowed. "What's it to you?"
"My girlfriend wears it." Artie said.
"Well, she may like it when you sniff her like a dog." She grew serious. "But it rude for the rest of us."
"So you are mortal." Percy concluded.
She looked at Percy in disbelief. "What is that supposed to mean? Of course I'm mortal. How did you two get those weapons past security?"
"I didn't — Wait, you can see it's a sword?"
Artie watched this tall, slim girl with frizzy red hair, freckled face, roll her green eyes at Percy. "Well it's either a sword or the world's biggest toothpick." she said. "And why didn't hurt me? I mean, not that I'm complaining. Who are you two? And whoa, what are you wearing? Is that lion fur?"
Percy thought back to how Thalia had manipulated the Mist at Westover Hall. "You don't see a sword." Percy snapped his fingers. "You see a ballpoint pen."
She blinked. "Um, no. It's a sword, weirdo." She motioned to his duster. "You might wanna do some research before you go to the Star Wars convention in Vegas next month." She point to Artie's cape. "See how his cloak looks like a robe? That's what you wanna go for?"
"Hold on," Artie perked up. "You've seen Star Wars?"
"I saw it on TV last week when they were running a whole marathon." She smiled. "The Empire Strikes Back is the best if you ask me. " She dipped her voice low and semi-robotic in an uncanny Darth Vader impression. "We would be honored if you would join us. "
Artie smiled at Percy. "I like her."
"Who are you?" Percy demanded.
She huffed indignantly. "Rachel Elizabeth Dare. Now are you going to answer my questions or do I starting screaming for security?"