Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Alphabet Soup: Chapter Five
Evrope sighed. She was exhausted but couldn't sleep, so she took her blanket and threw it over Myrrhine, who was shivering because her legs were uncovered. Smiling fondly at her daughter, Evrope shook her head a little. Myrrhine and Jed could have been twins, yet couldn't have been more different from each other, from clothes to speech. They were the same when it came to their stubborn approach to the world, though. For her part, Evrope wasn't sure how she would have held up under the loss of her husband to a fascist militiaman's bullet with three children already and twins on the way. Some questions were unanswerable. Thankfully Myrrhine had pulled through, as had the twins, the two little boys curled up with their older sisters. Eirene and Katerina were sound asleep, Katerina with her arms wrapped firmly around her stuffed bear. Yani was whimpering in his sleep, so Evrope went over to give him a kiss and tuck him back in. Then she walked over to the cart and leaned against it, watching Venus as she rose over the forested ridge ahead of her. It was hard to believe this used to be a major highway with lines of electric lights on both sides. Now there were many fewer lights equipped with motion detectors, and these were avoided as much as possible. Any time a motion detector flipped a light on, snipers peppered the area.
Based on what the instructions in their packet full of papers said, they should slip away from the rest of the caravan and follow a track that branched off from the highway to the east. Then, they were supposed to keep going and not slow down or stop when they got to the point where there seemed to be an impassable patch of trees and underbrush. This sounded suspiciously like something out of one of the tattered Harry Potter novels Agape had been reading to her brothers after their meagre dinner. Katerina and Eirene were reading later novels in the series on their own, jostling over their shared lantern. It worried her, the oddness of those instructions. Evrope grimaced and began unconsciously patting her pockets for a watch or several. Being an Adams, it was to be expected that Jed's arrangements would be offbeat, but outright fantastic? No.
"Those directions must be pretty strange, if you're standing here worrying about them instead of sleeping." Myrrhine commented. Fishing her glasses out of her pocket, she spent a minute or two comparing how fuzzy Venus was without them to how clear Venus was with them. Probably she needed new lenses. Her mother smiled. "They are strange, which is saying a great deal. Why are you awake?"
"Cramp." Myrrhine motioned to her left leg. "Anyway, the dawn will be coming up soon. Do you think that maybe we could just slip away now?" The children were all asleep in the cart, so this would be quite feasible. They were far from any cities or inhabited villages now, and it was becoming ever clearer that women and children travelling without men or at least automatic weapons were in grave danger.
"I was thinking about that too. This track we're supposed to use does seem to be fairly close to this mile post. Which means the news of how things have been deteriorating here has flown fast." Evrope stood up straight. In the end, that was what had been keeping her awake. The sense of growing unease, as the Turkish army escort rapidly depleted, and the few men they saw with weapons kept their faces wrapped in scarves and had taken to demanding money from anyone who seemed to be a leader. For all the good money actually did anyone under such conditions. What currency counted anywhere now? "I will tether the horses."
By the time the Sun had struggled over the mist into the sky, temporarily clear of the terrible thick smoke from the bombing because the wind had changed direction, the children were awake and Evrope had found the track they were supposed to use. Any other time, it would have been a lovely trip. The track was well-kept, descending rapidly in easy stages. Before long they were out of sight of the highway all together, and the sounds of the horses' hooves and the wheels were muffled to near silence by heavy drifts of leaves. The cart wheels were quieter than a bystander would expect, being reclaimed from old automobiles, tires, axles and all.
"It's uncanny, how quiet it is on this road." Myrrhine said quietly as she handed granola bars and milk around to the children at a short break. Now they were moving, even the children were reluctant to stop. Evrope turned over her own granola bar a few times, feeling no appetite for it. It was finally sinking in now, that there was no going back. Whatever happened, she would never be able to return to her homeland, none of them would. Tears burned her eyes. This had already happened to her family. Her grandparents had never recovered from being forcibly removed to Greece from Turkey. Evrope's grandfather had sung mournful songs about his home town until his death, especially after he had had too much to drink. She remembered her grandmother as angry, perpetually angry. Evrope couldn't remember her ever speaking Greek. But then, oddly enough, she couldn't remember her grandmother ever speaking Turkish either.
"Ha!" Myrrhine crowed triumphantly from where she was digging around at the side of the track. "I knew it! I knew there had to be a reasonable explanation!" Her daughters clustered around her, Agape, Eirene, and Katerina all together, while their brothers opted to stay in the cart. Adventuresome Yani and Georgio were, but they were also only seven years old and beyond their adventure threshold just now.
As it happened, the track was quiet because it had been laid over with a soft rubber mat, the sort of thing made out of ground up tires playgrounds used to be surfaced with in North America, though none of the people looking at the stuff now were to know that. On one hand, it was a strange amount of effort to put into an overtly obscure track. On the other, this wasn't actually an obscure track, and it had been prepared with difficult circumstances in mind. The little group was just starting out again when they heard shouting and gunfire back where they came from, on the highway. The children hunkered down while Myrrhine covered them over with a tarp and Evrope coaxed the horses into as close to a gallop as she dared.
The impassable greenwall came up before Evrope could even consider hesitating in spite of her instructions. Poor Myrrhine's eyes nearly came out of her head when she saw it and realized just how fast they were approaching it. "Mum, w..." The ground dropped suddenly, and they were rushing down a cleverly concealed ramp that carried them down and beyond daylight quick enough to alarm Agape, who even as a small child had never been much troubled by the dark. Not sure what to expect, Evrope checked the horses until they were going at a canter on a path that was the polar opposite of the one they had just left. It sounded cobbled or something similar, the clatter of the horses' hooves more than announcing their presence. "So much for keeping quiet." Myrrhine muttered unhappily, looking around warily. Teaching languages really didn't prepare you for this sort of thing.
No one ever believed her when she told them, but Chris was not a morning person, especially not this morning. For one thing, she was painfully hung over. Generally she preferred the primarily thirsty hangover, which could be relieved by pancakes and four glasses of water. However, thirsty hangovers did not come with the schnapps she and Sams had been drinking. Levering herself out of bed at last, Chris stood precariously still for a few minutes as the room rotated slowly around her. "That would be so cool if it didn't make me want to be sick." Rubbing her eyes, Chris began tracking down clothes for the day, and even found a package of "ginger pastilles for tender tummies." Soon she was bouncing around almost as normal, both cheeks bulging with the spicy ginger confections.
"Found the ginger candies I see." chuckled Jed, who had been busy cooking breakfast. Unlike her partner, she was already showered and dressed.
"Ysssshhh. Mmph." Chris paused in her efforts to make the bed to crunch through a couple of the lozenges before she did an accidental imitation of Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady" – her stomach wasn't that upset. "Up early?" she croaked.
"Yes, I have to go and pick up my family." Jed answered after taking part in a very gingery kiss. "They entered the escape tunnel mid-morning yesterday, and should be on our side any time now."
"Ah, that's why Benny's party became appealing again." Chris smiled and finished haphazardly yanking the covers over the pillows. Honestly, why make the bed when they were just going to mess it up again?
"Yes." her partner answered definitely. Walking slowly up the three shallow steps that led up into the bedroom's sitting area, she flopped into an armchair with a sigh. "What if they find us?"
"We'll cope. We've done it before. There's not much left they can do to us anymore. Evolution and all that." Chris warbled. She winced when she looked up at Jed's expression from hitching her bracers into place. Sometimes Jed was not especially tolerant of cheerio-stiff-fucking-upper-lipness as she had furiously named it during one of their rare shouting arguments. That had been a really big one, did in the second-best diner service, even though it had been a morning argument. "Erm. Yes, well. Shall I fetch breakfast?"
"Yes, rather." Chris shot out of the room very quickly at that.
For her part, Jed sat scowling and smouldering for a few minutes before jumping to her feet and beginning to pace. Ordinarily she was quite graceful, but just now stress had knocked the smooth coordination out of her, giving her a gangly scattered air reminiscent of a marionette with its strings cut. Until the phone rang, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. Clattering down the stairs, she vaulted into the hall and grabbed the receiver, knocking herself half senseless against the wall. In the hallway and three feet away was as close as Chris would allow a telephone to their bedroom. Jed had attempted to persuade her otherwise, then given up after the first time the unit burst into flames in the sitting area. Who could argue with a force of nature moment?
"Hello?" Jed gasped out, rubbing one shoulder.
"Jed, is that you? Are you all right? And if we've caught you en flagrante, I thoroughly expect you to lie." Myrrhine's voice boomed through the receiver loud and clear, so much so that Jed sat down with a shocked thump. "Jed? Hey listen, no need to take me too seriously, okay? Holy shit, Mama, I think she's fainted!"
"I have not fainted!" Jed blurted in outrage, struggling to get up and disentangle herself from the phone cord at the same time. "Where are you? The border guards told me I should at least try to have breakfast. Have breakfast, have breakfast? Who has breakfast when their family is nearly being blown up!" The cord tangle was getting emphatically worse – it was all Arion's fault, something contagious.
"Well-meaning as the border guards are here, they do not understand Adamses." Myrrhine declared witheringly. "Would you believe, they tried to make us sit around and be processed like badly labelled trade goods! Truly, we were outraged!" Myrrhine was warming up now. "There was only one solution!"
"Only one?" Jed could think of several, most of which involved giving the head border guard a wedgie. Really, her mood was improving all the time.
"We whispered the magic word 'apples' to the horses and they took off! Bang, right through the check point. Can you believe they accused us of not knowing where we were going?!" Myrrhine laughed merrily.The horses?! Jed wondered in bewilderment. Somebody had been monkeying around with horses on the other side. "We knew exactly where we were going. You'll never believe where we are!" Jed pulled the receiver away from her ear and looked at it like it had grown an eye. She had already asked that question.
For her part, Myrrhine was grinning so hard her face hurt. They were in fact, all piled up around the house intercom down on the ground floor. The horses were browsing happily in the grass beneath a patch of apple trees on Jed's side of Omega's Folly, after dragging the cart right inside and being set loose. They had come to the verge of trashing a large rack of preserves on the way, "Someone here likes marmalade very much – why look at this, they are supplied past the apocalypse!" Evrope had exclaimed. Then she and Myrrhine had set about persuading the house intercom to work – they were Adamses and therefore constitutionally incapable of simply ringing the doorbell, and besides, they preferred to be a happy surprise. "I tell you, we are right here, right at the house. It's just like the song says!"
There was no answer on the other end of the phone, because Jed had taken off running, pulling loose the receiver as she went. Blowing past Chris who was trundling along with breakfast on her makeshift rolling tea service, Jed wrenched open the concertina doors of an old-style elevator and jumped inside. To date Benny's corresponding elevator was boarded up though Jed wasn't sure why Ges had done that. Punching the button for "ground" Jed attempted some version of dignity, only to be foiled by the elevator dropping from under her feet. "Whoooaaaah!" Her voice rose up the elevator shaft. Chris had officially been making adjustments to get the elevator to stop more smoothly, which Jed did know meant "go faster." She had suggested go faster stripes instead, but Chris couldn't resist a mechanical challenge.
The elevator came to a jarring, though safe, stop, and Jed spent a few seconds getting her breath. She'd adjust the gears again after breakfast now that Chris had gotten her bout of tinkering over with. "Our married life shall never be boring." Jed murmured as she unlatched and opened the concertina doors again and jumped out of the elevator.
To find herself facing the wide open double doors that weren't quite garage doors because they were stable doors. Putting her hands on her hips, Jed frowned. She was sure she had closed them. And they were stable doors in both senses of the words, they couldn't just fall open, or shut for that matter. One of the horses wandered in, making use of the doors in the first sense of stable.
Jed stared at the horse. The horse stared at her. "You're new around here, aren't you?" Jed said conversationally. Then, very slowly she turned to look behind her for the first time. "Mama!" she shouted, only to be engulfed by a pile of laughing children, Myrrhine and Evrope.
"Oh no!" Jed blurted suddenly.
"What?" Myrrhine and Evrope asked in unison.
"You don't have a cramp, do you?" Agape asked drily. She had never quite forgiven Jed for escaping a sex education related question via a terrible leg cramp of epic proportions.
"No! No – I'm just worried I may not have cooked enough breakfast." beamed Jed.
Fascinatingly enough, Jed had cooked plenty of breakfast, "Enough for an army" in Chris' words if she had been able to say them – Myrrhine had somehow anticipated what was coming and stomped on Chris' foot hard before they could make it out. She adored her cousin's partner but had already noticed Chris' peculiar penchant for foot in mouth comments, so she felt quite justified in stopping the foot before it could get anywhere. Though, Myrrhine conceded as she thought the matter over a cup of tea, she may have applied the stoppage a bit too rigorously this time around. Chris was limping rather badly.
The kids were all sleeping soundly in one of the big guest rooms that had a party door to its neighbour, where Myrrhine and Evrope would sleep. Even the unflappable and eldest Agape had gone to bed without a murmur, which said a lot for how tired they all were.
"It would have been a very nice trip except for the circumstances." Evrope commented groggily from where she sat in an armchair, trying not to spill her own tea while somehow keeping her eyes open.
"Really, I'm beginning to think we've been had by the tea importers, Jed." Chris warbled after gently removing the tea cup from Evrope's hand and covering her up with a big comforter. "This tea obviously doesn't work at all!" Jed smiled at that, and paused to give her mother a hug and a kiss before she, Chris, and Myrrhine retreated to the farther end of the room. In sight, but out of noisiness range.
"I expected you would have a cart, but that thing is huge. Did you somehow pack the whole house on it?" Jed asked in a puzzled tone.
"No, of course not! We brought only the necessities." Myrrhine replied. "Basic starting over gear, more granola bars than I ever want to see again, and your dowry."
Jed and Chris looked at each other in some surprise. "Er, you brought Jed's dowry some two thousand odd kilometres or more?" For her part, Chris was still struggling to get her head around the whole "dowry" idea in the first place. "I had no idea they were so big." A moment of dead silence. Not at all perturbed, she added, "Do you eat it, then?" At which point Jed and Myrrhine collapsed in hysterical laughter.
"Mitgift, Chris, mitgift, not what you're thinking." gasped Jed. It was moments like this that revealed that on one hand, Chris' first language was no more english than Jed's was, on the other that certain terms had fallen utterly out of contemporary english unless you happened to be an anthropology student.
"Really?" blushing mightily Chris stubborned on. "Well, that is a relief. I couldn't get my head around what this thing could be. About the only thing I was sure of was that it couldn't be a smoked pig."
"No, you could definitely count on that." Myrrhine coughed and composed herself as best she could as she wiped her streaming eyes with a red polka dotted handkerchief. "I am sorry sweetheart, Mama and I had no idea that word wouldn't make any sense to you. We found it in the english dictionary and thought we we were home free. Then again, it was a paper dictionary." Paper dictionaries were rare things now, having been superseded by electronic ones, though with a war on perhaps paper copies would make a come back. "Anyway, leaving it behind was not an option, and one half of it did wondrous double duty as a mattress for the kids. It includes lots of very nice clothes, more books than makes any sense, and I think boots and shoes." In response to the last item Jed tried to shift the position of her feet to hide the holes in her current boots from her cousin's keen eyes, failing miserably. The Amazons on border duty had a bigger need for new boots than someone with her job, and right now there was a shortage. Tiger striped orange duct tape really didn't make up for the fact that Jed squelched when she walked every time it rained.
"Is there any rule against pulling out a pair of those boots now? Or perhaps I could just take responsibility being from a different culture and faintly daft and you can go right ahead and get some?" suggested Chris hopefully. The tiger striped duct tape was quite fetching, but too water-loving for her taste.
"There is always flexibility for extreme circumstances." Myrrhine declared virtuously. "Especially circumstances that would otherwise have to be resolved by melting down tires. Nasty, stinky business." She and Jed had had the bright idea as teenagers of melting some discarded tires and dipping their collapsing running shoes. It had been a bad time, with not enough to eat and clothes riding on the edge of being both too short and too patched. The shoes were already so embarrassing a good rubber dip could hardly have made them worse, but they hadn't been able to melt enough rubber before the stench caused their parents to firmly put a stop to the entire operation. "It should even be possible to fish out a pair that match!"
Benny frowned and dug around some more in the pile of books and papers. Her book of vouchers had gotten mislaid somehow, even though she was sure that she had thrown it into that pile while trying to put other things within easier reach. Finally she spread the books and papers out, then glared at the results. No sign of the tooled leather cover or anything. Nor were there any pencils or pens. That last part was even more disturbing. There should have been a case of those too. Seeing the errant case sticking out from under one corner of her desk, Benny dove into the chairwell to dig it out, catching one of her suspenders on the edge of the desk blotter. Muttering with annoyance she yanked it loose only to pull a variety of other papers onto her own head. Cursing mightily and still unable to find her voucher book, she was about to throw a suitably hefty mug across the room from its original place by her foot when Arion walked in.
"Benny?" Arion paused uncertainly. She could see that Benny was having an uncharacteristically annoyed moment, and actually, it would be worth not interrupting the process. For her part, she hated that awful mug. "I'll back up a few steps and you can finish what you were doing." Beaming at the prospect of seeing the end of the not very successful attempt at mimicking the Japanese practice of kintsugi, Arion began backing up in a hurry and was already around the corner again when Benny caught up with her, the erstwhile mug still gripped in her left hand.
"Where are you going?"
"I don't mean to interrupt your fit of pique, please continue. Best to get those done with, that avoids sinus infections." Arion declared virtuously. With any luck besides bad, Delos' awful new office mate had lost interest in kintsugi already and would return to macrame.
"I'm not having a fit of pique." Benny muttered sourly, and returned to searching for her voucher book, setting the mug down out of the way and turning to scan her office again.
"It's not a problem if you do, you know. I'm not criticizing." Arion insisted, horrified that she may have accidentally saved the mug from a much deserved fate.
"I know that." Benny sighed, wondering what Arion was up to and began scanning the room again. Maybe she had left the house without it? But how, she always kept it in her left jacket pocket, the same one she kept her glasses in when she wasn't wearing them. Frowning she checked the pocket, which misbehaved disgracefully by not yielding the voucher book, leaving Benny to start fuming again. "Where the hell is that thing? Lately I've needed it ten times a day and today because I've only needed it twice I can't find it?" It was actually a bit upsetting.
"That does seem a bit odd. Is it in your desk maybe?" Arion asked, considering the piece of furniture in question. The desk looked like something from the cold war, huge, built out of heavy iron worked into a set of drawers on each side, and an unusual rolling top that when turned over opened a space to keep a typewriter in. It would have been an excellent desk, except that the rolling section was awkward and papers and pens tended to get caught in its mechanism, and it was physically cold to work at unless Benny ran a heater beside her feet. For her part, Arion thought this desk was better suited to Chris as it would be an excellent shield against laboratory explosions.
"Oh no, not in that rotten desk." Benny groaned. "Anyway, I didn't have it there. It's not likely."
"Sure, it's the least likely place, so we had better check." In the end Benny gave in because even moving the couch, dragging out the battered fridge from its regular place and double checking the dust balls weren't alive failed to reveal the book. She was near tears of frustration and alarm by the time they began pulling out the desk drawers, having concluded the book must be stuck in the rolling desktop.
As it turned out, it was not possible to pull out the drawers. And there seemed to be no way to unfasten the desktop. No obvious screw heads or rivets were visible in any useful places, at which point Arion began to wonder if getting the thing apart might require a blow torch and how the thing had been assembled in the first place. "Let's flip it on its side, that might at least shake something loose. After all, I don't keep anything in this monster anyway." Arion had been quite surprised to find the drawers empty but for stray paperclips and a sadly uninteresting envelope of blank foolscap that remained from a previous owner. They were still struggling to heave the thing over when Chris wandered in looking bemused and working a mass of soft grey stuff in her hands.
"Whatever are you..." The desk finally went over with a resounding bang. "...doing?" The upper window sash dropped out and fell with a splat of breaking glass. Chris frowned. "That sash hardly sounds normal."
"Never mind the sash!" Benny shouted crossly, giving the window sash an almighty kick. It slid obediently away, the shattered glass still held in place by the tinfoil she had pasted on it to keep the Sun from boiling her head on the already much hotter afternoons.
Remarkably, not only had they managed to flip the desk onto its front side, it had actually come apart under its own weight, revealing it was held together by slip flanges and an alarming amount of rust. The rolling top itself had come loose, and papers and other debris showed from the barrel it moved inside. Shoving the grey stuff in her pocket, Chris hurried over and helped Arion pull out the desk top, revealing that apart from papers and debris, there was Benny's voucher book, and a riot of maps, lost pencils, and what looked suspiciously like a tent patching kit. Then Chris and Arion dropped the desktop, knocking a hole in the floor. "This desk smells like gunpowder and oil! Where has it been?" Chris crowed in delight. "I haven't been allowed to get my hands on real gunpowder in years."
"This desk is a menace." declared Benny, carefully smoothing the cover of her voucher book and checking it was none the worse for wear. Maybe, just maybe, she should sign it with something other than a quick drawing of the artwork on the side of the main service building at her old university campus. In any event, she was going to try very hard to forget Chris' comment about her access to gunpowder because the implications made her very nervous. Just the other day Chris had tucked a burning flare in her pocket without setting herself on fire or putting it out, and while Benny was almost sure it was a very clever trick, it was the almost part that had her unnerved.
"Never mind, never mind, I'll sort it out." Chris said merrily, leaving Arion to empty the desk barrel and figure out what had collected in it. Digging the grey stuff out of her pocket again, Chris gazed speculatively at the hulk sitting akimbo on the floor, carefully ignoring the hole in the floor since it wasn't that deep.
"Who had this office before? Do we have to take this stuff to her?" Benny asked uneasily. With everything else going on, the last thing she wanted to do was chase down some mysterious Amazon to get her to reclaim a bunch of stuff she probably had no idea still existed.
"There are socks in here!" Arion shouted, beginning to laugh. "Maybe this is also where all the lost socks go. I've always wanted this wonderful red and grey striped one back, let's see if we can find it!" Forced to laugh by the absurdity of the suggestion, Benny joined Arion in sifting and stacking papers, piling up pencils, and to Arion's vast disappointment, finding no fewer then seven pairs of fully matched socks. They had gotten most of the way through the pile when they were thrown flat by an almighty bang.
"Hmm, perhaps a little too much plastic there. Still, it's all disassembled, shan't take long to get this out of the way. There should be a spare desk around, one much better than this nasty thing for you Benny." Dusting her hands off, Chris surveyed the torn desk panels with pride. The drawers lay tumbled on each side of the room, and the hole in the floor now revealed the alarmed face of the Amazon in the office below. For their part, Benny and Arion sprawled together where they had landed against the office couch.
"She blew it up." Benny blinked, unable to see much through the smoke still in the air and the dust all over her face and glasses. "She blew the damn thing up. I can't believe we're still alive."
"Oh, I can. Chris is a wizard with explosives. All very effective." Peering through the smoke Arion added, "It isn't nearly as bad as it looks just now." The Amazon in the office below climbed up on a chair and popped her head up through the hole in the floor.
Luckily Arion's assessment was correct. Once the remains of the hulking metal desk were gone, and a crew of Amazons had briskly taken care of the dust, fixed the floor and replaced Benny's window sash, she found herself suddenly planted on the office couch with a cup of tea and a sheet listing available replacement desks. "Is it just me, or does weird shit happen whenever Chris shows up?"
"I think it was the desk's fault. Watch it all calm right down from now on." Arion answered, gazing wistfully at the seven pairs of socks. "People used to rotate in and out of this office quite frequently, usually into different jobs. Now I wonder about the role of that desk in the whole thing, with it grabbing papers and other random things."
"I don't know. Maybe." Benny frowned at her voucher book. Maybe it was time to do better than the bug splat. Long-set habit had led her to hang onto it as an alternative to a real signature, not least because most people were too embarrassed to admit they couldn't recognize any letters in it. Considering the question from another angle, she pulled out a cheat sheet of sound correspondences from her language classes, and then laughed out loud. Who would recognize her name properly transcribed into the local dialect outside anyway? Mind made up, Benny got to work writing her name finally on the sheet an appropriate distance from the bugsplat.
"K.O. Kal-Benton Medeavet." Arion read over her shoulder. "I like that better than the bugsplat, even if the original of the bugsplat is an amazing piece of artwork." Placing her own cup of tea on the battered table beside the couch, which astonishingly had stayed firmly in place throughout the explosion and subsequent clean up, she asked, "How did you get the nickname?"
"Just by being myself." Benny glanced over at her. "What, no questions about the initials?"
"No, I recognize the englished form of your family name. English does remarkable things to names, and some of them never do get very widespread. Take the name Pulleyblank, wonderfully unique and still carried by only a few people." Arion began carefully segmenting a tea biscuit.
"Wait, what do you mean you recognized the englished form?" That was alarming, and Benny had been almost sure she hadn't been connected to the mess back in Canada. Or rather, the semi-autonomous banking region of Canada that had finally imploded just before the war. The strange experiment in literally having a select number of corporations run a major portion of the province of Ontario had gone very badly indeed at the end.
"I mean I recognized it. Your cousin did explain things, and that you both needed to get thoroughly away and disconnected from the rest of your relatives. It's a good job neither of you share much of the more famous members' phenotype. Well, it is in the end, though I don't suppose they didn't try to take advantage of that."
"Well, yes, of course they did." Benny sighed. "Luckily I figured out that they had gotten deep into crazily dangerous forms of money laundering in time. I had no idea how crooked banking could so easily go, especially once the risk was shuffled onto other people."
"Did you have to testify at the big trial?" Arion frowned mutinously at the marmalade jar, which was empty. Was she still going to have to have that damned argument with Chris about bringing a new jar out when she used up the old one?
"No, I was still below the age of majority under the old law. Just got to watch both my parents get marched off to the clink on live television." Checking one more time the page was dry, Benny carefully folded up her book and tucked it back into its place in her jacket pocket. "I try not to think too much about what the semi-autonomous banking region became. Last I heard, it was slipping into the lake next to it, and barring cleaning up the toxic waste nobody was doing anything to stop it. There are a few diehards still trying to make a go of it in the old high rises. The Blues treat them as if they were monks."
"Well, in many ways they share the same religion, I suppose." Giving up on the marmalade and resorting to cheese, she added, "I'm glad you weren't stuck in the middle of the trial. Glad your cousin wasn't either, considering she was already here."
"Well, she was from the black sheep part of the family, and they were pretty much verboten anyway. I was supposed to be going to sumer camp when I went up to stay at her place. It always amazed me that nobody at the camp ever noticed."
"Black sheep? The bad part of the family?" Arion asked in confusion.
"Oh yes, because they were no good at protecting the family business. Notoriously absentminded, terrible for vaguely letting slip sensitive details that gave away elements of the laundering operation. In the end the more effective option than hiring a hitman was simply treating them as if they were dead anyway." Benny glanced at the newly repaired patch on the floor. "It would have been too obvious who ordered the hit."
"Hmmm. Hey, want to do something that according to outsiders would be normal?" The more usual roguish twinkle had returned to Arion's eyes. Apparently she had decided not to be angry about not being told Benny's proper name earlier on. Which made Benny wonder if her actions were somehow typical of "newbies" putting a grim older life behind them.
"Shall we talk about something more pleasant? Like socks. I have a plan for getting better socks including an appropriate replacement for the grey and red striped one that is still missing." Arion yanked a notebook out of her back pocket, barely phased by the fact that her partner was laughing too hard to pay attention to her brilliant plan. It would be far more fun and more likely to succeed than trying to fathom where missing socks might go in Jed's extremely clever but very complicated laundry system.
Chris paused, and debated whether to wake Jed up. For her part, Jed was sprawled across their bed, sound asleep. It didn't look like she had intended to go to sleep, considering she was fully dressed and had a notebook and two other books sitting on the bedside table, and a pen still loosely clutched in one hand. It was also broad daylight, so really, by rights, Jed should have been awake. Why, Chris wondered, was Delos so sure that her health was precarious when it was so obvious it was Jed who was in considerably more trouble? Sitting down carefully on the bed beside her, Chris worriedly checked Jed's forehead for fever, and resisted the urge to check to see how thin her partner was. In truth she could see quite well that Jed had recently lost a great deal of weight, and the unpleasant pallor that clung around her nose and mouth. And falling sound asleep in the middle of the day. And yawning an awful lot. This suggested a possibility that she could do something about, and so having carefully extracted the pen out of her partner's hand and tucked her in, Chris began looking up old time remedies for anemia.
For her part, now curled up in blankets with the shades pulled down to dim the room, Jed slumbered on, twitching occasionally as she dreamed. At some point Jed had slipped into lucid dreaming, vaguely aware that Chris was nearby, but continuing to wander through her own dreamscape, a place very like her house, but perhaps bigger with more open fires. She was quite certain Chris would approve of it. To her own surprise, Jed found a stairway in a place she didn't expect. "Well really, I though this was the Folly, but maybe not." Entirely unperturbed, Jed promptly started down the stairway, eagerly looking to see what might be on the walls. Besides burning torches at regular intervals, framed paintings, drawings, and the odd niche with some equally odd sculpture in it came into view as she walked. Feeling rather bored, Jed was delighted when inexorably she began to float above and then down the steps, with no alarming sense of gravity pulling her downward or any other awkward or unpleasant sensations.
Then her feet thumped solidly on black stone flags laid in uneven rows, but polished to a dull shine. A bit unnerved at the sudden change, Jed glanced around, and finding no other options but to keep moving forward, followed the flags until she came to a wide open doorway. "Oh, I know what this is! This really is the Folly. I'll have to find where this is in real life." Bouncing forward, Jed hurried into the new room, and this time really was nonplussed. Anyone else likely wouldn't have been, since it hardly met the standard of a typical absurd dreamscape. It lacked say, random piles of stuffed toys and floating playing cards or birds flying upside down or all manner of other strange things. Instead, Jed found herself standing in a version of the main chamber of the great temple several kilometres from her house.
Instead of a space big enough for over four hundred women to sit comfortably, the room Jed stood in now could sensibly fit perhaps fifty. An altar at one end marked "north," and a fire burned brightly to its left. Kicking off her shoes, Jed crept further inside, delighted when the floor turned out to be pleasantly warm. Double doors behind the altar stood firmly shut. There were no benches or anything else to sit on, but Jed ignored that. The double doors stole her attention. "Now, are these like the ones at the real life temple, just carvings in the wall?" Jed wondered aloud. "This is the most ridiculous dream. I will be very disappointed if I forget it when I wake up." Walking carefully around the altar, where Jed was surprised to see a complete set of offerings laid out, she approached the double doors in all their strangeness.
On one hand, they were doors. On the other hand, they were blank, simple panels with no handles, just a dividing line and a bevelled frame around them. Jed gazed at them in puzzlement. Then, deciding she could do as she pleased in her own dream, she stepped right up and reached out to touch one of the blank panels – only to fall straight through it into some sort of garden.
"Oh well. That was annoying." Jed mumbled crossly. "Fine. This is no fun. I am going to wake up." She looked around, finding that somehow she was back on her feet. "All right, waking up now." She folded her arms and tapped one foot, trying to ignore that her feet remained bare and things didn't seem exactly fun anymore. Startled by a sound to her right, Jed turned to find a hospital bed. "Okay, that's enough, this is not fun anymore, I insist on waking up." She knew that bed. She had had to spend way too much time in it after being caught in a major air raid during the last war before she was finally evacuated to the hospital it turned out Chris was also in, temporarily blinded and barely able to breathe.
"Oh, there you are, you forgot to take this with you." The nurse smiled with relief and handed Jed a card. "Best not to forget such things if you can."
"Thanks." Jed answered, finally mystified. "This is intolerable. How can I be getting confused in my own damn dream!" The card was no help. Turning the joker over in her hand and feeling more and more anxious, Jed began trying the two or three different techniques she had learned to wake herself from bad or at least unnerving dreams. "Jokers are wild." The techniques were not working, annoyingly enough. "This is ridiculous, what am I going to do with a wild card in a dream I can't wake up from?" Jed exploded in annoyance.
The window blew open, its shutters knocking over a half empty pitcher of water and several glasses before Chris managed to pull herself together enough to catch hold of them and heave them closed again. Another furious storm pelted the world outside with hail stones and rain, and the wind blew so hard that Chris had to catch the shutters again. She glanced at her partner, who was now tossing and turning, evidently struggling to wake up. As if to add to the moment, lightning flashed in time with a peal of thunder right overhead, or at least so it seemed, and Chris was hard pressed not to dive under the table despite trying to manage the window. "This really is quite ridiculous, Jed, wake up!" Chris shouted. Jed's ability to sleep through a bomb going off had appalled her colleagues more than once during the last war.
"What?!" Jed asked, sitting bolt upright, now completely tangled in the bolster with half her hair sticking up. The wind promptly gave out, the storm settled, and soon no more than a steady rain was falling.
"I know you love storms when they don't sound like creeping barrages darling, but blowing open the windows is simply too much!" Shaking her head in annoyance. "Anyway, I think we should apply this remedy for your condition, one apple per day that has been treated with iron nails." Chris began counting up in her mind how many apples she would need and ruefully wondering how many other windows were wide open at this very moment in the house. Digging around in her voluminous pockets, she retrieved a comb and tried to persuade her spiky haircut back into some kind of order.
"That's a terrible remedy. Do you have any idea how bad it tastes?" Jed protested, still trying to disentangle herself from the bedding.
"I am open to any alternative that involves you no longer being ill."
"Ah, here you both are. Really Jed, indulging in lightning when you are not feeling well is not at all responsible." Evrope scolded, although not too severely. She moved briskly into the room, carrying a large pot of avgolemono soup, a smaller covered bowl, and a basket full of hot pita bread. "You both need to eat. Jed, you will eat this special soup here, the chicken soup with raisins." Not bothering to respond to any protests, Evrope had arranged a table over Jed's lap and shoved a spoon in her hand before plopping the covered bowl of the special soup in front of her. "Eat all of it." Then pinning Chris with a look she added, "And now we shall discuss what is happening in the world today while Jed eats."
"We will?" Chris asked faintly.
"Yes," Evrope declared firmly. "In German, I speak that language too. Myrrhine isn't the first linguist in this family!"
Chris looked over at Jed with a rather helpless, 'What did I do to piss your mother off?' expression. Jed was too busy devouring her soup to notice, so Chris girded her figurative loins and faced her fate-mother, wondering just how two linguists could have such a difficult time figuring out the right German translation for "dowry" when one of them had just said to her face she knew German. Something didn't quite fit together here, even by her lights.