Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Alphabet Soup: Chapter Six
Hurrying up the stairs as fast as she could, Delos forced herself not to think about the fact that she was carrying a large box that kept her from seeing her feet, which meant she was climbing the stairs by muscle memory. Some thoughts were too unnerving to have when only half way up the stairs. At the bottom or at the top, sure fine. But not the middle. The box, moderately heavy, sloshed and clinked gently as she moved, full as it was of bottles of medical disinfectant and some needed glassware. Moving briskly down the hallway, Delos now dodged and wove between other hurrying Amazons, many of them rushing to new or reorganized deployments now that the main lines of flight for refugees were clear. The Blue army had learned the hard way that no one was going to tolerate strafing and bombing civilians, when their bombers found themselves under sustained fire from the ground and from much slower but far more manoeuvrable Turkish and Greek warplanes, and not a few planes from the Bulgarian home forces. The newspapers were full of astonished accounts of desperate people managing to bring down or at least drive them off using the cast off, high power, long range fancy rifles foreign male tourists used to shoot animals with. The irony that old-fashioned planes that didn't have multiple computers in them had better flying characteristics than the new-fangled ones that couldn't fly if any of their computers crashed missed no one. Nor that their fuselages were armoured only in the front, because the assumption was the pilots would always be in one on one fights in the air. Finally reaching her desk, Delos plopped the box down beside it, then hurriedly set down her bag and thumped into her chair, dragged her laptop into place, woke it up and set to work, hardly looking up.
On her side of the office, Tiffany stared at Delos, wide-eyed. She couldn't understand why Delos didn't welcome her pointers and advice. Her parents had reassured her that only women who lacked real life skills and so couldn't find husbands washed up in places like the Amazon Nation for good, wherever it was. Delos seemed like exactly the sort of woman her parents had in mind. All Delos seemed to do was work, constantly reading or practising, or training with somebody else on some aspect of medical work. It had taken several weeks, but Tiffany had accepted that Delos really was a doctor, and a busy and well-respected one. Of course, she wasn't all that serious, Tiffany reflected. Her father had told her that the best and most dedicated doctors were specialists. Delos seemed to do some of everything at random, without charging any fees. Poking unhappily at the textbook on her desk, Tiffany sighed loudly. Worse yet, these screwed up women insisted she had to learn their language, which was obviously just some kind of mongrel jargon. Well, she was going to ignore them. She didn't need to learn, there was always someone around who could speak english.
Standing up, Delos looked around distractedly, then walked back to the section of the office lined with her books and laboratory bench. The bench looked rather strange for a medical researcher's work area, in light of Tiffany's pile of hyper-feminine stuff all over it. Without saying a word or behaving in any way that suggested what she was about to do was unusual, Delos paused briefly at the bench. Then stepped past it to open the window, leading Tiffany to relax her guard and return to her more usual pastime of ostentatiously filing her nails and popping her chewing gum while trying not to look too intellectual. For her part, Delos returned to the bench, and began briskly hauling away armfuls of Tiffany's stuff, pitching it firmly out the window. Having unburied her instruments and reagents, Delos finished by chucking several armfuls of clothes and a box of toiletries to join the astonishing pile outside the window. Then she went to grab a notebook from her desk and began laying out equipment and materials, all apparently oblivious to the increasingly outraged Tiffany.
"What are you doing?" screamed Tiffany, her vocal cords no longer paralyzed by shock. "That's my stuff! How dare you, you, you, you..." She threw her nail lacquer angrily across the the room, splattering the smelly and actually quite fetchingly coloured stuff – a sort of peach-toned traffic cone orange – all over the panelling below the window Delos had just been throwing things out of.
Momentarily distracted from her task, Delos stared at her blankly. "Ti echeis?" she asked.
"Don't you try any of that gibberish on me! You think I don't know what you're all playing at here, larping at being men!" She was getting a good head of steam on now, but Delos was not obliging her in any way, not even with the long suffering sighs that Tiffany had gotten used to. Instead, the doctor's gaze soon became abstracted again, and she went back to setting up the laboratory bench.
Just as Tiffany had taken a breath to try telling off Delos again, another Amazon walked into the office. Tiffany didn't know it, since she made a point of not attending any classes or otherwise participating in Amazon life because she understood that she wasn't going to be there long, the woman standing there was none other than Avi Ionnidis. The incorrigible nature of this particular evacuee to the Amazon Nation had come to Avi's notice in the worst way, with the extra fillip provided by the sudden descent of an extraordinary pile of debris poured out of the window by Delos. Avi gazed intently at Tiffany, who looked very underfed and appallingly young in her carefully smoothed down crop-top and painfully tight looking blue jeans. A small group of young women of Tiffany's background were in the Nation now, all so utterly shocked by their surroundings that they had doubled down and doubled down again on what they thought they knew. Such reactions weren't unheard of. But the Amazons had no time for dealing with this now.
"Who the hell are you? Are you Delos' boss? If you are, you should fire her! I demand that you fire her!" shouted Tiffany. Bemused, Avi stepped carefully around the now red-faced woman and approached Delos, who had just lit up a Bunsen burner after plugging in a centrifuge.
"Delos, what are you doing?" Avi had never seen Delos so utterly taken up with something like this before.
"Infectious disease running rampant in the reception camps since last night, very nasty, I am collaborating on sequencing and development of emergency treatments. Not deadly but could cause a lot of trouble if not taken seriously, too many people under too much stress." Hooking up her laptop to another set of instruments, Delos frowned. "I'm sorry Kepler, but I really don't have time to talk."
"That's quite all right." Avi almost turned away, then stopped short. "Oh, Delos, Tiffany wants me to fire you. I don't know what this means considering you aren't a gun or a pot."
"Oh, she means she wants you to chuck me out of my job." Digging glassware out of the box, Delos added, "She refuses to learn a damn thing about how things work here. I've given up talking to her or explaining."
"Ah. Well, anyway, I will say the words to mollify her, but of course I have no cause or authority to fire you in any of the three meanings I am now aware of for the word." Avi declared gravely, mostly for Tiffany's benefit. If she felt she was being obeyed she wouldn't go into hysterics right away. Tugging up her pants a little, Avi turned back to Tiffany. "Why are you here?" Asked in english.
"What?" Tiffany blurted.
"Answer the question."
"I, look my father sent me here. All the women here are losers. I don't know why!" Tears began to leak out of the corners of Tiffany's eyes.
"You begin to give a more truthful answer." Avi rubbed her chin with one hand. "Come with me."
"To show you why you are here." Avi replied evenly. "If the answer does not please you, I will see to it that you are returned home within the week." That got Tiffany moving.
"What about my stuff?"
"What about it?"
"My stuff?" Tiffany gestured first at her uneven piles of stuffed animals and fashion magazines, then with greater vigour towards the open window. "I need it."
"You will have to select the few items you genuinely need, because the rest of it wil have to go into storage. We need all the space we can get in these buildings for medical equipment and related materials." Glancing out the window, Avi waved back the toxic waste management crew back. The pile of stuff wasn't that bad, surely? Then a strong smell of heavy perfume and lacquer from a broken nail polish bottle nearly knocked her down. Changing her mind in a hurry, Avi waved frantically to get the crew to come back. They moved back towards the pile. "Just clean things up, try to preserve the woman's things." she called down to them.
"Where are we going, and what are those lesbos doing with my stuff?" Tiffany's voice rose unpleasantly.
"A viewing room. We won't be back Delos, I will send a crew to pack and remove Tiffany's things." Delos nodded vaguely. "And Delos," this in something very close to what even Avi's partner referred to as "THE VOICE OF THE GODDESS AND HAD YOU EVER BETTER LISTEN." Delos' head shot up. "After you have finished setting up that sequencer, if I don't hear from the head doctor that you have reported the awkward situation with your ex-lover so that it can be resolved by the end of this week, I can think of a better place for you to work with no chance of so much as seeing Omega's Folly from a distance with one eye."
Delos winced. She was up for a change in work areas, but not that big a change. "I'll talk to Morgaine, tomo..."
"Today? Excellent, wonderful news, better for everyone all around. Grab your teddy Tiffany and let's be on our way." Tiffany glared mutinously at the older woman, annoyed at how she spoke in one language to Delos and an oddly accented english to her. She didn't know what that weird voice thing was, but it didn't sound nearly enough like "you're fired" to suit her.
The priestess and her annoyed charge had been gone almost a full hour before Delos realized what time it was, and that she had better hurry if she was going to speak with Morgaine before she left for the day. While Kepler Ionnidis couldn't arbitrarily fire anyone, especially someone in an area of work she was unfamiliar with, she could make it damnably hot for someone who ran afoul of her if she found it necessary. At this point Delos had no interest in further misery. The whole Tiffany situation was bad enough. She had half-expected Tiffany to try to stop her or start clearing away her own stuff once it began to fly out the window, but the woman had just sat there. The thought stopped Delos short. She turned her mind back to the moment when she had turned back to grab more stuff the second time, glancing over to see what Tiffany was doing.
Of course, Tiffany was aggressively performing femininity, as one of the wry survivors of several university courses in queer theory Delos knew casually from the morning scrums at the office would say. Except, instead of paying attention to the nail she was filing, Tiffany watched her things. Not Delos, but the things, as Delos dragged them away from her workbench and chucked them out the window. Watched with a strange expression, the strange expression of someone desperately relieved to see the back of all that crap, and shocked to realize they were relieved not angry or upset. But still feeling like they had to pantomime they were angry or upset, so the world wouldn't come down around their ears. Checking her equipment one more time before heading for Morgaine's office, Delos wondered one more time just what Tiffany was doing in the Amazon Nation. There were other places to wait out what was happening that would be less threatening to a woman's sense of self if she were not friendly to Amazons or interested in being one.
Reaching the firefighter's pole at the end of the hall, Delos sighed. She hated the damned thing, not least because she was not a fan of sliding down it. But there wasn't time or material to put in proper stairs, and no space for them either, so Delos stepped onto the little platform attached to the pole by a ring and grabbed a corresponding handle at just above waist level, then pressed a button to release the brake. Of course, this rig was not common to firefighter's poles generally, but this way a person could also use the pole to get back upstairs. The platform dropped down at a sedate pace, so Delos had time to exchange brief greetings with women as she descended the four floors to Morgaine's office.
"'Lo Frank. Hi Jenn."
"How 'bout them Jays, eh Delos?"
"I'm not from Canada, sorry." Ever since the newcomer from Canada who wouldn't sign her name to her voucher book had shown up, everyone seemed to be trying out their small store of Canadian factoids and references on her rather than the newcomer. Delos found this utterly mystifying. She was originally from Croydon, south London – England. Why didn't anyone ask, "How 'bout them Castles, they're on a tear this year!" Which they were, the women's premiere league football club looked ready to win top honours, if the war didn't intervene first. In any case, the person who would most enjoy their dubious Canadianisms was Benny whatever her name actually was, not her. And new people needed all the welcoming they could get, the Amazon Nation was non-trivially different. Delos still hadn't quite gotten over the first time she had attended a major ceremony and seen extra eyes peering out of the back of another woman's head.
The eyes weren't real of course.
"Someone else needs the transport, Dale." Kristen from shipping nudged her, and Delos jumped off, annoyed that she had gotten distracted.
"Sorry, Geo." Geo waved her off, and then hooked the binders from the top and bottom of her wheelchair to the two rings, and satisfied all was ready, hit the button to release the brake and activate the hydraulics. She was two floors up before Delos found her way through precarious piles of boxes and stacks of wrapped pillows and blankets to Morgaine's desk, the former tailgate of a large pick up truck bolted to two sawhorses for legs. A rickety bar stool served as her desk chair, defying all efforts to persuade her to adopt something more ergonomic. Instead, Morgaine perched on the stool and worked her way through piles of papers and plans that arrived on the right side of her desk, then vanished from the left side of her desk, whisked away almost as soon as she set them down. Erzevad Morgaine's ability to balance and rebalance Amazons and their equipment in her head using pen, paper, maps, and up to date figures was justly famous. The light on her earpiece flashed as she listened to the data stream and continued updating the latest plans.
"Managed to wind yourself up enough to see me, or did the Kepler light a fire under your butt?" Morgaine leaned back precariously, pausing the datafeed and tapping the end of her pencil on the desktop in front of her. The desk echoed softly with each tap.
"You've been expecting me?"
"Of course, the area you work in has made less and less sense for weeks. Why didn't you come to see me sooner?"
"Because I thought things would work out on their own."
"Delos, you and I both know very well that there is good reason that doctors don't doctor their own families or ex-lovers." Morgaine leaned the other way, at such an impossible angle that Delos began to wonder if maybe there was a trick to it, maybe a bar attaching it to the desk somewhere? She tried to look without seeming to look.
"I didn't think Omega's Folly was in my working area. The map certainly didn't show it was."
"Yes, well, that's because your area isn't making sense. The printers forgot to turn off the scrambler function when they were running off the map, and to make things worse, the Folly is in a shifting sector." Straightening up, Morgaine pulled a new map out of the pile of documents on her right. "This is the map you should use. And don't worry about the Folly, it takes a good while for even the Amazons who figure it out to navigate easily around there."
Accepting the new map, Delos unfolded it and located the building they were in, then pinpointing several other landmarks she knew well, including The Lake That Might Tell You It's Name If You're Super Lucky. "Wait, where is the road that leads to Omega's Folly?" she asked, startled to see it missing.
"There is no road." Morgaine declared sagely.
"That's ridiculous. I drove on it not too long ago." Delos objected.
"They haven't had a chance to rebuild it yet. I told you, it's a shifting sector." Not seeing any reason to continue the conversation, Morgaine moved to restart the datafeed.
"Wait, that's it?"
"Yes. Off you go. Say hello to the lake on your way."
Unsure whether to be pleased or more annoyed, Delos left Morgaine's space to clamber back up to her own office and check her equipment again. Checking the state of Tiffany's stuff outside and inside for good measure, she was duly impressed at the now neatly packed junk, smelly stuff removed. The other half of the office was now empty but for the basic desk, chair, and shelves again. The Amazons now set to loading all of the boxes into a cube container which would be sealed and Delos suspected used to line part of the bunker trenches being built up to protect the long lines of refugees from weather and worse things. Most of Tiffany's stuff seemed to be indestructible plastic, so it would probably all come out without any damage. Well, except potentially the fashion magazines.
How Tiffany had wound up assigned to this office remained a stubborn puzzle.
Tiffany was feeling better and better all the time. She had known it all along. These loser women weren't just losers, they were hypocrites. They weren't the hyper-granola types they pretended to be at all, she thought triumphantly as she followed Avi into a large room full of computers with multiple monitors attached to one wall. They were probably just pretending to have nothing to do with capitalism too. Certain of her own righteousness, Tiffany marched up to the wall of monitors, which was a mistake. Getting closer to the equipment revealed its age, and how much of it had obviously been refurbished. Other items looked like nothing and no brand she had ever seen before. "So you people must pay through nose for this from Japan, right?"
Avi simply watched the young woman strut arrogantly around, reeling off various brand names and pointing to various things which must have been from them. In truth, there was no way for her to tell, since the branding tended to be engraved or embossed into the original plastic and vinyl or steel and aluminum covers. Amazons had better use for those materials and the first step in refurbishing was removing the original shells for recycling. Practically speaking it didn't matter if Amazons did or didn't have noble sentiments towards the Earth. They had no choice but to clean up their act or die among the piles of their own trash. Boosting a hip onto the edge of a bank of printers, Avi let the young woman continue her rant. She needed to get it out of her system. The other Amazons in the room kept glancing at Avi, but she reassured them all was well. This person was not dangerous, just a bit noisy.
"Shall we continue on to the viewing room?" Avi interrupted finally, stopping a disquisition on why Amazons ought to stop being too stuck up to wear high heels. "I am unsure of the source of your generalizations on these points, since you have hardly seen anyone since you arrived here."
Then they moved on to an apparently empty room, except for a large pool that encroached from one side, apparently overwhelming the gradually sinking floor. It was absurdly pretty, with a scattering of lawn chairs for people to sit in and relax. Irregularly shaped windows allowed light in from outside, and other openings let the fresh air in. Perhaps it was less a room than a part of the underlying mountain partly enclosed rather than blasting it apart. In any case, no equipment apart from the lawn chairs seemed to be anywhere. Just those, and an unexpected stone bridge that broke off halfway into the water. Avi sat down in one of the less tatty lawn chairs and let out a long, happy sigh. Few places technically indoors were as nice as this one.
"Is this some kind of joke? What the hell am I gonna see in here?" Tiffany's diction had been getting rather rougher as she went on for the past hour. Some progress being made there, Avi reflected.
"Do you want to see the Outside?"
"You mean there's a step ladder so I can look out these pathetic windows?" sniped Tiffany.
Avi smiled enigmatically. "Well, you could if you really wanted to. I'm sure we could get a step ladder from somewhere. In fact there's no need to work so hard. Just look around." True to her word, the walls began to light up, and now Tiffany could see images taken all over the world from surprising angles, focussed on ridiculous things. Like libraries and schools, or flowers and giant mud puddles with lots of birds swimming in them.
"What the hell is all this? Where are the projectors?" Tiffany began walking along the broken stone bridge, surprised to find it sound with no holes. On closer inspection it wasn't broken. It just stopped. The ceiling was too high or the lighting too diffuse, Tiffany couldn't track down the beams from the projectors. "Rear projectors then? This is a total fake."
"No. There are no projectors in the way that you're thinking." Avi folded up her legs, making the lawn chair list dangerously. "You don't have to stay here if you don't want to. Just tell us where you would prefer to go, and we will do our best to get you set up so that you don't have to do what you were before to survive unless you really want to." She paused, and switched the datafeeds so that her charge could see something more familiar yet still reasonably pleasant. Hard to arrange when so much of the Outside had been mowed down and covered over with asphalt and brutalist architecture where Tiffany came from.
"I'm not interested in being a lesbo." snarled Tiffany.
"Plenty of Amazons have no interest in having sex with other women. It is not a qualification or requirement to be one to be a lesbian, though of course it is helpful." Avi replied mildly. Tiffany glared at her, not wanting to accept that she was not being put upon.
"I don't want your help."
"You displayed incredible determination and quick thinking to get here. It seems to me you applied your skills to get here because you wanted to be in a place where you would be valued as a real person. That doesn't equate to being waited on hand and foot or never working. Perhaps you will need to try a number of different things to figure out what that is you would like to do with your time." Satisfied the lawn chair was not going to give up just yet, Avi adjusted the datafeeds again, sending a request for some views of places closer to Tiffany's hometown.
"I already told you I don't want your help." snapped Tiffany.
"If that is the only way you can see people not actively trying to exploit and hurt you, then I think we are at an unfortunate impasse. Do you want to go back?"
"No! Yes... I don't know." Tiffany was no longer crying fake tears. "I don't want anything from you people."
"Actually, you do. It's just that you don't want to give anything back. This is an understandable reaction."
"What, you're not going to scold me for being selfish? You think this is fine?"
"No, you're an adult. And anyway, you know how things truly stand. There are parts of the Nation where you can go into isolation without any supplies for as long as you like if you insist." Unfolding herself and clambering out of the lawn chair, Avi shook her head slightly. She had hoped that maybe this woman had actually intended to come to the Nation as opposed to simply escaping immediate danger from her pimp. Sometimes mistakes like this happened. Of course the woman couldn't be forced to stay or to go into isolation or anything else. "We also have connections with safe shelters on the Outside. We can help you get to one of those rather than staying here."
"Fine. I want out." snapped Tiffany.
"This isn't a prison." Eerily, the bridge suddenly ceased to end apropos of nothing. Now it extended apparently into one of the images. "The house you can see there, is one of the safe shelters. Go right ahead." Tiffany glared at her defiantly.
"This is a stupid ass trick."
"I should demonstrate that it works, that is true." Avi chose not to engage with the accusation. Instead she slipped off her jacket, which would look too unusual where the safe house was, smoothed back her hair, then walked over the bridge, onto the street in front of the safe house. It was much warmer there, and the air smelt a bit odd. Like plastic, or the sort of chemicals used in spray cans to make their contents come out evenly. Checking the local time, Avi smiled. Perfect, the hour between meals, so not too much hustle and bustle, which clearly the other woman could not tolerate yet. "You see."
"I don't believe this." But Tiffany walked over the bridge and stepped down into the street, looking around to see an ordinary slice of suburbia. Patches of resentful grass filling up the lawns, lots of cookie cutter houses. She walked hesitantly down the street to check the signs, and spun around in shock. "I know this place!" She looked back where she had walked from, unnerved to see that she seemed to have walked out of the side of another house. "This is so fucked up."
A woman came out of the safe house, glancing at Avi. Avi motioned to Tiffany and went over to speak to her.
"This is the one, huh?" the other woman asked.
"Yes. She never meant to go all the way to the Nation, and it has caused her more distress. We did not intend this." Avi sighed unhappily.
"Accidents happen, she'll be okay here and soon be back on her feet. What's her alias?"
"She goes by Tiffany." The other woman winced.
"That's a common one. She's a survivor though. She'll be okay." Patting Avi on the arm she added, "I'll take over from here. You go on home and close that door before we all get in trouble." Then she went over to Tiffany, and they were still speaking when the image of the Viewing Room and its bridge faded away from the side of the other house, leaving them in the very ordinary world of suburban lawns, mass produced vinyl decks, and noisy robins.
"Okay, let's get down to reality, what..." Tiffany looked around for Avi, and then the place she had walked from. "What the hell!" She turned to look at her new acquaintance, who smiled gently.
"Yes, this is real and yes, you are safe. No, you will probably never see any Amazons again. They don't show themselves twice to women who don't want to see them. They can take a hint. You'll forget in time." She waited. Of course, no one ever pointed out just how long "in time" was. It didn't make any useful difference. She glanced discretely at her watch. Less than two minutes now. Then she began to count down softly under her breath.
"So look, I lost my ID and stuff. The bastard took it when I got to what I thought was an actual workplace." Tiffany snorted sarcastically. "More fool me. Then I thought just dancing in a bathing suit and heels would be no big deal, you know?" She began walking with the other woman towards the safe house. "Anyways, my friend Joyce, she made me promise that if I had any chance to get out, any chance at all, I would. Stay off dope, get out. I didn't want to promise."
"But you did."
"Joyce rocked the house. I – she was an awesome person. She should never have had to live like that. Or die like that." Tiffany scowled bitterly.
"You're absolutely right. Would you like to come inside? Dinner will be on soon, and we can talk some more. You can stay as long as you like, and we'll sort out new ID and other things for you."
"What's the catch?" Tiffany asked suspiciously.
"No catch. We really just want to help. That's all. We're not religious weirdos or cops or anything like that. Just women who were able to get out of the life. We work together to help other women who want to do the same or even if they just want to be safe for awhile." The other woman paused, rubbing at her forearms, which now Tiffany could see were full of old tracks on the inner sides. "You can always leave if you want."
Tiffany frowned. Somehow that sounded oddly familiar. "All right, I'll check this shit out. What's for dinner?"
For a long, long time, Avi stood at the end of the broken bridge, gazing at the now blank wall, streaming gently with the water that ran constantly down the stones. It always upset her a little, not that some women didn't want to stay or experience much of the Nation, because there always would be women in that position. No, the women who didn't merely not want to know or had no interest, but who were actively determined to deny the evidence of their own senses and reason rather than accept there was such a place, that women could live in other ways. Avi had watched Tiffany as the memories flickered out of her eyes and she began to reframe and re-story what she had experienced until it became a sort of fever dream that struck while she was still using certain opiates. Watched sadly as Tiffany – or whatever her name really was – shrank back into herself, and her shoulders tightened under an invisible but heavy weight. But, at least they had been able to help her get to a place of greater and safer possibility that she did seem to want. That was something. Avi turned, intending to just walk back. Then spoiled the moment by missing her footing and falling in the pool, which after all was only a metre or so deep.
Bouncing up with barely a splutter, Avi shook herself and clambered back out, retrieving her jacket and exchanging greetings with a rather alarmed acolyte. "There's no need to worry, it's just water." Avi reassured her, and that was going to be her story all the way back to her office, where unbeknownst to her Cue was already anxiously waiting, knowing all too well that Avi always took having to send a woman back hard.
Jed beamed at her new boots. They were warm, water resistant, and in her opinion quite fetching. They gleamed dully after a good polish, old-fashioned basic black with elastic sides and no buckles. Now duly equipped and feeling reasonably well, Jed was updating her floor map again, and taking measurements. The house was shifting, and it looked like the newer section would have to be raised or even taken down to reset the foundation. This would be exciting work, except that the newer section was a significant part of Benny's half of the house. Benny might not find the work so exciting. In fact, she might find the increasing state of upheaval of the floor in what might have been an original foyer in her half of the house just plain alarming. Actually, Jed thought as she gazed at the state of the floor, which was getting distinctly odd even by her standards, she was getting alarmed. Instead of just being uneven, the floor had begun to look suspiciously as if it had the entry way to a subway station in it.
Walking over to the house intercom station, Jed picked up the receiver and rang Benny's home office. Benny had happily taken over the towerish looking bit of her side of the house, the part with the brick work cut to fit against the mountainside, and spent most of her working time at home there when Arion was out. For her part, despite her best efforts Arion was beginning to have a couple of rooms of her own over in Benny's side of the house, which Chris and Jed both found excruciatingly adorable.
"Hi Jed, what is it?" Benny always sounded puzzled and a bit cross when she answered the intercom, which Jed did not take personally.
"Your side of the house seems to be growing a subway station, Benny." Dead silence at the other end of the line.
"Jed, do you have a temperature?"
"No, of course not! Do you really think any member of my family would let me wander around by myself if I did?" Certainly Jed's family wouldn't allow it deliberately, though it could happen accidentally. Agape managed to catch up with her errant aunt who on one hand did not have a fever, but was supposed to be letting her help map the house. Then they had each gotten distracted by different interesting things, and the wise beyond her years Agape had concluded it would be up to her to find her aunt, not the other way around. "It really does look like a subway station. I find this deeply disturbing." Jed stretched the receiver cord as far as it could go and peered at the problematic section of floor again. "Subways are noisy, Benny. And they tend to smell like that awful hydraulic fluid in those buses that kneel. Though, the wind tunnel effects are awesome!" Jed's entire face lit up. If they could get a wind tunnel out of this, that would make up for all the disturbing bits.
A few minutes later Benny had arrived to look at the state of the foyer of her house. And discovered to her dawning horror that Jed was not feverish and there really was a subway station apparently growing in her house. She sat down with a shocked thump in front of it, too overwhelmed to answer Jed's delighted questions and exclamations. A warm wind blew out of the open stairwell, though there was no sound of trains. Oddly enough, despite having the signage that subway stations generally do, all the signs were blank. Even basic ones indicating where not to stick hands or feet, blank. "Why would this be here?"
"This is a shifting sector. Sometimes things pop up like this. Maybe I could revamp the third wing in back of my side of the house, that would be a wonderful wind tunnel." Now that Jed had the idea in her mind, she couldn't let go of it. It pleased her too much.
"What are you going to do when people start coming out of it?" Agape asked unflappably.
"Nobody is going to come out of it." Benny sighed.
"Better tell her that." True to Agape's word, someone was climbing rather wearily up the stairs.
By the time she reached the landing before the last flight of stairs, Chandler was wondering how she could be so tired after spending so much time getting into top condition in this place. When she had bumped into a younger woman obviously terrified and in desperate need of an out, together with the sort of feminine demeanour that would easily fob off any serious questions, she had gladly exchanged tickets and handed the woman all her credit cards and money. Well, the stuff her father gave her. She was going to the Amazon Nation no matter what he wanted, to train to be a doctor and do real work in the world, not play at high stakes gambling and legalized theft. The only thing Chandler had resorted to the money for was to get basic useful clothes because if she had tried to trade in the awful Gucci heels and the rest of it for money instead of newer styles, that would have drawn too much attention. It had surprised Chandler very much to find a train station where there shouldn't have been one according to the directions in her letter from the Amazon Nation's immigration office, but rather than flee the scene, she had thrown caution to the wind and gone right in.
Later Chandler would concede that this had been a daft thing to do. Yet she hadn't felt at all afraid, and not even about her lack of any food, water, or supplies. She had just gone right ahead, and spent four days exploring the area and finally travelling along the tracks by foot, since there was no sign of any train. Then she had arrived at the next station, as empty and full of blank signage as the last, very hungry, very thirsty, yet feeling as if she had spent days getting buff in the gym, in a good way. Not sore, just exhilarated. The station had no way out, its stairs ended in a blank wall. So she walked on to the next one, and at the fourth, here was a stairwell that went somewhere and even had a de rigeur broken escalator. Rather than climb that she had stuck to the ordinary stairs, and now Chandler was wondering just what sort of world she was going to walk out into, because it didn't exactly look like daylight up there.
So she was not taken aback when the station was inside a house. After all, lots of train stations were inside of malls where she was from. Chandler put her hands on her hips and turned slowly to look around until her gaze fell on the startling tableau of three people. One, a dark headed woman sitting on the floor, another standing a short distance away drawing on a large pad, and an adolescent girl frankly staring at her. The woman sitting on the floor spoke up first. "Where did you come from? How did you get here?"
"I walked. I was expecting to catch the train out to the first boundary marker but this station popped up. Chandler Marlinspike – yes that's my real name, no, don't ask." she held out her hand to shake, which Benny shook, still looking shocked. Then Benny leapt up, blurting, "Good grief look at you, when was the last time you ate?"
And that was it for Jed's wind tunnel and figuring out the phantom train station until Chandler had been duly fed, bathed, and reclothed, though she insisted she didn't need to sleep yet. "I slept whenever I wanted down there."
"Anyway, I just got off the horn with Avi, and she says to expect more oddments like this, as the sector is moving through a major area of distortion." Jed burbled merrily. "And you, you are the person who is supposed to be sharing offices with Delos. She is going to be so relieved to have someone else around who has similar interests and actually wants to be there."
"Makes sense." Chandler looked up from where the checker game she was gravely playing with Agape, who did not speak english and was not interested in learning it either. Who needed it as long as there were board games?
"Not that it's a bad thing, but you sure seem to be taking this all in stride." Benny commented, pouring hot water for tea.
"The whole world is cracked in scary ways where I came from. Sure those train stations were weird, but I was totally safe the whole time and managed to get to where I meant to go. How many people can say that?" Chandler paused to jump several of Agape's pieces, making the girl laugh. She discovered a moment later that this was not a chagrinned laugh but a triumphant one, as Agape cheerfully cleaned out all of her pieces. "Darn, maybe we ought to play chess."
"Agape has been playing chess since she was four." Jed noted proudly, and gave Agape a one-armed hug for good measure. For her part Agape acted uncharacteristically for a moody teenager and turned to hug Jed fiercely with both arms back. Instead of hurrying the moment, Jed carefully knelt down so she could hug her niece better. Myrrhine had begun to worry that maybe Agape was a little too calm about everything, and Jed had suggested that maybe she wasn't, she was just doing her best to seem that way because everyone else was upset.
"Lots going on for her too, huh?" Chandler asked gently.
"Yes, and she is a brave and wonderful young woman who has had to grow up outrageously fast." Jed repeated this fondly into Agape's hair in Greek, and patted her gently when Agape produced something between a snort and a sob.
"How long will the train station be there?" Benny asked, staring at the surreal structure through the bannisters. They were in the second floor sitting room, just adjacent to the foyer.
"Not long, it's too big to remain stable." Jed replied. "Should be gone again overnight. I do wonder where it came from originally though, it is very strange that all the things that would usually have writing have nothing."
"It's like a movie set." Chandler mused thoughtfully. "Do you Amazons make that sort of thing here?"
"Not really, too expensive and we have lots of other things to build that are far more interesting. Like wind tunnels!" Jed's eager discussion of these was interrupted by a rumbling smash from the foyer.
All four women rushed to the landing, only to see the torn up floor collapsing back into relative place, the train station having vanished. "Well, that's damned ridiculous, that is." Chandler commented. "You've practically got a street for your foyer, Benny. Are those actually outdoor windows?"
"They are actually outdoor windows, how about that!" Chandler laughed. In the end Jed had gone and found a tall ladder that unfolded into a ten metre even taller ladder, and she ran up and down it with no apparent sense of fear to check the windows in question. Some of them had old, desiccated moss still in place, and at least one had a splash of bird shit that was not visible until a person played a flashlight over it because of the angle. Now at last it was obvious that the floor was not frost heaved after all, but that it had started out as a narrow road between two closely neighbouring houses. The outdoor windows on Jed's side were quite different, offset from their counterparts so a person couldn't look straight from one house into and through the next.
Considering the situation from different angles, Benny wondered what to do about the mess. She couldn't leave the floor torn up, and the area was enclosed now, no way to return it to its earlier state as a road. "I think the simplest thing would be to level it into three or four terraces, and then relay the floor with the same sort of tiles that don't need mortar to hold them together." She decided. "If these plans are right," she checked volume one of the general plan book Jed had hauled down from her library, "then more than half of this is almost on bedrock anyway."
"If these plans are right." Jed repeated, her tone unusually sharp. She had just finished scrubbing down window frames and helping Benny reorient the plans the right way to make sense of the structure of the foyer and adjacent structures drawing the houses together. Releasing the catches on the taller ladder with a resounding snap, she tipped it back and let the segments slide down in one go, the resulting bang from the end of their fall echoing shockingly. "If they are right." Setting the ladder on her shoulder and grabbing the bucket, sponge and brushes, she stomped away, leaving Benny open mouthed behind. She had never seen the ebullient physicist angry before.
"Whoa, you made thea furious." Agape exclaimed wonderingly. Collecting her aunt's working plan book and leaving the other one in Benny's capable hands, she returned to the Adams side of the house.
"Does she like chocolate?" Chandler asked.
"It might be a good idea to present your volatile friend with a peace offering." Chandler pointed out. "She is quite offended. These books and plans and things of the house, they mean a lot to her." Undeniably true as this was, Benny could not fathom why Jed would be so extremely angry about it.
So it was that Chris sat Benny down in her study with its selection of multi-coloured and gently burping beakers and shelves upon shelves of journals and books on chemistry, physics, mathematics, and oddly enough, carpentry. Tea poured and food distributed between them on her eclectic set of plates, Chris gazed intently at Benny while the younger woman added a little sugar and milk to her cup. Startlingly, Chris was not wearing her tinted glasses despite the fact it was broad daylight, a detail Benny noted to ask about later. She returned her attention to the cheese and crackers arranged in a tidy pile across her plate, and Chris considered where to start.
"Chandler is right you know, you will have to apologize at least a little." Chris smiled gently. "You are at the stage where you ought to be giving some attention to the records stored in your half of the house."
"All right, all right, I get it." Benny muttered sourly.
"Parts of it, to be sure." Chris agreed. "Of course, having so many family members unexpectedly immediately underfoot is not helping things either." She paused to take a long pull of her hot tea. "Benny, Omega's Folly as you now know, started out as two separate houses. Eventually the two families built them together, because the omicron from each one by chance ended up partnered together. They couldn't decide whose house to stay in, so instead they built them together so they didn't have to decide. It's a lovely story, when you get the chance to look into it."
"The eldest woman in a given generation of the family in question."
"Oh." Amazons put a lot of stock in being the eldest woman in a family. The greater age and experience of such women had been all that kept the Amazon Nation from imploding or exploding more than once as a vastly differentiated number of women struggled to find a way to live together peaceably, if not peacefully. Whom these women chose as their partners could have extraordinarily far reaching effects on their respective families. Benny thought again about the parts of the house built up over the foyer, with their party doors into Jed and Chris' side. "The former road is all on my side pretty much though."
"Yes, except for the half metre with the eaves troughs hanging out over it. Building code violation otherwise."
"Doesn't seem entirely friendly, to push the road so close. Was it a busy one?" Benny found herself feeling a bit unnerved about the potential implications.
"Not entirely friendly, and a very busy road. This was before internal combustion vehicles and it wasn't paved originally. More of an elaborated footpath."
"Not entirely friendly?"
"They were by the time the omicrons got together of course. Anyway, the bigger point is, the maintenance of those plans and maps is part of how Jed's family continues to honour the events that led to the houses being built together in the first place. And Jed is an orphan, so she tends to be extra sensitive about these things." Refilling her tea cup, Chris waited for Benny's next question.
"Where do I find the records of this on my side of the house?"