Zeus and Io - Books 1 and 2
Chapter 22

Copyright 2012,2013 by Harry Carton


The winter skies over Afghanistan were so clear. You could see a hundred million stars, even more up in the foothills, where our camp was. We had left the mountains proper some time earlier – well before the harsh winter set in. I looked around, and couldn't see anything wrong with the night's patrol.

I looked up and if I squinted a little, I could almost convince myself that that cluster of stars over there kinda looked like my wife's face. Then I laughed, because there was a gap in the stars that made it seem like she was missing a tooth in her smile. It was a cold, clear night, and I went back to my tent.

Couldn't get rid of this cold, though. No matter how I squirmed into my sleeping bag, it was still cold. I could hear my teeth chattering.

"C ... c ... cold," I said, just to remind myself what the problem was. "So damn cold. Can't get warm."

I could feel my feet and hands, though, so I knew it was all right.

"It's just a dream, L.T. You're really in Florida, and it's okay," said Martinez.

"I know it's just a dream. If it was a flashback, somebody would be dying," I answered from that semi-aware state – like when you're watching a movie: you know it's a movie, but you watch anyway.

Then suddenly the sleeping bag was big enough for two. Without turning over, I felt my wife's arms around me. She was warm. She was smaller than she was in my memory though. I wondered about that, but then anything can happen in a dream. And I knew this was a dream.

"So fuckin' cold," I said.

I snuggled my ass back into my wife's belly. And I fell asleep in that warmth – in this dream. My wife – in Afghanistan. Strange.

I dreamt on. I looked up at the stars, through the top of the tent I was in, somehow, and could see the gap-toothed image of my wife in the constellations. I rolled over only to find I was face down in the mud of Alligator Bay, with the dead body of Frank the Terrorist pushing me down. It was hard to breathe. I gasped and could almost hear myself and see myself – I was sleeping in the camper.

I fought to get air and felt Artemis pulling on my shoulder to turn me over. She helped me back to the tent, and I went back to sleep. Except that it was still a dream, so I must have been asleep all the time.

I thought to myself that this was one seriously fucked up dream!

I woke slowly and fumbled around to find my phone on the bed next to me. I was naked, so I knew I didn't put myself to bed. I had thrashed around in the night, cause the bed was rumpled on both sides. The heat-reflecting moon-blanket was draped over the bed, so I guess I was cold.

I tried to remember what happened after Arti picked me up from the mud. I knew I had staggered into the H2. I couldn't make out any details after that, except that I got to the bed. I guess she was there.

I remembered the dream about Afghanistan and my wife. I looked out through the door and down the length of the camper. Then I looked at the other side of my king sized bed. Arti was sleeping comfortably, on her side, with her back to me, on the far side of the camper, in her own bed.

I looked back at my bed. It was unlikely, I decided.

Then I got a look at myself in the mirror. My face was a mix of greasepaint and mud. The rest was practically clean. It was clean but didn't smell so good. What time was it? I looked at the phone, and found it was 1213 hours. I had slept a little over twelve straight hours!

I looked at the other side of the bed again. Some greasepaint there, but not as much as on my original side. It was possible. But if she had, why hadn't she stayed? It would have been easier, maybe, but maybe not.

"You're damn right: 'Maybe not, '" said Martinez. "You don't want any complications, so close to the end of a mission."

As usual, I decided Martinez was right.

I got some shorts and a t-shirt, and took my kit into the tiny bathroom / shower. I found a place that would be dry and hung my clean, dry clothes and towel there. I shaved then turned on the shower and felt the luxury of being clean and warm.

I guess I was in there a longish time, 'cause there came a pounding on the door.

"Zeus," she said, "I have to go. Are you going to be a long time? If so, I'm going to have to squat outside behind a bush."

"Wouldn't want you to embarrass the natives. I'll be right out."

I turned the water off, and took my now semi-dry towel down from its spot on the toilet seat. Wrapping it around myself, I opened the door and slipped out, with my formerly dry clothes – now damp with shower splash – and kit under my arm.

She pushed past me almost before I cleared the door. "Ahhk!" came from behind the door. "Everything in here is wet. And cold! Didn't you use hot water?"

I swapped my semi-wet but clean clothes, for all dry ones, and got myself properly attired for a trip to the campground's laundry. I had my sheets and clothes in a bunch, and was working on Arti's bed, when I heard the shower go on. I knocked on the door of the shower.

"Hey, Arti," I almost shouted to be heard over the running water, "I'm heading over to the laundry. I've got your sheets and the dirty clothes from the side of the bed. I'll see you later."

"Wait," came her reply. "Here."

A wet arm slithered around the door that opened a crack. She handed out the Lion King t-shirt.

A brief flash went through my mind of a wet and naked Artemis. I shook my head and almost got the image out of my mind. Almost. I added the T to the bundle of laundry and headed out.

Hey, Martinez, I thought to him, whaddya think? About the bed, I mean.

"You know I can only sense what's in your brain. So I have no idea. It seemed like a dream of your wife to me."

Not very enlightening.

"Maybe you should sleep with your eyes open. Then I'll be able to see while you're asleep."

That'll be restful. I'll sleep like a goldfish, with my eyes open.

He and I continued to banter back and forth inside my skull – or what was left of it – all the way to the laundry and back.

I popped open an app (that's the way to say it, right?) on my mobile phone and sent an email to Io. Her avatar appeared on my little screen.

"Hello, Zeus. How are you feeling, today?"

"Hiya, Io. Did you happen to monitor me, last night -- while I was sleeping, I mean."

"Yes, though I could monitor the room only through the microphone in your mobile device. You seemed to have disturbed sleep. You were muttering to yourself for many hours, until about 0400. After that, it was quiet."

"Anything else happen?"

"I have nothing to report. Speaking of reporting: the Holiday Inns rewards card was used in Haines City, Florida. We will almost drive through there on the way to Orlando."

"What will we do there? Ask for them at the desk? Look around for their car? Pin them into room with them having a cylinder of sarin gas? Shoot them in an urban setting where we'll almost surely be caught? ... No, much as I hate to say it. We have to wait for them to make a move toward the spot in Orlando."

"We could at least try to find their car so we'll know what it looks like," Io suggested.

"It is a light gray or white convertible, a Chevy rental," Martinez said. "I just got a flash when she was talking about the car."

License plate? Anything else to ID it? I prompted him, in case something else I said would prompt another flash.

"No, nothing."

"I've got something better, Io," I said. "Martinez just found the make and model of the car. A light gray or white Chevy convertible ... By the way, did you hear anything of what he just said?"

"No, nothing."

That was a strange coincidence. They'd said exactly the same thing.

"I figured the communications he had with you was somehow connected to the H2," I explained my theory.

"That seems likely, although I am puzzled about the mechanism. Incidentally, I am talking also with Artemis in the camper, and have relayed the information to her."

It was a bit strange to be talking to a person who was having a simultaneous conversation with someone else. On the other hand, it was very strange to be talking to an abiological intelligence who lived in the internet; so I guess I can gloss over a little multitasking on her part.

"How's everything going on the Disney stock situation?"

"Well, the markets are closed, of course, this being Saturday. The U.S. exchanges will not open until Tuesday. The overseas markets will open on Monday, since Memorial Day is not a holiday there. But Disney stock will not begin trading until Tuesday morning. The SEC has announced it is beginning an investigation into the trading of Disney. It seems some people were trying to create a short squeeze. The 'squeezees' are complaining bitterly. There is also an investigation of who exactly is doing all the buying, and who is doing all the short sales.

"It promises to be an interesting weekend. I think all our tracks are covered. Of course, most of the trading on our side came in at the last minute from the big computers owned by the big institutions and banks. Those are the same people who I feel were most responsible for the recent crisis in the financial system. They will profit greatly, and I feel badly about that. But they are not the targets du jour."

"It sounds like you and Arti have everything well in hand," I said. "See you later, alligator." I hung up on her before she could ask me about that one.

"You are a cruel man, L.T.," commented Martinez. "You know she isn't good with slang."

She has to have something to puzzle over. I think she enjoys these little conundrums, I replied. Or is the proper plural 'conundrae?' I wondered.

Entering the camper, I made like Santa Claus opening his pack. I set the laundry bag (made of a sheet, of course), on the camper's sole table and began sorting the folded garments.

My stuff was the boring same ol', same ol'. I made a production out of Arti's things, with little comments: "One pair of scandalous Daisy Dukes, regular panties, very large Sleeping Princess t-shirt, teeny tiny panties or is it a thong? No, not a thong, close though."

This was accompanied by eyebrow wiggling that would have made Groucho Marx proud. Arti wasn't rising to the bait. I was disappointed.

"If you sniff them, I'm going to have to wash them again," was all she said, her nose in the laptop. "I made some melted cheese and tomato sandwiches for lunch. You weren't here, so I ate them." A pause here, for dramatic effect. "I might be persuaded to make some more, when you're done pawing through my underwear."

"You're no fun at all," I groused at her, continuing to sort the laundry – without commentary this time.

"And you are a pre-vert," she said as she closed the laptop with a snap.

"Don't you mean 'pervert?'"

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