Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Omega's Folly: Chapter Thirteen
Arion chewed at one fingernail, and began patiently racking her brains again. Sorting through the various people she had seen throughout her eventful, although admittedly not yet long life. The night before last, it had finally hit her that Benny seemed really familiar, but she couldn't place where from. So far she felt fairly certain Benny couldn't have seemed familiar from the army, because Arion herself had never been a member of the regular forces. This lack of official uniformed membership had caused her quite a few problems, because by birth she was German – east German, no less, although she had really grown up in Canada. Her favourite country to live in was Holland. And this still led to all sorts of questions, reasonable or not. Still, it hadn't been until the war and other things had come along that the address at Zypendaalsewg, 107, 2403, Apeldoorn, 055-5222649, Holland, had finally become defunct. Arion's eyes became more distant as unwanted memories floated to the surface, rather than the ones connected to whoever Benny reminded her of, or where she had seen Benny before.
It had been an ordinary day, at long last. The war was over, and Arion had even managed to get out of some of the more overtly antisocial habits instituted by membership in the underground that fought the Blue in the occupied countries. Whacking strangers who walked less than one metre behind her upside the head, for example. Of course, the day still included many unusual bits. The continued rationing of food, water, and fuel. The tattered and patched outside jackets of the vast majority of people moving around the streets at any given time. The greyish blue haze above street level but low enough to divide tall buildings that still hadn't dissipated, nearly three months after the chemical neutralization of the remainders of the gas attacks used by the Blues to cover their retreat.
The plan on this day was to head off to the demobbing office again, and see if the problems with her papers had been straightened out at last. At this moment, Arion was on the brink of being deported back to Germany, a country seen only on holidays and business trips. This wasn't an uncommon problem. Immigration records were in a mess everywhere.
Settling in behind the wheel of the latest in a long series of small rental cars, Arion carefully put it in gear – the thing seemed so small as to be like a toy compared to her lanky frame, and Arion couldn't shake an irrational concern that too much of a pull or push would yank something apart. This was silly, so the redhead made a point of shifting the steering wheel into position with authority. Only to have the thing come loose and drop off in her lap. For a few moments she was at a loss. Then, observation of how things went together revealed the perfect stop gap solution. Arion was quite fond of a nasty, mint paper paste tasting sort of chewing gum, and she pulled out the current piece from where it had been getting chomped mercilessly by her powerful jaws. Arranging it around the plain, hexagonal post that the steering wheel would have locked onto if all had been as it should, Arion replaced the steering wheel. Turning and jiggling it a bit, she smiled with satisfaction. Things would hold conveniently for long enough.
The trip was completely uneventful for the first hour and a half, and the steering wheel was holding in place so well, Arion decided uncomfortably that perhaps the mint paper paste flavour was not coincidental. A large, awkward pile of debris cut the view around an upcoming corner, and muttering irritably, Arion slowed the car. The droning racket of a large truck was audible, and Arion pulled to the side of the road. Best to let it pass, as an awkward pile of decommissioned equipment to her left was so large it spilled onto the road, narrowing it. Listening and waiting, it became strikingly clear how fast the truck had to be going. "Wow," Arion muttered. "Person who drive like hell sure to get there."
The truck finally lurched into view, taking the corner far too fast, the driver heaving the vehicle to the side in an attempt to keep it from careening over into a roll. Colliding with Arion, who had no chance to move or act, never expecting what happened.
There was a funny gap between the collision and when Arion woke up in hospital, so full of splints, plaster, self removing stitches, and bandages that almost none of her skin was visible. This wasn't as completely nasty as it could have been, on its own. No, the completely nasty designation had to be reserved for Arion's face. It felt very unhappy with whatever had happened to it, and Arion was afraid to imagine what. Trying to touch things was impossible, with one arm sealed in plaster even around the elbow, and the other just too weak for some reason to make it all the way to her head.
The doctor came by, and patiently explained that Arion had been all but crushed in the impact with the truck. This description made Arion very angry, because her vehicle had emphatically not been moving. Amazingly, her spine and skull had come out of things all right – ignoring facial bones for the moment. The windshield had exploded inward, and the flying glass plus the impact had done a world of damage to Arion's face. First hint that she was getting a new one. Then the doctor took a long, deep breath and told her how long she had occupied a spot in the hospital.
Three months was already a long time, but not a huge part of the time Arion spent there. Bones and even internal injuries healed far more easily than a shattered face. Skin grafts were no fun whatsoever, but then, it wasn't as if they had been designed with enjoyment in mind, reasonably enough.
Sitting in bed, fruitlessly scratching itchy toes in hopes of easing the worse itchiness beneath the cast remaining on her left leg, Arion found herself paging through a magazine so old its pages were tattered and yellowed at the edges. The main feature was on the mysterious Amazon Nation, a place that inspired controversy, and generally getting quite a lot of press just before the war had started. The Blues hated it because women lived there without men. There were plenty of nations who fought the Blue who had much the same opinion. Even in yellowed photographic shades reminiscent of poorly preserved polaroids, and a narrative that was biassed and clearly inaccurate, Arion found herself fascinated. Now here was a place that a woman who had seen hard luck could go to for rest, and even a different life.
This reading, itching, and thinking was interrupted by the unceremonious arrival of a film crew. It seemed a fairly major television network had been following her story, repeating all the gruesome details of injuries and treatment for the 'folks at home.' Perhaps the people involved in this nonconsensual profiling felt Arion would be delighted and happy to participate actively. Arion was anything but happy. She felt exploited and furious. The beady eyed reporter, microphone in hand, speaking in the modulated, up-down tones of a person who had taken lessons from North American newscasters in diction, bounded over to Arion's bedside and thrust the microphone into her face.
"Ms. Adams, tell us, how does it feel to have finally made it to the end of your long ordeal?"
"What do you care?" Arion asked bluntly. "You think the effects of accidents go away right before they release you from hospital? You're an idiot. Get out of my room." She picked up the phone. Due to her immigration problems, she had a lawyer, and Arion felt furious enough to sue these people up and down and sideways.
"Ah – ahem, well – you have made quite a miracle recovery – this is for real life television, you know."
This was how Arion heard the statement, and found out only later the Real Life Television Network had been making obscene amounts of money and monstrous ratings by ambulance chasing throughout the war. "Real life?" Arion repeated in disgust, deftly maneuvering herself into a wheelchair, having switched to her cellphone, and begun half listening to tacky music while the secretary hurried to haul in the lawyer's scattered attention. "You wanna know about real life? Did you bother, in your filming for which you were given no permission by me, to tell how for months I couldn't get out of bed, and how the poor nurses have to do various things like wash you and help you use bedpans?" A bedpan turned up at last, and she chucked this – it was clean – at the cameraperson, where it stuck quite nicely over the lens and could not be removed easily. That was strange, and nobody ever did figure out how Arion managed this, except of course, for Arion herself.
Moving with surprising speed for still being injured and in a small room, Arion deftly collected names and numbers before any of the crew really understood what was going on. "Real life." she spat. "No doubt you left out all the important stuff. Like throwing up for a day and a half after each of the rounds of anaesthetic you suffer through to get operated on. Or physiotherapy. Or what my opinions or feelings might be. Gosh, aren't you lot accurate." There it was, a mop that one of the nurses had left behind. Now things were set. Settling it under her arm like a lance borne by a medieaval knight, Arion spun her chair deftly in a wheelie, and started driving the hapless television people from the room. Only the fool who asked the questions needed a whack upside the butt.
Slamming the door behind them, Arion finally set the phone to her ear again, to hear her lawyer laughing uproariously.
The trial, during which every piece of tape, video, and film got confiscated and sent to where Arion could grimly watch its destruction had been surreal. For the first month, the scene featured all sorts of arguments about free speech and artistic license, backed up with bits of video showing Arion comatose in bed, her face a red mess and broken arms and legs carefully held in position by various slings and braces. The cameraperson seemed particularly fond of these shots, as there wasn't much hiding Arion's nakedness from the camera. A rather gruesome titillation factor that made Arion feel nauseous.
When her lawyer got going, it became quite clear he had been holding back. He had the opposing arguments withered in the first ten seconds with a comment about the stunning lack of compassion and empathy that had allowed this group to go triapsing up and down the hospital halls, looking for someone injured with sufficient gruesomeness to be interesting to them, and of the hospital administrator for allowing it. Then he had played an impressive trump card.
"Your honour," straightening his jacket and continuing in his manner that was so pointedly different from that of the announcer – this case was partially broadcast in television, and he had a grim understanding of what he had to do to compensate for the hyperawareness this caused. "I have here," he waved an only barely labelled looking videotape up. "footage of the main defendant in the back of his multimillion dollar home, snogging with an individual who shall remain nameless at this time. I would like to introduce it as evidence of character..."
This brought the house down while the opposing lawyer furiously inveighed about the right of every individual to privacy, the fact the video was in no way given freely by those who were in it, and so on. The judge, after clearing the court and threatening several people with sanctions for yelling and screaming, briskly rapped her gavel on the bench. "Excellent arguments. Come back tomorrow morning."
When in chambers, Arion discovered that she was now the custodian of all kinds of footage. She didn't go through all of it, having seen far too much during the trial. The recycling plant was fairly easy to get to, even though she was still in a wheelchair, and one of the technicians cheerfully helped her see to it that all of the stuff went into the appropriate vats and got melted or dissolved utterly. From there she stopped by a travel agency to pick up tickets to the Amazon Nation, and two months later had managed to totter onto the plane with the help of a stick.
An all manner of truly bizarre individuals were already on the plane, occupying its selection of tattered seats. A clown who kept trying to juggle in the confined space to fend off boredom. A one-legged demobbed soldier patiently forcing their duffle bag into the overhead compartment – the sex neutral terminology necessary due to the soldier's completely androgynous appearance. A woman in peculiarly medieaval dress, who was being persuaded by the steward to please not settle muddy feet on the back of the seat ahead of her. Four men who were arguing and waving battered little books at each other. Like the books, they were clothed in navy blue. It was quite disconcerting. A hungover rock group was sprawled in various stages of continuing inebriation, including one person sprawled unconscious in the aisle. A grumpy old woman kept whacking a rude gentleman over the head with a wicker umbrella. But these were almost ordinary compared to one woman who sat in the outside seat in line with the wings.
Tall with a solid build, dressed in rumpled jeans, a white shirt, scuffed pointy toed boots, a long black jacket, and a smashed looking hat, she was patiently tuning a violin which she held in her lap. Eventually satisfied with its tonal qualities, she began to play what seemed to be a Mozart concerto. Then she switched to Paganini, real Paganini, not the easier variations that were available because the guy's stuff could be fiendishly difficult to play. Oblivious of her surroundngs, the violinist swayed with the music until Arion could see the tinted glasses that hid her eyes and the unruly dark hair that was raggedly in need of a cut. High cheekbones in the misdirected light made her look emaciated.
Eventually the steward interrupted the recital despite its beneficial effects on the motley crew. Then moved her to sit by Arion, as the nearby quarrelsome foursome loudly complained the woman was clearly a godless heathen who should be burnt at the stake. Under the circumstances, and considering the war that had just finished so recently, tossing the foursome off the plane for fear of their intentions regarding the vehicle's safety seemed more sensible.
Sinking her head more deeply into her collar, acutely aware of her battered, distorted face, Arion tried to ignore the other woman, who was now humming. After several long moments the humming stopped, replaced by a sigh. "It's too bad, really. Would have been nice to continue doing concerts. Or playing right here on the plane, for that matter." The dark haired woman began carefully putting away the violin. "Very reactive period just now, unfortunately. So many women losing their jobs in all sorts of fields." Startlingly, she turned and looked Arion in the eye. "The idiots will probably smash the economy and half starve themselves before they come to their senses. You're an Adams."
Staring at this alarming neighbour, Arion squirmed away from her as far as possible. "How do you know?" A hand slipped upward unconsciously, shielding a newly very aquiline nose and the scars all around it.
"Eye colour, mostly. Set of your shoulders otherwise. Obviously I'm right. And I'm glad too. Nice to talk with someone even a little who perhaps does not completely subscribe to the school of thought declaring me a freak." The woman had very long eyeteeth, peculiar silvery green eyes, an odd accent, and blatantly eastern mannerisms.
"I wouldn't speak too soon about my opinion of your freakiness," muttered Arion, not expecting the other woman to hear. Yet clearly she had. The formerly friendly expression chilled and went still, and she sat back, face forward. A muscle twitched in one cheek.
The flight went on in this way over an hour, with the mysterious violinist seeming to gather ever more darkness about herself. The steward came by with meals. The violinist left hers untouched, continuing to watch what little of the sky she could see in the side windows, arms folded over her chest. Finally feeling completely awkward and foolish for having been so rude to someone who had been the only person to make an effort to treat her like a human being – the steward had pointedly refused to look at her – Arion screwed up her courage to try to restart the conversation.
She was preempted by a series of digital chimes that emanated from one of the other woman's coat pockets. Pulling out a ludicrously tiny cellular phone, the woman pushed a button and set it to her ear. Arion stared at this in disbelief. Having a cellular phone active and transmitting on a plane was still illegal. More importantly, it should not have worked. Who the hell was this person?
"Chairete. Ah, Kristos! Chaire, chaire – philo se. Te hemerah chalepos estin. Chalepos. Hespera pro genomine."
The conversation continued in this vein for some time, significantly improving her spirits. So much so she began poking at the rather chilly dinner in front of her. Eventually, with a final "Philo se." the woman hung up and tucked into her dinner, unperturbed by the congealed gravy or rather stiff mashed potatoes. Intrigued, but unwilling to interfere with the warm aura of happiness the other woman was now giving off, Arion got into a somewhat more comfortable position and allowed herself to doze off.
Well before evening, they arrived in battered Athens airport, from which, according to Arion's ticket, she would take a smaller, more limited flight to the Amazon Nation. The four men loudly and pointedly talked about how they were going to Mount Athos to join the monks as no women were allowed there at all. Note even female chickens. That sounded more like an urban legend, but Arion did not choose to engage them on the question. The rock band staggered off to a hotel, Athens being their current place to play loud, cacophonous music. The old woman and the headachy rude man left in completely opposite directions. The clown and the soldier moved off toward a traveller's hostel, easily identifiable by its blue logoed sign a mere four blocks away. To Arion's surprise, the woman in mediaeval dress and the violinist clambered onto the same rusty bus to go to the next terminal with its flight to the Nation waiting to leave.
The bus seemed not too bad, until they went over a bump, and the suspension bottomed out violently, throwing the violinist completely out of her seat, then tossing everyone some more as the bus bounced upwards again. The driver was oblivious, even after the mediaevally dressed woman had shouted at him to drive slower, people were getting hurt. The violinist was clutching her forearm close to her body, face white with pain.
Arrival at the terminal was heralded by a violent braking maneuver that hurled Arion over the seat in front of her and onto the floor. For a few minutes, there was silence, and a reddish haze as Arion waited for the pain in various unfairly jarred joints and recently healed breaks to ease. The violinist had managed not to go flying somehow, and the medaeival woman seemed to be a healer. She sacrificed several strips of her outer skirt to tie a splint around the violinist's upper arm.
The plane they were taking waited placidly at the end of the airstrip, and they had to walk to it. A former wartime cargo plane, it was the usual nasty green. Unusually, the various military decals were swiped over with sky blue paint. Astonishingly, real medical supplies were in abundance at one end of the plane, and the mediaevally dressed woman using just sense of touch deftly set the violinist's broken ulna and then casted it. Finishing with a flourish, she handed Arion four pills that looked almost big enough to choke a horse. "Two now, two when we get off the plane." Blessed painkillers. She gave four of them to the violinist, too.
This flight was more interesting because the flight path was low enough for the passengers to really see the places they were flying over. Unexpectedly green fields, the glittering Black Sea that was being grudgingly relabelled the Amazon Sea again – this quite pleased a surprising number of Greeks, from a foreigner's perspective, because so many Turks were happy too. The relabelling had returned things to the way they had been originally, some centuries before the Christians had come along. This had zero to do with the Greek or Turkish opinions of the matter. They were looking forward to the tourism boost, and nobody could blame them. There were still funny coloured mists around, and the stark shadows of newly arriving clouds made Arion realize it was getting ready to rain. She simply couldn't believe her eyes, in the end. There were hints of the limestone, carved by years of groundwater into caves and dells, but they were mostly hidden by a thick swell of green foliage. So many places she had recently been had been shades of yellow and brown. Then they entered Amazon Nation airspace, and it became clear that the Amazons liked there to be plenty of trees.
There didn't seem to be too much by way of rolling farmland, but there was terracing and Arion would learn later cunning crops planted in and around the edges of the forests. The place was rocky and craggy, a jewel nestled within a hollow created by the mountains. Three smaller relatives of mountains clustered in a rough triangle that Arion could just make out as they flew by, heading to the airport landing strip. There seemed to be a house perched on each one, but when she blinked, they were gone.
The landing strip was a swatch of hardy wormwood, and after landing they made their way to the shiny new terminal. It was only a ten minute or so walk, and Arion was struck by how big the place was. What could be in it? Was the terminal actually more than half a hangar?
Passing through the carefully hung swinging doors – they could be described in this way because the woman putting the doors in was checking they were level and watched and listened keenly to them as the recently arrived women passed through them – Arion hobbled to the luggage pick up. Carrying only one small bag had its advantages, among them quick arrival. Gathering it up and passing along a quiet hall, the sobre, almost soothing colours made Arion wonder if a person who ordinarily hated flying had picked them. Then she stepped out of the hall, and took a startled step back.
In truth, she hadn't been expecting anything too specific, just some sort of nasty array of over expensive restaurants and shops like there were in all the other airports Arion had passed through so far. That was not what was here.
What was here, was a bazaar full of cheerful, determined vendors, selling pretty much anything a person could think of. Food, clothes, practical things, toys, silly things, shocking things, goats in one corner. A currency exchange table was right near the hall egress, and Arion made her way over to trade a scattering of deutsch marks, euros, francs, and lira for the equivalent amount in elaphobole. The elaphebole, contrary to what a person might have expected, was all paper bills. Since the economy was mainly barter for anything of less than twenty or fifty of pretty much any other country's currency in value, there was no need for anything smaller than the equivalent to fifty of whatever.
The currency exchanger smiled kindly. "For the time being, you needn't pay for a thing. The food venders will stuff you to the gills if you let them and refuse anything you give them but thanks and a smile. And they're not the only ones. Head to that office over there," she pointed to the far end of the bazaar, labelled in thirty languages, 'new arrivals' – or rather, 'slavirra wen.' The Nation's script was written right to left, and this tended to be done in all other scripts by habit.
Stowing away her new currency, Arion braced herself and headed through the bazaar. And true to the currency exchanger's words, she soon had the various vendors she passed by determinedly fussing over her. Giving her new clothes, sensible boots with turned up toes essential when walking in the country, cream to help with her sore looking scars, food, directions, invitations to come by the house for dinner any time, and several outright hugs. Amazingly, English seemed to be the lingua franca in the airport, although in the new arrivals office Arion was immediately warned that wasn't true of the rest of the Nation, and she would be set up with a host family and set to various lessons to help her learn their dialect of Greek. If she behaved herself, the official added, she might get to learn one of the real Amazon languages.
Taking a breath and returning her mind to the present, Arion smiled ruefully. By a quirk of fate or Quentin's determination, it was with a local household of Halliday-Pontiuses that she had stayed. It hadn't been easy making things up with poor Jed, who had suffered so much unfair hostility during their trip to the Nation, and the ignominy of breaking an arm in the process of saving her violin from oblivion.
Taking a careful deep breath, Benny sighed happily. Almost two weeks stuck in bed, but still she was back on her feet again. And back at the Academy, at her desk, patiently translating another scroll. Life was good. Especially since the damnable intravenous line Delos had stuck in her arm was now gone. Tracking around the house dragging the little stand with its bag of saline or sugar water or whatever had been extremely irritating. The four little wheels got caught in everything. If you made a wrong move it would fall over. Not at all convenient. Especially the day Benny decided a bath sounded great.
Nevertheless, this week looked like it was going to make up for the bed rest. Someone was needed to teach 'Modern History of the Amazon Nation 701' and someone wound up being Benny. Her last four restless days in bed had been a reading frenzy while she put enough together to at least survive the first two lectures. Numbering aside, it was an undergraduate course, which was encouraging. Quite a few Adams had been important in the modern history, which was not. They were heinously difficult to keep sorted out, thanks to the traditional family naming scheme. On the flip side, Benny discovered to her unending glee that the Adams themselves sometimes couldn't sort things out. Of course, this didn't change the determination of the majority of the family to continue using the same scheme as always.
A glance at her watch revealed that there were fifteen minutes before she was to begin talking at the front of the tent that was serving as a classroom for today. The new history department was only just beginning to be constructed, its wooden frame stretching spider-like upwards and outwards, hints of new classrooms and a bit of office space already visible. A surprising number of faculty lived right on campus and so had home offices, which allowed for many of the places that had once been intended for office space to be used as classrooms, to the chancellor's relief.
The chancellor, a tiny Amazon no more than up to Benny's own shoulders in height, with a mop of dusty brown hair and bright, bright eyes that were a surprising golden colour dealt with far more than the usual formal duties. It was her job to balance classes, buildings, and people somehow, since in the Amazon Nation, chancellors were expected to serve as registrars too. Luckily she was also a sports instructor, which gave her a way to work off stress. Unluckily for those who played rugby against her, she was like a tiny but wildly effective missile on the field. She could run through crowds of much bigger women and send them flying the way characters did in cartoons.
Picking up her papers and a small brown paper bag, Benny headed for the tent which she had begun mentally referring to as the Big Top. For her part, she felt uncomfortably like the lion tamer going out to deal with a brand new lion who ought to have been left in Africa to start with. Well, really, that was all lions.
The Big Top was a sedate purplish coloured tent with orange patches over spots that indicated wear and age. The mosquito mesh windows had all had their covers unzipped to let light and a bit of a breeze in. A carefully reinforced and coated hole in the roof allowed a small chimney pipe from a stove to vent to the outdoors, in case it needed to be lit. Probably it would by evening, with a chill wind still coming from the mountains. Inside were not rows of desks as Benny half expected, but a set of curious, half ring tables with chairs set on one side of them. There were three in all set up concentrically. A glance at the class list revealed that probably only the inner one would have many people on it. The students wouldn't be sitting far away either, three metres at most if they sat at the outermost half ring.
Advancing decisively on the blackboard, Benny began jotting information from her impromptu syllabus on it. The students would have to write this down since there was only one working photocopier in the area, and that was being used for its other function, the built in fax capabilities. Opening up the brown paper bag, Benny extracted a small thermos from it, then two or three handfuls of toffees. The thermos was for her of course, but the toffees were surprisingly relevant to the topic at hand.
Five minutes to, breathless women began to arrive, most of them having dashed across campus on finally figuring out where the class was. They clattered into the tent and began hauling out writing utensils and paper. Two of them were speaking together in a completely unfamiliar language, and Benny spent the last few minutes before start time seeing if she could figure out what it was. She waited an extra five minutes in the end, an excellent idea as over half of the class managed to squeeze their way through the tent's narrow door right when Benny decided there was no way she could wait longer.
The group of wildly diverse women settled down before her, Benny took a deep breath. "Well, hello everybody." She leaned back on the small table that was the only concession to the instructor's need to put their notes on something. "Don't feel too bad if you were late or had a bad time finding the room – as I understand it, they put up the tent only this morning." This inspired some laughter. "Before I start, we're all here for the same reason, right? Modern history of the Amazon Nation? Nobody expecting quantum physics or anything?" Benny rubbed her chalky hands on the sides of her jeans. "My friend Chris had a bit of trouble yesterday as she forgot to double check just that question. People expecting to be instructed in biology really don't take well to discovering they're in inorganic chemistry."
"Excuse me." a young woman held up her hand.
"Yes?" Benny winced inwardly. In her own classes, anything preluded by 'excuse me' usually meant a brain cramp for the teacher.
"We don't seem to have a textbook." the young woman had the unmistakable accent of a person whose first language was English.
"Actually, we do. However, we don't have any way to get together printed translations in twelve or more languages for this class. There are online versions at this address here," Benny underlined perhaps one of the ugliest URLs she had ever known personally, "and if you don't have a means to save them electronically or don't wish to, you can make arrangements to print the pages. Since we have language students working on the translations as part of their class assignments, there will only be one chapter ahead of where you need to read at any given time."
"You don't have real translations of the textbook?" sniffed the woman.
"No, not of the entire textbook." Benny smiled blandly and looked around the other women. "I'm sure there are other questions or concerns people would like to bring up."
"You don't have professional translators?" butted in the woman.
"Not for translating textbooks, instead they help people like yourself learn Greek quickly and efficiently. If this is going to be a problem, Fogherty, I believe your name is, you may need to reconsider your decision to come here for your studies." Dismissing the woman by mentally slamming a big iron door on her, Benny began fielding the various questions of other students, which were quite reasonable. How heavy the homework would turn out to be, what that one word on the board said – turned out Benny had written it left to right instead of right to left – and the like.
"So," Benny rubbed her hands together after the questions had been pretty much dealt with. "Can anyone here tell me what they know about the Nation's modern history?"
It had taken only twenty minutes to notice that the three younger members of the class had a rather striking knowledge of the history of the Nation, even if it was tinged with bubblegum pop. Finally, unable to repress her own questions any longer after Penthesilea was described as a 'major hard ass who didn't leave friends up a creek with a shit paddle' translation, 'Penthesilea was a great and noble queen, who stood by her Trojan allies' Benny asked, "All right, all right – where are you getting this from?" One of the young women blushed to the roots of her hair and surrendered a surprisingly thick book with brightly coloured covers. "Pseudo-Athena's Rock and Roll Guide to Amazon History?" Benny blurted incredulously.
"Yeah – would you believe, it was on the banned list of books where I come from? Censored and seized at the border and everything. All the kids my age bootlegged this copy all over my home town." the young woman grinned proudly, revealing a distinct lack of front teeth suggesting she might be a hockey player.
"Really." Benny flipped through a few pages. "Where are you from?"
"Vermont." Dead silence.
"Vermont. Wow." shaking her head in disbelief, Benny glanced back at the young woman thoughtfully. "You must play hockey."
"Yup. How could you tell?"
"No teeth." A pause. "And I'm quite certain I once got into a fight on the ice with your big sister." Benny considered that for a moment. "Bulldozer, we used to call her."
"No way!" This time it was the younger woman's turn to shake her head in disbelief. Getting out of her seat, she wiped one hand on the leg of her jeans and held it out. "Ma'am, I'll just have to shake your hand. You're the only person whoever knocked my sister on her ass – she's not mad about that, by the way. Jo loves telling the story of the tiniest player with the best right hook in women's hockey."
Shaking the other woman's hand with an expression of complete bemusement, Benny asked, "And your name again?"
'Oh, my Goddess. Please, please don't let me laugh.' Chuck Berry's song promptly went into perpetual replay in the back of Benny's head.
"My sister's here too, we came on the same boat. I bet she'd really like to see you again." Maybylene added happily. As far as she was concerned, the whole Amazon thing kept getting better and better. This was so much better than living on the street. She still worried a bit about the two crazy people she and her sister used to help out, making sure they had enough to eat and didn't freeze in the winter. They were crazy, but they weren't dangerous. Captain Peacock and Mrs. Mustard, Jo used to call them. Not to be mean, just in lieu of their real names, which the two elderly people had never given.
"Gosh," wheezed Benny. "Ummm – sure – have her give me a call first, or perhaps stop by my office." Returning her gaze to the book. "Would the rest of you like to hear some of this, being as there's only five minutes or so left?" The period was nearly two hours long, and despite the break Benny had given the students at halftime, there was a lot of grateful nodding. "Don't worry, I have some audio-visual stuff arranged for next class. I hate just lecturing and giving notes as much as you hate just sitting there and writing them down." Flipping around in the book, Benny considered a bit. "Let's start with the bit on Pseudo-Athena."
Who is Pseudo-Athena? Quite frankly, we the editors don't know. This manuscript arrived in the brown paper bag that should have contained Chinese food one day. It probably did have Chinese food in it, since it smelt like Chinese food, but all of that was gone (and the loss of Madam Yan's wondrous eggrolls has never been completely forgiven or forgotten). Instead, what we got was a thick manuscript bound on one side with plastic coil with a clear plastic cover on the front which let you see the snazzy cover illustration and a red card back cover. And let us assure you, it is not possible to eat that!
So, we sat in our little print shop in Montréal, Québec, nervously wondering if the the provincial government was going to call another damned referendum and therefore spoil hockey coverage. It seemed bonkers, but we decided to print up twenty copies of the manuscript and see what would happen. The next day, a mysterious woman named Jane came in and bought it. We love you, Jane. Honestly. We have renamed her Saint Jane Who Must Have Bewitched Us. The next day we sold every other copy but the original. The next day thirty women were waiting at the door first thing in the morning. We had to print the books while they watched! Then we printed seventy. And a hundred women showed up. We started receiving mail order requests. Phone calls. A singing telegram. Super Dave Osborne carrying a mailbag on the handlebars of his motorcycle, you name it. People come around to watch and see who our customers are going to be.
Up late one night, printing more books, we ordered Madam Yan's special, not even thinking of what had happened last time, we were so busy. When the bell rang, Michel stayed back to watch the printer, and I went to answer the door. The delivery person was completely unfamiliar, like the last time. This after having the same delivery person for over five years!
"Food is all there this time." she declared.
"So I see. Merci beaucoup." I replied – hey, my mother taught me manners.
"Put half of the profits into a fund for poor women and girls who otherwise couldn't get to the Amazon Nation. I know there's plenty to go around," she added, and winked one bright blue eye at me. It was so weird. And Michel never saw anything. So I kept it to myself. Who was going to make us give away the money? And anyway, the most recent orders were coming to a grand total of eight hundred forty two. More orders kept coming in. Why worry?
The next day, not a single woman showed up at the shop. Order cancellations came in droves. And the next day. And the day after that. On the fifth day, the mysterious woman came by on her own, while Michel and I sat glumly in the silent shop. "Come come now," she chided. "This is easy to fix. And there is plenty to go around." At which point I had to tell Michel everything. And promise to add this page explaining it to the front of all the copies of the book after that.
Which is how the Pseudo-Athena Travel Fund was created. Was that woman Pseudo-Athena? No idea. Never thought to ask her until it was too late. Things are going well. We have a nice house now, instead of a nasty apartment with a leaky roof.
And Madam Yan won't let us pay for our food orders anymore – seems that since that night when the manuscript arrived, her place has been one of the most popular and successful in town. If you don't believe us, come to Montréal and ask for the address of the Qweerty Print Shop. Seriously. No one will laugh.
Jacques and Michel Laporte'
"So that's all hogwash, right?" Fogherty asked loudly.
"No." Benny replied in a wondering tone. "There really is a Qweerty Print Shop. I've been there. That's where I get these from." she held up the latest in her long series of 'blank bibles.' "I didn't notice this book at all, for all the women waiting in line. A mailman turned up with this wheelbarrow full of envelopes while I was there, too."
Quite a few of the students found this a bit too spooky and weird for comfort, and a few of them decided the two men had built up the story to make it sound creepy for the book, which somehow they must have written themselves. It was certainly puzzling. Puzzling and weird enough, that Benny was certain an Adams was behind it.
- A real person, who used to have a television show.