Now here’s the thing about living in New York City in the spring – and keep in mind, I love living in New York. I love the city, and I’ve seen enough of the rest of the country to know that I want to stay here the rest of my life. But New York City in the spring is kind of a lie. We might get a day or two of weather that could actually be called “spring-like” but the truth is that, while a week ago Annabeth was complaining about the draft while wearing the skirt to her school uniform, today, I could feel sweat trickling down the back of my neck. Even Tyson’s hair was sticking to his forehead as we walked down the street, although he looked perfectly at home in the sweltering heat.
I didn’t mind it so much myself; this type of weather signaled that summer was coming, and summer meant going back to Camp Half-Blood, which was probably the only place on the planet that I loved as much as New York. So despite the fact that I was wondering if invulnerable heroes of Olympus could maybe sweat to death, I was actually pretty pleased to be out and enjoying my spring break with Tyson. He had perfect timing too - Annabeth had gone to visit her father this week, and Tyson had shown up a day after she'd left, eager to see me and asking to talk, just the two of us. He'd been kind of quiet all day, but I didn't mind, because he loved hearing about whatever was going on in my life, even if it was just boring school stuff.
It was the kind of day where I really appreciated what had been saved in the battle of Olympus; the city was bustling busy even in the middle of the afternoon. Men dressed up in business suits were rushing past us, tourists were gawking and pointing with their cameras, and I had just introduced Tyson to ketchup.
“Peanut butter doesn’t really taste good on hot dogs, dude,” I informed Tyson, who, to his credit, looked more confused than disappointed. I guess I couldn’t blame him; peanut butter was his favorite thing on the planet. I guess it was hard to imagine something it didn’t taste good with. I gestured to the ketchup pump. “Try this.”
For a minute, he didn’t really respond, looking at his hot dog forlornly. I was seriously about to cave when he looked at me, blinked, and blurted out, “Percy, are you nice to Annabeth?”
Not this again. I lowered my hot dog.
“Of course,” I answered, my guard going up. It wasn't that I didn’t trust Tyson; it was just that I was pretty familiar with the speech I thought he was about to give me, and really, it was kind of the last thing I needed.
“And – and she likes that? She’s happy?” Tyson asked quietly. I glanced around uneasily.
Let’s see, there’d been her mother, Athena, for one. The whole towering column of fire thing had made it pretty clear that I should be nice to Annabeth. And there’d been the punch to the arm (which I couldn’t feel, thankfully) from Thalia. And the comments from Rachel. And even what was surely going to go down as the most awkward moment of my life, which was when my mom had asked Paul to say something to me about Annabeth and our relationship.
“Yes,” I said firmly. “She’s happy.”
Paul had actually used the phrase “back seat bingo.” I'd sort of blacked out after that.
Tyson still had a thoughtful look on his face, like he was considering exactly what to say next. I mostly just wanted to eat my hot dog, and in hindsight I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to. I mean, I paid for those, and nothing in New York is cheap – but before I could even take a bite, there was a strange whistling noise, and then the hot dog cart practically exploded, the paneling falling out of the sides and tipping over with a loud BANG. Everyone was pushing each other and running away, and while I was fumbling in my pocket for Riptide I saw something streak away from the wreckage out of the corner of my eye.
The sidewalk cleared in an instant – everyone was running away or ducking. I dove under the nearest awning. I wasn’t afraid of a fight, but I didn’t know what I was fighting. Tyson, on the other hand, was standing in the middle of the cleared sidewalk, shielding his one eye with a large hand and pointing up into the sky with the other.
“It’s a bird!” he shouted. “Percy, look! It’s a bird!”
He was right. It was a bird, but it didn’t look like any bird I’d seen before, and I’ve been attacked by everything from a winged Fury to a Stymphalian pigeon. It was completely mechanical, and there was a plume of steam coming from behind it as it whizzed around. Now that it was back up in the air people were gathering to watch; I don’t know what the Mist was showing everybody, but I heard someone shout out, “It escaped from the zoo!”
If I had to be honest, the first thing I did was turn my head and look towards my side to ask Annabeth what was going on. I couldn’t even help the surprised feeling that washed over me when I realized she wasn’t there. I was going to have to do something I hardly ever did – I reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone.
I know, I know, me? With a cell phone? Annabeth had insisted that I get one for emergencies. I’d only used it twice ever since I’d gotten it – once during the fiasco with Aphrodite and her mirror (which Annabeth and Nico refer to as, That Time Percy Almost Sped Up Global Warming by About Thirty Years) and once to wish my mother a happy birthday when I’d been on a quest.
Annabeth was San Francisco. I needed answers. With a sigh, I flipped open the phone and pressed the #2 speed dial to call Annabeth.
I wasn’t surprised when she picked up immediately – like I said, I never used the thing. She didn’t even try to chit-chat. “What’s going on?”
For some reason, that bugged me. I couldn’t just be calling because I missed her? “Well good morning to you too. How’s San Francisco?”
“Oh come on Percy –” I didn’t even hear the rest of what she said. I heard that whistling noise again, and a roar rose up from the crowd as the thing swooped low. There was a terrible screeching noise – claws raking across the top of someone’s car. I winced, relieved that Paul hadn’t lent me his car today.
“Ok, ok, I’ve got a thing here,” I admitted, sighing, backing up underneath the awning again. “It’s a big metallic bird looking thing.”
“And it’s not- ”
“Not a Stymphalian pigeon,” I confirmed. “It looks old. And it runs on steam.”
Annabeth was quiet for so long that I thought for sure that my phone had dropped the call. Right when I was about to shove it back in my pocket, her voice crackled over the line. “There’s only one – but there’s no way, it couldn’t be.”
“Couldn’t be what?” I demanded, shoving a finger in my ear to hear her better. Somewhere in my peripheral I heard people shouting again.
“Archytas’ dove. That’s the only steam powered bird I can think of. But – there’s no way. Percy, it’s like the first automaton! Hephaestus took the original from his son and it’s in his private collection. It shouldn't be flying around New York.”
“How do I stop it?” I demanded.
“Don’t break it!”
I opened my mouth to respond but then some of the peripheral shouting that I’d previously been trying to ignore suddenly filtered through. “A gorilla escaped from the zoo!”
I turned my head. The bird had gotten trapped in the corner of a window sill. Tyson was climbing up the side of the building. I nearly dropped the phone. “That’s not a gorilla!” I shouted. “That’s my brother! Annabeth, I have to go.”
“Στόπ!” I shouted, running after Tyson, trying to call him off. I didn’t think he really looked like a gorilla, but at the moment I couldn’t help but be reminded of the old King Kong movie, with the giant ape trying to swat away tiny airplanes. Tyson had almost reached the bird. I could still see it sputtering steam angrily as he reached, clinging to the side of the building. He had to be hanging on with strength alone.
Unfortunately, his reach wasn’t quite long enough. Instead of grabbing it, like he’d wanted, he only batted it off the window sill. It fell backwards, spluttered in the air a few times, then righted itself. It was headed straight for me; I managed to duck ungracefully at the last minute simply by falling backwards. People started screaming again.
Enough, I thought, scrambling to my feet and scooping up one of the panels that had belonged to the hot dog cart. One of the few things I remembered from basic middle school science classes had been that birds liked shiny things. The teacher had shown us a video of birds stealing quarters from a change machine in a car wash. I wasn’t sure if a mechanical bird counted, but I could try.
“Hey άσχημος!” I shouted, holding up the panel to catch the sun. Peeking over the top, I could see that it had worked – the crude automaton had looped around, changing direction so that it was facing me again. Maybe I was right, and it liked shiny things, or maybe it just liked me. Either way, it wasn’t going after innocent bystanders or their property.
As soon as I saw it dive I took off, crossing the street, hopping around a car and over the curb. I paused in front of a small pizza parlor, and, once I was sure that the bird definitely had its sights on me, yanked open the glass door and slipped behind it.
I didn’t need school to learn that birds tended to fly into clean glass windows – that one I had learned just by living in an apartment several stories up. The bird smacked into the glass with a loud CRACK, bursting through and hitting the floor, where it flapped uselessly.
The shop was mostly empty, thankfully, due to it being the middle of the day and all of the excitement outside. A few guys working behind the counter dropped to the floor, shouting in alarm. I rushed forward, grabbed up the bird, and ran back outside – hopefully before anyone saw my face.
I was glad for the invulnerability as I juggled the bird - it was scalding hot against my skin, but there was no pain behind the heat. It was still fighting and flapping as I crossed the street to meet Tyson again. There was a latch on the bird’s belly, and when I pulled on it water dumped out of it. I guess that explained where the steam was coming from, because as soon as I did that it stopped moving entirely. I frowned, remembering that Annabeth had told me that it belonged to Hephaestus, had warned me not to break it.
People were giving Tyson lots of room, but I noticed with relief that at least I wasn’t hearing anymore gorilla talk. I held it up for Tyson’s inspection. He’d spent a lot of time working in one of Hephaestus’ forges. “What do you think?” I asked, “Did I break it?”
Tyson took it from me and looked closely at it. “The joint,” he muttered, taking one wing in hand and popping it back into place. He handed it back to me. “Not broken. Just needs water.”
“Thanks,” I sighed, turning my head. The Empire State Building rose up against the skyline. “Guess we just need to return it now.”
I started trudging down the street, trying to ignore the wide berth everyone gave us. Tyson took a moment to catch up, but once he did he kept pace with me easily. My adrenaline was still pumping from the battle, and it took me several blocks to realize that Tyson was wringing his hands anxiously.
“Hey,” I offered a little awkwardly. “It’s okay. Hephaestus will probably be glad to have this back. Assuming he didn’t set it on us in the first place.” I didn’t think so though. Annabeth had told me that Hephaestus’ own son had created this, that it was the first automaton. I thought something like that would be important to Hephaestus.
Tyson just bit his lip and scratched his head. “If I’m nice to a girl,” he finally said, “will she be my girlfriend?”
I tripped. I couldn’t help it! I had no idea that was what Tyson had been trying to ask me earlier when he'd asked about Annabeth. And that especially wasn’t what I was expecting Tyson to say after the commotion with the bird. “You want a girlfriend?” I finally asked, when I'd gathered my wits.
“There’s – a –a girl – uh –” He was stuttering over his words, clearly uncomfortable.
“A mermaid?” I tried to prompt.
“No,” he motioned with his hands. “Got legs.”
“A Nereid?” I asked. “A sea nymph?”
Tyson lit up. “Yes! She has a fish pony. She’s pretty.”
“You’re a great guy Tyson,” I said honestly, reaching up to pat him on the shoulder. I was trying not to think too hard about how a relationship between a Cyclops and a sea nymph would work, but Tyson smiled gratefully. “I’m sure she’d be lucky to have you.”
There was a huge line outside of the Empire State Building – tourists, waiting to get inside and get through security. Being the hero of Olympus means you get to skip those kinds of things though; I saw people giving me dirty looks as we slipped past the waiting line and got the doorman to open an elevator for us.
Olympus was as beautiful as ever, exactly as busy as the city below it. As we approached the thrones, however, I could see that it was almost empty. I wasn’t really that surprised – Artemis would be hunting, Apollo driving his chariot, Mr. D at camp, and Hermes would be delivering messages – but I was hoping Hephaestus would be hanging around. Normally they have some kind of sixth sense whenever mortals need them.
“Percy Jackson.” I scowled. It definitely was not Hephaestus’ voice that had called me. Quickly, I rearranged my expression into something more polite.
“Lady Hera.” I nodded respectfully. “We’re looking for Hephaestus.”
The goddess sniffed and looked away. “I don’t know where he is. I heard he lost something and was out looking for it.”
Now, I’ve talked to enough immortal beings to know a thing or two about them. For one, they’re horrible liars. For two, they’re proud whenever they do something childish and immature, which is why they’re horrible liars. There was something about the way Hera was standing, and the tone of her voice. I had a feeling I knew who had released the bird. She’d never liked Hephaestus very much.
“Well,” I said, keeping my voice neutral, “I think I found it. I’ll just leave it on his throne, then.”
The throne beeped happily when I placed the bird on it; a mechanical arm slid out and swept it away as I stepped back. When I turned around, Hera was still watching Tyson and I. I smiled cheerfully and waved as we headed back to the elevator.
As soon as the doors shut Tyson looked at me, alarmed. “She doesn’t like you.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Me or Annabeth.”
Tyson looked completely mystified. I guess someone not liking me or Annabeth was just as mysterious as peanut butter not tasting good with hot dogs.
Speaking of… “If you like this girl so much, you should take her something,” I advised. “Girls like that. Take her some peanut butter.”
“She doesn’t like peanut butter.” Tyson’s face fell.
I frowned. “I don’t know if you want to be with someone who doesn’t like peanut butter.” My brother looked so disappointed that I felt bad for even suggesting it. “Hey,” I asked cheerfully, trying to cheer him up. “Does she like jelly?”
I was trying to make a joke, but instead of brightening, Tyson turned thoughtful. “Hm. I’ll have to ask.”