Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Omega's Folly: Chapter Fourteen
There were few classes as detested by people who weren't taking sociology quite as much as statistics, Chris was sure. She chewed at the end of her pencil, and watched Jed struggle to stay awake in front of her. Normally no statistics had to be taken by physics and chemistry grad students, but both women were at least partially on scholarship. To maintain said scholarships, they had to take a certain number of courses that were considered relevant. All very reasonable. Except that this semester that had come out to be forced to take statistics, or lose the scholarship. Even an attempt to get a reading course in mathematics instead... and these were even more work than statistics... hadn't worked out. The professor drew a bell curve, then began droning on about how an ideal population measured for some characteristic should match it perfectly. Ideal, and perfectly, were serious stumbling blocks to the bell curve.
Someone began swinging their feet in the next row in their own bid to stay awake. Clad in a pair of waterproof warm up pants and a corduroy shirt, perhaps in order to insure discomfort and so prevent sleepiness, they began giving off rhythmic 'swish-wish' and 'vwhip-vwhip' noises. Jed, who couldn't tolerate obnoxious noises well even when not hung over, began to grind her teeth. Yet another student two rows over threw a small, grey, stuffed bear at corduroy and warm up pants, having accurately surmised he was the root cause of the excruciating racket Jed's jaws were producing.
The professor caught a glimpse of the stuffed animal as it was returned across the floor by a grumpy kick, and let out a squeak of alarm. "Was that a mouse?" her voice did an interesting tremolo.
"No ma'am, just a stuffed bear." its owner waved the hapless toy helpfully.
"Oh. Good. I don't know why, but mice really scare me." The professor shook her head and chuckled. "Silly, they're small and can't hurt you. But the same can be said about most spiders someone who is scared of those will see in their lifetime." She turned back to the board. "Now, as I was saying, standard deviation is important..."
The professor was completely unaware of her mistake. Jed and Bill were incurable practical jokers. Both were in the class, both had heard this confession, and both were wide awake now. They had already wreaked havoc in the classroom on two other occasions, one by slipping a page of text from a German paper on neutrons, which happened to use many of the same symbols as the day's statistics material for entirely different purposes. The other by dismantling the professor's desk and hiding the pieces in the men's football team equipment storage. This nearly got them into serious trouble, not for tormenting the professor, but for Jed being a woman and in the men's football equipment storage. The team coach had refused to sign or initiate any official complaints about the matter, and the incident faded away. With a stern warning to Jed but not to Bill, who cheerfully laid a human rights complaint saying the warnings had been handed out based on sex, not responsibility, and darn it, he wanted a warning too. The administration gave up, and removed Jed's citation for non-academic misconduct.
For his part, Bill had already been accepted into law school with a full scholarship, and would be starting after the completion of this semester. And Jed – Jed was being gently wooed by the military, who desperately wanted her codebreaking skills. War was all but certain now, it was just a matter of time. After this semester and a grilling by committee, graduate school would be over for Jed. One semester later, Chris would be finished as well.
War was the furthest thing from Jed and Bill's minds when the class finished, however. After linking arms with Chris on her left and Bill on her right, Jed promptly murmured, "So where should we get the fake mouse? The pet store, or the joke shop?"
In the end they settled for the pet store, from which they left with two fake mice and a brand new kitten. Being a total mushball at heart, Bill had taken one look at the tawny little thing, named it Mungojerry from a T. S. Eliot poem, and paid for her, her license, and her shots on the spot. Luckily Mungojerry had already had her shots, so neither she nor Bill had to suffer the trauma of visiting the vet for them just then. The rest of the afternoon was spent getting cat stuff and the fake mice, Mungojerry perched happily on one of Bill's burly shoulders.
The next statistics class met in the usual dingy basement room. Two minutes in Jed received the pleading look that was the professor's code for, 'This is a first year statistics course, please leave the uncertainty principle out of it.' Jed was rather fond of using the principle for making statistics sound like nonsense. At roughly the halfway mark, a rattling noise began emanating from Bill's corner of the room. Wisely, he was sitting right by the peripheral heating pipes, and these were known to make a racket occasionally. The rattling was dismissed as that.
"Hey," Bill said suddenly. "What's that?" and as planned, sent the tiny fake mouse skittering across the floor, right under Chris' desk where it ricocheted off her foot. This was not part of the plan. Then it shot forward and ricocheted off Jed's, who tried to catch it automatically. Surprised and alarmed, her idea was to corral it before the joke got spoiled. Instead, the mouse bounced up into her face, and then higher upwards as Jed jerked back and upright, accidentally belting it with her chin. From where the thing dropped down the professor's blouse, causing her to emit a terrified scream. Luckily it fell out of her shirt almost immediately, as the alarmed woman shot out of the classroom door and disappeared up the hall so quickly, the class was momentarily spellbound.
Then the room erupted with laughter, including the most studious and over-serious individuals, who had never seen such a thing in their entire lives.
Some twenty minutes later the professor returned, and was a surprisingly good sport about it, with a caveat. "What just happened never gets to anyone else. Or there will be no mercy, understand?"
This was all right. The joke was actually far better that way, and years later students at the university still talked about the mysterious practical joke that wasn't, and the claim by one of the building support staff that she had so seen a professor go running down the hall yelling, "A mouse! A mouse!"
The trip home was weirdly quiet, Benny decided. Tooling around in a little truck that looked like it should have been stamped with its name and a toy company logo on the transmission, there was simply no denying that without Chris and Jed's cheery presence, the trip was simply dull. "You two have been spoiling me," Benny muttered, giving the brake pedal a smooth push as she headed into the first of the de rigeur corkscrew turns that led up to the double gates. The vehicle was very energy efficient, with much more responsive controls than Benny had encountered before. The screeching departure, from an absolute stand still start she had had this morning was a case in point, partly because the vehicle was after all a European rather than a North American model. The truck wouldn't be in her possession for long, and normally she wouldn't be on her own. It was just that Jed was dropping the hearse off at the Palace in Themiskyra, and Chris would pick her partner up tonight.
Benny wasn't too sure why somebody at the Palace wanted the hearse, but was sure that the building's monicker made her want to giggle helplessly. The Palace had been named for precisely that effect. Among the first things that surprised visitors to the Nation, after seeing there really were no men, was the homely building where the Queen, Regent, High Priestess who was better known as the Kepler, and the Queen's Guard all lived. The Queen's Guard wasn't exactly a Guard anymore. Over time they had evolved into a crack citizenship and immigration service department, among the best and most efficient in the world. They also provided protection and security to the 'Big Three' as they nicknamed their three somewhat famous housemates whenever they had to put in appearances outside of the Nation. Stubborn rumours insisted they were even more than this, and that Jed Adams, a famed codebreaker and code-maker of the last war was their leader.
The Palace consisted of redone barracks built on some possibly mad whim, into a giant equilateral triangle. A communications tower rose from the centre of the triangle, and from there the Nation's radio stations and other types of communication emanated. Well, it was a sort of tower. It had a high point, and lots of other structures clustered around it in descending stages. Something about it made a surprising number of newcomers either blush furiously or burst out laughing. This complex was anything but new, and saw out the recent war as it had so many others in the modern era, with an all manner of war planes from the Blue and Allied armies attempting to bomb it. Why both sides kept trying to bomb it was a separate question. The result was not its destruction, but a moat all around the Palace. Bizarrely, every bomb and missile had missed. Unfortunately, several of the missiles had hit other nearby buildings. One hadn't actually exploded, and the story of how the Queen's Guard had figured out how to disarm it was an impressing one.
The black, red, white colour scheme of the Palace plus wood highlights helped the gradual transformation away from the barracks look, shifting into a complex of buildings that seemed to fit not time or place else. There were always stables, because there were few Amazons indeed who didn't like to ride, and the Kepler if not the Queen always had at least one horse. Three flags flapped in the wind, one at each corner of the great triangle: the Nation's Overflag, the flag of the Regent, and the flag of the Queen. Regent was actually rather a misnomer. She was in fact the leader of the Nation's armed forces, which meant in time of war she became full Queen, and the usual Queen became head of domestic security and supply. The Third Queen was almost never directly referred to, and nowadays due to her great age usually lived at home instead of the Palace if she wished. The Overflag represented her, and the third seat that belonged to her was never occupied unless she was there. The current Third Queen, still supplying her wisdom and fierce common sense to the diplomatic corps, her primary interest after finishing her term as Queen, was extremely unwell despite the healer's best efforts. More than a few Amazons were unnerved at the situation that looked imminent.
The last time a woman as young as Quentin Halliday-Pontius had become Third Queen was during the Plague. Nevertheless, she was older than the Regent, and the dying Third Queen had approved of her taking over. With yet another war developing, and the Nation inveighed against by both sides, it looked as if Quentin would be a second war Queen. The Nation could be attacked on two fronts due to its physical positioning, which wasn't as bad as it seemed. Angry crags with narrow passes covered each front, something so fortuitous not a few outsiders thought the maps showing this were fakes. Nevertheless, those features were real, and the passes easily made impassable by the defenders. Strong nerves were the key.
Jed thought through parts of this as she guided the hearse along the carefully packed dirt road, avoiding sheep and chickens. The chickens were surprisingly territorial, making furious amounts of noise and hurling feathers everywhere when the hearse passed. Just last night she had broken the latest batch of cipher texts sent by the various world leaders currently complaining about the Amazon Nation. The idea was apparently to hit the Nation from the sky and on the two land fronts in a blitzkrieg type attack early in the fall. The problem was, to achieve this, they needed to march through and fly over Turkey. And the Turkish prime minister had told them quite bluntly to blow it out of a certain bodily orifice. The country was just seriously getting back on its feet, and Amazons were deeply honoured there. Turkish help for the attack was quite out of the question.
Pulling up by the front door of the Palace, she grinned broadly. Quentin was standing on the steps, leaning on her heavy stick, iron grey hair tousled by the wind. Stubborn, pugnacious jaw jutting out. Old Myrtle, the ill Third Queen liked 'Young Quentin' a great deal. "Take that Young Quentin now," she would tell the latest well wishing visitor. "She's got herself some good old fashion sense. I don't say common sense mind, 'cause I'm damned sick of calling something common that damned well isn't!"
"Hey, Cue." Jed shook the other woman's hand, then gave her a big hug. "Good news first or bad?"
"Tell me the bad immediately. I have Deb on the phone right now." Quentin replied.
"They intend to go through Turkey no matter what the Turkish people have to say about it. If the current prime minister can be replaced by someone more tractable, all the better."
Shaking her head in disgust, Quentin led Jed upstairs to her precisely arranged office. "All right Deb, we're on. Three and nine." Hanging up and dialing a different number, she waited patiently. Someone eventually picked up the phone, and they spoke for several moments. Then a woman's voice replaced it. "Jed, please repeat what you just told me in Turkish for the prime minister." A beat. "You closet Turk, you."
"Tccch... just because my grandmother taught me her language." Jed cleared her throat, ordered her thoughts, and got started.
Well after the conversation proper had started, Avi slipped quietly into the room to find her partner and her partner's cousin-in-law speaking in some completely incomprehensible language to her ears. Carefully setting a tiny statue of Artemis the Hunter on the mantle above the fireplace, Avi twitched her robes into order and sat down to wait. The chance to relax was well appreciated. The great rush of women to the Nation had finished only this morning, and barring a few hundred waiting to come by way of Turkey, no one else would be able to move easily. Most borders were now closed.
The first thing Benny encountered on entering her half of Omega's Folly was a monstrous banging and crashing. Considering the recent roof and wall problems, the noise was quite alarming. Running at top speed, which was surprisingly fast if only the length of her legs was considered, Benny found herself in the big, uneven floored hall with the chandelier Arion had gotten stuck in. Two Amazons were ripping out an alarming amount of roof and ceiling, and another crew was building a new, solid frame that interfaced with the structurally sound portions that were left. One of them saw Benny and waved.
"Hello there. Just fixing the hole."
"Where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering?" Benny asked.
"Never mind." muttered Benny. 'Serves me right, trying to use an obscure Beatles song reference.' Pulling off her hat, she tried a different question. "How long do you think you'll need?"
"Until it's done. There's a storm coming," declared the second Amazon.
"Oh." Benny felt profoundly disappointed. The construction Amazons were notorious for taking 'until it's done' extremely literally. They were quite happy to bang and saw away until three in the morning. An evening of Beethoven, soaking in the tub, and exploiting the rig Chris had created to allow reading in the bath without holding the book directly in hand didn't seem nearly as feasible now. Construction noise only really worked with the first two or three movements of the ninth symphony.
Leaving the construction site behind, Benny dumped her briefcase in her room and ventured into the nearby kitchen. Tea making materials were ready to hand – Chris and Jed seemed to feel that these were required accessories for almost every room – and there were some nice modern appliances. The room seemed vast all of a sudden. Benny resisted the urge to shout and see if her voice would echo. She had already tried that, and disappointed at the results. Trying again wouldn't improve them. Throwing open a few cupboards, Benny tried to feel inspired. The rows of cans, dry goods, cookery, crockery, cutlery, and vegetables left her wishing she could order pizza. "Or could I?" she murmured aloud. "Its a Turkish invention, after all."
Leaving that idea behind, she dug through one of the dry goods cupboards and came up with a bag of rice and a bag of popcorn. Rice would be good as part of dinner. Popcorn was great for midnight snacks. As a person who tended to work late into the night and get hungry if not well fed every four hours, Benny considered popcorn a Goddess-send. That and those nice carrots that come in the big bags and are sort of sweet and nice to eat, she reflected. Setting some water on, she started another pan with some oil, intending to brave the dangers of frying in order to have some of the little pork cutlets that had turned up in the freezer. The kitchen, like the bathroom, which had its own quirks, had been supplied by Chris and Jed, so there was a wildly multi-cultural selection. Kippers and steak and kidney pie, pita bread and tzatziki sauce to go with a number of things with names Benny couldn't read and suspected she would need Jed to explain how to cook. Dropping the bag of popcorn by the frying pan, Benny carefully tipped it back and forth, spreading out the oil.
"Hellooooooooo!" a voice called from somewhere in the vicinity of the front door. The construction Amazons promptly yelled back, inspiring an irritated bellow of, "Not you!"
Laughing, Benny went to the doorway and shouted, "Up here, Ari."
"Okay!" the note of almost puppy dog eagerness was so sweet Benny couldn't repress a sigh. "Your future girlfriend is so lucky."
A moment or two later Arion bounded into the room, lugging an alarmingly extensive series of briefcases strapped around her body. They contained one laptop, one set of tools, two sets of papers waiting to be marked, a pile of mail she hadn't dealt with yet, and the latest manuscript in progress. "Hell, Ari, you need a dolly." Benny winced when a determined buckle snapped to on her finger on her first attempt to release it.
"Nah, I need a minion." Arion declared with certainty.
"Yes. A minion would be perfect. They could do some of the dull multiple choice marking jobs and file header repairs for me then."
"Well, there are quite a few grad students."
"Yeah, I know. But you have to get 'em early."
Benny burst out laughing again. "Get them early?"
"Yeah," Arion said earnestly. "Before they decide they're too good for the job."
"Are we actually having this conversation?" Benny asked, stepping over to the frying pan and prising apart the plastic around the food waiting nearby agitatedly. Weirdest thing, how standing that close had started giving her butterflies in her stomach. 'Must be time to eat.'
"Sure, it's funny. That's what afterwork conversations are for, making you laugh. Good for your blood pressure and all that sort of fooey." Arion had sidled up next to her and was leaning back against the counter.
"Fooey?" Benny said incredulously, with the container of whatever it was poised over the frying pan. "You're really distracting, you know that?"
"It was you first." Arion grinned, and having let her guard down rather more than she usually did, bent forward. Later she would be unable to say what she was thinking, basically because her brain had shut down all thinking functions, on the grounds of refusal to spoil spontaneity.
"No it wasn't." A whole bunch of something poured into the frying pan before Benny dumped it onto the counter, peripherally aware that dropping it on the hot stove would be a problem. "I've got this thing for red heads..."
"Oh, so that's your excuse for distracting me from the moment I saw you. Naughty, naughty." And somehow they wound up kissing, and neither of them would be able to explain that in any way, shape, or form later. Which, if they had consulted with Jed and Chris, or Quentin and Avi on the matter, they would have learned was a good sign.
The unmistakable smell and smoke of burning popcorn snapped them semi out of it, and Benny looked over at the frying pan in alarm. "Oh shit!" Rather than the pork chops, she had unwittingly dumped three quarters of the bag of popcorn into the three inch deep cast iron pan, and it had dutifully managed to pop almost all of the kernels before things started burning. The entire kitchen was scattered with kernels, some of them still ricocheting around after flying out of the pan. The smoke was so bad it was like one of Chris' explosions. Luckily turning off the heat, moving the pan, and opening all the windows solved the most immediate problems.
Arion laughed merrily, a strong, loud laugh that no one had heard since her accident. "Well," she grinned at Benny. "That was different."
"Yes it was. And, now that we are not luckily, going to have more of that," a beat.
"Yes," Arion prompted.
"How about we do some more of the other?"
"The oth... oh, yes, absolutely, no argument here, I mean..."
Benny caught Arion by the collar and looked her straight in the eye. "And now, to quote yet another song probably no one but me knows. Shut up and kiss me."
Conversation with the grimly determined Turkish prime minister finished, Jed was about to take her leave when Avi asked mildly, "And which of you notoriously batty Adams is officially coming to the coronation?"
Pausing in mid-stand, Jed sighed inwardly. By now Chris had to be waiting for her outside, potentially in the moat. Chris had boundless confidence in the abilities of her vehicle, even though a winch was always necessary to get it out of such spots. "Oh, well," she cleared her throat. "The invitation was 'misdirected' on the assumption that the business tycoon of the family was sufficiently snooty. Arion promptly handed it over to me, and Chris and I have decided to go. And, if we are allowed to do just a bit more subtle prodding, we may be able to get Arion to go too." Pausing thoughtfully, Jed's eyes went temporarily distant. The other two women held their breaths. Jed had an uncanny prescience, and its workings were always heralded by that look. They had gotten into the habit of having the watches all over the Nation keep a communiqué line to her office, because she was an eerily accurate forecaster of bombing raids. "Then again, maybe we should just make sure Benny is going. Then Arion will make sure to be there, even if she has to walk. Sometimes that car of hers is a bit dodgy."
"Dodgy." breathed Avi. She and Quentin burst out laughing.
"Dodgy? Jed, it is so obvious you learnt your English in England and sleep with a sturdy former denizen of those isles." Quentin laughed again, and slapped her artificial knee, making a hollow 'pop' sound.
"Hmmph. And my family is not notoriously batty!" Twitching her shirt front straight, emphasizing how wrinkled it was. "We are charmingly eccentric." Standing up. "Now, if you'll excuse me, chances are Chris is in need of a winch."
"Why is she so eccentric?" Avi piped up. The fact of the matter was, Chris was so thoroughly Adamsish in personality though nothing else that everyone who knew her was curious about this.
"Well," Jed paused in the doorway and took a breath, unconsciously going into pseudo-lecture mode. "By all accounts, a good twenty-five generations ago now, a Pontius-Halliday married a member of the Adams family, clan Arkurene. That's the best genetic sort of explanation we have. Although, honestly, my clan is hardly related to theirs at all. Arlachesis, you know."
"No, but I'll take your word for it." the Kepler smiled brightly.
"Well then, must dash." This inspired some more snickering, which luckily Jed did not notice.
"Jed," called Quentin, catching the physicist's foot before it disappeared out the door with her stick. "Please, no weird costumes. And no drunken food fights. Promise me."
"I promise." Jed crossed her fingers before she said it.
"Come back here, look me in the eye, and show me your hands as you say that again."
"Okay, okay. Dia ti ei houto chalepos, oh basilaea?" Jed stepped back into the room and held up her hands, fingers suitably untangled. However, due to an impressive amount of digital dexterity in her feet, Jed could cross her toes, which she did. And anyway, a food fight was not part of the plan, she and Arion had already ruled that out. "I promise."
"No weird costumes."
"No weird costumes."
"No drunken food fights."
"No drunken food fights." Jed then escaped down the hall in order to rescue her partner.
"Why do I get the bad feeling that I should have been far more careful and far less specific?" muttered Quentin.
Chris scowled in irritation. The Queen's Guard had frankly blocked all of her attempts to drive her car into and out of the moat, saying this was necessary on grounds of the winch being in use at the temple of Artemis. It would have made life far simpler if a drawbridge was available for use, but this was forbidden on grounds of security. Muttering grumpily, Chris stomped up to the edge of the moat, kicking a few small stones into it. There had been no rain for days, although a storm was imminent considering the heavily grey sky, and without rain the moat would stay dry. So it was a source of some surprise when the unmistakable 'plink plink' sound of pebbles dropping into fairly deep water travelled up to the tall chemist's ears. "Water?!" she muttered in surprise.
"Yes ma'am," declared the tall guard who had bravely blocked the route into the moat. "Been a whole string of earthquakes, ran through Greece, Turkey and the homesteads in the far north and east. Seems the rocks have shifted and allowed things to start flowing again. The moat's been rising half a metre every three days. We're getting a bit nervous of flood, despite its being so deep. In Greece the shift started the fumes rising in the shrine at Delphi again. You know Kass, the priestess of Gaea who used to teach candle magic until she returned home?"
"Yes. Finished some training here, if memory serves. Sometimes it doesn't, you know." Chris added.
"Right." the guard blinked. "Here, she's gone and become the new Delphic oracle. Seems she trained some other women who were willing, did a grand ceremonial cleaning out to put the boots to Apollo, and got to work. Good thing she's Greek, or I don't think she could ever have made this work. Here, she's in the paper." Handing over a well-read newspaper. The Nation had three, but each could only print so many copies due to the cost of paper. Each issue that didn't become part of a library was carefully passed around dozens of people before it was sadly consigned to the recycling bin.
The relevant article graced the front page.
DELPHIC ORACLE RETURNS TO ACTION
After a nearly two thousand year hiatus, the Delphic Oracle has returned to life. Pilgrims have flocked to the cleaned and renovated shrine in the thousands, and not necessarily for an oracle. "What? I do not need a reading." Ms. Agape Papadopoulos declared in outrage when asked. "I have come to pray." This sentiment was reechoed repeatedly throughout the news team's visit.
Pythia Kassandra Smith, having returned to the homeland of her great grandmother after a sojourn in the Amazon Nation, has been astonished and overwhelmed by the public's response. "My colleagues and I never expected such excitement. But then, we didn't seriously expect the Goddess to reactivate the oracle, either. We came here as part of an archaeological and environmental clean up team." Delphi has long been a favoured tourist site despite the difficult physical conditions a trip to the ancient shrine entails, and the marker of our age, unbiodegradable trash and graffiti had taken its toll. "We were actually forced to wait for several days at the base camp after a serious earthquake. So we thought that horror of horrors, perhaps the Goddess had taken matters in hand and closed even the shrine."
On the contrary, the earthquake had not closed the shrine but restarted the flow of hydrocarbon fumes that apparently connect the Pythia to the Goddess' stream of consciousness. Pythia Smith has already made several unnerving predictions, among them a specific date for the resumption of the arms race between the Red Fundamentalist and Blue Fundamentalist countries.
Altogether this has produced an outpouring of gifts to the priestesshood that now occupies Delphi. Pythia Smith politely turns down all gifts of money, asking instead that they be directed to a charity of the giver's choice. Any other gifts she offers to help direct to relief efforts and aid organizations of the donor's choosing. "We simply can't keep all these things, as a matter of faith and as a matter of sheer practicality." The women maintain a small, independent organic farm to provide for their needs. This isn't an idyllic setting, as the Pythia is quick to point out. "It's damned hard work."
The Greek government is surprisingly supportive of this venture, which has spurred a veritable rennaisance of interest in the country's history and culture, inside and out, and not just of its pagan heritages either. And of course, the tourist dollars never hurt. The Orthodox and Catholic churches are anything but supportive, many of their leaders and followers alike inveighing furiously against the evils of paganism and how the presence of priestesses heralds the growth of satanism. This seems a bit strange considering that the renewed spiritual interest has given them a local shot in the arm, and the new priestesshood has stated unequivocally that they do not, will not, and can not missionize. In an extraordinary ceremony broadcast on the major television networks outside of the Nation, all of the priestesses were solemnly excommunicated by both churches. On being informed of this, the Pythia winced. "Oh dear," she murmured. "It's too late to tell them none of us were ever members of those churches now, isn't it?"
- Goldberg and Co.
"I'm impressed." Chris handed the paper back thoughtfully. "Something seems to be going on." Then Jed hurried over, easily darting across the footbridge that spanned the moat.
"Hello, hello!" she sang out cheerfully, unabashedly throwing her arms around her partner and planting a kiss right on her mouth. "Great day, isn't it?"
"Oh, certainly." Chris replied a bit faintly. Giving herself a shake, she asked, "The meeting went well then?"
"Yes it did." Jed sat down in the passenger seat, and began studiously tying herself into place.
"Good, good. And Cue knows we'll be at her coronation?"
"Oh, absolutely, absolutely." Chris had gotten into the car by now, and Jed, completely heedless of her impromptu seatbelt managed to give her a huge hug before she had really settled in.
"Not that I mind," Chris straightened her grey hat, knocked askew by her partner's enthusiasm. "But I wonder what has brought this on?"
"Let's see. The coronation looks to be great fun after all, dressing up is so much fun. We didn't need to winch you out of the new potentially deadly moat..."
"Ah, I see." Chris started the engine. "Good point, must admit."
"So you spent the whole war..."
"In the Dutch and German Underground, ja." Arion grinned and wiggled her toes. She was stretched out on the left side of Benny's bed, happily listening to Benny in the foreground and Beethoven in the background.
"Damn. I still can't believe I didn't recognize you. Can you speak English now?" Benny was laying on her side on the right side of the bed, tracing patterns on Arion's side with her free hand.
"Can you speak Dutch?" They both burst out laughing.
"Now, seriously, Dutch is a good language to learn. It is very like English."
"Uh huh. Isn't it also a lot like German?"
"Mmm... yes, and no." Arion smiled devilishly. "Do you know German?"
"Yes, actually. Haven't spoken it in a long time, so I'm probably rusty as all get out."
"This is no great difficulty." Arion rolled onto her own side, putting the two women almost nose to nose. Benny raised an eyebrow. "We need to talk. What better way to talk than to learn languages from each other?" Arion blinked. "Why did my brain just translate that into something naughty?"
"Don't feel bad. My brain did the same thing." Benny grinned rakishly. "Must be due to how long it's been since I had a beautiful woman in my bed and at my mercy."
"Did you just call me beautiful?" Arion asked in an astonished tone.
"Mmmhmm." She wasn't the type to say things she didn't mean, and Benny had a feeling this point was an important one to get across.
"No one has ever done that before. Not even before my accident."
"Then you know far too many blind people." This led to a silence of some minutes while Arion got her head around these ideas. "So, it seems to me we had agreed to refresh my memory of German, and teach you English."
"Ja. Of course, I have no exercise books this time."
"Oh, that's okay."
Beethoven finished musical sturm and drang in the background to be replaced by natural sturm and drang outside. The noise of the construction Amazons finally leaving after packing up their things, followed by Jed and Chris' arrival were almost drowned out by the thunder.
"Tell you what, you put the kettle on and I'll go have a knock on her door, see what she says." Chris' now unmistakable bouncing tread travelled down the hall. "Helloooo... oh dear." She had come upon the popcorn festooned kitchen. "An experiment gone wrong." Chris nodded sympathetically. "Benny? Sorry to interrupt you, luv, but I need to ask you a quick question..." The bouncing footsteps went on for some moments. "Well I'll be... I think I'm lost!" The two halves of Omega's Folly were very different from each other, and there wasn't an overall logic to the floor plan, considering the almost organic way in which the place had grown. If a person hadn't grown up there, stumbling onto unfamiliar paths could be a nasty experience. "Hmmm. A compass should help." Chris had one of these in her pocket, and as it happened such an instrument was very helpful. It tended to seek a large iron meteorite ensconced in the house shrine rather than true north, but that was all right. Her progress halted again rather abruptly. "Ooops... so sorry, wasn't watching where I was going properly."
Benny and Arion sprang apart, leading to the taller woman falling unceremoniously off the bed and onto the floor. "Err... uh... hi, Chris." Benny struggled to get her tongue back into speech mode. "No problem, easy mistake to make in this house."
"Indubitably." Arion grinned from her position on the floor.
"Your kitchen seems a bit shocked around the edges. Are you all right?" Chris asked, her eyes twinkling merrily behind her tinted spectacles.
"What? Oh yes, yes, fine. Perfectly." Benny's gaze strayed downwards, and her face turned a thousand shades of red. Industrious and nimble of finger, Arion had made short work of the majority of the buttons on Benny's shirt. "Really." her voice rose into a squeak. Gallant as always, Arion tried to come to the rescue.
"Yes. She was just teaching me English you know, in great detail." Knight errants sometimes had difficulties in their work.
"Oh yes, French kissing is an excellent method for that. It's how Jed taught me to speak Greek." Beaming benignly, the chemist went on, "Will you two be catching a ride with us to Cue's coronation, then?"
"Sure," the two women managed to say in unison.
"Excellent, excellent. Bye." and with that, Chris was gone.
"Teaching you English in great detail?" Benny asked incredulously.
"It was the first thing that came into my head. Couldn't help it." Arion blurted, before dissolving into helpless giggles. "Can't believe it made it to my mouth."
"Me either, but it was a mostly effective rescue." Benny laughed herself, then reached out and gave Arion's hand a tug. "Now get back up here, we were talking."
"Ms. Basilas, we keep talking like that and..."
"We'll miss dinner?"
Meanwhile, a harried Ygrainne Adams supervised the unloading of yet more chairs, tables, and decorations for the coronation the day after next. Like it or not there was no way to get away with a quick spread of straw on the floor and a few tapped kegs at one end of the hall, so the Queen's Guard was suffering through the decorating and assembly sessions under Ygrainne's direction. Since her main use of decoration tended to be a few maps and the odd poster, Ygrainne wasn't at all certain this was the best choice. Still, it was a done deal.
A neatly coordinated sequence of tosses festooned the ceiling with streamers of red, black, and white ribbon. The sound of excessive application of duct tape followed. An Amazon then hid each little silver patch by several ribbon flowers. A guard with a knack for painting struggled to work around a heavy cold, which involved getting well away from the canvas whenever she felt the urge to sneeze. Since sneezing was a frequent event, the jumping back and forth left the woman exhausted, although the painting was almost done. It was a composition showing the most famous of the queen triumvirate in the Nation, Hippo, Marpesia, and Lampedo, for they had been the founders of Ephesus. Ygrainne frowned. Hang on a minute, she wondered. There was a fourth Amazon in the picture, it looked like.
The stage was still bare plywood, awaiting its covering of paint and a layer of stone tiles. The marble tiles had been carefully culled from where they were buried deep beneath the Ephesian temple built by Croesus. The Turkish goverment had graciously presented them to the Nation after the war in gratitude for the help the Amazons had given in defense of the country. Oddly, the marble tiles did not appear to belong to either of the two ancient shrines that they had been found in, where they were stacked in six neat piles. The shrines themselves were being restored. The whole reason the tiles were set up for the queens to walk on when crowned was because they were sacred. If it hadn't been for the weather, the coronation would have been held in the newly restored temple of Artemis instead.
Rows of seats were gradually growing up from the floor like some bizarre tinker toy even as carefully spaced lights were added all around the walls. They were actually the type of light an auto mechanic hangs under the hood when examining an engine, but a few cunningly placed branches hid this without creating a fire hazard. Several Amazons worked together to unroll a set of two carpets between the two banks of seating, one carpet was black, the other a purplish red. There would be no white carpet, as Old Myrtle had passed on that morning, but not before insisting, "Now see here, you better have a decent party and not spend the whole night of the coronation moping, because I fully intend to be there, and I expect to have a good time. Trust me, you don't want to irritate me when I'm a ghost!"
Quentin wandered quietly into the auditorium, glancing around at the busy Amazons. The Regent Tony Bellonis had tried to give her some sense what the coronation would be like, but it was hard to do. The last one like hers would be had happened so long ago as to be beyond human memory. Deciding to put her wandering to some use, Quentin carefully climbed the steps, then paced the stage. Logic suggested trying to walk the heavy carpets, as such flooring could be quite strange to walk on with only one real leg. A perhaps illogical sense of discomfort kept her away from them. There were a few peculiar superstitions about who should walk the Goddess' Way and when, much like the superstitions around weddings and funerals in other cultures. With a storm raging outside, and the light failing in the auditorium because the Guard was testing the lights, deliberately doing what superstitions said you shouldn't didn't seem such a great idea. Quentin sat down on the auditorium steps, staring off into the middle distance.
- From Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band, of course.
- This is a genuine song reference, in this case a 1994 one hit wonder song by country music artist Mary Chapin Carpenter.