Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Omega's Folly: Chapter Eight
Benny sighed a little, but gave thanks for the lack of any means to play any board games, real or imagined, whatsoever. A whittler in the group had offered to create some tiles, but hurriedly disavowed the idea when even a couple of the higher ranking officers pointedly checked their sidearms. A couple of younger recruits improvised a checker board on a corner table and used their inedible ration cookies for pieces. The stakes were high: the loser would have to eat the cookies. The storm continued unabated, so the group adjourned to the restaurant, a dim, narrow place furnished with a series of booths for four people, two on a side. The sadly limited food available in the coolers included some very suspicious looking sandwiches, overpriced pop and juice, and hideously coloured deserts with prices in the upper stratosphere. Two of the higher ranking officers paused to argue whether anything in the cooler was real. It took some effort to find a menu, which resided in the memory of a very bored waitress, who stood on one foot and droned the food selection. Or rather, droned what it was supposed to be, with multiple layers of interruptions to note so many changes and substitutions no one could sort out what they could order. She wasn't happy to see them. The cook was glaring at them in a disturbing manner, especially since he was within immediate reach of big knives.
"Maybe," one of the younger officers suggested, "We could do the cooking, and they can charge us for what we use and the like?" He cleared his throat. "Otherwise, I think we may have to return our attention to our ration bundles." The cook didn't wait to hear anything else, having heard 'cook' and 'charge' together although without proper context. Assuming his recent creative bookkeeping endeavours, the source of his extra rations and general rotundness when everyone else was thinning out had been discovered, he was into his coat and hat and out the back door before it slammed shut. A bare half minute later the engine to a grumpy vehicle choked loudly to life, then zoomed off.
"Thanks." The waitress sounded marginally more enthusiastic. Mostly she sounded tired and worried. "Believe it or not, you just did us a favour. If I had had to beat that cook over the head with a tray one more time – and I can cook just fine. Why don't you write down what you would like, and maybe a couple of you can help me out?"
This much better working arrangement for all concerned, in which for once rank was quietly ignored, while those with culinary talents retired to the kitchen, and the others set about cleaning and even repairing things once they learned about a decent hardware store still open and only about a kilometre down the road. While a longer distance trip wasn't at all safe, the owner of the hotel and the store owner had put together a sort of culvert to block the wind and rain, equipped with an impressive drainage system. They used this to go safely back and forth during storms. The kilometre trip was dicy, but not impossible, so Benny took the sullen Thompson and the endlessly cheerful officer cadet of the group to raid the hardware store. The owner was so absolutely delighted to hear fresh news and see people she had never met that she discounted the prices on the merchandise.
"Honestly," she said with a sigh. "I might as well give the stuff away, because you're the first customer types I've had in ages. But it seems even more foolish to throw good money after bad." She waited until the others had tracked off to find plaster, mud tape, tools, paint and the like, and caught Benny by the arm. "Hey," the shopkeeper watched the others a few moments. "Can I get you to do something for me?"
"If I can." Benny replied simply. The older woman smiled.
"I have flat feet, so the recruiters left me here. Took my three kids and my partner, though. Here's their names – Laurel, Willow, and Oak Chullainn, are my kids – and my partner, her name's Katrina." Benny raised an eyebrow. "I'm a druid, she's Russian. What can I say, we're definitely lost Canadians here." They both laughed. "Haven't heard from them in months – if you get a word in the right ears so we could at least exchange letters like everyone else, that would be wonderful."
"You bet." Benny carefully stowed the sheet of paper she had been given in a waterproof pouch on her belt. "This far in, the recruiters are so desperate they aren't even bothering to treat people like human beings. You didn't see the way I got taken in." She gazed at her feet for a moment. "In a cattle car, on the railroad. One poor guy, his family barely made it out of the Holocaust in the second world war. Of course, he never saw it himself, and his parents were both very small then, but he took one look at those cars, with haunted, frightened people in them, most of them underfed and exhausted, and he absolutely freaked. For a bit, it looked like the officers were going to send him away in a padded wagon. Would you believe – somebody brought a copy of one of those awful mail order world at war books to show them, and then they clued in."
The shopkeeper nodded sombrely. "It's like the new laws, that are supposed to protect us from the 'enemy.' I'm not even sure who that is anymore. All these people saying sacrificing a few civil rights is fine if they become safer as a result. Funny, it's always okay, until it's your civil rights. Then all of a sudden, it isn't okay anymore."
Benny gazed at the tips of her boots for a moment. "The next time one of my cohorts comes up here, ask them two questions. Ask them who John Diefenbaker was. Then ask them if the emancipation act Lincoln signed actually freed the slaves in the U.S." She smiled faintly. "Then you'll know why people have been reacting to all the new laws the way they have." She patted the pouch on her belt. "I will definitely get your stuff ironed out." Giving the shopkeeper a wink, Benny strode off to find the others, who were arguing uselessly about which tools to get to spread the wall putty with. Uselessly, because the instruments they were arguing over were garden trowels. Glancing at the rather sad pile of stuff in the rusted shopping cart, Benny took a long, deep breath. "Okay folks – put all this stuff back, properly. Then let's get to work on this list."
By the time they returned to the hotel, and then the restaurant, the smell of quite a decent midday meal was wafting around, and a couple of people had already pulled out a counter and a dividing wall that seemed to be there for no reason. All armed forces people were taught to be speedy and efficient. The mainly poor workmanship of much of the hotel made them seem even more speedy and efficient than they actually were. Thankfully, the worst work was in the restaurant, and the actual hotel portions were sturdy, even if they were rundown otherwise and perhaps not quite up to code. Maybe the restaurant began as an ad hoc project that never ended.
Working her way through a hot roast beef sandwich, salad, and hot soup, to be followed up by cinnamon flavoured cream of wheat – in her current line of work, with rations so slim in general as soon as you left barracks, slightly odd combinations weren't something you complained about – Benny had also learnt that desert came in many curious guises. She worked at her 'thankfully blank bible' as she referred to it in her own mind, setting down as many details as she could about what she had learnt from the shopkeeper, the Chicago radio station, and her own experiences. Not that she thought Christianity was so bad. For other people. It was one of those ideologies she knew she simply couldn't function under, although she did feel a grudging admiration for those who could.
The occasional glance through the sanctioned newspapers and whatnot for people in the military published by the government and the forces were sadly defiecient in meaningful historical data. In other words, to put it more bluntly, the stuff said almost nothing that related to what was actually happening. All told, it might have been funny. Except, no, marching all day wasn't fun, and no the forces didn't fix everyone's teeth so they'd have movie star smiles, and no, being in the forces didn't guarantee you three meals a day and a bed. They didn't cover the fact that everyone all but starved at home and abroad under the tightest rationing system anyone could think of, except for the folks in higher positions in pretty much any organization. And sadly, no, civilians didn't cheer when the military came to town. They glared at the people who were there to basically pressgang every person they could. Or how many military and civilians couldn't replace their boots at decent intervals, and so had to stuff them with dry grass or newspaper in winter for insulation.
Benny shook herself. To think about that too long was a bad idea, she decided. Finished her cream of wheat, she carried her dishes back to the kitchen, surmising correctly that the dishwashing facilities were probably near the swinging doors. Placing the dishes on the rack and tossing the silverware into a bucket half full of soap and hot water, Benny heard the distinct, muffled puff of grease bursting into flame, and turned to see a couple of people panicking as the grill was soon awash in yellow, hungry tongues. One of them promptly reached for a pot of water, and Benny hissed an alarmed curse. Knocking the pot wielder aside, she found a box of baking soda and began scattering it over the flames. "You, find more of this stuff. Look in the cooler." she ordered, not even peripherally aware she had just given a brisk order to a lieutenant colonel. The man didn't spend time on rank niceties however, but went and found another box of baking soda where expected, and soon all that the grill needed was a vigorous scraping and a rinse.
"What was wrong with the water?" this from the pot wielder, who was now wearing most of it.
"The burning grease would have splashed all over you, if the steam hadn't scalded you." Benny explained quietly.
"You know Basilas, it's people like you who are going to destroy the armed forces." growled the lieutenant colonel.
"Only in our wildest, most unrealistic dreams, colonel. What do these black bits represent, I wonder?"
"Bacon." piped up the pot wielder. "We greased the grill to cook some more."
"Actually," the waitress commented as she walked back into the kitchen. "Bacon doesn't need grease. It's inherently greasy. That's why we indulge in it to clog our arteries and increase the likelihood of developing hypertension before forty." And with that, she deftly diffused the tension in the room. It was truly impressive, and the pot wielder murmured as he walked by Benny, "Bet if we got her out there to talk to the folks who insist on fighting, they might even quit. For Christmas, at least."
"Nah. They'll just start launching fruitcake missiles at each other instead of cluster bombs." That made the pot wielder chuckle, smoothing the waters a bit more. The lieutenant colonel was too rumpled for any sort of smoothing to work, unfortunately.
Cleaning the dishes and the eating area was eventually interrupted by the hotel owner. Eventually, because washing one patch of the wall promptly revealed just how filthy they were, as did wiping a spill on the floor and a splash on the cooler front. The old man watched the busy military members and the waitress in wonderment. "What happened to Earl?" he asked the waitress.
"He took off." the waitress replied tersely.
"Oh good." the old man sighed in relief. "Better him than you, any time." He glanced at the officer cadet where she was perched on a chair, scrubbing the wall industriously. "Good grief – go easy there, I'm afraid the dirt may be all that's holding the wall together." He smiled a little awkwardly. "Not that you folks aren't doing an impressive lot already, and I am impressed," he goggled at the newly open, even sort of lit corner of the eating area thanks to the removal of the partition and the counter. "I was wondering – would any of you be able to deal with pipes and such at all? There's one as needs welding and the rest, and to prevent flooding and breaking the water ration rules, it needs fixing." He saw no reason not to take full advantage of a bunch of soldiers who weren't stealing everything not nailed down.
"Go on Basilas. You fix gun-bores all the time, and those are just pipes – and last time I checked, you could deal with a pick and a shovel." The lieutenant colonel glared at her. Benny shrugged, refusing to be nettled. She knew there'd be something like that coming.
"You having welding tools and the like?"
"Yup – my son was the one who tended to use 'em – he was a mechanic, was trying to start a little garage here, crazy kid." the old man produced a sad little smile.
"Right." Pulling on her jacket and jamming her beret on her head, Benny pushed up her glasses, then pulled a pair of gloves out of her pocket. "Let's see it."
There were times the transport of large boxes was not an overtly sensible thing to do, Arion reflected. Precisely four and a half crates had arrived at the customs office. Precisely, because one had apparently been broken when Benny got hold of it, and she had applied saw, hammer and nails to make the pieces into a smaller, but quite usable container. Arion sighed. Silly her. She really should have borrowed the hearse, when it came down to it, but it simply hadn't occured to her that Benny would have any significant amount of stuff. Based more on her own light travel preferences, goofily enough. Grinning at herself, Arion pulled a couple of bungee cords from under the backseat and used them to hold down the trunk cover, pinning down one full crate. Biting her lip, she climbed behind the wheel to learn if she could see well enough around the result, about 30 centimetres higher than the usual closed level of the trunk. No good. "Darn." she muttered. One more crate squeezed with extreme effort into the backseat, although Arion feared to see just how that worked out. There was a real possibility that the rear windshield would pop out. The third crate was strapped with a lattice of bungee cords worked into a cunning web on top of the back of the car. It wasn't going anywhere, and the rearview mirror was unobstructed. The half crate nestled in the passenger seat.
"Perfect. Barring the whole vision thing." muttered Arion. The little Volkswagen Beetle looked even smaller with its cargo, and the tall woman shook her slightly. "I still think someone with a truly sick sense of humour mixed up my car order last year." She had ordered a small pick up truck.
Digging under the back seat again, she added a couple of blocks on top of the gas and brake pedals, and a toilet plunger that was surprisingly good as a gear shift extension. Then Arion pulled a thoroughly odd looking contraption out and attached it to the steering wheel. She did travel light, but various piles of computer equipment had forced her to make certain preparations for just such a situation.
Clambering into the car, Arion popped the sunroof, and perching her butt on the back of the cut down front seat, realized she hadn't started the engine yet. "Damn it." Engine started, she got things underway, making herself see stars with a bad gearshift only once. Travelling at a sedate pace towards Omega's Folly, Arion pondered if the strange place had some sort of effect on people travelling to it, enforcing these Heath Robinson-style solutions to transportation problems. It was a bit of a scary idea, so Arion chose to ignore it.
The day was turning out surprisingly fine, despite the fact that it was deep in fall, and soon the rain would become snow. The humming of the engine complemented the chattering of a few birds and the swaying of branches. Plus the incessant rattling and thumping of the bulky mail packet Arion had picked up from the consulate, as opposed to the customs office. The rattling seemed to be keys. The thumping seemed to represent a fair sized book. At least, Arion hoped so, or else it was going to be awfully broken. She had dropped the awkward package on the way out of the office, and then accidentally stepped on it. Mortified, but relieved no blatant crunching noises had resulted, she hurried away leaving a few snickering Amazons behind her.
Thankfully her arrival at the house was relatively uneventful. In fact, Arion had even missed Delos on her way back to town after paying Benny a visit. Taking a deep breath, pleased to have made it without accidentally doing something nasty to herself, Arion strode up to the front door and tried to open it. The knob wouldn't even turn, a sure sign it was locked. Taking a puzzled step back, Arion pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and managed to type in the number she wanted correctly the first time. "Hello, Chris?" the affirmative answer, cheerful as ever, made her grin. "Did you leave the door unlocked for Delos?" Dead silence at the other end of the line.
"Shit – I forgot all about it. Is she still there?"
"No, not a sign of her. Ummm – in the meantime, I can't get in." Arion glanced upwards, seeing if she could pick out Benny's window among the numerous, and not always real windows in view.
"Oh. Don't you have a key?" Chris sounded truly puzzled.
"No, I don't live here." Arion sighed, and reminded herself to be patient. Clearly she had interrupted her friend in the middle of something.
"You mean you live in your office? Or that dreadful garage where you keep your car?"
"Not exactly. Chris..."
"But Arion, that's awful! You do know you're welcome to move right in, I hope. Big house, lots of room, and we like you."
"No, Chris – listen, I can't, I can't live there, just now. It's hard to explain. Is there any door you usually leave open?" Pulling off her glasses and rubbing the bridge of her nose, Arion crossed the fingers of her other hand.
"Ummm – the French doors on the third floor. The Spanish ones on the second..."
"That's what Jed calls them, and I'm taking her word for it." A pause. "Nothing besides them. Not since those treasure hunters nearly did Jed in."
"Right. Okay, I'll think of something. Here, I'll let you go and call Delos next."
"Okay. Jolly good. Sorry about that." The rueful smile the chemist probably had on obediently floated up before Arion's mind's eye.
"Jolly good? English people actually say that? Here I always thought that was just a sort of folktale – like hillbillies."
"I hate to break it to you luv, but there are hillbillies. Cheerio." Chris hung up, but not before a chuckle reached the other woman.
"Jerk." Arion muttered, just because she could, and began trying to put Delos' number in accurately. It was a weird one, with two numbers that appeared repeatedly in a ridiculously hard to remember order. The phone number equivalent to the word "banana," not complicated, the trick was knowing when to stop. At last, a trilling ring came down the line – in fact, it actually sounded analogue.
"Hello, Healer Delos first level speaking."
"Hello." Arion was about to introduce herself when Delos interrupted.
"Haven't I already harassed you today, Arion?"
"Ye-es – how did you know it was me, if you have an analogue phone with no call display?"
"I have many skills." burred the healer. "What do you need, Arion?"
"I just wanted to know if you had been able to see to Benny today, as she's quite ill."
"Oh yes. Left her medication and took a culture. Ordered her to stay in bed. All the good stuff."
"I'm glad, but – Delos, how did you get in the house?" Arion rubbed at the back of her neck briskly with one hand, feeling sort of chilled for some reason. The healer had always struck her as a little odd somehow, tended to refer to things that if you cared to look them up happened when surely the woman must have been a child. In diapers.
"My family has provided the healers for your family far longer than you realize, Arion. Whenever an Adams has been seriously ill or injured, we have always been the ones who took care of you. We are instructed in your family history intensively from the moment we show interest in the profession. Someone always does."
"Oh. So you, have a key?" the red haired woman was still puzzled.
"In a manner of speaking. You have another question to ask."
"Benny isn't an Adams, so..."
"Of course she is. Not by blood, of course. Anyone who shares the house is family." This was a logic that made sense to Arion, actually. You had to be quite Adams-like to tolerate the quirkiness and half-falling-downess of the place. When her parents had met, she had been told, everyone had known right away they'd be together. For one thing, they had begun arguing almost immediately, starting as if they had been interrupted and were taking up from where they had left off, despite the fact they had never met. For another, her mother had simply been as wildly eccentric and purely delighted in the strange and goofy as most Adams often were.
"Okay – Delos, you make me uncomfortable, you know that?" A laugh answered her.
"It's not magic, Arion. Just another family skill I happen to possess. My predecessor in my job didn't have it, and she did have to have a key. Anyway, Benny has a bad case of bronchitis, and I'm worried about pneumonia, so I'll be by again tomorrow and am picking out one of my assistants to stay with her." Papers shuffled in the background. "Probably Diamond. She's got a good bedside manner, and knows when not to push."
"Okay." Arion mentally wiped her brow. If Delos had said she's send Toni, probably she would have gotten angry. Okay, she admitted to herself. Jealous. "Thanks Delos, and be warned, I'm going to be researching your family. Probably by asking Jed." Shaking her head a little, Arion turned her attention to the problem still facing her. Benny's things could wait until Jed and Chris got home, but she didn't really want to.
"Waaaiiit, she's on the other side of the house. There's all those catwalks between the two wings, and I bet that little door into Ges' old observatory isn't locked." Suiting action to idea, Arion found a spot where a good-sized tree branch hung right over the roof, and clambered up onto it, dropping carefully down onto the roof. Due to the house's age and the general tendency of its inhabitants to have no idea what had been repaired recently and what hadn't, there were a few places you could go right through, and find yourself waist deep in shingles with your feet high above the floor of the attic, or higher. Or, if you were truly unfortunate, you fell right down into the hall. Only one member of the family had done so, and by a quirk of fate she had been drunkenly participating in a dare and had only suffered a sprained ankle.
Walking carefully up and down the contours of the battered shingles, rippled brick, and occasional areas of thatch, Arion was struck by how the means of building and patching the roof varied with who owned which half of the house. The Adamses seemed to have a liking for adding stone and effectively building up new rooms with cupolas and things to reduce the overall roof area. The other side had all sorts of shingle varieties, leading Arion to wonder if maybe, just maybe, someone had once been studying the wear rates in the peculiar climate of the area. The patch of thatch was a peculiar anomaly, and Arion made a note of it, suspecting it corresponded to the former roof of one of the ancient inns favoured as a means of livelihood by a few Adamses, particularly anyone who could trace their roots back to either northern Greece or Libya.
Finally she found herself back at the slender catwalk along one side of the vault. Padding across it, she then began to pick her way towards the observatory, its stone sides graced by lichen and a few bird droppings. Ges regularly observed clouds and atmospheric electricity from the lofty perch. One day Jed had all but begged Ges to let her put a pipe organ in it, because the acoustics were fabulous. One of the few requests Ges had been forced to veto, being about as fond of pipe organ music as she was of bagpipes, two of Jed's favourite instruments. This had been one of the few things to cause any friction between the co-tenants of Omega's Folly, because large sounds of any kind tended to roll around the house in a sonorous and incessant manner until the player quit. One night, Ges had retaliated by playing AC/DC until the windows rattled, a band Jed detested.
"Okay, almost there." breathed Arion, determinedly staring straight at her objective. Between her and it was a patch of bright red shingles, quite striking. The tall woman settled one foot on them, only to hear an awful creak. Slowly, slowly, she put more weight on the foot. No more creaking, and she couldn't feel a give in the substructure, so she set her other foot on it. No sound. Another careful movement, bringing her to the middle of the patch. All clear. Another step, and now one more, and she could climb through the unlocked observatory window. Arion knew it was unlocked, because she could see the latch flipped into the unlocked position. Relaxing, she stepped forward and reached for the sill, only to have the shingles drop from beneath her feet, and herself drop right after.
She landed on something with a jerk, and for a few moments Arion simply stayed still, catching her breath and working very hard to convince herself to open her eyes. When she did, she immediately wished she hadn't, and grabbed for the available handholds.
By some – something, she had landed on a chandelier. A big chandelier, hung by a chain from the ceiling an arms length from the hole she had just made, with six smaller chains suspended from that and holding up the circumference of a great ring. It was the ring Arion had fallen onto, bouncing inwards onto the lattice of even smaller chains holding all sorts of tiny electric lightbulbs. A closer look made Arion wonder if they weren't gas bulbs. In the meantime, instead of on her way to Benny's room or to unlock the front door from the inside, she was suspended high above the floor, the chandelier swaying slightly from the force of the drop. Arion sighed unhappily. How did she get into this stuff? She reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone, making yet another call.
"Oh bloody hell – Jed, hurry up and listen to your messages. I am stuck in the chandelier in Benny's half of the house. Way too high to try dropping down. It's – to the – right, of Ges' observatory. I fell through the damned roof. Don't ask why or how. Please hurry and get me down from here. You know how I hate heights."
Avi scratched her head unhappily. The last thing she had expected was to discover that half of the temple bits that should have been there seemed to be missing. It was terribly upsetting. Now a surveyor and her assistant were trekking up the long slope to where the temple should have been. Or rather, the poor assistant was trekking, with two tripods, the range pole, and the box containing the survey prisms on her back. The surveyor was riding an all terrain vehicle with the case containing the theodolite and her lunch on the back. The theodolite, as Avi understood it, was simply a device that shot a beam of light at an appropriately positioned prism attached to a range pole or tripod. The beam reflected back, and then the instrument calculated distances and angles and probably other things the tall priestess was sure she didn't want to think about. She still had to go into town and take over her grander office at the Great Library, being as she was also the head librarian.
Once the survey team had made it to the top of the hill, the leader pulled a cigarette out of her pocket, lit it, then proceeded to tramp around with a plan in one hand and a metal detector in the other, puffing like a steam engine. The metal detector wasn't much help, due to the shrapnel everywhere from the bombing. The assistant unloaded the tripods and things, then taking the range pole in one hand began quietly striding around herself, flicking a glance upward at the Sun, then examining the position of the trees. She had soon taken note of what appeared to be half buried pieces of flagstone, and began kicking along their edges, making dark streaks where she turned over the loam, looking for a pattern. Avi watched this in fascination, trying not to breathe too much when a cloud of cigarette smoke wafted toward her.
After a few minutes, the surveyor strode off the top of the hill, waving her metal detector over a linear path. From its size, Avi was certain she had found a buried shell fragment. She hoped to Artemis it wasn't unexploded ordinance, or getting the temple of Artemis in working order was going to be even more horrible to manage than it already looked. By now, the surveyor's assistant had picked out a still recognizable spiral pattern in the flagstones, and now she followed them into the centre of the clearing, and began scuffing her boots some more. After a few scuffs she seemed satisfied, and began to follow the spiral pattern outwards again, but counterclockwise to her original clockwise and turned ninety degrees from the first spiral. About a metre from the edge of the hill, a curiously level affair, she scuffed again. Then, she turned around and began pacing. Another ten minutes, and she had kicked aside dirt at two more spots.
"Are these the right markers, Kepler?" the assistant asked politely, motioning to her finds. Avi walked around the three on the perimeter first, surprised when she realized they marked out an equilateral triangle. Each one was engraved with a series of symbols around a picture of one of the ancient four elements. The tall priestess followed them – Earth, Fire, Water. Walking to the centre, there was Air, presumably because the Moon was in the sky.
"Yes. Are you an acolyte?" The assistant blushed.
"Yes, Kepler. I had better set up the tripod on one of the perimeter markers." The frustrated older surveyor returned, having replaced her cigarette with a new one. She looked none too pleased to see her assistant going on without her, but stumped over and grabbed the other tripod and the theodolite. It took less than an hour to mark each spot where one of the nine major pillars and eighteen smaller ones should have been.
"Right," growled the senior surveyor. She tossed her assistant a shovel. "Dig the post holes clear." With that, she took the rest of the equipment, lashed it to the all terrain vehicle, and left.
"Gee. I wonder if I still have a job." murmured the assistant.
"Of course you do. I need an assistant at the library. Are you up to hard work indoors?" Avi winked at her. The younger woman grinned.
"Sure. I had better start digging."
"Me too." To the other woman's astonishment, Avi walked back to a pickup truck that was apparently hers, and pulled a pair of gloves, a pick, and a shovel from the back. She paused for a moment, shaking her head wryly. She had asked for a Volkswagen Beetle. "Big boots and old jeans for good reason." chuckled the priestess. "According to my research, we should find the bottoms of the pillars, or at least a corroded bronze marker."
"Or unexploded ordinance." the assistant grinned ruefully, and began digging around one of the marked spots. The 'spot' was actually a sloppy X in orange paint, mainly because the assistant liked big X's better than little spots. It wasn't entirely clear if this was because she liked the chance to spray paint things, or because they were easier to see.
"I'm wondering," Avi said, after they had dug in companionable silence for awhile. "What your name is."
"No kidding? Like the pharaoh?"
"Yup, like Hatshepsut herself – my mother liked the name."
"Can't say as I blame her," commented Avi. "Few names say such a fine mouthful. Not many names say 'spirit of the light of truth' quite so well." Maatkare blushed a little, and dug a bit harder. "I grew up out in Sakitawak in North America. My name means That One Can't Pronounce Her Own Name Properly." Dead silence on the other side of the clearing.
"It does not!" blurted Maatkare, her eyes a bit wide. The tall priestess laughed helplessly. At Matt's age, she had used a far more off colour joke to break the ice with new Amazons, but it didn't translate well.
"I'm so sorry – it's just, you're very, very serious. May I call you Matt? Just so we aren't continuously invoking the Goddess and related issues."
"Sure." Maatkare grinned a little. "I'm not usually so serious – it's just been crazy, the past month or so, for me."
"Ah." Avi nodded gravely. "Seriously though, I did grow up where I said, nd eventually I corrected my Nehiyaw pronunciation. Anyway, my name means Swift as Four Horses. There's something to be said for being able to run fast."
"That's true. I can't run fast, but I can run longer than most people." Matt's spade hit something with a clank, which probably should have scared her due to the ordinance issue. Instead she bent down and removed more dirt with her gloved fingers. "Hmmm – might be a bad sign. Just a very corroded bronze post." She glanced up. "Does the Nation have stone masons?"
"Yup. And, it just so happens," Avi walked over to look at the post herself. "We removed the real pillars before the bombing started. Once we get things cleaned up, we can replace them. Then the stone masons can start bringing in the stones they've carved to go in between. No one has started the altar yet, because the idea of doing that part is freaking most folks out."
"Wow. Ummm – if nobody feels up to making one, where's the altar going to come from?" Matt asked. "Somehow I don't think we can use a temporary one forever. Mind you, I suppose we could make one all together out of a bunch of stones."
"Or maybe Artemis will provide one. You never know." Avi clapped her on the shoulder. "Let's see if we can get the rest of these cleaned out before dinner."
Excavation Notes: The Temple of Kybele on Mount Sipylene, D. R. Smith, PhD.
• 59-03-17, Morning to Midday
The weather has been merciless today, but since noon it has begun to clear up, and we may be able to do some meaningful work after all. I dislike letting these backward tribesmen dictate how I run things here, but if I hadn't given in to their demands, the result would have been an alienated workforce. Earlier this morning, it looked as if a number of us would meet our end at the furious hands of these people, who are only just willing to help archaeologists. Luckily they need the money. But this place is a strangely sensitive issue with them, and I have found that there is a tighter rein on behaviour towards the artifacts and general environment than the strictest mosque. Of course, I haven't seen the inside of too many mosques. After all, no dogs, women, or other unclean animals are allowed to enter.
Anyway, yesterday, despite my specific orders, one of my students relieved himself in the nearby mountain stream. Despite the fact he did so downstream and there is plenty of water in it, any behaviour that befouls the stream in even the minorest way without absolute necessity is beyond the pale. Not merely because we are getting our drinking water from it. The tribesmen consider the stream extremely sacred. The women won't even wash clothes in it. They walk halfway down the mountain and use a different stream – the other stream is also much warmer, although why this is so has not yet revealed itself to science. Word of the behaviour of this idiot student got round very quickly, not least because he went around bragging how he nearly hit the opposite bank.
By mid-afternoon, the enraged tribesman had formed a circle around my tent. They furiously demanded the young idiot be sent back where he came from, which I agreed to without hesitation. His attitude is unsuited to fieldwork involving such delicate interpersonal relations. The tribesmen also demanded that we perform a pagan ceremony of expiation. Here I put my foot down and flatly refused. I'm a Christian, the tribesmen are presumably Muslim. A pagan ceremony was simple nonsense, and should never have been suggested by devout people. The women all shook their heads at me. The whole lot moved their tents and disappeared. I have no idea where they went.
A miserable storm blew in during the night, the winds so vicious half of the crew's tents blew down. Not a single fire or lamp would stay lit. Every battery went dead, and to add insult to injury, rain hit us next, and a rush of water down the rocky slope drowned the generator so it is impossible to start. Finally we piled as much of our equipment in a lee spot as possible, hoped for the best concerning everything else, and waited out the night.
This morning the rain has gone, but the wind continued to buffet us all over the place, knocking down anything we tried to put up, and blowing around tents so furiously as we tried to peg them down two were miserably torn, and a student suffered a broken arm when the wind picked him up with the tent and hurled the whole mess nearly ten metres. Equipment was everywhere, no one had even managed something vaguely reminiscent of breakfast. In the midst of this half frozen, hungry misery, an older woman with a tall fellow on one side of her and a tall woman on the other came down one of the narrow paths that track around some parts of the mountain. It seemed the tribesmen had sent us an emissary.
Nothing of the sort. The old mother had come of her own accord, and her companions were her two children. She outlined the whole pagan ceremony again, and said we had best hurry up and get it done, for the Goddess doesn't care for disrespect from those who should know better. My nerves were raw, I had chilblains on my face, and I was beyond anything resembling diplomatic patience. "What Goddess?" I snapped at her, in my marginal Turkish.
"The one you're here about, Kybele, you great ninny. And you'll last no longer than the others if you don't do as I say." In remarkably fine English. What she meant by 'the others' is not yet clear.
So I gave up. The weather looked like it was about to clear, but it was obvious the tribesmen were going to stay away until we performed this ridiculous ceremony. The terrible night had left the western members of the crew red eyed and exhausted, and there wasn't one woman or man willing to forgo the ceremony now. So we did it, with the peculiar little chant the old woman insisted on, and tossing some dried flower petals into the water, and then ritually driving out the idiot, who gladly took the extra jeep and headed for better climes. That was around noon.
Glancing out of my newly repegged tent, I see the sun is beginning to shine again, and the wind is no longer hurling people and things all but off the mountain. The tribesmen have come back, and have provided some narcotics for my suffering student with the broken arm. (I should probably redact this detail before publication.) Some other fellow, he has a quite unique decoration tucked in the front of his turban, made of three magpie feathers and a perforated copper disk – got the generator running again.
• 59-03-17, Evening
The range of emotions and experience over this bare day has been – extraordinary, and nearly intolerable. Despite the generator's return to life and the recreation of our camp, lunch was still half frozen rations. The tribesmen were simply relieved we had done what they felt necessary to placate Kybele, and the rest of my crew have no heart for excavation. Unable to coax them into any work, and unable to blame them, for I shared their exhaustion and sense of depression, I began wandering halfheartedly across the area we had staked out. By all accounts, a hitherto unknown temple of Kybele should be beneath the earth in this system of gridded squares. By some miracle the storm hadn't touched them. It just looked like dusty grass now that things had dried out, so I moved on to a favourite spot that lent itself to watching the spectacular sunsets.
Unexpectedly, the toe of my boot collided with what seemed at first to be a broken stone. When I glanced at it, I was surprised to see this was no stone, but some sort of stone column made visible by the rush of water down the slope the night before, it seemed. Pulling my trowel out of my pocket, I uncovered a bit more of it, unable to fathom how thing could have come to be there. After a few minutes, I could see it was not a true pillar, but a sort of mock pillar, carved onto what had once been a cliff face. A land slide had torn the cliff face to pieces and deposited the pillar down here, alarmingly close to the excavation site even though the event was long in the past. Such mock pillars are not unheard of, in fact there are two sets of them carved into the banks of the Thermodon. This one was unusual in that a human being could actually get to it, and sis carved with an inscription.
For this, I could drag some enthusiasm for the crew. It didn't take long to uncover, and I have spent most of this afternoon and this evening deciphering it. The inscription is – strange, for lack of a better word. It probably isn't publishable, adding more insult to the injury of this entire field season.
"Why am I reading this jackass again?" Benny asked Ges grumpily. "What a pretentious tw..."
"Language!" Ges boomed, in the tone Benny least liked to trigger. She couldn't understand her cousin's demands that she excise a whole range of words for women's intimate body parts from her lexicon of curses and insults. Sighing, Benny winced and tried not to let her thoughts stray to an angry pimple she had observed with growing horror that morning.
"Fine, fine. Sorry. Why am I reading this stuck up archaeologist?"
Not wholly satisfied with the revision but willing to accept the peace offering for what it was worth, Ges leaned back in her seat and rubbed at her eyes. She didn't have the heart to explain that Benny was reading the least awful of the volumes of bound, hand written excavation notes stacked on the table. "You are reading through those notes for specific place names and descriptions of monuments. Everything I have found about D.R. Smith suggests that the name is a bald pseudonym, and the other volumes are all cut to remove place names and render the dates ambiguous. That's the only one with any vestiges of place names and actual descriptions of the local workforce."
"So what? Who cares? I already read the end, they buried everything again, and there are stubs where the maps used to be sewn in." Benny slapped the book with annoyance, then coughed as dust puffed out of it into her face.
"I care, because just one or two more place names, and I should be able to locate where the gate is and how to find it without the maps!" This was far more detail than Ges had ever let slip before. Benny was already sure there was something else going on besides her cousin's mad insistence that the Amazons not only had existed but still existed, even if she only said the second part to her under conditions of strict confidence. However ridiculous expecting such confidence from a still scrawny eighteen year old could be.
"Gate? What gate? Come on Ges, stop being such a jerk and tell me what you're actually doing, or the hell if I'm reading any more of this crap."
"No." Standing up, Ges took the book back. "I'll finish with these. You can go ahead and do something else, grab my library card and pull some new stuff to keep you occupied." Decision made, she firmly returned her attention to the books in front of her. She was profoundly disappointed. Her cousin was so damnably promising, but too narrowly focussed to notice the world around her in a way that Ges couldn't explain away purely as adolescence anymore.
Benny hesitated uncertainly. Ges had never reacted like this before. "Okay, I guess. Have fun with stuffed shirt doctor D.R. Smith." Then she got up to leave, and made it almost to the door with Ges' library card and several crisp bills she had definitely not been given permission to take in one hand. Unbeknownst to her, Ges watched her from her work table, well aware of exactly how much cash Benny had in her hand. Ges had decided to raise the stakes, because she didn't have time to waste on distractions and redirections anymore. Either Benny was in, or she was out.
"Wait, doctor D. R. Smith? Who the hell has initials like that?" Benny turned back around.
"Now, that is a reasonable question. Put the money and the card back, and I'll show you."
Rattled, and embarrassed, Benny did as she was told and returned to her seat across from her cousin.
"Don't do that again." There was no denying the note of finality.
"I won't." Benny ran her hand through the dust on the table top. "It's going to take even longer for you to tell me anything important now, isn't it?"
"Yes. And now instead of just reading that volume, you get to transcribe it." Ges smiled beatifically, and handed Benny a college ruled notebook, a pair of pencils, and a pencil sharpener. "Get started."
- Heath Robinson was one of several cartoonists active early in the twentieth century whose work included a series of cartoons featuring elaborate gadgets taking absurd lengths to carry out simple tasks. Born and working throughout his life in england, his works include important morale boosting work during world war one, book illustrations, and an illustrated book series with K.R.G. Browne. His counterpart Rube Goldberg is probably better known nowadays because he lived and worked in the united states.
- French doors being any door, usually a fairly heavy one, with full-length glass panes. They turn up frequently in older homes between rooms designed for hosting guests. They are not necessarily expensive or unusual.
- A bit surprisingly, there are indeed spanish doors. They are described in the catalogues I have glanced through as an easy way to add "a hint of the rustic" to a very expensive home. Unlike their french style counterparts, they are generally substantial investments since they are about expensive display. They don't necessarily have windows, but are commonly divided so that one quarter is separated by decoration or other means is set off from the rest of the door.