Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Omega's Folly: Chapter Seven
The dream had been a pleasant one, and would have continued to be so, if it had not intersected so perfectly with reality, Benny thought to herself in disgust. The thunder storm in her dream was now roughly matched by the angry storm pouring on her now. It had forced a halt to the truck's progress for the evening at least, and some sort of luck, whether good or bad was uncertain, found them close to a tiny, battered hotel. Crouching by a stretch of highway that looked little different from any other of the hundreds of kilometres the travellers had already seen, it was one floor built in three wings huddled around a small parking lot. To its left there was a lonesome highway sign indicating that this particular stretch of poorly paved road was a secondary route maintained determinedly by a cash strapped province. Poorly paved, but remarkably free of potholes. Benny shook her head wryly, and admitted the reasonableness of making sure a pothole wouldn't swallow a vehicle, even if the pavement wasn't the sticky black asphalt once so familiar in this region and all the way into Canada. If some major cities were any indication, the potholes were the real challenge.
Long, dry, yellow grass swayed about in the wind, surprisingly inactive considering the wind made even the tallest, fattest officer lean forward like a great, steaming, battleship against it. The fine brown dust, rendered into a thin, sticky paste clung to boots and splashed onto clothes with impunity, adding artistic little splatters whenever someone was unwise enough to drag a foot and kick about some of the gravel. The sign indicating vacancy or lack thereof was burnt out, but a small orange light lit up the admissions office, revealing a grey haired old man with his feet up on the desk, trying valiantly to sleep. A somewhat less orange light shone above the front door, spilling a semicircle reaching barely past the front steps. Only after standing right at its very edge could anyone read the hand painted sign declaring the hotel's name. "Ronnie's Food, Gas, and Sleep. Cheap."
The proprietor jumped to his feet on seeing the little group coming towards his door, visibly alarmed. "I don't got any money," he quavered.
"With any luck, we can fix that." one of the officers declared with a straight face. Rooms were soon arranged, and Benny found herself with a key stuffed in her hand and orders to go to bed. They'd be on their way nine tomorrow morning, or after the storm cleared. Since the climate had started to change, storms had become potentially two or three day affairs, with violent lightning and rain that rarely left people or things unscathed. Clutching the key and its attached glow in the dark 'Almost Twenty First Century Realtors' fob, Benny made her way across the runny, sloppy parking lot to room 17, which occupied one innocuous corner of the right wing. The positioning made the young historian snicker. "Probably the only way I've come even close to being right wing in my entire lifetime," she muttered as she jammed the key into the lock. The dark orange door did not inspire confidence. Dark orange, burnt umber, or whatever pretentious name decorators hid truly hideous colours behind. The cheap brass doorknob best suited for basement rooms rarely visited didn't add positively to the door's qualities, and Benny began to wonder if she would need to jam a chair under the doorknob from the inside. The room numbers stood out surprisingly well in the poor light despite being made of black plastic and jammed on with a raunchy combination of mismatched screws and glue. The glue ran down the door in queasy trails, and even though it must be long dry, Benny kept her hands away from them on principle. To the left of the door a large window with pulled blinds looked an eerie bleached green in the blue lightning flashes. Chances were the blinds were yellow, like the ones in the old gentleman's office. It took surprising effort to open the door – it seemed to be set on a spring system like that for a screen door, so that a tenant couldn't leave the door open on their way out. That made Benny feel a little better, but she decided to jam a chair under the doorknob once she was inside anyway.
Benny staggered through the heavy door, managing to bang the light switch beside it and fill the room with half-hearted yellow light. When she glanced up, one of the bulbs in the ceiling fixture promptly went out, with the second looking ill and ready to join it. Setting down her kit and pulling off her damp outer clothes and sticky boots, Benny stumbled over to each of the bedside lamps and flicked them on. There were two beds in the room, each queen sized with heavy brown quilts, somewhat lighter beige wool blankets, and white linens. A search through the night tables turned up a Gideon's bible, a pair of tattered phonebooks, an even more tattered card detailing how to request wake up calls, a small pad of paper, a chewed on pencil, and a small portable radio so old, she could hardly believe it worked. Plugging it in and fiddling with the tuning soon showed that it did indeed work, and that the peculiarities of weather had rendered a Chicago rock station the thing that came in best. Cranking up the volume as much as the old thing could stand, because she already knew she had no neighbours at the moment, Benny set the alarm on her watch, pulled out her bath kit, and steeled herself to examine the bathroom.
It was outrageously tiny, of course. The yellow paint fell in bits off the walls. A chunk of white soap sat in the dish sunk into the wall on the far side of the tub. A neatly folded pile of hand towel, face rag, full towel, and bath mat sat by the toilet. Thankfully, the unpromising cracked toilet and too low sink aside, hot water was available, and Benny had soon run herself a much appreciated soak, even if she did have to pretzel to fit in the tub. Now settled in, she turned her attention to the Chicago radio announcer.
"So I asked him. 'If you think AC/DC is inappropriate during wartime, what do you think should get played?' I sort of assumed he'd say, 'Good patriotic stuff to encourage our boys overseas.' Nope. None of that. 'Stop playing that foreign bullshit and support some American artists.' So I handed him off to somebody with better diplomatic skills. In the meantime, this song is just for him – Dirty Deeds Done for Cheap!"
Leaning back in the hot water, relaxing a little and letting the heat push the cold out of her bones, Benny found herself enjoying the heavy beat of the song, if not the literal sentiments. Eventually it blended into a group she didn't recognize but seemed to be German, and she slid further down, letting the water into her ears.
Maybe she fell asleep there. Benny wasn't certain, but the cooling water forced her awake, and she clambered out, picking up the big towel, intending to dry off and tumble into bed. The towel looked perfectly fine, was quite clean, smelt alright. Except that when she shook it out, there was a giant hole in the middle. Momentarily flabbergasted, she finally tossed the very clean, but otherwise useless towel aside, and tentatively shook out the hand towel. Luckily it was intact, so she managed to get enough water off her skin to warrant the label of damp, sticky, and chilled. Again. Sighing ruefully, she attempted a different version of the original plan, flopping onto one of the beds and listening as the radio station moved into its hourly news segment. It was a weekday, so they were pretty much a given on any station anywhere. On the weekends they were bi-hourly.
"And now, whether we like it or not, the news. New economic figures indicate that the world economy has improved significantly since the movement into full-scale war participation by most nations. Analysts are concerned that after the war is over this growth will collapse, as it seems to centre on the munitions industry." A pause, and audible paper shuffling. "The Blue army, still referring to themselves as the coalition of the armies of god swept across the Balkans today, positioning their forces for their push towards Moscow. They claim that regardless of the experiences in the past of Napoleon and Hitler, they will succeed. Even the opposing powers admit that any uninhibited march on Moscow would be catastrophic, and currently massive numbers of troops are being placed in the path the Blue army is most likely to take." A short silence, then three long tones. "It is now three o'clock." A long throat clearing as a door opened audibly in the background and the announcer received another sheet of paper. "News just arrived from the bunker in Washington, DC for immediate announcement. Despite their leadership insisting the rank and file would never take this step, the remaining divisions of the Red-Army West in North America have surrendered to the United States army rather than join their counterparts taking their chances with the Blue Army. This may be related to the annihilation of their counterparts by the Blue Army surge in Texas." He paused again, and then added, off script. "Nobody is cheering."
"Damn that nobody." Blinking groggily, Benny slid under the covers and turned down the radio most of the way. The disc jockey, his sense of irony clearly well developed, played something inane by the latest boy band of the moment. Three hours, and it would be time to face the questionable food in her ration kit, and the very real possibility her superior officers would think of something stupid and boring for the lower ranking people to do while it rained. Like play some tatty board game with too many rules and not enough pieces.
Georgeopolis called. Jed had finished drafting the plans for the radio telescope by hand and begun entering them into her computer as her phone had rung vigourously. After twenty rings she sighed in irritation and answered it. "Yes?"
"You've still lost the house."
"Your tax record has been found. And even if it hadn't been, Georgeopolis has been reassigned for making such a ridiculous threat concerning your citizenship."
"That's interesting." Jed murmured, tweaking the position of a line in her diagram.
"On a completely different topic, a small box arrived for you about a quarter of an hour ago. Do you want me to send somebody up with it, or should it just wait for you to pick it up?"
"I'll pick it up on my way out. Thanks." Jed smiled at the other woman's polite reply and hung up, changing the scale of her diagram again because the whole set up as originally set would have required her to create a plot three metres by three metres in area. That would be fun, but genuinely impractical. A distinct 'ta-tap-tap' brought her head up a little. "Come in, Arion."
"Hey." Arion twitched a little as she shuffled into the room, twisting her ring around her finger. "Was just getting ready to run Benny's things up to the house. Any requests?"
"Nah, I'm fine." Jed looked up, gazing at the red headed woman for a moment. "How are you feeling? Word swirled up to my office that the healer trekked over to your office today."
"Fine, fine. Delos just wanted to check some of the grafts on one of my shoulders, and take a lung culture. The usual." Arion twirled her ring again. "Had the most peculiar class, this midmorning. A bunch of Québec-born nuns and a translator. Teaching the intro course is always memorable. Quite a neat group." Another twirl. "Listen, Cue's coronation – there's supposed to be an Adams in attendance – X. Adams of business tycoon fame, in fact." Pale green eyes looked up at her in surprise. "You know how it is – do you think you and Chris could deal with the official invitation stuff?"
Saving her document, Jed tipped her head to one side. "We could, I guess. The idea of the invite being a snooty rich Adams goes to the bash even though there are no snooty rich Adams here?"
"Yeah. Something like that."
"Chris rather likes the pomp – I rather like the opportunity to shock people. It's all right with me, but best to double check with Chris. Something is bothering her. Not really sure what." she smiled brightly, but there was an undercurrent of worry. Determinedly, Arion smiled back. She knew Jed wouldn't explain, and the best she could do was try to keep spirits up. The last time Jed had noticed something amiss with someone and been unsure what it was, a war had started not long afterward. "Will you be turning up at all?"
"Not sure. Maybe." Arion twisted her ring on her finger again. "Not that I don't want to see Cue get crowned. Just that there's going to be all kinds of people..."
"Who have no idea what life an Adams family contingent can add to an otherwise stale, dry gathering. Arion, we are pizzazz incarnate, and if all they can do is obsess over a few scars, well then, that's more beer for us." declared Jed, in a tone that was a peculiar cross between virtuous and – diabolical.
"Allan Xanthos Jared Adams – what are you thinking, and how can I help?" Arion grinned back, now quite intrigued.
"Well, I was thinking, surely the dinner and the rest needn't be as staid and nasty as the coronation will probably be simply because there's no helping it, coronations are staid and nasty." Pushing aside her laptop, Jed continued, "Of course, in this case a riot would be entirely inappropriate. But I really don't see how there can be a problem with returning the favour concerning a certain practical joke on the Arathennis family, do you?"
"Oh," drawled Arion. "I do believe that revenge is sweet – at least in the practical joke category." she added quickly.
"Oh yes. Otherwise it just upsets your stomach. Now the challenge this time, is smuggling in the materials."
"Good point. Chances of rock hard dinner thawing to mushy buns turning up at this banquet are slim to none. Or all those seltzer bottles with the spray tops." laughing softly, Arion pulled off her glasses and wiped them on her shirt. "I still can't believe the mess we made at that reunion, between us and our aunts."
The reunion was to be Jed's only trip to the United States, although she had no idea of this at the time. No, her mind was stuck on the fact that she and Arion were travelling with their aunts to some obscure town in the American south to attend a reunion the hosts had made every effort not to invite them to. It seemed that the Adams family of cotton plantation fame had no earthly wish to associate themselves with the more eccentric genetic trunk of their family. Really, it was hardly anyone's fault back in the motherlands that the Adams in the States had decided that they were foppish, strange, and lacking in civilized manners. This tended to cause one of the members of the family who could trace her kin back to a tribe tucked away in the Zagros mountains of Iraq to inveigh, "Civilized manners? Civilized manners? By Al-Lat who is great, we invented bloody civilization where I come from, and they think we've got no manners? Where's that travel brochure? Where is it? Do they have sheep and goats in their pretentious America? They do? Good – I'll show them uncivilized manners! Wait till they enter their grand hall and find it full of sheep and goats, and then let's hear what they say!"
Since, of course, in the folktales still retold in her part of the family, if you gathered together all the sheep and goats that belonged to you into the area in front of your house, you were inviting visitors to pick the one you'd slaughter for dinner. This was the height of fine manners, good taste, and generosity. Far better than feeding people cocktail weenies on funny little crackers. Jed felt the crackers weren't so bad, but she had heard scary stories about what parts of the animal the weenies were actually made from and didn't want to take chances. If you could pick the animal to be cooked for your dinner, at least you could be sure it was healthy and insist on being fed only the nice bits.
Her aunts were arguing over directions to get to where the reunion was being held. Arion had dozed off in the corner of the backseat, snoring a bit. The aunts, whose names were Jadis and Antiope, were actually barely a year older than either of their nieces. Antiope had dark hair and startlingly dark eyes, the hallmark of an Adams who was deaf. Jadis, gesticulating wildly with her entire body as she signed her side of the argument had a head of wild, choclate brown hair and silver eyes, oddly enough. Both women were tall but where Antiope was built like the wrestler she was, Jadis was thin like Arion. The argument went on awhile longer, then they settled on a direction and started driving their rental car down the winding backroads, by large houses with pillars holding up the front and covered with plenty of whitewash. One place had a large fountain in front with water spraying from the mouths of two stone dolphins.
Of course, the dynamic foursome were soon utterly lost, which had been the host Adams' great hope. But a mistake had been made by their erstwhile distant cousins. They had sent a picture of their house, and Jadis had binoculars. At long last, she spotted the house, perched on a hill that was too regular and too square, the sad memory of the levelling of the original mansion by the Yankee army during the Civil War. As it happened, the levelling had been accidental, in a sense. It was hardly their fault the Confederate army had already seized the place and stored munitions in it.
Uttering a crow of delight from where she stood in the middle of the front seat, upper body protruding out of the sunroof, binoculars still clasped to her eyes, she pointed forward with one hand and yelled, "Onward!" After Arion stuck her head out a side window to figure out which way she was pointing and relayed the information to Antiope, the deaf woman gunned the engine, turned them at right angles to the road, and took off across the fields. The whole situation was silly and absurd, and called for silly and absurd measures. The first field they ran across at a neat, forty five degree angle was the home of a scattered, small herd of cows, who watched them with expressions of deep uninterest.
"A fence." Antiope declared in disgust. "What is it with these people and fences?" After all, they didn't tend to have too much by way of fences in the Nation. They interfered with the sheep drives. And no one, but no one, could complain quite as loudly or vociferously as a shepherd interrupted during a major sheep drive. This was something many members of Antiope's family knew well, having made their living through much of the twentieth century just as they had in the five centuries before – by sheepherding. So the poor attitude toward fences was deeply ingrained in the family genetics, with the result that Antiope gunned the engine again and smashed through the fence. The next field appeared to be tobacco, or maybe cotton, which Arion and Jed argued cheerfully about because they had no real idea how different the plants looked to start with, let alone what they really looked like – hell, the field could have planted with corn for all they knew, the stalks weren't too high – and there were no obvious white bits or cobs on anything.
Bits of leaf and stem flew up through the half open side windows, along with Jadis' periodic curses when a bump or lurch nearly threw her out of her navigator's perch in the sunroof. The joust with the fence had broken a headlight, indicated the by bits of heavy translucent orange, white, and red plastic that had flown backwards into the windshield on impact, but despite the swath they were leaving in the field and the damage, they were making good time. Pulling herself down into the car abruptly, Jadis turned to them and declared gravely, "Something just occurred to me."
"What?" Jed and Arion managed to say in unison.
"This is silly. Appallingly silly. Well beyond slightly silly. There's only one thing for it. Let's have a drink." With that she dug a very contraband bottle of rum from the glove compartment and passed it back to her nieces. Antiope of course, would have to wait.
The car careened through a finely sculpted bush of some sort – it seemed to have been a swan before the car went through it – onto the white gravel drive, spraying the rocks all over the place. "This is it." signed Antiope, since she had her hands free for a moment. Everyone got settled and stowed the rum, and the dark haired woman proceeded to guide the car at a more sedate speed up the winding drive towards the front double doors. It was actually quite a nice car, some sort of streamlined thing painted a dull blue. Amazingly, the only sign of its adventure was the broken plastic from the right front headlight, and the bits of plant debris stuck on the front. Pulling to a halt at the end of a long row of cadillacs, lincolns, and limousines, the four women clambered out of their sedate k-car, straightening clothing, combing out hair and changing from battered sneakers to somewhat nicer footwear. Then they stood and waited while Jed checked each of her five time pieces to determine whether they were late or early. Having proudly determined that they were unfashionably late, Jadis took the lead up to the front door.
There being no doorbell, no rope, and no other something to pull or push to call the butler like in the movies, Jadis resorted to the knocker, whacking away until the door flew open, nearly taking her with it.
"What do you want? I can call the police." the butler declared.
"Oh, hello there. I'm Doctor A. Adams, she's Professor A. Adams, she's Doctor A. Adams, oh, and she is too." Jadis beamed brightly, having pointed at each member of her little group.
"Oh. Yes. You're the people who all have the same initials. How tiresome. This way." This resulted in a synchronized round of shoulder shrugging, then the four women followed the butler, who kept glancing back at them to make sure they weren't straying or perhaps touching anything. Relative to his crisply tucked tails and slicked down hair, their business casual clothes and windswept locks made them seem a bit ruffianish. Not that they were noticing, snickering among themselves in Greek about how ugly a few of the abstract pieces of art were, and wondering out loud how could these people spoil such a great house by avoiding colour and actually dusting.
At last they arrived at the large room the other family members were gathered in, seated around numerous little round tables set for dinner with far too many utensils. A short, pudgy man was standing at the head table, apparently preparing to give a speech. He raised his eyebrows at the new arrivals and asked, reasonably, really, "Who are those people?" Neither Jed, nor Arion, nor Antiope, or Jadis bore much resemblance to anyone in the room, except for a small woman sitting by herself at one table with five other places set at it. She wore glasses and an awkward fitting suit, and looked like she was determinedly having a good time no matter what.
"These are those Adams from overseas, sir." the butler explained.
"What's been happening here anyway? You all look like you ate lemons. Is that a typical appetizer in these parts?" deadpanned Arion.
"No, no." to his credit, the pudgy fellow had already resigned himself to their presence, and was doing his best to be pleasant. "You must understand – we, we're rather distantly related, after all." This explained nothing, but the butler took that as his cue to seat the eccentrics dropping broken plant bits from the shoulders of their jackets.
To no one's surprise, the foursome found themselves seated with the woman sitting all by herself, who unlike everyone else looked both fascinated and delighted. "Where did you lot come from, and you're taking me with you when you go back." she said determinedly. It turned out her name was Ygrainne, and contrary to the usual family pursuits, she was an architect. The usual family dictates were, if you were male, you joined the ranching business or the textiles business. If you were female, you got married and taught grade school, or didn't marry and taught music. In fact, compared to the rest of her family she was eccentric and clumsy, and they tended to try to keep her out of sight.
"Well, at least some of the family blood is bumping around." Jadis declared sobrely looking around the grumpy people at the other tables, trying to stay awake and look steadily at the speaker, whose voice was a faintly melodious drone.
"Hey, can we drink this wine?" Jed pointed at the two unopened bottles sitting in the middle of the table.
"Yes, but officially not until dinner starts." replied Ygrainne.
"I don't see anyone looking. Do you see anyone looking? And honestly, could we really scandalize people more?" Jed asked persuasively. Ygrainne grinned.
"Here, use my Swiss army knife." A few moments were spent oohing and ahing over the all purpose utensil, then Jed pried out the corkscrew and went to work on the first of the wine bottles. The wine, a slightly sweet white, was very nice. Of course, officially they weren't supposed to be drinking it yet, so there were no wine glasses. This was deftly overcome by the quick thinking of Antiope, who dumped each small glass of ice water into the potted plant an arms length back from her chair. The thing was waterlogged and leaking onto the floor by the time she was done, but the objective of allowing everyone to drink without passing around the bottle had been achieved.
"And so, my ten times great grandfather managed to book passage on a boat to America..."
"No he didn't." Jed blurted in shock. Many pairs of eyes turned her way. "Not that he didn't do great, brave, cool things, but according to the registries in Greece, it wasn't a male relative who first came at all, surprisingly enough. We thought the records were wrong too, and made the poor person taking care of the stuff very unhappy double checking everything. Honest." She winced. It was just such a big inaccuracy.
"It was NOT my ten times great grandfather? Then please do tell who it was." the pudgy man growled angrily.
"Did someone forget to send you the files from Greece? Because if someone did, we'll go tar and feather them or something." Jed declared, her mind still stuck on the whole records problem. "This is very serious." The pudgy man's expression actually softened a little. These people were insane, and awful, and he seriously wanted them to go back to wherever they came from at once. But they did seem to have some breeding.
"My great grandfather?" he sighed, and took a long pull from his water glass.
"Oh, yes, well – the first member of the Adams family to come to America was Longshanks Adams, who rapidly developed a great reputation for her cattle wrangling skills. In Europe she had been a shoemaker, of all things. Shoes are made of leather of course, that's how she knew about cows. She had a son back in Greece, and she worked until she had a home and enough money to buy him a good ticket so he wouldn't have to be packed into the hold. She was very worried about that, because third class was a terribly unhealthy place to be on a long ocean trip back then. That son is your ten times great grandfather. Pretty cool, eh? He managed to keep his cool and travel alone but for his Mom's letters at the age of fourteen all the way to America. When I first heard that, I thought they were both pretty cool," Jed warbled happily. Family history was one of her favourite topics, even when it involved family members who left to go live in places she would never seriously consider.
"Oh." the pudgy man looked a bit deflated. Dammit, she was making these people look good. "As I was saying, my ten times great grandfather..."
"He doesn't give a crap about Longshanks Adams, because sooner or later he'd have to admit the other part of her fame came from the fact that she robbed banks in the west, fell in love with a cute girl of Swedish origins, and eventually eloped with her to Stó:Lō country, where she started a trading post on the big river." Ygrainne pointed out drily, crowning the statement by emptying her wineglass. Antiope promptly refilled it.
"But that's the coolest part." declared Antiope.
"Not trying to be rude – of course, maybe I'm rude anyway," Ygrainne grinned self-deprecatingly. "But it seems to me your accent is a bit different from your compatriots here."
Antiope blinked, then started to laugh. "No, no, my accent isn't weird. I'm deaf."
"Oh, wow..." Ygrainne sat back, truly impressed. "You've been reading lips all this time?"
At last, the pudgy man sat down. "Dinner?" Jadis asked hopefully, slapping Arion in the back of the head when she noticed the other woman had rolled up curls of the stiff paper napkins, put them up her nose, and started making faces at their neighbours. "Cut it out will you! We're a bit too close to being arrested just now."
"But I'm bored." sighed Arion, hiccuping.
"Have we run out of wine already?" Jed asked. Five pairs of eyes searched the table. Scatterings of gold foil. Two corks. Two empty wine bottles. Empty plates and clean cutlery.
"Yes, we have." Antiope signed, feeling the tragedy of the event deserved her most emphatic means of communication. "A sad, sad moment, it is."
"No, it's not." declared Ygrainne, after Jadis had translated. With that, she got up and dashed to the back of the room, where a table covered in platters and the silver basins with flames underneath and a long white tablecloth hiding its legs stood. Kneeling down beside it, she pulled aside the tablecloth revealing many more bottles of wine. Grinning broadly, she grabbed four and stumbled back to her table. The other audience members weren't noticing, as many of them had dozed off, were head bobbing, trying not to doze off, or staring with glazed eyes at the new speaker. Two bottles of wine got hidden under the table with the two empties and their accoutrements, and they got started on the other two.
Of course, by the time dinner came, none of them were feeling any pain. Luckily so, for dinner was being served in courses, and the first thing to arrive wasn't even a paltry salad with a bit of mandarin orange on top. No, the first thing to arrive was a small saucer with a thick white paper doily upon which was perched a white dinner bun. Jadis stared at hers with an expression of some disbelief. "White bread? White bread? Don't these people know how unhealthy this stuff is?"
"Yes, but these are homemade. They're bad for you, but at least the flavour will be good." explained Ygrainne, squinting in an effort to keep her bun in her field of vision.
"So we should eat them?" Antiope asked doubtfully. Somehow she wasn't sure they were all that great, these buns.
"Yup. They're great with butter. See, I'll show you." Ygrainne picked up the little butter spreader with some difficulty, and motioned with its lozenge shaped spreading surface at them. "The only time they disappoint is if someone makes a bunch too far ahead of time and freezes them. Bad idea. They congeal into these massive, heavy, nasty things. A real tragedy, that could also be alleviated by using better yeast." She attempted to poke a hole in the bun, preparatory to tearing it in half – not fancy dinner etiquette, but Ygrainne had never cared for that anyway. Instead of getting the hole she expected, she got a plink noise, and the butter spreader bounced off. She tried again, to the same result.
"Oh, the cruelty. The horror. The unbounded barbarism of it." Ygrainne sighed dramatically, her accent thickening to near incomprehensibility. "They froze the buns." It was all too much for her companions, who broke into gales of helpless giggles.
"Shhh, shhh! It's not funny!" hissed Jadis, based on no real evidence.
"Yes it is." declared Arion, setting everyone off again.
"And it was from that time on that we became known for our self discipline and ability to resist the evils of alcohol." boomed the newest speaker, a priest. He had brought his bible with him, and now launched into a sermon that involved an awful lot of slapping and thumping the poor book, which hadn't done anything to deserve it.
"A p – a p – p-p-p-p-p – a..." choked Jadis, unable to form the words.
"We're so pagan even the Catholics gave up on us!" Jed threw up her hands in disbelief. "Waitaminute – did he just say something about the righteousness of being barefoot and pregnant?"
"I hope not." Ygrainne frowned at her glass and took a gulp. "The last time he got onto that topic, the argument almost caused a feud."
The priest finished and sat down, wiping his flushed face with a napkin. "Wow." Arion said. "I had no idea that preaching was such hard work. Or that it could look and sound so similar to rap music."
"Rap music?" a man in a very starched shirt glanced over at them from a nearby table – nearby being almost a metre and a half away. A lull in the conversations elsewhere had allowed him to hear what was being said. "Damn – that's what I thought. Was giving me the heebie jeebies." shaking his head slightly, he turned back to his fellows.
"Racist prick," somebody else muttered at a different table, yet still shockingly loud. The foreign-born Adamses all looked around in astonishment. "Who is that, and will they move to our table?" Jadis asked hopefully, but nobody else moved.
The pause was striking. No one spoke for so long that Antiope asked, "Will some edible food be brought out now?" Instead of food, a new speaker finally pushed his way between the tables, making his way up to the front. At last he positioned himself in the light and on the little dais the head table was set on. Instead of leaving the microphone on the table, he grabbed it, and held it before his mouth. For a moment, it was all eerily reminiscent of a very bad Elvis impersonation, and Ygrainne sent a little prayer to the higher power she believed in the deceased rock star wasn't too upset about it where he was.
The new speaker was of middling height, leaning to the younger side of his sixth decade, with unevenly streaked grey hair. He had a striking potbelly that hung over his belt, and he threw his chest forward and held his shoulders in a way that with his bull neck strongly suggested he had once been a football player. He was breathing a bit heavily, and he used one hand to hitch his trousers up on one side, rattling something attached to his belt. "Well, I see all sorts of people have made it here." his tone was distinctly unfriendly.
"God, I hope he doesn't take long," someone said loudly enough to be heard throughout the room.
"No, I won't take long," he snarled.
"Top me up, cuz. I think I'm gonna need it." Jadis pushed her glass towards Antiope, who promptly obliged.
"Now, perhaps many of you are not aware of it, but we have some foreigners claiming to be members of our family here today. They forced their way in here, interfering in our business. They're sitting in the back there, with our own black sheep whose daddy won't disown her, or put a stop to her shameful ways." He paused, face reddening.
"Actually, we did get a proper invitation." Arion pointed out rather thickly. She was just drunk enough to not properly take in the man's hostile tone. "It's right here." She pulled it out of her jacket pocket, its post markings still visible.
"Reverend John, I'm ashamed of you." the priest blinked in surprise. "There are no less than four devil worshipping lesbians back there, with their disgusting godless ways, and you haven't lifted a finger to protect our children from them." The children in question were mostly asleep or doing various irritating figity things because they were bored almost to tears and wanted to go outside and play instead of sitting in a dim dining hall listening to crabby old adults talk about boring stuff.
"Well, I don't see any children near them." Reverend John pointed out.
"And you think they aren't biding their time, waiting for the chance to corrupt their minds?" the other man snapped.
"Whoa, hey, you're sounding a bit overwrought – may I suggest a glass of water and some dinner? That always makes me feel better when I'm over excited." Jed said kindly. It wouldn't do to be rotten back, and anyway, the wine was very nice, and she was sure that she was hungry. Or should be.
"Oh, the rest of you refuse to stand up and be counted against their godless ways..."
"Hey, we've got gods. We just tend to ignore 'em mostly cuz they suck." Arion and Jed burst out laughing, as quite unusually, this outburst had come from Jadis.
"The whore of Babylon even admits to their evil ways!" the speaker crowed triumphantly.
"Did he just call me a dancer? Did he? Did he just call me a dancer?" Jadis asked Ygrainne loudly.
"A dancer?" Ygrainne was so confused her brain actually shook off some of the alcohol.
"In our language a hora is a sacred dancer." Antiope explained, having given Arion a merciless pinch to settle her down and make her sign what Ygrainne had said.
"Oh well – I'm sorry, but, actually he just called you what in English is a woman of low morals."
"A slut, sweetheart." the helpful fellow from the nearby table again.
"I'm not your sweetheart, and I'll deal with you next." Jadis told him in a tone that would have frozen the buns, if they hadn't been already, sort of, as they had now been out long enough to thaw. "Has this man represented your words accurately, sir?"
"Yes, he has." sneered the speaker.
"Oh good, because that means I am going to truly enjoy this." Jadis scooped up one of the now soggy dinner buns and hurled it at him, whacking him squarely in the middle of the forehead. He fell slowly, like a great tree, plopping flat on his back onto the plush carpet on the floor just behind the dais.
"Praise the lord, David hath slain Goliath!" Someone sang out.
"And now you," Jadis smiled ferally, and before the fellow at the nearby table could move, she had dumped the pitcher of now lukewarm ice water over his head and knocked him flat with a brisk knock on the chin.
"The situation appears to be dete – deter – detererer – detereeererating." Arion held onto the edge of the table, trying not to fall out of her chair, and having little luck with the round table and its slippery tablecloth.
"Are you kidding? This is a vast improvement. Feel the love." laughed Jed. She had to stop when another flying dinner bun nearly nailed her. "Have to do better than that!" she shouted. Arion lost her battle with the tablecloth and fell to the floor, taking the cutlery, the tablecloth, the plates, and everything else with her.
"Praise Hera, the wine bottles were empty." Antiope declared with fervour. Ygrainne hurled a soggy dinner bun at the person who had hurled the one that nearly hit Jed, and the fight was on.
Flipping the table up on its side as an impromptu shield, Antiope tucked one unopened bottle of wine under her arm and passed the other to Arion, who clumsily mimicked the gesture. Buns were landing thick and fast, allowing the five against the many to launch soggy projectiles back steadily and with surprising accuracy. "Right, everybody together!" shouted Antiope, and began rolling the table. "We're heading for the bar, I see seltzer bottles." Hurrying along behind their makeshift cover they dove behind the bar, alarming its tender, who hurriedly fled the melee.
"Did we start this?" Jed asked muzzily as her relatives began collecting seltzer bottles.
"No, pseudo-Goliath did." growled Jadis, hurling a bucket of swizzle sticks at a small group attempting an ambush. They scattered in a manner irresistibly reminiscent of startled chickens.
"Okay, then I can play too." Jed declared cheerfully. "Only defensive food fights are allowed." she hiccuped. "Or is that, offensive – or defence-offence, or..." A dinner bun whacked her on the side of the head. "Offensive." she growled, and seized a seltzer bottle.
The floor was a sticky mess. People in very fancy clothes were pelting each other almost as often as they were trying to pelt the now infamous five. The racket continued, and finally Jadis, Arion, Jed, and Ygrainne dropped behind the bar for a rest, to the relief of Antiope, who was running out of lemon wedges and seltzer bottles to hand them. "I'm afraid our munitions have been seriously depleted." slurred Jadis. "We have fought the good fight, and salvaged our honour at the expense of the dinner buns. Now," she waved a finger in the air. "Now, we must retreat."
"Damn, and it was just getting good." sighed Arion.
"Right," Ygrainne said briskly. "Arion, you're still the clumsiest, you carry the wine." No one could explain later why they considered taking the wine logical or necessary. Or why a beverage they took such pains not to leave behind was entrusted with the person most likely to drop the bottles. They simply put it down to being drunk. "We'll take the table and head for the side door – I can run ahead and get it open, if you lot will cover me with your seltzer bottles."
A moment's dead silence while they all stared at her. "You must know what I mean."
"Yes." declared Antiope.
The made it across the floor, one well aimed spray of seltzer water divesting a woman of her wig and her husband of his toupee just before they tumbled out into the waning light of the afternoon. They looked like runaways from a pie throwing contest. They were drunker than the proverbial skunk. They were all but killing themselves laughing. Somehow, by crook or by hook.. or something similar, they had had fun at the stodgy reunion after all. And although many of the other Adams there wouldn't publicly admit it once they had sobred up and washed off the glop –
So had they.
- These mass produced bibles distributed by the gideon christian missionaries are far rarer nowadays. The last time I encountered one in a hotel was in 2000.
- AC/DC is of course, an australian rock band.