Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Alphabet Soup: Chapter Twelve
Evrope shook her head in mild disbelief. If she hadn't watched it with her own eyes, she would not have believed it. The other house was loaded onto a giant trailer, strapped to a support scaffold with canvas straps. The truck attached to the trailer looked comically small and thoroughly unable to drag the trailer, but the work crew seemed quite unperturbed about that. A scattering of Adamses were busy rebuilding a wall to enclose the temporarily bare again to the elements side of Omega's Folly, singing as they worked and pretending to paint the rapidly growing interior wall pink. The pink stuff was actually a sealant against the elements and they would be covering that with other materials. For her part, Jed was busy in her home office, struggling with paperwork related to the final steps in the removal of Benny's house. She had no argument with doing it, it was just important to properly document the end of the arrangement. Unfortunately it kept turning out that one more record after another with details she needed to fill in the forms was in a record Jed didn't keep in her own office. This meant a trip to one of three different storage rooms in vastly separated parts of her house, because a bunch of the records were very old and so in basement storage. Still others had to do with appliance warranties and repairs, and they were all thrown in anyhow in a large trunk that Chris liked to use to wedge open the gate at the top of the cupola in the observatory. The rest were in due order in a filing cabinet at the back of the second pantry, the one that Jed hadn't kept actual food in for quite some time. It was easier to keep the marmalade in the garage.
Catching her breath after one, she hoped last, trip up to the observatory to dig through the disordered trunk again, Jed settled back at her desk. Making a brief note that the trunk's contents would have to be sorted out, Jed frowned at the next sheet in the bundle, considering whether to just draw a picture and ignore the questions. Reading the first few queries and sighing in annoyance, Jed picked up the desk perpetual calendar with a view to twisting its segments and generally fidgeting with it when she saw that it had the wrong sort of year start attached. Delighted with another reason to delay fighting with her paperwork, Jed pulled open a desk drawer to find the right segment among the six available. She had just finished sorting out the calendar when Myrrhine arrived with a cardboard box of papers and books.
"Probably these things will be of no immediate use at all, but this box was under the steps next door. Weirdly, it's got our name on it, not any of the names from Benny's place, so here it is." Placing the box in a relatively out of the way spot by a shelf unit doing its best not to drop a printer, safe, and shelf full of dictionaries all over the floor, Myrrhine dusted off her hands and added, "How is the miserable paperwork going?"
"Badly," snorted Jed. "I really don't see what any of this shit has to do with me, let alone Adamses in general." This was such an uncharacteristically testy reply that her cousin picked up the pile of completed pages to see what it was all about.
"Huh, I see what you mean." The first two or three forms had to do with things that made immediate sense, verifying the beginning and end dates of attaching the two houses, their specific locations, and some other title details. Then the forms wandered off into inventories, measurements, checking number of windows and doors, and a bunch of diagrams that Myrrhine figured out after a few minutes had to do with a resonance problem related to the heating and ventilation ducts in each house. "Jed, quite a lot of this is not the sort of information it would be safe to share with outsiders."
"I know, that's why all the answers are jibberish from those old catalogues Chris brought home." Said catalogues were early twentieth century department store productions, full of startlingly crisp line drawings and hilariously bad ad copy. "Only the first few sheets and one other one here call for anything sensible. I think what has happened is that this set is a badly revised docket usually used when cataloguing a deceased person's estate Outside. There are very recent arrivals working in the records office."
"I see. Well, they'll be horrified when they learn they'll be expected to recopy the real information onto the right forms."
"Won't they? And then someone will have to come by and get them notarized by me in person." Having found the last sheet with any reasonable questions, and those questions now done, Jed dragged over a big stamp that read GO AWAY in fancy block letters. Checking the mechanism worked smoothly, Jed then turned her attention to stamping the rest of the useless questions accordingly, thoroughly enjoying the "thump-snick" each time she applied the stamp. "Look at that, Chris must have re-inked the stamp pad." She chortled. Re-inked yes, with the wrong colour. The result was a variegated combination of red and blue that Jed was enjoying immensely. This step in the process was improving her humour immensely.
"On the better side, you'll be able to use the former fire escape to get between main parts of the house now." Myrrhine commented, putting the stack of papers back.
"Yes, that will be fun." Jed agreed. "And we'll finally be able to refinish and paint the stairwells on the garden side of the house properly. Then we can finish building out that side of the house so all of our cousins can get to their flats by climbing stairs instead of ladders." Of those many cousins, Jed knew of two who were very pregnant and quite reasonably averse to having any truck with ladders, be they long or short. "It'll have to get done now, war or not."
"True enough." Myrrhine went back to the cardboard box, which was irresistible. Checking who it must actually belong to had revealed enough about its contents to make them interesting. "You know, the stuff that is in here is a bit weird. Lots of notebooks, it looks like. Even these loose pages are notes of some kind, I think. What were they doing under Benny's front step?"
"Have you noticed a date on anything so far?" Jed asked, shoving the paperwork into a big envelope already addressed for its destination. Rather than use a sponge to dampen the flap to seal it, she proceeded to tape it shut with a big roll of brown packing tape. Evidently she had decided to be as annoying as she could manage to the newbies in the record office. This was all part of Jed's overall strategy where records requests from others was concerned, to wit, discouraging such requests all together.
"No – wait, yes." Now she was paying attention, there were several ready to hand. Myrrhine read a few examples off. "Wow. That's way back, but still within what's her name's time here, the one whose cousin hid a bunch of stuff from her, right?"
"Yes. Still, nothing of ours should have been over there." Throwing the envelope into the bin of materials for pick up, Jed accepted a few example documents and notebooks from the box. And was mightily disturbed by what she saw. One notebook fell open on a page that revealed it was marked up by someone other than the original writer, in a script that gave away they could not have been an Adams. Adamses generally wrote in Greek characters or Russian ones if they weren't using the northern Amazon script. Not one of those were used by this stranger, who had used a vilely coloured black ink with purple-brown highlights. Shocked, Jed and Myrrhine began poring through and ordering the contents of the box. Within less than an hour not only were they done putting things in order, they were furious. The loose sheets came from dismembered notebooks, and the physically intact notebooks were peppered with annotations and highlighting in the disgusting black ink.
"Well, now we know why the treasure hunters have been so persistent. They had a mole in the house. I thought far better of Ges' great aunt than this." Myrrhine threw up her hands in disgust.
"I didn't. We never got on." Jed grimaced. "These would have been in Vortric's old office. She was the architect. Best to get over seeing how bad the mess is now." Steeling herself, Jed stood up. Shoving a quick list of dates and topics from the materials at hand into her pocket, Myrrhine followed her cousin, puzzling over why there were at least two extreme outliers in character from the Basilas family. They had to have known enough to realize that there weren't chests of doubloons or anything like that around Omega's Folly. However nefarious their desires, which so far as she could tell would most likely be about appropriating what they could feed into the somehow unfillable coffers of their banking interests, surely they had enough sense to realize they were wasting their time?
"I begin to fear that one of the rooms in Benny's house has a giant crazy board in it or something." Myrrhine commented.
"It probably does in a manner of speaking. Vortric was the architect, but that wasn't all she was. Most of those notebooks have nothing to do with the house, and everything to do with us." Jed paused and turned to look her cousin in the eye. "Us, us, I mean." She gestured at her forearm, which bore an unusual tattoo that most people assumed was an obscure artsy design of some kind. Most of the people among the few who had seen it, that is. Jed rarely wore short sleeves.
"Oh, that us, us." Myrrhine grimaced in her turn, and her stomach tightened. "Jed, these treasure hunters are meddling in something dangerous."
"Believe me, I know. It may be necessary to ask Helen to help out, there's no way we can leave the house without a serious guard on it, and she's the main member of the Evarakeen who will be on site."
"Is that why you went ahead and started the machinery now? We had no real idea what might happen with a natural shifting zone already going through!" Cue held her voice to a normal volume with effort. It was all very well that people assumed that because the Pontius-Hallidays were her cousins that her clan must be Evarakeen. Except, they weren't. They were Adaveen themselves, one of the three younger clans. They had the same name but inverted in order for totally semi-rational reasons.
"There was no need for concern, it nicely covered what we were doing."
"It most certainly did not!" Cue objected, now more than a little outraged. "Kepler Ionnidis and I have been dealing with the fall out ever since you did it. Jed could have been lynched!"
"Nonsense, young Doctor Adams is not so helpless as all that. And in any case, this has thoroughly flushed out our troublemakers, hasn't it?" That was true, and much as she hated to admit it, Cue did like that those troublemakers were apprehended now and not in desperation further into the war. They could hardly have spared the resources to deal with them, if things kept developing as they were. No matter how short a time many refugees would be in the Nation, it was no trivial task to do right by them.
"No doubt this was all about improving Amazon security, but why didn't you tell anybody else what was going on?" Better yet, Cue wanted to know what the hell the crew who were all about consensus based decision making for the nation were up to doing whatever they wanted as if they were royalty. And she wanted to know since when her clan had been dropped from the information loop. It seemed to her that something was wrong.
"It does improve the general security of the Nation, but I must admit that wasn't our priority." That was so far from what Cue expected to hear that she sat down with a shocked thump. "We attended the same council meeting that concluded that the request those of us out beyond the Perfumed Mere made for additional security assistance was denied after due discussion and consideration."
"Ye-es," Now Cue was thinking furiously, trying to visualize who among the women witnessing that day her opposite number must have been. She could just about remember who Chris had been sitting with – and that was unusual, Chris didn't attend often. She was part of a group of, Cue was just about certain there were four of them all together. Two fair-headed besides Chris herself, one very dark-headed. Their pale hair was natural too, and really striking. She wasn't quite sure why Chris didn't take part in the councils often, she had a real talent for supporting constructive discussion. Which was remarkable for a woman so enamoured of explosions.
"It is permitted for us to take other steps on our own if the consensus goes against what we consider necessary."
"But not steps that affect everyone."
"Not steps that would affect everyone negatively."
"Disrupting navigation is not affecting everyone negatively?" Cue protested. "And since when does your lot indulge in such sophistry?"
"We maintain navigation access through the Perfumed Mere by choice, not requirement." A new, flinty note in Pontius-Halliday's voice made Cue sit bolt upright. "We understand that we may suffer sanctions for taking the steps we have. The other options would have been not merely disruptive but dangerous to others, and we have never chosen steps that endanger everyone, even if choosing otherwise would be to our own detriment." By now Pontius-Halliday's voice had slipped into the register that Chris referred to as "the voice of MOM" that sent both the wise and the foolish into flight if they could possibly get away.
Cue leaned back in her seat, wondering how to get herself out of the diplomatic morass she had just thrown herself into. Thrown herself, then dug in a bit deeper. Her own fault for forgetting about the details of the Perfumed Mere situation. Like the fact that the families living beyond it didn't do so by choice but because the mere had been deliberately created in an attempt to cut them off from the rest of the Amazons. Back in the days of the Prime scandal. Kicking herself for not taking the pile of reports and summaries on that scandal and its impacts seriously enough to read them through with due care and attention before now, Cue wasn't at all sure what she could say that wouldn't make things worse.
"You still live upriver, yes?"
"Yes, I do." In sight of town, and well away from the nearest edge of the Perfumed Mere. The majority of the Halliday-Pontiuses had moved to the other side of the Mere in solidarity with their mother clan, but having just moved back from Outside, Cue and Avi were occupying one of the original cottages upriver.
"Perhaps the inconvenience is somewhat more specific than general, then." Pontius-Halliday noted drily.
"Perhaps." Suddenly weary, Cue turned her mind to ending the conversation. She was stuck with this morass, it seemed. Maybe Avi's clever solution to the accidental dowry list annotation wouldn't work. Right on time, her truncated leg began to jitter in the nerve-damaged related tremors she tended to suffer in it about this time of day, which meant it was time for stretches and a careful walk.
"Rather than insist on using the old routes, perhaps reconsider the ways and means of crossing the Mere. I daresay the transport department will begin noticing that they don't need nearly as much time and energy reserved for yanking people as they did before soon." Then she hung up.
Cue stared at the phone receiver. What? Despite knowing that it wouldn't help, Cue set down the phone and tried to hold her leg still with both hands, checking the lights on her prosthesis, which was recharging peaceably in the corner of the office opposite her desk.
Avi bounced into the room, laughing with delight. "Cue, I have the most extraordinary and wonderful news! One of the worst problems for the transport department has gone clean away! Of course, it's still going to be all kinds of work but now it's actually possible, not bluntly impossible as it was under our previous conditions!" This rare public outburst of bubbly happiness was such that Cue did her best to compose herself lest she spoil it. "Cue, where is your leg? We can go for a walk together for a change this lunchtime because now I have nothing to do this afternoon!"
Well, in the end the Amazons had gone along with Murgatroyd's argument that they should take care to collect more than just the books and papers, because by now that in itself would freak out their enemies some more. And that was a good thing, and didn't require hurting anyone. She suspected that they had their own reasons for going along, but that hardly mattered now. She sat quietly atop a cart neatly packed with salvage, from yes, real tea and chocolate to analogue typewriters – she had been utterly gobsmacked to see those – cases of pens and pencils, that sort of thing. They continued to ignore the computers and weapons, although Jed and several others used Murgatroyd's materials map to grab coils of wire wrapped in real rubber or woven silk, cotton, and some amount of kevlar. This was fascinating, they definitely didn't want plastics or most other synthetic compounds, but they were willing to make a grudging exception for kevlar. Murgatroyd wondered why. The women worked unbelievably fast, and despite her best efforts, Murgatroyd could not get a clear enough look at any but the two or three women closest to her to make an estimate of their numbers from and it wasn't just because of the light conditions. Quite the group.
Jed reappeared beside her, chewing at a chunk of fairly nasty but still edible beef jerky that in her view was more probably horsemeat. She glanced upward, shaking her head unhappily. "We have bad weather coming in, or something." This was true, the sky had an odd look. The Sun was vanishing in a hurry behind a heavy, strange looking cloud.
"You so sure there hasn't been a nuke?" Murgatoryd asked sharply, unnerved as the quality of daylight slipped into an eerie, greyish yellow register.
"Certain." Swallowing a bit of her jerky with an effort, Jed gazed at the strange cloud a bit longer, noting that it seemed awfully low, and full of dust. As she and Murgatroyd puzzled, the wind picked up, and an unpleasant smell reminiscent of the toilet trenches began to assail them. But the wind was coming from the wrong direction for those trenches to be the cause. Then bits of heavy dust, and then what were visibly rock fragments began to patter down on them.
"What remarkable and alarming timing!" Pontius-Halliday hurried up. "No more need for a march, I've called our vehicles over to move us out. We are not in danger but it is still going to get more uncomfortable."
"What the hell is going on if it wasn't a nuke?" Murgatroyd snapped.
"Volcano." Pontius-Halliday smiled faintly. "Seems the unwise experiment carried out to our northwest has disrupted a magma body in an already well-known region of incipient volcanic activity."
"They activated a volcano on purpose." Murgatroyd said flatly.
"Oh, I highly doubt it was on purpose. But the people in charge of these sorts of projects have a definite obsession with causing as much destruction as possible. They also love positioning nuclear reactors on top of active faults. Best to mask up." Then Pontius-Halliday turned her attention to directing the arrangement and final lading of what Murgatroyd could see was a substantial caravan. She soon found herself paired with Jed again, with Jed behind the wheel of an insanely ancient jeep.
"You sure this wreck will make it? Any of these wrecks?" Shouting as best she could through her gas mask, squinting around at the rest of the caravan through its unpleasantly warped eyepieces.
"Yes, no computers. Here, use this gas mask instead, or else you will feel ill." Jed handed her a visibly newer gas mask, one that wasn't full of the repairs and adjustments all soldiers had to make in hopes to make their cut rate gear effective for its purpose. No patches applied from kits taken from tent and air mattress supplies. No desperate straps put together from carefully culled and folded duct tape. And blessedly clear lenses. They didn't need them for gas, not yet, but the air was so dusty now that lacking gas masks a person would have to try making do with layers of cloth and goggles. Satisfied that her companion was now better equipped, Jed started the engine and hit the gas.
Soon the entire caravan was roaring down a highway in impressively good shape, which meant they were much closer to old Istanbul than Murgatroyd had realized she reflected. Grabbing onto the roll bar beside her, she did her best to hold back from hollering at Jed intermittently to handle a road safety issue. All of the Amazons were driving as if they were in some sort of mad car race, and Jed's lead foot was a matter of infamy back in the army that had left them behind. Then, for some reason Murgatroyd could never explain to herself let alone anyone else, shoring up her grip on the roll bar, she half turned to look behind them.
The huge dust cloud had blotted out the sky. At first she thought she saw lightning, but then she realized with growing horror that what she could see was the dull orange-red of melted rock. Which meant that the volcano was very, very, very close as opposed to where she would much prefer it to be, which was very, very, very, very faaaar away. That was when she heard the first bang, from a fist-sized chunk of rock that smashed off the nose of the jeep. Cursing volubly, Murgatroyd grabbed her helmet and jammed it on, barely remembering to pull her field cap off first. Her cap was heavy with dust and rock fragments, and fell with a thump she could just feel through her feet where she tossed it into the seat well.
"Must keep going fast." Jed called, cranking the gear shift again to account for the fact they were now on a level straightaway. How the jeep was running so successfully when its radiator had to be coated in dust Murgatroyd couldn't fathom, except, as the ninety seconds of unavoidable panic made its way out of her system and she became aware of her fingers gripping too tight on the roll bar, and her teeth ground together, of course, there had to be some kind of cover on the radiator. Maybe cardboard, like in winter back home – forcing back the urge to giggle hysterically, Murgatroyd began carefully doing the breathing exercises she had learned long ago to manage panic attacks.
Then the quality of the road changed again, and they were roaring down what was unmistakably an abandoned runway. The old lights and signs were still in place, even the smaller towers with their windsocks. Beyond them, where the black streaks from the airplanes taking off and landing stopped, unbelievably, Murgatroyd could see a patch of clear sky, and water. Which, she was sure couldn't actually be, they were hardly close enough for that back at the now abandoned army camp. They had marched on with mountains visible on every side, too low down to see even a hint of the old railway lines hastily repaired to move personnel like them around when marching was too slow and exposed. Not that being on a very visible train easy to strafe from the air was much better. But there was water, and a clear sky. Some wag up front began shouting, "Thalatta, thalatta!"
And then they blew through, something, and were indeed on another road all together, under a clear sky, romping along on a clean road with a sea at their right hand and rolling foothills on their left. If it hadn't been for the dents in the jeep and all the dust and rock bits coating it and them, Murgatroyd would never have believed it.
Others might have found it difficult to sleep through the storm, but both Benny and Ges were seasoned ex-soldiers bunked down in a place they knew was solidly built with the windows firmly locked down from inside and out with storm shutters. Ges watched her cousin, who thankfully had managed to actually lay down before she fell completely asleep. It had been a near thing for a few minutes there, as Benny struggled to kick her boots off and shrug out of her jacket. In the end she had succeeded with the boots but gave up on the jacket. Not that Ges had actually seen this. It was some hours after her last exchange with Benny, and now she could see new daylight straggling through the air gaps in the storm shutters. Still very early, the air had a crisp coolness to it indicating the heater would need to run a half hour or so before Ges would be willing to try opening the shutters.
Turning her mind to trickier questions, Ges puzzled over just what to tell Benny. She wasn't too worried about the whole nipping back to the Outside to deal with some old scores related to their crime syndicate family. That would be easy to sort out in the end, including how she managed to avoid getting thrown back in the clink. The expression made Ges chuckle out loud. "In the clink" was such an old expression now, so much so even the English didn't use it these days. Chris had been fascinated to hear her use it, and then demanded to know what Ges understood it to mean, and on hearing that back were Ges came from it meant getting sent to prison, Chris had provided a pocket history of the original, real life Clink. How oddly appropriate that the old Clink had been much like the prison Ges had spent her time in, a place stuffed mostly with people criminalized for being poor. Yes, that stuff was easy, with a smattering of pleasing historical trivia to smooth things along. No, Ges wasn't worried about that. She was worried about the Prime program or whatever it was officially called.
Now unable to stay still, Ges braved the chill air to shove her feet into her clammy new shoes and turn on the heater. How ironic that she had stumbled on files from it during totally innocent research, nothing at all to do with the cracking activities she had been forced to engage in for the family business, such as it was. If at that time any of her coding skills had touched on the funding lines of that military project, well, the chances that she would have survived to have Benny yell at her would have been zero. Simple as that. Prime was if nothing else, weirdly interesting. In fact, when Ges originally began looking into it, it had been precisely because she found a list of the first twenty or so prime numbers at the top of a sheet of paper that her less than pleasant great aunt had pasted into a ledger as a part of a replacement fly leaf. It was the oddest thing, because when she looked at the sheet more carefully with a strong light behind it so she could read what was covered over by the other portion of the pasted-together fly leaf, it read not just 3, 5, 7, 11 and so on. No, it read 3 of 13, 5 of 13, 7 of 13, then 3 of 17, 5 of 17, 7 of 17, 13 of 17. The sequence ran on like that through to the twentieth prime, 73, and then it was the end of the page. For her part, Ges had never been quite so terrified as when she read through that small chunk of paper, because first, her great aunt had no real interest in mathematics, and second, the page read like a crazy person's effort at making up a mathematical proof.
So at first, Ges had concluded that this fragment was part of her great aunt's increasingly erratic behaviour. And truth be told, the rambling, obsessive sequences of just a few prime numbers put together in odd little sets including four or six of the same two to five letter words certainly didn't suggest a strong tether to reality. But the fact that three of those very few words were of course "prime," "gene," and "cycle," key terms in the documents she stumbled on about Prime made Ges wonder if maybe her great aunt wasn't having difficulty with staying tethered to reality so much as to memory. Night after night her great aunt sat up, working at notebooks that Ges did not recognize and that didn't seem to belong to her, obsessively writing, rewriting sequences of the first twenty prime numbers and just those few words. Ges knew this from managing to catch glimpses of her at it, and finding more and more slips and fragments of used paper reused in other places with those same words and numbers on them. For all their money Outside, the rest of their family was infamously miserly, and some habits of recycling and reuse died hard. But it made young Ges very frightened indeed, especially when an attempt at obliquely approaching the subject set off an explosion of rage from her great aunt.
What revealed the memory connection was the trove of documents Ges had downloaded from the directory she had stumbled on while innocently researching algorithms to speed up calculation of prime numbers. The directory belonged to an improperly locked down cloud server the local military had contracted for from a major company that provided such services and should have known better. In light of her recent legal travails, Ges had opted not to let anybody know about her knowledge of the directory, let alone report it was unsecured. Nobody believed anybody who found such things innocently, they were always presumed to be crackers and hustled off to a long sentence in the old prison in the autonomous zone, now refurbished into a part island, part submerged facility. In any case, Prime, better known Outside as Operation Suprahuman, was long over, sunk by scandal. Still, it didn't make Ges feel all that much better when she found among those documents a copy of an annual results report, whose principal authors included her aunt by name and 5 centimetre by 8 centimetre identification shot.
No, that discovery didn't make her feel better at all since Outside her great aunt had by all accounts never been in the military, and had no more than an undergraduate degree in biology intended to support preparation to teach middle school. But according to this report, she was a highly credentialled, both academically and militarily, geneticist.
Ges sighed, suddenly feeling tired again. Her family was too full of secrets. She had no idea what or maybe even who her great aunt had been trying to remember, but what Ges remembered most of all was that her great aunt was afraid, deeply afraid of her immediate neighbours. She covered it by being incorrigibly rude to Jed at every opportunity, acting as if Arion wasn't there even if she was, and hiding from Chris outright. It was all weird, and frightening, and it made the early stages of Ges' tenure at Omega's Folly in her own right very difficult, because she started from the assumption that her neighbours were just rather foolish women, feminists of the sort who spent more time coming up with new age-type rituals than doing anything practical. Not only had this disrespected her neighbours, Jed had told her off for disrespecting her great aunt by acting as if her great aunt knew nothing. Still, Ges had put that down to Jed being a mildly loopy type who mostly taught undergraduate students physics in a dreary cycle of three semesters, three classes per semester each year. Until a rather famous summer day.
At that time, an Amazon had been coming up to Omega's Folly on a regular basis. Ges soon learned that this woman was a notary, and that part of her job had to do with some documentation of the house and other things. Her presence never went unnoticed, due to the extraordinary car she drove up to the house. This car was, if anything, bigger than the hearse, and ugly in both colour and disposition, as Chris commented one day. Either it had no muffler or a muffler with the remarkable capacity to do precisely the opposite, and it spewed an appalling amount of black, french fry scented smoke from its tail pipe. Worst of all, its owner seemed gravely concerned lest it be stolen. She ceremoniously armed its alarm every time she climbed out of the car in front of the house, proudly pressing a button on her ostentatious key fob and listening to the two responding chirps. Then she hauled her document case up the short walk remaining to Jed's front door. And it never failed, less than an hour later, the wind would blow, or a branch would fall nearby or something, and the car alarm would go off.
For a person so worried about her car being nabbed, the notary Amazon was uniquely incapable of noticing its alarm going off. First it would play the standard "somebody touched me!" ring, quietly. Then medium loud. Then extremely loud, before switching to a high pitched, soaring wail that rattled the windows and penetrated every kind of ear plug Ges tried. No matter how much racket the car made, nothing seemed to persuade the notary to go and turn it off or reset it. Perhaps this was a tactic to keep her appointments short and on time, except that she was never in any particular hurry. So it would be a half hour to an hour and a half later, Ges would be huddled in the depths of the furthest back room of her part of the house, on the verge of tears of rage and frustration. And finally, finally, Jed would have managed to shove the notary out the door with papers hanging out of her document case to silence the car and leave.
On this particular summer day, however, the heat meant that on this particular notary's visit, there were windows open all over Omega's Folly, but especially out front to catch the prevailing breeze. And that meant when the car alarm went off, as it did as always, it was soon impossible to speak over it in other than a shout. This went on for a few moments, with Jed expecting the notary to hand her something to take care of while she ran out to silence her car's demon alarm. The notary kept right on talking, or rather shouting, and setting out forms. She was raising her voice to make herself heard over the alarm, so evidently she could hear it herself. Ges knew this for a fact, because unable to bear the racket she had invited herself over to Jed's side of Omega's Folly to demand the notary fix the issue or else. So she stared at the notary open-mouthed as she bellowed into Jed's face while flapping some form whatever it was at her. But Jed had stopped answering her, and had the oddest expression on her face. Suddenly, Jed stood straight up, turned on her heel, and marched out of her office.
Down the stairs, moving in a manner that suggested deadly purpose. She took a brief side trip into another room on the way to the front door, Ges running along behind her, not keeping up very well. Unbelievably, the notary was still shouting away upstairs, raising her voice even louder in an effort to continue imparting information to Jed while she "ran an errand." That at least, was the notary's interpretation of Jed's behaviour, mentioned in between explanations of legal points pertaining to the co-holding of the lot overlap between the halves of Omega's Folly.
Ges reached the foyer of Jed's house just as Jed threw open the front door, blasting them with the car's racket. Jed marched outside, up to the car. Ges watched avidly from just inside the front door, unable to imagine what her neighbour was about to do.
Grimly intent, Jed aimed what Ges recognized as a British service hand gun and proceeded to fire on the car, shattering the windscreen, the back window, flattening all four tires, and coolly destroying the car alarm unit where it was installed just beside the odometer. And then there was blessed silence. Ges stared, open-mouthed as Jed visibly debated whether to empty the rest of the gun's clip on the object of her immediate ire. Instead, she quietly reset the gun into safety mode and removed the partially spent clip, sticking that into one pocket and the gun into another pocket opposite from it.
Sighing with pleasure at the restoration of peace and quiet, Jed declared, "And now, I shall make tea." Suiting action to word, she walked past Ges, who was still standing stock still, mouth hanging open. She also walked past the notary who wanted very much to demand satisfaction in the matter of her car. But something in Jed's expression led her to think better of making either demands or requests. Instead she asked Ges, in an admirably polite tone, to use her phone in order to arrange alternate transportation and towing for her car, which after all, had only one spare tire available. That notary never did return to Omega's Folly.
Truly, Ges thought to herself with a chuckle, she couldn't imagine why!
Myrrhine leaned against the cessna, indulging in a long smoke of one of Jed's infamous cigars. Neither she nor Jed smoked regularly, it coated the tongue too much. But there were times that the soothing qualities of the nicotine were very much appreciated, and the last twenty minutes of the flight had left Myrrhine with a powerful desire to experience those effects. For those last twenty minutes, Arion had begun twitching and muttering as the sedative began clearing her system. The importance and utility of the luggage weighing Arion down and interfering with her ability to flail her arms if she woke up too much before Myrrhine landed the plane grew ever more salient as the minutes ticked on. Now safely landed and stripped down to her sweaty undershirt, Myrrhine sighed. Next time, it would take at least another quarter of a dose of the sedative to avoid the worst. There wouldn't be room enough in the plane to try to knock Arion unconscious and steer the damn plane.
"Excuse me, Myrrhine Adams?" A slender woman dressed in crisply pressed white chinos, an orange t-shirt and an aquamarine suit jacket stepped around the plane's tail. In spite of herself Myrrhine peeked at the other woman's shoes, half expecting to see a pair of the raucously coloured high-topped sneakers her eldest daughter wanted very badly. Not that Agape had told her that. No, Agape was having to grow up all too fast, and she didn't like to ask for things or let on that she would like anything special or different. Of course, the other woman was wearing sensible, polished dress shoes, not sneakers. Taking another pull on her cigar, Myrrhine decided she had to be able to track down a pair of those damned sneakers for her eldest daughter. She knew she could find the other things on her mental list for the kids.
"Yes, are you Waldbilling?"
"Yes. Doctor Adams wasn't too, difficult, was she?" Waldbilling carefully unlatched the passenger door, and began extracting Arion's duffle bag.
"Not until close to the end of the flight. Honestly, I was afraid we were going to accidentally kill her with the amount of sedative we gave her. My cousin Jed absorbed enough just from briefly touching the candy it was in to knock her loopy."
"Ah, I see." Waldbilling finished extracting the bag and gently reset the seat so that Arion slipped gently back out of her curled up position. "Doctor Adams has an unusual level of tolerance for most drugs. The standard dose usually needs to be increased by a factor of one and a half to two times. If it helps any, it is quite impossible to do her injury with such substances, although she may sleep longer than strictly convenient." Arion began mumbling more coherently and blinking her eyes.
"It should not be necessary for you to repeat this particular experience, however." Satisfied that Arion would soon be capable of undoing her own seatbelt and climbing out of the plane, Waldbilling reached into her pocket and pulled out a small, leather bound book. "Can I make out a requisition form for you?"
"Yes, of course." Waldbilling turned the book so that Myrrhine could see it for herself.
"But I'm a refugee, not an Amazon." Myrrhine objected. "I don't want access to anything more than anyone else in my position, that wouldn't be right."
"Ah," Waldbilling smiled gently. "Please rest assured that this is indeed what is made available to every person in your position. We do our best to honour all reasonable requests, and as many of the ones children make as we can."
"Oh, that's okay then." Myrrhine frowned to herself, calculating and puffing a bit on her cigar.
Waldbilling filled in the information she needed to on the form, then tore it loose and handed it to Myrrhine. "There it is, all ready for the addition of items. Should I pull some documentation for you regarding residence as well?"
"Residence? What are you talking about? I have twin sons."
"This is the Amazon Nation, and we have non-Amazon neighbours where it will be safe for you and your children to move on a longer term basis."
"Oh." Genuinely surprised and genuinely delighted, Myrrhine felt her heart lift a little. "I saw some groups with older boys in them, they went to one of these neighbouring places instead?"
"Precisely. Intermittent warfare has been a sad fact of life here for a long time in this region. Our neighbours specialize in reuniting women with their male relatives or husbands if they wish to do so, and we help as much as we can." Waldbilling glanced over at Arion, who was now rubbing her eyes and stretching. "It is not a perfect system."
"Still, there is a system, and I am surely not the only one to appreciate that." Myrrhine frowned at her own shoes. "I don't suppose we can take too long before moving on, the house is getting pretty full."
"Not too long, but not too soon. There are still many people to billet and get into some semblance of comfort before we begin making longer term arrangements for families with younger boys in them. The shifting zone and some other factors are wreaking havoc on on our system of mail delivery."
"Still Waldbilling? I thought we had that sorted out." Arion interrupted, struggling to disentangle herself from her seatbelt. "I hate flying, that sedative makes me so clumsy right after it wears off," she grumped.
"Yes, the security gates are opening and closing at random between the Nation and the transition zone. Kepler Ionnidis told me that this is a feedback issue that her team is close to solving." Waldbilling picked up Arion's duffel bag. "If you will follow me Doctor Adams, there is someone waiting to see you."
"What? I have an appointment already? How did that happen?" Outraged and distracted from her recent flying experiences, Arion began hurrying after Waldbilling, weaving a bit at first, then firmly on her feet. Myrrhine shook her head and with a wry smile finished locking down the plane. Giving the propellors in their anchored covers one more check, then the wedges for the plane wheels one more kick, she slipped her requisition slip into her pocket and made a beeline for a tea shop she had spotted while taxiing in. She wanted to compose her requisition list very strategically, so that it had the things she definitely couldn't trade for from her own resources. She hadn't grown up without learning various clever ways she could stow away useful things in the lining of the regalia her family traditionally wore at home for festivals. It was risky to use such tactics, because the various military officers she and Evrope had known they'd meet would know them too. So they had taken care to conceal such things in ordinary clothing that looked like it shouldn't be possible to do such things with.
Still, there was only so much that could be carried that way. They had been searched a few times on their way, but more often than not the soldiers concluded they were crazy. The soldiers never got to poking at Jed's dowry, because they found the boxes of books wedged around it too absurd. The soldiers could not make head nor tails of why they were lugging seven boxes of small, hard-backed volumes. They were helped in their incomprehension by Evrope and Myrrhine, who cheerfully played the roles of a recently widowed grandmother who couldn't bear to leave her husband's long cherished tiny collection of books behind and her long-suffering daughter who had gamely found a way to pack them and bring them along.