Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Alphabet Soup: Chapter Nine
"So, have they finished shouting at each other yet?" Avi tried not to yawn, she didn't want to rub in the fact that she was on her way to bed and Matt was still on duty.
"Not really – I mean, they haven't really started yelling at each other. That's a bit, strange, isn't it?" Matt glanced nervously down the hallway to where Benny and Ges were supposed to be working out the basics of their immediate differences.
"I wouldn't call it strange so much as evidence of how recently Benny has come from the Outside. She has a hard time letting her temper loose." Covering the receiver so that she could yawn before her ears started popping, Avi considered the possibilities. "No need to worry, Ges has a double edged knack for this sort of thing. Give them another hour, they were probably too hungry to get down to brass tacks at the beginning."
Meanwhile, in the parlour Ges and Benny were engaged in an uneasy stand off. Ges had been trying to head off Benny's temper with entirely the wrong sort of tactics. Benny had been tolerating her cousin's evasive responses until her face began to flush. Then, quite suddenly, she seemed to change the topic herself.
"You went to see your ex I take it."
"What? Deanna's not my ex, she's –"
"Your ex, because she wasn't here before and sure's a hell ain't here now. As soon as the rubber really hit the road, she said forget it. You know it and I know it." Benny's voice was getting louder. "That's no excuse for pulling the same bullshit yourself."
"Hey, hey, hey, that is not a comparable situation. What the hell do you know about it?" Angry in her turn, Ges jumped to her feet.
"She's constantly in the papers, Ges. Scions of rich families busy running large organizations get that sort of interest. Not one to hang onto noted eccentrics, not in the long run. Bad for the image. Must have been a cracker of an evening when she came home to discuss your prison record with you." This was not Benny's usual way of working at all, because she hated fighting with words. Far too difficult to manage how much damage they were doing. But neither of them could afford to keep living like they were members of a crime syndicate, especially considering they had been born into and then spent considerable parts of their lives getting out of one. Old habits might die hard, but they needed to die sometime.
"She knew about that the whole time, it was no big deal. Just like you having to handle yourself on your own for awhile here. Benny, you are not a child."
"Then stop treating me like one, and while you're at it, stop acting like one!" Throwing up her hands, Benny turned and began gathering up the book and her other gear. "I've had enough. Go on to the hotel, I can sleep in the jeep. You're right, I should get used to the fact that you are in fact as undependable as the rest of our family, except with respect to your own immediate interests." Packed up, Benny walked to the door.
"Nice of you to suddenly discover I shouldn't be on some sort of pedestal."
Benny gave her a withering look. "If you seriously think that expecting basic adult commitment from an adult is putting someone on a pedestal, then you've got bigger problems than disappointing me." The door shut behind her with a thunk. Ges frowned at her bare feet, not sure what to do. Things weren't going at all the way she had anticipated.
"Did you hit your head or something?" Matt asked curiously, having come in by a different door, so quietly that Ges jumped when she spoke.
"What? No, why would you ask me that?" Ges snapped, trying to think were her clothes were.
"Because you're acting like a numbskull, and I was told you're quite brilliant in your own odd way." Matt began collecting the dishes, cups, and teapot. "Why don't you just tell her why you went back and that you were genuinely trying to protect her? She's just walked out of here thinking you've become a selfish asshole." Then she walked out, knowing very well that Ges had a difficulty in the form of being in a too long robe and a pair of underpants on top of everything else. Probably Ges would have some big and loud questions about acolytes for the Kepler later, but that was all right.
Mind finally made up, Ges ran out, trying to think of where Benny must have parked the jeep. The dawn was coming up when she got outside, the ill-fitting robe flapping annoyingly around her ankles. The Amazon Nation had few to no obvious parking lots, women were expected not to park in front of important access points or on top of any gardens. Finally Ges heard the distinct sound of a motor starting up and ran towards it, managing to catch sight of Benny pulling out, high beams on, flashers going as she backed around to drive back onto the road. "Benny, wait!"
"Why?" Not even bothering to turn off the engine, Benny glared at her cousin. Hard.
"I thought you wanted to know what happened."
"Yesterday. It's tomorrow. Too late." Checking her seatbelt, Benny eased her heel onto the accelerator. For her part, Ges began running along beside the jeep.
"Listen, I know you're pissed off, but it was necessary to make sure nobody Outside could trace you here through me, and that nobody there would try to trail me back." Observing the speed of the jeep picking up so that she couldn't keep up running barefoot, Ges opted to jump onto the running board, holding onto one of the handles soldered onto the jeep body. Well, properly not handles at all, but tie downs for lashing on equipment. Instructors were constantly trying to get new Amazons to absorb that these were not handles at all, in hopes of ending attempts to joy ride in just the way Ges was now.
"What do you think you're doing?" Benny snapped at her, keeping her eyes on the road to Omega's Folly. They were already about to enter the first winding stretch.
"Not letting you storm off." The jeep started to go much faster, as Benny angrily pushed down on the accelerator. "Okay, okay, countering myself having just persuaded you to storm off. Couldn't you stop the jeep, or at least slow down? This is getting a bit dangerous, I think." The wind was not quite whistling in her ears, but Ges was beginning to worry it soon would.
"Nope." Benny bit off, and went back to concentrating on the road, negotiating the next two turns, the last two for awhile.
"Fine, fine. I'll explain from here then." Shifting her grip, Ges frowned a bit. The handle seemed to be in a different position than before. Weird. "I've had to talk myself out of worse situations. Now –" Benny slamming on the brakes both interrupted Ges and finished breaking loose the handle, sending Ges cartwheeling off the jeep and down the embankment. The reason for the sudden stop was the gate down the road from Omega's Folly, which unaccountably had moved itself much closer to town or Benny had been driving far faster than she thought.
"But that doesn't make sense. There are five more turns before this gate!" Benny burst out, slapping the steering wheel in frustration. After a few more minutes, Ges reappeared, still holding the tie down from the jeep, with a variety of branches and leaf bits stuck to her. She stared at the gate.
"Where's the mail box?"
"What do you mean where's the mail box? It's not that dark and the headlights are on!" Benny protested, pointing towards where the bright red box should be. Precisely where it wasn't. Astonished, Benny scanned both sides of the road, peering as far ahead as she could. "That's ridiculous. Chris and Jed were seriously chuffed about the thing and its convenient positioning and now they've moved it?"
"No, no, they haven't." Ges sighed wearily. "Why didn't anybody mention this is a shifting zone now, I mean it's just a seriously important piece of information." She shook down her borrowed bath robe and took a closer look at the gate. "Worse yet, this isn't the gate to Omega's Folly." The evidence of this, besides the wrong name on the sign attached just above her head, was the distinct lack of easy ways to climb it. No matter how much Jed disliked treasure hunters, she didn't have the heart to rip out her house's gates and replace them with something like these. No good hand or footholds, and what in the slowly growing dawn light looked alarmingly like barbed wire. "I really don't like this."
"Great. How the hell do we get back, I must have missed a damned turn. No way this was here before."
"Probably it wasn't, but you didn't miss your turn, everything else about this stretch is familiar." Just a few metres down the road stood the only set of free standing road signs where they had been so far as Ges knew for at least decades. She hadn't panicked about falling down the embankment because she knew that it was shallow and all she had to do was roll. The worst she could bump into was sheep droppings when she came off the edge and down into the adjoining field. "It's a shifting zone now. Stuff will pop in and out. Never seen it before though."
"I have." Benny growled sourly. She got out of the jeep and spent some time trying to find a way to open the gate. Unfortunately, it was an electronic gate, and extended far enough to each side that trying to drive around it wouldn't work too well. The sheep fields took only a half kilometre or so to begin shifting into the treacherous Perfumed Mere, safely navigable only on foot by those who knew how to recognize the actual solid ground from floating patches of vegetation. "Dammit," she sighed. "No choice but to go back to town and call Jed to let her know about this."
The high priestess building reappeared on the left as Benny drove back at a far more sedate pace than before. The idea she might not be able to get back to her own home was more than a little disturbing. "Nice of that gate to show up just then." She pulled back into the place she had left only an hour or two before.
"Quite the coincidence. A bit much." Ges agreed, uneasy herself.
"Ah, here you two are. The hotel is not in that direction." Matt handed Ges her now dry clothes. "Go up Bouboulina Street, turn right at Lost Road." The two exhausted women glared at her, and Matt wondered how two women could look both so alike and so different. Then again, she mentally slapped herself, it was hardly their fault she had assumed they had the same eye colour. "Arrangements are already made, you'll have to stay an extra night. Some road issues on the way to Omega's Folly." That didn't help the stereo dirty looks she was getting at all.
"You knew about that?" Benny asked.
"Yes." The notification came in not long after Ges sloshed out of the Viewing Room, although in the fuss Matt had missed it until she noticed the message on her desk coming back from the office kitchen.
"You didn't say a thing about it!" Ges exploded.
"I hardly expected you both to storm off in such an unsafe fashion." Matt pointed out mildly.
"Gummy bear challenge?!" Cue winced. Her daughter was not taking this as well as she had hoped. "Gummy bear challenge?!" Val threw the heavy bundle of sports equipment up onto the bus rack with rather more ease than her mother expected. "What other batshit crazy stuff is on this list?"
"Now then, it's na batshit, just atypical." Cue took a step back as Val slipped past her to finish strapping down the bundle. "Mostly food, and lights, I think."
"Because gosh, we're the best cooks around these parts." Val shot back, her outrage emphasizing the roll of her r's.
"We may not be the best cooks, but we have connections to the best cooks. No need to worry about that." Cue insisted sturdily. "I'm more worried about the light things, or whatever these are." She pointed to a section of the burgundy list.
"That doesna say lights." Val squinted. "I think it says 'laughs.' Who has such miserable handwriting in that family? I shudder to think half of them work in the scriptorium."
"Bloody hell, I think you're right, that it says 'laughs.' How do we add that to Chris' dowry? It's not as if we can bottle them." Cue frowned.
"Depends on your view of chemistry, I s'pose." Val, finally done with adding gear to the bus rack, jumped all the way down and dusted off her hands.
"We are not adding recreational drugs to Chris' dowry. And anyway, she's been making her own since she was sixteen." Cue made a note of her own on the back of the list. "There must be another explanation." Folding up the list and tucking it into the heavy wool sock on her real leg, she tucked one hand inside her daughter's elbow. "Now come to lunch. Avi misses you."
"Why?" Val muttered mutinously under her breath.
"Because she likes you, even when you insist on behaving atrociously." For reasons of her own, Val's birth mother had broken things off with Cue and absconded not long after her daughter's seventh birthday. Cue and Avi had been together barely four years, and Val still saw no reason to agree that Avi wouldn't vanish into thin air herself at the first convenient moment. "That's one of the many reasons she is quite sensational, you know."
"Hmmph." Counting that response as a win, because it verged on a full word and wasn't definitively rude, Cue dragged Val off to Avi's office, where the tall priestess was dealing with a crowd of shouting Amazons.
"It is completely unacceptable! You can't let that jackass control the roads like that!" A dark, wiry woman boomed furiously, pointing angrily at Avi.
"There is nobody controlling the roads in the way you are suggesting! The area of Omega's Folly is a shifting zone right now, probably will stay that way for the rest of the year. You are hardly the only Amazon who has been inconvenienced," another Amazon put in, her white hair done up in a spiky square top. Certainly the number of people crammed into the office with them bore her out.
"What is this about controlling the roads?" Avi asked, tone dangerous. The ambient noise level fell abruptly.
"Go on, Kepler. Everybody knows what Adams gets up to out at Omega's Folly. By rights the lot of them ought to be in prison." The wiry woman again.
"Besides basic housekeeping, what is Adams supposed to be getting up to? Or better yet, which one?" Avi answered. Depending what she heard here, this could be serious.
"Some of us," yet another Amazon said from a different part of the group. "have heard that Jed Adams can control where the shifting zones go, and how fast."
"Then please feel free to let the people who have been saying that to stop repeating such nonsense." Not as serious as it could have been, but serious enough. "Jed is a highly talented physicist, but such feats are certainly beyond her ken." A discontented murmur rippled around the room. "She's as stuck as you are, can't sort out how to open the gate or move the structure blocking the mill road. The shifts are fast though, Jed told me that they recently had a subway station but it didn't hang around for a full day."
"Listen Kepler, these structures have turned up in awfully convenient places. Awfully convenient." Still another Amazon said this, and Avi sighed inwardly. This Amazon she knew, one of the most persistent treasure hunters who was actually under a restraining order to keep her away from Omega's Folly.
"No they haven't. Have you forgotten that at the moment Omega's Folly is full of displaced and returning Adamses? People who need to gather supplies and to try to work out what they are going to do next and a thousand other tasks only possible to complete in town." This mollified most of the discontent and the crowd broke up. Treasure hunter and a couple of her cronies hovered rebelliously for a few moments, but finally gave up and made their way out.
"Artemis the mighty." Val swore. "What is going on with people?"
"They're afraid. Waiting for the news on the war is hard on everyone, and it is true that it could hardly be a worse time for the area of Omega's Folly to become a shifting zone. The returning border guard crew has been busy since just after dawn putting up signage and radioing notices about the need to reroute for awhile." Rubbing her eyes, Avi flopped into the arm chair by her office window. Cue watched her partner with concern, while Val decided to try to seem useful by unpacking the food and drink still waiting for consumption on a side table. "On top of that, of course Jed is not actually at home. She is stuck at the fireworks factory."
"Of course, of course. It'll be monitoring and translating messages all the time." Rubbing Avi's shoulders, Cue frowned. "Since when are Amazons spreading rumours that Jed can control shifting zones?"
"Not long, this is only the third incident here. At the check in this morning, only a few other priestesses recounted any examples, and less than ten of the busiest shop keepers." Smiling gratefully at her partner for her ministrations, Avi accepted a bowl of soup and a spoon from Val. "Thank you, Val." The younger woman mumbled something incomprehensible and went back to get another bowl of soup for her mother. "This won't take long to fade out. Jed Adams is a bit of a lightning rod, and we are caught between a war starting and the brink of a treasure hunting season when Jed and her partner are going to be away for much of it on guard duty."
"Oh, so the treasure hunters can't quite let things go." Cue nodded thoughtfully, sopping up the remains of her soup with a bit of warm bread.
"Who cooked this?" Val asked. "It's good." She sounded surprised.
"Don't be so surprised, plenty of Amazons know how to cook. We're not in a place where people are pathologically afraid of spices anymore." Avi got up to return her dirty dishes to the table and poured water for both Val and herself. "How long have you been here now, Val?"
"Almost six months, but barely two months in I got hustled off on border duty because somebody else broke her leg in training." Val refilled her bowl.
"Ah, that makes unhappy sense. Too many rubber rations, and things are haywire right now with so many women and children pouring in." Luckily Val was adaptable, and her experience in managing crowds of exhausted and frightened people from her job as a paramedic Outside had come in handy more than once. Her first guard assignment was the main entry point for women and children fleeing to the Nation.
"That's one of the issues we'll be talking about in council today. We're doing better on making sure everyone is properly fed and housed, but we can't have people doing hard physical work struggling to eat the food they get." The trouble with food if it got too bland and uniform was that after awhile even the hungriest people simply couldn't stand to eat it. Judicious spice availability and better distribution of food stuffs helped avoid most danger of that. Cue's eyes softened as she found a small container of one of her favourite deserts. Where had Avi managed to spring that from, let alone how had she managed to make lunch, Cue wondered.
Jed sighed sadly, and straightened her bed roll on the bed she had released from its storage space in the wall. Sometimes shifting zones were a serious pain in the ass. This was the worst, she had never been unable to get home because of one before, and the funky smell of the old bed roll made matters even worse. It had been that long since she had needed to use it that it really needed airing out. Pulling the nearby window open, Jed glared resentfully at the pile of decrypts on the chipped desk barely beyond arms reach when she sat on the bed. This was a secure installation, so she couldn't just call home, or even listen to a basic short wave radio. She could listen to the secured radio of course, she had privileges. Except she didn't want any of those damn privileges, she wanted to go home. Flopping down in the wheeled desk chair so hard she nearly flew across the room, Jed glared out the window, encroaching storm clouds echoing her ever fouler mood. The wind, even more annoyingly, was blowing the right direction to knock open the glass doors in the solarium on her side of Omega's Folly. Blowing at speeds that were astonishingly close to a serious storm.
Blowing hard enough for something close to a serious storm.
Jed's eyes lit up. She had a plan.
Sticking her head out the door, Jed checked around for other Amazons. There were some women around working of course, this was a twenty-four hour outfit. She was allowed to leave and so on, it was just an access issue predicated on the assumption that she would have to get home by driving the hearse. However, her idea did not entail driving the hearse at all. How she was going to get back to the fireworks factory if she carried out her plan successfully – or unsuccessfully for that matter – was a detail she decided to ignore. She turned her attention to a trunk shoved awkwardly in one corner, looking rather dusty and forlorn. Besides a whole random selection of what Jed often could not remember what, she knew that there was a good pair of goggles and her old mackintosh that Chris had gotten her a long time ago. Rather than the stereotypical yellow, it was fire engine red, which had pleased Chris no end when she presented it to Jed. For her part, Jed was not quite sure why her partner wanted her to have a red mackintosh so badly, unless it had to do with the associated pun.
Grabbing this remarkable garment, Jed paused to strap her briefcase backpack-style over her shoulders with its carrying strap, then stepped firmly into the hallway and made her way to the back staircase. The second upstairs hangar with the weather drones in it had started out as where they readied weather balloons for launching. There were still some gliders up there, including some good old-fashioned hang gliders. They were equipped with good quality gear too, rope the critters wouldn't eat and light, titanium frames and joints. Old-fashioned in design, but not in materials by any means. Which suggested that even the least-used ones that nobody would miss should still be air-safe, by Adams standards. Jed began to chortle. Under Adams standards, all wonderful things were possible.
The specific hang glider she had in mind sat a bit forlornly. Unlike its compatriots it hadn't seen much use and lacked the usual decals and multicoloured tapes that helped the Amazons tell them apart at speed. These were not problems for Jed of course, although even she wavered a little on seeing the lack of the usual emergency transceiver clipped to the standard loop always arranged in the same place so that in an emergency physical habit would work in the pilot's favour. Sighing a little at the evidence of how narrow the equipment margins were at any given time, Jed picked up the hang glider, and with a level of skill and ease that might have surprised many of her colleagues, manoeuvred it to the edge of the hangar. She may have made it look easy, but Jed had to pause here for a break, huffing and puffing a bit. Luckily the wings were still half folded up or the trip this far would have been much more difficult.
Resettling her briefcase, recinching the belt of her red mackintosh, Jed took a deep breath. She strode over to her locker, one among many one by quarter by quarter metre units that ran in two banks down each side of the hangar, which was after all not that big. After some effort to smash open the padlock which for some reason was almost as stuck as the one on the mailbox on the way home tended to get, Jed fished out her helmet, goggles, and her cold weather gloves. On the brink of unfolding the hang glider wings, she remembered one more thing and cursing in annoyance returned to her locker. Properly equipped with a twist of cotton tucked in each ear to keep the wind out, Jed checked the fit of her helmet one more time before unlatching the wings and stretching them out.
Glancing up, Jed winced a little at the readout from the electronic anemometer, but beamed at the direction indicated by the wind sock. She rolled the hang glider closer to the doorway, and turned her attention to its control pad. Deftly programming it to open at a specific time then close right afterwards, Jed began to grin in the slightly mad way that made people who didn't know her nervous. "This is going to be so fun!" With that, she strapped herself with practised ease into the standard five-point harness, did a quick equipment check even though she had checked everything twice for holes and breaks and missing things apart from the transceiver already. Then, with considerably more care, she tested the control lines, wincing a bit when the right side moved more sluggishly than ideal. After a few careful cycles it eased up, paying tribute to the reasonably dry conditions in the hangar. Now firmly set up, Jed couldn't repress a whoop, and began running down the first section of the fireworks factory's runway.
In other words, down a ramp that descended at first at the ordinary angle for doorway ramps. This was the part still actually inside the fireworks factory. Jed could run very, very fast, so she came roaring down that section and onto the longer and steeper one already picking up a teasing sensation of almost loft. She felt the shift in air currents that had nothing to do with her own speed as the doors behind her shut and the fans kicked in, switching the runway into wind tunnel mode. This part was a more than a bit dangerous. The sort of lift off Jed was about to undertake was quite safe under ordinary wind conditions, and due to the peculiar geography of the fireworks factory, tucked against the side of a mountain, a necessary trade off for hang glider use to be successful. Jed had fond memories of watching this tunnel being built through the mountain after persuading her mother to let her come and watch her build a wind tunnel. A really big one.
If possible, Jed's grin got even wider as the hang glider abruptly lifted her off the floor, and she began soaring along the air blast towards the end of the tunnel. The only trouble was, the doors at the end were still awfully shut. Jed began to feel just a little perturbed. If she had managed to jumble her numbers because she had been too excited to type properly, this might become a thoroughly unsatisfactory experience in less than twenty seconds. Maybe less, actually, she thought, as the joints between the doors became just visible. Which meant, she recounted later, that they were opening.
The doors were still opening as Jed shot through the widening gap, nearly catching a one foot against the bottom door as the first blast of fresh air threw her to one side. She recovered easily and uttered a merry ululation as she soared high above the fireworks factory, not at all troubled by the raging wind and pouring rain. With the main body of the storm still far away, the wind direction was close enough to work, and Jed redirected her glider towards the gap shaped like broken tooth. That was the way straight home. The shifting zones could wreak all manner of havoc on the ground, but they couldn't do much to the air. At least, Jed didn't think they could. If they did, that would be a complication to deal with when she got to it. No one had ever mentioned shifting zones messing up the air though. Then again, maybe nobody had ever tried to fly over one.
If Chris had been there, she would have begun shouting frantically at Jed to bloody well pay attention why didn't she. Perhaps the storm shared Chris' likely response, as it produced a flash of lightning and almost simultaneous crack of thunder, making Jed jump. Absurdly, she hadn't considered risk of lightning in her plans at all. Never mind she was flying in a frame made of electricity-conducting metal, which Jed did without any trouble at all. Like Chris, there were certain types of risk that Jed was by all accounts immune to worrying about. For Chris that was explosions and fire. For Jed, electricity, high winds, and heights. The heights aspect really bothered Chris, who had to do anti-panic attack exercises whenever she let herself think about that combined with Jed's propensity to climb pretty much anything if it was useful or cut off a long, unwanted walk. For Chris such attempted shortcuts tended to be embarrassing in their results. Somehow this was never the result for Jed.
Jed checked her bearings on the old fashioned compass riveted to the grip bar, then adjusted her course again, keeping the gap at just the right angle. This was one heck of a storm. There was an eerie green glow developing in the clouds high above her head so that even without anything besides the moonlight through the clouds to work with, Jed could see very well. That probably had more than a little to do with the lightning. As if to underscore that point, a lightning bolt flashed well ahead of her and to her right. Unlike its predecessor, she had time to brace herself for the boom. Jed grinned again, and then buckled down, concentrating on the delicate process of slipping over the little finger of mountain range between the valley behind her and the rugged edge of the broadland where her home stood.
A sudden downward blast of wind forced her to take evasive action, and then it took far longer and a far greater distance than she liked to get back on course. Still, she managed it, and Jed began watching for her house. If she didn't see it within the next ten minutes or so, then unhappy to relate, shifting zones messed with the air. Jed chewed her lip. That wouldn't just be unhappy to relate. It would be terrifying to relate. It would indicate that their theoretical understanding of the behaviour of the shifting zones was an accidental theoretical fairy tale. As it turned out, there was a bit of a fairy tale element to the trip.
Jed had expected it to take about ten more minutes to simply see her house. The windspeed was spectacular, but she was in a hang glider, only so high up, and had just had to do quite a bit of work to manage a major wind gust in the wrong direction. On the other hand, the light was poor at best. That was her explanation for not realizing until almost the last possible moment that the pattern of gently shifting, weak lights ahead of her were none other than the windows on her side of Omega's Folly, and she was long past the point where she could land in the back garden. Benny would have tartly pointed out that there was no way to land much of anything in that jungle, which included a bramble reminiscent of the old time illustrations of Sleeping Beauty stories Benny had read as a child. None of this troubled Jed at all. Deciding to make the best of it, she aimed for the big glass double doors on the floor just below the attic, and with no sense of fear at all, briefly let go of the grip bar to pop loose the catches that held the wings of her glider open.
"Did you hear that?" Evrope shifted a bit in her seat to hide her smile. Chris had been sulking adorably all evening since getting the news that for the moment the road was out.
"Hear what?" Chris asked. Sulking adorably until, oddly enough, just about two hours ago. Then Chris seemed to get unaccountably jumpy. It had never occurred to Evrope that Chris might find thunder distressing, but that was what it had seemed like at first. But as the time went on, she realized that Chris didn't seem upset by the thunder so much as anxious as if waiting for something. Or maybe even someone. But that was ridiculous. Nobody was on their way to Omega's Folly because for the moment nobody could get there. Then she heard something, all right.
A resounding crash well above their heads, followed by a long dragging, sliding noise.
"What was that?!" Agape exclaimed in astonishment. The noise had been loud enough to rouse Myrrhine from her unplanned slumbers on the couch on the other side of the sitting room, and she scrambled upright.
"Something upstairs, I'll check!" Chris shouted gayly, bounding out of the room before anyone could stop her, going fast enough that by the time Myrrhine, Evrope, and Agape reached the bottom of the stairs all they saw was the flapping end of her jacket as she flew around the corner at the top. "Why's she in such a hurry?" Agape asked, too astonished to muster a cynical note.
Chris was quite certain that the sound came from the floor just below the attic. Probably those damnable double glass doors had blown open again. Overall, she felt that there was now sufficient proof that Jed liked the various doors and windows able to be thrown open by the wind like that. It was far too convenient that none of the windows in places like the library had such difficulties. True to her expectations, as she vaulted up the last set of stairs to what she liked to call the glass floor, the unmistakable sound of the wind outside and its chill presence ruffling her hair confirmed the doors must be open. She couldn't explain why she was suddenly so ebullient, and opted to just enjoy it as she bounced onto the landing and then dashed on to deal with the double doors. Who was she to complain when for some reason an otherwise annoying chore had transmogrified itself into something delightful?
The sight of the hang glider crunched up against the back wall gave her some startled pause. Still, she hurried over and got the double doors shut, then tried to flick on the lights. This did not work for unknown reasons, so Chris dug a flashlight out of a voluminous pocket and went to investigate the hang glider, puzzling over who would be mad enough to fly one of those things in a storm, while feeling a growing, prickling sense of giddy excitement that she knew.
For its part, the hang glider jerked a little. Jed was sprawled out in something of a daze underneath, trying to decide if she was after all, a bit injured. The briefcase was fine, she was sure. She still had her helmet and both boots on, so she figured that really, that boded well. At the least, she needed to release herself from the harness and get out from under the hang glider, which was dripping rainwater rather annoyingly down her neck. The harness came loose easily enough, and Jed could feel all of her limbs. This did not help her move them, however, as she was colder than she expected, and a bit numb in her extremities. "Oh," she muttered. "That is annoying." After a bit more effort she managed to drag herself upright, only to get struck blind.
At least, so it seemed for a few seconds as Chris accidentally shone her flashlight directly into her face. Then it really didn't matter anyway because Chris threw it aside to throw her arms around her, caught between laughing and crying.
"Jed, what in the hell were you thinking? You are half frozen, and if something or three isn't broken it'll be a wonder – how do you expect to get to work tomorrow? Did you tell anybody you were leaving?" It would have been far easier to tell Jed off if Chris hadn't been totally contradicting every possible scolding thing she could say by holding Jed tight and kissing her half senseless roughly every other word. "Well, what have you to say for yourself?" Chris asked finally, doing a terrible job of sounding angry.
"I wanted to go home."
So far as Evrope could tell, her adopted daughter did not have any broken bones, though Jed was making rather odd contortions to avoid moving her right arm. On top of that, Evrope was not quite convinced that Jed didn't have a concussion, and her rattling teeth and bluish lips gave away that she was in the early stages of hypothermia. Not that this seemed to be troubling her much as she sat wrapped in her bathrobe and a heavy blanket, with another blanket wrapped around her feet. She was a bit too shivery yet to start drinking the mug of hot tea sitting within reach. For her part, Chris adjusted the fire screen again and brought over another blanket.
"So you decided to – fly home?" Myrrhine couldn't quite decide whether to praise her cousin or try to knock some sense into her. "In a storm? In the dark?"
"It really wasn't that dark, there's a marvellous green glow up there!" Jed wrestled down her shivering and wiggled her toes. The whole thing had turned out wonderfully, Chris' feet hadn't touched the floor and she had hardly noticed it herself, even when the hang glider was coming to a stop on it upstairs.
"A marvellous green glow?" Myrrhine repeated.
"Yes, plus some moonlight. It's true judging distances accurately is harder than it looks at night and that's why we usually plan flight paths and that sort of thing, still, made it here in record time!" Jed had already confirmed this by prevailing upon Agape to read all of her watches off to her while she clumsily struggled out of her wet boots and trousers. The red mackintosh had done yeoman's service, leaving her quite dry from shoulders to halfway down her thighs. It couldn't be faulted for the gap the rainwater had got through at the very end. Already starting to feel just very cold instead of bone rattlingly shivery, Jed decided to try drinking her tea. She carefully picked up the mug with her left hand, and took care not to stretch her right shoulder as she prepared to take a sip.
"Your shoulder," Myrrhine began.
"Is fine." Jed finished, her tone unusually sharp. "I've just had a lovely flight home. I don't need another visit from Delos to put me off."
"Ah." Myrrhine leaned back in her seat. This could be tricky. By rights Jed's shoulder probably needed some genuine medical attention. She was having noticeable difficulty with her fingers on that side. So far as she knew, Delos was the healer working this region, inappropriate assignment as that was, they all had to live with it for the time being.
"Now, now, nobody is calling anybody who is not already in this house." Evrope interrupted. "Our cousin Artie has been in practice now for nearly ten years, and she is by all accounts a fine doctor." And also capable of sleeping through a bomb going off, literally. They were about to find out whether an obstreperous teenager could wake her up anyway.
Chris settled onto the love seat beside Jed and slipped an arm around her, taking the opportunity to watch her lover's pupils as they responded to the flickering firelight. They didn't seem to be quite synching up with one another, but the tall chemist acknowledged to herself that this was not the best way to check. So far Jed hadn't complained about nausea though, and that was a reasonably good sign. In the meantime, it was important to keep Jed awake, and Chris could think of no better way to manage this then to get her to recount her recent trip home. Jed had reached the part of the trip where she had realized nobody actually knew if shifting zones affected the air when her cousin Artric Adams arrived, dragged determinedly by the hand by the ever-plucky Agape.
Doctor Artric Adams was very much of the general family mould, dark haired, tall, and pale-eyed. The last detail hard to see because her eyes were still mostly shut, and a stranger would be well within their rights to suspect she was still asleep. Nevertheless, she had managed to grab her bag and shove her knobby bare feet into a pair of well-worn sandals. She hadn't managed to put on a sweater or anything over her old-fashioned, blue-striped nightshirt though, and finally woke up fully when Myrrhine began briskly shoving her arms into the sleeves of Chris' grey jacket, surrendered without a word. "All right then, all right." Artric waved Myrrhine off and then began absently patting the pockets of Chris' jacket. "Oh, this isn't any jacket of mine." She paused, nonplussed. "Wait, where am I?" By now she was teasing, as she pulled open her bag and fished out a small light, her stethoscope, and a fold-up case with her most commonly needed bandages and medicines in it.
"Jared, what mad thing have you b– b– done now?" she asked, giving her cousin a significant glare. Oddly, to Myrrhine's ear, Artric pronounced Jed's full name "Zared."
"Everybody keeps calling it mad except Chris. She understands me." Jed was beginning to feel just a bit put upon. What was wrong with her own relatives that they kept calling one of her best and most effective ideas ever such a thing?
"Well," Artric said in a mollifying tone, quickly changing tactic, "I imagine it is difficult for those of us who would not consider travelling in a lightning storm with tornado warning in order to get to a house in a shifting zone." She didn't seriously expect to use her stethoscope, even as she deftly checked Jed's pupil response with the light. No, if she did, she would be warming its working end in her armpit, however uncomfortable that would be. Alcohol spray and a cloth were at the ready in the front of her bag. Artric had learned that most people associated the stethoscope with competence in a doctor, and so she always took care to hang it around her neck at the start of an assessment. It was familiar, and a wonderful distraction for worried toddlers. "I do surmise you have managed not to rattle your b– br– grey matter." Applying the light a bit more, Artric deftly checked Jed's head for swellings or unusually warm areas as she also checked for visible bruising.
Myrrhine had dug out a notebook and a pencil to take notes on Artric's accent, which utterly fascinated her. Artric was among the relatives she had not met often, the relatives born and raised in the Nation. Her w's kept slipping gently into v's, what she expected to hear as "shifting" sounded more like "sifting," and she replaced the soft g in "imagine" with a z sound instead. All those remarkable things before trying to make notes about vowel sounds, and sorting out what peculiar thing seemed to be going on with that speech hesitation...
"Why are you checking my head like that? I had a helmet on!" Jed protested, interrupting Myrrhine's train of thought.
"Yes you did." Artric agreed. She was done checking for head injuries, and would refrain from reading the riot act about not moving someone after crashing through glass double doors who might well have had a spinal injury. There was no sense in doing that now. The greater challenge now was Jed's evidently stricken right arm. "Had you something of this kind on your arm?"
Jed picked up her cousin's meaning without hesitation. "No, no. I was flying home, not going on a surveillance run over an armed outpost." In such cases, an Amazon would have light, bullet-proof armour on. Now much warmer and feeling much better from half of her hot tea, Jed strongly suspected that her cousin would have choked to death on the adjective "bullet-proof." Artric's reputation for unusual vocabulary choices had long proceeded her.
"Then you must allow me to look at it." Artric declared. In her view this conclusion did not follow at all, but Jed surrendered her tea mug to Chris and allowed the sturdy doctor to disentangle her throbbing arm from the sleeve of her robe. Clicking her tongue, Artric considered her options. It looked suspiciously like this was the shoulder that had taken much of the impact when she landed, marked as it was by a tremendous bruise, alarmingly blackish in the middle, spreading along her collarbone and down her arm. Quickly wiping down her hands with a disinfecting cloth from her bag, Artric began gently, ever so gently tracing her fingers around Jed's shoulder and collarbone. "A fractured collarbone is quite distinct from other injuries. You do not have that." She then proceeded to apply a splint and firmly bandage Jed's upper arm against her upper body. "I shall wake cousin Video. She has an x-ray machine." Decision made, Artric stood up. "I have morphine..."
"No morphine, can't stand it. Too much puking." Jed objected. In this she was not being unreasonable, she was among the few people who found morphine's impact on her digestive system worse than suffering the pain. Sweating and feeling a bit sick from her arm as she was, that was still better than morphine. "Just let me have two of something anti-inflammatory that isn't that aceta-whatsis. You have some of those ginger pastilles in your pocket don't you, Chris?"