Alphabet Soup

by Alexiares


Chapter One

Kepler Avi Ionnidis gravely surveyed the faintly dusty library that was her primary domain in these parts. Dusty, because, well... because. Avi looked around, pondering whether this had been the best room to use for the main stacks. On one hand, it was very cool. On the other, the need for so many ladders to get to pretty much everything, including the study desks was a feature that had inspired some debate about the status of her sanity in a few quarters. Especially a number of people who knew that Avi's partner had only one and a half legs and was also the Third Queen of the Nation. Contrary to expectation, however, the Third Queen actually preferred ladders to stairs, and the library arrangements appealed to her sense of the eccentric.

"It's like a dose of Adams without having to drive all the way out to the Folly." Quentin Halliday-Pontius had declared with approval on seeing the place just after the woodwork was finished. The Library board had been unnerved at this appraisal, as there hadn't been any reading materials in the place yet, and emulating the Adams flare for the weird hadn't really been part of the plan. Thankfully they had gotten over it before word got to the carpentry Amazons, who might have picketed the board in disgust otherwise.

Picketing had become a fascinating form of passive aggressive protest in the Nation over the past few months, with people sticking to signs that could be hung about the body with string. Originally signs had been stapled to lengths of wood, but this had proved so expensive and sliver-inducing that it was rapidly dropped for other means.

Part of the impetus for the picketing development was the arrival of so many women as refugees apart from Amazons who had been recalled as the political situation outside of the Nation deteriorated. Many of these women didn't speak any language in common with those most immediately able to deal with them, and many were coming from very different backgrounds and cultures. Some came from groups that were traditional enemies. But under the circumstances, some relatively constructive outlet for frustration was definitely necessary.

The first pickets had made it clear that Nation officials simply had to get their shit together and help people out faster. The point was graciuosly taken, and the provision of necessities, from food and shelter to meaningful work got much better. Then an incident that could have gotten very ugly indeed produced a number of fascinating innovations.

It all began with an angry shouting match between some Israeli and Palestinian women, much to the alarm of the Amazons whose job it was to help defuse tense situations for that afternoon. Earlier in the day the international news had included new developments in their homeland, including a setback that neither side wanted to claim. The argument probably reflected this, and culture shock, and just plain being disgusted at being displaced. It wasn't at all clear whether an Amazon interfering would be appropriate, or if it was what that Amazon should do.

Another Amazon came by, carrying a stack of materials that were left over from the earlier picketing for better help for the refugees. One of the angry women caught sight of her, ran over and seized some of the signs and markers, angrily scribbling out a slogan. The resulting run on the materials by both groups rather alarmed the Amazon, who managed to rise to the occasion in spite of herself and help with the distribution. None of the Amazons present were able to read Hebrew characters, although one of them could read Arabic characters if they were used to write Turkish. Which of course, was quite useless under the circumstances.

Both groups of women had ultimately marched with their signs to the main Amazon building they knew about, at which point interpreters arrived to try to sort out what was happening. One of them, an Israeli herself and fluid in five other languages apart from Hebrew and Arabic listened intensely and read a few signs.

"Let them alone to do what they're doing. I'll translate the signs if you like. They are actually not so much angry at each other as pissed off at the western news reports." She turned to glance at the ther Amazons, who had sighed with relief. "Which is not to say they aren't pissed off seriously at each other. If you avoid just jumping in and trying to fix everything, things will probably be fine."

From there, various versions of sign waving and marching with signs began to be used rather more generally. It was a good way to catch attention, and even inadvertantly helped with the language gaps. More than a few Amazons were willing to struggle along gamely with dictionaries and phrasebooks to puzzle out what signs said, making outrageous and comical mistakes that helped ease tensions immensely when they proved to be willing to poke fun at themselves. In response a group of Spanish women had started trying to write their signs in ancient Greek picked from someone's textbook which had travelled accidentally in the bottom of a dufflebag all the way to the Nation. It hadn't taken long for requests to start coming to the Amazns for dictionaries for the language they spoke.

One of Quentin's self assigned tasks was to go work two days a week helping provide services for the many refugees and new Amazons, and so she got to see the first results of the new dictionary distribution. Various signs and banners, some with awkwardly worded complaints, others with carefully painted thanks, and a few obviously trying to say something, but not quite managing it yet. One particularly poignant sign Quentin read said only, "We want to go home." She had felt so heartsore after seeing it she nearly gave up and went back to the office. But she didn't. And that was that.

Anyway, picketing had definitely become some sort of peculiar fad. There were now 'party pickets' with signs mainly covered with silly drawings and nonsense slogans. 'Circus pickets' by a group of acrobats who had begun to refer to themselves as a guild. 'Scarecrow pickets' another version of the 'absurdity show' as Jed tended to describe the ones that were mainly whimsical. 'Memorial pickets' being more serious of course, and 'mimer's pickets' that simply confused the crap out of everyone who saw them.

So, obviously, after a point referring to these events as 'pickets' wasn't quite correct, but no popular made-up term had developed for them yet, so pickets would have to do.


Benny sighed. She had loads of experience. She knew all the tricks, from the makeshift solutions to the best equipment to have to begin with. But no matter how hard you tried, wet feet were basically unavoidable once the rains really got started, and they had been started now for a week and a half. Drenched women glared at her sullenly, struggling to keep their heads up and their shoulders back under heavy packs and a week's worth of tired.

'How did I wind up in this job? Somebody tell me how.' Benny thought to herself in disgust, pushing her helmet back. She had made it to... what rank was it? Captain? Was it captain in the Canadian army? Hell she wasn't sure anymore. Here, she been made into some kind of, lieutenant, higher ranked than a second lieutenant in the Canadian Forces, in the citizen militia. She had actually been a little flattered. Then she had asked what the catch was. The area commander had laughed ruefully and admitted there was one. "We need more people to help with training. It's not really traditional style military training like the outsiders have, but you won't have any trouble sorting out what we're after."

End result, Benny had become a high level instructor in two areas. One, was marching. At first she had been so revolted at this idea that she had gone back to the area commander ready to start screaming. Then the area commander had gently pointed out there was more to marching than putting one foot in front of the other, and Benny knew that. A bit sheepishly, Benny had headed back to the practice grounds.

Of course there was more to marching than just putting one foot in front of the other. Before you even started, there was making sure your boots fit. Then socks. Good socks were absolutely necessary. Figuring out whether you had weak ankles, and working on that. Working on your posture so as to avoid having your pack make you miserable with back and leg pain. Pacing. Et cetera.

In spite of herself, Benny was actually enjoying this work most of the time. She had always liked hiking, and really marching pretty much came to hiking once you got away from the movements in synch part. Her stamina had always been good, so the gruelling marches from her days in the army hadn't been so bad. There was no need to scream at and berate the new women, so she didn't. Quite a few of them had to be taught how to bellow in order to be able to yell commands and warnings effectively. That was pretty fun. Benny always started them out with the segment from the old Police Academy movies when the black dispatcher gets taught how to roar like a lion instead of squeak like a mouse. Somehow language was never a problem when she showed the clip.

The other stuff she taught was how to set up and defuse explosives, this to women who had been in the Nation for longer, of course. Only Arion really knew how much Benny actually liked explosives. There was just something about the danger and havoc they represented that brought a devilish gleam to Benny's eye. "You like them because they're dangerous." Arion had commented one day, watching Benny happily pack up some dynamite sticks.

"Nope." Benny had declared happily. "I like 'em cuz they go boom." Luckily, Benny preferred explosives that went 'boom' for good purposes not involving harm to people or property.

"Right," Benny called out, corralling the her students' wandering attention. "We all know this weather stinks." Heartfelt calls of 'here, here' answered her. "But I'm afraid that more often than not the weather sucks when you're on duty at this time of year. How many of you have soaked feet? Not just wet feet, mind, soaked." More than half of the women put up their hands. Benny winced. Worst proportion of soaked feet in awhile. "Okay." she paced up and down once or twice, pondering how to phrase what she was going to say next. She always had trouble with verb aspects and tenses when it came to stuff like this. "Unfortunately, you're never going to be able to avoid wet feet. Still, you can avoid soaked feet, which is more important. When your boots squelch, the chances of you getting blisters or that horrid burning sensation you can get from friction between wet cloth, wet boots, and you, become just about a hundred percent. So today, let's go through all the ways we can avoid that fate... inside."

The lessons on how to prevent your feet from swimming with the fishes were always especially popular at this time of year.


Arion glanced over at Benny anxiously out of the corner of one eye. Her partner was visibly drained and mostly asleep in the passenger seat of the car, Chris' jalopy with the collapsible roof up. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, yeah. Just tired. Long day. Seven hours at the Academy, four at the Grounds." Shifting in her seat, Benny sighed a little. "I'll get used to it. Did last war."

"Another war isn't on yet." Arion said, a bit testily.

"No. I know. Please Ari, I don't want to argue." They had been arguing off and on for the past month or so about the impending war. Benny had seen many hard times. Her approach was to shift into a mode appropriate to the worst. If the worst didn't happen, no harm no foul, wonderful to be wrong. Otherwise, well, you were ready. Arion had an almost diametrically opposed approach, verging on outright verbal denial. Of course she knew what the reality was. She just hated hearing about it.

Arion chewed her lip and negotiated one of the hairpin turns marking the last few kilometres of the trip to Omega's Folly. How far to push? Well, Benny was so tired, chances were good sleeping on one of the couches in the library would only deprive her of some cuddling. Push a long way.

"Benny, you're scaring the shit out of me. You're working too hard. You've dropped so much weight. Just about every night you're waking up with flashbacks and nightmares. What am I supposed to do, just stand by and watch you suffer?"

"No..." Artemis the mighty. She did not want to deal with this right now. "It'll settle down. I concede that I need to readjust my meal size currently."

"Okay. Good. I guess I'd be worried less if your flashbacks weren't so obviously related to being in the brig." Another hairpin turn. "Practically never about battles, or seeing bodies or something."

Oh. Shit. "It's not what you think." Benny forced her eyes open.

"Rape happens to a lot of people who end up in the brig, Benny." Arion replied bruntly.

"Not to me." Benny looked out the window. "We actually had pretty civilized brig conditions in Canada, most of the time. It got twitchy with the new citizenship laws, and all the BS against gays. When they started mixing the hard core criminals with the rest when prison space fell short, then things got ugly. It went without saying. Everyone knew you had to have your head set before you went in."

"Set to what?"

"Were you going to be somebody's victim, somebody's bitch, or a maniac nobody dared touch." Benny replied drily. "I chose option number three. I had to stay on my guard, and be ready to fight, a lot. Somebody tried real hard once, thought I'd be an easy target."

"Sure. Five foot nothing. Skinny." Arion glared out the windshield. This was a story of something long past, yet her whole body was gearing up with the idea of breaking the person who had threatened to rape her partner in two. Even if Benny wasn't exactly five foot nothing and evidently capable of handling herself... which she was, to knowledgable eyes.

"He was about six and a half feet, big, you know. Figured he could just get hold of my arms and it'd be all over. He had a reputation. Managed to rape three of the younger guys. Beat them up pretty bad. I don't know, I got... not sure if scared is the right word. He tried to get an arm around my neck, and I saw red." Benny flexed her hands. "They told me later it took eight people to get me off of him, by which time he was a bloody mess. He went to the hospital, I went to solitary, for a month, I think it was."

"Solitary? For successfully fending off an attempted rapist?" Arion snorted in disgust.

"Yeah. They justified it as because I broke one of his arms in three places. Knocked out a bunch of his teeth. Kicked his groin to Conneticut. Cracked a few of his ribs." she shrugged. "It was worth it. Jerks gave me a wide berth."

"Sadly, I suspect pretty much everyone did." Arion pointed out gently.

Benny shrugged. "I learned very quickly you don't make friends in a situation like I was in. Maybe allies. Not friends."

"We're home." Thing number one dealt with: evil brig flashbacks. Now for thing number two, stuffing Benny to the gills. The gawky redhead smiled to herself. She was getting the hang of this relationship thing, she was.


A faintly hollow ticking filled the room. There was no other sound, except for the occasional sound of a pencil rubbing against paper. The ticking emanated from several different clocks, two of them rather ordinary analogue face clocks set to times for completely different time zones than the one they were in. A cesium clock in one corner marked time for an unclear purpose. It had been set to play a digital recording of a tick at intervals, but had no read out otherwise. A metronome wagged incessantly on the mantlepiece. Not far from the main window with its ill hung curtains was the most extraordinary clock of the group. It had a large, round face with a series of smaller faces set into it. The smaller faces graded downward at regular intervals, the smallest corresponding to the size of a dainty ladies' watch that apparently the manufacturer never intended said ladies to actually read. Each of the small faces was in descending order, in a counterclockwise spiral. They all seemed to have hands, but the markings for what would usually be hours were far more cryptic. Some markings were run of the mill numbers, but many others were taken from various alphabets.

A desk was set against the wall in front of the main window, and at it a tall woman with dark hair and pale eyes was working over a beat up notebook with a mechanical pencil. Periodically she would glance at the most curious clock, apparently taking readings from it. Then she would glance into the eyepiece of a telescope, and make yet more notes. On either side of her on the desk were precarious piles of papers and books. One pile looked at first glance as if it had been knocked over. A second glance showed it was just a little too orderly for that.

The door to the room was ajar, and through it a small slice of the corridor was visible, with its dark rug and papered wall. The paper looked suspiciously like sheets from old fashioned, desk blotter type calendars. Set on the visible patch of the wall was a mirror with a little ledge at the bottom. Scattered across the ledge was a selection of candle ends, some in holders, some not.

The Sun was creeping towards the low side of the sky when a merry clattering and banging began to run down the hall, accompanied by merry humming and occasional snatchings of a poem that to the person working at the desk sounded like a version of the Dwarves' Song from The Hobbit. The singer was well mangling it, as she clearly wasn't quite certain of the vast majority of the words.

The door to the room bumped the rest of the way open, and Chris Pontius-Halliday bounced merrily into the room, pushing a converted wheeled television stand now tea service into the room. "I can't imagine why you like this room, Jed, there are no tea things in it." she declared after looking around. "That simply must be fixed."

"Aren't there?" Jed asked in a tone of mild bewilderment. She remembered bringing food and drink up into the Observatory, but hadn't noticed that Chris' fierce determination that tea and crumpets should be available everywhere hadn't yet affected this room. Originally the whole thing with the tea had been related to a bit of homesickness. Then it had become a pleasing joke, until it had at last become a tradition to initiate remodelling of a room by installing some sort of tea nook. They were only just really catching up in their own half of the house because they had worked very hard with Ges Basilis to get things ready for her young cousin. Neither Jed nor Chris had minded postponing their own remodelling plans much. Even then, it was obvious that Ges was very sick and racing against time.

"No, there aren't." Chris proceeded to double check the teapot and arrange mugs and saucers. She carefully checked a covered tray, then glanced over at Jed, who had gone back to work. "How are you going to eat or drink if you're working?"

"All right, all right." smiling fondly, Jed pushed her book aside and dragged her chair over to where Chris was now seated beside the mobile tea tray, having retrieved a folding canvas chair from its lower shelf. "Did you invite Benny and Arion to join us?"

"Was going to," Chris replied, moving around the butter and the covered tray before beginning to pour the tea. "But they were having a slight disagreement when I looked in on them."

"Mmm." Jed carefully uncovered the covered tray, revealing a small selection of warm tea biscuits and wedges of fruit. "Benny has been working too hard... Arion was bound to call her on it." Her partner nodded in reply, her expression about as sobre as it ever got.

"You remembered to close the chimney flue, right?"

"Oh, yes, yes." Jed declared virtuously. After the last trouble, she had religiously taken care of that. "There shall be no accidental uninvited evening hearings this season." She stacked a piece of cantaloupe on top of one half of her tea biscuit, and proceeded to eat.

"You know, I never have seen anyone else eat their tea biscuits quite like that." Chris commented, resorting to the more usual jar of marmalade.

"Why so many people prefer preserves over fresh fruit when they can get it, I not... I know... I don't know." Her partner gazed at her even more curiously than before. Jed actually had quite a good head for languages, and rarely made a stumble like that anymore.

"Is everything all right then, Jed?" The impending war aside, Chris had found her partner quite distracted over the past while.

"Fine, fine." Jed fiddled with her tea cup. "Have a look under your tea cup, would you!" she burst out finally. The golden haired woman sitting beside her raised an eyebrow.

"I set these out just now."

"Indeed for what? Just look." The gawky physicist was getting quite agitated. In another minute she was going to have to switch to Greek just to calm her nerves. She had been caught between feeling appalled and astonished when Chris had taken a sip of tea and not noticed that Jed had popped something into the middle of her tea saucer. The cup sat comfortably on top of it, which was good. But Chris was remaining oblivious, which was bad.

"All right, all right." Chris lifted her cup, and then her eyes got comically round. "Good heavens."

Not quite the reaction she had in mind, Jed conceded.

"Are you quite serious?" Jed's reply was a long, mute, stare. "Oh, well, I'm quite... quite... gobsmacked, don't you know." Her lover sighed rather heavily. Why was she looking so depressed? Surely... "Oh, OH, yes, of course... good grief Jed, you can't doubt it can you? Er, which finger do I put it on... barring the fact its obviously too big for my smallest fingers, of course." Chris had babbled on in this vein for some time before she began bouncing merrily around the room.

The bouncing chemist and the broadly grinning physicist were the tableau Benny and Arion found on making their way to the Observatory, primarily by listening to the racket made by Chris, who was wearing a dreadful pair of hobnailed boots against the miserable weather outside.

"What's the buzz, cuz?" drawled Arion, following the question up with a poke to get Jed to pay attention.

"Not much. Just a job for Mach the Silly Midleg." This stopped Benny dead in the midst of digging out the extra tea cups.

"Mach the Silly whatsis?" she blurted incredulously.

"No, Mach the Silly Midleg." Jed corrected. Benny glanced at Arion.

"Don't look at me, I haven't the slightest idea what she's talking about either."

"What did you just call Mach, Jed?" interrupted Chris.

"The Silly Midleg, because she is."

"I suppose... Mach is also the high priestess in the Black Temple and she makes movies."


"Black Temple?" By now both Arion and Benny were equally at sea, quite an impressive development.

"The Black Temple that takes up half of Hag's Mountain. Movies as in the fancy show you and Arion went to see last week." Pulling over her notebook, Jed made a note to take Benny and Arion to see Mach. On one hand Mach could be a bit unnerving to talk to, but she did run the coolest temple by Adams standards in the whole Nation, and she was always happy to give tours.

"Hag's Mountain... I get it. The place that always makes me think of the tower of Orthanc." Which wasn't to say the place loked like Tolkien's description of Orthanc, beyond the fact it was black. Benny and Arion usually took the less precarious route from Omega's Folly to work in the morning, and they had seen the Black Temple standing majestically with its knees deep in the morning fog.

"Orthanc indeed." Jed muttered, sounding a little irritated.

"Now then, Jed... all sorts of people have read Tolkien and relative to their numbers few indeed have seen the Black Temple, and as I understand it the priestesses there like it that way." Chris had stuck her new ring on her middle finger by now, and was considering the effect. "Have I got it on the right way up?"

"Of course you do. The design is made so it doesn't matter." Jed replied, slipping an arm around Chris' waist now that the chemist had settled into a semi-stillness beside her.

"Must have taken a bit of work." The design was something related to a Celtic knot, but more intricate.

"All in a good cause. It's bad luck if you take it off after you've said yes."

"Do you have one?"


"Do you have one?" Chris repeated slowly and carefully, not realizing Jed had lost track of the conversation a bit.

Guessing her partner was referring to the ring, Jed made a curious noise resembling a sneeze crossed with a hiccup. This was one of her more odd mannerisms, and no one else was clear on how she made the sound at all. "No, I can't get a ring for myself when it comes to this sort of thing."

"You won't be asking Avi to handle things?" Arion asked as she began carefully pouring tea. There was a knack with this pot, for getting the most tea with the least amount of loose leaf.

"Different Goddess, Arion." Jed replied, considering now whether to add more sugar to her tea as Chris cheerfully squeezed her over in order to sit on the same chair. Benny had perched on a good sized stack of books, and Arion had taken over the folding chair.

"Surely it doesn't really matter?" Arion persisted.

"Surely it does." Chris contradicted gently. "All Goddesses are one Goddess, but we all have our favourite aspect."

"Mind you, we've left out the most important question." Benny cut in. Religious discussions were best avoided at the moment on Jed's behalf. Some recent legal shenanigans had made the system of beliefs and rituals Jed adhered to legally equivalent to being a terrorist in her birth country. Initial reactions of other members of the faith had been astonished disbelief. The law would collapse in on itself almost immediately, surely. Then the arrests had started, and people had begun to flee. The law was by no means broadly supported, so few were actually being caught, but the resulting disorder and terror wasn't making anyone sleep better at night in any place. The legal shenanigans had been instigated and forced through by a foreign government using a simple argument: do it, or we carpet bomb your major cities.

"The most important question being?" Jed asked.

"When's the party?!" Benny and Arion sang out in unision.


Benny glared at the map. No matter how she tried, she just couldn't make sense of what she knew of Greek, Bulgarian, and Turkish geography versus what everything said about the Amazon Nation's geography. For one thing, they were ringed around with mountains. That sort of worked with how she understood the lie of the land around Ennea Hodoi. It had helped when she had finally figured out that Omega's Folly had a rented post box in Ennea Hodoi, but of course was not in the town, or for that matter, in the same country. The borders of the Nation, which you could see if you looked directly north from the northern outskirts of Ennea Hodoi were mountains that simply should not have been there. When she had first come here, it had been raining and misty, so she hadn't been able to notice peculiarities.

At this point Jed wandered in, carrying the latest draft of chapter eight Benny's thesis. "What are you doing?" she asked, seeing the piles of charts and maps.

"Trying to make sense of nonsensical geography." growled Benny. "Take this right here," she pointed to the place on the map she had most recently puzzled over. "It isn't posible."

"But it is, you've been to those mountains yourself." Jed pointed out reasonably. She looked over the charts, and began to move them around a bit. "The maps you saw in Canada were very old, Benny. They didn't show how the Great Earthquake of 2052 changed things. O the Middling Earthquake of the Split Year, or the Great Heave of 2314. The southern mountain range that bothers you so much was started out by the Great Quake, and it's still rising... not least because we have been adding to it so as to direct the landslides, among other things. But the truth of the matter is," and now Jed finished her rearranging. "We deliberately mislabel the data the outsiders use to map this part of the world, and do things like rotate their datasets by ninety degrees, that sort of thing. It only looks wrong in detail, for the most part. Atlas scale nothing looks amiss."

The younger woman gazed at Jed with both eyebrows raised. "You hack into other peoples' databases to mess up their maps?"

"Absolutely necessary once computers became so ubiquitous, Benny. Nowadays some aspects of it are moot, especially with the sattelites all ruined, but it never does to get complacent."

"Surely the Nation's neighbours weren't... and aren't... too impressed?"

"Ah, but Benny, you're assuming our neighbours didn't get anything out of it!" Jed winked. "Your own eyes are your best resource when it comes to our geography... as in your own eyes when you're outside!" This in response to Benny's frustrated gesture to the pile of maps.

"Jed, you still haven't explained everything."

"True. And it will be awhile before you hear the rest. You're still a newbie, as you nickname your trainees." Jed pulled out a pen and began doodling on the corner of the Pacific ocean on another map, but stopped when she realized it showed the latest political boundaries of the United States and Canada. Both countries looked oddly piebald, with their stripes showing the Protectorates of the Blue army. Canada only had one, which was fairly wide, and the United States had two not quite so wide. When it became clear Alaska was going to be cut off thanks to the victories of the Blue army, it had done the unthinkable, and asked Canada to take it on as a new province.

The flabberghasted prime minister had hurriedly called a cabinet meeting and then the parliament. Ultimately, the agreement had been that as long as there was a possibility that the United States situation could be sorted out, Alaska should remain officially an American state, and of course Canada would not play any part in the blockade.

The mapmakers... these maps were part of Benny's own gear from Canada... had dealt with this by hostilely tinting the free areas of Canada a peculiar shade of mauve, and giving Alaska mauve spots, so it looked like it had measels.

"I guess... but Jed, the remaining explanation for a lot of this mess is nothing short of magic! Which is ridiculous."

"Clark's law, I think. Clark? Yes, I think it's Clark." Jed murmurred.

"Clark's Law?" Benny was getting frustrated again.

"Extremely advanced technology can resemble magic. Magic can resemble advanced technology. The law was invented for a television program, and it's true all the same."

"Are you telling me the Nation's borders are magical?"

Setting the draft chapter on top of Benny's charts, Jed tapped it lightly. "You've gotten hung up on comparative constructions again." Smiling as enigmatically as ever, Jed left Benny's office.

"Bullocks!" Pulling over the draft, Benny began flipping though it.

"I don't think the floor could handle too many of those in here, those beasties are heavy." Arion drawled. She was festooned in cables and broken keyboards today.

"Figurative bullocks. You should have heard the line of bull Jed was trying to feed me."

"About what?" Pulling several mouse balls from one pocket, Arion began to juggle them with surprising success given their size.

"The borders of the Amazon Nation. Where it actually is." A beat. First the maps, now her own damned thesis chapter looked weird. "Why does this all look so squiggly?"

"You've forgotten to put on your spectacles."

"Oh, thanks."

"Anyway, we know basically where we are. The area includes the European part of old Turkey, and much of the most northern bits of old Greece, and we get the Black Sea as part of one border so we have a port. The rest, well, it's magic. Don't worry about it."

"Magic." Luckily Arion was considerably more sturdy than a flower, or she would have wilted.

"If you're lucky, you'll get to see how they do it someday. It's nothing sinister, and has quite a lot to do with garden variety plate tectonics. Are you working?" Arion tried really hard to sound innocent when she asked the last question, but didn't quite manage it.

By rights, now wasn't the best time. Still... "Lock the door." Earning herself a blinding grin from Arion's surprisingly straight teeth, the majority of which were her own. "And do try not to scream like you did last time. The Indiana Jones line only works once."

"It wasn't my fault you caught me by surprise." pouted Arion. "And the whole embarrassing scene could have been avoided if you had warmed up your hands."

"Well, what do you want, for me to be spontaneous or for me to warm up my hands?" she was being just a bit unreasonable, Benny knew.

"Both... just warm up your hands before we start. I can hardly believe you're making this so difficult." Arion was trying to divest herself of her electronic garb, but was evidently just causing it to become more affixed to her person.

"Would you please be more careful! You're going to strangle yourself with that power supply." Benny reached out and caught the errant power supply, then joined in the disentanglement effort. "Why didn't you dump this crap in your office?"

"I don't know." Benny's breasts were rubbing against her back. Not only was Arion getting distracted by this, she was sincerely regretting leaving her wire cutters on her work bench. "Wait, I just have to get this one here." Pulling rather hard.

"No you don't!" yelped Benny, who had been shocked by the sensation of a couple of the cords suddenly pulling tight around her bent left arm, looping behind her elbow.

"What do you mean? Why don't you come around..." Arion started to spin around, only to find Benny was hurrying along with her on tiptoe. "What are you doing?"

"I'm stuck." Benny declared succinctly.

"Sweetheart, that's not funny." Arion tried to move her hands, which were braced behind the cable she had been originally trying to pull. A different cord helpfully snugged up around her wrists, and she felt one of the cord ends catch on her belt. "No humour, none. Nothing funny here."

"Are you freaking out?"

"Yes, yes, I am freaking out! Out I am freaking! I am out freaking!" By now the two women had staggered around most of the room without improving matters.

"On the flip side," Benny commented after they had fallen over sideways onto the hide-a-bed. "I'm right side up this time."

"The flip side? The flip side? Benny, all I wanted was a mutual quickie!" wailed Arion, who felt pushed quite beyond the range of her endurance. Was it her fault she had a thing for breasts? No. It wasn't as if she had sat down and decided, 'from this day forward, women's breasts will do amazing things for my circulation' no, Arion had found the whole development quite involuntary. But here she was, in the mood, mercilessly aware of the very nice breasts of a very significant other, and completely unable to do anything constructive about it.

She could hear her mother's voice in her head now: 'It's a character building experience, dear.'

"It's not as if I said no! Why do you insist on draping yourself in cables and equipment the way a GaBour puts on bad jewelry?"

"Oh, now this is my fault?"

"Not quite the way I meant it, Ari."

There was a knock on the door. Two pairs of horrified eyes fixed on it. Neither woman had their hands free. Under the circumstances, pride demanded keeping quiet and hiding their predicament. The challenge of getting out of said predicament was demanding a call for help.

"Hello-o-o, waky, waky, no more time for cherry picking, time for more work." Chris Halliday, who happened to have a fiendish aptitude for the merciless tease, albeit an apparently unconscious one.

"I'm not answering." Benny muttered into the back of Arion's neck.

"Then I will." hissed Arion.

"Don't you dare! We will never live this down! My Swiss army knife is on the shelf. We can get it down if we cooperate."

"But that will wreck all of these perfectly good cables!" protested Arion. Even if she had had her wire cutters with her, Arion would have been hard pressed to actually wreck the wires that were vetoing some good clean fun. She had built those sort of things from scratch one time too many.

"Yes, but those cables don't do all that much for you, do they!"

"I hear impasse, ladies. Good job I know how to pick locks." Chris warbled merrily, and suiting action to word had the door opened, and then mercifully shut, before approaching the fascinating tangled mess her compatriots were in. "Honestly, I wouldn't have thought you two would be into this sort of thing."

"We're n... look, never mind, Chris, could you just get us out of this, please?" Arion pleaded.

The fair headed chemist looked like she absolutely intended to do it. She did. Then for some reason she stopped moving. She yanked on her nose. She bit her lips. She sucked in her cheeks. She blinked repeatedly. She stood on one foot. She stood on the other foot. She tried shutting each eye in turn, then both. She struggled to smother a cough. Succeeded. Took a better look at the conglomeration of cables — and burst into gales of laughter, clutching her sides.

"And in conclusion, I hate you all." Benny muttered in disgust.

"Oh no." Arion blurted suddenly.

"What?!" very tensely.

"I have an itch."

"No you don't."

"Yes, I do."




"We have to get up. Chris, pull yourself together." struggling partially upright, Arion lurched onto her fett, dragging Benny after her.

"Fine, fine! Where is this itch?" shouted the historian. Rather than answer directly, Arion proceeded to shimmy about in rather alarming contortions.

"Egad! The frumious bandersnatch!" choked Chris, who was now clutching her sides and weeping, she was laughing so hard.

"Look, this is quite enough gyring and gimbling in the wabe for the moment!" Desperate times called for desperate measures. A pause in Arion's contortions gave her her chance, and she grabbed it between her teeth (but not too hard) – forgetting to account for Arion's intense response to having her earlobes nibbled. Arion's knees went to water and she folded up with a thump, giving Benny just enough time to fold up her own legs before she became an impromptu floor cushion.

"Ahem. Well, now that everyone is a little more relaxed." Chris warbled breezily. She peered at the tangled mess, and walked around the dynamic duo twice. "Ah hah." For no apparent reason, Chris opened the office door slightly. "Now then, here we are." Reaching out, the chemist got hold of one unusual green cable and pulled it straight back. It slithered along the cleft of Arion's self proclaimed barely ambient inverted cleavage, then came loose entirely.

The rest of the cables and keyboards fell loose, allowing Benny to haul loose her arms and Arion to quickly remove the heavy power supply from its position around her neck. In the meantime, Chris had bailed, diving through the door, the sound of her hobnailed boots crashing down the stairs.

"It seems she felt that we would be upset with her." Benny commented. Her partner wasn't terribly worried about that. There was a certain earlobe nibble to be avenged.


Part 2

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