Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Omega's Folly: Chapter Sixteen
There was all kinds of time before things got started, so Chris took them to the beginning of the corridor in order to show them what there was to see before they took their seats. Hanging tapestries filled the walls, some of them in climate controlled glass cases due to their great age. They showed all sorts of different subjects, at first historical or mytho-historical. Benny wasn't quite sure which, or if the things were really the same thing. Then, having completed the round again, Chris led them into a second corridor that apparently looped around inside the first. The tapestries showed obviously mythical tales now, and they passed into the next loop almost without Benny noticing it, so busy was she following the storyline to see if she could tell where the change to something a bit different would be. Now the tapestries dealt with obviously sacred subjects, rites mostly. The fourth loop continued the same theme, or so it seemed, until Benny realized she was looking at a sort of instruction manual for lovers. This was confirmed by Arion, who made a startled sputtering noise when they had walked on for a few minutes more.
"That is not physically possible." Arion pointed at one tapestry, and indeed, the positioning of the lovers shown in it looked rather challenging.
"Yes it is." Chris said blandly. "What do you think the bed's for?"
Disarmingly, the next loop was blazing white, and Benny wound up shutting her eyes tight for the first few steps. Chris was doing much the same thing. For her part, Arion was muttering irritably. Her cobalt tinted glasses were dark enough the corridor had just seemed lighter, and now she was a bit put out to be walking through such a boring stretch. The walls seemed to take off straight up, and there were no apparent right angles anywhere. The next loop had crimson walls, making the corridor feel strangely like it was closing in on them. The final loop was much tighter and pitch black, resulting in Benny and Arion each grabbing one of Chris' elbows. Unlike before where they had felt a bit stifled, now they had no sense of where the walls were, and for a moment Benny was nearly overwhelmed by a feeling of vertigo.
They entered the dimly lit auditorium and Chris patiently guided them to their seats., which were part of great rings built up into solid banks so that they didn't sway under people's feet. These blocks of seating didn't extend up terribly high, yet there was quite a number of them. Benny struggled to reconcile the proportions of the auditorium with the loops she had walked. Nothing added up, not in terms of distance or depth or anything.
"We're underground now, I think." Arion murmured. "This whole thing looks almost a bunker. Wonder who built it – the corridors we walked through must be almost the only part of the works above ground." Who built it was a group of Amazons during a much earlier world war, creating this place and many others to provide a safe haven for people, food, equipment, and records. The whole area was a great warren of caves, many of them natural, a result of karst topography. Natural or not, the passages between them were built in trapezoidal shapes and the caves themselves corbelled in a fashion that best resisted tremors. Later Benny would get the chance to explore the holiest of Themiskyra's caves, places tinted in all sorts of bright colours by chemical deposits, some of them with steady, gentle streams of water running continuously down the walls.
Well above their heads, set into the curves above the seating, a series of six shutters that looked almost like closed storefronts stood out clearly even in the half light. Benny squinted a bit, and found the light was just strong enough that she could make out objects carefully affixed around each set. "There are six major parts of the Nation – outsiders usually call them tribes. That's actually rather silly." A small, yellowish light appeared, shining from where it was hooked on a small band Chris had fastened around her head. "It's my own invention," she declared to the questioning looks. "You shake it to get it to light up, then turn it upside down to douse it. Good job Jed found some of the other type of phosphor. Before it was a bit trying, getting it doused before it burst into flames." Digging around – apparently under the seat – "Family sort of permanently assigned space – isn't it outrageous?" Chris dug up two more of the lights. "Here you are, so you can have a look at the program, if you like." The program was an awkward gadget set into each of the seats in front of them, containing a scroll made of what appeared to be some sort of plastic. Twiddling knobs brought different sections of it into view, each section devoted to a different potential ceremony. "Anyroad, six parts – North African, East Anatolian, West Anatolian, Northern European, Central American, North American." Chris twiddled the knobs of the scroll in front of her seat. "According to the designations usually used by English speakers, as Jed would disclaim it. I can't blame her, 'North Africa' is half a bloody continent at least, and North America is a whole continent, and the Amazons in both, let alone Southern Africa are eldest."
The Amazons had gone underground, or so it seemed to the ancient Greeks and others as they became so elusive as to be legendary. Crasser commentators declared them extinct and therefore literally underground. Allied tribes stubbornly directed invaders away from them or shielded them. Part of being an Amazon was being willing to assist people who wanted assistance wherever it was possible, and the women had become well loved for their readiness to provide medical services and training, or even just help with the harvest. That they helped their allies resist violent incursions or the acts of unjust people was another point that made them well loved. By the time small groups of Amazons began to sail west, various leaders of smaller groups had been deified after their deaths, their names dotting Southern Europe, Anatolia, even some parts of Asia. As they still do.
Too small in numbers to ever get caught up in a cycle of parasitize and destroy "the natives," new names plastered on the Amazons began to come back east in the writings of the Romans. Valkyries, Bean-Sidhe. Elves. Outsiders on average didn't seem too concerned that they were garbling together completely different peoples, not all of whom were Amazons or even Amazon-like. In the end, the only part of the world they didn't really have a presence was South America for unknown reasons. There were mysterious Amazon groups even at the poles, people so elusive that they were often referred to as spirits. All of these varied Amazons were represented in some way, and the spaces between the shutters overflowed with gifts and symbols of the many peoples allied to them. Many of them were from indigenous groups, and impressively few had their gifts ceremonially shrouded in black, symbolic of a people who had been wiped out.
The lights rose a bit, and now the colour of the walls became visibly green, and the streamers and other decorations more obvious. The people putting up the streamers had worked a stunning distance above the floor. In the centre of the auditorium, a gently glowing equilateral triangle set into the raised podium added to the ambiance. The carefully arranged floor tiles made a neat circle inside of the triangle.
The steady rumble of many women talking in hushed tones while they waited for things to start grew louder, and Arion stuck a finger in one ear as she squinted at the writing in front of her. "Ari." The woman didn't even twitch. "Ari? Hey!" Benny shook her gently by the shoulder.
"Oh, sorry. I'm deaf in my right ear, love." Arion smiled apologetically, and pulled her finger out of her left ear.
Whatever Benny had meant to ask, now it had to wait as a deep, ringing sound emanated from somewhere above them three times in succession. The perimeter lighting fell and torches burst into flame at the vertices of the triangle, in an admittedly impressive effect. The sound of measured steps began to the north, if Benny had her directions the right way around. They halted abruptly, followed by a trail of shockingly audible cursing.
"What do you mean shh? What's the matter with you people? Who can walk across ankle deep shag carpet in the dark? I'll tell you. NOBODY." Tittering in the audience made it clear to the two invisible individuals that the entire conversation was being heard.
"That's why shh! Now shh!"
"Twit." The measured steps began again. Then up thirteen steps. On the last five, the stumbler in the rug became visible at last, Jed in all her finery, lugging a staff almost a full metre taller than she was. Managing to position herself at the top apex of the triangle, she stood still for a moment, swaying alarmingly. The moment the protocol Amazon turned her back to signal somebody else with a flashlight, she mopped her brow with the back of one sleeve and pantomimed an exhausted sigh. The watching Amazons laughed in response, and the protocol Amazon spun around, glaring. Jed had already returned to serious mode, however.
More measured walking from the other three directions, so Jed got a good grip on the staff, choking up on it a bit, and only barely managed to perform the slow swing over the triangle, which was meant to symbolically sweep away evil. Jed had suggested sharply that it would have made more sense to use a damned broom, but no one had paid her any mind even though she was right. She got stuck almost fully extended to her left, and heaved the staff back towards herself with a resounding grunt. Then she nearly clobbered herself in the head with it, because the thing was completely unwieldy. Whacking the base against the floor in triumph when she had it in control again, Jed jumped in startlement when it collapsed into a neat 50 centimetre high tube. Grinning with delight because this would be much easier to handle, Jed uttered a delighted "Woohoo!" Needless to say she was completely spoiling the gravity of the pre-ceremony stuff, to everyone's relief, including Quentin's, who was making her way carefully through the carpet. It wasn't quite as deep as Jed had said, but close, leading Quentin to ask irritably, "What's up with the floor? It keeps grabbing my feet!"
Seeing the flash from the pin that held Avi's robes closed at one corner – which meant she was running slow as the whole pre-ceremony thing should have been done before Avi's arrival – Jed began pacing the triangle counterclockwise, carefully walking three steps on each side. Her job finally done, she took two steps back, and contrary to what she had been told, the backs of her calves failed to smack into a chair. Assuming the chair was further back, Jed took another step back, beginning to fade into the growing darkness at the edges of the circle, only to let out an alarmed exclamation as she lost her balance and fell into space.
"Watch out will you, woman!"
"Well done, you missed the cake!"
"You hurt then? Brandy, who brought the flask – no, I only need one flask."
A sputtering and coughing noise.
"There you are then. Go sit down, will you."
"Mind the cake!"
Some five or ten minutes later, Jed arrived at the little bank of seats where her partner and friends were ensconced, and was immediately treated by everyone else nearby to hugs, handshakings, offers of contraband food – technically the auditorium was a food free zone until after the ceremony, but since there was always a giant cake and some other refreshments handed around before everyone headed out to the feast, it hardly seemed fair to the audience members, who hadn't had dinner yet, to seriously be forced to go without at least a tide me over – several offers of drink that would have curled the quills on a porcupine, and at last the only offer Jed really cared about, which was smooshing into Chris' seat with her. She had a suspiciously dark patch across one cheekbone suggesting her unexpected fall had done some damage, but she seemed otherwise unscathed by the experience.
At which point the ceremony proper got started. This involved censing Quentin very carefully with smoke, and adding the collar of office and the neat little circlet that queens were allowed to wear. These went surprisingly well with Quentin's favourite kilt, deep purple jacket, and ruffled shirt, although incongruously with her square toed shoes and bulky, calf high wool socks. Then there were several long prayers, and at last what most folks really enjoyed, the singing of sacred songs, and dances. The rule was there had to be at least six, but there were certainly more than that, and Benny seriously missed some sort of recording device so that she could hear them again later. The first set of songs involved no drums, but after that there was plenty of drumming, fluting, and various stringed instruments. For the dancing, the circular platform was collapsed and removed, extra lights arranged around the space, and dancers poured out from the still dim corridors at all four directions.
The serious ceremony bit was now over, and the time had come to hand out refreshments when the lights everywhere went out.
"Oh bloody hell. Who forgot to charge the batteries this time?"
"Don't look at me."
"What do you mean don't look at you? I can't look at you because it's pitch black!"
"Oh, I don't think it's a pitch sort of black at all, more like coal."
"Excuse me, this is a coronation, not Laugh In!" Avi, still stuck in wet blanket mode.
"For my part, I do believe that the plan is in motion." Ygrainne, intoning cheerfully.
High above their heads, the streamers fell apart at the centre, dropping down along the walls, heralding a patter of little bags of candy and toys. Then a long, slow, deep, grinding noise began, and the ceiling opened up to reveal the still stormy night sky.
"Hey! Who opened that? It's raining!"
As if that were the signal, trails of fire began to shoot upwards from all around the outside of the auditorium where a number of fireworks launch installations had been skillfully hidden from most of the people toiling over the coronation. The others had been successfully bribed with promises that they would all be removed and any damages repaired by the people involved with the fireworks. Seconds later, said fireworks began to pop and whistle into a giant light show, soon accompanied by someone's eighties hair music compilation. It went on for a good half hour, preempting all the official activities while Amazons happily sang along with an impressive number of the songs, including Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, although it wasn't quite clear it actually came from the eighties. There was something indescribable about a great crowd of Amazons of all ages singing "Scaramouche scaramouche, will you do the fandango," possibly in lieu of the real lyrics. For the grand finale, a small, remote-controlled plane flew overhead drawing a banner behind it that read,
"This event hacked by Adams Cubed."
Then a cascade of funny string, or whatever that inedible stuff sprayed out of cans at parties was, by almost every other person in the auditorium, who had been handed a can of it and directions when they came in. For how serious this ceremony was supposed to be, nobody was holding back at all.
Jed had wandered out to the corridor between the seats, watching with the staff extended to two sections. "Magnificent!" she warbled in delight as Arion dropped an arm around her shoulders and lit perhaps one of the nastiest cigars in existence, then a second nastiest cigar for Jed.
"A true triumph – and most folks really enjoyed it." Arion declared with a happy smile. "It never could have worked so well if Chris hadn't taught us chemistry." By now Ygrainne had arrived, grinning from ear to ear and covered in no longer canned streamer type stuff.
"Wasn't that great! I still can't believe nobody noticed the fireworks emplacements..." she waved her hands animatedly, shedding bits of streamer stuff everywhere.
"So all that reluctance to come to the coronation was feigned?" Benny cut in. She had enjoyed the show, but was feeling more than a little miffed. Here she had spent the whole day feeling bad for poor Arion's nerves and Jed's chafing at excessive formality.
"No, no, I'm always miserably nervous before a hack goes off." Arion said earnestly.
"Don't you have anything to say about this?" Benny turned on Chris, who had been sitting with an expression of – it was a rather fascinating look of sobre reproach and mild surprise.
"It seems to me you promised me not to do this – I mean, surely that insanity you created at the cricket match was enough this year?" The insanity had involved replacing the ball with an exploding one towards the end of the game and setting the wicketkeeper's leg pads on fire, although that part had been accidental. Jed still couldn't figure out how they had managed it, that was usually Chris' thing. Yet it hardly seemed coincidental that Toni Bellonis was playing that position, and that she and Chris had a testy relationship.
"I ummm – crossed my toes?" Jed winced, and puffed a bit harder on the cigar to create a smokescreen.
"Well love, I've no idea, except this, Avi is going to slaughter all three of you if you don't run."
"What?" in triplicate. The aforementioned priestess was storming up the steps, heading right for them. Ygrainne was gone like a shot, leaving bits of silly streamer or whatever it was behind her, Arion had taken off in a different direction. For a moment Jed hesitated, unsure what to do with the staff. Doing a bit of a nervous dance with it held only by the tips of the fingers of one hand, she finally made a decision.
"That way." she declared, letting the staff go, and leaping across the seats, leaning on the tops of heads for balance, and soon lost to anyone's view.
"Oooof," gasped Avi, doubling over and struggling to catch her wind. Jed's bit of waffling over the staff had been purposeful. The furious priestess automatically moved to catch it as it fell, giving the physicist her chance. "Those three – they ought to be strung up by their toes!" Unperturbed by the excitement, the women in charge of the food were briskly handing it out and Avi found herself with a plate full of appetizers, including a piece of the giant cake.
"Oh, I don't know. That was actually a pretty good idea. Did you see the kids' faces? And the candy falling from the ceiling? They thought Solstice had come early." Quentin laughed with delight and seated herself on a step to tuck into her plate full of food. "Should have known trying to get a promise they wouldn't do anything would guarantee something." She fondly watched a few of the children playing with their new toys and munching the candy they had managed to grab before various parental figures curbed their access.
Benny sat down again herself, still feeling a bit nettled. She extracted a small sweet pickle from the contents of her plate.
"Don't be too hard on her, Benny. This is the first time Jed's been able to get Arion in on something like this in years. They used to be absolute terrors during the summer holidays when they were kids as I understand it." Chris carefully stacked a number of meats and cheeses on a hunk of pita bread, winding it tight before she took a bite out of it.
"How can you be so calm? Your tone strongly implies you weren't in on it."
Chris' smile widened. "And Jed will have to work rather hard to make up for it this evening." She took another bite of her pita bread construction. "You see, the catch on the back of this dress, it's my own invention. The original broke you see, and it was far too late to get the tailor to put on a new one." The catch in question was quite interesting, and clearly there was a bit of a knack to getting it open. "I actually meant to use it to replace a the padlock on the emergency box, but it was too small. And of course, previously I would have just undone it myself."
Benny gaped at the fair haired chemist. "Oh my Goddess, Jed's gonna spontaneously combust!" She peered at the little catch. "You're gonna spontaneously combust!"
"No, no. Don't worry. To the banquet in thirty, mind."
The banquet wasn't the monolithic event that it's name implied, but many community dinners all over the place so no one had to wait three hours to eat. Benny found the Academy's spot after some searching, and for a moment simply stared in disbelief. Like the labyrinthine and eccentric insides of Omega's Folly, the Academy staff were far more numerous and fascinating than the past few weeks teaching had ever led Benny to believe. Many of them were wearing things that made the long table look like an extraordinary realization of a witches' feast. Arion was standing by a pair of seats, twitching and bobbing as she always did when nervous. Despite her avowed intention to stay mad, Benny found all of that ebbing away as she managed to pick her way through the various partying Amazons in transit to their places up to her partner.
"Relax a little, okay?" grinning with as winning an expression as she could manage, Benny guided Arion into a seat, then took one herself. The banquet went the way banquets do, except maybe for Chris and Jed. Initially the physicist had been rushing through her dinner, until Chris had said something in her ear, resulting in a rather crestfallen look and much slower and healthier eating habits.
People were sipping through a last cup of whatever hot beverage suited them when Jed, with a terribly evil glint in her eye, rose unsteadily to her feet and staggered off in the general direction of the outhouses. The evil look and the apparent purpose went together so poorly that quite a few staff members exchanged bewildered looks and managed to refrain from the obvious rude comments. Jed paused at a gap in the large tent that was preventing them all from being spattered by the now half hearted, but warm rain. The coronation fireworks had gone so well, she and Arion had all but decided to forgo the second part of this evening's entertainment. However, the combination of sexual frustration and the rowdily singing Arathennises who had managed a practical joke coup this time last year led her to a different decision.
"Yes?" Arion replied hesitantly. She and Benny had just worked their way to the naughtiest stages of footsie. Now was really not the time.
"This is a job for the East and West Anatolian Adams. I hope you won't be offended if we take off on this little jaunt without you."
"No, no, I totally understand." Arion fanned comically at her face, which had gotten very flushed due to whatever Benny was doing under the table. "Benny, I had no idea you were such a tease!" she hissed at the smaller woman. Who grinned even more devilishly than Jed was already, a truly impressive feat.
Jadis and Myrine, Jed's two aunts who were only a year older than her arrived now, equipped with two large water guns with had small hoses running from tanks on their backs, their clothes protected by long raincoats. They had extras, one of which they equipped Jed with. "Right, that makes thirteen of us. The others are waiting. Shall we?" drawled Jadis.
"Oh yes." grinned Jed. They all disappeared from the tent. A few moments later, a tipsy chorus of "Revenge on the Arathennises!" heralded what was probably going to be quite a mess before morning.
Later, as Benny and Arion strolled toward where there should be some transportation available, they were startled by the appearance of a tall woman running at top speed, knees lifting high, arms pumping.
"Retreat!" she hollered. "Retreat! The dastardly Adamses have defeated us!"
"I don't think so!" a small group of determined women turned up with water in any containers they could get their hands on. Not as elegant as water guns and this stuff that would force you to get close, but it would work. A few of them went galloping toward where the other woman had been running from. She seemed a bit reluctant to join in. "There's one!" hollered a woman who was ready with a watering can.
Neither Benny nor Arion recognized this hapless Adams. She clearly believed that offence was the best defence, and pumping the barrel of her water gun a few times uttered a gigantic war whoop and headed straight for the Arathennis contingent. By all appearances, she had back up coming from behind. The bluff was successful, as the already drenched Arathennises broke and ran in the opposite direction, the rather crazy Adams hollering triumphantly as she followed them.
The trouble with bluffs is that they are limited time offers. The Adams came roaring back with all the yelling Arathennises behind her. Only to discover that the Adams contingent had regrouped and refuelled, and were now too rowdy to pay attention to who they were shooting at as the original bluffing Adams got a face full before she managed to join the crowd. The entire storm cloud on Earth took off again, leaving the various bystanders to laugh helplessly.
"What possesses these people, anyway?" wondered a member of the Queen's Guard.
Unfortunately, in all the drama and racket, Benny and Arion had missed their bus. "Dammit." Benny muttered, peering around unhappily.
"Wait, I have an idea!" Arion caught Benny's hand and tugged her back. "Do you know how to drive a motorcycle?"
"That's okay, we'll double up." The hapless member of the Queen's Guard had left her motorbike leaning against a bench, key still in the ignition, helmet hooked over one of the handlebars. Arion leaped onto it, and was a bit astonished to find an extra helmet stashed in one of the side compartments. "Hop on, babe." she tossed the other helmet to Benny. Tossing any sense of caution to the wind, Benny did as she was told and wrapped her arms around Arion's waist.
"Funny how familiar this feels." Benny commented, before Arion snapped the face shield to over her face, then did the same with her own. A quick turn of the key, and they roared off. A hiss and pop heralded the use of the radio links built into the helmets.
"My place or yours, Ms. Basilas?" drawled Arion. "There's a button you can whack with your chin to transmit, then whack it again to release it."
"Oh, mine of course. I have a bigger bed."
"Hey! Hey! Come back here with my bike! Somebody stop them!" Behind them a member of the Queen's Guard was struggling to round up transportation to chase her errant motorcycle. When none was forthcoming, she shouted instead, "You better not chip the paint! And gas it up before you drop it off!"
It was raining, but unlike the last time this had intruded itself on Benny's consciousness, it was pleasant and warm, and things were just damp. The sky was a riot of blue scattered with shreds and blobs of cloud, the Sun beaming warmly all over everything. In the end, she and Arion had gotten lost, but that was alright. If they didn't know where they were, no one else did either. Veterans of fighting and living out of doors in all sorts of weathers, they had improvised. Rolling the motorcycle a good kilometre into the thick forest, they found a perfect curling stand of bushes and between that and a bunch of fallen pine boughs they soon had a perfectly serviceable, if temporary roof. Getting a hearth together had been a bit more difficult, as they had to dig a hollow for it for fear of accidentally starting the wrong kind of forest fire. The motorcycle's ridiculously big side compartments held two good sized tarps and several space blankets, so after arranging a few more pine boughs it wasn't too difficult to put their clothes aside out of harm's way and find something more interesting to do.
In the early morning, the whole thing struck Benny as completely bonkers. With no alcohol involved, yet. She chuckled.
"What's funny?" burred Arion, shifting the space blankets a bit to cover up their feet. Well, her feet.
"Us mostly. Even though Jed and her crazy more immediate relatives were running a pretty close race for awhile there." Benny replied. "And the fact that in the end, I forgot all about this thing." Reaching for her hat, which she tugged out from the clothing safe haven in the smallest tarp, she pulled something out of its band. "It doesn't suit my colouring a bit, but it does yours. Meant to give it to you." The thing in question being a cunningly worked two piece earring, set with two blue stones. One piece was a stud that went through a person's earlobe, the other a cuff, and the two were joined by a small silver chain. This was the object she had been digging for in her tin box.
"Cool – no worries. There's a celebratory brunch type thing to show it off at yet, if we get around to finding it and attending."
"Oh," Benny replied, running a finger down the centre of her lover's chest. "Maybe we'll show it off later." She was interrupted by a small package which dropped with a gentle smack on the roof of their impromptu shelter. Arion teased aside a couple of boughs to get it, earning a snicker from the smaller woman, who cheerfully worked herself back into the pleasantly warm tangle of her limbs again. "Ari, you have to eat more."
"I try you know, I really do." Arion untied the package and pulled out a note. "Oh, this is rich. Have a listen to this."
Dear Ms. Basilas and Ms. Adams,
Please find enclosed directions to a food cache and back home, in the event that food, a real bed, or both, become desirable. It is a quirk of the motorized vehicles used by the Queen's Guard that all pieces include transceivers that enable the dispatcher to guide lost Guards back to familiar territory. Former city living Amazons have notoriously poor senses of direction. Please rest assured that there are no hard feelings regarding the motorcycle and that no one was peeping – we only wished to provide the aforementioned information. It is our understanding that you do not have any priestessly assistance for any of life's passages. Please feel free to contact us at any time.
Keplers A. Ionnidis, A. Adams, and C. Bellonis
"A suitable ending I think."
- this being the end, for now.
- An american sketch comedy programme.