Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Omega's Folly: Chapter Twelve
The Viking eventually sat down beside Benny with a thump, and tried to start up a conversation. This attempt was reasonably successful, as the Viking was soon trying to teach her how to speak Dutch. They had managed to get through 'hello,' 'see you later' and something Benny had a sneaking suspicion had become 'I am sorry, you are standing on my fish' between her poor pronunciation and the Viking's helpless laughter when the signal to get ready to move out came from the command post. Peeking into her bag, Benny grinned. Technically illegal or not, she had exploding spam cans – and some quite legal dynamite with caps. It was one of Benny's many quirks that she found explosives fascinating and rather fun, in useful, non-injurious situations. What had possessed her to come up with the exploding spam can – there were all sorts of rumours. Tipping her helmet over her eyes by bobbing her head and smirking, Benny refused to confirm or deny any of them, unless she was within earshot of a higher officer, in which case denial was far more than a pun on a river in Egypt.
The Viking had a peculiar satchel full of electronic equipment and a fiendish little computer. Apparently she was going to do nasty things to the enemy communications and electronics systems. This was a good idea. Everyone had noticed that whenever the Blues were able to talk to each other they tended to become rather more difficult to deal with.
And then they were off, dashing along a ditch that the trenching crew had managed to drive almost completely across the 'neutral zone' to a near dead watch post. The previous fighting of all types had been focussed on the other end of the line for nearly three months. The Blues had been bunching up at that other end, getting ready for an offensive of their own. Only a few token people seemed to be at this post. Or at least, everyone hoped so.
To her surprise, the Viking stayed with Benny as she hared on top of the heaped dirt that marked the beginning of the enemy line, leapt over their barbed wire, knocked a guard senseless, and drove on to where she could see the anti-aircraft gun platform. Experience and listening had taught her that she had ten blessed minutes before people started shooting at her. Dropping onto her stomach, she wormed her way behind the guns, and saw a sentry moving restlessly a few metres away. Face painted black with gunk except right around her eyes – if startled, she'd look eyeless, and that tended to freeze opponents for a few seconds – hands covered in regulation protective gloves, Benny set to work. The Viking padded away, heading for the communications tent, its identity marked out by an incongruous antenna.
Twelve guns on this pad. Four disabled. Sweat began to trickle into Benny's eyes. Six. A shout of alarm went up. Ten minutes were up, probably less. Jones was on this detail, and he was a damned klutz. Everybody tried to keep him off the guerilla missions for fear he'd get himself killed, let alone the rest of them. Pounding feet ahead of her. Eight. Benny had been deftly stringing up dynamite and caps, creating a very dangerous little set up that the Blues running toward her couldn't see. Ten – more time required. Two cans of spam armed and hurled. "What the hell?!" one of the men exclaimed – the Blues banned women from fighting in their ranks – the distinct pops and the smell of burning spam together with a chorus of disgusted exclamations drew a grin from the small woman. Twelve. Spooling out her firing wire behind her, Benny began running back towards the neutral zone.
This of course, was the worst part. By the time you started trying to get your ass semi out of harm's way, the whole place was on alert. Bullets zipped past her, and now Benny had little choice but to fire back. She hated guns, but – five metres between herself and the explosives. Dropping by down by a pile of sandbags so suddenly the Blues thought they had killed her, Benny hurriedly yanked a good sized battery out of her pocket. Not many people realized hydrogen-lithium ion batteries from mangled laptops could be altered to use for this sort of thing. Touching the ends of her firing wire to the terminals, Benny unabashedly stuck her head under the sandbags, and so heard merely a dull roar as the explosives went off. This was actually the signal for the guerrillas to get the hell out of there.
Taking off again, Benny shook her head as the Viking reappeared, crowned with a new black eye, grinning wildly. "Bang!" she crowed with approval, then spun and shot two Blues who had come up almost on their heels. "Faster, run!" Apparently the Viking had been picking up some more English. They zigzagged over the top and into the neutral zone. This of course, was where they tended to lose people. The peculiar pop sound and the accompanying smell of exploding spam sounded behind her. Peculiar whistling sounds kept sounding around her, and Benny fiercely ordered herself not to allow the obvious explanation for what those were to escape from its spot in her neurons.
Her legs abruptly went out from under her, and Benny fell so hard her helmet was knocked over her eyes. Disoriented and not at all sure why she had fallen, although sensibly relieved to find she still had legs and could feel them, Benny struggled to unblind herself. The grim ludicrousness of sprawling in the middle of the neutral zone, shells and bullets everywhere, with her helmet blocking her eyes like some dork in a war comedy was not lost on her. Some instinct caused her to kick out, and she managed to nail someone in the groin. "Wunderbar!" warbled the unmistakable voice of the Viking. She knew Benny would get the right idea from the word.
So it must have been the Viking who picked Benny up tucked her under one arm, and ran them both across the neutral zone to safety, although not before a piece of shrapnel made Benny yell with what was more horrified embarrassment than pain. "Son of a bitch! I can't believe the damn thing hit me in the ass!"
The shrapnel wound was far more minor than the nasty bullet wound in her side. Adrenalin had kept her from really feeling it at first, but blood loss will sometimes take your feet out from under you before the pain does. The raid had gone well, even Jones had made it back. As it turned out, the Viking's work had impressive repercussions. Not only had she devastated the communications node for that part of the Blue line, first she had sent out a very nasty computer worm that was currently decimating enemy networks with shocking speed. The Viking stopped by Benny's bedside before leaving, twitching embarrassedly with a chocolate bar for the wounded woman in one hand and a tattered, but intact copy of 'The Lord of the Rings' all three volumes in one paperback. Kneeling down to look Benny in the eye, the Viking had held up an English primer proudly. Flipping to one of the early sections of chapter one, she read carefully and sonorously,
"Look, who is that? It is Brigitte Labombe!"
This had sent them both into gales of giggles. Benny wished with all her heart that she could have explained that Brigitte Labombe was a staple of French primers for English speaking students. And the authors had had quite a sense of humour. The Viking had twisted a ring around one finger awkwardly, and wished the younger woman well. Then she had made Benny repeat until she had it perfectly: 'Chan Schmidt-Adams, Zypendaalsewg, 107, 2403, Apeldoorn, 055-5222649, Holland.' Chan wasn't really how the Viking's first name was pronounced, but Benny just couldn't get any closer. The fact that she managed to get Zypendaalsewg without choking redeemed her, however.
"Hmm, hmm, hmmm..." Chris hummed cheerfully as she navigated the road back home. Chemistry lectures had gone well, so had the laboratory work. The new housemate was on the mend. Life was good. Digging through her pockets for keys, Chris scowled a little when she realized hers were actually still sitting on the kitchen table. No worries. This was the whole purpose of one of her latest inventions, the key box. After another three kilometres it appeared around the next bend, shiny and faintly cock-eyed looking. Jed had liked it immediately, and christened it with a coat of gorgeous poppy red paint, her favourite colour. Of course, Chris couldn't see that it was red, it just looked rather grey. But seeing and hearing her lover chortle happily had made up for all of that.
Pulling up beside the box, Chris reached over and squinted at the little combination lock holding its little door shut. Originally what to set the combination to had escaped her. What to use that would be memorable? And then she had made it Jed's birthday, and so settled two birds with one stone. No way to be late for Jed's birthday this year. Padlock undone, Chris grabbed the little handle and tugged. Tugged again. Tugged and nearly dumped herself out of the car.
"Oh bloody hell – Jed you great ninny, you painted the box shut!" Chris sat back and laughed helplessly. Reefing on it some more, the blonde woman began to feel just a little worried. The keys were sort of necessary as the roof wasn't fit to travel on at the moment. Grabbing a good thick pencil from the glove compartment, Chris slipped it through the handle and used it to allow pulling to include both hands. At some point she wound up bracing her feet against the post the box was attached to, heaving with all her might. This proved a little too effective, as the box flew open and Chris tumbled backwards back into the car.
Struggling upright again, retrieving the keys, re-locking the box, stopping the car from rolling down the hill and starting for home again took only a few minutes more, and Chris was soon humming away again, pondering what to have for dinner.
So it was that the front of the car banged into the closed double gates before Chris really noticed they weren't open. Glaring at them in disgust, she muttered and considered the set of spare keys. Tossing them onto the passenger seat in defeat, turning off the engine and dusting her hands, Chris proceeded to work her way stubbornly up the gates. The climbing went well for the first metre or so, then a foot slipped loose and one hand missed all together – dumping the hapless chemist almost, but not quite to the ground. The reason this was an almost as opposed to something else was the sturdy make of her grey tweed jacket. It tangled around the end of a crooked, broken, bent out of place bar. "Ooopsie daisy." Chris sighed in disgust, as a swing in an effort to get a hold of the errant part of the jacket merely tossed her around like a poorly hung flag. "Now, two rescues for Jed in a day sounds simply ridiculous." Rubbing her chin, Chris considered the options. Tools were out of reach, piled haphazardly as they were in the backseat of the car. While she did have a penknife in her possession, it had long ago rusted shut, being as it had sat on the outside windowsill of a workshop window for the better part of four years. Of course, this was rather moot, since the workshop was a considerable distance from the gates.
"Well, must admit, this wasn't quite what I expected you to be doing at tea time." Delos raised an eyebrow. Having finally figured out how to get out of Omega's Folly, at long last the healer was heading back to her surgery in town.
"In point of fact, this isn't what I do at tea at all. Do you see any tea here?" Chris gestured vigorously, in a tone implying she had suffered the greatest of insults.
"No, no, of course not..." Delos peered up at where the tweed was tangled around the wrecked section of the gate. "You know Chris, this place isn't safe to live in. One minute people are falling through the roof, then the walls, next getting hung up in chandeliers or on gates – maybe it's time to put your foot down?"
"Excuse me, but Jed would never have fallen through the wall if you hadn't hit her." Chris pointed out tartly.
"Ahem – yes, well..." Moving her own vehicle closer to the gate and clambering on top of it, then waiting for Chris to get set for when the jacket ceased to prevent her from hitting the ground, Delos pulled out, rather astonishingly, a metal file. Noting the raised golden eyebrows that were inspired by the tool, she shrugged. "Have had this in the glove compartment for years. Used to bring it up to the apartment and saw apart Jed's damnable abstract sculptures to win some kitchen table space."
"You sawed them apart?!" the aghast tone stopped the healer short in mid-file. "But I..." Pause. "Nevermind."
"You were saying?" Delos proceeded to savagely saw at the bar again.
"Nothing, nothing. Never mind. Something we shan't see eye to eye about."
"No doubt." The bar began to sag sideways.
"Rather like Picasso, in a sense."
"Picasso. Picasso. I refuse to put that intolerable junk in the same category as Picasso."
"All right, all right. No need to get so excited," muttered Chris. In truth she was now feeling thoroughly nettled. She and Jed had actually met in the abstract sculpture class in which they had been deliberately creating those sculptures. And it so happened she rather liked the things Jed came up with. Why, some of them even did practical things. Not many artists could say their abstract sculptures could be used for such assorted purposes as hanging laundry, pinning up sections of paper outlines, or serve as indoor Solstice trees in a pinch.
"I notice you changed the subject."
"That monstrosity your Jed is so fond of is a dangerous house that should probably be condemned. Seriously Chris, the sheer atmosphere in it is dreadful for your lungs." The bar gave way.
Straightening out clothing and rubbing at sore armpits, Chris frowned and pushed up her tinted spectacles. "No, it isn't. It is an old, beloved family seat. My lungs haven't been a problem. If you think it's so bad, start sending round some of your overwrought students to ease their stress level by helping with the renovations."
"Chris, that place is one giant, mutated renovation!"
"Hmmph." pulling out the obligatory scarred cricket bat, the other woman beat open the rusty padlock, then opened the gates. A few moments of relative silence but for coughing and groaning engines followed as the healer and the chemist effectively switched places. Facing each other again on opposite sides of the now deliberately half opened gates, the human silence dragged out a bit longer. "Well then," Chris replaced her grey hat on her head with a flourish. "Thank you for your help, Delos. Mind your own business, then."
"What? Chris, this is for your own..."
"Right, be more blunt then – I appreciate your help. But when it comes to the question of my living arrangements with Jed, sod off!" Finished with that bit of business and determined to have tea before the time for it had passed, Chris gunned the engine. Flooded the engine. Couldn't restart it. Finally resorted to get out and pushing it up the drive. All pointedly ignoring Delos, who had thrown up both hands in disgust and driven away – after putting her hands back on the steering wheel, of course.
A rather fierce eyed young man watched his students keenly. After a couple of small incidents with sparks and people working too close together, things were going well. He had quite an odd assortment of students this semester. One physicist, two chemists, eight fine arts students, two people who actually wanted to do glassblowing, and a lost and alarmed apprentice welder, who after the first day was so enthralled with the course she kept coming back. He was proud of that. It could be tough to get the 'avante garde' courses to pull in a decent class size, even when they were meant to be small in the first place. Newly chartered universities anywhere let alone in quiet northern England tended to have this problem – especially since the university was in the only remaining truly quiet part of northern England.
A loud clang interrupted his thoughts. A miscue had resulted in one of the students neatly shearing their work in half. For a few moments she stood there, looking chagrined, tosseled dark hair and rumpled jeans in stark contrast to the clean lines of the welding torch and mask. Apparently having decided on a course of action, the base got flipped upside down and the separated piece slapped on top. Soon she was busily welding again.
Shaking his head in disbelief – that Adams never stopped for long or let any unexpected results foil her – the young man dragged a hand through his hair. Adams had passed through her 'destroyed laboratory equipment phase' and was now working at something absolutely unrecognizable. Yet, there seemed to be a plan to it. How to grade her, however, was becoming a problem. Most days she ignored lectures, going to sleep or fidgeting without listening. It wasn't at all clear what she was taking the course for. On the flip side, each assignment was done impeccably and handed in punctually. So obviously something in the lectures was getting through.
"Halliday, please close that valve before you blow us all to smithereens." This request usually had to be made five or six times each laboratory class, so no one batted an eyelash, not even Halliday, who smiled and cheerfully did as requested. "Thank you. Well done, Coventry." This to the apprentice welder, who had managed to put together a quite intriguing maze of metal that made the professor think of an Escher print. "Well folks, time's up. See you on Wednesday." Adams ignored this, attention completely absorbed by the intricacies of her sculpture, which at the moment called for her to be twisted in a peculiar position to reach something. "Adams! Time's up. Come back during the open session tomorrow. Other students are waiting." And so they were, peering in around the doorway.
"Almost done." Jed muttered. Just one joint left.
Abruptly disengaging herself from the lattice of metal, Jed set aside the welding equipment and pushed up the welding mask. Taking a step back, she considered the new result. "Eu ge." she murmured, which meant 'well done' to those in the know. The thoroughly irritated professor had stomped over to make a point about his authority and punctuality leaving as well as arriving. Now he was standing there with his jaw hanging open. The sculpture was a fascinating demonstration of how to create three dimensional optical illusions.
"Perfect, this is – perfect the solution to a difficult equation. Electrodynamics, you know, and..." The professor had shaken his head in disbelief, then chased his class out to let the other students in.
"My work, he does not seem to like it." Jed commented to Chris as they strode down the hall, heading for the library. Depending what librarian was on the front desk, they intended to try to get some research done on their respective papers.
"Not your work so much Jed, as your way of listening to lectures." Chris commented gently. Hair done up in stylish spikes, bright grey eyes flashing as she glanced alertly around herself as she walked, few would have believed it was Jed who had been nicknamed 'the Mad Scientist.' Chris had been christened 'the Hatter' since usually she wore them. Not today however, due to the welding class.
"Lectures! Boring." Jed snorted, kicking at a crumpled tin can on the ground in front of her.
"He talks too fast, doesn't he?" The scowl and irritated sigh Jed produced in response confirmed Chris' suspicions. "How have you been keeping up, then?"
Glancing at Chris in an almost conspiratorial fashion, Jed reached into her briefcase and hauled out a tattered book, its covers emblazoned in Greek characters. "Abstract Art Theory." she translated, and paused.
"Word order right on."
"Thank you. A copy of this book in English, he must have it. All in this book, his lectures are all here. His name on the front, it is not there." The conversation was ended by the appearance of a stocky young man, who waved so hard at them his hair escaped its usual neat slicked down state and flew wildly around his broad forehead. This was highly unusual, as Bill was one of those polished, tidy looking people by nature, and at the moment he looked windblown and overexcited.
"We got it!" he hissed.
"You did?" Chris asked eagerly.
"Yup – one hundred rolls of duct tape, as many bedsheets as we could persuade the discount store to sell us, and a complete set of..." Bill got closer. "Miscellaneous objects for use in the ballistics tests." He twitched his shirt cuffs. "All we need now, is the keys to the building."
"I looked into Thomsen's office yesterday – he's got them on a key ring behind his desk. And to top it off he's a bloody workaholic." Chris shook her head in disgust.
"Leave the keys to me." Jed winked, "And now the right time it is on this paper, no wait – It is time to work!" She waved the topic sheet at both Bill and Chris, feeling quite proud of her relatively coherent sentence. Bill looked green.
"I'm so stuck – the dimensional stuff with the equations, about the only thing getting its shape changed is my brain, and I'm sure it was warped before!" Working on the papers went reasonably well, with Jed managing to explain the painful bit of mathematics to Bill, who was understandably relieved to finally know what he was supposed to be talking about. They split up in front of the library, Jed heading off to the obscure basement hallway where she had a locker, eyes 'gleaming with a scheme' as Bill liked to refer to it.
And indeed, Jed had a scheme in mind, although nothing like what her compatriots had imagined. Jamming books and papers in her locker, she pulled out a gym bag, by some miracle not creating an avalanche. Digging out a band she used to keep her glasses from getting thrown off of her face during sports and the battered, soft soled sneakers that were required footwear for the racket ball courts, and replacing them with her belt and its metallic buckle and solid boots. Glancing at her watches – only three at the moment, as it happened – she padded off to the second floor corridor that was bisected by Thomsen's office. Across from Thomsen's office were the floor washrooms, and Jed slipped into the women's washroom and settled down to watch. This was not entirely unusual behaviour – it was a survival skill for those with late laboratory reports to hand in. Thomsen always took one coffee break at precisely 6:17 each night. If a late laboratory report got into the box during the quarter of an hour he was gone, the teaching assistants who marked them never knew the difference anymore than Thomsen did.
At last 6:17 rolled around, and Thomsen appeared in his doorway. Pulling the door to behind him, but not locking it, which made Jed suspect that the whole thing with sneaking the laboratory reports in was something he actually chose to help with. Thomsen fastened his jacket and headed off to his preferred coffee break location. Wherever that was. No one knew where it was but him.
Three minutes later, Jed shot across the hall, into the office, and behind the desk. Digging in a box of massive bundles of keys assigned to teaching assistants in each semester, these ones reflecting the closeness of final exams, Jed pulled out one roughly of the same size and metallic stinkiness as the one she needed to get hold of. The switch was done, and now came the most challenging part of getting away with them. The search had taken nearly ten minutes, and Jed couldn't meet Thomsen going down the hall without getting herself into some difficulty. This was where the soft shoes and lack of a metallic belt buckle came in.
Above the hook the keys were hung on was a vent, held in place not by screws but by a sort of catch system that required a person to squeeze the little tabs on either side to get it loose. This Jed did, then worked herself feet first into the vent, which wasn't difficult, because it was actually pretty big. Once inside, the bundle of keys carefully wrapped up in her laboratory coat and sitting beside her on the floor of the long, silvery tunnel, Jed pulled the vent back into place, and began moving quickly away from the office. Behind her she could hear Thomsen reentering the room, no doubt with one of the cardboard cups that usually overflowed from his wastebasket when empty in one hand.
Pure accident had led to the dark haired physics major knowing how to get from one place to another via the ventilation system if necessary. The physics building had come up for renovations, and while waiting to speak to a professor, Jed saw the plans for the building, bound on one edge with what looked suspiciously like staples and hockey tape spread across a conference table. Bored, she had gone over and flipped through them, making it all the way to the twelfth floor before the professor arrived. This might have meant nothing, except for Jed's photographic memory.
Nearly an hour after the quest for the keys began, Jed popped loose the vent in the wall two corridors from her locker at floor level. Extracting herself and her bundle successfully, then getting back to her locker, Jed sighed in relief. The only drawback with being a bit of a daredevil was that she had occasionally been caught on not quite but almost illegal forays like this one.
"Adams, what are you doing down here so late?" a voice boomed almost right behind her. The building's security manager, who generally went by the name of Sam was standing there, arms folded. There were a few who knew that he was an excellent drag performer, whose Liza Minelli was scintillating and his Barbara Streisand exquisite.
"Working." Groaning inwardly, because Jed knew all too well how not innocent she probably looked, she glanced at Sam.
"That's plausible. You're fortunate I bumped into you here, the whole building is locked tight, which means nobody should be here now. And if you have unheard of lock picking skills, I DON'T want to hear about it." Sam winked at his unexpected charge, who smiled faintly.
The trip through the dimmed halls was quiet, even considering both of the travellers were wearing sturdy boots. The muted greens, yellows, peaches, and blues that were the hallmarks of a building painted and floored with discounted materials and seemed almost hospital like. Thankfully the place smelled nothing like a hospital and wasn't nearly as warm, although it sometimes got pretty uncomfortable when the season changed from winter to spring. Closer to the main doors, various laboratories with blinking red or green eye lights by security card readers began to turn up.
"Right then. Off you go. Get some sleep or something, if you can." Giving her a clap on the shoulder and a friendly smile, Sam carefully shut the door behind Jed and locked it with a click.
Wasting no further time, Jed ran across the surprisingly green campus, heading for the chemistry building where Chris would be labouring over organic chemistry homework still, and probably would continue to do so for the rest of the night. The instructor demanded no more than five percent error in the massive assignments she assigned, so pretty much any of her students could be found the three nights or so before it was due just where Chris was, in the chemistry graduate students' common room, massaging the numbers.
"You got them!" Chris laughed in disbelief after hearing the story. "And if Thomsen notices, or talks to Sam, what then?"
"No thinking about that." declared Jed. "Now, we are set for Saturday night. And it is necessary for me to finish this damned paper." Around three in the morning, Chris looked over and couldn't repress a smile when a look to her left revealed Jed sound asleep with a book open across her chest on the one non-lumpy couch. Covering her friend with one of the blankets kept just for that purpose, carefully moving the physics book to the floor and smoothly removing Jed's glasses, Chris looked back at her work. One question left to go. Error was ten percent or so. Kicking off her shoes and depositing her own glasses on the table beside Jed's, Chris settled herself on the other end of the couch and was soon asleep.
A frantic beeping jerked Jed out of a sound sleep and she leapt to her feet, completely disoriented, slapping frantically at her chest, which was clothed in a many pocketed waistcoat that contained the various beeping watches. "Oooh, Anglo-Saxon altitudes." a nonsense term for anything that could not be easily categorized Chris had heard somewhere. "What time is it?"
"Nine in the morning, give or take ten minutes."
"Oh." Chris put her head down and curled back up in the blanket.
"You are not getting up?"
"Nope. Already missed me first class. No classes now until three."
"Good point." Jed picked up the physics book and began sorting through the last few references for her paper.
"Don't you – live with someone?" Very tactful.
Jed rubbed at her eyes, then realized the reason everything looked warped and blurry was because the she had the wrong glasses on. "Yes – but – Dale and I..." a sigh. "Here – it is easier to stay here, in the week."
"Oh. Wow. Jed, I had no idea it was that bad." Chris sat up, expression concerned.
"Is okay." A small wave indicating the topic was best put aside. Which it had been.
At the end of the day, Jed retrieved her bicycle from the physics graduate student common room, strapped her bulging briefcase across the handlebars, and began the trip home. Unfortunately, laundry didn't do itself, and the workout complex' showers were marginal at best, so at least the weekend pretty much at the apartment was necessary. The first half of the trip was uphill, and slow. Then Jed got to travel the narrow streets to the charming little building she and Delos had shared an apartment in for three years. Once at the front door, Jed unstrapped the briefcase, settled it's carrying strap over one shoulder and her bicycle on the other, and made her way inside, then up the six flights of stairs.
The apartment seemed oddly quiet when Jed got to it, for only seven in the evening. Pulling out her keys and unlocking the door, it was dark inside. Made sense, there were no lights on. Medical student or not, it certainly wasn't unheard of for Delos to have a night on the town, so Jed shrugged her shoulders as best she could under their loads and turned on a light before putting things down and shutting the door. Turning, her mouth fell open.
Except for a desk, a laptop computer, a set of electronic keyboards, three bookcases, and a vase of dead flowers, the main room of the apartment was empty. A dash into the kitchen revealed one frying pan, a few chipped plates, glasses, and mugs, and some banged up cutlery Jed recognized as the stuff that usually went in the camping gear. The bathroom was pristine except for a bar of soap. The bedroom was bare too, except for Jed's clothes, reading lamp, another bookshelf, and her sleeping stuff from the camping gear. Wandering back out into the living room, now devoid of most of the things associated with the term, Jed found a note stuck to the top of her laptop.
Got sick to death of wondering when you were going to bother coming back here to finish sorting things out. Left your stuff. Took some stuff that was ours because I've already paid my half of the rent this month and don't expect to get my half of the damage deposit. I don't want to see you again, so don't bother trying.
Sitting down on the floor with a thump, Jed stared around herself in some shock. There was rather more gone than stuff Delos might have taken in lieu of money. All of the various abstract metal sculptures she had produced over the semester. The carefully reupholstered and repaired furniture she had laboured over for an entire summer term to save them buying new. Stumbling to her feet, Jed looked out the window, and stared in horror when she saw those very things in the dumpster down below, being tipped into the back of a frumious truck. "Hey!" she shouted, too late.
The fridge yielded ketchup, sour milk, and a dried up container of something Jed didn't recognize. The freezer did her the favour of yielding a nice bottle of port, which she sat down with in a deck chair to drink by the radio, which was sitting on the floor. The deck chair came from the camping gear.
"Latest reports from the Middle East indicate that responsibility for the latest embassy bombings has been taken by a new group referring to itself as the coalition of the armies of god. All major religious leaders of the area have furiously disavowed any connection or knowledge of these individuals..."
Eleven at night on a Saturday. The physics building was empty but for the small group of twenty students who stood on the bottom floor, looking upwards. Even Thomsen had adjourned for the weekend. The view from the bottom floor was that of a great shaft around which wound the staircases that connected the thirteen floors of the physics building. Somewhere above them the shaft ended abruptly beneath a bland concrete roof. A faint glow halfway up this impressive height due to the many beams of light from the miner's helmets the students were wearing didn't quite give away someone was there. Since this little event was officially not allowed, they didn't want to draw too much attention, and turning on the building lights was sure to be an attention getter. But it was far too cool an idea after the semester they had suffered due to the machines that had only just been replaced not to implement.
Satisfied the coast was clear, they split into two groups. A small, five person group who began swiftly covering the floor in five layers of heavy duty corrugated cardboard, and a ten person group who began just as swiftly duct taping sheets on the railings of the stairs all the way up to the tenth floor, joining them together with yet more duct tape until there was a sort of chute of sheets from there to the floor. Several gaps had been left at the seventh floor level.
"Right everybody, time to do our sums one more time. There must be no signs of this tomorrow – and if chunks of plastic and silicon turn up on the twelfth floor, that's a sign." Bill declared.
"All right, who picked these bedsheets?" This from a woman whose expression resembled that of someone who had just stepped in something dogs occasionally wind up leaving behind on walks with their owners.
"Why? What's wrong with them?" asked Laurie, a small woman with a pugnacious attitude.
"Look at them! All those awful flower prints – where did you find them?"
"Are you serious? Who uses sheets they might like for something like this?" Laurie pointed with her thumb at one particularly nasty flower print. "And I'll have you know the reason it took me only ten punds out of petty cash to get all this and the duct tape was because no one else would buy these sheets."
"Excuse me, but we only have so much time to vent our frustrations." Jed interrupted, rather more sharply than was her wont. Her eyes were bloodshot and overall she looked hungover and miserable. Pulling a small flask from a jacket pocket, she took a pull, then replaced it.
"Are you sure you should drink that?" Bill asked hesitantly. He quite liked Jed, and was feeling more than a little worried about how obviously upset she was.
"Hair of the dog that bit me. Read Hippocrates?" was the short reply.
They made their way to the seventh floor, and there Chris grinned broadly and swept a tarp off of a pile of grey, beige, and grimy ancient computers. The kind with no hard drive, two five and a half inch floppy drives, and screens that were black with orange, green, or blue characters. They had finally been replaced with linux machines, resulting in such a stunning performance improvement, most of the other networks on campus were still crashed out. Every last one of the people standing on that landing had spent time fighting with the clunky things. Suffering migraines from the poor colour choices for the background and text. Wailing with agony when it turned out that at long last there was no longer a way to get five and a half inch disks, anywhere. Discovering that the operating sytem on them can be a cruel, vicious thing. But at long last only a scattering of the despised machines worked even some of the time, leading to their replacement by the painfully penny pinching administration.
"Alas PC, I hath known you well," muttered Eugene, who was from the States. He grabbed one of the monitors and pitched it through one of the openings in the sheet. Quickly making certain their protective goggles were in place, the others rushed to watch it fall and hit the well protected floor. The thing emitted an impressive, albeit surprising splat, lightly scattering the floor and sheets with bits of plastic. In the main, however, it made a surprisingly neat pile.
"What fun is that!?" Chris blurted in outrage. "Put your backs into it you lot, or cleaning like mad will be no fun at all because there will be no real mess!" Twisted logic if the others had ever heard any, but it was well known that Chris loved explosions. So a mere splat was bound to disappoint her.
By 11:30, the six department administrative assistants arrived with the last of the hated machines and joined in the tossing, adding several typewriters that sounded like massive trains hurtling down the tracks right at the typists' head when turned on. Laurie tried to use one once to type up a paper. It had been quite alarming to turn the thing on and have it start rumbling and shaking so violently her desk rattled.
Day was breaking before all the sheets, duct tape, cardboard, and machine bits had been swept up and deposited into the various industrial waste receptacles around campus. Jed staggered around all of the floors one more time, trying to see if anything had been missed. Laurie and one other student followed behind at one and two floors remove, doing the same. They found Jed at the end, sprawled in a corner, finally passed out after far more alcohol than was good for a person.
"Damn, she's not taking the break up very well, is she?" Bill muttered as he helped Laurie lug the senseless physicist to his pickup truck and a ride home.
"Who would? They were together a long time. And from the look of it, Delos got her digs in before she left." Laurie muttered. In the matter of Jed and Delos, Laurie was just a bit partisan.
In the end Chris turned up too, and this was a good thing as it proved impossible to fold up Jed's boneless frame in a way that would allow her to ride in the cab of the truck. So Chris and Laurie clambered in the back and settled Jed on a bed of the extra cardboard, making sure she was covered up with their jackets in the cool morning air. Driving very slowly, because Bill was terrified of hitting something with three people potentially able to go flying, and because he had to figure out how to get to Jed's building, they finally arrived as the radio informed them it was seven in the morning on a Sunday.
Sheer stubborness enabled them to get into the building and to Jed's new apartment, a bachelor suite and cheaper than the one she had still been in earlier in the week. Some arrangement with the landlord had clearly been made. It caused some shock to find the place so painfully empty, only a sleeping bag on the floor with a couple of pillows and blankets to sleep on and one lonely towel in the bathroom, looking thoroughly overwhelmed by the various toiletries that cluttered into one corner of the counter. Even with the desk and bookshelves, sounds echoed.
"Delos is going to wind up feeling bad and coming around to replace some of the stuff she tossed." Bill commented sagely. "She decided to do stuff when she was mad. Bad idea." Bill had gone through a similar thing himself after breaking up with one of his girlfriends, and so tended to think in a more even-handed fashion about the whole Jed-Delos situation. He had shamefacedly brought his ex a cheque to replace the stuff he had pitched mainly because he was hurt than because he really meant to be mean, and they were actually good friends now.
"Should some one stay with her, do you think?" Laurie asked in a worried tone.
"It's all right, I will." Chris declared. "I know Greek." she added, when the others looked a bit unsure. But somehow, watching the fair haired woman carefully arrange herself on the floor beside Jed, an expression on her face that somehow, somehow, seemed familiar, Bill and Laurie had to agree that Jed was in capable hands. So they made a list of stuff Jed needed and set a time to meet and hit the various second hand shops and so forth that afternoon.
- I will not entertain complaints about Jed's bad English syntax at this point in the flashback sequence.