Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Omega's Folly: Chapter Nine
Bloodshot green eyes slowly peeled open. Their owner had no idea what had inspired this bit of eyelid exercise, but she was determined to end it at once. Slowly, slowly, the eyes drifted shut again, and rather ragged breathing settled into a more somnolent rhythm. All was going according to plan, except – except, Benny could hear the faint buzzing, strobe sound of her laptop. The sound that indicated some timer she had set before had gone off. Pulling the corner of the heavy quilt half over her head, she set about ignoring it. The timer would give up shortly, as she had found a way to keep the thing from buzzing for fifty-nine minutes early in her time with the computer. The television was producing muted patterns of light, as during a previous short term period of wakefulness, Benny had found the weather station and left it there. The station's relentless monotony and unmemorable music was perfect for sleeping to. And sometimes she even learned something about the weather, usually about what cyclones and anti-cyclones actually were, or some flyby bit of gardening parlance. The gardening stuff didn't fit quite nicely, but it was all right mostly. Yet, somehow a sense of lingering unease kept jarring Benny awake. Unable to imagine what the problem could actually be, though it felt familiar, she sat up carefully, grimacing at the pain in her chest.
"Well," she muttered. "A visit to the facilities isn't a bad idea." Hauling herself to the edge of the bed, rubbery limbs enforced a pause for breathing heavily and sitting still, after getting her feet on the floor. "Note to self: never catch rotten old bronchitis again," Benny muttered crossly. Standing up slowly and carefully, she then stumbled down the hall to the washroom. On the way out again, she glanced at herself in the mirror. A disheveled, exhausted, bleary eyed, generally unhappy looking woman gazed back. The image was a bit fuzzy around the edges, because she hadn't worn her glasses. That was the reason for the hair from hell, Benny decided, and she was sticking to that story. Then again, maybe hair from hell was a bit overblown – perhaps hair from heck would be more suitable.
By the time Benny was back in her bedroom, she simply dropped back into bed, managing to drag the covers over herself enough to disappear from the reach of cool air draughts and the still half-heartedly buzzing laptop. Oftentimes cocooning was over rated, but in this case it would do. She was asleep again before she realized it, and must have fallen fairly deeply asleep too, she decided later. In the context of the events that followed anyway.
A resounding thump jerked Benny wide awake and bounced her nearly an arms length upwards before plopping facedown back onto the pillows. Clearly this wasn't one of those beds where you could drop a bowling ball on one side and on the other a sleeping person would still be undisturbed. Too astonished and alarmed to look to where the impact had been for a few moments, Benny managed to dig her glasses from where they had wound up inside the pillowcase, jammed at the farthest corner of the closed end, stuck beside the plasticky feeling new materials tag and a chunk of roughly woven cord representing the last bit of sewing on the pillow itself. A deep breath, crossed fingers that the damned roof hadn't fallen on her, then she turned to look.
"Hello." Arion tucked her hands behind her head and crossed her legs at the ankles.
"Arion?" Benny croaked in disbelief.
"The very same. Just decided to drop in." The redhead pointed upward. Benny's eyes followed the gesture. Hanging from the ceiling, and Benny was more than sure this hadn't been there this morning, was a chandelier, made of all sorts of chains, one ring, and a pattern of little lights. Whoever had designed it must have had a fractal in mind, or perhaps an Escher print.
"From the – ceiling?" There seemed to be a hole just offset from the chandelier.
"No, the roof actually. This is just a bit of a mishap. Your roof needs a bit of repair, I'm afraid."
"Oh." Benny held her peace, letting this bit of information seep to the required neurons. "You're in my bed?!" Some neurons weren't quite up to it yet.
"Looks like it, doesn't it? It was an accident, I promise." Arion moved a bit closer and smiled. Benny's eyes rounded. The voice was Arion's. The physical gestures had the same awkward, gangly twtchiness. But the face wasn't remotely familiar. Except insofar it fit the usual Adams mould. Despite the hole in the ceiling that suggested a connection to the roof and therefore the outdoors, there was no debris. No broken shingles, rotten wood, leaves, or general weird miscellaneous stuff like tennis balls and action figures that tend to turn up on rooves.
"You look different."
"Do I?" Arion sounded puzzled.
"Yeah." the dark haired woman's eyes narrowed. "You don't have any scars."
"Why would I have scars?"
"I don't know – usually you have scars – what the hell am I talking about? Oh boy. Lay back, Benny old girl, you're delirious." Benny stretched out carefully, and took a slow breath. "No getting scary or anything. I'm already real sick." she admonished what she was now quite certain was a feverish hallucination.
"Okay." The endearing crooked smile, and then Arion rolled onto her side to watch the historian more closely. "Are you going to sleep?"
"Actually, I think I might try to wake up. The last time I got into this sort of condition, I started having flashbacks and things. Those are icky. Carpet bombing, sniper fire, mudslides and the like." Squeezing her eyes shut, Benny began determinedly muttering, "Time to wake up. Have to wake up. Come on..."
"But if you're sick, shouldn't you sleep?" Sounding thoroughly worried, Arion had hesitantly put a hand on her shoulder.
The bleary green eyes opened again, and this time they fastened on the long fingered hand resting on her shoulder. "Hey."
"What? Oh, sorry, I ah..." Arion hurriedly pulled her hand back.
"No, it's okay. You just don't tend to touch anybody, I've noticed."
"Good point," Arion conceded gravely. Her expression grew even more sombre for a few moments, and her eyes flicked back and forth in a way Benny had already learned to associate with the other woman's troubleshooting mode. "See, you need to sleep, but you don't want to have bad dreams, right?"
"Precisely." chuckling helplessly, Benny threw up her hands. "I can't believe this. Delirium should probably not be this – this – surreal. Or is that an oxymoron or contradiction or something?"
"Don't know." grinned Arion. "Anyway, the whole reason I laid out the problem in this way is because, I have decided to stay here and keep the bad stuff out of your dreams."
"If you can actually do that, I'm all for it." A yawn caught Benny unexpectedly. Who was she to argue with a dream that seemed to be staying in her favour?
"Of course I can. After all, I am the WP." Arion declared in a tone of bland, breezy arrogance.
"You are? Like..." another yawn. "Like on my laptop?"
"A pale, two dimensional imitation, as dictated by the limitations of computers." Arion shifted again, her features blurring eerily into the ones Benny was most familiar with. "I like to help out."
"Like it when you do." Benny mumbled.
"Rest easy, Benny." The exhausted historian could have sworn she felt gentle hands tuck her in and check her temperature. The last thing she wondered was how much longer she would dream in English, because most of the time now she spoke Greek. And if Arion knew English in real life.
The healer shook the alcohol back down into the bulb of the thermometer. "This is bad, very bad. We need to cool her off." She reached into her backpack and extracted a bunch of heavy plastic bags. "Do you have any hot water bottles, cold packs?"
"A couple of hot water bottles at least – no cold packs though. Might have to make do with wet towels stuffed in a couple of my waterproof duffles from the war." Chris replied. "This is marvellous. Benny is delirious, Arion is missing, and of course I haven't fixed the freezer yet." Turning her grey cap about in her hands a moment, she gave herself a shake and asked, "Bottles and duffles, or just bottles?"
"Both." Delos replied distractedly. Her charge was no longer restless, in fact, after the short period of slurred mumbling, in English if the healer's knowledge of other languages served, Benny had fallen into a more natural sleep. All that was needed now was to get her temperature down, and add an intravenous line, something sure to incense the other woman when she woke up. According to the medical records Delos had been able to access on the recently arrived Amazon, a bit of general irritation with being hurt or sick was a rather good thing for a Basilas.
Jed disentangled the last crate from Arion's tiny car, and shook her head in mild disbelief. She had no idea where the woman was. Or how she had managed to get the crate she now had in hand into the backseat. Oddly enough, Arion's long, narrow footprints led straight up to the side of the house, then out to a tree, and then there was no further sign of her. Since Arion was quite worried about Benny – almost comically, with fluttering hands and a tendency to fidgit almost continuously – it seemed spectacularly odd for her to take off like that. Checking her grip on the somewhat awkwardly sized crate, Jed lifted it up with an unnerving ease, and proceeded to stride towards the front doors. Unlocked and unlatched as they were, the doors were also still closed. The dark haired physicist solved this by kicking the wall on the right, and both doors neatly popped open. Of course, Jed could have kicked the doors, and had tried this not long after moving back into the house after the war, only to discover that she kicked just a bit too hard for the direct method to work. There were inch deep scars on the walls on either side and five pictures that now hung crooked to prove it.
Stepping carefully through, Jed pushed each door shut, still carrying the crate. Peculiar as this may sound, this was actually a necessity, as she had a bad back and even using the bend at the knees technique found that lifting heavy boxes from below her waist level tended to throw things out. Carefully she moved across the hall, which looked to be its usual dusty, faintly cluttered self. Cricket gear lay in a pile on one side, enough for several positions. There were books in various stages of overdueness to libraries that might or might not still exist. The more usual shoes, umbrellas in holders, jackets on hooks at odd heights. A scattering of Chris' tools. Three neatly labelled plastic bins of recyclables that would be remembered and recycled at some point. A pile of dirty laundry. Pieces of a rickety bed frame slowly making their way to Jed's workshop, surprisingly enough, rather than Chris'.
The frame was part of a bed that Chris and Jed had found comfortable. Big enough for their height, enough room to sock each other with pillows during evening innocent bed sports without falling off. Even big enough for not so innocent bed sports, at which both were quite creative. It was a great bed, in other words. However, this had changed after the arrival of Ges Basilas. About a week afterwards, after her internal clock had finally synched to the time zone she was now in, she had come down to breakfast and spent the entire meal watching Chris and Jed with very wide eyes. Every time Jed stood up or reached for something, Ges would peer intently at the lengths of her arms and legs. Overall, breakfast had been quiet and a bit uncomfortable, and eventually everyone had fled the table, unwittingly leaving a jar of marmalade with a butter knife stuck in the middle of its contents.
The next day had been fine. But two weeks or so after that, small talk had been successfully exchanged for some minutes when Chris commented, "Well, it's all very well to insist on learning new skills and all the rest. But a person can only be so flexible. I'm certainly not that flexible." And, quite contrary to the rather serious topic, Ges had spat a mouthful of tea across the table laughing. "What?" Chris had asked in confusion. "What did I say?"
"I don't know." Jed replied in a wondering tone. "Never heard Ges laugh before though, so that's all right, love." Following the remark up with a kiss, just because she was in a pretty great mood herself.
Finally Ges caught her breath enough to choke out, "Flexible? Flexible? If what I heard through the vent by my bed last night is any indication, you could do a circus act."
Two pairs of shocked eyes stared at her. "I thought you said you closed the chimney flue." Chris asked, her tone unusually sharp.
"Errr – no, I think I said I would, and, I, ah, didn't, apparently." Jed squirmed uncomfortably. "Here, let me go do it right now."
"That would be step one." Ges chortled mercilessly. "That bed you two sleep in groans like a dying horse once you get going." She had never been known for her tact, a bit of an unfortunate interpersonal problem, under the circumstances.
"Oh..." Jed literally ran, and Chris glared pointedly across the table at Ges. It began to dawn on the other woman that a slight miscalculation might have occurred. After another few seconds, it also dawned on her that the miscalculation was hers.
"You know what I think?" Chris said in a surprisingly calm tone, considering how very flushed her face was. "I think, that you need to do something about how poorly you sleep at night." With that, she left the room herself, in such an impressively dignified fashion that Ges had to concede that it was truly magnificent. The rickety bed frame had been replaced by the afternoon, the chimney flue in question permanently closed because that fireplace was never used anyway, and Jed returned with a bunch of red roses with the thorns carefully trimmed off and a big bar of rich chocolate. These had made Chris feel much better, so much so, when Ges had popped by the library with her own physical representations of an apology in hand, she had hurriedly clapped a hand over her eyes and retreated, having found the two women involved in a heated, mainly disrobed exchange.
The first couple of months with Ges in residence had been difficult ones, but they had been well worth the fast friendship that had resulted. Jed smiled, reminded of Ges not by the bed frame, but by a set of golf clubs. She herself, didn't much care for golf. Ges however, had borne an abiding fondness for it, and had a very good long game. Sadly, her putting was terrible, with the end result that regardless of her long game, her scores were – positive. A problem she had dealt with by throwing away her putters and convincing the golf course administrators to simply add two or three strokes to each score she got on a hole so that she could skip the greens. A golf course in the Nation had more in common with their Scottish ancestors than the modern chemical wonderlands of other countries, and so this highly unorthodox solution wasn't sniffed at or complained about. After all, this course certainly wasn't on the professional tour; it was a matter of great pride that so many Amazons from such countries were willing to use it, and anyone could use the scoring option if they really wanted.
Striding a bit closer to the dusty clubs, Jed blinked in surprise. Here was Ges' set, with tattered umbrella and a walking stick nestling among the woods and irons. Most of the woman's things had been disposed of as per her directions, including a huge trunk Jed clearly remembered helping her lug to the shipping office. Forest green panelling and silver trimmings. It hadn't been entirely pleasing to bring it all the way back to the house and the room it had started from when Benny arrived, but the whole thing had made sense to Ges, it had been relatively harmless, and there seemed to be no reason not to go along with her plans. All this still left the begged question: how had this truncated set of golf clubs been missed?
Thumping the crate down on top of a surprisingly sturdy deal table, mercilessly squishing a paper flower arrangement in the process, Jed looked at the golf bag and its contents more carefully. The dust hardly bothered her – Jed believed firmly in dust and cobwebs in houses, mainly because she hated dusting – so she rattled the clubs and things. Beyond a bundle of wooden tees and some yellowing scoresheets there was nothing of interest there. Next was to hunt in the four pockets on the bag. One was roughly insulated with the twentieth century version of a space blanket, gleaming silver in the rather dim hall. Nestled between the folded layers were two now empty cans of a beverage Jed was sure was no longer made anywhere, sadly enough, and what looked to be fossilized carrot sticks. They weren't moldy, just rock hard. It wasn't clear if this was a good thing or a bad. The next pocket was jammed full of tattered golfballs, chewed pencil stubs – Ges had suffered all her life from jaw problems that often resulted in teethgrinding – and receipts. A glance through them revealed they all came from a tiny malt shop that still dispensed drinks of all types on the west edge of the golf course. The third pocket produced four compact disks with no cases, each labelled in spidery characters. The fourth had a hole in the bottom, and when disturbed, all the contents spilled all over Jed's feet. Sitting down, she shook her head in amazement.
Coins, all Canadian, including the five dollar monstrosity still in use, as evidenced by the crew of Québec-born nuns who had traded their Canadian currency in on the Amazonian Elaphebole, giving up a small collection of the things. Several plastic identification cards, one for each of the countries Ges travelled through on a roughly regular basis. Miscellanies, including a magnet, a compass, and an extendable telephone cord working on the same principle as a steel tape measure. And a note, emblazoned on the front with Jed's full name. Astonished, because Jed couldn't imagine when or how Ges could have learned her full name in the first place, she tore the ivory coloured envelope open and unfolded the note inside it.
"You're such a nosy thing – just kidding. Believe it or not, I left this thing here on purpose. I mean, it has sat here in the hall so long because of everything, why it looks like it belongs there now. It also doesn't help that in the course of piling all the broken sections from the bannisters you pulled out of the back staircases you tangled them with the frame in an impossible puzzle." Turning to look, Jed winced. The bannisters had been there so long she had forgotten about them, and hardly saw them amongst the rest of the junk. "Being as it was a given you'd eventually get around to noticing something you hadn't dumped in the hall yourself, I figured it'd be neat if you found a note while you were rattling the clubs and turning out the pockets. Ges."
Leaning back on her hands, Jed shook her head in gentle wonder. For all her foibles, the elder Basilas always had a knack for rather quirky, nice things. It was a knack Jed was carefully cultivating in herself. Stowing away most of the stuff – it was simply impossible to get the golf balls and other such things back into the pocket she had taken them from – Jed dusted off her hands and picked up the crate again. All the things sitting peacefully out here could continue doing so, she decided.
Benny was still unconscious, nestled in a cocoon of ice bags, two hot water bottles full of cold water and crushed ice, and Chris' duffles, of all things. The crates and the sick woman's mail were all piled by her desk now, and Jed wandered over to where the healer was patiently checking Benny's temperature and intravenous line for perhaps the hundredth time. Or so it seemed to the dusty, slightly tired woman watching her. "How is she?" Jed asked quietly.
"Temperature's dropping finally. We'll see what happens with the rest of the medication." Delos replied. "Did you have any idea how thin she is?" She kept her voice down with an effort.
"Did you bother to check?" Delos' voice had a note of frustrated anger in it that made the tall Adams take a step back.
"And how was I going to check? She's a grown woman, Delos. There's only so much a near stranger can ask another near stranger about, let alone prodding them to see if their ribs stick out you know." Rubbing at her lower back, Jed sighed. "And that isn't the real reason you're upset, is it? What else can I do or say, Delos? I apologized, I beat my chest and said mea culpa – it's been years. Does this have to go on?"
"Does Chris know you were still keeping my bed warm when you met her?" Delos asked bluntly. The other woman coughed uncomfortably.
"You didn't tell her?" the healer's voice could have lowered the temperature of the room a few degrees.
"Not in so many words. She knows we were a couple, and that we pretty much broke up not long after she and I met. It was years before we slept together – after the war. Is it really so hard to believe?"
"Do I believe you weren't sleeping around? In a word, no."
"That's enough." Both women turned to the doorway where Chris was standing, a bucket of cold water in each hand. "Keep it up Delos, and you'll be the one getting doused with this stuff." She set the buckets down, and dried her hands on the legs of her pants. "And this arguing won't do Benny any good. I'm truly sorry my turning up sped along you and Jed parting ways, but seven years is an awfully long time to stay angry about it. Obviously we figure you're an amazing healer to put aside the squeamishness that comes with asking you here to take care of our new friend." Chris sighed. "And the tension is giving me a headache. Does it make your head ache? Treating someone like junk in their own home will do it, too." Rebuke delivered, she turned to Jed. "Come and help me for a bit?"
"Sure." Jed's tone was subdued. Her lover's tone was far too even. Clearly she was so dead.
"This English Amazon didn't need to know about any of those things, Jed. Especially not like that. Anything else you've been keeping back?" This was the one Adams quality Chris found deeply frustrating rather than endearing. The tendency to keep unpleasant facts completely to themselves, even when they were in relationships that demanded the whole honesty and openness thing.
"No." There was a profound note of defeat in Jed's voice, an unusual sound.
"Why were you still together back then anyway?" Chris glanced at the darker woman, genuinely curious despite the fact thinking about it was painfully upsetting.
"Habit, mostly. The main reason Delos is pissed off is because I didn't bail out very gracefully." Jed sat down on a small, padded stool tucked into a niche in the hallway.
"And what am I supposed to do while she's here, ready to go off like a firecracker?" Chris sat down on the floor beside Jed, and rested her head against one of the depressed woman's hips. "Why do I feel like we've been there and done this?"
"And that I've buggered it up."
Chris held her peace for a moment, sorting out her thoughts. "Bumped into a fragment of ancient Amazon history, last night. It was written on three big folio sheets, jammed inside an atlas." She pushed her fingers through her hair. "It told about a loyal regent to a queen whose life was touched on all sides with tragedy." A pause. "Funny, that didn't come out right – but, it's true, the tragedy bit, for both the regent and the queen. But this bit of history was about the regent." Chris shifted position a bit, and wrapped an arm around Jed's lower leg. "She fell deeply in love fairly young, a year or so past the warrior ceremony. Her lover was a shaman, forever concerned with the passage of time, moving between the worlds, and seeing the hidden workings of what Gaea creates. Rather like a physicist, come to think of it." Idly tugging at Jed's sock, she continued. "But the shaman had a past. And in time, what she didn't say became a wall between them. In all things, this shaman was stubborn, and fearless. Yet in this thing, she gave up. She eventually left the tribe to serve elsewhere. The regent wasn't regent then, of course. Just a warrior. And she realized letting the shaman go unopposed was a mistake. So she hurried all the way to where that shaman was, in a desperate rush even though she didn't know why." Chris' hands stilled. "Here's where it sounds almost like a bad period drama. Or Shakespeare, maybe. Even as she arrived at the village the shaman had fled to, there was an attack. There she was, just in time to hold the shaman when she died."
Sitting up and pulling off her spectacles, Chris looked Jed straight in the eye and declared succinctly, "And if you think after reading that giving up is an option for either of us, you've got another thing coming." Then she punched her lover in the thigh.
"Ow." Jed's voice was still quite faint, and she rubbed at her leg uncomfortably.
"Now I'd better apologize, because I've been keeping something from you, but not from way back in my past forcing me to find a different healer because the one I have now is so pissed with me tempting fate is a silly idea." Turning her spectacles around between her hands, she sighed. "Been going back and forth between eye specialists, lately..."
Arion sighed gustily. Three hours she had been stuck in the chandelier. Climbing up to where it was attached to the ceiling revealed no way to get close enough to the hole she had originally fallen through to get back on the roof again. There was also no way to get into the attic space from where she was, and if how easily she had come through it by Ges' observatory was any indication, it wouldn't have been safe anyway. Below her, the house was profoundly empty but for dustmotes. This area seemed to be some sort of foyer, with a flagstone floor that probably sat almost directly on the ground, considering its heaved appearance. Sadly, it was a long way down to the wavy flagstones, so Arion resigned herself to yet more time stuck in the damned chandelier. Various cell phone calls were ineffective at anything but running down the battery, and now to add insult to injury, she was hungry. All together things were looking mightily depressing until someone shouted from the roof, "There you are!" Jed pulled her head out of the hole and reappeared after a few moments, tossing a rope across.
"Took me awhile, then it finally dawned on me you must have climbed the tree. Silly woman."
"Who's a silly woman?"
Arion rolled her eyes and tied the rope to the heavy hook holding the chandelier – she figured it had held her and the mass of chains and bulbs this long, so this would be all right, and began shimmying back to the hole. Within grabbing distance, Jed caught her by the shoulders and dragged her out onto a frame of sturdy two by fours. "The roof needs a bit of work here." Jed smiled faintly as she retrieved the rope. The red haired woman sat cross legged and peered intently at her cousin.
"What's wrong with you?"
"Yes there is. You aren't smiling, and you look white under your tan."
A tired sigh answered her. "Arion, let be." Jed rubbed at her aching temples. "I've had a miserable afternoon, likely to be followed up by a miserable evening."
They entered the house quietly, with Jed shaking herself out of her funk enough to give Arion an update on Benny's condition. "Maybe you can take over for Delos for a bit? Neither Chris or I can do it, for – reasons."
"Yeah, like you look like you're getting sick yourself." muttered Arion.
"Nothing." The door to Benny's room loomed in front of them. "Well, here we are." Arion promptly rapped briskly on the upper panel, but she was standing to the side and had to bend forward to do it. When she straightened again, the door, which opened across from her blocked her from view, and the first person Delos saw on opening it was Jed. Her response was to draw back an arm and nail Jed solidly on the chin with a right hook. The unexpected blow threw the physicist backwards into the wall. The wall helped out by going to pieces, dropping her into the solarium it helped delineate.
"Holy shit," croaked Delos. "Chris is gonna fricking kill me."
"Probably." Arion agreed unhelpfully.
"Do something! Help me get her out of there – christ, I can't believe I did that. Go on, go pick her up by the shoulders, I'll get her by the feet." The situation was quite capable of getting out of control, now putting Delos on the bad end of things by blocking what a person could see when Chris walked into the hall carrying two bags of ice just in time to see the healer apparently stuffing her lover through a monstrous hole in the wall. The bags hit the ground with a stereo bang, scattering ice chips all over the place.
"What in the hell are you doing? Hands off!" She shoved the healer out of the way and blinked in surprise at the hapless red haired Adams. "You were helping her?"
"Yes – no – Chris, it isn't what you think," pleaded Arion, wondering how she had managed to get tangled up in this obviously preexisting mess.
"Jed, Jed, come on now." Using a hankerchief to wipe the blood from the unconscious woman's busted lip off her chin, Chris asked, "What happened to your face?"
"Delos slugged her." Behind Chris, Delos waved her hands in a horrified gesture.
"You hit Jared?" The switch to a full name was a bad, bad sign.
"Ah, yes..." Delos coughed uncomfortably. "Sort of an accident – I mean, I sort of acted before thought had a chance to happen. Rare type action, believe me, ummm – and that she went through the wall makes things look worse than they are."
"Does it?" Chris carefully extricated her partner from the junk and helped her up. Still mostly unconscious and woozy, Jed could at least help move herself. "Couldn't you two have just agreed to play a game of rugger? That's how my ex-girlfriend and I settled our differences. We're great friends now."
"Oh? And who's your ex-girlfriend? Or should I say what? Some sort of pacifist?" snorted Delos.
"Are you a pacifist, old thing?" This was directed at Arion, who stutter stepped awkwardly in the wreckage of the wall.
"Jed's cousin is your ex-girlfriend?" the healer burst out incredulously.
"Actually, we're such distant cousins we could marry each other and not break any incest laws," warbled Arion.
The healer gaped at her. "It's Benny's delirium," she whispered. "It's catching. There's no way any of this can be happening. It's too bizarre."
"You think you've had a bizarre day? What about me? You haven't heard or seen a thing yet!"
"This is appalling." Jed chimed in. "Absolutely appalling. Too many ex-girlfriends in the same place. Benny will never believe a word when she hears about it. Damn it Delos, I think you've knocked one of my teeth out." This was a bit much for the healer who now looked close to tears. She was a healer, and still quite fond of Jed, after all.
"Okay, okay, I think we all need to take a powder or something here. We're all getting too excited. Delos, go have lunch or tea, or something. I'll take care of Benny. Chris, you and Jed go kiss and make up – or go to the dentist, whichever needs to come first." Then Arion disappeared into Benny's room, installing herself by the bed and adjusting the various purveyors of coldness.
"How come you aren't angry at each other?"
"Because we played a game of rugger to settle our differences. Weren't you listening before?" rolling her eyes, Chris got a good grip on the back of Jed's pants and left with her.
"Apparently not." Delos shook her head in disbelief. "Rugger." She moved off down the hall without checking her footing, promptly slipping on the melting ice and falling flat on her back in the hall. "Maybe it's the house."
"Probably." Arion had glanced outside to see what the latest loud fall was about.
"You aren't helping."
"Not in situations like this, no."
"Well, I had no idea it was here. Not much of a solarium now, with the storage wing built over it." Jed, looking and sounding much better in spite of her damaged face, was peering at the wall wreckage. "Thing is, the way parts of the house have been breaking down lately, I'm a bit worried."
"Looks like this used to be a doorway, actually," commented Chris. "No studs, but there is a lintel. It's too bad we hadn't thought to look for things like badly covered over doors. There's a new improved stud finder in my office you know, it's my own invention." Chris beamed. Since Delos seemed to have lost her bad temper, things were settled with Jed, and they were back to trying to figure out their house, life was good.
"Stud finder?" confused, Jed turned to stare at her lover. "Why would we want to find a male horse used for breeding?"
The healer, a big mug of tea gripped in one hand, burst out laughing. She had wanted to see why the hell Jed had been able to fall through the wall in the first place, and so had come to watch the two women debate over the thick roll of blueprints one of them had retrieved from the library.
"No, no, not that sort of stud finder. Stud as in wall stud, the big wooden posts that keep the house from falling down." A beat. "Ideally."
"Hmmph." Pulling a heavy flashlight out of one pocket and turning it on – how did the woman get that thing in there, Delos wondered – Jed picked her way through the wreckage into the solarium. The identity of the room could be determined from the various plants and trees, all dehydrated and brown, of course. There was a squishy looking sofa in what had formerly been an alcove by double glass doors. All of this now covered over by the storage wing, which was full of archived papers and the like. "Why hide a room?"
"Why completely wreck a solarium?" piped up Delos from the impromptu doorway.
"According to the blueprints, the storage wing was added by the second last Skinner-Graves to hold part title to the house. She was a banker if memory serves correctly." Jed peered more closely at the plans with her flashlight, sending the rest of the room into near darkness. "Seems that the whole reason to build a storage wing for files would be her banking tendencies, then."
"I can't imagine covering over a solarium and hiding the door to it for banking documents." Delos opined. Then winced, when two pairs of irritated eyes glared at her. "How do you get into this storage wing anyway? Then we can just go see what's in it."
The flashlight got pointed at the plans again. "There is no door, according to this."
"No door?" Chris repeated. "This makes rather less sense as we go along – here I thought mainly Adamses did this sort of thing." She tapped a finger against her chin for a moment. "There must be a door somewhere, and a perfectly reasonable explanation."
"Oh certainly." Jed agreed. "Doors are ubiquitous."
"What? How can you say that?" Delos asked, scowling at her now empty mug.
"If there wasn't a door, how would they get the stuff up there?" the chemist pointed out, and pulled a small device from her pocket. "This detects air drafts, it's my own invention." The thing promptly began to screech. "Ummm – I think it's set a bit too sensitive just now. It's meant to detect little drafts from cracks." She smiled apologetically. Bending over, Chris began moving around the room, periodically banging into things and tripping as she went around. "You see, the door in question should be unsealed, hence skinny little drafts." The device began beeping ferociously. "Hah, you see! No wait, not there – this one." Reaching out, Chris grabbed at something and pulled.
"No wait!" came out of both Jed and Delos at almost the same time.
"Why? Everything's fine. See?" Chris stepped back, letting them see a set of steps that had dropped from where they were recessed partly into the wall and ceiling while folded.
"This is ridiculous. I'm going home to bed. This is too cliché for words." declared Delos, turning on her heel to walk away. The other two women, completely unconcerned by her frustration promptly hurried up the stairs.
"Well I'll be damned." Jed's voice, sounding a combination of astonished and delighted.
"Certainly not what you would have expected a banker to hide away, is it? Who was she preventing from getting at this, I wonder?"
"The final Skinner-Graves was a peculiar character. She was the one who managed to start the stories of that damned treasure Omega was supposed to have had. End result, every year treasure hunters try to overrun the place like demented ants."
"How was she peculiar?" Chris asked, moving something around. Delos had stopped right in the doorway and leaned back to listen.
"Well, she wasn't eccentric the way most folks here usually are, rather a mean sort, actually. And she seemed to have a gambling problem. Everything she could get out of here and sell she did. There wasn't much of any quality by the time she moved here, oddly enough. Now we know where it all went."
"Yes. We'll simply have to get the mess in the solarium cleaned up for Benny. She'll absolutely love going through all this stuff. The only place she likes better than the great libraries here so far is the museum on campus."
"Capital idea." Delos could imagine Jed walking with her long, almost exaggerated looking strides over to Chris to throw a delighted arm around her shoulders. "Absolutely capital."
"What happened to this rather unpleasant scion of the Skinner-Graves family?"
"Oh," Jed sighed audibly, then sneezed, because the level of dust in the storage wing was a bit high even for her. "One time, she tried to sell an antique ring handed from generation to generation in my family for centuries. She was under arrest, charged and in jail so quick her head must have spun. No idea what happened to her after that, beyond she went back to the country she originally came from."
"Maybe she managed to do all right after all." suggested Chris.
"Maybe." Jed didn't sound convinced. "But there are no Skinner-Graves anymore, so maybe not."
"No. There's just Basilases. Makes me wonder where they came from, to start with."
Finally Delos gave up trying to pretend she wasn't all but dying of curiosity, and returned to the solarium and picked her way up the stairs to see the contents of the storage wing with her own eyes. Seeing it stunned her into open mouthed shock. It was like a lower budget but otherwise just as crowded version of Tutankhamen's tomb. A box eerily reminiscent of a coffin made her squirm a little. Surely this place wasn't a storage place for anything morbid – she hoped. Objects were jammed in the place from floor to ceiling. Jed and Chris were perched in the only bit of real floor space, talking quietly about an impressive pile of old books in one corner.
"Were these Skinner-Graves people packrats, or something?" Picking up the sleeve of an ancient velvet smoking jacket.
"No, not at all. Most of them were Roma. They hardly carried anything around. All that's here is effectively all the parts of the caravan that finally settled down here. The older pictures of this side of the house show it as very sparsely furnished. Even after some parts of the family had officially settled down, most of them still travelled eight months of the year." Jed leaned carefully against a small statue. "Some of it obviously didn't come from the caravan. My mother told me what I know about it."
"Roma? They were Italian?" butted in Delos, who had no sense of romanticism anywhere in her body.
"No, they were Gypsies. Right?" Chris glanced back at her partner, from where she was peering at a contraption that didn't look like anything familiar.
"Precisely. Well, insofar as that's really a precise term." Jed amended.
"Typical physicist. Never likes to give a straight answer for fear of being wrong." muttered Delos.
"No, not at all. I simply respect the uncertainty principle and chaos theory."
- That is, a print by Mauritius Escher, the moderately famous late Dutch artist whose work plays an extensive role in Douglas Hofstadter's book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.