Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Omega's Folly: Chapter Two
Extricating Benny from the car proved to be more difficult than her co-tenants expected, as moving any of the three large pieces of luggage squished her mercilessly. Finally Chris disappeared for awhile, and came back with a rattling toolbox. Removing the car's back panels finally released the trunk, and its removal allowed the release of a rumpled, grumpy Benny. Her two guides were fiercely apologetic, so much so she felt comically over fussed about. Not that she minded too much, though. Next was to bring in Benny's luggage, and install her in her half of Omega's Folly, which Benny had looked at after being extricated from the car, and in turn managing to remove her hat from its position wedged firmly over her eyes so she could put her glasses back on.
Omega's Folly was quite simply – astounding. The view of its front boggled the mind, because it rambled over nearly three city blocks where Benny came from, the big ones you always found out were the 'few blocks' before the bus stop you needed with five minutes before the bus arrived. The oldest part of the building seemed to be a simple stone tower with three turrets, wound about with stairways and pocked with windows of various sizes. Outlandishly medieval, in a fantasy novel sort of way. Extending from either side of it were new sections, some of stone, some of brick, all at least eight floors high. The roof varied from run of the mill shingles to skillful stone structures blended into the next section. Everything seemed slightly, shabby – perhaps shabby is too harsh a word. Rather, lived in, used, but certainly not ramshackle. Three flag poles decorated the three central turrets, one flag of the Amazon Nation, the other two of places or perhaps clans Benny didn't recognize. Butting up against the house – if the rambling buildings can really be referred to by so prosaic a term – were a few scattered bushes and ivy vines in the front, and trees forming great arches at the sides. Otherwise the trees surrounded the place, and Benny could see the clear area around the house was kept to a minimum size, lending the nearby trees an air of casual familiarity as some bent right over sections of the edifice, and dropped piles of leaves all over its roof. A fountain trickled gently just in sight, almost lost in an unruly copse of laurel trees, its waters poured outrageously from the breasts of a mermaid whose expression suggested she did not appreciate visitors or lookers. Statues kept watch from nooks and crannies, all, Benny became sure after a few moments, Goddesses, Amazons, or both. A winged Medusa looked down from each upper corner, and a Sheila na Gig drove off evil from a stone archway running by the right side of the house.
And all of these many details were only a superficial look at Omega's Folly.
Arriving at the great double doors, Jed dug a bundle of keys out of her pocket and unlocked them with a key cast in the shape of a spiny fish, then threw them open. Noticing Benny's curious expression, she explained. "This a replica of the original key, made in the – oh, roughly the early 1400's. It was meant to be decorative, but I thought it would do nicely with a modern many tumblered lock. Not many people try to break in here, and then only rarely, unless there's a burst of insanity over the so called 'Lost Treasure of Omega.' Then between this and how confusing this place is to the uninitiated, it's still all I can do to fend off the treasurehunters."
"If it happens again, it won't be just you, remember." Halliday declared stoutly.
"I know." Jed replied with a sudden, bright smile which left even Benny bedazzled. It also looked ridiculously familiar. She added it to her long list of things to ponder if she ever had time again.
The trip up to Benny's room was an adventure in itself. The first flight of stairs was pleasantly straight, and she lugged her suitcases while her guides insisted on carrying the trunk. They insisted, then treated Benny to a veritable lexicon of swear words and rude comments at it for being heavy and possessed of eight painful corners. The second flight of stairs wound upwards around a small shaft, up through a three floor library. Old books, new books, scrolls, even what had to be a set of Egyptian papyri – Benny hardly paid attention to where she stepped, as first the books, then the structure of the library caught her eye.
An ingenious designer had staggered its levels, the centre level being narrower. On one side Benny could just see through a half open door to a kitchen, on the other a bathing room, its door also half open. This would allow venting of any steam, smoke or whatever straight to the outside, Jed had explained when asked, even now that this part of the house had wings built on either side of it. "We're actually turned at right angles to the way we came in."
Besides teaching Benny about the house, she got taught some things about her fellow owners of it. The house had been jointly owned for centuries, a curious arrangement maintained with great care. Jed's family had been in it since long before she was born, and her childhood was full of listening to her mother's tales of the place, patiently passed down the way a thousand thousand other family tales were. Where all the secret passages were, who built what, why there was a picture gallery, what the turrets were for. Why all the water in one half of the basement wasn't a leak. Halliday had come into the picture four years before the war, a new member of the Academy faculty who immigrated from England, although most of her family lived in Wales and Scotland. At first Jed had been away, recovering from a leg badly broken in a riding accident, and no laboratory had been ready for her. So Chris had been told to get things started in Jed's, forgetting that she was a chemist, and not quite taking in the diplomatic notation from her previous employers, 'Has done a fabulous amount of research into chemical reactions, particularly those taking the shortest possible duration. All brilliant, although slightly hard on the buildings.'
Jed had returned to find her laboratory devastated by an experiment involving combustion using water as a fuel source. Her reaction had baffled almost the entire Academy. She had jumped up and down in delight, laughing happily. She ran without hesitating into her devastated laboratory, where Halliday had been struggling to get the ringing out of her ears and the soot from her hair. "E. Chris Halliday!" Jed had bellowed at her in delight, apparently well aware of who she was dealing with.
"Jed Adams!" the temporarily deafened chemist had shouted back. They had gone to school together in England, where Jed's then faulty English led them into several forms of trouble best left to the fraternities to desperately disavow. After the delirious, delighted greetings, Jed had politely, but firmly demanded Halliday repair her laboratory. And Halliday had – by the next morning, with the help of Ges Basilas, whose colour blindness was enshrined in the orange window frame.
Finally they came to Benny's room and deposited her things in it.
"It's late – best thing for you is to turn in, then worry about the rest tomorrow after brekkie." Halliday said gravely. The young historian nodded with exhaustion, and thanked her guides, who left her with a pair of kindly smiles, a lit fire, and a quietly closed door behind them. For her part, Benny shucked off all of her clothes down to her skin, relieved to feel air after so many days travel. Not bothering to look for the bathroom or anything else, she flipped off the light – 'Electricity? How exactly? There's no grid around here...' Benny wondered muzzily as she crawled into the huge bed at one end of the room and dropped off to sleep, a picture of her late cousin watching over her benignly from the mantle over the fire.
The sun was already fairly high in the sky when Benny climbed up into something resembling wakefulness. Since the bed was blissfully big, the air in the room pleasantly chill, and the covers fabulously warm, she felt no motivation to get up, and instead rolled over and went back to sleep, enjoying blissful dreams of avoiding a hated English class with the just the same tactic. Some time later she woke again, and half sat up, rubbing her eyes. The first sight that greeted her was a tray with a small pot of tea and its fixings, with sausages, ketchup, and toast, and a plate of fresh fruit. A neatly printed note read, 'Ges told us this is what you liked.' The next thing Benny noticed was her clothes from the night before. Someone, presumably her co-tenants again, had taken the trouble to clean and brush her coat, hat, and boots, setting them in their places by a tall, dark coloured wardrobe. The rest of her clothes had been neatly deposited in an outrageously modern looking laundry basket, trousers set on top. All that noted, and a mouthful of sausage and toast acquired, Benny turned her attention to the rest of the room.
The head of the bed sat in a recess in the wall, surrounded by shelves full of books and various trinkets and writing utensils. On either side, in longer alcoves down the sides were lamps, and since the space was wide enough, a hook for a housecoat. The first clue the room had been outfitted with two people in mind. The shelves had been made with more darkly finished wood, the main motif of the room, blending with the warm green of the walls, and the carpeting on the floor, which was a curious deep plush of a reddish orange colour like the embers of the fire. To the left the floor rose by two steps, and the wall rounded outward. Another set of shelves nestled into the resulting space, then a bare desk built into the next part of the curve, and a little counter with a kettle, tea and the appropriate fixings. Benny grinned. English tea was definitely solidly installed here.
The fire was on the same side of the room, filling part of the corner that turned around and led to the door. A sizable chesterfield and sofa sat in front of it, along with a couple of reading lamps and end tables. Here Benny started to realize just how damned big her room was. The right side of the room was narrower, arranged to highlight the two windows that looked out on the woods – as if they had a choice. A chair sat by them, and startlingly enough there was also an easel. Benny got up to examine it closely, and almost spat out her breakfast laughing. Ges had used the easel to hold up the large sheets she used to do complex mathematical calculations on. There were more books here too, but the shelves were mainly empty, as was the wardrobe which was to the right of the windows. The historian gazed at the two places pensively. Ges' effects must have been in there once.
At this point Benny adjourned with some alacrity to locate the nearest watercloset, a genuine one built into a nook below the nearest staircase. Much relieved, Benny returned her attention to her luggage.
She looked pensively at her suitcases, and the mysterious trunk. Polishing off the heated parts of her breakfast and starting on a cup of tea, Benny rolled up her housecoat sleeves and began unpacking her suitcases, putting away clothes, a few knickknacks, and far more books than seemed sensible. That dealt with, it occurred to her that some sort of bath would be nice. A quick search up and down the hallway yielded a full bathroom with a tub big enough to lay down in properly. It had always been one of Benny's great pet peeves that even a woman of her height could not lay down in a typical sized North American bath tub. Or a jacuzzi or hot tub either, which added insult to injury.
Getting water to fill it was its own adventure, beginning with trying to turn the taps. In the end she found the wrench labelled for the purpose under the sink, her adventure finishing with climbing out again, which nearly defeated her legs because the tub had both greater depth and greater length than its overseas counterparts. Mortified but relieved to have avoided having to scream for help, Benny thumped back to her room, feeling much more human and triumphant after defeating the dreaded bed head.
Which left the trunk. Drawing the key for it she had received with her letter from A. Chaser, G. Digger, and L. T. Hyde, Benny pushed it carefully into the lock and turned it. The mechanism spun with startling ease, indicating it was either very new or carefully oiled. The lid came up slowly due to a mass of papers and slim boxes packed tightly into it and held on with straps. Everything in the trunk was wrapped in the murky yellow paper seen in cheaper large envelopes, taped shut with copious amounts of clear sticky tape. One midsized bundle sat on the very top labelled in bold blue letters, "Open me first! Me, me, me!"
Never one to ignore such an unusual sort of label, Benny picked up the surprisingly heavy thing, noting an irregular bundle she could feel on its bottom. A moment's effort to pick at the tape, then a softly hissed, "The hell with it," and she just ripped the paper off. She had outgrown trying to save wrapping paper long enough ago to be mock nostalgic about it.
Revealing a laptop computer of all things, a rebuilt model of a popular brand back in the day. She sat down on the floor with a thump. Of course. Popular, but not too popular, and often derided as toy computers for doing lightweight work. Their early association with visual art and typing implicitly coded them as effeminate and therefore shameful to use. For cousin Ges, this was an infallible recipe for complete and total devotion, so long as their hardware and software design did not slip into contempt for the operator. The irregular bundle was the machine's cord and power supply. So she took the lot over to the desk and looked underneath to find the requisite jacks, plugins, and such that were a computer lover's dream. Benny grinned in delight.
Three hours later, she had set up the system, adding in the peripherals Ges had left behind, and feeling the beginnings of writer's euphoria – monster diskspace, backups – a printer – notebooks, crap to write with, stuff to read – what else was there? Her stomach growled. 'Oh, that.' Benny thought wryly, and ate some fruit from a large bowl positioned precisely in the middle of one of the fireside end tables, pausing to finally hit the power key.
Nothing unusual. A big bong sort of noise and little flashing icons with nice messages. All very plain, waiting for her to add things and otherwise mess around. Benny poked and prodded for a bit, then she opened a word processing program, and got another surprise to crown her afternoon. The program's splash screen portrayed a red knight like in the stories of 'The Amazon of the Red Lawns' in one of the newly found Amazon scrolls, with some text across it in black.
"Welcome, fair stranger. Well met, for you have come
by long journey and deep sadness,
to do brave deeds and win great rewards.
Know that you may concentrate on your quest,
for the WP not only serves, the WP
Fair thee well.
- the WP"
And then the thing started acting like a normal word processor again. It was unusual, obviously a private version Ges had got hold of somehow. It had quirky colours that Benny hastily found the settings to change because some of them really should not have been put together, and obstreperous menus and commands, like: 'Just SAVE, goddamn it!,' 'Save it As SOMETHING BLOODY ELSE, I already used that name,' 'of course I want a NEW document,' 'OPEN a document already!' and so on. All very long and thoroughly unprofessional, something a programmer would never get away with that in a piece of shrinkwrap software. Benny rather liked the 'I QUIT!' version of the usual staid command.
She started writing at random, setting down her adventures since she left the last town she had lived in back in Canada. After three sentences a little window popped up.
"I am the WP, and I must protect you from yourself.
This program is incredibly stable.
But please save every three sentences anyway."
Bemused, but enjoying herself immensely, Benny followed directions and continued setting down her account.
"What are we going to DO with her? The Academy doesn't need more faculty right now, not until next semester, or we'll never be able to pay her – and if she's anything like Ges, she'll go bananas without something constructive to do." Jed waved a piece of toast in the air unhappily, and poured tea.
"We'll just have to come up with something. She was well hard up in Canada. Constructive work and the guarantee of a roof and food at least should be a good start. We could just be up front and explain about the money." Pushing over the sugar bowl, Chris filled her own cup and sipped at it, shaking her head a little as Jed dug out a heaping spoonful.
"Yes – I know. But..." an unhappy sigh. "It's revolting. I've had a look at her curriculum vitae and the rest – Benton Basilas is a brilliant woman, Chris. We get her into the faculty and puttering away on a doctorate, and she's going to knock half the world on its ass. Her work melds and continues Ges' perfectly. This latest paper she managed to fight a space for in the Archaeology Journal – she's onto something big."
Shifting the little solar panel that provided the kettle with electricity to catch a little more sun, Chris tipped her head to one side. "Could one of us set it up so we could pay her – your family is rolling in it, mine is comfortable. Why not?"
"Correction, X. Adams is rolling in it, and she doles out her fortune at whim. I don't think I've even met her. My particular section of the family got hurt pretty bad during the war. The fascists seized everything but the house."
"Jed, they couldn't even find the house." Chris smiled gently. "And I thought you got some of it back?"
A sad shake of a dark head. "No – when the borders got redrawn, the banks and everything else used it as an excuse to start over. The only consolation is they had no money left either. My army pension is the key, and my salary at the Academy, of course."
"Hmmf." The phone rang, and both women glared at it. "Do we have to have one of these, I wonder?" Chris murmured as she picked it up. "Hello?"
"Hello, Doctor Halliday?"
"Cool – I finally got the number right – phoned three other places by accident first."
"Ah. Hello Arion, what do you need?"
"Oh, I don't – actually, yes I do, no – I mean..." A moment's pause while the other woman got herself straightened out. "Okay, I've stopped trying to type this damned letter at the same time. Right – I myself, don't need anything. But, in order to set things up for Ms. Basilas, I need to know a few basic things."
"Surely you can just put in some place holders for now." Chris suggested, finding the whole matter a bit vexing. There was still the matter of getting the young woman paid for working.
"No, no – she's going to be on fac, isn't she?"
"Yes," Jed called, "But that's proving a bit problematical. You've seen our budget, Arion."
"True – true – well, why don't you let me just get things set up. Maybe something will come through if we make like something has."
The two Amazons looked at each other over the phone, expressions faintly astounded. Chris held up her free hand. 'Well?' the gesture asked. Jed waved a hand at the phone and shrugged. 'Can't really hurt. We'll work something out.' Silent conversation finished and decision made, Chris said, "Okay, Arion. What do you need to know?"
"Okay, hang on a sec – pulling up the screen – okay – first and last name?"
"Bent -e-n or -o-n? In other words, Chinese Goddess of luck and dragons, or not?"
"Not, Ges spelled her name with an o-n in her letter to us. Might be a mistake that goes back to the birth registry, though. I'll spell Basilas for you."
"What?" Jed interrupted. "Chinese Goddess of luck and dragons? Benten is the Japanese Goddess of everything that flows."
"Why then, she must have something to do with dragons all the same." Chris declared stoutly, eyes twinkling. She then returned her attention to the question of spelling. This took a few minutes while the process of spelling Benny's surname nearly foiled Arion's efforts, since she was dyslexic hence her phone number problems, and Chris rattled off the spelling very fast. Academic qualifications and such followed that, then Arion asked,
"Age, date of birth?" Silence.
"Figures, Ges would write down her favourite breakfast, her shoe size, and the fact she can't tolerate Brahms, and ignore something like Benny's birthday." Jed declared in a disgusted tone.
"Guess for now, and we'll fix it later. There's nothing else for it, Arion."
"All right, all right – I'm pegging her around twenty-six. The rest I'll keep to myself for now. Is she coming in today? Otherwise I'll finish this stuff up tomorrow."
"Maybe." Chris replied unhelpfully.
"Thanks, Eph – er..." Arion coughed. "Chris. Sorry, forgetting, forgetting – bear with me, it's early in the morning."
"Maybe." the fair haired doctor hung up. "Shall we fix up the hearse?"
"Nope." Jed declared crisply. Noting her lover's injured expression she explained hastily, "I will fix up the hearse, you will continue working on your car – if those brakes don't get fixed for good, the next time I see you behind the wheel I'm liable to die of heart attack."
"Oh, well, I can do that." Chris' expression brightened again. "Did you notice the little box I put up a ways up the road when you went for the mail?"
"Yes I did – what is it?"
"It's my own invention," Chris declared proudly. "It's for preventing trouble when you forget your keys..."
Benny peered around the corner hesitantly. She was completely lost. The damn house should have had guide signs. The only place she could definitely get to was the top floor of the library, which was no good because then she couldn't find her way down. Now she was wandering at random, and trying to keep enough track not to end up going in circles. Finding herself right in front of a door all of a sudden, Benny threw caution to the wind and stepped through it.
To her surprise, she found herself outside in what could be called a garden, but looked more like a jungle. Broken stone benches randomly placed at first sight but perfectly placed to hold up a crowd at second glance greeted her, and a rough patch of wild lawn had the remains of a croquet set trapped in it. A little further on a bucket of chewed looking wooden cricket balls leaned precariously towards a half-hearted flowerbed. A gazebo stood tucked into a little patch of trimmed grass, equipped with glass windows and a heavy door. Benny pulled the door open and poked her head inside, finding a big oil lamp, a bottle of oil for it, and matches. A notebook sat by itself in the midst of the table built into the walls, a construction motif Benny had seen often enough at Omega's Folly to associate it with the place. Overcome by curiosity, Benny walked in to the gazebo, seated herself on the battered wooden chair set by for that purpose, and opened the notebook.
It's been awhile, hasn't it? I'm sorry about that. So much to do, and the war to boot. Nobody came out of that big mess the same. You'll notice Chris Halliday wears tinted glasses? She has to pretty much all of the time, especially in sunlight. She was the general who realized the gas attack was coming during the battle of the Dneiper. Got all of her Amazons out of there, but got caught herself. Nearly blinded her for good. Jed Adams got shot up during the fighting in the Caucasus. Watch her arms when she lectures, you'll notice one of her shoulders is a bit higher than the other now. Why am I telling you this?
You have to be wondering what happened to me, and why I left everything to you. Or why this stuff is written in a notebook out here – privacy, for both of us.
What happened to me – well, nothing much. Except I picked up tuberculosis while I was in the trenches. Not trench foot, not lice – had to be something nasty and dramatic, I guess. Oh well. Things were behaving nicely, but the weather has been foul, and I picked up pneumonia on top of all else. The ol' immune system is a touch overworked. So, I'm very sick as I write this, and it can't be fixed. No regrets though, I've had a good time. And you know that friend of mine, and I know you're far from being so obtuse as not to realize Deanna was my lover – I lost her in the war. It'll be a beautiful thing, to see her again.
There's some good bits in among the nasty ones after all, so don't be too sad, okay? I know, I know, easier said than done.
Why are you inheriting everything? When was the last time your family paid you any mind, after you came out? How hard have you worked, and found yourself feeling stuck? You're the most deserving member of our messed up family, and the Amazon Nation is the prefect place for you. The Academy is great, it really is.
Now, I have left you money, and the bank will send you the stuff you need to get at it. Don't worry about anything. Jed and Chris will do their damnedest to put you to work right away, and then worry themselves sick making sure you get paid. How much faculty is needed varies with semester a bit, and they may have to do some fast talking. You stick to what you do for now, which means be an incredibly good historian of the Amazon Nation, and make yourself so impressive that you look indispensible. I know you can do it, because you are.
Take care. And don't worry, I'm watching out for you, always.
Benny blinked at the page for a few moments. A few slow tears slid down her cheeks as she remembered her hale, hearty cousin, and realized how badly her illness must have treated her. And when push came to shove, Ges had spent more time worrying about Benny, if the extent of these arrangements were any indication, than herself. The privacy of the gazebo was a good thing, Benny reflected wryly, and smiled a little in spite of herself. It was embarrassing to cry where people could see you.
The hearse groaned, as if in pain, then began to cough. "Hmmm," murmured Jed. "The starter needs attention." Suiting action to word, she was soon involved in the bowels of the vehicle. On the other side of the carport, Chris fussed with the new shocks for her own car. She had already installed two of them, and she was jumping up and down on the back of the vehicle, observing their response with some disapproval. Deciding to put in the other two before she began taking them apart and adding fluid to the shock barrels, she never noticed Jed, who had paused in her own work, ready to insist on another test with all four shocks in if her partner looked like she was going to try something else immediately. Every now and again, Chris' inventing exuberance had to be tempered somewhat by the voice of practicality. It felt so strange to Jed that that voice was often hers.
Her mind turned back to the problem of making arrangements for Benny as she replaced the oil filter. There was that nice little office on the floor just below Arion's she could have – the rest of the wiring would have to be put in so she could have electricity, but that was minor. The plumbing was done on that floor, after all. A desk was already there, and it would be no problem to dig a chair out of storage. Jed finished with the filter, then slipped behind the wheel one more time to try the new starter. Hearing a nice turnover, she made a mental note to send the volumes concerning the Amazon Nation to the office – after having them copied. Couldn't not have them in the Academy library. A quick mental calculation, then she winced. It was going to be less than cheap getting that done. Luckily Jed had ways of mitigating that a bit. Reaching out the car window, she pulled on a lever which was meant to open the counterbalanced garage door. At first nothing happened, so she grabbed the chain and gave it a tug. Two more, and the mechanism began to move.
Stopping as she backed the car out to dig several extra metal plates used to counterweight the door out of a pile of such invention remnants, Jed clambered onto the roof of her vehicle and added several to the weights, shifting things back and forth until she felt the door glide. Dusting her greasy hands unconsciously, she climbed back down and took the hearse for a spin.
The 'hearse' wasn't a hearse at all but a large, modified, battered boat of a car manufactured by a now defunct Swedish company before the war. Black, with a pale green interior, polished wooden dashboard, and large old fashioned dials the overwrought styling and absurd size of the vehicle remained a topic of puzzled speculation. Engine modifications to give it the required efficiency and fuel ratings had left it with a bit of cough for the first few minutes after the engine had started, but it was a decent car. Jed typically careened to work on her bicycle or got a ride with Chris, who had an abiding fondness for her own battered model of automobile. Still, rather than drive despite her fondness for what she cheerfully referred to as her "land yacht," the main reason the hearse had been put away for a time had been an unfortunate practical joke gone awry by several of Jed's students. Not realizing that filling the car with water would do serious damage to some things while cleaning the nice green upholstery, they had sealed up the cracks and filled everything, including the trunk. They had even put in a couple of goldfish. All inspired by a desire to break Jed's unflappable demeanour. It hadn't worked. The students in question had done quite a bit of the repair work, but taken a considerable time at it, since they had to do it between classes and studying. Jed had basically forgotten about the thing, since now it was spring and lovely to bike to work anyway. Having reached a nice stretch of road, Jed laid on the accelerator and left a flying arc of dirt and pebbles behind her.
Chris struggled with the brake lines, muttering in frustration as she discovered all the tubing would have to be replaced with something tougher, or packing them in their little cavity would put a sharp kink in one or both, and stop the flow of the brake fluid. Which, as it turned out, was the original flaw in the design. Carefully pulling out the old tubing, she soon clambered practically headfirst into the engine, putting in the new stuff and whistling when Benny found her.
The young historian scratched her head in puzzlement, then turned her attention to the walls. Several framed pictures hung on the wall furthest from Chris. One showed a handsome pair of women, one with a big crooked grin, the other with a sobre smile. Looking a little closer, Benny realized the one with the crooked smile had pale grey-green eyes, like Jed's bespectacled own. Another picture on the right showed Jed in a military uniform, standing with two others, one with pale hair like Chris' and the other's iron grey. On the left another picture showed the woman with iron grey hair alone, in a kilt, old fashioned ruffled shirt, and velvet jacket. All completely traditional, except the woman's right leg, which Benny realized with a start was a bluish grey colour with a navy blue knee joint. Finally giving in to the inevitable, she dug her own glasses out of her pocket and put them on to see if she had seen properly to start with.
"That's my cousin Quentin you're looking at." Chris was sitting on the edge of the car now, looking at the various bits she had pulled out to take care of the problems forcing the periodic removal of the distributor cap.
"Did she lose her leg in the war?" Benny asked, unable to get a scene dealing with that in a Canadian historical documentary she had seen out of her mind's eye. The Canadian television propaganda producers went in for gore these days.
"Nothing so easy. Cancer." Dumping the pieces into the front seat, Chris ducked back into the engine, having decided wires had to be the problem. "In my family we tend to be a bit prone to bone cancer and it usually turns up in the big bones in our legs. The Academy geneticist has been studying my family and Jed's for years, because we've got some nasties like that, and a few just plain odd things within a nice tidy gene pool."
"Really? So she found out why you tend to be prone to – bone cancer in your legs?"
"Not really." A loud crack noise, and Chris was tossed several feet back from the vehicle. Giving herself a shake, she unhooked the battery, then added, "Now she's trying to figure out why we have such a history of leg problems in general. I've come to the conclusion there's no sense talking to people about such things, they just find more things to worry you about." Holding up two wires, she asked, "Red or blue?"
"Re-ed." Benny replied, squinting a bit.
"Which one is?" Chris asked, expression suddenly intent.
"Umm – left." Benny grimmaced. Two little wires, in a dim garage. How was she supposed to tell?
"I'm not trying to put you on the spot. I can't take my spectacles off in this light, and they add a grey-green tint to everything." Chris tapped one wire on her chin. "Maybe I should just label them or something. It is such a nuisance when I get them mixed up."
"What are they for?" Benny asked carefully, walking slowly forward, threading her way through Jed's tools and Chris' half finished projects.
"One goes to the dashboard light. No idea what the other one goes to anymore, but it stops the car working altogether if I hook it to the wrong thing. Might be its got worked into the system carrying current from the battery to the..." and then her voice was swallowed by the interior of the car as Chris stuck her head back in it.
A roaring sound came from well down the drive, and Benny walked up to peer through the window in the garage door. At first there was nothing to see but dust and bits of debris. Whoever was driving was looking to get to hell before dinner, Benny reflected wryly. Then the dust cloud spat forth a monstrous black car which took the corner as if being guided by an Indy five hundred driver, then came barreling for the garage. "Holy shit!" Benny blurted in alarm.
"Oh, Jed's here is she?" Chris said placidly, and opened the garage door, watching with gentle bemusement as Benny beat a hasty retreat.
Jed didn't bother to hit the brakes until four metres from the garage, and then the prolonged skid ended a mere forearm's length from the back of the building. Hopping out, Jed beamed happily. "Excellent brakes, shocks aren't shocking – starter works. All I need to do is put a windshield in." She was liberally coated with dust and her hair was wild and windblown. "Benny, you're working on a Phd, aren't you?"
Caught flat footed by the segue, and by Jed's pronunciation of Phd – 'fud' rather than spelling it out – Benny blinked in confusion. "Ah – I tried to, but my thesis proposal was thrown out."
"Have thirteen copies ready for tomorrow, and I'll get you started. Not sure who'll be your thesis advisor, though. Maybe Chev. She's the closest we've got to a historian in the academic sense besides yourself."
"Why, what does she specialize in?" Benny asked, feeling relieved to be wandering in familiar territory again.
"What?!" squawked Benny, her tone full of outrage.
"With a minor in history – best I can do on short notice. Semester after next, should be able to arrange someone who is right in your area. It's no easy thing to find somebody with a proper basis in Neolithic, central Asian, and Amazon culture, on top of Greek and Latin ordinary stuff. Plus, they'll have to read sixty volumes of history that we've already got, and translate a pile of scrolls. I've done some of the scrolls myself, but..."
"Sixty volumes?" blurted Benny.
"It's no good if you have to teach them before they can help you out – Chris, how did I wind up having to do faculty arrangements? I don't like it."
"You lost in the straw draw this year."
"Sixty volumes?" cried Benny, grinning from ear to ear.
"Oh yes – I've read them all, great stuff. My mother told me all sorts of stories that fit in there too. It's quite fascinating, the way things developed, never breaking down, just adapting."
"Sixty – and scrolls?"
"Mmm hmmm – I picked up the stuff still needing translation from Ges. More impressive stuff. They are basically ur-texts – but the dating system is all new. No idea how to make sense of it."
Sitting down on a pile of tires, Benny tried to get her head around it all. "I have got to see this stuff – ur-texts?" It was all she could do not to run for the library. Part of what stopped her was that she had no clue how to get to it. The other was, "Hang on – you know all about these things."
"Oh yeah. It's her hobby – some nights I have to just about wrestle the her away from the stuff. Not that the wrestling isn't fun, mind you." This in echoing tones from within the engine, where Chris still had her head.
"Oh. I have a solution to the faculty problem." Benny declared, determined to put that one to rest so she could get to work. "Have you advised anybody doing a thesis before, Jed?" This situation could be worked with.
"Of course." Jed declared virtuously. "I don't just shuffle instruments and fob off paperwork, you know."
"You be my thesis advisor then."
"Ooooh – Jed, I really quite like her. She's pure Amazon already, despite her sojourn in nastier parts of the world. Such an untraditional solution. Be a luv, say yes, agree to do the paperwork tomorrow – then come and help me please. I'm stuck."
- A curiculum vitae is the academic version of a resumé that summarizes such activities as papers and books published, conference presentations, work as an instructor, degrees acquired and such. It is the modern remnant of the roman "run of life," meaning the sequence of positions rich roman men bought their way into in order to gain political and military power.
- To the best of my knowledge, Jed's information is correct. Chris' insistence there must be dragons somewhere is too, if Benten's father is indeed a dragon king.
- Not that I know how race car drivers go about their business. This reference is to the Indianapolis 500 held annually and entailing driving laps up to the equivalent of 800 kilometres on a 4 kilometre long track. I have relatives who assure me that this is incredibly exciting to watch. I'm not convinced, but have absolutely no doubt it would be exciting to drive.