Ace Iverson and the Fabric of Fate
Season I: The Veil of Reality
Chapter II: Cato Hates California
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the PJO universe. All recognizable characters, plots and settings are the exclusive property of Rick Riordan. I make no claim to ownership.
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November 10, 2004
Los Angeles, California, USA
To put it simply, Cato Anders hated California. To elaborate, Cato really hated California.
There were a vast number of places he would have rather been at the moment. Being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic in the middle of Los Angeles wasn’t the way he would willingly choose to spend any ordinary day. Cato hated traffic. He hated people who were more focused on pleasing those around them than they were about being decent human beings. To Cato, people who were more focused on how they looked as opposed to how they acted were people who he just had no desire to give the time of day.
Needless to say, California was not a place Cato was at all fond of.
At least in Georgia, where he’d spent the first few years of his life, and in Tennessee, where he’d spent the rest, people would tell you bluntly how it was. In LA, Cato was forever worried that he was going to be stabbed in the back at any moment. Granted, he did have a tendency to overthink things.
Actually, that might’ve been an exaggeration. Cato had a tendency to drastically overthink things. Some people might have called that a weakness, but it had almost always served Cato well.
It was what had earned him the title of “child prodigy” at a young age, allowed him to graduate from high school four years earlier than normal, and allowed him to earn both his associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Greek history. Seeing as Cato was currently only eighteen years of age, he considered that to be his proudest accomplishment to date.
Overthinking things was — along with his natural curiosity, obsessive habits, and frankly superhuman abilities to process data — what had directly led to most of what Cato considered to be the major accomplishments in his still young life.
It was also what had taken him to this god-forsaken city when he would have rather been just about anywhere else on the planet.
Hell, as a connoisseur of Greek history and ancient mythology, Cato would take a good and honest trip to Erebus any day. At least in the realm of the mythological god of the Underworld, he knew all too well that he was walking into a death trap.
Cato very much doubted he would be taking up residence in California any time soon, but the proposal on the table was too generous to turn down. At least without very careful consideration. For the past four years, Cato had been working towards his PhD in Greek history at an accelerated rate. He currently studied at the University of Georgia, but UCLA had made him an offer he at least had to consider.
They were willing to offer Cato a more rapid path to earning his PhD, and even wanted him to become an associate professor on the topic. Many of the professors had read the reports he had written up on the subject, and it was unanimously decided that he was miles ahead of what his qualifications might show. If not for the lack of those qualifications, he would have promptly been offered a teaching position.
The prospect of rapidly accelerating his education on a full-ride scholarship, plus the opportunity to earn a rather generous sum of money whilst doing something he loved was quite an alluring option for Cato.
Unfortunately, accepting that offer required him to live in California.
The idiot in front of him who was currently braking harder than necessary any time he had the opportunity was a perfect example of exactly why Cato hated the state. He could see the campus now. It was looming not far in the distance. If not for the traffic, it would only take him several minutes to reach his destination. At that point, Cato would have to make a difficult decision.
It was very true that he wanted nothing to do with the state of California, but he was also an ambitious man at heart. That had always been the case, ever since he was very young.
When his father died as a result of a tragic mishap during his liver transplant just days after Cato’s high school graduation, he had only become more determined to make something of himself. His mother and father had broken up very soon after he’d been born, and he had never met the woman. Aside from a couple aunts and uncles who he was not overly close with, Cato didn’t have many people to rely on. Worse still, one could imagine how difficult it was for somebody so much younger than the rest of their peers to make friends in college, regardless of how brilliant the younger student might have been.
Cato was determined to make something of himself. To prove to himself that he didn’t need anybody. More importantly, he wanted to prove that those who had looked down on him were wrong. Those older students who sneered down their noses at him in spite of his academic prowess. Those kids who had bullied him years and years ago for being studious. Even his mother, for leaving him. He didn’t hold true disdain for her, whoever she was, but the thought of proving her wrong was one that appealed to him greatly. His father had assured him countless times that, despite her absence in Cato’s life, the two of them had split up on favourable terms.
Yet none of that meant Cato couldn’t use her as a catalyst for his ambition.
He wondered what his father would think right now. He thought the man would be over the moon if Cato took the offering by UCLA. He had always wanted the best for his son. As ambitious as Cato had been, his father had always pushed him further. He was the one who had comforted him all those years ago when he was picked on for his intelligence. And it had been he who had told Cato that the best way to feel better was to prove all of those kids wrong and outshine the lot of them.
Yet above all else, Steve Anders, Cato’s father, had wanted his son to be happy. Any choice Cato made, his father wanted to be sure that it was not only the choice which would further him in life, but the choice which would allow him to enjoy the process of living every step of the way. As Steve had put it, “Money and success don’t buy happiness. They only rent it.”
Cato knew those words to be true. The immediate high brought on by the achievement of a goal was certainly euphoric, but it was also short-lived in most cases.
True happiness had to be acquired by making choices that you wouldn’t regret at a later date. Choices that checked off your own personal boxes which quantified to you what happiness truly was.
As Cato slowly pulled his 1989 Chevrolet S10 onto the UCLA campus, he shook his head minutely. One of the only things that interested him nearly as much as history was philosophy. When considering this, it was no real surprise that he had a rather bad habit of falling into deep, philosophical thoughts. Oftentimes, it would lead him to major breakthroughs. On occasions like this, when a clear mind with a singular focus was required, it was unfortunately less productive.
Cato’s journey didn’t get much easier once he had pulled onto the school’s campus. Finding parking was very near impossible at the moment, and it wasn’t until almost an hour later that a rather relieved yet mildly irritated Cato stepped out of his lowered truck and pulled a map from his bag. Scanning the overview of the campus, he nodded once, stuffed the map back into his bag and began to make off in the direction he had to follow.
He’d been told to see a Mrs. Karen Digicento at the front desk. The problem was going to be finding that specific desk on this campus. It was massive, unnecessarily ostentatious, and overly complicated.
So just like the rest of California, Cato thought.
It took him a significant amount of time to find the proper building. When he finally did, there was thankfully no line inside. Not surprising, seeing as the students here would be in classes right now. Hell, he should technically be in classes right now.
“Can I help you, sir?” the brunette asked from behind the desk, looking up from a frankly absurd number of papers.
“Yeah,” said Cato. His voice was accented enough that one could tell he was from the southern United States. The accent wasn’t heavy, but it was there. “I was told to see a Mrs. Digicento about an appointment I had booked. Are you the person I’m looking for?”
“Yes, sir,” the woman answered, neatly turning to a computer on her desk and beginning to type at top speed. “What’s your name?”
“Cato Anders, ma’am.”
After a minute or so of typing, Karen nodded. “You’re here for a special meeting with our Director of Education, Mr. Morris?”
Karen nodded once more, standing promptly from her spot behind her desk. “If you’ll follow me, Mister Anders, I’ll take you to him now.” Cato followed her from the room and through a maze of hallways which he once more considered to be needlessly complex.
“So what brings you here, Mister Anders?” Karen was clearly trying to make casual conversation. “You look about school age, if you don’t mind me saying, and it’s a rather odd time to meet with schools, seeing as the semester started a couple of months ago.”
“I was asked to come here and meet with Mr. Morris. I was offered a scholarship and a staffing position to switch schools.”
Karen blinked and stiffened. “A staffing position? How old are you exactly?”
“And you were offered a staffing position?”
“Yes, ma’am. Assistant Professor of Greek History. I already have my associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. I’m working towards my PhD.”
“You’re a bit young to have those, no?”
“I graduated high school four years early. I was part of an accelerated learning program. Apparently, Mr. Morris thought some of the papers I’ve written on Greek history were interesting.”
“It’s a great school,” Karen promised. “I’m sure you’d feel right at home.” Cato very much doubted that, but he chose not to voice that thought aloud.
After a time, the two of them reached a well-polished door. Karen told Cato to wait outside while she herself entered to check if Mr. Morris was ready to receive his guest. About two minutes later, Karen exited the office and told him that he was all set, wishing him well before making her way back the way they had come.
Cato found himself completely free of nerves as he stepped into the large, bright, well-furnished office of Mr. Morris. The man himself was seated behind a polished, mahogany desk. He was clearly very old, appearing to be in his sixties at least. He still had a full head of hair, though by now, it was white; the same shade as snow. The same went for his eyebrows. He was tanned and thin, but had the look of a man who had at one time been athletic. Cato suspected that was a long time ago.
“Mister Anders,” greeted the UCLA Director of Education. His voice was a bit higher than Cato had expected, but he spoke very clearly. It was immediately evident to Cato that in spite of this man’s age, he was still admirably sharp.
“Yes, sir.” Cato took the seat already laid out for him across from Mr. Morris as he answered politely. “Thanks for inviting me here, sir.”
“Thank you for coming, Mister Anders. I wasn’t sure if you would, considering the fairly short notice and the long drive. I appreciate you making the trip down to California. I hope your drive was pleasant?”
Cato internally winced as he remembered the dickhead who had been in front of him for miles, slamming the brakes hard every chance he seemed to get. “It was alright,” he answered diplomatically. “A bit long, but not bad.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Mr. Morris said with what appeared to be a genuine smile. “Well, Cato, to business then.”
The two of them spoke for a little over an hour. Perpetually curious, Cato had a fair number of questions for the esteemed man sitting in front of him. For his part, Mr. Morris succinctly and satisfactorily answered every question Cato asked. It appeared to Cato as if the man really did want him at UCLA. And to his credit, he seemed to be doing his utmost best to get him to stay.
By the time their meeting had concluded, Cato had to grudgingly concede that the proposition laid out would be hard to turn down. He had a hotel booked in Los Angeles for the next few days, and he was planning to mull the offer over in detail before he committed one way or another.
It was as if Mr. Morris could read his thoughts, for he smiled benignly at Cato. “I don’t expect an answer today, Mister Anders. I actually encourage you not to give me one. As much as I would love to have you as a part of our institution, I also value the mental health of every member of my staff. I want to make sure you’re making the right decision for yourself as well as us. I’ll need an answer in the next week or so, but don’t feel any rush to give one any sooner.
“Before you leave today, I thought it was a good idea to introduce you to our Lead Professor of Greek History. Of course, he’s who you would be working most closely with, and he’s eager to meet you.” Mr. Morris coughed delicately. “If you have the time, of course.”
“Yeah, I’ve got time.” With a smile, Mr. Morris stood up from his chair and beckoned for Cato to follow him. He moved surprisingly well for one his age, and Cato found himself once more being led through the labyrinth of hallways that seemed to comprise the complex he currently occupied. He and Mr. Morris spoke less than he and Karen had done earlier. Cato liked him. He was kind but all business. Moreover, he made no attempt to hide that fact, which was something Cato was particularly appreciative of.
The door which evidently led to the primary history professor’s office was one of rich, dark oak. Mr. Morris knocked sharply on the door and scarcely twenty seconds later, it opened.
Standing in its entrance was a tall man who looked very stern. To Cato, he appeared the type of man who one would want to avoid crossing. He was tall and pale, with a hawkish face and black hair. His most striking feature was definitely the odd, irregularity that were his eyes. One of them was a dark blue whilst the other was a deep brown colour.
“Professor Thorne,” Mr. Morris greeted with a stiff nod. “This is Cato Anders, the prospective transfer student I told you about a few weeks ago.”
Thorne’s dark, mismatched eyes roamed over Cato and he felt an odd prickle on the back of his neck. It felt as if he was being x-rayed. Those eyes seemed to be studying him on a level far deeper than human vision was capable of.
“Of course.” Cato noticed that Thorne’s voice was accented. He wasn’t terribly familiar with French, since he’d never been much exposed to it in his life. Still, he was reasonably certain that’s what the accent was. “A pleasure to meet you, Mister Anders. I am Professor Thorne. I teach Greek ‘istory at zis institution.”
“Nice to meet you, sir.” Something about Thorne put him on edge. His movements seemed almost too deliberate, his words too measured. He played his role well, but Cato had a hard time believing that everything he was doing was perfectly genuine.
“Well, I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Mr. Morris decided. “Professor Thorne, you’ll have no problem showing Cato out once you’re meeting is over?”
“Of course not, Mr. Morris. I’ll make sure ‘e finds ‘is way out.”
“Excellent. Cato, if you have any questions you want to ask after today to help you make a more informed decision, you can phone or email me at any time. You should have both of them from our earlier discussions.”
“Yup, I’ve got ‘em. Thanks for everything, Mr. Morris. I’ll be in touch.” The white-haired Education Director stepped back and closed the door, leaving Cato alone in the room with the man who was set to become his new boss. Assuming, of course, that he took the offered position.
“Care for some tea, Mister Anders?”
“I’m alright, sir. But thank you.”
With a curt nod, Thorne took a seat behind his desk, gesturing for Cato to do likewise in the chair across from him. “You are quite young, non?” asked Thorne.
“Do you ‘ave any practical experience teaching?”
“I’ve worked as a tutor for about five years now, but that’s it.”
“What subjects ‘ave you tutored for?”
“History, philosophy, science and math. The last one isn’t really my strength though.”
“Fortunately, we ‘ave little use for math in our field of study. Tell me, Cato, ‘ow is it you came to be interested in Greek ‘istory?”
Cato shrugged. “My dad had a bunch of books lying around. Let’s just say you don’t want me to be bored.”
Thorne’s lips twitched. “Naturally.”
“I was four when I picked up the Iliad. Read it and the Odyssey back to back. Read Herodotus about a year later. Just kinda spiralled from there.”
“So your father was interested in Greek ‘istory as well?”
“Yup. We’d always talk about it after I read something new.”
For some reason, Thorne’s eyes seemed to narrow when Cato said that. Perhaps he had imagined it. It was possible, but for some reason, he didn’t think that to be the case.
“So you’ve studied it ever since?”
“Yup; history and languages have always kinda been my hobbies. Like I said, stuff happens when I get bored.”
The man studied him. “Who was Leonidas’s and Cleomenes’s father?”
Cato smirked. “That’s a trick question, sir.”
“Leonidas’s father was Anaxandridas. Thing is, he seceded Cleomenes, so technically, they’re not formally recognized as father and son.”
Thorne’s face didn’t change. “‘ow was ‘elen born?”
“From an egg her mother, Leda, laid after sleeping with a swan.”
“‘ow did ze city of Delphi get its name?”
“Because Apollo saved a ship in the form of a dolphin. The ship got to shore and the passengers founded Delphi. They called it that after his dolphin form.”
This time, Thorne’s eye twitched. For one reason or another, Cato felt as if the man sat in front of him was becoming agitated. His accent had become thicker and more pronounced over the course of his interrogation.
“You said anozer ‘obby of yours is learning languages?”
“Yes, sir. Mostly ancient ones.”
Thorne slid open a drawer and pulled a heaping stack of paper from it. “You know Ancient Greek, I take it?”
“Which dialects are you familiar with?”
“All forms of Aeolic, Doric, Ionic, Attic, Koine, Mycenaean and Arcadocypriot, with all sub-variants.”
Thorne blinked several times as Cato reeled all of that off casually and without preamble. He had to sort through his stack of papers for quite some time before he thrust one under Cato’s face.
“What does zat say, Mister Anders?”
Cato leaned down and studied it.
ζάω ὅλως δαπάνη
It appeared to be a fairly basic, later form of Doric blended a bit with Koine. “The rough translation is exist or live at all costs.”
Thorne nodded stiffly. Reaching into his pile once more, he withdrew yet another sheet. “And this one?”
Cato frowned, it was a dialect he wasn’t intimately familiar with. Yet, after looking at it for a few seconds, it clicked in his brain. “Rough translation is that the deception is over.”
Thorne smiled coldly. “Indeed it is, Mister Anders. Do you know which dialect that was written in?”
“That, Mister Anders, was Macedonian. Conveniently, you seemed to believe you didn’t know of zat dialect.”
Cato blinked. “I… don’t.”
“Oh, I do not zink you were lying, Mister Anders. No, it all makes perfect sense to me. It confirms what I ‘ave suspected about you for some time. Unfortunately, it means you won’t be getting ze job.”
Cato knew something terrible was about to happen seconds before all hell broke loose. On instinct alone, he threw himself to the left and out of the chair he’d just occupied. It was fortunate he had, for almost as soon as he had abandoned it, long spikes dripping with a greenish substance impacted hard against the backrest, directly where his chest had been.
Cato, a man of about six-feet tall with a fairly average build, didn’t appear to be the most athletic man around. Yet in this instance, he moved deceptively fast, scrambling to his feet instantly and only just avoiding a second volley of spikes. When he did get to his feet, he could hardly believe the sight that was taking place right in front of him.
Thorne’s face was still unmistakably human, but the rest of him had morphed right in front of Cato’s eyes. His body now resembled a lion’s more closely than it did a human’s and he had a long, spiked tail that would be impossible to miss.
Holy shit, Cato thought to himself dumbly. It’s a fucking manticore!
Cato’s first impulse was to reach for a concealed weapon. He was, after all, a southerner at heart. In his humble opinion, weapons should be carried at all times by those who knew how to use them. Then, he remembered exactly which state he was in and how strict their gun laws were and cursed internally.
‘Holy fuck, I really hate California!’
Seeing as a gun wasn’t an option, Cato reached for the nearest available weapon without hesitation. Best to strike now, whilst the manticore was evidently still distracted by its transformation.
It turned out that the nearest available weapon just so happened to be the chair that Cato had been sitting in just seconds before. With a grunt, he lifted the chair, hefted it above his head, and hurled it forcefully towards the manticore. The beast seemed too surprised to swat it away, so it had to lunge out of danger at the last possible second. The chair didn’t make an impact with the thing’s head as Cato had planned.
That was the bad news.
The good news was that a large, floor to ceiling window was situated behind Thorne’s desk. Since the manticore had moved, Cato had thrown the chair straight through that window, and the large hole it had created was exactly what Cato dove through before the manticore could so much as move. He heard the thing snarl in righteous indignation and fury once he was outside and he knew at once that the chase was very far from over.
Cato had no idea where he was going, he just knew that he had to get away from the building. He sprinted through the campus, looking for the parking lot which he had pulled into over an hour ago now. The manticore was on his tail. Thankfully, Cato was more agile than the beast behind him. What seemed odd was that the people on campus didn’t appear to notice what was going on. They obviously noticed something, but their reactions certainly weren’t dramatic enough for the situation at hand.
Cato weaved in and out of buildings, ducked behind trees and switched directions. Several times, the manticore just smashed his way through whatever Cato had used as a barrier. By the time Cato seemed to have lost the beast and wound up in an open field near the forests, he was both panting and reflecting on the amount of property damage he had indirectly been a part of.
Idly, he noticed how many birds were loudly squawking as they flew overhead.
He paid them no mind as he looked around frantically, doing his best to spot the path back to the parking lot. He didn’t look up, but he could hear the cries of the birds getting louder and louder and his pulse quickened. At this rate, they would lead the manticore straight to him in a matter of moments.
At that exact moment, three things happened at once.
The first of them was that Cato spotted a sign that seemed to mercifully be pointing him towards the parking lot he needed to find. The second of them was that with a mighty, vengeful cry, the manticore rocketed out of the forest behind him, snarling animalistically as it barreled towards Cato.
The third thing was what surprised Cato the most.
The birds swarmed him.
Cato quickly realized that these vicious little bastards weren’t normal birds at all. It became obvious when the devils started shooting their feathers at him as if they were arrows. His mind roamed over all the Greek myths he knew. As implausible as it may have been for mythological monsters to come to life, he was facing a manticore, so why not? If he wasn’t so in-tune with his mind, Cato might have thought he was dreaming.
But he knew better, and he knew exactly what these creatures were. Stymphalian birds; the sixth labour of Heracles. Not even he had been able to best them with brute force. The legendary hero had been forced to use brass bells given to him by Athena to force them to retreat before he’d been able to force them off.
Sighing, Cato thought to himself that this whole thing would really be so much easier if he wasn’t in California. It would be so much more convenient to just shoot them out of the sky.
With that not being an option, he was forced to take off running once more. By now, he was positively exhausted and taking deep, heavy breaths. He wasn’t out of shape, but he wasn’t in shape either. He was soundly average. Thankfully, adrenaline seemed to be dragging him along.
Moments later, Cato actually thanked whatever higher powers may exist that he was in California. As much as it pained him, he wasn’t sure where else he would just find a group of college students clowning around at the side of a large pool, blaring rock music at an ear-piercing volume in the middle of the afternoon. And better still, the devil birds had decided to attack Thorne, which had effectively slowed both of them down and allowed Cato to put some distance between himself and them.
Unfortunately, both the manticore and the birds could move far faster than he could. This meant that by the time he neared the pool, both of them were hot on his heels.
Mercifully, the loud, blaring rock music seemed to do the trick. Just when the stymphalian birds neared the pool, they all began to squawk in protest before, one by one, they turned and began to fly away. Cato glanced over his shoulder. The manticore was bearing down upon him, but there were now several gashes leaking blood all over the thing’s body.
The joys of celestial bronze beaks.
Cato brought his eyes back in front of him just in time. Without hesitation, he dove to the side, narrowly avoiding near disaster.
Less than a second later, a large, burly boy in his early twenties who had been running from his friend and almost hit Cato barreled into Thorne, sending them both crashing into the pool with a resounding splash. Despite the gravity of the situation at hand, as well as the fact that he had nearly died on a number of occasions in the last ten minutes, Cato actually laughed.
Something was clearly preventing these students from seeing the manticore for what he truly was. He was hardly complaining. Not only had that pool tackle been absolutely hysterical, but it may very well have saved his life. At the very least, it provided a much-needed opening that Cato greedily seized, sprinting towards the parking lot at top speed.
Another splash from behind him was accompanied by a fierce, feral roar that indicated to Cato that Thorne had already extricated himself from the pool and was back on the hunt.
But surely, Cato was already free. He was already in the parking lot, which was swarming with traffic by the time the manticore began to catch up with him. He could see his truck. Surely, by now, he was free…
That was what he thought up until the manticore leapt impossibly high, leapfrogging straight over Cato and landing directly between him and his Chevy S10.
The thing smiled predatorily at him, and he was sure for the first time that day that he was about to die.
That was until, with a panicked blast of its horn, a full-sized bus slammed into the manticore, evidently travelling too fast to slow down.
To Cato’s confusion, the bus didn’t even stop after running over Thorne. Clearly, these people really were blinded to the beast in one way or another.
But he hardly cared.
In an odd, fantasy-like way, Cato had watched the manticore crumble into golden duets as soon as the bus had run it over.
Now, without the pursuing monster, Cato found the relative silence around him quite deafening. With a shake of his head and several blinks of his eyes, Cato began to dazedly stroll towards his truck with a single thought replaying in his mind.
He really hated California, and would sure as hell not be taking the offered job at UCLA.
I always hate the first chapter of any of my fics, so chapter 1 was sort of a wash for me. Thankfully, I am actually quite happy with how this one turned out, so I hope you all enjoy it.
It’s nice to introduce Cato. I have a feeling he will be a fan favourite. It should also be noted that I do not endorse his views on California or gun laws. It is used primarily for comedic relief. I have visited there only once and enjoyed myself quite a bit. Just know that my characters’ views don’t always reflect my personal opinions.
Please read and review.
Thank you to my lovely Discord Editors Asmodeus Stahl and Athena Hope for their corrections/contributions this week.
PS: The next chapter will be posted next Sunday, November 22nd, 2020.
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